Mar 30, 2009

Why are we learning this?

The inevitable question.  

How does a teacher answer that?  A simple, "Because it's on the state test," doesn't sit well with me.  What do I say to a student?  More importantly, how do I justify what I teach?  Why am I a teacher?

At my oh-so-academically-progressive school I sit on the "Curriculum Core Team" where teachers study how to improve curriculum.  During these 1.5 hour meetings (which count as per session) I feel like I'm in college again.  Trying to wrap my brain around this idea of great curriculum and how to develop, revise, and improve curriculum is a frustrating task for this first year teacher.  Today's session was especially challenging for me.  The topic: rationales and teaching philosophies.  

As I struggle through my first year I'm beginning to feel that teaching could be more than a two year stint.  Consequently I feel cheated by choosing to be a Teaching Fellow rather than follow the traditional route to education.  I have never been asked to produce a teaching philosophy nor have I been taught to create rationales for units I teach.  Right now I'm doing what feels natural to me.  I'm teaching the best that I can.  

Though I don't know how long I plan to be in the classroom I can confidently say that I take teaching very seriously.  I care so deeply for each of my students, for their educations, and for their attitudes towards chemistry.  (Heaven forbid my former students tell tales of how crazy/horrible their high school chemistry teacher was!)  To hold myself accountable to the former statements I plan on writing a philosophy for teaching.  I think articulating my passion for teaching youth will keep me optimistic through the ups and downs of this job.

I don't know how y'all feel about this idea, but I think it's important that every professional produce a philosophy.  Why are you doing what you're doing?

Mar 27, 2009

Money Money Money

My super organized "Book Club" closet :)


I highly recommend that you be proactive about applying for them. Especially if you work in a high needs, low-income school.

It's only my first year teaching. Yet so far, I've applied for and been granted about $5,100 worth of funding for my classroom! This has gone entirely to textbooks, new novels, technology, and supplies we didn't have before but desperately needed in order to further our learning.

Today, I was surprised to read an email that another of my proposals was just funded: speakers for our classroom laptop so that we can actually HEAR the audio every time I show clips to make teaching points about foreshadowing, mood, flashback, prediction, setting, or characters, or to be able to listen to our "Brain Music" whenever we're doing independent work. Thank you, thank you Jeff for giving us the gift of sound!

Thank you to my other wonderful sponsors as well. Though nothing can make up for your generosity and the world of opportunity you have opened up for my scholars and myself, I do hope that our small "thank you" pictures and letters have expressed our immense gratitude for your gift of a better education, and thus, a better life.


Get started at or

Do it for the kids! No one else will :)

Mar 24, 2009

Just Tryin' To Teach

Boolani and I took our teacher baby steps together during summer institute 2 years ago. Since then, we've remained in constant communication, sharing lessons, ideas and experiences. Recently started up a blog, here's a snippet of his second entry:

12:20 - Gathering at door slowly emerges. Boolani, in bouncer mode, breaks it up.

12:21 - Total chaos. Boolani hassles a few selected students who at times look right through him as they are completely consumed by lunch. R, a student with a distinctive walk, shamelessly hassles Boolani, repeating the teacher’s last name with reckless abandon.

He forces his perfectly done independent practice work into my sphere of vision, and I glance at it passively, glancing over his gorgeous work and his perfect answers, and quickly raise my head to meet his eyes to let him know that I am proud of him. But that fleeting moment is quickly ended by several other students with similar intentions, and as R begins to tell me about why he changed the last name on his paper today, I am already lost.

He says, “Did you notice Boolani? I don’t want that name on my work anymore. When I am famous, I don’t want anyone to think that my dad’s name has anything to do with my success. He doesn’t deserve it. He doesn’t deserve it cuz of the way he treats us. When I’m famous Boolani, he can’t have any of my credit.”

I uh-huh him off, deep in the beehive. But I heard him. And I felt for him. In my brain I thanked him for sharing that with me, and I talked to him about it for hours. I thanked him for shoving that piece of perfect work into the storm so that I could see how well he understands what I’ve taught him.

But instead I seemed distracted and unwilling to take just one moment. Hell, that was after 4 hours of teaching. I was fucking fried, and hungry to sit down. Do you know how many kids I must of pulled a R. on that day? I’m but one man. But still I feel unexcused. I’m sorry for not listening.

Mar 20, 2009

May 19

And you thought last November's Presidential election was the most crucial of our lifetime...STEP UP, CALIFORNIA!!!

Mar 19, 2009

Old Dog, New Tricks??

Months ago

Ex-Student: "Mr. G, you gotta give [my current math teacher] some advice. He doesn't know how to teach. Could you share some of your methods w/ him?"

Me: "Mmmmm, he's old school man. Just gotta learn his system and work w/ it."

Ex-Student: "Pleaaaase."

Me: "I'll see what I can do."


Ex-Student: "So you shared some of your methods, eh?"

Me: "Mmm, I don't know what you're talking about. [Your current teacher] is old. He doesn't listen to me."

Ex-Student: "Hmm, I bet he told you to say that."

Me: "What are you talking about?"

Ex-Student: "Well he's started to use some of the methods you used to use in class. For example, he's started to use exit slips to end. Thanks for that."

Me: "Really!?" [WTF!?]

Mar 13, 2009

Have A Drink On Me

A cool perk of my job is getting free food and drinks (non-alcholic 99% of the time) at events I work. A number of times I've been given gifts like bottles of wine from folks showing their appreciation. Every year I attend an event at a well known private Catholic school and they always offer speakers an array of wine or beer to drink on the spot (I'm not talking PBRs or Two Buck Chuck either). Many of the school's faculty members even partake in the drinking. I always respectfully decline drink offers while on the job but can't help but think about the contrast between my visits to private schools like one I was at earlier this week and ones at public high schools. I could never see Mr. G offering me a Heine on the job if I were to hypothetically speak to his class (hell, I could never see Mr. G offering me a Heine at a local pub). Either way, I'm pretty sure it's against the law at publicly funded institutions, budget cuts not withstanding.


Mar 10, 2009

As Shaq's Tweets Say: AGGGHHH

N walks in & can tell I'm in a bad mood. Usually the first one in, he knows when something's wrong. 5th period probably went horribly, again. He decides to start a conversation anyway:

N: Whattup Mr. G

Me: Nothin' man.. I'm good.


I know he knows I'm in a bad mood so I share what's up...

Me: Yo, what would you do if you were the teacher and you got one student, just one student, who's always disruptive. And it messes up the whole class.

N: I'd kick him out.

Me: But he'd come back anyway...

N: Well then, I'd suspend him from my class.

Me: Yeah, but he'll come back in 2 days...

N: I'd probably just fail him, then.

Me: But he's smart, and understands everything, and does all his work.

N: pauses I'll probably call up his parents then.

Me: He has no parents.

N: .... stumped.

I'm stumped too.

Mar 9, 2009

Pink Slips, just another reason why teaching is so tough.

Among many reasons why teaching is so tough, an undeniably huge one: staff turnover. It takes at least a year to become fully acquainted with a campus: routines, staff, dynamic, procedures, etc. An entire department is affected at the onset of a new teacher's arrival. We must reacquaint ourselves with the newcomer's work ethic and teaching methods. The same communication sets we have for one teacher are not transferable to the new one.

As a new teacher, the first year is taking baby steps. You cast a net and hope to create as many allies w/ colleagues, students and staff... a year later, you note how much of a difference it makes to actually KNOW the place. I'm still learning this place.

Exhibit A: Last year I had a student, JB. Upon my arrival to the school, I attempted to call as many parents as possible - simple quick intros. One parent, JB's mother acted kinda funny on the phone: "Alright Mr. G, I'll see you tomorrow." "Huh?" Further into the conversation, I find out my JB's mother is the school secretary. Embarrassed and apologetic, I said my farewell. But the brief phone call paid countless dividends for the remainder of the year. Ms. B was a huge ally to me - always havin' my back whenever I needed assistance. Emergency sick day, I got you covered. Out of whiteboard markers, here you go. Stopping by the office, 'why hello? how are you!?' Ms. B made school feel like home.

Exhibit B: My principal, Ms. G, reached out to me during my first year. Nothing major. She interviewed me, so she knew what I was about from the start. She observed my class a few times. And we had conversations in the hallway; they were fleeting conversations, yes, but it was comforting to know the top administrator cared about my well-being. Ms. G made school feel like home.

Exhibit C:
Last summer I taught at an Algebra Academy. 5 weeks teaching rising 9th graders algebra full-time. All day, Algebra. At the academy, opportunities for collaboration and professional development were abound - unsurpassed by any teaching opportunity I've had in my young career. One teacher, Ms. J, whom I worked with is at MY school during the school year. Ms. J's become the sole colleague in my math department who I enjoy working with. She understands my working style. I understand hers. We know how great collaboration can be. We're both extremely frustrated with the "collaboration" in our department. It's nice to know there's someone there who shares my sentiment. Ms. J makes school feel like home.


Ms. B passed away earlier this year. It was a difficult time for our school community. A few months later, the entire front office staff has been replaced.

Ms. G left the school at the end of the school year, and was replaced by a new principal. My few attempts to speak with him have been unsuccessful. He's mistaken me for another teacher more than once, forgetting my name. In addition, the rest of our AP's (aside from one) have been replaced.

Ms. J shared news w/ me today that she received a pink slip.


In the end, it's all about the kids. And you know consistency in the staff will only benefit them. To see the same teachers and same administrators at your graduation that were there during your freshmen year is something too many of us took for granted. As a beginning teacher, witnessing this high staff turnover occur before me so quickly is discomforting. Rather than giving me reasons to stay, it highlights reasons to leave.

It's come to the point where you can make only one of two choices:

-To leave out of frustration, contributing to the problem

or to

-Stay out of frustration, and take on roles to change the tide and help fix the problem.

I love this job. I do. But I also hate it. I hate how you get so emotionally attached to the pressing issues. (The MANY pressing issues). What should be a mere personal decision about my immediate future has become a moral one, one that could potentially haunt me for life.

Mar 4, 2009

You've just been schooled... son.

Mr. G. has vented to me about J's misbehavior on several occasions. When I work with J, I see a kid that knows the material. He usually does his class work, but I can't get J to do anything that he doesn’t want to do. J has a restless mouth.

W is another story. He is also loud, disruptive, and attention-loving, but W is short. In fact, he overall looks and acts much younger than the rest of the kids in the class, even though they are all the same age. W is a nice little example of the "Napoleon complex". W has restless feet.

W looks up to J (so to speak). W only commits to good behavior when J leads by example. J is a leader. W is a follower (so much for Napoleon). Neither listen to the teacher. Both are smart students who have shown me that they can do the class work on their own. J is a bully, instigator, and sometimes a disruption in class while W is easily antagonized and always a disruption in class.

All throughout class, both W and J were being disruptive - separately.

J was sitting in a desk at the right-most column and in the middle row. He was dutifully taking notes and doing the class work, but he had a side comment for everything the teacher said. If J didn’t have a comment, then he would instead (loudly) repeat the last three words of each of the teacher's sentences. J is attentive, but annoying. The teacher stopped the lecture several times to ask J to stop talking (to no avail).

Today, W was sitting in the back row in the middle column. W stood up several times to sharpen his pencil, to find a piece of paper, to blow his nose... and more, but I lost track of the excuses that he found to walk around the classroom. Classmates don't bother J, but gladly tell W when he needs to shut up (also to no avail). Today, he made loud, squeaky noises with his rain-soaked sneakers.

J annoys the teacher to make his classmates smile; W smiles when his classmates are annoyed.

W and J start talking to each other from halfway across the classroom. I quickly toggle between speakers: Mr. G, J, Mr. G, W... My mind races: Am I an observer? I teacher? A tutor? A disciplinarian? For now, I'm idle, lame, slightly confused, and very inexperienced.

J: “W, why are you always walking around?”
W: “Man, don’t worry about it!”
J: “You should just do your class work!”
W: “You don’t do your class work!”
J: “Yes I do! I don’t do my homework, but I do all my class work and my notes. And I have a good grade because of it.”
W: “Well, I’ll just do my homework because then my mom can help me on it.”
J: “Man, bring your mom in here, and I’ll do an entire assignment faster than you and your mom.”

[Teacher interrupts these two, writes a check mark next to their names which are already written on the board from their first individual disruptions. Name on the board = their first official warning. The check mark now means that they each owe the teacher one minute after class. J and W continue their, conversation though.]

W: “Shut up, son, my mom is smart”
J: “Who you be callin’ ‘son’?”
W: “You, son!”
J: “Man, how ‘bout you pass this class first, and then you can call me ‘son’!”

[Teacher writes another check mark next to J's name, and the two finally end their conversation.]

Mr. G. actually had no idea that this conversation took place. W's verbal smack upside his head by J went unrecognized by the rest of class. If I weren't idle, lame, slightly confused, I would have shook J's hand. And then I would have told him to please shut up during class.

As I thought over my shoulda-woulda-coulda's J tauntingly shook his wet umbrella in W's face. Teacher holds W back before W could take a swing at J. Yeah right W, would you really have taken J?

Monday, Rainday, Whineday

Monday mornings are too early for a lesson on modern feminism.

It’s rainier than ever, but I just found out that New York schools had a snow day today. I guess a little rain isn’t something to complain about. A little rain is a big privilege. We pull into the parking lot, and N is waiting patiently in the rain. He seems excited to see me (or us – not sure which); I think I’ve mentioned before how Mr. G. made N out to be a quiet guy, but N stood dripping in the rain waving at us as though to greet us a ‘Happy Monday’. We find shelter in the cold portable classroom, and he and I speak some more about books. I tried to bite my tongue about my personal opinion about “Twilight” (that is, about how I find it degrading to women and a step backwards for feminists of the 21st century). He's only 15, and I still have the rest of the semester. Feminist speeches will come later.


Not enough paper, not even to patch up leaky rooftops.

There’s a leak in the classroom. Mr. G. could do little besides toss a stack of newspapers onto the desk which already developed a small puddle of rainwater. Very 'Adam Sandler' in "Big Daddy."

Mr. G. also shared with students the unfortunate fact that many teachers are now being denied to make photocopies. Due to budget problems, the school no longer has enough paper to go around. Mr. G. is now asking that students bring their textbooks to class, bring lined paper to class, and copy problems from the board.

The class erupted in sighs, groans, expletives, and "but, but, but...!".

This is cheesy, but would you like some with that whine?

I oftentimes still consider myself a kid, but here's my 'grandma' soapbox: Back in my day, our school had neither lockers nor class sets of textbooks. Bring your books to class, kids. Learning is a privilege.

And another thing: Paper, too, is a privilege. Teachers, I'm sorry that besides lessons plans, kids who mouth off, parent conferences, and lion-taming, you have to convince your kids that Paper Doesn't Grow on Trees... but you'll survive. You'll adapt. You'll grow! I believe in you.

Just one of those days...

Have you ever had weeks filled with days when you get home at 9PM every night because you stayed at school to grade, lesson plan, unit plan, differentiate, create assessments, meet parents, call parents, file, make copies, complete paperwork, organize, etc. etc. etc. every night for the past x amount of nights and when you get home, all you have time to do is eat, shower and sleep? You you eat, breathe, live teaching, teaching, and more teaching?

Well...this is one of those weeks for me.

But tonight, I think I'm going to make it one of those "The World Will Not End if I Leave Those Piles of Papers Ungraded/Don't Respond to that Email/Haven't Cracked My Textbook for Grad School Yet/Haven't Edited that Flyer Due Tonight" kind of nights...

I need and/or deserve it.

Elaboration on Staying in Teaching

Today was the first time I seriously considered staying in teaching, because this boy emailed me this morning saying,

"How often do you feel inspired? Daily, hourly, weekly, monthly?"

And I sat for a moment and thought....

Then I emailed back:

"All the time."

It's so true! I feel inspired to be better and do better and try different things all the time. Even on the pot. Just kidding. (I always wanted to say that..."Even on the pot"). That means on the toilet, right? I heard someone say it once.

I feel inspired AS A TEACHER. I automatically related it to my career. Maybe because I was in my classroom when I received and responded to the email, or maybe because teaching is my life now and whenever I'm inspired, it's for teaching.

Which is not a bad thing.

Is teaching my destiny?

Today my principal said, "You think you're going to be a lawyer or a doctor, but you're going to be the most amazing principal ever! Except better because I'm going to get better and I'm going to tell you about all my mistakes and what to do to avoid them!"

And how did I respond?

Me: "I know...I know...I want to be you sometimes."

Haiku, Just for Laughs

kids say the darndest
things when you untie them from
the radiator

From a fellow fellow of mine.

Mar 3, 2009

March in March

Forget Pi Day, Happy Square Root Day!

Today's random-warmup question: after today, when will the next square root day occur?

Mar 2, 2009

I never thought it would happen...

NYC schools are closed for a snow day!!!

Sorry, California teachers.