January 23, 2007

things that have been said to me today

"Are you confused? one plus one equals two! two plus two equals four! pussy plus pussy equals dyke!"

"you alien-looking motherfucker"

"bitch" (x50)

"Freedom Writers"

"you want to teach here?"

"you's a boss"

January 20, 2007

roll call

Declared candidacies for US president, with high-school yearbook style awards:

Tom Vilsack: Most Boring Candidate.
Hillary Clinton: Most Polarizing Candidate.
Barack Obama: Best Smile.
Chris Dodd: Most Pointless Candidacy.
John Edwards: Best Hair.
Dennis Kucinich: Biggest Nerd.
Mike Gravel: Who the hell is that?

Sam Brownback: Attila the Hun Memorial Senator.
Mike Smith/John Cox: Who the hell is that?

miracles are not a policy

I don't know where Tom Moore teaches, or what kind of teacher he is, but he's right on.

One thing I've realized this year is that teaching is full of lovely little moments. I've had a pretty hellacious year so far, I'm not a great teacher, and I still have those moments. And those moments - that's what's in the movies. To string them together into an incredible year, where your work fundamentally changes your students' lives, is an extraordinary achievement. Jaime Escalante and Erin Gruwell and the many, many others who aren't in movies are extraordinary. But the movies - at least if Tom Moore's article and the trailers I watched are to be believed - seriously underestimate the challenges they face, maybe because it's hard to make a moving and comprehensible movie scene out of 30 kids screaming at each other at the same time, or the process of trying to track down bathroom, elevator, and classroom keys, or an activity in which your students refuse to participate pretty much at all.

Worse, just as Moore says, is the idea that teachers can, should, must be heroes. Jaime Escalante and Erin Gruwell and all the other people who change their students' lives are extraordinary. There are 3.8 million teachers in the US. Asking them all to be superheroes and miracle workers is just another way to avoid the real problems of public education.

January 7, 2007

so, what do I think? #2

In that last post about changing public education I talked a lot about money, and I did something that annoys me when other people do it - namely, I bad-mouthed teachers at schools 'like mine.' This annoys me because, hey, you think teachers don't teach well? Here. You try it. Try teaching four periods a day with no office to send kids to, no curriculum for two of those periods, your personal safety in danger, fights on a regular basis, and your students 5 or 6 grade levels behind. Not so easy now, is it? There are a million things I know I should do and just don't, for all sorts of essentially personal reasons about needing time and energy spent away from school.

Last night, I was talking to a friend about her school, where there have been no fights since October 26, 2005, and where the principal mentions that at each Thursday's all-school meeting and there are three full-time deans who deal with anyone who's disruptive in class or talking about thinking about maybe fighting. This is what we like to call a 'support system.' I said that I had realized that at my school, with no support system, it is actually possible to create the support system yourself. I can't do it, but it can be done. She said, yes, but you shouldn't have to, and you can't as a first-year teacher. Which about sums it up.

Basically, being an excellent teacher at a failing school is an almost superhuman endeavor. I think. There are a few teachers who may be counter-examples, but I suspect they pull at least a few superhuman stunts. This is why I have so little patience with people who talk smack about teachers as if we're THE reason public education is so messed up. So why did I talk smack?

Well, mostly because it seems like the math teacher my students had last year just gave them a B+ for showing up. Because my brightest, most motivated students are still mostly behind - and I know it's not their fault because they catch up so damn fast. So. There are at least some really bad teachers out there.

January 4, 2007


I have to remember the good moments, because the bad ones are measured in hours.

Today, in the half hour before lunch, I offered my room to four junior girls who needed a place to work on math for a test prep class. One of them is the smartest most articulate wundermonkey in any of my classes, who's frustrated in my class because it's too slow: she was tutoring the others (which, by the way, she does amazingly, because she's also a natural at that part of teaching). When we got to the room, another girl was waiting - she spent the next twenty minutes writing down the homework she needed to make up. Twenty minutes in, it was lunch time. An 11-th grade girl who's way, way, way behind (in a class that averages 6 grade levels behind) and trying furiously to catch up (partly so she can be a good mom to her daughter) came in, got a calculator, and sat down with the girls working on test prep. A guy who's constantly trying to improve his grade from, say, a 92 to a 97 (which, at my school, is endearing rather than irritating) came in to catch up on back homework - I told him I'd give him extra credit if he taught inverse functions to the other girl who was working on homework and she did well on a quiz. A 9th-grader started working on a diagnostic test. Meanwhile, four people formed a line to talk to me about why they were suspended and what their grades were.

That was when the principal walked in. She said, "What class is this?"

It's not class. They're here because they want to be.