I'm a high school teacher in the poorest congressional district in the US (literally). AMA.
For proof, I offer my school and Dept. of Education ID, with identifying stuff blacked out: http://postimg.org/image/ewxgm189b/
I teach 11th-grade English. This is my first year at this particular school but not my first teaching in a low-income community.
A lot of them don't have computers, but luckily, we have a computer lab at the school. They have a lot of access to that, but more than that, I accept most assignments hand-written when necessary. It's a shame, though, because many of them are computer illiterate. I recently took them to the computer lab, asked them to type something with right alignment, and got blank stares. I can't expect them to use computers at home when they don't have them, but if they don't use computers, they're not going to be ready for life after high school.
Wow, I thought every American family had a computer in their home by 2014. This is really sad because without being familiar with computers you can hardly do anything without a high school nice enough to accommodate you.
From a quick Google search, in 2012, 25.2% of American households didn't have the internet. (Didn't find any states on computer ownership.)
It is a tremendous disadvantage and challenge. Luckily, we have a computer lab and a computer class.
I am going to make some educational videos for computer classes we learned in high school and middle school. What are some topics and how can I make learning online more fun?
That's an awesome idea! But kind of a broad question. What, specifically, are they for?
At least the basics. Like Microsoft office and how to use Google and more. Just stuff I learned in high school that others have not.
Ah. Well, you said it yourself, focus on the basics. What you may take for granted, these kids may not know.
Okay, I dont know how to say this without sounding a bit ignorant. I'm assuming that this school isn't very racially diverse. I see from your identification that you're Caucasian. Is race ever a barrier you encounter? Or is the school a lot more diverse than I think? If it is a barrier, how does it affect your interaction with students, both teaching and as a friend.
It's not an ignorant question. It's a great one.
The school is 97.7% black and Hispanic. I always used to worry about my race being a barrier. So far, I haven't encountered that. Possibly that's because I incorporate race issues into my teaching. I teach Othello and always incorporate non-fiction texts, like articles, dealing with relevant contemporary race issues. These kids are very aware of race.
I also think kids may be used to being taught by white teachers. I suspect they've had white teachers all the way since kindergarten. They're probably not shocked when they walk into my classroom.
As someone who's seen many attempts at producing/teaching Othello as a race play, I'm interested why you chose to teach Othello (a play which I don't believe has much to do with race) instead of Merchant of Venice?
One is that it goes really well with The Great Gatsby. And it deals with their concerns in life: cheating, backstabbing, etc. And I think it really is a play about race, and my students tend to agree. Othello has internalized the racism in his society, and is willing to believe Iago so quickly because he's right, how could a white woman love a black man? They get this.
Hello! I'm a high school senior in a middle class suburban district. Putting aside the obvious cultural and demographic differences between the school I attend and the school you teach at, I'd like to know if there is a severe case of the government "fixing something that ain't broke."
I see as I'm about to graduate all the changes that are being made. Changes to curriculum, not exposing students to the critical thinking and analytical skills I was fortunate enough to be exposed to in my Honors/AP classes, and most importantly, taking away the independence that teachers have in how they do their jobs.
What are your opinions on Common Core, No Child Left Behind, and other educational reforms being introduced?
Oh my God oh my God yes. The corporate reform movement is a complete disaster. At the end of the day, this is all about profit at the expense of the kids. I could go on about this for hours, but I'm not going to spend too much time on this post, because EVERYTHING is wrong with this reform movement, and I can't cover everything in a few paragraphs.
So do you think most teachers disagree with common core?
I can only speak from what I've seen, but I've met almost no teachers who like the Common Core. There is one survey that suggests teachers like the Common Core, but it was published by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the very same people who wrote and pushed the Common Core aggressively (and profit from it).
I am a teacher and I like the common core. I think the way it's being used to assess is atrocious and it's disgusting how Pearson is making such a profit off it. There are 1st grade teachers at my school who spend 9 weeks out of the year testing. That's 1/4 of the year where they are not instructing, just doing one on one tests. I think it should have been scaffolded better in its implementation (i.e. just implement it with kindergarten year 1, then K-1 year 2, then K-2 year 3 and so on). But, I do think it supports critical thinking and promotes metacognition.
See, my feeling about this is that everything that CCSS does, I can do with CCSS gone. For example, I love using informational text in the classroom. I don't need Common Core to tell me to do so. Nor do I think that what I do is right for every teacher, every school, every classroom.
You and all teachers can, but that doesn't mean they will without CC telling them and their administrations that they have to.
Well, they shouldn't have to! Every school operates differently. Every teacher teaches differently. Every student learns differently. What works for me won't work elsewhere.
as an non US citizen, what are these changes? is obama really removing critical thinking from the schools?
The answer is pretty complicated. It began with No Child Left Behind, which mandated annual testing in reading and math for all students in grades 3-8 and once in high school (students who have been in the country for less than one year are excluded from testing and students with severe disabilities have an alternative testing format). Districts that did well on these tests would receive monetary rewards for their perceived hard work. Districts that did poorly, or that did not make Adequate Yearly Progress towards having all of their students score proficient, would lose funding and be at risk for their school being shut down. NCLB left it up to the states to create the tests and the standards that accompanied them. The result was that students were subjected to a huge amount of testing, many states lowered their standards so that more students could pass, and many more states lowered their definition of "Proficient" to such a level that it was laughable.
In an attempt to remedy this, Obama has offered huge financial incentives (in the form of grant money called "Race to the Top") to adopt the Common Core Standards. You can read exactly what they say here. I highly encourage you to do so, since many people are confused about the difference between what they say and what's showing up in their kids' math homework. Basically, the CCSS set a nationwide standard of what all students should know and be able to do by the end of the school year. States were also offered incentives for joining certain testing consortiums that would give the same test (and thus, the same standard for what constitutes proficient) across several states.
In my opinion (and many people in the past have stopped listening to me at this point, so feel free to do the same) Bush did more to end critical thinking in schools than Obama has. Bush introduced the platform for the educational industrial complex that we have now, Obama has just continued it. I think that the CCSS (which, if you have read them by now, you may very well agree with me) have some really great standards that very much encourage critical thinking skills. How we implement them will determine whether or not those skills are actually cultivated (and based off of how things are going, I'm guessing critical thinking will continue to be an afterthought).
TL;DR: Bush created No Child Left Behind, which is what started annual testing. After this fixed exactly zero things (and created many new problems), Obama introduced the Common Core Standards, via a grant called Race to the Top, which is what all those pictures of first graders' math homework are all about (in some form). Both of those things could have been helpful in raising the level of critical thinking skills required to succeed in school, but NCLB has completely failed in that mission, and Race to the Top (and thus, Common Core) could very well do the same.
I endorse ladywrists' summary. I will say that as much as I dislike CCSS, much of what's circulating around the internet as "Look at this awful Common Core worksheet!" has nothing to do with Common Core and everything to do with really awful worksheets that could exist with any set of standards.
Thanks for making a difference.
Do you ever use Thug Notes youtube channel? The link is to The Great Gatsby episode (3.48).
I probably will now! I once used the sketch where Key and Peele see Othello.
What are your favorite and least favorite books/short stories/etc. to teach?
Also, I have to ask: How much of the overexplaining of what the author meant is based on your opinion, the curriculum, and/or actual things the author has said?
To the first: The Great Gatsby is probably my favorite. It's one of those famous "I hated that in high school" books, but my students always walk away adoring it. In fact, the school dance team is planning to choreograph a 1920s-style dance because they loved it so much! I teach it that it's not a love story, but a story about wanting the impossible in a materialist society.
Which I suppose leads to your second question. There's always a matter of opinion in what I teach, that's unavoidable. That said, my kids know not to directly ask my opinion. Last school year, they pestered me to tell them who I voted for in the election. No dice. I try to keep my own feelings out of it but I also have such a passion for literature that, well, how could I?
Now I have to ask: What did you think of the adaptations of "Gatsby?" (Any of them.)
The first one I didn't like. It's loyal to the book, in plot. But the director seemed to view it as a love story. He didn't have any sense of the fact that it's Fitzgerald's tale of a society crumbling before his eyes.
On the other hand, I loved the recent one. I went in expecting nothing, because it's a story about the emptiness of a life full of flash without substance, and Baz Luhrmann's films are all flash without substance. But I think he really captured it. I read a review that said something like, "DiCaprio's Gatsby is like an empty champagne glass: Glitzy and shiny but nothing inside." Well ... that's the freaking point. He nailed it.
Do you think it is odd we teach students chemistry yet do not have a single class that deals with taxes, personal finance (how credit cards work, mortgages, budgeting, ect), labor law, as well as management skills? In all seriousness, how is this not seen as a failure of our system? It is an utter joke.
I definitely think we need some sort of "life skills" classes, which include all those things. I also think we should include vocational training for all students, not just separating the kids we think are too smart from the kids we think are too dumb.
But I'm also not the person to say we need to remove my least favorite class in order to do so. I don't know exactly where it would fit in the curriculum.
Not to sound crass, but what is the graduation rate like at your school?
No need to worry about sounding crass. That's a serious concern.
In New York, there are two types of diplomas: Regents and non-Regents. The Regents is harder to get, and the non-Regents is much harder to make use of in colleges and the job market. Our grad rates are 83% Regents, 94% overall.
I'd say for being the poorest congressional district you guys are probably way ahead of the curve.
In numbers, to some extent. The most recent report card from the city gave us a 69.9, which is .1 shy of an A rating. I don't think those ratings mean ... well ... anything, because they don't measure the right things. But graduation rate compared to similar populations is a factor.
What do you mean by " don't measure the right things?" Sounds interesting, please elaborate.
Well, they measure a lot of stuff that has feck all to do with education, like test scores. Standardized tests are among the worst measures of student learning there is. Other things it measures are suspension rates. A school is bad if it suspends a lot of students? Really? We get a few students with emotional disturbances and our "grade" can topple.
Why do you think standardized tests are bad, and how would you change it? Sorry for drilling you with questions, you just seem like you know your stuff! :)
A number of reasons. One is in the name: Standardized. There is no standard school, standard classroom, standard teacher, standard student. Everybody learns in different ways and at different paces. We teach our kids all differently, so why should everyone in a school, let alone a state, be judged on the same test?
Second, tests just aren't that useful as a measure of learning. Projects and other assessments are so much more effective. What if the student just doesn't sleep well the night before? Or gets depressed when it rains?
Third, they don't measure growth, just a benchmark. If I have a student who comes in and scores a 5 on a standardized test, and I get him up to a 60, that's amazing work! But he still fails the test, so I and the school get penalized.
All of these things wouldn't be that big of a deal if the tests were just used to gather data for study as opposed to high stakes. Teachers have lost their jobs and schools have been shut down over low test scores.
i guess, just in my opinion and of course after taking that "what kind of learner are you blah blah test" i always imagined teaching as this:
Teachers are set as teachers for the learning style they are most adept with. and students are divided into these learning styles for classes. everything is still relatively basic, however, courses are designed for these learning styles. in addition there are classes simply for combining these skills. that is, knowing that we are not capable of everything on our own, but together with different skill sets we can design/create/master most anything. i guess, my phrasing is kind of off, but i hope you get what I mean. And I hope to see THIS or something similar become the future of education rather than a common core set up :(
That's an interesting concept. Classes divided based on learning style. I'd have to think more about that.
I have to disagree with your third point (even though I think testing has gotten excessive). If states use a growth model, tests can show growth. In my state, kids are grouped with others of similar results. For instance, if I scored in the proficient range in fourth grade math, my fifth grade math scores will be compared with all other fifth graders who scored in the proficient range in fourth grade math. This academic growth has more emphasis in my state than pure achievement.
There are valid uses of standardized tests in terms of measuring progress. Grouping students is one. Funding schools is not one, nor is teachers' job security.
I've heard the criticisms of standardized tests, and I still don't get it. It seems you are arguing against the notion that there should be any common standard against which to measure schools in this country. But if there are basic math and English skills that all students should have then I see no problem in testing for those skills. Maybe the issue you take is really that there are standard repercussions for poor performance on these tests, when the results should really be considered in context.
Your gripe about tests is just frivolous. Test enough students and the law of averages factors out external influences.
" It seems you are arguing against the notion that there should be any common standard against which to measure schools in this country."
Well, no, not entirely. I dispute that the quality of a school or teacher is measurable by its students' success. It's a bit like trying to measure how good a doctor is by how many patients survive. Some doctors treat pimples and others treat cancer, just as some teachers teach gifted kids and others teach students with intellectual disabilities. Further, I have no control over whether a kid studies, just as a doctor can prescribe medicine but has no control over whether the parent takes it.
This is all aside from the fact that teachers now teach to the test. Do you know what I'm working on in class? How to structure a Critical Lens essay. I'm teaching them what to do on test day, not a skill or a life lesson, because this is how I'm going to be measured. Do you want your students spending their valuable time in school being taught how to take a test?
The tests are also absurdly over-stressful and not at developmental level for kids. Look, you wouldn't be willing to spend 6 hours of your day sitting motionless and staring at a paper that was asking you to do something that was above your developmental level. Excessive testing crushing our kids' souls and their self-confidence. It drains them of individuality. It's heartless.
"Your gripe about tests is just frivolous. Test enough students and the law of averages factors out external influences."
I have 150 students. Some teachers have as few as 30, if they're elementary. The law of averages will not balance out external factors for us. And our livelihoods are on the line.
EDIT: You are also making the assumption that long, arduous tests are a valid measure of whether students know the material. Most education researchers and experienced teachers will tell you otherwise.
I'm studying to be a teacher in Australia. I was just wondering if funding in the US is the same as over here, in the sense that the higher scores on standardised testing is directly correlated to how much funding a school gets. So if school A gets 97% on the tests and school B gets 42%, then school A will get better funding.
That's become the way it is. How absurd that those who need funding the most are denied it. What kind of idiotic system.
Which pieces of literature have you had the most positive reactions towards from students? What about most negative?
My kids all adore The Great Gatsby, largely because of the way I teach it. I find most teachers teach it as a love story, but there is so much more going on.
I once did a unit on The Things They Carried, which drew more snores than anything. I love it, but I think it's a bit too non-traditional for high school. Lesson learned the hard way.
Last year in my junior AP Lit class, we were taught both those books and the reaction was exactly the same. The school I go to is one of the richest public schools in the country, so I think it must be the universal high schooler's reaction regardless of background. (I really liked TTTC though.)
I had a few kids who liked TTTC. Not many.
From what I understand, The Great Gatsby is one of those cliche books that high schoolers hate, so it excites me to hear that another class liked it too!
This year, after the first three chapters, I once found a piece of paper on my desk titled, "People that don't want to read the Great Gatsby," with about 13 signatures on it. At the bottom, there was a drawing of a pig, labelled, "Teacher." However, by the end, most of the kids on the list loved it.
Are the arts programs surviving, if present at all? I'm particularly interested in what's happening in the music department.
We have a music teacher. It's a small school, but there are music classes, and we put on two musicals per year.
Wow, really? My school is actually fairly alright in our area but we never have been able to afford musicals
Yeah, we put on amazing shows. Not with tons of money, but we find ways. We did In the Heights last semester.
That is a fucking great choice for your district. I can't imagine it's easy finding a lot of musicals that are both good, relevant, and demographically appropriate, but that's gotta be one of them. Give your drama and music teachers a high five for me.
Shiiiiiit, I went to one of the best, most well-funded 5A schools in Texas and we could only ever afford put on one musical a year. I mean, the head of the theatre department would pick shows based on a) how racy the show was (she liked to see how much she could get away with, I think) and b) how inexpensive the set and costumes would be. We did Chicago my senior year, to give you an idea. The set was a bandstand and some chairs.
We're doing Avenue Q at the end of this year. How, you may ask? I have no flipping idea.
Does your district have Zero Tolerance policies? Do you feel they help or hurt the school environment?
Thank goodness we don't have Zero Tolerance. What an awful concept. Some people have disabilities or emotional disturbances. Are we saying they are not entitled to an education because of these challenges in their lives? I wouldn't want to live in a society that tosses thousands of people by the wayside because they happen to be a challenge.
You sound like a fantastic teacher, and I wish you and your kids every success.
What problems have you run into teaching in low-income areas that a teacher in a more well-off area wouldn't encounter?
Occasionally I call a student's listed phone number to find that it is a non-existent number. Once it was Domino's.
Did you order a pizza?
I should have.
So, which neighborhood in the Bronx do you teach in?
Are you originally from NYC?
Do you have any matt damons in your school, i.e. really poor, incredibly smart kids? EDIT: part two... How do you keep your gifted students engaged, I imagine it is not easy.
Perhaps not THAT genius, but I have some very bright ones. And yes, it's a challenge, but I often divide my classes into ability-level groups and give them different activities. Often, I end my classes with questions that are really targeted at only the brightest students, so they have their chance to be challenged.
Do they want to go to college or are they a bit wary of it. Do you help them out with that process?
The majority of them want to go to college, though some will go to community college first. Our 12th-grade team does most of the immediate college prep stuff, though I help a little with college essays. My big thing is the SAT.
Do you notice any correlation between student behavior and their ethnicity?
Nope. None whatsoever. I have students of all races and ethnicities with all sorts of behaviors, positive and negative.
Cool. I always like to ask, because some teachers are determined that ethnic students are a plague while others see a different side where everybody has the potential for good or bad
I've never met a teacher with such racist feelings. I mean, I'm sure they exist, but I can't imagine why anyone would be a teacher if they didn't believe in the growth potential of young people.
Theyre teachers who used to be bright eyed and ready to conquer the world, but their joy has been diminished by years of dealing with bad parenting, broken families, etc.
That's sad. I've known a lot of jaded teachers, but I also think it's less common than stereotypes would have us believe. I know a lot of teachers who've been at it for years and still believe in their work.
What percentage of your school is free lunch?
100% free or reduced.
I'm an aspiring educator working towards my degree in History before applying for a teacher certification program. I'll be interning with a charter school this summer in Harlem and eventually hope to work in a school in a poor or inner-city school where the most help is needed.
What advice do you have about teaching in a low-income community?
Well, patience, of course, but that goes without saying. But especially with these kids. Instead, kill them with kindness. Don't be overly strict. Don't demand Joe move to the front row. Say, "Joe, would you mind sitting over here? I'd really appreciate it. Oh, thanks so much for moving." It makes you feel lame, because Joe should just move when you ask him to, but you'll get more behavior that you want if you're overly nice. Teachers love power, but try to avoid the power trips. :P
Also, don't make the mistake of assuming that these kids are dumb just because of stereotypes. I made that mistake early on. My kids don't have a lot of monetary advantages, but some of them are really damn bright.
(I know it's just an internship, but don't work at a charter school. They mistreat their employees AND they're bad for kids.)
Thanks for the advice. I've seen firsthand that teachers who try to be too authoritarian in a classroom end up losing all respect or ability to manage their classroom.
As for the charter school, I'm not really taking sides one way or another about that though I know they can be politically volatile. I've never been to a charter but I did spend some time in a small private school and the difference in quality between education there and in public high school was night and day. I'm interning there to get a better idea for how a successful charter operates because I think it is valuable to see different strategies for education.
I want to eventually work as an education reformer and so I'm mostly interested in what good teaching and good administrative practices look like - regardless of origin. I think it is silly that public and charter are at war with each other instead of learning from each other.
The trouble with charter schools is not so much the schools themselves but what they do to public schools. They like to brag about their high test scores, but what they're doing is not providing a better education. They're pushing out "difficult" students. Charters extensively deny that they do this, but research repeatedly proves otherwise. The population of students with IEPs and ELLs in Success Academy schools is substantially lower than in public schools, and attrition rates are higher. Students with disabilities who attend charter school kindergarten are statistically almost all gone by third grade.
Moreover, charter schools encroach on public school space. In a recent co-location, a new Success Academy school pushed PS 123 into fewer classrooms than it needs. The school was already overcrowded and now, the school that's actually teaching the students in most need is being crammed and having its already limited resources taken. Why? Profit. Charter schools can never actually offer a valid education so long as they are motivated by profit. They are trying to make money off our kids. That's why public schools work (and the stats you've seen about our "failing" public school system are based on a mathematical error from a Reagan admin report.)
How do you motivate your students to do their work and put forth their best effort when they lack the conformity that a student from a wealthier district might have?
This is a great question, with no simple answer! Every human being is different, so it varies case to case. I like to show the stats of how much a high school dropout, on average, makes, compared to a HS grad and a college grad. Also, I like to tell them about a recent McDonald's policy that you need a HS diploma or get one within three years of being hired. "You can't flip burgers without a high school degree, folks."
I am trying to get a job in a poor charter school in Fl. any tips for new teachers? I am white and the students will be black/hispanic. This is my first job so anything will be helpful.
First bit of advice: Don't go to a charter school. Not just for political reasons. You'll be treated better as a public school employee.
But in terms of actual pedagogy: Don't assume that your race will be a barrier, but don't ignore it either. Acknowledge the issue of race in the lives of these kids. Don't pussyfoot around it. Depending on what subject you teach, you can bring in a lot of text and information on race issues and engage the kids tremendously.
What is it about teaching in the poorest congressional district in the US that gives you a sense of achievement?
If there was one thing you'd wish kids came into your class already knowing what would it be?
I'd rather teach where I do than in a suburb. Let me say that every child needs a good teacher, but the kids in suburbs or in Manhattan are going to be fine regardless. If they don't have a good teacher, mom and dad will get them a $200/hr tutor. (No exaggeration, I've seen Craigslist ads.) I try to do something with my life that, well, matters. I know that's really pretentious, but hey, I'm pretentious.
I wish they knew more basic grammar and such. In 11th grade, I want to focus on things like reasoning skills, and some of them come to me writing run-on sentences. So I spend some time teaching these things when I wish I could spend more time on higher-order thinking.
Are ASD students mainstreamed in your district?
Depends on severity. My particular school has no self-contained classrooms. I have some ASD kids but none with severe behaviors. In NYC in general, there is more and more mainstreaming. If you're an idealist, you believe the city when it says it is doing so because kids do better with their mainstream peers. Cynics say it's about saving money. Either way, it's the wave of the future.
Mainstreaming as a general principle is, I think, good. In the past, schools have used self-contained classrooms as an excuse to get rid of "problem" kids. Instead, we should desegregate as much as possible. With a few modifications, many students with disabilities can learn in a mainstream environment, and it's always better not to segregate people.
Of course, there are extreme cases. Some kids do need special attention.
My grandmother worked with special needs students her entire life, and my aunt (her adopted daughter) is autistic. The idea that mainstreaming integration is overall a good idea is severely wrong. It is sometimes a good idea and sometimes a terrible one. So many factors come into play, here. What is the average size of a class in the school, for example? Will the teacher have time, resources, and ability to focus on a special needs student while still making sure other students get the attention they need, as well? Is the school in question known for bad cliquing, exclusion, and bullying? What courses are to be integrated? PE? Is the school high risk for emergency situations, such as earthquakes, violence, chemical spills, fires? How large is the building itself? Two stories? Three? Blanket integration neglects to take into consideration the nuances of a situation, just like standardized testing. What is good for Rebecca might not be good for Spencer, and vice versa.
You're correct, of course. Every student is his/her own unique case. I only mean to say that WHERE POSSIBLE, mainstreaming is a good idea.
Hey! I'm a soon-to-be-PhD-dropout in English, and I'm planning to get certified to teach HS English. I am especially interested in working in low-income communities. I know this experience will be very different from teaching in the Universities where I have been for the last 4 years. I do have some questions for you, so I hope you are still around!
How much autonomy do you have over which readings/novels/stories/poems you teach? In another question, you mentioned how you include discussions of race in your class. The text you mention is Othello. I'm not opposed to the inclusion of some Shakespeare, but I do worry that especially in a classroom of mostly non-white students and a white teacher that teaching predominantly white authors from the traditional cannon has the potential to reinforce existing power structures and inequalities. Is this something you discuss or something you can work around? For example, is there some guideline that you teach at least one work by Shakespeare in a year, or that you teach Othello specifically, or that you teach a certain number of works from certain time periods/genres/authors? I think Othello is an important text, but it wouldn't be my first choice to start a discussion about race with most non-white students. I'd start with Frederick Douglass, Ralph Ellison, Octavia Bulter, Junot Diaz, Tony Morrison, Leslie Marmon Silko... How have your discussions of Othello gone?
Have you had luck with your somewhat laid-back teaching methods? Given my experience and my personality, I am apt to treat students like adults. I hate the authoritarian bent of some teachers and administrators who push this kind of teaching.
This was a really great AMA; thanks for taking the time to do it.
What great questions! Sorry for taking so long to get to them.
In my school, I have basically full autonomy, but that's not everyone's experience. And you actually touch on one of my own personal concerns, that I teach primarily white male authors. So your concern is a very real and serious one. I have a year-plan that focuses on The Great Gatsby and Othello that I did this year, and it works remarkably well, but there are certainly a lot of minority authors that can and should be included.
I'll warn you that there is no way you're not going to lose your temper and yell. Even the best, most experienced teachers lose their temper. None of us are exceptions. That said, calm has an amazing power. I have a classroom management technique that I call, "I'll wait." If even one person in my classroom is talking when I am, I just stop and say, "I'll wait," or, "I won't talk over people." When I first started doing this, I'd say it with my voice raised, and it had some effect. A fellow teacher told me to try it a different way. Now, I usually start by LOWERING my voice, to just below their volume, then a little quieter, and a little quieter, to show them what I'm expecting, until I'm whispering. It works exceptionally well. But every teacher is different. You'll have to find your technique and style.
What is your work culture like?
I've had some experiences with teaching Shakespeare in High Schools and in summer camps to Middle School students and I've enjoyed both a lot. There aren't many sustainable career paths for theatre artists and I'm seriously considering getting my teaching certificate, but having worked a government job in the past I'm afraid of working in another heavily bureaucratic and political workplace. How much can bureaucracy, office politics, and helicopter parenting limit your ability to do your job?
I don't really deal with helicopter parenting. I more often deal with the opposite -- absent parents. As for workplace politics, right now in schools, that's a challenge. With what's going on in education reform right now, it's become a hotbed of politics and scandal as people push new instructional techniques and tests on you and tell you you'll be rated on these as a teacher, even when the people who told you to do these things have never taught a day in their lives. That said, the culture of your individual school is huge. I've been fortunate enough to have a principal and assistant principal that support us all tremendously. There are ways to avoid the politics. What do I do? I just teach. I leave all the other stuff to the politicians. When my kids are in the classroom, I just teach.
Have you seen the Jeff Bliss video? If you haven't, here's a link.
Have you had a lot of students that really want to learn like this, or do they tend to not care and be hard to get through to? And are there a lot of teachers that you know of that don't care about the students and warrant this kind of rant?
There are a lot of unfair stereotypes about inner city students. Most of them want to learn.
There are a lot of unfair stereotypes about teachers, too. Most of them want to teach.
In both cases, it's just beneficial to those in power to have you believe that poor kids and teachers are lazy.
What is the craziest thing that has happened at the school where you teach?
This one wasn't me personally, but it's still a favorite of mine. A 10th grader gets into some rage, so she picks up a desk and threatens to throw it at another student. Meantime, the teacher has to hold the desk (he's stronger than her) to prevent her from actually doing it. While he does this, he obviously can't leave to get security, so, not really thinking, he says to the kid nearest the door, whom we shall call D, to go get security. Now, D is a bit spacey and odd, so when he leaves, another student follows him and tells him not to bother, so D just ... walks back into the room! The teacher says, "D, what are you doing?"
"H told me not to."
"Are you insane? Look what's happening here. Go and get security!"
Do you teach LD students??
I have a couple in an inclusion class. The special ed teacher in the room does a lot of one-on-one work with them.
how does the education budget for your district break down in $/student?
We get money from both the city and state, so that's a slightly more complicated question than you probably intended. Our specific school's budget (which covers everything from teacher salaries to textbooks to urinal cakes) is just over $2 million, and we have just under 400 students.
That works out to $5,000 per student. However, in 2011 NY spent the most in the nation per student, at over $19,000. I find it hard to believe that there's that much disparity across school districts. What's up?
The 19K figure refers to NY State as a whole, not just the city. Also, it includes spending that's not in school budgets, such as spending by the Dept. of Education directly.
Do you notice the difference between popular and unpopular pupils, and does this then directly relate to grades?
From my own experience, having been a huge outcast as a child, I can say that popularity and "status" in school probably affects grades. My school is really small, and to some extent, we don't have a lot of outcasts. But I do know one, and I've made a huge effort to relate to her. I think I've made some impact. She turned in her latest project, albeit late, and that's a big change.
But overall, it's hard to say there's a straightforward correlation. Some kids are popular because they're really bright and successful, and some are popular because they're too cool for school.
How many weapons have you confiscated, if any, from your students?
None, as of yet. Sometimes I wonder if these kids need weapons. Desks and chairs are enough!
Whaa?! No shurikens? But seriously, what made you want to become a teacher?
A few things. One, in all honesty, I like being the center of attention. :P But also, I wanted to do something that was community service, and public sector. And I love literature, so ... it made sense. I actually did journalism for a few years and didn't enjoy it.
So I might be late to the party, but just in case, here it is.
I am currently studying to be a history teacher (my end game is to be a college professor but I am planning to teach high school while working on my higher degrees) here in mississippi which is also fairly low income across the board.
I was wondering if you knew anything I should keep in mind when I begin teaching in a few years. Specifically, how does one meet the curriculum while at the same time making sure the majority of their students understand and retain the material?
It's a little different in ELA and history because we have less of a specific curriculum. We have skills we need to cover, but not specific material. For me, though, I use differentiation. You can give different kids different tasks, and have some getting deeper than others, as opposed to getting ahead. In other words, my group of high-acheivers is writing an essay arguing whether Othello's character development over the course of the play is the result of internal low self-esteem or external factors, while my low-acheivers are merely identifying the character development. I'm sure this can be modified for a social studies classroom.
if you could do one thing in your power to improve your school/students (within limits) what would it be?
ie breakfast program, new books, after school programs, counsellors, more teachers, security...
I think we have a lot of really good educational resources. What I actually think would improve our school the most would be resources outside the school. Universal, free healthcare for these kids. Or more expansive universal screening for disabilities. Or a higher minimum wage. Things like that, because there's a lot of research suggesting that student learning is influenced most by out-of-school factors.
I haven't used it yet but I know people who have.
Thanks for doing this AMA! I have two questions that aren't really related to each other. Sorry if they've been asked before.
What subjects are the most difficult to teach due to your lack of materials/ students' lack of computers?
What do you think could change in the curriculum to better prepare high school students for the real world? (Classes, common core, etc)
Professional writing. I can teach them the actual content, but translating that into word processors on computers is a challenge. Some of them don't even know how to change the text alignment.
I think less of a focus on careers and more a focus on humanity. There is nothing wrong with preparing students for professional skills, but creativity and imagination and self-reflection are all just as important, and America's schools tend to ignore them because a) we have a belief that schools are job preparation, and b) creativity and self-reflection aren't job skills. I dispute both.
Thank you for doing this ama. What do you think of the specialized high school debacle going on in New York?
Do you mean charter schools? I find them to be a travesty. They push out students who need the most help in order to keep their test scores high, while taking resources from traditional public schools and leaving our most vulnerable young people without the help they need.
Or did you mean something else by "specialized high school"? I'm not aware of any other debacle.
Any chance you're going to be removed from your position in teaching for doing this?
I think it's complete bullshit what our country has come to, seems like ALL common sense is lost...
I highly doubt it. We're not THAT crazy. :P
well I can't help but hope your right.
What does being in the poorest congressional district mean? Is it like a rundown school in the ghetto or something?
The neighborhood is very run-down. The school is in decent condition.
is there much diversity in your school? in both teachers and students
If you define diversity as a lot of minorities, then yes. We have a 97.7% Hispanic and black population. I have no white students at all.
I realize that I'm a day late to the party, and I don't know if you'll still check this thing, but I just wanted to say that I'm an undergraduate student who is pursuing English secondary education. You're an absolute inspiration to me. I would really like to teach in a poor, urban district some day, and honestly, sometimes it just gets scary, overwhelming, and discouraging. Reading through your replies has renewed hope in me. People like you are truly heroes.
Also, I'm the most excited about teaching Gatsby one day, so I love that you say that your students all come away loving it. I think that has a lot to do with how it's taught, so kudos to you.
Sorry for such a long and late comment. I could go on for paragraphs, but I just wanted to say thank you for what you do for those students and for inspiring a fellow (future) English teacher.
Aw, this comment made me happy. Glad I could help. :)
Do you still rock the neck beard? And if so how are the kids receiving it?
Nah, I keep it much cleaner. That was taken on a day I had no idea I was going to get my ID photo taken. Luckily, I use the school ID a lot more.
How did you come up with your username? Also, I have had a few teachers who spent time teaching on Chicago's South Side who all have amazing stories. Do you have any interesting stories you'd be comfortable sharing?
It's a very brief mention on a Homestar Runner cartoon. </nerd>
A student once asked, "Mister, would you ever have sex with a student?"
Another favorite: "So, notice how Iago always describes Othello and Desdemona's marital relations in animalistic terms. What does this say about him?" "He likes doggie style."
hahaha "Look, I'd love to stand here and argue that you're not dripping yellow madness, but I have a date with a wall."
This guy knows it.
I'd love to have had a teacher who watches strongbad cartoons. It's so relateable (I was sure this was a word but my spell checker seems to disagree. What's your verdict, teach?).
It's spelled "relatable." ;)
How do you get up in the morning and go to work? You've gotta know better than most what the future holds for these kids. How can you stand to face that everyday?
I do what I can for the kids I can, and I actually believe a lot of them have the opportunity to do something with their lives. Maybe even most.
Do you discourage anything that would seem, somewhat "unnecessary" to discourage from your students, according to people from outside your district?
Something they wouldn't have thought there was a problem about, until they saw it for themselves?
I'm not sure I understand the question...
Sorry that was poorly phrased.
Are there people who have preconceptions about the school you work in that you later found out to be true, and had to confront?
Ah, much better. :)
More the opposite, actually. I internalized a lot of stereotypes about low-income schools. They're dangerous. The kids won't listen to you. Most of their parents don't care. In reality, these things apply to only a handful of students. I do think teaching where I do is a unique challenge compared to the suburbs, but it's not the hellhole that movies would have you believe.
By cheating. Look at the scoreboard, cholo!
Do you ever think that your subject will be of no use to these kids for life? How reading books like the great gatsby or huckleberry Finn is just a distraction from the truly important things they should be learning like math, biology, physics, chemistry, and other basic sciences?
Not once. I don't teach what's in The Great Gatsby. I teach students how to read, write, speak and listen. Name me one career field where those skills aren't useful.
Also, "useful" doesn't just mean in terms of a career. Creativity and self-reflection are important life skills as well.
I maintain that English is the most useful of the traditional school subjects, and I will never understand the stereotype we have that it's pointless and that science and math are more important.
I'm currently a med student and the skills I was taught throughout English high school including: citation, formatting a paper, grammar, interpretation of classics, and really interpretation for that matter have all been useless it's mostly taking anatomy, physiology, biology, chemistry classes were the teacher expects us to know how the body works and never bother correcting any of those things. None of my med teachers have ever taken points of for none of the above. You also don't have to interpret the text it's very clear if the texts says the pancreas is part of the endocrine system you know for a fact that it's part of the endocrine system. When you read in a book that the nervous signals in our body travel at 100m/s you can be sure that is the truth. But when you read a book in English and the author says the curtain is blue you can't be sure the curtain is blue. Your teacher might tell you the curtain is red and the author sees it as blue because of the depression the author has for some reason. However the teacher is pretty much making it up because she hasn't talked to the author to verify the meaning of the words in his writing. I'm sorry but these interpretations and meticulous writing English teachers want to teach us only distracts us from more important things in life. An economics class where students are talked about loans, debt, savings, banks, credit cards, APR, and other concept that aren't being taught to us at the high school level would be a better substitute to these extra English courses.
"I didn't need English in my life so it's a waste of time for everyone"? Really?
Well, for one, I'm not sure I believe it. I suspect you are taking your reading skills for granted. But let that go. Let's assume it's true and I'll point out that your situation is not universal. Just because you didn't need English doesn't make it useless for everyone.
I'll cite first the human importance of literature. Medical schools have sometimes required their students to read "The Death of Ivan Ilyich" and have seen not only their students' bedside manner improve, but their actual ability to diagnose has improved! One law school requires students to read "Native Son," and seen improvement from their students as well. Understanding your career through humanistic eyes is important. I wouldn't dismiss the importance for a med student of knowing how the body works, but do you truly believe you don't have to know about your patients' humanity to help them? Do you not think you'll have to be a therapist as well as a biologist? Literature isn't, as your stereotype suggests, about determining the colors of a curtain. It's about dealing with the issues that we face in our lives. And I'm willing to bet no teacher ever actually told you that the curtains are blue and you are making this up because you didn't like ELA classes.
Further, if you think our ability to communicate -- which is what we teach in English classes -- is not useful in life, then I have no idea what to say in response.
background: honors kid in middle class suburban school in upstate NY. Majored in CS.
I also felt like I didn't really understand the point of English class. I didn't think there wasn't one: clearly my english teachers spent gobs of time on this and were passionate about it so there must be some point, but I never knew really what it was. And I never really knew how to phrase the question non-offensively.Justify to me your entire career
But I never really knew how to frame what I was doing. And it made writing critical essays really really frustrating.
Well, not "never". I did figure out that you could look at literature as political propaganda and try to understand how to manipulate people. And reading Old Man and the Sea and some other Hemmingway stuff did help me realize some things about masculinity and Chuck Norris Jokes.
I think I'm more frustrated because I could never know when I was wrong and I never saw any analysis get called out as possibly being bullshit. It seemed like there was more practice in how to deliberately misinterpret things than how to actually communicate well.
I think I'm more frustrated because I could never know when I was wrong and I never saw any analysis get called out as possibly being bullshit.
This is the point itself, though. Have you ever read a news article and said, "OK, but aren't you biased?" or "Isn't that a logical fallacy" or something along those lines? You can't prove it, but that's not the point. The point is that English teachers teach you how to take verbal communication and study it at more than a surface level. Literature is one of the tools we use for that purpose.
That was a ramble. Sorry.
Sigh... I wish I was better at writing...
Sigh... I wish I was better at writing...
Know who can help with that? ;)
I saw a post on 9gag about the about the curtains and even though I've never had that specific case I used it because it illustrates the point perfectly. I'm not taking my reading skill for granted I was taught to read when I was young before high school. High school English only tried to make me a professional book reader which I promptly refused and would use sparknotes, cheating, asking people what came out on quizzes, etc and am proud to say that I haven't read a book since I believe 8th grade. Lord of the flies was the first book I used spark notes on. However I graduated with a 3.75 cumulative GPA and continue to do exceptionally well in my classes in college.
So you cheated your way through English classes and got nothing out of them ... and cite this as evidence that English classes don't teach anything?
I didn't cheat the whole way I just used alternative methods like spark notes to avoid doing pointless reading like Romeo and Juliet, brave new world, etc because they haven't been useful and they won't be useful because fact is that when I'm treating a patient it won't matter what literature I've read what will matter is my skills that I've developed by learning throughout the years of absolute truths and scientific principles.
::sigh:: OK, if you say so.
I see your point, however I think you're allowing your personal, anecdotal experience to overshadow your judgment of a broad skill that's taught in English classes. Your degree is very technical and you value technical writing, as do your professors because it is a technical field they teach, and they value writing with quantifiable substance in a format that is straightforward and easily interpreted.
However, right now you're immersed in a world where all your focus is on your med school - your view is short sided and biased. I'm not discounting what you do at all, I respect your chosen field and hope you succeed. Don't get caught up in pulling the blindfold over your eyes to the merits of poetry, creative writing, song, dance, music, etc. There is more to life, and English, than what is required for a medical degree and it might be very hard to see that right now when you're buried in your studies up to the eyebrows. I work construction and remember practically nothing about history and geography, but I don't think those were useless subjects because I don't use them on a daily basis.
I work construction and remember practically nothing about history and geography, but I don't think those were useless subjects because I don't use them on a daily basis.
Herein lies the problem. We have come to believe that the sole purpose of education is career preparation. It's a sad, simplistic view of what education is capable of. But it leads people to think that if they don't use something in their career, it doesn't have value in schools. I never use the pythagorean theorem, but the logical thinking I learned in math classes has been great for me, both in and out of my professional life.
What is the hardest resource for your students to afford, and how do you work around that?
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