Nothing 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
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
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.*
My school is in the process of interviewing prospective teachers for the next school year. Last week I wrote about a question we ask prospective teachers about feedback.
There is another important question we ask at the end of each interview:
“Why do you want to work in this school?”
This question tells us a lot about a teacher’s commitment to teaching our population of newcomer English Language Learners, as well as how much they’ve researched our school and what they like about it.
I’ve recently been considering my answer to this question. Why do I want to work in my school? Continue reading
Last week, I saw my school through new eyes.
We had a visit of 11 first-year teachers from other high schools, part of a new teacher support initiative in the Bronx. My school was one of 15 schools chosen for the visit with a focus on teaching methods for English Language Learners, as the majority of our students are newcomer immigrants who are learning English.
I told my leadership consultants, Ariel and Shya Kane, about the visit. “First-year teachers? They’re going to compare themselves if they feel insecure,” said Ariel. “Set them up to not compare, and look at your school with a beginner’s mind so they can learn.” Continue reading
I remember my school having a Career Day when I was in 10th grade. I eagerly signed up for journalism, picturing an exciting, glamorous session around undercover reporting. At the end of the day, I was clear that I didn’t want to be a journalist. Getting clearer on what I didn’t love got me interested in other careers. The experience was invaluable.
This past Friday, my school held its first-ever Career Day.
I walked into the auto mechanic presentation. Joe, a friend of mine, had brought a huge bag of tools from his auto shop and laid them out on a table. A student, Yonas, who immigrated from Eritrea last year, looked fascinated. * Continue reading
I always thank the substitute teachers who come to my school. It’s a tough job even with the best-laid plans, and requires a lot of thinking on your feet. In our school, the majority of students are English Language Learners, and subs need to find creative ways to communicate and get the students engaged in their work.
Thirteen years ago, I had the most unusual subbing experience of my life. From 2004-2005, I lived in South Korea teaching English at a university. During one my school vacations, I travelled to Thailand. A teacher I knew suggested I volunteer to teach a guest lesson at local school as a way to “give back” during my vacation. I thought it was a great idea.
Self-portrait created by a student at the High School of Language and Innovation.
“I don’t like social studies class,” Michael told me. Michael is a 9th-grade student from the Dominican Republic. “The kids at my table speak Arabic too much.”
Looking in on a class in my school, you’ll see groups of students composed of different cultures sitting together. Our school is for English Language Learners from all over the world. Complaints and situations like Michael’s are common, especially in 9th grade when many of the students are recent arrivals to the country meeting different cultures for the first time. We purposefully group students of different cultures together to promote the use of English, which can be tough at first as students are learning the language.
The cafeteria is a different story from the classroom. Continue reading
In 2005, I started working at a transfer high school for students ages 17-21 who needed to catch up academically. All of the students who attended the school came from regular New York City High Schools and had transferred to the school looking for another opportunity. I fell in love with the population and was inspired by how a new setting could create a second chance at success.
Five years later, I decided to submit a proposal for a transfer school through New York City’s Office of New Schools.
“Actually,” I was told by the office, “We don’t need any more transfer schools. We need regular schools. Why don’t you just open a regular high school that does such a good job, kids don’t need to go to transfer schools?”
A school is a place where people interact. It’s easy to rush ahead and think these interactions don’t matter. After reading about the staff and students in Parkland, Florida, I was reminded of how much of an impact people can make in each other’s lives. I experienced this impact as I supervised a school dance yesterday.
The student government had planned the dance with a “Glow in the Dark” theme and bought hundreds of plastic glow sticks that students could wear like necklaces or bracelets. However, nothing was glowing, and not many kids were dancing. It was still daylight and sunlight was streaming through the large gym windows. My assistant principal gave a pep talk to the demoralized student government so they could get past their disappointment. It worked. Continue reading