Saturday, June 26, 2010

Hindsight

I'm on vacation right now in Karachi and I shouldn't blog, but I have to.

I left for vacation the day my Algebra students took their New York State Regents Examinations. I would be lying if I said I wasn't curious as to how they did. Actually, it's been a dull hunger that goes away with just the right amount of entertainment, but comes right back the second I'm not in the moment with something. I mean for fuck's sake, they're my students, I ought to know how they did.

When I logged in for the first time yesterday and saw the summary of results, I felt a variety of things. Pride wasn't one of them. The initial numbers were quite disappointing.  Fuck man, there were a lot of failures. There were success stories too, and a few very surprising success stories (and I mean very surprising - which makes me question a lot of other things). I let my emotions get the best of me because I immediately closed the spreadsheet and put my fist to my mouth.
Is it me? I thought.
No. I quickly opened up the spreadsheet again and this time clicked on the "details" tab to view each student's individual score. Now things made sense. Most of the students in my 7th period class (the last period of the day) failed. That wasn't shocking - a lot of them were intelligent, but barely came to class - I can only hope what they were doing when they weren't in my class was worth having to sit for another Algebra Regents exam. Stupid fucks. Yeah, I said it.

The majority of the he-said-she-said group also failed - you know who you are. You guys who would rather spend my class time talking about things so irrelevant that it made me want to put a packet of popcorn in the microwave and actually listen in just so I could make fun of you in my head later. You clearly didn't put in the time or effort. See you next year (I have a smirk on my face right now).

The diligent, hard working types who failed - you are the ones who made my insides cry. I don't know what happened. But I promise you, it's not all your fault. I saw you come everyday, try your best and take things seriously. For you guys, things will fall into line eventually - it's just a matter of time. I have learned a lot from you and for that, I am extremely thankful. In the end, it's just a test and I'm confident you'll kill it the next time (provided you put in the same effort or more).

The ones who passed (surprisingly or unsurprisingly) - you have proven to the rest of your peers that what we learned all year was indeed for something. You have proved to your peers that it is not an impossible test, but in reality, quite easy. All you had to do was some put time,effort and apply logic. I'm proud of you all. You can go on and take geometry or stay away from math entirely. Whatever it is you choose, I wish you the best.

I feel a lot better already. This experience has taught me that although I have some strengths, there are some loose ends to be tied in my classroom. Next year is going to be interesting and I look forward to it. More blogging to come once I get back from the motherland.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Familiar but Different

School is nearly done. It feels strangely familiar, but different in a way.

The school year wrapped up this week with next week being Regents examination week. As a result, the atmosphere within classrooms has become lax in the past few days. I think as teachers, we see the light at the end of the tunnel and look forward to the time off. The students who have done their best all year still come to school and now have nothing to worry about, so they have fun. The kiddos who did jack shit all year are working their asses off to make up for their year-long stupidity. To me, that's still fine because there are others who have simply stopped coming to school altogether... There's only so much I can worry about.

I like the feeling I get when something tough or trying is near completion. When I was in high school, things were always pretty cool around June. Teachers were fun to hang out with - we'd shoot the shit and watch funny movies. The gym would be open and we could play sport whatever we wanted. The school would host special activities and spirit days - I loved friendly competition. More importantly, I loved being done with everything and enjoying the free time left at the end. It was a good time and honestly, it's just as good now. Except, you know, I'm on the other side.

I suppose I've just been feeling a bit nostalgic the past few days in school. Today, we went through a few practice Regents exams and what not, but after a while, we just gathered together in my colleague's room and watched some Russell Peters. Some students watched with us, others played chess, others gossiped and some were on laptops but everyone was laughing and happy.

I'm finally at a place now where I can say I'm proud of my accomplishments this year. I changed careers from finance to education without giving two flying shits about what other people (mainly my relatives) had to say. I managed a full-time job, Teach for America commitments, grad school and a personal life. Granted, I did a pretty shitty job juggling them at all once sometimes, but still, it's a big deal. I'm pretty much done with my first year and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Thanks to everyone who helped me, stood with me and tolerated my craziness throughout the year. I'll be leaving for Pakistan on June 18th and staying there until July 4th, but don't worry, the blogging will still continue throughout the summer.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Make Time to Waste Time

I can't believe it's June already.

Last year in June, I was living "in-between" jobs and it was everything I thought it would be (FYI: I thought it would be awesome). I had a lot of time off between investment banking and Teach for America's summer training program. I spent most of this time getting fit, cooking, going to coffee shops, reading, watching TV and doing home improvement projects. I was living the retired life at 24 years old, which I suppose makes me a baller. I accept.

On top of that, I also co-starred in a short film produced by NYU Tisch graduate students. When I left banking, a good friend forwarded me a casting call for a director needing someone South Asian in a lead role. The movie was to be a short ten minute reinterpretation of O.Henry's The Gift of the Magi. In this version, a laid off investment banker has trouble finding a job and supporting his pregnant wife. My friend convinced me this role was basically written for me and that if I didn't go for the audition I was the biggest wuss in the world. I thought, I am anything but the biggest wuss in the world.

For the audition, I needed some close up photos and a résumé. Being the naïve actor that I was, I cropped some Facebook pictures of myself, enlarged my face and brought them along with my professional résumé. As I stood in line at the audition, I saw several aspring student actors and non-student actors with professional close up photos, acting résumés and portfolios of previous work. I knew I wasn't getting the part, but I decided to try anyway. I am anything but the biggest wuss in the world.

At the audition, the director was obviously a bit thrown off by my cropped and enlarged printed Facebook photos. Apparently, blurry pictures printed on regular printer paper are not classy. Touche, director. He was however, beyond impressed with my résumé. We did some script reading and then he had me do some improv. He seemed satisfied with my performance. More questions.
Director: "I can see by your résumé that you're very detail-oriented. I like method actors. So what other experience do you have? Have you done here any other movies at NYU?"

Me: "Uh... none. If you recall, I'm the person with zero acting experience. We spoke briefly over the phone."

Director: "Oh. That couldn't of been you... Your résumé... It's so, professional looking. It must have taken you a lot of time to make it for the role. I'm impressed with your dedication and creativity."

Me: "Wait, what? This is my résumé. You think I made this up for the role?!"
I suppose since the story was about an investment banker, I could see how he erroneously thought my work experience was completely fabricated. We both got a good laugh out of it. Later that night, he called me - I had gotten the part. Unbelievable. It was a fun experience.

I'd been meaning to write about this experience for a while. It's unfortunate how fast life has been moving lately. I rarely get a chance to relive stories like this one anymore. I'm afraid if I don't make time to waste time, I may unconsciously begin to forget some of the most funny, interesting and amazing things that have happened in my life.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

What About the Good Ones?

In a previous post ("Stupefied"), I wrote about how frustrated I was when only 11 out of 30 students showed up for the first day of their free SAT-prep class. Attendance has been extremely shitty since the program started, with only three students showing up today for the final class. One student enrolled in the SAT prep class - let's call him Antonio - didn't even come to school today. In fact, he would have missed this class had another student not ditched his own 7th period class to drag his ass over here.

Yes, you read correctly up there: drag his ass over here. Antonio lives a whopping four blocks away from school. Yet, for some reason his attendance is absolutely disgusting. He's frequently at home or at a book store reading, researching random shit online or video gaming. Still, this is nothing new for teachers these days, so why am I making this such a big deal? Maybe it's because Antonio is ridiculously intelligent. He is one of the quickest learners I've ever had the pleasure to teach. He has incredible mathematical ability. His memory is unbelievable. He's a strong writer. He can be creative. He's arguably the most intelligent student my school has enrolled this year, period.

So why the hell isn't he coming to school? God dammit. He's had plenty of talks with teachers (including me) and the principal about the consequences of not showing up. I have a few theories - Maybe he doesn't come because he knows he can get by with showing up once in a while, catching up and still passing with a decent grade. Or maybe he knows that he can do jack shit all year, study for a few nights before the Regents Exams and then kill them all with an 80+ because the Regents are a giant fucking joke. He knows he's smart enough to do that, so why not abuse the system and get by doing as little as possible? Or... maybe he's just lazy. Who knows?

I guess I didn't really have a conclusion to this rant. I'm just supremely irritated, but more concerned than anything. Is my school not properly preparing Antonio for the real world by letting him get away with what he's doing? Does he realize that when he starts work, he'll need to show up everyday? Are we so focused on the failures and potential failures that we ignore the brilliant? Or is it not my school's fault at all - could it be an issue he has to deal with and break away from himself?

Too many questions, no answers that I will probably like.

Antonio, if you're reading this: Do something man, you have the potential to change your life. Don't let yourself become another statistic.