Glass Half-Empty?

I appreciate that I’m at a school that likes to celebrate successes and understand that teaching is difficult.  At the same time, I’m struggling a bit between over-celebrating or just sugar coating situations to .. keep the morale high? or make it seem like things are better than they are?  I don’t know why they do this!

So last week, we had our first project segment of our math program.  It was a mess.  Teachers weren’t fully prepared, materials weren’t paced well, students were a hodge-podge of ability and behaviors, and it was cramped.  Basically, everything we had just accustomed ourselves to in the classroom instruction setting (students working on the same standards with similar backgrounds, and smaller groups) went out the window.

As a result, it was horrific.  It took everything in me to stay positive everyday and constantly brainstorm and make spur-of-the-moment changes to at least help some kids be successful.  At the same time, I gave up on the “management” part and simply just .. tried to cut my losses.  It was discouraging to say the least.

On our “presentation day”, that kids didn’t take seriously until that day showed up…, I had 6 out of 24 kids present in one 7/8 class, 4/19 kids present in my other 7/8 class. 10/16 kids present in my 6th grade class, and 6/16 kids present in the other 6th grade class.

That day we also had the admin-equivalents do walk-throughs and video our “baseline.”  Mine was the only class that even had presentations because some kids did do it.  Was it because of my stellar teaching? No.  Kids who have that extra drive will always succeed despite poor teachers, environments, and influences.  Those students are not whom I gauge my success by.

So, I rolled my eyes a bit when this was “celebrated.”  (See? They were talking about math – and they had the opportunity to talk math!).  But then, this same example was touted in our small math PD.  (See how Junia’s classroom had this presentation opportunity — never mind that everyone else at the other tables were totally off-topic).  Then, today, I saw this “inspirational example” in a school-wide newsletter.  And this just sort of ticked me off… because I get that we’re scrounging for the silver-lining, but there’s actually a lot of other examples we could look at.  Why can’t we acknowledge that this first round was crap.  Why do we sugarcoat?  I think it actually cheapens our successes and experiences because to anyone who is on the inside, they know what the actual circumstances were.  Yet everyone on the outside perceives something different.

I know it’s tantamount to our success and positive culture to celebrate small breakthroughs, but when 2 students who are at- or above-level and are self-motivated are provided as examples of “success”, it makes me feel like we’re desperate.

Other teachers told me to stop saying, “But” and just to acknowledge the positives, and I DO, but at the same time, I’m not PROUD about this.  And I hope I’ll NEVER be at a position where THIS is a “proud” moment, because it’s not.  The kids that most needed my help didn’t get the help they needed, and I severely doubt the line, “but kids who normally don’t have the opportunity to talk math, now did.”

Am I being overly scrouge-y about this?  I don’t know.  But I wish they would stop using that almost lucky video clip… because I think teachers in my same context who don’t know the context in which that clip was taken would actually feel discouraged.  I’d feel discouraged if I saw this — I’d wonder, “What am I not doing that this teacher is doing?”

Well here’s my answer.  You’re probably doing nothing different- just this teacher at hand lucked out with two great kids.

THEN this makes ME suspicious of every stinking video I see of “good work.”

In the end, it’s about the kids.

Last night, I stayed up giggling and discussing school issues with Devon, the science teacher at my school.  That’s one thing I really love about my school is I really truly respect and learn from my coworkers – something I didn’t really have at my old places.

Today was uneventful.  This week had been a series of ups and downs, and at the end of the day, despite wonky structures, uneven leadership, and unfulfilled promises, it’s really about the kids.

At my first site, it really angers me to see kids really push and test new teachers.  Watching them do that reminds me of all the hardship I had last year.  So, when TC was on a different website and kids were making weird noises, I swooped in and sent him off with a referral.  Yet as I was writing this referral, I felt we got an okay conversation in.  (I did feel a little guilty because although I gave him warnings/reminders to stay on the right site last week, I hadn’t given him one this week).

“TC, you know why we’re spending all this money and time on this program?”


“Was math good for you last year?  Why wasn’t it good for you?”

“Because we didn’t get it.”

“Yeah, nobody except ___ got anything.  But here we are trying to make things individualized for you, and you’re wasting it.  Tell me, do you do math at home?”

“Yeah.. sometimes.”

“Really?” (Skeptical)

“No yeah, really. Sometimes.”

“Okay. But I bet you spend waaay more time watching Jeremy Lin than doing math.  How about the next time you’re here, you spend math time doing math?”

I know I sound harsh in this exchange, but the reason I wanted to share this was because I felt the conversation worked and because I was here before, there was something to build on.  I love just bumping into these kids as they grow and being able to teach without all the management, new-teacher drama.

The unfortunate thing is seriously, these kids are so entitled (especially now that I can compare between schools). I get so irritated at how these kids constantly want to listen to music or play games.  It’s like… do that on your own time.  Yet I also feel like this indicates that kids feel safe at this school.. (to be as bratty as they want).. and our reflective systems here.. I love it a lot.

[[On a side note: I hate how music is used as this pseudo-babysitter.  Sure, kids may claim it “calms” them, but there’s no research that shows its benefit (aside from classical), and, let’s be real… it’s mainly a classroom management/behavior tool. For me, I’d rather just hold kids to a higher standard. . . it doesn’t kill them. I promise.]]

Marbles did awesome today – subdued voice, ready smile.  Fists was dropped off in my 6th grade class (I have no idea why), but she did well (I’m tempted to call Seneca and be like, “please call before you send them HAHA”).  DS came in angry and “ready to fight someone” but ended well, and I have to say, I’m most proud of my interactions with her today.

I think just my brief interactions with people like Katherine (my old AP) and Devon and watching how they interact with students have helped me figure out a way to talk with my kids.  For instance, DS came in with huge outbursts and a big sucky attitude, but I kept it suuuuper light.  I laughed, I smiled, I cajoled, I encouraged.  I mainly did all this because at this school, I *know* sending the child to the office won’t solve anything.  It stinks because it cut out a lot of learning from other kids, but by the end of the day, she came up to me proudly with her laptop to show me how well she did on her exit slip, and I think emotionally, she ended in a better place.

I think I’m learning to recognize power struggles, and a lot of middle school is really just relinquishing everything so that kids would learn and come to respect and eventually emulate the way I treat people.

After school, I chatted with EC, JC2’s younger brother and his cousin.  EC who is super shy and quiet just has so much to say after school, and I think that has to do with the fact that he feels like we have a connection because I taught his brother.  He asked me if I’d be coming back next year and the fact that in September, he’s asking about next year brought a pang to my heart because this school seriously goes through so much turnover.

After the math meeting, I then recruited three 8th graders to help me organize my Chromebook cart.  This is another thing I’ve learned.  Although I never used to value organization that much and I hate decorating, I found that a super neat, precise, and decorated environment helps kids do better.  I just wish I could do more for them.

This past Wednesday, I left when school ended to walk to the other school to make it for a 2pm meeting.  As I walked through Fruitvale, I ran into a lot of kids, and I realized, I feel like I know a majority of the middle school population in the Fruitvale.  And that made me pretty happy.  300 kiddos – wanna love em all.

Discipline systems. Where to begin.


People don’t even *like* that word. Discipline. Compliance. Defiance. Punishment. Etc.

I think, if we do something, we should do it all the way.  And if we decide to do something, it should be the RIGHT something.

I guess that’s narrow-minded, but really, I don’t think there are *many* ways to do one thing well, and I think extrinsic motivators are REALLY annoying.

In general, I really liked Rafe Esquith’s classroom management style described in Teach Like Your Hair’s On Fire.  I implemented a classroom economy while also emphasizing the Five Levels of Motivation (Maslow) in hopes that one day, students would do things because they had their own code rather than simply to avoid getting in trouble or getting a reward.

I also really liked the idea of group incentives and individual incentives to jumpstart class buy-in balanced out by strict, consistent consequences.

I’m sure if I say this, everyone would agree. But it’s just so darn interesting to see how everyone implements it in their classroom!

Last year, I took to heart a few strategies from Whole-Brain Teaching as suggested by one of my super respected colleagues… and basically just trial and error and being super consistent led to a few tears, outbursts, but ultimately sanity and most importantly, steady, strong relationships.

This year, I’m just pretty frustrated.

  1. I don’t like to be the person that upholds a rule.  I’m a big rule-stickler, and I also notice when rules aren’t being followed.  For instance, gum is not allowed at my school. I am really good at spotting gum.  Dead-on good.  I am also really good at spotting phones and uniform violations.  But, I also know some kids have exceptions. I get super confused if a kid is blatantly not following a rule later on in the day (especially if I know they’ve been with another teacher), because I just assume there’s a reason that kid is not following the rule.  But then, if I’m suddenly upholding the rule, I become the bad guy.  And that just makes me mad.
  2. I get the whole idea for positive language – but is it really that bad to call a rule, “rule” instead of “norm” or “expectation”?  I don’t really understand the reasoning behind it.  I mean, I follow laws and I don’t freak out at the fact that there are laws.  Whatever. That’s a miniscule bone to pick.
  3. Warnings upon warnings is dumb. Today, I basically gave a kid 4 warnings before I sent him out to “do a reflection” which consisted of checking 3 boxes and then of him interrupting me in class to “check-in.”  We don’t do detentions because admin-led detentions “takes the power from the teacher” (naw man, TAKE that power – TAKE that power and RUN those detentions!), and we’re encouraged to have students “reflect” instead.  So… yeah, “reflection” is now a consequence…. which is exactly what I tried so hard not to make it in my class last year. I wanted kids to know reflection is a skill and strategy and that they don’t necessarily lead to a consequence.  But now, it’s basically step 3 in our consequence list.
  4. PBIS is just.. really annoying. I feel like every time it’s implemented, we’re paying kids to be good.  I get it that there are lots of different kinds of extrinsic motivators that we’re already doing… but if we DO do these, I’m not given ENOUGH incentives to give out to students and shouldn’t positive incentives also be balanced out by consequences?  What am I? A preschool? haha.

I think it’s just frustrating to be put in a situation where the systems are not strong so I’m not really set up to succeed.  I appreciate my coordinator’s philosophy because she’s saying that everything we’re doing is messy and it’s a bit unfair to hold kids to standards when we’re not having the smoothest plans.  I think though, that’s not really my fault.  At the end of the day, I’ve actually put a lot of time and thought into the lessons, and if other people are dropping the ball, why and how is it my fault?  If it’s not my fault, why do I have to deal with the aftermath of kids who are mouthy and mean?  Why don’t they deal with it?

Okay, I can’t just hand off the teaching, haha, but I did tell my coordinator that today was a day where if I only worked at this second site (with these ridiculous discipline policies), I would have quit, because there are many other schools who uphold a strict but warm system and I could easily work there.  I cannot work in a place where systems differ from classroom to classroom. That just adds way too much stress to an already stressful job.

My coordinator did bring up good points though.  We can’t bash a system when we’re not at our best either.  Also, it’s good that kids are testy – they shouldn’t just accept any person placed as an authority figure.  I guess I’m just sick of having to “earn my way” into a school. I did that last year.   It’s not that bad this year because I think I’m just more confident, but it still just gets annoying.  So basically, my coordinator encouraged me to be patient and just collect data and then show that it’s not working.

I guess for me, I’m being “fixed-minded” with the whole, “it’s not going to work, and now we’re just wasting two good weeks,” but whatever.

I just don’t like it when things aren’t organized.  When I had my own classroom, I could just put in the hours and make it organized.  At first, I was doing that, but now I’m sort of giving up.  It’s sort of like in middle school, I used to do most of the work during group projects, and in high school, I stopped because I figured a lower grade with less work was better.  That’s how I feel.  I don’t want to pull weight, I don’t want to do extra, because it doesn’t actually make my life easier.  I know that’s bad, but that’s just how I’m feeling.

So maybe the title of this post shouldn’t be “Discipline Systems”, it should have just been “systems” in general.

Anyway, now I’m going to go for a walk. *whew*.

Teachers need Rest!

On crankiness combated by the community served…
Today was a harrowing day at school.. even though Wednesdays I don’t teach, I felt drained today because there was so much.. brainwork yesterday.
So, today, we were literally totally wilted. (Practicing transitions is a butt). And my feet hurt. My throat hurt. My head died. And I had a stankfaced attitude. (Had to email my team to apologize :( ).
Then as I walked out (around 5:30pm), I saw these teeny, teeny kids littering the playground!!! From the after-school program! I swear, one boy is so compact – he’s barely past my knee. I was dying. They are SO SO CUTE. My colleague then asked me if I’ve seen the TK (transitional kindergarten) kids, and I haven’t!
I look at my 6th graders, and I feel like they’re small. Even though I have friends with kids of all ages, it just boggles my mind to see such TINY kids at school.
On the sobering realities of teaching in Oakland…
Yesterday we went over emergency procedures, and it’s always so sobering to think about lockdown and hear questions from other teachers about “what to do when…”. Eeps. I remember my first year teaching in Oakland, when one girl asked me if I’d risk my life for them (it was after Sandy Hook happened), and at that moment, I just looked at her.. panicked, and said, “I don’t know.”
Random Highs for today!
+ Spent 1 minute in the teacher’s lounge! (almost stayed for lunch, but then fled).
+ Got to my second site, checked in with an 8th grade gal who walked out of my class on Tuesday, still had time to eat some lunch, set up a projector, and be relatively calm by the time classes began again!
+ At the second campus, I saw a teeeeeeny boy doing hopscotched and I exclaimed at how well he did it. He then excitedly beckoned me to wait and showed me how he could do it again BACKwards. A girl next to him was also literally jumping up and down in support. I asked them what grade they were and they showed me the number 5.. I got confused and was thinking “Man, I really stink at gauging age, but these 5th graders are small….” and then he said, “I’m 5.” So… safe to say… using my Sherlock skills of deduction, hopscotch + boy and girl happily supporting each other + the number 5 = KINDERGARTNERS!
+ Thankful for my K-1 teaching colleagues at ASCEND who’ve taught me how to speak with littl’uns.
+ Thankful I teach the big’uns.
+ Giddy that as the school year is beginning, I’m bumping into my graduated kids all over the place.  Apparently it’s common for them to visit ASCEND in the first weeks of school.  So adorable. They are so grown!
+ This gem of a do-now response!

+ This gem of a do-now response!

Hitting Teacher Milestones

Bam – Bam- and BAM!  Do you hear that? That’s the sound of milestones being hit!

The 2015-2016 school year…

  • starting my 5th year!
  • I have SIBLINGS of PAST students in my class
  • Aapparently, quite a few of my 8th graders from last year came to school to visit *me* today. (Desafortunadamente, I was at the other site).

Other Thoughts:
So, last night, I was up til about 12 prepping some things. Then, when I went to bed, I kept giggling because I was genuinely excited to go to school and see all my kids.

I slept restlessly (it was really hot last night?).

This morning, I overslept so I missed the bus and biked to school instead.

Began to get ready and ran into students – and it’s absolutely delightful hearing changed voices, admiring height differences, hairstyles, etc.

As we rolled out our first day of TTO, I saw kids just really trying *hard* to keep it together. Kids that I warned the other teachers about didn’t stick out!

The second school site was a bit more difficult because it was unfamiliar to me and it’s going through changes.

Working at 2 sites is really teaching me about the importance of school expectations and culture AND the necessity for *consistency* in the teachers. It’s totally different teaching middle school to kids who didn’t have that and kids who did.

Ode to 6th Graders

Still feeling *glow-y* about the starry-eyedness of the 6th graders at my first school.  *happy sigh*.  I’VE NEVER TAUGHT 6TH GRADE BEFORE.. and they are just SO stanking adorable. (7th/8th grade have their charms too).

Some 6th graders are HUGE and some 6th graders are tiny, that I have to resist the urge to crouch on my knees and talk to them.

Kidbit Tidbits:

Boy 1: “Did she do that to you too?”

Boy 2: “Yeah!” 

(I didn’t turn around to see who said this, but this was right after I vigorously shook a 6th grader’s hand and accidentally cracked his finger. I apologized, but didn’t realize I did this to others! After that, I limply shook the tiny soft hands of the girls behind these two boys).

There was a 6th grade girl showing LOTS of stankfaced attitude. They weren’t even in the classroom yet and she was already making “MmHmm, OKay” remarks after I gave directions.

Right then, my math coach (who is in charge of the transition bells) asked her, “Hey, do you want to help me out with a job?”

The change was immediate.  The girl’s body language got all bashful and she nodded shyly.  After that, in class, she was amazing.  I almost laughed because sometimes, kids are so easy.  It’s really just about making them feel safe and wanted.  Easier said than done. Of course.

When kids were filling out their “Who I Am” Mosaic assignment, there’s a box for “a favorite childhood memory.”  One girl asked me, “What if I don’t have a favorite childhood memory?”  As I prodded a bit, she said, “most of my past is full of sad and bad things.”  I noticed that she wrote that she had siblings.  “Do you like your brother?” I asked.  She said yes.  I then gave a funny memory I had of my little brother and asked her if she had any.  She then wrote, “spending time with my mom.”

I’m excited to be a part of this team because my team is excellent.  We are super aligned in teaching philosophy.  They work hard.  AND, I get to see 300 students everyday. And that is most exciting for me.

Some drawbacks today though:

  • Our lunch transition time (1 hour) was chock full of clean up and set up so.. lunch on the run sort of didn’t happen. :-/  *Must make time to eat!*
  • The parking lot was locked (we were promised our own spaces)
  • The art teacher was slated to teach while I was teaching math… I hate to be the person to kick out art … but… it had to be done.
  • Got home at 6p.  How did *that* happen?!

Only 4 drawbacks? I’ll take that!

It’s my birthday, I can alienate folks if I want to…

This week’s hot topics (in no particular order): 

  1. Never-ending race-based police brutality (and denial of it)
  2. Call for extraditing the dentist that killed Cecil the lion
  3. Planned Parenthood funding
  4. Meek Mill v. Drake

I’m gonna talk about #3.

Amidst the histrionics on both sides, I’m having a hard time finding numbers.

Plus, their site is down right now (8/2/15)

Plus, their site is down right now (8/2/15)

This is my.. rudimentary start…
Planned Parenthood received $360 million in federal funding. That’s $360,000,000.

If only 1% of that went towards abortions, that means, it would be $3,600,000 … which is still $3.6 million. (Although I believe it’s 3% so.. let’s round to $10 million).

About 50% of federal revenues come from income tax. (

so $5 million of federal revenue goes towards abortions.

I know that seems really tiny. I know PP’s services are more than just abortions. I’m pretty sure no one’s going to shut them down.

But, my $0.02 is this.

I’m working at a school that focuses on our community. I don’t think we could do so much within our community if we were a huge federal organization (like TFA). I don’t know if “scale” is always the best when human well-being is in question. If we truly care about family planning, early pregnancies, relationship abuse.. I really do think it should be more localized. When organizations get huge, that’s when you get the callousness and depersonalization (which might be why we saw people sipping wine and discussing baby parts — let’s not decry the footage, the WHOLE thing is available online if you think it’s doctored). So, if PP were defunded, I wouldn’t mind. I’d keep working where I’m working, go down the pipeline, and figure out how best to PREVENT these things in the first place and how best to SUPPORT with long-term well-being in mind.

This year, an estimated 640,000 babies were aborted (less than 1% due to rape). Eeks. Since PP began, almost 7 million (7,000,000) babies have been aborted. (

Sure, to some a fetus is a “cluster of cells”, but let’s be real. Anybody who took high school biology knows we’re ALL a cluster of cells. Cell > Tissue > Organ > Systems > Body #amirite? haha.

So again, it comes to the question of personhood and when that begins. The line is getting grayer and grayer as people are now able to abort late-term pregnancies.

I get that we all have a right to our own body… but I’d like to quote a friend here (who’s currently pregnant):

I have a right to my own body. I DO NOT understand why I have a right to HERS. I support and am thankful for a woman’s rights to health, safety, and happiness. It kills me that those rights are not extended to the little one inside of me, and that I, her mother, am granted the right to take that away.

For me, the main mind-boggling part is it really just SEEMS like it has to do with *want*. If the baby is *wanted* the baby is a boy/girl. If the baby isn’t wanted, it is a fetus/parasite. That just seems so contradictory and unfair… that someone’s future could be determined by whether or not he/she is wanted. Especially since data  shows that there are many reasons for abortions – but only about 1/8 have to do with health risks.

Couple that with data that seems to show that abortion locales are predominately located in low-income, minority neighborhoods, and that females are more likely to aborted than males……. To me, this is where human rights truly come in and where I think I could give a voice to the voiceless.

This is why – even though I know many of my friends/contacts on social media would disagree with me – I’ll still pipe up when I can. At the end of the day, I can’t just go with what others tell me and what the Bay Area would deem popular (I used to support PP too). There is too much at stake for that.

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” – Deitrich Bonhoeffer

PS. Things that bug me

  • Reading invectives hurled at people who want their federal tax dollars to not go towards abortion.  Or just the fact that right now, people are using clever and humorous ad hominem, slippery slope, and strawman arguments…
  • Planned Parenthood’s power and political clout
  • This article reflects a majority of my views but speaks with so much vitriol, I wasn’t able to share it on Facebook for fear that people would focus on the bones and miss the meat  (aka throw the baby out with the bath water).

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