The Quiet Kid

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Student artwork, High School of Language and Innovation. 

As our 12th-grade students are applying for colleges, our staff writes recommendations for them.   The students email the recommender a “brag sheet” of their accomplishments, goals, and life experiences.  I have had the privilege of writing several recommendations this year, and love how much I learn about our students through the process.

One young man, who I see as a leader, described his only accomplishment as “good at sports.”  He was totally unaware of his own greatness.  I made sure to describe his leadership, such as the times I’ve seen him guiding 9th graders to do the right thing.

One young lady wrote an assertive brag sheet in organized bullet points.   Reading it, I remembered how she had volunteered one summer to organize all of our classroom libraries and then ensured that I wrote a letter documenting her community service.  This year, she started a dance club, which has become our most well-attended club.  I felt appreciation for her ambition and how she has made the school a better place.

One young man, Samuel, * was a surprise to me.  I was happy to receive his request to write a recommendation, but I realized I didn’t know much about him.  Here is what I knew: he is from Honduras and started our school in the 9th grade.  He is doing well academically.  He is a nice, quiet kid with a big smile.

His brag sheet was a revelation.  I learned how much he valued his family: he started by describing his family (mom, dad, siblings) as his greatest support and then detailing their levels of education: who finished high school, who didn’t, who was pursuing college, who didn’t finish college.  I learned that he is living in the United States with his father and uncle, and that his mother and siblings were still in Honduras. He had experienced the death of an infant sibling, and wrote about how his parents supported him through that challenge. He is debating about whether to become a aviation mechanic or to have a career in fashion.  I had no idea he had an interest in fashion, and then I suddenly remembered that he is a stellar artist and his work has been displayed all over the school.

I learned that he was class president for two years in a row in Honduras, right before he immigrated to the U.S.  This struck me: how had his identity changed after he came to the U.S in a new school?  Even though we are a school of newcomer immigrant English Language Learners, how hard had it been for him to adjust?  Had he wanted to pursue student government in my school, or was it something he never considered?  Was he a “quiet kid” in Honduras?

In reading his brag sheet, I saw his creativity, his insightfulness, his aspirations.  It occurred to me that over the years, I get to know certain students very well: our star students, our student government leaders, and most of all our attention-seekers who disrupt classrooms (until they don’t).  I don’t always know the “quiet kids.”  In learning about Samuel, I felt I had discovered a hidden jewel that made me want to learn more about all of my students: to see the world through their eyes, to know their aspirations, and to make our high school a more obvious path to those aspirations.

*The names and identifying features of students have been changed.

 

 

 

 

How to be a man

Sky view

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.

Continue reading

Slowing down in summer

20180601_073647.jpgAs 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

You are truly Welcome

20180623_075134.jpgMy school is a school for newcomer immigrant English Language Learners.  With recent events at the Mexican border, I have been thinking about the parents of my students and their journeys in coming to the United States with their children.  This past week, I had the opportunity to speak with the father of Marcos. * Marcos is a student from Peru who came to the U.S. when he was in the 9th grade.

This past week, Marcos won an award for graduating seniors from the Bronx United Federation of Teachers.  Marcos and 30 other students each won a laptop, a wireless printer and a backpack full of supplies, all to set them up for success in their first year of college.  At the awards ceremony, I sat next to Marcos’s father and learned more about him. Continue reading

45 minutes of home

art photography by julie nariman

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

Permission to be excited

Education NYC - Julie NarimanI walked into a 9th grade art class the other day simply because it looked beautiful.  Little tangles of red, teal, yellow, orange, and blue fibers covered each table and the students were gluing the fibers to paper to create a design.  I asked one group of students who looked particularly engaged, “Are you enjoying this project?”

The students looked at each other, and seemed about to express enthusiasm—and then one girl shrugged.  Following her, the others shrugged as well.  They went back to work, fully engrossed—but not able to admit it.  The girl who first shrugged seemed mesmerized by a teal fiber, pulling it out as if she had big plans for it.
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I’ll give you my right arm

immigrant studentsAwa sobbed in our office.  “Can’t you just let me try?” she pleaded.

Awa, an 11th grader who came from Senegal in 9th grade, was begging to take the New York State English Regents exam in January.  We told her she’d take it in June when she had completed the coursework for the exam.  She left in tears.  

When I started our school in 2011,* I thought that the experience of taking a state exam was so valuable that it was worth letting a student try, even if they weren’t 100% prepared.   Continue reading