Thursday, October 6, 2016

The Problem We All Live With

I've been listening to a This American Life podcast on my way to work the last two days and trying not to cry in public. The episode is called "The Problem We All Live With" and it's about the present-day segregation of schools and how we all seem to be ignoring the problem with segregation despite evidence that integration works.

What was most upsetting was hearing white parents speak publicly about integration like it was the worst idea ever, making blatantly racist comments then denying their own racism and bias. Some of the parents were demanding metal detectors and claiming that test scores would drop, that violence and drugs would erupt in the school. No matter how often I hear comments like that, it never ceases to amaze me that people still think that way. What makes someone think like that? Is it how they were raised? Is it just the result of media bias and sensationalized news? Is it politicians who have influenced their beliefs? Is it because of housing segregation and their own segregated schooling that never allowed them the opportunity to befriend a black person? The problem of segregation is so big, so ignored, and so ingrained in our society. How do we even begin to tackle it?

What inspired me most about this story was hearing about the first day of school. The black students were bused over from their failing school district 30 miles away. Some of the parents followed the bus because they feared for their children's safety. When the children pulled up to the school in fear they were surprised to find themselves greeted by cheerleaders welcoming them to their new school. Teachers and students were so horrified by the way the white parents had behaved that they decided to do something positive.

And then, of course, I had to hold back more tears on the train.

Friday, September 30, 2016

When Principals Become Dictators...

On the train ride in I thought about E--. I taught him my first two years of teaching. It made me sad and angry to remember how the school failed him. He was growing and the school couldn't see it, stifling his growth. And that's how it was there and still is. A principal so insecure of herself that she takes it out on everyone around her. All her actions, her decisions ultimately impact the students, ultimately hurt the students.

I ran into one of my former co-teachers, who is still at the school, and she told me that there's now a shout-out box at school. A student wrote that the principal "would make a great dictator." And the principal was so proud that she read it aloud to the entire school. And people were uncomfortable and surprised and thinking, "uh that's not a good thing." And I wonder if she knew that and was just using it as a way to flaunt her dominance, celebrate her dictatorship. Hearing stories like these just remind me how lucky I am to be somewhere else and make me sad that I was powerless to impact change at my first school.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

September Toast

Before I check my email I'm going to read and then I'm going to write. Then I get to work and almost immediately check my email, but I catch myself as the icon bounces open and minimize the browser before I can see any of the new, unread messages and quickly turn my swivel chair to the right. I listen to the complaints, another meeting. Three hours of useless meetings a week for some of us. That's too many. M--- says he can't sleep at night and I'm surprised. So chill most of the time. This is alarming. But we keep on. A sigh of defeat. No solutions to the systematic problems that never get solved, rarely get addressed. I think maybe it's time to move on, go somewhere else, but what's out there might be worse. And maybe I'm too comfortable, the luxury of being lazy when I want to, or maybe that's a sign of being overwhelmed and depressed. I can't stop the worry. Two years in a row I'm hearing, I'm saying, "I'm burnt out and it's only September."

Friday, July 29, 2016

Brief Moments in Time

“We are only bodies of energy
Our lives are but brief moments in time”
We hope our lives are worth living
that we’ve made some small impact on humanity
before we die
Alone, our actions are miniature
small figurines fighting against
an armored tank
protecting a history of oppression
a system that thrives on injustice
where our duty i to muster up the energy
to make the tiniest waves
to speak up for those
who have lost their voices
“We are only bodies of energy
Our lives are but brief moments in time”
We hope our lives were worth living
that we’ve lived a comfortable life
afraid to speak up for others
and lose all that comfort provides
We close our eyes,
shut our mouths,
cover our ears
ignore what’s going on outside
“We are only bodies of energy
Our lives are but brief moments in time”

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Lessons from the Schoolyard

Elementary school was
me always in trouble
doing and saying the wrong things
getting blamed for some other kid’s discretions
3rd grade
in line at recess
waiting for the gymnast bars
next to the jungle gym
Raymond, the only boy
struggling to lift himself up
as the other girls
laughed, pointed, and mocked
and maybe it’s a false memory
but I’m pretty sure
I stood by silently
and when Raymond finished with those bars
he bolted towards me
and I took off
dashing across the grassy field
the sound of his grunts and footsteps
close behind me
so I gave up
covered my head in defense
and stopped
but Raymond kept running
smacked his head right into me
collapsed on the ground
his thick brown plastic glasses
lay by his side
in two pieces

When I was pulled into the Principal's’ office
I knew before I even spoke
my sentence had been determined
“Now Jamie, Raymond is going to speak first, while you listen.”
insulted by the directions
as if I didn’t know how to have a conversation
And when it was my turn to speak
no one listened
it was like my side of the story was never spoken
assumed guilty
but I knew I was innocent
“Now you’ll want to tell your parents before we call them”
“two days in the planning room for you to reflect on your actions”
And no one ever called my house
because they called the wrong parents
my aunt and uncle got the message
and when my uncle told my dad
he laughed and said,
“I bet that boy’s dad is real upset,
he got beat up by a girl,
how pathetic”

And in the planning room when I described what happened
I was told I couldn’t leave until I admitted
to punching that boy on purpose
so I erased my original statement
a plea of innocence
and fear and accidental violence
was rescinded
and I falsely submitted
guilty words
composed in lies
because I was too young
for adults to think this little 10 year old
was capable of being honest.
Elementary school
This young girl’s first exposure
To the unjust system
Of guilty until proven innocent.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

No Teacher Left Behind

Passed two CLEP exams yesterday. They were hard and exhausting. I went to a baby shower after and was too tired to carry on a conversation. Hopefully I now have enough credits for my plus 30 pay increase. It's hard to know for sure because the DOE and the college board are so cryptic in their explanations or lack thereof. No one seems to know how many credits any of the exams are worth. Just another layer of bureaucracy in an already complicated, inefficient system.

The greater philosophical problem I have with the CLEPs is the same problem I have with all standardized high-stakes testing. You take a test, you get your score, you know you answered some questions wrong, but you have no idea which ones so you never learn the "correct" answers. You don't know for sure what you know and you don't learn anything from the test itself.

And so I wonder: how is a test educational if the person taking it never sees the breakdown of the results and therefore never learns from their mistakes?

Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Paradox of Teaching

I don't know if it's that time of year or if I've just been feeling this way all year or for the last few years, but I might hate teaching and at the same time cannot imagine doing anything else that I would enjoy as much or be as good at.

Monday, January 4, 2016

New Year

Back to school today. One student lost his winter coat in school for the second time this year the day before our break started. It was a high of 32 degrees today and he came to school in a sweatshirt and a windbreaker. I gave him a winter coat.

Another student brought his christmas present to school to show me. He giggled excitedly as he pulled a swiss army knife out of his pocket completely unaware that he had just brought a weapon into school. In any other school he most likely would have been suspended. At my school we confiscated the knife until the end of the day and explained to him why he can't bring a knife to school.

I wish more schools were like this.