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

Friday, February 20, 2004


directions for the first week of classes:

start every class with anything fun. encourage their creativity. focus students energy on their current abilities and strengths. let them show you what they can do. classes must be well structured, but flexible and completely enjoyable. absolutely no boring work! this week must draw them into the course, make them feel glad to be part of the class, and optimistic about what possibilities may lie ahead.

Thursday, February 19, 2004


6th period

the silence is fragile in this classroom. every student is reading intently. i feel like one distuption could shatter this beautiful moment. i feel a calm in this room that i have never felt in this school before. i hope this peace is healing for the students.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004


"...to provide a safe and positive learning environment."

i haven't been here long, but i've been here long enough to see an immense positive change in this school. i have been teaching for thirty-nine days. one teacher quit. four teachers hired. one new principal. things are moving slowly towards structure, and structure is exactly what is needed.

and i think about my classroom...
create stucture, i tell myself. everything else follows.

Friday, February 13, 2004


"Is it possible... to organize, to stuggle for something better, and to prevail?"

"Education is, of course, an arena of struggle as well as hope--stuggle because it stirs in us the need to reconsider eveything we have wrought, to look at the world anew, to question what we have created, to wonder what is worthwhile for human beings to know and experience, to justify or criticize or bombard or maintain or build up or overthrow everything before us--and hope because we gesture toward the future, toward the impending, toward the coming of the new. Education is where we father to question whether and how we might engage and enlarge and change our lives, and it is, then, where we confront out dreams and fight out notions of the good life, where we try to comprehend, apprehend, or possibly even change the world. Education is contested space, a natural site of conflict--sometimes restrained, other times in full eruption--over questions of justice."

--quote by william ayers and therese quinn,
from holler if you hear me: the education of a teacher and his students by greg michie

Tuesday, February 10, 2004


finals week

the nice thing about finals week is the nervous excitement from the students who have finally realized they need to complete their assignments in order to pass the quarter. today, i sat down with one of my most difficult students and she gave me the space to tell her what she can do to pass the class. our history has been rather rocky--she constantly resists doing class work and often gives me attitude before i have even finished taking attendance.
"Just mark them absent!" she yelled one day when i proceeded to ask students with past absences if they had a note from home to excuse their absence. (all to often, students miss class because of doctor's appointments or court appearances, but then forget to bring me the note excusing their absence. this is important because each unexcused absence in the attendance book lowers the school funding we receive from the state. so everyday, i ask for a note to excuse a prior absence.)

but today, she was relaxed. she actually smiled after she began to resist and i responded, "gimme a second... i haven't even said anything yet!" she was eager to complete her missed assignments, including a research paper revision.
the students who have fallen behind know they are short on time and this is their last chance...

procrastination produces eager students in then end.

Thursday, February 05, 2004


the satisfaction of looking back on two great days

yes, today was an even better day.

third period:
i needed to help two students catch up on their english 1 work and we worked together to complete a poetry lesson. the significance of this moment is that one of these students has never done any of my work before. he is a comedian and loves the attention from joking around in class, but he usually uses this distracting technique to his advantage so as to draw attention away from doing work. but today, he read Meeting At Night by Robert Browning out loud to me. and i slowly went through this poem, line by line, giving these two students hints to reveal the story Browning has created--much like as Dr. Hannum had for me in eleventh grade. i saw their faces change from blank stares to smiling excitement. "They're sneaking around to get it on, Nic!" and he raised his hand up to give me a high-five. i smiled and laughed. "Look, Nic--your getting all red in the face again!"

later in third period, i pulled out a polaroid picture of my girlfriend to show one of my students. he had asked me to bring it and said he would bring a photo of his girl, too, but alas he forgot. i think he just wanted me to prove i actually had a girl. the polaroid was soon being passed around to every student, each getting boisterous and hollering out about the teacher's cute date. the class comedian--the one i had helped earlier with the Browning poem--he immediately took his chance to point out my red face. "Dang Nic, stop getting so red!"

sixth period:
my pen was stolen. the nice silver metal Cross pen i was given as a gift by Aspira, the non-profit organization that oversees our high school. but it didn't really matter for this day was unfolding so nicely. sixth period was a success. i handed out a reading worksheet on Fair Trade. there are three questions they must answer by the end of class. i tried discussing the topic out loud with the class, but, like most days, they wanted more to interrupt the teacher and try to steer me off course, so i moved on to encouraging students to read and working with them one-on-one. by the end of the class, i had the majority of the students involved in discussing global market issues (fair pay to farmers, advantages of organic crops, and the concept of a "living wage"). i received a lot of "but people don't care" and "who has time for that?", but then in a sudden flow i was able to successfully communicate my thoughts and purpose in giving this lesson to them (i am often unsuccessful in communicating my purpose clearly and effectively, which is frustrating. working with high school students is often like speaking to a wall.) i summarized my goal in giving them this worksheet today. holding up the piece of paper, i say "I provide you with a concept [for social change], for instance Fair Trade Coffee, and then i give you an example of a local project that is making the concept work [the Coalition Cafe]."
"But people really don't care about this stuff."
"No, people don't know about this. Did you know about Fair Trade before this class?"
i receive a few who shake their heads. one student blurts out a resounding, "Nope."
"That's why i'm teaching you this. Because no one else is."
then that one student student stands up, walks towards me, and hands me his completed worksheet. he is filled with some kind of energy i have not seen before. he puts out his hand to give me five, but then pulls me close with one arm to give me one of those shoulder hugs i see close friends do in this school. a few students shout out, "Look at him, he's gettin all buddy with the teacher!"
with confidence and strength, he says to me and to the class, "That's my boy, right here. That's my boy."

Wednesday, February 04, 2004


the satisfaction of looking back on a good day

the best part about teaching is making that unique connection with a student: he loans me an Indian film ("Dil Se") to watch at home; we talk before classes about Palestinian graphic novels; he brings in an amazing Puerto Rican poem for his homework assignment.

the worst part about teaching is realizing that for every one solid connection, i have at least fifteen other students each with whom i struggle to make any kind of connection. i should be grateful for that one solid connection, i know, but i still strive for a unique bond with each of my students, especially in my first period english class--they have come a long way. they actually smile at me now!

so today was a good day. and i know why.
(i won't bore you with details, though.)

i figured out that this is all in my hands.

Monday, February 02, 2004


a closed plane curve every point of which is equidistant from a fixed point within the curve

This is it. This is where i meet that notorious point on my path: push on and keep moving despite any setbacks and disabilities? or fall out and either quit or take the slow path towards teaching?

This is it. but i have been here before. this path is cyclical and i will return to this point over and over again. fortunately, i know that i will only gather more knowledge as time passes. whether or not this experience becomes more difficult, i will always have that knowledge to keep me going. the pursuit is what really matters most to me, not any end goal. really, is there any "end goal" to teaching? no teacher i have ever known is the type to be settled down and routine. the position is constantly changing. adaptation is constant (and vital). i have discovered that i can not focus on one area of teaching--early, secondary, community education, etc.--because i have no one satisfaction. a teacher is a teacher. a teacher fits no mold. and so i must continue on relentlessly with this experience no matter where it takes me. don't look back. and let the heart choose your path.

(for sleeper.)


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