Sunday, August 26, 2012

Back to basics

Tomorrow, I will go back to my school building to begin setting up my classroom.  This is my 8th year teaching first grade and I have been feeling oddly serene about the start of a new school year.  I haven't bought anything for the classroom yet, no visits to Lakeshore or Bank Street to get cute things for the classroom, I haven't looked at anything online or tried to get fresh ideas.  I'm sort of in auto-pilot mode this year.  My colleagues, on the other hand, have been obsessively pinning things on their Pinterest pages for the entire summer with tons of ideas and inspirations for their classrooms.  Some of them have even made elaborate projects and charts and gotten them laminated in anticipation of the school year.  I can't help but ask myself, Why am I not interested?  Am I a bad teacher?  Am I burnt out?  I confided all my fears to a retired teacher I know and her response not only surprised me, but helped me remember and recover my own philosophy of teaching. 

She reminded me that students need to construct the environment in the classroom in order to have ownership of it.  She reminded me that classrooms should be calming and not overstimulating.  The students need to label the different areas after they have been introduced.  For example, they need to know how to use the math center and the library before it even comes out.  She reminded me that in Responsive Classroom (a marvelous program), parts of the classroom should be covered and concealed before they are introduced so that children get a chance to learn what they are and how to use them.  She reminded me of all the joy and learning that my students constructed in their study of toys last year and the donorschoose grant that brought in the materials that my students were INTERESTED in.  This is what mattered then and what matters now.

Tomorrow, I will go in once again and paper my bulletin boards with brown butcher paper and a simple border.  I will arrange the furniture, and put out the basics:  Old favorites (a collection of books the children loved from Kindergarten), the calendar and number grid, our plants, pens, crayons, and basic writing paper.  The library will be covered, the math center will be covered, the play centers will be covered.  A growing number line will be started with a 0 only.  The students names will be on the front door, and I think that's pretty much it.  I know as the year gets underway, amazing things will happen in the space and the classroom will belong to all of us. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Dropping Like Flies

Okay, so I haven't posted for 6 months, I know that's not great, but I'm still here, still teaching in NYC, getting ready for my 10th year in the classroom.  I know I've neglected my blog for awhile and I lost a lot of readers after I changed the web address and title out of fear of being exposed, but that's not the point of this post.  Over the years, I've connected with many fellow teacher bloggers and have taken comfort in the fact that we were all in this together.  We were all dealing with similar circumstances at our schools, similar career choices, etc.  Now I click on my links of "Other Teacher Blogs I Like" and I can't help but notice that it seems that most of my colleagues in the teacher blogger world have either left the profession, left the NYC system, gone back to school, or something else.  In fact, I used to have a lot more links there, but one by one I removed each one as my fellow bloggers logged out.  They are just simply not there anymore.  Believe me, I totally understand ALL the reasons for this, I fantasize about leaving every single year, but I can't help but feel saddened and alone.   

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The obligatory post about teacher data reports

What can I say?  I really have no words (not true, I have a few).  All I can say is: margin of error of 54 out of 100 points.  Unreliable, inaccurate, flawed, stupid, malicious... whatever.  Honestly, at this point, I just don't even care. Take me, fire me... do it.  If it ever comes to that I will know in my heart that I did everything I could do for the children of New York and I never took my job for granted.  If this is how I'm going to be evaluated, what can I do?  People say you have to fight it.  I'm tired of fighting.  I want to teach.

I'm a teacher.  I love teaching.  I love my school.  I love my class.  I work hard at my job.  I do whatever I can to encourage my students to love learning.  I love learning from them.  In 9 years of teaching, I'm having the best year yet (I wish I used this blog to elaborate on that).  It doesn't matter to the system.  I am disposable.  My school is disposable.  The children are commodities.

I have never been U rated.  Never had a letter in my file.  My data actually did not come out in the report since I don't teach a testing grade.  But it will eventually.  They have been tracking my students on ARIS for 4 years (or so... maybe longer) and I'm sure there will be a new "formula" to track lower grades teachers.  Maybe my first graders will be subjected to standardized testing so they can produce "data" on me.   It doesn't matter to the system.  

Go ahead, put 32 kids in my class.  Give me special ed students with IEPs that have been altered to NOT meet their needs and don't give them the services they are legally entitled to.   Don't give me any materials... nothing.... don't worry about it.  Don't worry about providing curriculum aligned to the common core standards, I will do it myself... no problem.  While your at it, take away my preps, my union, make me work longer hours and tether me to a blackberry well into the evening.  Don't consider any research in making your decisions and don't encourage me to either.  Don't provide me with any professional development.  Cut my school's budget so the kids won't have gym or music anymore... they never had art, so don't worry about that one at all.  Give my first graders a standardized test so you can track me.  Maybe your margin of error will work in my favor, maybe it wont.  It doesn't matter. You know what, just fire me (and you will break my heart).

This is the reality, folks.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Killing the Comprehensive High Schools: Parents, is this what you really want?

When the city demolished the original Penn Station, it is said that the people gasped in disbelief at what they had done.  And when Madison Square Garden was erected, they knew that they had made an irreversible mistake.  I think many people would be shocked to know that the same is happening to some of the city's most highly regarded high schools.  It hit the Bronx like a sledgehammer  Any of these names ring a bell?

John F. Kennedy High School 
Lehman High School
James Madison High School
Alfred E. Smith High School
Adlai E. Stevenson High School
William H. Taft High School
Christopher Columbus High School
Evander Childs High School
Theodore Roosevelt High School

This is just a partial list of closed schools in the Bronx. Check out the Wikipedia link of New York City High Schools and see which ones are listed as "campus" or "co-located" to see the complete list from all 5 boroughs.

ALL of the schools on my list were closed and replaced by co-located "small schools" and charters.  Now the city has announced the closures of countless other schools including 2 comprehensive high schools in Queens (which as seen relatively few closures compared to other boroughs):  Long Island City High School and Flushing High School. 

How is it possible that ALL of these high schools are failures?  I'm not saying they didn't have problems, but these high schools were traditional high schools with programs, honors classes, AP classes, sports teams, music programs, clubs, etc.  And now they have been replaced by "small schools" with fancy names, that are meaningless.  What the h*** does  "Bronx High School for Writing and Communication Arts" even mean?  Or "High School for Teaching and the Professions."  Are they serious?  I mean no disrespect to the hardworking students and teachers at these schools, but I can't help but questions the motives of this whole small school charter movement.  Who is it helping?  Who is profiting?  I know as a parent, I would be LIVID if my child didn't have the same opportunities as the REST OF THE COUNTRY because they were relegated to a small school that offered nothing but a fancy name.  If Scarsdale High School were targeted for closure and co-locations by charter schools and small schools,  you better believe those parents would be all over it and would make sure it was stopped.  

Where are the parents in this?  The alumni?  Why is nobody speaking out against these closures.  I recently spoke with the parent of an honors student at Long Island City High School (set for closure in June 2012) who had nothing but great things to say about the school.  His daughter was enrolled in AP classes, participated in science club, math league, and played sports.  And what he liked most was that she didn't have to commute to Bronx Science to get a good education, she could do it in their neighborhood.  He said that the reason he believes the school is "failing" is due to truancy not poor teaching or because it is a "bad" school.  

People are going to wake up one day soon and realize that there are no traditional high schools left and that these small schools and charters are not sustainable and do not produce the results they promised.  They are shorting the city's kids and it seems the whole world is on board.  

I welcome thoughts or comments.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Killing The Community School

Over the years, I have had many moments where I have felt "Do they (the system, the chancellor, the mayor) want the schools to fail?"  My dilemma is:  do I continue to fight and potentially go down with the ship, or do I get out now?  I still don't know the answer.  You see, I actually love teaching.  I seriously love my job, even in the New York City public schools.  Don't get me wrong, I KNOW what goes on in most schools and I've seen it firsthand, I've experienced it, I've cried over it, and I tried to convince myself that if I just found that one school that was great, I could escape it.  For a year, I did. I found this beautiful little school within the system that does beautiful things for children... but what I've realized is you can't escape the system.  I can't escape that CTT classes EVERYWHERE in the city are completely out of compliance with IEPS and ratios.  I actually don't know anyone at any school where CTT classes are functional.  Does anyone?  I can't escape the fact that our class sizes in first grade linger around 28 and we've been warned that next year they will rise to an astronomical 32.

As teachers we are accountable to make sure test scores rise and we become more effective, but how can we continue to do this?  Last week we received an email that was sent to all teachers throughout the city that special education is completely changing in the city.  There will be no more 12-1-1 classes anymore and all students will be in general education classrooms at their community school.  Schools with similar catchment areas will no longer refer children to each other based on services available, instead every school is supposed to educate every child.  Sounds great right?  Sure.  But when you work for a system that is completely dysfunctional how is this going to work?  Do you think these special education students will actually receive the services they are legally entitled to in a gen. ed. setting?  Is a classroom setting with 32 students appropriate for a child that requires small group instruction?  Are they just going to pull them out all day or throw multiple para educators into our rooms?

My question is:  What about charter schools?  Do they have to educate everyone that walks into their doors?  What about the fact that a charter requires an application, they have attendance requirements, homework requirements, behavior requirements?  Studies have shown again and again that the special education population is disproportionately out of compliance in all of these areas in comparison to general education students.  So where will they all go in disproportionate numbers:  the community school.... the failing community school.

I'm so sick and tired of this corporate agenda and pretending like we're improving education when really rich people are just getting richer by exploiting the poorest children in the nation.  It is DISGUSTING!!!!