Thursday, September 29, 2011

New Kids on the Block

This year, another school opened it's doors in the same building where my school operates. However, this new school isn't another high school, it's an elementary charter school run by a popular charter school network. With the opening of this charter school, there are now six schools operating in the same building. Of these, four are public high schools, one is a public transfer high school (where I teach), and now we have an elementary charter school on the ground level.

Of course, these new kids on the block don't have to go through the metal detectors every other student has to go through in my building, they have their own entrance. I'm not bitching about this, no children should have to go through metal detectors, young or old. What I am going to bitch about is the glaring difference between how their school looks and operates versus my own.

I went perusing through their hallways last week and was shocked to see how much their school reminded me of being in an affluent suburban high school. Their halls were decorated with posters, signs, school colors, school mottos, motivational quotes, surprisingly good student work, art, etc.

This was to be expected. In order for a student to be admitted into a charter school, parents must submit their child's name into a lottery. And therein lies the problem: kids whose parents take initiative to submit their names into a lottery for a "better school" will almost always be better off than kids with no parental involvement, support, or encouragement. If you'd like research to support this claim, refer to exhibit A - the last two years of my life.

For anyone who has visited or seen my school, it looks like a jail. Whatever is posted on the walls looks half-assed, at best. We don't have anyone designated to "pretty-o-fy" our hallways. Most of our bulletin boards are barren. We have a sad-looking poster that reads "Our attendance last week was: [fill in a number under 60% here]. Can we make it to 80%?"
Side note: No, we can't make it to 80%. We're a transfer school for kids with attendance issues. How can you not know this, poster maker?!
We're a "21st century" school, but we don't have a computer lab. We have school colors, but they're not visible unless you visit the school's website. Parents rarely visit our school. In fact, we are the ones who have to visit our kids' homes to figure out why our students haven't been coming to school for weeks on end.

The differences between public schools and public charter schools are becoming glaringly ridiculous. And sadly, our country's education system continues to compare these two institutions as if it's a competition to see what model works best for the kids. That would be like comparing the Chicago Bulls to the U.S.A. Olympic basketball team. I'm saying this as a Bulls fan.

The new charter school movement is based on ideas within the private sector. Free market principles. Their motto is that parents should have a choice on where to send their children to school. Bad schools should close down and move on for better ones. This idea has no mercy for the majority of children in lower-income households whose parents aren't actively involved in their lives. The "neighborhood school" suddenly doesn't matter to an involved parent anymore: who cares if it has problems when you can send your child to a better school an hour away? Some children in NYC commute 90 minutes each way to arrive at the school they won the lottery for.

Charter schools have what public school principals have wet dreams about: the ability to "counsel out" students they don't want or don't "fit" the culture. These students get sent back to a regular public school, probably the school where they live closest to. Public schools can't do that, they have to work with what they get. My school is packed with students who used to be in charter schools.

Charters can also accept funding from other sources. They can fiddle around with their budgets to pay teachers better, and thus, attract some of the hardest working teachers who grow weary of the politics that exist within public school systems.

If public schools ultimately become the place where students who aren't "intelligent enough" or don't have enough parental involvement go, then our country's intellectual capital is... well, fucked really. Public education was created based on the notion that all children deserve a good education. We're modifying this to all children with involved parents deserve a good education.

Attention poor people: quit your jobs so that you may wait in long lines to submit your child's name into a lottery in which you may or may not win. Stop being lazy, dammit.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

I Seeeeeeeee Youuuuuuu

Teaching the last period of the day is the worst, especially in a school like mine. During this time, I'm completely exhausted and for good reason: I've been on my feet all day explaining, lecturing, discussing and entertaining. I would much rather have this period off and use it to recharge my batteries than to have to deal with a 25% (or less) attendance rate.

Most students in my school decide it's okay to ditch 7th period. You know, because staying an extra 54 minutes is just asking for too much. Last Wednesday, four students who I know for sure were in the school building didn't make it to my 7th period class. Instead of simply letting it slide and hoping the administration does its job, I decided to take the law into my own hands. I paused the class mid-lesson, hopped onto my computer, logged into my e-mail, and began crafting this in front of everyone:
date          Wed, Sep 23, 2011 at 2:45 PM
subject      cuttin' class

So yes, I saw you all today in school, and yet, here we are in 7th period and you are not here. By the way, the entire class is watching me type this on the SMARTboard...

Okay, so given for most of you, this is your THIRD year in a TWO-YEAR school, I assume you will have all the stuff we learned today (and days before) mastered.

Do not expect that I (as your teacher) will make EXTRA TIME to baby you and re-teach this stuff to you.

If passing this class isn't a concern, I suppose at least not looking like a fool in front of everyone else is. I expect you'll make a bigger effort to stick around til the end of 7th.

Ta ta,
- Yo Mista
The next day, all four of them showed up. In fact, two of them even responded with an apology that very night. Lesson learned: always call out your students. I seeeeeeeee youuuuuuu.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


I've really been enjoying my third year teaching thus far, but lately it seems all the fun ends the moment the bell rings and I check my work e-mail.

Lately, we've all been getting bombarded with e-mails concerning new policies, procedures, and other 1984 Orwellian-style control mechanisms. Every single meeting we've had as a complete staff has been about keeping us in check, rather than what we as a school can offer the students. A recent school initiative now requires teachers to "sign out" when we leave the building to grab lunch during our own lunch period. The day we receive a ball-and-chain free blackberry, I'm going to quit.

I left investment banking because the job owned me and made me feel like there was always an eye in the sky. If my blackberry buzzed at two in the morning and I didn't respond, my cell phone would ring. If I didn't pick up, I'd get another ten e-mails. Eventually, I would get in deep shit with my deal team and then my staffer would have to hear about it. That usually meant I would start getting staffed on shitty pitches, which were basically accounts that required a lot of busy work and never amounted to any type of live deal. As an analyst, you always wanted to be on a live deal: otherwise you weren't gaining any experience. You weren't top tier.

In my second year of investment banking, I was staffed on a live deal that was taking forever to close. The company we represented was trying to sell itself in a down market. There weren't too many buyers in the market. As a result, there was a lot of work being generated for absolutely no reason. We were their bitches, and they knew we would do anything for that advisory fee.

I was on a conference call with my associate, the client's lawyers, and the client's CFO. As the designated monkey of the group, I was diligently taking notes while wondering how long I could stay on the call without saying anything. Usually I could get by without uttering a single word, which was great because the coffee I had just had began to knock on my body's doors. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I had to take a shit. Fast.

I had the advantage of being on this call from my desk, rather than being in a conference room with my colleagues. I was already on mute, so I shot a quick e-mail to my associate telling her I was stepping away from my desk for a moment, and ran to the bathroom blackberry in pocket.

As the weight loss process got underway, my blackberry buzzed: 
Where are you? Need you to be on this. Will need your notes.
 It was my associate. Jesus Christ, leave me alone. I told her I'd be back very soon.
I'm working on two things at once, this should the only thing you're doing.
Her again. This was getting really annoying and quite frankly awkward, though it was never surprising to walk into the bathroom and hear someone typing away on their blackberry as they sat on the pot. My blackberry buzzed again.
I'm at your desk. Where are you?
I panicked. I couldn't risk her getting irritated at my me and giving me some bullshit work, so I was responded back with the only thing I could come up with:
I'm pooping. Coming out now.
I walked back to my desk and there she was, next to my chair reading her blackberry. Probably reading the very message I had just sent her. I tried to make as much eye contact as possible before she began talking about the conference call and next steps.

I'm twenty-six years old now, I don't think I need to tell anyone anymore when it's time to poop.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Third Year Underway

Hello kiddies, I'm back. First of all, Iceland was amazing. We spent two weeks there: the first week driving around the island and the second week entirely in Reykjavik, the capital. The picture below pretty much captures the coolness of the trip.

Nothing like a gigantic waterfall to quench the thirst.
Although there was some hiking involved, Iceland definitely refreshed me. Some of the nicest people on earth reside in that country. I think it's safe to say we'll be back at some point.

So now my third year as a teacher is underway. I'm excited because I don't have graduate school this year, so I can actually think about how I teach. I was really getting sick of thinking on the run and coming up with lesson activities while showering or napping in the subway.

This year, I'm also teaching advisory for the first time. Advisory is basically a "life-skills" course offered in high school. I'm pretty sure this is just a New York State thing, as I didn't have advisory in high school in Illinois. I'm supposed to lead discussions around big issues like racism, teen pregnancy, and drug dealing. Students will also have the opportunity to consider their post-secondary options (college, trade schools, etc.) and apply.

Sounds pretty nifty, but I get the feeling most of the kids will say, "Yo Mista, what up with this hippie circle jerk, kumbaya bullshit?" To this, I will respond:
No talking in the circle jerk, please.
Here's to another year packed with struggle, perverted jokes, and a lot of fun.