Archive for the 'curriculum' Category



I made my students do a Poetry Slam. I forced them to watch one done at the White House by a very talented young man and told them to write a poem. What they turned in was crap and I told them so (in nicer terms than this). So I made them watch a few more videos (all COMPLETELY appropriate for the classroom), gave them a lecture about poetry not being all about rhyme scheme and repetition but about a visceral connection to yourself and your emotions. And I made them do it again.  They did, so I did 🙂

I love teaching.  I LOVE teaching and every day I see teachers who don’t.  I see teachers who have lost sight of the student, who are just coming to a job.  I see teachers who blame 16-year-old kids for not giving a crap about their education without stopping to discuss the clear fact that NO ONE in this country gives a crap about their education, sometimes not even their parents.  I see teachers who are more worried about the terms of a contract than the needs of a student.  I see teachers who use all their sick days and personal days, too.  I see teachers who get pissed off when they know they’re going to be evaluated because it means they actually have to teach something.

And I see teachers who are moving from sub job to sub job because they dared to move mid-career or decided to spend a few years at home with their children.  I see teachers with experience and degrees left on the sidelines while recent college grads get the few contracts available because they’re cheaper.  I see teachers trying to find a way to reach growing classes due to a shrinking staff and juggle the modifications from 15 IEPs.  I see teachers become mediators, nurses, counselors, mothers, and disciplinarians all in the span of 60 seconds and hear them turn boys into men in less than a sentence.

I see an industry in serious need of reform on every level and a country that can’t see its way to doing anything other than blaming the teachers.  I see an industry that is ruled by politics and not be knowledge, more interested in money than books, and more occupied with answers than with questions.  I seen an industry that no longer serves the public in the way that it should or could and must be changed NOW.

And most importantly, I see the student, the child waiting to be lead in the right direction.  I see the student whose search for knowledge survives even the worse teachers in the worst schools in the country.  I see the student who finds his own books when his school has none and the student who gets up before 5 AM and rides the bus for over an hour to get to the charter school across town and NEVER misses a day.  I see potential.  I see the future and I DEMAND to be a part of it.  Give me a job!


Parent’s Night

Most years I dread Parent’s Night.  Teachers sit for hours on end visiting the few parents who care enough to schow up, unless, of course, you teach in the suburbs.  This year I knew what to expect because last year I was busy.  At my school, our kids want their parents to show up for parent’s night.  For many of them, this is the first time in a long time their teachers have anything good to say about them.  On parent’s night, no matter how frustrated I may be, no matter how exhausted, I am reminded that our program works.

After being told that their kids were on Honor Roll, parents cried.  When we announced the new appointments to Student Government*, the students cried.  I got a lot of hugs, and a lot of the parents made sure to thank us for what we do for their kids.  Half of our parents showed up.  In a city where half of the kids drop out and schools can go years without seeing their parents, that is amazing.  We have a program that works, teachers who care, and parents who show up.  And I have to quit my job because I don’t get enough health care.

*teachers appoint government members, students don’t vote.


This is My America

My first assignment for my American Literature students this year is to write a 5 paragraph essay entitled, “This Is My America”.  My students are always saying that what happens in the “outside world” doesn’t matter because they are struggling daily just to survive.  No one knows this and no one cares.  I want them to feel like they matter, that their stories are not all that uncommon, and that someone cares, even if it’s just me.  I’m hoping that I’ll be able to post their stories and that others to stumble across this site will want to post their own.  I’m opening this up to anyone who wants to share their version of America – who they are, where they come from, etc…  I would love anecdotal tales, but I’ll take essays, opinion pieces, whatever.  If you don’t mind me using your post as an example for my kids, please let me know!  I’m encouraging you all to write, to tell your story, and to let kids who don’t have access to the life you live to read it.  All experiences are welcome.


Where I Work

I thought about writing about the President’s speech, but I decided to write about where I work instead. I am working for a company that has several residential, disciplinary, and alternative schools throughout the country with more opening up yearly. The dedication to educating students that many see as lost (young men and women who have dropped out, committed serious crimes as children, or have severe learning disabilities and mental health issues), is what drew me to the company, and I believe that some of the methods used should be implemented in every American school. They are strict but they are fair. 97% of our students graduate with 97% of them going into college, trade school, the work force, or alas, the military.

The students (ages 16 – 21) must wear uniforms, and if they aren’t properly attired, they don’t come into the building. They go through metal detectors on their way in (this is Northeast Philadelphia, after all) and they may not bring anything into the building with them (including gum, lip balm, candy, and pencils, but excluding lunch brought from home as long as there’s no soda).  Teachers may let school police know in the morning if they assigned homework, and it is put in a folder by the door.  They may not wear jewelry. They must walk through the halls in protocol (hands behind their backs, no talking) and they must be escorted by a member of the staff or a student with status at all times.  If a student threatens himself, others, or school property, he may be restrained by a state approved method that every parent has signed off on.

Students gain status by getting good grades (given daily in every class), staying out of trouble (behavior ratings are given weekly on this scale: positive, neutral, concern, negative), confronting students who are not following school norms (all students are expected to confront others who are talking, behaving badly, incorrectly wearing their uniform or jewelry, etc…), and having a high attendance percentage (90%). Status is taken away for refusing to follow school norms (we don’t call them rules), or a drop in grades or attendance. Students want status because only students with status may serve on the student government and help plan trips, the prom, and other things like the intramural basketball league (though all students may participate as long as they don’t have a negative rating). These students wear a different colored shirt than the rest of the student population. They are the first to leave from the afternoon assembly and only they may use the vending machines, write with pen, and travel through the halls unescorted.

If the students do get out of line, there are consequences. Students are removed from class and sent to In School Suspension for 5 days for any disruption.  In ISS they must complete all of their coursework or be expelled. If they sleep in class, they have to stand. If more than one person has their head down, the whole class stands (it’s all about group accountability). If the teacher has to stop lessons to deal with student behavior and cannot finish his or her lesson, the whole class must stay after school to make up lost time (though many teachers let the students with status leave and make it up later). The school day is very long (7:30 – 4) and the electives are limited (computers, art, gym, SAT Prep, and Spanish). Students may only talk to each other during morning and afternoon assembly (where the teachers announce which classes did well and which classes need improvement), in the cafeteria (where the teachers eat with their homeroom), and during Guided Group Interaction (which is a bit like group therapy).

It may sound a little extreme, but I have been able to spend more time actually teaching in the past 5 days than I ever did in even the best public schools.  The quality of work is excellent because students know that half-assed just doesn’t cut it at our school.  I’m doing the same coursework with my class as any other 12th grade English (The Canterbury Tales, Shakespeare, and Beowulf) in the state of PA, which is impressive because most of my students are at an 8th grade reading and writing level.  I don’t necessarily think public schools should adopt every one of our policies, but our education system would greatly improve if students were actually held accountable for their actions (and we got rid of No Child Left Behind).


Longer School Days

Ten schools in Massachusetts have extended their school day by 2 hours. A lot can be done in that time. Many teachers I know are often frustrated that they don’t have enough time to teach important concepts, or to adequately explain them to students who have trouble grasping them. Some of the most amazing discussions in my Literature and History classes have been interrupted by a bell. Once that energy is gone, it’s difficult to get it back.

Hopefully schools will use this as an opportunity to reimplement music and art classes. If students are lucky, a wider range of electives. But I know many administrators are thinking of the Almighty, asking themselves, “What is this doing to their test scores?” Well, it’s raising them. And teachers are getting paid more, too.


Back to Basics

In the wealthiest, most powerful nation in the world it is absolutely shameful that 30% of our students are not graduating from high school. In some minority schools, the graduation rate is as low as 50%. No wonder we can’t compete on a world scale. It has gotten so bad that the United States Chamber of Congress has said that it can’t possibly maintain a lead in the global economy due to the poor education of its workforce.

School standards have been attacked for years, but no one’s actually willing to do what it takes to improve our schools. Not only do we need legal reform, attacking first and foremost the No Child Left Behind Act, but we need curriculum reform as well. The required curriculum in most states is below that of many European nations. Schools are underfunded. Teachers are underpaid, and as a result, underqualified.

So, why does it take the Chamber of Commerce to exact change? Because this country will only make or change education laws if they are effecting businesses or the budget. Teachers have been speaking up for years. We’ve been on our knees begging and pleading for even the tiniest bit of help. We’ve written letters, elected candidates, made speeches, and addressed Congress, but all to no avail. It will be interesting to see how long it takes Tom Donohue and his friends to do what teachers can’t.


A Possible Solution

One of the problems in education is getting qualified teachers to work in schools with obvious problems. One of the reasons this happens is that teachers are able to apply to specific schools rather than counties or districts. In Philadelphia they have been trying to solve this problem by having teachers apply to the county, then assigning schools based on the applicant’s location. Usually they try to give you an assignment in a school close to your home, but you can ask to be placed further if you choose. This means that people may not teach in their neighborhood (if they happen to live in the city), but it also means that qualified teachers are spread throughout the country rather than on the fringes closest to the suburbs. Not everyone agrees with the idea, but in the end, it is what’s better for the kids. This might be a good way for other school systems to spread out teachers with Masters degrees, degrees in their subject areas, and completed certifications.

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I am not perfect. I do my best to practice what I preach, but I am human. My mantra is, "DO NO HARM". I may not always succeed, but I will always try. My goal is to be a better person today than I was yesterday.

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