Monday, August 13, 2007

Follow up to "On meeting Fellows who just finished their first year"

I appreciate all of the responses to the post, "On meeting Fellows who just finished their first year.” I would say that I probably came off as a little harsh in my assessment of the Fellows who came to speak with our class. However, I should make it clear- I didn't mean to, nor am I knocking the 2nd yr TFs who visited my class or am I knocking their efforts. And like ‘subtext’ implied in his comment, we need to embrace and support new teachers in their journeys.

I was simply saying that I was frustrated that the stories of Teaching Fellows who have THRIVED, instead of those who simply SURVIVED were not represented. Last weeks Village Voice article, “Your Own Personal Blackboard Jungle” similarly only portrayed one type of experience of new teachers, and it was the same ol tired story.

I know for a fact that there are teachers and TFs that had a great 1st year, found success, and would be able to speak about their experience. I think this vantage point would be invaluable. We need to know what works!! We already know, or at least I know, how difficult and challenging teaching will be.

Or maybe the Fellows that came to my class actually did find success, but wanted to show us 'tough love', and use scare tactics to prepare us for the realities of the program. But in all honesty, that route is not very helpful. Tell me something new!!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

On meeting Fellows who just finished their first year

I was disappointed. 8 or 9 Fellows who just finished their 1st year teaching came as guests to the last class of one of my university courses. I don’t know if I was disappointed in our guests, in the program, or in the Professor for bringing in these particular Fellows. Each of the Fellows used words like, 'miserable,' 'painful,' and phrases like, 'it was the worst year of my life' to describe the year. What?? This was supposed to be an encouraging end of the summer celebration! And what went down was a series of sad stories and melodramas that definitely killed any sense of optimism or confidence that most of the teachers-to-be had.

One Fellow talked about how her 1st year experience forced her to drink every night alone in her apartment. Similarly, a Fellow talked about crying every day after school on her train ride home. What?!? I didn’t want to hear any more of these pathetic sob stories.

Only time will tell, but I guarantee that after my 1st year, I will not be reporting that my 1st year of teaching in New York City was horrible. And for sure, I will not have to drink away the pain! Never that. I will make it work. Know that.


Maybe I have a leg up. Maybe it has to do with the fact that I didn’t grow very different than most of my students. Maybe it has everything to do with the fact that I was once labeled special ed, and I know the horrors and pains as well as what worked for me as a special ed student. Maybe it is the fact that I don’t look much different than most of my students. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen and been at the bottom of the barrel, and I teach not because I want to, but because I have to. I’m here because a community- my community is dying and suffering, left behind and lost. I teach because so many young people, especially young African American boys do not have any positive male role models. And I’m teaching because I know that until we all make it, none of us have.

All but one of our guests were women, and mostly Caucasian. I have no doubt that anybody can make a difference while teaching students who come from mainly African American and Latino communities. However, I do believe that being an African American and a male will help to reduce some of the cultural friction, as well as increase some of the trust that my students will have of me.

I am in this for the long haul- student by student, community by community.

Friday, August 10, 2007


This excerpt if from a paper I wrote this summer for one of my graduate classes.

"James" is a 14-year old boy in my 6th grade self-contained class this summer. While reading in a remedial language arts class, James got stuck on the word ‘that’. “Th… ha… thi…” And then finally, he stopped. His eyes became empty and the room fell silent. "Ms. B.," the cooperating teacher, walked into the soundless room and became very upset: “What is going on in here? James, why aren’t you reading? If you don’t want to read, you don’t have to. Just know that you will turn out like those dumb dudes (points out of the window to the young men in front of the Projects across the street) who do nothing but drink and smoke all day. It’s your choice James. It’s your choice.”

Tears flooded down his face as James stormed out of the classroom. As he reached the door at the threshold, it appeared as if James had an epiphany and an internal conflict- Should I ditch this, flee my fears, and decide to leave, or should I continue to feel stupid, reinforced by a teacher who knows me, but doesn’t know me. He looked the teacher dead in her eyes and venomously roared, “I DON’T GIVE A FUCK IF I CAN’T READ. BUT I BET YOU WON’T BE ABLE TO READ EITHER WHEN YOU ARE DEAD, BITCH.” Needless to say, James left the classroom, and never returned to school. Maybe to this day, he is hanging out on the block, which was suggested by his very own teacher.

Maybe Ms. B. never read the article, “Understanding and Addressing Oppositional and Defiant Classroom Behaviors.” In this document, authors Spencer J. Salend and Shawna Sylvestre critically look at this behavior like the one James exhibited, and have put together a list of ways in which oppositional and defiant classroom behaviors can be reduced to promote learning for all. According to the article, characteristics of Oppositional and Defiant Behaviors are when students exhibit the following:
• Losing their temper
• Being easily angered, frustrated and annoyed
• Cursing and using inappropriate language
• Having low self-esteem (p. 32)
Ms. B.’s denial of the real problem with James, which has in part to do with the fact that he needs appropriate help, love, and someone who cares for his well being is not being addressed.

This article would be very helpful for Ms. B. Salend and Sylvestre list 14 suggestions for ways to effectively deal with students who participate in the listed characteristics of this behavior. The 7th suggestion is to “build relationships with students” (p. 33). This seems key. It was clear that James has very little respect for his teacher. Perhaps, this is because it is also quite evident that Ms. B. has very little respect for him. Another suggestion that the authors offer is to “give students choices” (p. 33). This is another key point. Life is about choices. However, choice should never be presented like this: if one doesn’t (or isn’t able to) read a single word, than he can choose to reject school, hang out on the block and do nothing. That is not choice. This way of thinking is negative and can potentially produce self-prophetic realities (like that of James) in which a child chooses the streets because he or she thinks “[the teacher] hates me” (Bolitzer, 32).

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Allow me to re-introduce myself...

I am a 25 year old African American male, and I have made the decision to continue my journey in life as a New York City Teaching Fellow. I got a job working at a Junior High school working within the realm of Special Education.

I have decided to write this blog because I am looking to be a part of a community where I can share some of the beauties, joys, and pains of teaching and being part of NYC Teaching Fellows. I have just completed the 7 week pre-service training, which in essence was a crash course to becoming a teacher. Teaching Fellows are required to successfully complete a combination of two graduate classes at our assigned university, as well as participating in a course taught by a "veteran" teaching fellow, as well as student teaching in the morning.

I am looking forward to reflecting on and in my journey as a new teacher in New York City. Stay tuned...