I’m No Expert on Cat-Calling

I just finished up sexual health week in my bio class, where we talked about STIs, contraceptives, and I answered a hundred burning questions from teenagers about sex (both as a noun and as a verb). We ended the week with consent as the discussion topic of the day, and it spilled out into a whole new can of worms that I’ve been mulling over for the past few days — rape culture in high school.

A few disclaimers to start with: I’m not an expert on anything.  I’m not an expert in teaching, not an expert in science, not an expert in rape culture, not an expert in sexual health, not an expert in psychology, not even an expert in fashion (which is what this blog is all about). I’m also not intending to make blanket statements about any groups of people. I may inadvertently do so in this post, but please know that it is not my intent to create nor perpetuate stereotypes about any groups or communities. So, take this for what it is – a teacher who is struggling with how to approach a sensitive topic with her teenage students.

I started the lesson with a warm-up, asking kids to respond to this comic I found from an old Huffington Post article. Responses in my  first period class (non-honors Bio) ranged from “some of the things being said aren’t bad at all” and “she’s getting complimented”, to “she looks angry”. Responses in 3rd and 5th (Honors Bio) were more what I expected to hear, such as “she’s being cat-called and it’s gross”. Following the warm-up, we watched this video about a woman walking the streets of NYC for 10 hours and getting cat-called a ridiculous number of times. The conversations exploded the moment the video finished in every class, but the difference in the tone of the classes was striking.

In first period, the conversation was dominated by the boys (and one girl) with comments such as “well, she was walking down by the clubs, so what would you expect?” and “that’s rude! she should say thank you when people say good morning!”. Girls are already out numbered in this class, and most of them pretty much kept quiet unless I called on them.  A couple girls tried to argue back with the boys, but they ended up getting drowned out. One kid said something along the lines of “well, you know, she’s got curves and she’s wearing tight pants, you know, how can people ignore that?” The most vocal girl was agreeing with the boys – even going so far as to say the guy in the video who followed the woman for 5 minutes was “just going in the same direction, what’s wrong with that?” My jaw just hit the floor at that point.

This was when it really hit me (at 8 in the morning) how grossly ill-prepared  I was for this conversation that was happening around me. These are teenage boys (and a girl), earnestly and innocently having a conversation that essentially perpetuates rape culture in our society – victim blaming, mansplaining, and #notallmen. The saddest thing of all was when I moved the conversation on to Brock Turner, a couple girls said, “it’s sad, but that’s what we expect now”. *tears*

My 3rd and 5th periods were so different from this – girls spoke up, the boys agreed with the girls, and even expressed solidarity with the woman in the video.  *tears* One kid mentioned that a girl from 1st period had warned her that she “was going to get so mad about class today”.

In the end, I failed my kids big time on this.  I hadn’t created enough of a safe space for my girls to speak up. I assumed the kids were mature enough to tackle these sensitive subjects and I assumed they’d all agree that cat-calling was a negative thing to do. I failed to recognize and anticipate past experiences of my students (one kid told a story about when he had paid a genuine compliment to a stranger who misunderstood and cussed him out and how he’s still upset about it).  I was woefully unprepared for what happened. I should have paid closer attention and structured the lesson to give girls opportunities to share in smaller groups. I should have designed a pre-lesson that focused on empathy. I should have done a lot of things, and next year, there will be changes.

Or…maybe I should just leave it up to the experts? Who are these experts in high school? I know some of my colleagues also struggle with this. When I asked around, I heard that one year an English teacher taught A Streetcar Named Desire, and some kids said that Blanche deserved what she got (rape). Who’s taking this on and is it even our place? Is this one of those things were I’m stepping out of line as a biology/science teacher? I really don’t have an answer to this. Reader, do you?

In the meantime, here’s an outfit from this past week.  Moving through my Australian COS haul slowly. A lovely kid in 6th period (AP Bio) said that my “outfit is on point today, Miss.”  *tears*






top: cos – jeans: uniqlo – shoes: cole hahn

job hunting/cool hunting

With my recent move to Brooklyn, it goes without saying that I’m on the search for a new school to call home.  The job search process here with the NYC Dept of Ed has been a stressful, ego-busting and confidence-questioning experience.  I suppose that is the usual experience with every sort of job search, and I know that finding a school that would be a good fit both ways takes persistence and patience, but I’m finding that as an outsider, it’s especially difficult to break in to the system.  First up, people don’t know me and I’m not very great at selling myself.  Secondly, there are about 4,000 potential openings for the coming school year and 10,000-30,000 applicants.  Thirdly, there are significantly more Teach For America and NY Teaching Fellows (fresh from college and backed by their programs) here competing with me.

I know SFUSD – I have a network, I know what the hot issues are and what counts.  I know that I’m a pretty good teacher, and with every passing year I get better.  Coming to NY though, I am a little fish in a really really big pond.  There are so many high schools, each one of them small (>300 students) and with their own philosophy, expectations and vision.  It’s no longer just “preparing students for post-high school success”, it’s now “infuse curriculum with green experiences, applied mathematics and teaching our students to be  independent life long learners and critical thinkers with the skills to make solid career choices”.  These types of missions are great and all, and we have those too in SF, but here, with these small schools, they actually stick to them.  At TMAHS, our vision had a focus on social justice.  I personally included social justice topics within every unit.  The school as a whole did not.

I’m learning quickly though.  Surprisingly enough, nobody cares about test scores.  Considering the fact that teacher evaluations are dependent on test scores, and that 24 schools closed due to low test scores, I expected more conversations about how to raise them.  Instead, each school I’ve visited or spoken to focuses on learning through inquiry and experience rather than relying on direct instruction.

While I’m all for it and would advocate for more inquiry/exploratory based lessons, I find myself in somewhat of a panic.  Are my lessons, the ones that I feel so good about and have worked well for my students in the past, actually just total crap?  Do I have enough inquiry in my lessons?  Am I even creative enough to come up with a way to teach evolution without actually teaching evolution directly?  I’m doubting myself and my lessons… I’m really great at direct instruction.  Ask any of my students and they will tell you about all my PowerPoints and notes followed by some activity that supports what they just learned.  So therefore, I’m a shitty teacher who propagates the memorization-regurgitation method, without teaching my students anything long lasting.

Designing a good inquiry-based lesson is incredibly hard.  It takes a lot of brain power, creative juice, innovation and time.  Imagine you need to teach 30 high school students the next day (and it’s now 5pm) that “Evolution does not necessitate long-term progress in some set direction.  Evolutionary changes appear to be like the growth of a bush: Some branches survive from the beginning with little or no change, many die out altogether, and others branch repeatedly, sometimes giving rise to more complex organisms.”  How are you going to do this without lecturing about it, and in a way where students can discover and reason out the answers an their own, therefore making it an authentic learning experience?  This is just one day out of 180.

I had a 2.5 hour interview and demo lesson with a panel of 9 teachers/administrators yesterday at a small high school here in Brooklyn (they are all small, really).

Outside I tried to look like this:

but inside I was really like this:

I have until september before I give up and find a McD’s job, though I would settle for Walmart.

put your hand on your heart and tell me…

We dissected sheep hearts today in my Physiology class.  “this was the highlight of my year, Ms. Scheck”, a student said.  That one tugged at my heart strings for sure.  Which by the way, if you’ve never dissected a heart before, heart strings are a real thing.  They hold your valves in place so to speak.  Here they are below:

Today was a good day.