Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Going Offline

In a letter released by my charter school's superintendents, they encouraged us to "go offline" - or they said that this is a time of year that the organization "goes offline" - something to that effect. But basically it gave me permission to not bring home my laptop....or check my email....or think about school or kids or TFA or my corps members for the next 9 days.
To take a much needed mental vacation.
This organization - who gave me a laptop which has subsequently been attached to me for the last 4 months, is encouraging me to take a break, and I plan to do it.

To take time to be a a friend, fiance, aunt, daughter, grandaughter, Kansan. I'm so excited. I'm going to eat...and sleep....and eat....and sleep.
And come back rejuvinated and ready to focus more on how to balance my job with the rest of my life - something I failed at miserably in the last few months.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

I Used to be a Blogger

But now I'm a crazyteacher - one that works 70+ hours a week AND leads first year teachers in a professional development group to make sure that their kids have a rockin' school year.
And a wedding planner/dog owner/yogi/person in constant search of work life balance.
And did I mention sleep deprived?
I think my most uttered phrase is, "I'm exhausted."
Either that or "Yes or no", because when you ask my kids a question, most of them just stare at you unless you give them an option for a response.
But I hold firm in what I've said all semester - my school does a great job of educating kids, and of making me a better teacher, and building true partnerships between school staff and parents. I work at a great school - I feel like my voice matters.

And there is 14 days until Christmas, including weekends (which really just mean working somewhere else than my school building).
We got a tree this weekend. And red and green candles. And lots of other Christmas/winter decorations.
I don't know if I'm celebrating the religious holiday, going home, or the fact that for 2 weeks my alarm will not go off at 5 am.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

I spent last night and all day today at a FABULOUS workshop on Autism.
I learned SO much and am officially on overload...
After the workshop I went to the Bank Street Bookstore and somehow walked out with $100 worth of posters, books, flash cards, and phonics games. How does that happen?
I spend money on my classroom now in such a different way than I did when I worked for the DOE. When I worked for the DOE, I bought paper, pencils, paid for copies, and sometimes bought things like center books. Now, all basic supplies are provided, and so are basically all teaching resources we want. The only thing is that if the school buys them they belong to the school, and some of these things I want to keep (because I don't plan on staying here forever), and so I buy things that develop me professionally and that make my classroom more inviting...more like the classrooms I remember as a child).
Last year, I would have never DREAMED of buying posters, or a game to help kids learn blends and diagraphs.
Yet these are the kinds of things I remember about elementary school, and the kinds of things you find when you walk in to suburban and private schools. Neat classrooms - lots of Lakeshore things.
Money doesn't equal great classrooms, but I like knowing that when my students look back on their elementary school career, they will not remember going to a school with bars on the windows - they'll remember a classroom with bright posters and fun games :)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Day Off?

Notsomuch. My morning was filled with meetings, and my afternoon with planning. We had a planning party (aka 3 teachers from my school got together, ate lots of snacks, and planned like crazy people for 6 hours).
Even though the days was not the sleep in, watch talk shows in pajamas on the couch day off as I had when I worked in the DOE, I feel relaxed and rejuvenated.
A conversation that happens often with staff at my school is whether or not this is sustainable. If not, how can we fix it so that it is, and is fixing it beneficial to kids? There are people that argue that teachers should give as much as they can at a school like mine (long hours, often 70+ hour weeks) and then when they're burnt out, move on to something else. These people feel that it isn't the school's job to ensure sustainability, but rather the achievement of the kids. There are others that argue that staff retention greatly contributes to a schools' culture and the achievement of it's students, and that teacher retention should be a focus of charter schools and other educational institutions with extended hours/weekend work requirements. (My school does not require teachers to teach on weekends, but many charter schools have mandatory Saturday academies).
I'm not sure where I stand on this argument, but I know that I don't feel like I could work at this job and have children of my own. I also don't feel like someone could work 40 hours a week and service my children the way they deserve. Maybe there's no answer...maybe it's different for every school or organization?
I'd love to hear people's thoughts!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Data Day

Our kids took school made standardized tests in both reading and math last week and we spent all of today (7:15 - 6) analyzing the data in grades and as a school. We made data driven plans, formed intervention groups, and talked about trends we were noticing and how to continue the great ones and stop the not so great ones.
Tomorrow is data day 2 - more planning and looking at numbers and standards and tests and discussing these tests that we now all have memorized.
And this is reason #131 why I came to this school. This is great instruction.
My old school has most of this stuff on file, too - the only difference is that most of it is contrived for the purpose of the quality review and then never used - by anyone. Here, it's used - breathed.
I am part of a great school.
A passionate school.
A nurturing school.
And I work 15 hour days at least 4 days a week, plus take work home on the weekends.
I don't remember the last time I got 8 hours of sleep.
It's challenging for the right reasons. We fight the right battles....but sometimes the exhaustion gets the best of me and I can't help but want to just come home, make dinner, and lay on the couch with the Boy.

From Long Ago

I’m exhausted. The kind of exhausted where your head pounds, your throat hurts, and the thought of food makes you nauseas. The worst part about it is….it’s Monday.
I feel like I’m teaching better…working smarter….than I ever have.
But at what price?
Yesterday the boy joked, “What did I do to be so lucky to have you around to watch you work, sleep, and eat?”
It was a joke…kind of.
Except for there was truth behind it.
And I can’t count how many times in the last week a bowl of Lucky Charms was dinner.
But my kids are learning. And I feel effective. And valued. And this is what urban education should be…at least inside school walls.
But my average days are 6:45 – 6:45, plus a 1 hour commute both ways, and I’m struggling to find balance, peace, time to play with the dogs….and sleep.

I wrote this almost a month ago but never had time or made it a priority to post it....

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Today as K****i was walking in to my room for his pull out session he goes, Ms. G, you know my very favorite place?!
I was just waiting for him to say, "Your classroom! I love learning!"
And he goes, "The pharmacy. They have the best toys there. It's awesome!"

I continue to be fascinated by him - how his brain works, and at other times, seems to just....shut down.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Working 12 hour days 5 days a week, plus a 3 hour commute, doesn't leave much time for blogging.
But there are moments to be captured.
Like when K****i listed his favorite place as the pharmacy and then wrote 5 small moments about it in writing.
Or K**k, and how autism, or whatever goes on in that brain of his, is fascinating and scary all at the same time. Sometimes he repeats, "We're in grave danger," over and over again. Sometimes he spaces out and won't respond to anyone or anything. Sometimes he cries hysterically. And sometimes....he's a totally normal 5 year old.
And my team. Teachers and administrators, working together for these kids. Showing up to work optimistic. Supporting one another. Working effeciently. Selflessly.
It is not perfect. And I am more tired and overextended than I've been possibly ever.
But I love my job. I look forward to going everyday. And I feel unbelievably supported.
This is what I moved here to do.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

They're Succeeding

My babies - in middle school.
"I miss our old class," lamented Yahkemp.
"Me, too," I confessed.
Comfortable silence was followed by regret all of the time I'd spent counting down the days until I wasn't his teacher anymore.
He was, after all....exhausting.
And hilarious, witty, brilliant, and brutally honest.
In many ways, he was one of the toughest students, and people, that I will ever meet and be responsible for educating.
And I miss him.
Like crazy.

Monday, September 01, 2008


Their voices changed - my old kids.
I called them all today, to hear about their summers, to wish them good luck, and to tell them, just one more time, that if they needed anything, they could always call me.
I could hear Ken smiling on the other end of the phone as he told me about Six Flags and Coney Island.
Adony vowed to be bad if I didn't come back...I pleaded with him to make good choices, but can only hope that he does.
And the others...they are ready. I prepared them. I can only hope that their teachers are ready and see the potential in them that sometimes gets hidden beneath the need to be tough and survive.
Tomorrow we will enter different doors. Me a charter school in Brooklyn, them public schools all over the Bronx.
2 years ago we met for the first time.
Who'd have thought our journey would be so powerful?

Sunday, August 31, 2008

There are so many stories to tell...
about K**K, who gives himself high 5s, and D****i, who's IEP says he can not sort, identify objects, or spell his name. When I pulled him to test him, he did all of these things easily.
There's K****i, who some would like to see leave our school for a more restrictive setting....who is possibly the most joyful child I've ever seen.
These are the new babies.
But I am exhausted.
Balancing paperwork and deadlines with my desire to be in the classroom even when I'm supposed to be doing administrative tasks...
Working 12 hour days, and bracing myself for the year that is to come.
And calling my old kids, to wish them good luck in middle school and 5th grade, and let them know that they are amazing, and to try and make it seem okay that on Tuesday they will have a new teacher. As much as I love my new job, I'm still not okay with someone else teaching my old kids. Maybe I never will be.

Friday, August 22, 2008


Yoga and sushi and quiet Friday nights are becoming a routine that keep me sane - focused.
And the dogs run as Bob Marley plays from my ITunes.
At 9:50 on a Friday night I am answering work emails, but it's okay.
Our kindergartners come in 4 days.
Little do they know, but they're lives are about to be changed.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Space to Breathe

What I need is air, because there is none. No space to breathe, or be, or laugh that's not scheduled.
Today the Boy called to ask me for my DL number. I snapped at him because his 45 second phone call was not in my schedule.
And the reality is that my days are scheduled thattight - from 5 am until I crash, sometime between 10:30 and 11.
That schedule energizes me for a week or so. Then I begin to resent it.
Resentment began to creep in today.
When my dogs kept putting a toy on my foot - their way of saying, "Throw this so we can play fetch," signal, but I had a spreadsheet to update and a powerpoint to finish and handouts to print.
So I kicked it away.
And in this short little, unscheduled break that I will pay for on the back end of the day, I'm SO overwhelmed by the pace of the days that I've set for myself.
"So skip spinning," says my brain. "Stay home, cuddle with the boy on the couch. Play with the dogs."
But then the part of my brain that makes this schedule says, "Skip spinning?! But when will you make it up!! You have dinner with a friend tomorrow, late meetings Thursday, and happy hour Friday, and scheduled workouts Saturday and Sunday. No make up time. You MUST go tonight. Ignore body, soul, and others around you - follow the flexibinder."
But I'm so beyond exhausted....and kids haven't even returned yet.

Friday, August 15, 2008


By a team building afternoon spent painting pottery with colleagues I grow to respect and enjoy more and more everyday. It's hard to believe that 3 weeks ago I didn't know some of them.
By approaching 5:00 wake up times. Top colleges are waiting for my kids - it's my job to make sure they get there - who needs sleep?
By great classes at my gym - spinning Tuesday nights and yoga on Fridays. Ending my weeks with namaste.
By knowing that in a little over a year I will be officially spending the rest of my life with this man who somehow wants to sign up for this craziness for the rest of his life.
By realizing that this is what I dreamed of.
And it's not perfect - and it will not be easy. And that I feel super overwhelmed a lot of the time with all of the to dos and flexi binders and emails but that this is why I'm here.
This, folks, will be good.
Stay tuned.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Finding my Place

In sessions that are meant for classroom teachers.
And when I ask about my role, often times they'll say....oh yeah....ask so and so.
And so I continue to lesson plan as if I would have my own classroom. This would be so useful if I was a classroom teacher....but I'm not....and I'm left feeling a little overwhelmed and having so many what exactly am I going to be doing questions.
Change always brings apprehension....and so I fill my days with happy hours and dinners with friends and classes at our new gym and picking music for our wedding.
And sometimes it feels like there's no room to breathe except in the 5:45 am space where the rest of the world is still asleep and I tip toe out of bed so quietly that neither the Boy or the dogs wake.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

So I've been gone for a while, but for a good reason.
There were birthdays to celebrate, country air to breathe, good food to eat, people to see, and a wedding to plan. (Yep - the Boy and I got engaged a week and a half ago!)

But now it's back to teacher land, and this week we've been in full swing with staff training for my new school. I've been in Connecticut this week, training where my charter school was originally founded, with like minded, inspiring, amazing teachers/people.
For once, closing the achievement gap on a large scale seems possible. I'm finally part of an organization that I can stay with for a while - who focuses on kids, not paperwork or stupid school ratings or state tests.
I'm excited, nervous, anxious, but oh so glad I'm here.
Moving ever forward....

In my new role I'm part Sped coordinator/part pull out teacher. It will be a big change from having my own classroom and my own kids all day everyday.
I've become obsessed with Sped policies and procedures and Outlook calendar is my best friend. Who'd have thought....
And at the base of all of this is a mission - one that started with TFA but became so concrete because of 13 kids I spent 2 years with.
And yet a little part of me....actually, 99% of my heart, is still not at peace with the fact that I won't be their teacher in September. Maybe it never will be.

Monday, July 07, 2008


And so I move forward...but not without looking back, and obsessively keeping in touch with my kids, as much for me as for them.
Today I met my new kids and spent the day at my new job, meeting teachers and colleagues. At my new job I'll be a "learning specialist" and "special education coordinator". Basically I'll work with kids in small groups for part of the day, both in and out of the classroom. I'll also teach reading for 1 block of the day, and have parts of my day blocked off for administrative special ed duties, because I'll do the IEPs for the whole school. I have an office, not a classroom. I have a desk, and a phone, and tons and tons of materials I could only dream about at my old school. I wanted to stay afterwards and play :)
I met my kids, or some of them, and chatted with them over lunch. One told me about a movie he saw over the weekend, then went right into, "and on Saturday my dad died and my cousin tried to stab my aunt, but he didn't, and now he's in jail." He was so nonchalant, but talked for half an hour about his dad, the funeral, and how the rest of his life would be much harder because now he just had his mom. I wanted to bawl. This little 7 year old just told the story matter of factly with his bookbag on his shoulders and a chocolate milk mustache on his lips. My new kids need help, too, I thought. But still....
The excitement for the coming year is overshadowed by the doubt that maybe I didn't make the right decision. That I abandoned my kids and colleagues at my old school. That it wasn't time to leave. But maybe it would never have been the right time to leave. Then again, maybe I should have stayed one more year. To see Adony, Joshua, Chris, Adrielis, Brianna, and Jose graduate. I've never had a harder goodbye than the one on the last day of school. We walked around the school yard crying. Joshua had to be escorted to his bus because he wouldn't stop holding on to me, and I didn't have the emotional strength to pry him off. Adony tried holding the classroom door shut so we couldn't leave.....and at the end of the day, as the rest of the building emptied, my kids surrounded me in my room with a group hug.
So even as the excitement grows, I wonder if I'll ever find what I found with those 13 kids those first few weeks of September, 2006. Somehow, I don't think it's possible.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Reflection from the Mouths of Those Who Made the Experience

Chris's reader's notebook went from being covered with gang graffiti to the following poem (not originally written by him...):
I can overcome my fears
I can buy for the hungry
I can help stop pollution
I can give to the poor
I can be what I want
I can use my head
I can give advice
I can receive
I can behave
I can listen
I can think
I can teach
I can know
I can give
I can feel
I can see
I can

I asked him if I could have it. He asked why.
"To remember one of the smartest 11 year olds I've ever met," I said.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

"Life is nothing but a bunch of start-overs"
My wise Aunt Ginny

In 5 days my life will do a complete 180. School will be over, we'll move to Brooklyn, and I'll once again feel like a tourist in my own city....the only substantial time I spent in Brooklyn was when I was looking for apartments :)
Change is needed, but resisted at the same time...and with daily pleads to stay another year I find it hard to come home to boxes, bare walls, and empty cupboards.
The last week was full of happy hours that lasted well in to the night, late planning sessions at school to make sure their new teacher had EVERYTHING she needed to educate my babies....and hours of story telling with both colleagues and kids. We've experienced so much in these last 2 years...and while it was never easy, I can't imagine having done anything else after college.
It's time to go....to start over....to see where the next leg of the journey will take us.
Me, the Boyfriend, the 2 dogs, and the piles of boxes that have become our home.
We're different now, and tied by 12 strings to a little neighborhood school in the Bronx.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

I underestimated them, once again. I never, even in the best case scenario, thought they would be this understanding or this well behaved....or this eager to keep in touch.
I cried, they cried. I started by telling them how proud I was of them, pointed out individual growth in each student and as they clapped I cried....I could see on their faces that they knew, and by the time I uttered the words, "but I won't be teaching here next year," no one was really surprised.
The first thing they asked was if they could still call, and email. "You better," I said.
And when I told them I would take a day off to come to their graduation, they gave each other high fives and cheered.
My babies - loyal to the end.
And so began the exchange of myspace info and email and hi5 accounts and 30 minutes later I had made them fully capable of stalking me forever - just the way I want it.
By the time I got home half of them had already added me to their MSN, made novel because it was something I hadn't allowed earlier in the year.
They need to stay in touch as much as I do.....and as the end of the day came with pleads to stay one more year, I knew that they would be okay....and so would I....and that a year from now I'll be returning to watch the remainder of my kids walk across the stage....
I couldn't be more proud.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

More Snapshots

I remember the weeks before college graduation and how I would look around at people knowing it was the last time I would see them, eat with them, go to class with them, etc, and I found myself wanting to hold on to these seemingly everyday moments because the finality of everything somehow gave these routine things more importance.
I find the same thing happening with my kids. Today 5 of them were sorting papers on the rug. No fights or put downs or problems of any kind, but instead simple cooperation in a tiny spot doing what has become one of their favorite classroom tasks. I watched them, amazed at how they had grown, both physically and socially, until Chris said, "Stop, Ms. G. is waiting for us to listen."
"Actually Chris, I was just watching you guys and how great you were all working together," I said, and left, not realizing how long I had probably been standing there.
They all kind of looked at me like I had lost it, and I don't think they'll ever understand the depth of pride I have at times like silent reading when they're actually silent and reading, or during Social Studies when other classes are watching movies but my class is dying to read about the Revolutionary War.
They've come so far, and it's finally clicking that now is the time to stand back and enjoy it. Not push further or wonder what could have been, but take them for where they are, remember where they came from, and celebrate the incredible journey we've shared.
Tomorrow I'm telling my kids that I'm not coming back to my school.
Today, at happy hour, one of the other teachers warned, "They're gonna revolt."
"I'm gonna try to play it as a good thing because they're getting a great new teacher, I'll still be in touch...change will be good for them," I said, trying to convice myself as much as her.
Afterall, the closer it gets, the harder it is to come to grips with this decision that I know is right but feels so....not right....because of what will be left behind.
"They're still gonna revolt," she said.
"I'm kind of afraid of that," I replied.
All of our memories, good and bad, have come down to the fact that I, too, am leaving them. Even I can't find justification for that.

Thursday, June 12, 2008


Yet another one of our teachers graduated today with his masters degree. My kids make a huge deal out of it. I let them. They need to know that post high school education is important and something to be proud of.
"If I drop out of school, will you send me a card?" Chris asked.
"Only if it's followed by a big kick in the butt," I jokingly responded.
"That's what I thought," he said.
"Man, if I drop out of school, I'ma move and not tell Ms. G where I live," Adony added.
"You'll have to do better than that," I said. "I'll find you."
"Yeah, I'd have to change my name." he concluded.
"How about ya'll just graduate and lead fantastic lives," I said.
"Yeah, that's what I'ma do anyways," Chris said.

And the days pass more quickly than I'm ready for them to, but the end of this experience is inevitable...who'd have thought 2 years ago that these kids would become mine?
They are leaving bigger, stronger, older, smarter, wiser, changed. I see it in their conversations, in the way they interact with the world around them, and the fact that in these days when numbers are dwindling, I have nearly all of my kids in school, waiting to see what we're going to learn today.
"You're still teaching?!" a colleague said in disbelief as I worked on next week's lesson plans after school today.
"Yep," I replied.
"Oh yeah, your kids actually show up," said another.
"Yep," I replied...smiled....and got back to work.
Time to be totally and completely their teacher - 10 more days and this is all over.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Too Fast

The only 2 words that can accurately describe how the end of the year is shaping up.
The days fly by, and somewhere between Monday and Friday are moments where I try to fill them with everything I can; knowledge, confidence, courage...wisdom.
On Friday they met my parents - interviewed them for 45 minutes about Kansas and life where I grew up. I'd never seen them so engaged in 2 people for such a long time.
My 5th graders graduate 4 weeks from Monday.
20 days, minus PD days, 2 half days, and all of the school they miss at the end of the year, and our time is almost done.
- where did the last 2 years go? Did I do enough? Give enough? Will they forget? Will they be angry when I leave? What does the future have in store for them...and me?
There's only so much I can control, and after June 28th I have to trust someone else to teach them.
The thought of that makes me physically sick.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Fessin' Up

Today I told my AP I was leaving at the end of the year.
It did not come out like I'd imagined it.
It was forced, by the fact that our preference sheets are due tomorrow and she will be gone. I didn't want to turn in a paper saying "I'm not coming back" without telling her first...so at the end of a tiring day I sat down in her office and just told her.
I didn't thank her for her help as much as I should have or intended to...didn't tell her how much the last 2 years had meant or how much I would miss the school and my kids.
The best of intentions sometimes just don't play out the way you think they will.
"I'm sad," she said.
"Me too," I replied.
And it was pretty much left at that.
Both knowing there was much more to say, but not much point in it being said.
It's time for a change....this is not the first time change has felt so hard. 2 years ago everything inside of me was telling me not to come here. I'm so glad I did.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Get so caught up everyday
Tryna keep it all together
While the time it slips away
You see I know nothing last forever

Imagine there was no tomorrow
Imagine that I couldn't see your face
There would be no limit to my sorrow
So all I can say

I wanna tell you something, give you something
Show you in so many ways
'cause it would all mean nothing if I don't say something before it all goes away
Alicia Keys

The end of the year is full of paper work and looking forward, but I find myself hanging on desperately to every hour I have with my kids, for fear that I will regret the decision I made to leave them. Slowly but surely people are finding out that I am leaving and explanations of why make less and less sense...to me, and to them. This is the time of year where its easy to forget all that happened in earlier months, and instead you look only at the success that all the struggle produced.
Sometimes they attempt to convince me to stay, other times they only wish me luck and say how much the kids will miss me. "Only 2 more pay periods left," said someone today. She said it with hope. It made me panic.
2 more pay periods to teach my kids all I can...about reading, math...life. I'm not egotistical enough to believe that they'll never have a good teacher again...but some of them need help NOW, and there's a panic that I didn't give enough, didn't listen enough, didn't teach enough....that they need more, and I'm abandoning them.
I carry a guilt with me every day like none I've ever felt before. Maybe it will be better once they know...but for now I find myself trying to impart so much wisdom in each and every moment when my kids are full of spring fever and talking about "next year when we....." not knowing that I won't be part of their next year.

Monday, May 05, 2008


With grad school.
As of Saturday, I'm officially done, and graduation is May 21st.
As a final activity we had to fill out chart paper with "things we would take with us" and "things we'd leave behind"....not from grad school, but the TFA experience....from learning to be a teacher, a New Yorker, and....well....a grown up.
Some were funny, some were serious, and some gave rise to this knot in my throat that is still there when I think about the last day of school in June.
I looked around the room at people I'd known for the last 2 years. We came in thinking we could change the world, that we knew everything about urban education, and that nothing could shake us as people. I think all of that was shattered within our first week as teachers.
We were shaken, proved wrong, questioned, and and made responsible for some of the toughest kids you'll probably ever meet - the special education students of NYC's public schools.
We came in as future accountants, lawyers, investment bankers, and politicians. We're leaving as teachers. Even those of us that aren't staying in education can't help but look at the world as an advocate. "My kids" is the way we begin every other sentence, even though very few of us have any biological children.
This is not the end, but the beginning of lives changed, not just for us, but for our students.
We've made a difference. Could the impact have been bigger? Yes. Could we have been better? Yes. Is there room for improvement within TFA? Yes. But are my kids better off because I was their teacher? I hope so, because I definitely am. That's what I'll try to take with me....that....and the privilege of getting to know 13 of the most resilient people I've ever met.

Saturday, April 19, 2008


We've made it to the turning point.
When we return from break it will be time to begin graduation practice (for 5th grade), do intense reteaching, especially in math, to make sure kids master what they need to before they leave the grade, and fill them with all I can, academically and otherwise, before I leave.
I'm not sure that I've stated it officially here, but I will be leaving at the end of the year.
I will remain in NYC, and I will be teaching kids of the same socioeconomic population....but I will be joining a staff at a school that does it the right way. It will mean moving to Brooklyn, and working long hours (it's a charter school), and not belonging to the UFT anymore....and I'm so ready.
The only hard part is leaving my kids. With under 2 months left, it doesn't seem real.
"They'll write....you'll always be in touch....they're your babies," assure other teachers at my school.
"You'll always know them. You're a family," one said to me the other day.
"But what if they don't?" I asked.
"They will," she said.
But what if they don't.......
And I realize that I need them probably more than they need me. They have been my life for 2 years. The reason I gave up a world I had built somewhere else to move to a city where I knew no one. The reason I went in to work sick, exhausted, and stressed beyond comprehension. The reason I can't imagine doing anything else for the rest of my life.
They are not just my students.
They were the first....and goodbye is not an option.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008


The "N" Word

In this modern day world
We seem to consume
The "N" word of hate
The slave word for doom

This word has been drenched

In red from our blood
It enslaved us like swine
Chain dragged through the mud

How fast we forget
Those lynch mobs and scars
The burnings and beatings
Those hot branding bars

Our freedom was taken
Our humanity stole
We were just that "N" word
No body no soul

Our women were raped
Some men were castrated
Black children were sold
Our race was degraded

With the crack of a whip
This word was yelled out
With each break in our necks
The rope showed no doubt

We were hunted like prey
Then put on the block
We were branded as slaves
With a chain brace and lock

This "N" word was use
To take guilt out of blame
Because it made us inhuman
To be killed with no shame

Yet after all of those years
Of that suffering pain
The use of this word
Has weaken our brain

We throw it around
Like a word with no past
But history lives on
From the shadow it cast

It's now part of our language
In every sentence we say
It shows off our ignorance
In a sorry sad way

There's no other culture
And no other race
That would embrace such a slur
Or welcome disgrace

Yet we as Black people
Have done so for years
Our dignity lost
Without feelings or tears

It's part of the reason
We will never excel
Or out-live our slums
And Ghetto-ish hell

I read this with my kids today. I can't even describe the conversation we had.
None of my kids use the word in my classroom, but many do in the yard and the street, and it is still very much a part of their culture.
"There's a lot of blood behind that word," said Yahkemp at the end.
"I'm gonna tell people not to say it anymore," said Chris.
"Yeah, me too," added Jose.
Knowledge is power.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Quality Review

She said it well here.


Quality reviews are a big show. Want to know how schools really are? Show up randomly. Talk to random kids, go in to random classrooms, and pick the parents you want to speak to. A great school would be okay with that.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The old Jose is back.
His journey complicated to say the least...he came in 20 minutes early today so we could go over his individual behavior plan. "Do you think I'm a trouble maker?" he asked me.
I paused.
I remembered his actions in all the time I had known him, nearly 2 years now.
"I think you are a very good kid who sometimes makes bad choices," I said. "But we all make bad choices sometimes. But smart people learn from their bad choices and don't make them again," I said. "They also never hurt others on purpose."
"Sometimes I do that," he said in a way that made him seem so small and me so big.
"I know," I replied. "But today is a new day, and I believe that you can change."
We went on to have a conversation about the 4 schools he has been to this year, how none wanted him, and how he eventually ended up back at ours.
"We want you here," I said. "This is your classroom now," I said.
This child, who caused such havoc in my room last year, is now back, and it is now my job to make him feel more welcome than he has felt since September.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

From the Mouths of Others

"At the end of the day, our story is just about kids. Real living, breathing, eating, drinking, sometimes loud, sometimes annoying, sometimes funny, always beautiful, always amazing kids."
-An excerpt from a letter we received from our SpEd Program Directors

Brief Update

The Old New One is still in the psych ward/mental institution...it's been over 2 weeks now.
My New New One is such a character and a good influence on my room.
My second long term sub just got another job, so we go back to the 'different para every day' routine tomorrow. Time, once again, to band together.
3 months left.
To educate. Inspire. Teach. Learn.
Some days it still feels like just surviving.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The New One is no longer the New One, for I got a new student on Monday. Jose, not to be confused with my old Jose, came to us with a smile and a stern warning from mom about not being on meds.
By the end of day 1 I was in love. Yeah, he's ADHD. It took me about 30 minutes to figure that out. But I've never had an ADHD kid who wasn't angry. Jose tells laffy taffy jokes. He says 'psych' about 50 times a day. And he asks 'trick questions', to which there are no answers. "That was a trick question," he says, "which means there isn't an answer, cause it's a trick, get it?"
I love him. He's little, genuine, and lightens the mood of my 13 year old, angry at the world because they're still in 4th grade classroom.
"Hey, this class is fun. We never did anything fun in my other class," he said today.
It's nice to have a kid appreciate differentiation :)

Meanwhile, the Old New One is in a psych ward, where he has been since Friday. He was taken away from his legal guardian by ACS. Keep him in your thoughts. He needs intense counseling, but we all know how those places can be. We're just hoping doesn't come back worse....

Tuesday, March 04, 2008


The New One, who is not so new any more, but his placement so complicated that I will never use his name on this blog, received his second superintendent's suspension of the month today.
This is the most severe kind of suspension you can receive in NYC, and it involves being sent to another school.
This incident is for throwing a large rock at a class that was lined up to go to an assembly, then cursing out the teacher....but his rap sheet is such that any thing that goes in the system warrants a suspension.
Today he tore things off the door, banged on our windows, and screamed at us while kids were working in small groups. I told that principal, who replied, "that's him,".
I'm again left with the sacrificing one for 11 dilemma....but somewhere inside of me is a voice that knows that 1 is somebody's baby and a child that will someday grow up to become an adult who will remember everything we said and did to him.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Today is March 1st

Which means that in 4 months, school will be over.
I am tired.
A kind of tired that sleep, or even a week off, does not fix.

In the past year and a half my kids have made incredible growth in reading. Some grew over 2 and a half years in 10 months.
We met grade level math standards with 87% mastery even though some didn't know the addition and subtraction sign when we started.
We took field trips to places my students had never seen and proved so many people wrong over...and over....and over again.
And Mario incited a riot and assaulted the principal of the other school in our building.
And Elvis's mom died.
And some of my kids went to more restrictive settings.
And at the end of the day I walk away heavier. Sometimes I carry books, sometimes their work to grade, other times just the weight of their lives, and my own, that was relocated half way across the country for this experience and most days still doesn't really fit here.

Nevertheless, a year and a half later, it has been a long journey, and I need to wake up and do something else in the morning. It's not even about leaving them anymore. I will never leave them, I just won't be their teacher anymore.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Sometimes I sit back in amazement at how comfortable everything has become. Them with me and me with them. Gone are the days of yelling and lecturing and even waiting for long periods of time for them to be quiet so I can teach.
With each day that passes we become more and more of a family. It's been almost 2 years now since I shook their hands for the first time and the relationship we have is so incredibly powerful, the expectations so much higher than they were months ago.
We are well on our way to meeting our class goals in reading and math. Kids applied to some of the best middle schools available to them and are excited about their future.
We're changing, all of us....
Somebody asked me the other day if I feel like I'm closing the gap. I told them no. My kids are.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Quotes of the Week

"The math journals really need to be more challenging. You're disgracing my mentality."
Malik to me

"It takes a smart guy, not a tough guy, to make change."
*So profound, if you only knew his gang banger, tough guy, I don't care about anything attitude. He had refused to go to his weekly counseling session that day, so I requested that the counselor just stay in the room and observe - this came as a result of the conversation about why he was refusing to go. Today he was yelling and screaming at me. But yesterday.....he was profound :)

"I ate 'em at lunch. I made a good choice." "Finally."
And we all laughed. You see, Julius has this issue of sneaking chips, candy, juice...whatever....in his pockets. One day it was a piece of fried chicken - and he eats it throughout the day. I smell it, eventually take it away, and we have this whole big conversation about when would have been an appropriate time to have eaten the food.
So today he smelled like Doritos, and I patted him down (yes, I do search my kids, and take whatever I find.) Anyways...he got this big smile on his face.
"It's my breath," he said. "I ate 'em at lunch. I made a good choice....finally."
"Yo, but you got some kickin' breath!' said Adony from across the room.
"Yes, I do." said Julius.
But his breath I can not take, and for that, he smiled :)

Happy winter break to all of us. We certainly need it.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Show Me The Budget

The phrase, "there isn't money for that," has been the mantra this year, and in true 'our principal' fashion we got a memo in our box yesterday stating that today would be the last day of both our afterschool and Saturday school programs. They can't afford to pay the teachers for extended hours anymore.Rumor is that my para will be taken out of my room. She's a sub, and subs cost money. The money to hire a permanent one, when released from the state, was put somewhere else in the budget and is now long gone, I'm sure.So illegal not to have a para in a 12:1:1, especially when The New One just last week threatened to kill my para and said that we hit him in the face when in reality it was he who placed binder clips all over his face to make marks. I refuse to teach this child without another adult in the room - the danger is simply too high. That's why he's in a 12:1:1 in the first place.And this mysterious budget that is so often spoke about is never actually seen, nor are we told where the money actually does go. We just know that our bulletin boards, charts, and portfolios are to be perfect at all times, because that, folks, is public education in NYC.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Keepin' Focused

Kiddo's midlines, as promised :)

Adony's - Titled 'My Best Friend'
My best friend Elvis who I met the first time I came to this school. He was in my class. He paid for a school trip one time. On January 8, 2008, Yahkemp told me that Elvis's mother died in her sleep and Elvis was crying because he only had his mother. The one he loved. Ms. G told me to go to the bathroom and I cried and he did not get to say goodbye. She was a nice lady who cared about her son and we all loved her. She was like family and now my best friend is in the Dominican Republic looking at his mother's tombstone. I wish the best to his family. Rest in Peace Ms. America. We all miss you.

Malik's - Titled 'Should Kids Get Paid for Going to School - Yes or No?'
Should kids get paid yes because when kids go to school on the bus or they walk they risk their life going to school. And when we are in school in the cafeteria eating lunch it could be a fier and the firetrucks take too long. And a robber could act like he is somebodys dad or uncle. This is why kids should get paid.
If kids got paid we could by our own clothes, and a phone for emergency. So if we were to get kidnapped we will have a phone to call the cops. And our mothers would not have to take out of her money that she work hard for to buy us stuff. And the government know that they have th emoney and thats why I think kids should get paid.

Ken's - Titled 'Bruce Lee vs. Jackie Chan'
Bruce Lee is a very good fighter. He just as strong as Jackie Chan. Jackie Chan has good moves and is a good athlete. Bruce Lee is also a good athlete. Bruce Lee usually use numchucks to fight. Jackie Chan sometimes uses broomsticks to hit bad guys hard. Jackie Chan is like a tiger and is fast like a cheetah. Bruce Lee moves quick like a dragon.
One day Jackie Chan came up to Bruce Lee and said "Do you think you can beat me?" Bruce Lee said "Ha ha uh I am sure of that." Jack Chan said "Well well lets fight tomorrow at 10:00 o'clock in the morning." The next morning Bruce Lee was waiting in the park for Jackie Chan. He was dressed in black pants with a bandana. He had a pair of numchucks. Jackie Chan had got there at 9:58. He was dressed as a ninja with a sword.
The battle began at 10 o'clock. People were cheering for Bruce Lee because he was quick as a dragon. Bruce Lee hit Jackie Chan with the pair of numchucks 20 times in the face. Cops had to come even the ambulance. Bruce Lee won the fight. Jackie Chan been in the hospital for 3 years.

Friday, January 25, 2008

He greeted me with a smile. "Today is a new day," he declared.
"Yes, it is," I responded. My own words, the philosophies I've taught them, come back to haunt me when I'm so burnt out that I can't forgive them.
For their words, actions...can't forget the broken desk in the back of the room and posters that have been made numerous times because they chose to tear them down and all of the things that have been stolen since the new one arrived.
But I must. I must shake their hand and truly believe that today is a new day. For me, and for them....
But I'm human, and sometimes forgiveness is hard.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Today Malik threw a desk 7 feet across the room. It broke. His books went flying everywhere.
Chris continued singing Spider Pig, and Yahkemp freaked out because I didn't believe that someone spit on him (his justification for punching them, although there was no spit anywhere on him and none of his friends saw it...hhmm...) His stepfather came, took my side of the argument, and then he yelled that he didn't love his stepfather anymore.
If these kids have taught me anything it's that forgiveness is necessary.
He was back in my room 30 minutes later.

But two other kids at my school were taken to the psych ward and one was arrested, so maybe we're not doing so bad.
Oh how the expectations have changed....

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

It's that time of year, when the 'important people' come in and review our school and give us our grade.
My principal is ALL ABOUT this. Most are, but mine, this is all he cares about - this and test scores, mostly because the 'important people' care about test scores too.
I wonder if they care that one of my kids' mom's died or that Yahkemp had a fire at his house or that another one of my kids hasn't had his meds since November and is slowly deteriorating before our eyes but there's really nothing we can do.
Actually, they don't care.
As long as my bulletin boards and portfolios and charts are perfect.
So that's what I spend time doing. Bulletin boards and portfolios and charts.
But I also spend time consoling and teaching and coaxing him to just stop singing the Spider Pig song.
In the midst of all of this we're doing an AMAZING fairy tales unit. I'll post some of their work here soon, when the craziness is over.
But for now....Miss G is exhausted, for all the wrong reasons.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Yesterday was my birthday and my kids made a HUGE deal of it. They told just about everyone in the school and threw me a big surprise birthday party during lunch. I still can't get over the fact that none of them accidentally told me in the days leading up to the party...and that they were actually able to organize something like this. Mind you, these are kids that need help remembering to turn in homework and that lose their pencils numerous times per hour.

We had pizzas, 15 bags of chips, and an ice cream cake....music, and lots of stories about days past. I told them it was one of the best birthday parties I'd ever had, and I meant it.

And then I spent the bus ride home wondering how I could ever just walk away from them...

Friday, January 11, 2008

This week was the week where true colors were exposed.
Tuesday there was a fatal drive by in front of our school. A 14 year old (not from our school) was killed. This is the third school on the same block as my school in 2 months. This kind of violence is abnormal for this neighborhood and I sense in myself and my kids a hesitation that wasn't there before....things that were automatic before now require thought.
We had incredible conversations about bullying, racism, gangs, and death. My kids have grown so much in the last year and a half, and so have I.
As I continue to interview for jobs for next year I become increasingly okay with the thought of leaving them. They will always be mine - the bond we made can not be broken with physical distance. Elvis's departure showed us that.
"I was so moved by how your kids hugged him," remarked another teacher.
"They're tight," I said. "You have to remember, these kids have been together for a long time. They don't shuffle classes every year like most kids."
"And they hung on every word you said. They didn't want a counselor or (my principal)...they wanted to know what you had to say. That's so different from most kids." she added.
They fight with each other, but when push comes to shove, the bond that we have as a class is pretty hard to break. Our true colors showed this week and I have to admit - I was proud to call myself their teacher.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Adony never came back after the break, which meant 4 straight absences in a row. While he's definitely not my perfect attendance student, 4 in a row is rediculous even for him, so I asked a couple of the aides to go check on him. (It's city policy in NYC that if you miss 3 in a row someone from the school goes to your house - this doesn't usually happen. You have to make friends with people that live in the neighborhood if you want to keep track of kids...)
They went to his house and who walked in this morning but a bruised, swollen, black eyed Adony. Upon his return from winter break, he was jumped by 6 gang members on the way to school. What we saw today were the wounds time hadn't healed. The gang member part is important here because I've always been suspicious of Adony himself (but never been able to prove anything, nor have I wanted to.) Luckily he was not badly hurt.
The scary thing is it happened only a block from our school, about 15 minutes before school starts, and no one stopped to help. He is also not scared, but angry. My kids responded with a spirit of retaliation, even though the students who jumped him were much larger and older than any of my students. It is a constant effort to change this mindset - this cycle of violence that seems to be all my students understand as right.
I'm so frustrated. With the setbacks. With not knowing that my kids are safe when they leave school. With the fact that I can't put them in a little bubble and protect them because right now I really really want to.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Yesterday Elvis's mom died of a sudden stroke. 39 years old.
He returned from a visit to his father's house to find her dead. Upon finding out, his step father, who has lived with them since Elvis was 2, had a massive heart attack and is currently in ICU.
He was discharged at the end the day today. We had made him cards and wrote letters.
"Can I take the test with you?" he asked. "I don't want to take it in a new school."
That's what he was concerned about - the test.
But he will not take it with me. I will probably never see him again.
In a day a child I've spent the last year and a half bonding with, teaching, at times agonizing over, is now gone. For good.
My kids cried today when he left. So did I....out of sadness, but more out of fear for what his life was going to be like.
This is why the work we do is so important. When he came to me he could not read or write his name. He now reads on a 3rd grade level, is on grade level in math, and is a very creative writer.
Everyday that we have with our kids might be the last. Tomorrow I teach with a new sense of urgency.