Luciana is a 9th grader who arrived in the U.S. in 2016 from the Dominican Republic. She wears a sparkly pink headband, has perfect attendance, and occasionally causes mischief.
I saw Luciana in her 9th grade English class. The students were reading an article about bullying. When the teacher encouraged Luciana to answer a question about the article, Luciana immediately turned to several Spanish-speaking classmates with a panicked look that said, “Please translate! Don’t leave me hanging here!”
“Miss, can I leave at 1:30 to go to a job interview at McDonald’s?”
We have 370 students, and while that is small for a school, I normally can’t spend a lot of time with a single student. However, there was something so compelling about Alonso’s deep, resolute desire to go to this job interview that reminded me of what teenagers crave most: independence and responsibility. Continue reading
“If you elect me, you can bring your cell phones to class.”
With that, the crowd erupted and I witnessed the power of political temptation in our student government elections. David, a quiet student from Guinea, was delivering his speech to be an Eleventh Grade Senator.
Why did David’s promise get such a big reaction? Because the administration collects students’ phones to minimize distraction.*
In one of our English as a New Language classrooms,* students were given index cards with the task “Describe yourself in six words,” and then instructed to post the cards on a bulletin board. The cards said so much: “I miss my friends in Vietnam,” “I want to be a doctor,” “I think more than I speak.” One was written by Carlos, who came to this country last year from the Dominican Republic: “The things are not so easy.” Continue reading
I 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.
Miguel,* a 12th grader, has the peacock of backpacks, a thing of color that is wildly beautiful and proud.
Miguel himself is like a peacock, colorful, dynamic, a born leader. He arrived in 2012 from Dominican Republic halfway through 9th grade and at that time, used his leadership to lead himself and group of other boys into trouble.
Between 9th and 10th grade, though, he suddenly matured. He started to study, passing the state Algebra exam in 10th grade.**
However, in the 11th grade, he stopped attending school, and started working full-time in a restaurant. We tried hard to get him to return, with little success.
This year, he suddenly came back with a sense of urgency. 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