I was sure Sophia* was going to become a teacher.
Sophia was a 12th grader who had shown a passion for teaching. Last summer, she tutored a group of classmates in history and did a great job. After the experience, Sophia told me she wanted to become a math teacher. I told her to reach out to us after college to teach at our school and she loved the idea. I even wrote about Sophia, calling her The First Hire of 2023 (link).
So this past June, I was surprised to see that Sophia had changed her mind. Continue reading
The New Zealand mosque shooting had particular resonance for my students. My school is for newcomer immigrant English Language Learners and many of our students are Muslim. The day after the shooting, a girl who is not Muslim came in with a poster she had made on her own stating “We stand with our Muslim neighbors.” It was the first of several events last week that showed me a new level of leadership among my students.
Our school is housed in a building with five other public high schools. Students from one of the others schools decided to organize a student walkout on Friday in response to the New Zealand shooting to protest hate crimes, gun violence, and show support for the victims. It would be peaceful, no longer than 40 minutes, and take place on the athletic field. Students from our campus had participated in last year’s walkout around the Parkland school shooting, and it had been safe and organized. All seemed fine.
On Tuesday, my assistant principal called me: “Julie, did you know that our students were planning on walking out tomorrow– Wednesday, not Friday? Apparently there’s a big thing on social media. Continue reading
I find my students touching, and often cute. However, in thinking of them as “cute,” I don’t always see their wisdom.
Three 12th grade students approached me a few weeks ago. I call them my “movers and shakers.” They are active in student government and always looking to plan new activities.
“We want to have a ‘Glow in the Dark’ party,” said Stephanie.*
“Yeah! Kids are getting stressed out studying for Regents exams and this will be fun,” added Hassan.**
I did what I often do with kids: I told them I would think about it and get back to them. Continue reading
Each year, one of the most exciting things we do is interview and hire new teachers. Now, in our school’s 8th year of existence, I realized a new possibility: we can hire our former students as teachers.
Since our school’s first year in 2011,* we have had students serving as tutors to other students. It started out as tutoring each other over the summer: kids who had passed state exams in math tutored those who had failed. The tutors earned a small stipend. That summer, many students passed the math exam.
Over the years, we’ve shifted the tutoring opportunities. Now, we give seniors who are on-track to graduate the opportunity to tutor their 12th-grade peers who need support or to serve as teacher assistants in 9th and 10th-grade classrooms. Continue reading
At the High School of Language and Innovation, part of our teacher hiring process is having the candidate deliver a 15-minute demonstration lesson (a “demo”) in front of one of our classes. A candidate can nail an interview but the demo is often the most telling part of the process because we see what the person would be like in front of real students.
I wrote in an earlier blog about the comparatively low number of Latino boys in my school who are graduating on time. When I expressed this concern to my leadership consultants Ariel and Shya Kane, they suggested that in every demo lesson, we include a significant number of Latino boys and take special note of how the teacher engages those boys. This suggestion has been invaluable– rather than looking narrowly for a certain “type” of candidate, we’ve shifted to simply seeing who our students become in front of that candidate.
Since summer school classes are smaller, we have sometimes needed to add boys from other classes.
My school is in the process of interviewing prospective teachers for the next school year. Last week I wrote about a question we ask prospective teachers about feedback.
There is another important question we ask at the end of each interview:
“Why do you want to work in this school?”
This question tells us a lot about a teacher’s commitment to teaching our population of newcomer English Language Learners, as well as how much they’ve researched our school and what they like about it.
I’ve recently been considering my answer to this question. Why do I want to work in my school? Continue reading
“If you elect me, you can bring your cell phones to class.”
With that, the crowd erupted and I witnessed the power of political temptation in our student government elections. David, a quiet student from Guinea, was delivering his speech to be an Eleventh Grade Senator.
Why did David’s promise get such a big reaction? Because the administration collects students’ phones to minimize distraction.*