Friday, September 30, 2005

Weekend Reading

I will probably write a lot this weekend, as I have a lot of work to do and work=procrastination=blogging.

But just in case I don't, you really ought to go over to From the TFA Trenches and read the latest installments about the home visits this teacher has been making. I have never visited a student's home. While I think it could be valuable, I don't think it's absolutely necessary. Also, I'll be honest, the idea of wandering through the projects knocking on doors all evening doesn't exactly thrill me. Of course, it also doesn't thrill me that my students - children - live in places I'm at least slightly afraid to visit, but that's just the way it is.

Incidentally, they continue to get jumped on their way home from school. We have a few sixth graders considering leaving our school because they don't feel safe in the neighborhood. A few incidents this week really shook them up. My 8th grade HS prep kids asked me to walk them to the bus stop. I am very clear with myself and them that I am merely a deterrent - other kids won't bother them with an adult authority figure present - but that if a large enough group of kids decided to attack them/us, I wouldn't actually be able to do much good other than trying to break it up, calling the police, and making sure I'd be able to make an ID later. Authority is a weird thing. I'm a teacher, but I'm not the bullies' teacher. I'm an adult, but I'm not exactly scary-looking. Yet the kids are pretty sure they'll be safe with me around.

Anyway, for those and other reasons I have never done home visits.

But Mr. AB has been meeting his kids' families, and he writes penetratingly about two very different homes: the haves, and the have-nots.

It is a bad sign...

that I spent so long looking for my watch this morning that I left my house really late - a teacher can't live without her watch, especially a teacher whose classroom clocks are both broken - only to have a colleague point out on the train platform that my watch was on my wrist.

Leaving school, I couldn't find my keys. They weren't in any of their nests in my classroom, and they weren't in my other classroom, or sitting on the copier. And they weren't on the bathroom sink, which is where I leave them at least once a week (tricky, as you need the keys to open the bathroom door). Another teacher found them, on the floor beside my desk. How they got there, I will never know.

It's okay, though, because I am comfortable with uncertainty and the unknowable.

Otherwise, it was a good day. Most of the sixth graders went to visit Columbia University, where the highlight was apparently the all-you-can-eat buffet, while I stayed at school with those who didn't earn the trip (it was an incentive). I had them for 3 hours, which was a bit much, but I think it is a good sign that we didn't hate each other at the end of the day. Three hours of me is a LOT.

Yes, I am a teacher. I spend my days saying things like, "the ruler isn't a weapon or a toy," "no jousting with meter sticks," "look him in the eye when you apologize," and "girls, where are you supposed to be right now?" This is not everyone's work day, but it's not unpleasant.


Yoga was awesome today. I feel stretched out, re-aligned, happier, lighter. It doesn't hurt that it's Friday.


The Trembling Blue Stars are apparently twee pop. Learn a new word every day. They are playing at Rothko. I have their EP and like it a lot. I don't think they sound much like Belle & Sebastian, though. But I think I'm going to the Knitting Factory to see one of my sailor friends/acquaintances play, instead. Her name is Alice Lee. I doubt that her music is twee.


I will stop making mysterious references. It's not good writing.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

What I love about sixth graders is...

that they greet you at the school door with arms outstretched, "Can I get a hug??? Pleeeeeeease???"

I got not one, but TWO hugs from children before 8:15 this morning. And I'm not a hug-y person, at least I'm pretty sure that's not the vibe I give off at work.

Also, when you want them to practice measuring, and you draw a funny-looking house and ask them to measure all the lines in centimeters and then decorate it, they don't realize that you just tricked them into measuring 20 lines, they just pick up their crayons and start drawing butterflies and flowers. And a dog house, labeled as such.


On another note, even when you know they won't be hurt much, even when you know it's what needs to happen, it is really no fun trying to figure out how to tell someone, well, you're just not that into them. Especially when you ARE into them, but not like THAT. Honesty is best, I guess, but what do you actually SAY?


What does "twee" mean (in relation to music, like "twee pop" ---?

Shout out!

I have plenty to write about, but I'm throwing caution to the wind and heading over to watch my friend read in the Urbana poetry slam. So it will just have to wait.

In the meantime, I wanna give a big shout-out to my friend J. (aka Ms. Pascal) and her colleagues at eChalk! Not for any particular reason except that I think they'll enjoy it. And to her husband and my friend M. who seems charmingly committed to helping me talk to some people I really want to get to know better. Then again, maybe he just wants to take their picture. How was Chuck D.?

Inside jokes on blogs probably suck, but you're all just going to have to deal with it!

-Ms. Frizzle, mischievously

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

To work & back...

On the bus to work this morning...

I got on, put on my headphones, and settled in to listen to more Howard Fishman.* The bus began to fill, slowly. Two young high school girls in Catholic school uniforms sat down, one next to me, one across from me. We were in the middle section of the bus, where it can bend to go around corners.

A few minutes later, a SpongeBob SquarePants foil birthday balloon floated in front of me. I waited to see which passenger would turn around, spot it, and come back to retrieve it. No one did. The balloon settled just above my head and right in the middle of the aisle.

Each person getting on the bus brushed past it, many glancing around to see who was leaving their balloon in the way.

Finally, as the bus began to get really full, one man grabbed the balloon by the string and firmly planted it beside me. "It's not mine," I told him, not really objecting to sharing space with the balloon, but wanting to be clear in case the balloon's rightful owner was listening. I looked expectantly at the two girls. I hadn't seen them bring it onto the bus, but who else could it belong to? "I just assumed it belonged to one of these girls," I said. They shook their heads.

By this point, pretty much everyone in the middle of the bus was listening, looking around for the balloon's owner.

The man found a place to stand and a bar to hold onto, and the bus continued on its way.

No sooner had our conversation ended than I heard a voice from the front section of the bus.

"Tiffany, where's the balloon?"

"I gave it to you!"

"No, you didn't. Where's the balloon?"

"Well, I kind of threw it towards you!"

I don't think I've ever heard so many people on a bus crack up at the same time before.


On the train home from school...

The train was between 42nd St. and Union Square, my stop. I began the process of packing up to get out of the crowded car. I put the paperclip back on the stack of papers I was grading, slipped them inside my agenda, opened my bag, put the pen and agenda inside the pocket, zipped it closed. Then I reached under my bag for my jacket, folded it neatly over my arm, and then picked up the handles of my purse. Finally, I picked up the backpack with my other hand, and sat up straighter, the univeral sign for, "I'm about to get off the subway, so be prepared to make room."

The woman standing up in front of me shifted to one side.

"There, I've made you a little path," she said.


"I just moved here a week ago, and I'm amazed by the way people in New York manage space. Everyone is constantly aware of exactly how much space they have."

"Oh, just wait until you see what people do to make space in their apartments," I said.

The woman sitting next to me chimed in, "You give away your children's clothes the second they grow out of them. I mean, that very minute."

Pretty soon about 5 of us were chatting away about where to buy random space-saving implements, how to fit all your clothes in your closet, and the like.

And they say New Yorkers aren't friendly!

*Yes, I'm obsessed. But it's really good music, and I finally own a CD!

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Live from the deeps...

"Nobody knew what they looked like in the wild. We only saw them dead. These images will open the door to more detailed study of their life."

Cool. This article would be better with a multimedia window...

THAT crazy person

I'm feeling a bit of the belligerent New Yorker today (muttering curses under my breath, walking really-really-fast-with-stiff-legs), and I don't want to bore you with an I-work-so-hard-and-my-shoulders-hurt post, so I'm just going to suggest that you take a look at a new blog instead. I won't tell you who it is, but I will tease you with this extremely sweet excerpt:
beyond that was my giddy disbelief in seeing Q's impossibly minute limbs darting into and out of the image, so that, unmistakably, irrevocably, all that I could think was this is my child dancing.

Awww. Go read it. The guy's probably going to be a good writer, though he swears he's never been good at journaling (neither have I, until now).


A laptop actually cut a child's hand today. And yes, I am embodying the laptop and assigning it active intent. I am beginning to think of them as evil monsters that sprout legs and toothy grins when I'm not looking, and occasionally play dead - always at crucial moments. Anyway, the keyboard had a missing key - we are missing lots of keys - and all of a sudden she shows me her hand and it is just streaming blood... turns out it was really nothing worse than a very dramatic paper cut, but still. The evil laptop monsters struck again.


Oops, I let out the belligerent New Yorker. Projects look nice typed, and computers are a fact of life - and for the most part, a good one - and I wouldn't want to go back to typewriters or writing everything by hand.

Monday, September 26, 2005


Ms. M. learned in a PD session that "bullet points" is no longer the term for those little dots that come before ideas in a list, due to the negative connotations of the words.

Jules has to write out "instructional objective" and her former "Do Now" has been renamed a "Motivation."

If I ran the schools, or the regions in which these teachers work, I would find out which asinine middle-level bureaucrat was responsible for these mandates. I don't think they come from the top, for two reasons:

1. Call me an apologist, but I've heard Carmen Farina speak more than once, and I don't think she's this stupid, and I don't think Joel Klein is this stupid, either. Nor do I believe they have the time to worry about pen color, post-its, bullet points, bulletin board checklists, or the name of the starting exercise in a lesson. (That said, as leaders of a system, they are held responsible for the implementation of their ideas by the people who work for them - which is why, if I ran the schools, I'd be looking for the people responsible for this...).

2. We have not been told these things at my school. If they truly came from the top and were considered important, I'm pretty sure the bad news would have been broken to me by now.

And guess what? Stupid people in the middle tend to survive elections & changes in chancellors.

Flat-out dead.

TWO laptops just up and died in the middle of my classes today. Died. Can't even turn 'em on. And one group was about 15 minutes from finished with their project. Normally, we save work to eChalk, so that it is available on any computer, but since it was the beginning of the year, and eChalk adds a layer of complexity to the saving process, I tried to keep it simple. Urgh.


And kev, I just like the song. I like what it expresses. I don't happen to be feeling that for anyone right at the moment. Anyway, Howard Fishman deserves a bigger audience, so maybe one or two of you will check out his website.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Good Times

You've been in all my dreams
but they haven't all been bad
I've been thinking about the good times, hon,
that we've never had...

Songs we've never sung,
flowers that never grew,
why should things be dark and gray
when the sky is bright and blue?

Yes, roses could be red,
& violets could be blue,
if you would just be with me,
then we could both be true.

Why shouldn't we have some good times?
Would that be so bad?
Why shouldn't we have some good times,
when they're waiting to be had?

-Howard Fishman


ms. frizzle...


this is a funny story but I forgot my science homework in my agenda at school
and I don't have my binder with me so
if you need me just call me

and, it's Michael, okay?



Saturday, September 24, 2005


I spent all afternoon planning. That is, I spent all afternoon planning when I wasn't uploading pictures, downloading music, or obsessively checking my email. Not that I'm expecting any particularly great email, mind you, but I press the refresh button so often you would think it causes my computer to release chocolate chips or gold coins.

Anyway, I spent all afternoon planning. I spent an hour or so planning seventh grade lessons on the three types of rocks and the rock cycle. We're doing it fairly quickly; they get a sense of how each type of rock forms, how they can be classified within each category, and they get to observe and examine a few samples. Then we do the rock cycle and they finish up by drawing a comic strip or writing a short story imagining themselves as a rock and telling the story of their journey through the rock cycle.

Sixth grade was harder, more time consuming, required more pressing of refresh to relieve brain-knots. We're on to measurement in a day or two - STILL working on the power point presentations but nearly done, and they are so good it just impresses the hell out of me every time I look at them.

My goal was to try out tiered instruction in my measurement unit. I gave a diagnostic at the start of the year, graded it, and then made a chart where I listed each kid's name and the various categories of tasks and then put either a plus, question mark, or 0 to show how well they did on that skill in the diagnostic.

Problem is, there are about a hundred ways for a sixth grader to not measure correctly. My perennial favorite, starting at the 1 instead of the zero. Measuring correctly but rounding to the nearest cm. Measuring in inches but labeling it centimeters. Measuring in cm but labeling it inches. Not following the directions at all. Measuring in cm, getting 7.8, and writing it as 7 1/8. Knowing how to measure but not how to convert between units. Knowing how to convert but not how to measure. Knowing everything about the metric system but nothing about inches, and vice versa. And the list goes on and on.

I made a tiering chart, putting the skills in a sequence from what I thought were the first learned to what I thought were the last learned. I got this idea from Confratute and from the book on differentiation that I've been using. I knew that the sequence wouldn't line up perfectly for every kid, but I figured - based on my experience teaching this before - that it would be close enough.

Ha. Ha, ha, ha.

The other day, I finally put the kids into groups - the strongest measurers & converters, the weakest, and the vast majority in the middle. Most don't know much about converting between units and are weak at measuring properly, but they do at least know which unit measures at which scale (in other words, use meters to measure Michael Jordan and km to measure from NYC to Albany). Some are a little better than that, some a little behind.

So now I have to design lessons. I need to create respectful tasks for each group that they can do with guidance but not hand-holding from me. I need to create homework that allows each group to practice the skills they are working on. I need to decide where to draw the line in the sand: what does everyone need to know? And I need to return to the idea of a ladder of skills so that I can take the advanced kids even higher.

I made a whole bunch of worksheets and in-class assignments. Kids are measuring objects, they are predicting lengths, they are measuring their handspan, the distance around the crown of their head, their armspan. They are learning how to convert between units; everyone is learning how to convert between centimeters and meters and millimeters and the like, and the more advanced kids are learning how to convert between inches and centimeters.

This is a LOT of work. I'm a little worried that keeping it all straight in my head will take so much energy that the lessons themselves will not be stellar.



Ocean Odyssey

I'm going to be coaching First Lego League Robotics this year. I am almost entirely new to it all, so I went to the kick-off at Polytechnic University today. It was a little overwhelming, but it helped me begin to envision how the competition works. Basically, there is a challenge with several small "missions" that are a part of it. Each mission is worth a certain number of points if successfully completed. The students get only 2 1/2 minutes to complete as much of the challenge as possible. This year's theme is "Ocean Odyssey." At the kick-off today, we got to look at the - um, I forget the official name for it, but basically, the game board. It's a table about 4' by 6' with Lego structures in very specific locations. Some of the missions are to move an artificial reef from "deep water" to "shallow water," to knock over flags in a transect mapping, to fix part of a pipeline, and more. It all looks challenging and fun. I think the thing for a new team to do is to pick just a few of the missions and attempt to make a robot that will do just those challenges as well as possible, rather than trying to do all the missions. We have to start with reasonable goals.

Beyond the performance of the mission, the tournaments consist of a research presentation competition - the children research a problem related to the oceans and present a solution in any creative format they choose - and a technical presentation - the children explain how their robot and its programming work.

This is going to be a lot of work, but I think it will also be really fun.

Know a really deserving teacher?

You can nominate a really great teacher of underserved students for the $100,000 Kinder Excellence Award.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005


Sometimes I just don't know what to title a post.

The sixth graders are nearly finished typing their lab reports. They will need revision, so I'm going to have them print them out in black & white, then I will make comments and give them one period sometime next week to make revisions. It's on to measurement after that, which I meant to integrate with the pendulums lab, but somehow got off-track during the first week. Anyway, I have a long post to write about the real-life difficulties of tiered assignments, but it will have to wait another day or two.

Meanwhile, after a somewhat disastrous start yesterday, the seventh graders finished their minerals lab today, and will start typing their lab reports tomorrow.

One my students from last year came in after school today to say hi and because she needs 25 hours of community service and wants to help us in our afterschool program. She's a great kid, and I think I can get her to help me with HS Prep and possibly robotics (yet another post to come!). She's going to a Catholic HS, and it sounds really overwhelming. We have a reputation for being strict, but I think we are also loving, even if sometimes the kids can't see that. She says the Catholic school is even more strict, and she hasn't felt the same sense of caring from her teachers. She's making friends, but it sounds like a really difficult adjustment for her. On the bright side, she reports that she is one of the best-prepared kids in her classes. She did so well in a math class that the teacher asked for and wrote down the name of our school - which means we are going to start building a reputation among the high schools for sending them good kids. Yippee!

That's all. Believe it or not, I occasionally do some work. Oh, and don't forget to take a look at the Education Wonks' Carnival of Education. It's a heck of a lot of work to put together, and they do a great job, week in, week out.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Secrets (the good kind)

So, I have this friend, and my friend is a teacher, and she has a blog. And for the last several weeks, this friend of mine has been keeping a really marvelous secret, and she's finally decided to share it with the world. And today, she got to see and hear her little secret for the first time. So, go tell her congratulations and good luck!


And by the way, posting about how awesome your day was and how great the kids are and how natural teaching feels is just asking for the next day to suck. Nothing so awful happened, it was just one of those days when things that should have been easy really didn't work, no one could understand - let alone follow - the simplest of directions, and I flirted with a headache all day, only to have it become a monster in the middle of yoga class. You know sometimes you feel like every part of your body is out of sorts - not sleeping right, eating ok but not great, lots of pinchy stressful knots? Yeah. I think it's fall-out from being sick and the start of school. Oh well. Tomorrow can only get better.


And did I mention that Nicole is going to have a baby???!!! LOL.

Monday, September 19, 2005

On my mind, again.

What will I do if my union calls a strike?

If you belong to a union and the membership authorizes a strike: you strike. Period. That's where unions get their strength.

I need the money. I play a lot, I take trips, but I don't think I'm frivolous. And I really, really need the money.

But walking out on the kids feels like a betrayal. It may be necessary - martyrdom does no one any good - but they need us. In the classroom. Every day.

And I am in no way in an oppositional relationship to my administration. That's the other betrayal.

I am thankful for everything that unions in general and our union in particular have fought for and won in the past 50 or 100 years. And if my union were to call a strike - still a huge if - I would strike. But I just want to teach, dammit! I wish there were some other way of negotiating a fair salary, fair working hours, etc. This post will make me unpopular with some, but I feel extremely alienated from my union most of the time, as a teacher in a small school, as a teacher who doesn't feel like I am one side and the DOE/Region/School Administration are on another. I'm tired of angry rhetoric from both sides; it makes my blood pressure rise. I'm not sure unions are the answer anymore in this profession. I want to be in a partnership with the mayor to help the kids in NYC, not in perpetual conflict. I just want my salary to keep up with the cost of living around here - or better - and I'd like to be able to save a little while still enjoying the present. And most of all, I just want to be treated like a professional and to go in there everyday and do what I got into this profession to do: teach the kids.

I don't know what the solution is.

But there's a small hard knot in my stomach when I think of striking, and there's a (growing) knot in my stomach when I think of how long it is going to take for us to see any more money, even if everyone began negotiating in good faith tomorrow.

Funny and Telling...

Julie's kids wrote about careers they would and would not want to have. Some of the answers will make you giggle, others show some insight into how the world works, and as always, I wonder whether the kids who know how hard teachers have it are the ones making our job easier, or the ones making it harder!
"I would like to be a paleontologist. I want to be a paleontologist because they study dinosaurse and I lik dinosaurs. They are wealthy and they find new dinosaurs. Its thrilling and I get to travel the world. This is why I why I like to be a paleontologist."

Anyway, someone's doing something right, because most of the kids supported their choices with specific details, which is one of those Writing Things that middle school teachers are always pounding into their pens working on.


Graycie has started a blog, Today's Homework. It deserves special mention if for no other reason than because her profile contains this gem, which says perfectly what I have been trying to explain to people for going-on six years now...
Sometimes when someone asks what I do, I tell them that I am a professional grown-up. This also means that when I am not being professional, I don't have to be grown-up.


I got my unofficial gifted ed. CST scores via email today: I passed.

Monday, in spite of itself,

was a good day. A REALLY good day. The kind of good day when I bounced into my principal's office during a spare moment - there aren't many of those - and asked if there was a large, ugly, stinky tennis shoe hanging over my head, waiting to drop. The kind of Monday when even though my only free period was lunch, I wasn't at all stressed out by two girls needing to come upstairs to finish their project during that time. In fact, I really enjoyed chatting with them while I worked on a bulletin board display. I got some interesting insider information about which of the sweet little sixth graders fought with each other in their old schools. The sun was streaming in the windows. True to form, my classroom is the hottest in the whole school, just like my classrooms the past two years have always been either too hot or too cold. But my orange bulletin boards were radiant and cheerful.

The seventh graders used a hotlist I made at Filamentality to research the uses of minerals. I gave each table a section of the alphabet, and they had to choose three minerals from that section of the alphabet and write them on sentence strips, followed by two of their everyday uses. We made a huge bulletin board of their responses. Tonight, they have to write a 1-page short essay or short story imagining what the world would be like without those three minerals. I'm curious to see what I get in response to that assignment; I suspect they will either rock or suck. I'm crossing my fingers that they appreciate the opportunity to be creative.

Tomorrow, we're doing a mineral identification lab, looking at streak, color, luster, cleavage/fracture, hardness, etc. to identify various minerals. This will be their first lab, and we will spend several days afterwards typing it up.

Meanwhile, in the sixth grade, we finally finished our pendulum experiments. And despite the glacial progress in writing precise procedures, the experiments themselves could not have gone better. I had to take a step back and remember that they are new to this, and just allow them to do the experiments and fix the procedures later. It worked well for a few reasons. First, we could easily identify independent and dependent variables. Second, it was very quick and so we did three trials for each condition, which allows me to introduce the idea of multiple trials very early in the year. Third, the results were oh so clear: string length is the only variable that makes much difference in the period of a pendulum. The weight of the bob and the angle of release don't really affect the period. They were almost all able to look at their results charts and clearly see that there was or wasn't a pattern, and that is going to make the conclusions section easy as well. A few groups found patterns that shouldn't have been there - for example, the weight of the bob DID affect the period - but that just brings me to the last good thing about the experiment, which is that the concept behind it is not super important, so if they got a pattern that ought not to have happened, it's okay, we can compare their results to their classmates and talk about why, but I haven't messed them up on some fundamental idea for the rest of their lives. My guess is that these groups just made small errors like using slightly different lengths of string, which affected their results.

Anyway, today they started typing up their lab reports. I am having them do it in their groups, using PowerPoint. The reason is because PP allows them to put each section of the lab report on a different slide, and if they do them in the wrong order, they are easy to rearrange. Plus, PP feels more fun than Word, so it's a nice introduction. They probably will not actually present their slideshows, just print them and turn them in to me to post. In the past, I have insisted that groups type everything first and then add a slide design, but this year I explicitly told them to spend just a few minutes choosing a design and then begin typing, and that seems to have gotten that out of the way quickly. Everyone - even most adults - wants to play with the pretty formatting options before buckling down, so I thought I'd just go with the flow. Anyway, they are doing a great job typing their projects.

It all feels so.... natural.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

It took allllll day....

but I made my second iMovie. It's about 5 minutes long. I wanted to make a movie about the Mayor's Cup, which is the annual schooner race around the harbor. Unfortunately, it isn't easy to film from shore. I spent a couple of hours in the Battery Park area and filmed the Parade of Sail that preceded the race proper, and then my DV camera battery ran out (despite being fully charged last night!). I was going to go home, charge it, eat lunch, and then either go to Red Hook to see if I could get footage from there, or go back to the harbor to watch the end, but I got distracted and ran out of steam. Instead, I spent about 8 hours editing. Task commitment is not one of my problems, except when I'm trying to grade things. Whatever. It's called "Parade of Sail," and I decided to name my production "company" shaking hands productions, which should give you a sense of the quality.... I rested the camera on solid surfaces whenever possible during filming, but I still lost an awful lot to the jitters. My original vision was to interview sailors and people watching, but I couldn't get an accurate picture of who would be where, when, so I never got to talk to anyone aboard the boats, and no one on shore except me was aware that the race was happening. I downloaded a couple of sea chanties from iMovie and used a third song that I already had on my computer, and set the whole thing to music. It's a little lacking in the plot or narrative department, but mercifully it's only 5 minutes long, so I think it is bearable. I'm complaining a lot, but it was a labor of love, and I'm very proud of the outcome, and excited to do more and better later!

Saturday, September 17, 2005

If you live in NYC, and you do just ONE fun thing in the next two weeks...

please let me recommend Circus Contraption at Theater For the New City. You will smile and laugh like you haven't in weeks. The band alone is worth the price of admission (and the band is playing Monday nights this month at Ace of Clubs). The lovelorn opera singer is worth the price of admission. The tumbling duet between a curio and her collector is worth the price of admission. They walk on stilts, juggle, swing and flip, sing, drum, play trumpets and tubas and clarinets and accordions and pianos. The finale... well, I don't want to spoil it, but I barely breathed, it was unlike anything I'd ever seen before.

In case I haven't made my point, the music was so much fun that I bought the CD. And this was a CIRCUS, people.
Like shadows on a silver screen
We're drinking rum and kerosene
You are polite and I'm obscene
I'm very pleased ta meet cha

Thursday, September 15, 2005

I didn't know it was possible...

to love another teacher's student, but I do.

Begs the question...

From the New York Times:
President Bush will tell the country tonight that the United States cannot do without New Orleans, and that governments at every level will be needed, as will the American people, to make the city vibrant again.

Are there cities we can do without? And is the extremely odd phrasing of the rest of that sentence the fault of the NY Times, or Bush's speech? Really, governments at every level will be needed??? Huh?

I've learned...

that even cloaked in anonymity, it is better not to say anything specific about the interview process, or share any juicy details here. But a word to the wise: If you are going to teach a bunch of kids you've never met before in a classroom that isn't yours, with the goal of impressing your potential future employers, and you've planned a hands-on activity and you need copies made, I strongly encourage you to show up more than 2 minutes before the scheduled lesson. That would give the head of the science department time to help you with copies and obtaining necessary materials, and to give you a few tips on how we get and keep our students' attention (since it IS hard to manage a group of kids you don't really know), and to introduce you formally to the kids and get them settled before you start.

But hey, if it's not that big a deal to you, I guess you could always just show up at the appointed time and wing it.

This might have been the most stressful lesson I've ever not taught!

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

I really respect Anthony Weiner...

for conceding the Democratic mayoral primary to Fernando Ferrer, given that Ferrer is only about 250 votes short of the 40% needed to avoid a run-off. Oddly, the city is required to hold the run-off anyway, at great expense and high drama. I really, really hope they find a way around this.


And on another note, did you know that if you paste a URL into MS Word and then add text to it, and later copy & paste the whole thing into Blogger, the links won't work properly, even though they are correctly formatted to the naked eye? I didn't - but it is a rather fascinating thing to discover!


A further update: we went from 2 possible science teacher candidates to one kinda maybe candidate. I will spare you the details.


High school prep after school started today. For the next 4 or 5 weeks, I'm doing intensive test prep with a group of 8th graders who are going to take the Specialized High Schools Exam in October - the test that gets you into Bronx Science, Stuyvesant, etc. Today, almost 30 students showed up (that's nearly half of our eighth graders, and remember that another 8 or so are in other after school prep programs). I'm thrilled that they all want to take the test and have set a high goal for themselves... but I need to whittle the numbers down a little. I gave a practice test today, and those who score really low will be counseled out, since they will really just be spinning their wheels. It's a hard test; a tiny fraction of the 20,000+ students who take it get placed in specialized high schools. I hope to work closely with a smaller group who actually have a shot, rather than trying to be everything for everyone.


Remember that gifted ed test that I took? Part of the reason for taking it was that we were promised reimbursement for the more than $2000 we spent on credits at Confratute if we just got certified in gifted ed. Unfortunately, the woman who made that promise has been avoiding us, not answering emails, etc. And another woman involved responded to a colleague's email and said that our school is supposed to reimburse us. That's not what we were told! I really, really hope she's misinformed. And yes, I was stupid not to get it in writing but it was a split-second decision kind of thing... I need that money!!!

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Carnival of Education: First Day of School Edition

Posthipchick gets the first arcade on this week’s boardwalk. I think she sums it up best:
Isn't it so nice how you're all filled up with warmth for the little devils on the first day of school? there is still so much hope and expectation and fear and everyone is so polite and quiet and scared and it's just a beautiful thing.

That first moment in the classroom. What’s going through a teacher’s head? The Phantom Professor calls it like she sees it! This is a must-read.

What’s going through the kids’ heads? Well, according to Ginny, if they’re fourth grade boys, probably something to do with machine guns:
The first problem with having so many boys is that nine year old boys like to turn anything into a gun and make that rapid fire machine gun noise with their mouths. Pass out the composition notebooks. R-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r! They aim the corners at one another and fire at will. And no teacher with an ounce of kindness wants to be the mean teacher on the first day. We don't start our management system until tomorrow to be nice. Just wait until tomorrow. [grips fists and cackles an evil laugh]

Jenny D. wrote in as a parent. She visited her eighth grader’s school and discovered that Math is a gateway drug – er, class. Once you start taking the serious stuff, it leads to more and more…

And speaking of Math, Darren started his year by taking a risk: he asked his high school students to rethink the myth of Sisyphus and how it might apply to them as math students.

Polski3 shared a great list of tips for staying organized and on top of schoolwork, a list that he got from a professor in college but goes over with his high school students every year. I’m currently working with my sixth graders on this one:
Put all papers in their proper place in your binder. There should be no loose papers in your binder or backpack.

Just imagine if all our kids took these tips to heart!

Mr. Lawrence empathizes with lost souls high school freshman everywhere.

Here in NYC, Ms. Oh spent a weekend recovering from a demanding first two days. I, too, have been spending my weekend planning, grading, and wondering how I managed to forget that teaching is SO. MUCH. WORK.

Nani’s first day was a little anti-climactic – no students! Her school, like Mr. Babylon’s, is suffering overcrowding due to the creation of new small schools, which take up more classroom space for offices and such. As someone who works in one of the new small schools, I sincerely wish it weren’t a zero-sum game.

Mr. B. describes conditions at his school, which has been relegated to a basement:
Down there, amongst the peeling, tagged-up paint of the tiny classrooms with eight-foot ceilings and exposed piping and ductwork, the true nature of Shitty’s renovations is revealed; lipstick on a dieing pig. The stench of the pig’s rotting corpse is palpable on the breezes that waft through this forgotten corner of the basement’s too-small windows. Wait, no, that’s just the dumpster, right there outside the classrooms, surrounded by piles of broken desks, blocking out the sunlight, and reeking of fish.

NYC Educator finds some irony in the fact that his school is completely wired for the internet.

Ms. M, I'm sending lots of encouraging thoughts your way, 'cause you've had a really rough start to your year. Hang in there, it will get harder, but it will also get easier. I promise.

Julie woke up from her anxiety dreams to remind us what a huge part of teaching is acting like you’re confident and in charge, whatever the pit of your stomach might be telling you to the contrary. It’s like I told the new teachers at my school, twisting Gandhi slightly: “Be the change you wish to see in yourself…” She describes some creative activities she did to set a tone of excellence. Remember hearing this from your own teachers, back in the day?
At the end of each class, I had to warn them: "I don't care what your schedule says, you will never hear a bell in this room. You will hear your teacher, Ms C, dismissing you." Coupled with my stern face and sharp voice, I think I made my point.

Mrs. Ris, on the other hand, slept well. Her year got off to a truly beautiful start.
I rolled over, on this, the night before school starts, and remembered Darlene’s amazing smile, Jacob’s contagious giggle, and Fred’s heartfelt hugs.

No matter what is going on in one’s home life, a teacher must come to school prepared, patient, and with lots of energy. Coach Brown started his year in the midst of a difficult time – a death in his extended family. I want to extend my condolences and hope that life gets easier… On a less serious note, I always thought of myself as most like Miranda...

Are we doing anything today? explores the challenge of a well-crafted parent letter:
But how to tactfully say, "could you dig into your bank account and buy a few boxes of colored pencils? or an electric pencil sharpener?"

Grand Moff Trojan found his students’ parents extremely responsive to the syllabus he handed out. I hope the rest of his year goes as well as the start!

But what is the schools’ responsibility to students whose parents are NOT so responsive? Ron thinks many parents need A Wake Up Call!
In New York City, it is common for less than five percent of parents to actually appear at Parent-Teacher Conference Day. It is typical for parents to ignore repeated urgent pleas from teachers and guidance counselors to appear at school to collaborate on solutions to their child’s academic and social adjustment problems. And it is not by a wild stretch unheard-of for parents to become abusive and physically menacing to school authorities.

Mr. AB has been doing something I've only heard about, never experienced: he's visiting students' homes. Wow.

Dan is pleased with the motivation of his AP students.

Ms. Cornelius’s kids even laugh at her geeky jokes! Now that portends a good year!

La Maestra loves her class so much she’s getting them cute fuzzy smelly dwarfy things.

Epiphany in Baltimore got some interesting questions from her students.

The Science Goddess, who did such a good job hosting last week’s Carnival, has been settling into her new job at Central Office, where footwear matters and your family photos better be framed!

Mamacita tells the best interview story I’ve ever heard! What a way to start a new job.

Graycie emailed me a story from her very first day of teaching, many years ago. Space doesn’t permit me to post the whole thing, and she didn’t send me the URL of her blog, but here’s my favorite part:
The assigned first unit of the year for me was short stories. The first part of this unit covered the characteristics of fairy tales. The first story I was to teach with was “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.” The first sentence in that story read, “Once upon a time, Ali Baba was out in the forest with his ass gathering fagots.”

Oh, my. What’s a baby teacher to do? I taught a fast lesson on how language changes using slang from my grandparents’ my parents’ and my own youth. The kids were especially amused by the late ‘50s phrase, “It’s a gas!” to denote coolth. We talked about how mature people laughed at such phrases, but never for more than 30 seconds.

Then we read the story. They laughed and laughed at that first line – for exactly 30 seconds. And then we went on.

Apparently, she was a natural! Graycie, if you’ve got a blog, please send me the URL or post it in the comments.

What do World War II, a dead father, lefties, and teaching have to do with each other? They’re all part of Scott Elliott’s three-part post about his favorite teacher and a memorable first day of school.

EdWonk will be teaching 200 students this year. Too bad his superintendent doesn’t think that class size makes a difference in test scores… I feel confident that the edusphere’s favorite ‘Wonk will persist through difficult working conditions to offer the best to his students. Meanwhile, he’ll return to hosting the weekly Carnival, so send your best writing his way! And a huge thank you for all the help he extended to make this week’s Carnival happen!

An Invitation: Writers of education-related posts are encouraged to contribute to the 33rd edition of The Carnival Of Education. Please send your submissions to owlshome [at] earthlink [dot] net no later than 9:00 PM (Pacific) 11:59 PM (Eastern) Tuesday, September 20th. Barring unforeseen circumstances, the midway should open at The Education Wonks next Wednesday morning.

This midway is registered at TTLB's carnival round-up

Monday, September 12, 2005


Part of it's because I didn't get much done last week thanks to consumption. Part of it's because of the insanely confusing staggered schedule that I have until we hire another science teacher (I see five classes, four times per week - but thanks to the staggering there are days when I teach four periods, four different lesson plans - tomorrow, for example). Part of it is because I just plain FORGOT over the summer. Part of it is because I assigned a lot of upfront stuff, like getting to know you questions, a diagnostic test, etc., and now it all must be graded or commented upon or replied to, times 150. Part of it is days like today, when - also due to the lack of a third science teacher and our clever plan to split the third class - I teach every single period except lunch (don't tell the UFT!) and of course I met with our AP to discuss some random issue during lunch... Part of it is that when I get the hang of one part of teaching, I find another challenge to work on.

I'm a little overwhelmed.

Anyway, today we started designing pendulum experiments in sixth grade. I hung makeshift pendulums - washers tied to string - off the sides of the tables, and the kids wrote down what they noticed and wondered, and then I introduced the idea of an independent and dependent variable, and we identified some relevant to the pendulums. Tomorrow they will continue designing experiments in groups of 2-3. Some will test string length, others the weight of the bob, others the release angle.

In seventh grade, I put trays of rocks and minerals out on their tables, and they looked at them, then passed them to other tables, and made a Noticed/Wondering chart (I like that better than K-W-L). I panicked a little in the middle of the lesson, because it went too fast, but they were perfectly fine spending 20 minutes looking at rocks.

We have a candidate. I refuse to get hopeful until she's actually working here, but I will say that she seems pretty good and is teaching a demo lesson on Wednesday. And then I could get a normal schedule again, and more importantly, the kids could get five periods of science per week! I have to admit, I would miss the seventh graders, though.


I am accepting late submissions to the Carnival. Just please send 'em in by midnight tonight. Details below.


How did I forget the sheer volume of work?

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Carnival, carnival!

Don't forget to send your submissions to the Carnival of Education: First Day of School Edition by Sunday night, 11:59 pm, to ms [dot] frizzle [at] gmail [dot] com. I'm looking for posts about your first day of school, whether that was wayyyy back in August or just this past Thursday. And if your second or third day was more interesting than your first, well, heck, bend the rules and send it in anyway. Teachers, parents, students, administrators, custodians, bus-drivers, neighbors-watching-over-the-kiddies, tell me about the first day of school!


And while we're on the topic, I was thinking about my first day of kindergarten. My family had moved to a new town; my dad had taken a job as principal of the elementary schools. I rode a yellow school bus to the smaller campus, which housed kindergarten, first grade, and some of the second graders. The rest of the second grade, and all of 3-5, was in another building, along with dad's office.

Anyway, I'm still a fairly naive person but boy oh boy was I a naive kindergartener! When we arrived, I got off the bus and stood around in the playground looking disoriented, like all the other kindergarteners. I overheard some of the really big kids - second graders! seven-year-olds! - speculating about whether or not we'd have recess. I wasn't sure whether recess was a good thing. It sounded a little scary, but the big kids seemed excited about it.

During that first week, I made friends with a girl who rode my bus. She got off on the stop before mine. Foreshadowing my future social life, I could never quite remember her name. Eventually, my mom met her mom and we all got to know each other.

Kindergarten went well, and first grade was great. All throughout first grade, we heard rumors about one of the second grade teachers, who was mean, and ugly, and fat, and mean. (Yes, we were shallow - but aren't all six-year-olds? Chalk it up to concrete thinking...).

Naturally, dad put me in HER class. I'd never met her before, never even seen her, because she taught at the 2-5 school. I will say for myself that although I entered second grade a bit nervous, I didn't put TOO much stock in the rumors. Maybe she was nice, after all. None of us had even met her! This woman walked into our classroom. And she was old. And she was ugly, and yes, she was kind of overweight, and boy-oh-boy was she mean! So I thought, using the impeccable logic of a seven-year-old just starting second grade, well, she's a substitute! REAL teachers are young and pretty, like my kindergarten and first grade teachers. How weird, a substitute on the first day of school! I was certain the REAL teacher would start any day now, but as the days passed, I realized this WAS our teacher.

It was an inauspicious start. And she was the only teacher to ever accuse me of cheating (wrongfully!), and she could not BELIEVE that I knew how to use parentheses correctly as a second-grader (though I did!), and she didn't know how to spell my last name, even though my father was her boss...

First day stories: Bring 'em on!

The kids know...

What makes a good science teacher?

There are a couple of things that makes a good science teacher. One thing is teaching that students will understand yet test their intellect. Another thing is work that will challenge them. Kindness is another quality a good science teacher has. But most important a good science teacher has knowledge to teach good science.

I think a good science teacher should know what she's doing so the classroom won't blow up. Science teachers should also be fun sometimes. If we are doing an experiment, she should not tell us the wrong things. One more thing, a good science teacher should ALWAYS be expected for the unexpected.

I look for an intelligent teacher so she can teach me something new. I also look for a fun teacher so the class is not always just teaching. I look for a nice teacher so she is not mean or yells a lot. I look for a reliable teacher so I can depend on her. And that's what I look for in a teacher.

I think a science teacher needs to know about the world and our solar system. Also they need strength to put up with the kids. I think they also need to know about science to teach science. Lastly, they need to help the kids that need the help in science.

A good science teacher has to be very attached to science so he/she could transmit or communicate everything that it's trying to say.

What makes a good teacher is having a lot of experience with science. A teacher should talk correctly so we can understand them.

Science is a great subject so it should be taught by a great science teacher who should care about her students. This teacher would hand out challenges for her students and also allow her students to construct experiments. This teacher could be able to understand her students emotions. This teacher will be understood, loved, and respected by all her students.

A good science teacher is a teacher that can teach kids in many different ways. That can teach hands on or hands off. They need to have patience for stubborn kids. Teachers also need to want to teach. That's what I think would make a good science teacher.

More back to school stories...

I wrote last night about one seventh grader who presents an exciting challenge for me as a teacher. He's just one of many, of course; when I looked at the first seventh grade list, I was like, "Oh my god, they put them all in the same class!" Then I looked at my other seventh grade list and thought, "No, wait, they're all in THIS class!"

I'll probably be blogging my head off this weekend because I have a ton of work to do and this is what I do when I need a little break every so often.

So let me tell you about another of my challenges. And keep in mind that it's only been two days... (not counting orientation, when I really didn't see the 7th graders).

I taught this little girl, let's call her Brittany, in health class last year. At first, I thought she'd be my favorite student: her homework was always letter perfect, her hand always in the air. But it didn't take me long to discover that as soon as she thought I wasn't paying attention, she was trying to trip someone, making a face at my back, insulting another student, etc. And she wasn't exactly the picture of sweetness or honesty when confronted about these behaviors... We had a rough time of it. Health was hard because I saw the kids only twice a week for 1/3 of the year, so I didn't get as much of an opportunity to establish my routines and set my limits as I would have if I'd had them every day.

Well, this year, it looks like I'll have them 4 times a week for science. Yesterday, I had her class lined up outside my door, gave them instructions, and let them enter. It was a mess. Each child let the door swing shut onto the next, few kids got started working - this was not going to work. Back out into the hall. "If the door stopper isn't working, what could we do besides letting the door hit the person behind us?" Brittany volunteered to hold the door. And then, when she thought I wasn't looking, she slyly stuck her foot out to trip the kids as they entered. I caught her eye and said, "You just lost two points off your paycheck. Do you know why?" She nodded. "Listen, if you don't want to do a job nicely, I'd rather you let someone else do it, all right?" Nodded again.

Five minutes later, they were back in the hallway. The tone had fallen apart again after only two minutes. No one following directions. I repeated my start-of-class procedures, let them leave their things on their desks, and we tried it a third time. Brittany was relieved of door-holding duties.

The third time was the charm. We still have work to do, but I rewarded the kids who were quickly on-task, avoided penalizing the others at least for now, and class got underway. I handed out the diagnostic, and they started working quietly. I was kept on my toes moving around the classroom, gently re-focusing those whose eyes had wandered or who needed help. And then a cellphone jingle-jangled. It didn't exactly ring; I think it was the sound of a battery about to die. Regardless, cell phones are only allowed provided they are never, ever seen or heard. Did I mention this was the second day of school?!

Problem was, I had no idea whose phone it was. I didn't even have a strong idea of where in the room the sound came from. Brittany made a gesture that made me think it was hers, but when asked, she denied it. "I'll be honest with you, I can't take that phone away because I don't know whose it is. But if that was YOUR phone, I STRONGLY suggest that you wait until neither I nor anyone else in the class is paying attention, and then turn it off, and make sure that NEVER, EVER happens again." Pause. Stern look. "And if you want to show me that you're a good citizen, you'll come up to me quietly at the end of the period and apologize. Go back to work." Pissed off - er, stern - look.

Five minutes later, Brittany beckoned for me to come over to her. "That was my phone," she said. "I'm sorry." I thanked her for being honest, and told her that because she was honest, I wouldn't take it away this time, but if it ever happened again, her mother would have to come to school to get it. She turned it off and was good for the rest of the period.

She's trying, but it's a fine line between good and evil.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Seeing them again for the first time...

Whatever complaints I might have had about Confratute, I will say this for it: It has allowed me to see my students through new eyes. I've never been one to see only the bad in a kid, but I look at kids that I had problems with last year and I see those problems as quite possibly symptomatic of a lot of good things. Maybe it was Confratute, or maybe it's just the stage I'm at in my teaching; after all, it was one of my goals since long before the summer to begin to see my students more clearly as individual learners, to begin to be able to get at the root of their difficulties and to capitalize better on their strengths.

Yesterday I described one of my seventh grade students - attention-seeking, full-of-questions, adorable, exhausting. Today, more of the same. "What's this rock? Why is it reddish? Where do meteorites come from?" This from 5 minutes of free time with the textbook after he finished his diagnostic test. I told him a bit about my geology field trip this summer. I kept my sense of humor, and most of my interactions with him were in response to his science-related questions rather than his attempts to bother the children around him. Unfortunately, he got in trouble with the AP at lunchtime - I'm not sure why - and therein lies the danger. He takes a ton of patience, a good sense of humor, and a lot of time. None of us can provide that ALL the time (sainthood would await that person), and one or two of us rarely can provide that. But once he starts getting in trouble for his legitimately disruptive behaviors, we establish a pattern of conflict that is likely to worsen and spread.

After school, he was hanging out since his mother is our parent coordinator. I invited him into my room and showed him the rocks that I collected at Mt. Shasta. He got to handle real pieces of obsidian, which he's seen in the textbook, and pumice, and we talked about the lava tube and how it formed. Mr. Richter came in and joined the conversation. I showed the student three rocks which I collected which are similar in texture, density, etc., but three different colors, and asked him why he thought that might be. "Different chemicals?" he asked. I slapped him five. The kid is brilliant, a budding volcanologist, a question a minute. He so proudly showed off his new knowledge to his mom when she came to take him home.

Last year, I liked him but saw more of his disruptive side than his inquisitive side. This year, I'm asking myself, is this one of our "gifted underachievers" -??? It's not the label that matters, to be sure, it's the new insight, the idea that I need to find fascinating things to keep his mind working... wow. Exasperating, but brilliant. What an exhilarating challenge.

And he's just one of so many students that I am seeing again, differently.


And yes, I am at home, blogging, on a Saturday Friday (geez, maybe there's permanent damage...!) night. But for the record, I'm doing this for my health. And we had a happy hour after work, so I get a little social credit. And I feel much better, thank you, although I will probably have a hacking cough until mid-November.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Survivor: School Edition

I know, I know, any TFA Corps Member or, I'm assuming, Teaching Fellow, has compared their job to that island based reality show. But it's so often TRUE!

Last night, I really didn't know if I would make it through today. I went to bed with a HIGHER fever than when I woke up - and that was AFTER a day off... tossed and turned, sweated, it was like one of those Victorian novels where the doctor says, "Well, all we can do is wait... tonight we will know... either the fever will break or she'll die." Okay, I'm really thinking about Beth in Little Women here, so maybe that's not a Victorian novel, but you get the idea.

I didn't die. I did, however, OD on very-drowsy cold medications, which didn't kick in until about 3 hours before I had to wake up. So when the alarm went off at 5:30, I promptly fell back to sleep. Suffice to say, I took a cab part of my commute and purchased both breakfast and lunch, and was very happy that I took a shower the night before, but I made it to work.

And proceeded to have a very good day. As my principal said around 3 pm, this was the best day she'd had in.... oh, a long time!

My schedule is a bit awkward - we really need to fill our vacancy - but I was able to use the same lesson with both my sixth graders and my seventh graders today, and will be able to give them the same diagnostic (it focuses on measurement) tomorrow, so that is how I am getting through the week.

Basically, we talked about the difference between science, the school subject, and science, the discipline. I asked what kinds of jobs use science other than scientist; they came up with chef, gardener, astronaut, doctor, nurse, science teacher, engineer, and many more. One seventh grader - a boundary-tester herself - said, "Students!" When I asked why, she explained, "Students do experiments to find out what their teachers are like." True that. They answered a bunch of questions about their attitude towards science, what they think scientists do every day, what subjects they've studied before and which they find most interesting, and so on. And finally, I let them leaf through the textbooks we will be using to get an idea of upcoming topics (and to get that "ewww! look what's on page 212!" out of their systems...).

I have identified a few attention-seekers who are going to require a lot of patience and positive attention to keep them from going over to the dark side. One boy, a seventh grader, is an absolute sweetheart, but the child needs to interact with the teacher literally every five minutes. One minute, I'm frowning at him as he casually pokes the back of his friend's neck with a pen. The next, he has is hand in the air and is informing me that he wants to share when we finish the worksheet, and can he go to the bathroom. He comes back, I choose him (and others) to share, his hand is up for every follow up question, he finds more charming ways to annoy his neighbors when I neglect to call on him, and when looking through the textbook, he proceeds to raise his hand three times with questions about material in the book. "I though cactuses had spines, but this picture shows all these animals living in it. How can they do that?" I mean, these were great questions, and I sincerely love his enthusiasm, but this child is exhausting!

My team of teachers is amazing - I don't have any specific evidence, except absolutely everything they do.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

There is not enough

advil, echinacea, and orange juice in the wide world to make this cold go away. I'm home sick today; woke up feeling like death and figured I'd better miss the last day for teachers rather than the first day for students... but I was supposed to lead a PD session on eChalk and run a grade level meeting and work on collaborative planning with Mr. Richter. *sigh*

But I'm sure you'd rather read this week's very creative Carnival of Education than listen to me whine!

And while I'm on the topic, I'm hosting the Carnival next week, with a twist: it will be the First Day of School Edition. Please submit first day stories to me at ms[dot]frizzle[at]gmail[dot]com by Sunday, Sept. 11 at 11:59 pm. I'm looking for first day tales from teachers, administrators, parents, and students - and if your second or third day was more meaningful than your first, go ahead and bend the rules just a little! Thanks!


I've exhausted my ability to sleep - maybe a nap in a few hours. Some people watch daytime television when sick; the rest of us surf the internet. One's true nature is never abandoned.

I miss Lectrice but I'm happy to see that a friend of hers will take over Blackboard Jungle. Good luck to them both!

I'm applying to the Fulbright Teacher Exchange again. Currently strategizing about which countries to list and whether or not I have to write a new essay. The background for those who are new is that I was accepted for an exchange last year - which leads me to believe my essay was successful - but the exchange I was offered wasn't a good match, so I had to decline. My reasons for wanting to do it haven't really changed.... As for country choice, I could list countries that interest me that do more exchanges - such as the UK - or I could do as I did last year and list countries that interest me that I am less likely to visit on my own. The application materials also say that South Africa gives preference to teachers of science, math, history, and geography. The truth is, while certain countries interest me more than others, I really want to do the exchange and would consider just about anywhere. So this year, I think I should strategize a bit more in my choice of countries.

I'm also applying for the ARMADA Project, once applications become available in September. I'd love to go to Antarctica, but some of the other research projects look more interesting... I guess I can decide all that once I have the materials.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Teachers Back at Work

Tired and really not feeling well, but here are the highlights of the first day back for NYC teachers.

My day started with a brief presentation by our AP, basically an introduction to the Region's goals for the year. The first thing - and I think this is a smart and impressive decision - is that there are no new initiatives in our Region this year. The focus is on getting better at the things we started in the last few years - workshop model, accountable talk, etc.

We also took a peek at the summer school results for our Region. What I found interesting in a don't-look-at-the-car-wreck kind of way is that while math & ELA exam passing rates at the end of the summer were reasonably good in the elementary grades, they dropped precipitously in 7th and 8th grade. I don't have the numbers, but we're talking about 40-60% dropping to less than 20%. What the hell happened? Nevertheless, kids with good attendance whose summer school teachers gave them a passing grade got promoted, regardless of their scores. We sent a handful to summer school, and most failed the test yet again, but they were nearly all promoted.

No science teacher. I will spare you the gory details. Mr. Richter and I began planning our first Earth Science unit together, as we will be co-teaching 7th grade.

If you want to read more, Mr. Babylon, Mildly Melancholy, Up the Down Staircase, and others got a bit of attention from the NY Sun today. You have to register to read the full article, so here are the parts about me. The writer was very patient with my paranoia about personal details and I like the positive tone of the article.
One of New York's more established bloggers, Ms. Frizzle, a science teacher in her late 20s, started by writing a blog that had nothing to do with teaching.

She posted entries about films and Fringe Festival plays she had seen, but she felt her blog was aimless and less than riveting. It wasn't until she began writing about her workdays that her blog became a highly readable travelogue of an inner-city school. "Everyone has an opinion about the state of education and the schools, but how many people had ever been in one after finishing their own education?" she wrote in an e-mail message.


Ms. Frizzle sees her readers as her friends. She writes primarily about the goings-on in her school - one science teaching position is still vacant; her bulletin boards are orange this year - but she also opens up in personal ways, letting people know she bought a new Western-style shirt and she's considering switching to decaf at night.


Asked if she's ever hesitant about including certain observations in her blog, Ms. Frizzle responded: "Quite often. ... The schools in New York City are very political places."

Monday, September 05, 2005

Fresh Germs

I have a nasty cold that's getting nastier. I guess that's the downside to my lovely new crop of sixth graders: their not-so-lovely crop of germs. Is it a coincidence, or was I immune to most of the stuff my 8th graders had? Is this going to be one of those years when I get sick all the time? Epidemiologists should study teachers.

My family came down yesterday and we went to the US Open. We saw some good tennis - a lot of evenly matched pairs. And that Sanguinetti-Srichiphan match, wow.

Saturday, September 03, 2005


I haven't said anything about it here until now, because I don't have anything to say that others haven't said, earlier and better. But the disaster in New Orleans is just unbelievable - and as always, the extent to which life goes on outside of the region is hard to reckon with. It seems crazy that we should be shopping for school clothes and supplies, going to concerts, laughing, watching tennis, when people are without fresh water, without food, without power, dying, being killed, just a day's drive south. And yet, what else are we supposed to do? We can donate money or supplies, but clearly we can't all drop everything and go down there to help, especially those of us without special skills.

I'm not an apocalyptic thinker, but events like this hurricane, the blackout three years ago, 9/11, the tsunami remind me how little it takes to turn our complex societies into chaos. We are dependent on so many far-flung networks for the elements of our survival, and those networks are themselves interconnected, so that a failure of one can cause failures of others. We live far from our relatives, and rely on phone lines to contact them. We depend on electricity to clean our water and deliver it to our homes. We depend on roads, railroads, and harbors for our food. My friend S. and I have talked about walking north to where our relatives live, in New England, where there's at least a chance that people could grow their own food if food delivery systems failed... of course, few of us have the first clue how to grow enough food to support ourselves and our families, or how to preserve it to last the winter. But what to do about it? We can't go backwards, we can't move back into a self-sufficient agrarian society. The only answer I have is that we have to demand of our government accountability for keeping the systems working. It's a vivid demonstration of the idea of a social contract. The government can't anticipate everything, can't prevent every death, but the chaos in New Orleans is inexcusable given the long-term warnings regarding the levees and the short-term warnings about the hurricane.

Then again, Jenny D. links to someone who was there who argues that when we choose to build cities in the path of natural disasters, it's possible that no amount of preparation could prevent damage from "the big one." Perhaps we have unreasonable expectations of peaceful coexistence with - or domination over - nature.

We are experimenting with a new homeroom structure that is kind of like an advisory. Real advisory programs are supposed to be smaller, only 10-15 kids per group, while ours will have 25-30, but we've come up with a schedule of activities that are a little different from the old homeroom, which was attendance and quiet reading. On Mondays, we have issue-based discussions. On Tuesdays, we do a logic puzzle and those who get it right get their names in a hat for a prize lottery. On Wednesdays, we do sustained silent reading. On Thursdays, we have "Get Organized Day," when the teachers help the students clean and reorganize their binders and bookbags and folders. And on Friday, we have class meetings to discuss school, class, and community issues.

We've decided that on Friday next week, during class meetings, we will talk to the kids about the hurricane and flooding, give them a chance to respond, and if they show any interest in helping the people suffering in New Orleans, we will help them set up some kind of benefit fundraiser. We feel strongly that this initiative has to come from the kids, although we will provide gentle nudges in that direction and provide a lot of support if they do decide to help. They need to begin to see themselves as a part of society, something bigger than themselves.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

The Fourth Day

All continues to go well with the sixth graders. We introduced them to eChalk and helped them log-in to their accounts for the first time today. For the first time in my teaching career, the vast majority (I would estimate >85%) of the students say they have internet access at home. And these are poor kids in the Bronx: the times, they are a-changin'. I had each of them write down their address and password on an index card so that I can keep a file of all their information; this is easier than resetting passwords electronically every time someone forgets theirs. We noticed that one girl chose as her password, "Ihate[school name]." When I asked her what this was about, she told me a long and complicated story about using reverse psychology to pick a password that her friend would never guess, because her friend was teasing her about picking an obvious password. I don't know the girl well enough to know if this is the truth or an imaginative story, but it's not a good sign when a kid writes down that they hate school - on the fourth day! Hmmm. She's very bright, high test scores, eager to participate, but she also was defensive and argumentative when I asked her about the password.

We had a plethora of visitors today - police officers continuing their investigation of the stolen laptops, IT people to fix some problems with the remaining laptops, three people from the school we are modeled after (each visiting independently for a different reason!), and - surprise of surprises! - the Regional superintendent & her entourage. She does not usually visit unannounced. We have nothing to hide and everything to be proud of, and I respect her a lot for dropping by a school to see things firsthand, but the fact remains that she doesn't usually just drop in - something's afoot.

We may be nearly out of science teacher limbo, but I don't want to jinx it by getting too happy.

I met with the AP, Principal, and other grade team leaders to discuss many things - it was one of those meetings that started out as a casual conversation and turned into a real meeting as more of us got sucked in.

One thing we are all a little puzzled by is how to work with our struggling teachers. As I have described many times before, we have some new teachers who are very reflective, ask for help when they need it, see where they are and where they want to be, and are always growing and improving. These teachers need support, but it's fairly easy to provide. There are others, however, who don't seem very reflective, who don't ask for help, and who don't seem to have either a realistic sense of their strengths and weaknesses or a clear vision of how they want to teach. Perhaps because we are all naturally reflective people who hold ourselves to extremely high standards, we are not sure how to proceed.

My two cents in this conversation were that I feel the need to be more direct this year, rather than kind of hinting broadly about areas of concern. I suggested that the first step is to arrange regular times for observation - both observation of the new teacher by an experienced teacher, and observation of experienced teachers by the new teacher. That provides evidence which can be used to start conversations. For example, one teacher uses a lot of sarcasm and a general tone that is over the heads of most middle school students. Some just shut off because they don't "get" her, and others shut off because they feel insulted. Either way, it seems to the rest of us that she doesn't project a sense of compassion - but how do you tell someone this? I suggested that by observing her, you can start with concrete examples: "When you made this joke, I don't think the students understood that you were joking, and I saw a few of them stop paying attention." Then you can discuss it and maybe set up a time for the teacher to observe someone else who is really good in that particular area - in this case, using humor in the classroom and setting the appropriate firm but compassionate tone. After a really targeted observation, you can talk more about what the teacher saw and whether they think they can use it to develop their own teaching.

Another topic was how to begin to apply what we learned at Confratute. We gave the students interest and learning style inventories this week, and we took a look at some of their answers. We saw so many children whose needs we are not meeting. One girl had a lot of behavior problems last year, which usually began during group interactions. Her learning style inventory was almost entirely tipped towards independent projects! This made total sense to us. She's very bright and creative, but working with other kids just isn't her thing. So what to do about it? Another boy expressed interests in crime scene investigation, working with DNA, predicting the weather, and "solving the mysteries of the ancient world." My experience with this boy is that he expects to interact with adults as a peer, and can blow up unexpectedly when treated patronizingly. Now, he obviously is NOT a peer of his teachers, and he needs to work on being respectful no matter what, but at the same time, he is right to demand more challenge. Now we have a starting place. The more we looked through their packets, the more we saw needs unmet and challenges for what we do and how we see these children.

Finally, my AP told me that she looked into getting our test scores back and was told they would not be released until November. It's hard to explain why this bothers me so much. I guess it's just a little ridiculous to give me and my colleagues two weeks to grade the written parts (a dozen pages per test!) by hand while teaching full time - but to allow the state almost six months to scan the bubble sheets and calculate the final scores. One of the justifications for this test is that it can be used to help improve a school's science program. That can still happen in November, but it would be better if we had part of the summer to think about it. Also, the first part of next year's test is given in January. Plus, a passing science score can supposedly substitute for a failing score on a math or reading test, allowing promotion to ninth grade, but the students will be several months into the school year before scores are known. This certainly communicates something about how much the state values science and social studies education. And most of all, it's a failure of accountability in a testing program that is supposed to be all about accountability. End of rant. I won't bring it up again until November, I promise.

Tomorrow is our family celebration... the end of orientation. Next week, the real first day of school.