Archive for June, 2012

BAHS

If you’ve been following my posts you know that in September I will start my new job at Bronx Arena High School.  Since accepting the position my mind has been stirring with many thoughts about the new students I’ll work with, the travelling I’ll have to do, and the challenge of it all.

A little bit about Bronx Arena.  It is a transfer high school started just two years ago. It serves the needs of students who have fallen behind in high school, have a history of truancy, or maybe dropped out of school entirely.  The students have a common trait: they want to earn their high school diploma.  As I see it, they are motivated and that says a lot.

The high school employs teachers in all core areas of study (“To keep us legal,” Principal Cesene said.) as well as eight other “pilot” teachers who will each work with 25 students in all content areas.  I will be one of the pilot teachers.  It will be my job to make sure each of my students is completing their work and making progress in all of their classes.

I almost didn’t take this job because of what the position would entail.  I mean, how could a social studies teacher (me) possibly help students in every subject?  I love history, English, and some of the sciences, but in high school I struggled with math and language.

The principal understood my reservations and talked me through it.  He explained that other teachers, with their own content specialties would be supporting me, and my students, at every turn.  My job will be to share what I know with my students and utilize the expertise of others when I don’t know.

At one point I realized that if the students can learn all these different subjects, than so can I.  My work with my students will be very individualized, helping them discover answers, with me alongside doing the exact same thing.

So I’m spending my summer boning up on high school subjects.  I’m confident in my social studies knowledge but I’ve picked up some books on global history anyway.  I intend to review the life and earth sciences, two subjects I enjoy.  I want to review the English Language Arts curriculum, and I think that will be fun.  But I am staying away from higher math.  I’ll let my students teach me that.

Bronx Arena High School

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Let summer begin!

The school I’ve worked in is not perfect but, there are some things it does so well.  One of those is the send-off we give our students as they depart on the last day of school.

For years now, it has been a tradition for all of the staff of the elementary and middle schools to gather outside, along the bus circle, on the last day of school, and wave to our students as they leave us until next September.

It really is a touching scene, full of thousands of waving hands, blaring horns, bitter-sweet emotions, and a few tears.  Our local newspaper faithfully covers it each year.  I watch each bus make a final pass around the schools and search the windows for students I know.  When the parade of buses ends, the staff returns to buildings empty of the children who have filled our days and a part of our lives with laughter, joy, and challenge.  Here’s a picture of event today.

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The school year is nearing the end.  The calendar tells me this. Some staff members eager for summer vacation tell me this. And the alphabet countdown started twenty-two days ago with the letter “A” (for animal) tells me this.  Today day was letter “V for victory” day.

Alphabet countdown is something the kindergarten classes do each year.  It is a fun review of the twenty-six letters, with each letter celebrated by a word or theme.  A few days ago, letter “S” was the star and students were asked to wear silly socks or slippers.  Wednesday was devoted to tee shirts, unusual ones, in recognition of the letter “T.”

Yesterday was “U for underwear” day, tough to honor in any modest way, and the children were delighted.  Just mention the word, and six-year olds will giggle. So I guess the review worked.

I mentioned in an earlier post  how much kindergarteners change in the months from September to June.  The alphabet countdown is evidence of this. Many of the young students may have known the alphabet when they arrived on the first day of school (perhaps some did not) but now they can have fun with the letters, as well as words and language.

Two weeks ago we had “P for pajamas” day, and many students wore them to school.  The least successfully celebrated letter and day was “Q for quiet.”  Elementary students, indeed students of any grade, are rarely silent and when they are, it isn’t for long.

Next week we will close-out alphabet countdown and the school year with W, X, Y and “Z for zip up your backpack and zoom out of school.”  The classrooms and hallways, gym and cafeteria will be empty when the last school bus pulls out.  It will also be my last day in this school and letter Q will be much on my mind.

The recess playground on a recent day. Soon it will be “Q for quiet.”

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Across the street and one block away from the house where I grew up in Yonkers, there was a three-legged dog named Skippy whose purpose in life was to chase cars. For the better part of each day, he would sit by the curb waiting for one to pass, and then he would run after it as fast as his three legs would let him.  I never saw Skippy catch a car, but the missing hind limb told me that, at least once, he might have come close.

I am thinking about Skippy now, and the home where I was raised, because this past week I made another trip to New York City, staying over at that house (where my mother still lives) to interview with schools in New York City. One of them, Bronx Arena High School, I went to on Wednesday morning for an extended visit.  I sat in with a classroom teacher for almost two hours, and then spent the rest of the morning with the school principal, T. Rex.  At the end of that meeting he offered me a teaching position in his school, and I accepted.

So now, I am feeling somewhat like a dog that chased and caught a car.  My limbs are still attached, but I have the unsettled feeling (Fear? Self-doubt?) that comes at the beginning of any new and big pursuit: What do I do now?

New teaching jobs are scarce in the current economy.  Most school districts in New York have been laying off teachers to meet the budget gaps the long recession has created.  My own school district had to let go of many teachers (I was one of them) last year because of diminished state support for schools.  Thousands of New York teachers are out of work, and as many as 100,000 teachers nationwide aren’t in a classroom.  So I feel lucky to have a job in the fall.

My new job at Bronx Arena is more than 150 miles from my home in upstate so there will be no daily commute. My new school is not far from Fordham Prep, the high school I attended years ago. During the school week I’ll bunk out at my mother’s house then, return home on weekends, holidays and school breaks to be with my son.  I’ll be dividing my time between two places that exert big emotional pull.

When I started my late to teaching career I didn’t imagine the path would take me to the Bronx.  I imagined myself in an upstate school, close to a home I would return to after each school day. There would be an ease to it.  Since Wednesday’s job offer I have been asking myself, “How much do you want to be a teacher?”  The answer tells me that I will have to step out of my comfort zone and chase another car.

In graduate school a few years back, I was introduced to the poetry of Taylor Mali, a former teacher.  He has become something of a web video sensation, and is a favorite in the schools which train new teachers.  I got to see him in a live in 2008, and heard him perform “What Teachers Make.”  I’ll be viewing it a lot in the months ahead as I get ready for this new challenge.

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