Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween for Our Children

When I was growing up Halloween was a holiday to which I definitely looked forward. It wasn't my favorite, but I liked getting dressed up in the costumes we managed to pull together and then going out to try to rake in all the candy we possibly could in our neighborhood. I remember the year that it suddenly became unsafe for us to take unwrapped/non-manufactured treats from our neighbors. There were legends of razorblades and poison in those candied apples, so they were to be thrown out straight away. In spite of scares like that, however, it was a safe holiday during which we wore our costumes to school, probably had a party and then had fun at night going door to door looking for free loot.

In most of this city it is not that way. It really varies greatly, though. Last year I was in Park Slope, Brooklyn for Halloween and I sat on a stoop handing out candy to the little kids coming by with their parents. Kids didn't ring doorbells, but they still dressed up and got their fill of candy from people sitting on stoops. This year I'll be on the Upper East Side where there is no Trick or Treating for some reason, but the holiday is not an unsafe one. I assume most of the kids go to swanky Halloween parties where their parents booze it up and "network." In the Bronx it seems to to be a different story altogether.

There is a pretty powerful urban "legend" that the Bloods have their initiation over the weekend of Halloween. Depending on who you talk to it's no legend at all. Supposedly the Blood's new recruits have to slice (or kill depending on who you talk to) thirty-one females throughout the city. Whether it's true or not may not even be the point. The rumor itself is so strong that it affects the community in a very substantial way. Perhaps that's what the Bloods really want- just to flex some muscle.

On Halloween many of our students are kept home by parents or choose to stay home. Safety is a very real concern on any given day, but on the day/weekend of Halloween there is added emphasis by parents and the community. Some students are afraid of eggs being thrown and of the threat from the Blood's while some just use it as an excuse to stay home. At any rate, we had an attendance rate of about seventeen percent last year, if I remember correctly. Even if the initiation is just a myth, it is a powerful one.

Today we had about half our students in class, which was an improvement from last year. I did hear that a couple of my students were going door-to-door, but they were going upstate to do so.

Today's Wine: Feudi del Duca Montepulciano. I couldn't find much online about this one, but it's pretty good. It didn't seem as acidic as many other Montepulcianios.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

First-Year Illness

Everyone gets sick their first year. This is something that you'll be told and it will probably be true. I only called out one day last year, but I felt near death as the result of some bug one of my students probably gave me. Teaching the children definitely puts you at risk for illness. The key is to deal with it and keep on trucking.

Last year I called out one time for a sick day, which I referenced in my post about Following Through. At the beginning of the year last year I made the assumption that I wouldn't be out sick, as I hadn't missed a single day of student teaching. Now, it did take an awful lot to knock me down, but the fact was that I had to leave school one day mid-morning and I called out the next day. If that day hadn't been a Friday I would have had to call out a second day.

I started feeling pretty terrible in the morning. The people I took the train with told me that I needed to just head back to my apartment and call in. I of course thought that was silly, especially since it was going to be a morning of testing followed by shortened classes. Getting to school I put my head down in my room until it was time to distribute testing materials. Before the test was half-way over I had to excuse myself twice to go get sick in the bathroom. I decided it wasn't worth it to tough it out until the end of the day, so I made my way to the train with labored breathing, heading home in the late morning. The labored breathing got worse and I nearly passed out on the train a couple times, especially when transferring to another train, and the walk home from the station that normally took three minutes ended up being about fifteen. By the time my girlfriend showed up at my place I was delirious with a fever and I still couldn't hold water down- sure signs that I shouldn't be headed to school in the morning.

People get sick- especially new teachers who move to a new city full of slimy kids who have different immunities to different germs than you do back in your home state. It's time to ditch the adolescent belief of invincibility and realize that you may get really ill during the first year. If you do get a bit sick, but can still handle heading to school, I recommend taking some over-the-counter drugs, perhaps an Emergen-C, and digging in until it goes away. If you get very sick, think of your own well-being as well as your students' (they don't need to get whatever it is you have) and take a day off. I know I also get pretty crabby when I get sick. Today I was screaming and yelling as a result of some congestion, a headache and a bunch of students who were not in the mood to listen. That's not great for management in the long term, either.

Today's Wine: Chicken broth. I was feeling pretty awful at school today, personally.

Saturday, October 24, 2009


Keep It Simple, Stupid

This was an acronym that was introduced to me last year by one of my mentors. It rings true on many levels.

During my student teaching in Heidelberg, Germany, I was living and working on a U.S. military installation. The middle school I worked at was about 100 yards from the barrack-style apartment I lived in with the other interns stationed at the Heidelberg base. I spent many nights at the school. I would re-arrange the desks for an hour in preparation of a mass-production simulation or to create a stage in the classroom for skits the students would write and perform to make sure we could still fit the desks in the room. The lessons I created, individually decent (not an amazing curriculum overall, however- I'd never learned how to plan and entire curriculum), were well-received by the students, who, while opposed to working like any other batch of middle-schoolers, would eventually engage in the material and try their best. Some of these lessons were so complicated and involved that they would fly over the heads of several of my lower-end students, but I had no idea how to differentiate for that.

In the city such complicated, in-depth lessons can be really difficult to pull off. For the first half of last year I was fighting between trying to create such lessons and trying to simply get something into my students hands that they would attempt to complete. By the spring I was leaning toward the latter, realizing that no matter how amazing the lesson was, if the students did not do it they weren't going to get anything out of it. I didn't know how to push them in a way that would be well-received and they let me know that I didn't really understand that.

As painful as it might be, if your students are not completing or even attempting the great, in-depth, complicated lessons you are creating, you need to tone it down. Keep it simple. The strangest thing I encountered at the beginning of last year was when even my most difficult students would take up a pen and copy things projected onto the wall. The students will get silent. I was genuinely freaked out. They do it because it's straight-forward- Look at words. Write them down. I'm not saying at all that you should just have the students copy notes all period (that doesn't work either), but you do need to figure out what they are used to and build from there. If they've never been made to think critically and are used to copying notes then doing a reading and answer five question in a class period you need to start from there and build up. You may think that you're delivering very horrible instruction, but in the long run you and your students will benefit if you meet them where they are, keep it very simple at first, and then work toward more complicated, in-depth lessons.

Today's Wine: Gnarly Head Cabernet. I was very proud of myself in this one. The first thing I said I tasted when I started in on this one was a mouthful of cherries- exactly what the bottle describes. Now, I'm not saying this feat will be repeated, but it was nice to know that I could taste something some wine expert said they tasted. Cheers!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

You’re Going to Lose It

When I was visiting schools I could potentially teach at in the city I observed a couple classes at a well-respected middle school in the West Village. During the visit I observed a teacher scream at a student in class for perhaps the first time since I was in school. I was disgusted by the behavior. The student then told me how terrible the teacher was and how she was always picking on her. I took the side of the student, of course, knowing for certain that there was absolutely no excuse for yelling at a student in class. I couldn’t even fathom what would drive a teacher to act that way and wrote the teacher off as a bitter, unhappy person individual with anger-management issues.

When I student taught in Germany I raised my voice in one of my classes with a hint of irritation on the very last day I was there. A student was enormously surprised by that, saying, “Mr. Lawrence has never yelled!” It was day two in Bronx when I unleashed my already healthy vocal chords on my class. It was the first time they listened to me in two very long days. I screamed at them as loud as I possibly could, the order to take their seats ripping out of me like I’d never directed speech at a human before. Sure I’d gotten angry at each of my five siblings and my parents and had yelling matches with them. This was different though. I stopped short of throwing things, but barely.

There was a day last year when I’d given the students a project, which they’d been asking for, and it ended with hundreds of colored pencils covering the floor at the end of the day. After reaming them out about it, getting them to pick up several of the pencils and sending them home, I walked around putting chairs up- slamming them onto desks- irate that another carefully planned lesson had been so wholly rejected. Our English teacher at the time asked if I was alright because I was visibly shaking. All I could say was, “I can’t even give them colored pencils!” and kept slamming desks.

There are a thousand things that you can tell a new teacher about getting angry. If you teach in the city you’ll probably hear a lot of them. The important thing to remember is that screaming at the students in the long run is not effective. Yes, it will gain attention and can actually be effective if used properly once a great while. In fact, in order to gain your students' complete respect you’ll probably have to prove to them at some point that you have a set of vocal chords simply to show them you mean business. Be careful though, as yelling at all frequently will make it lose its potency. Students will stop responding and stop listening. It also goes back to the idea that you need to show your students that you are in control of your classroom. If you’re yelling and screaming all the time it shows you can’t control yourself or your classroom, which will lead to even more management problems and probably more yelling.

To cut to the point, you’re going to yell. You’re probably going to scream. You will get so angry that you’ll shake and be unable to speak. There will be days when you go home and “banging your head against the wall” ceases being a figure of speech. When you take the train or bus home some days you'll feel like the last place you ever want to be is back in the school. Remember that you're fighting the good fight and that it will get better. Remember that you chose this field for a reason. Hopefully that reason was the students. If it was, you'll head back to school tomorrow for another go at it.

Today's Wine: Santa Cecilia Malbec 2009. This is a great wine, as agreed upon by three others I shared it with, and I picked it up for less than $10. Couldn't really find a review online for it, other than this one of course.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sunday Nights

Sunday nights are the cause for a lot of anxiety for teachers. In spite of how exhausted I was last year, I would lay on my cheap futon mattress in my bomb-shelter apartment and stare at the ceiling while my stomach turned. All of the things I still needed to do and all of the things that might possibly go wrong again in the coming week ran through my head like a newsreel. Because of that Sunday nights were one of the worst times of the week. My reaction to them was pretty mild, however, compared to what some teachers experience.

A colleague that worked with us last year (and has moved on to become a principal) was talking to me about how much she likes our administration. The topic of Sunday nights came up during this chat. She said that in a different position, one she didn't enjoy, she became physically ill every Sunday, dreading the week ahead. Her job was so terrible that she'd throw up! In our school last year she was one of the most respected teachers, both by staff and students.

Another colleague of mine last year admitted that every Sunday night she couldn't fall asleep on Sundays. She cried in her bed and waited for Monday and another whole week to start. This is a pretty well-balanced person who has since been very successful in the classroom. She boosts test scores while teaching students things they actually need to be successful in school and out of school. In short, she's a great teacher, but it certainly took at least that first year to get there.

Sunday's are probably stressful in any field. During your first year in the classroom, going into a full week after working all weekend to prepare for it can be pretty nerve-racking. Taking Sunday evenings off can help you get your mind off of school and get some sleep. As much as you want to feel prepared, being slightly less prepared (not unprepared) and on point with enough rest will be more useful in the classroom than being very prepared and exhausted.

Today's Wine: 2008 Terranoble Merlot. The problem I have with a lot of Merlots, especially the ones within my price range, is that they taste almost syrupy. They're not sweet, but the mouth feel is pretty thick. This one is a bit lighter, still fruity and not acidic. Pretty easy drinking. The sale, however, was that the sign at the liquor store read "A Terrifyingly Delicious Wine." How could you not buy it?

Friday, October 16, 2009

No Turn Over = Improved School

There is a general feeling in our school this year that things are getting better. Aside from the night and day beginning of the year, the general mood is much more upbeat among the staff and students alike. It's almost as if the staff as a whole believes that we can really prepare our students for the future! Even the veterans are surprised at the change. There are certainly a lot of reasons for the change, but the fact that most of the staff stayed on board for this year was a major contributing factor to the improvement.

The only teachers that left the school were the ones that probably needed to move on. Because of this the experience of the staff grew tremendously and the awareness of what should happen and what can happen in our school became more solid before the beginning of the year. One of the mentors I had my first year told me very bluntly "The more we help you newbies the less likely you are to quit, which makes our lives and our students' lives easier in the long run." It's true- if the new guys don't cut and run it makes less work for everyone, which means the veterans can concentrate on teaching students rather than supporting a whole lot of new teachers.

When she said that I was shocked and offended. Even though I knew very well that half of all teachers quit in their first five years, I was taken aback by the statement. She was right though. Keeping first year teachers in the classroom is very important. The learning curve in the first year is enormous and if the staff is inexperienced one year, keeping everyone on board for the next means the experience of the staff increases dramatically.

We had a lot of new teachers (1-3 years in) last year. The staff's general level of panic was pretty high on some days (at least it was from my perspective) and the students could sense it. Although our students seem to be much more sane this year in general, many have calmed down from last year because they know the staff is better prepared and that there are fewer variables rolling around in the school.

Among other things, the increased experience of our staff is making teaching fun this year. I'll readily admit that it wasn't fun last year. The change is pretty nice.

Today's Wine: Green Tea- I'm still preparing for the urbanathlon, but I'll be back to wine by the next post.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

It Get's Real (Tiring)

This year has gone a whole lot better in general, but in spite of that there are certainly parts of the job that are hard to control and very difficult to improve. One of those things is reducing in the short term the amount of violence we see in the community and trying to get our most at-risk students to have nothing to do with it. It's also difficult to keep our students who have nothing to do with the major problems outside of the school away from those problems. It should be noted that the vast majority of our students have nothing to do with the violence that happens in their community. They cannot be blamed for the poverty they experience or the difficult tests they are put through on a sometimes daily basis. That said, it's part of our job to make sure they stay safe under our watch and give them a place where they trust adults and have social norms, rather than social uncertainties.

This past Friday we had the first major confrontation of the year right outside of the school. A former student of ours came by the school, as many tend to do, and some unruly gentlemen (three of our current students included) came to find him. This group of gentlemen confronted our former student and one pulled out a knife. Our former student then ran into the bodega on the corner, grabbed the butcher's knife from behind the deli counter and came out swinging.

This was fairly disconcerting for the rest of the people on the block, to say the least, many of whom were our students and staff. One of our teachers took it upon himself to dive into action and grab the former student with the butcher's knife, dragging him away from the scene and trying to diffuse the problem. Members of our justice team didn't seem too be far behind. The former student was dragged into the building and into the main office as I was coming down the stairs past the front door.

As I walked past the front door the principal gave the direct order, "(Nick James), we need a bullhorn!" I ran into the office and grabbed one and then headed out the door to help clear the block. The police were arriving and one of our Justice Team members was reaming out the teacher who stepped in, telling him how dumb the move it. I joined the administrators in clearing people out of the area, wondering what the hell was going on, but knowing full and well that the need to clear the block off quickly happened numerous times last spring and that there was probably some reason it needed to be done at that moment.

Our former student wasn't hurt badly, but he looked like he'd been hit over the head with something and a few drops of someone's blood had to be cleaned off the office floor. Our current students who were involved in the incident had disappeared by this time. The police officer who arrives at our school whenever there is an issue like this said that had he been there when the student was swinging away that our former student may have been downed by his sidearm. Apparently this student and this police officer have had numerous run-ins before, but the comment from the police officer was somewhat unsettling.

By the end of last year I was reacting pretty similarly to stuff like this- some kind of numbness followed by a tired feeling that I seem to get whenever major disturbances happen. The feeling happened more toward the end of the year. Perhaps it's a kind of momentary resignation to the idea that regardless of how hard I try as an individual this sort of things still happens. Luckily no one was gravely injured. Unfortunately some of our current students were involved. On the bright side, we were six weeks in without a major incident when this happened.

Today's Wine: Lemon-Lime Powerade. This Saturday I'm running the Urbanathlon in Chicago with my three brothers, dad, an uncle, and a cousin. Because of this I'm not drinking any alcohol this week in hopes that my body will be better prepared for the race. My dad gave my brothers and me the charge of beating my cousin and uncle and I don't want to let the old man down.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

PDs in the City

Something I didn't anticipate when I was going through the School of Ed was that I would be given the opportunity to go to PDs (professional developments) on a fairly regular basis. I'm not talking about the PD I have every week at our school to talk about our social studies curriculum or school goals; I'm referring to the ones where you leave the building and sometimes the students behind and go to a workshop or event that is designed to make you a better teacher.

I would lump the PDs into two different categories: the workshop and the exhibition. The workshop PDs are those that are intended to give you new strategies and make you a better teacher and which many people attend just to get out of school. Oftentimes they are not that helpful, especially for skeptical teachers who don't really care to improve their practice and do not expend the necessary energy at the PD to learn something new.

There are a few of these that are in fact helpful. I went to a series of PDs last fall put on by Educators for Social Responsibility (ESR)that concentrated on management and were attended by new teachers and their mentors. The woman facilitating the PD was very helpful and actually did help me torelax a bit in the classroom. The PD did hand me some practical management strategies as well. This series was not during the school day, however, but on a series of Saturdays. Those willing to go to PD on Saturday are generally the type that actually want to improve their practice rather than just get away from their students, so the number who came and did absolutely nothing was pretty minimal. It wasn't devine inspiration or anything, and my year was still rough afterward, but I thought it was helpful overall and gave me some moral support when I needed it.

The exhibition PDs can be another story altogether. While also hit or miss helpful, they certainly can be entertaining. In the last year I've attended the Titanic Exhibit, the Bodies Exhibit (with some inhibition, as the source of the bodies is a bit sketchy), and Rock and Roll Hall Fame Annex (twice) among others. The Natural History Museum puts on PDs all the time, as does the Met and other major museums throughout the city. These places want teachers to bring students in and entice them to do it by giving teachers free admission on a given school night as well as instructional materials. Often times- although less often as of late due to budget cuts- these exhibitions are accompanied by wine, cheese, and amazing desserts (my girlfriend swears the best brownies in the world are at the Natural History Museum PDs). All this is quite a perk for being a teacher. While I haven't thought many of the exhibits would be appropriate for me to bring a a class to, it's a nice way to see and enjoy what the city has to offer so at the very least I can relate that information to my students.

This past Thursday I went with a group of teachers to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Annex in SoHo. It's a pretty good museum, but it's pretty expensive if you're paying to get in. We went last February as well and there was tons of wine and cheese and crackers. Walking around listening to Michael Jackson, Patti Smith, and the Clash with a bunch of buzzed teachers can certainly be an educational experience. Honestly I think it would be a pretty good trip for a music class, and has potential for a social studies/civic justice class if that class was taught through the lens of music reflecting major societal issues and ideas.

Today's Wine: The generic red that was served at the Rock and Roll Annex last February. Sadly there were no refreshments this past Thursday, but I shouldn't complain that I wasn't given a free lunch.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Edwize and The New York Teacher

Every so often the UFT send out emails asking new teachers for stories about their experiences in the city. Last week one of these emails also asked for any blogs that had to do with this topic. I had a mind last spring to send them a few ideas, so this time around I said what the heck and sent the URL for On the Front Line with Wine.

The guy who coordinates (the UFT news website) replied and said he wanted to submit a couple of the posts to the editor of The New York Teacher for consideration as potential pieces to include in one of this month's editions. I believe this paper is circulated to most of the UFT's 200,00o members and at least 200 probably read it. Of those 200 I would predict that no less than 20 will stumble upon what I wrote and actually get through it. That would be cool.

The article being published in New York Teacher is my entry: First Year Mentors
It's on the main page of right as The Importance of Mentors.

This Ewize Coordinator also added this blog to the blog reel at way down on the right hand side under NYC Teachers.

Thanks to everyone reading!

Today's Wine: Luchado's Shiraz 2007. This is was all fruit. I actually drank it with the Trentatre Rosso in my last post. The blogger who writes The Blog Wine Cellar said that this was just another "out of whack Aussie fruit bomb." I thought that was interesting. After the Trentatre all I tasted was fruit with this one. I thought it was pretty good though.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The SLT and other Crazy Meetings

The School Leadership Team (SLT) meets once a month to discuss major policy issues and other stuff going on in our school. Our union rep refers to this group as "the most influential body in the city" in terms of managing schools. The principal, vice principals, parent coordinator, union rep, parent rep, student rep and elected teacher reps are voting members, but anyone can come in and offer feedback.

An administrator asked me to come to this month's meeting to see if I could offer any ideas. It was pretty flattering to be asked (assuming he thought that I've had at least a couple good ideas in the past year), but I think it was a decent move politically on his part as well. This was the AP from Kansas asking me to come. We have a very similar background, especially for teachers in NYC. We both came from Kansas, went to the same university and learned to be teachers under the watchful eye of the same adviser/professor. We both chose urban education and both moved out to NYC to see what we could do for the students here. Whether that dictated the fact that we think very similarly or not, we do.

If I were an AP (and voting member of the SLT) and knew that a teacher in the building shared very similar points of view with me, I would definitely ask that teacher to come to the meetings. Ideas are received differently coming from teachers and administration, even if they are the same idea. Getting support for your ideas from the teachers is very important as it might be bolster support among other teachers rather than just sound like another idea an administrator has for the school.

At the meeting yesterday the first order of business was to pick a new secretary. The old one (my mentor from last year) is leaving this week to go on maternity leave. In order to secure a spot at the meetings and show I'm interested in contributing- not just wanting to blow a lot of hot air at my bosses- I volunteered and did the job yesterday. We'll see how it goes.

Advice for New Teachers:

Teaching is exhausting. Last year at meetings like this I felt pretty brain-dead and had very little to contribute. I also didn't feel like I knew enough about the school, the community or about education to contribute to major meetings like the SLT. The meetings I attended were generally mandatory and I usually just sat there and took in everything I could with my weakened attention span. I think that it's alright to do this (observe more than actively participate), though tossing in your two cents every once in a while is a good idea.

Additionally, don't burden yourself by joining a thousand committees. It's alright to say no to additional tasks. Everyone knows (or should know) that your first year is ridiculous and that it's unreasonable to expect a you to complete a lot of additional duties. I turned down several committees last year, as well as a couple coaching positions.

One group I found a niche in, however, was a grant writing team. The only thing that I really had to do was spit out onto paper a good amount of rhetoric that I learned in the school of ed to send to some committee somewhere else, who would then read it and consider giving us money. This grant writing team actually had a retreat (in addition to our bi-weekly meetings) where we were put up in a hotel in Midtown in order to get us away from the building and talking. Enough decent stuff was put on paper that we were awarded the grant we were shooting for ($250,000). At this time last year I was an expert in that- telling people the latest ideas in education in black in white on the page. Now I think I'm ready to start throwing in my two cents about how the school should be run.

Today's Wine: Trentatre Rosso 2007. This one is getting solid reviews as an inexpensive wine you can pick up at Trader Joe's (hopefully other places too?). It's a blend of Montepulciano, Cabernet and Merlot. Very solid, some strong tannins (I think I'm starting to figure out what that means) and very drinkable with anything.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Missing Home

At this time last year I experienced something that I'd never experienced before in my life: homesickness. When I was growing up I starting going to camp for two weeks during the summer every year at the age of ten; I studied abroad in Europe for three months; I lived in Brooklyn for a summer and I student-taught over seas as well. Never in all that time did I feel much of a desire to head back home. Perhaps it was because I knew I hadn't left for good.

Last year what I was feeling around this time seemed inexplicable. Although I had a few friends in the city, I had buried myself in my work and holed up in my bunker-apartment in Queens. The sun started going down earlier and coming up later. I was arriving at school just before seven and leaving at six o'clock, saw no sun and really had no social life. On the weekends I stayed in trying to figure out how to make things better at school. In short, my job was consuming me and I wasn't very happy about it, though I wouldn't have said it outright at the time.

Two other first year teachers at my school took weekends last fall to go back to their home states and see their family. While I didn't have the cash for the plane ticket, it certainly would have done some good. Getting back into a familiar element away from the front lines is certainly good for the nerves. At the very least it helps you to remember the confidence and drive you left home with, if not regain some of it.

Today's Wine: The Shiraz pumped from my post on the 1st.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Do Not Smile or Scowl Until Christmas- Part 2

Someone brought to my attention recently that the way I'm conducting myself in the classroom is also the way I'm conducting myself in meetings with colleagues. This must be part of finding the balance between the first and second years.

I've come into this year with a No Smile-No Frown policy in the classroom. While the desired effect in the classroom has been pretty well achieved (the students are aware of who is running the show and I actually feel like I'm in charge), the residual effect in cooperative team meetings has been that I've been kind of a d-bag. We tell our students that they need to code-switch between home and the classroom- meaning shut the profanity off, among other things- but I haven't been switching between the classroom and other professional work.

Something I added to my arsenal this year, which was in the testing stages last spring, is a slightly deeper public speaking voice than whatever it was I used before. Last spring I consciously lowered my voice slightly and did my best not to raise the pitch when surprised, angry, etc., which worked most of the time, but I'm sure a couple of students wondered at times if I was hitting a second bout of puberty. Part of the current No Smile-No Scowl policy has been to include this deeper voice when addressing my students in the classroom. It certainly seems to help, but an insider tip from a colleague was that when I attend meetings and set out an agenda (very "I'm the man with the plan"), the deep voice is condescending and abrasive. As it turns out, my colleagues, while young, are no longer in middle school and should not be treated as such.

Last year I felt so thoroughly trounced that I rarely gave any long-winded epitaphs or really any feedback at teacher meetings. I was too tired and felt I really didn't know what I was doing and therefore didn't have much to contribute to the veteran teachers at such meetings. This year I marched in with my head high trying to show students that I knew exactly what I was doing so that they'd come along with me, but the reality is I certainly do NOT know everything and shouldn't address colleagues like I do. I also don't need to prove to my colleagues that I have healthy testosterone levels by flaunting my lower register.

Today's Wine: Sipavola Rosso Di Sicilia 2006. It was a NeroD'Avola/Cabernet Sauvignon blend, according to the menu. I had it at Cavatappo off 89th and 1st on the Upper East Side (down the block from my house). The wine was a smooth drink that went well with the spinach papperdelle pasta with duck ragu. The whole thing sounds fancy and tastes fancier (in my opinion).

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Do Not Smile or Scowl Until Christmas

Going through the School of Ed I was told, "Don't smile before Christmas."
Going through the School of Ed I was also told, "You know that line 'Don't smile before Christmas?- that's nonsense! Of course you should smile and show your students you care from day one!"

I'd like to endorse the former. When people say not to smile before Christmas they don't mean to literally not smile. They mean don't lighten up. After my student teaching I came to the city ready to work alongside students, ask them about their ideas and put my trust in them as students who, regardless of their issues, wanted to learn on some fundamental level. Trying that straight away was a terrible idea. My students thought I was "nice," which to them meant "this guy'll be easy to play." While most of them didn't try to tear me apart, those who tried certainly succeeded.

My smiling early soon dissolved into a scowl that was affixed to my forehead for the better part of the year. Not only did my students think I was a push-over, they thought that I had a terrible temper. The students actually trying in my class hated this and those who were causing the problems thought it was funny, so they pushed and pushed. It was a lose-lose-lose situation. If the students see you get angry and yell with any regularity, you can yell until you're purple and it won't help. Scowling and walking around pissed off really just sends them the message that you're angry with them. Would you be interested in working for a boss that was angry at you most of the time?

By the end of the year I was better able to control my reactions, as the students actions weren't surprising at all whatsoever, but I was still really angry about the whole situation. At the beginning of this year, however, I'd somehow gained the ability to simply not react to the funny things students have done or the more regrettable things they've done. I've certainly smiled, but not in reaction to anything inappropriate or during class when something has happened that is disruptive.

My advice to the First Years in the city is "don't smile and don't scowl until Christmas." Kids are hilarious and infuriating. Showing the students a human side is also important, however. The balance is difficult to achieve. When you're in front of the class you have to show them you're running the show. If you react by getting angry or playing along with students whose actions are disruptive, it may show them a weakness they can exploit. If you don't want them to push your buttons, don't show them where they can push.

When I was student teaching and substitute teaching I really, really wanted to get to the human side of teaching, show the students I was a real person and show them things they needed to know to be successful. Gaining their respect and trust that you can handle a class is much more important than trying to show them that you're human. In the city the students are going to test you and what they want to know is if you're cool under fire. You can get to the progressive education later. First gain the students respect. Without it you won't gain much else. To do that you have to stay in control of yourself and the class. While they'll show you in the most backward way, that's what they crave, need and demand and if you can't give it to them they won't give you what you ask of them.

Today's Wine: Indaba Shiraz. I picked this up at Trader Joe's for $7 and was incredibly pleased with it. The label says black cherry, pepper, etc. I wasn't really paying much attention past the fact that I really enjoyed it, however.