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Welcome to My New Education Blog

“Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think.” – Albert Einstein

“Education is the silver bullet. Education is everything…” – Sam Seaborn, TWW

Welcome to my musings about literacy, education and motherhood.

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Reflections

The last day of this weird, unsettled roller coaster of a school year is finally here. I’m relieved, nostalgic and a little hopeful as we head into summer break.

I went into the building this week to proctor the Living Environment Regents exam. This is one of the exams that HAD to be given as it is tied to federal money, but it just had to be given. The number of students who took it didn’t seem to matter. I had two students. It sort of summed up a lot of what happened in the city this year with in-person learning, at least in my school. We did it because we were supposed to, but it was pointless and a waste of resources. I hope the students who took the test were successful, but I still don’t understand what purpose giving standardized, pen and paper tests in a year like this serves.

There were positives too. I enjoyed my work with my student teacher. I liked getting to know my students and seeing their growth. I appreciated how remote learning benefitted my self-contained students in ways I didn’t expect. And I was able to push the self-contained kids more in this setting than I was able to in person because of this. I got to know some new co-teachers, and got along with them. I would love to teach with them again in person, so we can realize our full potential as a team.

After last summer’s anxiety, I feel better at least knowing I’m vaccinated and that we are returning to in person learning full time so I can prepare myself. I am still unsure of what, exactly, re-entry looks like for both me and my students, and my school…but those are things that remain to be seen in September.

Have a great summer – you deserve it!

What no one is talking about…

I definitely had a lot of feelings when I saw the Chancellor’s email yesterday about school reopening in September without a remote option and with more questions than answers. But one thing I’ve really been thinking about this semester is how no one seems to want to hear that remote learning is actually beneficial for some students.

I have a small Special Education class of 11th graders this semester and they are actually the only students I’ve had all year that I’ve met in person because I had them last year too in the before times. So, I can see how the different circumstances have effected their learning. And I have come to the conclusion that these particular students are doing better online.

There are definitely several factors at play here and this is anecdotal evidence collected by me through my observations. Several of these kids have cases of ADHD that render sitting in a seat and participating in class very difficult. They are distracted by each other, the hallway, their phones…all of these things add up to a difficult learning situation all around. However, online, I am getting very insightful responses from many of them and the majority of their writing has improved. At home, they can listen to the lesson and pace in their space…and not distract other people.

There is also a student who has severe anxiety and seems to be coping better at home. My school can be an overwhelming place, and this student is more comfortable in the home setting. This student, at times, makes me question why they are in Special Education in the first place, only to remember what in person school was like for them.

In the rush to attempt to erase this year and anything positive about remote learning, let’s remember that it wasn’t all bad. Some students actually flourished with increased focus and independence that just aren’t possible in the school setting. Now…I wonder what re-entry is going to look like.

Literature Break: Concrete Rose

I recently read Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas. The main character, Maverick, was the father in The Hate U Give, and Concrete Rose was his backstory. This was a wonderful book. This story was not as plot heavy as The Hate U Give, but it was an important story nonetheless.

We followed Maverick through gang life and drug dealing, teenage fatherhood, struggling in school, and poverty. Throughout the book, it felt like Maverick couldn’t catch a break. And so many kids can’t. At the end of the day, he was a 17 year old who had to grow up to soon because of things he chose to do because he did not see any other way. His relationship with his neighbor, Mr. Wyatt, had such a beautiful evolution. Mr. Wyatt showed Maverick that there was more to life than his gang, and even though Maverick didn’t always want to hear it, this relationship changed him. In this, Maverick was lucky. There are so many kids who need a Mr. Wyatt in their life .

I see my students in Maverick; the kids who think they have no choices, or that they are who society dictates instead of who they want to be. The kids who struggle in school because they’re of all they’re going through outside of school. If anything, a book like this shows the importance of reading literature and representation. Literature is not only about literary elements and analysis. People read in the hopes of finding someone or something to relate to, and in the creation of Maverick, Thomas gives voice to these young men’s struggles.

The title of the book, taken from Tupac’s poem “The Rose That Grew From the Concrete,” also reminds me of the first year teaching, when I tried to teach my students about this poem in hopes of finding something to interest them. I did not do the best job. I must have seemed naive or out of touch. But I did try. And I think of those kids when I hear of this poem. Several of them, like Maverick, were stuck in cycles of poverty, abuse and systemic racism. I don’t know what happened to many of them, but I hope that like in the poem, and like Maverick, they still found a way to flourish.

And we’re back…

In the waning hours of 2021’s spring break, I am thinking about returning to my school building tomorrow. High school buildings reopened to students the last week before spring break, and my school said that teachers who are not on medical accommodation need to report at least once a week. I report to school on Mondays to watch kids learn remotely in the cafeteria while I teach remotely simultaneously.

If this seems weird, that’s because it is. I believe my school’s administration is doing the best they can with what they have. It is not feasible to reschedule the whole school at the end of March to allow for in person learning for 25% of the school population. The UFT mandated that we are not to be teaching in person and remotely at the same time. That leaves my school with the option of continuing remote instruction, but having kids come in who opt to.

At this point in the year, we’re all tired of the constant changes. We are just trying to get through this and support our students, who somehow manage to muster the motivation to show up. Even though it has not been made public to us, I am hoping that during this time, there is a plan being put in place for next school year. I think we need to learn from our experiences this year and make ourselves stronger for next year. Will that include 5 days a week with in person learning for high school students? I don’t know. But I do know it needs to be consistent so teachers, students and parents can begin to get into a more normal routine.

How Do You Measure A Year?

March 13, 2020 was a lot of things. A Friday. Friday the 13th. A week after my birthday.

The last normal day of school and daycare before the world changed.

The last time I took the subway. The last time I saw my students in person.

Weirdly, I have one of the self-contained classes again this semester that I taught last spring. They’re the only students I’ve had all year that I’ve met in person. It’s just so weird to think about.

I remember one of the kids saying to me, “Miss, this is the last day. Can’t you be nicer?” I remember scoffing, because at the point, the mayor was pushing back hard about closing schools at all. It wasn’t until the weekend that the governor told the mayor to close the NYC schools or else. But I often think of that exchange. Could I have been nicer? Was I just exasperated by that student’s behavior as usual? I don’t know.

I do remember that there were a lot of kids who were absent that day because their parents kept them home out of fear. But I don’t remember much else in detail about that day. It was mostly a regular day. I took the train home and picked the girls up from daycare. I told people to have a nice weekend, and that I would see them on Monday.

I had had an observation earlier in the week and a picture of the student work had popped up in my memories from that week.

It doesn’t look that remarkable, but this was the last time I was able to do this type of activity on paper, with students in front of me.

It is so weird to reflect on all of this.

Things I Wish I’d Learned As A Student Teacher, Part 2

As I continue working with my student teacher, I continue to wonder what my transition to teaching would have been like if I had actually had a student teaching experience. Now, I don’t regret my undergrad experience at all. In fact, I’m grateful for it. But if I’d taken a different route to teaching, I would (possibly) have had more support. These are a few of the things that crossed my mind:

  1. Lesson Planning. When I was a Teaching Fellow, we did not learn how to lesson plan. We knew were supposed to create lesson plans, but we were never really taught how to create them. (The Fellows have since gone in the other direction, requiring pre-service teachers to create these in depth lesson plans that are in no way realistic for everyday.) Because of this, I plan to sit down with my student teacher and help him create lesson plans that work for him but will also please his professor/administrator.
  2. Outreach is important, especially in a remote environment…but is sometimes more complicated than it should be. In grad school, we were told about parent outreach, and it was made to seem like teachers never had trouble reaching parents and outreach was always effective. In reality…that isn’t totally the case. We have to navigate many different scenarios with empathy and grace while sometimes delivering news about a student a parent might not want to hear. And also, remember to be culturally sensitive – if you find out a parent doesn’t speak English, you can’t talk at them in English and say you did outreach. Best bet is to call back with a translator or send an email in their language.
  3. It is in your best interest to stay on good terms with as many people as you can – deans, the payroll secretary, administrators you don’t directly report to, custodians, guidance counselors, etc. For Special Ed, I would add in related service providers (Speech/Counseling/OT/etc) and school psychologists. These are often people who have more experience than you and can help foster the sense of community within the school. They are also people who might know students in a different capacity than you do, so they can offer insight that you might not have.
  4. Know your rights. While you are probationary, you don’t totally have the same protections as when you are granted tenure. However. That does not mean you should be taken advantage of. If you work over time, you should be paid. You are entitled to your lunch and off periods just like everyone else. You should not be teaching more than 3 periods in a row. Another person to make friends with is your union rep. If you’re unsure a situation, they know your rights and can help you.

That time I responded to a post on Twitter…

I have a Twitter account, but I don’t generally post anything there. I just use it to see what people are saying about education, politics…and to see what Lin-Manuel Miranda is up to this week. I saw that a City Councilman, Mark Treyger, posted something about education. This is not novel or anything because Treyger has actually been one of the few NYC politicians that have actually been supporting teachers during this ridiculous time. All I wrote was, “Thank you for supporting use. There are so few that do.” And I promptly forgot about it.

Then, I opened my Twitter app last night and saw I had a notification…this is rare, because as you’ll remember, I don’t generally post anything. Oh boy. The notification was regarding responses to my reply to Treyger. Let me tell you…the level of vitriol from that two sentence response was actually surprising. A bunch of people who I don’t know, and who don’t know me felt it necessary to respond in the most negative and immature way possible.

I don’t argue with people on social media. I might state my opinion, I might make an observation, but I generally don’t argue. I think it wastes time and energy and I don’t believe the type of people who want to argue are actually going to change my mind. So as difficult as it was, I put my phone down and did not respond to these comments. I will however, respond to a few of them here.

  1. ” Millions did until you ignores the science and you were exposed as virtue-signaling, selfish, antichildren, antieducation frauds relying on others to support your crazy positions forever. You focus on one risk & demand to be defied. You have no one to blame but yourselves.” This one had 14 likes. Where to start? Well. I didn’t realize that I, personally, did all of these things. Teachers are anti-children? Anti-education? Selfish? These are the last things that teachers are. I can only speak for myself, but I love children and want them to be safe during a global pandemic. Selfish? For wanting to keep my family and myself and my community safe? Anti-education? How? Explain that one to me. Teachers did not make any of the policy decisions regarding Covid precautions themselves. Teachers rarely have a seat at the policy making table. This just makes so many assumptions that I just can’t.
  2. ” You guys are proving how useless you are. You are now tutors and should be paid as such. My 65 year old non college educated mom is teaching. You are tutoring in your jammies.” Ummm…excuse me? Do tutors hold live classes daily? Track progress? Do outreach to families? Support IEP students? No? Good. Don’t make assumptions about what I do.
  3. “Get back in the classroom.” Again…this is not up to me. Just because you want free babysitting doesn’t mean everyone else should be at risk.

Honestly. I hope that if these people have kids, their kids’ teachers know up front how their parents feel about teachers and the job they do and their safety.

Things I Wish I Learned as a Student Teacher…

Starting this week, I will be mentoring a student teacher. I did not have much of a student teaching experience as a Teaching Fellow, but I’ve been thinking about things that I wish I’d learned then but didn’t.

  1. Don’t take students’ behavior personally. Their anger is not about you. It might be directed at you at the moment, because you’re there and they’re seeing you as an obstacle to doing and acting the way they want to.
  2. Be yourself. Some advice I got when I was interviewing for my first teaching job was “don’t smile.” I’m here to say that is terrible advice. Students want to get to know you, and they need to trust you. If you’re not being yourself with them, they can tell and it adversely affects your relationship with them.
  3. You are not their friend. While it is important to foster positive relationships with students, you are still the leader of the classroom, and have to enforce the class and school wide rules. In addition, you are a mandated reporter, so if a student tells you something concerning you HAVE to report it.
  4. Optimize your prep time. Try not to take work home every night. That is debilitating, and will lead to you hating teaching in the very near future. Try to get as much planning and grading done during the school day as you can.
  5. That said…also take a break. Eat lunch. Talk and commiserate with your co-workers. Discuss students. Hang out in the office. I got through my very challenging first year because I had a good relationship with my co-workers.
  6. Find a lesson planning style that works for you. Always have a lesson plan. But the templates that you get from grad school or the Fellows are not always realistic for everyday use. Your boss can suggest a template, but can’t mandate that you use it, so find something that works for you.
  7. Especially now, become adept at using educational technology. You can’t hide behind “I don’t know technology.” You have to be willing to learn it, at least the basics.

A New Beginning?

I know, I know…the question mark doesn’t quite convey the optimism that a lot of us are hoping to feel. I got my first dose of the long awaited vaccine (Moderna, for those keeping score). I can’t quite describe the emotions I felt when that needles pricked my arm. Relief. Hope. Concern over whether others should have gotten it first. Questions about whether I would have a reaction. I told the person (I’m not sure if she was a nurse or doctor, or another medical professional) that I never thought I would be excited to get a shot. She said she cried when she got hers.

I didn’t have a reaction…allergic or otherwise. My arm was sore for most of the weekend, but it turned out fine. I was given a card with a date and time for the second dose. But then, I started hearing about how NYC was running out of vaccines. What did that mean for my second appointment? Will I still be able to get it? Will I have to get the two shots all over again? That remains to be seen.

And of course, now that teachers in some (but not all) states are eligible for the vaccine, there are those voices who are stepping up their demands that we return to full time, in person school. There was an article in the New York Times yesterday (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/26/world/cdc-schools-reopening.html in case you’re interested) stating there is a “preponderance of evidence” showing schools can be opened safely. A preponderance of evidence? From where? One study, that mostly focused on rural schools? Seriously? I teach my students to consider word choice. Preponderance means “of being greater in number, quantity, or importance.” There isn’t really a preponderance of anything related to this pandemic other than positive cases. How can there be all of this evidence from one study?

The reason that rural schools, and others, can open “safely” is because so many parents have done their part and opted into a fully remote schedule. The schools will not open with the full student body present. I don’t think anyone is really considering that.

But for now, there are still no concrete answers and I anxiously await the date in February when I can receive my second dose of the vaccine.

Where do we go from here?

I’m sure I’m not the only one thinking about what I’m going to say to my students tomorrow. This has been such a wild and confusing roller coaster for everyone. From the pandemic changing many things we took fro granted, including school, to racial unrest this summer, a contentious election and now an attempt coup…it’s been a lot to process for teachers and students.

I sometimes don’t know how to speak to my students about these subjects. I remember I was a relatively new teacher when Trayvon Martin died, and I did not discuss it with my class because I didn’t know what to say. As a more experienced teacher, I feel like I can speak about difficult topics with my students. But…how can I broach the subject with them when I haven’t fully processed the day’s events myself?

I also sometimes worry what bringing up a difficult subject might teach me about a student. WIll I learn that so and so is an unabashed racist? Will I find out this other student believes right wing conspiracy theories? Sometimes…I don’t want to know. I think what I will do tomorrow is invite the conversation and ask how the kids are handling it. If it derails our planned lesson…well, lessons are fluid and it can always be made up another day.

Stay safe, everyone.