Thursday, June 22, 2006

Slipping Through The Cracks

As the teachers of social studies were grading the American History Regents Exams our freshmen took, we were interrupted quite a few times. Fires surrounding programming of the school, math teachers needing cigarettes, and stories of Sea Goblins were indeed unnecessary however as a whole welcomed.

The interruption that struck me most though is something I want to share. This interruption is the thing that separates us so much from other schools. Teachers were stopping into our grading enclave to check on the progress of "their" students. They wanted to know how well "their" students did on the History Exam. No one is slipping through the cracks. Even Nancy Ferrara stopped into to announce how proud she was of a struggling senior who finally passed the RTC.

I love working in this school because we do care so much about the success of our students. No one slips through the cracks. A perfect example was when Frank Swetten was cheering as his advisory students were announced one by one as passing the exam. I have to admit it was a great feeling knowing that my colleagues are so concerned.

Knowing our students and shoring up the cracks will always be the thing we do well!

Friday, June 16, 2006

"Not there yet"

Just because teachers here at QHST are given the autonomy to create the programming decisions within our communities does not mean we should stray from the path of school reform we have emblazed upon. Where is the internal structure that we have been developing over the countless hours of PD? Should teachers be allowed to break up cohorts to suit their preferences? Should programming decisions being made to create advanced level classes? Is allowing students to choose regents and non-regents tracked classes aligned with our philosophy? (ultimately tracking math, art, and science)
Teachers choosing seniors and breaking up other grade level families is a philisophical error. Can a teacher do this? yes. But should they?

I can hear Brenda already yelling at me for this blog saying, "they are not there yet." (Referring to the level of philosophical acceptance of the teachers) What happened to the small group of teachers who are dedicated to a cohort of students in mixed ability non-tracked classes?

I hope the ISA Summer Institute refocuses us back to the mission we all agreed with upon our acceptance of a position in this building. These decisions do not need to come from the top down. They are stronger when internalized through the teachers who understand their implications.

Real school reform must come from the teachers believing in the change. No administrator can change a school. Teachers change schools. Our administration has empowered the teachers in our building to accomplish just this. Ultimately we have the power. What we do with our “power” will be remembered. We need to remain focussed on the students and keep the vision of the school we signed onto.

In the last few days faculty here at QHST have dropped the ball. It is not too late to step up to the plate and make a difference. I know change is scary. But retreating back to "what they did in my old school" is even scarier. (at least in my case) If the "old school" from whence most of us came was so great then why abandon it?

Always thinking of the students first and knowing that research has supported the Small Learning Community Model is the best way to service them is our desired end.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Tough Choices

I am always amazed by how the scheduling in a school is accomplished. Programmers at every school I have worked at in the city have to worry about the concerns of the teachers on top of programming students. Teacher ‘X’ cannot teach an early class on Monday because he lives on Staten Island. Teacher ‘Y’ needs to leave early on Wednesdays because she sings in a band. It seems to be the only job in the school that needs to take so many concerns of teachers into account.

“I can remember as an English teacher going into the counseling office at the end of the summer and moving some cards around on the “big board” so I could have a conference period right after lunch.”Suzan Tidyman <-- click

Here at QHST though there is so much more to think about. We take the students needs into account. What classes are being offered, what time of the day they are offered, and who is best suited to teach the program are all considered. It takes a tremendous amount of vision from the staff to understand and become comfortable with the notion of programming being for the best of the students and not for the best of the teachers. We need to make choices that benefit the student body, not the parking concerns, or evening plans, of the staff.

I trust my colleagues who make requests for their scheduling needs. I trust my teammates not to take advantage scheduling loopholes at the expense of student needs. I know my union representation will be sure things are equitable and remember that they too are teachers entrusted with the needs of the students. With next year’s grade level team planning periods and our split start times I do not envy the job of programmers. As Suzan Tidyman wrote in a recent blog on working together with the students in mind when creating school schedule is a powerful piece. IF I learned one thing from Brenda Butler our ISA coach is was that the programming of the school is one of the backbones of school reform.

Reforming has as it roots a physical reshaping, a breaking down and re-constructing. I hope we all remember this when making decisions. Our lives as teachers will change as reform takes hold.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Literacy and Hair Gel

“Reading does not consist merely of decoding the written word or language; rather, it is preceded by and intertwined with knowledge of the world. Language and reality are dynamically interconnected;” Paulo Freire wrote this in a 1998 article entitled, Literacy: Reading the Word and World. In this eloquent piece Freire goes onto tell the story of how he gained a sense of literacy while growing up in rural Brazil. He led me to believe that the connection between the real world and the world of words must come naturally. Only through this enlightening experience does one truly appreciate literature or become literate. Reading divorced from content or what he calls the "real world" seems a meaningless task.

The problem that Carol Santa proposes in her paper, Adolescent literacy: A position paper (1999) , is that high schools tend to departmentalize reading to a select few people. They tear the responsibility of facilitating reading skills away from the content teacher and anoint reading teachers with the sole care of literacy for our HS youth. The teacher according to Friere has a higher calling though, ‘…teaching adults to read and write as a political act, an act of knowledge, and therefore a creative act.” We are all teachers of reading regardless of content area.

Dan O’Brien adds yet another aspect of literacy that most H.S. teachers and all standardized tests seem to devalue. Published on the website, O’Brien gives us concrete examples of how, when given an opportunity to express their literacy in the forms of media relevant to their surroundings, even “at risk” students can flourish. Students produced documentaries and multimedia presentations are undeniably a high form of literacy that needs to be valued as a legitimate way to internalize and rationalize the world around them.

We do not even have to go that far to see how students become inspired and flourish when we offer them their media outlet to do so. At the Queens High School of Teaching, Brian Eddelson's mass media class demonstrated an outstanding level of literacy when they "pitched" their movie ideas to the group of gathered judges in the distance learning room. Through photos, song, humor (at one point hair gel was used by one group) and brief one page summaries students were able to express their ideas to a group of QHST judges.

Carol Santa makes some real suggestions as to how to inject a more traditional "print rich" literacy into the HS curriculum. She makes suggestions to everything from dedicating time each day for reading and allowing for student choice through classroom libraries. NYC public schools seem to be ahead of the bell curve when it comes to her suggestions for reform.

I am looking forward to PD Day on Thursday. I want to hear about the new ways we can infuse the sense of reading into our craft. I also would love for us to open the conversation up around literacy. I do believe that most of the reluctant readers are simply people whom do not have the real world connect to what is be put in front of them. Possibly having students read other student’s work off the QHST Literary Magazine Blog might be an more effective way to engage the disconnected reader.

As reluctant as some students may be they are all readers.

When I look at our DEAR program and our classroom libraries and read the article by Carol Santa I am once again impressed by our school.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Bases Loaded

Playing baseball isn't easy. Trusting that your teammates can accomplish a task that you yourself are unable at the time to assist in is difficult. Ask any pitcher who leaves a game with bases loaded hoping the reliever will close out the inning and not allow any runs. The statistics by which all pitchers are judged (their ERA) is left in the hands of one of your teammates. There is a level of trust that cannot be denied.

This situation occurred yesterday while I was coaching the undefeated boys varsity baseball team here at QHST. The starting pitcher trusted the reliever to save the game. After the inning was over the starting pitcher shook hands with his replacement and said, "thanks."

I think as a teacher I learned much from this. When teachers are absent from school there is a level of trust we afford our replacement. We hope that they pick up our classes and cover our assignments. As team members we need to trust each other. I trust the English teacher is working on writing skills that will compliment my global studies assignments. I trust that the dean and guidance councilor are looking out for the behavioral and emotional safety of my students. I trust that when I am not available my team will pick up the slack. When I have bad days (too many sometimes) I trust my team will ease my stress. When I have good days my teammates can trust me to help bring them up.

Good team members do not always agree, but they do always trust their teammates. Planning events without members present (of which I am definitely guilty of) can only be done with the understanding that the level of trust that we have for each other as professionals has been established. The team never takes the field without the catcher although they will definitely have a practice. We are not only out for the best of the students, but the best of each other. I trust that when I am not sitting with my team that they are out for my best interest. I can only hope they feel the same.

I have worked in other schools where the idea of professional colleagues was absent. It is not fun. We should never want to do anything to jeopardize our good fortune of working together as teams of equal professionals here. Be it your 1st, 10th or 20th year teaching we all bring valuable insight to the table each time we share our thoughts.

If anyone ever has bases loaded, and can't get ahead of the batters, and if you need me to relief pitch, I'll be there. I also know that my team would be there for me.