Tuesday, March 27, 2007


If you have seen me this week in school I am little tired... I think I always get like this at this time of the year... That being said, I thought it would be interesting to look back at what I was thinking this time last year.(or maybe I'm just too lazy to think of something new) So if you get a chance I would love for you to read this and leave a comment there!

Thursday, March 22, 2007


Due to recent disscussions with colleuges I have reposted this piece:

Below is a response to a post on a blog at World Journalism Prep High School, it is written by one of our graduating seniors. click---> here to see other comments

It reads:

I still remember the first question I asked my teacher Mrs. Ferrara my freshmen year, “How can you transfer to another school?”

Coming into Queens High School of Teaching was a really different experience. I knew that this school wasn't going to be anything close to a normal high school. Having a class called DEAR and Advisory. My friends from other high schools would say “What are you in, elementary school?”

At first it was frustrating knowing I would never have a normal high school experience. There was only the freshman class and sophomore class. With there being hardly any sophomores my freshmen class really stood out. I hated the fact every teacher knew me and my business. This wasn't high school. I thought I could get away with so much here.

Years went by. Now I am a senior and I couldn't be happier with the high school I attend. My class is the first full graduating class of a school that's different. A school that has teachers that will remember us as individuals and not just another student. I am glad my high school wasn't a normal high school because how many kids from other high schools can say they had DEAR and Advisory. These were the classes that helped me grow as a person. Schools isn't just about math or science but about all the other things you have to face in the real world, things we were taught in advisory. What other high schools have party's, get to read a book for 30-45 minutes and get away from all the other subjects and get graded for that? I am glad my teachers were in my business because if it wasn't for them then I wouldn't have made some of the decisions that led me to a good future.

Its such a fortunate thing to be in a school where teachers care about your concerns and can help you. In a normal high school I would be lost and just another ID number to the teachers and staff. This experience has helped me so much as a student and as a person because the way I adapted to the diversity. How I learned to deal with differences and learned to get along with people I would of never talked to in a normal high school. I matured in a way no other high school would have helped to.

Now Ms. Ferrara and I joke around about the first question I asked her.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

"What should a senior classroom look like?"

A recent post on a colleague's blog brought to my attention some difficulties and frustrations with teaching seniors. I personally love my senior class, they are all engaged and I learn so much from them on a daily basis.

I responded to the post with a comment asking the question,

"What should a senior classroom look like?"

I then received the following email:


Maybe you could start the conversation about seniors on your blog since it has a wide audience of teachers. I think, though, that the answer to your question of what "should" a senior classroom look like is very different from what senior classrooms actually look like-- in most schools. I say most because I am rattled by people acting like QHST is to blame in some way for the way things go all over.

My mom has a tradition of buying my kids school supplies. Last year, when she asked them what they needed, my daughter said "All I need is my cell phone and my car keys-- I'm a senior."

This is a nation-wide situation. Didn't we read an article last year about senior internship experiences that are more real-world than expecting kids who have already been accepted to college to sit for yet another year?

Back to my being rattled...( another teacher )... said that a graduate of QHST said she didn't feel prepared for college. Guess what? My daughter said the same thing-- coming from all honors and AP classes in a very traditional high school! AND her classes in college are very student-centered. "Student-centered" does not necessarily mean all group work or all projects or all coloring with markers; it only means that we plan our teaching around our students' needs and abilities and interests so that they can be actively engaged in constructing knowledge rather than passive recipients of knowledge.

We do need to look at senior year, and how we can engage all of our students in their education. But to expect them to appreciate something that they not only take for granted but resent as it is compulsory is unrealistic. It's like us waking up everyday and not complaining about work, but celebrating that we have a job. Or remembering to be grateful that we have houses when the roof needs repairs. Or that we have food when we have to cook dinner.

Even my own perfect kids copy homework (but homework is a whole different topic). We teachers have to remember that all students are not the nerds that we once may have been.

-QHST Teacher

Saturday, March 17, 2007

I Don't Get It

After Friday's Montessori Union Meeting.

The following is being posted on behalf of Mayo:
Wow! I am so surprised that the proposed schedule didn't pass! Mostly because I still never heard what people didn't like about a few more minutes each day and leaving early on Friday (especially if you're on late schedule). I do believe that people were confused by early talks of passing time, the possibility of still having community overlaps, possible extra advisory periods, etc. BUT I thought it was clear that the vote was only about start and end times. AND that Nigel could, with either schedule, do pretty much whatever he wants in between. So now that it's over, could we possibly hear from people who voted it down about what they didn't like about it?

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

To Deadline or not to Deadline

A friend of mine emailed me this question as to classroom policy. I told him I would post the problem on my blog and see what solutions my co-workers have..

The email reads as follows:

This is something that I've wrestled with for a very long time, and I still don't have anything close to an answer.

We've got what I could call an epidemic among our 9th graders, of students who do not complete assignments.

One of the teachers started this, and I followed suit, by saying that for this t-mester, I would accept any work up until the end of the marking period (Friday). A few students have turned in work, but there's still many, many more who haven't.
I discussed this topic at length with one of my classes yesterday. One of the things that the students said was that they wanted deadlines to "mean something."
I tried to talk about this with my team members, but I got "do what you think works for you." The problem is, is that neither the hard, or flexible deadline approach is working.
What do you do?

Monday, March 12, 2007

Advisory Visit

Today I had the privilege to accompany two Montessori seniors (Joanna and Vishnell) as they lead a roundtable discussion around their unique experience in starting a new high school. They spoke openly and honestly about the struggles and the enormous benefits of their trail-blazing experience.

Together we sat in an advisory at World Journalism Preparatory High School in Bayside Queens with fifteen freshmen boys. The question which directed most of our discussion was, “What is high school supposed to be like?”

By affirming the fact that all teachers, students, and parents come to school with preconceived notions of what “school” is, all members of the group were immediately empowered. They recognized their conceptions of “school” come from hearsay, the media and former teachers mostly.

Vishnell and Joanna both shared their own notion of high school. Their comments included “a safe place to express ideas” and “moving out of comfort zones.” They reflected on particular experiences they encountered here at the Queens High School of Teaching. Often their reflections were amazing tributes to the faculty here at QHST.

The students from WJPHS seemed genuinely interested in listening to our students. The body language of the group which at first was one of cautious disconnect swiftly turned to one of intense reception as Vishnell shared her story of discontent with QHST on her first day of school.

Ironically Vishenell fought to be transferred out of QHST while Joanna’s parents were pressuring the region to place her in QHST. Joanna focused on the amazing opportunity afforded to her through the writing center as opposed to Vishnell’s focus on the access to adult attention in a small learning community.

Any teacher who has the opportunity to hear the stories of their struggle to define QHST as its first graduating senior class should take the time to listen. I personally walked away from this before school Monday morning meeting re-energized and ready to start off another week.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Half Conversations ?

In an email Roni, our programmer, expressed concern over the lack of communication about a lunchtime opportunity to speak with a union represenative. The email reads:

I am very disturbed that the union rep was here yesterday and I knew nothing about it. I would have made it my business to see him had I known. Even more upsetting is the fact that he came in and told the other Montessori teachers that we should be supporting the other two communities. How can we support the other communities if we have no idea what is going on. This is getting ridiculous. Why don't we make a whole school meeting either before or after school and those really interested will attend. These rumors have to be stopped and a few people can't decide everything. We need to listen to everyone and then make an informed decision. The proposed schedule is really great. If we could talk about it, it could be "tweaked" and make it better or if necessary vote against it if after hearing everything, that is our decision. Divided we conquer nothing. After all, we are one school and that is how we should be acting.

Although this is not a response I was simultaneously expressing similar concerns:

Not supporting our colleagues is antithetical to the teaching process and the educational philosophy we are establishing as a staff in this building. Our overuse of the facilities makes stewardship of “class space” an ongoing struggle. To my knowledge few if any teachers have their own room. We need to support each other when problems arise and be vigilant with our classes as we dismiss them and rush off to our next teaching assignment.

But supporting colleagues doesn’t end there. We need to hear our colleagues concerns, offer support and help facilitate resolutions. Recently I had the opportunity to speak with a physical education teacher who was quite passionate about getting rid of the overlapping periods. Apparently the gymnasium is quite overwhelmed with double the amount of students at certain times during the week.

Are we blind to the overlap because it does not effect our classroom instruction directly? Are we oblivious to their concerns because we have not met as an entire staff as a union?

It is my understanding that the new schedule effectively eliminates any overlapping classes. I also have heard rumor about other concerns with the new schedule. Here once again we cannot support our fellow colleagues without a clear understanding of the issues.

TO my knowledge no one can be asked to teach four periods in a row and the proposed schedule does not change this contractual obligation. Does the proposed schedule make it impossible to program within the limits of the teacher contract? Let’s have the programmers speak during a union meeting. How can we support our fellow teachers and programmers to facilitate a solution to this problem if there is one? Walking through any corridor of this building, one quickly realizes the enormous amount of talent and creative thinking that each teacher uses to harness their passion for their craft. Lets get together and do the same for this scheduling problem before it divides us as a union.

A whole school union meeting would be an obvious step in the right direction.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

You Can't Fight (or even talk to) City Hall

When asked about her trip to City Hall yesterday a look of aggravation quickly came across Mayo's face. The following is the speech Lori Mayo would have presented to city council members had they taken a breathe and let her speak as planned:

Education is all about empowerment. Or at least it should be! Resources provided to empowerment schools have allowed these schools the freedom to allocate funds where they are needed, as they are needed. This freedom allows us to make things happen.

I’ve worked as a classroom teacher, a staff developer in a superintendent’s office, and a UFT Teacher Center staff person. In each of these positions, there was one common frustration: seeing a seemingly arbitrary allocation of funds. All too common was someone saying “we have software money,” when what you really needed was money for books. Or when you’d find out that you had money for books, but it needed to be spent that day. The people on the front lines, so to speak, are the ones that know what is needed at the school level, and should be the ones to determine how money is spent. Since becoming an empowerment school, we at the Queens High School of Teaching, have had a greater voice in determining how to best satisfy the needs of our staff and students.

Empowerment doesn’t prevent us from using the quality services that the region provides; it just gives us a broader variety from which to choose. For example, we valued the region’s new teacher mentor that worked in our building. When we became an empowerment school, we continued to employ her by paying for her service out of our empowerment allocation. However, it’s good to know that if we didn’t feel she was benefiting our staff, we had the freedom to hire somebody else.

At the Queens High School of Teaching, we have had a ten day professional development program for new teachers each summer. In previous years, we never knew how much money we would be able to devote to this. This year, for the first time, we knew that we would have enough money to pay workshop facilitators and participants. We value professional development and we also value the importance of treating our staff as the professionals they are. Being able to pay them for their time allows us to honor both of these values.

The Queens High School of Teaching is taking a leadership role within the empowerment network. We are working with a self-selected group of schools, located across four boroughs, which share a belief system and have chosen to work and learn from and with one another. We are sharing our model for an extended school day and an extended school year with four other network schools in a series of six 4 hour sessions at a weekend during which administrators, teachers, and students will share best practice work with other schools. This work will include creating personal learning plans for each student so that they can recover lost credits, and the sharing of interdisciplinary planning design. After participating in our extended school programs, formerly unsuccessful students have said things like, “Why can’t regular school be like this?” Our goal is to find ways to provide engaging opportunities for students with low skill levels and limited interest in traditional education. The importance of being freed to focus on the needs of our students and to customize approaches to ensure their achievement cannot be overstated. Sharing our findings with other network schools is extremely satisfying for us and beneficial for them.

Empowerment schools funds enabled us to maintain a program that is the cornerstone of our school. That is our Drop Everything and Read (or DEAR)/Advisory program. Everyday a dedicated teacher meets with 17 students for a 45 minute period of Drop Everything and Read. This program has created a culture of literacy in our building by exposing students to the concept of reading for pleasure. When you walk into our school in the morning, you see students sitting on the floor of the lobby, waiting to come into the building, reading books! These are not assigned texts, but books that they have chosen on their own, or with the help of their advisor, or by recommendation from peers. DEAR is a very important part of our day, and its benefits are tremendous. This same dedicated teacher meets these same 17 students for an additional hour during the week in an advisory program. In this class, work centers around issues like our school-wide values, social issues, college and career exploration, and academic counseling. The advisor acts as a liaison between the students and their subject area teachers, the parents and the school, and as an advocate for these students to prevent them from falling through the cracks. This program is very expensive because the staff/ student ration is 1:17. It’s worth it, and without the empowerment school funding, it may have been compromised.

Another area where empowerment school funding was crucial in our school is in the arts. We used funding to hire a fourth fine arts teacher; without the additional allocation, we would have remained at three. Looking ahead, next year we intend to devote funding to a full-time Teaching position so we can fully address the school theme. Empowerment school funds can now go directly into the classroom to lower class size, hire teachers, and allow implementation of key programs.

Personally, working in an empowerment school has allowed me to realize the dream of starting a writing center. After many years of hearing people complain that “these kids can’t write,” I wanted to create a writing center based on the concept used at all colleges and universities. This year, I was able to achieve that dream and now meet students before school to work on writing and putting together a literary magazine. Last week, after students shared aloud what they had been writing, one newcomer to the group, Lauren, remarked, “Man, you guys write so real in here! I’ve never heard writing like this in school!” That was the best testimonial to an effective use of resources that I could have heard. After all, literacy and empowerment go hand in hand.

THe NYTIMES has their take on Empowerment.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Extended School Year

This weekend I was fortunate enough to be involved in a discussion around our extended school year program and its value to others as a model for similar programs. Nancy Ferrara and Eric Contreras co-facilitated this discussion among a group of teachers and administrators from schools within our empowerment network.

The workshop began with a brief brainstorming module where participants were asked to reflect back on a time when they themselves were unsuccessful in an endeavor. What does failure feel like? The group came to a consensus that people experiencing failure are: lonely, frustrated, embarrassed, defeated, anxious, and hopeless.

The conversation then turned toward looking at the challenges of working in an extended year setting. Quickly one of the teachers spoke up and said, “ …the kids have a nasty attitude.” Other participants nodded in agreement. Another teacher added, “…they lack desire.”

Do They? … or are we just blind to the loneliness, frustration, embarrassment, anxiety, sense of defeat, and hopelessness our students are so overwhelmed by?

It quickly became obvious to me that the mindset of educators needs to be shifted if we are to develop an effective program. The stigma of lacking success in traditional school has to be removed.

Any program that addresses failing students must first address the loaded issues behind the feelings of failure.

Thanks Nancy and Eric for broadening my perspective.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

No Dentists Left Behind

The linked post from another teacher's blog was quite enlightening. As though of you who know me know I'm dealing with some dental issues its even funnier.