Our New Home

Dear world,

In response to our never-ending difficulties w/ the edublogs site, we’ve decided to move. Posts will continue here:


This works well since blogspot is our natural blogging habitat. Many contributors have pledged to update more frequently now that the switch is complete. We’ve appreciated your feedback, comments, subscriptions, and support; and we hope all those who fell in love w/ this site once before may do so again at our new home.

See you there!


The ST? Crew.

And the winner is…

Last week in my Equity and Diversity class there was a heated discussion about what factors influence students’ academic success most. Race/ethnicity? Money? Parent influence? It was interesting hearing my classmates talk so passionately about what they believed in.

But there was something going on that made me uncomfortable. Rather than listening and trying to learn from what was being said, people were quick to dispute one another. If I didn’t know any better, I would have to say they were actually trying to prove each other wrong. I understand that we all have our opinions, but I don’t think this is a debate where having your argument win is the point. If anything that just counters everything that we are trying to do.

Maybe if we listened, and really listened, we would realize that we’re all right. We all want to help our students, and if awareness is the first step towards change then what’s the point in having tunnel vision? If we keep that up then we all lose.

Good thing this was only our second class. Us newbies have got a lot to learn! 🙂

A Thank You to Ms Angeles

Being a teacher forces you to acquire a dual identity. There’s the you that’s existed since the beginning, and the new alter ego whose name typically begins with a Ms or Mr.

I’ve found it difficult to merge the two worlds together. I especially find it difficult to share teaching stories with my non-teaching friends. You can’t expect someone to fully sympathize and understand the classroom when they haven’t walked in your shoes. We can all agree on this right? You can argue that this is universal with all experiences, right?

In the past, the best, most fruitful venting sessions were those I shared w/ colleagues. That all changed last week when a friend decided to spend some of her winter break with Mr. G.

She joined the adventure, and each second sans students was a moment of thoughtful exchange. She offered 3 days worth of different perspectives to the classroom, pointing out different angles to my teaching, student dialogue she found hilarious, and other reflections I appreciate. Things like “it’s a little better than I expected” to “How do you get their attention like that?” to “Wow, that 6th period is exactly as you described. Crazy” to “How am I supposed to help students who don’t want help?” It was nice to know that, at least for a second, it wasn’t 1 vs 30, it was 2 vs 30. HUGE DIFFERENCE. When there’s 2, there’s someone who shares the experience with you. Someone who understands your angle.

On Thursday the classroom felt lonely without her. We all had to adjust, especially the students. “Where’s Ms Angeles??”

Anyway, THANK YOU Ms Angeles, for becoming one of the first to fully understand both my identities. We all hope you come back to the classroom one day, whether in the capacity of a visitor… or even a teacher…

My Little Champions

Mr. M, who’s appeared on supteach? in the past has agreed to share another one of his posts! He teaches 4th grade at Watts and provides perspective on what it’s like to teach & interact with students in an urban setting.

This year, when compared to the previous three, has been trying for the simple fact that I have never had a group this difficult, and I’m not even talking about academics or behavior (Well, these have been issues too but are less magnified). I mean their lack of basic study habits and their importance in terms of how much these things reflect the amount of concern they have for their grades, and more importantly, the repercussions toward their respective futures.

During lunchtime last Wednesday, a veteran teacher and I observed my students as they lined up in the cafeteria. He has subbed for me in the past, and it was his guess that my three toughest kids to deal with (who were easy to point out as they were being told multiple times by our staff to stop talking and fooling around in line) had less than ideal conditions at home, and that my most exemplary child (who was just as easy to point out) had both parents at home, and involved ones at that. Much too often this is the case, so I agreed.

He was right about the former opinion, but the latter one was answered the next day during after school tutoring. And it showed me that life can mess with your head sometimes.

For three days a week we hold after school tutoring so the kids can do their homework under my supervision and their peers’ guidance to ensure it’s not only complete, but correct. For the aforementioned challenge kids, tutoring presents an opportunity for them to get help in the classroom if they cannot get that support at home. In addition, they eat snacks that I bring, get the chance to use the computer or play educational board games, and hang out with their friends. The class environment after school is a lot louder and way more relaxed, but if this is what it will take to get kids to do their homework and start feeling more confident in their work, then so be it.

Last Thursday, tutoring time was extended because my most outstanding student was working on her first PowerPoint presentation, and much to my surprise, one of my usually challenging kids wanted to finish his essay before he went home. Couldn’t say no to that.

The first child has everything a teacher could ever ask from a student. Listens to every word you say. Unselfish with the help she gives her peers and humble about her achievements. Completes everything with nothing less than her best effort and is attentive to detail. And compared with the other 29 kids in my class, entered my room in September on grade level in everything. So it came to my shock when I asked her if she wanted to take home a copy of the PowerPoint software to work on with her mom and dad, and she said, “My parents are separated.”

Really? I thought to myself. No way. Not her! As I came to grips with the truth, I then began to wonder that despite the maturity and poise she has shown to all of us, how deeply has her father’s absence hurt her inside, and how deeply will it affect her in the future? It was definitely not what I expected to hear as I called it a day and the three of us exited the classroom.

At this point, time had flown so fast that I didn’t notice the sun had already come down. While the first child’s mother had arrived to pick her up, no one came for my other student. As anyone could imagine, a nine-year-old boy walking three city blocks alone in the dark in South Los Angeles is probably not the safest thing to do, so I walked him home. During this time, I learned more about him in those five to ten minutes than I did reading his cumulative file and talking to his previous teachers.

One thing I always knew is that he was an honest kid, and outside of the classroom setting that night, he began to open up. He admitted that he doesn’t have anyone to tell him what he should be doing at home since his mom works, his brothers are always out, and his dad isn’t there. He also told me that he wants to improve his English because he sees that people who speak both English and Spanish get good jobs. He also informed me that the street we were traveling on was very dangerous. When I asked him why, he told me that last year, a policeman told him to run inside before people started shooting in the streets and a man was shot dead in the head. When I asked him where this happened, he pointed to the ground and said, “Right where you’re standing. We should keep walking.” Very introspective child, but the most sobering part of it all was how commonplace it sounded coming out of his mouth.

I can only imagine what these kids go through on a daily basis, and when they grow up, how much they are willing to fight for their futures. Broken homes, organized crime, and street violence are as prevalent as the grass is green. These epidemics have evolved into something normal down here. Moreover, the range of emotions exhibited by the people of the community toward these problems vacillate between hope, despair, anger, normalcy, and indifference. And it makes me think of the kids who are currently in or have gone through my classroom. Which one of these five states of mind will fuel their approach to adolescent life in Watts? I’m finding out every day.

I Hope to Teach More than Math

There’s power behind infusing tidbits or randomness into the classroom. Connection to academic content is unnecessary. Simply spend 2-3 minutes each day on something completely irrelevant but appealing. Buy your students’ attention. Steal their interest. Give them a reason to show up to class. Give them something to talk about. Give them something to remember. Let them know you’re not all math, you’re more.

This comes to life in my classroom through the projector. Photos and clips. Photos and clips. They come off as random entertainment, but also serve as an intermission before our brains work math again.

The majority these tidbits are funny or entertaining. Youtube clips of ninja cats or babies biting fingers. Photos of new gizmos and gadgets to highlights of recent sporting events. 2-3 minutes a day – small sacrifice to pay for large impact. Kids’ look forward to my class. And they remember it. (As evident by SO MANY ex-students who can still recall… “have you shown your new classes ____ yet?”)

Today I decided to do something different. Last night, riots occurred in Oakland demeaning what could’ve been a highly successful, highly meaningful nonviolent protest. Scoping the net during prep, I read over what broke out. I also viewed images. Why not take a break from silly intermissions to something more real? Why not show these images? Why not discuss? This is something current, relevant, AND engaging. I decided.

I’d preface the discussion to prevent it from degenerating into violent story time. This is about politics as personal. I’d set a 5 minute time limit & ground rules, and we’d do it. The goal: to provide a space for students to discuss issues of social justice, a space for students to be exposed to what’s going on in their own backyard, a space for students to voice and form opinions. I’d share my opinion to close, but would emphasize that this is our dialogue… not mine. They ultimately form the vision they’d like to see of the world, not me.

And so it went. And it went well! Each student highly engaged, listening intently to each others’ opinion, looking intently as each image sat on the screen (ordered from powerful & calm to unruly & violent). Of course, I’d interrupt at times and play moderator to students eager to offer disagreement. But it went, and I was happy with it.

What I did hope to impart: Protest and rallies for a meaningful cause are effective. It is our duty to push for progress, especially in a place like Oakland. However, action without organization is a formula for potential disaster. And what occurred last night weakened the message folks hoped to send.

And now, onto inscribed angle properties…

(Huge credits to MW for the guidance and suggestions on this one).

(Huge credits to dy/dan for showing me how to “buy” my students’ interest & attention).

Reminded of Patience

After today’s department meeting, I head back to my classroom to be greeted by a young lady I’ve never seen before. Walking inside, I see another student, short with glasses. I look to the front and see several marks on my whiteboard. The two have been at work.

I sit down at my desk and become a passive listener to their dialogue. She is tutoring the shorter one. And by his language, I can tell he’s likely categorized as special needs.

She’s so patient & so kind. With the tutee’s every mistake & stumble. Mistake after mistake, stumble after stumble, her tone remains the same. Her diligence remains the same – never showing but a hint of frustration.

Ordinarily, I don’t allow students unattended in my classroom when I leave after school. Today, I think I’ll make an exception.

What the hell, edublogs?

Edublogs is apparently embedding ad-links into posts of their users. If you’ve been wondering why random words like backpack, bathroom, and cough contain links to various places, there’s your answer. If edublogs wants to link our readers to ads on sidebars, that’s fine with us. But within our content? We don’t know about that. The only way around it is we become a “supporter” of edublogs, paying a monthly fee. We understand this is a field short of funds, even in the blogging domain, but is there any way around this aside from paying, or  switching over to wordpress or blogspot? We don’t want a switch to confuse our readers! Any help out there?

a teacher’s confession


I apologize, students, for my lack of enthusiasm that is sure to show as the week progresses.

I try to remain even tempered as a teacher.  No matter what’s on my mind outside of work I make sure to be calm in front of my classes.  If I’m upset (not of their doing) they do not know.  If I’m super happy then I try to contain myself.  For the remainder of this week, with all my might, I will do my best to act like a teacher who is totally focused and is not only thinking about going home for the holidays.

Maybe I shouldn’t have started my countdown so early…I cannot wait…8 more days!!!

Improved Teacher Working Conditions – Something We Need

A recent article from education innovation highlights similarities between the work conditions of teachers, students, and prisoners. Though the table’s a bit exaggerated, they do have a point…

One huge gripe I have against teaching is the constant workload. There’s always something that needs to be done. During the school day, I’m grinding non-stop from the moment I open my classroom door til the final bell. I don’t have the same luxury as my peers who can sign onto gchat regularly. I can’t work at my own pace. I can’t take quick mental breaks zoning out on news articles or facebook. I can’t leave work to have lunch outside with friends. My lunch break is ONLY 27 minutes and students drop in regularly for extra help, ask about their grade, or to simply visit. I can’t even use the bathroom at any time I want. I’ve gotta wait til my prep period or lunch, or (if it’s a real emergency) passing period.

Couple all that with everything else we’ve gotta do, the behavior we’ve got to put up with, administrative and state pressures, a lack of support/resources and it’s no wonder 1/4th of all new California teachers leave the profession in 4 years or less.

I’m currently in year 2 and the gripes have not waned. I promised myself I’d give this profession a minimum of 5 years before I make a real decision on it, but I do understand why one would choose to leave right away…

Student drop out rate is a huge issue; but as serious is the drop out rate we’ve got w/ teachers.