30 November, 2009

teaching health has taken over my life

Thanks to budget cuts and extra responsibilities for everyone, I now teach health class to 11th graders, in addition to 3 levels of Spanish. At first I looked at planning for health class like studying for one of those college classes you have to take but don't care about.
One of the benefits of teaching health is when you're talking about reproductive health & emotional issues, students are almost automatically engaged. Another benefit is that if students develop or demonstrate an interest in something, I can run with it, as long as we stay on topic.

Some students don't understand why HIV/AIDS is something important for us to study. Some have very inaccurate understandings ("The government has the cure, they just won't release it!" "Only gay people get AIDS" "It doesn't show up for 7 years").

In honor of World AIDS day and the 33 million people living with HIV or AIDS, we'll be looking at some statistics and personal stories tomorrow and I hope many other teachers will be doing the same.


29 September, 2009

What If I Were a Student in my Class?

I spent the last 2 day at a synagogue, mostly not thinking about school. But as I was reading pages of Hebrew, some of which I only see once or twice a year, I couldn't help thinking about my students. Despite the different alphabet, is this how my students feel when I hand them a reading or writing assignment in Spanish? For me, the strategy that works best with Hebrew is to start reading out loud and hope I can get through the word with reasonable speed, which gets easier as I go along. How can I convince my students to go out on a Spanish limb and not feel embarrassed or awkward?

I caught up on some tv while I was waiting to break my fast last night, and this scene from "Community" on NBC seems like a pretty accurate depiction of my life, except I have younger students and a little more chaos. The entire episode was hilarious, I highly recommend it.

07 September, 2009

Data for the New Year

As this is the Jewish month of preparation, I've been doing a lot of planning, some of it has even been for school.
Mostly, I've been looking at the data:
210 -number of students I will be teaching
405- approximate number of students in my school
4- different classes to teach
7- sections of those 4 classes
34- students in most classes thanks to budget cuts
1 - piece of furniture in my classroom that isn't a student desk- a half broken file cabinet
2- approximate number of broken things in my classroom (discovered so far)
$500- approximate cost to fix broken things
30- number of textbooks in my department that were published in the last 9 years
0- number of those textbooks that are for my subject
3 - hours we will be spending in a meeting tomorrow
630- copies for the first few days of school, which I left in an unlocked room since I have
0 - keys that work now that the locks were changed on every room I use
$79.18- money spent at Staples in the last 2 days
23 - days until the 1st real day off (not counting Yom Kippur)

31 August, 2009

lifelong learning?

Feeling stressed about preparing for school has me thinking about how my school is going to prepare me. I strongly hope they follow the rules on this list, thinking about how much time I spent in PDs last year that weren't relevant or practical makes me cringe.


For a few days, I was on a teacher roll, writing unit maps for all 4 (that's right, 4- 3 levels of Spanish and a health class) of my classes. Then I took my computer to the apple store to get the disk drive replaced.

They broke the entire top case during the hour that they were repairing the disk drive and I spent the next 6 days not doing work. It was hands down the worst customer service I've ever experienced. I drove a 10 year old car for 4 years and had less trouble getting it repaired. And now all of a sudden it's crunch time.

The beginning of the year is so much paperwork- rules handouts, interest surveys, mind maps, and I have to create them all. This is when I really appreciate my group of Teaching Fellows, we already have plans to get together and share what worked from last year.

24 August, 2009

"You can call me a hipster as long as you're a listener"

This summer I have the incredible luxury of knowing which classes I'm teaching (every level of Spanish and a health class, NBD). So I've been able to work an hour or 2 a day at the handful of coffee shops in my neighborhood, which may or may not be part of williamsburg, depending on who you ask.
Mostly I've been writing skeleton unit maps, without writing all of the activities, which is going to mean more work later, but after last year I know I can handle it. I'm also working on catching up on movies in Spanish so I can put some themes in my units as part of my quest to convince everyone that Spanish is a real subject, with real academic consequences and benefits.

In between all of that hard work, I visited 2 of the cities with public education systems that have similar problems to New York.

In DC, everyone asked about my thoughts on tenure, which are exactly the same as many new teachers who got certified in non-traditional paths and have no families to support. Sadly I missed the release of the 200 page guide to effective teaching. Luckily I have no doubt I'll run into it during my thesis class this year. Maybe I can compare it to whoever decided that a good aim is all you need to have a good lesson and therefore consistently excellent instructional capabilities.

In Philadelphia, I watched at least 3 people yell at AMTRAK or SEPTA employees because they can only sell tickets for the transportation system they work for, not the other. It gave me all kinds of new ideas for tying English literacy in with Spanish literacy.

Probably the most valuable lesson from my summer adventures was that I shouldn't spend the whole school year saying "how are things? I'm coming to visit in the summer." I don't expect this year to be any less work (I actually expect it to be more), but since I couldn't stop being a teacher during the summer (thanks grad school!) hopefully I'll continue to be a human during the school year.

12 August, 2009

back to work, sort of

Tomorrow I'm proctoring Regents, it should be a thoroughly boring experience as usual, but I'll survive, although I will miss the Today Show.

Last weekend I went to D.C. to visit a friend from high school (our appalachian high school which had the exact same graduation rate as the Brooklyn school where I now teach).
We discovered that if you watch only the deleted scenes and alternate ending of Titanic, the movie becomes infinitely better.

Then we went to the White House because my friend works for a government agency, and employees are allowed to take guests on tours on weekends. I was jealous until I remembered that I have 2 months of summer vacation while my friend has a government issue blackberry that must be carried around at all times. The West Wing was as impressive as I imagined, because I am a history dork and think such things are impressive. Security, of course, was also impressive, and apparently took 4 times longer than usual to agree to put my name on the visitor list. I wonder why?

Afterward we sat in the 98 degree weather talking about our jobs. When people ask about my job I usually tell the funny stories but I mentioned some of the problems my school, and the NYC public schools in general, are facing. So my friend challenged me: Make a list of the 10 biggest problems facing New York City Public schools today.

Her job is not in education and I've yet to solve any problem bigger than the time a member of the Crips was walking around the school tearing down posters for the Blood drive because of the word "blood," but I agreed, because who can say no to a challenge. And I have realized that this is quite a challenge. So, suggestions? thoughts?

03 August, 2009

What I Forgot on my summer vacation

Since I happen to have 2 months off, I've been spending a little time watching tv. While I'm in Ohio I've seen quite a bit of the Today Show and it never fails to impress me. Not only do they not present the actual news, but they somehow manage to make even human interest stories as boring as possible. Highlights:
- A decorating segment using $12 beach backgrounds from Target to make fake family vacation photos, because "the nature thing is so big right now."

- The reenactment of the wedding party dance, which goes on for the full length of the song

-And, from this morning, this visit to a hospital to investigate a drug Michael Jackson may have been taking. In the interest of a position paper on grammar I have to write, I won't list all of the things that are wrong with this video.

23 June, 2009

I know it's a little early to start thinking about next year but...

This plan to get rid of the 2 days with no students at the beginning of the year seems like a pretty bad decision.
Having missed those 2 days this year because I was hired after the year started I found that it took me weeks to catch up with various rules, policies and procedures. My school has already excessed some people and I don't think we'll have any new staff next year, or there will be fewer new people than this year, but I still think having a day or two to get everyone on the same page is a nice way to start the year.

15 June, 2009

"No more pencils, no more books"

Ok, so school isn't completely over, but all that's left are Regents. 
Today I wore my Ohio necklace from Brookadelphia. My students asked me what country it was. Others were pretty sure it was Texas. Fingers crossed for their US history Regents tomorrow!

Last week I had that odd experience of doing the same lesson for 2 classes and having it go really well with one class and really not well with another. 
Last month I put a request on donorschoose for a set of La Dama del Alba, a play by Alejandro Casona. I read this play in high school and remember the absolute terror feeling upon being told we were going to read an entire book, in Spanish. But we did it and had a lot of fun acting it out, so much that I remember the name, plot, characters, etc, from 5 or 6 years ago. I knew it would be a challenge for my students who aren't at the skill level I was at in AP spanish, but I decided they could rise to the challenge as long as I helped them out in the right ways. My donorschoose request got filled in a week and a half. Maybe it's end of the year burnout, but I wasn't expecting the generosity of random strangers  so quickly.

So I chose a scene, created a vocabulary list and pre- and post- reading questions. In the first class, one of my students actually said "Ooooh I love when we bring my favorite activities into the classroom, I can't wait to try and act this out." Maybe she was still in quality review mode? We read the scene individually, then twice together and they worked on acting it out. By the end of class it was practically like being in the Teatro Lope de Vega in Sevilla. Well, not quite, but I had fun and so did my students, who spoke more spanish in 40 minutes than they had in the last 3 weeks without even noticing it. 

Then the next period came in. They took one look at the 3 pages of text and lost their composure. In a theater school, students losing their composure can be more dramatic than any play. After many attempts to convince them to try it, they took a second look and got a little angrier. By the end of class I had gotten them through maybe a third of the scene, with numerous stops for questions, explanations, and dictionary breaks.  We were all equally frustrated I think. 

Luckily one of the good things about teaching is that your students will forget particulars about your lesson pretty quickly, even if you don't.  The second class didn't get back to the play before the end of the year, but they did survive some other reading and speaking activities and maybe even some knowledge of the Spanish language. 

In other news, I bought these and filled them with Tart Cherry Stomp from Red Jacket Orchards. The best thing I've discovered for summer weather, if it ever comes back. 

30 May, 2009

This isn't the original article, but the responses are interesting. 

25 May, 2009

Maybe I'm not 5 years older

This week I decided that my students' behavior is definitely karmic retribution for some of my fine performances in high school.   I tried to figure out if I still do things like that now, and the answer is definitely yes. 
Well, it's been a while since I (with help!) changed all of the definitions on a vocabulary list to inappropriate words, snuck into the office to make photocopies of it, and distributed it (twice, we made extra photocopies knowing the first set would get confiscated). But I still have a lot of trouble focusing in grad school and in meetings at work. At work I know better than to act like I'm 17, but in grad school no one seems to mind.  

In my AP English class in 11th grade, we read Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich.  I really didn't like it but her books have gotten so much praise I recently decided to try another one. I just finished Tracks, which I liked a little better, but not enough that I would recommend it to anyone. My little ikea bookshelf is overflowing and I didn't appreciate this book enough to give it any space there.  The chapters could almost be short stories independent of the rest of the book, which I usually like because of my attention span issues. But there is something about her writing that I  can't access.  The imagery in some chapters is exceptional, maybe it's the characters? Maybe it's that I read Tracks as if I were still in high school, except without the helpful study guides my amazing teacher gave us. So I still don't like this writer, which is really a trivial discovery. I think that my attempt to read her again did help me understand what is happening with some of my students- the ones who are fully capable of the mathematical part of Spanish, but can't apply that ability to reading or speaking (without a script).  I think what I'll be working on the last few weeks, besides Regents Prep, will be talking about how all of the things we've studied this year (grammar, cultural traditions, art, geography) can be accessed. 

18 May, 2009

Some things are too easy to spend time on

James Harrison declines an invitation to the White House. One of my sort-of students (one who goes to my school but isn't in any of my classes) fails advisory.  I no longer feel guilty for being lazy or unmotivated. 

17 May, 2009

"Sin prisa, sin pausa"

All year I thought I didn't want it to be summer, because I would miss working all the time. Now that there are something like 5 weeks left, I'm ready for the unlimited free time. (Even though I'm sure I'll be bored after a week.) 
But there is so much left to do! Getting ready for Regents, covering everything that (I think) needs to be covered in each level, writing a curriculum for foreign language at my school so that next year we know what needs to be covered in each level, observations by 5 different people at least, etc. And a new semester of grad school starting in a week. There aren't enough verbs in this paragraph, but I'm just going to admit that and accept it.  I know that everyone in New York is moving now, but I just renewed my lease for another year because I love this apartment, my rent is way lower than it should be, and I just can't fathom finding time to look for an apartment and move into it. This will be the first time since high school that I've lived in the same place for an entire year (hopefully 2 years), it's kind of an achievement I think, for me at least. 

As far as the last few weeks go, I have no idea what to expect. My students have been twice as crazy as at any other point in the year. The heat in my room sporadically comes on in the afternoons and I can't teach with my door open because of the craziness in my room and the students from other schools in the building who wander in to say hi. It's hard to keep track of who is suspended, who is on vacation, and who argued during math class and will fight in my class if given the opportunity. And, as the one who is supposed to be calm despite the students being insane, I am so ready to be done with the stress. My classroom faces a park and every time the weather is nice I'm ready to climb out the window as much as my students are. 

I feel guilty because I am running out of the energy to plan lessons and grade work. I guess after a few years this gets easier, but it seems like a lot of people at my school are feeling this way. Lately I've been spending as much time talking to students about their grades or their problems or why they just got kicked out of class/in a fight/etc as I've been spending planning and grading. That's where the guilt comes from, but as much as I know my extra-peppy professors from last summer would hate it, I think I just have to do what I can to not go crazy in the next few weeks. 

02 May, 2009

Pensamos con la boca a veces

"Miss, when they cremate people, do they burn the eyes too? "
"But Miss, you're the only girl in New York who likes basketball."
"It's like he cares so much about his job, that if he doesn't do it, he'll die."
"I don't need to go to that class, I already know everything." 
"So, in Ecuador there are are zombies all over the place, right?"

22 March, 2009

"I got you Miss"

So Dominic James came back today and almost (almost) helped his team win, even though he didn't really play that much. Dominic James is just that good. 

My coworkers are also that good and because one of my grad classes this semester is about collaboration I've really been appreciating that lately. 

A few weeks ago I co-taught a class with the French teacher. I did a lot of co-teaching this summer because the teacher I was student-teaching with and I worked really well in that mode. Even though it was at the end of a non-stop day the class went really well. We started off with a dialogue in which we needed a cup of orange juice. While the other teacher was shaking the carton of juice, the lid flew off and waves of orange juice covered half off the classroom. But after we cleaned that up everything was great. I wish that my schedule and curriculum made it possible to co-teach more often. In a language classroom especially, the opportunity to hear more than one teacher speak the language can be so helpful. By bringing in one other teacher you can improve listening and speaking skills, vocabulary, and cultural awareness in so many ways. 
I've also gotten to observe a few other teachers recently and wish I had more time for that. But I have decided that after fighting it for several months, I should really let the textbook do some things for me, like come up with vocab lists and write the countless example sentences I need to go over a complicated concept with my advanced classes.

Then there's the other type of collaboration that doesn't really add anything to my practice but makes so many weeks without a break 100% more tolerable than I think it would be anywhere else. The emails about the staff basketball pool are truly masterpieces of modern literature. A bad day or a problem with a class seems much better after 20 minutes in the teachers lounge.In fact, it's one of the best ways I've found to stop yourself from bringing a bad mood or bad experience with you to the next class. There is a fine line here between things that happen at work and things that happen after work, but despite many leaps (or stumbles) across that line I still feel like some of my coworkers are my best resource. And I really think that when teachers and staff work well together, students notice and it changes the environment in the school. 

18 February, 2009

I blame my cousin from the DR

Mid-winter break is mid-way over. I have 3/4 of my lessons for next week planned and have tackled half of a mountain of grading that rivals k-2. 
Here is what I am not excited about:
After the 1st semester, students get new schedules. That means some of the students from my classes are in the other Spanish teacher's class, and some of his students are in my class. Which is fine, because I can easily stop in his office and say "hey, what did you do last semester?" Or, better yet, ask the students what they remember and plan some beautiful diagnostics. 
What is not fine is that I also got some new-ish students added to my classes. Meaning they were in a class other than foreign language last semester (enrichment english or global regents prep, etc). If they pass Spanish 2 they will get credit for Spanish 1. But they are in a class with students who did very well in Spanish 1. It's hardly a matter of differentiation so much as teaching two entirely different classes. One class has the building blocks from the first semester and can sometimes be given individual assignments to improve those skills, but not always. They sometimes enjoy showing off what they know from last semester, and the new students appreciate learning from other students. That also fights off some of the "I'm black, I can't speak Spanish." 
But the situation is still pretty trying, since the new students are clearly not really responsible for learning the material from the 1st semester and I have to completely replan a lot to deal with making sure each group gets a good amount of group and individual instruction. This is apparently the case at a lot of schools so I've heard some interesting ideas for how to deal with it. And to ease the transition back from break, I'm starting off next week with scenes from Viva Baseball and discussion in any language.

09 January, 2009

This  was read at my synagogue tonight and after all of the things I've seen kids go through in the past year I really connected with it. 
I have been so busy at work this week that I haven't had a chance to talk about things like the Middle East, so I am taking the next 12 hours off. 

08 January, 2009

"what will be will be and so it goes"

(-Jack Johnson)

The insanity at work is snowballing and by the time we have our weekly staff meeting next week I am expecting something worthy of a telenovela episode. I guess my old jobs have just been especially calm. 

Today I tackled my grading pile and got to the assignment where students compared places in The Motorcycle Diaries to places in their communities. The most common responses "they have cows," "people fight at parties in Argentina and in Brooklyn" and "we all eat greens but we cook ours."
Those answers are enough to put me in a good mood until the next time a student yells at me for asking them to stop talking in the middle of a lesson. 

06 January, 2009

"Nothing always found a way in..."

Today I got a surprise observation for the last 10 minutes of the last class of the day, and then an hour long lecture about it, ending with being told that some students hate me (with a smile, so I had no idea! what to say in response).  I am not a fan of people saying "as long as you don't talk over your students, just wait for them to be quiet..." as if it will solve the problems of what to do when a career Blood doesn't feel like learning Spanish because it might ruin his high or the girl whose family member just died starts crying in the middle of class, but you don't know that happened because no one tells you. 
Three of my Teaching Fellow friends have quit recently, which is not what I'm planning on, but it's only been 2 days since break ended and I'm really starting to miss the appreciation people showed me during the break.