Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Warning in Dreams

Around this time last year, I remember getting excited about the upcoming school year. I was starting my second year as a teacher: I was hungry to implement ideas I'd thought about over the summer. I was eager to consider taking a different approach with certain topics. I was excited.

I'm excited for next year as well, but I'm also a little uneasy: in the last four nights, I've had the same dream, twice. I rarely dream, so dreaming the exact same thing twice is a new experience.

In my dream, I was back in the classroom during my third year, but things were very different. I was finding it hard to enjoy being in the classroom because my school's administration was making life difficult for me. Some of them were minor things, some of them were major things that really bothered me.

From what I recall, I was no longer allowed to teach my personal finance course. Why? Because the kids don't really "need" this course on paper. Why would kids need to learn about saving, credit cards, and long-term retirement investment? Ultimately it's about credit accumulation and most kids did not need this course. What does "need" mean, anyway? That made me unhappy.

In June, we were told we were getting new desks and that we should label our old desks with "THROW AWAY" for the custodians to take out during the summer. We were told to do this several times throughout the last few days, as if using the old desk wasn't an option. Here's the thing, I like my old desk, so I didn't mark it for removal. Logically, it just didn't make sense to me. Why is it a big deal to throw away an old desk? Especially since it's so conducive to organization with five side drawers (three on one side, two on the other) and one middle pull-out drawer (heh, I said "pull-out") for writing utensil storage. Doesn't that sound sexy?

In my dream, when I came back into the classroom, they had replaced my desk with a new brown desk, which was actually pretty nice looking, but it had no fucking drawers!

I am very particular about my things and especially how my things are organized. This new desk did not please me in my dreams. But, I was going to be okay.

As my dream progressed, I felt like I was teaching in Orwellian times at my school. The teachers were talking to each other in secret. Everything they did, they did by the book to cover their ass. Fill out paper work, avoid human contact with the administration. Nobody wanted to argue about an error in a student's schedule because that was now an administrative issue. It didn't matter that the kid's schedule was going to screw him over in the long run. There was an "us" vs. "them" mentality at my school, and I hated this poisonous culture.

Then I woke up.

I sort of know why I've been having these dreams: my school's culture has been deteriorating over the past year. I'm scared it's only going to get worse next year. Things were very different when this school opened: there was not one teacher who didn't come in early or stay super late to work. The staff worked their asses off and we enjoyed a collegial and open working environment.

I believe when employees are happy doing what they're doing while being in a supportive culture, great things can happen and money becomes less of an issue. That's what my first year was like, and I'm not so sure I can expect that next year.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Data is In!

New York School test scores are in folks, click here to check out the results via the New York Times.

Before you start examining the data, please note that this data summarizes the performance of nearly one million students. Of which, 66% are classified as poor (see top of page). The ethnic breakout is as follows: 14% White, 15% Asian, 31% Black, and 40% Hispanic. Pretty generic, but I guess that's the best we're going to get here.

I want to first write specifically about the test my class took, the Integrated Algebra Regents Exam.

From the data provided, it seems our students scored pretty miserably with a 58% passing rate (compared to about an 80% passing rate for the rest of New York State). Only 7% of students who took the exam scored high enough to master the material ("advanced" column), which is also the lowest mastery level on any exam available.
Don't worry kids, this is like golf. Lowest score wins. We win!
The final column ("Prev. Standard") shows how our passing rate was last year. This really shows nothing because a 55 isn't considered passing anymore (it was last year). I guess increasing standards on a shitty test in a terrible education system doesn't show progress either. Whoops!

Finally, if you scroll through all of the exams, you'll note most students did incredibly well on the Regents Exams having to do with languages. Well done, I have to say. Too bad New York State doesn't require a language Regent in order to graduate.

Of course, it's no surprise that the only 100% on the board goes to those who took the German language Regents Exam. Glückwünsche!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Education vs. Employment Infographic

Check out this informative infographic via You'll have to click on the graphic to view it enlarged.

Not that most educators needed to see this, I think a lot of us are actually pretty exhausted of making the argument for college. What I find most compelling though about this graphic is the lifetime earnings category in the first graph.

Does it truely pay to pay though, as in, is paying for further education now with loans worth the salary in the long term? Stay tuned, in twenty years from now I'll ask my friends with doctoral degrees how it's worked or not worked out for them.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Smells Like School Spirit

Check out this interesting op-ed in the New York Times about the recent reform movement for schools in the United States. A well-written piece teachers and non-teachers should read.

Go ahead, click the link. It's Monday, work sucks, you're still wondering where the weekend went and you have nothing better to do in your cubicle anyway.

Unless you're unemployed, then all I can say is, well done.

Friday, July 8, 2011

I Just Taught for America (and Stuff)

I was on the pot this morning and doing some heavy thinking. Actually, I was doing some stinking as well, but yes, thinking too. For the readers that do not know me, I am not averse to talking about the act of pooping. I'm actually quite shocked that it's taken this long for that to hit the blog. I think pooping is pretty cool; I do some of my most critical thinking during and after the process. In fact kids, some of my best lessons have come straight out of the loo. So go ahead, thank my shit for your test results.

So as I sat there, feeling lazy about the actual clean-up process of pooping, it dawned on me that I had just completed my two year commitment with Teach for America.
Holy time travel Batman!
Done and done, just like that. Of course, I'm sticking around and teaching next year, but there are others within my Teach for America "cohort" that are moving on and doing other things: consulting, investment banking, business school, law school, the list goes on. The network of contacts grows. Excellent. Hopefully at least one of them gets super rich and remembers what a great friend I was. And that I would really appreciate real estate in Manhattan. Preferably somewhere south of 14th street please.

Critics of the Teach for America (TFA) program often say two years is not enough for anyone to figure out how to teach and actually make a difference. After having completed my two years, I think there is some truth to this. I do think motivated, hardworking youngsters can make a difference in the classroom. However, it is quite difficult to become an excellent teacher in two years.

I'm seriously just beginning to hone my own teaching craft. Next year, I will finally have some time to focus on becoming a "master teacher." I'd like to implement better questioning strategies. I'd like to get really comfortable with complete silence in response to a question I ask the class. Ultimately, I want to learn how to shape my lessons in such a way that my students can not only learn but take ownership of the knowledge.

Yeah, that shit just doesn't happen in two years. And if it does, it was an accident.

Since I already did my stint of investment banking prior to TFA, I'm curious as to how some of the teachers in my TFA cohort going into the corporate world will feel and react. They have some perspective now: having seen the enormous problem that is the education system. They were right in the middle of the obvious and harsh inequity that exists among races and classes in the United States. I just don't see how you can light a fire under someone's ass now if it has to do with anything other than fixing that shit.

In fact, I can't imagine going into investment banking or consulting after TFA. Or, maybe I can:

Investment Banking
VP: "Yo Mista, the merger model needs to be updated ASAP. The latest projections from research are in and the BSD needs to see these numbers tonight. I need a draft of the deck in two hours. No. Better make it an hour."
Me: "Bro. Relax. There's kids out there who don't know how to fucking read and they're in high school. This is Microsoft Excel and number crunching, I got this."
VP: "Relax? Kids who can't read? You're fired."
Manager: "Yo Mista! I need a summary of these research reports. I'm going to defer to you during the conference call if the client asks about the data and methodology. Also need you to clean up that data dump they sent this morning. So much shit in the same cell, looked fucking ugly."
Me: "Dude. You want me to manually go through reports and paraphrase shit for you? And then you want me to arrange and rearrange shit in Microsoft Excel just because you want it to look pretty? I didn't go to college for this monkey bullshit."
Manager: "Monkey bullshit? You're fired."
In short, I'm supremely thankful things played out the way they did. I'm thankful for my investment banking experience: I learned a lot about finance, professionalism, bullshit and myself. I'm just glad I didn't do it after TFA. I would've been even more miserable than I was (if possible).

Thanks for steering me in the right direction, NH.