Friday, October 29, 2010

Parent Teacher Conferences

Parent teacher conferences are an interesting point in time for transfer high schools. Last year, my school only had a 20% turn out rate for parents (based on less than 120 students). Last night, we had about a 25% turn out rate, but now we're at nearly 200 students. Still a pretty shitty turn out, I must say. Supposedly though, this is "okay" for transfer schools because our students' parents might:
  1. ...not be as involved in the student's life.
  2. ...not be present everyday in the student's life.
  3. ...not have time because they are working.
  4. ...have better things to do (this relates to #1).
  5. ...be dead.
For the parents that do actually come, their son/daughter is usually performing well or they have the capacity to perform well, but aren't pushing themselves. Either way, these students aren't the ones in danger of failing. The fact they even have a parent coming to discuss their performance is telling. I briefly talked about this yesterday with a few of my colleagues, who like me, only had positive things to say to the parents that came. These parents will then reward their children or continue supporting them, at least.

I suppose you've already figured out the problem: the students who have parents attending parent teacher conferences generally don't really need to come because their children are doing what they are supposed to be doing anyway. The question is, what can we do about the nearly 75% of parents that didn't show up? We were even offering free Italian food for God's sake! Ah, transfer schools...

On a completely unrelated, but positive note, I'm supremely excited to attend the Rally to Restore Sanity this weekend in Washington D.C. I think this event has the potential to be one of those super cool moments only our generation will get to speak about. "Yeah man, I was there."

And no, I am not dressing up as a slutty teacher for Halloween. Who goes dressed up as themselves anyway..?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Well, That's Depressing

Like many other bloggers, I use Google analytics to gauge this blog's readership. That is, when I actually have the time. Google analytics allows me to see how hits received, where readers are in the world, and how they ended up on the blog to begin with (referrals).

One of the features I recently set up provides me a summary e-mail of all the key words people have typed into search engines to arrive at this blog. Generally, people who use a search engine to come here usually type one of the following phrases:
  1. Yo mista!
  2. Yo mista.com
  3. Yo mista blog
Yesterday, I received an e-mail from Google summarizing last week's search results. Everything seemed normal except for the very last result:
"I need quality education for my kids in karachi"
There it is, honest and bold. A father's desperate attempt to learn how to give his children access to education? Maybe, maybe not. Whoever this person was, they obviously didn't find what they were looking for on this blog. But that's not what depressed me. I thought about my job for a second, focusing on the negative (of course): I waste minutes everyday on classroom management, dealing with eighteen and nineteen year olds who behave like they are six. And yet, there are stories of children in Karachi stealing books to ensure their grades are good enough to get into a "good" school. That's what depresses me. I need to sleep.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Diamonds in the Rough

This week, I felt off. I was completely exhausted and my colleagues actually noticed, which was strange because I'm generally good at keeping up appearances. Superman would've been disappointed in me. I fell asleep during my favorite TV shows at home. That rarely happens. I haven't gone running all week. I've been snoozing through my alarms instead of waking up. I've made several mistakes in my PowerPoints. I just haven't been...sharp. 

Luckily, there were a few diamonds in the rough this week that helped make the work days better.

Emily, a student of mine who barely came last year has been working her ass off this year in both my classes (personal wealth management and algebra). Here's a text message exchange from Wednesday night:
"19%... move the decimal twice to the right?" asks Emily.
"That would make it 1900..." I reply.
"Oh yeah... left! I knew that. Thanks!"
Emily was doing her algebra homework (exponential decay). I am so proud of her this year. She has a lot of shit going on at home and yet, she comes in everyday eager to make the most of what she has. When she's leaving early, she stops by my class to pick up the work. She checks the website to see if there are any assignments she's missing. And she checks to see if I've entered her grades in correctly. Awesome much?

It seems this year the number of students who are here to take their classes seriously outnumbers those who are wasting their time. And it's making the knuckleheads look really bad. Another student in my finance class said this to me:
"Mista, I feel bad missing your class. Like, sometimes I don't wanna wake up til later, but then I think about what I'm going to miss. And since your damn class is 1st period, I might as well stay the whole day. You purposely made this class 1st period, didn't you?"
I played it off, but that made me smile. It was an interesting feeling, but I was reminded of when my mother would boast about me all day to her friends. I felt awkward, but in a good way. And yes, it's 1st period on purpose. I don't want to teach you finance if you don't want to be there.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Here's Some Advice

Remember sitting at your desk, waiting for the teacher to come by and hand over your exam? An awkward divide between students celebrating and others putting their heads down on their desks. Even more awkward if the test was handed back to you face down. That's when you know you fucked up. I can't remember there being any worse feeling in high school than getting a shitty grade. Thanks Mom.

I handed back graded projects and exams last Friday and today. The project involved grading an exam "I" had taken. The point was to get my students to think about the correct or incorrect work shown and then figure out on their own whether or not the selected answer was marked correctly. Students also had to explain their rationale for their answers.

As expected, my students did fairly better on the project than on the exam, even though the exam was basically very similar to the exam they had to grade in the project.

My conclusion is that students generally took their time doing the project, and those who actually wrote thorough answers seemed to do even better because they were able to convey their thoughts on paper, which meant they actually organized their thoughts, which meant they actually had thoughts prior to writing. Nice. Most of these students then rushed through the test because they simply skimmed. And of course, when they skimmed, their minds picked up only familiar words in the questions. This resulted in misreading the question or completely misinterpreting what was being asked for.

Nevertheless, I thought it was a very cool project, and so did the bulk of the students who actually filled out the last question on the project. The last question on all of my projects are reflective: what did you think? How difficult was this? Was it helpful? And so on...

As I graded projects, I left comments so that my students could go through their work and see what they missed or what my thoughts were. When I saw one student's response to the last question on my project, I couldn't help myself: I had to be a smart ass (see Exhibit A below). Of course, this kind of shit can't fly without a good working relationship with the student. And of course, they have to know you're a sarcastic dick.

Exhibit A: Great advice.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Quote of the Week: 10/11-10/15

This week, my Algebra class had two major assignments: 
  1. A project where they had to grade someone else's exam and thoroughly explain their rationale for each question
  2. A Mock-Regents examination (covering all material from September to last week)
My school allows students to intern for teachers as part of a "Learn to Work" program. This allows me to delegate simple grading tasks and use the additional time to plan. After my intern finishes grading, I simply go through the work, make corrections (if necessary) and drop the numbers into my ridiculous excel grade tracker. If my intern finishes early, I force him/her to study for the SAT or work on college apps. 
Yeah, I know, I'm pretty amazing. Thanks for the thought.
So, today my intern and I grading the Algebra exams after school. The results were a mixed bag: some students did incredibly well, others did so-so and a few scored ridiculously low.

When my intern finished grading a "ridiculously low" exam, she says:
"For some reason, this person makes me feel like I graded her test wrong..."

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

My First Teaching Interview

A few days ago, I was sitting on my thinking chair remembering my first teaching interview. This experience was not only hilarious, but it also provided me with some insight into how much fun I was going to have in this profession. A few of you may already know this story.

In April of 2009, I was in between jobs. I wasn't working on Wall Street anymore and I still had a few months to go before Teach for America's summer training program started. Teach for America (TFA) gave me an advantage in the job hunt in that they started sending my resume out to schools before I had even started training. Of course, TFA doesn't just send you off to interviews to act like an idiot: I had a few interview prep sessions with a placement associate, Jennifer. Jennifer was helpful, honest and quite frankly, supremely nice. I can't thank her enough for the school placement I have today.

My first interview was with a high school in the Brownsville [insert brown person joke here] region of Brooklyn. Teaching interviews usually call for a one-on-one interview with the principal, followed by a demo lesson in front of students to gauge your teaching ability, style and management. I remember I was really excited about telling my story to the administration. I left finance because I wanted to do something more worthwhile. Who wouldn't eat that shit up? I also prepared a pretty detailed Algebra lesson. I felt ready to kick some ass.

Brownsville was a 45 minute commute via subway. I was dressed to kill in my black Zegna suit, white shirt and green skinny tie. Most importantly, I had just shaved before I left. My "5 o'clock shadow" arrives within a couple of hours, so the timing of the shave was essential. Real men grow facial hair. Lots of facial hair. If you can't, see the two previous statements.

I arrive at the school and get sent to a classroom to get interviewed by an assistant principal. Apparently, the principal was busy in another meeting. That's odd, but okay, you look nice, I'll answer your questions I thought. The interview was relatively brief, straight-forward and boring. I never even got a chance to explain my background. I sensed the culture at this school was very stiff and strict. I did not like overall feel of my interview, much less my interviewer. She ended with a surprise question:
"So, off the top of your head, what's two raised to zero?"
"Excuse me?"
"Two to the zero power, what's the answer?"
Wow, they must have hired some really idiotic teachers in the past. Okay assistant principal, I'll bite... 
"That would be one."
 "Are you sure?"
No, I'm an idiot. Go fuck yourself.
 "Yes."
"Hmmm. Let's move to a classroom for the demo lesson. I think you might have someone ahead of you, so just waiting outside the classroom until you are called in."
I did not like this person. I was letting my personality leak into the interview and this person was not having it. Whatever, maybe she was just having a bad day. I was waiting outside of the classroom when I met Mr. T for the first time; he was also interviewing for a position at the school through a TFA placement. He was wearing a three-piece suit and had his motorcycle helmet in his hand. What a douche, I thought.
Just kidding, Mr. T. I know you're reading this.
Anyway, the students in the classroom were very agitated - they had been held against their will to listen to random interview candidates. Their school day ended at 3:30 PM and it was now pushing 5 PM - need I explain more? Fifteen minutes later, Mr. T wrapped up his demo lesson and headed out. I waited outside next to the door for someone to call me in, but all I could hear was complaining:
"Mista, do we have to hear another teacher do their lesson? This is mad wild and stupid. I'm sick of this," whined a teenage girl. Let's call her Denise.
"Yeah Mista, you ain't even warn us. This shit ain't worth no extra credit. I'm failing your class anyway, this ain't gonna help me," cried the Denise's friend.
"Guys, we only have one more interview to go," explained a history teacher inside the classroom. Apparently, they were his students. Lucky him.
At this point, I started getting nervous. My lesson was on solving systems of linear equations through the substitution method. I was fucked. These kids aren't in the mood to be challenged, they want to get the hell out of here.
Denise continued, "Mista, pleeeease let us go and just hire everyone! Wait... is he fine? How about this: Imma go outside and if he hot, he hired!"
Oh. My. God. She's coming towards the door. Freeze.
Denise popped outside the classroom. "Hi! Are you here for the lesson???"
Awkwardly, I nodded. Avoid eye contact, I thought. Denise shut the door and ran inside:
"Mista! HE HIRED! HE HIRED MISTA! HE HIRED!"
Awkward turtle. I spent the entire lesson avoiding eye contact with Denise, who was clearly going out of her way to answer questions she didn't have the answers to.

And after all of that, I didn't get the job. Apparently, I was too laid back. In retrospect, I'm glad. That's just me.