Wednesday, April 28, 2010

O Brother, Where Art Thou?

"Yo Mista, you got any brothas or sistas?"
I haven’t seen my younger brother in a year. 

As an only child for the first nine years of my life, I learned how to get lost in my imagination. My best friends were the Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers and Superman toys now packed in boxes buried somewhere. I filled my life with comic book heroes because I wanted to protect people from harm; I wanted to be selfless.

I was about to enter the fourth grade when my brother was born: one of the happiest days of my life. I remember I was sleeping over at a friend’s place while my mom and dad were in the hospital. When my brother and I first met, I promised myself to be his friend, mentor and father figure – everything I wanted and needed, I would give to him.

I loved having pictures taken of him and me together. I wanted to carry him, play with him and teach him the alphabet when he was only a year old. I remember I wanted him to eat a lot of baby food with spinach because I watched Popeye the Sailor Man religiously when I was younger. Silly, I know.

I went to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign because it was a short drive from home. There was no way in hell I was going to leave my brother alone in that house. I came home every weekend for him my freshman year. Living in New York City while he's in Chicago still gets to me from time to time.

After my mother cut ties with me (see this post), she restricted my contact with him. Of course, my brother and I got around that by talking on the phone behind her back or chatting online, but living in secret isn't fun nor is it fair. She tells him he isn’t allowed to visit me because I’m a “bad influence.” How, you ask? Well because I paved my own path to success – watch out. The threat level has been elevated to orange ladies and gentlemen.

If you're worried, don't be. We have a plan. My brother plays bass in a band and it just so happens that he’s going to be going on a “tour” for a week in August. His band members are going to pick him up in a van, but instead of hitting the highway, they're going to drop him to the airport. That's because I just bought him a roundtrip ticket to see me in August. We'll lie and cheat to see each other. No one can separate blood.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Traditional Math Classes Pwned

Thanks to Kevin for finding this video.

I think what Dan Meyer is saying in this video is pretty obvious; however, what he's asking for can only be implemented in a perfect world without the constraints that exist today in the classroom. The Department of Education administers state exams which require students to cover X standards in Y school days, thereby limiting the amount of time students can spend messing around with fun concepts such as surface area, volume, etc. Given the sheer amount of "stuff" students are required to know by the end of the year, teachers usually (emphasis on usually) try to cram as much curriculum as possible while simultaneously trying to make it as fun/hands-on as possible. That all goes out the window though if they're behind schedule. God forbid we get behind schedule.

With less than forty school days left before the Integrated Algebra Regents, I am beginning to feel this pressure and it's coming out of nowhere. But why? I'm not getting flak from my principal, so it's really just coming from my own worries. I know the Algebra Regents exam is too broad, random, and stupid. I also know my students don't have enough time to learn every single thing on this test. It's a big gamble.

So who randomly decided that all 9th graders need know how to make a box-and-whisker plot? If I could skip that and spend more time measuring things, making discoveries and forcing students to back into an answer like a real-world problem, they may actually want to come to class out of their own will.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Taking a Stand

My mother stopped talking to me after I told her I was in love and wanted to get married.

It's easy to assume I was a dumb kid acting on my emotions, but we dated for years before I told my mom. I had to know that what we had was the real deal before growing a pair and telling her I was dead serious. Why were my panties in a bundle over this? Well, here are some reasons...
  1. My significant other does not come from a family that practices the same sect of Islam as my mother does. This matters because my mother has grown extremely conservative since moving to the United States. I suppose it might have a little to do with her friends and her missing home in Pakistan.
  2. She blames marrying an alcoholic (Hi Dad!) on the premise of, "I was young and in love, so I didn't know any better." As a result, "You won't get married to anyone unless I approve" was something I heard on a daily basis.
  3. All sons have close relationships with their mothers, especially the oldest son. She has dreaded a "young girl" taking me away from her since I was born. This explains why I wasn't allowed to be friends with members of the opposite sex during high school. Kind of rough, I know, but there were many ways around that.
  4. Her many years of using me as an emotional crutch to gain some strength of her own in a troubled marriage and foreign country led to her having unrealistic expectations of me as a son and as a human being in general. 
Back to the point: I haven't talked to my mom in almost a year and a half. Yet, I've been paying for her phone bill this entire time. That's fucked up - she never calls me nor has she made any attempt to reconcile her differences with me. When we first started fighting, I tried my best to fix everything, I really did. Eventually I gave up, there was no point in arguing against a wall. I thought maybe she would see the error in her ways on her own. Is refusing to speak to your oldest son worth proving a point? And if so, what exactly is the point to prove anyway?

I called T-Mobile yesterday and told them to drop my mom's line from my plan. Then I called my dad and told him he can pay for her line if he wants, but that I wasn't going to pay for a phone that isn't used to call me. I was done pussyfooting around the issue - I told him it was about time I did something about it because God knows he doesn't do shit (Why argue with my mom when she conveniently provides him with three meals a day and a clean house?).

About time I grew a pair, right? I thought I was going to feel a lot better. And I did in the immediate short-term, but I still feel like nothing has changed... It really hasn't.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


I teach at a transfer high school that wants to push students to pursue some form of secondary education (I say "wants" because it's our first year and building a culture of success is tough). Our dedicated staff of teachers and advisers talk about the benefits of college on an everyday basis it seems. And obviously, since college isn't for everyone we also talk about trade schools or any other sort of post-high school institution. I really think higher education is a major factor in breaking the cycle my students are in. As a result, the SAT comes up quite a bit.

The SAT is arguably one of the most important exams a high school student will take. I would argue that as long as you have decent grades and a solid application (explaining why your grades were just "decent"), a good SAT score can carry you into any school. It's a number that follows you everywhere.

In my opinion, you're either a good test taker or you're not. The SAT doesn't test anything except how good you are at actually taking the SAT. It doesn't tell you how intelligent you are or how much money you're going to make. In order to beat this test, you just need to put in the time and practice.

My school recently decided to hire Kaplan to lead a SAT Prep course this trimester after school. Given my students' attendance issues and sheer flakiness, we obviously can't and quite honestly shouldn't accommodate everybody. It would be a waste of both time and money. So out of about 150 students at my school (yes, it's quite small), the top 30 (they really are top notch in terms of skills) were chosen by staff and advisors to participate in the Kaplan course for free. Zilch. Nothing. Nada. Zippo. The Kaplan course costs $500 per student out-of-pocket (at a discount). My school is generously forking the bill for these kids. Seriously, what a fucking great opportunity!

So when only 11 out of the 30 invited showed up Tuesday for the first prep class, I felt stupefied. A weight suddenly dropped over my shoulders and its impact resonated through my body. I think this was the very first time I truly felt afraid of the future and I didn't like it. The last thing I want is for them to hit their late 20s (or 30s or 40s) with kids of their own and realize, "Fuck, I really shoulda done something. He was right yo. O well, hope ma kids do better."

I'm just going to just go ahead and put it out there: In this case, hope is for pussies.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Locked Out

Students of mine will immediately know who I'm talking about in this post. For the sake of writing online, let's call this student Kevin.

Kevin has been a problem child at my school since day one. Profanity is at the bottom of the list of concerns regarding Kevin. He frequently disrupts the learning process, uses stereotypes, has anger issues, talks about getting high 24/7 and quite frankly, exhibits behavior which would lead one to assume he does not want to be in school. For a majority of teachers, he's a royal pain in the ass, although we may not admit it. There are teachers that care about his small successes - personally, I haven't seen any in my classroom (but that's just my class). But since when is it acceptable to only show success with teachers that you can "connect" with? That sounds like a spoiled brat to me.

Honestly, at first I didn't know where I stood with him. But now I do. I can see through the daily bullshit and I'm sick of it.
"Mista, Imma be good today and take notes and shit." 
Two minutes later, Kevin is disrupting the class and preventing others from learning. It's quite clear his math skills are so low that he'd rather be anywhere else (including the Dean's room) than my classroom. He also has trust issues: I'm pretty sure he thinks I'm out to "get" him, even though I've gone out of my way to make sure he knows I'm on his side. I want him to pass and I want him to graduate.

When he's not being disruptive or taking 20 minute bathroom breaks, it's all an act. When I call on him to catch him while he's disrupting the class, I get this gem:
"Yeah, um, then you find the uh, perimeter to get the area. Length times width times height." 
Using keywords and phrases I use in the lesson and then vomiting back to me in a completely wrong manner. Bullshit 101. Actually, not really: bullshitting would at least make some sense. This is the old trouble maker strategy of using-words-I-hear-the-teacher-use-while-I-fuck-around-to-make-it-seem-like-I-know-what-I'm-talking-about.When I correct him:
"Yeah, that's what I said. Man, I'm so fuckin' good at math!"
This is usually followed by some obscene comment to distract the other students from realizing Kevin has no idea what he's talking about. The past two days, Kevin has disrupted my class a little more than usual. After asking to use the bathroom about nine times as soon as the period started (he always asks, comes back nearly a half hour later, and then just messes around), he left the classroom without permission (swearing at me under his breath - which is fine, really). What pisses me off though, is his "whatever" attitude towards education (hurting everyone else's as well). I'm seriously done with sacrificing everyone else's attention span to be considerate. Not this trimester.

So, I locked him out:
"Kevin, you clearly don't want to be in class and learn. This tells me you have no interest in graduating. Don't even try to come back. Don't look into my classroom. Go straight to the dean. You're not in trouble. You just lost your privilege to be in my class."
The kids who I usually lost because of Kevin's disruptions, actually learned today's concepts as per their assessment results. I was thrilled.

Am I a bad teacher to Kevin for doing this? Maybe. But you know what, maybe this school isn't for Kevin. He needs to reconsider why he's even here. This school has given him countless chances on top of giving him the opportunity to accumulate credits rapidly in order to graduate. Maybe school isn't for Kevin. Only Kevin knows and his actions speak louder than ideas or words.

I'm tired of playing teacher, mentor and school psychiatrist. We really need one.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

72 Days

I'm back.

I'm ready to hit the ground running, although I'm slightly fatter from slamming gumbo, jambalaya and a shit ton of crawfish without portion control (like a true American) for seven days straight. New Orleans was amazing.

I expect even more crazy stories, ridiculous quotes and high school drama to come as there's no vacation now until summer break. In 72 days, my students will take the Integrated Algebra Regents Exam; I'll be finished with my first year as a New York City public high school teacher: I'll be done.

Well, not really... but, you know.