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Archive for January, 2014

The ABCs of a First-Year Teacher

by MsOui, a first-year 2nd-grade ESL teacher in Queens

Advance: Formerly just a category students were put into based on ESL assessment scores; now it is the name of a new teacher evaluation system we are all still trying to figure out.

Budget: Hopefully in my second year of teaching I won’t have to spend quite as much of my own money on classroom supplies as in my first.

Charlotte’s Web: The first text my 2nd-graders read in our ELA curriculum.

Danielson: Familiarize yourself with this teaching framework and you will be amazed at how you grow in your instructional practice.

Engagement: No matter how interesting and awesome a lesson is, there’s always one student who sits in the corner and reads a book.

Family: The relationship I have with my students. We stick together like crazy glue!

Gobbela: What we named our paper turkey, who was eventually replaced by a stuffed turkey acting as our class mascot. Fortunately, by “stuffed,” I mean with cotton.

High expectations: Because sometimes all it takes for a student to succeed is a seed of belief planted by someone they believe in.

Inspiration: Learn to grow, grow to teach, teach to learn.

Just kidding: Something I learned I can no longer say to my students – because after awhile they won’t take me seriously. I’m not kidding.

Kaleidoscope: Looking at my students is like looking into a kaleidoscope. I see so many bright possibilities. We as teachers have the ability to adjust our perspective to create high expectations for all students.

Laughter: Giggles, chuckles, snorting and bellyaches.

Mathematics: What’s odd plus even? Even odder. Math has become more than numbers. It includes word problems or riddles that calculators cannot solve.

Normalcy: Each student shows me unique and extraordinary possibilities, and this has become the norm.

Oops: Failure drives our success.

Princess: I have one student who frequently forgets to write her name on her test papers and assignments. However, her illustrations always include the same princess on a unicorn with a rainbow background. While other students print their names, she has her own signature!

Quiz: What used to be called quizzes are now called assessments. If you tell students they are having a quiz, you’ll just see a quizzical look on their cute faces.

Rainbows: See princess description above.

Sarcasm: Sarcasm confuses the students who are told their parents are going to be so happy to hear that they are misbehaving at lunch that day. I will just say what I mean and mean what I say from now on.

Tattle: Yes, because your partner spilling a drop of water on her desk will somehow have an astronomical effect on your learning.

Unicorn: See princess description above.

Vow: Because children have pretty darn good memories, keep those promises. Once a promise is broken, good luck!

Why? Curiosity sparks discussion. Get ready. Kids can say the darndest things!

Xerox: Another paper jam?!

Yo-yo: Days are filled with ups and downs…ahhh, and the worst is when the tricks are performed!

Zeal: If you still have this on day 180, then congratulations, you have survived your first year of teaching. Now the best thing about this year is what’s yet to come!

A memorable MLK Day for 3 UFT chapter leaders

When I received an email from the UFT about the Martin Luther King, Jr. ceremony at Convent Avenue Baptist Church in Harlem, I decided that I would like to go. Michael Mulgrew would be there, and I know the union is only as strong as the dedication of its leaders and members. Erin Oates, Joseph Usatch and I became friends when we recently trained together as pension consultants. The three of us are also chapter leaders. We touched base with each other and decided to go to the celebration together.

We made our way from Queens to the church that Monday morning. I didn’t think twice about it, even though I could have stayed in bed late on a day off from school. I posted a quote earlier that day on Facebook that Dr. King said: “Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.” I relate this to our union and how we are fighting the good fight day after day, and that we aren’t afraid to do what’s right. Not just for our members, but for the children in our schools.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew, who spoke at the ceremony, explained that our union and Martin Luther King Jr. “go way back.” He explained how a group of teachers “passed around a hat” so they could get station wagons to go down south and meet with Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s. Mulgrew also drove home the point that just like King fought for what he believed, we have to do the same, and we have to make sure our students are at the center of our efforts. “It’s about the kids,” he said. The congregation clapped as Michael Mulgrew gave credit to teachers for their hard work.

To say the least, the ceremony was very moving. We sang and swayed to songs like “Glory, Glory, Hallelujah,” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

When we left the church, we decided to go to the iconic Sylvia’s restaurant. We enjoyed delicious soul food as we reflected on the day’s events. I looked up and recognized Chirlane McCray walking in, and a second later Bill de Blasio! The mayor shook people’s hands. As he passed our table, I said “Hi Bill, can you take a picture with us?” Joe told him that we were UFT members, and Erin mentioned we had just come from the MLK ceremony where Mulgrew spoke. He smiled and said, “That’s great.”

We immediately took to our phones to tell all our friends that we had met the mayor, and that night our picture was posted on the UFT Facebook page. It was definitely a memorable MLK Day for Erin, Joe and me, and, boy, am I glad that I didn’t stay in bed!

Denise Verde is the UFT chapter leader at PS 186 in Queens.

Stigma from obesity affects achievement

[This article originally appeared in the Jan. 16 issue of the New York Teacher.]

Research showing that obese children perform below normal-weight peers on math and reading assessments has attributed the cause to health issues linked to obesity. But a new study finds that the social stigma suffered by obese children may affect their academic performance. The research published in Child Development found that math achievement among obese children in elementary school varies depending on when the child became obese and whether it has affected the child’s social and emotional functioning.

Researchers Sara Gable of the University of Missouri, Jennifer L. Krull of the University of California and Yiting Chang of the University of Vermont tracked more than 6,000 elementary school students from kindergarten through 5th grade. Each child was assigned to one of three weight-status categories: persistently obese — those who were obese from kindergarten or 1st grade through 5th grade; later-onset obesity — those who became obese in 3rd grade or later with the condition persisting through 5th grade; and those who were never obese. The children were also rated on their social skills with peers and their emotional behaviors, such as whether they exhibited anxiety, sadness, loneliness or low self-esteem.

Math achievement among the persistently obese children in 1st through 5th grade was significantly below that of children who had never been obese. Among later-onset obese children, math performance varied by gender, with only the girls exhibiting lower results compared to children who had never been obese.

The researchers found that emotional behaviors explained part of the link between obesity and lower math performance. Among the persistently obese children, boys in 3rd and 5th grades showed negative emotional behaviors that could affect academic achievement, and girls showed such behaviors as early as 1st grade. Girls in both the persistently obese and later-onset groups also showed weaker social skills, although this was not true for boys in these groups

The researchers suggest that the cumulative stress of being a member of a stigmatized group can interfere with academic performance, student engagement and cooperative classroom behavior. They recommend that school staffs and health professionals who work with obese children consider the social and emotional strain the children may be under.

All eyes on NYC

 

[This editorial originally appeared in the Jan. 16 issue of the New York Teacher.]

New York City is under a microscope.

With the city having elected its first progressive mayor in a generation, observers from both sides of the political spectrum are watching to see how Mayor de Blasio fares in implementing his vision.

Progressives want to see if the new mayor succeeds with what has been called his “new New Deal” approach of using government policy to address social problems and inequities. De Blasio has proposed, for example, to fund universal full-day prekindergarten through a tax on wealthy residents and to charge rent to well-off charter schools that use space in public school buildings.

If de Blasio succeeds in New York City, it could spur the election of other unapologetically progressive politicians around the country.

Conservatives are also watching the new administration in New York City, but with a sense of alarm.

In Washington, D.C., House of Representatives Majority Leader Eric Cantor recently attacked de Blasio and other Democratic politicians who seek to block the unfettered growth of charter schools and voucher programs.

De Blasio’s policies, Cantor said, “could devastate the growth of education opportunity” in the city.

Of course, what Cantor calls “the growth of education opportunity” is really the movement to undermine and privatize public education, and the UFT will fight any efforts to destabilize public schools.

But for people of varying political stripes, New York City under its new mayor is like a petri dish that they can watch to see if proposed progressive policies take root and thrive or wither and fail.

How well we succeed in undoing the damage from 12 years of Bloomberg is critically important for our city, schools and children. It could also serve as a model for our nation.

Ode to Joy

[This op-ed originally appeared in the Jan. 16 issue of the New York Teacher.]

Newly appointed Chancellor Carmen Fariña told Department of Education staff during her first day on the job that we need to put joy back in the school system.

Now that is a word we haven’t heard from a schools chancellor in a long time. The Bloomberg administration seemed intent on the opposite goal — sucking the joy out of education.

Fariña also recognizes that at the center of everything that schools do is teaching and learning. “All change happens in the classroom,” she said.

It always has.

Even through 12 years of disruption and damage to schools caused by the Bloomberg administration, UFT members have never stopped bringing a sense of excitement to their work and instilling the joy of learning in their students.

Brooklyn teacher Eleanor Terry, profiled in this issue of the New York Teacher, stuck to the textbook during her first year teaching Advanced Placement statistics at the HS for Telecommunication Arts and Technology, She soon realized that coming up with her own assignments would make statistics more exciting for her and her students. Now Terry’s classes conduct exit polls of voters, analyze baseball salaries and calculate the future impact of college loans.

Her students have become so comfortable with statistics that some use it in pursuing personal interests, such as analyzing their own performance records in sports.

Another math teacher, Elisabeth Jaffe, who wrote the Teacher to Teacher column below, gives class projects in which each student has some choice in the assignment.

Jaffe wants her students at Baruch College Campus HS in Manhattan to develop the same tenacity in academic work as they show in facing personal challenges.

“With a certain amount of freedom, they become more willing to work hard,” Jaffe writes. “They also discover the value of what they learn and a desire to learn more.”

Jaffe and Terry are just two among the tens of thousands of teachers, paraprofessionals, counselors, therapists and other school staff who do amazing work every day in our schools.

They know what Fariña reminded us — that joy is at the heart of all teaching and learning.

Charter schools: Time for change

In this op-ed piece, which originally appeared in the Daily News, UFT President Michael Mulgrew describes the steps that charter schools should take to repair their relationship with New York City students and parents.

For the past 12 years, the Bloomberg administration has singled out charter schools for special treatment, a strategy that embittered many ordinary New York City public school parents and children. Here are four steps charter schools should take now to end that divisive relationship:

Serve the neediest kids
State law requires that charters serve the same percentage of poor and special-needs children, along with English-language learners, as their local district schools do. Unfortunately, many charter schools ignore this requirement. Meanwhile, parents complain that special-needs children and students who struggle academically have been “counseled out” of charters, most of them ending up in local district schools while the charters hold onto students with better scores. A recent report by the city’s Independent Budget Office found that a shocking 80 percent of special-needs kids who enroll in city charter schools as kindergartners leave their schools by the third grade.

Be good neighbors
The Bloomberg administration often shoehorned charters into public schools. Because some charters didn’t want their children interacting with public school kids, gymnasiums and cafeterias would be limited to charter students at certain hours. Worst of all, students in dilapidated classrooms with outmoded equipment and few supplies watched with envy as the incoming charters spent small fortunes on renovations, paint jobs, new desks and equipment, books and supplies. If they want to be good neighbors, charters should share the wealth — and make sure all students sharing one school building have the same opportunities and environment.

Open their books
If charter operators truly want a new start, they need to abandon the lawsuit they have filed against the New York State Comptroller seeking to block his ability to audit their books. Parents and taxpayers deserve to know where their money is going.

Stop treating children as profit centers
Charters receive taxpayer dollars. In addition, many get donations from major hedge funders, have millions of dollars in bank accounts and pay their chief executives — who typically oversee a small group of schools — as much as half a million dollars a year, along with lavish benefits. Charters with such resources need to pay rent, as Mayor de Blasio has suggested. And charters should set realistic salary caps for their executives and appropriate limits on payments to consultants.

Learning how to support children in crisis: Beginning my journey with the Institute for Understanding Behavior

nau_edwizePatrick Nau, a teacher at PS 369 in the South Bronx, is participating in training by the Institute for Understanding Behavior, a consortium of the New York City Department of Education and the UFT. The institute trains entire school staffs to respond to challenging behavior more effectively by using strategies that help foster social, emotional and academic growth. Eight schools have signed up for the training. Patrick will be blogging about his experience and the lessons he hopes to bring into the classroom.

I teach technology and social studies to students in pre-K through 5th grade at PS 369 in the Bronx. It’s a high-needs neighborhood – there are homeless shelters nearby and there’s a large immigrant population. I have bilingual students and special education students in my classes.

I’m not a homeroom teacher so I see different groups of students all day. Some students I only see once a week. If a child comes into my class angry, it’s difficult to figure out the context. Something could have happened in another class or outside the school, and I have to navigate that.

There’s a lot of extra baggage brought in by the kids, such as aggressive behavior or defiance. The idea of finding an alternative way to engage students and draw them into instruction – especially students who have a hard time staying on task – is very appealing.

My principal told me about the Institute for Understanding Behavior. I don’t know a whole lot about it, but I’ve heard other teachers discussing it. It’s about how to avoid exploiting a situation that sets a kid off into a power struggle. The whole school is taking the Therapeutic Crisis Intervention for Schools course with the institute – we’re going in groups of four. I start this week. 

I’m hoping to learn to better manage the classroom. In the past when I had certain students who were a handful, I tried to protect the rest of the class. At certain times I’d have to ignore them, so as not to escalate a situation. There were plenty of times when I didn’t know what to do. I’m hoping to engage those students in learning, and avoid making it a big problem – and if it does escalate, how do I get that kid back?  I’m trying to raise expectations, carry out curriculum and develop a supportive environment based on preventive measures. I don’t want to waste a minute.

How I came out to my students

hudsynyc is the pseudonym of a second-year high school ELA teacher in Brooklyn. If you’d like to submit an entry for the New Teacher Diaries, please email edwize@uft.org.

Sixteen 14-year-old girls taught by one 28-year-old woman. It is my second year having an all-girls 9th-grade advisory class at my high school in Brooklyn. Advisory is a more informal class where students have the opportunity to build real relationships with each other and with their advisory teacher.

By the end of September, my group of girls knew many things about me: I am originally from the New Jersey suburbs. I have a cat and a dog. I play soccer every week. I am relaxed but like to get things moving and accomplished in the classroom. They knew I buy my jeans at American Eagle and that I am never without an iced coffee in the morning. What they didn’t know was that I am married to a woman.

Although our school does not yet have a gay-straight alliance or any LGBT staff members who are out to the students, gay or bisexual teenagers seem ordinary to many of our students, who speak freely about their own sexuality and that of their peers. We even have a transgender student who changed his name and now uses the boys’ bathroom and locker room (as per the DOE’s nondiscrimination policy and our principal’s unyielding support).

At the start of this year, I was out to only that group of 10th-grade girls who had been in my advisory class last year. Now I had a new group of 14-year-old girls who didn’t know. What would they think? How would they look at me? Would they feel awkward sitting near me? I remember how I was at their age. And their parents? Their grandparents? Parent-teacher conferences were only a couple weeks away. Many of their families were religious or from cultures less tolerant of homosexuality. Some of the students must be homophobic, I assumed.

But one Friday, a student from last year’s advisory dropped in to say hello to me. As we were chatting, she asked how my wife was doing.

After she left, one of my most bubbly and outspoken girls asked without hesitation, “Are you bi or gay?”

I tried to keep it cool. “Oh, yes. I forgot. I haven’t told you guys yet, have I? Now when I tell you this, I want us to remember our advisory family rules No. 1 and No. 2. Listen without judgment. And respect.”

Long pause.

“I’m married to a woman. I’m gay.”

Cheers and claps. “You’re married to a woman?” More cheers and claps.

Hands shot up into the air. “I just want to say that I hate when people bully gay people or have something not nice to say. Just let people live.”

“For me, being gay is just as normal as being straight,” another student said. “Every woman in my family is gay besides me and my mother. My aunt’s gay. Her girlfriend’s always over at our house. That’s just how it is. We all sit around together.”

“I’m fine with everyone,” a third student responded. “Love who you love. But my grandfather, he’s not. I can’t stand the things he has to say when someone gay comes on the TV. I’ve tried to talk to him about it, but there’s no point. He just doesn’t listen.”

“My mom used to be the same way,” a different student said. “I just kept talking to her when she made those comments. She’s still, you know, whatever. But she’s getting better. It takes time.”

“What’s your wife’s name again? Where is she from? Is her mother OK with everything? How did you meet?”

Looks like my assumptions were wrong.

DOE’s performance assessments fall short

Teachers in the English department at Brooklyn Technical High School say that the DOE’s implementation of a new English Language Arts test — part of a series of performance assessments in the new teacher evaluation system — is robbing them of valuable instructional time. Calling the exam “poorly written and grossly mismanaged,” they urge the DOE to consider alternate assessments that would be more authentic measures of student learning.

Recently, the New York City Department of Education rolled out a secondary English Language Arts test called the “Measures of Student Learning (MOSL) Performance Assessment.” The stated purpose of the test is to measure improvement in student writing in order to evaluate how well we as teachers do our jobs.

Under the new teacher evaluation system, this and other assessments, such as the state Regents exam, are among multiple measures that make up a teacher’s overall rating. The exam asks high school students to write an “argument essay.” The prompt for the essays poses a simplistic question that can be easily answered, but the guidelines tell students to use evidence from two short texts found on the following pages. The test — developed by Stanford University, Teachers College, and the DOE — loosely aligns with the Common Core Learning Standards.

However, in our opinion, in addition to impeding real learning from taking place in the classroom, the test falls short in measuring students and teachers for several reasons.

To begin, we lost two days of instructional time giving this pretest to our students. We continue to lose tutoring and professional development time to grade the test on seven often-overlapping components. We will lose two more days to give the post-test on an unknown date in the spring. Four lost instructional days rob the students of valuable learning opportunities, and seems to use them as guinea pigs.

Not only is this test a waste of students’ time and taxpayers’ money, it is also an invalid way to evaluate teachers. It was given to schools across the city at different times. Each school received only one of each grade-level exam and had to make photocopies for its students. The security of the exam was virtually nonexistent, thereby implying that it was unimportant. Furthermore, while most high school class periods are between 45 and 60 minutes, the testing period was 90 minutes. So, in many schools, students read the material on the tests on the first day and did their writing on the second day, making it possible for them to discuss the exam among themselves and plan out responses before writing.

The DOE did not indicate how much the pretest should count towards students’ grades, if at all; those decisions were left to the discretion of the schools and, in most cases, individual teachers. The lack of systemwide uniformity in how the test is perceived by students should invalidate how the results are used to reflect upon teachers.

Our grievance is not with our assistant principal of English or our principal, both of whom we respect. It is with the DOE, which has taken a one-size-fits-all approach to education. Our training as teachers taught us to differentiate our instruction in response to our students’ various needs and abilities. If we were to take the DOE’s one-size-fits-all approach to the 170 students each of us teaches in a day, we would be rated “unsatisfactory,” or in today’s parlance, “ineffective.”

Schools, like students, come in different shapes and sizes and with different needs. In specialized schools like Brooklyn Technical High School, students arrive with high test scores. While growth models under the new evaluation system are supposed to compare students’ test results to those of similarly high-achieving students, we wonder how growth among our students will be determined for purposes of teacher evaluation. Many teachers of students with challenges share the same concerns.

We understand that we will be held accountable for what our students learn, but a poorly written and grossly mismanaged test is unfair.

While there are problems in using any standardized tests for high-stakes decision-making, the DOE should consider different tests. And it could explore using authentic assessments, such as portfolios, that provide multiple examples of student development over time. Post-graduation interviews or surveys that capture what skills students found most valuable in their college and career experiences may improve our teaching as well. These methods require time and patience, qualities for which there is no room in the current data-driven, instant-results business model of education.

From the below signed members of the English Department at Brooklyn Technical High School:
1. Laura DeWitt
2. Danny Schott
3. Justyna Kret
4. Anastasia Visbal
5. Giancarlo Malchiodi
6. Shelley Zipper
7. Dan Baldwin
8. Patricia Quilliam
9. David Lo
10. Phyllis Witte
11. Marie Manuto-Brown
12. Rebecca Rendsburg
13. Jonathan Scolnick
14. Emily Tuckman
15. Tanya Green
16. Robert Grandt
17. Chris Rabot
18. Sonia Laudi
19. Monica Rowley
20. Christina Massie
21. Meredith Dobbs
22. Stephen Harris
23. Debra Rothman
24. Melissa Goodrum
25. Timothy Ree
26. Emilie Baser