Undercover Boss

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Trees on Pelham Parkway that greet our new students and families.

One of my favorite TV shows is “Undercover Boss.”  In the show, the CEO or president of a large company is given a disguise and goes undercover as an entry-level employee in their own company for several days.  From that vantage point, the CEOs are able to see the inner-workings of their company from the ground-up: the good, the bad, the perplexing.

I often create what I call “undercover boss” moments in my work.  Of course, I don’t wear a disguise, but when opportunities appear where I can quickly do a task that I normally wouldn’t do, or briefly fill in for an employee, I take it.  I gain invaluable insights into my school and a deeper appreciation of the work my staff does on a daily basis. Continue reading

A piece of the puzzle at prom

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I’m always surprised by how much I learn about our school from our prom. We recently held our prom earlier than most schools due to Ramadan, as we wanted more of our Muslim students to be able to attend.

Our high school is a school for newcomer English Language Learners from all over the world who have been in the USA less than 4 years. The students are excited by the idea of the prom but they don’t have a strong expectation of what it should be so there’s no comparison or disappointment.

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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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The parent at school, the teacher at home

Rafael Nariman in Class of 1955

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

Please (please!) translate for me.

document translationLuciana 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!”    

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I need this job at McDonald’s

McDonalds photo by skhakirov“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

The things are not so easy

immigrant students in schoolIn 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