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.


Anonymous said...

It's sort of being like a teacher and a parent at The same time i tell you mista you are the Alpha teacher.

Yo Mista said...

I removed and reposted the comment above to censor my name :-)

nh said...

knowing you as i do, i know you have a lot more fighting left in you. you are not one to give up easily, which is exactly what these kids need. knock em dead!