I 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.
My dad attended a school vastly different from mine. He grew up in Spain and learned multiplication tables by singing them in a classroom chorus led by a priest. I learned my multiplication tables by using flashcards.
As a kid, I remember arguing with my dad about math homework. Specifically, it was about problem-solving in algebra: my teacher had taught me one way to solve problems, and my dad wanted to show me an easier way. I would listen to my dad (probably not for long) and then, frustrated, huff and puff that I was going to “do it the teacher’s way” because his way was confusing. Continue reading
Luciana is a 9th grader who arrived in the U.S. in 2016 from the Dominican Republic. She wears a sparkly pink headband, has perfect attendance, and occasionally causes mischief.
I saw Luciana in her 9th grade English class. The students were reading an article about bullying. When the teacher encouraged Luciana to answer a question about the article, Luciana immediately turned to several Spanish-speaking classmates with a panicked look that said, “Please translate! Don’t leave me hanging here!”
“Miss, can I leave at 1:30 to go to a job interview at McDonald’s?”
We have 370 students, and while that is small for a school, I normally can’t spend a lot of time with a single student. However, there was something so compelling about Alonso’s deep, resolute desire to go to this job interview that reminded me of what teenagers crave most: independence and responsibility. Continue reading
In 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
Today I visited a 9th grade Economics* class. Students were working in groups helping each other figure out a word problem.
“How do you get a good grade in this class?” I asked a group.
“Oh, it’s easy maam,” said Hassan.** “You just have to pay attention to the teacher, do your homework, and when you have a question, you can’t just sit there and be quiet, you have to ask the other kids.”
“So how do you think you’re all doing?” I asked.
Hassan looked around the room, tilting his chair back, then looked at his group. “I think everyone in this class is going to get 100,” he said confidently.
I liked Hassan’s answer. Continue reading