Thursday, September 30, 2004


It has been a long time since I had a random fit of crying, but last night and this afternoon I could feel one rising up inside me, that old drowning feeling. I didn't give in to it. I'm trying to fight this demon off. I had invited a few people to go to a poetry slam with me tonight, but I backed out. I'm hoping that getting more than six hours of sleep will reset my brain chemistry to normal. I've resisted the urge - until tonight - to retreat, to stop spending time with people, to hide from things. I went to my friend's comedy show despite exhaustion and torrential rain because I care about her and had promised I would go and I wanted to laugh. I went to yoga last night despite desperately wanting to skip it because I know that once I start withdrawing it will only get worse. I was kind of bitchy to my students on Tuesday and upon reflection, realized that the most important thing is not to take stuff out on them, and Wednesday and Thursday were much better.

I can see the bad thought patterns creeping in - the thought pattern about having no friends and losing the ones I have through neglect, about not being good enough at anything, the blizzard of negativity.

Oh--and the fear that the people I care about can't handle any of this. My old friends can deal, we've all been there for each other time and again. It's the new people I can't completely trust. The thing is, I'm not planning on allowing myself to get depressed. And I don't particularly want to be cheered up. I just want the people I care about to know that I'm fighting a battle inside no matter how pulled together I appear on the outside.

I'm determined that a few night's sleep and time spent working and organizing will put me on firmer ground and the brain chemistry will follow. I am not going to let myself drown; I know which way is up, this time.

Naked Eggs

On a shelf in the back of my classroom, I have 18 eggs sitting in a plastic shoebox full of vinegar. They've been there for more than 24 hours at this point, and when I rinsed them and replaced the vinegar this afternoon, most of the eggshells had dissolved, leaving the eggs held together by only a membrane - squishy! Why am I doing this? To demonstrate the role of a membrane and how osmosis works. Tomorrow, we will place our eggs in water, corn syrup, and various salt solutions. On Monday, thanks to the different concentration of solids and water inside and outside the egg's membrane, some of the eggs will have swollen up while others will have shrunk.

A cell is like...

  • a computer.
  • a restaurant (the waiters are like the endoplasmic reticulum, delivering protein to different parts of the cell).
  • a slaughterhouse.
  • an NBA basketball team (Karl Malone is like the cell wall, protecting and supporting the cell).
  • the Roman Coliseum (lions are like lysosomes, digesting food & waste products)
  • the United States (the government is the nucleus, and the people are the cytoplasm).
  • a factory.
  • the human body (the epidermis is like the cell wall).
  • a city.
  • a supermarket.

Metaphors contributed by my eighth graders.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Rumble in the Bronx

It happened again.

On Friday afternoon, my principal and several parents walked with our students to the bus stop. Waiting for them was a crowd of about 30 students from another school in the neighborhood - who proceeded to attack our children even in the presence of adults! No one was seriously hurt although a couple of our students got punched in the face. My principal had to call 911 because she and the other adults present could not stop the mob of children. It took 25 minutes for 911 to arrive!

It seems that one of our 8th graders, a girl who is very nice but occasionally goofy, may have played a role in instigating this whole crisis by making some comments to a boy from another school. She probably intended them to be funny - she gets pretty hyper after school gets out - but he obviously did not take them that way. That does not begin to justify gathering 30 of your friends and attacking our students, though!

So, we are changing our schedule - again - so that we start and end school a half hour earlier than the other schools in the neighborhood. We released early today and a group of parents and teachers walked the kids to the bus stop again. We've told the children to go straight home; don't stop at the store, any fast food restaurants, the park, the library. Wait until you get to your own neighborhood to do these things.

I'm really disheartened. I had pretty much recovered from my bout of hopelessness only to arrive at school to the news that my children are not safe within just a few blocks of their school.

I'll keep you updated.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

What can a science teacher do with several pounds of candy, 4 bags of gelatin, a pitcher of water, and 12 plastic sandwich containers? Build jello cell models, of course! Here's the set up prior to the lab. Never content to just build models, I had each group make a poster on construction paper to accompany their model. They had to list each organelle and which type of candy they chose to represent it, and write a paragraph explaining how to improve their model. This weekend, each student has to make a poster or write a short essay describing a metaphor for a cell. For example, "A cell is like a factory. The mitochondria are like electrical generators, the cell wall is like the wall of the factory, the endoplasmic reticulum is like the assembly line..." Posted by Hello

Here's my classroom fridge full of cells... Posted by Hello

Here's one group's finished cell. It was interesting to see how each group used a different combination of candy pieces to represent the organelles. There were some ideas that many groups independently arrived at, but lots of differences, and lots of creative ideas that never occured to me! Posted by Hello

Here's another. I believe the nucleus is a sour apple ring with a jelly bean sitting in the center to represent the nucleolus. The candy peanut is a mitochondrion. The jelly worms are the endoplasmic reticulum. Posted by Hello

And another finished cell. Posted by Hello


Don't know where blogging fits into this school year. I keep getting swallowed up. This is what the week ahead looks like:

Monday - school, grading, laundry, maybe yoga
Tuesday - school, theater class, pick up veggies, see a friend's sketch comedy show
Wednesday - school, afterschool class, yoga (if not on Monday)
Thursday - school, grading, meeting friends at the Urbana Poetry Slam
Friday - school... and then the beginning of the weekend, and my roommate returns from Mali

I'm trying to maintain the things I did this summer that made me feel more substantial as a person... new habits about food, sleep, creativity, friendships. I'm trying to change the way that I get my schoolwork done - specifically, staying after school to work rather than bringing it home. I'm trying to balance a new relationship with keeping my friendships strong and having enough time for my own creative projects. My mind feels a little cluttered. My apartment is extremely cluttered and that is contributing to the mental clutter. My schedule feels cluttered because it hasn't settled into a rhythm yet. I feel a little hopeless about my ability to make the world a better place, so I shut out any knowledge about world events outside of my immediate sphere of influence. Then I feel guilty for choosing to be ill-informed. The students getting jumped this week, plus a student's story about abuse in his family, have left me feeling even less optimistic about my ability to make things better even within my small sphere of influence. Yesterday I spaced out for a while, my mind in a really dark place. In general, things are good, as long as I can stay in the present and do the best I can where I am, when I am. This is a ramble. I guess what I'm saying is, I'm a little overwhelmed, it's something I go through at times of transition, I'll get through it. I want to keep blogging and I find my head full but my thoughts won't form into words and stories. I'm fighting to stay connected in every sense of the word. Thanks for reading.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Graphing Redux

First period today, I taught a model lesson on graphing in Mr. Kelvin's room. I was modeling classroom management more than lesson structure, but I think it was a pretty good lesson, nevertheless. I got the idea from Mrs. Chew, who suggested it last year when I was teaching graphing, and just yesterday posted some of her hopes for the lesson. To continue the conversation, let me describe what I did.

I first reviewed the various types of graphs that Mr. Kelvin had presented to them the previous day, then gave each pair or group of three a copy of a data set (time/distance) and a piece of chart paper. I had already drawn axes on the chart paper, but left them blank otherwise. I told the students to think about what the data meant and then make a graph that would help someone see the patterns in the data. Most of the students chose to make line graphs, but a few made bar graphs. Some students carefully spaced the numbers on their axes, others left the numbers floating around near the axes. They peeked at each other's graphs and learned from each other. I heard conversations between students debating how to set up their graphs, stating their opinions, defending them, listening to each other. I praised that kind of talk. The students asked me for guidance, and for the most part, I answered their questions with more questions. I smilingly told them I wasn't going to give them any answers, so they'd have to make those decisions for themselves. Occasionally, the urge to guide overcame my determination to let them explore - but not too often. The students put a lot of thought and hard work into their graphs, so the lesson ran a little long. We started hanging the graphs on the chalkboard and walls, and talked a little about a couple of them, but Mr. Kelvin will have to finish the discussion part of the lesson tomorrow or Monday.

Tomorrow he is giving his first quiz. I don't think it's going to be a pretty sight, but I think it's important for him to get some feedback on what the kids are getting and what they aren't, so I didn't tell him not to. I did urge that it be low stakes, a mini-assessment, more for him than for them.

He seemed really pleased with the model lesson. He took notes and thanked me afterwards, and my principal said he even told her that it was helpful and went well. He said that he didn't realize how focused the kids could be - which was exactly the point, it helps to know what is possible.


Pedro, one of our eighth grade boys - a very mild-mannered, sweet kid - got jumped on his way home from school yesterday. He was walking with four classmates. They stopped at the store, so they were a little behind the rest of the students from our school. A couple of students from another school have been bothering them off and on since last year, which we were only vaguely aware of because our students never mentioned it to us. So when they started harrassing Pedro and his friends yesterday, Pedro decided he'd had enough, and took off his glasses, backpack, and coat so he could fight back. The students from the other school, with backup from several of their friends (perhaps as many as 20!) attacked him and broke his nose. He had to go to the hospital, but he's okay now and will be back in school on Monday.

Needless to say, our students and their parents are upset and worried. Our kids aren't even safe walking in groups! And the situation may get worse this year, because the Region mandated that all schools open and close at the same hour, so our kids will be dismissed at the same time as everyone else, rather than on a staggered schedule as in the past.

The thing is, other kids know that students from our school are good students, a little nerdy, loved by parents and teachers, and not fighters. That makes our students easy targets. My principal says that on some level, the other children are jealous of our kids for being happy, well-adjusted, and likely to go on to better things (or at least a safer neighborhood). I doubt any of the children would admit that, but I certainly know what she means.

Our LIS (Local Instructional Superintendent) came to the school to discuss the problem with my principal and talk to the parents. Essentially, since it happened after school hours and off school grounds, the only thing that can be done is for the family to press charges. For that to happen, the parents would have to allow their children to go to the other school and identify the students involved--what a thing for a thirteen year old to have to do! If they don't take action, then the kids will get away with their bullying and will continue it, but if they publicly identify the students involved, they might face future retaliation. Damned if you do, damned if you don't. I hear echoes of this same debate on the radio in the morning when they talk about whether or not to try to negotiate with the terrorists who have taken hostages in the Middle East. So frustrating and disheartening.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Starship Teacher

This is a week of no stories. Instead, I feel like I'm travelling at very high speed as a series of incidents and events whiz past.

On Tuesday, another teacher found my conflict resolution book in a pile of stuff in his desk. I have a little more planning to do, but I finally feel as though I have a grasp on the health curriculum, especially for the sixth grade.

Also on Tuesday, I observed Mr. Richter. His classroom management had improved noticeably since my last observation - which took place only about 3 school days earlier! And the students did me proud by recalling many things that they learned from me last year, like examples of elements and the definition of solid, liquid, gas, and compound.

Mr. Kelvin is struggling a lot more. He teaches 8th grade Spanish in addition to sixth grade Science, and the 8th graders are - in his words - "trampling" him (and "leaving footprints"). He has a fairly full schedule that does not allow time for planned observations each week, so we decided that once a week I will teach a model lesson to his students. The first model lesson is tomorrow - I need to pull together some data sets for the students to graph. Last year, when I was mired in teaching the students graphing skills, Mrs. Chew suggested giving each group a data set and chart paper, asking them to make a graph displaying the data, and then using their graphs as a jumping off point for discussing what makes a graph more or less effective in communicating information. I think I'm going to give that a try. (See - even if I don't take suggestions immediately, I do keep them filed away for future use!).

I hear from other teachers - er, department chairs - that a couple of the other new teachers are really struggling, as well. We are all trying to balance being honest with them about things that they need to improve, while not overwhelming them or making our feedback seem harsh. New teachers out there - what would help YOU? I welcome your ideas so that I can better help my new teachers!

The eighth graders are obsessed with the sexual meanings of words like "stiff" - which makes talking about the function of a cell wall a little tricky. On the other hand, in response to a student's question, I said "sperm" and "egg" with nary a giggle. And I had to tell a student that I'm not an expert on the finer points of chicken reproduction, but that we could look up the answer to his question. That drew a lot of laughter, needless to say!

Yesterday, a student said, "I didn't know onions were made of cells!"

"Well, onions come from a plant, and plants are living things - and all living things are made of cells."

"Onions are plants?"

So today, when I started talking about cells and their organelles, I realized I'd have to allow time for the students to clarify exactly what types of things are living and made of cells. They were a bit confused about things that had been alive, but died - are dead things still made of cells? What about food? Chicken? Bread? We talked about what bread is made from, and where flour comes from, and yeast...

Students come to your classroom knowing lots of things. Do not assume they know nothing; they are certainly not blank slates. At the same time, never assume they know any specific thing. I try to ask questions that draw out what they already know and allow us to build on that. And I try to allow - particularly at the beginning of a new unit - time for them to ask questions that I might not see coming.

Monday, September 20, 2004

(Blue) Monday Notes

My school-year sleep pattern - wake up in a panic once an hour all night - has returned with a vengeance.

My windows were open over the long weekend - just an inch or two at the tops, so far above my head I didn't even notice - and Hurricane Ivan left my classroom very, very cold. I felt like crawling into a cave and sleeping away several months. Time to bring a sweater to school for fall and winter.

In all my moving over the last three weeks, I misplaced a book on conflict resolution which I was planning to use in my sixth grade health class. I've scoured every bookshelf in the school, but no sign of my book. It's a difficult book to replace; neither Amazon nor Barnes & Noble have it in stock. Now I have to find and order another book to use, and re-think my lessons until something arrives. I'm not happy.

Not blue: The new science teachers feel like they are making progress in getting and keeping their students' attention, thanks to my suggestion that they really need a clear procedure for this. Mr. Richter says, "Eyes and ears on me" and then counts down from three. I'll be observing again tomorrow.

Mr. Kelvin - the new Physical Science teacher - gave his sixth graders a diagnostic test which included questions about graphs. We had talked about the need to spend serious time with the students on how to read graphs and how to create graphs from data, but it didn't hit home until he graded the diagnostics this weekend. Take nothing for granted, Mr. Kelvin; some of the sixth graders have never seen a line graph. Others think they should make a little pile of X's and a little bar of Y's. Still others will number the axes in ways beyond your wildest imaginings.

My principal handed out a memo today saying that although we are not contractually obligated to arrive before 8:30 am, she wants us to start homeroom at 8:20 to set a tone. She's right that the extra ten minutes to get settled will help the children, and an earlier start will allow our students to enter the building on a staggered schedule from the students from the other school in the building. Nevertheless, asking teachers to give another ten minutes of "on" time - time actively working with students - is a bigger deal than it might initially sound. I now have absolutely no doubts that I was right in speaking to her about wanting my administrators to be around after the school day ends.

Sunday, September 19, 2004


Lectrice pointed out in these comments that I might have hurt my principal's feelings by telling her I thought she should stay later, if in fact some family or home crisis had been her reason for leaving. That's completely valid - but she's been leaving early most days for the past two years, and it has led to some conflict among our staff. Since we specifically committed as a staff to communicating clearly, honestly, and before things become emotional or personal, I felt comfortable bringing it up with her. Also, to my mind it would have to be a pretty extreme family emergency to justify leaving at the same time as the students on the first day of school! There are always situations that arise after school, but particularly in the beginning of the year. I know that most schools, and most organizations and businesses of any sort, are not run in the kind of way where teachers can be honest like this with their administrators, or employees with their employers. I feel lucky that although the conversation was very tense, we were able to have it.

Cat & Classroom

This has been a lovely long weekend. I reconnected with someone really important to me (!), an old friend is staying with me during her move to NYC, and I got to spend some quality time with this cutie. Valentine is becoming more affectionate by the day. This morning's thunderstorm - remnants of Ivan - freaked her out for a few minutes, but being a cat, she realized that she needed to lick her paw and forgot all about the lightning. Posted by Hello

This is my classroom. Okay, it was my classroom before I moved downstairs two weeks ago. I'll take and post pictures of my new classroom soon - but it looks remarkably like this one! This was my favorite classroom of the four that I've had since I started teaching. Posted by Hello

The teacher's desk - and boxes of science supplies that do not yet have homes. Posted by Hello

This wall is covered in quotes written on sentence strips and then laminated. Many of the quotes come from a wall of the Science, Industry, and Business Library (SIBL) here in New York City, and the rest I have picked up from various sources. If I ever need a last minute activity, and sometimes just because it's thought-provoking, I ask the students to choose a quote and write a paragraph or two explaining what they think it means, whether they agree or disagree with it, and why. Then we share. It's been fun watching the kids' understanding of the quotes deepen and mature over time. Posted by Hello

Two of my favorites. Posted by Hello

Thursday, September 16, 2004

I'm baaack!

Finally, finally, I have internet at home once again. What a relief. I'm out of the habit of writing daily, though.

New York schools have a four day weekend this week, due to the Jewish holidays. It's a nice way to ease into the school year, except that at my school we have been in the process of starting up for a month now and I think we are all more than ready for a full, five-day week.

Our new teachers have official, city-provided mentors who will be spending a fair amount of time at our school. One of the mentors is fine, but the other seems to expect the worst of our school and seems to see her role as helping the new teachers versus their administration and colleagues. She has been very demanding of their time, even when they politely told her they had meetings to attend or had agreed to do an observation in another classroom. It might be reasonable if she had made an appointment or set up a schedule with them, but that has not happened yet, so her demands feel very disrespectful of the systems and schedules that we have set up. In some schools, her low expectations regarding the administration might be quite reasonable; there certainly are some schools where new teachers are ignored, undermined, or mistreated. Nevertheless, it has always seemed to me that when entering a new community, you ought to make an effort to find out what it is like and be very respectful so that you create positive relationships right from the start.

It doesn't help that many of us are somewhat suspicious of the mentors due to our own experiences when we were first year teachers. I think mentoring is a great idea for supporting new teachers, but like so many things, it has been poorly implemented. Sadly, this has led to distrust and suspicion among the parties involved. Anyway, we are treating the mentors politely and not saying much in front of our new teachers; I sincerely hope that as they get a feel for how our school operates, the mentors will become a part of our community.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Teaching, Again

I want so much to talk to someone about the first two days, but no one's around right now. I miss blogging. I miss my internet connection. So, here I am in a cafe with 19 minutes and 36 seconds remaining on the clock.

I love teaching.

Let me say that again.

I love teaching.

Today, I taught 60 students about microns, and how to find the diameter of the field of view of a light microscope. They didn't know that yesterday! Unfathomable.

Today, I observed the two new science teachers and saw, among other things, how far I've come as a teacher. I can redirect a child's attention with a look! Incredible.

On Monday, I taught PE for the first time this year, to a class of sixth graders. We talked about safety and sportsmanship and stretching, and then we practiced our stretching routine and ended with sit-ups and jumping jacks and it was all so much fun.

My school feels like home. Staying after to do my work - rather than bringing it home every night - is working out really well so far. I feel like a part of a community. We work, we take breaks and visit, we share advice, we help each other. I haven't collected any major assignments yet, but I can already tell that grading at school is going to be so much more manageable than grading at home.

I am so eager to get the first assignment back from my students. I'm not collecting homework this year, because it was just so much work. Instead, I'm checking that it was completed and doing my best to assign homework that leads up to long-term projects and thus is more meaningful than worksheets. For example, today and tomorrow the students are writing instructions for basic use of the microscope, finding field of view, and making slides, all of which they will combine next week into an instruction manual for the microscope. I can't wait to get those instruction manuals; my bulletin boards are empty and longing for student work.

I am worried about the new science teachers. Their classroom management instincts aren't terrific. But I have time in my schedule to observe them, and they have time to observe other teachers, and I have been pushing observation. One of the most effective ways to learn the subtleties of teaching is to spend time in the classrooms of more experienced, effective teachers and absorb their tone, just let it become a part of your being. They are very open to suggestions, but until they see how focused a class can be, how we wait to speak until we have our students' full attention, they won't really get it. The next few months might be a bit of a ride, no matter how quickly the new teachers get the hang of things.

I did something brave today.

Yesterday, my principal left at the same time as the students. Our dean stayed a little later, but had to leave to go to class. Several things happened after that point which teachers handled, but which really should have been handled by an administrator. I don't like the message it sends to parents, students, staff, and the Region to have our administrators rushing out of the building the minute the school day ends. I don't like being put in the position of telling someone, "She stepped out," or "I don't know where she is." I want to work in an organization where the leadership is among the last to leave, not the first.

Knowing that the longer I waited, the greater my discomfort and possibly resentment would grow, I decided to speak to my principal about it right away, particularly because leaving right after school ends is a pattern from the last few years which has hurt our school's culture (in my opinion). I am trying to "be the change" I want to see in my school - by staying to do my work on site - but I also need to speak up when I am concerned. That is something we agreed on as a staff.

So, I met with Ms. Dean and Ms. Principal this morning and told them my concerns, my hopes for the culture of our school, and why I felt we would have been better off with an administrator present yesterday. Ms. Dean was understanding and told me a bit more about her class schedule. Ms. Principal looked grim and couldn't look me in the eye. She said, "I hear you," and then ended the meeting. I couldn't tell whether she was angry or just hearing the truth but not feeling good about it. I think things might change, but I feel better either way.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Quite a week.

Lots and lots of meetings. Lots and lots of positive energy on the part of my staff. Nevertheless, during our subject area meetings, we all managed to overwhelm our new teachers. It was partly their own fault; they just kept asking good questions, things we had planned to save for later. But when they asked, we answered, and they walked away looking like deer in the headlights. Personally, I struggled a lot - and am still struggling - with the issue of what to insist upon in the way we teach science, and what to leave up to the individual teacher. It's also hard - because I care so much about our kids - to accept the fact that the new teachers are going to make mistakes, are going to have a steep learning curve, and that we will all weather that together. There are things I can tell them that they still won't know in their hearts until they've experienced a few days, weeks, or months of teaching.

Late Thursday, it became apparent that for scheduling and other reasons, I was probably going to have to move classrooms. Friday was an overwhelming day. I led a technology meeting to get the teachers set up on eChalk. Then I met with the other team leaders to figure out if a move really was the best solution to our scheduling problems. When we decided that it was, we had to meet with the building principal to negotiate for a faster exit from some classrooms that are technically ours but we had not been actively using. The whole team pitched in to help the teachers from that school move out, and then to help me and another teacher move into our new classrooms. I was impressed and proud of the way we put aside our individual needs and anxiety to get the job done, and done quickly. Nevertheless, the day became more and more stressful for me as it got later in the afternoon and I still didn't feel very settled in my space. I will move in more completely over the next couple of days, but right now I don't feel at home. One of my goals for myself, especially because I aspire to greater and greater leadership, is to be able to handle stressful situations like this one gracefully. I am mildly disappointed in myself because I got very visibly grouchy by the end of Friday. Still, it was a legitimately stressful situation.

The weekend brought its own stresses. My cable internet connection has been down all week; when the repairman came on Saturday afternoon, he discovered that the actual cable is damaged (apparently it is acting like a straw and channeling water into my apartment!). We did not have roof access, so I had to schedule another appointment for Thursday. It's funny, I'm almost over the worst of the withdrawal symptoms, but I have work to do that depends on the internet and it's really frustrating to have to pay for time in a cafe like this.

I read for the first time at an open mic! Thursday night at the Bowery Poetry Club I read my poem about Louis which I posted earlier on this blog. I think I did pretty well - I wasn't dramatic enough in my reading; slam poetry is very much about performance - but I got a positive reception and didn't shake too much. It's fascinating how different it is to stand up in front of an audience than to stand up in front of students. I am planning to go the Thursday night slams pretty regularly this fall, and will perhaps read again.

I lost an important friend on Saturday, and it's entirely my own fault. I don't want to get into details here, but I am not feeling very proud of myself right now. I have always struggled with allowing myself to feel strong emotions, and I guess I have also tried to protect others around me from things that I thought they would not want to hear, to shield them from strong negative emotions. In the end, that just makes things worse, or at least, that's what happened in this case. I see now that I need to trust that people would rather hear the truth sooner than later. *sigh*

So. That's what I've been doing this week. I'm nervous and excited about digging in to real classes tomorrow. I'll let you know how it goes as often as I can - and hopefully will have internet at home again soon!


No internet connection. Will try to post again later this afternoon from cafe. Otherwise, back for sure on Thursday.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Truth meets Fiction

This story is hilarious!

The Magic School Bus started as a series of books long before it was a tv series or computer game. Ms. Frizzle is a middle-aged lady with wild red hair and a penchant for dresses printed with frogs, planets, or whatever the class is studying. In each book, the kids begin skeptically studying a new topic, and Ms. Frizzle takes them on a field trip which begins normally, but once they board the magic school bus, leads them places no class has ever gone before - inside the human body, through the waterworks in a drop of water, off the Earth and into the solar system.

I look nothing like that Ms. Frizzle. And I'm still working on my collection of content-themed clothing. So far, I have my periodic table of the elements t-shirt, my DNA earrings, and that's about it. My high school biology teacher had a different frog t-shirt for every day of our dissection; I can only aspire to that level of geek fashion! Incidentally, high on my wishlist - though I'm not a math teacher - is a t-shirt that says, "There are only 10 types of people in the world: those who understand binary and those who don't."

Labor Day

The US Open has become a bit of a tradition in my family over the last few years, and it's really fun, even though I don't follow tennis most of the rest of the year. Yesterday, we saw a few doubles matches, including mixed doubles with Sharapova and Mirnyi playing the Blacks, and Navratilova and Paes playing Callens and Damm.

While we were watching another match on one of the side courts, I overheard a boy tell his mother, "Look, Mom, Navratilova is playing on the next court! She's the 47 year old girl!" I hope that I am as cool as Martina Navratilova when I'm her age. Not a tennis star, of course, and not in as good shape, but what I'm talking about is having a lot of fun doing what I love professionally. You could see that she was relaxed and thoroughly enjoying the match in a way that none of the younger players were during their matches. I don't know how many of them, when pressed, would be able to say they love playing the game of tennis. I hope they do, but I wonder. You can see that Navratilova loves it. And she gets a lot of love from the crowd: "You can do it, Martina! We love you, Martina!" She stopped to sign autographs for kids on her way off the court after the match. And it's not about fashion, it's not about a controversial new outfit or having the best body; she's in tremendous shape, she wears what makes her comfortable, it's about the game.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Family Day

I spent much of my free time during the last few days planning Family Day. Our tradition is to end Student Orientation with some kind of lunch for families, but this year we had to take the event out to the schoolyard because we don't have a space large enough in our part of the building for 200 students and their parents. I worked with my principal and one other teacher to plan the event; they coordinated food while I coordinated activities and set up a schedule.

I over-planned for activities; we had drama games, basketball, knockout, dodgeball, steal the bacon, relay races, freeze dance, chess, double dutch, and face painting. My schedule was pretty elaborate, dividing the day into activity periods so that children could participate in more than one activity.

Last night, the other teacher who was working on this event had a major family emergency, so he brought the supplies he'd purchased to school and then my principal drove him to the hospital. That meant that the morning was a bit crazy. I helped answer the office phone, ran around gathering first aid and sports equipment, and then recruited a team of eighth grade volunteers to help set everything up. When we got downstairs to the schoolyard, my principal was setting up the food with several parent volunteers. These parents made sandwiches constantly for three hours!

The students came down a little later, and I explained the activities to them. After they dispersed and started playing, I realized that they were happy and didn't necessarily need to switch activities in a structured way, so we scrapped the schedule I'd made and allowed them to flow between activities whenever they wanted to. I'd been concerned about some activities being too popular and some kids getting left out, but it didn't happen that way. I taught a group of seventh grade girls how to play four-square, and they seemed to be having fun with it, so I left them to it and circulated among the activities, making sure everything was going smoothly.

For the first half of the morning, my principal was upstairs selling uniform shirts to parents, because the secretary who had been handling that was also absent today, and an unexpectedly large number of parents showed up to buy uniforms. This meant that parents, teachers, and students kept coming up to me with every single question! I felt a little out-on-a-limb for a while - I would field questions gamely, but I hadn't really intended to be in charge of the whole thing. She came back downstairs and seemed to think everything was going well, so I relaxed a little. We also had an hour or so of anxiety when we ran out of bread with only 130 sandwiches - not even enough to feed our students, let alone their siblings and parents. One of the parent volunteers ran out to buy more bread, and in the end we were able to feed everyone with sandwiches to spare.

Interacting with parents has never been my strongest skill as a teacher. I am pretty quick at learning my students' names, but I have a terrible time remembering which parent is which, particularly because I see them so rarely. Still, it was great to have parents of our seventh and eighth graders come up and greet me warmly and enthusiastically -- and I am making an effort to remember who is who and take time to meet the new parents.

At the end of the day, I lined up all the students who were still there along the schoolyard fence for "one last game," and then had them walk in a sweeping line across the yard, picking up trash. Although they did not all participate in good faith, we left the yard pretty clean.

Everyone seemed to have a good time, and I am really proud of the way my team pulls together when unexpected problems arise. We were unavoidably shorthanded today, and had to wing it on a number of things, but the bottom line is that we made it work.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

"They don't have all the churches - we have one, too!" -Katha Pollitt

Bob Holman, owner of the Bowery Poetry Club, reads a poem by Allan Ginsberg last night at an anti-war, anti-Bush poetry reading at St. Mark's Church. The church was packed, a line snaking out into the yard. Unfortunately, Grace Paley did not appear, but other powerful readers included Carl Hancock Rux, Eileen Myles, Vijay Seshadri, and Kristin Prevallet. Marie Ponsot named some of her heroes, including Specialist Joseph M. Darby, who first turned over photos from Abu Ghraib. Cornelius Eady read a poem by Juliana Spahr about all the poems that describe the sight of a fleet of ships or an army as the most beautiful sight in the world, but isn't the most beautiful thing really, "the sight of the ones you love, those you've met and those you haven't" - ? Hanan Resnikoff and Judith Malina, feisty and warm organizers of the Living Theatre read a piece together explaining why their theater is returning to NYC: "Because the revolution isn't a movie that was shown in 1968!" - among other reasons. Katha Pollitt read a piece by e.e. cummings and a piece by Bertolt Brecht: "that you'll go down if you don't stand up for yourself - surely, you see that." Laura Elrick described the march on Sunday as having "civic animality," and Sapphire composed a poem entirely of things she read on signs during that march - which was clever but slightly disappointing given how powerful and in-your-face Sapphire can be at her best. W.H. Auden (once a parishioner of St. Mark's), Walt Whitman, Langston Hughes, June Jordan, William Blake, and others were summoned to the room in spirit. And Bob Holman summed it up: "The only way we can fight is to use language that contains full imagination." Posted by Hello

This man was outside St. Mark's Church last night, raising funds to help Josh Banno get out of jail and home. I took some pictures of the church, which is serving as a sanctuary for protesters who need a place to live this week. Seeds of Peace and Food Not Bombs have set up an outdoor kitchen to make sure people can eat, and others are offering yoga and meditation classes inside the church to provide a rest for body and mind. It looks like at least a few dozen activists are camping out in the churchyard. There is something so medieval about the idea that when the king is angry with you, you can take shelter in the church - and it is inspiring to see a community organization which is not per se political taking a stand instead of trying to stay neutral. St. Mark's, of course, has a long history of taking a stand on behalf of the every day people of New York.
 Posted by Hello

A line-up of police motorcycles last night in Tompkins Square Park. Everywhere you look are police vans, metal gates, wooden barriers, officers on bicycles, motorcycles, in cars. It was darker than I realized when I took this picture, but I like it anyway. Posted by Hello

New York's skies are full this week. This blimp floats over Madison Square Garden, and helicopters buzz over midtown and my neighborhood. Since 9/11, I have grown accustomed to helicopters hovering over the scene of any disaster, event, or important person's arrival, yet the constant presence of helicopters this week makes it impossible to take a break from thinking about the convention and accompanying protests. I went to sleep the other night to the sound of sirens and helicopters, around midnight. It's hard to describe the mix of worries that I feel at times like that. Since September 11th, it's been impossible not to brace yourself for the worst upon hearing unusual amounts of police or firefighter activity, and knowing that the convention could be the stage for an attack doesn't help. At the same time, I fear for the protesters who seem so vulnerable, even though they are putting themselves on the front lines, so to speak. And I fear for the police, because most of them are good, hard-working people and I want to be able to believe in the humanity of my city and my society. And I work hard to avoid feeling overly afraid - but these anxieties do swell up at times. Posted by Hello

From the homework files...

This isn't really my story to tell, but one of my new colleagues shared it with me:

She asked the seventh graders to write her a letter describing their previous experiences with Math, and what they think makes a good math teacher. One of our students wrote,

I like everything about math because when I write math my hand doesn't hurt!

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Day Three

Reading over the shoulders of the eighth graders working on the essay portion of their practice social studies test, I saw how far they've come since sixth grade: a long, long way. Their writing is so polished. Sometime in the last two years, they internalized a few things about introductions, conclusions, opening sentences, referring to text... I am so proud of them and of my colleagues who have helped them come so far.

After the social studies diagnostic, they worked on Power Point presentations to "sell" the core values. I've written before about the real tragedy of cutting art classes - and I stand by what I wrote - but today I observed that the students' aesthetic sensibilities have matured a lot over the summer. Every group chose just one background design for all their slides, and wrote in fonts and colors that make sense together.

Some groups were fooling around, yes, but I saw other things that I liked. One group split up the work so that each student was working in his or her niche, particularly one boy who often gets off task because he's a very weak writer. While the others wrote the script for their presentation, this boy worked on formatting the presentation. He was so proud of his contribution to the group!

I wrote this in April - but it is the best summary of today that I can imagine. The quote in italics is from Thich Nhat Hanh, who made Buddhism make sense to me. The dahlia was murdered by a feline intruder, by the way.



Today, my dahlia grew visibly,
yearning like everything in the city for spring
It was like they say about seaweed or the jungle,
you could almost hear it growing, cotyledons creaking upwards
tugged toward the thin glimmer of a rainy day.

At times a person may grow in this way.
I have seen children -
looked, one day, and seen -
the spreading of their minds, open, like first real leaves,
looked back on their writing, the way they think about things
and felt that one is not expected to grow so fast,
though children grow always with such beautiful urgency.

And I too may grow in this way.
A long season of germination, and then -
now I am a shoot, sun-nourished at last, noticing
how dark the earth was, though rich. I feel light.
The lotus flower does not think, "I do not want the mud."
I feel the earth around me, shaken from my leaves.
We are always in need of each other.
Filtered through the alley, the light pulls gently -
and in a day, I know I've changed,
you could almost hear me growing, unfolding
from seed, stem, leaves within leaves.

Guess what today is?

Hint: Look backwards.

More than 126,000 words.
Almost 500 posts.

This is the longest, most consistent journal I've ever kept.