Hi Kids, it’s me

Today marks the day my online teacher life has crashed into my real teacher life  That’s right, I’ve gone public. My students have been all over this blog today, looking at photos and probably not reading any of the text.   All of a sudden I have a jump in my stats — 200+ views! Woot woot, I’m feeling like the popular kid.

Twice a year, for a week, my school switches to “intensives”.  Kids and teachers alike take breaks from regularly scheduled programing to reorganize and regroup into intensives, where they spend all week learning about one thing.  These intensives are usually elective type courses that teachers find personally interesting.  For example, this year, there is a “Woman Warriors” intensive, where young ladies learn all about self esteem,  healthy relationships, self defense and feminine strength.  There is also the “Physixxxx Olympics” intensive where kids are learning by doing all the cool part of physics and engineering – egg drop contest, catapult assembly and rock climbing.  This year is my first year running an intensive and guess what I’ve chosen to teach?  BLOGGING, of course!

The first lesson of the day?  Your online presence and how the Interwebs is public and permanent.  I don’t think I have ever heard so many moans and groans, ever.  Some kids really know how to suck the happiness out of a room with their complaining.  This was, until they finally got in front of their computers with a task:  A Google scavenger hunt on their teachers.  They found this blog.  They found where I went to middle school, my middle name, my father’s name and an old Sea Scouts photo in Scouting magazine.   They also found themselves online, though not as much – I have a 17 year head start on them.

My kids today after googling my name:

I will be posting links to their blogs as they get them going.   On the radar for this coming week: an inspiration trip to Central Park, a tour of tumblr’s HQ and a couple expert speakers.


Today was progress report day.  I gave each and every student a print out showing learning targets and their progress towards meeting them (aka did you do your assignments).  It was a huge hubbub and I’m now officially the most unpopular teacher at school.  The kids were in a tizzy and I even had 2 students storm outside for a break in the hall to collect themselves.  It’s appalling to me how many students come to school every day and still manage to complete absolutely zero assignments – no classwork, no lab, no quizzes, and most definitely no homework.  For some reason or another (I’m still mulling it over), this quarter has been an especially bad one.  In one class out of 30 students, only 7 have a passing grade or higher.  That means even if I “discount” students who never show up, I’m maintaining a 30% passing rate.  I have an abysmal HW return rate – they just don’t do it.  I also expect students to not only do their work, but to do it well and according to the guidelines of the assignment.  I don’t give credit for “effort”, meaning if I ask about osmosis and they scratch something out about Osmosis Jones, I don’t take it.

So this begs to question, “What am I doing wrong!?”  By the end of my third section of Living Environment class, I’d fallen into a pit of self-doubt.  After all, if so many kids are failing, it MUST be me and NOT them.  I’m doing something wrong, I need to change something.  Is that true?  Or have I been brainwashed by all the anti-teacher rhetoric floating around out there?  These grades (or lack of grades, rather) has weighed heavily on me all day, so I went searching for answers.  I gave my classes time to air grievances and make comments, I conferenced with my co-teacher and I even sought advice from my administrator (“let me think about that one…”).  This is what I learned today:

Student #1: “You grade too hard miss!  I struggle in all my classes, but yours way more than others!”

Student #2: “You’re too strict!  I worked so hard on this and you still only gave be a 2.1 (we use standards based grading where 1=not meeting the learning target, 2=approaching the target, 3=meets the target and 4= excels at the learning target)!

Student #3: “You give too much work!”

Student #4: (to another student, right in front of me) “I can’t even listen to her talk right now, I’m too pissed.  Ugh, she needs to just shut up!”

Student #5 “WHAT? This is mad f-ed up!  I do all my work!”

-I should have other teachers grade my lab reports and compare scores.  Maybe I am too strict with grading.  I use a rubric, which the kids have a copy of.  Maybe I need to ease up on sticking to it.

-I need to ease up on assigning homework, and/or I should not count all of them, just some.

-The kids thought I was laughing at them sinisterly when in fact I was trying to force a smile while they were all voicing their discontent.  My uncomfortable smile apparently = evil I’m-out-to-get-you laugh.  Crap.

-I just need to ease up in general.

In my defense, this is how I help support my kids academically with their work:

-I scaffold the shit out of every assignment I give by outlining reports for them, giving them graphic organizers, vocabulary instruction, etc.  I practically hold their hands through every assignment.  My co-teacher even created a “fill in the blank” lab report for my SPED (special-ed) and ELL (English language learners)!

-I give written feedback on every assignment I hand back.

-I’m available at any hour of the day for tutoring or help in person, over email or even by phone.  The kids have all my info, for real.

-I allow practically unlimited time for turning in assignments.  I accept any and all late work up until the day before grades are due.

-I allow for revisions: If a kid is not happy with his/her grade, they can revise their work (based on my feedback) and re-submit it.

-I assign work that is within their reach with realistic timelines (I think), such as “write a paragraph on whether or not the BRCA gene should be patented, using my given topic sentence”.

So, what do you guys think?  What do I need to change?  How can I up my passing rates without compromising my ethics and just pushing kids through?  My grade team had a discussion around broken grading practices and how to fix them last monday.  I need to continue the discussion.  Please help.

In the meantime, here’s what I wore today, pencil in hair, sinister smile and all.





shirt: madewell – belt: j.crew – jeans: bdg – socks: juicy couture (gift from my sister years ago) – boots: steve madden – necklace: my popo via mommy

Thinking aloud – the teacher outfit

Thinking-aloud: a strategy used by teachers to teach reading comprehension or problem solving.

I’ve never tried the “think-aloud” strategy in my class.  I saw a teacher model it once and it felt awkward, silly and uncomfortable.  Then again, that teacher was generally awkward, weird and uncomfortable socially anyways.  Go figure.

Like a good teacher should, I thought that maybe I should at least try this strategy at least once before throwing it off as gimmicky.  So here goes: Think-aloud – the teacher outfit version.

Damn – hit the snooze 2 too many times.  panic!  brush teeth, wash face, pee and Hmm..it’s overcast outside, and my app claims it will be 48°F out today – warm!!  Oh crap it’s late – panic! what do I wear, stare at closet, WHAT DO I WEAR? panic!  coffee. I’m going to need 11 cups today.  cooooooffffeeeeee.  load the thermos.  what do I wear?  oh eff it, same old black jeans on!  oh yeah…I like that t-shirt and it’s dressier than just a t-shirt, it has “leather”!  edge!  k. k. k. k. k. now what else do I need…belt, shoes.  I’m tired of boots and it’s “warm” out – yay favorite oxfords!  I’ve missed you.  crap, they dont match all the black….uhhh…sweater!  solved.  warm, soft, brown, present from an ex-boyfriend.  slap concealer on spots brought on by burrito and beer binging in SF last week, where’s my grape soda flavored lip balm?  coooooffffeeeeee.  shit, if i dont leave now, I wont have time to organize before classes start.  grab puffy coat, throw bobby pins in hair, keys! bag! cooooooffffeeeee.  hustle.

the edge

the edge2

the edge3

the edge4

the edge bass bellingham

the edge5

the edge6

glasses: warby parker – sweater: j.crew – t-shirt: zara – belt: gap – jeans: bdg – shoes: gh bass – watch: fossil

Every lesson needs an assessment, so here’s the exit ticket:  Using evidence to support your answer, predict which item from friday’s outfit will most likely be incorporated into the look for Ms. Schenck on monday.

Yup, think-aloud still feels silly, awkward and uncomfortable.


The other day, David Brooks of the New York Times published a short piece, The Philosophy of Data, on the current prevailing mania for “data-ism”.  This op-ed strikes a chord with me, as this “data-ism” is something I have seen in public education for as long as I’ve been teaching (which is just a paltry 4 years).  This data-driven mania is prevalent on both coasts – with San Francisco Unified School District and with the New York Department of Education.  I’m willing to bet that it’s the same with most other large school districts and probably trickling down into the smaller ones too.  When I started teaching, one of the first things I was told (or was implied to me) was that data was the be-all, end-all, and that it was a measure of how good a teacher you are.  I mulled that over my first year and initially agreed – we enjoyed a double digit increase in percentage points of the STAR test that year – but I was always skeptical of the implied causation of the results.  I don’t think I was a very good teacher at all my first year.  In fact, I’d say I was horrible.  David Brooks’s article touches on this skepticism for data driven strategies.  He says that there is no evidence that teaching to students’ learning styles gets results.  Does this mean it’s OK to not break my neck over trying to tailor everything I do to all the different student learning styles?  Blasphemy!

I confess I enter this in a skeptical frame of mind, believing that we tend to get carried away in our desire to reduce everything to the quantifiable.

…many teachers have an intuitive sense that different students have different learning styles: some are verbal and some are visual; some are linear, some are holistic. Teachers imagine they will improve outcomes if they tailor their presentations to each student. But there’s no evidence to support this either.

This philosophy of using data as absolute proof has so many implications for what I do every day in the classroom.  For example, the big thing in SFUSD is using data to inform your instruction (if I had a dime for every time I heard those words…).   In an effort to help us teachers inform our instruction, and to hold us accountable, our school implemented mandatory “accountability and assessment meetings”, where we had to show data from an assessment and talk about how we plan to act on the information we get from the data.    The district licensed the use of a handy program called Data Director, which took our (mostly multiple choice) test questions, aligned them to the state standards, and spat out a statistical analysis of how our students performed after we scanned in the answer sheets.  Sadly, this sort of cool efficient technology is not available to me here at the NYDOE – I have to spend hours entering in answers to an Excel spreadsheet to run my own analysis.  What a time-suck.

I had a love/hate relationship with Data Director.  It made test grading super fast and easy, allowed me  to design assesments with a variety of types of questions and did all the analysis for me.  I could look at performance across a class, across a grade, special population students, every which way.  The data was super informative and clued me into things I probably would have missed otherwise.  I could see what questions students struggled with the most and what answers were most popular, allowing me to clear up misconceptions right away and re-teach only the most important or commonly missed topics.  I was also able to be transparent with this data and show the students their own numbers, their class data, and how they compared to the other Biology sections.  This transparency was a huge boon to my instruction.  For kids who thrive on competition, they could reflect on where they stand when compared to others.  For kids who are self motivated and benefit from quiet reflection, they could see  which topics they needed to study more or get tutoring on.  Students who just didn’t give a shit could see that many of their peers did in fact give a shit (thus motivating them to actually give a shit – in theory).

While I love seeing data, it continuously serves as a slap in the face.  It crushes my confidence, it depresses me, it pisses me off and makes me disappointed in my students.  It also tells me that I’m a crappy teacher who shouldn’t even breath the same air as my administrators, because we’re all made to feel (or just I feel on my own) that they could have gotten better results.  I get anxiety when I analyze my data.  The take home message that is continuously driven into our psyches is that if our students aren’t performing, it’s because we’re doing something wrong.  Plain and simple, if your students are not acing your tests, it’s because you’re a bad teacher.   This alone is enough to drive anyone into a stress and anxiety induced breakdown.  And what does the data also show, that for some reason is not talked about as often?  That many teachers do not last past 5 years.  Who would, when the measure of your success is wholly dependent on the performance of your students, regardless of all the other variables that come into play when educating kids?

These variables that are most of the time completely out of teacher control include but are not at all limited to: the amount of time students spend studying, whether or not homework was completed (I have an abysmal HW return rate BTW), and how motivated students are by test taking (and grades).   These variables are just the tip of the iceberg, not even grazing the surface of the plethora of emotional/social/economic issues our students face.  This lack of control renders tests (especially these standardized tests like the STAR test in CA and the Regents exams in NY) completely unreliable and invalid.  For more on this issue, check out this blog post, called “Don’t Buy the Snake Oil“, written by Lisa Myers, the same teacher who also inspired this post.

Our educational system is data driven – I know that and I accept it, even if i don’t like it.  Kids in every state have to take standardized tests, whose data then gets used to label schools as good or bad, teachers as effective or ineffective.  Thus, I find that I am forced to play by those rules.  This means preparing my students for those tests and using data.  If my data tells me that my class average on a practice Regents exam is 50%, I freak out for a couple days, then I get rational and relax.  After all, kids only have to score a 45% on the test to be considered “passing”.

I’m all for data in terms of it’s informational purposes.  I’m completely against using data as a metric for the worth of a teacher.  I can and will use data to see where I need to go back and teach differently.  But if that data is going to used to compare me against another teacher who does not have students who show up sporadically, with a 2 year old waiting at home, and then sleep through entire lessons then I call bull shit.  And don’t you dare tell me that kid is sleeping because my lessons aren’t exciting or engaging enough.   I put on a song and dance for every lesson.

Data is not everything, something teachers have always known.  For once someone else is also talking about it.


2/25/13: David Brooks wrote a follow up to the discussion on data, titled What Data Can’t Do.

Nerdy Stress

Today was one of those extra anxiety ridden stressful days, the type that make you feel like you just ran a mental marathon.  I had visitors in my class today – 7 adult visitors.  These visitors were administrators, “school designers” and various instructional specialists from the network (whatever that means), all in my class to observe literacy elements in the science classroom.  Of course, I was told that the visit was “in no way evaluative”, and in fact, “don’t plan anything special, just do what you would normally do”.  Yeah right.  Lets be honest, every visit is evaluative – especially when the focus is on common core literacy: reading, writing and speaking (not to mention science).  So I planned a lesson where the kiddos would be writing analytical paragraphs about the results of the lab they just finished (the conclusion, essentially).  The lesson was all set to go, when I panicked and decided it wasn’t good enough.  So I re-planned.  They needed an example of a decent paragraph and a checklist, so I made one.  They analyzed the example conclusion I wrote and critiqued it.  Then I gave them copies of paragraphs written by their peers in other sections to analyze and critique.  Finally, they revisited their own conclusion paragraphs that were written last week from a previous lab (which were abysmal).  All this went down and I tried to split myself into 37 pieces, monitoring every single kid and watching how each of the adults interacted with my kids.  It’s a controlled chaos.  Multiply this by 2 classes, and then add on top of it all an afternoon school wide “presentation of learning” where I had to create a visual representation of the course I teach and man my table with students from my classes (fingers crossed that they didn’t embarrass the hell out of me and were able to articulate what they learned from my class).

Here’s the thing I hate most about these lessons – while these lessons are absolutely necessary, I find myself forced to teach more English than I am teaching science.  I don’t like teaching English, I like teaching science, darn it!  The kids want more doing, more lab time, more fun stuff, less reading, annotating and “rigor”.  But instead, I’m forced to do all this literacy stuff with them, the same stuff they do in English class, history class, etc.  They hate it, I hate it, but it’s necessary.  Necessary because these kids can’t write a decent paragraph to save their lives (these are 15 year olds), and you know, “it’s not evaluative or anything”.

The best evaluation I got today?  A comment from a student on how my style is always changing.  “You know, one day you’re all ‘classy’ and the next day you’re all nerdy looking.”  Ummmm, thanks?  Here’s my “nerdy” look.






sweater: cö via uo – shirt: levis – tank (underneath): alternative apparel – jeans: bdg via uo – flats: old old old nine west (these live in my class for days where I wear my bean boots to school) – bracelets: mainsai (present from b) and unknown chinatown jewelry shop (present from my popo when I was a kid)

so funny

Its a new year, and we were back in school on the 2nd.  In SF, we usually got a full 2 weeks off for winter holiday.  Here in NY, it’s a “measly” but well enjoyed week and a half.  Woe is me.  I was ready to be back with my kids, and more than ready to flex my humor bone.  B laughs at me my jokes all the time usually.  The only time I ever hear crickets in my class is when I make a silly science pun.   It’s a good thing that I like poop and fart jokes too otherwise I’d never get a reaction out of them.  So I decided to end the first week back with a bang of a t-shirt.  I was breaking the unspoken “teacher professional” dress code at my school by wearing a t-shirt.  gasp!  with jeans.  double gasp!  None of my professionally dressed colleagues said anything, and I got many chuckles from the kids, so whateves.
so funny

This t-shirt is pretty old.  So is the cardigan which is now half the size it used to be thanks to many rounds of washing (everything shrinks for me, even when washed strictly in cold water and air dried).  What is new are the rain booties.  We all know I have a thing for booties, and with the harsh Brooklyn weather combined with my daily trek to/from school, I figured I could justify adding a pair of weather proof booties to my collection.  Also, LL Bean had a 30% off Bean boots promotion one of the days leading up to Christmas, so I jumped on it.  So cute and so New England-ish, no?

so funny

so funny

cardigan: super old from therapy in SF – tshirt: loyal armyhigh waisted jeans: bdg – boots: ll bean – necklace: unicorn crafts – lipstick: coral colours #867, send from australia by B’s mom (it’s pretty awesome)

Last bit – I’m a bread making machine lately since B got me a cast iron dutch oven for christmas.  The easiest classic recipe ever, though I’m on the lookout for flavor tinkering changes (hello sourdough starter!!!).  It’s my cheat day today so I plan on eating this entire loaf.

MMmmmm  Breeeead

Due Dates

Today was a big day in my class – our first full lab report was due.  Remember those?  All those sections: introduction, materials and methods, data and results and conclusion.

Lab reports are not easy for 15 year olds, so I built in a lot of hand-holding and supports for my little young adults. I assigned it 2 weeks ago and had daily “check for understandings” for the due date.  I gave them an instruction sheet, an outline, and an example lab report to look at. I gave them a lab report template where all they had to do was complete the sentences. I gave them time in class (2 class days) to work on it and I made myself available every day after school and via email to help them.

Today was the big day.  I hold in my hand 10 complete lab reports…out of 85 students.  FAIL.

I did gather a few NOT AMUSING excuses though. Real gems:

“I didn’t know it was due today!”   FACE PALM

“Lab report?  What Lab report?”   DOUBLE FACE PALM

“I need help on it!  can I come after school to get help?”  YOU’RE WAITING UNTIL THE DAY IT’S DUE TO ASK FOR HELP!?!?!?

“Oh, I didn’t get it.  I don’t understand it.”  FOR REAL?!?!

“Oops.”  FACE PALM

“Can I give it you you tomorrow?”  YES

“Can I email it to you tonight?”  YES

losing it.

Remember this post?  Today was a repeat, the second time this year.  The worst part about it?  I should have seen it coming — there were a mountain of warnings as to how badly my day was going to go today.

Hint #1:  I was getting emotional and almost shed tears over how amazing these kids are when watching the ballet documentary First Position last night while doing my nails.  hormonally triggered emotions.

Hint #2: I’m set to be officially observed tomorrow and today’s classes were supposed to be “rehearsal” on how my lesson will go for tomorrow’s class.  pressure.

Hint #3: I’m feeling especially stressed lately with our school’s student-led conferences coming up where my crew kids have to prepare for and present to their parents and other adults in the community what they have learned over the course of the semester; presentations that some of my crew kids need major help with – and they are a reflection of me.  pressure.

Hint #4: I had accidentally ground too many coffee beans that morning and instead of just leaving the grounds for tomorrow, I just added it to today’s pot.  Tooo much coffeeeeee by the time lunch rolled around.  jitters.

Hint #5: I spent all morning in meetings, parts of which were helpful and I find value in, others not so much (just a time suckage).  frustration.

Hint $6: I haven’t been able to really eat lunch since school started. But today I did, an apple which jacked up my blood sugar level right in time for my first class.  jitters.  nausea.

Hint #7: That familiar lump started forming in my throat within the first 5 minutes of class, when not a single kid would shut the hell up, get settled into class and start writing their do-now.  frustration.

Hint #8: This first class of the day has a handful of boys that just love to push buttons.  anger and frustration.

Again, I should have seen it coming and I didn’t.  I lost my shit.  

I went on a tirade about “if you want to play games, there’s the door.” and “what was that?  you want to repeat what you just said again louder to me?” — The kid has just whispered “fucking bitch” under his breath.

So one kid getting kicked out led to a second kid talking about how I’m doing too much. Second kid gets kicked out too — but then refuses to leave.  This kid then goes on his own tirade about how it’s illegal for me to kick him out of class and how he’s not going anywhere.  Which (of course, I shoulda known), led to yet a third kid to mouth off and get kicked out because “he doesn’t care anyway”.  So two kids in the hall (first and third), one of them yelling out “Cunt!” as he walks out.  The second one kid had to get escorted out by the principal.

I held it together for the next 2 hours or so, tried my best not to let the first class sour the second.  Allowed myself to cry for 5 min, wiped off my face and went to yet another meeting for 45 min.

The worst part?  I should have seen it coming.  I should not have yelled, I should not have kicked those boys out, I should not have let them get to me.  They’re teenagers with no sense of how their words and actions may affect others.  I should have controlled my anger, frustration and emotions a bit better.  Instead, I let myself get into a situation, which then set these boys up to fail.  So in the end, I’m more disappointed in myself than I am upset with the boys.

Lessons learned:

1) don’t make coffee extra strong anymore.

2) when I feel that lump of anger/tears coming up my throat, it’s time to take a breather – someone can always cover for 5 min.

3) don’t threaten kids with consequences with getting kicked out, it will only set them off to be even more defiant, which then leads to being called a “cunt”.

with a rebel yell

These pants make me feel like I’ve stepped out of a cheesy “nab the punk rock trend!” type fashion guide on a mega-clothing site like ASOS.  Not that it’s a bad thing really, but it makes me feel a bit odd.  Combine the pants with my “tough biker girl look” boots and I really feel uber trendy, young at heart like maybe I’m dressing too much like a teenager.  Whateves.  When I was in high school (and well into college…and even now), was was seriously into punk music — what I considered punk (there’s is a lot of debate over what is and isn’t punk and whether or not punk is dead) : No Use for a Name, Pennywise, Dead Kennedys, Fugazi and other mid 90’s-ish groups.  To me, plaid pants were for the 80’s type Haight street gutter punks that were trying to emulate Billy Idol and his ilk.  That was not me.  I was busy obsessing over Blake Schwarzenbach (my ultimate teenage crush, next to Rivers Cuomo), trying to bleach my hair in an effort to get Punky Color to stick.  Chesterfield King tore my teenage heart apart and glued it back together by the end — every. single. time.

Back to the pants: I like them, they’re comfy with an elastic waist, they were dirt cheap, and they’re plaid — which as we all know, I have a thing for plaid.  Even my students know I like plaid.  Today in class, I debriefed yesterday’s lab which centered around looking for patterns in self collected data.  I used my pants as an example is a repeating pattern, and this kid P was all, “You’re always wearing plaid, Miss.  You must like patterns.”  YES I DO, P!!!

In the spirit of the punk rock rebellious attitude, here are a few gems of teenage rebellion, true stories:

  • a kid once took a crap on the floor of the boy’s bathroom on purpose.
  • once, a couple of boys tried to flush large semi-automatic guns down the toilet at school to try and get rid of them.
  • a kid once urinated into the soap dispenser in the boys bathroom and it was a while before someone realized it.
  • a kid once took a large Crayola Crayon piggy bank, stuck it through the fly of his pants and went around to different classrooms, interupting them to bonk other kids in the head with the “penis crayon”.





sweater and boots: h&m – pants: uniqlo – necklace: present from sunny, a couple years ago

mad easy.

In effort to avoid looking like I was attending a funeral today, I threw in some reddish/maroonish/berryish colored tights.  The tights just happened to match my maroonish booties – a happy coincidence.  To complete this berry theme, the boots and tights also matched my not-so-new-anymore-since-I-wear-it-all-the-time-now Rimmel ‘bordeaux’ lipstick.   Some kid today said that I actually looked a bit “teacher-ish” except for the red tights and boots that elicit a “omg I love your shoes” type response.  So….the trick to looking like a teacher is: bun, glasses, black dress, black cardigan.  Thanks, kid for the fashion advice.  I’ll remember it, because unlike you (for now), I am good at listening (most of the time).

glasses: warby parker – circle scarf and necklace: h&m (I think, it’s hella old) – cardigan: j.crew – dress and tights: uniqlo (last year) – booties: ecote via uo

By the way, my lesson today was on graphing.  As in what is a graph, which is the X axis, how to graph using a table and identifying the independent vs. dependent variable.

Kid: Miss, this is maaad easy!  Why are we doing this?

Thinking to myself: Yeah, it should be ‘mad easy’, considering they’re in the 10th grade.

Me: If you think it’s so ‘maaaad easy’, then why was your graph hella wrong on the cellular respiration lab?

Kid: What’s ‘hella’, miss?

Mental note: replace ‘hella’ with ‘mad’ from now on.