Saturday, March 28, 2009

A Model that Works!!

So my visit to my friend's 4th grade classroom in the Bronx was incredible. It is a true 2009 school--classrooms equipped with smartboards, new computers, access to laptop carts, teachers trained on how to use them and provided with laptops that can be seamlessly transitioned between teachers and classes. I was asked to briefly watch a 5th grade class and when I walked in they were all quietly working on their individual laptops. Before lunch--the 4th grade teachers had an hour prep period--20 minutes of which they met with an in-school professional developer. The girl with the biggest behavior problem refused to do her work, although she was apparently more sedate than usual. Teachers rotated for grouped and leveled test prep and lab science has its own teacher. Yes, this is an elementary school.

However, outside of basic resources the students were overwhelmingly engaged in their lessons and the examples of student work I saw were equally impressibe. Teachers were beyond cordial to each other--they were friendly (!!!) and there were no airs of hostility. I saw what the complete kit of Everyday Math looks like and I saw how leveled reading groups actually work (there is a school resource cabinet where books are sorted and leveled for classroom checkout)!!! I could keep going on and on--but essentially this visit has given me hope in what I can do given the support and resources. I brought home stacks of information which I doubt can be used on the class I currently babysit--however, God willing I find a new school for the 09-10 school year I have pages of notes and new resources that I would be very excited to incorporate into my classroom.

Inhaling the Rain of Spring Break...Ahhh

Being in NYC with my 25 y.o. crew gives me a lot of insight and hope of possibilities for the future. I see them living their lives and managing the stresses of the non-profit world (what I plan to do) and teaching (what I currently do). They manage active social lives and are seemingly happy and healthy. Yes, the grass always looks greener and I guess I'll see---I will make a classroom visit/observation to a friend's 4th grade class in the Bronx. It is good to see my friends, parents and grandma, but I can't help but think of the quickly nearing testing and the rest of the school well as my own future. I desperately NEED to change schools, but am scared of the reality or possibility that reviews from my principal will hold me back, as unfair as it is to me--with neither her nor me wanting me to stay. While up North the ideas of graduate/doctoral studies have been pushed upon me--"now is the time to go to school!" Wake Forest is offering free tuition plus a stipend to "minorities" (I hate this term btw)...etc, etc. The thought of more school makes me frustrated--I go to school now and am sadly barely maintaining--because as I see in my job searches-experience is valued way more than schooling.

And as I go in the classroom everyday I see why. My boughie Amherst lambskin diploma doesn't mean anything there. It means I maneuvered the system enough to get in and out, but in the process gained little life skills, acredidation or experience to get the kind of job I ultimately want. As feel good as a liberal arts college was at the time and while the name means something in the Northeast--I would have been better served (and in substantially less debt) had I gone to the University of Massachusetts Amherst for free and gotten a degree in a major with actual job training. I value my knowledge and education, but it has served thus far to be fruitless aside from my innate knowledge that I am a better writer, more well read and more intelligent than my principal.

Yes, I understand that a BA is less valued than MA or PhDs--however, while I can't be held to it, I will not be making the choice to pursue any more schooling after I finish my master's next summer. However, I will stay encouraging my B to go ahead and get his BA on, because as hard as the economy is and he will confirm--that is one degree that is important to have under your belt. He is lucky to have started with experience to guide his college-bound options. I was raised highly valuing education and have been accused of preaching on it--but I will continue to do so, despite my mixed feelings about the continuation/value of my own education.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Graduate Grumbling

*So I found this really cool pic that brilliantly expressed my anger. Gotta give credit. Here's the LINK

So on Thursday night, me and another first-year teacher (who attempts to both teach and keep her sanity at my school) did a presentation on "questioning in literature." Following what I felt was a well presented 45 minute discussion (although strained by both our and every other teachers' fatigue and desire to be on spring break) the professor proceeds to follow with 5 minutes on the nee for some teachers to take spring break and re-evaluate their desire to teach...

Although not directly addressed at me and my partner it definitely felt so. I left class angered and simply wondering--well damn, who is on my side? Does that sound selfish? Needy? Well it may be so, but that's how I feel. Long ago I realized my teaching program was unwilling to give me support, nor the teacher's union, certainly not DCPS or my school--administration or teachers.

I'm not asking to have my hand held--but shit I was throw in into this thing and feel like day in and out I'm asked to re-invent the wheel. Yes, I signed up for this, but no I wasn't able to fully comprehend that my job would steal my energy, happiness and identity. It would be an understatement to say that my job is my life. I live, breathe and sleep for my job. Do I need to re-evaluate my choice? Hell no! I do that every day I get called a "bitch" by a 10 year old, or realize I pour out my heart to a class of closed ears, or get told by my principal that I don't have what it takes to be a teacher, or threatened to be jumped by a parent.

Maybe this job isn't for me, maybe. But I'm willing to take a gamble at another year of misery with a different approach and different circumstances. Although I struggle with thoughts of quitting on a near monthly basis I'd like to see my commitment through and see if with some changes I can be more effective, a better teacher and happier at the end of the day-- I'm seeking more positives than negative. Nobody self-reflects more than me and the insinuation of anything less than that is slightly offensive.

Speaking with other new teachers at other schools (even schools down the street from mine) relay co-operative lesson planning with other teachers, administrative support disciplinary support, etc and I simply wonder: what if? If I had any more resources (not even material resources, although that would help, but personal and systematic) could I become the highly effective teacher I see myself having the potential to be? I'm willing to chance it--this year be damned.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

HIV/AIDS Education in the District

This weekend I was confronted with some startling HIV/AIDS statistics that have recently been published. With stark headlines such as, "HIV/AIDS rates in DC higher than Africa," media all over the United States have perked up their ears to put in their own say on what the problem is in DC.

Here's a quick link to the WASH POST article detailing changing rates and problems...

As a public school teacher in one of the wards with the highest HIV/AIDS rates I can truthfully say that there has been absolutely no workshops/awareness or even talk about what has not just appeared as a problem, but has been a problem for years. If anyone is more at risk than the children coming up in a community laden with fears of HIV/AIDS I'd like to know who.

The sexual promiscuity of students at my school, with each other, with older high school students and even older out of school men and women is terrifying. Sexual education as taboo as it is, is necessary. Children coming from mothers with 10-12 children are clearly going to be less knowledgeable about safe sex and condoms as their Ward 3 counterparts. The abstinence only approach has failed the students of DC and it is showing.

Doing a little research I found that ALLEGEDLY HIV/AIDS prevention is incorporated into DC testing standards, yet I have heard little about this and had to seek out the information on my own to even find a small mention. While classroom teachers are not obligated to teach on HIV/AIDS it is relegated to Health & Physical Education (Gym) on the DCPS website stating, "HPE classes meet one day a week for each grade level in elementary schools"...well I will be the first to say my children have DEFINITELY not received this much time for fact we don't even have special subjects (gym, art, music, library, technology) although there are teachers for all at our school. Hmmm....guess they're not getting their due time in PE and thus have not learned about HIV/AIDS at school, although I would be willing to bet that a fair number of my students know someone affected by HIV/AIDS.

While HIV/AIDS in DC is an issue that needs to be tackled from many different arenas, in order to look hopefully toward the future and ensure change, educating the youth should be a primary task and the public schools are the venue where this should be taking place. If DC is finally scared into changing their attitude and their ideology behind public education of HIV/AIDS then where better to start than in the public schools? I for one offer my students at the alter of education because in this over-sexualized country and under-educated population, these are some of the invisible victims of the crisis that is storming DC.

DCPS on HIV/AIDS Prevention Education

Friday, March 13, 2009

Spring Fever

So we are getting crazy close to testing time and I am getting more and more anxious. March has began. In front of the main office is a huge calendar mapping out the days left until DC-CAS (the comprehensive exam for all DC students which determines how well I have done this year). Last week my class took DC-BAS (the benchmark test, which we have had 4 of throughout the year) and begrudgingly my principal said that my class's test scores have improved...(how? i am really unsure).

Anyway...this week I went in full test prep mode giving my kids all sorts of practice probes, both used in the standard test format, through self-created board games and jeopardy. While they initially found some of these activities to be fun and exciting it only took a few students who didn't care to bring down the whole class (the usual culprits J, AJ and H).

I have already spoken on J, but AJ and H are without question my two worst behaved students (with the exception of M&M who comes to school so rarely that I am much less affected). What makes it worse is that they are brothers. They are 2 out of a 8 kid family, which is one of the main families known through the school for their terrible behavior. 5 of them attend the school, 2 left last year (who were apparently worse) and their mother just popped out another one...WTF!!!!! WHYYYYYY TRICK WHYYYYYYYYYY???? AJ bragged to me Thursday after some incident where he attempted to incite classroom disorder and probably succeeded that he "won't get expelled. I hit the principal. I can do anything." Anyway...I will blog some other time about the need for a uniform school discipline policy, back to the subject...

Anyway, despite the fact that I believe (although this is my first year so who knows) that based on the DC-BAS we have been taking all year I can pretty accurately predict who will be scoring around what levels on the exam I will continue to try to drill the testing strategies and try and familiarize my students with this monster of a test that they face.

However it is spring and my 5th graders are clearly feeling all sorts of spring feelings and crazily enough are taking themselves more and more away from the goals of DC-CAS. While I am feeling intense pressure from the school, the district (I even heard a rap song about DC-CAS broadcast on the radio last week) kids seem to be caring less. "Does this mean I will pass the grade? Is this on my report card?" No and no. The accountability is placed entirely on the teachers and administration, but the students have no conception of the meaning of the test. They are told it is important. Everyone talks about it. But it means nothing to them.

And even scarier is the thought of what happens after the test? The test is in mid April and we continue on until June. The test is so built up in the students' minds they are done after the test. And honestly in my mind I feel very similar, yet we are forced to endure 2 more painful months where I attempt to teach and the poor behaving students act worse, while the well behaved children no longer feel the need to behave anymore with testing done.

I guess it is really just a matter of freestyling. Everyday this week we have worked on test prep and while I would rather try to broaden my teaching approach I feel greatly pressured to go hard and focus on testing. That is what DCPS cares about and that is what the students have been trained to care about. As far as what I will do once we are done testing....I guess I just have to wait and see.