Thursday, December 30, 2010

Not sure what to do... I guess this is goodbye

A couple of things have happened over the last couple of weeks and I haven't quite figured out what to do about them. The first thing is that my cover was blown. A colleague from my new school figured out somehow that this blog belongs to me. I guess I wasn't careful and divulged too much specific information that was easily traceable back to me. I always figured that there were enough teachers in the system that no one would suspect, but it happened. Luckily it wasn't a big deal and it wasn't an administrator and it wasn't anyone from my old school, but it does change things for me. Although this person is a trusted colleague, I'm not sure how comfortable I feel blogging freely about my experiences knowing that I'm not anonymous anymore.

Another factor is that I founded this blog as a way to deal with the stress of teaching at my previous school. I'm happy and content at my new school and no longer feel the responsibility to expose the problems in "the system." I'll pass that torch to others. I'm not exposed to them myself anymore in the same raw and vulnerable way. Teaching doesn't feel like this uphill battle anymore and that tag I always used "the weight of the world," I don't feel it anymore. It's sad how varied schools can be within the same system, but I honestly do not feel like I'm teaching in the same broken system. My new school continues to be a dream for me. I'm trying new things, learning a lot, and feel inspired and energized once again as a teacher. Maybe it's time to say goodbye to this blog and perhaps I'll start a new one someday, not anonymously, but a blog or a wiki for my class to use, for the parents to use, for all to see. Maybe the new blog will be a way to document some of the research I want to do on integrating multiple native languages into a sheltered ESL classroom.

Thank you all for reading over the past few years. Your support has kept me in the profession. You have encouraged me to try new things, to keep my chin up when things were looking bad, and most of all you shared your own experiences with me and made me feel like I wasn't alone in the struggle.

Maybe we'll meet again. I won't stop blogging, but I most likely will not be back here on this blog. In a few days, the blog might disappear from the public and be archived for my own personal use. Maybe someday I'll write a book about it all.

To all the teachers that are out there fighting the good fight, you are all making a difference in someone's life. Maybe you won't be able to single-handedly change the system as a whole, but you are changing the lives of the students in your class and they will always remember you.

Farewell and good luck to you all.

Ms. Peace

Note: Gotham Schools, please do not link to this post.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Visiting my old school

This past week, I visited my old school for the first time since the beginning of the school year. Since I left, the administration changed (AGAIN!) and another school tried to invade the building, but didn't succeed. I have spoken to several former colleagues over the past few months and they have seemed stressed, overworked, you know, the usual. At first they liked the new principal. He was motivated, a hard worker, and had a vision for the school (something that was lacking for the past 5 years). Then, he started implementing changes, radical changes, that seemed to come out of nowhere and happened from one day to the next, and they were all complaining. Now they seem to have adjusted and are back to being content with him. They are motivated to work hard, the children love coming to school, in short, everything has changed for the better over the past 2 months.

From the moment I stepped foot inside the building, I knew things were different. The poster of illegal firearms was removed from the security desk, the walls were painted with inviting colors, there was a banner welcoming you to the school. Hallways that had once been cleared (supposedly due to fire regulations) were now decorated with plants and benches and tables for assessment. There were books on every shelf. The blood smear that had stayed on the sign for the office door for over a year was finally gone. The office was reorganized and decorated for the holidays. There were signs motivating kids to work hard posted in stairwells. This was not the same dilapidated, depressing pit of a school that I left. Instead, it oozed that potential I knew it always had.

I'm happy for my former colleagues that they get to work at such a dynamic school with such a great principal, but I'm honestly a little bit sad that I jumped ship. I can't help but wonder, what if I had stayed? Of course, everyone down to the secretary assured me I still had my old job waiting for me. I even met the principal and had a pretty long conversation with him about all the changes. The truth of the matter is that there was no way to know any of this was going to happen and there is no way to know if it will be sustainable. I left a failing school in every sense, a place where there were wonderful teachers who were literally hanging on by a thread, maintaining the legacy of the school by a thread, a place with a completely incompetent administrator who at the time showed no signs of leaving (he announced his resignation the 3rd week of school). Even had I known he was leaving, I'm not sure I would have been willing to trust that a new principal would be any better. I think if this new principal weren't who he is, the school would have just plummeted into failure and would have been sucked up by a charter school in a snap. Again, we were hanging on by a thread.

I'm happy at my new school. It is a big change for me program and population-wise, but I'm adjusting and I'm learning a lot. I also feel that I have a lot to contribute at my new school, especially in designing curriculum for the ELL students. My administrators are competent and hard-working. They push teachers to be reflective in their practice and encourage us to adapt curriculum to meet the needs of our students. I'm also happy in my classroom. I do not miss that old building at all. I love having a bathroom and a kitchen in my room. I love the closets and the central air. I love my books. My students present new challenges (many of them are in their "own world"), but I'm happy to see them every morning and I really feel like the class is finally starting to come together.

It's impossible to know how things are going to turn out. I took a risk and in many ways it paid off. It's just sad that one administrator can make so much of a difference. It's great for the schools that have great principals, but horrific for those that don't. I guess I'll see how I feel at the end of the year. I think my fiance would probably be horrified if I even suggested going back to my old school, since he's lived with all my stress and supported me through a bad situation for the past 5 years. I knew when I took this job that it didn't necessarily mean that I would have to be in it forever. I guess change is good.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Just go for it

As teachers, we are always encouraging our students to take risks and challenge themselves. Sometimes we forget that in order for us to improve our teaching, we also have to take risks. There are teachers in all schools that will come up with any excuse why they can't do something. It's too hard, there are too many students, we don't have enough materials, the kids aren't ready, we don't have the time, we don't have the space, and blah blah blah. What I have learned in my 7 years of teaching, is that sometimes, regardless of your preparation, you just need to go for it. Get your feet wet. Don't be scared. Just do it.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not saying you should always do what someone tells you to without questioning, rationalizing, or envisioning how it would work, but teachers really need to take the risks to implement strategies that are proven to work.

I have spent the last 2 months adjusting to my new environment and proving myself to the administration and I haven't taken the risks I should have to improve my instruction. Now that I'm feeling more confident, the gloves are coming off!!! The first thing I need to tackle is my Smartboard. I have a beautiful smartboard that has been lying dormant for the entirety of the school year because of my excuses, "I don't know how to use it," "I have no laptop to run it," and blah blah blah. Well, I'm fresh off Smartboard training, I have procured the needed laptop, and I am ready to go for it tomorrow. Yes folks, not next week or next month, tomorrow. I'm not even sure which lesson I'm going to attempt, but I am determined to turn that thing on, get those 27 bodies organized in front of it, and finally incorporate some technology into my teaching.

Next stop, the class wiki. I made it last year for my old school and I never got it up and running. This year, I am determined to get the parents involved and give them access to what we are doing in class online.

After that, who knows.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Getting settled

These first two months of school have flown by. I can't believe I am already preparing report cards and scheduling parent-teacher conferences. I am finally just starting to feel adjusted to my new environment and I think my colleagues and administrators have also adjusted to me. For the first month and a half, I felt like I was walking on eggshells, especially with administration. I was trying to get a feel for the culture of the school and to learn how they do things. Although the actual curriculum is very similar, structures and procedures are much different.

At my new school, I was given my schedule for the day by my principal, told when to teach what. I had never been given a schedule by anyone before, other than prep periods. It was one of the freedoms that I loved about being a teacher, deciding the flow of the day. After some grade level meetings with our AP, I asked him about changing the schedule, and he sort of dodged the subject saying that teachers really need to stick with the schedule so that if anyone comes in, they can anticipate what they will be seeing. He said maybe I could swap a couple of subjects, but I would need to give both administrators copies.

I also had to adjust to the idea of being supported by administration and working around competent people that I can rely on. I think the administrators were unsure about me for the first few weeks. They thought I was very serious and weren't really sure how I was with the children. The AP even gave me a book on classroom management, because he didn't like a technique he saw me using (during transitions between subjects while I'm pulling down charts or whatever, I have a child sit in my chair and say names of 2 classmates who are ready and then pass the baton to another child. It helps the kids get to know each other's names and gets them ready for me, but I can see how it's not for everyone... maybe kids feel singled out). Anyway, he didn't think it meshed with the philosophy of the school. Again, I felt insecure about this new place. I had always been praised beyond belief for my management at my old school, but then again, my old administrators didn't care about the emotional well-being of the children there, they just wanted to see that the kids were under control.

Another time, the Assistant Principal came in during reading workshop. I had finished the mini lesson on book handling (this was the 2nd week of school), and the children were reading at their tables from mixed bins. We hadn't established the reading partnerships yet as per the curriculum I was handed. While the students were reading, a school aide was supposed to be overseeing them while I did a DRA assessment on a child. Apparently, some children were off task which I didn't respond to because I had the aide and the AP in the room at the time and I was trying to do a DRA, which we have to get done. Anyway, the AP did not like that the students were not in partnerships and questioned whether or not I understood the structure of reading workshop. I explained that we were going to establish partnerships later that week, but I wanted to get a feel for the children's reading habits and teach the lessons on book handling that were in the curriculum to get the children used to the structure of the mini-lesson/independent reading. He wasn't convinced. All I could think was, "just wait, you'll see," but I realized that since he didn't know me, his concerns were valid based on what he saw.

A couple of weeks ago, my principal came in and did an informal observation. He came in during a reading mini-lesson. It wasn't my best lesson, but it wasn't my worst either. I was prepared to hear that I was doing it all wrong when he came back that afternoon with feedback. He said he was surprised and relieved that I was so animated with the kids and he thought the classroom environment looked great and that the kids were focused and respectful of each other and of me. After that observation, I think I won their trust. I don't feel so scrutinized anymore and I have even been complemented on the bulletin board I put up with my children's first writing publication.

I guess I'm feeling relieved and a little bit off the hook. I was feeling so overly scrutinized it was driving me a little bit crazy. I was afraid to deviate from the schedule or do different things with the students. Now things feel a little bit more relaxed. Even though I didn't have permission, I deviated from the schedule yesterday. The students did craft centers during literacy center time. They made pumpkin necklaces and leaf rubbings for our fall festival. We carved a pumpkin and raffled it off to a student. We had a great time with our "Five little pumpkins" shared reading poem. The kids are getting into it too... but that's for another post.

Sunday, October 17, 2010


These first few months of school have been great. I love my new school, I love my students, and I love my colleagues and administrators. At my new school, administrators regularly visit the classrooms and give teachers feedback on their practice. As much as I like to think I'm open to this, it was hard to adjust to administrators who actually care and actually know something about education and pedagogy. At first, I felt criticized by their feedback, but after awhile I realized that they weren't really criticizing me, they were trying to help me to improve and that's precisely why I switched schools, to continue growing and learning as an educator.

Another big adjustment for me has been the accountability and data collection. At my old school we talked about our "data" constantly and had to collect data in every subject area on every child, but we filed this data in a binder that went in our "data center" and was never reviewed by administration. At my new school teachers have to email their data spread sheets to administrators. At first, I though the administration was asking me to email it to them so they could scrutinize me, but then I got the letters generated by the administration to the parents with their children's scores and pointers for how they could help at home and I realized that it wasn't about criticizing the teacher, the data is actually used to help children. It doesn't disappear into "Data Center" oblivion, but actually gets used. What a concept!

Other than that, I have settled into my first grade zone once again. Different school, different kids, but it's basically the same. I'm fortunate the curriculum is similar (except for math), so it really hasn't been hard to adjust in that way. My students are connecting with each other and with me and we have a nice classroom atmosphere going where everyone in encouraged to learn. We went on a field trip to the zoo on Friday and had a great time together. I have so many photos of my students with their arms around each other smiling in front of sea lions and bears. We did our usual shared writing about the trip. The kids generated the best telling of the story in all my years of teaching. I was really surprised. Most of my students are ELLs once again, so I didn't expect such rich vocabulary to come out. They said things like "the path in the aviary was narrow." Whoa! This year, when I type it out, I will actually be able to project it onto the Smartboard for my students to edit and revise.

It makes me really happy that I am able to create this positive school world with my students as I did at my old school except this time it's not isolated to just my classroom, the whole school is in on it. It's encouraging to say the least.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The ones that stayed behind and my new outlook

I went to happy hour with some my former colleagues from my old school. It was great to hear about the students and how everyone was doing. I realized as we were all reminiscing and sharing about the school that I am in a completely different world at my new school. I felt bad sharing when they asked me how things are because it's just not fair. They received the news shortly after school started that the principal was leaving. That makes 3 administrators in 4 years (not counting the string of APs who have come and gone). They weren't happy or sad about it because, while they were dissatisfied with the principal, we all were, they don't know what to expect. My new school is in a district where principals have historically retired from their positions after many years of service. One less thing to worry about.

My first grade colleagues at my old school shared with me that they are dealing with class sizes of 30+ with rosters still not finalized. My roster was finalized in early August and almost everyone showed up on the first day. I have not even had a child arrive late yet. They began sharing about the behavior of children, peeing on purpose all over the rug to spite the teacher, choking other students during recess, cursing out adults, etc. At my new school, I have the best behaved class of my entire career. I was setting up the play centers and realized we didn't have enough blocks for the 8 children who had chosen that center on Friday (I had planned to have 2 separate block areas). They all wanted to play together so I allowed them to just to see what would happen. They played so nicely together, sharing, talking, and interacting. They even cleaned up as a team. I also haven't received a single complaint from my VERY capable and loving school aide.

I have this feeling that this blog might take on a new tone this year. I have always wanted to do research in my classroom and have engaged mostly informally in conducting research over the years. This year, I feel like this huge weight has been lifted and I can actually focus on my instruction. My first goal is to assess my students for their language levels. Since I am teaching in a sheltered immersion ESL class this year I want to find out the levels of all my students, those classified as ELLs and those who have passed the LAB-R. From there, I want to make goals for them (both language and academic), and work on creating a model of intervention and enrichment in my class with a focus on language. I'm so excited!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

This changes everything

These past few weeks have been like a dream for me. I'm working at a school where children are at the center of all decisions, where administrators are more than just competent, they are talented, hard-working, and dedicated. This is the first year that I haven't had to buy supplies for my classroom (I still bought a few, but the point is I didn't have to). I didn't even know that New York City schools even had money for supplies, but apparently they do if your administration knows how or cares to properly allocate funds.

My classroom set-up went smoothly and I was ready when the children arrived yesterday. I had no last minute roster additions, no confusion, nothing. None of my students even arrived late. Everyone was on time and ready to be back at school. Some of the students were a bit spacey as is expected after a 2 month hiatus from school, but they knew the rules and routines. They all used the non-verbal cues for bathroom, water, and ideas they had learned in Kindergarten and understood the concept of a "thinking chair" (non-punitive time out). All transitions and procedures went smoothly. Dismissal was a dream with all parents smiling and shaking my hand. After day one I didn't feel any stress at all, just a sense of wanting to know the children more and wanting to reach the ones who struggle with academics.

It was a strange feeling coming from my last school where everything was an uphill battle and I felt courageous for being there and for protecting my students from the evils of "the system." I found myself missing the chaos of the rosters and the preps and the copy machine that never worked. I missed the smell of the dirty staircase that never even got cleaned over the summer, the heat and the sweat, the mean secretaries who scowled and registered children for the wrong grade and with their names misspelled. I missed the flustered administrators who alternated roaming the building putting out fires and locking themselves in their offices to escape their own incompetence. I missed the noise from the inside yard at lunch with decibel levels high enough to damage even an adult's ear drum. I missed the chaos of dismissal. I missed the grittiness of the whole experience.

This is what I wanted, a drastic change, but somehow it doesn't feel like my own yet. It feels like I'm working at a temporary cushy job or something, but I'm not. I'm still a New York City public school teacher with 27 first graders on my roster.

I called one of my former colleagues to talk about my old school and to ask about her day. When I told her I missed it, she said, "well you'll get over that really quickly when I tell you what happened today..." and she was right. The stuff she was telling me was what was killing me inside, ripping me apart, challenging my moral character. I do not even feel like I can divulge the things that are apparently still going on at that school but I can tell you it is criminal and disgusting and I just couldn't fight the battle anymore. She told me that the class I would have had was downright out of control, like running out of the classroom and screaming and playing around in the stairs. I think my administrators thought it was easy for me because I had things under control, but it was so hard. They thought I was expendable. Maybe I wasn't. It wasn't just me, there were a lot of people who dedicated their lives and themselves to those children, to that school, and 9 of us left not because we didn't care, but because we just couldn't do it anymore. I left some of the best teachers I will ever have the privilege to work with. I am so thankful for everything they taught me and for the children of that school. Maybe that's what I really miss.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Setting up the new classroom

Where to start? Well, this week I went to my new school to set up the classroom and I can say hands down that this was the best year ever for this process. I have made so many changes in my life simply by changing schools and there are so many reasons why I feel thankful every time I go to my new school.

First off, no more subway. I was schlepping bag after heavy bag on the subway for years. All of those materials I had bought at Staples during my big shop had to make their way to a different borough on 2 different trains. Now, I finally broke down and bought a used car. I had wanted one for awhile, but never thought it was practical since it would have been a 45 minute ride and $11 in tolls per day plus $10 for a lot if I couldn't find designated parking at my old school. My new school is only 15 minutes away from my home and involves no tolls!!!! While there is no designated parking, there is plenty of street parking and a $5/day lot just in case.

Secondly, no more stairs. My old school did not have an elevator or dumbwaiter of any sort so everything had to be carried up the stairs (the building was 5 stories). Even though my classroom was on the 2nd floor, it was added stress thinking about the stairs or making multiple trips for things.

Thirdly, no more sweat. I can remember setting up at my old school dripping sweat and needing water desperately (and there was no drinkable water in the building). It was just hot and dusty and sweaty and disgusting for the first month of school. My new school has central air. I actually needed a sweater the other day when I was setting up my classroom library.

I know the building and the commute shouldn't matter so much, but they really do! It is such a pleasure to drive to school, park, wheel my cart of stuff to the building, take the elevator up, and enter a cool, clean, classroom.

This year, I decided to go with earth tones for the bulletin boards. I had taken a class at Bank Street last year and admired how their classrooms were so simple. No clutter, not too flashy or bright. I papered my boards with plain brown butcher block paper this year with a green "fern" border. I brought in tons of plants, including a vine that has grown to almost 15 feet over the years. The room is simple, natural, and relaxing just how I like it.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Meeting my new colleagues

This week has been incredible. I had the opportunity to attend some amazing professional development alongside many of my new colleagues. Most of us are new since the school is only in its third year of operation and given the hiring freeze, all of the newbies (myself included) made transfers on the open market. It has been amazing to connect with everyone and I am so happy (and relieved) to say that I really feel like I have found a place where I will be able to grow as a teacher and a professional.

Some of you might be skeptical, after all, many of us think of transfer teachers as the ones who didn't make it in their old school, or people who moved and wanted to be closer to home, but that is not the case with my colleagues.

All of us share several things in common that really make me think that my new principal has a vision for the school. First of all, we were all interviewed and hired in April (although none of the transfers officially went through until the budgets came out in June). To me, this really shows that he was looking for the best. We all gave demo lessons as part of the interview process. We all accepted the positions we were offered because something told us this would be different. We are all TRAUMATIZED (and I'm not using the term lightly) by our experiences from our other schools and we're not quite sure to make of a place where children are at the center of decision-making, and things are organized (How many of you already have your class rosters color coded for ELLs, IEPs, new arrivals, home language, and ethnicity? You units of study in all subject areas? Your staff handbook? Your schedule?). We are grateful for every piece of communication from the administration and every bit of help from our colleagues. We all either cried or almost cried when we saw our gorgeous classrooms for the first time...happy crying.

I am so hopeful for this next school year. I can't wait to go in tomorrow and start getting things set up.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

In my nightmares...

Many teacher bloggers wrote about their school anxiety dreams over the past few weeks. Mine incidentally started the exact same week I had seen the topic pop up on other blogs. I haven't had different dreams, but rather the same recurring one a total of 3 times in the past 3 weeks. It's strange because it's different than my usual---I can't control the kids no matter what I try--one. This time it's about leaving my old school and starting new. In my new dream I go to my new school and my new principal welcomes all the teachers and announces that he as hired a new Assistant Principal he wants everyone to meet. He goes on to introduce my old principal, who I absolutely despise who says that he basically sucked as a principal (true!) and thought he'd give being an AP a try and since I was at the school he already knew someone. I fake a smile and pretend to be happy to see him (as I always did at my old school). From then on, all of my old administrators appear and even some of my crazier former colleagues all working at my new school. In one version of the dream one of my trusted and competent former colleagues appears tapping on my classroom window begging to be let in. I am overcome by this feeling of--- I thought it would be different, but it's all the SAME!!!!---and them I'm jolted awake so thankful that the incompetents and crazies are not coming with me and a little bit sad for the wonderful people I left behind.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The story of my last day

It was a very strange thing how this school year ended. Everyone asked me if it was hard to say goodbye on the last day of school. My answer, a resolute "NO!!!" For anyone who experienced the joy of having to come in on Monday June 28th (yes folks, I said Monday) for the last day of school in the New York City public school system, I'm sure you remember that the temperature that day was hovering around 100 degrees and humid. Keep in mind that everyone had already packed up their classrooms completely and even suggested to the students that perhaps it was okay if they couldn't come on Monday, they could just have their parents pick up their report cards and it wouldn't be a big deal. Of course, my entire class who did not already travel to the DR (which is a whole different story) was in attendance. The children spent the morning lying in front of the fan while I sprayed them with water, then it was time for lunch. After lunch, one of my students threw up. Yes, I said it. My student threw up on the last day of school. Thanks for coming!!! Then I think I read them a story and sprayed them some more. Finally it was time for dismissal and they were gone by noon. Teachers, of course, still had to stay until 3:17.5 (don't you love the half minute). My colleagues and I went out to lunch at one of the few air conditioned eateries in the neighborhood just to cool off. We were so hot and disgusting. Finally we worked up the courage to come back to school and sweat out wait out the last couple of hours. We got our papers signed, turned in keys, and chatted and sweated more. There were no announcements, no schedule for the day. Finally, we all just walked out at about 2:30 and no one said anything. That was it. That was my last day.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The new classroom

I went to my new school today to drop off my boxes of materials, refrigerator, microwave, and books that I had purchased out of my own pocket while at my previous school. The principal met me at the door and showed me to my new classroom which was absolutely GORGEOUS!!! After working in a dilapidated old building with no AC and barely enough functioning electrical outlets to run a computer, I was amazed by what I saw. I have two HUGE closets for supplies. There is a bathroom.... no you didn't read that wrong, I have a bathroom for the students INSIDE the classroom. Can you believe it? At my last school the girls literally had to travel 1/4 mile through winding hallways to find their bathroom. We had so many "accidents" it was ridiculous. I also have a sink (I know... can you say "Science"?). On top of that, there is an elevator (OMG!!!) and brace yourselves.... Central Air!!!!! Yes folks, the school actually hosts summer camps and enrichment programs over the summer instead of being boarded up because it has air conditioning in the year 2010.

I can't believe I almost forgot this. I actually had to go back and edit the post to reveal that I have a Smartboard and 3 computers. Can you even imagine? I can't even envision how that is going to change my teaching.

It is just such a relief to see that my new work environment is pleasant. I felt like so much of my classroom setup over the past 5 years involved trying to cover up how disgusting my school actually was. I wanted to shield the kids from the filth so I would apply a fresh coat of paint to counters and even parts of walls. I tracked down cabinet door handles from various parts of the building (and architectural salvage stores) to restore my beautiful wooden cabinets to their original 105 year old glory. I would cover splintered tables with colorful cloths, and strategically place bookshelves over holes in the floor. No more!

One thing that I noticed, however, is that as a new school in its 3rd year of operation, the classroom materials were sparse. I come from a school with a 105 year legacy of materials, so I always found myself throwing things out rather than needing basic things. If I didn't have something, I could always roam the building and find it in the piles other teachers were throwing out. No matter! I already wrote a grant for many of the things I will need. In the past, all of my grants have been fulfilled and I'm hoping this one will be too.

I was also a little annoyed (OK, totally shocked and irritated) with how the previous teacher had "packed" up the books. She basically took the book bins full of books and threw them on top of each other in the gorgeous closet. I already know that many of these books will be bent when I come back in September. And I know from experience that the bins will be filthy. I guess working at a school where we never got anything new, I learned how to preserve what we had. Maybe this teacher didn't realize that new books don't get purchased each year. I didn't have time to sort it all out today since I was blocking the custodian's parking spot and the last thing you want to do at a public school is piss off the custodian the first time you meet him or her (same goes for the secretaries and the security guard).

All in all, I'm extremely excited for the new school. I already have so many ideas about things I want to change about my routines and my instruction. I can't wait to meet the students and their parents and to be a part of a more progressive and organized school environment. I feel re-energized by the whole thing!

I hope everyone is having a great summer! I don't feel totally relaxed yet, but I'm sure it will come to me soon. I'm starting my part-time summer job (the same one I've had for the past 4 years) on Monday. It's super easy and helps me pass the time and make a few bucks.

Monday, June 14, 2010


The organization sheet finally came out at my school today. It was weird seeing the word, "VACANCY" next to my position. Everyone was looking at me in a funny way like I had betrayed them or something. I felt guilty seeing it written there. No one on staff wants to step up and take my position. I really wish I could be leaving my classroom and my students in the hands of someone I know. At least I would know that everything I have brought in from will be used. I'm just worried that whoever gets my room won't care and will throw away all the things I worked so hard to get money for or they won't appreciate the little touches (like doorknobs on the cabinets and a fresh paint job on the counter) that I put in over the years. I feel really bad for my team teacher. I wish there were a way to make this transition smoother for her. Our teaching situation has been so tight over the past 5 years, I can't imagine someone else coming in brand new. I wish I could be there for her as she has been for me all these years, but it's time for me to leave. I can't stress about it, though. There are so many reasons why I had to leave this year, and worrying about hiring my replacement (and wondering why they haven't interviewed anyone yet) is not something I can take on at this point.

I had wanted to introduce all the kindergarten parents to the new person and print out all the September documents with their name on it. I wanted to give them a full inventory of the classroom down to the touchtone texts for reading and writing. I wanted to entrust someone with my Pinnell and Fountas "Phonics" program complete with tons of boxes of magnetic letters (all donations) and the new community play rug and car and sign set I purchased through funding from teaching the Title III after school. I want someone to appreciate the new swivel chair I was able to get funded after my old rickety wooden chair broke, the Hoover commercial vacuum cleaner that belongs to my room only. I'm definitely entrusting the gorgeous brand new play-doh baking tool set to a kindergarten teacher. I have quite the inventory and it wasn't easy to attain. I can't take any of it with me because it was all donated to the school through I'm going to have to start over writing all the grants again at my new school.

It's sad saying goodbye.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

A new beginning

It doesn't feel real at all and I haven't shared any of this because I was so worried something would go wrong and it wouldn't happen. I am happy to share that I have found a new job! It's official, as of September 7th, I will no longer we working at PS XXX where I have been for the last 5 years. Instead I am transferring to a different public school in a different borough to work in a totally different program with different curriculum and a different population of students. WOW!!! That's a lot! I feel energized by it all and I have to say that I feel lucky to have found this school. I know no school is perfect, but this one had everything I was looking for. It is a place where I think I can continue to grow as a professional. When I interviewed there and did a demo lesson, I could see myself teaching there and for me that was enough. It's also going to be a very welcome lifestyle change for me cutting my commute time by a full 40 minutes each way. I am also happy that it happened now so I could inform my administration and team so the can replace me soon and we can introduce the kindergarteners and parents to the new teacher before the year is over. I wouldn't have wanted to find out in August.

As the school year comes to a close, I am getting sad about leaving my school. For the past 2 years, I have gone through this same process of really wanting to leave my school starting at about February. I really gained momentum in my search in March and April. Usually by June, I am once again resigned to stay another year and fine with it. The end of the year happens so quickly and the atmosphere in schools is usually more laid back. There are more social events happening like baby showers and parties, etc. So, I do still feel that sense of "I can make it another year," but that feeling I had in February keeps me in check and reminds me why I have made the decision to leave.

The same old craziness and lack of advocacy for children continues, but I'm just able to think each time "I won't have to deal with this anymore." When the weather is so hot and we are sweating it out in the overheated classrooms, I think of my new school with it's air conditioning and think "I won't have to deal with this anymore." When I'm on the train in the morning and it's so delayed I decide to just get off and walk 15 blocks rather than waiting to transfer for the 3rd time, same thing "I won't have to deal with this anymore." When the super of the building next to my school and his buddies are standing around shirtless as I exit the building and cat call me, same feeling. When I almost step on a rat on my way in in the morning, I do still wonder if this may be a problem in my new placement as well. You get the idea.

I have worked so hard for the last 5 years and have committed myself to this place regardless of all of the problems both internal and external and it is very sad to leave. I am beyond devastated to leave behind my trusted colleagues, but when I think about how many have already left (I am the 8th to leave out of my little group in 3 years), I am saddened for the loss at my school and for those who are staying behind. I just hope everything will be okay and things will improve. I'm tired of fighting for it. I guess I've sort of given up in terms of my role in changing the school. I am also really sad to leave the families and siblings that I have worked with for years. I know they are counting on me to be there, but I know I will have a new class of students with families and siblings who will count on me once again.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Reading Charlotte's Web

Charlotte's Web was the first book I remember reading on my own. I didn't go to a school where children were taught to read with authentic books in first grade. We had lots of books in the classroom and we listened to a lot of read alouds, but I really can't remember reading by myself for most of the year. We did round robin reading from a textbook in groups. I didn't dislike the approach. I can remember looking forward to my turn to read in the group. I didn't mind it mostly because I was a strong reader and a fast learner. What I do remember is borrowing Charlotte's Web by E.B. White from the school library and reading it in the classroom toward the end of the year. I was captivated, transported to a new world. This was the book that led me to discover the magic of reading. I wanted to share that same feeling with my first graders (a vast majority of whom will not be reading Charlotte's Web this year, and many who might not even get there next year).

A coworker warned against it saying it was too hard for the ELLs and they wouldn't understand. I couldn't help but think about what one of my professors from my masters program said, "It would be a crime to withhold English from the children." She is a bilingual educator and strongly believes in dual language education. What she meant was that we owe it to the children to give them the best possible programs like dual language so that they can learn English at school to the best of their abilities, so they can transfer the knowledge of their first language to English. This statement was ringing in my head like a broken record. I have done a lot of read alouds this year and I just had this feeling that my students were ready for some magic, so I began one day.

Now, usually when I do a read aloud, it involves a chart with vocabulary and pictures and reflections. Sometimes I have a K-W-L or a character web. I just didn't feel like doing any of this with Charlotte's Web. I wanted them to have a pure experience in listening to the story. I wanted them to envision what they were hearing and to absorb the language as it is written. So I decided to implement a few strategies I thought would support them while not over-scaffolding. The first is bilingual preview, view, review. This is where I preview the text in Spanish (for my new arrivals) before reading it. Then I read the text as written in English, and we recap in Spanish. I scaffold for vocabulary by doing a lot of vocabulary-related think aloud and drawing little sketches on the board as we read. It's usually only 1 or 2 words per chapter. I'm also doing think aloud for higher level literacy skills like envisionment, inference, prediction, and even some for basic comprehension. The students think aloud at times too and I don't discourage it.

All I can say is that my class is captivated. Even my recent arrivals sit there in awe of the way the language sounds. My students are silent throughout the reading of entire chapters. I can see their eyes processing it all. Sometimes one of my new arrivals will repeat certain words to himself as I am reading. I've even heard him translate little things to himself without interrupting at all. It shows me he's following. For example, every time the goose talks he utters, "el ganzo" quietly to himself. His eyes light up when I do the Spanish review and he chats away with his turn and talk partners when I prompt them at the end of the chapter. When I am finished, they beg me to know the title of the next chapter.

This is the pick-me-up I needed right now. I was feeling really down about my job, the profession in general, my school, even my students at times. No matter how many programs the system tries to shove down our throats and infiltrate our classrooms with, we will always have authentic literature to bring us back to life.

The grass might not be greener

For those of you who follow my blog, you know I am actively looking for a new position within the New York City public schools through the open market transfer system. I'm looking for a school where children, parents, and teachers are valued, a place where years of experience mean something and teachers have input into the curricular decisions they make and how to best serve the needs of their students. I'm looking for a school with functional collaborative structures (not just show), for a school where teachers have leadership opportunities. After 4 weeks of searching, I am wondering if I will ever find a place like this. I have some interviews lined up and I have been receiving phone calls from schools, but I can't help but feel discouraged by what I am encountering.

Just today I got a call from a new school that opened to ease overpopulation in one of the outer boroughs. I had passed the school while dropping off a resume at it's much older counterpart across the street (complete with a yard full of trailer classrooms). It was so new it was practically glowing. I was fascinated by this new building, full of new possibilities for children and families in such a needy area. When I saw a posting for an open position there on the open market, I applied. When I got the phone call, I was eager to hear more. They wanted to interview me and to see a demo lesson. "Great!," I thought. So I asked them to tell me what grade level and what kind of lesson. They said it would be 1st grade literacy. "Excellent," I thought and then I asked, "What kind of curriculum do you use for literacy?" (keep in mind, I was transfered to the "literacy specialist" to answer this question). That's when the conversation turned sour. "What do you mean?" asked the voice on the other end of the phone. "You know," I said, "like Balanced Literacy or TC?" "Oh, yeah," she said, "sometimes we use balanced literacy, and Reading (can't remember the second word in this program, but it sounded like a basal reader-type program) but you know, we use a little bit of everything like right now we're learning about the life cycle of a frog, you know, so we're writing everything about frogs." "Okay," I responded, "so you plan thematically?" "Yes, each week we (grade levels) teach one strategy to the children until it is mastered and then we teach another the next week." WHAT!?!?!?!?!? Okay, first off, how can you "sometimes" use balanced literacy? Not possible! AND, how is teaching a uniform strategy to classes across the grade level each week constitute thematic planning. So you get the idea. The conversation was confusing at best and it made me really sad. Are you kidding me? Such a beautiful new school in such a needy area full of immigrant children (and you KNOW how I feel about teaching my ELLs). I couldn't help but think "How dare you go near those children!!! How dare you (city) build such a beautiful building with NOTHING inside for our city's kids." They sit there learning about frogs all day when there is critical thinking to be done and literature to devour. I thought about the conversation and then called the principal back immediately to decline the interview. Maybe I'll be back at my school next year. At least we know what program we use for literacy and know how to plan thematically for deeper learning.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The naming of new schools

I am apologizing in advance to anyone who works at any of the schools I am about to mention. I do not know your schools individually nor do I know you. I know you are working as hard as you can to maintain a vision and to serve your students. This post is not about you, it's about the system.

Okay, now I begin! So... I have been perusing the Open Market System, looking desperately for a new position. I've reached that point! I can't help but notice as I browse a certain trend in the names I see of new schools. Here are some examples:

West Prep Academy

The Global Learning Collaborative

Innovation Diploma Plus

The Urban Assembly School For Green Careers

The High School For Language And Diplomacy

Business Of Sports School

Quest To Learn

Global Technology Preparatory

Global Neighborhood Secondary School

The Urban Assembly Institute For New Technologies

High School For Excellence And Innovation

Soundview Academy For Culture and Scholarship

These are not charter schools folks, these are new public schools in the system. They are a whole lot of fancy names for a whole lot of nothing! You see, one of these Global Urban Preparatory Assemblies For Excellence In Scholarship, etc., etc., etc., actually occupies part of the building where my good ole PS 000 is located. I can tell you that this particular school practices NONE of it's name. It's actually a very disgusting place where teachers mistreat students and do not teach them what they deserve to learn, a place where students do not even have the necessary classes in their schedules, a violent and unhealthy place that I would NEVER EVER send my own child. What is the DOE thinking? If they give a big fancy name to a school, it will change the system? It will make things better? Who are they trying to fool? Teachers? Students? Parents?

I am just so disgusted, I can't even believe I am a part of this system. Burnout? Maybe.

PS. Thank you to Frank McCourt High School for picking an appropriate name.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Open Market and getting hired

For those of you outside of New York City (and those of you thinking of a transfer for the first time), I thought I'd explain what I understand about transferring public schools within the New York City system (I'm sure I don't understand everything!).

When you want to transfer schools, the first thing I'd do is RESEARCH!!!! You don't want to end up at another school like the one you're leaving. Read about the schools from the DOE website statistics, some schools actually have their own website (I know, gasp!) that you can peruse, can give you a feel for the atmosphere, and google maps street view can show you the actual building and surroundings. If you have friends or contacts, contact them and ask questions. Make a list of potential schools you want to apply to.

The second thing you should do is register with the Open Market System (it is open now! but no vacancies are listed). I do it every year, even though each year I have decided to stay at my school in the end. Some people are afraid that their principal will find out because principals can apparently view who is registered (not sure if that is true or if they can only view who applied to their school). In each year that I registered, no one at my school asked me anything, so I think they didn't know. Using the system, you can send a resume and cover letter to the schools with vacancies that you choose.

Next, you need to visit these schools and make personal contacts. If you know someone who works at a school you'd like to apply to, get invited. Either "stop by" on your way back from an "appointment" in the neighborhood or your "lunch hour" (which we all know is code word for "I called in sick so I could drop off my resume to as many schools as possible") or arrange a formal visit. Make sure your resume and cover letter are printed on nice paper and that your cover letter is specific to each school. Some people are shy about dropping off resumes. My advice is to ASK TO SEE THE PRINCIPAL. If the secretary says "I can take it," thank him/her and ask politely if the principal might be available for just a minute, you'd really like to meet him/her. It is very important to get face time. When I was first applying to schools 5 years ago, I got calls from 4 out of the 5 principals I met face-to-face. One even interviewed me on the spot.

Hopefully you will get an interview. When they ask you, "Why are you leaving your current school?", DO NOT tell the truth.... well not entirely. Don't lie either. You do not want to speak badly about your school or your administration. Think of a nicer way to say everything emphasizing what you are looking for in a new job. Say things like, "I'm really looking for a school where I can work in collaboration with my colleagues," or "I loved teaching at my school, but I'm looking for a school with a more progressive view of education," etc. or "I'm looking for a school that uses balanced literacy." Also, don't say your looking for somewhere closer to home, it makes you sound lazy. Say something like "I've lived in the community for years, and I feel a strong committment to working with the children and families in the area." I've sat on so many hiring committees where people use that question to vent about all that is wrong with the system and it does not bode well for them.

For all of you new teachers, I understand from my very talented student teacher that the hiring freeze is still in full effect. For those of you outside of the system, the hiring freeze means that New York City will not hire new teachers (teachers not already in the system) to work in public schools. They can only apply to new schools in the system (mostly charter). New teachers can use this same advice to apply to new schools or schools outside of the system. There are many districts that need your talent and energy (Yonkers, Newark, etc.). For all you veteran teachers like myself, this year might be a great year for a transfer given the freeze. You will not be competing with more energetic, more up-to-date, and cheaper-to-pay young graduates.

Good luck to you all!!!! I really hope my advice works for me too. I'm feeling hopeful the more research I do. I'm keeping an open mind and really looking for a school that has a vision and a dedication to its population of students.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The New Plan

So.... I didn't get into the doctoral program. I found out a little over a month ago, but didn't share because I was so shocked and I didn't know how to handle it at first. Now, after taking some time to reflect and speaking with professors from different institutions, I actually think it was for the best. The program that I had applied to was very theoretical and I am very practical. In other words, it was not a match. This doesn't mean that I am going to give up entirely on the idea of furthering my studies and conducting research, it just means that I am going to take some time to think about it more and maybe apply somewhere else or maybe not. I can still do classroom research without a program.

Another unexpected reaction to the whole rejection thing was this intense feeling that I need to leave my school. I couldn't imagine continuing in this same place without the anchor of academia to keep me grounded in real research and findings in education. So much of what is being expected and demanded of teachers has NOTHING to do with actual educational findings. It's like flavor of the month X 1000 in the my school right now with no actual direction and no vision to improve our school. In fact, my school has been steadily declining since I was hired 5 years ago. There are so many things we used to do that are no longer, so many supports for teachers and students that no long exist. Communication has be totally cut off between administration and teachers that we don't even know who to go to, even for little things. Instead of talking about real issues, we are assigned tasks, constant tasks. It's as if the administration wants to keep teachers busy so we won't question the decisions that are being made and I have to say that most of my colleagues keep their heads down and ask "what do you want me to do next?" People feel grateful to just have a job. I am grateful too, but I don't want to work at a school where I feel disgusted by the way students are treated (and by that I mean by the quality of education that is being offered as a continuum across grades).

I want to work at a school with a real vision, somewhere where problems are tackled as a team, where the students needs are taken into account, where people think outside of the box. I want to work at a school where there is support for teachers, students, and parents. I want to work somewhere that actually cares about helping students succeed. I want to continue to work at a Title I school with immigrant and language minority students. It's not the population of students that I'm running from, it's a school that doesn't care (I'm not speaking about individual teachers, because my colleagues ALL care, but it's the institution as a whole and the structures that make it run that do not allow for care). I have compiled a list of prospective schools and I plan to visit them over the next couple of weeks (after school of course).

Thursday, March 18, 2010

More mismanagement

When people say, "Oh, the schools are so underfunded, it must me so hard," I want to rip all of my hair out and explain that what makes it "hard" has very little to do with lack of funding, but more with lack of vision or competency on the part of administration. Case in point: On Tuesday we had a half day for the students because REGULAR CLASSROOM TEACHERS had parent teacher conferences all afternoon (emphasis intended). Now cluster teachers, I love you, but you have to admit that parent teacher conferences are not all that strenuous for you. That said, my administration decided that there would be no prep coverages for the half day. This means that teachers got no break whatsoever from 8:30-12:10 AND had to take the class to lunch and perform lunch duty before dismissal....literally no break, not even five minutes.

When I saw that preps were cancelled I wasn't that put out because I didn't even have a morning prep anyway, so I wasn't expecting anything. I figured the cluster teachers were probably having professional development or something and actually had a moment where I thought my administration did something smart, like schedule professional development at an appropriate time that wouldn't disrupt everyone. This was until my AIS person came at 9:30 (Don't get excited, it's the first time I've had an AIS person in all my five years, and I've only had her for a few weeks). She is a cluster teacher and she did her normal AIS routine with me. When it was time for her to leave, she asked if she should stay. "Don't you have PD?" I asked. "No," she replied. "I have nothing to do all morning." That's right, our cluster teachers got the morning off the day of parent teacher conferences when regular classroom teachers are the busiest. They didn't even have to cover lunch duty. How convenient for them. Needless to say I stared some of them down as I was bringing my student up from lunch and encountered them entering the building with fresh cups of coffee and food from the local deli. My AIS teacher ended up staying with me for 20 extra minutes and gave me some much needed time to get my assessment binder organized and the summary sheet completed before my conferences, but she didn't have to and none of the other cluster teachers did the same.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Story Of Assessment

This week has been... well... not great. As I mentioned earlier, my school is on a big "inquiry" kick and the data specialist and the AP have been sparring about binders and table of contents, and all kinds of stuff that has nothing to do with instruction. Now, they have decided that they want us to turn in a summary of our inquiry students' needs and the action that we have taken in our instruction to meet those needs AND the findings. Keep in mind, we have had NO CONVERSATION about what we are even inquiring about. They also want all of our conferring notes for reading so we can "standardize" our notes. did they forget that report cards are due on Monday and that we have been busting our butts to get all of the children assessed for reading? YEP, they did! They FORGOT about report cards. They must have also forgotten that in order to assess all of our students for reading, it takes TIME... lots of time, like 20-40 minutes per student. And since we have gotten NO EXTRA PREPS in which to assess our students, we are all doing it in the classroom with all of the other students present and since we have no paras or assistants, the students need to be completely independent in order for us to get these assessments done... hence the fact that my colleagues and I agree that we have been literally TEACHING NOTHING for the past 2 weeks.

When I say teaching nothing, I don't mean that the students have not been reading and writing, they have, but I have not taught them anything new. I have been doing lots of "reading response" where I do a read aloud (related to our current area of study in writing), we do some storytelling as a whole class, and the students write the story from beginning to end in their journals. When they finish, they illustrate their favorite part. I know... not so great, but I NEED them to be independent for large chunks of time. Given the current climate, how the heck am I supposed to have addressed the needs of my inquiry student in my instruction? Conferring notes for reading? HA!!! That must be a sick joke, unless they mean my notes from December. I started assessing my students for Promotion in Doubt in mid-January to have the scores ready for February. So this means I have spent half of January and ALL of February ASSESSING!!!! Then, of course, I'm pretty sure they also FORGOT about promotion-in-doubt conferences because we didn't schedule them until this past week. So on top of all the assessing madness, I have been holding conferences every morning before school and sometimes after school with parents.

So, now I am going to reflect on how we reached this point at my school. Things were not always this chaotic AT ALL!!!!! My first year of teaching I was told I had to assess my students using ECLAS. I got a neat little box with neat little booklets for all of the students. It came with nice laminated card stock sheets with the alphabet, sight words, etc. I had all of the books I needed right there in the cute little box. When it was time to assess, I took my neat box of materials out to the hallway and spent and ENTIRE DAY assessing my students. Yes, an entire day, that is because I was given a substitute teacher for an entire day so I could assess my students.

My second year of teaching, we opted not to use ECLAS anymore, but instead went with the TC DYO assessment. It sounded great at first--culturally relevant texts, more levels, etc. That is until I actually had to assemble my assessment binder and I realized that this wouldn't fit in a neat little box like ECLAS. Suddenly I was swimming in photocopies and I literally had to take over a whole work table in my classroom to get this thing set up. If I was missing a copy of something, FORGET IT!!!! I had to deal with the photocopier to replace it. The worst part was that the assessment was almost completely the SAME as ECLAS. The only real difference was the books, which I didn't find in any way better than the ones we used with ECLAS. Yes, they were "culturally relevant" but not AT ALL for my students, so much so that I find myself having to explain what a rodeo is, or finding Vietnam on a map, or explaining what a Dashiki is before we can even sit down to read. The books from ECLAS were about dogs losing tennis balls and simple stuff like that. Things that kids could relate to. Oh, did I mention, this is also when my school stopped giving us a substitute for a day so we could actually get the work done.

Let's jump ahead to this year, my 5th year of teaching. I have used the TC DYO assessment now for 4 years. Now NO ONE supplies us with anything. I have to print the running record sheets off from my HOME COMPUTER and bring them to school to photocopy and file myself. Our new packets were photocopies incorrectly for the 2nd year in a row so I have to staple the spelling section on myself. Last year I had to hand write list C for the word list assessment. I'm just so sick of the explosion of paper that happens in my room and I just think to myself, "For what?" It's all just so stupid. We switched from ECLAS to the TC DYO so that someone else could MAKE MONEY OFF POOR CHILDREN!!!! That is the bottom line!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Fingers crossed

So, it's out there, I really can't stand working for this corrupted system and I can't stand administrators regurgitating useless information that they get from their millions of "meetings" with their networks and mentors and data specialists many of which do not even have degrees or experience in education. It's all just such a waste of time and it's meaningless for the children.

Right now my school is on a big "inquiry" kick. Now, don't get me wrong, I think teacher inquiry is a great thing and something that I participate in with my own classroom and instruction each year, mostly informally, but also formally on occasion. I want to be on board with inquiry, but I just can't stand to be at meetings with the data specialist and the assistant principal. They are constantly butting heads and spouting off useless stuff about what our binders should look like and what the table of contents could look like that they are not listening to the teachers about the needs of our students and they are not helping us shape our inquiry and look deeply at our practice (which is the whole point, right?). Anyway, I'm one of those people who does not have a poker face, so when I hear something ridiculous, I just can't hide it (my colleagues tend to nod and agree with everything, so I'm pretty much the only one). The data specialist was running her mouth about how we need a separate binder for each teacher and another binder for the grade level and blah blah blah and I looked across the table at a consultant we work with from a university nearby and her face was just like mine and I thought to myself "I don't know what I'd do if she weren't here." You see our consultant actually comes with expertise in the area of literacy and listens to the teachers and cares about the children. She comes from a university with a strong research background and knows about the current research and findings in the field. If I were her I'd probably run away as fast as I could.

THIS is why I have to get my doctorate. I don't know what I would do if my school did not have a relationship with a university. I'd be lost in the land of standardization and education as business. Sometimes I actually feel like I'm in that movie "Idiocracy." Deep breath. At this point I'm keeping my fingers crossed and hoping to be accepted to the only program to which I applied (in retrospect putting all my eggs in one basked may not have been the best of ideas). I know that with an acceptance letter, I will be able to anchor myself to this university and to find company in the community of educators who do actual research. I can't wait to get my own research in place for my students. It is the ONLY way I feel I can stay at my school. If I am denied acceptance I'm not sure what I'll do. I guess I'll apply somewhere else.

Wish me luck!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Why I haven't posted

It has been way too long since the last time I posted. I spent this past week of vacation doing a lot of thinking, reading, working, and general organizing of my life and future. I would click on my blog every day, but I had nothing to write. I would read other bloggers posts to get some inspiration, but still I felt nothing. I think this is a reflection on how I am feeling professionally: like nothing. All of the problems at my school have gotten worse this year. Last year was bad and I remember telling myself that if this year was like that I would leave my school. I wish it were as easy as that... I wish I could just leave. Last year I tried to leave. I posted my resume on the open market website and decided I would go for it. When I started getting phone calls, I freaked out. At first I just didn't call the principals back and then finally at one point I told a principal that I had decided to stay at my school another year... and that was when I realized that I would stay another year. So I stayed and everything got worse and children continued to be under/mis-served by a disgusting and criminal system and now I feel totally helpless like nothing will ever change. Part the reasoning behind my decision to stay was that I was afraid of what other schools might be like. I figured it could be worse somewhere else. At least at my school I have great colleagues. Now I'm in a situation where I don't feel that I can leave. Personal situations have come up for some of my colleagues and I feel that I must stay to support them for at least one more year. Plus, if I stay another year, I am eligible for loan forgiveness which I desperately need and I will be vested in the pension so I won't lose it if I leave. I keep telling myself I can do it for one more year and then I'm in the clear and I can go somewhere else.

Part of this is also due to the fact that I have had to revisit a lot of recent publications and research in the area of TESOL and bilingual education recently and I just get depressed at how much we used to do and how little we do now at my school. The problem of siblings being denied registration has continued and has now affected one of our most loyal and vulnerable families in our program. I realized that we have not had ONE parent workshop this entire school year and no one seems to care. No one has even asked the teachers to choose a topic or anything. Why are we paying a parent coordinator? In one reading, a suggestion to help issues of low literacy was to have open library time before school for parents to come and read with their children. This just reminded me that my school got rid of its library last year when we used to have that resource.

Everyone asks me if it's because of budget cuts and I always immediately answer with NO! It's absolutely NOT about budget cuts, its about having caring and capable administrators with a vision for a school who actually make people DO THEIR JOBS!!! The sad part is that my administrators have probably never even read the publications and research that I am reading now and revisiting from my masters and they have NO IDEA nor do they even care to learn.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Background Knowledge

When we plan lessons, teachers always think about what background knowledge children will bring to the subject. Oftentimes, I expect my students to have very little background and scaffold my lessons to help them create background knowledge through some sort of an experience. Today, one of my students, Marco, came back from a very long (way too long) hiatus in the Dominican Republic and brought in a brochure from a resort in Punta Cana. It was a very appealing laminated fold-out brochure with beautiful pictures of the beaches, pools, a bowling alley, restaurants, hotel rooms, a spa, etc. Marco wanted to share the brochure with the class, so I briefly put it up on my white board and asked the students what kind of activities they thought children could do at this resort. The students successfully identified the beach, the pool, and the bowling alley, but could not articulate the activities one could do. They looked perplexed. One student pointed to the picture of the spa and said that you could get a massage with hot rocks. Several other kids agreed and they all wanted to talk about massages with hot rocks. I was perplexed at this point. Apparently my students know all about hot rock massages but can't express "swimming, splashing, sunbathing, bowling, relaxing, etc." I honestly have no answers to this one. My students are almost all low SES and qualify for free lunch. I guess I learned never to assume to know about their experiences based on their SES status and also not to hold back on showing them everything I can about the world.

Monday, January 4, 2010

First day back

Today was the dreaded day we came back after vacation. It was hard getting up at 5:20 AM, making it to the bus stop by 6:05 (in the dark), and arriving to school by 6:55 (still dark). Like Ms. Brave mentioned, I had also prepped my classroom as much as possible to ease the transition. The last day before vacation I had changed the calendar, schedule, put the homework in all of the notebooks, graded the math books, prepped the phonics lesson, etc. etc. but of course it was not enough. By 7:10 after I'd had a little coffee, I was running around like crazy already trying to get the rest of the day prepped.

The morning went pretty smoothly. I had zero expectations of the children which helped. They usually come back from vacation tired, hungry, and on another planet, but they were surprisingly with it this morning. I actually enjoyed their little company.

By noon, I was feeling the shock of being back at work. I kept thinking that it would be really nice to watch TV or take a nap as if that would be at all possible.

For homework tonight, they had to think of three New Year's resolutions and write them in their notebooks. We did a lot of oral storytelling on the subject and I modeled some of mine for the kids. I think they were genuinely touched when I wrote the one about being more patient with them. We talked a lot about what patience means and how Ms. Peace can be more patient with them. A lot of them wanted to be more patient with each other after that. Some of them said really meaningful resolutions. A girl who gets in trouble a lot said "I want to learn how to play with my friends without hitting them so they don't get hurt." Another girl said "I want to listen to my friends more so I don't yell at them." A lot of kids want to try harder in school. Some boys said that they wanted to help their moms more (I know, sooooo cute).

This is why I love first grade!

P.S. It was dark when I left school in the PM. So much for daylight!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

New Year's Resolutions

1. Be more patient with the children- The last couple of weeks before this vacation were not my best. It really hit me that I needed to take a step back and think about how I was treating my students when a colleague told me that one of my students (who she has last period some days) always asks her to help him put on his sweater before he goes to extended day with me. She said that he thinks I'll get mad at him if he can't do it. I do have high expectations of my students and I do expect them to dress themselves at the end of the day. I help them for the first few months of school and had been working with this particular student to help him put on his sweater. We had a little routine where I would talk him through it, "put your hand in the sleeve, other sleeve, over the head, etc." After a few weeks of that, he would talk himself through it with me watching. After a while, it was up to him and he could do it. One day we were late and I caught him and another boy playing in the closet while I was helping to zip up someone else. He hadn't even put on his sweater let alone his jacket, so I sternly told the boys that it was not time to play and that they needed to get dressed. I had a faculty conference starting in five minutes and when the little boy in question began unzipping his bookbag to take out his sweater, I lost it. I couldn't believe that after 10 minutes, he hadn't even taken it out of his bookbag. I said, "Now we're really late and I have dress you like a 2 year old." I dressed him and we went downstairs for dismissal. I guess what I said really stuck with him and I didn't mean it to sound so harsh, I just expect more of my students. After the teacher came to me with the concern, I started talking to him about pack up time and encouraging him to finish his work early so he can start getting ready early and take his time. I praised him for being the first in line for dismissal on the day before vacation with his sweater on and jacket zipped. I have to remember not to fault my students for not knowing how to do things. Although I think the boy did need to be corrected the day he was playing around, I probably shouldn't have called him a 2 year old. I know that comes from my knowledge that my 3 year old nieces and nephews CAN dress themselves and my 6 year old first graders cannot and that is not fair to take out on my students. It's not their fault that no one ever taught them at home or that that is not an expectation outside of school. It's up to me to teach them in a gentle way.

2. Begin a doctoral program- I'm officially saying it now. I am applying to a doctoral program to begin in Fall 2010. The application process is in full swing since I'm working with a January 15th deadline. I took the GRE, got the recommendations, and am working on draft 2 of the personal statement . I am not planning on leaving the classroom anytime soon. I just feel very strongly that I need to begin doing some real research in my classroom to improve my teaching and to serve language minority students in New York City. I want to connect with other educators who are dedicated to the field. I just don't feel that connection at my school, especially not with my administration. I am taking this on with a plan that include me staying at my school and in my classroom for at least 4-5 more years and possibly beyond, depending on what happens.

3. Redecorate my apartment- It's time. My boyfriend and I moved in together over a year ago. Well, actually I moved into HIS place. We haven't done much to it other than try to figure out how to merge all of our stuff. Now that I'm beginning this doctoral work, I envision the need for a giant table where I can just spread out (this IS New York though, so you can imagine the space constraints). I also want my home to be a calming and organized place where I can be healthy and happy, so maybe over the summer I'll work on some home improvement projects.

4. Take the summer semi-off- I always work full time during the summer teaching ESL to adults at a local institute. This summer, I am not going to work full time (ask me if I kept this resolution in April when they always call to sign me up and I never refuse). I would like to teach a summer course at the university level and I'm keeping my fingers crossed I can do some adjunct work over the summer at the place where I have applied to my doctoral program. That would be fulfilling, not insanely time consuming, and get me just enough extra cash to go on vacation.

5. All the usuals- Eat better, bring my lunch every day, get exercise, sleep enough, etc.

Happy New Year!