Thursday, August 28, 2014

New Student Orientation

Day 3 of New Student Orientation. How I made it through the day without crying is beyond me. It is days like this that remind me why I love my school and why I love teaching. A day filled with ice breakers and sharing personal stories and introducing the new transfer students to the culture that is our school.

Perhaps one of the best moments of the day was when I told our new high school students that we have a large LGBT community and our former principal is a trans woman and almost all the kids cheered, pumped their fists, and high-fived one another.

Another great moment was after leading a focused free writing activity, borrowed from one of my veteran colleagues, where I asked students:
As you begin the new school year, what are you leaving behind?
What are you bringing with you?
What are you expecting to be different here?
What do you hope to accomplish?

Students wrote and wrote and wrote then shared with a partner. Their partner then shared their responses with the larger group. It was amazing to see the insight of these students. One student talked about insecurities and being bullied and always worrying about what other people think of her. Another student in the room raised her hand, "Can I say something? I know exactly what you mean. I feel like that sometimes too. We all do, but you can't let it get you down. You just have to move past it and not care what other people think and just be yourself." And the room erupted into snaps.

As students spoke about wanting to leave behind their bad attitudes and not-so-great behaviors, one student told his peers, "You just have to learn to let things go. Let the past be history so you can move on to the future." Here was where I saw my opportunity. "We all have bad habits and behaviors that we're trying to leave behind and move on and be better people. We all make mistakes, but we have to get back up and keep it moving. It's so important to let the bad things go so we can move on with our lives." I spoke of the incredible amount of tolerance, acceptance, and community within the room. "No matter what you see happening around you, hold onto this moment, this feeling. Don't forget what this feels like right now."

Another student said, "You guys are sneaky. You tricked us into writing about our feelings and then tricked us again into connecting with each other over our similar high school experiences. I loved this activity." We all smiled and laughed in unison.

And before the day was over, the students concluded, "This is what I expected high school to be like, but it wasn't. This is what all of my schooling should have been like but it wasn't. Why don't you guys have a Pre-K through 12 school? Everyone would want to go there!"

Saturday, August 23, 2014

First Time Thai: A poem

The first time my students have Thai food
always makes me smile
They never know what to order
telling me to choose for them
"You decide" they say
or "I'll have what you're having"
Handing me a $10 bill
and their trust

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Refreshing the Body, Mind, and Spirit

Yesterday I left New York City and headed upstate to the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY. After a stressful commute, which involved getting stuck on the subway, being late to meet my friend and missing my train and having my next train delayed a hour, I arrived at the Rhinecliff station. I was greeted by my uncle in what my mom initially said would be a red Saab convertible, but later texted me to let me know it was actually burgundy, just in case there was both a red and a burgundy Saab convertible outside the small town train station.

After checking into Omega around 2:30pm, receiving my room key, and being told I couldn’t enter my room until 5pm, I immediately broke the rules and went to my room and dropped off my stuff. As I tried to find a good place to stuff my luggage, I heard “Yay! You’re here!” and turned around to see my friend standing in the doorway. Despite Omega’s privacy policy, we had both broken the “5pm rule” and found each other.

Long Pond Lake. Rhinebeck, NY.

Then we headed out into the world of Omega. I went to the cafĂ© and ate some nachos and sipped raspberry iced tea. I went to the patchouli-smelling bookstore and bought a 25-cent pen. Then I went back to the patchouli-smelling bookstore and splurged on a red sketchbook and a soft and comfy teal and charcoal patterned knit “blazer sweater” that I would not mind wearing every day forever. Then I headed to the lake, sketched some people in their bathing suits, laid face down on the grass then tried to climb into a hammock built for people taller than I.  My friend and I worried we may have interrupted other people’s zen with our hysterical giggles as we struggled with the hammock, unable to both climb in, but after many attempts, some strategizing, and new approaches, we made it in. After resting in the hammock briefly, we got the urge to swim. So we headed back to our rooms, changed into our swimsuits, returned to the lake and took a swim before heading to our vegetarian dinner buffet. After dinner we snuck into the very expensive BobbyMcFerrin Circlesongs workshop and listened to singing voices improvise and joined in song circles and just stood under the trees singing and making all types of musical noises.

Today I woke at 6:40am to the most un-zen alarm clock I have ever heard and attended my first meditation. Later, I will splurge on a fancy massage. I will sit in the sauna and swim in the lake. I may take a yoga class. I may go for a run. I will relax and decompress and refresh myself for the upcoming school year. Tomorrow I may try out tai chi. As one of my dear colleagues says, “Summer vacation isn’t for the students. It’s for the teachers to forget how bad the year was so they can come back and do it all over again.”

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Student Growth

As a transfer school, students come from all over the city hoping to leave their previous high school(s) for a variety of reasons. We hold open houses for prospective students and interview them to make sure they will be able to adapt to the culture of the school, find out if there are any red flags, and get an idea of their academic abilities. Although the process definitely raises some ethical issues for many of us, it is still one of my favorite parts of the job. We get to meet students when they're completely vulnerable, listening, and expelling all the details of their lives. We learn so much about who the kids are and what they've been through in their lives.

Today I interviewed a real odd-ball and complete sweetheart of a kid. He's a student who receives special education services. He talked of many things often using animal metaphors to describe himself. "Waking up is hard for me sometimes. I sleep like a bear... I'm a real class clown— very hyper—I'm basically a monkey."
" When I asked him how he spends his free time, he told me about his pet lizard which he described as "some kind of dragon, I think. I forget."
"A bearded dragon?" I asked.
"Yeah, I think that's it."
Then he told me, "He tastes my blood and other people's blood. That's how he knows when it's me and when it's someone else— But once he tastes their blood, he warms up to them."
I thought about it for a moment, slightly confused and asked half-joking, "Wait. So does he like go around biting people to figure out who they are?"
"No, no. It's not like that. I just make a little prick on my finger and he tastes the blood."
"Oh, okay," I said, pretending that was a completely normal thing for lizards and humans to do.

When I asked questions about his old school, I found myself on a journey from as early as elementary school. He told me, "You know, you're a girl and I'm talking to you now, but I used to be really afraid of girls because I was bullied and picked on by them." When I asked more about the bullying, he told me that people call him names at school but he doesn't mind so much because other kids stand up for him. I was reminded of this heartwarming news story about Danny, the water boy, and his football team.

At the end of the interview process, we came together as a staff to reflect on the day. People talked about how incredible it feels to get to know the kids so quickly and hear their stories. We talked a lot about knowing when we're talking to a kid who just really needs to be in our school. I thought about a student I interviewed two years ago. He was a student who received special education services, had scored a 92 on the ELA Regents and was diagnosed as ADHD. When I spoke with the student he discussed social dynamics at his current school, lots of fights where he always tried to be the mediator but was constantly accused of being the instigator. I saw a kid who had a lot of growing to do. He had yet to learn how to accept responsibility. I saw a kid with a wall up, displaying an air of confidence that seemed too extreme to be real. And I didn't know if we could really help him, but we accepted him. He ended up in my advisory and for two years, I struggled to tap into this kid's' emotions, searching for a shred of empathy and beginning to lose hope of ever finding it.

In our second year together I found myself in multiple meetings with this student after he displayed some rude and unprofessional behaviors and showed no remorse, took no responsibility and simply blamed everyone, but himself for things "not working out." One of his internship coordinators remarked, "I'm really concerned, Jamie. He has shown absolutely no growth in his year at this school." His guidance counselor, who always raved about him, finally began to see it too. "I can't even listen to him anymore. He's so full of himself and thinks he knows everything." How were we going to show this kid just how naive he is?

Midway through the school year, I showed a Teaching Tolerance video called Bullied, which created a lively discussion and had clearly upset this student, in particular, in a way I didn't expect. He talked about his own experiences being bullied, he talked about how no one ever did anything to stop it, how no matter who he told or how he tried to fight it, nothing worked. He spoke only with anger. He didn't understand how this one short video, featuring one gay student in Minnesota in the '90s who was beat up, sexually assaulted by classmates, and even urinated on, was helping anyone.

Handout included with Teaching Tolerance's Bullied

In April, I took a group of 43 students into the woods for a 3-day overnight trip in Upstate New York. When this student asked if he could come, I hesitated. Did I really want him on this trip? This kid who was known to gossip and spread rumors? Would he ruin the community we had to work so hard to create to make this trip successful, to allow kids to be vulnerable, reveal some deep, dark truths, and really trust one another? And so I told him my concerns and what behaviors he had displayed in school (multiple students had come to me saying that he had been gossiping and spreading rumors about them) influenced the existence of those concerns. He nodded, said he understood, and we reached an agreement. And on that trip, I saw a side of him I had never seen before. There was genuine kindness in there. 

Our last morning on the trip, the coffee station in the mess hall was closed down because students left it a wreck the previous night. The group was in uproar. "It wasn't me," they all claimed. "Why am I being punished for something I didn't do?" As much as we tried to explain, "We are a group, the actions of the few affect the whole group," we couldn't escape the whining and complaining. The real surprise came when my advisee approached me. He made a comment about the immaturity of the group and how rude they had been to the staff. I said, "Would you like to thank the staff here for working with us?" He immediately turned to a few of the staff and told them, "Thank you so much for all you've done for us. I apologize for my fellow students and take full responsibility for their actions." 
The staff members laughed, "Are you sure you want to take FULL responsibility?"

As we left the cafeteria to board our bus home, he turned to me and said, "You didn't think I could do this."
"You're right. I didn't. And you proved me wrong. You were great on this trip, very mature. I'm proud of you."
He snickered and climbed on the bus. 

Months later, as we wrapped up the end of the school year, this same student procrastinated his work, argued with me, took little to no responsibility for how behind he was, and just drove me insane. As he scrambled around to find proof of gym credits he had earned outside of school, I just shook my head. When he finally scrounged up all his credits he told me, "I will never procrastinate again." Yeah, right, I thought. "Yeah, right," his guidance link said when I told her what he said.

Then he presented his graduation portfolio. Of course, it was at the last minute, still revising and begging for signatures, but when he sat on that panel something changed. He began by speaking about his personal history, his journey to our school and his experiences. He had spoken for no more than a minute when he burst into tears as he said, "No one in my old schools ever gave me a chance. Everyone just assumed I was a bad kid and thought they knew me. Here, people cared. They supported me and never made me feel bad about who I am. They just pushed me to be better." And then the tears came to my eyes. Holy shit, I thought. He's grown. He's finally grown.

Or maybe he just finally revealed what he was hiding inside all along.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Beautiful Work

Today I returned to school to help out with new staff orientation. We have 10 new teachers joining our school this year. We read an article called, "Beautiful Work" by Ron Berger, which discusses the importance of using teaching as a way to support students in creating beautiful work across disciplines. 

In my group's discussion of the article I was reminded of an incident that occurred in mid-March during my second year of teaching. It was the day of parent-teacher conferences and I had volunteered to put up a bulletin board showcasing my advisory's work.

The idea behind advisory is to provide a small group of students, usually no more than 15-20, with character and group building activities as well as academic support. Some schools only have advisory classes meet once a week-- I had it every day for 45 minutes. If you're lucky there might even be an advisory curriculum for the whole school to follow. I was not so lucky. My advisory consisted of seniors most of whom received special education services. Those who were not classified as "special ed" were the "lowest performing" seniors. It's called tracking. Place the kids who struggle the most all in the same group. So, as a result, I had 36 students who were all failing at least one academic class and had more behavior issues to deal with than any other advisor in the twelfth grade. It was the kind of situation where you mention a few students' names and the response you get is always, "You've been set up." But it was that response that only motivated me more. I accepted the challenge with eager arms. I decided the best way to engage them and build group cohesion was through collaboration. I would have students create a shadow puppet show together. The previous year my co-teacher and I created a shadow puppetry show inspired by Dante's Inferno in our Senior English class and my principal loved it. More importantly, the students loved making it and were proud of the finished product. 

Tortured Souls. Scene from "Ayana's Hell" inspired by Dante's Inferno

So I gave my advisory some options and let them brainstorm some ideas. They chose to base their puppetry show on James and the Giant Peach. The first step was creating storyboards that would be revised and later become a puppetry show. Students drew amazing storyboards. Some chose to follow the story exactly, some highlighted their favorite parts, and others added twists and alternative endings. Finally, I saw some creativity shine through. I knew I had to put their work on display. When my advisees came into class that day they asked about their work. I told them I had hung it up on the bulletin board across the hall. "Can we go see it?" They asked eagerly. And before I finished saying yes, they ran out the door with giant smiles on their faces. They weren't used to having their work on display.

My senior advisory on a "low-attendance" day

One hour later, I was called into the assistant principal's office. I was told I needed to take the work down. When I asked why I was told because it was “not the best work they can do.” She said because some were in color, some in black and white, and on different sized paper it was a “bad” bulletin board. I wanted to scream, "Hello! It's called differentiation!!"

She told me it didn’t look like they had put effort into their work. She brought up one storyboard that used the word “gotta” and said that there shouldn’t be slang in work that is being displayed. She asked me what I would think if I were a parent and saw that. I didn’t know how to respond. I wanted to say that most parents in this school probably won't even look at the bulletin board and could care less if a student used slang or didn’t color it in. I felt like they were embarrassed to have parents see what students in this school are actually capable of. The irony of a school that lacked rigor and encouraged teachers to hold extremely low standards telling me that my students, who were constantly passed through the system, hadn't produced "good enough" work slapped me in the face. She told me that I could put it up inside a classroom if I really wanted parents to see it or show it to them during parent-teacher conferences. 

She then asked me if I “truly believe this is the best work they can do”. I stared back at her and said that for some students it was their best work and the fact that I had more storyboards than I could fit on the bulletin board said something when I battle with kids everyday to get them to complete the smallest task. I said that I don’t think bulletin boards should only display the “best work.” Every student’s work should be displayed and maybe that’s a motivator to do better next time. They will see their work and know that in the future it will get displayed no matter what. 

I don’t want to be a teacher who only criticizes my students’ work. For many students it was a difficult assignment. I know because I talked to them about it. I pushed kids to complete as much as they did. I encouraged students to add color, but if a student said they liked it better in black and white than that was their choice as the artist. I explained that when I told my students I had put up their storyboards their faces lit up and they couldn't wait to see their work on display. Even students who had begged me not to display their work couldn't stop smiling when they saw I had ignored their request. These are students who are used to only seeing the "best" work displayed and the reality is when compared to their peers, their work is rarely, by our standards, the "best". My assistant principal then told me that I should tell students that I think they can do better and give them time to improve their storyboards. I wanted to respond with sarcasm, "Nothing like non-specific feedback and harsh criticism to motivate a student." But instead I said nothing.

She suggested I should have had them create multiple drafts of the storyboards and that I could show a progression of how they improved. Then I started crying. No matter how much I tried to explain, she didn't understand this was the first step in a larger group project, but it didn't matter. This was not so much about the bulletin board as finding another way for the administration to attack me. I was the victim of the "gotcha" mentality. I voiced my opinion in a meeting. I said the "wrong thing" and now I was under attack.

Through my tears, I told her that I am really frustrated with the way that the school year was going. That I got a "Unsatisfactory" rating in advisory after being observed for less than 10 minutes in the middle of the period and now I’m being told that I can’t even do a bulletin board right. “I feel like everything I do is wrong.” 

Then the phone rang and she promptly turned to answer it. When she got off the phone she said with a hint of satisfaction, “What was I saying?” She then went back to telling me all the things I could do to make it better next time. She ended by saying, “I have given you a directive. If you do not take it down, I will.” I left her office still in tears.

After some reflection, I realized that what made me so upset was that I felt that I had created a project in which many of my students whom do not usually attempt work, completed this assignment. I felt that by telling me my students' work was not their personal best was saying that I was not encouraging them to do their best. It also infuriated me to have someone who has never taught the students I teach, who would have what she considered her "bad" advisees transferred into my advisory, who showed Lifetime movies in class, who sits at her desk eating bologna by the slice, think that she could do better. 

Although I do agree that I could have allowed more opportunities to continue working on and revising the storyboards, my main focus was on developing a puppet show. I felt like she had vocalized some useful but unfeasible ideas. It was hard taking criticism from someone whom I do not believe is an effective teacher. 

I realized in this moment of harsh criticism and no support that the values and philosophies of this school did not match my own. And unfortunately after this incident, I lost my ambition, my drive to be creative and abandoned the puppetry project and turned advisory class into homework help and academic support. The toxicity of the school had finally seeped into my skin, poisoning my soul and the only antidote was finding a new school-- a school that valued beautiful work.

After reading Ron Berger's article, I did a google search and found a ridiculously adorable and inspiring video where Ron teaches elementary school students how to provide meaningful feedback to their peers in order to help them improve their work and truly make it beautiful.

As I begin my sixth year of teaching, I am once again excited about providing an environment for students to critique and support one another's work. I am inspired. Thank you, Ron Berger.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Zombie Teacher

Three years ago I was finishing my masters program, reflecting on my first two years of teaching and my philosophy of education. I thought about my undergraduate program at Hampshire College and realized I was teaching in a school that went against what I believe education should look like. I yearned for the creativity that places like Hampshire inspire and support. I missed the freedom of choice not only when it comes to students choosing classes, but choosing and designing what classes to teach. I missed writing about things that matter rather than just writing to prepare for a test. And I hated watching my students in special education suffer from a punitive discipline system when what they really needed was a holistic approach. I knew where I needed to be: a consortium school.

Consortium schools oppose high stakes testing by instead requiring students to create a written portfolio of their work across all subject areas which are then presented to a panel of teachers, peers, and other community members for evaluation. Sound familiar, Hampshire folks? This was my new dream: I needed to work in a consortium school. So I did some research and found a list of the 28 consortium schools in New York City. I went down the list alphabetically sending out my resume and cover letter to each principal. I had gotten just past the D's when I received an email from a principal in the C's. I walked into the school at 2pm on July 13, 2011 and was greeted by a smiling school safety officer. While the school safety officer took my ID and signed me in at the front desk, I thought, "This is the friendliest school safety officer I have ever encountered." I watched a young Asian man talk to a teenager sitting in a red chair about his bike a few feet away in the lobby/gym. The man rolled the bike back and forth across the light gray floor tiles a few times before handing it back to the teenager and walking towards me. I whispered to the school safety officer, "Is that him?"
She nodded.
"Are you Jamie?"
"Yes. Are you Alan?"
"Yes." We shook hands, exchanged pleasantries, and I followed him through the maze of hallways covered in student murals. We sat at his desk, he pulled up my resume on his ipad and we talked. I took what felt like too long to think answering certain questions and he just smiled and said, "Take your time."

Then he asked me, "If you could design and teach any class here, what would it be?" I knew this one. There was no pause. No thinking time needed. "A zombie film class."

Six days later I came in for a follow up interview with the assistant principal. When she asked why I wanted to leave my current school I told her, "I want to be in an environment that matches my educational philosophy and allows me to advocate for students." And she told me, "That's extremely important to us. Our teachers are advocates. It's not looked down on. It's expected of them." Where was I? I felt all my stress and anxiety worked up into tangled knots from the previous school year just melt away suddenly. This was where I needed to be. This was my dream school. After she gave me a tour of summer school, I turned to her and said, "I really want to work here."

And when September rolled around, I was rolling out my first Social Issues in the Zombie Film class. Shortly thereafter I became known as "The Zombie Teacher". During registration for classes, I was approached by students I had never seen before, "Are you the zombie teacher?" At parent teacher conferences, "So, you're the zombie teacher?" And when we hired new staff, "Oh, I heard about you. You're the zombie teacher."
Zombie Teacher. Halloween  2013. 

Last summer I received an email from one of my former "Zombie" students filled with kind words. The subject line, of course, was ZOMBIES. She wrote:

Hey Jamie! So I've been watching the Walking Dead nonstop these days, and I just wanted you to know that your class actually taught me a lot. As I watch this series and observe society in general, I find that a lot of things we discussed in class are SO relevant/applicable. Whether it's our society's growing mindlessness and general disconnect, or our constant use of euphemisms to represent our fears (instead of directly confronting them), I've been realizing a lot of things about myself and humanity as a whole. Only thing is I don't know whether to remain hopeful or lose faith in humanity. I dunno.
Anyways, the point of this email was to thank you for teaching such a cool class and for giving me things to think about.

Hope you're having an awesome summer!
Stay safe out there O.O

Emails like that might be the nicest thing a student can do for a teacher. Often it's a job where you wonder if what you're doing is really helping anyone, whether it has an impact on any of the thirty-something bodies on your roster (of which maybe fifteen or twenty showed up for class, if you're lucky). It's an incredible feeling to know that one class could keep a kid thinking about it months later. It only reinforces my views on how important alternative education and performance based assessments are. I'm getting emails that kids can't stop thinking critically about the world! That's incredible.

Around the same time I received this email I was taking a workshop, "Teaching the Academic Paper" at Bard College's Institute for Writing and Thinking. For my final paper, I wrote about alternative approaches to academic writing, specifically research papers. In my own experience as a teacher I have come across academic research papers where students write full page introductions setting the scene for the paper and later analysis. Students often times are “conscious of constructing alternative text” for the readers they imagine, who may be quite different from rational academic readers, who like to stick to the rules. One student wrote an 11-page paper for my class, Social Issues in the Zombie Film, where she spends the first 2 pages describing the setting of the zombie apocalypse in the second person narrative.

“17 days , 6 hours. You keep track of time since what you lovingly refer to as “The End” occurred, although it serves no purpose to you. Night and day are now completely related to survival advantage. In the day, you can move, you can see. In the night, you are nothing but a target. A target to them, those moving corpses that feed on the living and turn the faces you knew into targets.

You run from the moving dead, or not-so-dead-anymore, and you try to scrape together the scraps of knowledge you have related to basic survival. Too bad you didn’t pay more attention in school, seeing as not once in your dull, day-by-day existence, did you ever consider preparing for a world-wide apocalyptic event, because really — what were the chances of that happening? How many times has “the End of All Days” been predicted now? What is the world now? An image of its original savage state? You don’t want to get all Nietzsche or Jung on yourself, but man do you feel like you’ve time traveled back into the Paleolithic Era.”

After displaying a clear understanding of the zombie film genre and establishing a clear voice, she then transitions into her thesis stating,

“The struggle of survival and weighing the worth of continued life is a recurring feature in zombie media. A contender for one of the most paralysing fears in existence is being confined to an inescapable fate. In the context of a zombie apocalypse, it is the constant threat of danger combating the innate human desire for survival, in an unforeseeably bleak future.”

This student demonstrates a clear understanding of the conventions of academic writing, yet she is able to create a piece of writing that ventures outside this box and allows for a more creative writing process. She displays a strong voice, a sense of writing style and experiments with different writing genres. This student was so engaged in the topic that she was able to write a paper twice as long as required. This one example demonstrates that when students are given the opportunity to think outside the box and use an “alternative” approach to academic writing, the results can be astonishing.

And so I wonder, by following the rules of scholarly writing, by following a traditional approach to education and teaching, are we, in fact, losing our humanity? Are we giving up a part of ourselves? Our voices? Our morals? Are we, as educators, giving up who we are in order to follow the norm? Are we simply mindless drones, following an academic path that stinks of rotting flesh?

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Teacher's First Post

Five years ago, I was spending my summer searching for my first teaching job. I knew nothing. I had just finished my summer training for the NYC Teaching Fellows program. Three years ago I was on the run from a psychotic principal and interviewing with the emotionally stable principal of my current school. Two months ago, I taught my final class of the school year. And four days ago, I decided to start a blog about it.

I don't know how people start blogs. I looked at some blogs but they were all so old that I couldn't even get to the first entry without clicking "older posts" way more times than I have the patience for. I don't know what my first entry is supposed to look like. I googled "how to start a blog" and found this, but it was not helpful. I searched for the "best blogs" and found this, but I got bored quickly and none of these "great" blogs were really in the realm of what I wanted to write about. Yes, many of these blogs were about "me" as in "them" as in the author of the blog. And yes, my blog will be about me, but a very specific part of "me" and who I am. It's about me, the teacher. It's about my work life. It's about my students. It's about the other teachers I work with. It's about the administrators I've had to work with. It's about the bureaucracy of our education system. It's about trying to survive the New York City Public School system.

On September 2, 2014 I will begin my sixth year as a high school special education teacher in New York City. I enter the new school year knowing these last five years have been the most difficult five years of my life. And with that knowledge, I'm still going back. I often think back to some of the comments I've heard over the years about choosing to be a teacher:
"Wow. That's quite the bureaucracy to get yourself in."
"You have to be clinically insane to teach in a NYC public school."
"If I went through what you did in my second year of teaching, I would not still be a teacher."
"I could never do what you do."
"Are you sure you really want to teach?"
"Maybe this isn't the profession for you."
"Maybe this is just a bad year for you."
"You were meant to do this."
"You can get through this."
"You're an amazing teacher."
"I'm proud of you."

In my five years of teaching I have worked with phenomenal teachers, inspiring teachers, not-so-great teachers, amazing and not-so-amazing guidance staff, an unsupportive principal, and incredibly supportive, wonderful administrators. I have students who are motivated and unmotivated. Students will a plethora of academic strengths and weaknesses. I have seen kids who can barely read and write struggle to navigate through high school. I've asked kids why they missed class and heard, "Because I spent the night locked up." I've laughed and joked with my students, my colleagues, parents, and even administrators. I have received the best and worst advice of my life. I've seen kids, parents, teachers, and administrators cry. I've lost four students and I've lost a colleague. I've never had a job that made me feel like everyday I was on an emotional roller-coaster not knowing what the next twist or turn would bring. Not knowing if I'd leave the building smiling, laughing, frowning, crying or desperately seeking happy hour.

There are a lot of opinions about education, about the students, about the school administrators, about the "right" kind of assessments, and especially about the teachers, but do they have the first hand experience of stepping inside a classroom of 34 pupils and trying to get through a lesson? Have they had to decide whether to teach to a test or teach kids how to think for themselves? Do they have to teach 20 year olds how to read and write text written on a 2nd grade level? Do they have to decide whether or not to wake up the student who fell asleep in class because he didn't have a home to sleep in the night before? Did they have to call ACS to report educational neglect or child abuse? Did they have to sit in a meeting with a parent and flinch every time the parent took a swing at their child? Have they been yelled at on the phone by a parent for having their child read a book? I'm writing this so that you can hear first-hand accounts of what being a public school teacher is really like before you make your judgments. And if you are a worker in the system, then I write this so that we may commiserate as brothers and sisters in the struggle.

And it's with some trepidation that I begin this blog on such a taboo issue that the wikihow on blogging told me absolutely not to blog about it.