The Quiet Kid

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Student artwork, High School of Language and Innovation. 

As our 12th-grade students are applying for colleges, our staff writes recommendations for them.   The students email the recommender a “brag sheet” of their accomplishments, goals, and life experiences.  I have had the privilege of writing several recommendations this year, and love how much I learn about our students through the process.

One young man, who I see as a leader, described his only accomplishment as “good at sports.”  He was totally unaware of his own greatness.  I made sure to describe his leadership, such as the times I’ve seen him guiding 9th graders to do the right thing.

One young lady wrote an assertive brag sheet in organized bullet points.   Reading it, I remembered how she had volunteered one summer to organize all of our classroom libraries and then ensured that I wrote a letter documenting her community service.  This year, she started a dance club, which has become our most well-attended club.  I felt appreciation for her ambition and how she has made the school a better place.

One young man, Samuel, * was a surprise to me.  I was happy to receive his request to write a recommendation, but I realized I didn’t know much about him.  Here is what I knew: he is from Honduras and started our school in the 9th grade.  He is doing well academically.  He is a nice, quiet kid with a big smile.

His brag sheet was a revelation.  I learned how much he valued his family: he started by describing his family (mom, dad, siblings) as his greatest support and then detailing their levels of education: who finished high school, who didn’t, who was pursuing college, who didn’t finish college.  I learned that he is living in the United States with his father and uncle, and that his mother and siblings were still in Honduras. He had experienced the death of an infant sibling, and wrote about how his parents supported him through that challenge. He is debating about whether to become a aviation mechanic or to have a career in fashion.  I had no idea he had an interest in fashion, and then I suddenly remembered that he is a stellar artist and his work has been displayed all over the school.

I learned that he was class president for two years in a row in Honduras, right before he immigrated to the U.S.  This struck me: how had his identity changed after he came to the U.S in a new school?  Even though we are a school of newcomer immigrant English Language Learners, how hard had it been for him to adjust?  Had he wanted to pursue student government in my school, or was it something he never considered?  Was he a “quiet kid” in Honduras?

In reading his brag sheet, I saw his creativity, his insightfulness, his aspirations.  It occurred to me that over the years, I get to know certain students very well: our star students, our student government leaders, and most of all our attention-seekers who disrupt classrooms (until they don’t).  I don’t always know the “quiet kids.”  In learning about Samuel, I felt I had discovered a hidden jewel that made me want to learn more about all of my students: to see the world through their eyes, to know their aspirations, and to make our high school a more obvious path to those aspirations.

*The names and identifying features of students have been changed.

 

 

 

 

I could do this job until I’m 90

20181104_114211.jpgBeing a high school principal is not glamorous.  Case in point: last week, there were way too many chicken nuggets on the student cafeteria floor.  Note to ourselves: re-teach cafeteria cleanup.

Chicken nuggets included, I love my job and would choose no other.  This week, as I watched a staff trainer work with a student, I realized my experience is unusual.

I hired the trainer to show my staff effective ways to coach students through challenges. I watched the trainer talk to a student named Samantha, who was struggling.  The trainer was skillful in getting Samantha to engage in the conversation.

Then the trainer said, “Samantha, I know you’re not excited to come to school today.  In fact, I don’t think any of us were excited to come to work.  Even I had to make myself get up this morning.  None of us really want to be at work.”

Wait a second, I thought.  Really?  Continue reading

How to be a man

Sky view

This year, my school is focusing on raising the achievement of boys. I’ve learned that supporting boys goes beyond good teaching: we need to show boys more options for how to “be a man.”

Most boys have an idea of what it is to be a man. It’s often a child’s idea of being “hard” or “tough,” “independent.” A principal colleague of mine said he and his staff consciously teach their 9th graders to lose the “tough guy” attitude and just be kids; be students.

This week, I found myself in a conference with a student, Hassan,* and one of my teachers, Matt. Hassan had hit another student who had been calling him a “little boy” and making teasing gestures towards him.

In the past, we might have said, “The next time someone teases you, tell a teacher or administrator.” However, we saw that an 18-year-old boy who sees himself as a man may not want to run to a teacher to solve his problems.

Continue reading

I’m here, and I hear you

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Student artwork sale at the High School of Language and Innovation

I remember my first interview for a teaching position in August 2000, part of the first cohort of New York City Teaching Fellows.  I was standing in line at a hiring fair at the Brooklyn Marriott Hotel.

When I got to the front of the line, a harried-looking man introduced himself as a district representative hiring for a position teaching 8th grade in a middle school in Brooklyn. Continue reading

My partners in the “demo”

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At the High School of Language and Innovation, part of our teacher hiring process is having the candidate deliver a 15-minute demonstration lesson (a “demo”) in front of one of our classes. A candidate can nail an interview but the demo is often the most telling part of the process because we see what the person would be like in front of real students.

I wrote in an earlier blog about the comparatively low number of Latino boys in my school who are graduating on time. When I expressed this concern to my leadership consultants Ariel and Shya Kane, they suggested that in every demo lesson, we include a significant number of Latino boys and take special note of how the teacher engages those boys. This suggestion has been invaluable– rather than looking narrowly for a certain “type” of candidate, we’ve shifted to simply seeing who our students become in front of that candidate.

Since summer school classes are smaller, we have sometimes needed to add boys from other classes.

Continue reading

Sitting alone in the cafeteria

20180406_181850.jpgNothing makes me sadder than a kid sitting alone in the cafeteria.  Sometimes, a student is sitting alone by choice—he or she simply prefers to be alone, perhaps reading a book, or taking a break from interaction.

Other times, a student sits alone because he or she is new, and is the only person who speaks his or her own language.  The High School of Language and Innovation is a school for newcomer English Language Learners.  Most new students that have a large same-language, same-culture group—Spanish, Arabic, Bengali, Albanian, French—will be quickly adopted into the group.  If a student speaks a language like Vietnamese or Chinese, which are both small populations in our school, they might be alone if their 1-2 compatriots are absent.   Continue reading

Graduating the boys

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My school, the High School of Language and Innovation, is a school for newcomer immigrant English Language Learners that was founded in 2011. We had our first graduating class in 2015. This week, we graduated our fourth class, the class of 2018.

As I listened to the students’ speeches at graduation, I was struck by how many of the students had experienced our intended vision for the school: “We learned to work together as a team in order to learn English,” “We got to make friends with people from diverse cultures.”

However, even as I enjoyed the graduation, something was on my mind: 90% of our girls graduated. 51% of our boys graduated.

Continue reading