Thursday, March 31, 2011

Between A Rock And A Hard Place

Unhappy where he is, unhappy at the thought of leaving, he doesn't know what to do.

The thought of wearing sweat pants, playing cards and lunching with the guys for the rest of his life is not something he is looking forward to.  He doesn't like the present but fears the future without the present because, in spite of his current melancholy, there are parts he cannot imagine living without.

Decision time is approaching.  He will not let his heart lead the way..

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Even The Kids Notice

Quite a few of my students were at the big science fair at the Museum Of Natural History.  They met Obama and were impressed with his speech and the attention he gave many of the exhibitors. 

They told me Bloomberg is short and noticed him not shaking any hands.  They also noticed Cathie Black's short speech and her quick dart to the exit.  The kids said she had her bag over her shoulder and her feet in the direction of the door while the microphone was still in her hand.

Once again our education mayor and the chancellor are showing their respect and concern for the children of NYC.

Clothes Alone Won't Do It

I tried to tell the kids that being successful means more than putting on a tie or a nice dress.  I tried to show them a correlation between doing school work and achieving in real life.

I don't think they got it.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

New Boy Again

New Boy couldn't deal with my not letting him cheat on yesterday's test.  In my long career, I have never been spoken to the way he spoke to me today. He even followed me down to cafeteria to continue his rant.  He ended by saying, "Go tell Principal I was disrespectful again."

Once again, I wrote him up again.  He is supposed to be removed from my class.  Hopefully this will be the last time I have to deal with him, but the trouble he causes won't end.  He'll just be end up torturing some other poor soul.  We've got to stop sweeping the dirt under the rug if schools are going to get fixed.

Test Teacher

Thanks to Untamed Teacher

Monday, March 28, 2011

These Kids Are More Worthy

Every month we are asked to recommend two students to be "Students of the Month."  I try hard to find kids who are worthy, who have shown tremendous improvement, and are not usually recognized for anything scholastic.  I limit myself to the two and tell others they will have to wait until next term.

Well, this note just came in:

 If you have not done so, please recommend a couple of students from your classes.  You can recommend more if you have honor classes.

The Vent

A good friend, from a school in Brooklyn, is totally fed up with the crap she sees going on.  She sent me a long e-mail, venting her frustrations.  I can't post most of it, but I decided to share her last few lines.  These say it all:    
I am disgusted and really upset with the DOE...when did this all happen to education?  What the fuck is going on???  It is not just our school, it is all over the city!!   We are just making Bloomberg's graduation numbers go up and throwing away the kids!!!

Thanks for letting me vent!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Helping To Make Monday Easier

Wishing You A Good Week.

Taking The Easy Way Out

As I looked at my algebra class last week, I thought, are any of these kids capable of passing geometry?  Do any of them want to even try the class? What are their future goals?  Will they need more math to achieve them? As I looked at them, I said to myself, "Do I have the right to play G-d with them?  Do I have the right to say they can't go ahead and try?  Will programming them for an easier class in the fall term be detrimental to all their career goals"

As we begin the fifth marking period of the year, we are constantly reminded that our grades will be used to determine the placement of students for September.  Giving one person that much power over another's  fate doesn't seem fair or right.  Some of these people have little experience but even the ones with years behind them (me included) have been proven wrong.

A young teacher in my department commented that she hoped the only kids who would be allowed to take geometry/trigonometry next year would be the ones who were given approval by their current teacher.  Another was overheard telling a parent that her daughter should drop geometry/trigonometry because the girl had no shot of passing.  Isn't it possible the these kids could pass with different teachers or on the second time around?  This whole emphasis on statistics and no child being left behind is killing the future education of many.

It is true that many of the students don't belong in higher math classes and don't even want to be there, but this isn't true for all.  I've seen students no one ( mostly one person) says will ever pass (we alsways had to find a back door to the more advanced class) go on to ace AP calculus and successfully major in math or engineering in college.  I've had kids  I never thought could do it, and time and time again I am proven wrong.

My friend over at Math Tales From The Spring is going through some of these same issues now, trying to advise kids on the proper classes to take next term.  She and I disagree on this point, but maybe she is right.  Maybe we should just put them in the classes we know they can pass.  This will be easier on everyone in the long run.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Not Fair

Crunch Time

Weekend jobs, JROTC competitions and practices, and college visits are just some of the reasons the kids couldn't make it to school for Saturday tutoring.  They felt bad because they know they need the help.  The AP exam is less than one month away and we haven't finished the curriculum.  The single period is killing us.  The ones who made it accomplished quite a bit.  If I hadn't promised my husband I would be home to go out for lunch, I would probably still be there.

Next week, I'll try an after school session.  Many of the kids will face the same problems.  Some are finished with school before I get my first bathroom break of the day.  Others have part-time jobs and baby sitting responsibilities.  We'll see.  A large group has already requested that we meet during spring break.  I didn't commit, but I know I will break down and say yes.

It will be over soon.  May 19 is less than a month away and I know the kids appreciate the effort.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Blackboard Awards

Don't know anything about this, but it looked like it might be real.  Thought I'd share:

Dear Pissed Off Teacher,
    My name is Peter Hintz and I'm writing on behalf of Manhattan Media and Eric Messinger, the editor of New York Family. We're currently promoting the Blackboard Awards (, which honors local teachers from all educational communities—public, private, charter, and parochial—and all grade levels, from nursery school through high school. The awards recognize outstanding, dedicated teachers from throughout the five boroughs, and enable them to share the honor with their school community. The deadline for nominations is March 31, after which the selected teachers will be honored in a special gala ceremony on June 6 at Fordham University Law School, attended by leading educators, politicians, and other local dignitaries. The schools’ reputations benefit from every faculty member who is a Blackboard Award recipient, which is something we publicize and welcome the schools to do as well.
    This process starts with parents—our most reliable resource in nominating teachers, and an area in which we feel your blog could really help our cause. Your select readership of educators and parents who are actively involved in their school community is perfectly suited for the Blackboard Awards, and we could really use help spreading the word. While we have contacted nearly every school in the area, we would like to be able to reach parents who are not necessarily involved in the PTA, SLT, or other official organizations, but would still like to recognize the wonderful teachers who make such a big difference in the lives of their children.
    If you could find a way to place a link to the Blackboard Awards website into one of your blog posts, tweets, Facebook pages, or mention the awards in any capacity, it would have a huge impact on the number of nominations because so many parents follow your blog. It would help a great number of local teachers get the recognition they deserve, and help a great number of parents to show their gratitude. Any support that you can offer would be hugely appreciated, and would certainly help us reach a record number of nominations this year. Please don't hesitate to contact me or Eric ( about any questions you may have, and thank you so much for your time.
All the best,
Peter Hintz

Punishment Should Fit The Crime

Tiger failed math.  He didn't want to.  He paid attention in class and did all his homework, correcting answers and then redoing the same examples when he got home.  He went to tutoring twice a week, sometimes more.  In other words, he did everything humanly possible to avoid failure but it wasn't enough.  He just did not understand the material.

Tiger is part of something very special in school..  He loves what the team does and he is developing great social and leadership skills.  Failing math means he would be put on probation and might end up losing his spot. 

No matter what anyone ever says or does, failure is a real option.  We all fail at some things all the time.  The basketball player might fail to make a free throw, the doctor might fail to save a life, the lawyer might fail to get his client released and the teacher might fail at successfully getting the student to pass.  Failing doesn't mean that the best effort wasn't given or that even more could be done.  It just means the goal hasn't been met, at least not at the moment.

Tiger feels awful about his math class.  It is the only class he is failing and the only class he ever failed.  His agony is being made worse by the punishment being dished out.  Does he really deserve this punishment?  Does he deserve any punishment?  The only thing he did wrong was fail to understand and that should not be a crime.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

In His Image

She started her career as a kind hearted, caring person.  She loved the kids she worked with, especially the kids on the lowest levels.  She never saw race, religion or nationality, only  a child in need of help.

Unfortunately, along with her soft heart came discipline problems.  Her very rigid supervisor did not approve and he started showing up in her classroom many times during the week.  Each visit was followed by a session in the supervisor's office where he would yell and belittle her and then threaten her with U ratings and the loss of her job.

She was scared.  She had young children and needed the job.  She reinvented herself in the image of her supervisor in an attempt to win his approval and stop the continual harassment.  Things slowly began to get better for her.  Her classes got quiet and the supervisor was happy.   Unfortunately, the children in her class did not fair as well.  The environment they once flourished in was gone.  The loving teacher was replaced by a heartless Gestapo guard.  There was no longer any love and caring in the air.  The kids who were failing before still failed.  The children who once blossomed under her care were now doomed.

(This is what happens when people with no ability and no heart get a little bit of power.)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

It's Spring

And it really sucks outside.

The  roads are a slippery mess.

Size Counts

Most, if not all of my algebra students are in the lowest half of the school.  They've failed math and other subjects for years.  Some have difficulty reading.  Over half have some form of ADD and cannot sit still and concentrate for more than ten minutes at a time.  When one is being cooperative, another starts acting crazy.  A guidance counselor, working with a group like mine, said "It is like trying to put out wild fires with an 8 ounce cup of water."

In spite of this, I really love these kids.  They terrible students but not terrible people.  I would trust my life with all except for one.Because of this, I spend as much time as possible working one to one with them.  I got upset with one kid who wasn't working in class and threatened not to help him lunch time but then realized that the individual tutoring was the only thing going to work.

The DOE says we need more data analyis tools to help our students.  They say we need these tools to know what our students are doing on a daily basis.  I say HOGWASH!  I know what my kids need and that need is individualization, something that I can only give to a handful.

People who say class size doesn't matter either have never worked with a population like mine or don't give a damn about them.  Size counts.  The motion of the ocean is not enough.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Need To Bully Continues

The supervisor can't beat up on the teacher anymore so is s/he beating up on the teacher's students?  Why is this horrible, unbelievable thought gnawing away at the teacher's heart?

Two girls were having trouble scraping together the $87 they need for the AP exam.  (These two did not qualify for a fee waiver.  One filled out form wrong originally and the other has a parent who just lost her job.)  This person came to speak to them, took them out of class to talk to someone else and brought them back, in tears, 15 minutes later.  They never got to talk to the other person so the teacher knows exactly who is responsible for the wet eyes.

We had a senior assembly today.  The kids were told all that could be done to help them graduate on time.  Lots of money is being spent to get everyone out.  Two top kids, two kids needing help were reduced to tears as the bully who pretended to help just delivered some blows. A teacher who did something like this would be taken out of the classroom, justly so.  The supervisor just goes on his/her merry way.

Well, there is a happy ending.  There are people that care and both girls will be taking the exam with the rest of the class in May.

Why Teachers Like Me Support Unions

Several years ago, when Suit was principal (if you are a new reader, do a search for Principal Suit--I promise it will be fun reading), I was told to transfer schools, because "I didn't share his vision." 

Let me explain. 

Vickie was a student in my math A class at that time.  She was a sweet girl but could not, for the life of her, pass an exam.  I spent hours many hours working with her, got her a tutor and her grades were starting to go up.  And then, she got invited for "milk and cookies" during the time our class met.  I refused to let her go as she needed the nourishment for her brain more than for her stomach.  (She did not want to miss math and agreed with me.)  Suit was upset with my decision and called me to a meeting in his office.  I did not know \my AP, and the APO would also present.  I knew there would be trouble when he began the meeting with "I know you are an excellent teacher..."  And, before he could finish, I said, "Get to the but", which he did.  We exchanged a few words (I can't remember them now).  My AP and the APO said a few words in my defense but not much.  I guess he intimidated them.  Anyway, as soon as he suggested I transfer, I looked at him and said, "This is a good school, in a good neighborhood.  It is easy to park and close to where I live.  I'm not going anywhere, so deal with it."  I got up and walked out and never spoke to him again.

While the union is not perfect, it does offer protection, something needed to stop evil, vindictive principals from preying on good teachers because who have the courage and the conviction to stand up for their students and stand up for what is right.  Without this, an unscrupulous individual could have ended my career on the spot.  This is not to say the union is the end all.  Some teachers are still having careers unfairly cut short and some are facing ridiculous fines for actions that were never wrong.  And, bad teachers are protected too.  Unfortunately, in a democracy, that happens.

I can't imagine working without a union and feel for those who don't have anyone watching their backs.

For more posts on the same topic go here.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Vowel, What's That?

Teacher:  What is the probability of choosing a vowel from the letters "MATHEMATICS?

Student 1:  What is a vowel?

Teacher (to the entire class):  Vowels are A E I O U.

Student 2:   What is a vowel?

Teacher:  A E I O U

Student 3:  What is a vowel?

Teacher:   VOWELS ARE A E I O U.

But I am accountable for their passing the regents.

(The students who asked were American born.)

The Celebration Cathie and Michael Missed

I was glad I went to the Saturday session of the Celebration of Teaching and Learning.  I got lots of great freebees--enough hand sanitizers, pens, pencils and erasers to last until the end of my career.  I got tee shirts and post-its, key chains and notebooks.  Best of all, I got a flashmaster, a little hand held computer that drills basic arithmetic facts in a really fun way.  You might think, teaching high school, I don't need this, but you are wrong.
I didn't bother going to most of the workshops and lectures.  Spending my weekend listening to that stuff held no appeal.  I did go to the Town Hall meeting with Michael Mulgrew (got my ticket though a UFT contest writing an essay about effective teaching) and I got to speak!  I got to speak out about how Value-added evaluation will pit teacher against teacher and how I am a 36 year veteran teacher, still going strong.  The crowd seemed to love my comments, but I don't have much faith in any difference they will make.  The only other session I went to was one with Dr. Oz.  I refused to wait on line to see him, so I sat all the way on the side.  I didn't mind watching on the big screen since I'm not a fan.  (I never saw him before.)

I didn't notice Cathie Black or Michael Bloomberg anywhere on the progam, which seemed kind of strange to me.  You would think, the Education Mayor and the Chancellor would definitely be key note speakers at a conference hosted in the city they represent.  Could it be that people who celebrate learning see how education has been harmed under their leadership?  It is probably a good thing they didn't show up.  I bet they would have grabbed all the samples and left none for the people who need them.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Who Says Nobody Uses Math In Real Life?

Wizard of Id Cartoon for 03/20/2011

DOE Statistics--Following The Business Mode

Facebook To The Rescue

One of the girls in my calculus class was confused about a question on a "take-home quiz."   These are really just homework assignments I collect and mark.  I do this to encourage them to work together and take homework seriously.  I'm not as good as I should be about checking to see who does it on a regular basis.  It just takes too much time and I still have way too much to cover before the AP exam.  (The single period is killing us.)  The reason I am writing this now is I just checked our class Facebook page and saw the request for help and a dialogue that transpired with 12 comments involving 6 kids, kids I that are not friends outside of school. Membership in the group is up to 70.

Teachers and parents complain that the kids spend too much time on the Internet.  Well, here is a group using it for something positive.  Funds may have been cut to schools, our class time has decreased but Facebook has provided a way for my kids to get the extra help some so desperately need.

I Didn't Lie

The one thing the kids in my algebra class find most interesting is my clothing. This week they were fascinated by my socks, impressed that I was wearing Burberry.  I didn't tell them these socks came from the Dollar Store and that I had never heard of Burberry until after I bought them.  I take compliments, even when they are built on lies.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Super Moon

Prettier in person

Nobody's Victim

A bully is not happy unless he has someone to beat up on.  The bully whose victim has learned to fight back will find a new person to beat up on.

I fear I know my former bully's next target.  He's in for a rude awakening.   A person cannot be a victim if s/he fights back and this person will fight back and fight dirty if provoked. I am right behind him/her, throwing as many punches as needed.  As long as I am around, my former bully will not be allowed to bully again.

Friday, March 18, 2011

For My Friend

Happy to fulfill your request.

Best Neighborhood

My dad is a minority in the community he lives in.  Some people say he should leave, that it is not safe for an old Jewish man to live where he does.  I strongly disagree.  His neighbors, mostly people of African American or Hispanic heritage are the kindest, most giving people in the world.  I always figured if, G-d forbid something happened to him, he would have many care takers until I would be able to reach him.

Today, while walking home from the post office, he began having trouble breathing again.  A neighbor saw him having difficulty walking, grabbed his arm and made sure he made it home okay.  The neighbor then called an ambulance and returned with the ambulance to make sure my dad was going to be taken care of.  The women in the lobby of his building also volunteered to take care of him until I arrived.

My dad could live in a "white" neighborhood or a richer neighborhood but he couldn't live in a better neighborhood.  There are no better people than the fine folks who live in Co-op City.

(My dad seems okay now.  He did not want to go to the hospital as they found nothing during his last trip there.)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Genius Or Troubled?

Alex was one of those kids a teacher never forgets. Crazy stunts could have been his name. One day I watched hin chew up a tin can. Another day I watched him make long fingernails out the worksheet he was handed. He was also the boy who researched non Euclidean geometry when I told the class there existed a whole different field of math where the sum of the angles of a triangle could be greater than 180 degrees. (He came to class and described how this happened if the surface used was a sphere.). He was the boy who worried about the path a dog tethered to a tree could run on while everyone else was busy plugging numbers into the Pythagorean Theorem. In other words, Alex was the boy who acted out because he was bored to death by the repetition of a slow math class, the class he ended up in because he wanted to see how many nonsense words he could create with the multiple choice letters on his math placement test rather than take the boing test.

I met Alex in the fourth term of Math A and picked up immediately on his boredom in class. I encouraged him to read other math books and based his grade, not only on exams but what I knew he was capable of doing.  I had long discussions with his mom and we both agreed the math team would be great for him, he needed the mental stimulation. A certain AP did not agree and told the mom Alex would never make it, the class was only for honor students. Fortunately I found a back door and Alex got to take the class anyway. (He did very well there.  The teacher appreciated his love of math and his ability to solve the problems she confronted the class with.)

Tonight during parent teacher conferences, Alex's mom stopped by to see, something she has done every year since he graduated.  (Her daugher is in the school now.)  She told me Alex will be graduating from a very prestigious engineering school this year and she wanted to thank me for encouraging him and getting him on the path he has been successfully following.  She told me I was the first teacher who appreciated his intelligence and learned to deal with his idiosyncracies. 

I'm not writing this to brag about myself.  An incident in school today put another nail in the coffin that holds the joy I used to feel coming to school.  Working with the kids I love is not enough anymore.  The words Alex's mom spoke reminded me why I chose to stay one more year and those words are the words that will help me survive.

Pooped On

The appreciation given for a job well done.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Join The Club

Starting a membership drive for the DFWM club.

Anyone interested in joining, send an e-mail or leave a comment.

The President of the club takes the job quite seriously.  I'm glad she is a friend of mine.  She's not someone I would want as an enemy.

Not My Fault

New Boy returned to class today.  He handed me a pass from the dean's office and sat down.

Me:  I left a lot of work for you.  Did you do it?

New Boy:  I didn't come to school last week.  The school was stupid for suspending me for no good reason so I stayed home.

Me:  Work is still your responsibility.

New Boy:  The school was being stupid. I stayed home.

Double Standards

All of a sudden the teachers of this particular subject are not responible if the students fail.  After all, they were misprogrammed and never belonged in that class.

All of a sudden a statement like this is made when the teachers teaching these classes are the "chosen", the ones who the supervisor feels can do no wrong.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Innuendos Continue

I know they wouldn't stop forever.  This time, they didn't involve me.  More here.

Whose Line Is It?

"Ask any student and you will be told, the best teachers are the ones that ask the most questions, not the ones who talk all the time."

Good Old Days

"It is unacceptable that we teach students the way we were taught.  We have so much more technological tools that we must use them to enhance the learning/teaching experience. "

Back then, we learned math, we were taught math.  Now they learn button pushing because that is what they need to pass the damn exams and that is what we are told to teach.

Monday, March 14, 2011

If I Didn't See It I Wouldn't Believe It Happened

The rather large girl walked into the office in the middle of a meeting.  Immediately, the person speaking stopped, looked at her and started talking again:

Person:  Why are you here?
Girl:       Ms. Y asked me to get a  book.
Person:  Are  you a freshman?
Girl:       Yes
Person:  A freshman????  Do you play basketball or swim?   You are so big.

The girl picked up her book and walked out.  The other people in the room sat and stared.  No one could fathom how any adult could say those things to a teenage girl, especially in a room full of people.

Best Is Already Here

Sunday night, 60 Minutes ran one of the worst teacher bashing shows I have ever seen.  They even had a segment with Joel Klein saying all a teacher had to do to get tenure was show up and breath.

The whole story was about how big bucks attract great teachers and how working 80 - 90 hours a week makes every student a superstar, only that didn't happen in this particular charter school and most teachers could not keep up this pace.  Besides, why should anyone have to work 80- 90 hours a week to get kids to succeed?  Isn't this requirement in itself an indication that something is wrong?

I've been teaching a long time and I've worked for a lot less than $125,000 with lots of colleagues who also make a lot less.  That lack of money never stopped any of us from doing our best to get our kids to learn and succeed.  Sure, more money would be nice but when a kid is standing in front of you and you know you can help, your $40,000 - $100,000 salary doesn't keep you from doing it. New York City has some of the finest teachers around.  Bigger paychecks cannot attract better teachers.  The best are already here.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

That Martini Doesn't Want To Wait

Dear Chancellor Black,

On behalf of the New York City teachers, students and parents, I would like to thank you for the almost five minutes you spent today at the Robotics competition. The thirty second speech you made praising these students was underwhelming and thank you for not criticizing those who booed you loudly from the stands. Especially impressive was your failure to turn around to address the crowd behind you. Do you know that the hard working New York City teachers received almost no money for the work they did helping prepare for this event? The teachers from my school were paid for twenty hours and estimated their real work hours to be closer to 130. (No sour grapes from me, I did not work on this exhibition.)  I think they were being modest. This weekend alone they put in over 30 hours. Were you around long enough to see the teachers and students from Jamaica HS, you know, that school you want to close down?

I watched from the stands as you tried to make a speedy departure after the heartwarming speech you made. I suppose speaking to the press and smiling for the cameras was good PR and something worth postponing your afternoon martini for but those pesky parents who tried to talk to you on the way out were a real bother. It is a shame that you did not take the time to watch the matches and talk to the people in the pits,the ones who made this great event possible.  Did you see the faces of the kids?  Did you see the intense looks as they worked on their robots and the joy they felt when the assignments were successfully completed?

Do you know there was a team that traveled all the way from Hawaii to compete? They actually have a government there that supports activities like these? Why can't you do the same? You even want to take back the extra money Principals have at the end of the year, money they could use to support activities like these.

Again, thank you for taking time away from your weekend social activities to see first hands what the teachers and the students of NYC can and do accomplish. I'm sure that five minutes gave you more than you care about anyway.

Sincerely yours,

Ms. POd,
NYC High School Teacher Who Gave More than Five Minutes

Chihuahua In Charge

Just looking through some old stuff before I head down to Robotics at Javits Center.  This post is dedicated to a good friend who usually needs a Sunday pick up to prepare for the week ahead.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Key

"In Mathematics, we should ask a great deal of how questions instead of why questions."

Our last faculty conference focused on the types of questions we should ask, questions that encourage high level thinking.  It got me thinking about the types of questions I use in class and whether my questioning technique did this.   I was disappointed in myself when I realized how many of my questions fell short of this goal.  How and what are the words I say the most.  I do ask quite a few why questions was pretty sure that these were good ones.  When I start something new, and see a grimace, I ask what they don't like about the problem?  Then I ask how we can get rid of that problem?  I follow up with a why does that help?  Truthfully, while I always did well in math, I never did great until I started understanding the why and have incorporated this word into every lesson thinking knowing why would help increase my students understanding of material.

The above sentence was included in our departmental memo, the one that came right after the conference.  I never studied Bloom's Taxonomy, but I thought my questions were good.  I've been trying to work some of the higher level questions into my lessons but I won't do it at the expense of why.   That one word, why, as far as I am concerned, is the key to understanding.