Clearing the one armed bandits

wp-1458042250935.jpgThree times a year, our classrooms transform: round tables are replaced with rows of tablet-armed desks during the state testing weeks of January, June, and August.   We call these desks one-armed bandits.

The change from tables to desks is a physically dramatic event.  The classroom turns from an expansive, wide space with 6-7 round tables, to a tightly–packed, orderly box filled with metal and laminate desks.  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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Mister, why are you teaching math if you could be a singer?

SunsetBronxRiverParkway_walkinggeekYesterday, Mr. W started his trigonometry class by singing.  He sang “I’ll Be” by Edwin McCain acapella, in a beautiful tenor vibrato. “It’s the song I used for my American Idol audition,” he told the class.

At their best, this particular group of 11-12th graders are curious and excited about learning.  At their worst, they can be cynical and complaining, and can wear a teacher down.

As Mr. W was singing, though, the students visibly melted, and  smiles broke out.
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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

Featured backpack

wpid-wp-1446596346025.jpgMiguel,* 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

There’s a yellow M&M in stairwell six

wpid-wp-1444687672511.jpg“There’s a yellow M&M in stairwell six, on the second floor,” I said to a staff member.  “Could you find a student to clean it up?”

He smiled at me, but nodded.  I could tell he was thinking, “An M&M? Only an M&M?”  We’ve had much worse in our stairwells: milk cartons, used napkins, and my personal un-favorite: ketchup smeared on the banisters.

“Only” an M & M is progress: it means my staff is enlisting students to clean the stairwells throughout the day, which is exactly what I want them to do. Continue reading