Saturday, September 29, 2007

Saturday, September 22, 2007


With a week of teaching classes under my belt, I have learned a thing or two. One of the biggest things I learned this week was that, even though I'm tens of thousands of dollars in debt to Citibank, I am still very, very glad I got that master's in teaching. When I decided not to apply for emergency certification programs it was with the knowledge that I am a very, very bad improviser. I am still a very bad improviser. But now, when I don't know what to do, phrases like "sourcing heuristic" and "mentor text" come floating to my brain. I can also pull out some good sound bites from my student teaching cooperating teachers, like "I'm sorry, Kendra, can you repeat what you just said so that Joshua [pointing to inattentive or chatting student] can hear you?" Another thing that comes from student teaching is the assurance that even though things may be frustrating for a while, after some point I will love -- really love -- my students, and everything will just seem so much easier.

A goal for this year is to get better at thinking on my feet, rather than striking a doe-in-headlights pose when something foils my well-laid plans.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Kids and race

This article from The Nation about the "Jena Six," a group of African American students in Louisiana who face trial for retaliating against a student who made a racial slur, comes out at a really interesting time for me. (Disclosure: the writer of this article, Mark Sorkin, is my soon-to-be brother-in-law! He keeps the world up to date on juvenile justice issues on his blog.)

Last year, having only worked with New York City high school kids, I would not have believed teenagers capable of making the racial slurs that prompted the reaction of the Jena Six. After today, I can believe it. I can see something like this happening at my school.

I don't think my white students would ever intentionally make a racial slur against a peer. And I don't think that when they hung nooses from the "white-only tree," the members of the Jena High School rodeo team thought they were being racist. I think they thought they were making a joke.

How did these kids get to the point where they thought this extremely ugly act was an acceptable form of humor? One side of it is what I think of as the South Park Syndrome. Yes, I know how old-fogeyish it sounds, but I think shows like South Park and The Family Guy that make viewers laugh with the shockingly taboo are shaping how many teens in this country think about race -- in a very negative way.

Take a look at this clip from Family Guy, and if you want to be even more depressed, scroll down and take a look at how YouTube viewers responded to it. To me, the leap isn't so far from laughing at Kermit with a shotgun to hanging up nooses on a tree.

The other side of it is the fact that our students know this is supposed to be funny, but they don't really have enough knowledge to understand why it's so shocking. It's on TV, so it's okay to laugh at it. Maybe they have a little twinge of discomfort, like this kid, but they don't understand why this kind of humor is hurtful and harmful.

So the onus is on social studies teachers, I believe, to not only teach kids the historical context for these things, but also to give students the skills and safe space to really be able to think and speak about race.

Now the question is, HOW do we do that?


First day of classes was today. I learned many things on my first day as a classroom teacher, but probably the biggest (and hardest) lesson was this: teens from the Twin Cities suburbs are very different from teens in New York City.

Saturday, September 15, 2007


Now that we've had new student orientation, whole-school orientation, and a four day whole-school trip to Deep Portage, Monday is the actual "first day" of school as it will be for the rest of the year. This weekend I'm typing up syllabi for my three classes (early American history, reading/writing lab, and global studies) and planning for the first week.

I can't express enough gratitude to the people who set up and contribute to the Teachers Network website. There's a section for new teachers that's full of good, succinct advice. This one has been particularly useful. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Thursday, September 13, 2007


I hereby call on Chris to post about his first two weeks teaching undergraduates.

Also, it's his birthday today.

Monday, September 03, 2007

First Days

For those of you whose first day of school is tomorrow, have a wonderful day!!

We had three days of new student orientation last week, but tomorrow is the official first day of school for everyone. I celebrated by reading "The First Days of School" by Harry and Rosemary Wong. The book was given to me by a teacher who said she couldn't stand it and didn't want it on her bookshelf. Other teachers have told me it's the most important book on teaching they've ever read.

As I was just looking up the link on Amazon, I checked out reader comments -- they are similarly bipolar. One five-star review was titled "Don't Walk Into The Classroom Without This Book!," while a one-star review started with "If This Book Is Right, I Want To Be Wong."

Sunday, September 02, 2007


The school of bloggers saw many cool things at the Minnesota State Fair yesterday (including some things we could have lived without seeing, particularly in the "Miracle of Birth" building). But one of the coolest was this sign -- not just the big one, but the little one in the lower left corner. We knew Franken was good, but we were pleasantly surprised to see that "Team Franken" is supporting the striking AFSCME workers at the U of Minnesota.