Friday, March 27, 2009

Break out

Even though it's Friday, it's my last day of spring break ... Tomorrow at 8 a.m. I'm picking up 6 students and spending the weekend with them at a youth conference. Nothing like spending the last weekend of spring break with your teacher!

But we're psyched - we get to meet Nobel Peace Laureate Adolfo Pérez Esquivel and show off our service project: an attempt to start up a peer mediation program. The kids will get to meet some other committed teens and I will try desperately not to freak out about the fact that I have 2 new courses starting up on Monday that I haven't planned yet. (Geography of World Conflict and Debate)

Sunday, March 22, 2009

When in the course of human events ...

Aaaaahhhhhh. Spring break.

I'm using the time to relax and reflect. And root around for possible job openings in other schools.

As I'm doing this, I'm thinking, "What would I say to my school leaders if I actually did decide to teach at another school next year? How would I explain my decision?" And I came up with a list, sort of a Declaration of Independence, of qualities I'm looking for in a school leader that my current ones lack.

Here it is - let me know what you think:
  • I'm looking for strong leaders who will make it easy, not hard for me to be successful.
  • I need leaders who won't take things personally. Right now we are so afraid of anything we say or do being taken personally, and of retribution, that we can't be effective. It's no longer about the kids.
  • I want a leader who makes us feel good about our work, not someone who makes us feel like shit.
  • I need someone who is able to make hard decisions as a leader and doesn't expect us to just figure things out.
  • I need someone who supports us in front of the students.
  • I need the leader to be seen as fair. Other schools also have restorative justice models of discipline, in which consequences are not always the same in every case, but unlike at our school, students see those systems as fair.
  • I want a leader who leads by example - do as I do, not as I say.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

This is why we don't use Wikipedia

I have a student working on a project on gay rights. The other day I was looking over one of his PowerPoint slides, which had to do with Ellen DeGeneres, and saw that he had written "Ellen DeGeneres is married to Ally McBeal."

It took us a while to sort that one out. Another student was with me at the time and said, "Is Ally McBeal even gay?"

I had to say, "Ally McBeal isn't even real!"

Siiiiggghhhh... Seriously though, I've been thinking and talking to other teachers recently about high expectations. And motivation. I've had a lot of crappy, crappy work recently. My plan is to not accept it - hand it back for no credit. What I haven't totally figured out is the relationship between expectations and motivation. Obviously I haven't motivated the students to do high quality work. How do I communicate that I expect better? And if I give them no credit, what does that do to their motivation for future projects?

Actually I read she's married to Elmo

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Barbie's long, strange history

One of my favorite methods I learned at NYU was teaching history through material culture. My school has a lot of bodily-kinesthetic learners, so it helps them to be able to hold and examine objects to learn from them. (You should have heard what they came up with last week when I had them try to guess what one of these things was used for.)

Anyway I came across this recent video from Slate and thought it would be good for a material culture lesson:

Sick day

After holding out against most of the bugs that have passed through the school this year, I finally succumbed to a particularly nasty one and let Chris talk me into staying home today.

I got to watch some Tivo, read Harry Potter y el misterio del príncipe, and work on a baby blanket.

Best part about sick day on Wednesday - getting out of the staff meeting. :)

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Now on to Women's History Month!

When things get overwhelming at school, I just tell myself I'm collecting fodder for my book about kids and race.

Last Friday we had our celebration for Black History Month. As the school’s only social studies teacher, I decided to form a “Black History Month” committee. A group of students volunteered and took on the task of putting together activities for the month, which took the form of an afternoon of discussions and games.

At the staff meeting prior to the event, one of the school leaders asked, "What are you going to do when students object?" She meant white students. I said the students had planned to lead a discussion around whether Black History Month is necessary, based on articles from The Root. But I had the feeling that the teachers were trying to manufacture a controversy.

Needless to say, the controversy reared its big teenage head. Some quotes:
"Why do we always have to focus on the negative parts of history and not the positive parts?"

"Black History Month just makes it seem more like black and white people are different."

"I can see why it used to be important, but racism isn't an issue anymore."

"Why can't we have a White History Month?"
The upside was that the whole school was talking about race for an hour and a half. The downside was that rather than learning about the often-overlooked part of African Americans in the narrative of U.S. history, we spent that time instead focusing once again on ideas we can't agree on rather than ones we can agree on.