Saturday, May 30, 2009

and still i rise

hey all. im finishing up my 2nd year of teaching here in brooklyn. thankful, blessed- all of the time.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Lex, the kid that makes my life hell

I have a new student, Lex, who in my eyes, lives to make my life hell. He is a student I have no answers for in my bag of tricks. He got me. He gets deep under my skin. To make matters worse, he somehow convinced the rest of the class (which for the first week and a half of school has been a dream class to teach) to join the fire. On his very first day he tried to punk me in the classroom. He stole my cell phone. He talked about my mother. Dropped my personal laptop on the floor. And whatever I would say, he would respond, "blah, blah, blah." Then this fool had the nerve to spit in my face when he got sent to the Dean's office.

About ten minutes ago, I woke up and realized I was dreaming, or rather, 'nightmaring'. I'm going to go into work today thankful that I don't have Lex to make my life hell, but I feel for all of the teachers that have a 'Lex' because I know he exists.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The first day, for the second time.

Breath in, breath out.
Breath in, breath out.

‘Breath in, breath out’ were the words that I told myself all day today. Prior to this morning, I told myself that if I could just make it through the first day, than I would be good. Thankfully, I am happy to say that I feel good with how the first day went. But I definitely need to figure out ways that I can walk away not feeling so drained. This job is not easy. And nobody said it would be. Many times I had to tell myself to lower my voice and change my tone. In fact, I told my students that if they hear me raising my voice to put me in check, because I would most definitely be checking them if their voice was raised and their tone was off. They laughed. In fact, “Mark” said hesitantly- “You mean.. um.. we can.. uh… tell you to uh… lower your voice?” “Exactly”. But today I really made a strong effort to focus on how I say what I want to say. The power of communication is so strong, I have to not let my message get mistaken due to the delivery. This year I’m going to focus on being as deliberate as possible.

Moving on…

The day was, much like last year- a blur. The periods were shortened due to an extended 1st period where I met my advisees and despite a few schedule overlooks on my part, the day was very smooth. I am excited for the possibilities that this year brings.

Breathing is everything. I am just so thankful that I have had the opportunity to add this experience to my life’s continuum of events, people, jobs, and stories.

Today was a great day, and I am looking forward to what lies ahead.


Saturday, August 23, 2008

today is yet another day

(A Train from BK to the City to link up w/ my brother who is visiting)

It needs no mentioning that without question, as I approach year two of teaching in New York City, that I have become a better teacher. However, it is only through reflection that I will truly be able to gauge my true success as an effective educator.

I always kick myself in the head for not keeping up the type of journals that I always envisioned myself keeping- with the hopes of one day turning my notes into a book- a novel, a memoir. But, that never seems to be the case. Either laziness takes over- OR I don’t even attempt to capture the emotional rollercoaster of experiences that my day-to-day brings me too. So I just think about them. I match different experiences to eachother. I imagine where they exist on the continuum of events within my life. I evaluate them. Become frustrated by them. Laugh about them. Sometimes cry. But what I don’t do (usually), is keep them. They are often forgotten memories, sometimes awoken when triggered by other events/people/situations.

I need to be better at putting everything down. Out of fairness to these vignettes- I ought to record the living and working history of myself.

I want to put more poetry in my life. I don’t know why I haven’t allowed for my creative energies to script the pain and beauty into powerful lines of poetry and prose. But I’ll get back into it, I swear ..

A major component in my life. The first thing I do whenever I walk into my apartment in Brooklyn, is turn on the lamp that sits on the mantle above the fireplace, and then go straight to itunes on my MacBook. Sometimes I’ll throw on Femi. Sometimes Miles. Usually, these days, it’s Nas. That Untitled album is THE ONE!!!!

I don’t have many. Well, I have many of not much substance. And only a few that I actually value and appreciate and love. I need to do more to show my appreciation to the few people in my life that I actually and truly have.

I’m on vacation right now, and I cannot imagine what it will be like starting off yet another year of 8:00-3:00 M-F. Well, no sense in debating it. It is the life I chose.

I’ve been going back and forth- should I grow my locks back?. Should I grow an afro? For now, I'm sportin a low Caesar with three 1982 parts on the left side of my head. Lol. I’ve seemingly phased out the Mohawk. But I can see it coming back at any given moment.

I only have one. I am blessed to be a part of mine.

Still looking for it...

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Pit of Death

One of my students, “Nick,” told me that if I don’t give him a birthday present, that he will send me to the “Pit of Death” in Sparta (think the movie 300), to burn and rot forever!

We shared a good laugh.

Needless to say, I’m gonna get my man a birthday gift- lol!

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Kinda Sad

Kinda Sad..

“Kisha’s” last day was Friday. As of Monday, she will be going to another school in the Bronx. I was shocked and saddened by all of this. I asked her why, and she said because her mother wants her to go to another school. Damn. I had looked out for her, and in many ways, she had looked out for me. When I had a death in the family, she was the first to notice that something was wrong, and asked if I was all right. She was not one of my CTT students, but she needed to be- for she has major learning disabilities that have gone undiagnosed for years. She has exhausted her education like being drifted in a river, going with the current. On Friday I was real sad and disbelieved when she told me that it was her last day.

I’m sure it is for the good.. I wish her the best. It was a sad moment. She’ll be all right.. I hope and, I know…

Monday, February 4, 2008

A great day...

I have a student who I am so thankful for. He is the hope, the future, and the prospect of what it means to be young and Black. My man is intelligent beyond means. His purpose and his desire to be a King in the modern world is undeniable.

Of course he is misunderstood. He was suspended the other week from school. But like I told him, this is what they want for him.

He is part of the alternative, Afro-punk crowd. He is somewhat of a mis-fit, much similar to how I was in middle school. Fully aware of who he is, yet he is utterly confused with how he fits into this systemized edifice. But I learn from this cat, everyday. He and I have been challenging each other to read a book a week. We meet every Monday to discuss the book we read the previous week. Our books are fascinating. We sometimes read eachother’s books- and always suggest new ones to read.

He just finished What is the What, a powerful book about Sudan- and I am finishing an incredible Octavia Butler piece, Wild Seed. He sent me an email a few minutes ago with a link to a DOPE Barack video called YES WE CAN.

To me, he is the hope of the future- my comrade and a powerful young revolutionary.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Last week

Walking down the hallway on Friday to punch out, I was a walking zombie. Last week was probably the toughest since the 1st. What made it so difficult? I guess while I have been continuously defining the teacher within me, I have had some major developments, or realizations recently. Not only do I have to work much harder with the teachers that I am working with to make sure that I am fully co-teaching, but my whole take on teaching has to shift. Tonight I made several phone calls to parents. My students are quite comfortable with me. And that has worked to my advantage for the first few months, but is seemingly back-firing. I have to be a more strict, more definitive, more controlling teacher.

This process of becoming the teacher I want to be is no joke. Middle school is no easy feat either. I am trying to rewind my mind- taking it back to being 12 years old. Acne, girls, farting inappropriately, not wanting to be smart, fresh clothes, clean sneakers, poor body odor, not turning homework because I thought I would “look better”, multiple school suspensions: Middle school was some of the toughest times of my life:-a time period I could never relive and a time period I wish so desperately to re-live.

What would I do differently, what would I omit?

Saturday, January 26, 2008

My Revelation, My Dilemma

This week I had a revelation. In order for me to be a successful teacher (and to feel good about my work), I have to be more involved in the design of the courses that I am co-teaching.

Easier said than done.

What it means, is that I must be a much more active participant in the construction of lesson plans and in the delivery of instruction. It is not enough to simply assist the teacher, or to work individually with the special ed students to make lessons more accessible. I must assert myself as a ‘strategy specialist’ (whatever that means) for the course, not just a disciplinarian in the class.

The problem is time. Planning time. How is it at all possible to successfully plan three different course with three different teachers with limited co-planning time? I am trying to reach for the ideal, but the reality is hitting me in the face. I’m also dealing with working with teachers who are insensitive to the needs of Special Ed students. It’s not like they (the gen ed teachers) chose this field- so on many levels, I cannot blame them. However, I cannot bear witness, or co-sign on inappropriate teaching to students with special needs.

So it appears like I need to somehow slip in some sensitivity training into my fellow colleagues.

So yea, this is my revelation, but also my dilemma.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

I teach kids about the Jena 6, you call me the n word, and I am the racist?!?

Unfortunately, I have to start moderating my comments on this blog, because of the utter ignorance that is starting to be apparent with people making comments on my blog. I have no problems with comments that pose an alternate view to my postings, however, ignorance and racism will not be tolerated!

How can I be called a racist by someone who is calling me the n word? And for the other cowardly anonymous commenter to "agree with the above (racist) post"??? Co-signing racism? That's a new one.

So sad, so sad.

In case you are wondering what this is all referring to, check out the recent anonymous comments to my post from October 22, 2007 "Young revolutionaries".

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Tomorrow, yesterday, and today

I am feeling the pain of tomorrow.  I am feeling the throbbing sting of yesterday.  Sometimes I wish the pain could numb me.  But it doesn't.  My young brothers and sisters- caught in between the crossfire of a war that is not their own; Unfair recipients of the vicious 80s.  Children of drug infestation, black on black gun waving.  Disease and sub-standard housing.  Building overcrowding.  Dead bodies on door steps.  Gun in face on the way to school.  Students scared to go home.  Students scared to be in school.  Fear of disability exposure.  Fear of fear.  Fear of "Mr.- when you gonna leave, just like the rest of them?" relationship closure.  Fear of greatness because that becomes expectation. 

Eyes do not lie.  They never have.  Words lie, but eyes tell the truth.  In the eyes of many of my students, I see the pain of a generation scared and scarred with the past to haunt them, and the future to not believe in. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


Teaching inclusion is extremely difficult.  Teaching in New York City is difficult period.  But teaching in an inclusive environment is proving to be extremely challenging.  I'm constantly trying to gauge my students' aptitude and learning, their evolution and progress (as well as my own).  What makes inclusion so challenging is in part the obvious: extreme abilities, extreme levels of confidence, extreme emotional levels; all put into a system that is based on uniform learning.  Differentiation only goes so far, especially when they take standardized tests!  I'm trying to put my feet in the shoes of my students.  What would I need?  What would I want to hear?  What would I want to do?  As much as I try to empathize my way into their experience, I can never really know, but I can try to understand. 

But again, there are so many factors involved.  How can I even ever truly understand?  Everyday I'm reminded of how much I don't know.  The power is definitely in the hands of my students.  More than any one factor, they turn it on and off.  I can only try to do my best to keep the 'on' switch 'on' as much as possible.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Is Our Children Learning?

Check it out. I am thankful for my readership. I feel connected to an educational blog community- which feels great to be a part of. Sometimes, I just need that outlet, that voice, those typed words to express what I want to express.

I want to extend an invitation to check out the blog of one of my colleagues that I just met, virtually (cohort 14 NYCTF) who reached out through a comment on one of my recent posts. I respected his comment, but more importantly, I checked out his page, and he's got a lot to say. So yea, check him out: Is Our Children Learning?


Monday, October 22, 2007

Young revolutionaries

It feels so good to, as Jose said, partake in “intelligent dialogue and thorough action.”

Jena 6 is on the topic of my mind. It has been ever since it happened. What is good with the state of America? Its 2007. Much has changed, much has remained the same.

So step 1: Do a lesson on Jena 6. Actually, the inspiration to do a Jena 6 teach-in came from some angry comments to a post of mine where I linked a detentioned Brooklyn 8 to the Jena 6…

Bet, mission accomplished- Teach-in on Jena 6= Intelligent dialogue. The next step: thorough action.

It was special. Through the lesson, I created (or rather witnessed) the passion of young revolutionaries! The class was filled with young souls and strong minds ready to “do what it takes to support this horrible, horrible atrocity,” said by “Sekou.”

Ok, so these kids are ready.

One of my students said he was “ready to get on a bus and head out to Jena, Louisiana to protest in front of the courtroom.” It just so happened that my principal walked in to observe my class at that very moment. Perfect timing, I thought to myself.

So anyway- the action is the Jena 6 bake sale week (that my students thought of) that is going on this week to raise funds for the efforts to support the Jena 6 and other victims of racism and letters to Governor Blanco. Today was the 1st day of the bake sale, and we raised $75 dollars! Every dollar counts! We got 4 more days of Jena 6 cupcakes, muffins, and cake slices.

Best of all, my kids feel connected to something larger than what they know, who they are, and where they are from. But at the same time, I constantly remind my students that these are the Jena 6, but can easily be the Brooklyn 6. So we need to give respect and support in the same fashion that we’d want people who have the opportunity to effect change would do for us.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Week 7

Today was disastrous. At one point, I just sat in my chair, mouth shut, and just listened to the chaos, witnessed the dance moves, and took it all in as each minute (which felt like hours) passed by. Outward appearance: calm. Inside I was boiling with rage. “What have I created!!???!!??,” I was saying to myself. I had to constantly remind myself that my classes have been going cool for the past 7 weeks. I had to remind myself that I hadn’t felt out of control in this class since the first week of the year when I shut it down! I had to remind myself that, as my mother always says, “This too will pass.”

I was pretty upset until I read the work that resulted from my exit routine, which I hope, will remain with my teaching for as long as I am a teacher. For the last five minutes of every class, silently, I have my students write me Dear Mr. * letters. At the beginning of the semester, the letters were fluffy and filled with unsolicited praise. Maybe the students thought it would increase their grades if, instead of telling me how they were doing, they focused on telling me how good of a lesson it was. Slowly, the letters really became a place where students could express their inner most emotions and delve into the real with how they were doing; what the experience of the lesson and day was to them; and most importantly, (as well as most difficult to communicate) what that day was like being in your skin and what it will be like at home.

So today in my Dear Mr. * letters that I just read on my train ride home, almost all of the letters talked about things that have been happening in their lives at home that could have contributed as a cause to their behavior today in class. One student, “Damien,” said that en route to school this morning, he saw a dead body by the train station and that “it fucked [me] up because I knew him and I know why he got shot.” Another student, “Lisa,” talked about how the previous class they came from was so out of hand and two girls were face to face, about to fight and the teacher left the room. “Walter’s” letter was unapologetic. He said that “[he] is just a kid and sometimes has bad behavior and nobody can blame [him] for that.”

But almost all of them hinted at a collective responsibility and necessity to continue to strive to be in class as their higher selves. However, I think it always comes down to the teacher and the lesson. I read in Stephen Wolk’s article “Heart and Minds” that good classroom management starts with good lesson plans.” True indeed. Today made me realize that I need to be a more reflective teacher, and look back at my first 7 weeks of teaching and find the lessons or pieces of lessons that were agents in the positive behavior and environment of my classes and of my students. I know it sounds simple, but I just need more reflection. I think I have been looking forward more than looking back to figure out which steps I need to take to in fact go forward.

It is a process and a journey, and I am thankful.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

The 3 day weekend that I wish wasn't

We should have school on Monday. These kids should be learning instead of honoring someone who doesn’t deserve anything good to be mentioned in the same breath as his name.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

In response to the problematic comments to the post, "Problematic" (sigh)

I had to sit on this for a full day. Let me start with the Jena 6- (of which I did a lesson on today thanks to the responses to my blog- so not for nothing- thanks)

So, Chris- The Jena 6. Yea man, its relevant. It is connectable. It is important to discuss at all levels of communication. And FYI, I am without apology for my previous post about connecting the Jena 6 to my middle school 8. All things are relative. If you cannot make the connection- that is on you- I will not walk you through it. I’m tired and I have papers to grade.

However, “Chris”, your ignorance shines when you make comments like “you accuse teachers of not understanding young black men. Based on this, you obviously think young black men are different than young white men, and should be treated differently and with different expectations”.

All I “expect” from teachers is that they learn about the communities [and the histories] of the students of which they are teaching. A white man saying that he wants to handcuff a black boy to a desk is inappropriate! It has racial and historical sentiments. He might of well used the word shackle. But again, if you cannot understand this, than you need to educate yourself on African American history!

And lastly, your final question poses a lasting impression of your true ignorance: “How can you ask for equality when you yourself claim black men are different?”

First of all, homie, I never asked for equality in that specific post. That was far from the topic of conversation. Actually, equality is my expectation. And lets not talk about what I am asking for. How about lets talk about what I want. I WANT teachers to know the realities of their students and the communities and shared histories of which they are a part of!!!

Next, Mr. “Anonymous” (lol)… your entire commentary is problematic. So, first off, of course I will get frustrated and I get frustrated at times while teaching! Isn’t frustration part of the process?

“I promise that if you go to an all white school, the teachers will be saying the same exact things about their students too.”

Why are you telling me what white teachers might possibly be telling to white students? That is irrelevant to me (and to you) because you are speaking on speculation, and the bottom line, is that I am not working in an “all white school” as you say. PLUS- “all white schools” have their own issues to deal with, (remember Columbine??) I’m not sure what “all white schools” are saying to their students, and I am not really concerned. What I know is that I’m teaching in the hood, and I’m speaking on that!

Your next quotable moment was, “I guess what is frustrating is the self-important, self-impressed tone that this blog takes.” With that one, you win the best quotable award! So, now you are talking about how my blog is frustrating you!!! LOL. I had a real kick out of that one. I guess you are modeling for me how to express my frustrations aloud, “because I will feel it” as you say.

You are a fool.

Did I really cause you frustrations? Are you going to be ok? “Self important, self impressed tone”. What should I be? Unimportant and unimpressive? I know I can always be a more effective educator. But what I’m doing right now is working. RESPECT THAT. And please, don’t project your own personal unimportance and unimpressive teaching career on me!!

Jose- thank you for your response and support. It’s hard out there for a pimp for a teacher trying to teach from the heart.

Repairman Hugh- (nice to meet you- lol!) These folks on here are crazy. But you know what, I’m not trippin- my skin is thick- My Momma taught me right!

‘Another teacher’- Thanks for your support.. I was feeling you and I acknowledge your suggestion for me to pace myself “because I’ve only been teaching for a month”. Except- in my community I feel like I have to teach and work with a sense of urgency. No time to be passive- about anything.

Subtext- I value your response, but would love for you to decode it! LOL

Frumteacher- Interesting. I’m with you until the end of your commentary. “That is what deserves your energy right now, not the battle with your colleagues that are not open to criticism anyway.” I actually think that my colleagues (and myself) are open to criticism. Positive and negative. I don’t believe that it is acceptable for teachers to talk to and about students in any way. They need to be checked. Imagine- if all of that came out while talking to me, I wonder what comes out when those teachers talk with their friends about that student?

And lastly (save the best for last), “Mex”. Your mini-speech/monologue was deep. Please, please, please do not attempt to tell me what I think or what I will think. Know that! And know that you don’t know me! How about YOU focus on YOU!

And you are talking about “biological kids” and your “favorite person in your house being a dog” (maybe you should think about that first- your favorite person is a.. dog) Whoa!!! What district do you teach in!!!???!!??. They let you teach homie?

Anyway, please keep your commentary relevant! You saying that you want to “shoot” your dog is your own personal issue that has nothing to do with education. To bring it to an educational context, ummm, if I heard a teacher say that he or she wanted to ‘shoot’ a student (even if it was out of frustration), I wouldn’t write about it in this blog- I would call the police aswell as the department of education to have yo ass removed from any environment that involves students!

Mex, what was your point? Racism does not have to be explicit! What world/time do you live in? If you think it must be explicit, than you do not need to be an educator.

Another question- does MEX stand for Mexican? Is that what people call you? Mex? Nevermind! That is a whole other problem.

But lest I forget. “Mex”- you want an apology? Umm.. from who??? From me??!?!? You are a fucking fool. CAPICHE????

Tuesday, October 2, 2007


"Sometimes I just want to handcuff him to the table," was the description of his Science teacher.  "I just hate him," barked his Math teacher.  "He… is... just… so... un-teachable," according to the assistant principal. 

How are we describing our students??  Naw, that is too nice of a way to say that.  How about… WHAT THE FUCK??  I cannot stand this monsterization of our young black men. 

Handcuff to the fucking table?? Handcuff?? Naw yo, its you.. You don't know how to reach him.  You don't know how to handle your stupid classroom.  You don't know shit about young black men. 

You hate him?  That is no way to talk about a child.  You hate him?  This is a personal attack!.  Personal and inappropriate.  How can you be an effective teacher when you are devoting all of that negative energy towards him??

Un-teachable?  Naw bitch- you are just incompetent.

It disgusts me to think that my colleagues think that it is acceptable to speak about children in this manner.  Don't they know of the racial, historical, and social implications of a white man talking about handcuffing a black boy?  The racial undertones of my colleagues are making me sick to my stomach.  My militancy is itching to get out.  With Jena 6 lingering in my mind and with the racist teachers that I'm working with, my revolutionary agenda might just come to center stage.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

My life is all I have

Ok so check it out. Detention is bullshit. For how progressive and liberal my school is (or claim to be), they (that’s messed up how I refer to MY school as THEY when it comes to this! Lol).. Let me back it up. The school that I’m at holds on to detention like drinking water from a water fountain. You can get detention for anything: for breathing when you weren’t supposed to, for smiling when you were supposed to be screw faced, for enjoying life- or rather singing too loud during lunch when you were supposed to be calm, orderly, and ‘appropriate’. Well, some of those things I exaggerated with, but you catch my drift.

So like my schedule isn’t full enough, I had to give up my lunch break (my only ‘prep’ on Fridays) to be the detention room overseer supervisor. So when the period before lunch let out, I popped in my stuffed chicken in the microwave and headed down to the cafeteria to pick up the criminals students. I got the Jena 6 middle school 8 but on the way back to my room, I had to make two stops: I had to get my chicken (lol), and I had to get the mandatory detention forms from the office that the students need to fill out once they finish their lunch. As we are all walking back to my room, I’m reading the student detention form. WHAT? Write an essay about Abraham Lincoln….????? What???? I get to my room and the first thing I do is set down my chicken, then I take the sheets and toss them in the trash. I tell the kids that they have ten minutes to eat their lunch and then we have work to do.

After each student finishes, I tell them that they need to come up to my desk and tell me why they have detention. One student says because he was chewing gum in the hallway. Another student became teary eyed and told me that she has detention because her mother decided to make her breakfast because today is her birthday. It was the first time her mother had ever made her breakfast before school. On top of that she lives an hour and 30 minutes away by train and she arrived to school 8 minutes late. Two best friends were in detention because the day before, they didn’t come inside immediately after the bell rang.

All of these offenses seemed extremely minor. So minor that I felt like not only was this a waste of my time, but also of theirs. So to turn a major negative into a positive I had them write poetry, starting with the line from one of pharoahe monch’s rap songs, My Life. The first line is: My life is all I have. I told the kids I wanted them to write a poem, a rap, or a song starting with that line. They got to work. Pens skated across their pages. They were into it. It was relevant. It was self-reflective. Isn’t that the point of detention? To get the students to think about their actions and their lives? I felt like I circumvented the unnecessary BS about good ol Abe Lincoln by throwing in some relevant stuff. They want differentiation right? Well here you go.

When it came down to ten minutes left, the kids were still heavy into their work. Out of nowhere, I delivered mine:

my life is all I have
like a KING I am free at last!
for our lives im scared cuz even Brooklyn has Baghdad blasts

my life is all I have!

no phones or gold, degrees or clothes
my life… so controlled yet free
sometimes even I forget it belongs to me
sometimes I forget to just, be

so i.. ‘do’ instead of ‘be’ black
i act wack
i gum smack and talk back
i walk back and arrive late
i have good intentions but it was my mother that made me…
and I wanted to go in, but on the yard we had a friendship session

but next week is new…
and this life is too…
and its mine, forever

I saw the eyes that make teaching worth it. I saw the eyes of students that want to control their destiny, their minds, their education. I saw eyes of re-focusing, re-determination, re-mind(ers) of why we are here, our purpose. And it was reflected in their poetry that I asked them to share before heading back to their class after lunch.

Mission accomplished.

I had to write them all passes for being a few minutes late to their next class. Surely I didn’t want to be the cause of yet another detention!

Sunday, September 16, 2007


I was trying. I was trying hard. One thing that stood out to me the most during my pre-service classes at my university was the necessity for special education teachers to accept their role as an advocate for their students. We spent almost two or three sessions on advocacy.

A reoccurring theme that I was starting to notice was that with special education students, many times the train leaves them at the station, so to say. Nobody pushes for them, nobody fights for them. And there are many factors for this. Parents often times do not activate their power as the primary advocate for their child for two main reasons- either they do not have time to navigate and learn the bureaucratic machine called the Department of Education (DOE). To know this machine requires knowledge of its language (similar to a foreign language!), the way it’s organized, and patience! Or the parents simply just do not know of the parental powers of which they have.

So when a situation came up which I figured could use some beginner’s advocacy assistance from my end for one of my students, I jumped to the occasion. However, I realized only later that I was going up against a monster, even though it appeared at first to only be a molehill.

Bus service.

One of my students has bus service per his I.E.P. This means that the DOE provides door-to-door service to him at no cost. Bus service for general ed students stops at 5th grade, so it is really only special education students that have this type of service. I became aware of this particular problem while calling “Mike’s” family in the days before school started. I decided to call all of my students’ families to 1) introduce myself to them, and 2) to see if they had any pressing issues or concerns before the start of school. Mike’s Mother told me that everything was fine except that information about Mike’s bus service hadn’t arrived. Ok bet. I told her that I would look into it and I would call her back. Surely I could have told her that she needed to call the Office of Pupil Transportation (OPT) to ask why the information hadn’t been arrived. But naw yo, ‘I got this! Let me try out my roll as an advocate,’ I thought to myself.

So I called OPT. I waited on hold to speak to someone for 27 minutes. Come to find out, Mike’s NYC DOE ID number was not even in the system so the lady on the phone couldn’t help me whatsoever. Ok bet. No problem- let me call the DOE. After holding for 46 minutes, the lady who picked up the phone was ready to help me until I told her that Mike is a special ed student. She cut me off mid sentence and in a matter of fact way (I don’t blame her, she was probably tired), she told me that the DOE does not deal with services as it relates to special education students. Ok, let me try the Office of Special Education Services- surely they would be able to help us because after all, it is on their very own paperwork (IEP) that grants Mike this service!

They were able to locate Mike. They saw that he in fact has bus service, but the destination school was incorrect!! The destination was for PS XXX, the elementary school that he graduated from. I repeat- the school he graduated from last spring.

I’ve spent over a week calling what seemed like the entire NYC DOE and I have had very little luck making progress. There really is no positive end to this story. Mike still doesn’t have bus service to the correct school, and his mother daily calls me wanting an update. I asked my principal if she could help to resolve this problem, and she has been working on it for a few days.

My work as an advocate is clearly going to be a difficult task- no matter how big or small the battle is that I attempt to resolve.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Beginning of my NYC teaching career

My first week and a half of teaching in New York City has been possibly the most amazing ten days of my life. The energy of my students, their chaotic passion for learning, their promise to be scholars now and collegiate scholars later, have all been very inspiring for me as teacher, an advocate, and a person.

Let me back it up a few weeks….

August 24th at 9 AM.
It’s the last day of professional development week at my school. In about a week, the hallways will be filled not with empty boxes that once carried brand new text books, staples, paper, and chairs, but will be capacitated with bouncing and rambunctious middle school students- eager to show off their new fits, talk about their summers, and grow into their slightly larger frames than the school-year before.

So there I am- standing and about to speak to the entire staff- my hands wet with nervousness, my documents neatly in piles waiting for distribution. On the program for the day, the first section was listed as “Special Education Workshop.” Special Education is new to this school, being that it has only been open for two years. Whoa. I have barely finished my first set of graduate level classes and I just completed a crazy summer of student teaching, and all of a sudden I was leading a content workshop to my staff on Special Education and Collaborative Team Teaching. Since when did I become a special education specialist?! I was up late the previous nights preparing for this workshop.

Just three days prior, I had been emailing my professors from the summer to try to figure out what I can possibly say to my colleagues, some of whom had been teaching for over ten years. I was also nervous about my abilities to teach about disability for other reasons. Over the summer in my formal introduction to education through university coursework, differentiation was presented as an educational strategy to be implemented within the realm of special education. Interestingly enough, our entire week of professional development had an emphasis on differentiation. It became very clear that differentiation was not just a crucial teaching method for special ed students, but really just means “good teaching” in a general sense.

Based on the already solidified emphasis on differentiation at my school, I asked one of my professors how can I possibly be in a position to teach my colleagues what good teaching should look like? I was given encouragement. He said, “you know more than you think you do- your experiences both inside and outside of the classroom will be extremely helpful to your colleagues.” And it was. We did powerful simulation exercises on dysgraphia and dyslexia, I described and modeled the different methods of collaborative team teaching. I also discussed some of the realities and strategies of some of my students’ needs, as well as going through the information on some of my students IEPS. The workshop was about an hour and a half, and almost all of the teachers commended me on the quality of the workshop.

Fast-forward- September 4, 2007: The first day of school.
A day I will always remember. I had my fresh cut ‘Fro-Hawk,” I sported my Dashiki that I got in South Africa, and I had the confidence of a seasoned teacher. I kept thinking about why I’m doing this: I’m here because my heart said so… my heart told me so. I’m here because if it’s not the streets it’s the prisons that are getting our youth. And if it’s not the prisons, it’s the army. I am here because I don’t just want to encourage my students to go to college, but I want to prepare them- academically, mentally, and crucially for LIFE. This year, my 6th graders will be preparing for the rest of their lives- so of their lives, they can THRIVE, not just SURVIVE.

These past two weeks have been very very busy- so busy that I have not played much basketball or written much poetry- two great passions of mine. Needless to say, I have definitely not been able to write on this blog- lol. But, I am getting into a routine, and I am looking forward to continuing my passion of playing sports and writing, and I am also looking forward to re-joining this blog community.

Big respect,
eh Mista! (as they call me- lol)

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...