Thursday, September 28, 2006

Freshmen Exhibiton

Ninety Minutes before school starts on the last Thursday of September most teachers are beginning to look over the lessons they created the night before. Some teachers are stopping at Dunkin Donuts looking for some caffeine laced inspiration. Normally I would be attempting to organize my desk or scanning the NY Times for the latest controversy.

Not Mayo.

Today Lori inspired the Montessori ninth grade team of teachers and eighty eight freshmen embark on a whirlwind tour of process analysis essays. She encouraged the visual art teacher to share some of the projects students had been working on, and convinced me to display a montage of video clips and photos I had been documenting so far this year from my history class.

This was a true exhibition. Teachers from all grade levels in our Small Learning Community, along with our principal, stopped by to share in the students pride. There were two student teachers from Adelphi in attendance and a visitor from Queens College. The amazing part of the morning was the attendance by not only the students but the parents.

No less than twenty parents attended and all seemed to leave impressed.

As I thank Lori for the experience I am also a little perturbed, she sets the bar real high for the rest of us and its only September.

Below I’ve included a video of the experience for those of you who could not attend. You will notice that the software ( just featured in the Edutopia’s latest issue) has been used to supply the photos.


Below is an entry form our QHST UFT Chapter blog. In a pleasant tone many issues are being discussed that were brought about from the "questionnaire". I am so appreciative for the active role and the ability for our UFT Representative to listen to all the concerns of this staff. Unfortunately due to previous experience, and the responsibility our chapter has as to not slander its members, commenting on the UFT blog is probably not in the best interest of all. This is not a official school blog therefore I encourage the comments here. I personally moderate all the comments that appear on this site. Even philosophically opposed arguments are published. However I will not tolerate slander of my peers in anyway.

The following appeared on our UFT Blog :

"To the staff of QHST:

I’m sure that many of you are aware that last term we lost the following staff members at the Queens High School of Teaching: From Montessori, Matt Wolkowitcz, Tara Riba, Tamara Baranski and Andrea Galeno. From Emerson, Jamie Yost, Andy Sutton and Liz Fichera (originally from Montessori and moved to the Emerson community). We also lost Minerva Zanca, a guidance counselor from the Freire community. It is expected that some people will leave for other reasons than dissatisfaction, but this attrition rate of 12% is rather significant.

Therefore, we thought it was important to investigate the feelings and opinions of the staff. Saying good bye to these staff members was much more upsetting than any questionnaire we could ever produce – whatever the format might be.

As a Chapter Chair, it is my job to investigate issues that are troubling the staff, ask the tough questions, and with the assistance of a consultative team and the staff, develop a plan to make the Queens High School of Teaching the best it can be. The statements were provocative in their wording, but they were not unfair. There were many options – people could leave it blank, agree or disagree, answer only what they thought would be helpful, or toss the sheet in the waste basket. The purpose, then, was to get your opinions and discuss some of the issues that people have been addressing to me. Last year, one of our colleagues said to me, “Mike, I’m always shut down in my SLC meeting, and my opinion is not appreciated.”

I’m also aware that the questionnaire did not target the needs and concerns of the para-professionals or the secretaries. I will produce a sheet for the secretaries to voice their concerns and Kathleen Grantz, who did not take part in the teacher questionnaire, will reach out to the para-professionals.I do not have all the questionnaires at this time, so I do not have the results for you. A cursory investigation reveals that the real work will be unifying our fragmented staff. The questionnaire was not meant to – as one staff member suggested – divide us. It did, however, reveal that our staff has been divided for some time and that we need to develop a plan to make the QHST a unified chapter.

Without that unity we will struggle with a kind of quiet anxiety that saps our energy and ultimately affects our teaching practice. With a unified chapter, where everyone is able to voice an opinion, we may significantly reduce the need to bid farewell to our valued colleagues."

I would love to hear any and all concerns.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

"Brooklyn Boy"

Below is Mr. E's response to the previous blog entry "Who is Zevinon?" I reposted it here because I din't want anyone to miss it. Thank you Brian in advance for taking time you share your thoughts.

"I have to say Wally that you make some solid points. First of all, if we begin to seriously question some of the pillars of QHST then I am afraid the building, and essentially vision, will crumble.

But at the same time we must show some flexibility. Remember, great leaders/documents, etc. admit wrong doings, learn from mistakes or from simply lofty and unattainable goals, and change for the greater good and "fix" things. I think you would agree that much like the neo-con Republicans you so aptly cited, we must not get into the habit of NOT fixing things when addressing QHST'S policies/goals/design etc. Because if we fail to do so we might wake up one day cornered without any "exit strategy."

Yet we must not sacrifice the pillars of QHST - the very core of what makes our school different from others - in order to fix everything. We must be very careful in what we choose to fix. We must also be careful not to always choose solutions that are comfortable and familiar. QHST was designed to "not fit." It was designed to somewhat not make sense. I fear overfixing things just for the sake of feeling more at ease will only make us more unrecognizable. Besides, is this really about "me" or the kids? To be frank, I'm a Brooklyn boy whose seen what NYC crappy schools are like up close. I've lived amongst teachers who clocked out on time, had trouble remembering your name in the hallways, and paralyzed education by sequestering themselves into content-driven clusters that resemble our dysfuntional Homeland Security department. Sure there were exceptions, but the majority pretty much was unremarkable.

Having said this, I just don't get what all the fuss is about? QHST is a work in progress. Why aren't we recgonizing some of the greatness of daily life? For one, our school is extremely diverse. Second, our High School students and teachers have a very unique relationship, unlike most schools. Finally, at every corner there is an unspoken tolerance for one another. In SLC I hear how students misbehave and act like this and act like that - damn they are kids! Sorry to go off topic but it seems that we are complaining just to complain. Sometimes I even find myself doing the same! (Ugh! how annoying) Honestly, my only real beef is with the damn technology, give me some copiers that work all the time and a much faster Internet network and I will call it the day for a while.

Perhaps we complain simply because there really isn't anything "very serious" to complain about? Walk the halls of Grady HS in Brooklyn and then come back to me with your complaints. Just make sure you don't wear anything metal or you won't get in. Our student body is age- appropriate, and to be frank, quite sensitive and caring. I think this comes with being a QHST student - where the individual is known and accountable. Not to mention, learning in an inclusive setting also builds gentlemen out of boys and ladies out of girls without them even knowing it. I am not denying that like all NYC schools, we too have some tough kids who come from some tough places. But I really believe that school in general is a big part of "the street" and if your school is one that is positive, models acceptance, and truly makes kids feel special - then suddenly a child's whole neighborhood starts to change. And soon enough the school becomes the norm and everything else that is negative slowly is rejected. Isn't that a major goal? To show students there's more to the world than what they previously thought?

Certainly there are exceptions and perhaps some students truly need a different environment for their best interests, but the majority of our students, and our core beliefs, make our school stand out. More so than even the suburban wonderland to our east - our school teaches just by simply being. Its design empowers skills and values that transend school walls and permeate the larger society. To change these fundamental beliefs, I'm afraid, will only lead us down a slippery slope where QHST transforms itself into every other NYC public school that gets lost in the mix. This will only move our students, further from being recognized, and (as you say Wally) applauded by the masses."

- Eddelson

Monday, September 25, 2006

Action vs Articulation

The last electronic memo from my principal started off with a quote and a challenge to our staff here at the Queens High School of Teaching.

“I reject the idea that the purpose of schooling is to improve the economic opportunities of individuals or groups. And I also reject the idea that it’s to improve our competitive position world-wide, above all in economic terms… The real crisis we face is not a threat to America’s economic or military dominance but the ebbing strength of our democratic and egalitarian culture.” Debbie Meier

Whether you agree with Debbie Meier or not, it is important to ask ourselves from time to time what education is all about. Only when we have done some deep thinking around this are we ready to design strong and pertinent educational experiences for our students and ourselves.

I so want to believe whatever Deborah Meir says but unfortunately her words are clouded by her actions. Last Spring I attended the National School Reform Faculty’s Educational conference in the Stienhart school at NYU, where Deborah Meir and Pedro Neugura shared their views about the role the small school movement has in our society today. I distinctly remember them stating that the reform movement of today is finally equalizing the playing field, giving the attention to inner city youth reserved only for the very wealthy offspring of neighboring Westchester and Nassau counties.

The sticking point in her presentation was in the conclusion, she admitted to the room full of aspiring principals and educators from several newly formed small schools that although she valued small schools she was trying to get her grand-daughter into a more traditional, highly competitive school here in NYC. Pedro took that lead and opened with the revelation that he too was proud that his daughter just got into Stuyvesant High School.

What might have been even more upsetting was that everyone clapped, myself included.

Putting our kids where our mouths are seems to be something many in the school reform movement are not yet willing to do. Why is this? To think that teaching is all about creating a more democratic society is admirable but creating a world with a democratic economically unsuccessful lower class would be a travesty. True equality comes from being respected. Being an economically independent individual gains the respect of your peers.

We need to create an environment that is both competitive and cooperative in our small schools. We need to do the impossible. I would love to brag how my own children graduated from the Queens High School of Teaching and have the room applaud.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Who is Zevinon?

I was really stunned by my UFT representatives today at work. I know that we would all like to work in a collegial environment, where the whole school community...admin, teachers, parents, students are striving for the same goal. How is passing out an adversarial survey with leading questions creating more unity? I've worked phone banks for the UFT and attended numerous rallies. I would like to think I did not partake in these things in vain.

I came to this school with the real hopes of school reform. DEAR and advisory were one of the main building blocks that separated this school from other high schools within the NYC BOE. SHAME on the teachers that claim to represent a union of professionals entrusted with the education of our youth who so blatantly disregard the educational philosophy at this school.

The questionnaire that was administered to our staff this afternoon was in no uncertain terms a pejoratively loaded commentary on the principles upon which this school was founded. Questioning DEAR, advisory and Teaching Institute?… why not ask: “ Should all races and academic abilities really take math class?” These are the same type of polls that republicans take to tell the “temperature of the US citizens”.

(eg. How bad did Bill Clinton screw up this country? A. a little B. a lot)

There is no way out!!!!

The questions, were almost totally “Catch 22’s”. I am embarrassed that new teachers and returning teachers think these ridiculously worded questions are representative of our professional colleagues. Are there holes in programs? Yes . Are teaching assistants part of the fabric of the unique culture of learning we have created here? Absolutely. (go outside the main doors that teachers no longer use and look up at the sign)

Lets us take for Example question number 4. ahhhh number 4!

“Do you feel distributive leadership is a myth and that decisions are made without considering the opinions of the staff?”

Is the question suggesting that our administration does not take teacher opinions to heart when making decisions? I am personally appalled. I have worked in four different schools before finding this administration. I have never found one that is more concerned. This question is so unfounded. A veteran teacher in the NYC BOE knows that all established “big schools” have Teacher vs. Administration squabbles that bog down real school reform. Are we trying to establish that sort of environment here???? What type of dynamic are we attempting to set up?

If this is what my ?union? wants, then I want out, I never annointed anyone to represent me but Mike (who ran unopposed). Who are these other people? How were they chosen? Who is Zevinon? We need to have elections for community representatives!!!!!

Re: # 1 “….common planning times between communities..” Is this suggesting that content area departments would better serve the student? Are you saying students are better served by teachers meeting about content rather than teachers meeting about the holistic interdisciplinary student? How so?

Re: # 3 "... not considered a prep..."Here is my lesson plan for DEAR-----“ READ”…. What’s so hard about that? Have your students read. You are not required to do anything else but read… I would never forgive my ???? REPRESENTATIVES?????? For screwing that part of my day up… IF the authors of this survey are struggling in DEAR… I’ll help…when is your DEAR… I’ll come and read.

Re # 10 “…the workload at QHST is too excessive” … if its too hard here ask your AP or Lead teacher for help. 2 out of three times AP’s and Lead teacher would love to help.

Re #11 “….over the past four years” Most of the representatives haven’t been here four years… worry about now!!! Lets stay focused on what’s happening I the building now!!!

Re#12 “… there needs to ba a more balanced approach…” Who is stopping you in your classroom?. get some guts!!! Teach!!!! Sound education decisions will never receive a “U” rating.

Re #13 “ I wish the administration was more considerate with my time” I have never been asked to stay without being compensated.. Teaching is vocation not a mere 9-5 occupation..

Re #14 “…open to dissenting opinions” I wish you could come to a Montessori Lunch and speak to us….we dissent and argue respectfully and honestly without hidden agendas or loaded questionnaires. How can we expect the ability to express a dissenting opinion when even our own UFT blog doesn't allow for dissent?

We need to meet as a Union!!!!

We need to meet soon!!!!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

10 "Ah- HAAS" in one day?

Teaching is a series of “ahh haas”. Before I go any further I should explain what I mean. “Ah haas” are those moments when we sit back and either literally say “ah haa” or we begin to realize why we went into this vocation.

I have many examples so far this year; here I am only going to run through September 19, 2006.

I was invited into a 10th grade English class taught by Ms. Shih. I was so impressed with a side conversation I overheard between student upon my entry about how the story and pointless traditions depicted in Shirley Jackson’s “Lottery” were so like the society described in the Lois Lowry book “The Giver”. (AH HAA #1) The conversation was not prompted by the teacher (AH HAA #2) and actually probably seen as side banter. I was so impressed by the students.

As the class proceeded Ms Shih allowed me to be the co-mayor of the town and make a speech to set up the moral dilemma the class was to debate. Ms Shih upon advice from Ms Brody (AH HAA #3) step up a clear protocol for the class debate with a speaker list. Then Myrima a D75 para helped a student with presenting his argument. at one point when she thought he was struggling and offer to help He turned to her and said, ”No” I’ll let you know when I need help.” The class was impressed with his fortitude. (AH HAA #4)

At the conclusion of the class students who had taken a current events class two years previous came up to me and said how much they loved the format and how much they learned from my co-taught class two years ago. (AH HAA #5)

This was only the beginning of the “ah-has”, Mayo sat in on my class and shared her perspective with me one the presentation skill of the various groups. The principal also happened to pop in during this period. Our classrooms really are open. (AH HAA #6)

During our lunch teachers conversed over the value of public education because of a controversy highlighted in a NY Times article. (AH HAA #7) I placed a phone call to a student who was cutting my class, and anticdotals were recorded in a grade level book.

During passing I overheard students talking about what had occurred during my senior gov’t and economics class. (AH HAA #8)

I was most impressed that a senior teacher can to me and shared what their plans were for their class this year. She looked excited to share her ideas and I was flattered she showed me. (AH HAA #9) I was really mostly shocked. Teachers do not burnout in my school they seem to be re-inspired.

The last bit of stimulus today can from a new teacher whom flattered me quite profoundly when she asked if I ever considered creating a ThinkQuest website. She offered to work with me in creating the site. I’ve been teaching for 11 years and she sees me not as a burnout cynical educator, but someone who looks for the next challenge professionally. (AH HAA #10)

The only downer for the day seemed to be a parent phone call I received regarding her uneasiness with our policy of non-tracking students, and another parent’s concern about the split between communities and the ethic diversity of the school. I understand why the parents are shocked at our schools philosophy. Teachers and even administrators who have been here for four years have a tough time understanding the philosophy at times. How can we expect parents to “buy in” to the schools valued principles three weeks into their freshmen year?

So let’s sum up the AH HAAS!

  1. Impressed by the level of conversation amongst the students
  2. The students are truly self motivated
  3. Teachers sharing best practices
  4. D75 being fully included in a 10th grade English class
  5. Students making connections between protocols
  6. Open classrooms
  7. Lunchroom conversations about educational philosophy
  8. Students (even seniors) are still curious about the world
  9. Excitement levels are high among all levels of experienced teachers
  10. Being seen as someone who is still very concerned feels good.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Salad days

I started doing writing conferences with my freshmen the first week of school. Those first one on one, face to face conversations were a lot like speed dating. I was trying to get to as many as I could in a short period of time, get to know something about them, leave them with something to think about, and move on to the next prospect. And I knew, after ten years of teaching, that these were the salad days, the honeymoon phase, but…I have to admit, that I fell in love with most of them.

This week, during the writing conferences, I felt more like a doctor doing rounds than like a speed dater. Get in there, diagnose the problem, prescribe something, and visit the next patient. But what do I prescribe to Tehan, who has written “I am a Chinese gay” instead of what he wanted to write, “I am a Chinese guy”? And what do I say to Ayanna who can’t focus her attention long enough to put a sentence on the page? And what do I say to Geneva who has written a page long sentence with no punctuation at all?

When I first interviewed for teaching positions, I remember that every interviewer asked the same question: “How do you plan to deal with so many different ability levels in the same classroom?” I always thought they were asking that question, not to see what I thought, but because they genuinely wanted that answer for themselves. It’s a tricky business.

This one on one teaching is one of the few ways to give everybody a little of what they need. But with thirty students in a classroom, it’s difficult to give everybody enough of what they need. And, oh, they are needy. In ways that go way beyond writing issues.

This year I’m fortunate enough to be working with a grade level team of teachers—we each teach our own content areas—English, History, Math, Science, Spanish, and Art, with the help of a teacher trained in Special Education issues, to the same 3 groups of students. And I have never worked with such dedicated people in my life. Our school day starts at 9:30 and ends at 4:30; most of us are in by 7:30, some of us don’t leave until 7:30 at night. When we aren’t in school, we are emailing, text messaging, and calling each other’s cell phones to discuss what happened in school: “How was John in your class today? He couldn’t sit still in mine.”
“Do you know what Bessie was so upset about?’
“Has Jaylynn turned in ANY homework?”
These are other people’s children. And we treat them the way we want our own children to be treated by their teachers. Even when we come in with our own issues.

It feels like an incredibly overwhelming responsibility…to kids like Tehan and Ayanna and Geneva and John and Bessie and Jaylynn, and also to their peers who are writing beautifully already and need only a subtle push to the next level. It also feels like an incredibly overwhelming privilege…to be able to affect so many children that walk through the classroom door, each day, every year.

I know teachers get a bum rap. I think it’s just sour grapes about those summers off. We need those summers off. It takes a lot of energy to do what we do every September.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Are we Sneaking Them into Harvard?

I'm glad to see attention being paid to the admission process on the culture of a high school although I truely doubt that was Harvard's main concern.

“We think this will produce a fairer process, because the existing process has been shown to advantage those who are already advantaged,’’ Derek Bok, the interim president of Harvard, said yesterday in an interview.

Mr. Bok said students who were more affluent and sophisticated were the ones most likely to apply for early admission. More than a third of Harvard’s students are accepted through early admission. In addition, he said many early admissions programs require students to lock in without being able to compare financial aid offerings from various colleges.

Mr. Bok also spoke about reducing the frenzy surrounding admissions. “I think it will improve the climate in high schools,” he said, “so that students don’t start getting preoccupied in their junior year about which college to go to.’’

Many admissions deans and high school guidance counselors greeted Harvard’s decision — which is to go into effect for applicants in the fall of 2007 — with astonishment and delight….

….“I think there are lots of very talented students out there from poor and moderate-income backgrounds who have been discouraged by this whole hocus-pocus of early admissions by many of the nation’s top colleges,’’ said William R. Fitzsimmons, Harvard College’s dean of admissions and financial aid.

Please feel free to post your thoughts after reading the article.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Cutting Edge Teaching

I just received an email from a respected colleague with an attached hyperlink to an article that appeared in the Boston Globe. I have one question after reading the atricle:

Who has more blogs Massachusetts or the Queens High School of Teaching?

“Teacher-generated blogs have been increasingly popping up from Needham to Martha's Vineyard, many in the past year. Teachers at all grade levels reveal glimpses of themselves as well as the magical moments -- and at times, difficult ones -- that can happen in a classroom. Parents, in turn, scour the blogs, post comments, or borrow snippets to use as dinner conversation with their children.”

Read the entire article click here

The Honeymoon Begins

The teachers at the Queens High School of Teaching really are amazing. The freshmen team of the Montessori Small Learning Community has already begun to trouble shoot some transition problems that several new QHST students are facing. We as a team have previewed IEP’s with our SETS provider, and established an agenda for our “student talk” meeting for Friday. We have already flagged students as possibly needing an early intervention as well as one student in need of ELL services.

I know this may sound a bit “routine” but such matters in a school do not usually get handled in the first two months let alone the first two days.

The efficiency of our school has only been enhanced by the dedicated grade level teaming of teachers. It is inspiring! Transition problems, IEP reviews, and ELL programming are already being catered to on day two. Where else in NYC does this happen? (I know I’m a geek but I really get a rush from helping students navigate through the BOE).

I realize we are off to a running start (we have already planned to visit seven colleges on October 18th) and when the honeymoon ends I hope the structure we have set in place holds us together.

Monday, September 04, 2006

First Day of School

The following is something I found when looking for Icebreakers for the first day!....

First-Day-of-School Icebreakers Help Students and Teachers Warm Up!

Are you looking for the perfect way to get to know your students and help them get to know one another? You'll find it here! This week, Education World offers more than 15 creative icebreakers from our readers.

This is the Education World story that won't quit! Each year at this time, creative teachers share with Ed World readers their favorite first-day-of-school activities. Each year, Ed World readers respond by sharing new ideas! This year, we're pleased to share 19 brand-new, teacher-tested ideas for getting to know your new students!


Like many teachers, Suzanne Meyer feels compelled to use part of the first day of classes to "lay down the law." She shares her plans for the year ahead as well as class rules and expectations. A few years ago, however, Meyer, the K-12 instructional technology coordinator in the Hilton (New York) Central School District, decided to turn the tables.

"After doing my 'routine,' I asked students for their expectations of me," Meyer told Education World. "For three years in a row, I have found that this approach builds powerful bridges to understanding between me and my students.

"Because adolescents are in 'take in' mode early in the school year, you

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Favorite Icebreakers

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Still looking for more ideas? Don't forget our archive of more than 150 icebreaker activities.

will have their undivided attention as they try to size you up," suggested Meyer. "Tell them you're interested in their opinions and you're asking them these questions as a way of finding out about their learning styles and preferences. Ask them to write, using as much detail as possible, their responses to questions, such as

  • Now that I've told you my expectations of a good student, what are your expectations of a good teacher?
  • Tell me about the best teacher you've ever had. What made that person such a good teacher?
  • Now that I've told you some of my ideas about how we will go about learning this year's material, tell me about how you learn best. Give me an example of a project or unit where you learned a lot. Describe the project in detail.
"I passed this idea on to other friends and have gotten very good feedback about how it sets up a positive dynamic right from the beginning of the school year," added Meyer. "The students' writing will also surprise and amuse you, and you can use responses as a follow-up the next day when you launch into the work and fun of learning with a new group of students."