Archive for the 'schools' 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!



One of my students was shot and killed yesterday just standing on the corner with his friends.  He was dedicated to turning his life around after making some bad choices as a very young man. Violence is a real problem in America. I believe education is the solution, but I’m open to other suggestions.



People travel the world to study the artwork and music of great men and women because of what it teaches them about themselves and history.  They climb mountains and trudge through jungles to seek out the knowledge of one philosopher or another.  They will pay thousands of dollars to hear a lecture by a great  professor.   There are beautiful minds untapped worldwide, and though they may be sparked by the law, by the microscope, or by the Word, they become flames by the work of the teacher.  If society chooses to build stadiums instead of schools and cases instead of classrooms, it has already passed judgement on the importance of what I choose to do.

Without knowledge of law there is chaos.  Without knowledge of medicine disease reigns.  Some teachers sacrifice time and money and energy to teach people to read, but others sacrifice EVERYTHING to teach people to live.  Education has built nations and lack of it has destroyed them.  Knowledge is so revered that many civilizations believed that only the gods possesed it, yet society places so little value on those who seek to distribute it.  If every last being on Earth were destroyed save two, they could recreate the world using our books.  I am human, I am fallible, and all I have ever wanted to do from the depth of my soul is to be good enough to inspire someone else to be great.  I would do it for free and unappreciated every day for the rest of my life.  I believe in education like you believe in God.  Judge me as you please.


A Hard Win

I work in alternative education, which means I teach “urban youth” who are coming out of jail, about to go into jail, are on probation, or have been permanently removed from their neighborhood school for fighting, drugs, carrying weapons, etc…  Often I find myself frustrated my a system that doesn’t care enough to provide sufficient supplies and teachers to children they’ve decided to throw away.  As a result, the students aren’t really encouraged to take pride in their education or themselves, let alone show respect for their school, their teachers, or their community.

I started in a new school this week and was appalled at the extreme lack of respect students showed for teachers, and even more so at the administration’s lack of follow-through on rules and procedures, but I digress.  In alternative education, anything you can do to get the students to follow societal norms is considered a “win”.  One of my focuses is to get students to refer to me by name.  In case you are unaware, urban youth show their disdain for “white society” by refusing to call teachers by their name or their title.  For example, if your name is Ms. Smith, the students will refer to you as “Miss” or “Smith” , but will not put them together.  Most teachers chalk this up as unimportant and don’t address it, but I see this a critical issue.  I feel that students should respect me and their education enough to at least learn and use my name.

So here’s how I did in 4 days what the other teachers haven’t managed to do in 5 months:  On Day 1 I introduced myself as Ms. Smith.  When students refered to me as Miss, I add the “Smith” before answering them or granting their request.  When students refered to me as “Miss” on day 2, I reminded them that my name is “Ms. Smith” and required that they say it before answering their question or granting their request.  On day 3, I pretended not to hear students until they say, “Ms. Smith”, which inevitably pissed someone off given the population I work with.  When that happened, I simply said, “I’m sorry ______ (insert name), but I’ve already given you enough respect to learn and use your name and I expect you to learn and use mine.  If you’re not going to do that, we have nothing more to say to each other.”  Then I continued with my lesson.  By day 4, most of my students were using my name.  At some point during that day, one of the “hold-outs” tried to get my attention and I ignored him.  Then he said, “I’m going to call you Ms. S…..Okay?’, and I say, “Fine.”  I have just won.  While it’s true, the student is not referring to me by my full name, I have forced them to see me as a person rather than a nameless authority figure just like every other authority figure they’ve come into contact with.   Our teacher/student relationship has finally begun.



I teach English.  More importantly, I teach English in the City of Philadelphia to students of varied races in a very low socioeconomic area.  As a result, I do my best to to incorporate literature written by people of all races and religions in every course I teach.  I follow the school district curriculum as much as possible so that my students will pass the standardized tests.

So I was really insulted when a few of our students wore all black and protested in front of our building because we weren’t doing anything for Black History Month.  I should mention that we didn’t do anything for Hispanic History Month (October), and we weren’t planning on doing anything for Women’s History Month (April).  Our school makes a special effort to include all cultures in all of our lessons and relate what we’re doing to our student base. We strive to be better then those schools who, because they ignore the black students most of the time, NEED Black History Month to remind them that we are a multiracial society (though I take issue with the fact that African Americans aren’t the only minority and yet their political groups insist on pushing their histpry over all others).  But since these students decided that we don’t try hard enough the rest of the year (and we REALLY, REALLY do), I have to take days away from the middle of a lesson on the Canterbury Tales (in which I included the Middle Eastern and African influences that entered Europe after the Crusades) to show some movie that has no relevance to what I’m doing in class.

**In an unrelated note, I am currently in the middle of a divorce (which I’m writing about here: and 17 weeks pregnant, which is why I have been slacking off on my writting. I’m trying to get back into the swing of things.  Thanks for your patience.


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.



Because of the substandard health care offered by my company I am being forced to make an extremely difficult decision.  I love my job, but the insurance only covers 80% of maternity care.  OBGYNs are considered specialists and have a larger copay.  Lab tests are expensive.  With the salary I’m currently receiving because no one cares about kids who drop-out of school, I can’t afford to stay in my job and add to my family. Health Care apparently isn’t a Family Values issue.  

So I have to decide whether I want to expand my family or stay on a career path that will leave me poor, but professionally fulfilled.  Is having a larger family worth giving up a job I love?  Is it worth staying at a job I love when I’m not earning my full potential and could be taking better care of my family?  Will the person who takes my place be able to convince MY kids that an education is the most important thing they will ever get?  I know I can’t stay.  They’re never going to be able to pay me what I’m worth, and I want more children.  Kids are expensive and I don’t make enough money.  Sometimes life sucks.

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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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