Monday, December 29, 2008

active spirit.

from Daisaku Ikeda's Learnings from the Gosho, a quote:

"Buddhism only exists in action. Through action, the Mystic Law inherent in our lives begins to shine. The Buddhist gods and all Buddhas protect people of action; those who consistently take action for justice are truly happy."


I would name my child Justice. It would be difficult to name a child Love, though I feel that this is probably the ethical principle closest to my heart. But justice, for all people, for each life that flourishes on this earth... this is the manifestation of love, love activated and I believe that we can all be catalysts of this change. Activism exists in our daily conversations with people, in our one-on-one interactions where we ask people to consider truly what they believe. I only ask people to question, to open their minds enough to delve into different perspectives. To fight for the freedom of all people, from the freedom to love whoever you choose, toward safety from hate crimes, and universal needs being met for all humans.

This is why I do the work I do. Indoctrinating my students is not a goal of mine. We talk about religion, we read stories from religious texts as literature and consider the range of beliefs we've met in cultures throughout the world. I want them to understand their own beliefs, to be able to voice them... be them spiritual, political, academic, ethical or social. Even more, I want them to act in accordance with their beliefs, to be strong and stand up for them.

It was a lovely holiday home. I am back in the Bronx, doing work: reading, thinking, writing, chanting. It feels to close out the year on quiet reflection. Enjoy your journey into 2009!


Sunday, December 14, 2008

a life of lists.

every weekend i get up early on saturday morning to make a list. what MUST i get finished this weekend? what are my goals? what would i be happy with completing? what can i let go for another day? i usually end up completing half of them, if i'm lucky.

the exception to this rule has been thanks to the International Poetry Guild (IPG), one of the interactive communities of U of M's ICS program. i will spend all weekend writing comments on my poets' work. they've started posting poems from home, responding to each others' work, asking if they can post another poem even though they've already posted 5. students are helping each other navigate and sift through comments on the site, responding to the U of M poets' comments thoughtfully. i'm so proud of them.

so before the break, as a culminating event for the IPG, for the semester, we're having a poetry reading/awards ceremony in class and inviting the school to attend. this provides another event for which i need to make a list. just to be funny, i'm going to make a list of the lists i need to make. ah, subdividing lists in order to further promote my procrastination techniques.

- poetry reading needs/supply list
- Marking Period 3 assignment list, add to gradebook
- holiday party playlist (and to-do list)
- putting together the All About Me zine list
- things to do for Unit 4 - Rise of Islam list
- emails about China (RRG, Joshua, Jeremy, Amanda, to list a few)
- procedure for Detroit/AMC grant (possible donors? fundraiser ideas?)
- HW completion list
- obama letter checklist

aye, tomorrow i have much to do. have a lovely weekend.


Sunday, November 23, 2008

BKHS votes no to performance pay pilot.

Being that it's my first year in a union, I'm still trying to figure out how I feel about many of the professional issues on my hands. Two weeks ago, we had a meeting where we needed to take a union vote about whether or not to participate in a pilot program that would line our pockets if our school passes its performance report card (read: based on Regents test scores). What would I do with $3,000 in my classroom? A lot. But I didn't want to jump on that overloaded bandwagon without considering what this means beyond a bonus. At what cost? Where is the money for this program coming from? Is this the beginning of performance and merit-based pay in the NYC public schools?

So, I took a step back and listened to some of my colleagues weigh the pros and cons. I don't agree with high stakes testing being the be-all-end-all definition of a student's success. I also don't like the divide-and-conquer methodology that I foresee happening within a school if teachers are being paid different levels based on student performance. I think about how money can change friendships, and also working relationships. The students who need the most assistance with reading, writing, and thinking skills will not get the best teachers, because they will most likely be teaching the honors students. I don't disagree with incentivizing teachers who do good work, but standardized tests were not meant to measure a teacher's ability, only what a student knows at a snapshot in time... and they do this insufficiently. Why should funding be tied to these scores?

We seriously debated this vote for quite some time, and are currently the only school offered to be in the program who voted no. We are saying, with this vote, that we are philosophically and pedagogically opposed to merit-based pay. We learned that the money for this program is being drawn from public funding, we were very concerned about the allocation of public funds for this pilot. We would like to have meaningful, holistic assessments of our progress as educators, and of our students' work, in the interest of learning how to refine our practice, not in the interest of being paid for it.

I'll say it again: BK was the only school offered this program who declined the money, which really concerns me.

It feels amazing to be working at a school where my colleagues are concerned about vision, about in-the-long-run. It also feels great to have a community where we want to discuss these issues and decide collectively how they affect us. It can get lonely in the classroom sometimes, so it's incredible to be a part of a place like this.


Saturday, November 8, 2008

yes! i have some advice!

i feel very confident this afternoon, as i devulge this small secret. sometimes i wonder, when writing, if any of my trials and tribulations are helping other people. but this will. we'll call this one: documentation.

background: in new york, we have external evaluators who come visit twice a year for the School Quality Review (SQR). when they enter our classrooms, we are to have our unit plan and lesson plans in a folder ready for them, and a binder with unit overviews, lessons, worksheets, student work. so that means at our department meeting this week, we were reviewing binders.

now, we did an e-portfolio at u of m, which was amazing for portability and ability to share our work, but i have to say, i am obsessed with paper documentation. i love clear plastic sleeves that go into binders and preserve my work, and my students' revisions of my ideas. they work and i realize what i could've done better. i try to improve it each time.

so, my advice to you is this: alongside your e-portfolio, save copies of your work. photocopy student work, start now! put it in a big box until you are ready to sort it. one rainy day, raid an office supply store near you for binders, clear sleeves, dividers, markers and your big box o' work. make sure you have a resume, teaching philosophy, model lessons and accomplishments you're proud of within your teaching career. bring this binder around with you to job interviews. many school districts in the country require you to keep your work, record your practice, in this way. if you can talk about it and show examples, you make an impression.

video is wonderful, but i do not have the luxury this year. however, i can control how i'm represented on paper, i know how to highlight and sell myself. having a colorful, aesthetically pleasing portfolio chock full of what i believe about teaching and how it's worked, this is better than a photo album (though my kids' photos are all over it!). it's great documentation and it's also organizing yourself for the next time you teach a unit. you'll always revise and change things, but you have a foundation to build from.

yay! my first piece of advice to new teachers! i feel weathered already. happy fall day to you.


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

marissa forwarded me this and i'm so glad she did:

i used it today in lieu of a freewrite. it's frustrating not to be able to speak about my political beliefs in the classroom, but it doesn't mean that the students can't have a great discussion based on what they know. and they did. A stood up and asked his classmates if they liked obama simply because he was black or if they knew about his standpoint on some of the issues. E cited his anti-war stance, and S blew my mind by talking about how she didn't believe in the true good or evil of either candidate, but needed to support the candidate that best understood her life, in the Bronx, and how to better the situation for the poor people of the country.

"they got lite," was the best compliment i could get about the video, but they were sucked in. and then i had the best PM school session with two seniors, both of whom need some grammar and structure work, but have so much voice and soul in their writing. i know what i need to do; the voice is there from their lives, now we just need to hone it. miss closet traditionalist ELA teacher to the rescue! charge!


Saturday, October 18, 2008

pass - fail - swagger

My kids can't get over "Swagger Like Us". It's their ringtone, they try to get me to play it everyday for our freewrite. I love MIA's "Paper Planes", where the beat came from, and think that TI's verse is live, but damn... weezy, jigga, ye and MIA together? Sick. I hate admitting that I like anything Lil Wayne does, but it's the language my students speak. When asking them to make a list of the top 10 songs of all time this week, I should've just had them list the track list to 'The Carter 3", because that's what they did. Though J did surprise me by listing New Edition, and B loves Prince's "Purple Rain"!! They always surprise me.

I despise failing students. I try to find ways to have them pass, work out deals and make-up assignments, I aim to advocate for their success. This morning, as i'm sitting down with the mountain of paperwork, late assignments turned in last-minute to raise their grades, I have to come to terms with the fact that some of them will not pass. We have already had a few conversations about how high school is the time when they need to take responsibility for their education, when the work becomes on them.

I refuse to pander to them by incessantly bugging them about turning in missing assignments. I don’t feel that coddling them will produce independent, self-reliant thinkers and learners. But I understand that they just "clock-out" of school like a factory worker does at work and don't think about it again until the morning. I used to do that, too. Coming from a working class family, I had to train myself to do homework, so I'm starting off slow with them. It’s just difficult when it comes down to the end of the marking period and they don’t realize how their choices are affecting their grades. It’s all about making connections and this is an area that we need to work on together.

As I’m chatting with S on AIM about how she still has assignments to turn in, I am trying to take stock of the ways in which I put myself out there to assist them. Sometimes, it’s pretty unconventional, like having them be friends with me on myspace and giving them my AIM screenname. Let me be clear, they’re friends with my teacher page ( and I don’t just chat with them on AIM about anything, I keep it related to school. I've set up two weeknights a week where I am online from 6-8pm so they can ask me homework/paper questions while they're working. I also call home to parents A LOT, not only when they are acting out, but also when they’re excelling in my class. I keep my room open before school and during lunch for kids to come in and eat/do work. They're starting to be there all the time, already.

There’s a lot more that I can do, it’s just a question of finding balance and time. Thinking about how I can make my own practice better and more effective to assist them in becoming more responsible students. Organizing and reorganizing what I do and how I do, all of the time.

Outside of work, what’s going on with me? Not a whole helluva lot. I’m sad that I don’t make it to Brooklyn very often, and feel incredibly disconnected from a lot of people. We all get so busy, and we’re all tired and just want to rest sometimes, but it is truly unfortunate that proximity really does dictate how often you see people. I don’t take it personally and you shouldn’t either – I am sending all the love in my heart to my BK world. I plead with you to meet me halfway sometime and take an adventure up to the BX every once in awhile, it’s truly a magical place on 134th.

But don’t worry about me, I’m meeting all sorts of new people who blow my mind with their talent, their passion, their progress. I am truly astounded at what my life has become. It feels unreal to be doing this on the daily, to spring awake at 6am ready to go. I just would like to incorporate the old friends into the new world, thas all. Happy weekend! I’ll be grading, holla at me!


soundtrack to grading:
US muziq - secret agents
mystic - west coast
2pac - i wonder if heaven got a ghetto
TI/weezy/kanye/MIA - swagger like us
talib kweli - get by
binary star - evolution of man
athletic mic league - hurts so good remix
dawn penn - no no no
7 chakraz - gnarlton heston
the nobodies - mute (lyrics by me!!!!)
elvis presley - suspicious minds
bel biv devoe - poison
jurassic 5 - quality control

Thursday, September 25, 2008

5pm is an early day.

my desk is a rainbow of temporary disorganization. i have much work to do when i get home, but as i look across my desk, which contains the following piles, all photocopied onto different colored paper, i'm laughing:
- "all about me" 1st drafts, 2nd drafts and zine pages
- my School Quality Review binder
- comic strips about the creative process
- progress reports
- collages
- late work in the "inbox"
- my attendance/grading grids
- a "comp check" graphic organizer
- a fake letter about my crazy class.

ryan is a genius. so we've been having a huge problem with this one class, and elizabeth was looking for a way to talk to them about primary source documents in history, so they drafted a fake letter to the principal from a staff member about this class and blocked parts of it out. the kids got all into it and were like "what? who's writing about us?" as she tried to get them to think about whether or not the source was reliable. brilliant! and what a creative way to deal with a rowdy class and also have them get into the concept/material. this is why i moved back to new york.

texting with my coworker, he keeps saying "this is going to be a good year." we've already chilled out as a staff a few different times, and we all feel the energy that we bring to the table. i'm exhausted, i pull myself up the hill from the train station to my house, drag myself up the stoop and usually plop myself into bed everyday. but i sigh the deepest sigh of contentment. i love what i do. now, that doesn't mean that i feel confident in what i do everyday, i am hella insecure right now, but i enjoy the struggle and the small triumphs... like getting "I" to school ON TIME today. i was shocked with my mouth hanging wide open. baby, baby, baby steps.

much love... bless you with the sounds from above...

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

ayo, i'm tired of this lack of internet.

i have to back-blog about 9/11 real quick (more to come), i had an excellent anniversary of the event in my classroom. students whose lives hit up against that event with such close proximity that we all pushed back the chairs (and the lesson plans) just to talk, just to remember what it felt like. colleagues told me that the students were too young to remember, but i begged to differ, and though it was important that we talk. what if my class was the only time that day that they got to speak about it. it's much different to be teaching IN the city again, unlike last year, in the D, when students were more disconnected from it. ever since that day, I, in my second hour, has been glued to my class like glue. can't get him out of room 318.

yesterday i introduced them to zines. they freaked out at designing their own pages, or pimping their pages, as i called it. today, we're speedreading, doing a comprehension check with a sequence comic strip. creative assessment is my thaaaaang, girl. i keep gettin kids' phrases stuck in my head, this morning S told me "that quiz was O.D., miss" (translation "that quiz was awesome"). anyway, can i just brag about the fact that i got breakfast in bed today? i am a spoiled lady to have a man who will get up at 5:30 to make sure i have breakfast by 6am. more to come soon, just waiting for the internet to grace me at home.

so excited to begin the int'l poetry guild project with ICS. i've framed all of our technology projects into "tech thursdays", so we can have the time and space to get our work done. we have three online projects this term, and i'll have to tell you about them later because it's lunch time, and my ELL students come in for extra help. i love having lunch with my students. i need to make the first round of parent calls tonight, maybe Carlos will be my translator... most parents don't speak English and now is the time to really strengthen my Spanish speaking skills.


Saturday, September 6, 2008

first few days of school.

here are some highlights and conclusions from the first and second days of school. it's been a whirlwind of a week so far. everyone keeps checking on how i'm doing and really, i'm easing through it one day at a time. this feels so natural, but there's still so much preparation that i must do on the daily. i've been sleeping a lot, when i'm not planning ahead. having no internet at home has also been a challenge, because i don't have access to the resources that i usually use for lesson planning. so much to do! but keep your ears open for an invite to our housewarming party -- after a month on anti-biotics, i feel the need to get a bit ridiculous.

* showing 7th period my scars and having B squeal
* having 6th period tell me that they prefer making animal sounds to raising their hands.
* having the kids say "we're going to EGYPT?" because they take everything literally and my metaphor of our class being a journey is being lost on them.
* in "Roses and Thorns" today, having "I" tell me that I look very professional.
* meeting Amelia and learning about the United Playaz' New Orleans trip from last year.
* S, who is cute as a button, explaining to the class why she likes KRS-One so much ("he made history because he talks real about things that matter to the community, who does that in rap nowadays?" Girl had my heart with that one.)
* my summer students rushing in to give me a hug yesterday morning, even if they didn't have me until 7th period.
* having them give me a "rose" for getting to write the rules of the class, instead of me writing them down.
* having t-skillz come up and say "we missed you, lauren." when i came to 4th period on friday after my dr. appt.

lessons learned

* you only ever get through 50% of your lesson plan, if you're lucky.
* never give them freetime (i did not learn this from experience, fortunately)
* do something different EVERYDAY.
* don't take "this is boring" personally.
* if T blurts something out that isn't harmful to anyone else, ignore him. reacting will only exacerbate the situation.
* there will be a fight in my classroom before the year is done. i'm glad the I team (our intervention team) is just down the hall.
* the attendance bubble sheets from the district are always wrong.
* Fridays, with half-days for students, are a blessing blessing blessing, even if disguised by department and grade-team meetings.
* you MUST rely on your colleagues to support you. going it alone = burning out quickly.
* your sub plans better include worksheets. though on my first half-day out, i got lucky enough to have a 17 year vet in my classroom.

with that, it's movie time. i'm in brookyn for the mini storm!
much love!

Friday, August 29, 2008

settling into 318

It is crazy to sit here on a Friday afternoon and feel like I'm at home. The culture and people at this school are phenomenal, and I know that I'll be working all year just to keep pace with their brilliance. I am not one to take the spotlight (with regard to accolades for my work), so it feels nice to be so outshined by 30 master teachers, seriously. regardless of their level of experience in the classroom, everyone at my school is truly committed to innovative techniques to get students learning. It works. In the poorest congressional district in the country, we have a graduation rate of 85% (33% is about average for the neighborhood) and students who truly seek out knowledge, are interested in educating themselves from a political as well as personal point of view. These students want to change the foundation of the world we live in, already.

Room 318 is amazing, though there's lots of cleaning to do, lots of organization and setting it up. I don't feel nearly ready for Tuesday, but unfortunately, I'd rather be in my room preparing than describing it right now... and our internet's being strange, so I'm going to let you go on this note: I'm trying to make my desks look like a boat for Tuesday, ha.

Hope all is well.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

notes on a syllabus.

perhaps the best thing i've seen online since this injury occurred. i'm always looking for ways to keep myself laughing. bert and ernie, doing M.O.P's "Ante Up".

last weekend, i went back to the hospital and was actually admitted for 3 days for an infection in the afore-blogged wound... as school begins (i report on monday), i'm trying to take care of my health first and lesson plans second. but here are some thoughts for my class this year that i'm synthesizing as i revise my syllabus. i'm teaching 5 sections of one class, which was originally titled "Intro to Literary Genres", but I re-titled "Reading into History".


1) this class is going to be a journey that we embark upon together. it is a science fiction cruise, back into history, where we will place ourselves in the sandals/chariots/saddles of different characters in literature, in order to see what lessons we can take from them that still apply to our lives today.

2) we will keep a travel log, where we will have daily entries about our surroundings, research we have come across, big questions we are beginning to ask ourselves as we cruise along, in a boat up the nile, the yangtze, the ganges, the mediterranean, the indian ocean and red sea (and that's only through december)!

3) monday thru thursday we will delve into literature and writing projects. fridays, we will close out the week with technology/blogging projects - trying to pause and reflect on where we're at, how far we've come and what we see ahead.

4) this classroom is a space that we are building together. it is not mine, it is ours. the rules of each class will be determined by a class contract, which we will decide upon and put in writing during the first week of school. while this contract can be a work in progress, we will decide together about the behaviors we would like to engage in within the class -- and how to deal with folks who are not respecting our space.

5) i welcome your prior knowledge about different periods of history and genres of literature, but ask that you always keep an open and questioning mind.

6) you will be expected to read, write and speak daily, as we are aiming to sharpen our communication skills. while i respect that people prefer different modes of communication, i also expect you to try new ways to express your ideas.

7) your grade will be determined by the effort you put in, your participation in class activities, the quality of your work and your own personal progress. you are in charge of your education and will also be evaluating your own work and progress, from time to time.

(after this i get into nitty gritty of grading structures and policies/procedures for absences, lateness (for both your person and your work),


and now a few words about the first month...

first two weeks -- basic skills: speedreading and reading strategies, notetaking, writing workshop (the writing process), discussion circle, goal setting, time management, class contracts, set-up of folders and journals, 'all about me' essays/visual projects, literary genre vocabulary, the art of the thesis, grammar basics.

next 3 weeks - egypt. "book of the dead" creation myths, KWL (what do we KNOW, what do we WONDER, what have we LEARNED?), translating hieroglyphs into poetry, vocabulary, rituals, "a modern ancient society" -- an oxymoron?, egyptian art (field trip to the met), spirituality, and economy. where do we see egypt in popular culture? what's the history of our fear of mummies? what else can we discover about their lives and culture?


and with that, i must go to bed. planning is exhilarating, but also exhausting. and i find it hilarious that anytime i describe my work this year, the adjective that folks usually use is "ambitious". is it? only time will tell.


Thursday, August 14, 2008

technological difficulties, or murphy's law of publishing?

first of all, let me start off by saying that our zine turned out amazing. spectacular! truly, each student really took the project to heart, wrote something and created a page that represented who they are, what they're thinking about, and with such style! i am so proud of my summer students.

thrilled about how the project turned out, i had W, my assistant editor, help me put the last few touches on it, waited for pages from a few more students on wednesday and set off with A, my other assistant editor, to make photocopies... while the rest of the students went on a trip (to see batman, so sad that my leg prevented me from going). i had A print out and add the staff biographies, table of contents, etc while i started on the copying. about 100 pages into an 1,000 page copy project, the machine got a misfeed. being a copy machine aficionado, i pulled the machine apart and retrieve the jammed paper. it jammed again, on the next copy. and again, again, times 20. we spend the next hour trying to work on the machine, all 4 of us experienced office women who will roll up our sleeves to get a job done. our work goes unrewarded, and i apologize to the kind folks at the ASPIRA office who let me use their facilities. i feel horrible about jamming the machine!

J takes the master copy and adds some more photos to it, but we didn't get it copied in time for the last day of the summer program, which bummed me out. though, the students and staff will get to receive it in the mail in a week or two (or at school in the beginning of the year). i had especially wanted them to be able to autograph each other's zines, as they are all now published authors. i did get to stand up at the ceremony today and announce and congratulate them for their hard work. i agree with V, it will be cool for them to get them in the mail, to remind them of their summer just as it's starting to fade from their minds.

i think i will quote Langston Hughes all my life, in reference to students. if they think that our contact is going to be brief, they need to rethink it. once you have been in my classroom, you're stuck with me. our contact with not be constant, but i expect to hear about your successes, your struggles and your landmarks. i expressed this to them and got their contact info, if they're not going to be my students in the fall. we had a wonderful ceremony, a great BBQ that included teachers beating students in hoops, dance lessons by J and L, a battle between J and V and big ole dance circles. so many parents came up to say hello; it was really nice to be so welcomed into the community.

i will miss seeing these students in front of me everyday. but this experience had ignited my passion for teaching, and confirmed that this is what i'm meant to do. it feels amazing to have landmark moments to solidify this. thank you to everyone who helped support me in the program this summer. the pleasure was truly mine.


Saturday, August 9, 2008

mending and zinesterism

i am healing, but at jurassic pace. i tend to always think of "why things happen" and i'm convinced that i get injured about once a year so that i will slow down, and re-learn the lesson that sometimes i need help. i have always said that i need support and people to hold me up, but i am incredibly self-sufficient. it's so difficult for me to not have my full physical faculties, and to remember that when my body isn't healthy, much of my energy must be devoted to healing.

so, having divine inspiration at 1:00am to begin fleshing out the zine i'm working on with my students was unexpected. i have been working on my fall curriculum map for most of the day, and chatting with a few students about the papers they need to finish over the weekend. H was getting all metacognitive about why he can't write during class:

R was professing his love for poetry because he can "take out" his feelings.
i imagined him taking his feelings out of his pockets:

and L was just being sweet. she'd said that her class was a handful and i said that i didn't think so, that i enjoyed them:

I've found that myspace is an excellent way to connect, but setting up a time once or twice a week where I get on AIM during the evening/on the weekend, so that they can contact me about questions they have with their papers is the best way. They're always on AIM, and without me even reminding them, they'll say "Miss, I'm working on the paper." Just my presence outside of the classroom, digitally, causes them to recall assignments (Liz, I'm sure you've found this, too, with your cell phone research). It's not the be-all end-all solution to getting homework turned in, because it assumes that students have internet access and/or a computer at home, but another way to be in touch and get them to make that school-to-home transfer of knowledge. L actually IM'ed me this morning, talking about personal writing she was working on in addition to class work.

much more to say, but i'm exhausted. i feel that i've done a great deal of work today, which was much-needed. i still have to grade papers and get the layout for the zine done by monday, but i swear, i will turn them into lovers of the independent publishing world by the end of this week. having their own writing be in their hands in a little booklet is going to turn some, not all, into zinesters. at the very least, i hope that they use it as a yearbook, to remember each other by their work, as well as socially.

we'll see how it goes. i'll keep you updated. happy weekend!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

33 stitches later.

speaking of crisis, i guess it was time to get in touch with my subject matter. today i got to see one of the hospitals in my neighborhood, from the inside. everything about this move back has been so easy, i knew it was time for something to happen.

* i have an amazing job teaching 9th grade English in the bronx.
* i get to completely design my curriculum, and align it with the world history studies.
* i found a wonderful summer sublet in a loft with two amazing folks.
* i just signed a lease on a fabulous brownstone apartment 2 blocks away.
* i am in love with my life.

so, all this past week i've been thinking that the other shoe had to drop. and it did, in the form of traumatic injury. on my way up to my loft this afternoon, one of the rungs on the wooden ladder broke, and i fell through. on the way down, the screws previously holding the rung to the frame caught my leg.

i had never seen so much blood, much less my own, pooling at my feet. i just kept staring at the open gash, the flow of crimson down my leg. my fingers started to tingle and i felt faint. shock shuddered through me with a sweat. i cried out to my roommate, who flew across the room.

somehow, being half conscious, i was still able to mumble to get a towel, apply pressure, tie a scarf so she could call 911. when trying to lift my leg to free myself from the ladder, the blood ran more quickly. she told me to stay with her, and wait. i went deep inside of myself and tried to keep my eyes open. i couldn't look down at the floor. keep looking up. don't close your eyelids.

suddenly, 8 men were in the room, trying to cut me out of the ladder, give me oxygen, bandage the wound and calm me down. one of them washed my feet and said "this is the last time i'm giving you a bath, okay?" i laughed and was thankful for someone making a joke.

Just talk to me, keep my head off of this, I kept silently pleading and mina complied. we got there and were taking ER photos on her phone, talking of everything else we could think of, but were both into the gore of it, too. she watched my muscle move from the inside. we took CSI-style photos of the "crime scene" when we got home later.

it was quite an ordeal that i quietly endured. saying nam-myoho-renge-kyo in my head as they discussed the strategy for sutures. complimented for my composure in this situation, but i have to say it was fascinating to be able to look inside a part of myself. maybe understand the inner workings of my wants, if only for a moment.

i still can't get my head around the way the body deals with immense pain. it's as if to say we are supposed to shut down while it repairs us, that we have modeled our technology after our own designs. will we be aware of the slow takeover, the subtle creeping of these machines?

the major thought on my mind before this afternoon's events transpired was how i feared a technological takeover of romance. you know me, i am romantic with friends and friends with romantics. could it be that we are headed for text msg relationships, break-ups, sex and reconciliation?

yes, we are going there. and i will have scars to prove that i've been. 33 stitches, to be exact.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Conquering Crisis.

I know I'm asking for psychological trauma when I ask my students to write essays about a crisis in their lives, and how they learned to cope. It hurts to know that they've been through so much pain. I had them start by writing a poem and then pinpointing the crisis in one word. Then we outlined our thesis and topic sentences together. I was trying to talk about how the thesis is the heart of the essay when I looked up and realized how many of them were lost in thought. Realizing that I had opened an industrial size can of worms, I had to stop the lesson and play social worker for awhile. We gathered into a circle as I explained that I wasn't trying to hurt them by forcing them to tell difficult stories, I was trying to help them remember how strong they are in their ability to learn how to heal. Their lives are hard and the expectations on them so low. Please just let me raise the bar they set for themselves.

Walking the line between getting too involved in students' stories and coming off callous and uncaring is difficult. I sense myself galvanizing, protecting my mushy heart. I am starting to understand the professional distance that you must keep from your students, or you will hold their pain in your chest cavity, too. It still amazes me what they will tell you about themselves and their lives if you provide the opportunity. M came out to me today, while A wrote a seething poem about his father's death. C talked about being neglected by her parents. R talked about being sexually abused. S talked about being beat up daily for being the smallest kid on the block. All of them laid out narratives about pain, fear, hatred, feeling unloved, not belonging, being depressed, being unhealthy, not having enough to eat. Living in darkness at home because their parents can't pay the bills.

Talk about perspective. Fuck the digital divide, what about the quality of life divide? While it's true that my students aren't being exposed to technology in the same way as their suburban counterparts, which is horrible... that's really not high on my priority list right now, when they have such basic needs that aren't being met. I always bring my lunch but I rarely eat it, I usually give it to my students. Last year, we noticed that they were wearing hoodies to school in January, because they didn't have coats. I started raiding thrift stores for warm things to slyly pass to them as gifts when no one was looking.

I tell these stories not to shock you, not to bring praise to myself or to tell you that everyone should work in an urban public school. Clearly, not every teacher enjoys, or is meant for this struggle. To me it's not an option, it's not a choice, and I don't say that heading for martyrdom. I feel an intense connection to this struggle, which was my own, and in helping these students find value and purpose in their lives. I know that these students are going to be responsible for the widespread cultural change in this country that I hope I live to see. I know that they will be the ones to ask the right questions, demand answers, unite and stand up for their rights.

Pac said, "the elevation of today's generation, if I can make them listen." They weren't listening today. And I was asking the wrong questions. I've learned that being stern is how they see that I care for them. Having high expectations and maintaining consistency is how I gain their respect. Calling them out is how they know I'm looking out for their backs. They're still crazy, self-involved and won't get off of myspace, so I grab their myspace addresses and remind them to finish their essays.

I don't know what I'm trying to say, I'm just trying to speak their language. On Monday, they caused a first draft that I've been trying to write for a year. I love this group already, too. This is going to be a long life of saying hello and goodbye to students, and hoping that I can give them skills that will help them work hard on this world.


Thursday, July 24, 2008

jeopardy as a test of skillz

their homework for the weekend was to go around the neighborhood and find 5 signs or business awnings that are grammatically incorrect. i specifically instructed them to NOT go inside to the business and let them know about their spelling errors, that's not the point, ha! the point is to get them thinking about grammar outside of my classroom.

speaking of grammar, this all came about when i was grading their first essays of the summer. while there is differentiation within every class, i was impressed that their skill level is higher than many of my detroit students, but there are certain students (mostly those who grew up elsewhere and have recently moved to the US) who need desperate help. while i love assessment and am constantly assessing, i hate tests, especially grammar recitation and memorization. ugh. so we played jeopardy and i also treated it as a grammar test. they received a group grade and 5 points for every correct answer, toward a 50 point test. every second wasted was one less question they'd get to answer towards points.

i was picking my jaw up on the floor when i saw how they would write down a sentence, pass the paper to each group member for approval, go over it, read it out loud and then answer the question. different students were coming to the board for each question and they were pooling their resources like it was a job they'd been doing for years. in the end, the lowest grade on the test was 40/50. not too shabby, though i need to figure out what that mental roadblock is between knowing the grammar rule but not using it in your writing. laziness, i think that's its name.

i have been blessed to receive astoundingly positive feedback from my students, who are apparently telling their parents that they love my class. my supervisors have asked for my curriculum for the summer, so that they can try to replicate it next year if i decide not to teach summer school again. we'll see how it goes, but it feels fabulous to know that i'm enjoying the work so much, and am doing well at it. the math teacher, however, is having trouble getting them to behave and focus in her class. i suspect that her approach is more traditional, and i also suspect that they're acting out to hide low skills, as most of them are in this summer program for credit recovery in math.

but leaving on a good note, i'm halfway through the program and yesterday the highlight was again johanna. i just talked to my co-worker (who i'm subletting from this summer) about johanna, because she had her in math last year. she told me that 1/2 of the emails she would write about student stories were about johanna, so i laugh that this is the 2nd blog in which i've mentioned her. we had a roundtable dicussion (i'm scaffolding towards a socratic seminar) and i told them that it was crucial that there was no handraising and that i was not a part of the conversation. they had to figure out a way to communicate with one another. she suggests using one of thomas' drumsticks as a talking stick, and what began as a heated argument turned into a great discussion. hassid brought in jelani's opinion, by asking him about what he thought. i'm thoroughly impressed by these students, for real.

and with that, i'm headed off downtown to go see krs-one fo' free, suckas!! you wish you were in new york during the summer time!


Monday, July 14, 2008

"Whatupdoe?" you mean "What's good?"

so i played "whatupdoe?" with my students on the first day, and they laughed because "that's not how we do, Lauren." but it's Detroit, and i miss Detroit, so they played along and got all exaggerated in their "What Up DOE?!?!". they're great. already, johanna is giving me excellent feedback about my teaching style. coming from 9th grade at the school i'm teaching at in the fall, she knows the culture and whether she knows it or not, is inviting me into it.

i feel at home in the bronx already. i live in an industrial district turned arts and antique district, within walking distance from the summer program with ASPIRA. my students are great, but don't tell my Earhart students that. making the transfer from past students to present is going to be difficult, especially when i still keep in touch with them via email. oh, and myspace. (see links to the right)

i have very quickly built a 6 week summer curriculum for this pilot program, based on building basic reading and writing skills that the students will need in high school. i'm currently reading a ton of young adult novels to nail down the fall, see what they already have on the shelves before i place a book order. there's a lot that i could make work. i love being able to take an idea and go with it. will communicate more about the English/Global aligned curriculum asap, especially for you, trigger.


p.s. missing my smacdown team. you're all in my hearts and in my lesson plans. ha.

gotta roll...

Friday, June 13, 2008


My dear friend Nickie P. and her crew the 7Chakraz played a show with Doodlebug, formerly of Digable Planets (love them! and love him, he was such a cool cat). One of 7C's best songs is called honesty, in which the hook is, "Honesty, I keep it real with you, you keep it real with me..." I feel that I'm sifting through so much dishonesty lately and I just want to break it all open with the truth. ("All I ever wanted was the truth from you")

So things fall together, not apart right now (wish I could teach that book next year, but I think they read it in 10th grade anyway). I found a wonderful unit on greek mythology to teach, and now I'm settling on research for Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt. Know any great first-hand texts? I feel like it's going to be a year of creating our own mythologies, ha. I have soooo much work to do before I get there on the 1st. It's hard to believe I'm leaving in 3 weeks. I feel prepared and ready, but not so much.

Here's a partial list of what I think I may teach this fall. Suggestions or comments always welcome.

➢ The Epic of Gilgamesh (and some Sumerian creation myths)
➢ The Egyptian Book of the Dead
➢ The Art of War – Sun Tzu
➢ Li Sao (The Lament) – Qu Yuan
➢ The Ramayana
➢ The Mahabharata
➢ Theogony - Hesiod
➢ Metamorphoses – Ovid (includes Echo and Narcissus, Psyche, Persephone, Prometheus, etc)
➢ The Odyssey - Homer

I'm looking forward to this already!! It's going to be new and exciting for me to try and figure out relevancy to my students' lives when working with such old texts. But I'm determined to do it and do it well!


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

sapster emergent

The days are waning. I keep changing the countdown on the whiteboard. I am dreading that last day, I'm dreading the last time I'll ever see them again. Every June is going to be emotional for me, as I say "I won't forget you" and mean it, but do they hear it? On Monday, Rick was talking about how I'll just forget them as soon as I touch down in New York. Can I blame myself for his callousness? For his unwillingness to believe that people do care about his well-being? I go out of my way to express my concern for them on the daily, but how long does it take to unlearn a life where care is not a par for the course?

This has been a really difficult week. The community is so upset by the loss of a student in a horrible accident over last weekend. I have been oscillating between just carrying on, hoping that the focus on work might take their mind off of loss for just a moment, and wanting to talk about how they feel, where they're at. I'm baffled and amazed when they connect their feelings to a book we read in February ("remember, in Bang, how each family member deals with the loss of Jason in a different way? that's kind of how it is. some people are crying, some people are silent, some don't know how to react, so they don't. some lash out." says Lakendra).

In my homeroom, two of the usual suspects chose a very immature way to respond to Eberardo's death. But as we just wrote about last week, when responding to Persepolis, sometimes people also use humor to get themselves through times of crisis. A student pointed out this connection to the class, as well. When it feels like their reaction may be inappropriate to some people, I was pleading with them to have compassion for their classmates, to help them to become better people. I watched the tears form in Destinee's eyes when I said it.

I know that every class of students that I have is going to be special and unique. I know, too, that I will find patterns of behaviors as I meet new students. "I have another Angus in my class", I'll write to Mrs. K and say. But this is my first class of kids. My heart isn't being worn on my sleeve, I've fully taken it out of my body and put it in their hands this year. This is a dangerous way to teach, for my own personal well-being. It takes so much energy, I find myself exhausted and needing to be taking 3 hour naps every afternoon. I need to dig deeper into myself to find the energy for next year, because it will be even more challenging.

There is no other way for me to approach my students, though. I did not want to go to the memorial service, but I need to support them. I need to show them how much I care, even if they continue to question my intentions. I can never aim to "fix" them, but to show them respect and support in their endeavors. I have learned so much from them this year and have been blessed that they have let me into their lives, both in and out of school.

They have made contact with me, and if they thought it was going to be a brief encounter, they are mistaken. I will miss them so much, but hope that they'll come back to update me on their growth.



Sunday, May 18, 2008

10 days left...

If I happened to be Gabriel Garcia Marquez, I would start writing the book "One Hundred Years of Solitude" on a day like today. It's one of those days when the wind just breathes change into your life. The weather can only be described as brewing; it's Michigan so you have no idea what to expect. Bring a sweatshirt, an umbrella and a tanktop, just in case. Suddenly, you wake up from ridiculous dreams and feel that you have become a new person. You rise ready for the work you are to undertake. Obstacles that seemed to threaten your well-being yesterday seem to be miniscule and obsolete. Each thing you do seems well-timed, appropriate and urgent.

I only have 10 days of school left with my kids. It makes me want to cry, and I already have. During 6th hour, after they've left the room and she is off on an errand, running off photocopies. I think about how much we've done together this year, and how I am probably the only one romanticizing it this way. The personal successes that so many of my students have had, whether it's jumping two or three grade levels in reading comprehension, more organized and fluid writing, or beginning to discover their voice in their writing. They are getting sad about the end of the year, but they are thinking more of the social aspects of 8th grade than romanticizing all of the work we did in class. Still, under the restrictions that I've dealt with, I believe that I have brought something to the table this year. I didn't get to do nearly enough poetry, I didn't get to run my zine unit. I'm hoping to test run that unit this summer, and boy do I have a lot of planning to do for the fall.

But somehow, after a night of celebration and karaoke, I woke up this morning completely lucid. Got breakfast with Brandon and Audry. Returned home to clean and plan. I'm teaching a poem about Ellis Island, so I'm trying to figure out how to structure an environment in the classroom where the students understand what happened there. I keep tossing around all sorts of ideas. Have yet to nail something down, but I'm feeling crafty and creative. The assistant superintendent of DPS will be stopping by to watch me teach tomorrow, so it's gotta be good.

Hope all is well in your world. I'm curious what's brewing in the clouds over you.


Friday, April 18, 2008

a whole new quest!!

so much has changed in the past two months. i have accepted a job at a phenomenal high school in the Bronx... so it's back to the city for me. i'll be the new 9th grade English teacher, and we're going to do it up right! i am so incredibly excited about planning the new year (i get to plan my whole curriculum!!), meeting the whole crew, which i know will be my family in the south bronx. much more soon, since it's friday and i'm braindead from a week of crazy.

angus came up to me yesterday and actually admitted that he wants to pass. this is a feat for him. it was in the lunch line, and he pulled me aside, looked both ways as if someone was listening. it must be a secret for it to work, he told me through telepathy. i wrote him a letter about how proud i am of him and how i also want to see him pass, but it's going to be work. he's going to have to read a whole book, cover to cover. i want it to be "to kill a mockingbird", because i know he can handle it. he won't yet. but i think i've won him over.

a poem in the meantime.

* * * * *

everyone has always
told me that
motherhood is my mantra
but not yet.
we have many
sunsets by ourselves.
as it closed in,
tailgated the horizon
this evening,
i felt the full shine
of solitude in
both shoulders,
both hips.
knew in my knuckles
why i should carry
on my name.

standing on the brink
of why i breathe,
i understand what
it must be like to
never see your own
single shadow.
but many sunrises
on vacant shores, first.
many sands will find
my path before i
become two.


Sunday, March 2, 2008

late leaping wishes

happy leap day!

i feel compelled to write something today, as this day only happens once every four years and it has been a memorable one. my life force was rejuvenated and full-impact today -- we played terra nova jeopardy for the last time (i fashioned the game to be based on test-taking skills, and skills that they're still struggling with - like subject/predicate identification and sentence combining) and the testing begins on monday -- all we can do now is wish them luck and hope that the preparation we've done will be helpful to them. i'm beginning to understand the "teach to the test" mentality, because ultimately, i feel responsible if my students do not pass, and their future next year (and possibly whether they continue in school or drop out) depends on their performance next week. talk about high-stakes. stakes has never been so high (shout out to de la). as a teacher and an advocate for my students, how can i not take it both seriously and personally? and really, what i've learned is that test prep SUCKS, but if you put effort into being creative with it and making it fun, cooperative and competitive, it's much more bearable.

j. angel, one of my students who was expelled a few weeks ago, was allowed to return this week, after negotiating with the school and seeking treatment in a mental health facility. he wrote me a letter about his experience and i nearly busted out crying in our 6th hour assembly while reading it. i can't think of anything more inspiring that when a student, through many struggles, begins to realize how beautiful and precious his own life is, how much he is worth, and how much he deserves to be happy. most of my students have seen more at 14 than i probably ever will, and i've seen a lot. i'm not trying to build this up to be dangerous minds, or to get you to pity them, because really, they don't need your pity. they are stronger than they even know. but their courage astounds me and i feel endlessly humbled by how much they've taught me this year.

perhaps i'm talking in past-tense because we began to talk about graduation today. i don't even know what i'm going to do without these kids, aside from worry about them and attempt to stay in contact to harass them during high school, but i can assure you that i'll be a sobbing mess as they cross the stage on june 6. what's interesting is that the school doesn't want them going crazy about their 8th grade graduation; even though it's a momentus occasion for many of them, they want to encourage them to celebrate in style ("in a pimpin' HUM-V limo, do it up!!," said the principal) when they graduate high school, but want to encourage them to make plans to continue after 8th grade. doin' it up for this promotion would equal justification for dropping out, said the administration.

really, i'm fluctuating on whether or not i'll ever need to have kids - because right now i have 90 and i'm going to sit down with the modern myths they wrote me and spend my weekend figuring out how to really get going on literature -- now that test prep is done.

hope you're moving forward and feeling blessed. i certainly am.


Sunday, February 24, 2008

Why the Rain Falls

Good afternoon.

Speaking to Miss Mirah on the phone this afternoon, realizing that it's nearing the end of February (already?), I recall how quickly time is passing now that I'm old. This year of study here is two-thirds over, I can almost taste my MA and I'm so obsessed with teaching that I made my parents drive by my school last night, just because we were in the neighborhood and I miss it. Vacation has become a time to be quiet, alone and reflect and not a time to go crazy, as it has often been before. While I would love every vaca to involve travel, I get tired sometimes and just want to be home, just want to reconnect with those I love and have lost touch with. Just want to connect with Ntozake Shange's plays. I have no idea where home will be next fall, as it depends on where work will find me, but as per usual, I'll cast the nets wide and land feet first.

I'm teaching a short-short story by Zora Neale Hurston tomorrow and wrote a short myth explaining rainfall (in response to her "Why the Waves Have Whitecaps"). Mine is not the most compelling story, but I thought I'd share, I'm going to use it as a model for my students writing their own myths to explain a natural phenomenon.

Happy Sunday. I hope you are well-rested and well-loved. I keep coming back to how blessed I am.


"Why The Rain Falls"

First, there were only crystal clear cobalt blue skies all over the world, and each person, bird, mammal and fish was happy. Everyone awoke early in the morning with the sun, just to admire its rising. Every went outside at noon just to say how glorious the day became. But after years of gorgeous weather, Ms. Porcupine was getting bored of the beauty. She craved some excitement in her life. So she gathered all of her friends up in the forest and decided to have a bonfire.

Now, Mr. Sea heard all about the bonfire, it was the only event that people were talking about for days. But he was tired from a long day of work, and didn't want to travel all the way to the forest, so stayed home. It was a splendid party, and he could hear everyone laughing and dancing from miles away. He didn't appreciate all the noise, so he pulled his waves over his ears and tried to go to sleep.

The next day, everyone returned to the sea to tell stories from the bonfire. "It was the most fun we've had in all of our lives!," exclaimed Mrs. Dolphin, and the all the jellyfish agreed. Mr. Sea felt sorry for himself and decided that he wanted to be alone. He curled up in one corner of the Earth and told the fish that he didn't want to be bothered.

A few days later, when he began to hear the creatures talking about the next bonfire in the forest, he was still upset and didn't feel welcome. No one had invited him afterall. So he stayed home. At the last minute, however, he decided to surprise everyone and go. He went all the way up the beach and stood quietly at the edge of the forest, waiting for the right moment to burst out and show himself.

But the sea how much fun everyone was having dancing and singing around the fire that he wanted to join in too. He got so excited that he jumped up into the air and ended up spraying everyone with water. The fire went out, and at first everyone stopped, but Ms. Porcupine, always the optimist, said "Hey everyone, let's try to dodge Mr. Sea's drops as they hit the ground," and they all did, squealing and laughing and dancing in the raining seawater.

It became a tradition -- every time there was a fire in the forest, it would soon be followed by rain. Pretty soon, no one even realized the connection anymore, because it was no longer sunny everyday. And that is why the rain falls.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Nelson Mandela

And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
-Nelson Mandela

Ah, I need to re-read his biography, perhaps this winter break will give me time.

When the Sankofa Drums and Dance group came to perform at our school on Tuesday, as part of the performance, they called Destinee up to the stage to read a poem about rising up and moving on, but knowing your heritage. A sankofa is a bird whose neck faces back toward its body, as if it's always reaching back to assist the molting process. The metaphor in many African communities is the need to look back at history in order to better understand how it has shaped us. When Destinee read the poem onstage, I noticed that she struggled a bit with pronouncing the name "Nelson Mandela", so I asked in 3rd hour if they knew who Nelson Mandela was. They shook their heads, no. While it's something they'll cover in history class, I'm sure, the man is 90 years old and will pass soon, and I think it's crucial that they know who he is and what he accomplished, as one of the most prominent activists of the 20th century.

Anyway, when thinking about it, he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, which is the year before most of my students were born. Aye, que rico! Perhaps it's because I was in 8th grade when that happened and have studied his life and work ever since that it came as such a shock to me that my students hadn't yet encountered him.

So, I'll be trying to work him in somehow

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Goodbye, Angel.

one of my most-improved students is leaving us, due to an unfortunate incident in which he participated today. i will miss him very much. i've come to realize how hard it is going to be for me to lose students, how i can't take it personally and have to hope that they will find another teacher willing to bet on them wherever they find themselves.

For J. Angel

I watched your eyes grow wide
with hurt and anger quarreling
in the deep vortex of your pupils.
Red rising to your face.
I don’t know what he said.
I’m not sure which word broke
the calm countenance you’ve
been wearing.

I remember first seeing you.
Large and looming, your first
piece of writing blowing my
mind with its blunt force honesty.
Peeling your life open,
we've found a sensitive soul
who has lived in the house
of anger for too long.

Today, you came in after lunch.
Told me what happened
with your girl.
You called me over,
asked for my advice and I
pushed back the beginning
of class so that we could talk.
Told you to take a breath, let her be.
Sometimes space is all you need.

You left us at the end of the hour.
We had written letters thanking
Sankofa drums and dance
for coming to our school.
Looking back to know ourselves
when we move forward.
We took a practice test
for the Terra Nova,
which will determine if you pass
this year.
You got a 90%.

After she held you down,
after we dragged the other kid away,
his mom came to pick him up.
I found you in the hall,
asked if you were alright.
noted the cuts on your fingers,
the tape around your knuckles,
you told me you were sad
that I had to witness the fight
and I told you to take care.

I will have trouble sleeping tonight,
knowing that today might be the end.
But I believe in you, past
This incident.
Toward what you’ll become.


God, it's hard to love them and lose them.


Thursday, January 31, 2008

jeopardy terra nova

So, I've been searching for exciting ways to teach test-taking skills and review English skills with my 8th graders. They have to take the Terra Nova tests in March and while we don't like to teach toward the test, if they don't pass these tests, they don't pass 8th grade. The pressure is mounting, because while I love my students to death, I don't want to see them next year (because it will mean that they didn't pass). So here it is. It's not a revolutionary idea, but they're getting excited about this approach to going through the test prep book, and that's all we can ask for.

We've divided them into teams. They chose their teams, they chose their team names, they drew us a mascot which we put on a posterboard/scoreboard. I teach the lessons and they do the practice problems (in the book or in other resource materials that we've outlined that focuses on the same skill... such as inferencing, comparing and contrasting, sequencing events in a text) as a group, helping each other and needing to come to a consensus before they're done with the problems (this encourages group work, THINKING and students justifying their answers by using the text to back it up!!).

On Thursdays, they take the unit test (which means we teach 5-6 lessons in 3 days... but they're motivated by competition, so it's working, so far) and their test scores are averaged with the rest of their group members and posted on the scoreboard. On Fridays, we play Jeopardy! I've created a game that's based on Terra Nova skills and also connects to the novels we're reading, and also brings in grammar and usage skills. It's also a reinforcement and review of the skills they learned this week. We're rotating "team captains" every week so everyone gets to participate orally. TRying to figure out how to work writing into it, too. So far, it's been really successful as the kids want to compete in-class and with their colleagues in the other sections of our class.

We'll see how it develops from here. Just wanted to share. Happy hopeful snowday tomorrow, though if it is one, I'll be sad about missing Jeopardy.


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

thoughts on special ed.

our staff meeting today was about the intervention process of identifying and working with students that we wish to refer for special education services. i had just been talking with ms. h about a few of my resource room students, and had a discussion with ms. p that was really enlightening. we discussed the difference between inclusion and self-contained classrooms in our school and how special needs students are identified, as well as how we service them, and how progress is measured.

we talked a lot about differentiation of instruction and the need for all teachers, general ed or special ed, to learn how to teach in a multi-modal way -- recognizing the different skill levels and learning needs of students, and thinking about this when we give directions for an assignment, design lessons and assessments. this can mean using visual aids, the board, saying directions aloud, drawing examples, modeling for students, individual tutoring and assistance (whenever possible), and individual, group and whole-class learning situations.

it seemed sad to me that she was so excited about my desire to learn and to assist my students as best i can, and said that most general ed teachers are too busy to take the time and make the effort to consider the students' learning needs. it really is up to classroom teachers to educate themselves about their students, know your kids and advocate for them, for the betterment of their lives. just because they're special ed students doesn't mean that they can't or won't live full and vibrant lives. to the contrary, making a decision like that about a student is to treat them with discrimination. it's important to check yourself and your pre-conceived notions about what dis/ability means -- we're all different in what we excel at, we all need help in some areas of our lives.

bottom line: i try to advocate for all of my students, know them, know their learning styles and consider this always. i live by differentiation on the daily.

more thoughts soon.