Sunday, May 31, 2009
Saturday, May 30, 2009
I know I am not the sharpest knife in the draw but I am not the dullest either, yet when it comes to memorization of facts, I am at a loss. Vocabulary words do not stick in my mind, no matter how much I study them. I remember studying Spanish with my son and even after 30 minutes of going over the same words, I still needed to refer to the list in my hand.
Over lunch, an English teacher was complaining that her students could not memorize a simple list of words, no matter what she did. I tried to explain my deficits to her, but she wanted no part of it. She kept talking about her "fun" activities and her constant repetition. I kept telling her that while I am sure she was fun and did lots of activities, I would be having the same difficulties. She kept saying how memorization was easy, much easier than doing a math problem or writing an essay and kept stressing how this simple process should enable all her students to pass. I couldn't convince her that everyone learns differently and what was easy for her might be difficult for someone else.
I hate memorization, probably because I am no good at it. I like understanding. I like knowing how and why things work and being able to apply that knowledge to any activity I have to undertake. When I first tried to use a graphing calculator, I tried to memorize the steps. Once I gave up on that and concentrated on the why and how it worked, I was able to do it all.
I hate it when my students demand formulas for concepts they can easily figure out, or at least figure out (if not easily) with a little bit of effort. I would rather see them rotate their page 90 degrees to do a transformation then regurgitate a formula that has no meaning to them. I am having a hard time convincing them that memorization only works sometimes, it work in exact patterns and it only works when you remember every step.
Many years ago, my husband saw a recipe for a pie on the food channel that looked interesting and he decided to try it. The problem was, he only saw half the recipe and because necessary ingredients were missing, his dish was inedible. Incomplete memorization causes the same problems.
Thinking is as vital to life as oxygen and water. Only when we get back to teaching and encouraging this will we be able to help create the leaders of tomorrow.
L is a majorette. Until the concert, I only knew her as the quiet little girl who liked and did well in calculus and was always willing to help others. Boy, can she move out there! This shy girl is not so shy with that flag in her hand.
R is in my geometry class. It has been a real struggle to get him to class, but I do get him into my room every day. Getting him to do any work is another story, but at least he is there and is on the way. Seeing him with his saxophone really warmed my heart. Here is something that interests him and that he is good at. I was bopping along with him and I knew he was happy to see me smiling at his performance.
Some people would remove R from the marching band based on his academics. I am conflicted as to what he right thing to do is. If R were removed from the one thing he loves in school, he might stop attending all together. I do believe in consequences for his actions but kicking out of the band would probably do more harm than good.
J was in my Math A class a few years ago. I can honestly say he might have been one of the most dysfunctional kids I ever taught and one of the few that I could not pass. He did not even come close to passing the regents. He was supposed to be on medication (which he did not take) and he was just one step away from being in a self contained environment. I lost track of J after the term ended and haven't seen him, except for an occasional hall passing until last night. It was great seeing J successful. He beat his drums and marched with the rest. No one watching would ever have imagined the troubles he had academically and socially.
Friday, May 29, 2009
I am proud to say that I am a product of a New York City public education. Most of the teachers I had along the way were also products of the same education system. I didn't attend magnet schools or schools in very good neighborhoods, I am a girl from the projects and my schools were all local schools, some with poor reputations.
My first school was PS 41 in the Bronx, the zoned school for the Gun Hill projects. To get there, I had to walk through the project, across two big streets and then down a hill. When I was little, I went with the parents of kids in the building. My mom had a baby and it was easier to let them take me than to drag the baby out in all kinds of weather. Although the memory is weak, I remember certain things about most of the teachers. Ms. Riser (kindergarten) was very rigid,. She was supposed to be the best kindergarten teacher in the school. Ms. Casione, my first grade teacher was young and beautiful and she got married the year I was in her class. Mrs. Shenker was old but really nice. She allowed me to skip from second to fourth grade. Mrs. Levine had magnificent white hair, although she was not that old. She had me taken from the "1' class and put in with the "2" in fifth grade, It was traumatic. Mrs. Korman, my fifth grade teacher was like every one's mother. Her only shortcoming was that she hated math and never taught us any. By sixth grade I was back to the "1" class. I don't remember my teacher's name but I remember dancing around the room with her to Little Eva's Locomotion. We had to read the NY Times every week and do awful percent problems. I still remember, with regret now, copying the current event answers from my neighbor and writing the percent conversions on the back of my ruler for use during exams.
I hated Olinville JHS 113. I lived at least ten blocks away but was not eligible for a bus or train pass. (I sometimes snuck on the train with friends). I was not in an SP class. The kids were rude and disrespectful to the teachers and mean to the kids not in their circle. The teachers that stand out in my memory are Mr. Meirgh, who made us stand up and greet him every day. He was really good looking but very mean. He was one of the few teachers no one messed with. I always felt terrible for Mr. Vure, our homeroom and English teacher. The poor man tried so hard but the kids chewed him up and spit him out. They called him Dick Vure, the meaning of which went over his head. I myself never understood what they were trying to accomplish by calling him that until I was in college. I did service for Mr. O'Leary. He was over six feet tall and drove a tiny Volkswagen bug. At the end of the school year he took all the service aids out to a Chinese restaurant for lunch. Coming from a kosher home, this was too much for me so I ordered a lettuce and tomato sandwich. I met my two best friends in junior high and we are friends to this day (soon to take a cruise together and relive our youth.) Unfortunately for me, cheating was still going on in some areas. I gave Rosie math answers in exchange for Spanish answers. This was mild in comparison to the rest of the class, Tina copied so much on a math test that she even put her friend's name on top instead of her own. Marla and her crew wore bangle bracelets during science exams and shook out multiple choice answers across the room.
Evander Childs HS came next. This school had a really rough reputation but being in all honor classes I was mostly able to avoid trouble. I never used the school bathrooms and never left the room during class. I joined clubs to avoid the lunchroom and had a pretty good overall time. My tenth grade math teacher took everyone who scored 100 on the regents to Patricia Murphy's for lunch. It was the first time I was ever in such a fancy restaurant and it was the first time a teacher ever called my house (to tell me my grade). My mom nearly had a heart attack when she heard a teacher's voice on the phone. For years I took students out also. My students were not 100's, but they deserved to be rewarded for their hard work. Mrs. Nirenblatt was the oldest teacher I ever had. She taught economics and ran some club that I was a part of. I remember being invited to her house for an end of term celebration. It was a real thrill, being in a teacher's house. Mr. Levine (Mrs. Levine from the fourth grade's husband) was mean through and through. He never had a nice word to say about anyone and laughed at my friend and me when we told him we were going to be math majors. He used to open all the windows to freeze us out. In retrospect, I thank him for the math he burned into my brain and for showing me everything a teacher could possibly do wrong so I could do the exact opposite in my teaching career.
Only a few teachers stand out from college. My calculus one teacher spoke with a lisp and addressed the board. No one understood anything he said. Luckily I took the same course in high school with a teacher I thought could not teach and aced the college class. Boy was I wrong about him. Professor Baumel, my physics teacher was one of the greatest teachers ever. I loved that class but could not get the hang of the electricity part, no matter how much I studied or went to tutoring. The most influential teacher I ever had is now the dean of education at CCNY--Professor Alfred Posamentier. I took every class he offered both undergraduate, graduate and post graduate. He was entertaining and his love of math carried over to his teaching. I recently saw him at a workshop and realized that much of my teaching style was derived from him.
It would be interesting to read about the teachers that shaped the lives and careers of other teachers.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
We had another test and although I promised to mail the test home to ruin their three day weekend, I knew I wouldn't have time to mark it before the holiday. The thought of having it mailed was enough for some (not enough) of them to get busy studying. I only had to mail 20 this time. Several of the papers were from the same kids but quite a few were from kids who had done well previously. Some of the kids were arrogant. One kid told me that mailing the papers doesn't accomplish anything, but from the way he said it, I am sure it does. Another told me his dad is now making him live in the basement and he has to stay down there until the grades go up. A few others promised to start showing up for tutoring.
One girl was very upset with me. I told her that I liked and respected her too much to allow her to fail. I told her how smart she was (true) and that I didn't care how much she hated me, I wasn't going to let her self destruct. While she didn't exactly hug me, she did smile at me when she left.
I used to mail home photo copied papers but truthfully, I don't have time to do that anymore. The mailing alone takes too much effort. It is great watching their anxiety level as I return the papers and tell them that anyone who didn't get their paper today would find it in the mail.
I don't know if this year's regents will be easy or hard, have a big curve or no curve. I do know that I poured my heart and soul into teaching these kids and while I know that math is not their strong subject, that their thinking and reasoning skills leave things to be desired, I expect them to give the test their best.
Truthfully, the results on this regents means a lot more to the school's administration than they do to me. I like having good percentages, my ego needs to see my students pass. More important is the knowledge that they gain from my class. A few years ago, I spread a rumor that the Math A regents was going to be the hardest regents given in 5 years. I told everyone that I read an article in the Times berating the state for its low standards and this year the state was going to do something about those standards. The rumor spread so far that other teachers came and asked me about it. I got the kids to come in on Saturday, and to stay late. I not only got them all to pass, I got them to learn the work so well that none of my kids had any trouble in Math B.
I'm afraid to spread a rumor like that now. Most of my kids are weak and I want to encourage them. My strategy seems to be working. I had nine show up for tutoring during the day and quite a few found me flopped on the hallway floor holding tutoring sessions as well. (At first they object to sitting on the floor but when I point out that I am doing it, they give in. I like to grab them when and where I see them and get any extra help into them that I can.) I know my geometry results won't be nearly as good. I'll be lucky if half pass. But, from what I have seen, these kids are learning, and they are starting to think. I might not get them to pass the regents, but I am going to get as many as possible to learn some math.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
I used to get invited to the prom every year. I loved seeing my little boys and girls transformed into sophisticated men and women. The boys looked so elegant in their tuxedos and the girls would make any movie star jealous in their gowns. I always arrived early and stood outside, watching them emerge from their limos, waltz their way into the fairy tale evening.
I say I used to be invited. I haven't been invited for years (except for the year my mom died and I got handed an invitation the day before the prom because someone else backed out at the last minute. I couldn't go that year.) I know the kids wanted me but the powers that be always had an excuse for saying no when my name came up.
It used to hurt to be so unwanted. But, to me survival is the most important thing so I managed to build up my immunity system and became content looking at pictures and hearing stories the day after. I now make prom night plans with the ones I love (and the ones that love me.) They are the ones that count in real life, after all.
Wait...I just found out that I am invited to this year's prom. I probably won't have time to buy a new dress, but I'm sure I can find a good one in the closet. (I'm fortunate--my weight hasn't fluctuated much in over 25 years.) I can't wait to go!
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Our CC is retiring! It's about time. I always felt he had his own agenda, an agenda which sometimes had nothing to do with the agendas of the teachers he represented.
I used to be on the executive board with him. Even with my big mouth, I had a hard time getting a word in, let alone an issue presented, unless it was an issue he wanted.
Years ago, I always felt he "slept" with the principal. We had loud meetings with Principal Fire and as the executive board members left, CC stayed behind. I always wondered if they shook hands and had a brandy and cigar when the meeting ended.
After Principal Fire retired, we got a female Principal that CC could not "chill" with. I knew things were bad when I walked out of exec board meetings feeling sorry for her, a woman I did not like. At that point, I dropped off the exec board.
I could never figure out CC's relationship with Suit. At one time, I am sure they were friends but who knows now. I know they had some down and dirty battles, but, again, they were only CC's issues.
I have no idea about what CC's relationship with the new Principal is.
All I know is that CC is retiring and at least two people on the exec board want the job. Both are good people, people I like. Both are friends of mine. One is much more qualified than the other. This one has been involved in union issues for years. This one has gone to delegate meetings and understands how our union needs to be changed, how it is no longer a union that fights for us. This one is fighting for change. The other one does not have the experience or the drive. The other one is the one CC is supporting. The other one has people walking around, asking if you are a friend and will support the move to become CC.
I'll probably make a few more enemies with my decision but I don't care. I know who the better person for the job is. Not only will that person get my vote, but I will proudly campaign for that person as well. Our school needs and deserves that person.
Monday, May 25, 2009
I took some last minute photos before I got shut down by a security guard. Good bye to a legend. Good luck to all the men and women who worked there and are now unemployed.
You can't get water from a stone and you can't get any more work out of a teacher by requiring them to go to that G-d awful library five days a week to tutor.
Library tutoring sucks! There are too many kids to give any of them meaningful instruction. Wednesday, I had twelve waiting when I arrived at my assignment. The kids were a mixed group, geometry kids, honor, regular and repeaters, math B kids and integrated algebra kids. No one could get more than one or two questions answered. One poor kid (a regular) missed a day of school and wanted me to teach him some stuff about statistics. There was no way I could do that.
Now, I never mind tutoring kids outside the library. Most of my colleagues feel the same way. On almost any period, you will find the halls lined up with kids and teachers working away. The difference between the library tutoring and the hall tutoring is that we help the kids we want to help, the kids in our classes and we can give them the individual help they need and cannot get in the library. We don't mind giving our time as we only are going to the library 2 or 3 times a week.
Now there is talk of changing our tutoring to a five days schedule. That means, our hours are regulated and our free time is cut to nothing. I don't know if the admins can do this, I am not part of the exec board anymore. I know I won't put in for tutoring if this occurs. I'm going to take a nice, easy hall patrol assignment instead. (Since I have had tutoring and have seniority,this should not be a problem.) The admin might be able to win this battle and make us (even me) tutor in the library daily, but they will lose in the long run. All that extra help, the hallway help, the help that really helps will dry up. The admins will look good on paper but not where it counts.
Sunday, May 24, 2009
Creedmore--there are so many buildings like this and in even worse condition in one of the most overcrowded areas in the city.
Governor's Island--the kids wouldn't even need a gym. They could swim back and forth from lower Manhattan. A phys ed teacher would not even be needed.
I am not being asked to sign the paper that release him from my class any more, someone else is. I was told I won't be held accountable for Junior's failing grades. (Junior got a 37 on last week's exam.)
Junior left for the weekend without picking up homework. Next week's exam will come from that packet and problems like the ones in that packet. I am guessing that Junior will fail again. It is not my problem.
I hope Junior does make it to the pros. It is his only hope of avoiding a career that involves following elephants in the circus with a large garbage can under a certain part of their anatomy. Even if he does make it (I don't even want to think about the odds against this happening), with a father like his, I wonder how long he will last before he does something stupid and that career is over.
Saturday, May 23, 2009
Fort Totten was built to protect the shores of NY but was never actually fired on by the enemy. The water battery and the fort is a national historic site. A friendly park ranger let us explore on our own and then answered all our questions. (There are tours on the weekend but we were not around for them.)
I guess soldiers on foot are different from regular pedestrians.
Officer's Club--now the Bayside Historical Society
Great sign--I know I have seen it before but I couldn't resist taking a picture anyways.