Friday, November 14, 2014

Battling Windmills and Smelly Subway Cars

As I commute around New York City, I often find myself faced with a difficult choice: whether to stay in the subway car where I have a seat but am forced to smell the homeless guy two seats away or move to the unknown, most likely a hot and crowded subway car with no empty seat in sight. Tonight was one such night, returning home from a Hunter College Open House for their MFA Writing programs. I sat briefly pondering my next move: Can I stay in my current career as a teacher, would a different school be better suited for me or should I just pursue other seemingly less-stressful interests like a MFA in writing?

It was when my thoughts were interrupted by the smell of urine that I recognized a correlation between my two dilemmas. At the root of the second dilemma is the feeling that nothing I do as a teacher really matters all that much. Despite all my efforts at guiding them in the right direction, kids will nod and smile then continue doing whatever they feel like doing. And this recurring cycle of disappointment leads me to the thought of switching to a non-transfer school. What would that mean? Kids who are motivated, perhaps. Kids who come to class regularly with their homework completed-- that would be amazing! I suppose if one can endure the stress, the aggravation of constantly trying to convince kids to stay in school, to come to class, to complete their assignments, to not smoke weed during school or chug beers during lunch, for months or years until they finally snap out of it and start earning their credits-- hopefully before they turn 21 and run out of time-- then it's rewarding. But I have to be patient and I have to remember that every kid won't make it and it's nearly impossible to know which kids are worth putting the energy into trying to "save" so I spread myself thin trying to help them all. Until one day I realize it's not sustainable. My life as a teacher is akin to Don Quixote battling windmills. My windmills are all the bad choices that my students make and as hard as I try to battle them, no matter how many Sanchos I can recruit to join my army, I can never defeat the windmills.

So, do I stay where I'm at and shield myself from burning out by doing less and less? Or do I make a move to the unknown? Maybe it will be a great school where kids always come to class on time daily with their homework completed, excited to learn and grow, maybe they never question anything. Or maybe it will be the kind of school where teachers pass the kids through just to avoid the principal's wrath. Or maybe I take a break from teaching in general and get a second Master's degree just because I can and I want to write more. But then I think: how will I have any money? It could easily be the best or worst move of my life, but it's the fear of the unknown that keeps me seated where I am, hoping I won't have to hold my breath or cover my nose for too long.

Choosing the right subway car: not that different from choosing the right public school or the right career path. Not that different from most of life's choices, I suppose.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

How to teach kids real good: Test them.

Welcome to your morning session

We mean your norming session
Here you will become test grading robots
Take a number
You will now be known as grader #176
This test is not subjective
We must all grade the same
You are professionals

The dissenters speak up
And others yell to quiet them
Get off your soap box
This isn't the platform for this
Do what the man tells you
Don't get caught protesting in this room

No electronics
No music
No eating
No drinking
Just grade
And keep grading

This is what we call American education
The best education system in the world
American education
The best in the world

I don't hear your red pens moving