The things are not so easy

wp-1475332664738.jpgIn 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

Bananas are 4011

2943134072_fbe538e43f_zWhen I was sixteen, I got a job as a cashier at the local IGA supermarket.  Every fruit had a code used for weighing it, and bananas were the first one I memorized: 4011.  I was proud that I knew things like this.  I liked being useful.

A few years ago I read a book called “The Case Against Adolescence” by Robert Epstein, which said until about 100 years ago, adolescence didn’t exist.  People were children, who then became adults.  After you stopped being a child, you were an adult with responsibility, whether that was getting married and having your own child, working, apprenticing, hunting, joining the army, helping your family with a farm or business or household.  You went from being a child who learned how to be a useful older child, who then became a useful young adult.  Which has recently got me thinking about students who have part-time jobs and what they get from it: Continue reading

Big kids need recess too

Last year, our graduation rate was 68% in June, and increased to 73% in August. 

This year, our graduation rate is 60% in June, eight points below last year.

I confess, I would love to have handed diplomas to every student.  For a week or so, I’ve felt as though the dog ate my optimism.  I would like it back,  please.

Yet it’s hard to stay uninspired for long when I come into contact with students, or listen to just about anyone.  The other day, an 11th grade student from another high school in the Bronx called me on my cell phone to ask if she could take geometry in my school over the summer.  I didn’t know her and don’t know how she got my number  but was inspired by her research, resourcefulness, and chutzpah. Continue reading

Be like Omolaja

wpid-wp-1446810698816.jpgMr. Omolaja is a presence.*

The other day, I was in the cafeteria with Mr. Omolaja, and our radar went to Manuel, a student with  his pants halfway down his thighs.  He was slouching.

Mr. Omolaja gestured for Manuel to come over. Manuel ambled over cowboy-style, the only option for walking given the level of his pants.

Mr. Omolaja gestured to his own belt, which was at his waist.

“Manuel, pull your pants up,” he said.  “Be like Omolaja.” Continue reading

Fair isn’t always equal

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Yesterday, when I visited Mr. D’s English class, I didn’t notice Jose.*  This is notable.

I always notice Jose.  Jose is a student who normally disrupts classes, or wanders the hallways to avoid class.  We have spent countless hours trying to support Jose in behaving and learning.

Yet in Mr. D’s English class, I didn’t notice Jose.  Why?  Because Jose was sitting at a table, quietly annotating a text.  He worked throughout the period, causing no disruption. Continue reading