Saturday, December 15, 2012

This 17-Year-Old is on Fire

Nikhil Goyal is quickly becoming a force to be reckoned with in the education world. In the TED Talk below, Goyal calls for an education revolution. His beliefs and thoughts seem to echo with education reform activists Sir Ken Robinson, Diane Ravitch, Alfie Kohn, etc.  So what's different about this guy vs. the others? We've all heard this "call to change the system as we know it" before. Well, consider this: Nikhil Goyal is a 17-year-old high school senior.

We need more students like Goyal if we really want to transform the system. Question/conundrum: how do we effectively develop other students' critical thinking skills to Goyal's level and beyond with our current and outdated education system? 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Man of Steel

Children react and cope with crisis in different ways. Some act out, others harm others, others harm themselves, the list goes on. From the onset, I coped by dreaming: I yearned to be a superhero and often fantasized (and still do) about having an alter-ego and going off to save strangers. I wanted to save people I didn't even know, probably because it was so much harder to save the people I already knew, like my dad. It was much easier to swoop in and swoop out.

When I was younger, my disguise was perfect: nerdy, straight-A 2nd grader with parted-hair and black-rimmed glasses. I remember when my dad would go on his violent streaks, my mom and I would spend a lot of time together locked in my bedroom. She watched TV and guarded the door, and I played pretend with my Superman action figure after I finished my homework. The interesting thing was, when I played with that Superman action figure, I wasn't a spectator witnessing Superman's heroics. I was the action figure; it wasn't Christopher Reeve (or more recently Henry Cavill). It was me making the "WHOOOSH" sound to mimic my own supersonic speed as I flew around my 12-inch globe, saving people across continents.

My mom may have taught me the value of a good work ethic, but DC superheroes like Superman taught me many of the values my parents missed. Values and skills like loyalty, grit, courage, social responsibility, and conscientiousness: these were "noncognitive skills" I would've loved to have learned via my parents, but instead I learned them from text in bubbles. Since DC Comics taught me so much, I'm not at all embarrassed to admit I have seen the trailer below for the Man of Steel over ten times already.

Yeah, that was awesome.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

What if Money Was No Object?

A friend of mine shared this video with me; she said it reminded her of what I do. Take a look, it's pretty inspiring.

Created by Tragedy and Hope, the video is narrated by the late philosopher Alan Watts. I might just show this to my students first thing Monday morning. You know, instead of test-prepping.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Two Chinese Buffets

"One of these days, Karl is probably going to stab me outside of school," I admitted to a co-worker as we left for the day.

My co-worker smiled, but looked concerned, as if she couldn't tell if I was being my usual comical self. "What do you mean?" she asked.

"I don't know, with the kind of shit I say to kids sometimes, I'm surprised it hasn't happened already. These guys need tough love, so we have to play teacher and parent. A kid like Karl, for example, is not hearing what he needs to hear at home. For him, that means unfortunately he has to learn principles of life and algebra in the same classroom."

We continued talking as we walked towards the subway station. Karl and a handful of other students suddenly stepped into view across the intersection and began approaching us. My co-worker stopped mid-conversation and gave me a concealed look of panic, which made sense since I'd just confessed I wouldn't be surprised if Karl stabbed me. We kept moving forward, maintaining eye contact with the students rapidly approaching us.


To be clear, Karl sold drugs to students in school. I wasn't sure what the administrators knew about his dealings, but every student in my school talked about it and nearly every teacher suspected it. Although Karl's attendance wasn't bad, he never accomplished a single thing in any of his classes, which meant he came to school with ulterior motives. In my experience, that meant dealing, stealing, or some combination of the two. Karl did it all and was pretty vocal about his actions.

Karl was in my remedial Algebra course. In our first few weeks together, I thought I could help him, but he resisted in every way. I adjusted my strategy several times until I finally figured out what he was really doing in school. Then, after a lot of back-and-forth mostly in front of his peers, he and I finally came to an understanding. Karl would come to my class, plug his phone into the wall to charge, and sit quietly or sleep. Normally, he would be very rude and disruptive, often sexually harassing some of my female students, which I didn't tolerate. He finally learned that discussing sex, drugs, and theft with other students in my class was not in his best interest, since this type of behavior would catch my attention immediately and then I'd have to "put him on the spot." He hated arguing with me in front of other students, probably because he always lost but most likely because he learned nothing he said bothered me. He called me all sorts of names and insults, but I remained cold with a big smile. This bugged the shit out of him.

Karl had broken his informal promise with me the day before he approached my co-worker and me outside. Sitting next to another male student with poor attendance, he began bothering the female students in class by throwing pieces of paper at them and asking them if they were pregnant. After several redirection attempts, I called him out on what he was doing, and highlighted the illogical arguments he was making in front of the class. He finally grew silent. Victory was mine, so I finally went back to facilitating the day's lesson.

Back Outside

As Karl and his friends approached us in front of the subway, I replayed the events of the classroom the day before. I imagined he could have been angry, but he was not the type to hold grudges. He respected me, probably because valued that I knew his motives in school. I was the first to speak, "Hey Karl, didn't see you in school today. You guys just chilled in front of the subway all day or what?"

"Nah Mista, we was arrested!" They all flashed their wrists at me and I was stunned to see red imprints of handcuffs on all of their wrists. All of them really had been handcuffed recently.

"Wait, what? For what?" my colleague asked, surprised and probably relieved.

"We was trespassing in this building, looking for a party. That's OD, how they gonna arrest us for jus walkin' around? I'm not playin', we was carrying mad weed, now we got nothin'. Ugh, I'm tight." Karl admitted. He was clearly upset and frustrated.

Another student from the group also looked agitated. He turned to my co-worker, whom I guess was his teacher and said, "Miss, I'm sorry I didn't come, but they held us there all day. They didn't even give us food. No lie, I'm bout to hit this Chinese buffet right here. I'm dumb hungry Miss. Matta fact, Imma order two Chinese buffets, that's how hungry I am Miss!"

My colleague and I looked at each other and laughed. "You know a Chinese buffet is unlimited right? You don't need to order two, you get unlimited with one." I explained, smiling.

"You right Mista." Karl turned to his friend, "See, you can't deck this n!gga. N!gga be usin' his brain n' all dat."

I really enjoyed the subway ride home that evening.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

This Isn't Right

In the world of teaching at-risk teenagers, the odds of students achieving what we in 21st century America define as "success" are slim-to-none. For many of my students, college is simply not a realistic or relevant next step, although that's what educators like me are conditioned to believe students should be striving for. We hold these unrealistic and unfair expectations and are then shocked when year after year, familiar faces disappear and become names on paper. And eventually those names become statistics. Something is very wrong with this.

In my first year of teaching, I couldn't believe teaching at-risk students was like investment banking: a numbers game. Teachers worked their asses off, giving 110% everyday, but ultimately we knew the return rate of success was slim. In banking, we'd pitch merger ideas to a plethora of clients, hoping one would bite. Eventually someone would like an idea, and all of of our hard work would transform into a lucrative deal. In teaching, our student successes were also small in number, yet each success felt more than just lucrative. Each success was amazing. Fulfilling even. A big, fat, lingering middle finger to the system that tried to bring that student down.

When I received word that a former student whom I had penciled into the "success" category had fallen from grace, it broke my heart. The words, "motherfucking piece of shit" came to mind.

Esmeralda's story resonates with many of the at-risk teens I teach: raised in a variety of foster homes in different states, traumatic childhood experiences, and constantly in financial distress. On top of that, Esmeralda got pregnant when she was in high school, and decided to keep her child. Her spirit was strong, and after working her ass off at the alternative high school I worked at, she proudly graduated with a high school diploma.

Esmeralda was determined to become the first member of her family to graduate college. Her dream was to become a social worker for children who that weren't receiving the support they needed (like her). She started undergraduate studies at a community college and frequently updated me on her progress via Facebook and text. Her last text:
"I withdrew from school, I'm going through a lot right now."
I stared at the text. Rage flowed through my veins. Rage and a growing sense of hopelessness. This actually wasn't the first time a former (successful) student withdrew from undergraduate studies. In fact, there have been many. What's depressing though, is how few of these students actually make it out of high school, only to withdraw later again.

Esmeralda's situation hurt me a bit more than others. And so did JR's, who also recently withdrew. Years back, I wrote about JR on this blog. JR was my first victory; I'll never forget him and will always consider him a friend. JR was undocumented, which means his parents brought him over to the U.S. illegally. You wouldn't have guessed though, because he looked, talked, and dressed just like any other urban teen into rock music. His parents brought him over from Mexico when he was two years old. The only colleges that considered his application were the local community colleges. After a lot of hard work, one of them eventually accepted him. Unfortunately, he withdrew due to financial distress and other constraints.

Esmeralda has obviously been plagued with problems her whole life. As a single mother with no support, she needs to do whatever she can to support her and her son. JR has also had to lead tough life without documentation. Obviously, I'm not mad at either for them for withdrawing out of college. I'm mad at our education system. I'm mad at the school-to-work track our country has set up. It's the worst.

What we're doing isn't right. Our system is corrupt, designed to work best for those raised within the right circumstance, unless the kid has a strong, type-A personality. If that's the case, then maybe the kid has a chance of making it through.  Somehow, we as at-risk educators have grown okay with others making the rules. We've grown okay with ignoring facts. We ignore our students' poor attendance histories, their traumatic pasts, and their lack of discipline. We assume that if we just "show" them how to get to college, that they'll actually get there. And that they'll actually succeed if they get there.

Many of my at-risk students perform mediocre at best in an alternative high school where there are bells, flags, and whistles designed to keep the student in the building at all times (because many are frequently tempted to cut class). There are counselors calling home. There are privately hired hallway monitors and school safety officers on patrol. Is it really then fair to assume these students will survive college? College doesn't have these checks and balances. They're not designed to support the lifestyle or habits of at-risk teenagers. Somebody please do something, I can't deal with my former kids feeling like shit because life happened and they had to drop out.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Giving Thanks, Part II

When I left my iPhone in a cab on a Friday night, I wasn't just angry, I was disappointed. It wasn't just about the iPhone. It was also the idea that I could do something so stupid and forget something like that in the backseat of a cab. That's just not me.

This depressing night actually started at a cocktail party in the Upper West Side of New York City. My wife and I arrived directly from work, so although we were dressed to impress, we had a lot of bags and things to carry. When we were ready to leave, it was really late. We hailed a cab and naturally, both of us passed in and out out of sleep in the backseat. After what seemed like forever, the driver yelled at me to wake up. I nudged my wife and asked her to go outside and open the apartment building door while I grabbed all of our bags. And that's where it all went wrong. My iPhone was resting unsecured in my dress pants pocket, and as I scooted across the backseat to get out, it must've slipped out.

I noticed it was gone as soon as I got upstairs to my apartment. Within minutes, I was on the phone with 3-1-1 and simultaneously tracking the device via the "Find my iPhone" application. I was hopeful some incredibly nice New Yorkers would find my iPhone and make every effort to figure out my contact information and return it to me. Or maybe someone greedy would find it and track me down to score a reward like what happened to Tiny Fey in 30 Rock. As the minutes passed, my hope diminished. 3-1-1 helped me figure out the medallion number of the cab, but I couldn't obtain the cab driver's contact information until the day after. After about an hour of pacing, waiting, and tracking, my iPhone went off the grid. Somebody had turned it off, along with my hopes of ever recovering it.

I went to bed that night thinking about how stupid I was. I wanted to punish myself. Secretly, I decided I would go without a phone for as long as possible. That night, I dreamt I was checking voice-mails. My mind can be a complete dick sometimes.

When I woke up, I revealed my plan to go phone-less to my wife. It didn't take long for her to beat some sense into me. Punishing myself by going without a phone might have been fine if I was single and carefree, but not when I'm married and working in a high school for at-risk teenagers. She was right, like she usually is. We agreed to compromise: I would wait two full days (and be phone-less) before going out and purchasing the cheapest piece of shit phone AT&T could offer. I didn't qualify for an iPhone upgrade just yet, so to hold me over I'd just go back to using a regular call-and-text phone. No biggie really.

To be fair, my wife offered me her iPhone the night I lost mine, claiming she didn't use all of its functionality. She wasn't lying, but I just couldn't take her iPhone. I am very attached to my electronics, and for some reason, I believe everyone else is too (this is wrong, I know). I wanted her to have her own iPhone; I guess that's one of my many idiosyncrasies. After I told her that I simply could not accept her phone, she did the logical next thing: put up a "does anyone have an old iPhone they're not using?" status on Facebook.

My godson's mother, Della was among the first to respond. Yes I have a godson, I wrote about getting asked to be one here. Incredibly, Della had an extra iPhone lying around, collecting dust. She used to use it, but had to switch carriers and as a result, the phone was useless. At first, I was hesitant to accept the offer. Della is a former student, and I had hiccups about accepting this from a "kid." What if she switched plans and wanted it again? Would she feel awkward about asking for it back? Why would anyone that age give away an iPhone? I had a lot of questions running through my mind and I hate putting people in awkward situations. I began to over-think everything and my wife conveyed this ridiculousness to Della, who wrote me this message on Facebook:
"Don't ever think of me as just a former student, you're my sons God father, and I love you and your wife because you guys give us great advice, and the most important thing that counts, you take my son in your home and spend time with him A LOT of time lol. He loves you and that means a lot to me someone who isn't family loves my son, I will always love and value that. So let it be the last time you think of me as a former student MISTA  . . . and please feel free that WHENEVER you need a favor that I can do, you NEVER hesitate to ask me. DEAL!!!!
Yeah, so I took the phone. Dammit, with a message like that, how could I not? I was being stupid and preventing someone who I've helped from helping me. What's amazing about all of this is that I could not have ended up in such a great position if I hadn't impacted Della's life so positively, both as a teacher and as her son's godfather. My wife's swift thinking and love, combined with Della's generous gift made me feel so special. I was overjoyed and because I have no idea how to react when I feel this way, I had no idea how to express this emotion. I'm incredibly thankful for the relationships I have with cultivated with family, friends, and students. Yet another event that really made me feel the positive power of the teaching profession. Gotta love it.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Read a Book, Brush Your Teeth

A colleague recently sent me this song (via this blog post), and I couldn't stop laughing. Enjoy.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Demography is Still Destiny in NYC

In a recent report published by the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, where a student lives still determines where a student ends up, despite a decade's worth of "education reforms" in NYC.
"The portfolio district model adopted by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in New York City is often held up as a national model for high school 'choice,' touted as the best way to reduce pernicious race- and income-based achievement gaps. According to this model, student demographics are 'no excuse' for poor performance: teacher quality is the single most important determinant of student success. But this AISR study on college readiness shows that in spite of a decade of efforts in New York City to expand choice and ensure that the most disadvantaged students do not invariably attend the most disadvantaged schools, student demographics still stubbornly dictate destiny."
Gotham Schools posted this link yesterday that brilliantly maps this study's results - be sure to check it out. If you are a New Yorker, you might be interested in playing around with the map's drop down menu to highlight your own neighborhood and neighborhoods around you. Here's what I got when I selected my own neighborhood:

According to the data, 46% of students around where I live in NYC are graduating high school ready for college. That's scary, but believe it or not, there are places that scored significantly worse (e.g. click anywhere in South Bronx). My thoughts are this: a neighborhood is a dynamic, living and breathing place, populated with people who are self-interested. The pro-school choice movement is taking advantage of the "self-interested" part of that by pitting families against their own neighborhoods. Let's face it, if I was a parent living where I am now, and I saw that only 46% of students were graduating college-ready, I'd do my best to ensure my kids get enrolled somewhere else, even if I had to submit my kid's name in a lottery. I really wouldn't care about trying to "support" my own neighborhood's growth and diversity by enrolling my kids at the local school. At the end of the day, my kid's education comes first. It's the government's job to dictate policies that ensure equity exists within our public schools. A pro-choice education model does not build equity, it destroys it.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Substitute Suburbia for Inner City

An old friend of mine recently shared this video with me on Facebook, which I thought was pretty hilarious. An inner city high school substitute teacher takes attendance at his new placement: an all-white suburban science classroom.

While there are some obvious problems with the stereotypes this skit plays to, there are definitely some truths I could also appreciate. The substitute clearly didn't need any particular "strategy" to win over these students, who were all prepared and ready to go in the science classroom. The entire class is already seated by the time the bell rings. Some students even have their lab goggles on and many have a notebook open ready to begin writing. To me, that is hilarious - if I were in that situation, I would probably have so much free time at the end of my classes, who knows maybe I would teach two classes in one period!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

When Paths Cross Again

I've lived in New York City for six years now and in that time, I've learned two very valuable lessons. The first is that there are people peeing everywhere, so turn corners with caution. This was a very important lesson that I actually still forget sometimes. Luckily, I am often retaught this lesson every once in a while at 5:30 AM in the subway. Life in the city has become a bit unnerving because now every time I see someone turned around against a wall, I automatically assume they're urinating. I suppose life could get a lot worse.

The second lesson, which is equally as important, is former and current students are everywhere, so turn corners with caution. It's actually shocking how often I bump into former and current students in this city. Growing up in Chicago, I never bumped into my middle or high school teachers outside of school. I can't imagine what that would've been like, maybe awkward, but nothing more. I guess bumping into my teachers out of school wouldn't have been such a bad thing. I was a pretty good student, so maybe I wouldn't have had anything really to be embarrassed or uncomfortable about. Maybe it would've been different if I'd dropped out or was at risk of dropping out. What do you say when you bump into someone who believed in you and you're not exactly living life the way you wanted to? I wasn't sure.

Just Been Workin' Out

On a cold and windy evening in January, I came home from school tired, but not exhausted. Since I got home a bit earlier than usual, I decided I'd be productive and hit the gym for an hour. I threw on my gym clothes, blasted my iPod shuffle, and jogged down to my local gym.

At the time, my gym routine consisted of a two-to-three mile run every other day, followed by a thirty minute lift session. I powered through three miles on the treadmill and after stretching out, I made my way to the drinking fountain to rehydrate before I began lifting. I'd just begun running consistently, so I was pretty tired, but I still felt good. I could begin to see why people got addicted to this "running for fun" thing.

As I bent down to quench my thirst at the drinking fountain, I caught a glimpse of a tall, muscular man squinting at me. My usual response to such a thing is to stare back until the other party realizes they are staring, but I chose to ignore this particular person. Most likely because this guy was about a foot-and-a-half taller than me and looked like he could throw me out of the window. He probably just thinks he's seen me before, I thought. I looked up again after I finished drinking water and the guy was still staring. I've definitely seen this guy before. He had plenty of tattoos, was either Dominican or Puerto Rican, and a lot younger than I initially pegged him in my mind. As I tried to place his face, he walked over to me. I fumbled my iPod to pause AC/DC.

"Sorry, what?" I asked.

"Yo Mista! Remember me? It's Sal."

I stared. Sal... Sal... Who is Sal..? Have I taught this kid before? He does look sort of familiar...

I guess I was staring for a while. "Ay yo, don't you remember? I was in your Algebra class, like what, three years ago. You was my teacher yo! Remember? I was mad nice at Jeopardy, but I never wrote anything down. You be wantin' me to show work and shit," Sal laughed.

Sal. Of course I recognized him. Shit, this kid had grown. The Sal I knew in school was scrawny with messy hair, usually hunched over and sleeping on a desk. He usually wore super loose clothes and a Yankees baseball cap. The Sal in front of me was much taller, with an added thirty pounds of muscle. He'd shaved his head, which made him look meaner. His stubble made him look older. "Oh shit, of course I remember you now, Sal! You've grown man! I didn't even recognize you. How have you been? And where have you been?"

"Yeah dawg, it's a long story." Sal replied. All of a sudden, it felt like he felt he'd made a mistake approaching me. "My boy lives around here and so we just decided come work out," he answered.

"Oh, alright man, well it's nice to see you're okay and taking care of yourself."

Sal nodded and then seemed to get comfortable again. "See, I got this case on me. I was locked up for a while, you know? Attempted murder and all that. I been out for a couple weeks, but gotta show up for court next Wednesday. Can't do anything till after that, cuz I might be goin' back in." 

At this point, I really hoped my poker face was on because I was having a really hard time comprehending attempted murder. "Shit man, I'm sorry to hear." It's all I could say. In retrospect, I still can't think of anything else to have added on to that.

"It be like that sometimes Mista. So I've just been workin' out, you know? All you can do in there really." We exchanged a few more words, and then parted ways. As I stretched out to knock out some pull-ups, I couldn't help but think, Man, I hope I wasn't an asshole to this kid when I was his teacher.

Milk and Bread

"Shit, no more fucking milk," I said to myself at 5 AM. It was the beginning of the school year, and I was getting ready for work, extremely disappointed that I couldn't make coffee for myself. Well, I could've made coffee, but it'd have been without milk, and who does that, really? I was also out of bread, which was even more frustrating because that meant I couldn't make myself a sandwich for lunch either. I was even more angry that I hadn't noticed this the night before, and could've therefore gotten over this a lot sooner. I made a mental note to make a pit stop at Trader Joe's after work to pick up some essentials.

Grocery shopping in New York City can be a bit stressful, especially if you shop at the Trader Joe's in Union Square, which is built for about one hundred customers but tries to accommodate one thousand. Don't get me wrong, I like what Trader Joe's has to offer (including their prices), but the physical space offered by this particular store is ridiculous. There are times when I haven't walked three feet into the store and I'm already greeted by the check-out line, wrapped around the perimeter of the store. That's what happened this time, which meant I'd have to keep my shopping cart in line as I ran up and down aisles picking things up and running them back to my cart. Of course, everyone is doing what I'm doing, which means there are empty shopping carts ahead of you that you need to keep pushing forward, as well as pesky senior citizens claiming ignorance about cutting you in line.

As expected, by the time I got to check-out I had bought a lot more than just milk and bread. In fact, I'd ended up buying four large Trader Joe's paper bags worth of food; quite a lot of shit if you're carrying this all on your own. This also meant my commute home wouldn't be as leisurely, since I'd have to catch a bus and then eventually carry those bags up a five floor walk-up. I don't have an elevator. This is also how I maintain my incredibly muscular legs, by the way.

As I waited for the bus, I saw someone unmistakably familiar walking down 3rd Avenue towards my bus stop. The long and thick curly hair dyed blond was a dead giveaway: this was Lindsay, a former student of mine from my first year of teaching. She was one of my favorites. She smiled and waved at me.

"Oh my God Mista, what's uppppp?!"

"Lindsay! Dude, so nice to see you! What are you doing in my neck of the woods?" I asked.

"Mista, I live in Alphabet City... you're in my hood!" Lindsay laughed.

"Ha! Wow, I didn't know that. So, what are you up to? It's been like, a year now since I've seen you..." I casually asked. I remembered how bubbly Lindsay was in class. I actually missed teaching her. She was one of those students who made you feel good about what you were doing, in terms of teaching as a profession. She was super bright, and had unlimited potential. Unfortunately, she'd dropped off the face of the planet after my first year of teaching. She claimed she couldn't take going to high school anymore, and that she was too far behind to consider taking classes seriously. Since she was eighteen, she signed herself out. In that moment, I'd forgotten that part.

Lindsay looked embarrassed, which I didn't expect. When she had signed out of school, her counselors given her the contact information to a GED program. I guess that didn't happen. "I know... I haven't even taken a GED class yet, Mista. Life is mad busy right now. There's been mad work and the money is good, you know?"

I'd heard this before, but I didn't think I'd hear it from her. "Yeah, but come on Lindsay. Think. How long before you stop getting a pay raise? You can't expect to make a solid living easy without a diploma or specialized training. We've talked about this." I was getting irritated, which I hoped she couldn't tell, but I am horrible at hiding irritation once I feel it. Keyword: feel.

"I know Mista, don't worry. I'll take the class at some point."

My bus pulled into the stop and the conversation was cut short. We said our goodbyes and as I made my way home, I couldn't help but wonder what the fuck I could do for someone like her. How do I just keep teaching math and ignore the larger issue? I thought about students growing up in this country without anyone to teach them what to value, or how to limit instant gratification. I thought about how this country's most marginalized kids are being distracted and disillusioned by the promise of a minimum wage gig. I thought about my wife's nephew, who at the time was learning how to make animated PowerPoint presentations in elementary school while my students who were about to hit twenty-years old were asking me to teach them how to use Google Documents. Yet simultaneously, they're damn good at uploading pictures of themselves holding a stash of hundred dollar bills on Instagram. #WTF

Needless to say, that bus ride home sucked.

Friday, September 28, 2012

It's Not Always About Math

"I know Mista, I did really bad. Imma come during lunch to get help."

I do a lot of legwork in the beginning of the year building relationships with my students. It's actually a tactic I learned in the finance world. As an investment banking analyst a.k.a. finance monkey, my day-to-day rarely comprised of human contact outside of my own colleagues. On most days and nights, I sat in my cubicle and built financial models, created presentations, and then made sure these materials were delivered on time to my managing director's Upper East Side condo before his black Lincoln Town Car came to drive him to the airport. Of course, I sent the materials to him using a separate company Town Car that would make the delivery and come back to the office. Simultaneously, I'd take another black Town Car back to my place on the company's dime for working into the wee hours of the night. What recession?..

It was rare for a low ranking monkey like me to travel. Sometimes I'd get to go on an actual pitch or travel with my deal team on a road show, but not often during the 2008 financial meltdown. When I did get a chance to tag along with the BSDs, I noticed something very important: it wasn't always about whether the ideas we were pitching were good or bad, it was really about fostering the banker-client relationship. BSD bankers didn't just wine and dine their clients, they literally had to fake a somewhat decent friendship. You had to remember details about your client's family, sports preferences, alma mater, etc. I could be wrong, maybe some of these friendships were real, but when bankers sniffed a deal it was hard to imagine they were doing this work to "help grow a friend's business."

So after a tough period of building a relationship and establishing trust with a new client, the client would finally be open to hearing a banker's insights into their business. There was usually a lot of back and forth involved: pitching, wining-and-dining, repeat. At some point, the client would give in and it seemed like he/she wanted this banker. Maybe it was a matter of prestige, trust, or perhaps plain old guilt; whatever it was, it worked and the bankers knew it. We all knew it was really difficult to get big clients to switch over to new bankers, even if the new bankers had really good, transformative ideas for a new client's business. Relationships, and a willingness to work hard in the beginning, reigned supreme in an investment banker's world.

When I started teaching, I applied what I had learned. I went to the cafeteria in the mornings to sit and "chill" with my students when they came in for breakfast. In the hallways during passing, I gave fist bumps and high fives to those who looked up or down. Instead of planning out every minute of the period, I let things ride, preferring natural conversation than forced structure and memorizing script. During lunch period recently, I skipped my "me" time to talk to students about how drug dealers have to deal with inflation, since it's mostly an all-cash business and cash loses 3% in value every year. "Sorry kids, but Chase doesn't offer a drug-lord investment account to combat inflationary forces," I said. I told them if they ever wanted to live a legit lifestyle and make money grow by itself, it wasn't going to happen with cash. "I don't know about you guys, but I'm lazy. Living a life where you're always looking over your shoulder? That's mad work, my guy."

Yes, my speech and writing also changes from time to time around my students. I want to meet them at eye-level, so to speak. Instead of writing "Excellent!" on math quizzes, I write "Wavy..." The kids seem to embrace the fact that I am able to use their language and I think they appreciate me not forcing them to adapt to my language preferances. It's part of building the relationship. Sure, I correct their grammatical errors in writing, but I also emphasize the importance of being able to code switch between the "professional" me and "casual" me. It's extremely important that they view our relationship less as student-teacher and more as little brother/sister-big brother.
Side note: Readers of this blog should note I'm in no way poking fun of my students' English skills when I quote them on this blog or when I use their speech. The quotes are there because that's what was said. I'm not going to change what was said in order to appear politically correct, especially since it's colloquial speech and doesn't need any sort of fixing, correcting, etc.
Back to the relationship building: don't get me wrong, I enjoy building relationships with my students for the sake of building relationships. If I didn't, I would've quit on day one three years ago. It's just about getting them to do things my way, without them actually feeling like they've lost a sense of control. Relationships lead to leverage, which I can then use for the greater good. For example, when I'm trying to introduce new material to a class and some students are disrespectfully talking over me, several students speak up and shut them up for me. I just have to give a look like I'm annoyed. When I've established relationships with students who then miss my class for a long period of time, I can feel their guilt. It's almost like they don't want to let me down, perhaps because they may believe I've helped give them a small boost of confidence in a subject matter they didn't feel confident about before.

Nothing works better in terms of classroom management than a handful of students in your room who truly respect you and want to impress you. Indeed, these are the students who want you not just as their teacher, but as their friend and mentor. The connections need to be made first, as the math can always be taught later.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Lessons from the Squatty Potty

Up until my early twenties, I spent every other summer in Karachi, Pakistan. I've grown to love the city, but it wasn't always like that. I hated going there when I was younger, when my mom had to drag me there by force. Of course, as an unworldly seven-year old, I wanted to spend my summer vacation playing Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo. Don't get me wrong, I loved my extended family. I just didn't consider bonding with them in over 100 degree weather and rolling blackouts "fun." My mother often took my reluctance into consideration, but I knew she'd never let me win. She would buy our plane tickets anyway and tell me to shut the hell up because, "This is the only time I get to see my family. This is the only time I get to be away from your father. Cry all you want, we're going." Touché mom.

After what seemed like a week-long flight, we'd finally land in Karachi and make our way to the baggage claim. Since my dad never came with us, this meant I was doing the heavy lifting, which sucked because my mom abused the shit out of the baggage allowance policy. Between her and me, we had four very large, seventy-pound suitcases packed to the brim. Yes, in the 1990s the weight limit was seventy pounds, not sixty a.k.a. "the good old days." Only one of those suitcases actually carried our clothes, the rest were packed with gifts for family, friends, and random people who may need to be gifted later on in the journey. You never know I guess. Our carry-on bags were bursting at the seams. Even my Superman backpack, which was only supposed to be my stuff, was jammed with candies, perfumes, and jewelry. This is how we traveled.

After picking up our bags and funneling through immigration, we'd make our way towards the terminal exit: a giant glass wall with a sea of people pressed up against it from the outside. From afar, it looked like hundreds and hundreds of people were waiting for their families and friends to arrive. This was not anything like what an arrivals section of a U.S. airport would look like. Somewhere between the glass doors and immigration booths, the crisp, air-conditioned environment abruptly ends and Karachi's intolerable humidity bitch slaps me across the face. I'm sweating like I'm a grown man, but I'm not. Welcome to the real world, you spoiled American bastard. Now here's some diarrhea, enjoy.

I really could've done without diarrhea. As a kid, I could take the humidity and the heat if they were the only variables I had to manage. I'd eventually get over the constant need to shower, but diarrhea significantly limited my traveling radius. This meant I was usually grounded at an uncle or aunt's house for the majority of my stay. What made matters worse was that as a spoiled Westerner, I couldn't deal with the squat toilets some of my aunts and uncles had. Squat toilets were generally associated with a lesser wealth level and since my extended family's wealth levels were all over the place, I wasn't always safe. Whenever we'd visit Karachi, my mom would try to stay with at least everyone once. Obviously when I had the runs, I was very excited to stay with certain aunts and uncles more so than others. Sorry aunty, I have to be honest: it wasn't always your company I enjoyed, it was your coveted Western-style toilet.

Recent evidence suggests squat toilets are better for you, apparently because the position you assume while using it has many health benefits. Great, but I just can't see myself caring about this as a child. The way I saw it, if I'm going to be spending a lot of time in the bathroom, might as well be sitting down. Even that I couldn't have for the most part. By the end of our trips though, my weak American stomach ensured the squat toilet and I spent a great deal of time together. We came to be close friends, squatty and me. Perhaps it was all for the best, as these experiences provided me with prospective. I certainly wasn't rich back in Chicago, but simply living in America meant I led a somewhat relatively cushy life with regards to accommodations. A valuable lesson for any child to learn but, as Beavis and Butthead would say, "That lesson sucked."

Once I got over my own bowel movements, it was nice to experience life as a local. My mom always booked our Pakistan trips from early June through the end of August, which meant I spent a solid [insert diarrhea remark here] three months absorbing Karachi life, culture, and food. Schools in Karachi started August 1st, so I was able to enjoy two months of free time with my cousins before they were back to school. In fact, one of the best things my cousins ever did for me was to take me to school with them from time to time.

At my cousin's government elementary school, many students spent a great deal of time regurgitating textbooks. Classes were direct lecture or simply a teacher asking various students to read from a textbook aloud. Everyone took copious notes. After school, my cousins visited private tutors to understand the material better in groups. After these sessions, my cousins would recopy entire portions of textbooks into their notebooks, and then they would begin memorizing. They memorized word-for-word. The textbook was usually borrowed, which explained the copying.

I remember first learning about the earth's crust, mantle, and core from my cousin's notebook. She was three years older than me, which probably put her in the 5th or 6th grade at the time. She asked me to listen to her repeat from memory what she had written from in notebook. I was supposed to tell her if she missed anything. In her first try, her recitation was near perfect and I remember being completely impressed with her. These kids had memorized complete chapters, I wonder how many honor roll students these schools produce, I thought. Maybe we could all have jobs in America and I wouldn't have to visit these guys here so often. Clearly, I was an idiot and more importantly, I was wrong. It takes a lot more than knowledge, skills, and talent to get into a college or university if you're non-elite in Pakistan. It really just takes a shit ton of money and well-connected people, or maybe a family legacy. We talk about education inequity in America, but it's a different ball game abroad and sometimes it's really hard for me to work where I do, knowing what I know.

The memory of my cousin reciting her notes aloud depresses me now. If these kids have that kind of motivation and determination, what would be possible if Pakistan had a properly funded national education system? Sometimes I think about this memory and I wonder what I'm doing with myself in New York City. I spend a great deal of my work time in "planning" mode, carefully thinking about how to relate what I'm teaching to what's out there in the real world. I'm anticipating, "Yo Mista, what does this have to do with my life?" A simple, "Bro, it's on the Regents exam," isn't a good enough response, but it definitely would be abroad. Don't get me wrong, I'm very excited to help students connect math outside of the classroom, but from a cultural perspective, it seems I would lose them if I didn't make the content extremely interesting everyday. On the flip side, there are children on the other side of the world memorizing textbooks. Somehow, it's been drilled into their minds that education is their only way out.

I need to stop, my legs are sore from typing this on the pot.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Winning Respect

It's the kids' first day of school. When the bell rings and they start filling up my classroom, there's a brief, chaotic moment where I have absolutely no control or influence. They don't know me, so I haven't established my presence. Nobody knows who I am, yet everyone seating in their seats is desperately wanting to prove themselves. Everyone has their tough face activated.

There's a group of students that immediately run towards the back seats. Not all of them will have issues with noise or chit-chatting during class, some just want to be left alone. There are students who have to be loud about everything, because attention is their game. I foresee myself really enjoying toying with them for the rest of the year. A select few might even throw in a few cuss words out loud right before I'm about to speak, just to show how "bad ass" they are. "Fuck you bitch. Dat's my seat, n****." Buddy, I've heard a lot worse.

At this point, it's crucial to set the right tone. First impressions really do matter and at this point, I'm either going to win them over for the next fifty-five minutes (and essentially the next year), or it's a losing battle from day one. Decisions have to be made: will I be the asshole who picks every battle and wastes everyone else's time? Will I let everything slide and end up a pushover? I usually shoot for neither, and instead choose to tell my students about my own background. If a group of students choose not to listen, I will put them in their place with a slight brush of sarcasm. Nothing extreme enough to make them feel like shit about their actions, not yet anyway. I tell them where I came from and what makes me: my abusive childhood, where I went to college, where I worked before teaching, and why I quit. This story usually shuts them up for quite some time. Then the questions come, all at once.
"Yo Mista, dead ass you wuz makin' bread on Wall Street?" 
"Why'd you quit Mista? Fuck I would've stayed." 
"Shit, my n**** here made it and then told 'em to go fuck they-selves. Yo, so why you wanna work with us, seriously boss?" 
"Ay yo, anybody tell you you look like that Indian n**** from Harold and Kumar?" I think that's my favorite, by far.
They're at my fingertips now, because they've just heard a story of perseverance. More specifically, they just heard about my perseverance and I'm still standing there right in front of them. I made it big even though I grew up poor under a messed up home, something they can all relate to. I was standing in front of them and willingly left "making bread" because I thought money wasn't everything. I don't think they've ever met anybody yet who thought money wasn't everything. They're mind-fucked. They might think I'm stupid, they might think I'm cool, or they might not think anything at all, but they are thinking. This is how I win respect. In my fourth year, it's become pretty formulaic.

I have to be honest - I do drop a few cuss words while I tell my story, mostly on accident, but some on purpose. I tell my students I use cuss words with meaning and emphasis. "I don't want to sound like a jackass, dropping the F-bomb every other word. Why?" I pause and look around. They're so stunned I just dropped cuss words that I don't think they even heard my question. "Because then I look and sound like an uneducated asshole. Plus, you definitely paid a lot more attention when I just started swearing, but if I swore all the time, you wouldn't take me seriously." They're listening, quietly, and with focus. I continue, "You have learn how to code-switch when there are different types of people around you." I encourage them to code-switch when others walk into the room, but when I'm around and they think it would add meaning, go for it. I got your back, you guys got mine. "Don't snitch on me, I won't snitch on you. Can we agree on this?" Twenty nods of excitement. This is how I establish trust.

I go back to explaining why I quit investment banking, because they just can't get over it. As I talk about my desire to help others and not forget where I come from, a young woman raises her hand and drops this bomb, "Yeah Mista, you right. We need to step up and help ourselves. This black culture be killin' us. No black people that make it big be helping the hood as much as white people help themselves. Shit, white people be helping us and we be pissin' it away. Why is Bill Gates in Africa, how come we not???"

Holy shit. As crazy as that comment sounded, it actually sparked some motivation in the class. Obviously, I had to address we couldn't generalize like that, but I'm not sure how seriously they took me. I mean, regarding black culture they're probably not going to take a brown guy's word over their own. I did bring up some well-known African-American philanthropists, but it was interesting to note that many of the famous "gangsta-rappers" that my students are obsessed with weren't on that list (a student pointed this out). As the conversation unfolded, another student brought up a very good point, "That's the problem yo, we just play ball or rap. It's hard to make it. And in da end, even if you make it, you still owned by someone. And when you're not good, you're trash. If you don't make it big, then you're a waste. That's why I came to this school, to be different." Well, it's not math, but hey, at least we're talking the truth.

I didn't really think I could get comments out like these on day one, but it happened. With the students at my previous school, it took another day or two to get almost everyone to participate. My students this year are slightly younger, so while they might be louder and behavior-management might be tougher, changing their ways and their future might be easier. We'll see.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Round Four, Fight!

I'm somewhere in the middle of excited, calm, and nervous. Today is the first day of classes for students at my new alternative high school (we're starting a week earlier than traditional NYC public schools).

Fair warning: I wrote this before the school day started. Now, I'm feeling closer to exhausted, but optimistic none-the-less.

Three years ago, I started my first year teaching at a school that was also in it's first year. It was incredible to witness how school culture was set, how policies were developed, and most importantly, how excited everyone was to start "fresh." There was a ridiculous amount of positive energy in the room, bursting at the seams to spark change. Beyond my summer training experience with Teach for America, I had never been in a room where every adult present wanted to work their ass off for the greater good. Unless if one considers investment banking helping the poor. I guess not.

Of course, as a twenty-four year old first-year teacher, I was pretty naive to believe that a group of excited and talented people could come together and make a huge difference. They can, but not without proper leadership, effective support staff, and productive policy. As it turns out, these were the very aspects that eventually led me to leave that school three years in. I wrote about that here.

My new alternative high school is different.

First, it's an alternative charter school (which I admit has it's own philosophical issues). However, before this school came into existence, I had never heard of a charter school that willingly sought to enroll teens with court records and juvenile sentences. I had never heard a charter school allowing kids to submit their own names into the lottery admissions system without a parent/guardian (one of the main criticisms of the charter school system).

Before I joined this school's staff, I was (and perhaps still am for the most part) against the idea of charter schools, but only because they have been in the news for doing pretty terrible things, i.e. weening out students who don't fit their mold. Traditional public schools can't "return to sender," whereas charter schools have their ways of getting around this. There's also a lot of talk about charter schools purposely enrolling less students with special needs, as these students tend to bring state test scores down. So obviously, the decision to join a charter school was tough, but it was an experiment I couldn't pass up.

I've been through about two weeks of training with my new colleagues, and having done this before, I can say with confidence my new school will be different and here's why: we have a full staff of trained case workers dedicated to support our students, in and out of the classroom. They also have the ability to show up to a student's house whenever they want, without having to wait days to file paperwork. So if a student is absent for two or three days, they can just show up.

Instead of hammering out curriculum and testing, our leadership dedicated most of staff training towards understanding our over-age, under-credited student population emotionally and being there to support them as human beings. We learned about what to expect from students who may have had traumatic experiences in their lives. It seems my new gig values the socio-emotional characteristics of children just as much as their academics. Looking at the whole child, rather than a single aspect. I like this.

My apologies to readers who have been messaging me about new posts. August was a busy month, but rest assured, I'm back for round (year) four.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Real McCoy

I recently searched "John Strauss" on Google and was surprised that none of the search results said, "the best teacher I've ever had in high school." In fact, there was barely any information or mention of the John Strauss I wanted to read about, a true rock star of a teacher and a living legend at the high school I graduated from. 

Mr. Strauss was my senior year English teacher. He was not a young, highly motivated, self-proclaimed hotshot. Nor was he part of some national movement claiming its teachers were more effective than others. When I had Mr. Strauss, he was already a veteran teacher, humble and modest. He had a sense of humor and was deeply committed, but most importantly, he had passion. In fact, there's a picture of him in my senior year high school yearbook with a caption that reads, "Mr. Strauss is a perfect example that a passion for teaching can bring enjoyment to classes." When I read that at the tender age of eighteen, I probably didn't understand what that statement really meant. I finally got it when I read it again at twenty-seven with a few years of teaching experience of my own. This guy was the real McCoy.

In school, I typically did not enjoy English class, nor did I enjoy reading books in general. Yet, Mr. Strauss's English class was something I looked forward to every single day. My first memory of Mr. Strauss is of him reenacting a scene from the Greek tragedy Hecuba. Mr. Strauss was hunched over and in despair, reciting lines from the play and channeling Hecuba's sense of loss. I was stunned at how "into it" he was. This happened somewhere around the beginning of the school year and it completely won me over.

Strauss would go on to reenact various scenes from literature in front of the class throughout the year. He helped us all individually connect to the text. We didn't waste time test-prepping for the AP exam in May, yet many of his students scored well year after year. We would instead spend a lot of time as a class discussing texts we were assigned to read. Even if I didn't do the reading, I couldn't help but learn something from the discussions he facilitated. After that, we would reflect on our readings via writing, and he would challenge us to improve our style and thought process. I remember I was trying to squeeze an essay that was six paragraphs into five and he said, "You know six paragraphs are okay, right? Stick with what feels natural." That blew my mind. This wasn't going to be a cookie-cutter, formulaic class. So instead I decided I should just do what the man said: actually learn to write well and coherently. 

I don't ever recall Mr. Strauss printing worksheets with Illinois state standards highlighted at the top. I never even knew what standards were covered in senior year English. I never received a document that summarized which standards I struggled with or mastered. We never took a single multiple-choice test in his class, ever. Shit, I didn't even know what my grade was half the time. 

We, the students, received our feedback from the source. Strauss often conferenced with us one-on-one during our writing assignments. We didn't memorize dictionary definitions of new words. Instead, we developed our vocabulary through our literary discussions. It was kind of hard not to know the meaning of a new word given how much it got thrown around during discussion. If I hadn't read the homework the night before, the classroom discussions sparked so much interest in me that I ended up finishing books well ahead of deadlines. I was usually a pretty good bullshitter during classroom discussions, but in Mr. Strauss's class, I didn't want to be. This, coming from the kid who went to Spark Notes for just about everything. 

Like any veteran, Mr. Strauss had some classroom tricks to keep our attention during discussions. If a student had his/her hand up in the air, he would look him/her right in the eye, but call on someone else. It was confusing, but hilarious. This small, but clever trick kept us on our toes. Of course, we could've reacted to his surprise cold-calling the wrong way, i.e. Strauss did it to call on someone not paying attention, etc. The problem was, we were all participating and paying attention, so it wasn't really a problem. There was nothing to do but play his game. 

Someone could argue we didn't have issues because it was an AP class, but from what I heard, Mr. Strauss was successful and well-respected in every class he taught. He was liked by his colleagues, his students and even by students who never took his class. In fact, my younger brother never had the opportunity to take his class, but Strauss went out of his way to check up on him every so often since I had expressed concern about being so far away from him.  

So with all this talk about teacher evaluations and the corporate-education reform movement, I can't help but worry about him and other teachers like him. I bet if this very same man walked into a new school environment today, he would not be deemed effective by his superiors, regardless of what his students thought of him. He probably wouldn't be the model teacher organizations like Teach for America would present to first-year teachers. He probably wouldn't be the teacher a principal would give kudos to during a morning meeting. Sadly, a teacher like him is probably someone who has retired or is on the verge of retiring, pushed out by those who don't understand, yet control the industry.

Well, I won't forget him. And as I begin my fourth year of teaching, I'm going to try to channel as much of Mr. Strauss as I can in my own classroom. I'm finally getting to a point where I can focus on my students' all-around development, not just curriculum and standards. In reality, that's all fluff compared to how important connecting with someone can be. 

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Becoming a Mista (or Miss)

An article published in the NYT this week highlights how states across the U.S. are changing the way teachers will receive certification. According to the article, "New York and up to 25 other states are moving toward... de-emphasizing tests and written essays in favor of a more demanding approach that requires aspiring teachers to prove themselves through lesson plans, homework assignments and videotaped instruction sessions." I say it's about time.

Back in 2009, I joined the teaching profession in New York state via Teach for America, which simply meant I had to obtain a master's degree (part-time, at night) while teaching full-time in a classroom. Like most of my peers, I paid more attention to my job as a teacher than my actual master's degree courses. I wish it didn't have to be that way, but it was. My kids were much more important to me than some excerpt written by Linda Darling-Hammond about best practices. Actually, not all TFA teachers even needed a master's degree: NY state happens to require a master's degree for all teachers, which by the way, is a good thing. Before receiving certification, I also had to take and pass three exams: the LAST, CST and ATS-W. Let me be super clear, these tests were a joke.

The LAST exam was a general multiple-choice test (with one essay) that assesses your ability to read, comprehend and select a right answer. That's about it. I remember getting bored about a quarter of the way into this test, but looking quite concerned when a fellow test-taker across the aisle from me was looking like she was freaked out. That moment scared me initially about how easy it was to become a teacher, and then I took the other tests which actually confirmed my fears. The CST exam was like the LAST, except content specific (e.g. 7th-12th grade mathematics). Finally, the ATS-W was another multiple-choice question test, but this time about the teaching practice in general. I took this test online at a Pearson testing center in NYC. By the way, all NY state teacher certification exams are run by Pearson.
So what sparked the need for change in the current certification system? For years, teachers have been complaining their master's programs were not effectively preparing them for the classroom. They wanted a combination of theory and practice. I guess someone finally listened. Linda Darling-Hammond, a professor at Stanford whose articles I should have read while obtaining my master's degree says, "Teaching is action work...You have to make a lot of things happen in a classroom with a lot of kids, effectively. You cannot just have book learning. It is not enough to pass a paper-and-pencil test, or even to have taken a bunch of classes in an education program. You have to be able to demonstrate whether you can actually teach.” Well said, professor. You actually make me want to go back and read those excerpts of yours I glossed over.

Anyway, besides the fact that we may actually have a better certification process in the pipeline, two things struck me in this article:
  1. When states decided their teacher certification methods were dated and ineffective, guess who was ready to go with another seemingly more progressive authentic assessment? Pearson. The article states, "The new system will require teachers to electronically submit their work... for grading by trained evaluators who have been recruited by the education company Pearson." I'm sure this will raise many questions amongst educators, e.g. "Who the hell are these guys to determine whether I am good enough to teach or not? Shouldn't my professors have a say instead?"

  2. Stephanie Wood-Garnett, an assistant commissioner in the NY Education Department’s office of higher education says this gem in the article, "We don’t want to know if you [teachers] can pass multiple-choice tests... We want to know if you can drive." Fantastic! Can we please apply this logic to students in the classroom now?

Monday, July 30, 2012

Parents or No Parents

My mom played a significant role in my early childhood education. Despite our differences now, I have to give credit where credit is due.

I learned first grade-level skills well before I entered kindergarten because my mother spent hours tutoring me everyday. At this stage in my life, my dad was brutally abusive and controlling; he would not allow my mom to make friends, much less hold a job. Perhaps if she'd been allowed to lead an independent and abuse-free life, she might not have spent as much time tutoring me. I guess I will never know. Instead, in between cleaning and cooking, my mom prepped and tested my mind. She believed her ticket out of this prison was my education and success, that maybe something good could come out of this tragedy of a marriage with my dad.

After kindergarten, my mom decided to transfer me out of St. John Vianney (a private, Catholic school) and into Roy Elementary School, the local public school to begin the first grade. This would be her last influence on my education. My dad was fairly uninvolved in most matters except when he was needed to fill out forms (she couldn't read or speak English well at the time). After I was officially enrolled, my skills were assessed by Ms. D, who would later be my fourth grade teacher. I remember quite vividly she was impressed that I could count up to one-thousand as a five year old.

Until Roy Elementary School, my mom was very involved in my education, but after my transfer the after-school tutoring slowed to an eventual stop and I seemed to be on my own. I originally thought that we had come to some form of mutual understanding: as long as my grades were stellar, I would be left alone. As I got older, my mom stopped checking my test grades and relied solely on parent-teacher conferences and quarterly report cards. And by high school, she didn't bother attending conferences either as my grades remained on point.

As my mother transitioned out of my education, my role within the household grew much more significant. By middle school, I was sifting through our mail and determining what was junk and what wasn't. Soon after, I was writing checks and paying our utility bills using my dad's checkbook, while he remained drunkenly passed out until mid-afternoon. When my teachers gave me important forms to get signed at home, I read them on my own and simply told my mother where to sign.

My literacy and initiative unburdened my parents from some responsibility, which made me feel like a grown-up: something every child wants to feel. In reality, I obviously wasn't a grown-up. The responsibility I was taking on wasn't happening because I wanted it to happen, but simply because the adults around me weren't holding their end of the bargain. I was simply the only person in the household simultaneously literate and sober. A child without mentorship and guidance. I had no one to talk to about college, I just knew I had to get there. As much as I thought I knew back then, I know now I didn't know shit: most of the things I learned, I learned because I made mistakes and then had to work twice as hard to get to where I should be. Thomas Edison said it best, "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."

I think back to my days as an elementary school student, now as a twenty-seven year old high school teacher, and I can't help but wonder: what if the charter school movement had boomed back then instead of now? Would I be where I am at today?

Although my skills were high as an elementary school student, my parents weren't by any means "involved." They just wanted me enrolled in the nearest public (free) school. After my mom stopped tutoring me, her only involvement in my education was driving me to and back from school. Would my mom have entered my name into a "better" school's lottery? How would she even have known about a new charter school, if she wasn't even reading the documents I brought home from school?

Ultimately, the decision to move to a charter school would have come down on my shoulders, but I still wouldn't have been able to act without my parents' consent. And as a student who was doing just fine academically, I probably wouldn't have acted on it as it required too much work: getting my parents to submit my name, going to the lottery with my mom, transferring schools, getting my parents to sign more forms, etc. As a seven-year old, I think a new Batman movie would have seemed much more interesting than an opportunity to enroll into a charter school. How can someone expect a child to comprehend the so-called "benefits" of a charter school vs. a traditional public school?

If charter schools put even the most driven, independent, and ambitious students at the mercy of their uninvolved parents, how is this system fair? And what about the students who aren't as driven or involved in their own academics and have uninvolved parents? They're pretty much doomed, aren't they?

Thank goodness I didn't grow up under that system, who knows where I might've ended up if I was given a choice as a seven-year old.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Education Olympics

In light of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London beginning this Friday, check out this nifty infographic (see below) comparing the education of countries who have received the most gold medals.

What's interesting about this infographic is that "hours per year required in the classroom" seems to be viewed as a good thing, i.e. the longer the instructional day, the better. On the contrary, if you compare the countries who subject their children to more school hours per year vs. international assessment performance (via the PISA, etc.), a negative correlation seems to exist.

Perhaps this offers a deeper insight into the culture of homework and families in other countries vs. the U.S. Maybe the school day has grown longer in the U.S. because those who care about the numbers believed it's a quick fix to bad and/or absentee parents unavailable to instill solid values. Instead, maybe we should think about what types of people are becoming parents and what they are teaching their children either directly or indirectly. Are American parents today encouraging/yelling/telling their children to do their homework or are they developing a culture that values education as an expectation? Are American parents today relatively more hands-off about what's going on in their kids' classrooms compared to the past? Are American parents today fully equipped to deal with the finances associated with raising a child through post-secondary education? These are tough questions to think about and while they may not pose pretty answers, we have to admit that current social policies may ultimately dictate educational outcomes. I'll give you an example.

On the "A" train in New York City, there are many posters depicting a female teenager lost in thought, and possibly crying. It is an advertisement against abortion: reconsidering your choice. And it works, because advertisement works. So yes, plastering "abortion is bad" posters in NYC subway cars may ultimately convince a 16-year old female to keep her unplanned child, but numbers compiled over years and years don't lie: statistics show unplanned children born into poverty with a single-parent face tougher challenges. As a result, when this child grows up, his/her test scores may factor into the reason why the U.S. is lagging behind other nations. Having great schools and amazing teachers is not enough, yet we still trick ourselves into believing this.

How can we as a country be so "data-driven" yet ignore the data when it really matters? Poverty forces human beings to pick survival over knowledge. I mean, we are animals after all.

The Education Olympics

Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Meaningful Boost of Morale

At the end of the 2011-2012 school year, I sent out a school-wide e-mail to all faculty, staff, and students informing them about my decision to leave and teach elsewhere. I received many responses wishing me well, mostly from students, which kind of made me sad as the kids really were the only reason I stayed to teach a third year at that school.

I recently received an e-mail from Andy, the ideal transfer school student in my opinion. Besides just being highly intelligent and articulate, Andy has a very interesting background and story, e.g. he dropped out of high school for a semester to skateboard in Germany. Unfortunately for Andy, the NYC Department of Education has strict guidelines on how many classes and what types of classes should "count" on a transcript towards graduation. So even though Andy had already completed higher levels of math in his prior high school (e.g. Geometry, Trigonometry), his transcript was still missing an Algebra credit: a mandatory credit he would need in order to graduate. As a result, he was placed in my Algebra class, but he really should have been in a calculus class, which my school did not offer.

About a week into the trimester, I realized Andy was going to get seriously bored; perhaps to the point where he would start cutting class. Cutting class is a dangerous disease transfer school students suffer from, and if they can figure out how to justify cutting one class, cutting other classes becomes easier. So instead of simply giving him "differentiated" material (i.e. same material, harder shit), I simply made an effort to talk to him. You know, about his time in Germany, his future plans, his likes/dislikes, etc. We had great conversation, and I realized the kid had a significant amount of potential. So I told him that.

Here's the e-mail he sent me this summer:
from: Andy Cornvallis (
to: Yo Mista! (
date: Mon, Jul 16, 2012 at 12:02 PM
subject: Hello Friend!
Hey Mista! It's Andy even though I know you know that already. I mean look at the damn email address right? I wanted to just say thank you for the support you showed me. Honestly you made me realize how much I could do without me even knowing. Simple things I never understood such as Radicals for example, you made it clear to me. You are a great teacher and I consider you one of the most intelligent and funniest guys I know. I consider you a friend and wish to keep in contact every now and then as I hope you do and do not mind. 
I also wanted to inform you I am looking into the college thing and taking your advice. I realize I can take advantage of the opportunity and I should. I am also on a job hunt right now and wanted to ask if I may use you as a reference because although you are funny and cool as hell, you are a professional person when it comes down to it. Anyway I'm going to end this email now as I'm extremely tired. It sucks that you can't teach another semester with us! I wish you and your lady a great summer. Respond whenever you can. Thanks for everything Mista =) 
What an incredible, meaningful boost of morale. Thank you, Andy.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Put It All Out There

"I'm sure you have some pretty wicked stories."

I was eating brunch at a dim sum restaurant recently with a large group of friends and friends of friends. My wife was telling someone about my career change from banker to teacher, which prompted the quote above. "Pretty wicked stories" - these words really got me thinking about a story I'd been wanting to write, but couldn't because I didn't know if he would be okay with it. "He" being Kareem, a former student of mine, now in college, but whom I've written about on this blog before (see here, here and here). After brunch, I wrote Kareem an e-mail asking if I could write this particular story. He wrote back, "Go ahead, put it all out there lol."

Three years ago, I had the pleasure to teach algebra to then 17-year old Kareem. When I first met him, he immediately struck me as an intelligent, motivated student with a lot of depth and personality. Here was someone you just couldn't help but keep talking to because you know he's going to say something you would've never thought about. I wanted to take him under my wing, so I offered him a position as my teacher aide, where he could grade papers with me after school.

Aside from grading, Kareem and I spent a lot of time discussing education, college, finance and life after school. In my Algebra class, his grades were amazing, so it wasn't surprising that he was part of a group of students whom I invited to my apartment to eat a home-cooked brunch with my wife and me. I remember at some point during the brunch, the apartment got super quiet for ten minutes. My wife and I were cleaning dishes, and when we turned to look at what was going on, Kareem was quietly going through every single book on our bookshelf, flipping through pages and reading the summaries on the back. My wife looked at me and smiled. My thoughts? Hope he doesn't find the book about penis-shaped objects in our everyday lives. Oh well.

One random Sunday afternoon in the fall, my wife and I were strolling around Greenwich Village and happened to bump into Kareem. He was with another boy, and they both looked stunned that somebody knew them. Kareem eventually said hello to the both of us, and then out of nowhere explained that he was in the Village looking to purchase a bong to smoke weed from. "Dude! This is stuff you aren't supposed to tell your teacher," I said. He grinned, and my wife and I walked off.

The next day after school, Kareem was quietly grading some algebra quizzes for me. We were sitting directly across from each other. "Dude, seriously, why the hell were you in the Village buying bongs? I mean, do they not sell that sort of stuff up in the Bronx, where you live?" I asked laughingly.


"Really man, I don't get it," I continued. I was checking his graded papers to make sure he was correcting the quizzes properly. He was making some pretty careless mistakes. "Greenwich Village bongs are probably just as effective as Bronx bongs." I noticed he stopped grading the quizzes altogether. More silence. Then Kareem looked up at me and stared.

"I'm gay."

My response was fast, but not because I thought he was being serious. "I don't get what that has to do with buying a bong in the Village. Are you trying to change the subject?" I asked.

"Mista, I'm gay. I'm being serious," Kareem said.

"So?" I asked.

"You don't care if I'm gay?"

All of a sudden, it dawned on me what was happening. "Why would I care if you're gay or straight?" I asked.

"Because... I don't know. I was in the Village because that's where kids in the Bronx go if they want to like, you know, be themselves," he admitted.

"You mean, you can't be who you are in your neighborhood?" I asked stupidly. Completely ignorant question, in retrospect.

"No Mista, where you been? They be beatin' up on niggas like me up there. At least downtown nobody judge you. Don't tell nobody Mista, please. Nobody knows, except that boy you met yesterday. I ain't even tell my mother yet."

"Wait, so I'm the first person you've told this to?" Initially, I kept wondering why the hell this kid picked me. What made me so special, that he revealed this information to me? I couldn't come up with an answer.

"Kareem, I'll keep this a secret, but you need to learn to love and accept yourself. And, you need to tell your mother in time. You don't know how she will react, maybe she will support you through this, I mean, you already do a lot for her." When he finished grading, I locked up my classroom and took the familiar walk back to the subway.

It was the longest walk I'd ever taken in my life, as I kept playing the conversation over and over in my head.

I went home and had a few pints to chill out and reflect on what had just happened. It'd only been a couple of months since I'd started teaching, and it was already kicking my ass, but dealing with this type of knowledge was a different type of ass kicking. It broke my heart that this kid had to hide who he was. Simultaneously, I felt something pretty unreal about the fact that he chose to tell me about who he was. I suppose this was what teaching at a transfer school was going to be like, a healthy mix of getting my ass kicked with a side of warm hugs.

Monday, June 18, 2012

I Love You, But You're Bringing Me Down

I've pushed off writing this for a while, but I think it's time I just say it: I'm leaving my high school to teach somewhere else next year.

In the spring of 2009, I left investment banking because I wasn't feeling fulfilled. I was miserable, pathetic and without passion. Teaching high school the last three years has offered me something different, something I'd never experienced. I didn't just feel fulfilled teaching, I felt passionate. It was honorable, righteous and ridiculously challenging. This was a job where you couldn't just do the same thing over and over again everyday, it required adaptation, improvisation and commitment.

I began my first teaching year at a transfer school also in it's first year, serving 17-21 year old students from all over New York City. We operated our small school within a larger high school complex and we shared this space with three other schools (one of which would phase out). I began my three-year journey with nine other enthusiastic teachers in one hallway. We have more teachers now, but only one hallway still. At our first full-staff orientation, I could sense there was a lot of talent in the room, with a mix of inexperienced and experienced teachers. We were all excited about the opportunity to create something new and special. I was among the young teachers and the only one hired through Teach for America.

As the months passed and I gained experience and exposure to the world of education inequality, my personal views on education, which were black-and-white, became gray. I increasingly questioned Teach for America, the organization that introduced me to teaching, and the ideas they officially or unofficially support (e.g. test-based accountability, charter schools, etc.). I thought re-routing young, driven top-tier college graduates into education would help "close the achievement gap," but that's not entirely the answer, and I think at this point might be creating another problem. I was against teacher unions and tenure in my first year, but that all changed. Working with the most marginalized students over the past three years, I learned something everyday, and it changed me.

The school I work at now is not the same school as it was when it was created. It's become a black-hole and if I'm going to be completely honest, the epitome of awful. There's no initiative from the top, no culture for collaboration, and worst of all, no spirit. It's dead. Personally, things are fine when I'm holding the reins and teaching my students, but as soon as the bell rings and they leave, I remember where I work and it dampens my mood. I'm pretty damn convinced the only reason my school exists is because our troubled students cling to their favorite teachers, often citing these people as the only reason they come to school. We've had cases where a student will show up to school for only one period, and that is only because they like that teacher and want to work hard in that class. If I were a principal, and I knew this about my school's kids, I would do whatever it takes to make sure my school supported a culture of camaraderie, collaboration and community. Getting kids into the building would be my number one priority.

Unfortunately, the culture that the NYC Department of Education has cultivated does not support a collaborative, fun experience in school for teachers or students. Principals are, perhaps unintentionally, pit against their staff in traditional public schools. It's almost like they're being trained to manage factory-operated machines (teachers) that design a product (students). When products fail, machines need maintenance or replacement. Many (not all) of these new and inexperienced "executive" principals forget there is no bottom line in education. In the last three years, my school community has lost many invaluable teachers to this toxic culture. This is a disservice to our kids, because students who come to my school likely come from homes (if there is a home) with no structure. They come to school expecting and seeking structure and stability, but that's not what they get here. Watching teachers come and go in a school one hallway long seems anything but welcoming and comforting. These kids are heartbroken when their teachers leave. When the time comes, some kids still seek out their old teachers for test-prep on their own time. High stakes testing, state standards and other rigid measures are replacing community.  And let us never forget that it takes a village to raise a child.

Around the spring of this year, I began to seriously consider leaving my school. My students were the only thing holding me back, because I like them, but professionally I was uninspired by this place. An opportunity came in the form of a brand new charter-transfer high school for over-age, under-credited students: the first of its kind in New York City. This charter-transfer high school would give preference to students that are homeless, living in group homes, involved in the court system, and former dropouts. To me, this seemed like a worthwhile experiment and in line with what charter schools were supposed to be, experimental. I was conflicted because I've been pretty outspoken against charter schools. If I left where I worked now, I'd be going to work for a public institution that received private money. This new school would co-exist with other public high schools in the same building, creating a visible contrast between public and public-charter. Diane Ravitch, an education historian whose opinion I value significantly, might not approve. But, I had to consider the atmosphere and most importantly, where I can make the most positive impact. Transfer high schools across NYC are under the microscope right now, and evaluation almost always leads to micromanagement, bad culture, and unhappiness. That's where my current school is at right now and it's suffocating.

My colleague recently wrote a great post about the importance of having a code and how important it is for principals to know what their teachers believe in and vice versa. During my interviews with this new place, I grilled the principal over and over again for his thoughts and beliefs on education and troubled youth. Ultimately, I was impressed by what I heard, and what he wanted to hear from me. I got the sense that this new place would be different. I got the sense that I would be working hard and that my efforts would not only be noticed, but mirrored at the top. A holistic approach to education would be favored over test-prep and drill-and-kill. After I received the offer to join the team, the principal and I continued to discuss my experiences and we've already begun planning the mathematics curriculum for next year. This school year isn't even over yet and he's excited about the next one. That's what I need.

As this school year winds down, I still feel a little guilty about my decision to leave traditional public schools, but I need to know if this will work. There simply has to be a place where smart, motivated educators can work together to serve the most marginalized students in this city and if that place is a charter school, I'm still young enough to try it. This country's education system is a mess, that is a true statement. But if I keep thinking about this problem on such a large scale, I'm going to forget about the kids I can help right in front of me.

A special thank you to my colleagues, old and new, for everything. Seriously, it was fun having a happy family while it lasted. To my current students whom I won't be returning to next year, if you're reading this blog then you're savvy enough to find me and reach out.

As for my school, I love you, but you're bringing me down.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Teaching to the Test

I saw this nifty graphic on a blog this morning and decided to re-post it in honor of Regents testing going on in high schools across New York state for the next two weeks. May the test Gods be with you.

Teaching to the Test

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

We Need to Talk About Tenure

The idea and privilege of "tenure" in public education has garnered a lot of attention as of late. Most people who have never worked in education a single day in their lives seem to feel that tenure is unfair and teachers should work under the same expectations that other "regular" and hard-working Americans work under. At least, that's the narrative being presented in the media. Three years ago, I would have agreed, but I didn't know any better.

At the college and university level, tenure is difficult to obtain and can take 4-8 years. Correct me if I'm wrong here, but from what I think I know, the candidate usually needs to have published some sort of research and have demonstrated a strong teaching record, among other things. Before becoming a high school teacher, I understood why tenure was necessary at the college and university level as it protected academics when they published work that went against the mainstream, and thereby prevented professors from being too scared to delve into something "radical" because their jobs were on the line. I really didn't see how it could be so important to public school teachers, who weren't conducting and publishing research - they're just teaching curriculum.

One of the advantages of coming into the education world as an outsider has been that I constantly feel stupid about my prior beliefs. I, like many others, erroneously believed tenure was something dated. I mean, I came to teaching with job experience, but in that job experience I received no protections from my boss(es). I had to work hard and exceed expectations everyday, or else I would be subject to a negative review from my peers and supervisors, which would likely put me on the getting-fired trajectory. Wouldn't receiving tenure and union protection make me lazy? I questioned. That's probably why I was so quick to jump on the Michelle-Rhee-get-rid-of-teacher-tenure bandwagon during my Teach for America summer institute training. Later, I learned that those deserving to be teachers, those who actually joined the profession out of ambition and love, did not put tenure on a golden pedestal because students belonged there. Tenure was significant, but for reasons other than "the ability to get lazy."

Tenure, as I see it, simply means that after a period of x years (varies by state) and adequate fulfillment of requirements, a teacher cannot be fired for the sake of being fired without receiving a hearing. This idea came to be as a result of teachers being fired by their principals without reason, often because their political views, personal lifestyles and/or teaching methodologies didn't align with their principals'. As most people who have ever had a job know, not all bosses are fair and all-knowing - it's the same in education, maybe even worse.

In New York specifically, a public school teacher must teach for three years (a.k.a. "the probationary period") with a satisfactory rating before being considered for tenure. The process is straight-forward: a teacher submits to his or her principal a "teaching portfolio" that contains a resume, teaching and education philosophy, reflections, lots of samples of student work, evidence of student achievement, professional development, examples of service to the school, and three years worth of administrator's formal classroom observation reports. Ideally, the principal already knows what's in the binder as he/she (or an assistant-principal) has been helping the teacher develop this binder throughout this teacher's probationary period. If the principal recommends the teacher for tenure at the end of the third year, then the principal submits this teacher's portfolio to his/her district-level superintendent. From there, it's either green-light for tenure or yellow-light, which means the probationary period gets extended to a fourth year. There is no limit for the number of extensions, so this process could go on forever.

What would cause a superintendent to delay giving a teacher tenure if all requirements have been met satisfactorily? In NYC, politics are involved. Apparently, the Bloomberg administration has been pressuring school districts and leaders to begin denying tenure, which has resulted in an increased number of teacher probationary extensions. There are stories of NYC principals who have admitted they felt their jobs were on the line if they didn't deny their teachers tenure. That's ridiculous.

Superintendents don't deal with teachers, they deal with principals and school-wide administration. They base most of their tenure/no tenure decisions (or at least used to) upon on a principal's recommendation and the quality of the teacher portfolio. What it ultimately comes down to, is how effective a principal a teacher has, since principals should be mentoring and observing their teachers as often as possible. The question is: what kind of principals are running our schools? Do they have a significant amount of teaching experience with an ability to view their teachers and students as individuals within a community? Or, do they view these people as human capital that can be exchanged, traded, or weeded out? Do principals find and apply one-size-fits-all solutions, or do they treat each and every problem as a unique experience?

I'm not going to let someone judge my teaching, my kids and my school because my principal can't articulate and demonstrate how amazing his school's staff and community really is. I think it's about time we started talking about how few effective school leaders there really are in this system and how the ineffective ones are screwing us all over. Including me.

My principal proudly displays a poster in his office detailing our school goals, one of which is "teacher development" in the form of six formal observations per school year. I've been formally observed once this entire school year and I'm in my third year of teaching. The school year is nearly over. In fact, I don't think I know a single colleague who has been formally observed more than twice this school year. As a second year teacher, I was formally observed twice. As a 24-year-old-I-have-no-idea-what-I'm-doing-first-year-teacher, I was still only observed twice. This later comes back to bite me in the ass.

I was instructed to begin making my teaching portfolio during my third year (when, as I learned afterward, many teachers begin their first year under the guidance of an assistant-principal). I was given minimal guidelines and little advice. Once I submitted my draft portfolio to my principal, he lost it in his desk for a few months until a week before the superintendent was scheduled to show up. He told me to throw in some additional items. He gave me a deadline, but then asked for the portfolio two days before the deadline. It wasn't ready.

You know where I'm going with this. You can already tell, can't you?

My principal did recommend me for tenure. In fact, at this point in the school year, I was the only probationary teacher recommended for tenure. We have no other third-year teachers. I imagine the conversation between my principal and superintendent regarding my tenure went something like this:
"He's got a lot of student work, and seems to use data well, but where are all his observations? I don't have any evidence from you on this guy. How can I just give him tenure? You know what it's like out there, everyone is looking at us under a microscope."
"I didn't do the observations," my principal probably admitted.
"Then we can't give him tenure."
I didn't put tenure on a golden pedestal, so I got over it two seconds after I was told. The messed up part about it though, was the manner in which I was informed that my probationary period was being extended to a fourth year. After the dust settled from my school's Quality Review, my principal called me into his office. I walked in, thinking he would admit that he messed up, that he hadn't done his own job properly and given the tough political spectrum, we'd both agree that yeah it's messed up, but we'd move on. Nope.

"Have a seat. We're going to have a tough conversation." My principal took a deep breath.

"Okay. What would you like to talk about?" I asked as I munched down on a turkey sandwich I'd made the night before - my lunch for the day. I make damn good sandwiches, by the way.

"As you know, the superintendent observed your class twice during the Quality Review. She did this specifically because you were up for tenure and your third year is wrapping up."

"Yeah, I figured that's why. It was good though, I thought both classes went well, and was happy she got to see a mix of direct instruction and group work."

"Well, as you know, I recommended you for tenure. However, in her observations, she wasn't happy with the academic rigor she saw. She also saw a lack of differentiation in your classroom. So based on this, we are going to have to extend your probationary period. You'll have to try again next year."

"Wait, what was the reasoning? Rigor? She knows I teach 9th grade Integrated Algebra to twenty-year olds with historically low math skills right?" I asked, completely shocked that he was giving me this BS.

"Unfortunately, that's the challenge we face at a transfer high school from the higher ups," he replied artificially. He's really bad at pretending to be empathetic. I decided to see if he'd flinch.

"Does this decision have anything to do with the fact that I wasn't observed enough? I mean, the observation section in my portfolio was pretty light."

I looked at him square in the eye and he looked right back at me and shot back, "No." He went on for five minutes using a lot of circular logic and jargon to try to BS his way out of this awkward situation. I was impressed by his poker face, but not his language.

Later that day, I told my union chapter leader about what happened and he informed me that a superintendent simply cannot make a tenure decision based off a short classroom observation and that the real reason my probationary period was being extended was because quite frankly, my principal messed up: the number of observations in my portfolio from the past three years should have been in the double digits.

Ultimately, I don't care. If you don't play the game, your opponents don't get to enjoy their victory. My only mistake was expecting anything from a guy who clearly doesn't know how to run a school, as my last three years have increasingly informed me and as I've written about here. He's lucky I'm not pursuing this and getting the union involved. I really just wish my principal had two things: balls and foresight. Like this guy.

Don't worry kids, class is still in session tomorrow.