A piece of the puzzle at prom

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I’m always surprised by how much I learn about our school from our prom. We recently held our prom earlier than most schools due to Ramadan, as we wanted more of our Muslim students to be able to attend.

Our high school is a school for newcomer English Language Learners from all over the world who have been in the USA less than 4 years. The students are excited by the idea of the prom but they don’t have a strong expectation of what it should be so there’s no comparison or disappointment.

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Please (please!) translate for me.

document translationLuciana 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!”    

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I need this job at McDonald’s

McDonalds photo by skhakirov“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

immigrant students art photo“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.*

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The things are not so easy

immigrant students in schoolIn 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

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.
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Featured backpack

backpackMiguel,* 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