Archive for September, 2012

First reflection

Reflection, thinking about each day, is an important part of my practice, and should be for any teacher.  At the end of a school day, I think back to what went well, and what went not so well.  The purpose of this reflection is to make the next day of teaching better.  My goal is to do more of what worked, and improve upon, or eliminate the things that did not.

Yet, I have been reluctant to write about my first weeks of the school year, and offer my reflection.  The biggest reason is that I don’t want to jinx things.  Most of my superstitions are limited to watching Red Sox games, and I am trying not to let them creep into my new job at Bronx Arena High School.

Here’s the truth.  One month into the school year and I couldn’t be more happy.  Note: I barely refrained from using the word ecstatic.  The experience, so far has been incredibly positive.  Frankly, I am not certain how this school year has gotten off to such a wonderful start, but I think it is the people.

Before the school year began, I had already met the staff I would be working with.  We had a week of training at the end of August, and two days of professional development just before the school year began.  They are a magnificent group of people: passionate, cooperative, intelligent and full of humor.

Collegiality is an important role that all teachers play in a school, but the most important work is done with the students.  Throughout this past summer, I had been wondering about the students I would be working with.  Almost as much, I had wondered how I would do in such a different school setting. As it turns out, most of my students are as new to Bronx Arena High School as I am.

They have come to our school from some other high school where they struggled. That’s why Bronx Arena is called a transfer school.  Rather than quit school entirely, each of my students has chosen to earn the credits needed for graduation in a place that is unfamiliar.  I could see it in their faces on the first days of the year.

They were shy and quiet at first. This was a new school, with new classmates and new teachers.  I used this to my advantage.  I was outgoing, chatty, and friendly.  I wanted them to know that there was only one reason I was in Bronx Arena, and the reason was their success.

Now, less than one month into the year, they have grown comfortable in these new surroundings.  They are chattier in class, but it is wonderful to see them engaging each other. We have developed the strong roots of a classroom culture where respect, hard work, fun, and community define us.

I have come to know my students enough to sense that they, like the staff of BAHS, are magnificent.  Given another chance at earning a Regents diploma, they have shown themselves to be highly motivated, working hard throughout the four hour block they are in my classroom. At times, I have had to insist that they take a break.  They oblige, but only after mild protest.

During a staff meeting today, we were invited to give a “shout out” to something, anything, that was working for us.  I waited a while before offering that everything seemed to be working well in my classroom.  I also offered that I wasn’t quite sure why but mentioned the Advocacy Counselor who worked with my students.

The words were hardly out of mouth when a number of colleagues began knocking on desks (wooden or not) and nearly begging me to keep quiet.  Seems they too did not want to jinx things.  And not many of them were fans of the Boston Red Sox.

Before the school year began, I told family and friends that I really wanted to meet myself when the school year was over.  I suspected that I was beginning an experience that would change me in some big ways.  I sense that it is already happening.  Kids will do that to you, teaching will do that to you, and I couldn’t imagine a better job anywhere.

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Near the end of August, I had a chance to be a tour guide.  A friend from Canada had come for an extended visit and really wanted to see New York City.  The Statue of Liberty, in particular, was on her bucket list.

Here are some things you need to know:  I was born in Manhattan, raised in the suburbs just north of the city, and attended high school in the Bronx.  Yet I can think of a number of urban areas I know my way around far better than I know the Big Apple. 

But if someone flies for fifteen hours from northern Alberta, and wants a tour of New York from someone who is native, you have to oblige. So I did.

My friend flew into Albany, NY.  After a few days in upstate, we set out for “the city” and two days of planned and unplanned touring.  I wasn’t quite sure what we would see but I knew a certain statue rising from New York Harbor would have to be on the list. Day one of the tour was strictly an improvisation.

Taking the Metro North train into Manhattan is a great way to begin a tour as it comes into in Grand Central Station one of the finest buildings in the city. Then, as you exit the terminal, the sights and sounds (and yes, smells) of New York City attack your senses.  My friend seemed over-taken by it.  As we proceeded along 42nd street, making our way to Fifth Avenue, she grabbed my hand and said, “Don’t lose me.  I didn’t bring my passport, my driver’s license, or a credit card. I can’t prove who I am.”

For block after block, we walked the streets, stopping in St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Saks Fifth Avenue.  Our trek took us into Central Park (where I lost my cheat sheet, a foldable, laminated map of the city.) and eventually to the Museum of Natural History.

By 4:30 I turned the tour southward, aiming for some kind of restaurant near Grand Central, so we would be in the vicinity of Times Square when it was dark.  The plan worked well except that we didn’t get to see the Naked Cowboy.  I think he is a nine-to-five guy.

On day two, Battery Point, where we would board the Statue of Liberty tour boat was our goal, and we successfully navigated Metro North and the 4-5 subway to southern tip of Manhattan.  The statue is visible from Battery Point, and though the serpentine line at first seems daunting, we moved along quickly to one of several waiting boats.

It is hard to explain what you feel as the short boat ride nears the island.  You can look back at NYC, see the new Freedom Tower filling the void left on 9/11, and then turn again and see a Statue as millions saw it when they sailed into New York Harbor more than a century ago.

I believe I was one the very few Americans on the boat – a stranger in my own country – and it was wonderful to experience this symbol of what we too often take for granted, seen for the first time through non-native eyes.  It is, as my friend told me, “emotional.”

The Statue of Liberty is again undergoing repairs, so the interior was closed.  Visitors can walk around the island park and experience many views of both Liberty and the surrounding skylines of New York City. On this beautiful late-summer day, they were stunning. 

All in all, this was the capstone of a brief tour of the city.  Afterward, we walked up to ground zero.  I was moved.  Then I remembered the Statue of Liberty, the faces of the others on our tour boat, the thousands of pictures being taken, and I knew that some things, important things, endure.

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Not goodbye

Within a few weeks of the end of the prior school year, when I ran into friends and teachers from my old school, I was almost always asked, “When are you moving?”  The assumption, a logical one, was that the distance from my home in upstate New York to my new job in the Bronx was not something I would drive as a daily commute. For the record it would be well over 300 miles round trip.

By early August, I had been asked the question enough times that I had my answer and explanation down to just two sentences: “I’m not moving.  I’ll be staying at my mother’s during the school week, and returning home on weekends.”

I hope the people who asked the question were happy to hear my answer.  If nothing else, it saved us from the awkward goodbyes, something I am not very good at.

Still, as this new school year starts, it is hard for me not to feel some sadness.  I’ve been teaching for three years now, all of them in my local schools, the same schools my youngest attends.  The school district has been a part of my life since 2001.

It’s tough to leave behind the people I have worked with, and I know I will miss them.  But I am already getting to know the staff of my new school – a tremendous group of people – and new friendships will develop.

When I left my home yesterday afternoon, my car filled with clothing and classroom supplies, it was hard not to think about a change that was taking place.  It made me think of a song by Johnny Reid.  The song sums up my feelings as I move onto this new challenge and leave behind (for now) so many friends.  So this is not goodbye, even if it feels that way.

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