Monday, April 25, 2011

On My Visit to My Old High School

I had the incredible opportunity to visit my old high school while I was in Chicago last week.  This was something I was really looking forward to; I was worried I wouldn’t have enough time to cram in a visit. I wanted to not only visit my old teachers, but also to walk around the hallways aimlessly and remember what it was like to be me eight years ago. It still blows my mind that I’ve been out of high school for that long.

Okay, fine. The voice of accuracy in my head desperately wants me to clarify how long it’s really been. Technically, I had gone back to visit a few of my teachers shortly after I graduated high school, but I choose not to count that as a “proper” visit as I was still in college and coming back home quite often. It’s not like I was living out of the state as I am now. So it doesn’t count, okay?

So Wednesday morning, I walked into the visitor’s entrance at gate 3 and received my visitor’s pass for the day. It was odd because as a student, I never entered through gate 3, so this was all new to me. I was expecting a sudden rush of memories to cloud my consciousness, but nothing happened because it wasn’t a familiar process. However, I did recognize the security guard who took my name down. She recognized me as well, although I have no idea why, I wasn’t exactly known for causing trouble during my time there.

I walked down the hallway, past the Dean’s Office that I had never actually been inside of, and found myself in the main hallway that encircled the courtyard.

Oh. Hello, memories. Thought you’d left me on this trip. I stared blankly into the courtyard for a few moments.

As I slowly tried to draw myself out of memory lane, I noticed it was oddly quiet around me. I was quite sure today was a school day. I saw random students walking with a bathroom pass every now and then. So where was the noise? Where was the random student singing at the top of his lungs as he randomly strolls down hallways trying to avoid class? There was none of that.

I could hear only hear the faint sounds of walkie-talkies buzzing as harmless looking security guards patrolled the hallways. You could hardly call these people security guards: they’re wearing polos and smiling at me as they walk along. Smiling?! Seriously? Where I work now, we have security guards with permanent frowns dressed like policemen. I guess attire doesn’t matter because our guards aren’t exactly great at keeping students out of the hallways and yet these nice looking folk seem to have it easy. I suppose I was half-expecting things to be like they are currently at the school I teach at. How is my old high school doing this?

I chose to ignore that question for now and continued walking towards the teacher cafeteria, where I initially met some of my former teachers. We sat and chatted for a while and I bounced around from the teacher cafeteria to classrooms around the school. It was quite a full day and I had a lot of catching up to do.

It was great to see how well my former teachers looked. Seriously, they looked like they hadn’t aged a day since I graduated. We caught up on life and had some pretty meaningful conversation. I regret not taking advantage of that while I was a student there. I was too busy trying to do-do-do rather than socialize and learn through the experiences of others. That’s one thing my current students actually do take advantage of, when they actually show up that is.

Overall, I was quite pleased with my visit. As I signed myself out and returned the visitor’s pass, I realized two things stuck with me:
  1. My senior year English teacher sincerely thanked me for visiting. I mean, all of my teachers thanked me, but his was truly heartfelt. He said, “You have no idea how much this means to me. All teachers need this.” No problem, big guy. I guess I sort of knew that, being a teacher now. I would love see former students of mine successful in the future.

  2. My junior year English teacher taught for some time at an alternative school within the Chicago Public School system, so he sort of knew what my experience was like teaching at a transfer high school in New York City. He asked me, “How long do you think you can do this? Working in that kind of environment isn’t exactly emotionally sustainable.”
I know he’s right. But I’m not jaded just yet. I look forward to coming back this week.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Better Way to Teach Math

Here's a link to an interesting opinion on the NYT by David Bornstein about a program called Jump that is being used in the classroom to help teach math. Bornstein makes some great points about teaching math, e.g. the importance of confidence and the need for teachers and students to think of math as a ladder rather than a bunch of random skills.

I would've liked to read more about the program itself and how it works. I suppose I will wait until Friday when the author will responds to comments and discusses the program in further detail.

Okay, back to vacation land. Thanks to Ahsan for the link.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Chicago is Calling Me Home

Is it Friday yet?

No seriously, is it Friday yet? Next week is spring break for New York City public schools so I'll be on vacation for a solid week and a half. There's something super cool about being in my mid-20s and still having spring break, wouldn't you concur? I bet you'd concur.

For spring break, I'm going back to Chicago to see old friends, my brother and just chill the fuck out and reminisce. I haven't been back in nearly two years, so I'm pretty excited. There's something incredibly appealing about going back home and seeing familiar signs, roads, houses, and people. Driving along the same streets you grew up on. Speeding past familiar shops and restaurants, some still carrying on with business as usual. Once I start drifting down memory lane, I find it extremely difficult to return back to consciousness. It's like jumping in a pool and letting yourself slowly sink to the bottom. Fun.

What will make this trip even more interesting is visiting my old high school. I haven't been back to visit since college, so it's definitely been a while. The nostalgia to relive my teenage years will soon be satisfied when I walk my old hallways. I plan on meeting as many of my old teachers as possible (whoever is left, anyway). I also want to see the school from the perspective I now have as a high school teacher. I imagine my views of the school as a stupident (er, student) were most likely poisoned by teenage angst, emotion suppression and a general indifference for everything. My high school is quite old and established (compared to my school now, in its second year); I want to learn how they run things there and what systems they have in place, anything that I can offer back to the school I work at now.

I suppose since I'll be going on vacation, I probably won't post until I return. Chicago is calling me home.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Cathleen Black Fired From "Celebrity Apprentice"

I guess the title is misleading: today Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced Cathleen Black will no longer be New York City Schools Chancellor. Read about it here.

For those unfamiliar with the topic, Cathleen Black was a former magazine executive with absolutely no experience in education. She was handpicked by Bloomberg less than five months ago to replace Joel Klein. Her tenure has been marked by a lot of controversy, mostly stemming from her lack of qualifications and knowledge about the education system.

Revamping the system is necessary, but I'm not too sure education can be thought of a business model. If I'm selling apple juice, I'm going to pick and choose the best apples and use my machines to turn apples to apple juice. I wouldn't use bad apples to make this juice, or else it would harm my business and reputation. I certainly wouldn't replace my machines if I found bad apples growing on my trees: it's not the machine's fault for the apple going bad, it's my fault for waiting too long to pick them.

Public schools can't pick and choose the best apples. We have to work with what we get, and our positive exposure/impact on them is limited to how long they decide to stay in the building. The chances of a child becoming a "bad apple" are significantly reduced if this child is raised in a home that values education. Simple as that. Unfortunately, poverty results in broken homes, which creates this nasty "statistic" politicians are trying to "fix." You can have the best staff in a school, but if you cater to a poverty-stricken neighborhood, your numbers will suck, your teachers will feel burnt out and your administration will try random policy and procedure experiments to see if kids can do better on state tests.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Here's a Lesson Hook

I'm teaching a mini-unit on conversions between units right now in my Algebra classes. This means converting between U.S. units, metric units and conversions between both systems. For example:

  1. Mount Everest is 29,028 feet tall, which makes it the tallest mountain in the world. How many miles tall is this? How many inches?
  2. For death penalty cases by lethal injection in the United States, criminals are given 5 grams of sodium thiopental. How much is this in kilograms?
  3. If you're speeding down the highway in the Dominican Republican at 100 km/hr, how fast are you going in mi/hr? Compare this speed to New York State's highway speed limit of 65 mi/hr.
In my limited experience, this seems to be a topic students tend to enjoy and remain interested in because it's more relevant than other topics. Today, I planned on introducing the metric system to my students, who for the most part have never thoroughly learned the system due to this country's obsession with the old system. I choose to blame this lack of conversion on the NFL for basing the entire game off yards.

After I made some general announcements, I pressed next on my wireless clicker to move forward to the next slide, creatively titled, "The Metric System." The slide was blank for now: I use custom animations. In my mind, I wondered, "how the hell do I present this shit again and make sure they stay focused?"

See here's the thing. Today was a rainy day, and in our country's education system, that means most students in inner-city schools consider this a holiday. Can you imagine? This is such a great deal. I guess I missed the Groupon on that one.

So I'm standing in front of the class with a meter stick over my shoulder, and I begin to ask:
"So does anyone know what the Met..."
Holy shit! An idea. So simple. So easy. How could I have missed this? Should I say it? Eh, fuck it, I'll say it. I decide to rephrase my question:
"... So when someone wants to buy or sell drugs, what unit of measurement does this person use?"
Okay, that was quite a gamble, I admit. But this is a transfer school, and if you can't be real, you won't last. As expected, I hear:
 "Yo, you gotta weigh that shit and them weighing machines only tell you in grams, so you gotta convert too. Shit is complicated, I seen it done."
"My n****, when you buy that shit, you gotta come home and weigh it too so you know you ain't gettin' ripped off!"
TMI? Maybe. But this was one hell of a hook. And they actually stayed focused the entire time.