I used to tell students, “Don’t plan on summer school.” I didn’t want kids to feel complacent during the year and figure, “Oh, well, I’ll just go to summer school if I don’t pass.” To create a sense of urgency, and scarcity, I’d say things like, “We might not be able to give you this class in summer school so you’d better pass now.”
Yet now, I’m reminded again of why summer school is special. For kids, they’re with their friends instead of being bored at home. Each classroom, blessedly, has a cold, blasting air conditioner.
For staff, summer school is a unique time with a small group of students.
Student watercolor from the High School of Language and Innovation.
As a principal, I hear complaints from teachers and students about each other. “Ahmed refuses to participate.” “Ms. X didn’t help me even though I was raising my hand.” I typically try to “solve” or mollify the complaints quickly so everyone can move on.
This week, coming fresh from a seminar on listening, I heard complaints differently. Behind the complaints, I found hurt feelings and disappointment.
I came in for an early meeting with two teachers who are respected and even loved by their students. We were deciding which kids needed extra academic support.
As we went down the list, the conversation seemed normal: “Jennifer could use more support outside of class. Mohammed is doing fine in the class, he won’t need extra help.”
Then the tone changed, hitting upon two names: “Samantha doesn’t care. She doesn’t do any work and when I talked to her about it, she said ‘whatever.’ Neither does Abdul. He does nothing in class.” Continue reading
I live in the Bronx only a 15 minute walk from my school. One advantage of living close to school is that I have a beautiful, easy commute, and another advantage is that I sometimes see my students outside of school.
I saw one of my students the other day at the supermarket standing in one of the checkout lines. Usually, I’m happy to see a student, but I wondered if this student, Michael,* would be happy to see me. The last time I saw him, he had gotten extremely angry and physically shoved furniture in our school offices. This wasn’t his first nor his last outburst. Michael’s family had decided to send him to live with relatives in another school district to give him a restart. We all knew Michael was a brilliant young man with lots of potential, but it seemed hard for him to control his anger. Continue reading
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.
As a teacher, I used to look forward to summer vacation. As a principal, summer is precious work time. While I have a few weeks of vacation that I take here and there, I work for most of the summer. There’s a lot to do: supervising summer school, planning for the following year, hiring teachers.
There’s also a magic to summer school. While long-term planning for the year is intense, things also slow down. I have a tiny staff of 5 teachers and 3 support staff, and I get to work closely with them in a way that would be impossible during the school year with a much larger staff of 40 people.
The best part about summer school: some of the boys who struggled the most during the school year have transformed into fantastic students. Continue reading
A friend was recently telling me about his experience when he was a child in the 5th grade. “I used to get in trouble before the 5th grade. But my 5th grade teacher, she liked me. It was like, she never expected me to do anything bad. So I didn’t.”
I recently saw the excellent documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor about Fred Rogers and his children’s television program Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. One of the extraordinary things about Mr. Rogers was his obvious, unconditional love of children. Like millions of others, I watched his program as a young child and I remember him saying, “I like you just the way you are.”
I realized what an unusual idea it is to be “liked” just the way one is. Continue reading
“That’s my butterfly!”
Marcus pointed to a butterfly drawing, part of an elaborate book project displayed in the 9th grade hallway.
Marcus is a 9th grader with a semi-permanent frown who had recently been suspended for fighting. He’s originally from Honduras, has lived in New York for two years, and is self-conscious about his English– too self-conscious to notice that his English is far better than most of his classmates.* He gives the impression, “I’m a loner– don’t mess with me.” Continue reading
Eric is running to his third period class, weaving between throngs of students.
He sees me. He halts. He stands squarely in front of me.
He bows deeply.
“Anyong haseyo sunsengnim,” he says with perfect Korean pronunciation. Good day, honorable teacher.
“Anyong haseyo, hakseng,” I reply. Good day, honorable student.*
He grins and walks to class. Continue reading
“There’s a yellow M&M in stairwell six, on the second floor,” I said to a staff member. “Could you find a student to clean it up?”
He smiled at me, but nodded. I could tell he was thinking, “An M&M? Only an M&M?” We’ve had much worse in our stairwells: milk cartons, used napkins, and my personal un-favorite: ketchup smeared on the banisters.
“Only” an M & M is progress: it means my staff is enlisting students to clean the stairwells throughout the day, which is exactly what I want them to do. Continue reading