Tuesday, December 22, 2009

reflecting upon a cure for what ails me...

It's vacation! Happy vacation everyone! We're about four days into it, and I was trapped in DC during the THUNDERSNOW. That was epic and crazy. I didn't take pictures of the long, wonderful walk I had during the snow. I went off from my place and wandered down 14th St and ended up at the 14th & U Snowball Fight (I like this description, though it's a tad more innocent than the eyewitness report of a cop brandishing a gun...yikes!); ran into a colleague, who went with me to the Mall! Lovely, lovely, all of it. I was freezing afterwards, but that's the price you pay for beauty?

So, now that I'm home, my main goal is three-fold: pull all my grades together; study for my praxis 2 exam (boooo); figure out how to really differentiate and plan well for my kids next quarter; and, most importantly, find a cure for what's ailing me.

I talked it over with my mom, and didn't really come up with much of a plan, unfortunately. But, I have an idea in my head about how to combat some of this negativity: I'm going to firmly plan my feet again and not kid myself: everyone's going through this shit that I'm going through. And it's not that I'm not special in that regard--my own experience is my own experience, I think. I deal with it however heavily I do (perhaps too much so), but I'm going to try to figure out how to go through that bullshit and do things in the school the right way.

I'm going to try and do my hardest to differentiate properly, and really study the units (workshops) that we go through in the rBook. I'll review the skills and the stories and try and predict how the kids're going to struggle, and how they're going to succeed. Some of this stuff is in place from last year, so I won't try and reinvent the wheel. But, as I'm trying to find my own way to deal with the problem of not being invested in my work, I will try and figure out what's best for my students in terms of homework, reviewing for the final, and planning, etc.

Here's what I want to do:

1) Build a review packet for the final like I did last time
2) Figure out what homeworks will be needed next workshop, and what I want the kids to focus on more
3) Write in my "Belief" notebook that I used to for school last year, and spend some time at my old Starbucks haunt from last year developing some curriculum.
4) Get some poetry recitation lesson plans set--I'll be starting some of them soon for an 11th grade classroom. I'm wicked excited about it, and it will provide me some insight into how an English class is run, at least, for now.
5) Write some poetry
6) Relax

Friday, December 18, 2009

first good day in, what, 3 months?

In the whole semester, I have yet to have a real honest to goodness good day. each one has trudged with its various ups and downs. And, as time's passed, mostly downs. The school i'm at has this poisonous negativity pervading it, and there's not too much that's constructive it seems to me.

Somehow, despite the fact that one of my students refuses (and therefore will not be able to present his project until he does this) to take the reading growth test and swore in my classroom (suddenly kids are swearing, what's with this?) ("I hate this fucking class" was the phrase, I believe), I suddenly had a huge smile on my face come last period. It's not because we had an assembly (I was a little miffed about that), and also not because it was the last period of the day. Rather, I had a sincerely good time teaching reciprocal teaching (a strategy that is best described as a literature circle for all subjects), and enjoyed my third period class immensely when they practiced it. It really showed that they knew what to do (even my students who are ESL caught on, though I had one fracaso (failure) with one kid who had no clue). And that gives me hope that their last project that they'll be working on over the weekend will be fine, as long as they're (gulp) responsible. But, I told them that there's no way they're getting any extensions...it's due the day they get back from break si o si (yes or yes...no other option!).

So, in short, I had a good day today. I was all smiles, and very into my activator (suffixes...mmm, love 'em!). So, I felt good. Tomorrow's the day before vacation...it's time to break out the donuts and juice, and relax.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

little moments

You know, it's funny. After all the complaining and the this and the that of my time spent here in DCPS, I haven't remembered to pay attention to the little things that make me smile here.

So, for one:

Yesterday, the biggest of trouble makers in my middle school class came on time (gasp!) to my class, was respectful (gasp gasp!), participated in small group (GASP!), and helped a student (there is no air on this earth to gasp enough). I was pleased and felt amazing. Nevermind today was the total opposite...but, one day at a time always.

My middle school kids are the best, and I love sharing a laugh with them. Today, one of my students, S., says, "I don't think I'll be coming to school tomorrow." Why, I ask. "I don't really feel like it." So I do the fake chuckle, exaggerate a little, and all, and one of my other students, B., looks at me and says, "Are you OK?" Complete sarcasm. Love it. My kids are fantastic.

High school, I really do enjoy those handshakes. You know you have students' respect when they shake your hand, for the most part. I've fallen into several routines with shaking hands. I do love it.

Students are why I love teaching, afterall. We gotta remember that.

oh i totally had a title for this one...

I'm blanking on why I wanted to write in the first place. Oh, for some apologia:

Sorry for not posting for so long.

Ok, I said it. Anyways, my IMPACT observation and post-ob conference went down. ON the TLF (teaching & learning framework) I got all 1s and 2s. Sigh. But, for the non-value added stuff, I got mostly 3s, which is good, I suppose. Apparently I need to focus on my questioning...that my questions need to be more deliberate as opposed to heavily scaffolded and rapid-fire (Ok, what's this, what's this, therefore what's this?). Also, let the kids struggle with something...and that I should feel OK with straying from the model (which I do every once and again, afterall, just apparently not that day).

I think this is a "New Leadership" type thing, and I don't really know how to make questions deliberate and to literally "plan" my questioning. Can you really do that and expect all students, including ELL students, to understand and wrestle with the questions?

Monday, November 9, 2009

making my lunch & a quick problem

I've been, in the past two days, trying to look through my cabinet of curiosities--aka, the internet--for recipes that I might want to do for lunch. It's amazing what comes up when you put in words like, "potato," or "cilantro," or "cabbage" into epicurious.com. Amazing.

So, I think my relaxation will come in the form of cooking for myself lunch each day. What I need to do now, however, is buy myself some more kosher chicken and meat, and some fish. Needs those things, indeed.

Relaxation also takes the form of poetry: the poetry club on Thursdays is my favorite thing to do each week. I can't wait.

Lastly, I have a problem--one of the gym teachers on the middle school side let me borrow his Dan Brown novel. First off, I am slow to read novels. Secondly, I don't really, um, remember his name! I know him by face, though...but I haven't seen him in days! Oy, the plight of forgetfulness. Oh the things I get myself into....ha ha ha?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

organization & papier

It's French week at my school (and probably internationally...maybe), and so my title is um, slightly French, right? Today we had a faculty meeting on best practices with ELL students--I found some things interesting and good to hear (targeting texts, how to modify them/make sure the purpose of the text & its audience is clear, etc), but it left me with lots of questions, still, on what people's best practices are when dealing with ELL students, and what scaffolding can look like for level 1 students who have no real grasp on sentence structure, and have very high frustration rates (I'm thinking of one student in particular).

But, I think those questions will be for another post. Why? Because I'm grading (read: procrastinating grading)! The paper load in my school is immense on a logistical sense, but also I'm realizing my organization of said papers is a hot mess. I tried putting things in folders, but I still find myself wanting in the "sit down and correct" department.

I've been proposed a bunch of things, mainly take certain days out to do certain activities. Since I'm split between middle and high school, I need to make sure I'm available to students on both sides. So, I've dedicated myself to M/W tutoring for middle school, and probably Tuesday for HS. Thursday is poetry club, and ain't no one taking that away from me! But, what about actually gathering all of my papers to correct? That's the toughest thing.

Any suggestions?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

honesty, & etc...

To be clear: my complaint is not with DCPS, and I don't think it will be. If anything, it'd be the administration of my school and the program I'm in. It just wants to have people who play the game, which is fine. And, perhaps, the lesson I should learn is that, in order to survive a cruel, cruel world, I must play the game as best I can. But, I don't quite accept that.

Either way, I just want to be clear: DCPS, I am quite faithful to; R180, we need to talk.

But teachers: is it true? Do we just have to work the system? Do we not have creative freedom is lesson planning? Are administrators really this top-down? Am I being naive?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

an open letter

No offense, r180, but I'm pretty much done with you. Your curriculum and expectations of rote practice and limited teaching move-ability is confining at the very least. If you were a vegetable, you would be the one shriveled one in the bag that I'd rather throw away than eat. If you were a pet, I would never be your owner.

To be frank, you have squashed my dreams of being happy. You and, in conjunction with my administration, have ruined my first year of teaching by strict rules that adhere only to quality process and never to actual quality products. Because of my administration's obsession with going with previous year's plans for ease's sake, as opposed to updating old projects and making much more interesting, my ability to create an actual holistic experience in the classroom is floating terribly down like Icarus. Because of your unwavering attitude toward process and only teacher-student-whiteboard relationships, the ability for our students to experience the kind of guidance and human development research has felt necessary to include.

If you need answer, please tell me this: where do we, as R180 teachers, enter creative use of instruction within this systemic trap?

All in all, R180, I've learned that in the school I'm currently employed under, it is best to just follow the status quo, and never speak out. Best to just leave our work where it is, and push aside innovation, adolescent development and critical thinking in order to stick with the process.

Sirs & madames, I am sorely disappointed.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


To play, or not to play. That is the question!

I love playing music, and, in fact, back at Duggan, I found myself playing lots of music. In fact, my usual course of tunes was a CD of pure Yo Yo Ma (which featured both down-tempo and uptempo music) as well as some select pieces on NPR.org. Now, Pandora is accessible at school--it wasn't back in Massachusetts--and that lights up my life. Mostly because that means I can dilly-dally (read: prep) while listening to my favorite stations, and then, when the teaching gets going, I can head over to the station and ask for my "Artur Rubenstein" station, which plays only the best of classical music with a twinge of the moderne, as they say.

Now, the problem I have with Pandora is that it's so freaking amazing that I can't quite concentrate on what I should be working on. In fact, this is my problem with the internet in general, but let's not make this an intervention. (Hi my name is RtD, and I have a problem) Anyways, I have so many things that could be done in a short amount of time (correcting my quizzes for instance, or prepping for portfolio presentations that are coming up in, oh, a week) that I don't do. I blame it on the internet. That oh so lovely, sumptuous, dreamy internet.

Friday, October 9, 2009

after the firings (update)

I should've been reading the blogs I love more often. I suppose I should learn that empathy-building thing that everyone's talking about. Anyway, there's more to this than I know, and I think it's because, in general, I haven't been following the news via the DCTblogs. That's unfortunate, but that's the way it happened.

It's strange, reflecting on the whole experience, that this hasn't impacted me. It just seems to me that it should have, or that I should've been more upset or more aware about it than usual. It just felt like most teachers weren't talking about it much--or maybe they were, and I was just locked up in my room working, or something. Yikes, it's like I'm early 19th century Japan or something! (right? history teachers? anyone?)

So, in general, I still say that it hasn't affected me as much, except that my class size increased, and that I kept getting these ridiculous, curious, and obscure letters in my room detailing the happenings of the RIF (as people're callin it these days). I never bothered handing those letters out to my kids (that's what we were supposed to do)...because I forgot...but also because it just didn't seem like something important at the time. Obviously I was wrong, duh.

Maybe Mr. Potter's right: maybe there's racism in the school district. Isn't that pretty typical of most cities? Aren't we supposed to be teaching kids not to be racist (i hate it when those freakin kids call my Chinese and Vietnamese kids chinito...it makes me wicked mad...and I hate not being consistent in my detention rules of no racial slurs or judgements), though? And also, is there a larger proportion of principals in schools like Kelly Miller or Cardozo or Roosevelt that are white? Because as I understand it, racism is about people in position of social power (not economic power, like principal vs. staff) beating down on those in the minority as it were, or those with less social power. I dunno...does that make the city or the DCPS itself racist?

Thursday, October 8, 2009


My blogging nerdiness is apparent: I feel honored and fantastic: I'm on the links list of one of my favorite DC bloggers. I can definitely say that a several lot of DC teaching bloggers have influenced me greatly in my decision to come to DC.

Despite all the strife they experience, it's apparent that they are committed to their students, and will go through what they need to in order to advocate for and teach their kids. It's great to see that, and I have to say that's one of things that made me curious and excited to teach here.


after the firings

So, it's been a while (as usual), and my usual apologies.

Oh, the firings. I can't quite tell, to be honest, who has gotten fired, as our administration was pretty tight-lipped about it. Which is good, actually, because it keeps the integrity and privacy of the people who were fired at my school. So, the question is: should I really feel terrible? I'm fortunate enough to be in a school where only 7 teachers were fired (fortunate in that in schools like Cardozo, 40 teachers got fired). We're all still doing our jobs, and of course some of our students were affected and disappointed and all...but honestly, I just didn't feel it. One of my classes rose from 12 to 17...that made a bit of a difference, sure, but besides that?

So, let me ask: is it bad that I don't feel as up in arms as I should be? I'm not a huge union fan (I must've driven away tons of readers by saying that!), at least not a huge old/established/bureaucratic/entrenched union fan. Don't get me wrong--I love popular movements (I did live in Latin America for a little while)

Also, should I go to SE on Tues to see a student of mine's football game, or wait til the next one that's closer?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

personally, drowning

Hey folks. Sorry for such delays. As you know, life gets in the way. I guess I'm not such a fantastic regular blogger; but I'm trying. Either way, as the title suggests, I'm personally drowning. I feel a little suffocated by my middle school class, to be honest. It's my own difficulties with timing, but other than that, I'm pretty ok in how I deal with things. There's lots of work that I'm lacking (how to guide my high schoolers and middle schoolers towards interpreting their own data as an interim assessment for that matter. Maybe I'll work on that soon?), and I'm feeling like I'm not quite sure what to do about it. Prepare, prepare, prepare, I suppose.

In general, my main concern is that I have ESL/ELL students who are having an eternal struggle with expressing their thoughts. So, I put it out to my educator folk: does any know any strategies for helping students put together sentences? It's just incredible how difficult it is--you try and use sentence starters, and they don't even know what those mean, for that matter!

So, again, the question: how much do you allow the student (how much lee-way), and how much do you allow them to try and figure out for themselves?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

my life is a little like this....


xkcd--a webcomic for the math and otherwise hilarious oriented.

finally, students

Sorry for such a delay. It's hard updating your blog when you're a new teacher and so much is on your plate. So, I'll be a bit brief.

After what seemed like an unending frustration, I finally have 9th graders. I've been struggling, however, with catching them up to things that I myself don't seem to have a complete grasp on. I've started them on their journey toward figuring out what Read 180 is, and have begun their study (read: boring video and some made-up activities that really are not very lively and make me feel quite unprepared...RtD needs to rev things up a bit!) of the different rotations (reading, small group, and computers). But, making those activities original is a bit of a difficult challenge sometimes.

Either way, the middle school class is moving, and I think tomorrow I need to take some time to go over certain things that I missed when I laid out the explanation of the rotations. It's difficult, because things keep popping up that I never really was told about. I should change my blog name to..."Things I've Never Been Told About, But Now Have to Include in My Teaching Routine..." or something.

Anyways, something that seemed to work today is my small group with the ELL/ESL students. I ran around and around because suddenly new students are being added to my roster (I went from 10 to 21 very quickly), and handed ownership on to an ESL student who's lower in English verbally, but I think knows very well how to pronounce words when they're laid out in front. Her translation comprehension is also pretty good, too. Anyways, I gave her the reigns--and the instructions: for her to read a sentence to her group together, and then have the other students sort of repeat it back. Her comprehension of the paragraph was great. The lesson was on main idea and details, and, though we only got to details, I feel that's fine--because we're going to revisit main idea and details the whole entire month; so it should be fine.

I scaffolded it this way:

1. Whole group -- model reading
2. Small group -- you do the reading
3. Had them find three important details in one part of the passage.
4. Name one by one IN ENGLISH the important facts, which was explained as important information
5. Explain that those important pieces of information are called details, and that those details lead to a central idea (cognates in Spanish), or the main idea.

I think the scaffolding seems to work. Does anyone have any ESL/ELL strategies for teaching main idea and details, or just strategies you use in general?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

teacher & learning framework

As a lot of the blogs in this town are politically minded, I won't comment too much on politics. But, since politics affects how I teach (indirectly), and that the Chancellor here is wicked into working her way into how teachers teach (obviously...she's trying to make this place the best the District can be) (though she's everyone's favorite person to hate on, it seems), Michelle Rhee has developed a new "Teaching & Learning Framework" which has its main focus on three basic ideas:

Plan-->Teach-->Increase Effectiveness

The idea is that you plan first, teach next, and increase effectiveness through formal and informal assessment or formative and summative assessment and data, which then allows you to plan effectively and therefore begin to teach better. And the cycle goes on.

It's not so novel, but it's novel to a city where education has been pretty lackluster throughout the recent years. It's a lot of reflective practice, and a look at data, which is not necessarily classified as number-driven data, rather anecdotal, personal, and observational as well. Which is nice to know, since I always thought data meant numbers, which I struggle with. Good thing we did tons of reflecting in my grad program!

Anyways, it's good to know that this kind of practice is at least trying to be implemented throughout the District. Also, the behavioral policy's been modified a tad too. I wonder how that's bein implemented. We'll see how it goes, as the news in blogs keeps rollin!

the first week, encapsulated in one blogspot

Each day brought its own challenge, but each day built upon itself. My first day was quite the adventure, as I never really knew whether or not I was going to receive students and, subsequently, have a class to welcome into my arms--this is because the previous week, I never got a roster, so I was pretty clueless about the student-getting process. Now, I'm all ready to go, and then, suddenly, the scheduling person, E., comes in and the conversation goes:

"So Mr. R., since you don't have students, then you'll be down in room 148 on the middle school side, helping the middle school Read 180 teacher."

"You mean, like, share his class?" says I.

"You'll be splitting his class, because there's an overflow of students. Ok, bye!"

Obviously it wasn't exactly like that, but it seemed like that to me. I was in utter and complete shock, because I had just set up this lovely, lovely (and it really is--I still haven't had time to take a picture, so maybe tomorrow I will) classroom and put my heart and soul into cleaning out the shite that's all up in there; I thought I was no longer going to be in this room, and was relegated to sharing a room that had nothing to do with my class (148 is a social studies room, and not mine...which is a big bummer, cause we have to set up the library, etc for the students!). I'm still a little upset, and confused about the configuration, but it's worked out so far. In truth, I love middle schoolers--they're freakin hilarious and fun to work with. I'm sure the 9th graders are, but it's still fun to work with 7th and 8th graders.

So, that was that. I'm now a first period MS Reading teacher! As for the 9th graders, I'm still workin on that. The story is, since I had all these free periods, I spent the majority of it going around and gathering spelling tests (arguably not very accurate when talking about ability, but it's an entryway into judging whether students need my reading test, because it judges their phonemic awareness (I think...haha) and word recognition (this is true) for stuff like normal sight-words like "mine," "alike," or "red." As well as grade-level vocab (although lieutenant is in there, and, I mean, common, it took me a minute to think how to spell that one). Anyways, so after the correcting, I took kids in all Thurs/Friday to have them tested for my reading class. I now have about...40 some-odd kids, so like, two periods, which is perfect.

Tomorrow I have some more testing to do (but only two kids). The rest of that time will be me heading down into 148 and setting up the library during our lunch period.

Here's to week two! I'm excited!

Friday, August 21, 2009


The end of the week of stressful hell. I finally put together my room after a long week of professional development (great) and cleaning my room (interesting and stressful).

I don't have a picture yet, but I'm sure I will tomorrow (yes, I'm going into the school tomorrow--the janitor let me borrow an umbrella because it's pouring out*). It really does look like a classroom, which is wonderful. The room set up is interesting because I finally have much more space.

To give you an idea: the space is incredibly symmetrical on a diagonal line. Imagine tables fit enough for two kids, all situated not facing the board, necessarily, but facing each other. It's tough to explain the set up because it's different. But it'll be so that the kids will be turning sideways to turn towards me and the board. There're four desks in a separate fashion, and two pairs of desks doubled up to make squares (the actual desks are rectangular). So that essentially you have two groups of four students, and four groups of two students. I'll post a picture tomorrow.

So i finally got semi-accused of being racist...or at least my accused of being insensitive to black suffering, i suppose. That sort of took me by surprise. i've had such good luck recently with talking to people on the bus, and I said, "Long Day..." to the guy next to me and he just looked at me and said, "We've suffered 3000 years and all you have to say is long day? I haven't gotten my three acres." Which, I didn't really get too much, the last part that is, but...I felt pretty bad. I guess that was the goal. Has anybody ever experience this before? I mean, I don't feel bad now...but weird, man. Gives me chills...

*the lightning is awe-inspiring it's so lengthy and huge. It hasn't yet thundered, but I'm just waiting for it. Oop, just thundered. It's long over-due...DC's been muggier than what you put your coffee in. Good to dispell the humidity, no?

Sunday, August 16, 2009


Tomorrow brings the first day, er, eleventh day, of training for me. The school really wants teachers (especially new ones) to be well-trained; but, this time it's with all the teachers, and not just the new ones.

I've been advised to both be friends with new and non-new teachers for reasons both in the way of mentorship and also so that you can compare to how things were "before" if you know what I mean. Either way, they apparently are great, so I'm pretty excited to be a part of their staff, too.

My most anxious thought: how the hell am I gonn' get prepared for a whole year...in a week??? Yes, ladies and gents, my planning has not yet begun due to the stupid scheduling of our all-staff training and welcome back professional development. Ridonc in the badonkadonk.

But, all my questions (as I have many) will be answered as we start our planning...I'll probably bring a lunch tomorrow--tuna fish, anyone?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

quick house-keeping and an important question

To those of you who have just come in, it must be a little bit confusing this layout and the switch-over from a blog about Springfield to a blog about DC. So, I'll lay it all out for ya:

Two days ago, I began the DC part of this adventure and changed my moniker from Suddenly, Springfield to Reading the District. Before, I thought I was rejected by DCPS--but it turns out that I wasn't rejected 100%, rather (like everything in DC, complications) put off the "preferred list," which meant that I wasn't invited to get the triple-threat panel interview, the phone interview, and the case-study. Which, to be honest, I'm pretty happy about.

That was the blog post before I started this job. Since then, I was interviewed, and dropped off the face of the blogosphere to enjoy the life known as job hunting and "finishing the end of the year." Thus, the posting lackage for a long while. Anyway, I've been hired and have gone to two productive, overwhelming orientations and workshops (they sent me away to Nashville (say what playa???) with my Read 180 team (that's the program I'm working with)). Now I'm onto round three and next week is round four before school (like, gulp, Scoob!) starts the 24th.

Speaking of which, something that caught my eye in my reading on my "first three weeks" as a Read 180 teacher (they have a little booklet for that complete with absolute instruction as to what I should do, etc, which is great, though a little dry and the "get to know each other" games are more boring than a cage match between a potato and a zucchini (which by the way I did not know how to spell.) So, anyway, what caught my eye was setting up expectations. They have room for us to talk about it, but not much in the way of setting up the groundrules day one. Instead, they begin to have on day four, which seems odd to me. Why not begin your class by introducing not only each other but also the rules of engagement, as it were?

The main question I have is: what should my rules and expectations be? According to my Adolescent Growth & Developoment teacher (shudder), I should have no more than five norms/rules. And no more than five consequences to breaking those norms/expectations/rules. Now, my question is: what the hell're my norms going to be? Shall I break the mold and dispense with the "thou shalt always raise your hand" norm? Go hippy-dippy and talk about RESPECT and what that means to us? I was thinking of adopting the ol' character targets: RESPECT, RESPONSIBILITY, COURAGE, QUALITY and COMPASSION. Those can be spinned pretty well; but how, in God's great earth, can you make norms out of those?

These are my questions world--any answers or alternatives?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

my hope of hopes

is that I will be discovered by fellow DC teacher posters Dee, DCTC, Harry Potter, and New Teacher on the Block.


the new teacher blues

Hello true believers! I'm still here (as in alive and still in the teaching biz), and still interested in blogging. Apologies for not posting, as life has been rather hectic as of, oh, i don't know, the past two months or so.

I also have to apologize just now for the true believers reference (if anyone can get it, you get a star and a ten)--I am reading a book about a nerd (The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, an excellent book) that is rife pero rife with nerdly references all over the place. Consider it bad influence.

So, as of now, the blog has been rededicated and I've been renamed as Reading the District. To begin: I am now a Reading teacher at a DC public school. This means that the brunt of posts will be about not only tales of students (as usual), but also reading strategies, interesting tidbits about the program we're using, and what I've been learning as I help build academic and otherwise interesting vocabulary and reading comprehension and fluency skills in the kids I'll be teaching. I can't wait to start, though my planning hasn't yet begun (it will start, apparently, on Monday, which is only a week--yes, a week--away from school's start. This is not because of procrastination, rather, no knowledge of what the curriculum according to the school will be (our school has an interesting backwards planning method, which is great and focused--except I haven't been privvy to any of the previously planned projects that've been set up)). Blues #1.

Blues #2: DCPS New Teacher Training is tomorrow, and, because of a fluke (I hope) or because I hadn't been contracted yet (more likely), I had never gotten the email to sign up for it. So, I can't attend. Boo. Luckily, someone called me today just to make sure all my papers were in order, and I asked her about it and she gave me some emails, etc. At least some aspects of DC bureaucracy isn't all that effed up. So, hopefully the person'll get back to me in time, and I will be contracted soon, like tomorrow. Hopefully.

As for the rest of it all, I'm hoping to head to a training tomorrow and Friday about Advisory, which is something that I did at my old school back in Springfield. Then, Monday I begin Professional Development (again), and the 24th is the first day of school.

Here's to a new blog, and a new school year!

Sunday, June 7, 2009


so i was rejected by the DCPS (dc public schools), apparently. that's incredibly unfortunate. i don't really know what to say to that. does that mean that i can't continue in DC at all? or can i go to individual schools? if that's the case, then how did i get an interview at this one school in DC?? strange, strange. i hope they don't reject me on the basis that i wasn't accepted into the DCPS system...oy. i'm a little disappointed, to be honest.

how does this affect my job search now?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

i like writing. writing is fun.

and i love teaching grammar. man, i'm quite happy to be getting into familiar territory. let me back up a bit.

our unit is not titled, unfortunately--nothing snappy like before with Empowering the Skin I'm In...too bad, huh? well, our new unit is on folktales. we did a little study on telling and retelling stories (aka, the premise behind folktales). along with that, i enveloped the kids in this kick i had: vivid details. as a writer, that's a big no duh. but the kids need practice. they need to get into the idea that writing means you have to be powerful, snappy, interesting! so we did that, and that was fun and worked out very well--we did a bunch of mini-lessons on four of the eight parts of speech (adverb, adjective, noun and verb) and made them all vivid. so i think it's clear to say that they know what the word means, and what it implies, which is awesome. their application of said vivid details is pretty decent in one class, and in the other it's a bit weak. but i think some vocabulary lessons and quizzes could help that out.

we then did a big investigation (it's an Expeditionary Learning term, i feel) of folktales, and now we're doing a more in-depth investigation of tall tales. we're watching Big Fish, which is an awesome movie, and it's helping them get more of a picture of tall tales, i feel. at the end of this, i expect them to be experts on the style of tall tales, and how they should be told/written, which is what we'll be doing: writing tall tales! i scrapped the idea of memoir for some continuity, so we'll be doing a slight bit of memoir now, but really only a small bit. either way, it'll be awesome, i think, and i'll be able to teach some grammar and story-writing.

that's the news. nothing fantastic as of yet. the DC interview (i had an interview!) went well, but i haven't heard anything from them yet. i got positive signals, but when i called them yesterday, i got the "thank you for calling, we're still in the interview process, but we'll call you and let you know by at least next week." so, i dunno what that means. i'm really hoping that i get this job--it's a great school, and it seems like a fantastic fit for me. here's hoping!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

isn't poetry great?

a couple of great poems to use for the classroom:

Stink Eye by Cathy Song
this is a really nice poem because it helps out (helped me out) with a little bit of a bullying study and writing assignment. i have middle schoolers (sixth graders), so i don't assume them to do too much with this beyond content discussion, but it's also great for looking at dramatic monologues and voice for those in high school.
Dream Variations by Langston Hughes
i mean, come on. Langston Hughes is an old standard. "A Dream Deferred," which you should never ever discount, gives me chills every time i read it out loud. but "Dream Variations" is really nice given the title and its implications when you consider the poem and the poem's refrain "Black like me" and "Dark like me".
I also want to put this to consideration:

"Another pair of gilded transpirations" by Joshua Beckman

Another pair of gilded transpirations
kept me happy all night -- the bay aglow with revelers,
those shore hollow stones making home in your chest.
Cold waters that wash down such olympian quandaries
and sorrowful cascades set free. "Daniel, now hold that
cup carefully." That's the sort of thing mother
would say to me, the sun playing about the witch hazel
in the courtyard. With an emerald magnetism
the dew settles. I have been writing lately
on the grief of the body. I enclose
about my head memories and am in due course awoken.
In direct relation to the sun, wind, and rain
my apple tree produces.

now you can call me strange. you can say, "but i don't get it!!" well, that's not my problem! well, in a way yes, in a way no. what you see here is a thirteen line almost-sonnet. not in the traditional sense, of course, rather in a very interesting combination of the sonnet tradition and the jarring-narrative/non-narrative play that apparently has begun to set in as a trend in some poets under 40 these days. in the traditional sense, this is a perfect study of a sonnet: you have a narrative (albeit it strange) that seems to have some sort of trajectory (albeit strange) in the beginning. then, the latter half of the poem, starting with "I have been writing lately..." takes a turn (something that the Petrarchan sonnet does frequently, from stanza one to stanza two, or what the Elizabethan sonnet will do at the ending couplet). in the non-traditional sense, we have a sonnet that's only thirteen lines! i think that this can be used in terms of studying contemporary uses of the sonnet (in high school, maybe in a senior AP course), but also of the idea of narrative and non-narrative lyrics. it's a great exercise for a creative writing class, or a class studying different types of poetry to mimic or examine this technique of writing a poem because i think it creates a deeper kind of poetry, something more sudden, haphazard-looking, and meandering. students should be encouraged to meander in their writing and to break their thoughts suddenly if the poem calls for it. it's a great stylistic attribute, and will add character to the students' writing.

maybe i'll do this as a nice little featurette every once and again...yes?

reflections on the expedition

later on i'm going to give a few pointers based on some PD we did once on the difference between a "learning expedition," which is a feature of being at an Expeditionary Learning school, and a unit. the basic idea is that the expedition has the concept of field work built into it, and the end result is a product that is physical and documented (like a video, a book of work, or something) that sort of like the accumulation of all the knowledge the kids've gained while exploring the topic they're exploring. units can be based around certain ideas and themes, and so can expeditions (ours is "Surviving Adolescence," for example), but the real expedition is about something specific--a "compelling topic" as it were.

well, our compelling topic was Sierra Leone, and specifically child soldiers, and more specifically Ishmael Beah's "Memoirs of a Boy Soldier." so, we rehearsed and rehearsed and rehearsed a dance, a poem, a song and a play; we painted a mural (i mean the kids--two really--although i really mean my mentor teacher did it all and the kids colored it in...) and we put it all together in front of the other students of the school. 400 kids. it was fantastic. the kids did very, very well, and i'm very proud of them.

ishmael beah came, also. yup! he came to our school and spoke to our kids. they had lots of questions for him, usually about the same question that the other student next to him/her asked. but, it's all good. they felt completely satisfied and grateful for his coming to see them. i, however, was wicked awkward in front of him. never thank an author. he knows you're grateful. anyway, point of it is, we finished the book the day he came to our school. it's a bit pathetic, but that's how it goes. as for the final exam, i'm rather disappointed in my execution of it, but also the apathy that many students have for completing it. it's unfortunate. but, should it really be any skin off my back if they tell me they're not going to do it and get the zero anyway?

all in all, it was a very, very rushed reading of the book. i would've loved to do it at a much slower pace, but that's just not the case, really. i'd also like to have figured out much more a homework schedule (another issue i'd like to discuss at another point in time) and also a reading day vs. non-reading day. the schedules just were too crazy, and i never intergrated much of the stuff i wanted to integrate into the reading of the book. it sucks, but i suppose that's just how it went.

all in all, goods and challenges. i'm sure i'll be more prepared and be able to time my reading of a book much better. learning rules!!!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

some ideas for the next unit

the next unit will be writing a memoir, as per the end of A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier. so, what shall we do? i mean, we have to do something interesting, right? it can't just be a plain old thing, right? right.

so, they'll be writing a memoir. i think what i'm going to do is have it done incrementally (well, you have to!)...so i think what i've got going will try and last me until the second week of june is this:

1. introduce what a memoir is by way of quick lecture and activity...possibly spending a day or two on it, showing the different possibilities of memoir, having them explore them and maybe figure out what a memoir is all about, and why people would want to write a memoir in the first place.

2. an intense grammar unit that will go along with their actual memoir writing...i'll be using The Power of Grammar by mary ehrenworth and vicki vinton...it's a wonderful book and is incredibly helpful in planning an "inquiry-based" approach to teaching grammar--so not just doing direct instruction, rather having the kids figure out the Why Use Grammar question themselves (with proper modeling, etc).

3. write a memoir--this will be in tandem with the grammar instruction, because the writing itself will fuel the grammar practice and revision. i think this will take a good two weeks to do, and if it takes longer than i'm not so worried about it. i'll plan two weeks for it and leave room. anyways, this'll funnel into the other part of my whole plan, which is...

4. wrapping it up. in their exploration of different forms of memoir, i'm going to introduce them to comic book/graphic novel style memoir; storycorps (check out www.storycorps.org, it's really pretty awesome); comic book diaries; traditional memoir/memoir in verse; and i had another idea, but i forget what it was. so, the idea is that they'd take their memoir and wrap it up into a different format, finally: either a story, a comic book diary/graphic novel, or a traditional memoir (in that case, it'd be more of a refining process than anything else...i might wann' work the kinks out of that).

some reflections after visiting the district of columbia

i don't know how to start this post, so i guess i'll just preface it all with what i did the past few days: i went to DC! yes, my home away from home (since i went there for college) has popped into my mind several times, and i've figured out that that is where i want to be when i teach as a real-life, fully employed teacher.

so, since we have vacation now i thought i'd head to DC to see many people and visit a few schools. here are some impressions:

the first school i visited was off the benning road metro stop, not far away from it. if you look at the map, it means that it's across the anacostia river, which means that, most likely, no white person lives there, and the accent suddenly twangs intensely and it gets much more southern sounding. for a white person like me, although accustomed to a diverse (aka, not predominantly white) school, who's also a northerner, it seems that my skin suddenly whitens more and my little racisms that i'm terribly embarassed about pop up. i went to the office and sat around stewing in my own ridiculousness--blazer, etc.

getting past that, i saw some nice sixth grade classes--two english classes and a special ed class. i also saw an eighth grade class, but they had finished and were just kind of foolin 'round (everyone was preparing for DC-CAS, the standardized test apparently based off the MCAS, Mass's test). quite honestly, the classes looked pretty intense--like, probably, a class at CMS where some of my friends are doin' there teaching, too. i think it was the outside of the class stuff that rubbed me the wrong way: the way that kids were roaming, the way that one girl sang directly in my ear (i guess my nervousness played right into that, but still).

what i liked: professional development every day, and for different purposes, too. once a week, there was something called "classroom blitz," which has the teachers observing other teachers, which keeps them on their toes and all their requirements in order. i like that a lot. also that they have a "respect center," where the kids can chill out and reflect on why they shouldn't smack someone upside the head, or whatever may happen. that's very similar to our school, which is nice.

what i didn't like was that there weren't any paraprofessionals due to understaffing. and no technology, which sucks but if that's how it goes, that's how it goes.

i think, for the sake of length, i will keep it at this...tomorrow i'll post about the other school i went to.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

in the midst of ridiculousness, there is always the hilarious

today one of my sixth graders, C., said to me, "I like your plaid shirt."

Me: Thanks!
C.: Yeah, it tells the world "I really like plaid shirts and sweaters!"
Me: [laughing hysterically] You don't know how true that is!
C.: [realizing i only wear plaid shirts and sweaters] You have a point!

sometimes, in the midst of the ridiculous frustrations of daily stuff, there is always the hilarious.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

the job search goes on and a few frustrations...

i've been looking a lot at where i'd like to be when i grow up, er, when i graduate from the umass program. so far, i've been extremely interested in going back to DC; going to philadelphia to be close to my girlfriend and friends; and new york, which is a curiosity but isn't high high on the priority list. naturally, my fall back is springfield, which i think i will apply to in the district, and, if there is an opening, then at my school.

well, after looking at lots of DC schools, i've decided to head down there and take a look for myself. i'm extremely interested in seeing what things look like down there, and have already contacted one public school. i'm looking to see at least one or two more schools while i'm down there (one more public, and a charter school), and also maybe a school in NOVA (northern va) and also roaming around alexandria a bit to see what that's like.

anyways, i'm trying to find out about the different neighborhoods of philly, seeing as i've been there on visits for about 8 years now, and still know barely anything about the area. i mean, no surprise there--it's not like i've been on outings to the outskirts besides where my friends take me, which is usually center city or six flags (our amazing tradition). and i'm not complaining--center city is amazingly rich (historically) and cool and i'd love to explore more of it, actually. mm...walks. anyways, if i want to teach in philly, i should know a bit about the areas, and how the education works there.

what frustrates me is the idea of what's "good" and what's "bad." my friend a. says that usually when people say bad, they mean violent. north philly is violent. southwest philly is violent. apparently. but what about when we refer to good and bad schools? what makes a school good, what makes a school bad? is it performance? is it level of invested students? is it professional development? is it technology? how can someone say, there are no good schools in an area? if that were true, then no one would be teaching in those places, right, and only teaching in suburbs, where the "good" schools are--which, by the way, i was a product of and, although the education there is prized highly, and success, like all suburban cultures, is tantamount to godliness, the school is a pile of shit: lead in the paint (probably), and terribly corroded pipes that put the school on probation for several years. so then, is my high school good by that standard?

i'm teaching in springfield. a supposedly "bad" place to teach, because it's urban. there is lots of violence, and the kids (most, not all) come from homes that are not always the best of situations. sometimes school is often the safest place to be. so why, then, is my school environment and culture so much more improved and pleasing to me than the other schools i've heard about/been to? performance-wise it's not fantastic. in fact, i'm sure our MCAS scores (state tests) are gonn' be not so fantastic this year, either. and yet i consider it to be a great school--it fosters an amazing environment where good character is top priority, and becoming self-reflective is a requirement of all students in learning and behavior.

so what's good? what do you judge by? how can you judge a school?

these are some of the questions that frustrate me as i look for jobs, but also frustrate me when people pass judgement on certain schools. i know, in the end, good for me means professional development, a good student-to-computer ratio, and a supportive administration that knows its students and is not too big for its own britches.

the search continues....

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

some ideas for the new unit

so i've been trying to find some sort of angle to place upon the reading of our new book, the memoir A Long Way Gone. and by trying i mean ideas have trickled in and out of my head when i've put my brain to it, and now that i'm trying to rest in my bed and plan for tomorrow, i've begun to think about the book as a whole, and the unit as a whole.

i had originally titled a lesson plan with my unit as "the struggle for voice." a bit of a play, as ishmael beah's struggle is about escaping the war, joining the military as a boy soldier, and eventually coming to grips with his emotional scarring and past after having been "rescued" of sorts by UNICEF (i will never know what that acronym stands for...until i look it up). the voice part is that, according to my mentor teacher, J, his ultimate purpose in life is tell his story, and that's why he wrote that book. it's the one way he can come to grips with his past and get some reconcilliation.

there is a scene in the book where he applies and gets accepted to this UN conference of many different children from countries bound by terrible conflict. the children share their stories, cry, and comfort each other with all this. then ishmael goes back to freetown, the capital of sierra leone. the war suddenly comes into the city; he must escape again, and he does, and though the story ends before he goes back to NYC, we know that's where he ends up. points of it all, is, so he escaped, but how does he deal with his past? storytelling, aka finding his voice.

thus, "the struggle for voice." i hadn't thought much of it til now, nor what i wanted to do with it. i always had this wonderful idea of bringing in some speakers to help me out with finding voice, but it was more of a pipedream than anything else. now, i think it might work with some planning, which i'm getting a bit better at doing.

here are my ideas for the unit:
  • name is "the struggle for voice." filter the book through two themes: struggle and voice. introduce the idea of theme as opposed to main idea (something they'll be struggling with a bit, but i think we'll figure it out) (mass standard/power standard 11.3)
  • link the previous unit on empowerment to struggle and voice.
  • since we're doing the talent show fundraiser, have all the kids work on their reading fluency and performance (mass standard/power standard 3.8)
  • bring students each day to the auditorium to hold class...it'll be a nice break from the classroom environment, plus a fantastic way to use space in order to read passages.
  • work consistently on reading fluency (3.8), performance of passages in the book, and enforcing the idea that good readers focus on the whole text, not just the words. the question is, though, how? any ideas?
so that's that...if anybody has any ideas, i'd love to share them.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

a bit of an update

hello friends. sorry for not having posted for so long. things have gone here and there. february break came and went. we're back into the grind and i've been through a rollercoaster of a three-day stint of school days.

something that i've found super uber challenging is making the material i have in my classroom my own. over the previous weeks before feb. break, i came up with this whole big unit on EMPOWERMENT (something that the kids definitely got, i think, in the end). it was something i struggled immensely with, having tons of ideas and not enough time or the capacity to do well, due to time constraints. i honestly don't know if i want to continue with those ideas during the two and a half months we now have for our new novel (A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier), but it's quite possible i can muster up something that creates some daily activities for the kids. i think i'm not going to try to reinvent the wheel, while still being as creative as possible during this whole book thing. i'm getting more and more excited about this as i go, i think, which is nice. third day back from vacation, and now i feel a bit more invested in the project.

this whole project beginning is something called a gallery walk, where the kids have a load of information up on a wall that they can take down and read over and take some notes on facts they find, powerful words and phrases, and lingering questions. the ultimate goal is for them to do a writing process piece: either a poem or a letter. the topic is the war fought in sierra leone from '91 to '01. i find a lot of people latching onto some good information, and i think what'll happen is we'll get some really good poems out of this in one of my class, and some really good letters out of the other class.

all this is the introduction to the memoir we're reading. we're going to be doing some cool hands-on stuff, because we're doing a fundraiser for sierra leone involving TONS of artistic things: poetry recitation, painting, african dancing, a skit, lots of things. it'll be quite interesting, i think, and very, very fun. i think part of the learning process will be how to really speak loud and proud, because the stage is big and they need to project. i want to teach them how to speak loudly with their voices and bodies. that'll be a big goal for me. i mean, we all know how i get into poetry (please see other blog, hah), and so performance is an integral part of it all, afterall. but, on the academic side of things, i'd like to see if anyone has something they'd like to suggest. i'd love to hear any ideas, and am throwing this out to the public:

what reading strategies can i do promote stronger reading skills like comprehension and interpretation?

anywho, lots of stress the past couple of days. now, i'm more into this thing. i'm trying to make this my own, even though i never came up with the ideas. let's make this work!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

i feel like an a-hole

i yelled today. real loud. so loud, another teacher opened the door and peeked her head through to check if everything was ok. i forgot that when i have a loud voice, i really have a loud voice. my problem is, when i get frustrated out of my mind i yell. it takes a lot to get me to yell. i haven't done anything like that since teaching in santiago. i guess it's almost a repeater. i won't do it again, i'm sure. but something's gotta happen with this class. they're so unruly and the idea of controlled chaos as opposed to utter chaos is unknown to them.

one of the teachers suggested an entire class detention. if they can't do anything on my time, do it on their time. they have to learn as a class who's in charge. does that work?

what works for a class that has adhd/add problems as well as a general uber-hyper sense? how does discipline go? i've already done student contracts. tossed out the window, that thing. any tips? i'm puttin this out to the general republic.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

i'm an english teacher, right?

so i had a student point out to me that instead of the word assessment, i wrote "assment."

he says to me, "mr. r, i think you spelled assessment wrong."
i take a look at gasp, "OH! oh...um, thanks, n!"

as i was correcting it, i heard him whisper to his neighbor, "he wrote assment..."

yes, indeed, my life is full of friendly surprises.

Monday, January 26, 2009

learning, and learning more

i have a lot of work to do with this literature circle stuff.

this is most definitely the biggest learning experience i've ever had. both in terms of doing things on my own terms (which i will obviously have to do), and how to make up for when i sort of fail.

re: fail

the writing process: brainstorming; draft #1; revision; editing; final draft.
what i got accomplished: brainstorming; draft #1; partly revised, partly not revised; "final(slashonlydraftthatsomeactuallyaccomplished) draft."

what did i learn? that's the subject and title for another blog post.

re: literature circles

it looks interesting, and looks like it'll be completely fun. but, i have to hand out all the different papers that the kids need in order to collect all of their information. otherwise i'm kinda up a puddle without a paddle. i've printed them out, and am hoping that they are in order, and make sense. if not, i'll improve them as they go.

re: general

in general, things're much better than last week, and i think i'm realizing a little more how to handle the different tasks ahead of me. optimism indeed.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

more teaching blues

today was not a good day in terms of writing instruction. my second class is just terrible when it comes to self-esteem issues in their writing, and i just don't seem to understand what to do when certain kids give up like they do. accusing me of not ignoring them? crossing out an excellent paragraph because it's "dumb"? what do i do? i gave up. i mean, not during class, but right after--i just didn't know what to do.

i'm trying to prepare the kids for this interim assessment, which is essentially a 7th grade MCAS long-comp. the subject is "empowerment"--it's something that we defined a little bit ago, but there's this real divide between those who get it and don't, and those who, probably because they don't get it, hate the work and refuse to do it and those who do get it and do the work. it's like the mason dixon line, it's that deep.

i'm going to try and re-teach the idea of empowerment. try and get it back into the definition and what it means for them. try and clear the air and clear the air and clear it so that it's more like a spring day than these winter gray days. i just don't know if i'm accomplishing much, and if, at the end of all this year, they're going to walk away with anything. that sounds depressing, but i'm just not sure if the teaching points i wanted to get accomplished are on their way. i suppose it's all work, and that i'm really only, what, seven months into my new career as a teacher, and that i'm still a student teacher at that?

on another note...

i'm learning new stuff about wikis and blogs and such--i mean, really wikis. it's very interesting, and seems to me like a very cool thing to tool around with. i'd love to do this with my kids in class, but i wonder how i can really do that with the kids in school? to create a website to use while they're reading a book? is this something we can do each week? we'll see. i'm going to be experimental: create the wiki for the book and the tasks the kids're gonn' have to do, and then go for the gold and say: extra credit for the groups that stay after school and put the final products up on the web. so...we shall see!

Friday, January 9, 2009

a wonderful surprise in my mailbox at school

Dear Mrs S., Mrs B., Mr. R., Mr. R., Mr. D.,

You guys are great teachers, the student coucil said to pick 1 (one) teacher but you teachers are so wonderful I just couldn't do it so here are individual reasons you are wonderful teachers at how you teach.

(i'm exempting the other teachers, but theirs is either similar and just as amazing as this)

Mr. R.: Always keep it straight. Uses the think & share solution. Never uses the easy road out. Always will be their [sic]. Not a pushover [my bold!!!!! yay!]. Will always help out!

Sincerely, TC [a student of mine]

this has to be the coolest thing i've ever seen in my life. it makes me feel amazing and wonderful and i'm so happy. i'm extremely happy, also, to hear that i'm not a pushover--because i've been wondering about that, and have been quite worried about it, too. whatever the think & share solution is, i guess i use it! that's pretty fun, no?

so, here i am, back in school, and i'm trying to plan out the introduction and subsequent reading of a novel, entitled The Skin I'm In. i've had idea after idea, and i think they might be a little overwhelming and too much in terms of planning things out. i originally planned to have weeks that're themed--that is, getting some supplementary material into the classroom so that it involves a bit of pre-reading. it'll help contextualize what i want them to draw out of this book: empowerment. i really hope i don't milk this thing so much that empowerment loses its life-force, its chi, if you will. but, i do want a few supplementary materials here and there. maybe i'll just do it here and there for the heck of it. or something. anyways, that's my weekend dillemma: how to introduce this novel. there's a children's book that's a tie-in. it's a "first look at racism" book, and my J. wrote a few MCAS-style multiple choice questions for a quick quiz. i might do that as well, copy it, and put in maybe an open-response or a few more multiple choice questions thrown in about empowerment (just so i can tie that in, keep it consistent with the rest of the novel). oh that is going to be an intense little weekend (read: sunday) planning session.

in the meantime, i'm pretty happy bout my technology class (except for missing Shabbos dinner for a complete month with the fam).

i'm considering having one of my students continually sent to a buddy room as soon as she gets her work so she just quits the disruption. we'll see. i need her in sometimes just so i can check her work, but it's tough. she's just so distracting, and the room does so much better when she's not in the room. it's ridiculous. anyways, here's to hoping. and here's to introducing novels!