"Education is not a product: mark, diploma, job, money; It is a process, a never-ending one." -bel kaufman

Saturday, January 31, 2004


one o'clock, riis park.

i was asked to play football by a few students in my 3rd period class. i accepted. i think they were excited at the chance to tackle the teacher. we were to meet saturday at 1pm at Riis Park (6100 w. fullerton). but at one fifteen, when i arrived, i could not find any of the students. so i walked around for half an hour. at one point, in a quiet section of the park (it's a big park), i became engrossed in the sound of the crunch-crunch and squeak of my sneakers against the sidewalk snow. looking down, i noticed a pigeon walking beside me. he was walking with me, not scared and about to fly away, but there as if he was a little shorty following me through the park. still walking, i turned my head and noticed a few more birds. then maybe ten more flew in and landed behind them. i started walking slower to see if they would become frightened and fly away.
they were following me.
i stopped. they slowed and sort of gathered in a bunch behind me, milling about and waiting for me to continue forward. so i walked. and they walked, too. every now and then i would slow down and watch them gather. sometimes a few would lag, pecking at some tiny piece of something resembling food, and then look up, flap their wings and catch up to the group. we walked slowly for maybe 50 yards. then, for no apparent reason to me, they flew away. up and away. each one of them back towards where they came from and over a small hill. gone. i stood for a minute looking back and then continued on.

Thursday, January 29, 2004



today was the day i was not waiting for.
and it started well, too. poetry in english class. tonight's homework is to bring in a cd tomorrow so we can analyze the lyrics. in environmental science (6th & 7th periods), i was prepared to give the pros and cons of genetic engineering--we've been learning about international food industries, organic foods, and GMO crops. but come sixth period, i was not given the chance to teach.

i have always disliked the phrase, "the students will test you" in reference to classroom management. like when a teacher or administrator tells a story of a bad experience and says something like, "he/she was really testing my patience" or "testing my authority." i feel it puts the teacher and the student on two separate planes, divided in a way that the student sees the teacher as an authoritarian figure that can be brought down through misbehavior and disrespect. such a structure seems doomed for failure. this structure is perhaps the reason why there are feelings or anti-authority in youth. when i entered into teaching, i tried to approach the student/educator relationship with democracy and openness. i felt if the students saw me as an equal, there would be no room to "test" me because i would not be exhibiting the characteristics of someone who had power or authority over them, but rather someone with resources to share and teach them what they need and want to know. but maybe i am not doing the greatest job. and maybe they have problems of their own that bleed over into school life. because today i was knocked down.

much of it had to do with my inexperienced classroom management skills. and much had to do with two students who have little motivation to accomplish any school work. they have proven themselves apathetic towards school to every teacher i have talked to. and today, maybe they were just having a bad day. i don't know exactly. but once they decided to fully resist my requests for some kind of order in the class, the rest of the students lost any interest in the lesson and chaos reigned.

my classes have never been orderly. i attempt to let hyperactive energy fuel the class and i try, often successfully, to steer this energy in a productive direction. most administrators would probably see this as naive, but it has helped me gain the respect of most students--they feel less stifled--and i eventually have an easier time coercing distracted and disorderly students into working on the lesson. for me, it's about figuring out an alternative to the strict, authoritative stereotype of an inner-city high school teacher. today, however, was something from the classroom management textbooks, a classic example of disruptive students and a teacher with no solution and no other direction in which turn. so i let them rule for the moment. and then the rest of the class was surprisingly quiet, maybe disappointed in losing sixth period to the insults and jokes of a few individuals. when i attempted talking to one of the disruptive students (talk eventually turned into arguement), i surprisingly received backup from another student who attempted to point out the ridiculousness of trying to bring down the teacher: what's the point of deconstructing order and respect in a classroom, especially with a teacher who has, from the start, given you respect and second-chances?

postscript: i should also add that there has been a severe drop in student morale in the past week. individual students have been accused of disrespecting school property and breaking rules, often blindly and without sufficient evidence, and often times the whole school receives punishment for a single student's immature actions. i would like to also make this clear: i do not wish condemn any student in my sixth period class today for acting out due to frustrations stemming from school or personal issues. of course i wish they would not take their emotions out on me, but i try to remain understanding when situations like this occur. i know for sure that this is only the beginning. there will be much, much more difficult moments in the future. as long as i am prepared for these moments and able to recognize the challenges, i will be able to overcome them and continue on.

Monday, January 26, 2004



i went to the harold washington library downtown today after school. i am searching for quality, up-to-date books on education, inner-city teaching, and high school english curriculum. i found the following books. if you have any recommendations, PLEASE send them my way. thanks.
+ Holler If You Hear Me: The Education of a Teacher and His Students. by Gregory Michie. 1999. (actually, all five copies of this book were checked out, which i suppose is a good thing. i have heard great things.)

+ Lives in the Balance: Youth, Poverty, and Education in Watts. by Ann C. Diver-Stamnes. 1995.

+ Why Pick On Me: School Exclusions and Black Youth. by Maud Blair. 2001.

+ Truancy and Schools. by Ken Reid. 1999.

+ Under Running Laughter: Notes from a Renegade Classroom. by Quincy Howe, Jr. 1991.

+ Alternatives to Grading Student Writing. edited by Stephen Tchudi. 1997.

+ Classroom Testing Construction. by C. D. Hopkins & R. L. Antes. 1989.

Friday, January 23, 2004


dear third period,

(a letter delivered to my english/journalism students)

to ozzie, isaly, sour, joe, benito, arturo, luis, miguel, max, amanda, clarissa, catherince, sergio, reina, maria, josue, and nalleli.

this is a letter to each of you. why? because i want to personally tell you how i feel about this class. i don't always have time to talk to you in person, one-on-one, so this is my chance.

i like this class. i would not give it up for any other class. and i like how we have the opportunity to choose our own direction. for all of our assignments, i want to give you the freedom to read and research and write about what interests you as a person. speaking on our current photojournalism project, i really like the topics that you have chosen and i can't wait to see what you can do.

* i like the topics about your neighborhoods--i think that every person should understand and interact with her/his community. if you see something great happening in your neighborhood, everyone should know about it. likewise, if something destructive or harmful is occurring in your community, we should all be talking about the problems and figuring out solutions.

* i think the topics about families are great. taking pictures and writing stories about the joy and pain of living with your family, or especially raising a child, is invaluable. you will have this project to keep with you forever, to look back and remember how you felt at this point in your life.

* to those of you shooting street photography--strangers on the street, people on the busses and trains, gangs, and graffiti--your topics remind me of my own work and how i love documenting signs of life in the city. musicians, commuters, local business owners, families, kids, friends, and enemies... we see these people everyday, but each in our own experience. i am looking forward to seeing your photographs and understanding how you view the world around you.

* the projects on friends and hobbies are unique and interesting. documenting your friends and what you all enjoy doing is not simple--you have to take a step back and closely examine the everyday things that you do. at the same time, your work will be fun to do and the project will become a unique first-hand documentary of the lives you and your friends.

i would usually say that i can only hope for the best out my students, but i feel like this is not a usual class. i already feel like this class is going to be something better. and i think you have an advantage when you work on projects based on the world circling around you. thank you for everything.

keep it real,

Wednesday, January 21, 2004


the plea.

it is quite a task to effectively manage twenty, sometimes twenty-five students.
i have the most difficulty dealing with the fact that i cannot spend reasonable one-on-one time with students and simultaneously guide the entire class through a proper lesson. today, one of my students asked me, "what's my grade?" i couldn't tell him. i didn't want to. yes, he is failing my environmental science class. failing from lack of work. failing from zero class participation. but i still felt responsible for his apathy. i told him, "you don't do any work. i have nothing for which i can give you a passing grade." he is a sincere kid. he isn't rambunctious and disruptive. if he could stay awake in class, he might manage a C. but here he is, pleading for anything but an F after he spent an entire class period ignoring the worksheet on his desk in front of him. he stares at me for a couple seconds... i think i see worry in his eyes. something hits me: he is going to suffer some sort of consequence for this F. maybe his parents will punish him. or perhaps his academic advisor just told him he's on his last chance. will this grade push him out of school? he has great attendance. he is here every day with the potential to learn, but i have yet to reach him with work that stimulates his interest. he is bored with school. he does not yet see where high school could take him. he just wants to pass to satisfy the demands set for him by someone else. who does this remind me of?


my little sister gave me words of encouragement back in october, telling me what she felt i had to offer to students: "think of how hard a time the two of us had in school.... your endless patience and constant wonderment are reasons why you need to be in the school system."

Tuesday, January 20, 2004


beginning at the beginning

hi. this is me, again. up too late, procrastinating and creating something new and important only to the extent that it gives me something fun to do... another distraction. but all these years and years of distractions have given me a wealth of diverse knowledge and experience. and i won't give it up no matter what. so there.

and this is for you:
tonight, i install this web journal to begin logging my thoughts and experiences as a high school teacher. i have so many words jotted down on scraps of paper already, various notebooks filled with my best and worst stories. i want to make it public. i want to share my downfalls and my successes in this extraordinary period in my life. and, yes, there are the many voices of my friends and relatives, both near and far, who are urging me to tell them my stories. so here's to you, and to all who stumble upon this site. thank you for reading.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004


notes from the field

today is hard.
i get discouraged easily, but something keeps me holding on. i don't know what to do with this feeling sometimes. i listen to myself, listen to the words i said the other day about how this is my opportunity to see if i can withstand the challenge. if i can get through any obstacle.

this is really exciting and really scary to not know how things will turn out. will i find the much needed strength to get through this? will i be able to keep focus? will i be able to stay on task and concentrate on the pursuit of becoming a well prepared and inspirational teacher?

today i sat thinking in the lobby area where all the students congregate to eat lunch. i thought about how today has been hard because most of the students have been struggling to stay on task and how i very easily lose their attention. i thought also about how their goals in life are set low--some students tell me they can only see themselves doing construction work or working in retail. while i sat eating lunch today, i recognized how they feel. i have felt the same way and still often do. they want to enjoy living day to day and not worry about a career and expectations and responsibilities. i know that feeling well. and this feeling is not horrible--it is honest and human. but i have also felt the beauty of succeeding and achieving something through hard work and determination. i am sure some of these students have never felt that, not to mention they have so many forces working against them.

maybe if i can offer support, to provide them with a place they feel like they can succeed. show them what their work is worth. offer a place where they can be open and expressive and look forward to doing class work--work that they know will take them somewhere better.

i have very few ideas on how to achieve such a classroom environment; however, i know that being in the classroom everyday is only moving me closer to figuring it out.

i guess that is what keeps me going in the toughest of situations.


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