Thursday, January 27, 2011

Happy Birthday

One year ago, I started "Yo Mista" with this post.

Documenting my thoughts and experiences over the past year has been a pretty positive experience. No wonder people keep journals.

Anyway, I wanted to use this post to thank you, the reader, for continuing to support this blog. Believe it or not, "Yo Mista" is actively read on six continents. You're next, Antarctica.
Note: people do not actually live in Antarctica. Scientists only inhabit the continent for short periods of time to conduct studies.
Damn. Oh well, I tried.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Don't Beat Yourself Up

Here's the thing: it's 31 degrees outside and snowing non-stop. If today were a Friday, I would expect no more than a 30% attendance rate. The only thing is, today is not a Friday, it's Wednesday during New York State Regents Examinations Week (I previously wrote about these exams here).
"Don't beat yourself up."
That's what I'm secretly telling myself right now.

Today, all NYC algebra students take the Regents Examination at 1:15 PM. They have opportunities to take this exam in January, June and August. The exam is thirty-nine questions long and covers approximately a year and a half's worth of material. It's actually not that difficult - especially since you really only need to answer thirteen questions correctly to score a passing score of 65%. You don't need to be a math teacher to figure out that's one hell of a curve! And yes, that's what she said.

I sent about sixteen text messages this morning to students reminding them today is the day of their algebra regents and that they should be here, on time. That was also my facebook status yesterday. Our school also has this automated machine that calls students' houses to send reminders.

I feel like we're parents trying to tell our spoiled children to eat their vegetables. But usually in those cases, the children are not 17 or older. Ours are. Most of the effort here is pretty one-sided. And on days like this, I'm usually tempted to say:
"Fuck it, they should know how important this is for them. If they don't come, sucks for them. We can't fight their battles for them."
Honestly, I usually catch myself saying that a lot in my head. Especially today. At the same time, I don't know: the problem is our students really don't know how important this is for them. The idea that an education is the one thing that can't be taken away from you and can only give you a better life wasn't exactly instilled everyday in their heads. Generalization? Maybe. But I'd like to be proven wrong. The longer I work as a teacher, the more hostility I feel towards parents who have no idea what the fuck they're doing.

If I ever stood up in front of a classroom in Pakistan and told students there that in America I used to call my students' homes to remind them of an exam, they'd probably say:
"How could someone forget when their examinations are? Haha! Good joke. But seriously, can we start the lesson?"
And they'd secretly be thinking, if this teacher sucks, I'm going to need to find a private tutor.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Gangsta? Try Emo

I'm Facebook friends with some of my students. I don't go out of my way to add them, that would be creepy. They find me and feel comfortable enough to add me, I guess. My experience has taught me that a no-bullshit relationship is the type of thing my students need in order to trust their teachers and succeed. At this point, one might think:
"But accepting their request on Facebook? This could lead to something messed up. Especially since you're a teacher."
Relax. I add them on limited profile - I have a separate list for students. It's evident however, that some of my students have no idea what privacy settings are. In fact, I have to manually add them to the hide list on mini-feed as some of their statuses definitely fall into the "too much information" bucket. Sometimes, I make sarcastic comments on their statuses which often times leads to their embarrassment. Sorry, that's what you get for adding a jackass teacher on Facebook. Put me on limited profile, damn it! Or do nothing and see what happens.

Over the past year and a half, I have noticed a contradiction in what students put up as their personality in school versus what they often post. In fact, most of my students front a bad ass profile at school. Yet, if I perform a simple status search of my student list in Facebook, I get some supremely whiny and bitchy updates. Below, I have gathered a handful of random status messages, excluding lyrics, songs, and videos. Try to detect a general theme:
  1. "I been through alot, seen alot, heard alot but at the end of the day im happy with the person i have become, and that's what matters."

  2. “How can you expect me to say what you want to hear if you’re not going to take it in? You’re just wasting my time, talk to me when you grow up!"

  3. “Love is a war, you either ready to fight or quick to give up & loose it all.”

  4. “The key to moving on is forgiving the person that did you wrong...”

  5. “a woman of ya choice should never knock you down clown you in front of da homies mad you look bad and be so controlling she should be understanding.”

  6. “ii guess we dnt always get wha we want in lifee..”

  7. “just say u don't care & u give up then I'll be done with u for good ..... "

  8. “meet me halfway?”

  9. “whyy do all giirlss doo iis liee??”

  10. “I swear these lil bitchs be blowing mines like they still fake and talk shit and then smile in nikkas face like cut it out mama please."
  11. "OMFG, love sux, i just wanna cry and listen to Dashboard Confessional all day."
Okay, I made the last one up, but you get the idea: this is all very emo. Thanks to these updates, I have come to the conclusion that deep down inside, most of my students are about as gangsta as Brandon Flowers. Teenagers are the same everywhere it seems.

Kids, there's nothing wrong with being emo. Just, you know, stop pretending you're not. I know a lot of you like Drake, Eminem and Lil' Wayne, but allow me to introduce you to something you may like even more:

You're welcome.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Teach for Pakistan

I've been visiting Karachi every other year since I was six months old. My parents were both born there. The bulk of my extended family still lives there. It's strange how my perspective and investment in the country has changed over the years.

I hated going to Pakistan when I was younger. My mother dragged me there for two, sometimes three months at a time over the summer. The heat was miserable and the humidity was unbearable. My family wasn't well off, so it's not like I was in a huge mansion of sorts living in the tropics, eating cold mangoes. That would've been nice. The only things I enjoyed were the company of my cousins, the food and the taste of Coca-Cola made from real sugar. Besides that, I really never did anything else. I was pretty quiet: my aunts would compliment me on my lack of communication. Heh.

It was not until I was a teenager that I truly began to appreciate my experiences in Pakistan. I started engaging in the family functions, weddings and other events. I actually left the house with people and explored. There were a lot of amazing things about my motherland. I slowly began to appreciate my visits more and more. The people were incredibly loving and optimistic. I remember my late uncle telling me:
"This religious violence will pass, they are just trying to get each other to fight now. Things will get better. You wait. Then Pakistan will finally become the nation it was supposed to be. Then maybe we'll actually be able to come visit!"
When I used to stay at my oldest aunt's place, I noticed her daughters would spend ridiculous amounts of time memorizing textbooks. Apparently, her teacher knew absolutely nothing about the content they were supposed to learn. The homework was to just learn the facts. The book was ancient. I have a very vague memory of helping my cousin memorize her earth science textbook for one entire week. The reason I remember it is because I had never taken earth science before and I thought it was quite cool. By the end of it, I knew a little too much about the core, the mantle and the crust. I was seven years old.

That was the norm. Most of my cousins memorized textbooks and facts: there was rarely an engaging teacher pushing thinking and creativity. Teachers were in short-supply, as were books. Select private schools offered fully paid scholarships to the best of the best from government schools. Investment banking interviews have nothing on Pakistani children trying to get into a good school. It was highly competitive. I thought I studied a lot when I was younger, but my cousins studied and enrolled in private tutoring sessions during the summer. Unfortunately, for most of them, this education system did not do what it was supposed to. Some of my cousins never made it past the 10th grade: they got tired of feeling like the system wasn't getting them anywhere. The country wasn't financially invested in it's own youth.

I went back to Pakistan last summer and visited schools. I had just finished my first year teaching at a transfer high school in New York City. My experience was biased with children who were not intrinsically motivated to come to school. I wanted to get to know what the education "system" was like in Pakistan. I wrote about that here. In summary, there was no system for such hungry, highly motivated children. There was so much lost potential. I couldn't believe there wasn't something like a "Teach for Pakistan" to get college graduates and other young professionals into Pakistan's classrooms. Now there is.

Teach for Pakistan's approach and challenge is similar to Teach for America's approach. I'm very excited this organization is off the ground and running. To be honest, it encourages me about the potential of having a future home in Pakistan. I've always thought about moving "back." I put back in quotes because obviously I wasn't born there, but I am still very much connected to it. A part of me wouldn't be satisfied until I actually tried doing something there. Maybe it won't work out, maybe it will. It doesn't hurt to try.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Hollywood&Vain Attendance Challenge

As per my previous post, (and other related posts here and here) attendance has been quite shitty as of late. It makes sense, vacation is over, why would students still come to school? Duh Mista, you stupid.

Mike, one of my best friends and former college roommate, happens to own a clothing company out in California by the name of Hollywood&Vain. He also recently started Queen of LaLaLand specifically for women. Anyway, Mike (being a good friend) read my previous post and reached out to me with the idea that I offer my students free graphic t-shirts from his company to students who maintain perfect attendance for x amount of days. I decide the details. He provides the graphic t-shirts.

That's perfect timing. The New York State Regents are right around the corner at the end of January. Attendance is crucial right now. Most of these students are setting themselves up for failure missing important Regents preparation and review days. I'm pitching Mike's challenge to my students tomorrow in Algebra class. It's not going to win over the kiddos with complete-shit-attendance, but hopefully it'll force the students who normally come more often than not to think twice before making any stupid decisions.
Oh and maybe they'll get excited by the notion that Nicki Minaj and Usher were photographed wearing Hollywood&Vain as they went about their daily business...
Thanks Mike. You're the man!

Monday, January 3, 2011

2011 Starts Off Well (Sort Of)

It was back to school from winter vacation today and I have to say, our attendance was fucking pathetic: I had a whopping five students show up for my first period class. And I can't just give a quiz to teach these supremely-motivated-students-who-happen-to-not-be-in-class a lesson. Apparently, you actually have to care in order to feel guilty about missing a quiz. Damn it!

Then there were students who actually came to school, but bailed early. I actually greeted and said "what's up?" to several of these students in the hallway, many of whom I should have taught a few periods later. They probably just said "fuck it." This is something I really don't understand: what the hell is the point of waking up early, taking the subway, and going through metal detectors to get into school if you're just going to leave early and screw yourself later? This is literally what I hear in the hallway sometimes, loud and clear:
"Yoooo.. Let's cut math and finna smoke dat sour... word?"
Shit man, you might as well offer me some, given we have no boundaries here. Actually, that has already happened. Never mind. Damn it!

Teaching-wise, today wasn't bad actually. Selfishly speaking, I like days with poor attendance. This gives me better control of the class. I have more one-on-one time with students, which really lets me provide them with the attention they need. Plus, with little time wasted on distractions, I can really get into the material. The results speak for themselves: today's assessment average was over ninety percent. Attendance was somewhere under sixty percent. It was an ideal, yet shitty situation. Whatever, I felt accomplished.

However, what really made my day special was a text message I received from a former Personal Wealth Management student. She had graduated from the school last year and we haven't been in touch since. Here's what she wrote:
"Yo Mista, I know its aftr skool hrs but I was wondering... I have $$ to invest in some shares of a rising company... I don't really wanna go 2 some broker guy, wht shd be my 1st step... also im not sure if its etrade that charges $7 per trade... i want to look into prison stocks... i need u on this man... i remember some of the material but not enough 2 do it on my own... hope all is well  -_-"
Wow, actually taking some financial initiative. Good for her.