08 April, 2013

Tell Me How You Really Feel...

The past few weeks my school, like most others, has been preparing to give the school environment surveys to students, parents, and teachers. This year, for the first time, I have found that this process is far removed from honest, useful feedback.

Teachers were given some time to fill out surveys in the past few days and several were actually laughing out loud at certain questions. Do I believe the negative responses will change things? After reviewing results from last year's survey, administration reminded us not to fill out the surveys if we had a bad day because the results affect the students and teachers who may come to us next year. I can think of a few things that changed because of the results from last year's survey, including more, informal surveys given throughout the year.

Before students were given their surveys, teachers were provided with a handful of lesson plans to do during advisory that would address the areas we did poorly on last year. These lessons were less than half a page long and riddled with grammatical and logistical errors. Several teachers expressed that they were offended by these lessons considering how much effort most teachers at the school put into their own lesson plans. Interestingly, my own students responded well to these lessons. They offered some interesting insights about why they respect certain teachers ("They went to good colleges" being the most surprising answer) and what they notice about the school environment (the bathrooms are a mess, half of the class could not name 3 locations of trash cans). Other teachers reported that these lessons spiraled into gripe sessions for students with no acknowledgement of student ownership of the school. I think that this tells us a lot about what our school community is or isn't like, but I am in no place to make any changes, especially as so many people are in their end of the year mentality.

What I've learned in the last month of survey prep- we care what surveys say but we work to influence results (optics, as Olivia Pope might say on Scandal) rather than to create lasting changes that might also produce positive surveys. Data-driven education at it's finest.

09 March, 2013

Just like the movies

After listening to everyone talk about House of Cards for a while, I finally decided to see what everyone was so excited about. If not for that late winter snowstorm we had yesterday, who knows? What I don't understand is why no one told me that an education bill was so central to the plot. I LOVE education. I LOVE politics. I LOVE Kevin Spacey and Kate Mara (and if I could have Mara's character's wardrobe I would be pretty satisfied).

I don't know all of the who's who for NCLB and certainly not for any major bill that happened prior, so I'm not sure exactly how realistic some of this is. Spacey's character is Majority Whip from South Carolina. I'm only a few episodes in but just those facts make his battles with the teachers' union seem realistically possible.

Like anyone else who watches tv and movies for fun, I have opinions on the asides to the camera and Robin Wright's haircut. But I'm sure you can find those anywhere on the internet. I am curious how the writers chose education as the vehicle for so much of the action. What does it say about who really influences decisions that are made about public education. Does everyone with a netflix account want to be at the table for that discussion in real life?

I know, it's fiction. art. the opposite of The Newsroom. something to watch while I grade papers all weekend.

And those friends who didn't tell me this series was about my favorite things? Well their names are already organized on a magnetic board above my desk. Just wait until they need some of my political capital.

09 June, 2012


To celebrate Brooklyn/Queens day in traditional educator fashion, I spent my day at a Professional Development. For the first time since I’ve worked at my school, they decided everyone should attend a content-related PD. Fabulous! I’ll get to explore some things I haven’t looked at since completing my MAT. 

Or not. My supervisor let me know that I (along with the music and drama teachers) would attend PD with the ELA department. We would, of course, be looking at the CCLS.

Nursing a post-prom iced coffee on my way into school I found our guest presenter in the office and started talking to her as she set up in my classroom (freshly cleaned in honor of her visit). When I told her that I teach foreign language she politely informed me that she had no idea how this presentation about CCLS literacy standards might apply to my curriculum.

Finally, a refreshingly honest presenter. Once she admitted that this would be new for both of us I felt much more willing to participate in the discussion and challenge myself to relate the “staircase of complexity” to my own work. Part of the difficulty of being the lone foreign language teacher at my school has been learning to fend for myself in planning, learning, advocating and justifying everything that I do. It might not be the most riveting PD I’ve ever been to, but because my role was acknowledged I felt more interested. Do I do this for my students? Do I let each one know what their path in Spanish class might be? Do they know what I know about where our lessons are going? Should they know or would I be reprimanded for telling a student that I had no idea how our lesson might relate to their learning?

28 March, 2012

Teacher as Actor

If it's possible to lose your sanity multiple times in one day, that's what I experienced today. I am required to use Rosetta Stone, so is the other Spanish teacher. This is convenient for the other teacher as he is actually a music teacher. We are required to have universal midterms, meaning the same in all of our foreign language classes. So I designed a midterm that students can take on Rosetta Stone.
It's differentiated.
It uses technology.
It gives immediate feedback.
It's also a nightmare.
We use HP laptops and the most affordable pairs of headphones possible. Though I've picked up a lot of troubleshooting skills this year, I'm not great at fixing laptop/headphone issues, especially not 34 of them at once. I felt like my entire day was spent toying with computers, not helping students. This is not what I signed up for. To be fair, I do a lot of things I didn't sign up for: I am a disciplinarian, a counselor, an advisor, a tutor, all the things all good teachers try to do, and now I'm also an untrained, impatient computer technician.
The problem with this extra responsibility is that it is obvious to the students that I am frustrated or overwhelmed. I lose patience and calm quickly and am not as nice and helpful and caring as I'd like to be with my students. I can't fake my abilities with them, and all of my energy and acting skills go towards pretending I believe this software program is the best way for them to learn.
There's a lot of talk about revamping teacher training programs. Maybe they should include more theater classes to prepare teachers for days like this.

24 January, 2012

Uphill, both ways.

As I listen to President Obama talk about the auto industry and the types of jobs American companies are creating, I am thinking about the students who I will soon be sending out into the workforce.
We're working on bringing technology into the classroom. But only on shallow levels- they're learning to hit the right buttons on vocabulary websites but not how to create the programs or troubleshoot difficulties.
We have smartboards in every classroom but use them as whiteboards and rarely let students touch them.
We spend huge chunks of the budget on technology that no one uses or that malfunctions and we have to outsource tech repairs (see: entering 212 grades 4 times because of website issues).
I'm studying education politics because I believe in public schools and public school teachers. I complain about the focus on 21st century skills because I don't think it should take over the school. I want my students to be innovators of technology rather than using it at a menial job and I want school to prepare them for that.

10 January, 2012

There's no software solution to this?

Well it has been a minute since I've been here and like any job, my teaching responsibilities have changed quite a bit in the 3.5 years I've been working. Oh, no? In other jobs they don't change your responsibilities and tell you about it the day before you come back from a vacation? One more bonus to being a teacher.

Basically, I teach foreign language and like some of my colleagues around the city and other states I am now required to teach foreign language with Rosetta Stone. Never mind that I can't troubleshoot a not-very-good pc. Disregard that Rosetta Stone isn't aligned to state standards or ACTFL standards. Forget that I spoke with several of my supervisors multiple times to express the reasons I, licensed foreign language teacher and student of multiple languages, did not believe it was the best choice for our students. Ignore that the decision was made over the summer and I was informed, by the computer tech (who has been remarkably patient throughout this situation) on the Friday before the school year started. Yes, don't think about those things and the changes might seem manageable and even exciting.

Unfortunately, I do think about those things. Especially because this is my tenure year, round 2. I will be evaluated on my ability to be "highly effective" while spending the year creating a curriculum for multi-level classes in one class period that I was in no way trained for and am only minimally assisted with.

What brings me back is that I have reached out to teachers I know, teachers I don't know and classmates and professors at my previous graduate school and current graduate school and not been able to find many other people dealing with similar situations. This seems like an ideal topic to collaborate on and I can't find collaborators.

31 August, 2010


I had an interesting conversation with a friend yesterday. I went on ARIS to look at what I'm teaching and which students are in which classes. It was mostly what I expected- classes of 34 (and one of 35?) organized only by level. Not by grade, not by past experiences in the school, not by which students have failed the same classes 3 years in a row because they cut the last 2 periods every day.

Even though this is what I expected, I wasn't exactly thrilled. What do you do when you see 2 students in a class together who fought repeatedly last year? Seating charts, overplan so they never have time to fight, take their "temperature" every day when they walk in, know how to chose your battles, etc?

But I mentioned this situation to my friend and she asked why not just ask for one of those students to be switched to a different class? She views this as showing initiative to prevent a problem. I agree, but in my school such switches are almost never made. A teacher asking for a schedule change is looked at as someone who can't handle their classroom and has given up without even trying.

Maybe it's a different situation in other schools. I hope at my own the voice of the teachers reaches more ears during the school year than it has this summer.