Big kids need recess too

Last year, our graduation rate was 68% in June, and increased to 73% in August. 

This year, our graduation rate is 60% in June, eight points below last year.

I confess, I would love to have handed diplomas to every student.  For a week or so, I’ve felt as though the dog ate my optimism.  I would like it back,  please.

Yet it’s hard to stay uninspired for long when I come into contact with students, or listen to just about anyone.  The other day, an 11th grade student from another high school in the Bronx called me on my cell phone to ask if she could take geometry in my school over the summer.  I didn’t know her and don’t know how she got my number  but was inspired by her research, resourcefulness, and chutzpah. Continue reading

Clearing the one armed bandits

wp-1458042250935.jpgThree times a year, our classrooms transform: round tables are replaced with rows of tablet-armed desks during the state testing weeks of January, June, and August.   We call these desks one-armed bandits.

The change from tables to desks is a physically dramatic event.  The classroom turns from an expansive, wide space with 6-7 round tables, to a tightly–packed, orderly box filled with metal and laminate desks.  Continue reading

Drugged with notes

Notes pictureI started my teaching career in September 2000 at Intermediate School 33 in Brooklyn, a school that has since closed.  I was hired to teach 8th grade English at the same time as Sara Milstein, both of us recent college graduates who quickly became friends.

On the first day, we introduced our rules to our students.  “What happens if you break them?” asked a student.  We weren’t sure.

The first several months of our teaching careers were an exercise in containing classroom chaos, and many times, we ended the day in tears.
Continue reading

Mister, why are you teaching math if you could be a singer?

SunsetBronxRiverParkway_walkinggeekYesterday, Mr. W started his trigonometry class by singing.  He sang “I’ll Be” by Edwin McCain acapella, in a beautiful tenor vibrato. “It’s the song I used for my American Idol audition,” he told the class.

At their best, this particular group of 11-12th graders are curious and excited about learning.  At their worst, they can be cynical and complaining, and can wear a teacher down.

As Mr. W was singing, though, the students visibly melted, and  smiles broke out.
Continue reading

I think we’re all going to get 100% in this class

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Today I visited a 9th grade Economics* class.  Students were working in groups helping each other figure out a word problem.

“How do you get a good grade in this class?”  I asked a group.

“Oh, it’s easy maam,” said Hassan.**   “You just have to pay attention to the teacher, do your homework, and when you have a question, you can’t just sit there and be quiet, you have to ask the other kids.”

“So how do you think you’re all doing?” I asked.

Hassan looked around the room, tilting his chair back, then looked at his group.  “I think everyone in this class is going to get 100,” he said confidently.

I liked Hassan’s answer. Continue reading

Fair isn’t always equal

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Yesterday, when I visited Mr. D’s English class, I didn’t notice Jose.*  This is notable.

I always notice Jose.  Jose is a student who normally disrupts classes, or wanders the hallways to avoid class.  We have spent countless hours trying to support Jose in behaving and learning.

Yet in Mr. D’s English class, I didn’t notice Jose.  Why?  Because Jose was sitting at a table, quietly annotating a text.  He worked throughout the period, causing no disruption. Continue reading