Long ago, I promised myself that if I completed 25 years of teaching, I would try to write a book about my experiences. Next year will be year 25. So I started this last year to begin to figure out what I wanted to write about. I welcome your comments, resources, links to your own teaching blog, book recommendations, etc.

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When I get angry, I seem to turn to Dylan for help

Bob, that is.

I was thinking about “Sundown on the union,” but that’s not right. I was thinking about “People seldom do what they believe in / they do what’s most convenient, and then repent.” That’s closer, but the son of a bitch never repented.

I taught at a school for a year. It was not a good match. There were all sorts of details and situations, all sorts of problems and perspectives. But I was the first-year teacher and so it was just as easy for all of us to agree that I shouldn’t stay.

And you know what? I’m glad. I was not happy there. My subsequent stops have been much more my style. I was angry for a while, was even heard out by a Central Office admin, and slowly the feelings drifted away.

Now comes word that one of my former colleagues there has, in all probability, been woefully mistreated. Of course, she had been there much longer so she definitely had more allies. You know what? Though I never saw her teach, she seemed to have her stuff together. I can’t recall any acrimony between us, but I’m known for missing such things.

And the same person who claimed he knew all along, the same person who is supposed to help all teachers, who did nothing for me except listen to me vent and buy the flowers for my funeral, is perched high on his soapbox, complete with unnecessarily inflammatory rhetoric, detailing all of the ways this colleague was wronged. I don’t know the facts. I can’t know them. I suspect, given all else that’s tumbling out of this particular district lately, one that has such a great reputation (“he smiled at your face, but behind your back he hissed” – Dylan again – or there’s probably something better from Othello), I suspect his concerns, however clumsily they are expressed, are largely right.

Why didn’t you stand for me? Maybe you didn’t like me? I know I hadn’t been there as long, but cripes, man, anyone could see you were just going through the motions and even that was far too late. But you won’t discuss it. You are far too perfect and popular. I should have known then and try to remember now that “He might be standing next to you, the person that you notice the least / I hear that sometimes Satan comes as a man of peace.”

Another Digital Divide

This is not about money. Or race. This is about generations.

We just had parent conferences. Several parents – when reminded about how they can go online to access all of the information they were asking for – admitted it with a tone approaching confession. “I just can’t figure it out.”

Now I am far from a technical wizard, but I can navigate our various electronic platforms and get basic information. We also had stations set up for training, training that was conducted by folks much more skilled than me (not a high bar, I admit). But it started me thinking.

If I get home from work and want to check on how my child is doing or find an assignment or communicate with a teacher and none of these things are comfortable for me and to accomplish any of them I am likely going to have to count on said child to help me, well, then I might not get past, “Have any homework?” “No.” “Great.”

Have we gone too far?

In our efforts to make everything (jargon alert! jargon alert!) “transparent,” are we instead putting up another obstacle? How many students are raised by grandparents? I’m not saying that there aren’t grandparents who are tech-savvy. I am just saying that maybe we’ve created yet another divide, made it just a bit harder for those who are trying to stay involved, who may also have trouble with internet access.

R.S.V.Puh-leaze (with no apologies for the profanity)

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”
                                                 —Frederick Douglass
on being invited to the groundbreaking at my former school
So you want me to show up at 2:30
to watch you be photographed digging
up some dirt? I say you’re late and
you’re not gonna get a pass be-
cause we already dug up some dirt,
the kind you bury kids in, the kind
of kids who are the same color as
that dirt, dirt poor, who say things like,
“I didn’t come to school yesterday be-
cause my mother didn’t wash my clothes.”
Where were you then, you suit-wearin’,
smile-barin’, not caring photo op fucks?
What’s the matter? No votes in the dead?
Yeah, you heard what I said, Data Head.
All your comments are ripped from the script
“Mental health,” ‘Counselors,” “Tragedy” you say
But they’re happy like that hole used to be
You’re not there the next day
And I am.
And there’s lead in the water like
there was lead in that body and I’m
the one who bought all the books
on my shelf.
So you better shovel your shit somewhere else.
And, by the way, your test scores won’t bring
back their health.
You cheap whores who sit so proud and pronounce,
get ready to listen, it’s my turn to announce:
“Glasses for this kid and breakfast for that. Try
teaching Algebra to her, she doesn’t know where or
if she’s sleeping tonight.”
You know, I wanted to dig some dirt once,
grow that kind of food that is endangered here,
as endangered as, as our students, show them
a tomato doesn’t have to be white. You said,
“You must be some kind of joke. I’m here to
offer them ice cream, but diet Coke.”
So you, with your titles, keep building your
buildings, yeah, go on begin them
You’re all more concerned with what’s outside
than what’s really within them
Before you get into that BMW, though,
there’s just one thing I want to know,
“Is the school where your children will go?”
with the sleeping sub in math class:
the fights in the hall
the anger that’s rancid
the parents who won’t take my call
So, no, I won’t be there at 2:30,
no time, see I teach
you can call me to meetings
where you want to preach
you’ll find me with students
26 and 10 books
no one to take pictures
no one to look
that’s okay by me
my feelings ain’t hurt
I’m spending my time
my money
my health
my energy
my heart
my love
my self
keeping kids out of your dirt
Dig it?

Social Media (This is not what you think it is)

I am not here to moan about how social media is destroying our youth or our sense of facts or whatever. It’s out of the box, just like Smart phones. (Is ‘smart’ supposed to be capitalized?) I don’t even know. So the question should be, how do we make use of new technology and social media platforms? Here, Educator Innovator (one of my favorite sites? blogs? What is it?) presents some great examples. The International Baccalaureate Organization has also recognized the need for us to study this new kind of language and communication. I’ve experimented a bit with conversations about the #metoo movement, but I have no idea how to analyze or measure the impact of a social media movement, much less use social media as a teaching tool. I am trying to sketch out plans for investigating the impact of social media on the Arab Spring, but for now I am just, to borrow an image, unpacking as many groceries as I can. I have no idea what I’m going to make. I am on Facebook and am a vague presence on LinkedIn; otherwise, though, nothing. And I guess this counts too. I know I should just experiment with different platforms, but I find myself exhausted by my technology time already. I can’t think of any significant professional development opportunities in this area. A 90-minute session at a conference won’t do. I need an intensive. At least I think I do.

Damned if I. . . “I don’t like this book”

Choosing books is hard. There are so many factors to balance. Some part of me believes, with Neil Postman, that school should act as a thermostat to that which goes on outside. In short, in my case, that means I shouldn’t teach the Bluford Series. On the other hand, I have a lot of (very) reluctant readers, so I need to pick things that engage them. It is rare but wonderful to find things that do the good work of both being challenging and engaging. That’s why books such as The Hate U Give are so important.

And I know that “I don’t like the book” sometimes translates to “I don’t understand the book” or even, “I haven’t read the book.” I try to tell students that I don’t try to choose books that they won’t like. I try to choose individual books as well as a year’s worth that do something, both individually and together, that each book has its purpose and very rarely is that purpose to be popular. I do see what Atwell says about making all reading independent reading and though that won’t work right now for me since I’m in an IB school, I would love to do more with it.

Choosing books is hard. I relish the challenge. Maybe I just feel stuck in Haroun.

End of the year / Beginning of the year

There’s an axiom that says you shouldn’t receive any feedback at the end of the year that surprises you. In my experience, to butcher a line from Hamlet, that’s a custom more honored in the breach than in reality. Not for the first time this summer, I received some (A LOT OF) feedback that surprised me, and now, three weeks in, I can say with some confidence that I’ve done my best to honor it (though have received feedback on only one element of it so far – apparently, I’ve been successful at writing fewer and clearer emails – yeah, me!).

That feedback became goals, and then I started the year with goals of my own. Added together, I have a lot of goals. In general, I think it’s been good for me. It’s caused me to go slower and think more about differentiation in lesson planning, organization (my own and the students’) and, yes, the emails I choose to write. At times, though, I wonder what’s been lost as a consequence. I am certainly spending my energy in different ways. We’ve had fewer discussions. I think I’ve been able to do less to challenge the much sharper students. Overall, I am not having as much fun as I usually do. Has that changed what students are learning? It’s hard to say. Maybe I’ll get used to what’s been good about this, and find the fun again. Right now, it feels like every day, every period, every interaction (with adults and students) is tied to one of my goals. And that makes for long, tough days.

2 weeks. She was a high school graduate for 2 weeks.

Some students are harder to live; that means you must love harder. I cannot claim that I did a great job with this particular young woman. In class, she tended to have a few basic modes: incessant talking, obsessive phone use, volatility, or sleepiness. Sometimes, all 4 would happen in one class period. Once in a while, there would be a burst of writing that would allow me to glimpse possibilities, but I could never get her past that. As I suggested, I did not have a deep personal relationship with her, but I knew enough from others to know she’d lived more life by her teens years than I have in more than three times as many years.

I left the school after her 11th grade year. A few weeks ago, I went to her graduation and was pleasantly surprised to hear her name called. Her smile as she crossed that stage made a lot of the previous struggles melt away.

Then the text message. A few details. The school’s offer of support (impressive because it’s July).

A few more details. She was a high school graduate for about two weeks. And she was killed either on her 18th birthday or the day before it.

So often, we hear about the boys. I will think about her.

I’ll remember.


4 years ago, I was fortunate enough to be part of a team of teachers who began a school. We began with something in the neighborhood of 105 students. Some of the founding staff members made it two years. Some, including me, made it three. Others remain. Graduation was earlier this evening.

There were 44 names in the graduation program. That’s about 42%. And some of the names that were called, including the 45th who was apparently added after the program was printed, I’m not so sure how they got there. There is a fair amount of pressure on administration when it comes to graduation numbers, I was told.

Some of the 60 or so students graduated from other schools. I’m not sure how many because students just seem to get lost. They change schools, districts, even cities. They just fade away. As far as I know, there’s no effort to track them.

And then there are all of the students who passed through our doors once, maybe even twice before. . . what? Where are they? Is anyone trying to find out?

And those graduates. . . what happens now? Does anyone follow them? Does anyone pay attention?

I tried to stay positive throughout the ceremony; I really did. I tried not to think of the names that were not called. I tried not to think of the names that were not called because the students had been killed. I tried not to think about all of our mistakes. I tried not to think about some of the people we put, were forced to put, in front of our students.

There was a distraction. I’m not sure when this happened or when it became okay. Whether it was the people staking out spots in front of the audience in Baltimore or the fog horns in St. Paul or just the constant buzz of noise, of people moving in and out, or what of tonight, but there seems to be very little regard for the ceremony itself. Certainly, the cliches, often spoken by people the students do not know, don’t help. The balloons and flowers are there. The outfits are there. It seems to be an event more designed to be tolerated than anything else.


Theater of the Oppressed

I had an amazing opportunity to study Theatre of the Oppressed with the founder’s son, Julian Boal at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. His 3-day session, considered the pre-conference, was as amazing as it was exhausting (physically and emotionally). I have always believed in the power of theatre, but this pre-conference broke down Boal’s method in ways that (I hope) will allow me to access it with students. His approach not only presents possibilities in terms of political issues, but also the kind of social / emotional issues we are all trying to figure out how to teach our students (and ourselves).

The conference itself was positive. I was probably tired from the pre-conference and sleeping in a college dorm. There were a few worthwhile sessions, both because I learned things well enough to decide they were not for me (psychodrama, for example) and because they were incredibly inspiring (newspaper theatre).

I loved the diversity of people at the conference. This helped keep the experience fresh for me. It was helpful to not always be surrounded by English teachers. Still, after repeating my preferred pronouns for the 10th time or so, I began to lose patience with the continual efforts participants made to out-nuance each other. As Boal suggested, sometimes it’s better to just get on your feet and try things.

Theater of the Oppressed

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