With the state math exam next week can you guess what's consuming my teaching? To be fair, it hasn't consumed it in the same way the ELA did. But it has essentially captured my focus as I debate over exposure versus mastery, and what exactly to teach in the next three school days before the test.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Posted by ruben_b at 3:49 PM
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Watching Obama's Presidential address live and he's just now wrapping up the discussion of education. Lots of stuff for eduwonks to sink their teeth into. In typical Obama fashion, the President threw out out plenty of red meat to both sides - discussing early childhood education plans, expanding charter schools and the responsibility of parents in helping their children succeed - all the while speaking with a tone of calm and compromise. One of his greatest applause lines, among the many, felt as if he was speaking directly to young African American men across the country: "Dropping out is no longer an option. It's not just quitting on yourself, it's quitting on your country."
Undoubtedly those interested in the future of education will find plenty to argue about in Obama's speech. Allusions to performance pay? What "programs that don't work" does he plan to cut? Tonight, the future of America's public education system under President Obama remains somewhat nebulous, but nonetheless received some much needed attention in the national spotlight as one of his top three priorities for the country.
Posted by ruben_b at 9:49 PM
Going back to the NY Times well again today (What can I say? The first days back after break can be exhausting) this article on the importance of recess was interesting. It seems to confirm common sense and the general suspicion of teachers, that recess is more than just a break from learning. In fact, studies show that recess supports student learning and provides an essential part of the overall academic experience for children.
I wonder if the recess my students enjoy during lunch time, approximately 20 minutes of movie watching in the auditorium, provides the same benefits. It's doubtful, since recess in the context of the article seems focused on physical play. Another reminder that the gap between suburban and urban schools extends beyond new books and computers, to the space available for play.
Posted by ruben_b at 9:12 PM
Monday, February 23, 2009
The NY Times reports that upon Arne Duncan's agreement with the idea to rename and rebrand No Child Left Behind, plenty of folks are coming up with new suggestions. One of my favorites is Double Back Around to Pick Up the Children We Left Behind Act. More names and a chance to input your own at Eduwonk.com.
Posted by ruben_b at 9:57 AM
Sunday, February 15, 2009
Check out my newest proposal on DonorsChoose... Give if you can, pass it on to friends if you'd like.
Help spark a love of reading in my students! I'm a 4th grade, general ed teacher in a high-need public school. We serve roughly 1,000 students pre-K to 5, 99% of whom qualify for free lunch and more than half are English Language Learners.
Three quarters of my students are reading below grade level. Many of them are reading at a second grade level. They are inspired to grow as readers, but are tired of our classroom library, which lacks enough high interest, low level books for second and third grade readers.
I have requested close to 100 books from levels J (1st/2nd grade) all the way to P/Q (4th grade). I have selected books that I know the kids are interested. Many of them are series. When a child gets to know a character, they are drawn into reading and excited to keep reading book after book whether it's the kids of the Magic Tree House, Junie B. Jones, Cam Jansen or Judy Moody.When new books arrived in our classroom in November, the kids' excitement was immeasurable. Your help will ensure that enthusiasm continues to thrive in our classroom. You can make it possible for all my students to find a book that catches their imagination and turns them into a lifelong reader.
Thanks to everyone for your support!
Posted by ruben_b at 4:24 PM
Thursday, February 12, 2009
Sometimes my educational philosophy and my sanity are at odds. The foundation of my philosophy is that every child, no matter what, has a right to a quality education. This seems simple enough until you have a student who refuses to show basic respect for the classroom community. When a child is drawing all over their desk or crawling on the floor or shouting out constantly there comes a breaking point where you say, "Enough is enough." At this point however, the options are pretty much lose-lose.
One option is to try to ignore the student. With luck, they'll just keep themselves occupied without disrupting the other students too badly. In most cases, a disruptive student is looking for attention. Depriving them of that, even in an extreme case of misbehavior, can sometimes neutralize the situation.
The other "option" is to kick the student out. This has happened when I have run out of patience and creativity. There seems to be no other solution so it's time for the kid to go - to the AP's office, to another classroom, to the parent coordinator/de facto disciplinarian of my school - anywhere outside of my classroom. This sends a message that the student has gone too far and they have lost their place within the classroom community.
The problem with both of these options, is that the student isn't learning. Whether they're pouting in the corner or doing extra work in another room in the school, I've failed. As a novice teacher I think I need to accept this as an eventuality. Sometimes for the greater good of the classroom, the disruptive student has to lose out. They've made their choice to opt out of the classroom community by not following basic rules of respect. And yet, I wish there was a way to enforce an "ultimate consequence" that didn't preclude a student from learning at any time.
Posted by ruben_b at 5:36 PM
Monday, February 9, 2009
Invariably in the course of a classroom, curriculum is put on hold for the almighty "teachable moment." These are the moments that pop up unexpectedly, and provide an invaluable opportunity to teach the students a "deeper" life lesson. It might come along when a student says something like, "I'll never be good at math." It might manifest in a worse way, like a student making fun of another's race or sexuality.
The teachable moment rarely comes when you're prepared for it, and you're never guaranteed to handle it gracefully or even appropriately. If a teachable moment strikes at the wrong time, you might just roll your eyes, sigh and move on with what you intended. Other times you can seek out a teachable moment, which was my thought when I read about Chris Brown's scandalous arrest last night for domestic violence.
Now it might seem strange that I would consider this UsWeekly scandal a teachable moment. I'm definitely not a fan of Chris Brown's music, so his arrest might seem an unlikely discussion point for my classroom. But here are my thoughts on the other hand: Chris Brown is basically a god to my students, especially the girls. To say they idolize him is a gross understatement. Now he's the subject of a domestic violence investigation and I have to wonder what my students are thinking. Another wrinkle in the conversation is the fact that my students are much more likely to have witnessed domestic violence in their homes than most kids their age.
Is this a can of worms I want to open? More than anything I want to make it clear to my students that violence is never an acceptable means of resolution. I want my girls to know that nobody ever has the right to hurt them, and the boys to realize it's never okay to inflict harm on someone else. Lastly I want them to know that anyone who would commit violence against a partner, regardless of their past, is unworthy of their adulation. Now whether that's a teachable moment I have in my classroom will depend on a few more days of soul searching.
Posted by ruben_b at 6:14 PM
Michelle Rhee had a piece in today's Washington Post called "The Toughest Job," attempting to clear her rep as a teacher-hater. She does a nice job clarifying her deep respect for D.C.'s teachers and outlining her plan to transform the way teacher's are paid and tenured. Speaking as someone who spent a fair amount of time cleaning powdered sugar (!) out of my closet and off my floor, I have to say Rhee's piece is nothing if not aptly titled. In seriousness though, Rhee's column is a must-read for anyone curious about the direction of education reform in the country, especially reform centered around teacher performance and pay.
Hat tip to Gotham Schools
Posted by ruben_b at 5:36 PM
Thursday, February 5, 2009
My kids aren't very familiar with a lot of idioms which can lead to confusion sometimes in the classroom. In general, my students tend to take a lot of what I say literally. It can be funny, but at the wrong time, it can be incredibly aggravating. Yesterday in a bout of frustration I said to Maverick, "No matter what I say you want to argue. If I told the class the sky was blue, you'd call out, 'It's green!'" Beat. "The sky's not blue! It's white!" Wow. Thank you for proving my point, without showing any understanding of it. And that's why you're not supposed to engage in those types of conversations/arguments with kids.
Posted by ruben_b at 6:56 PM
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
Did you know that February isn't just the shortest month in the year, it's also Black History Month (Hey, wait a minute...). So make sure you spend the next few weeks teaching your kids who invented the traffic light and the light bulb filament, because before you know it February will be over, and there goes your chance to talk about African-Americans!
Posted by ruben_b at 7:13 PM
I wonder if I should be handling my students differently. I wonder if I'm coming across as a push-over. Is there something instrinsic in my nature that will keep me from ever controlling students like Lil Miss Meltdown and Maverick? I tell myself that they caused problems for all their previous teachers. They are notorious. Then I tell myself I'm making excuses.
Three or four months ago I thought I had this so figured out. I had found something I was good at. Now I'm wondering if I'll ever be good at this job, or if I'm just not cut out for it. I waver between giving myself a break with justifications like "you cannot control what goes on at home" and reprimanding myself finding excuses in the home life of my students. I'm not the first person to teach in the Bronx and I'm not the first person to struggle. Plenty others have succeeded where I am failing.
The essential question remains: Am I cut out for this job? I do not plan on quitting any time soon, but I wonder if there's something in my nature - a leniency, a lack of withitness or whatever - that will always make teaching my students a struggle. What I learned from last year was that without clear rules, routines and procedures for every facet of the classroom there will be problems. Then why I am I still having problems 5 months into the year, long after these elements have been established, taught, and re-taught?
Posted by ruben_b at 4:29 PM
Monday, February 2, 2009
I've always been a fan of 1960s counter-culture films, especially Cool Hand Luke, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Easy Rider. I've always been proud of my own rebellious streak, but it can yield mixed results in the world of teaching.
On the one hand, I believe a true education is based on questioning. Having a teacher who is constantly questioning themselves, conventional wisdom (re:pedagogy, NCLB, etc.) and authority can definitely be a benefit for students. This is especially true if the teacher is questioning ideas or policies that seem to be detrimental for students.
On the other hand, in the real world of education, especially an incredibly bureaucratic realm like NYC schools, there doesn't seem to be much room for antiheroes like Cool Hand Luke or McMurphy. This has been a difficult lesson for me, and one I'm still slow to learn. Recently the frustration level has increased as time after time I walk away from a conversation with a co-worker, professor or administrator asking myself, "What was I thinking?"
Sometimes I wish I would just shut up, keep my head down and do my own thing until I've got tenure. But somehow, I don't think I'm going to be able to do that no matter how hard I try.
Posted by ruben_b at 5:18 PM