Nov 21, 2009

Pre-K and Kindergarten NOT compulsory in NYC? Preposterous!

Currently the mandatory ages of attendance in an educational setting in New York State are from 6 to 16. There is an early education policy in NYS for 5 year olds but a parent may opt out for this age (I asked my students to raise their hands if they ever attended Pre-K or K, and surprise, surprise, more than half of each of my classes had not). As a result, NYS's children are already FAR behind those who do attend pre-k or k where they learn fundamental social, behavioral and academic skills essential to becoming a successfully functioning person.

Let me just paint a picture for you...
Imagine a child walking into first grade unaware of how to keep his/her hands to him/herself, or never having seen the alphabet, surrounded by children who learned to read at age 3 or write their name by age 4 and learned to use the bathroom themselves, or to respect their neighbor's pencils. Imagine what challenges this creates for the 1st grade teacher who is mandated to make sure each one of these same children is able to pronounce every combination of syllables and read and write before the 2nd grade. Imagine what challenges this creates for the 7th grade English teacher who, as a result, teaches children reading at a 2nd or 3rd grade level IN THE SAME ROOM as children reading at a high school level. Imagine what challenges this creates for a high school Chemistry teacher who teaches some students who still read at a 5th grade level and some who can read college-level chemistry text. In reality, while the low-level students hopefully are receiving a remedial education to correct years of an "achievement gap," the high-level students aren't challenged or given the opportunity to learn at the rate they are capable. The achievement gap begins in early education, and thus, continues through higher education.

Just take a look at this short and cute video made by a TFA pre-k teacher.

For years, NYS has been aware of this gaping problem in the system, however, the situation remains the same: children throughout the state are STILL not being given the opportunity to take advantage of the most sentient learning stages of their lives.

The Legislature was in Albany on November 16th, to address Governor Paterson's Deficit Reduction Plan. Because Paterson did not come up with a bill that they could act on, the meeting will reconvene THIS Monday, November 23. Legislators will be either accepting or rejecting the Governor’s across-the-board budget cuts. These proposed cuts will negatively impact early care and learning in New York State, particularly home visiting programs (which are crucial, especially to low-income low-socioeconomic households)! NYS "can't afford" pre-k or k, so hey, let's not make it mandatory! In fact, LET'S CUT THE BUDGET EVEN MORE. Ridiculous? I think so.

Please contact your representatives and voice your concerns. Click here for a message you can send to your legislators.

Some of you may remember, however, that Van and Shawn mentioned that personalized letters and phone calls are much more effective than sending a general message (Shawn: "We actually read your letters and take them seriously, especially if they're tied to your personal experience/story"). So I propose throwing letter-writing parties :) Tonight I'll be bringing some paper and pens to "Girls' Night Out" and hopefully effecting some change in the midst of having a good time with my friends.

Not sure where to send your letter or who to call? Easy peasy. Type your zip code here, and find the contact info for your Assembly person (if you live in NY). You can also find contact info for our Senators (if you live in NY) here.

For my penny, I would say education is the answer to just about any problem (poverty, racism, health issues, etc.). So please think about ways to make EARLY EDUCATION a prime concern for our legislators. And most importantly, please spread the word!

Nov 20, 2009

no homo.

"Forreal, no homo, but I love all you," W says over the school intercom.

"What do you mean, 'no homo', W?" I ask, not over the school intercom.

I know exactly what he means, because yes, I too, listen to all those big corporate paint-by-numbers we call musicians, our national I'm-not-a-role-model role models. I ask him because I want to be Socratic and teacherly, and I want him to use his brain instead of the one that Lil' Wayne made for him.

We all know that teaching something as abstract as math is a hard sell on its own, but how about teaching why everyone who speaks for you on a national level is also a corporatized-as-fuck, spit-bullshit-not-truth, common-on-a-Coke-Ad suckface? That the language in use is that of perpetuation, power over powerless?

Let me be the first to say that I get bored when I listen to political or conscious rap... but more than that, in the system we've got, its much more insidious than boredom. Record contracts with Warner Bros, but fuck the system, right? It's reductive, I know, but the simple honesty behind it is unavoidable. And it makes for tired music, tired messages, and cheap lyricism.

W, become a rapper. Read Catcher in the Rye, as I see you doing right before me, and laugh to yourself about things that remind you of your own life. Read everything. Listen to everything. Do your own thing, and fuck up the whole game. We are waiting for you, young genius, to bring us so much more.

Nov 19, 2009

Message to Quitting Teachers

I've been there before. It was the toughest decision I ever had to make. The knowledge that I was letting an entire village down - my students, my colleagues, my administration, friends & family, and anyone else who ever had a stake in shaping who I'd become - only compounded my depression.

-Teacher's who bent backwards for me since day one to ensure my success, my student's success, and, maybe most importantly, my sanity.

-Students so used to broken promises, starving for attention and structure. Young geniuses who sought direction. A few who called me their favorite teacher.

-Parents, friends, family who were proud of me, who knew of my struggles but supported me beyond measure, who respected what I got into, understood it'd be a struggle, but still believed in me nonetheless.

The hardest part about letting all that go is saying goodbye. Admitting to everyone and, even worse, yourself that something you wanted to get into for so long is something you cannot do.

Sometimes, you just gotta do what you gotta do. We all got our reasons. And I feel you on that. We are humans first. Teachers second.

But please do say goodbye. The text messages, emails, and phone calls aren't to further the guilt, but are out of genuine concern. And any sort of goodbye or closure you can provide for us is thrice as meaningful for them.


Again, keep swimming. Things look up on the other side of winter. Way up. And it's not that far away.

Nov 18, 2009


For background & reference, check the post "Never Have an Argument with a Student Ever Again."

Earlier today, a dialogue:
S1: Can I just sit here for the day? Please Mr. G; I promise I'll be good. Please?

Me: I understand, but I need you in your seat.

... and, thus, we play the game I've grown to understand some kids just NEED sometimes, until he finally moves...

S1: But I don't want to sit here. I don't do well in the front.

Me: I understand, but this is your seat. And, like everyone else, I gotta have you in your seat.

S2: Haha. G, why you always saying "I understand" for?

Me: Yo entiendo.

S2: Huh? What's that mean?

Spanish speaking S3: "I understand."

Nov 13, 2009

Find a Way

M is a student in my strategic/remedial double period Algebra class. Typically, M struggles with concepts but puts in effort.

Outside of academics, I'd say our relationship is pretty good. She has good humor and a great smile too.

M was out last week. I called her father to see what's up. Death in the family.

M returned this week. I tell her that her father and I spoke and that I want to work with her to get her grade back up to where it should be. She nods yes.

But M didn't show up Thursday afterschool like she said she would, and M starts showing a lil attitude in our conversations. Rather than trying, she folds quick. Rarely does she give off any sort of positive air. You can tell something's changed.

I approach her and say "I understand there are days and weeks where things aren't right. It happens to me too. But I'm still going to push you to understand, because I'm your teacher and I know you're capable." A nod, but still no smile.

During our quiz today, she stares blankly at the wall as others work diligently. I try to catch eye contact to re-direct her, but her stare is fixed.

I take a post-it note and write "M, are you ok? You don't seem ok. I want you to feel better. Feel better, ok? -Mr G"

I stick on her desk. It catches her attention. She picks it, curious.

She reads, looks up at me and smiles.

Nov 12, 2009

Public Education in California

"California schools are attempting to educate the most diverse and challenging school population in the country and doing it with substantially fewer human resources than almost any other state. The state has the most students, a diverse group of students, more English learners than any other state, and substantial numbers of students from low-income backgrounds. It will also soon again face increasing enrollment. At the same time, the state has fewer school staff per pupil than all other states and spends less than the national average per pupil. " -- Comparing California (June 2008)
I need your help! ...OK, if that wasn't convincing enough for you: California needs your help!

California's public education was ranked at the beginning of this year as 49th in the nation in general public education (and even in specific education categories such as technology). Compare this to 2007, when California came in at no. 14 -- either Californians care less about education, or everyone else stepped up their game (for more disheartening news about the state of California, see here).

This may or may not be new information to you, but my close friend and I are hoping to spread this news to our community members and mobilize them to find solutions and take action. We share many experiences, ideas, and resources; we don't have all the answers, but we have the drive to seek them.

I invite you to consider the following course objective for a class that we plan to facilitate next semester:

1. What is the nature of the subject matter or content of the course?
The subjects of this course are California public education, California state government and education institutional policy, the many cultures of California, and how these three subjects work with and against each other. The explorations of this course are based on academic literature and shared experiences. The nature of this course is collaborative learning and hands-on experience/practice in the public school sector and democratic practices in city and/or state government.

2. What are the key learning outcomes?
  1. To experience and build strong ties with the surrounding community and community-based education organizations by means of an understanding of the solidarity and equity discourses.
  2. To recognize one's self agency; to become empowered and empower others in order to mobilize for equity in public education at the grassroots level.
  3. To develop a better understanding of alternative systems, sites, and methods of education, as well as the multiplicity of experiences within public education.
  4. To practice one's power in democratic processes by working towards improving education at a structural level.
  5. To begin personal working definitions of an "equitable public education.
For more information, please read our course syllabus.

Feedback, ideas, resources, and general support is welcome and much needed!

Img Src: Cartoon Stock

Nov 11, 2009

Teachers Are Liars Unto Themselves

Veteran's Day is a teacher oasis, as close as we come to a fringe benefit, a professional treat in a profession where weeks pass with only occasional sweetness. I've been thinking about it since last week, but I thought about it the most on what has become a regular Sunday, one where the whole week of things that I've put off grows like mold on bread, and on Monday, I just eat around it to stay alive.

Now I realize that I am generalizing, because perhaps I just have some deep personal issues around organization, preparation, or general responsibility (I like to think of myself as unboundedly curious about the organic nature of day-to-day life; a virtue in some cultures), but allow me the release: I LIE TO MYSELF, PERPETUALLY, UNABASHEDLY, CONVINCINGLY.

I commit myself to the notion that I will work, truly labor, on this day when I have a choice to avoid anyone aged 16. But here I am, grinning stupidly, at how beautiful a fall day is in the Bay. So I lie, and cheat, and steal from my own sanity.

But I need to, and that is simple and unavoidable. There is plenty of brown, non-moldy space on my bread for tomorrow. I guess there's always this weekend.

Nov 9, 2009

The Administrator's Role

I don't know if I'll ever consider being an administrator, but today I took on her lens. I was invited to an all day PD with 4 others and my Vice Principal. The PD's goal: get schools to establish properly ran PLCs & interventions in their schools. The data is there. California districts who've shown the greatest gains collaborate at a level we do not. To get those same gains, why not take a leaf from their book.

The issue is finding the structure, the time, and the buy-in. If your school says yes to the following questions, you probably have a pretty good school:

1. Teachers know exactly what they need to teach and when.

2. Teachers collaborate on a consistent basis to:
  • Create common assessments.
  • Analyze results of common assessments.
  • Address common student struggles by adjusting instruction.
3. The school has an intervention system in place to help students who are not learning.

4. If a student needs intervention, teachers know PRECISELY what skills the student needs and what needs to be done to assist him.

As an administrator, YOU find a way to make that happen without hiring more staff, pulling out more money from the budget, overstepping veteran teachers who're set in their ways. All the while, managing your duties in the day-to-day, not to mention being the last-resort disciplinarian for the toughest of kids.

It was nice to spend some time w/ my Vice Principal for the day. I asked him if, as an administrator, he felt swamped. He laughed.

Nov 4, 2009

No wonder he's so angry

Dear Journal,

It's Monday and I can't help but think about my Do Now for ELA today. I only try to forget but never will. I grow scared of the images in my head of my mother getting beat by my sister's father.

from J.

Whenever I can, I give my scholars a chance to journal about WHATEVER they want. I ask them to put an S with a slash through it at the top of their entry if they don't want me to read it. Whenever I see a slashed S at the top of the page, I swear to you, I don't read it. Never. I honor and respect my students, and in turn, they honor and respect me. This particular entry, however, didn't have a slashed S. Actually, none of J's entries do. I think that means he trusts me. I hope so.

I love J. He's a jerk in a lot of other classes, but I miraculously got him on my side my first year as his teacher when he was still in 6th grade. He's one of my 7th graders now, and we still have that bond, thankfully. For some reason, his writing always inspires me. He's so bright for his age. He has so much to offer, but so many roadblocks in the way of his success... especially at home.

What do I do? What can I do for J? I can't love them all the way I want to, but I really want to try.

Nov 2, 2009

Keep Swimming, Friends

1. Would you rather:

a. Get up at 5:45am, pour a cup of coffee, finish up lesson plans, then get ready for work.
b. Stay in bed.

2. Would you rather:

a. Spend half of Sunday lesson planning for the week.
b. Head out to the park for sports and friends.

3. Would you rather:

a. Make parent phone calls home for students who're slippin' off the map.
b. Cook dinner, eat dinner, and enjoy those quality chill 'after-work' hours.

4. Would you rather:

a. Deliver a lesson plan to the class after lunch.
b. Play a movie so you can veg out on the interwebs.

5. Would you rather:

a. Track down the student you see cutting class.
b. Keep walking straight to the faculty room for your copies.

If you're trending towards b for the majority of 'em, you're feeling exactly like me. Keep swimming, friends. 2 1/2 weeks until Thanksgiving break. Then, Christmas is around the corner. Then, it's all downhill from there!