Not Out of Class: Still An Educator

Teacher and Class

My class of 12th graders in 2013

30, 29, 28, 27…

This time of year I’m normally counting down. But now, there’s no counting. The days come, and the days go. The calendar turns, and I don’t care. My calendar has changed.

Recently, someone asked me if I missed teaching. It’s not the first time someone asked. I actually ask myself the question often.

After all, for more than a decade, I was a high school English teacher. I worked in the same school and had many of the same colleagues over that time. While that’s not quite Letterman type of longevity, it’s still significant.

I felt at ease in the school. I knew my way around the halls, the neighborhood, and the bureaucracy (that was the toughest part).

We identify ourselves by our profession. After all, what is the most asked question when you meet someone? “So, what do you do?”  (Back in college, it was, “What’s your major?” It was after that line I struggled with the women. I was so awkward.)

Anyway, I was ready with an answer. Continue reading

Bringing Harry Potter to Life

Harry Potter book“A book is waiting to be read. When you open that book, you give it life. Let it live. It wants to live,” I often advised my students. Yes, I know books are inanimate, lifeless.  They are simply words on pages (or Kindles or Nooks or other e-readers, but that’s not the point) bound together. Lifeless.

But books don’t have to be lifeless.  They can lead you anywhere and to anything. Books can take us on journeys, teach us lessons, foster our imaginations, help us to appreciate others, and so much more.

Yes, books serve as our travel agents to anywhere and can leave us laughing, crying or both along the way.

But for a book to live, it needs to be opened.

Continue reading

Should A Parent Play A Role In The Educational Process?

High School Classroom

High School Classroom
(Not Mine)

An article recently came out in The Atlantic by Dana Goldstein. The article is entitled: Don’t Help Your Kids With Their Homework.

The article references a study by Keith Robinson, a sociology professor at the University of Texas at Austin, and Angel L. Harris, a sociology professor at Duke. The study was the largest-ever study of how parental involvement affects academic achievement.

According to The Atlantic article, the study found that “most measurable forms of parental involvement seem to yield few academic dividends for kids, or even to backfire—regardless of a parent’s race, class, or level of education.”

With all due respect, I find these results hard to believe. Let me remind you of my background.

I am a high school English teacher in an inner city public school. Between my five classes (3 senior and 2 sophomore), I have 140 students (3 classes have 34 students). There are approximately 10-15 students who never show up to class. I’ve called their houses but never heard back.

Here is my first hand evidence to counter the article and referenced study in The Atlantic.

Parent-teacher conferences recently concluded. Less than 20% of parents showed up. Those numbers are not atypical. A number of my colleagues who I spoke to reported the same attendance rate.

I have been in the school 11 years.  The attendance rate at parent teacher conference has fallen from approximately 65% to the now less than 20%. It has been steadily declining.

And so has the school.

The typical student is less able and motivated than in the past. I’d like to add that the percentage of students who passed has fallen as well. Again, I don’t think all of this is a coincidence.

The media and politicians seem to enjoy bashing teachers these days. All the nation’s problems are because of poor teachers. If we had good teachers, all would be in the good world.

I am biased and have a limited perspective. I’ll admit it. So, read on with a grain of salt.

The mass majority of teachers I have worked with and met are caring individuals. They want to help their students grow, learn, and succeed and are willing to work hard to make it happen.

I have also come across ineffective teachers. And lazy teachers. And teachers who are burnt out and counting down the days till retirement.

Tell me what profession are you in? Does everyone in the profession meet the highest standards of the calling? Didn’t think so.

Of course, teachers are a huge factor in the education process, but they are NOT the only element. Most obviously, the student him or herself matters. There is the administration. There are the therapists, guidance counselors, etc. And then there are the parents.

I’m not blaming the parents, or denying that there are multiple reasons why their involvement has declined. However, I very much believe that their involvement in the educational process would help.

Now, the influence of parents does not have to come via parent teacher conference. Many times the teacher will not be able to see the influence of the parents. However, they often see the result.

Did you ever see the movie Waiting for Superman? The movie Waiting for Superman follows a few students as they strive to get into Charter Schools. I’ll never forget the scenes where parents whoop it up as if they won the lottery when they recognize their child got in to the public side. On the flip side, those whose children did not get in are so clearly dejected. It’s as if they have been told they have months to live.

It’s not a coincidence that Charter Schools, as a whole, have students who achieve higher results than those kids in public schools.

Again, I know there are other factors that one would be naive to ignore. However, the naivety would be just as great if one ignored the influence of the parent(s).

Therefore, I say sorry to The Atlantic, but I can’t agree with The Robinson and Harris study. Parents matter in the educational process.

Pic is courtesy of Photopin

From Pumpkin head to Confident Teacher

Pumpkinhead at the age of 3

I literally “woke up like dis.” Look at my hair.

In a recent post I introduced you to my colleague Lady Snark or Maria M, if you want to be formal. Remember she came up with the winning entry for my winter cold comments?

Let me tell you a bit about Lady Snark.

She is a Brooklyn native, writer, technological wizard, and cock-eyed optimist. And a darn good teacher who cares passionately about her students.

She also blogs about education and her experiences in the classroom.  Check out Maria’s blog.

Before you head over to Maria’s blog, read her guest post below about her transformation from a Pumpkin head to competent and confident woman.

Pumpkin head. That was my nickname.

I grew up ugly. Actually I was born ugly. All babies are supposedly cute, but my grandmother nailed it. “Pumpkin head.” I had a huge noggin and fat cheeks and was a rather big baby. And I looked like a boy until I was age three.

Things didn’t improve until much later: age twenty-five. I went through bad teeth, big glasses, unfortunate haircuts and the fashion of the 1980s and 1990s.

My family didn’t have a lot of money when I was growing up so fashion was not a concern my parents took too seriously. And my dad’s family insisted on baptizing my matrilineal Jewish three-year-old behind, much to the chagrin of my mother’s family. (But it did not negate my Jewishness.)

As I approached my quarter life, I did not go through a crisis, but a transformation.

I moved out of my parents’ home, got hired as a teacher and began to forge a life for myself. I began taking control of my life and my image. I dressed better, put more care into my appearance and looks…for ME.

In my predominantly religious Jewish neighborhood, I am an old maid. I should have married years ago and be on my third child by now. Even my accountant, who congratulates my success, laments the lack of a “nice Jewish boy” in my life. I smile politely. I check my shoulder for an expiration date. None exists.

No ill-conceived baptism or lack of nuptials negates my femininity. Or Jewishness. I am an independent Reform Jewish female.

It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment when I stopped caring about others’ opinions.

Maybe it was when I found my apartment on my own, while working a $300-a-week job.

Or when I realized that having two degrees by age twenty-three was an accomplished feat.

Or when it was when I bought and assembled my own furniture.

Or when I found my first teaching job (in the South Bronx) without any connections.

Or when I decided I wanted straighter teeth and paid for it in small increments thanks to insurance and a steady paycheck.

Or when I decided I am beautiful and comfortable in my own skin.

Or  when I decided to not get angry with the naysayers, because I wanted to be better than that.

Or when I got out of a miserable relationship that was weighing down my very soul and knew I could do better.

Or when I decided in my fourth year of teaching that the feeling of hopelessness I felt four months into teaching was not how I wanted to experience my career.

Or when I finally found a school that makes me happy and made me fall in love with my profession all over again.

Or when I decided I determine my own happiness as a [single] woman, a Jew, a teacher, and a human being.

As Robert Frost said: “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.” And I will go on, embracing positivity and using my newfound power to make others and myself happy.