When 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
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
I 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.
Yesterday, 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.
Mr. 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
Eric is running to his third period class, weaving between throngs of students.
He sees me. He halts. He stands squarely in front of me.
He bows deeply.
“Anyong haseyo sunsengnim,” he says with perfect Korean pronunciation. Good day, honorable teacher.
“Anyong haseyo, hakseng,” I reply. Good day, honorable student.*
He grins and walks to class. Continue reading