Every year the day before Thanksgiving is a fun, enjoyable time for our Crew students. We come together and share our thanks of each other and those on the outside who has supported us along the way. Today was no different: all the food and all the joy together made this a wonderful feast. Our students came to Crew early and set up sternos, home-cooked food, drinks, and more to have fun and enjoy each other's company. I was particularly impressed when a few students thanked me for things I didn't expect (especially the ones who are more difficult). I appreciate it and returned the favor later. I wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving and hope you can live with abundance like we had today.
On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving our staff has a gathering in order to process our year so far, offer thanks to each other and ourselves, and make sure that our first real break of sorts involves self care. Today was no different - we ate some snacks provided by our administration; we watched videos about our school; we shared ideas with each other; we thanked each other. It was a wonderful ceremony and made people leave with a smile on their faces. I want to wish my school and co-workers thanks and hope we can all have some more gratitude in our lives.
As the UFT Representative of a school I view it as part of my duty to make sure my members know what resources are available to them. To that end I co-hosted a Pension Clinic with the school downstairs (Brooklyn New School) about one of the best benefits of being part of a strong union. As part of the UFT we not only have a defined benefit pension we also have access to Tax-Deferred Annuities with incredible interest rates. My coworker who retired last year benefited from a lot of that and is living off it for the rest of his life (he is age 58, retired early through a special program) and he can raise his kids with peace of mind.
The main point of student-led conferences is to gather together the student, a parent/guardian, and Crew leader in order to discuss the how, what, and why of their work in school. Through this agenda we get a sense of how the student sees him or herself as well as what work they pride and why they think they are working in that way. Instead of jumping from teacher to teacher and getting a small synopsis without student input, the student takes the lead and guides us through how he or she sees the work they are doing. It brings out a lot of depth in student responses and really can help focus them on next steps. I like it and hope that as it continues we get deeper and deeper.
Every November and March parents and guardians of our students come for meetings with Crew leaders to look over their work, discuss their proud accomplishments, and their needs for improvement. At these times we get some wonderful care from our administration in the form of free dinner (even if it is at 4pm) and a side of cake. It was very tasty and enjoyable and a wonderful break before the nonstop meetings that I had tonight.
Every so often I get the idea that my students have actually learned something by listening to me facilitate class. We recently had a summative assessment (meaning graded test) in my Geometry class and this was one of the papers turned in. It has a clearly explained and diagrammed answer to the question that is completely correct. Most students missed some aspect of this question but a few persistent souls got it right. I'm happy to see this kind of thing in action!
My Crew students are currently in the process of applying to colleges. Of course, then, they need to apply to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA for short. We devoted a day in Crew to talk about the process itself and the steps one has to take in order to get their money (we also discussed the Tuition Assistance Program provided by NY State). It was illuminating for some students to find out that they could get thousands of free dollars for college. This Friday we will be working on it in class.
I have been having some serious issues with talking and distractions among some of my students. It has gotten so bad that almost no work is actually being done, despite me "continuing with the curriculum." So, today I decided to slow things down and instead of focusing on math content I facilitated a structured conversation with students to allow them time to practice what it should be like to talk about work together as a team. It involved some very specific instructions on which team member was supposed to say what and when and allowed us to learn about various reactions to scenarios that are similar (although not the same) as what we experience in class. Overall it went very well and I look forward to seeing how it continues tomorrow.
After a tumultuous day after the elections we had an Expeditionary Thursday where the Physics classes were sent out to various places in Manhattan and Brooklyn to survey people regarding their suggestions for military research spending vs. their annual income. The idea was the compare what the passers-by would spend of the federal government on the military and compare that to whomever won the election based on the President-Elect's annual income. Since Donald Trump's salary is so large, the comparison doesn't really work out, but the students definitely realized that overall people who made more money were more willing to spend money on military research, even in NYC.
It was a tough day - more for the teachers than for the students. They are possibly too young and in too progressive a city/state to feel the changes yet. Despite that, we were talking to them about the election still and I imagine will do so for the rest of the school year as its effects are felt.
Today was hard.
Today was shitty.
Today I bared my soul to my students. Possibly for the first time in my eight year career.
Today my school decided to forego our usual schedule and instead spend time restoring. Our Crews are essentially advisory on steroids. We work with the same group of students for four years in a row and really get to know them. So, this morning we met and held a circle-based conversation about how we felt. Some might construe this as a political statement; others might realize that there was pain and emotion regardless of what side you were on.
I read my students the poem from Martin Niemoller:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out - Because I was not a socialist.
I read it because I am scared of all the racist bigotry that I heard from President-Elect Trump during his campaign. I want my students to know that we are all in this together and need to point out and stop these things from being said and acted on. If we don't do it then no one will.
Many of them were upset; a few cried as I did; and some were on their phones looking for solace. It was the first time I decided not to stop them.
I hope we can grow from this somehow. I believe we can. I just don't know how yet. I look forward to taking action. To being the kind of person I want to be my own leader. And, in the meantime, I'll just teach my students something every day so they can be educated adults and push back against a growing shadow across the world.
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!