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Showing posts from May, 2011

Racism within the Black Community

Many white people are not aware of how greatly the white standard of beauty has affected the black community.  In my opinion, hundreds of years of racism - legislated and otherwise - have made it so that even within the black community, the whiter you look (skin color, hair texture, facial features), the more beautiful you are. I didn't know this was a problem until I started teaching in Oakland.  I heard black kids say over and over to other black kids that they were "burnt-up looking," "too black," "African," "a burnt cookie," and more.  All of those things were definitely insults.  The first time I heard one kid call another "a burnt-up cookie," I couldn't believe it.  I had somehow thought that racism was only white people against black.  It's way deeper than that. Four years ago: More Old Faces Five years ago: Un-Wired                        Eighth Time's the Charm?

Art Does Make a Difference

The school I used to work at and now volunteer at has historically been a pretty dirty, bare looking place.  At one point we got some trees planted, which made a big difference (although they are a little scrawny).  My friend Robin painted some murals which were beautiful and also helped.  I walked into the cafeteria last week and it was totally transformed.  The kids had made it into an art museum and the whole feeling of it was changed.  It does make a difference. Two years ago: Update and Help Needed Four years ago: Open House

What Could a Teacher Know?

Very interesting piece (thanks, Brandon) about teacher blaming.  Now, I am going to start this with saying that at times the teachers' unions certainly do not act in the best interests of students or teachers.  And that I have worked with people who use their tenure as an excuse to not teach.  But those teachers (the lazy "dead wood" are certainly not the ones stepping up with ideas on how to save education.  They can't even be bothered to teach.  I've been in meetings with them - they aren't spending extra energy trying to fix the system.  They're just waiting to retire.  Teachers who are writing letters to the editor, who are serving on committees, and who are trying to make life better for kids are not trying to make their own lives easier.  They're trying to help students. I thought it ironic that our schools were judged inadequate by people who haven’t set foot in them, so I wrote a letter to my local newspaper. Predictably, my letter eli

Easier to Ignore

A lot of kids get killed in Oakland.  I've known one of them personally (he was 13) but there have been many, many more.  Some are in gangs or involved with drugs, and others are actually just in the wrong place. I've noticed two things about these news stories. 1. People really really seem to want to blame the victim.  I suspect this is because they're scared.  If This Other Kid got killed and he wasn't doing anything wrong, then their own children are in danger.  But if This Other Kid was to blame, then our own children are safe. 2. It's much much easier to ignore these stories.  We all feel helpless and a bit hopeless about it.  If there's nothing we can do, why bother to talk about it.  It'll just make us feel worse. I try to remember these kids in this blog because - even though I feel scared and hopeless - they deserve to be remembered and acknowledged.  Ditiyan Franklin was killed in the middle of the day , two weeks before graduation.  He w

Time Traveling

Wow, am I glad I don't have to deal with this anymore. Thursday, May 25, 2006 Time Travel and Foolproof Logic The District has reached a new low in logic. For the last few years, we’ve had these things called “Buy-Back Days.” They are professional development days but because of the contract or because the district is cheap or something, they’ve been optional, and only the people who go to them get paid. Then the people who want more money can go, some of us can sleep in, and the district doesn’t have to pay for everyone. Then, to make things a little more confusing, our school is in the “intensive Support Network" and we have three more optional professional development days. For most of these days less than half of our staff showed up, not because we don’t want the extra money, but because we’re generally exhausted. I went to two of them, but I don’t know if they were district-wide or particular to our school. Now things get interesting. We just got a new


In my second to  last year of teaching, I had a student who missed over 70 days of school.  I forget exactly how many, but it was more than 70.  There are only 180 days in a school year, so that was about 40% of the school year that she missed.  Absolutely nothing was done because the child wasn't failing.  She was pretty close, but she wasn't failing and she wasn't a behavior problem so no one wanted to do anything about it.  I begged administrators to take notice but no one would.  Apparently she's not the only one . One year ago: Overly Protective Four years ago: Countdown

Sitting Still

It is difficult to sit still.  Very difficult.  I can do it if I have my knitting with me, although it's debatable if that actually counts as sitting still.  I was volunteering in a classroom the other day and a 7-year old who has a VERY hard time sitting still and he was doing a great job.  Just a little leg wiggle here and there, but he was really doing a great job.  He twisted just a little in his seat and his teacher yelled, "It's not that hard to sit still!"  Then this teacher went on to berate him, talking about how he never does well enough. I didn't know what to do.  It's not my classroom and I wouldn't appreciate people walking in and critiquing me without knowing my relationship with the student.  However.  It is hard to sit still.  It is very hard to sit still and this child is 7.  And showing remarkable improvement. Sitting still is an achievement for a lot of kids, even with a little leg wiggle. Five years ago: Another Sub Bites the

Again With the Library Closures

Almost ten years ago, my third graders and I wrote letters to the Oakland City Council about how important it was to keep the libraries open.  The plan was to close a bunch of branches - I can't remember how many - and they were all in the poorer sections of Oakland.  I've mentioned before that the city is quite segregated and the kids are aware of this.  I showed them on the map where the closing branches were and a child pointed out "but those are all the ones near us."  We also looked at where the branches remaining open were and someone pointed out that they were near the white people with money.  It was true.  We had an interesting discussion during which they asked me why people who have money to buy books needed libraries more than them "But we got no books at my house!"  They wrote some passionate letters to the mayor and city council and the libraries stayed open.  I think they may have believed that our class saved the local library. Apparently,

To My Teacher Who is a Woman

  repost: Most people I've talked to about my experience teaching are aware that fathers, especially nurturing, consistent fathers, are rare in the inner city.  Not as many people are aware of how many children lack mothers.  For some of them, I mean that metaphorically -- that their mothers were 13 or 14 when they had kids and just didn't know how to be mothers.  However, for many of them, this lack of a mother was literal. I had student after student being raised by an aunt, a grandmother, a great-aunt, an older sister, or even a great-grandmother.  This could be because their mother had a drug problem, was in jail, was with a boyfriend or new husband who didn't want their children around, or had left them for an unknown reason.  Now, I'm not saying that the lack of a father is something that's easy to get over.  I think it is extremely damaging and that children need fathers or father figures.  But, in my experience, the kids whose mothers left them were

Best Teacher Appreciation Ever

I got this note from a client's parent when she sent me a check.  I think I might frame it. Three years ago: Strange Ways to Prepare for Tests Five years ago: Teacher Appreciation Week                         Violence

Make Sense

OK, for the second of my comprehensive two-part program to improve the district I used to work in, I propose that we all try to Make Sense.  If you think that is an obvious point, you clearly have not worked in this district. 1. The person in charge of subbing shouldn't sign people up for jobs and then not tell them about it, making it impossible for them to show up. 2. More than one person in the district should know how to reset the clocks . 3. The district should not require time travel in order to get all professional development days completed. 4. If you want kids to do projects using the Internet, you have to provide computers and Internet access . 5. It rains sometimes .  We need a plan. 6. Assessing children on math concepts that haven't been taught yet makes no sense .  And is incredibly frustrating. 7. If you build a playground and then don't let the kids play on it , they get sad.  And parents get angry. 8. Why would you spend a ton of money to open sm

Being Nicer

In my hypothetical plan to improve the district I used to work in, the number one priority is to be nicer.  Yes, I know that sounds simplistic, but when everyone is rude and grouchy - the custodians, the principals, the HR clerks, the sub coordinator, the lunch ladies - it really wears on you.  A big, big part of why a lot of teachers leave is the simple lack of human decency.  Now, I hope that has changed.  I haven't worked there in several years and I really really hope that is not longer true.  But just in case it still is true, here are some tips: Being Nicer: 1. The person in charge of subbing shouldn't get to call and yel l (and yes, I mean yell) at subs who get sick. 2. The person in charge of special ed shouldn't get to yell at a mother and tell her that it's her fault her child is emotionally disturbed, when the mother is doing everything she can to help. 3. The HR people shouldn't be perpetually scowling and actually snatch documents out of y

What Needs to Change

A wide variety of people have asked me recently what needs to change in the district I used to work in.  Although it is one of the most improved school districts in the state, it is notorious for being difficult to work in and having a ridiculously high turnover.  Each time, I think my answer boiled down to two things: 1. Be nicer. 2. Make sense. These may seem too simplistic, and I think people were expecting more of a sweeping pedagogical approach, but I really think these two things are key.  I'm going to work on some examples for the next couple of posts. Three years ago: Art Gallery Five years ago: My Beast Friend                         Teacher Appreciation Week                          Magic Pencils