Taking care among glow sticks

Glow stick photoA school is a place where people interact.  It’s easy to rush ahead and think these interactions don’t matter.  After reading about the staff and students in Parkland, Florida, I was reminded of how much of an impact people can make in each other’s lives.  I experienced this impact as I supervised a school dance yesterday.

The student government had planned the dance with a “Glow in the Dark” theme and bought hundreds of plastic glow sticks that students could wear like necklaces or bracelets.  However, nothing was glowing, and not many kids were dancing.  It was still daylight and sunlight was streaming through the large gym windows.  My assistant principal gave a pep talk to the demoralized student government so they could get past their disappointment.  It worked.   Continue reading

Channeling My Inner Norma


In my first year of teaching, I was never observed by an administrator. I started to think that not being observed might be a good thing, as I was struggling mightily to keep my classroom under control.

I taught 8th grade English in a public middle school in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. The school itself was struggling and had been placed on a state list for low student achievement. The principal and assistant principal were both brand new in their jobs and in hindsight, I have empathy for the difficult situation they were in (although I certainly had no empathy at the time). I got used to the idea that administrators were people who helped when things went badly—for example, when a discipline problem forced me to call them and get help. Maybe it was better they weren’t visiting, I thought. What would they see in my classroom? That I was a failure?

Continue reading

Silence through cell phones

cell-phone-hand.jpgI cannot imagine a quiet high school cafeteria. Our cafeteria is noisy and chatty. We’ve managed to (generally) keep kids in their cafeteria seats, but we do not even attempt to contain their enthusiasm, their loud conversations, laughter, exuberant calls to each other, the release of seeing each other socially for 45 minutes a day.

Yet a teacher at another NYC public high school told me that a couple of years ago, their cafeteria became quiet. Suddenly. Why? Continue reading

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

55-25 and my 40th Birthday

Julie Nariman PrincipalThe 55-25 retirement option

In my third year of teaching when I was 24 years old, there was an option to sign up for “55-25.”  “55-25” was an early retirement option for educators, which meant that once you turned 55 and had been teaching in the system for 25 years, you could retire early and receive 50% of your average salary.

I remember several veteran teachers asking me if I had signed up for 55-25.  I barely registered their question. I figured, there’s no way I’ll still be in education in 25 years.  Continue reading