A Day in the Life of a First-Year Teacher

Friday, March 29, 2013

Re-Blog: How to Save our Educators

This infographic was first published by University of Southern California's Rossier School of Education and is entitled "How to Save our Educators". Here's the link to the original infographic and the School's website: http://rossieronline.usc.edu/how-to-save-our-educators-infographic 

USC Rossier Presents New Infographic- How To Save Our Educators

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

How race plays a factor when you are teaching in the Bronx

I am an Asian male, 100% Chinese. In elementary school, my family (well, just my parents and I) immigrated to NYC from Shanghai so my parents could each take a job in cancer research at Columbia. I was taught that it didn't matter what race I was in America. I was taught that in America, people valued who I was on the inside, not the color of my skin.

Fast forward to junior year in high school - specifically "Career Day" - I announced to my friends, teachers and guidance counselor that I wanted to be a math teacher in the inner city. I spent a few minutes discussing the achievement gap, the crisis in public education, the disparity of educational inequity... without a single regard to the fact that I am an Asian immigrant from a middle/upper middle class neighborhood in Queens looking to teach a majority African-American population in a lower/lower middle class neighborhood. My announcement drew warnings and concern from my peers and the adults at my high school:
  • "Dude, you are so smart. Why do you want to reduce yourself to teaching in some poor area?"
  • "The kids will never listen to you. You are Asian and they are... black. You think they will respect you?"
  • "Trust me. It sounds like something worthwile but you will come to hate it once you realize the realities in those schools. This isn't like [insert Queens neighborhood here]."
  • "Are you kidding? It's dangerous there!"
And then there were my parents, who wanted me to enter some pre-med program and become "a doctahr". My grades and test scores were good enough to get me into Columbia's pre-med program. They were even willing to support my minor in Spanish if I just went into pre-med.

Six years later, I came into contact with the first of my racial discomforts while student teaching at a similar middle school in the South Bronx. The students, just like my students now, were mostly (aka 97%) Hispanic and African-American. It took a while to adjust to me being the only Asian in the room. Even their teachers and the principal were of the same race as the kids. The custodians, secretaries, teacher assistants, school psychologist and nurse were of the same race as the students. It's difficult to command respect and be taken seriously when you are the minority - the misfit - in your own classroom. Eventually, I was able to earn the respect and following of my students. Both last year and this year, the beginning of the year started off rocky when the students were just beginning to adjust to the fact that their teacher wasn't "one of them". I got comments from students saying that "I [don't] understand what it's like to be them... what they have to go through...". And the truth was, I didn't. I'm not from the same neighborhood as my students. I have never experienced poverty, family breakups, etc. My neighborhood didn't have gang activity, drugs or a prostitution problem.

How could I expect to be taken seriously by my students? When I'm telling them that college is in their reach and they have everything it takes to make it in the world, break the cycle of poverty and close the achievement gap, was that message really getting through to them? I know that last year, these motivational words broke some of the barriers separating me from my students. I formed a close relationship with my students and that definitely eased A LOT of the difficulty of my first year of teaching. A couple months ago, the same thing happened to this year's group of students. They took longer, but the bonds are stronger.

Yes, race will always be an issue. It's inevitable for me. There are still parents who don't value what I have to say. I still have some students who don't like me or believe that I don't understand them. Race is a sensitive topic and an intangible challenge. But it's one we have to fight as teachers.

Monday, March 25, 2013


I swear, for a moment in the past two months, I forgot that I actually had a teaching blog.

So much has gone on in my five classes since I last wrote in January that I couldn't possibly fill you guys all in. This year has definitely been my busiest.

However, I can say that my students are demonstrating tremendous growth. I have seen grades rise from as low as 64% first quarter to B's this quarter. My classroom has became the sanctuary of learning and confidence that I have always dreamed of. I am closer to my students than I was before break and my students are coming to me to talk and get advice on school, relationships, family matters and their futures.

As a side bonus, with looming NYS exams and Regents exams, I have done something different this year with my classroom. Towards the end of each big unit in both Pre-Algebra and Integrated Algebra, the students break into groups to create a poster of each of the major concepts covered during the unit. The poster includes a summary of the concept and all the crucial points that go under it, any formulas to use, possible shortcuts and example problems with worked solutions. I have many pretty colors and (new this year: glitter!!!) for the posters -bought out of pocket-, so I expect them to be aesthetically appealing. I hang the posters up around the room for the students (Pre-Alg has the left and front sides and Integrated Algebra has the right and back sides) to see. It definitely demonstrates the breadth of material they have been learning and serves as kind of a "visual fossil" of their learning and progress throughout the year. Here's where the side bonus comes in: half of my review planning that begins in... oh just a 3 weeks or so... is halfway complete!!!

We've made it through so much of the year already. I do love my students. Even though we started off shaky, by the time mid-February rolled around (just in time for my 23rd birthday!), the magic sparked and everything fell into place. Now, we just have to make it through the test prep month of April, testing weeks in May and we're set! The month of June, judging from last year, is stress-free and easy breezy :)