A Day in the Life of a First-Year Teacher

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

I'm not in miles beyond "disappointed" at this point!

I experienced something so inappropriate, so disgusting and so insulting that I'm still not sure how to come out of it.

The incident happened in my 6th period class (these kids are amazing!). We were reviewing percent equations where the kids went around the Communications Academy to find examples of things that represented a "percent equation" in real life. After the scavenger hunt, each pair would present their "finding" to the class so the class could practice going from each of the different types of percent equation problems, and practice identifying them and solving each of the different types.

The scavenger hunt would take about 15 minutes, because there are more than 30 kids in my class, so it is harder because groups might get their first and take another group's idea.

In the middle of the scavenger hunt, Tito told me that he needed to go the bathroom (he even added "Yes, Mr. Yang, it's an emergency."). Tito's a very trustworthy student who does well in my class and tries hard. And since it was an emergency, I said yes, not really thinking too much about it... you know, if you have to go, you HAVE to go AND it was right after lunch.

Little did my 21-year-old first-year teacher self know, Tito was going to hook up with a girl from another academy.

Tito. An straight A student in my class... would go hook up with someone from another school DURING MY CLASS! As if he think's he's Mr. Cool because his teachers like him and his peers really like him and the girls really really like him that he can just go randomly pop in to the bathroom, hook up and leave. Pretend like nothing happened.

Oh, Tito. You're in 8th grade. Wait a little. ;)

Anyway, let's not get too far ahead of ourselves.

The rest of class went great. The kids had wrapped up finding their percent equation item and finished making an "answer key" to the particular percent equation they found in partners before presenting to the class. We walked back to the classroom to start presentations, Tito still not back yet.

I asked the security guard on the way back from the atrium of our Communications Academy to go into the bathroom and tell him that we were back in the room.

3 minutes later, when Andres and Manolo were presenting, I got a call to my classroom phone from the security guard. He told me about Tito.

I think that Maria, one of my students, noticed the look on my face and immediately assumed it was what she "knew". She sent a signal to the other students, and they picked up on the information too... while I was standing at my phone in shock, anger, disappointment and confusion.

The security guard told me that Tito and his "mistress" would be sent to the discipline AP immediately. My class continued with the presentations and everything was going fine according to the lesson plan after the incident. Until Tito came back.

"Oh, uh, Mr. O'Klay told me come back and get my stuff", he told us. I could see the respect that he commanded, as always, from the rest of the students in class. But I couldn't even bear to look at him. It was just too much for me.

I felt like all my work in trying to make them better people and better students collapsed with Tito. Tito was my student - my EXAMPLE - to the rest of the kids. Something like the incident today really hits you when after all the hard work, it doesn't pay off. Rest assured, the rest of my 6th period came up to me as the bell rang to tell me that my work will still live on in them -both the content I've imparted and the life skills I've taught.

Prior to starting this blog post, I checked my e-mail before leaving the school for the day. (I'm going to both enjoy this amazing day and meet some friends from high school in Central Park.) Tito e-mailed me saying "im sorry i disappointed u 2day bro. i should've thought about what u said before i did what i did. it felt good but now it doesnt becuase i realized what i did and what u taught us."

Now, as much as that message warms my heart in about 20 different ways, I still can't fully get over what happened today during 6th period. And I'm really unsure about how to reply back.

Tito will return to school on Friday. Tito and the girl he was with both got 2 days of out-of-school suspension. The girl was in lunch.

Anyone got any ideas about a reply? Or should I just not reply and wait until Friday to talk with him one-on-one face to face?

P.S. Today's the first day I'm leaving school at the earliest time allowed! 3:52 and 30 seconds! :) 60 degree weather and Josh/Susan/Sydney/Michael, here I come!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Five Months in... Lessons I've Learned

As we end the month of January, I would be completing my fifth month as a full-time first year teacher (with my own classroom).

Lessons I've learned in my short five months of teaching:
  • Always stay organized - you never know when your organization is the only thing that can keep you and your students sane
  • Never try to juggle two physical tasks at the same time
  • Don't call the security guard during his lunch period... EVER!
  • Don't forget to tell the students there is a homework assignment... or else it can lead to some serious trouble when it comes time to check homework 
  • Double & triple proofread your lessons and student notes before passing it out
  • Always make sure if the overhead/SmartBoard is willing to cooperate with you the day you need it the most
  • Be prepared for loud voices next door
  • Learn to LOVE water bottles
  • Teachers don't get bathroom breaks
  • You can get about 10 different things done within the 3 minutes between classes
  • Repeating yourself/your lesson plan 3 times isn't as easy as it looks - but it's not as direct as it sounds either
  • 13 - 14 year olds have at most 5-minute attention spans: quick movement, high quality and well planned out activities are highly essential
  • Personality makes a big difference in student attitude - and the teacher is the one that needs to make the first move
  • Make lesson plans and concepts relevant to your students by integrating urban culture and a modern twist to lessons
  • Have an orderly system for checking homework and correcting homework so that it wastes minimal class time
  • Wait for the students to resolve the problem first, then apply your pre-set consequences
  • Be prepared for when the discipline AP doesn't follow through with what you hoped
  • Don't call students' parents as soon as an issue arises -- it may lead to serious child abuse
  • Going along with the above, have meetings with the students to correct behavior instead
  • Get to know your students outside of class - basketball games, school functions, Review Late Nights, etc
  • Drown out negative voices from other teachers, administrators and school personnel
  • Always plan ahead what work you will do in your prep, what work (if any) you will do in your lunch, what work you will do after school and what work you will do at home
  • Leave the school at no later than 5:30 to preserve your sanity and/or your safety... it gets dark early!
  • Go to the Bronx at least once during the weekend-- it's a great way to see some of your students and learn more about the culutre of the Bronx and the realities the students have to deal with
  • Make math come alive to students by associating concepts with their strengths: raps, videos, etc
  • Help students with organizational skills before it gets too late
  • Get to school EARLY to copy student notes before all the ink "runs out"
  • The Dollar Store is your best friend
  • Be prepared to run into some opposition when you suggest to your principal that you want to take a field trip... ANYWHERE.
  • Expect not to get too much feedback on your evaluation - even though my principal's pretty good at giving good, quality feedback during the post-observation conference, she's not so good with writing it down
  • Have some good parenting tips written down for when parents ask you for parenting tips during parent-teacher conferences
  • Dressing up isn't as important to the administration or the students as college professors make it sound
  • Middle schoolers are extremely rewarding to work with
  • Set high goals for the students... but post them visibly in the classroom to clearly communicate your goals/expectations
  • Teaching portfolios and document cameras are absolutely essential to an excellent first year experience!
  • Reflect on lessons individually; but also let students put in feedback about your lessons
  • Give your first period a nice treat at the end of each quarter for being your guinea pig class... but save some for the other 4 classes!
  • Learn to love Urban Dictionary, even though I just recently found it, but my friends have known about it for muchhh longer
  • Sit students in groups for maximum participation, but arrange it so all students can see the board during instruction (had some trouble w/ that at first... :( )
That's A LOT of material I've learned and newly experienced as a first year teacher.

And if I had my way, I wish every year would be like this year, but I recently got word that my successes may not be matched again next year, as I've heard from the 7th grade teachers that next year's 8th graders are substantially more difficult than this year's students.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Adventures in "Saturday School"

Say whaaattt?
Mr. Yang went to work on a Saturday? What happened to the weekend?

Well, this EXCELLENT experience today wasn't actually planned. I didn't actually know I was even going to be heading into the Bronx today until I got a text from Miss Liu, a 8th grade science teacher in a different academy, who was planning on proctoring "Saturday School" at our middle school but couldn't make it.

Needless to say, I agreed. I've never done Saturday School before, and never really wanted to, since these were students with classroom disciplinary issues. (My school holds "Saturday School" most Saturdays as disciplinary consequence.) I've heard that the students in Saturday School throw paper airplanes at each other, refuse to follow directions, don't bring any work so draw on the desks the entire time, never stop talking and constantly disrespect the proctor.

Not something I was hoping to do.

But... with the promise of getting paid administrative premium, no plans till tonight and the chance of helping a good friend, how could I say no?

The morning started off rough. Saturday School is from 9-11am, 2 full hours with 6th-8th grade students with a track record of behavioral incidences. It was difficult to get them to stop talking and face forward. The kids deliberately ignored me, even though most of them recognized me and knew of my popularity with my students. Guess popularity can't get you very far with these students... . They continued to ignore my requests, kept on running amok in my classroom and did so until about 9:45.

By then, I was just ready to give up. I mean, there were really no people there to supervise, and there was no need for me to risk ruining my voice for a group of kids too beyond my control. I sat down in the teacher's chair and began reading a magazine I had brought from the apartment (it was actually my roommate's magazine... but it looked pretty interesting! :)), and stopped caring about what was going on.

As you might have guessed, this came as a disappointing blow to me. I thought that my popularity and ability to relate to these kids would help me be successful in turning around their behavior before it was too late.

But then I realized, my apathy and willingness to give up is what a lot of classroom teachers in the inner city are doing with their classes. I REFUSED to allow myself to do this. I went up there and commanded attention of the class. I talked to them about the importance of respect and proper behavior in school. We even had a discussion about what they did to get them in Saturday School, why they behaved this way (peer pressure, boredom, hatred of the classroom teacher/AP/security guard, etc... I got some really juicy answers!) and how they can improve in the future. I did an impromptu lesson on conflict resolution and the benefits of education.

I think their 2 hours with me were pretty well received by the students. They each seemed to take something out of the lesson, which is GREAT.

Today I disproved another one of my fears of my school - proctoring Saturday School. And coming out of it, I think it was a pretty enjoyable experience! :)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Gotta Learn to Love Urban Dictionary

One thing your professors (and Teach for America too, most likely) is never going to teach you is that Urban Dictionary is a LIFESAVER if you're ever teaching at any school in the inner city.

Life saver.

L-I-F-E. S-A-V-E-R.

My 8th graders say sentences that literally have 5 or 6 "words" of which I have NO CLUE as to what they mean. They may be telling me about their weekend or what they did last night with their friends, and I would stare blankly at them for most of the time. It's seriously like Calc 3 or high school Physics all over again. This time with words so deeply ingrained in their vocabulary that can't be defined by kids who didn't grow up in the areas they're growing up in. Which would be most of the teachers at my school.

And I'm only 21 years old. So I know EXPONENTIALLY more than what most of my colleagues know. In my team, the Science teacher and ELA teacher, both in their late 20's (yeah, they're still so young!), are having lots of difficulty understanding the kids. They both grew up in the suburbs around Chicago, and I grew up in a middle class neighborhood in Queens. Miss Gonzalez, who's from Tremont, and Mrs. Guzman (our team's History teacher), who's from Longwood, can fluently comprehend and speak their "mini-language".

Oh, how I wish I had their skills.

Recently, I discovered the site "Urban Dictionary" with lists definitions for almost all of these words and phrases that my kids say. Apparently, I looked really dumb when I bragged to my 1,140 Facebook friends (what can I say... most popular in high school and going to NYU gets you a lot of friends... hahahaha) that I discovered Urban Dictionary, many of them laughed at me/expressed shock/"expressed eye rolling" in the comments. Obviously, they had known about this for a LONG time. As my friend Aishwaraya would say, "ope". Awkward...

So that was my embarrassing moment of the day. But on the bright side, Urban Dictionary is one of "my favorites" on my laptop and is tabbed on my awesome phone for my convenience. I will FINALLY know what my kids are saying!

And just watch... in about a month or so, without even knowing it, I will talk just like them!

"Teachers Matter" - President Obama

In his State of the Union Address yesterday, President Obama had this to say about K-12 education:

"Teachers matter. So instead of bashing them, or defending the status quo, let's offer schools a deal. Give them the resources to keep good teachers on the job, and reward the best ones. In return, grant schools flexibility: To teach with creativity and passion; to stop teaching to the test; and to replace teachers who just aren't helping kids learn. That's a bargain worth making."
Oh, why, yes it is.

President Obama, you may have just made my day. This is EVERY TEACHER'S wish right now. I am personally vested in this statement. America needs to work together - citizens, teachers, parents, the teacher's union, students - to make this happen. Thank you!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

There was Once a 22nd Year Teacher Named "Mr. Buchell"...

... he refused to teach his class, made discriminatory comments at his students, read the newspaper in class instead of teaching, had no lesson plan and sent all of his students to me to learn the material he was supposed to teach them. Yeah, that basically sums up my frustration with him right now.To be honest, I think there's something seriously wrong with this man. He has given more than two decades to such a honorable profession and actually had relative SUCCESS in his early years, according to my department chair. Up till this point, his students have literally been bombing the tests (our department gives the same test to every student in the 8th grade to check up on individual teacher practice and to collect testing data). When Miss Gonzalez and I took a look at his test results, we each almost had a heart attack. Yeah, they were that bad. Her classes outperformed his classes by an average of almost 30 percentage points; my classes outperformed his classes by an average of 32 percentage points. Sooo sad!
The sad part is that his students, already far behind for the NYS exams are desperately trying to seek extra help. But in the part of the Bronx where I teach, the parents here can't exactly afford a $45 a hour tutor from Manhattan. These kids want to try and do better for them, but their OWN TEACHER is hindering them from achieving the success and getting the opportunities they deserve.

And this teacher is a 22nd year teacher. You'd think that more experience = better teaching, but that's not the way it goes with Mr. Buchell. And it's more common than you think at my school and at neighboring schools.

Is that what we should be expecting from our educators? From NEW YORK'S BRIGHTEST?!
Lately, this, and the James dilemma (which, btw, is not getting much better after that in school suspension...) has been keeping me up late at night, on phone calls with friends from high school and college (who definitely don't want to hear this formerly happy and super-optimistic person go on and on about why his job is going perfectly) and causing much unnecessary distress.

I think it's just that I care soooo much about ALL inner city students. I genuinely believe that every student can and will learn and be able to lead successful lives. And middle school (especially in the CRUCIAL formative years of 8th and 9th grade) is one of the most crucial times for students in their academic careers. Teachers like Mr. Buchell can forever block a student's drive to learn and motivation to stay in school, and I fear for his kids so much.  I want them to succeed.

Is it fair that his kids have to suffer and my kids and Miss Gonzalez's kids get a fair chance at a high-quality education?

I didn't think so either.

I am now opening my doors to his students if they want to come in to go over material or need someone to talk to about personal matters (or, and most likely, both!). It came after I overheard a good number of my students telling their friends at lunch, "Oh, Mr. Yang is cool! He's tight bro. And he'll help you with anything." I think that as a teacher, it's my duty to help any student that comes and asks. Even though I don't get paid for extra tutoring, I do tutor my own students, so inviting Mr. Buchell's kids in won't really have that much of a difference. Also, some of his students are going to their 6th or 7th grade math teachers for help too, and I think I may have successfully convinced Miss Gonzalez to do the same today at lunch.

Together we can make a difference on Mr. Buchell's kids too. I know (and maybe it's my own personal drive... but I'm sure many teachers in NYC and in the world do too) that when teachers are truly dedicated to helping students realize what's out there for them and truly invested in closing the achievement gap, anything can happen.

Even if they aren't your students.

Even if you don't get paid a single penny for all your help.

Even though they are a good 5 months behind (which his kids are...).

I think I, a 21-year old first year teacher, may have outsmarted Mr. Buchell, a twenty-second year tenured teacher today. That's something most people don't get to say.

That really captures my days as one of "New York's Brightest" this month.

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for lots more this year!

Friday, January 20, 2012

In-school suspensions are always great for teachers

James was put in in-school suspension today. 

Needless to say, I was SOOOO happy when I heard that in the teacher's lounge this morning before homeroom. I would get one Friday off without having to deal with James Patterson. Ohhh, how my life would've been amazing without James. 

First period today went great. Despite my excitement about how great second period could be today not that James isn't in for the day, I started feeling nervous and worried right when the bell rang for the first-second period class change. I had 3 minutes to prep myself my hardest class of the day, with James or without James. 

The first few minutes of second period were tense. The "Four Gangstas" were acting up more than usual when they found out what the principal and discipline AP did to James... and it started spreading to my entire class. I felt the need to go get Miss Gonzalez next door to help me calm things down, but all of the sudden, everything stopped. The Four Gangstas realized that without James, their group of five can't be as effective at running amuck in my classroom. 

Boy, was I surprised! My second period actually went pretty successfully. There were basically no interruptions to the lesson or any of the activities today, and the scores of the Four Gangstas on today's exit quiz were pretty positive (a "B" average! I should buy them something to celebrate!!). 

Just goes to show that in school suspensions are ALWAYS great for teachers who need that break on a Friday morning! :) 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Peer pressure- does association force students to dumb down their own standards?

Recently, one of my students has been slipping dramatically academically in my class. When symptoms first showed up about two weeks ago, I thought he was just transitioning to the harder material (this unit is one of the harder ones in the curriculum -- there's a lot of tricky wording with the percent equations that sometimes it's difficult to understand what the question is asking). But he's been slipping in many other ways that probably don't have to do with the change in the rigor of the curriculum for this unit. He has grown more apathetic, gotten EXTREMELY lazy to the point where he can't even follow simple directions like taking out a calculator and has "ganged up" with some of the other more troublesome students. 

James is a student in my second period class. My second period is unquestionably my hardest class of the day. Despite my successes in my first, third, sixth and eighth periods, my second period still has a good handful of chatty, apathetic, lazy and sometimes rude students. Now, thankfully, this only accounts for 5 out of my 32 students in that class period, but I feel that SO MUCH of my attention is directed towards them each day. James started off the year okay, but like I said above, started rapidly declining about two weeks ago. 

From what I've observed in class, James started associating with the other four "hard-to-discipline" students around three weeks ago- when I moved my second period's seats for the fourth time this year (yuck! ridiculous, right?). His attitude completely flip flopped 180 degrees after he started associating with these kids. He has shown more hostility to others and sometimes even towards me or classroom visitors (I honestly hope I don't get observed in  this class... until I figure out how to keep this class under better control...). I often have to move his seat in class so he doesn't get in the way (well, at least not too much) of the other 27 very bright students that actually care about school. He has had a total of SEVEN (yes, seven!) lunch or after school detentions. We have conferenced numerous times about his behavior. He even signed a behavioral CONTRACT - that he just violated today. 

His behavior and continual decline really started frustrating me. I've talked to my roommates about it today and they said to just let him be. Problem is, 1) that's kinda wrong! I feel it's my duty to make sure he learns and succeeds! and 2) umm, I have value added I need to worry about... if he's not getting the material, where am I going to be next year? (now, granted, the vast majority of my kids are grasping the material, as shown in informal checks and grade-wide school assessments, but still... every child matters in value added!). So, I spent my entire prep today talking to the guidance counselor and school psychologist about James' behavior. 

And here's where this might get into a topic on race. James is the only white student in our entire school. Yet, his mom earns much less than the neighborhood average of $25,000 a year... more like $17,000 a year working "odd jobs", as stated on his student info form. James thus feels, according to his guidance counselor, a need or gap for pride - and he gets it from hanging out with those four kids. Thus, by peer pressure (since the average grade for those kids in my class is a D and we calculated, their average GPA last quarter was a 1.35). To "fit in", most likely, James needs to dumb down his standards and grades to feel more accepted.

Whereas many of my students improved their grades both in my class and in other classes, either by positive association or through good rapport with me, James has gone the other way. I am genuinely concerned about him. We're entering the second semester in two weeks - and if this doesn't get fixed soon, he won't be ready for the challenges of freshman year (or for high school, for that matter). According to his guidance counselor, he has gotten into discipline entanglements in the past few weeks, many of which he was involved with the other four kids I had mentioned. 

I came into teaching to rescue students like James, and Max, and Sa'von and Kareen. And even though I have found success in the majority of my efforts, these students have still not realized their potential. I understand that there are going to be some students I can't meet the needs of. But I can't sell myself or them short. 

I will definitely keep you guys updated with more about James (and the others too!). Happy end of Thursday! One more day left until the weekend!!! 

Sunday, January 15, 2012


I sincerely hope that the Li's receive the justice they deserve! It's so sad to hear about how these immigrants  are treated in New York. Best of luck to the Li family and supporters, you will not be forgotten! I know I will be taking the train and bus to Flushing to personally drop off a donation. If we unite together behind this cause, I know that we can be successful! As for the death of baby Annie, it was both heartbreaking and tragic. RIP Annie. Best wishes to Nianni, the couple's second child. And yes, loosely translated, Nianni does mean "remember Annie" in Chinese :)


Weekly Wrap Up :)

Now that I am into my second week into the blog (and have already got some amazing results... views from Russia and the Philippines and over 60 views from readers in the U.S.!), I am going to start committing myself to every other day posts and one "weekly wrap up" post, which will detail educational policy thoughts, details about teaching adventures/misadventures, insight onto my school's administration, co-workers, challenges, etc that I didn't get to in my other posts.

Here are the topics for this week's "Weekly Wrap Up":

  • educational policy: StudentsFirst, Educators 4 Excellence, the "don't blame the teachers" or "teachers aren't the problem" phrase
  • teaching adventures: how to "teach to the test" without actually teaching to the test
  • Facebook/technology: www.ratemyteachers.com 
  • administration: "the knockout kids"
  • social life: winter in new york, "New Years Eve" tonight! 
Educational Policy:
*DISCLAIMER: I do not mean to offend any great teachers who have tried whatever they could but are still experiencing some of the lack of motivation/apathy by students, lack of parental involvement, etc. This rant and opinion was designed for the teachers who are doing absolutely NOTHING then making up all the excuses they can think of so they can continue to do nothing. If you are a great teacher and are experiencing these horrible things, hang in there! Know that you are still an highly effective teacher even with all those things going on. It will get better! I promise :) 

When I was a long term substitute shortly after finishing my second student teaching semester (we were required to do one semester in a high school & one in a middle school), I joined two sites/organizations: StudentsFirst and Educators 4 Excellence. Both of these organizations were similar in that they pushed for educational reform that is pro-student and fought against policies that sometimes hindered a student's ability to obtain a world class education, such as Last In, First Out. I felt in my mind that these organizations were doing what they could to serve the students and the teachers that worked so hard day in and day out to make sure they have what it takes to succeed in the 21st century. I still am a member of both of these groups today. As I'm going through and (enjoying every moment of!) my first year teaching, I'm starting to realize that the attitudes of some of the teachers in my school aren't as excited or passionate as I expected. I was walking down the 7th grade hall during my prep on my way to the copy room and I see in at least half the doors students chatting the whole time while the teacher is at his/her desk reading the newspaper. These are some of the most senior teachers at our school, yet they aren't doing our students justice. Yet, current law states that in the event of a layoff, the least experienced teachers have to go first, regardless of teaching quality. While my observations so far all resulting in "S" ratings and excellent comments from my AP's, the  22nd year math teacher that teaches 8th grade pre-algebra/8th grade honors pre-algebra gets "U" ratings and has been attempted to be removed from my school for years now gets to stay. Is that fair for students? Yet these SAME teachers are the ones complaining about "oh, it's not the teacher's fault... it's the parents' or the students' lack of motivation...". You know what, that is BS. It's YOUR fault! How do you expect your students to behave and learn when you aren't making the effort to relate to them and show them that you respect them?! The voices of teachers, both young and experienced, are silenced to this "no accountability needed" junk. Organizations like StudentsFirst and Educators 4 Excellence, which lobbies on behalf of students and the teachers (which are actually most teachers, btw) who actually care about them are needed to get our voices and opinions heard. Truth is, teachers do care. I devote so much of my own personal time to my students. Yet, teachers are getting a bad rap from the few teachers that think it's okay to do all their personal work at school when the students are supposed to be learning. Then, to make up for that, they say that these kids aren't motivated. Or their parents aren't doing enough. I'm glad I have support and are aware of the existence of these organizations dedicated to helping the teachers who care become better and become involved in the discussion around educational policy. For the StudentsFirst video that sooooo clearly explains the thoughts and emotions going through my head right now, please visit http://www.studentsfirst.org/video/teachers-discuss-education-reform/

Teaching Adventures:
If you are a teacher in New York (or basically anywhere for that matter), you would know that the entire district revolves around TESTING. and more testing. and even more testing. I'm part of that group that doesn't support excessive standardized testing and (even worse) standardized test prep. I spent today doing a very interactive test prep lesson which took me over 3.5 hours to plan. I called it my "teaching to the test without teaching to the test" lesson plan. One of the  best ways to prepare students for standardized tests and the DOE's "city test" is by having students prepare mini-lessons for their assigned topic or topics. Students are to pick a partner to work with and are expected to split the work in half between themselves and their partner. Next, students pick a paper out of a tissue box stating the topics they are responsible for, lesson objectives they should follow, where to find practice questions/review the info before presenting and the requirements. Students are then to create a mini-lesson (however they want - PowerPoint, video, skit, etc) on their topics. I conference with each of the pairs to make sure there lesson has everything the students need to be successful on the test and they can ask me any questions about how to deliver the lesson, notes, etc. The mini-lessons are capped at 10 minutes, and will require 2 full class periods to complete. On each presentation day, students will get incomplete notes with boxes for each of the presentations so they can take notes on the mini-lessons. Each pair will give the class a 3-4 question quiz at the end of the mini-lesson to check for understanding and go over the quiz with the class. I had previously done this lesson plan when I was a long term sub at a middle school only about 5 minutes away by subway and it turned out really successfully! I'm excited to see how this year's round of mini-lessons will go! :) 

I recently discovered this AMAZING website where students can rate their teachers. It's called www.ratemyteachers.com. Students grade their teachers on a scale of 1-5 based on their "easiness", "helpfulness" and "clarity". Personally, I think it provides meaningful feedback on my teaching skills from my students, who see my lessons almost everyday and who are at the center of the whole reason why I'm up until 10, or 11, or even midnight every day planning. I believe one of the biggest characteristics that teachers need to develop and show is the ability to receive and channel feedback into something positive for both growth as a teacher and better lessons for the students. That being said, I talked to one of my colleagues (who teaches history in a different "academy" in 8th grade) about ratemyteachers.com and received some pretty intense scolding on how I shouldn't be listening to what they say, or something about how students just use that site to ridicule and put down teachers they have a grudge against, etc, etc. That really frustrated me because I value my students' opinions soooo much. Maybe it's because I'm a first year teacher and could use all the feedback I could get, but I don't see why so many teachers aren't open to getting feedback from students. They're human beings too... and if you have at least half a brain you can channel out the bad faith comments and focus on the serious ones that can make you a better teacher. So I'm going to put aside what Mrs. History told me and I'm going to make it an ASSIGNMENT for my students to "add" and rate me on ratemyteachers.com. Or maybe we can do it as a class after midterms. I really feel like their voices should be heard.

This is something I almost never talk about, but have had an urge to discuss lately. In my school, we have a group of students called the "knockout kids". From what I've heard, this group of students are basically like  "the plastics" from Mean Girls. (Yes, I watched Mean Girls!) They go around school basically putting down students who disagree with them. They've targeted many groups of students, including other popular kids. There's one "top knockout kid" who's basically in control of the group. It's sheer madness during the lunch periods! I had never been aware that such things existed in a MIDDLE SCHOOL - especially at  the middle school where I teach - but what's even more depressing is how they get around the administration. Many of these "knockout kids" essentially SUCK UP to the principal to avoid getting suspended. The discipline AP does almost nothing to stop them, and lately, their madness has followed into the classroom, to the point where I rearranged the seating charts in 3 of my 5 classes (1st, 2nd and 8th periods). Hopefully it doesn't spill into my best-behaving classes (3rd and 6th periods). I've never been frustrated with my administration at any point this year, but this is the first issue where it's obvious they should do something, but they just pretend the problem is nonexistent. How sad... 

On a brighter note, winter has just started getting happier in New York with all these warm day spells last week. It's been pretty sunny, which always brings my happiness up! I'm also going to see this AMAZING new movie called "New Year's Eve" with my roommates tonight! :) Happy Sunday and MLK Day!!! 

Monday, January 9, 2012

Yes, you still can make a huge difference - even as a first year teacher

In a recent New York Times article entitled "Big Study Links Good Teachers to Lasting Gain", a group of value added researchers decided to dig deeper behind the lasting impact an "excellent"/ "highly effective" teacher can make on his or her students in the long run. Some conclusions included: higher average income of their students by the time they reach age 28, higher college matriculation and lower teen pregnancy rates. It emphasized how good teachers, even elementary and middle school teachers, could make a big splash on the lives and futures of their students.

I would definitely say that most of us teachers joined the profession for a chance to turn around the life trajectory of the students we will have. I am constantly personally rewarded when my students come to me saying how much I have helped them so far this year, both academically and socially (and this is only my first year!). Some of my students have told me that I am the only teacher they've had who genuinely believed in their ability to succeed. Some of them tell me that I am the only person in their life who they feel comfortable talking to about their problems.

I have also seen a HUGE difference in my students' attitudes towards their schoolwork and in their grades. For the whole month of September, they were extremely passive, refusing to do any of their homework and barely staying awake in class (especially my morning classes... maybe we should push the start time from 8:45 to 9:30?? I know I would get a lot more sleep! :)). They blatantly refused to participate in my hard-planned activities and often chatted their way through the entire period. I often called security for some of my more difficult students. There were some racial tensions (I know, scary, right?? Even in the EXTREMELY diverse part of NYC I'm from, we all got along perfectly!) that lead to some serious fights. It was total madness! But somehow or other, by October, their behavior and attitudes started changing. Their D's and F's started moving up to B's and C's and soon to A's. Right now my class average for all my five classes is around an 86-87.

I guess from my experience that a hard working, diligent  and persevereant teacher is all these kids need sometimes to make gains. I knew from the start that my kids had whatever it took to become successful. That even though they were poor, or didn't speak English as their first language, or had uninvolved parents, they could still surmount their challenges.

I hope my impact still continues to reach home with them. I hope my stories of my life experiences will help them continue to grow and become better students. As they are nearing out the end of their first semester in 8th grade and getting closer and closer to freshman year, I'm counting on them to make the right choices.

I took a lot out of that NYT article. And I know for a fact that a great teacher is all they need sometimes. Many teachers, union officials and members of the general public tend to shift the blame to the parents... or poverty... or "teaching to the test". Some blame the union for supporting bad teachers. But as teachers, we know that we can make an impact right from the get-go. From our own personal interactions with our students. And trust me, students' grades and attitude will change the way you want it to if you show that you care. :)

P.S. I'm nearing out my first semester as a full time teacher! It's so rewarding to see how far I've personally come within my first four and a half months on the job!

P.P.S. (is that even how you say it?) - my class has decided that the Facebook page proposal is a go! We will be launching it in February, when the new semester begins. Details on that coming later! Stay tuned and thanks for reading!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Livin' The Life in the Big Apple

I'm going to be upfront this time...

I LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE living in New York!

Being able to witness the culture, experience the anemities, taste all the different foods and just walk around the city is one of the best experiences of my life. I NEVER want to leave New York (unless forced to by a marriage... should love of New York be a criteria for who I marry? hmmm...). My roommates and I go on "New York sprees" every weekend where we try and hit a different neighborhood or cultural event each weekend. And even after living in New York for 21.5 years (aka my entire life to date), I still haven't seen it all.

However, most Americans (actually, most people in the world) are aware the New York is SUPERRR  expensive. I recently read an article that a dollar at standard cost of living would only be worth 76 cents in New York at standard cost of living.

A first year teacher in NY with a BS or BA in education or Teach for America corps member can only expect to earn a little bit over $45,500. If they teach in a Title I school (which most do), they are eligible to earn $3,400 extra, bringing the total to $48,900. Most first years, including myself, do extra work on the side - I tutor adults or drop outs so they can earn their GED. I've estimated I can make $5,000 a year by doing this. Some of my friends are waiters, teach night school, tutor middle/high school students, are bartenders, babysit, etc.

To make a long story short... New York is difficult (and that's kinda pushing it...) for first year teachers, and in general, for most of the working & middle class.

Ever wonder what a first year teacher's budget is? Here's mine! (it's just a rough outline though.)

Income: $4,333/month

Rent - $700.00 (four bedroom house share in Queens, with 3 roommates all in their early-late 20's; expect to share your first few years teaching)
Food- $400.00 (needless to say, groceries and eating out are very expensive here!)
Transportation- $104.00 (subway monthly unlimited card - a lifesaver if you're out to enjoy New York! I generally never take cabs unless it's a dire emergency)
Entertainment- $700.00
College loans- $375.00 (what can I say... NYU gives you a HEAVY student loan burden!)
Health- $125.00
Misc.- $1,500.00 (lots of unexpected expenses, splurges and plus many things are unaccounted for in my budget...)
Savings- $428.00 (roughly 10% is the rule in New York)

There you have it, everybody!

Happy Friday to all the teachers - enjoy your weekend!!! I know I will :) (right after I grade those quizzes and plan next week's lessons...)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Talk About Middle Schoolers...

They say middle school is a child's most difficult time. They want to act like adults, but still have the immature, kid-like side to them hiding beneath their "macho man" persona. They think they're "all that" and "too cool for school" yet they're extremely engaged in activities that have meaning into their personal lives (note for inner city teachers: this means "thinking like them" when you're planning lessons and making homework). 

So, today in class - actually, the SAME class period - I was able to witness both sides of the middle schooler: the immature side and the "OMG-I'm- sooo- like-an-adult" side. 

Okay, here's a run down on what happened: 

Scene: Room 203, 3rd Period
Description of class: my 3rd period is a very well behaved class... I definitely need that because I have to teach 3 pre-algbera classes in a row 1st, 2nd and 3rd periods, so an extremely well behaved 3rd period is absolutely essential. My 3rd period also has some kids that I ABSOLUTELY adore but act out a lot/ display a TON of personality constantly in class. Here's where this story comes in. 
Lead in: We were discussing how to determine if a number is a rational number or if it is an irrational number, when one of my students (Let's call him Miguel) passed some seriously noticeable "gas". 
The event: Two of the boys in my 3rd period (they're really good students but sometimes come off as rude and definitely pose some behavior challenges because of their energy), let's call them Jose and Ryan, started getting up and SCREAMING "Miguel farted in class! Miguel farted in class! Miguel farted in class!". The other kids started getting riled up too, and starting clustering around Miguel's desk taunting him. ohh poor Miguel... but thankfully, just a few seconds before my AP and the security guard came up to my room to see what all the noise was about, I had all my students settled down and we continued with the lesson. My AP was knocked dead when he saw no signs of any trouble going on in my room. (teacher note: split seconds really count - you must be up on your feet faster than lightning to be a teacher, especially an untenured first year teacher). 

But what was really interesting was what happened about fifteen minutes after the incident... 

Scene: Room 203, last five minutes of 3rd period
Class: After the discussion, students began a poster activity where they teamed up in groups of 4 or 5 to create a poster on poster paper on one of the different number sets (real numbers, whole numbers, integers, etc) to present to the class tomorrow. Jose and Ryan paired up together and finished their poster a little bit beforehand. So, Ryan and Jose spent a few minutes to write an apology letter to Miguel for the way they acted. They even passed around the letter and got signatures from classmates confirming their genuine regret of the incident. Then, in the short one and a half minutes before the bell was scheduled to ring, they read their letter OUT LOUD to the entire class! 

I am so proud of Jose and Ryan for what they did, that I decided that what they had done to "pay" for their actions towards Miguel was wayyy better than what a one-on-one conference with me would've produced. It fills me with joy to see the development and transition of personas and characteristics that my students go through - in just one 45 minute class period. 

I would've never thought this when I first applied for a job in New York or at any time before this school year, but middle schoolers rock! I am so glad to be able to work with my kids on a daily basis. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Getting Along

When I was in elementary school in New York, my teachers stressed the importance of getting along and sharing. When I was in middle school, my morning advisory teacher taught a whole unit on conflict resolution strategies. When I was in high school, I served on our school's Student Council, settling disputes in the school and helping our school create an environment of trust, respect and peace.

Well, maybe some of these adults need to go back to those days and those classes where conflict resolution was taught. Maybe Mrs. Davis should pull herself out of retirement to teach these adults a lesson that's long overdue. A lesson that might pull the NYC DOE out of this mess and help a school district do what it's supposed to do... ensure that the district's students are getting the best possible education out there. 

Most teachers in New York are aware that the City's schools may lose substantial and necessary federal funding if the Chancellor and the UFT do not come to an agreement over teacher evaluations. Yes, I know that teacher evaluations are a hotttt button issue in education and especially in the City right now. Value added-this. Merit pay that. Neither side wants to deviate from it's "default" position. No compromise is being offered. Just the other day, the Chancellor WALKED OUT of negotiations with the UFT! And these people are running the nation's biggest public school district?! There are 3rd graders that can do better here, seriously. 

Sometimes when I'm reading the news, I want to go "Come on, people! This is the CHILDREN we're talking about! So put aside your differences and start working things out!". Other times, I want to go buy a dictionary, find the word "compromise", highlight it and personally give it to Michael Mulgrew. As of right now, 1.1 million children will be suffering after this break and during this year when federal funds are going to be cut from the City's schools. 

Yes, education is a very complex field to be in. We teachers are CONSTANTLY inundated with notices and news of the latest in educational policy. And I think I can speak for many of us out there, TEACHERS ARE TIRED OF THIS. We want to be able to teach! Not be at the center of all this drama. We came into teaching to make a difference on the lives of students. Not to fight over things like standardized testing, value added, merit pay, etc. Why do you think so many NYC teachers leave before they've even served five years in the classroom? 

There are soo many teachers in the City and in this country that are braving the challenges in educational policy and still living up to the REAL reason why we're teaching, and I commend them for all their hard work. :) 

So, Chancellor Walcott, Michael Mulgrew, start working things out and make the effort to get along. Start making some sacrifices - for the children. 

Embracing Facebook in 2012

Happy 2012!

As I was standing in Times Square (the "Crossroads of the World") with my roommates on New Year's Eve waving to the cameras and shouting, I started thinking, "how should I celebrate the New Year in terms of my teaching?". As every teacher knows, reflection and growth are two of the biggest factors to consider and do in your first year teaching - and this reflection will set the tone for the years to come.

Well, here's my idea. Ready?

My idea was to start a Facebook fan page for my pre-algebra classes. On that page, I can post homework, info about upcoming quizzes & tests, interesting or helpful links, help students with homework, questions on class notes and help my classroom advance in to the 21st Century. I figured since I'm pretty familiar with Facebook and Facebook apps and capabilities and most of my students are CONSTANTLY chatting about Facebook and what happened there, etc in class, I can use it to my advantage, right?

I am worried about a couple of things though. I'm worried that maybe setting up this Facebook page might come too close to the edge in terms of the student-teacher relationship and that some students might not want to join because they might think that if their friends found out that they joined some teacher's academic/school related page on Facebook that they might fear being labeled as "nerds" or "uncool".

I would really like to do something as innovative like this, but am unsure about how to implement it and unsure about any potential consequences that may occur by following through.

Have any of you implemented a plan similar to this or are considering doing so? I did get some inspiration from teachers and teacher bloggers like Senorita in the City I'm interested in hearing about how that went if any teachers out there have done something similar. Shoot me a comment if you have!

That's all for now. Thanks for reading!

Meet The Teacher

Welcome to my new blog!! I've been spending most of this year reading some AMAZING blogs from current New York City teachers, getting the feel for their experiences as a teacher in New York. Well, now I decided it's time for me to start my own collection of memories, blog posts, stories from MY experience teaching. Wow, it's going to be so exciting to see all my antics and my development as a teacher a few years from now... I could just imagine! 

Well, so far, I am LOVING teaching!! I teach 8th grade mathematics (we called it Pre-Algebra when I was in middle school) at a middle school in the South Bronx. I have two colleagues that teach 8th grade math at my school as well. One is a fourth year teacher and another is a twenty second year teacher. Well, I can probably already foresee one of the biggest blog topics I will be writing about this year... the twenty-second year teacher. But I'll write more juicyyy details about that later. :) I have 30-32 students in each one of my five classes. It has been such a rewarding experience working with them so far this year. They are extremely bright, but are facing some very difficult home lives and going through some tough changes. My students are approximately 80% Hispanic, which gives me sort of an advantage, considering I was a Spanish minor at NYU and went to a high school in Queens that was around 40% Hispanic, so I understand their culture and circumstances better than if I didn't have these experiences. Each one of them has their own unique personality that they bring to the classroom. My students and I have formed a very close bond and have developed great rapport over the last few weeks. Sure, we've had some challenging days, and we've had some REALLY challenging days, especially in the beginning of the year, but somehow we managed to work it out. It warms my heart so much that I'm having a relatively successful first year. My students are learning every day. My students inspire and surprise me with their eagerness and energy. I'm getting along with the administration (for now, at least...). I've actually made some teacher friends. And best of all, I'm living my dream. 

Okay, so now you may be thinking "This little 21 year old is wayy out of control and extremely idealistic" or "This person definitely has not seen nor experienced the real NYC DOE" or "Is this some joke?!" Well, don't judge yet. Let me take you through my history of deciding to teach. I haven't always wanted to be a New York City public school teacher, but was influenced along the way. I was a senior in high school when the Michelle Rhee "boom" started to burst. I was a freshman in college when the "broom article" hit Time Magazine. From then, I knew that closing the achievement gap and ensuring that poorer, underprivileged students in the inner city are given the opportunities and support to succeed in the world was of utmost importance to me. Then came September of sophomore year in college. I chose my major - mathematics education and stuck with it.The real test came during student teaching senior year. We were required to do two semesters - one semester in a high school and one semester in a middle school. I had two SUPER AMAZING cooperating teachers at these schools, and, with their help, came to survive & actually thrive in both student teaching settings. The principal at the middle school where I student taught even offered me a job to serve as a long term sub for a pregnant teacher for just a little more than one month, working with my cooperating teacher. How amazing is that?! Fast forward a  summer break and I'm teaching in New York!!! 

In my blog, not only will I be detailing my many adventures as a middle school math teacher, I also hope to show future teachers and my readers the outside life of a teacher, including roommates, professional development, social life, etc. 

Also, as common policy among teacher bloggers, I will NEVER refer to any students, colleagues, administrators, parents, friends, etc that I talk about on this blog by their real name.

Thank you for reading my first blog post ever! Please come back shortly for more! :)

P.S. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE comment whenever you feel necessary. I can use all the help, advice, words of encouragement, etc you have to offer! Also, for any prospective teachers wanting to know more about my experiences, please do not hesitate to ask!