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.

29 August, 2010

Summer vacation= sunday morning tv

I will watch any show Christiane Amanpour is involved with. Even the episode of Gilmore Girls in which she makes a cameo. Since she took over This Week on ABC I've been watching it religiously.
Today the guests were Arne Duncan, Randi Weingarten and Michelle Rhee. I was glued to the screen. Here's the video:

Michelle Rhee visited my grad school last year and was a topic of debate in every class I took in the last 2 years. I haven't agreed with all of her choices, but I support a lot of them, and I am willing to consider all of her suggestions because she talks about teachers as if we are professionals.
In the summer I start to romanticize my job. I spend time with people who treat teaching with respect instead of my students and administration who view us as someone around to serve and or annoy. I imagine that my opinions and initiative might be influential in my work environment and that I might be rewarded if I am successful. I forget that my evaluation will come down to checks in columns labeled "satisfactory" and "unsatisfactory," instead thinking that my hours and hours of work might warrant at the very least a few carefully chosen adjectives.
But then I get a welcome back email from my principal and remember that I work for the NYC DOE.
What the panelists on This Week seemed to agree about, and the reason that I tolerate the downsides of working in the DOE is that the goal is to give every child a quality education. But it is nice to imagine being treated as if that's what I were trying to do.

18 August, 2010

Neon expo markers? Yes, please!

Getting ready for school seems so much harder than anything I do during the school year because finding a place to start can be really challenging. This is how I end up sitting in my room surrounded by stacks of lesson plans on one side, resources I've acquired behind me, school supplies on the other side, and a stack of to-do lists in front of me.
I've found a few helpful things so far.

I found out that you can buy school supplies on amazon.com. I'm sure everyone else already knew this, but finding a way to avoid the back to school rush at Staples seemed like quite a victory to me. Plus, they have these.

And I'm already excited about creating lessons on wordplay.com. It's a great new tool for Spanish teachers. Free, customizable vocabulary lessons, with sound. The best part? You can monitor how your students are doing at learning and retaining words, there are class and individual statistics. The developers of this website have been nothing but helpful to me, I highly recommend it.

19 July, 2010


Now that I'm done celebrating Spain's victory in the World Cup (which I did mostly in Quebec City, where a surprising number of people joined me in running through the city with Spanish flags), I can't stop myself from starting to think about what I'll be doing next year.

Here is an excellent article about one way to use some summer time to get ready for the coming school year.
Of course, it would help to officially know what I'll be teaching next year. I like to start summer planning by rewriting curriculum maps for my classes and reflecting on how the order of the curriculum worked last year. And of course, watching movies from Spanish-speaking countries that I might be able to incorporate into my classes next year. But on a micro-level, I have a hard time planning individual lessons without knowing which students will be in which classes and if they'll remember anything by September.

23 June, 2010

With colleagues like these...

Until the school year ends, I'll be a bad World Cup spectator. I recommend bolas y bandeiras for updates and great images.

With all of my students' Regents graded, I'm starting to feel the end of the year sigh of relief. But this seems to be the part of the year when politics take over and staff start acting like the students more than adults.

At least 4 of my coworkers won't be back next year and a lot of others are worried about being excessed. But they aren't alone in leaving the building- the cuts at other schools in our campus have been drastic and we are feeling the effects. One school has even asked for help with their test administration, which creates a lot of extra work for us. It's interesting, and disheartening, to find out how many teachers in my campus community will let politics and clashes with administrators take priority over what's best for the students.

20 June, 2010

What do you do in the summer?

With 1 week of Regents and 1 extra day left in the school year, I'm faced with a challenge- how to use these 2 months off. As relieved as I am for the vacation, I wish that I could have been teaching during the World Cup. As a language teacher, I can't think of a better tool than something that captivates the entire world for a month.
Plus, it's an excuse to bring back the World Cup live-blogging project.

30:00- If Cote D'ivoire scores in this game, they would be the first African nation to score against Brazil in a World Cup. This is probably written in a soccer book that I haven't read.

35:38- The univision announcers just switched to Portuguese. Or else I had too much sangria at brunch.

38:44- The announcers have a man-crush on Kaka. Which brings me to a poll currently being conducted by one of my friends: If you could hook-up (whatever that means to you) with one soccer player, would you choose Kaka, Casillas, Bocanegra, Gattuso, Higuain, Cannavaro, or Luca?

43:40- Technical difficulties with google images. My vote in the poll was Casillas, but I highly recommend doing your research before you vote. The announcers have spent the last 2 minutes and will take us into halftime by giving the ball credit for everything that happened in this game.

45:00- 1-0 Brazil. We begin halftime with a teaser about paramilitary action in Colombia and a commercial in which a woman's boyfriend pays more attention to a 6-pack of Bud Light than he does to her. Hello, stereotypes.
While announcing the sponsors of this wonderful broadcast, Univision just obscured a lion's face with a McDonald's logo. I guess we won't be using halftime to learn about the nation hosting this World Cup.

Our other half-time viewing choices- Air racing on NBC (not as exciting as it sound) and the Yankees-Mets game which is spiced up with commercials that seem to be about a national geographic series about lava.

49:31- aaaaaand we're back. 4 minutes in I realize Univision restarts the clock just in time for
50:02- Gol (golazo on Univision, but I'm not quite so dramatic) por Luis Fabiano. Fabiano has been biding his time playing for Sevilla FC (campeones de mi corazón) and waiting for Ronaldinho, Ronaldo and Adriano to get old and slow so he could show the rest of the world what Sevilla saw in 2006 when he led them to the UEFA cup.

55:40- The announcers are having a lot of fun repeating Drogba's name over and over. So I did some research and found out Drogba was born in 78. Who is the oldest player in this World Cup?

58:14- Univision has seriously upgraded the graphics since the last world cup, and possibly since the game I watched yesterday at the gym. You really haven't watched a world cup game until you've watched one on a treadmill next to an angry soccer fan.

60:37- someone on the CIV team just kicked someone from Brazil in the back of the leg pretty hard. Brazil (well, Kaka) retaliates by kicking a ball directly at the goalie's face. No one benefits at all from these exchanges.

61:52- Gol! por Elano, who celebrated his birthday last week. The Brazilians now look like the NBA players who show up to play on West 4th during the summer. And the goal keeper for CIV looks like he wishes there were a a longer trip home.

62:00- Spain plays Honduras tomorrow. I will be spending the rest of the day thinking of reasons to get out of work.

65:00- Is Elano hurt or did the producers at Univison just decide to take a little break? Now we're watching footage of Kaka running backwards and staring lovingly into Elano's eyes. And a replay of Elano's injury. Maybe those shin guards with women's names on them weren't the most effective?

67:22- Kalou (CIV) limps out, looking relieved to watch Brazil dominate from the sidelines.

68:46- Maybe it's the colors of the jerseys, or it's that after every instance of contact, someone puts their hand up in an "I didn't do it" gesture, but I keep forgetting that I'm watching soccer and not the NBA finals.

70:28- Drogba is still playing to win, despite being down 3-0 with 20 minutes left. Some players on his team have moved on to arguing with refs.

73:45- Fabiano, still elated from scoring 2 goals in this game, attempts to slow down an opponent by hugging him from behind. Maybe Maradona is coaching Brazil on the side?

74:55- Michel Bastos' foot & ankle had a run in with an opponent's foot. Bastos procedes to roll several feet away and pound the ground with his fist, giving the ref enough time to decide on a yellow card for the CIV player with the vicious foot.

77:20- Robinho is ready to play. Sure, he's a little late to the game, but Brazil's been doing ok without him and maybe a warm-up now will get him read for the next game.

78:54- Gol! por Drogba. I miss the celebrations to answer the door, but it's safe to say everyone on the CIV team feels a little better about this game now.

84:24- someone just punched someone else in what Russ from Mighty Ducks 3 would call the "stick, gloves, shirt" attack. Everyone is angry. Fabiano is now on the ground, on his back, arguing with at least 3 players from the other team. Robinho is ready to take over. Or to lie on the ground and fix his socks.

88:00- The door, again. I clearly missed something, an injusticia according to the Univision announcers. And CIV attempts a goal but the ball rolls over the net.

90:00- +3 minutes. These orange shoes really make it easy to follow who does things they shouldn't during the game. An almost goal for CIV, some people even stop blowing those awful horns to yell. Univision finally throws in a few of their slow motion shots so everyone can see the goal tender's heroic leap.

91:30- Fabiano seems to be enjoying the "let's see who can pretend to be hurt most successfully" game. CIV builds the wall, no goal for Brazil.
93:00- 3-1 Brazil. Bastos & Drogba hug each other. The announcer makes a few more comments about Kaka's "explosiveness." Shirts are coming off.
Tomorrow: España!

06 April, 2010

"Time won't let me..."

Out of all of the days we've just had off, I spent about 4 lesson planning, grading papers & uploading grades, and working on my thesis, which is due in a month.
The time off was a great chance to catch up on friends, rest, reading, etc. But the first days back after a break are always so unpleasant that I find myself wishing we hadn't had the time off. I've spent so much time on breaks planning activities to remind my students what I expect from them. The interactive do-nows involving the smartboard seem to have the most success, which means I have about half an hour before I have to ask my class "Can anyone remember the do now from today?"

In addition to the 5 books I read over the break, I also read a few interesting articles, including this one from EducationWeek about a school designed to give teachers the time they need to plan. My own school has started discussing how to build some planning time into the end of this year and beginning of next. The end of our time off always changes my perspective on how we spend our time at school. I'd love to know how successful schools and teachers plan their prep time.

07 March, 2010

"Drop me in the middle so I can make a ripple"

Last week was my first Quality Review. I have never been so nervous at work before, even when I had a job that involved using power tools regularly. After the 2 day circus, and finding out the results, I'm not convinced I had anything to do with what happened.
From what I understand, the letter grades high schools receive are based on statistics like credit accumulation and graduation rate. And the rest of the quality review is based on classroom observation, student interviews, etc. So what if the reviewer picks a student we've never really reached? One whose guardian I've spoken to approximately every 2 weeks for the last year and a half, and never for a positive report? One who has 2 credits from freshman year and isn't on track to earn any this year? One who doesn't respond to teachers, guidance counselors or coaches?
Shouldn't there be some middle ground between a grade based entirely on impersonal data and one based on information from 5 teachers and 5 students? I was skeptical of the quality review before I experienced one, because schools that seem completely different to me receive the same barely informative grade or report. I saw some positive things last week, but I'm nowhere near convinced I'm working in the right system.