Our high school is made up almost entirely of newcomer immigrant English Language Learners. Every May we give students a required test that measures English proficiency.
The test includes a a 15 minute speaking portion, which is delivered 1:1 by a teacher. The speaking test starts with a simple Warm Up: “A. What is your favorite animal? B. What do you like to do at school? C. Tell me about your favorite foods.” The teacher then asks the student a longer series of questions from a booklet. Topics range from doctors to telescopes.
In our school, we enlist all teachers to administer the speaking test: physical education teachers, art teachers, math teachers, everyone. Continue reading
Student portrait, art class at High School of Language and Innovation
As a school for newcomer immigrant English Language Learners, our students come from all over the world: Dominican Republic, Yemen, Bangladesh, several countries in Africa, Albania, China, Vietnam, to name a few.
However, we don’t know much about school in our students’ countries. Recently, I decided to simply ask: what was learning like in your country?
I was prompted to do this because our school had visitors last week. A group of new teachers were touring the school to learn best practices for supporting English Language Learners.
As part of the visit, I organized a student panel with two of my teachers. The teachers choose five 9th and 10th graders and ensured they represented several countries: Dominican Republic, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Albania. The students had lived in the U.S. anywhere from 4 months to 2 years. Continue reading
Jeetu, a 12th-grade boy, sat in my office, eager to talk.
“You’re the principal, so I can tell you anything, right?”
I was tickled by Jeetu’s question. A lot of kids might have the opposite thought: You’re the principal so let me choose my words carefully and make sure you don’t find out whatever I’m hiding.
Jeetu took New York State Regents exams* in January. I was meeting with every 12th grader who had taken exams and experienced at least one disappointment in failing an exam. Continue reading
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.
Students at the High School of Language and Innovation collaborating in science class.
The first week of school, I learned that most of my students didn’t know the word “integrity.”
As a tone setter, my assistant principals and I visited classes and did a presentation around our core values: integrity, perseverance, respect, and responsibility. We’re using a new approach, Responsibility Centered Discipline (RCD). In RCD, we coach kids to make choices that embody these core values, rather than simply reminding them of rules. An RCD conversation would go like this: “Jaime, I love when you participate in this class because you have a great sense of humor. Your participation makes a difference. When you stopped doing your work and put your head down, you weren’t showing perseverance. If you can keep showing perseverance and never give up, you’ll not only learn, but you’ll be a role model and leader for your classmates. What can you do when you get frustrated with the work and want to put your head down?” Continue reading
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
Trees on Pelham Parkway that greet our new students and families.
One of my favorite TV shows is “Undercover Boss.” In the show, the CEO or president of a large company is given a disguise and goes undercover as an entry-level employee in their own company for several days. From that vantage point, the CEOs are able to see the inner-workings of their company from the ground-up: the good, the bad, the perplexing.
I often create what I call “undercover boss” moments in my work. Of course, I don’t wear a disguise, but when opportunities appear where I can quickly do a task that I normally wouldn’t do, or briefly fill in for an employee, I take it. I gain invaluable insights into my school and a deeper appreciation of the work my staff does on a daily basis. Continue reading