September 23, 2007

upgrade my classroom

As many of you know, I teach 9th and 12 grades at an under-resourced neighborhood high school in Philadelphia. My school, built in 1939, lacks books and technology, giving my students little chance to develop the academic and technological skills they need. In my second year, I teach 4 periods of 9th grade math a day, plus a senior English class another teacher and I designed to prepare our students for college. We are teaching Beowulf, which is the first text in the senior curriculum, but our students do not have their own books: they cannot read at home, write notes and definitions in the margins, or underline particularly important parts, all of which are critical for college preparedness and basic understanding of such a difficult text.

This can change - not just in the long term, but right now. I set up a donations page through the Amazon Honor System: please consider donating $5 to $20 if you can. I also set up a blog to keep people posted on the projects I'll be doing with the money: the first is to buy individual paperback copies of Beowulf for my seniors (less than $200). You can read about it at, where I'll also be posting pictures.

September 20, 2007

everything (missed opportunities)

It's 3:45. Ms. Z wants to talk to me. It's about paper for the copy machines. I'm using too much (300 pages a day, she says, though I'd estimate 180, max), and half of my classes aren't even ESOL. The paper comes out of the ESOL budget; I need to go get my paper allotment from whichever unknown administrator controls the department that has it. Is it the assistant principal? Is it the military administrator? The central message is that I need to track down this paper, some way, somehow. It's my job.

This is one of those moments where resource scarcity in the urban schools comes front and center. Not just material scarcity (of paper, of all things!), but time scarcity, knowledge scarcity. Ms. Z is volunteering her time to administer the ESOL program, since the normal administrator was badly injured in a motorcycle accident. She's fine - she's TFA as well, interested in running her own school someday, trying very hard to do good work - but she's never done it before, and she's very conscious of the fact that she's not being paid for it. She doesn't want to be the one tracking down the paper, but she also is absolutely emphatic that it must happen.

In a school that didn't ration paper, this wouldn't be an issue at all. In a school with more time available, I imagine that administrators, several of whom probably have the same issue, could get together and work out some kind of system. If she'd been here for years, we'd know how to deal with this without fuss.

One of the results of a broken public school system is that teachers become responsible for everything. Supplies, funding, real-time curriculum development, meetings, sports: if you don't organize it yourself, there is precious little chance that someone else will. Hence, being awake from 5:30 AM to midnight on Tuesday, with maybe a total of 2.5 hours when I wasn't working. You know what takes 2.5 hours? Eating breakfast, eating lunch, eating dinner, and taking a shower, that's what.

September 9, 2007


Dear everyone,

My parents are Bon Appetit food artisans of the year for 2007.

That is all.


September 4, 2007

dust and schadenfreude

Context: I'm at school. First day back. No kids yet, a bunch of newbies (even newer than I am! 52 out of 157 teachers have been here two years or less!), not bad, except that the teacher who had my room last year left the detritus of 40 years of teaching here. I'm talking manuals for software for the Apple IIe. If software fossilizes, does it turn into hardware? I just filled two large trash cans and 10 boxes with most of the stuff I'm not keeping, and I'm hoping to give most of the rest of it away on Thursday. I've been at school for ten hours so far. I think I'm going home soon because I'm too hungry to stay, not because I'm done.

Event: I read this article describing the Republican prospects in the Senate for 2008. Each paragraph is better than the last, but these three stand out. First, for sheer color:

"It's always darkest right before you get clobbered over the head with a pipe wrench. But then it actually does get darker," said a GOP pollster who insisted on anonymity in order to speak candidly.

Second, because it's just true:
Nathan L. Gonzales, political editor of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report: "If Idaho ends up the fire wall, they are in deep trouble."

And finally, elegantly summarizing the situation:
"About the only safe Republican Senate seats in '08 are the ones that aren't on the ballot," a GOP operative with extensive experience in Senate races said.

Is it wrong to be this happy that people's careers are being ruined?