Archive for December, 2012

On Monday, when the week before the holiday break was just beginning, a student said to me, “I wish it was Friday.”  I knew then that the week was going to be a long one.  I didn’t let on that I also wished it was Friday. There is no reason to tell a student that and besides, wishing wouldn’t make it true.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not anxious to get away from my students. I will miss them when we are away for eleven days.  It is amazing how much their energy becomes my energy, their laughter makes me laugh, and their lives have become my life.

I arrive each school day before seven in the morning excited about the day to come. Reluctantly, I leave school each day long after my students have gone home. On Fridays, I am sorry the school week is over. Teaching is exhausting.

So I am looking forward to the upcoming holiday break. (It’s the Christmas break, but I’m not allowed to say so.) I know I need some time back home: Time to be with my son, time to sleep in, time to look at the Christmas tree Andrew and I decorated last weekend, time to make a second cup of coffee in the morning, and time to watch the sunrise on my farm.

These last few months I have often felt disconnected from my prior life while teaching in the Bronx.  I have been living in two worlds, trying to serve each as best as I can.  The best part of me has gone into my teaching, and I feel that family and home have been neglected these past four months.  It is time to catch up.

On Boxing Day, a dear friend from Alberta will be flying into Albany.  We haven’t seen each other in four months and our reunion will be special.  The last time we were together was in late summer, and I wrote about it in an earlier post called Liberty.  It will be good to have time with her.

More than anything, I simply want to be home.  I want to spend the coming holidays in the place I call upstate and re-energize myself for the next six months of the school year.  I think all of my students and colleagues feel the same.  We all need a break and being home is a cause for celebration.

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Last week I had my second formal observation in the classroom.  These observations are a requirement in the era of teacher accountability and are intended to make good teachers better, and I suppose, partially intended to weed out teachers who really shouldn’t be teaching.   My principal, T. Rex, and I met on Tuesday for a pre-observation conference and we went over my plan for the lesson I would be teaching.  He had several useful suggestions.

On Wednesday he observed me teaching a mini-lesson to five students.  The aim of the lesson was “making connections and inferences with artifacts.”  While I was being observed, Ms. Persuasive, a science teacher, had pushed into my room to teach two groups of students.  Both groups were working on genetics, but were at different stages in the Living Environments course.  A half-dozen other students were independently working on various other subjects.

That’s the Arena model, and if you walked in on it you might ask, “What’s going on?”

I felt my observation went well.  When I met with T. Rex on Friday morning for post-observation conference he said as much.  He also offered suggestions for how to improve my skills as a teacher in the Arena model.  T. Rex has a goal for his teachers: he wants them to be the best anywhere.

And then he asked me a question I could not easily answer.  He asked, “What are you and the Advocacy Councilor doing in Arena 6 that makes it…”  He didn’t finish the question.  I think he wanted to know what was going on.

Maybe it was because of the missing last word in his question that I fumbled the answer.  I spoke generally about my teaching, and the most emphatic I could be was when I told him I just try to be myself.  I added that my students know who I am and that I don’t pretend to be anything else.

Driving home to upstate on Friday evening I thought more about why Arena 6 has been successful, and what my part in that might be.  In my mind, I began crafting a wonderful response with details of everything I and A.C. do that has made our classroom great.  By the time I exited the Taconic Parkway and headed west for a crossing of the Hudson River, I had my answer down to six words.

Affection   Expectation   Intellect   Energy   Collaboration   Reflection

On Saturday, I sent an email to T. Rex with my belated response to his question.  Here’s the part where I explain the six words:

Affection:  I am very fond of my students.  It shows and they see it.

Expectation:  I have high expectations of my students in their academic work, their attendance, and their behavior. They know it.

Intellect:  I am fairly smart, intellectually curious, and I love learning and learners. My students see how I work with them to find answers when we don’t have them.

Energy: This could also be called drive or passion.  I put everything I have into each teaching day.  The students see this and they have commented to A.C..

Collaboration:  I love to share what I am learning about my students and my Bronx Arena teaching experience with anyone who will listen.  And I am always seeking out what others have learned.

 Reflection:  My teaching day doesn’t end when I leave school.  I am always thinking about my students and my teaching.  I make lousy company.

As the school year progresses I will try to remember these words.  They may change as I change.  For now, it is my formal response to a question that might have been asking, “What’s going on?” If you watch the video you will see T. Rex leading the band.  Ms. Persuasive is on drums and of course, I’m Marvin Gaye.

 

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With my life divided between two places, the boundary between upstate and the Bronx is still not determined.  Son, house, friends, banking, mail and offers for a free car wash with an oil change exert an enormous pull on me to my home in rural New York.  My students, Bronx Arena, a job, and a paycheck pull me back to downstate.  Today I skipped school to attend to an appointment I had scheduled months ago in my hometown.

I have to admit that it was fun to play hooky, to have another night of sleep in my own bed, and another morning on the farm, with coffee in the summer room while I looked out on the fields and mountains.  But as the morning progressed my mind kept wandering to my classroom in the Bronx.  What would my students be doing now?  How many were in attendance?  Are they listening to my substitute? Are they working? Do they notice I’m not there?

This afternoon, I received an email from one of my students, and my heart nearly burst.  He wrote:

“wussup bob why you not here today? well im not feeling good anyway so im not really going to do work but hope all is well see you tomorrow”

The student who wrote the email is one of my newer charges.  He is also the oldest in my room and he spent more than a year out of school before deciding to come back.  He has a tough exterior in dress and demeanor, but when you get beyond the tats and street attitude you find an incredible young man.  He is smart, quick, and able.  I liked him the first time we talked, and I think he could go onto college and eventually be a lawyer.

Last week, he was also involved in the tensest moment I have had in Arena 6. He made a comment.  A student next to him took exception to his comment, and then an argument erupted.  The language was foul and angry.  Half of what they said I did not understand.  I was sure a fight was about to happen.

I stood between the two angry students for what seemed an hour, hoping my slim presence would prevent a fight.  Okay, it wasn’t an hour, but maybe twenty minutes.  By then, I had silently signaled one of my students to go and get the Advocacy Councilor, and when she arrived she was able to take one of the students out of the room and the tension ebbed.  By the end of that day I was exhausted.

Arena 6 at work

Arena 6 at work

I know that I don’t teach in a place most people would consider safe.  When I am home in upstate and former colleagues see me, I sense they are glad I am still in one piece.  I often wonder if they think that by this point of the school year in the Bronx, surely I would have been set on fire and thrown down a staircase. I never miss a chance to tell them how wonderful my teaching experience at Bronx Arena has been.  I boast about my students and my school, and how much I love every day of teaching.

So, Monday was the first day of school I have missed. For the most part I have stayed healthy even when a variety of cold and stomach viruses have swept through the classroom and school thinning the ranks of students. The longer you teach, the better you are at warding off such afflictions.  Veteran teachers, I am sure, have highly advanced immune systems.

The  lucky teachers have students like mine.  For them, like me, it is hard to stay away from a day of teaching.  When they are absent from school, they also wonder what their students are doing as each hour of the school day passes.  They will be anxious to get back in the classroom and take charge.  (Good teachers are very possessive of their students.)  If they are really lucky, they will get an email from a student who misses them and it starts with, “wussup.”

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