Fun with Philly Mag
Today I wrote a piece for Philadelphia Magazine regarding the recent plans made by the School Reform Commission. You can read it here.
Concerns Across the District
While my staff (and many others in schools of Philadelphia) were hard at work yesterday focusing on the curriculum of our school and how we are going to interview students for the future, the School District was beginning the process to dismantle itself. Over the past few months we have seen charter networks expand their purview and demand increasing their numbers. Regardless of your political leanings, we should all recognize that this is a major shift in policy.
The public school system was formed in 1850 in Philadelphia and has had a strong hand in equalizing things in this city ever since. With the state takeover in 2001 things started to change (unfortunately, for the worse). Now we have budgets spiraling out of control with no relief in site from the city or state, and our Chief Recovery Officer is saying that we are "not making progress quickly enough." My response: how can we make progress if our resources are regressing?
The people in charge play on the apathy of the populace. The only solution: don't stay quiet. A well-known adage states, "the squeaky wheel gets the grease." We need to make sure that the entire state hears our voice. I am proud to say that I voted in the election yesterday - but we need to do more than that. Attending rallies (like with Nurse Duffey) and taking part in the community budget meetings and School Reform Commission meetings are only a start. Share your concern with your families, friends, and neighbors. Make sure all 1.5 million people in Philadelphia know that we will not keep silent.
"If you will it, it is no dream." - Theodore Hertzl
Networking New Teachers
First I apologize for not posting in quite some time. Unfortunately my outside life has gotten the best of me and the Jewish learning conference I co-chair in my "spare time" is coming up next week. If you are curious to learn about LimmudPhilly, just click the link.
One of the things that has kept me busy is the continued workshops I have been attending as part of the Greater Philadelphia Innovation in Education program, co-sponsored by Teacher for America and Technically Philly. While I may have gripes with some of the TFA emphasis on using classroom experience for policy change instead of sticking with teaching, I can tell you their social entrepreneurship initiative is pretty solid.
The focus I have chosen is teacher retention. Put simply, the idea that half of all new teachers are leaving by their fifth year is simply sad. There are myriad of reasons for this: new teachers are often put in the hardest classes in the hardest schools; they are often given the fewest resources; the demands of them are the exact same as veterans, without knowledge of the systems they work in. I could easily go on.
Instead, I've chosen to seek out and/or create a system of support for new teachers that provides for their sustainable future in the classroom. I can think of three major sources of assistance that would make this happen soon:
1) An easy-to-use online resource exchange. Instead of new teachers having to gather resources from many different sources (often wasting time in the process) we should provide a space where veteran teachers can share their lessons, worksheets, tests, and more with the new folk. These items could be ready to go without much change and would provide new teachers more time to learn their own style of teaching instead of making a list of word problems.
2) In-school mentorship opportunities. One of the best and most-easily accessible resources in a school are the people in it. New teacher should be provided with coverage if and when they want to observe others in their classrooms. And veteran teacher should be provided the same in order to give feedback to the new teachers. Programs I've mentioned before like Critical Friends would be a great template to use.
3) Out-of-school support groups. I have been involved in many of these over the past few years and have gained new ideas and professional feedback through active discussions. I think these groups should be regionally based at first in order for teachers to avoid wasting time transporting from place to place. If these were coordinated and organized by teachers they would be more enticing as well.
If major school districts could think of the investment they should be making in new teachers instead of leaving them to fend for themselves, they could potentially save more than $7.3 billion annually. Money like that could go a long way to supporting future generations.
A "Fun Pass" for Education
I recently stumbled across this video about a wonderful child and his creative explorations at his father's auto parts shop. It is so inspiring in so many different ways. Of course I love that this documenter decided to share what this kid has done with the world; but more than that it shows off how providing enough resources can allow for true learning to take place.
I don't profess to know exactly what I am doing in my classroom every day - far from it. I still think I have a lot to learn about making lessons engaging, fun, and interesting for reasons over and above what my students ultimately care about: their grades.
Unfortunately, I think the system I teach in is not set up for such a feat. It is difficult to maneuver the standards and curriculum I must follow in a way that fosters true creativity. I want my students to play with numbers and doodle just like Vi Hart does. But how do I justify "playtime" to someone vetting my lesson plans? Is there a standard for "make the coolest graph?"
I am hoping to do a lot of thinking over the summer and analyze some of the lessons I've created to see where I can incorporate some of the lessons of Caine. For example, a Fun Pass only costs $2.
Spring Break Road Trip
This past week has been Spring Break for the School District of Philadelphia. In order to get relaxed and experience something new, two friends and I went on a Road Trip to North Carolina and back in five days. It was wonderful. Here is the account from one of my co-Spring Breakers, Kathleen.
I would like to begin this blog with the declaration of this phrase, “All rules were followed; even the rules that my mother didn’t think of.”
A couple months prior, Brian came to me with the idea of going on a road trip to North Carolina. I thought it was a great idea. Over coffee and frozen yogurt, we planned our trip with our friend Jenn List. Our interests were similar: be outside as much as possible and see things that we would not normally see.
Indeed, Brian was the trip master. We gave him that title because of his swag and collection of groupons. Brian found a groupon for the Biltimore Estate, a site he visited when he was a child with his parents but “didn’t appreciate it.” So he wanted to go back.
It is spectacular. Over 3,000 people visit the estate in Asheville, North Carolina every day. It is the largest private home in the USA and is truly breathe taking. It is gothic, ornate, and has massive rooms. The library reminded me of the scene in Beauty and Beast, when the Beast opened it to Belle and she flew around on the ladders. New must-have in my dating life: The eligible bachelor must have an expansive library with ladders.
In addition to the large estate with an indoor swimming pool and bowling alley, there is a garden filled with exceptional flowers, including an acre of tulips, with every color and origin. The upkeep of the grounds was very impressive. Those who have membership to the Biltimore are able to picnic and visit the grounds whenever they like.
And where would any first class estate be without a winery. Jenn had the most swag during this portion of the trip - she knows her wine. The server even complimented her in her selection. Brian and I were grasping for what sounded familiar and had the most oak. I personally think oak is key in the selection of your wine.
As we waved goodbye to the Biltmore, the sky opened and started to rain. According to Brian, that was planned. It was a plausible time to take a nap before dinner with Kelly and Dan McGinis. Both are Philadelphians and were on a little vacation themselves visiting Dan’s parents. Dan attended NC State, and they are thinking about moving to North Carolina.
We were very fortunate to see the free North Carolina Museum of Art. Raleigh is a beautiful city with lots to offer in terms of museums, but the NC Museum of Art located near NC State’s campus was immaculate. It was sunny and warm; perfect weather for walking around the open grounds. I think we also felt very much at home because there were many elementary and middle school field trips walking the same the trials. Brian told one of the group of sixth grade girls (one was wearing a volleyball t-shirt!) to “be nice to your teachers. They are awaiting spring break like you are.” The message was received loud and clear.
There is something about North Carolina. It is a beautiful state with mountains, valleys, and large estates that reflect on the aesthetic appeal of nature.
Yet, we journeyed on to Virginia Beach and Norfolk. The beach was calling us. This groupon is infamous. We stayed at the Founders Inn on the campus of Regent University. It’s conservative. When Brian was checking in, the greeter asked Brian to write down the name of his girlfriend or wife staying with him. “Well, there are two staying me with me,” said Brian as he wrote down both of our names. Immediately, I called being the girlfriend. There is less pressure being the girlfriend. Jenn would make a better wife because she has a better taste in wine.
After checking in and reaffirming Brian’s new swag of polygamy, we ventured to Norfolk. The sun was setting on the Chesapeake and my list of must-haves expanded to owner and operator of a boat. I think I am a water and beach person. The mountains and valleys were beautiful and soothing, but as soon as I saw the water, I felt much more calm and happy. I have a greater appreciation for water and the sand because for the majority of my childhood and early adult life, my family and I vacationed at Bethany Beach, Maryland. I could still hear my grandfather announce after dinner of Lombardi’s pizza on the Saturday night of arrival, “Tomorrow, to the ocean!” The salty taste of the air, the therapeutic and consistent sounds of the waves combined with the unique smell of sunscreen are smells I wouldn’t know what to do without.
Jenn and Brian shared similar memories with their families in Ocean City, Maryland. Jenn’s grandfather would take her to Dumser's on 125th Street for potato chips and milkshakes. To this day, Jenm dips her ruffled potato chips in her black and white milkshake. Amazing. She told us stories about her senior week in high school and how those summer crushes never make it pass the first weekend. Similarly, Brian’s heart was crushed with the closing of the Bay View, which was “the best buffet restaurant in the world.” I sent my parents a picture of the pink house we would stay in at Bethany Beach and reassured them it was still standing. Similarities and differences within those stories of heart ache.
As we left Bethany Beach and headed north to Philadelphia, we realized it was important for us to share our stories and memories with one another because not only did they become greater within our hearts but were shared with close friends.
A couple hours later we saw the Philadelphia sky line and let out of sigh of relief that it was just as beautiful as we left it. Sometimes you have to go outside yourself and your normal space in order to come back and appreciate where you started.
I am a math teacher in the New York Department of Education. I infuse technology and real-world problems into my curriculum in order to prepare my students for the future. I would love for people across the country to recognize we teachers can't do it alone. If you don't believe me, come visit my classroom!