Category Archives: Motivation

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 ūüė¶ ).
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!


This is why I teach


“Ms. Kim, you probably feel pissed off when I called the guest teacher sexist because you believe I was rude and shouldn’t have said that. ¬†to be honest, I agree with you, I was out of line. ¬†However, I felt that way, I just felt that word. ¬†I chose to do this because it was just another way of expression. ¬†That word, sexist, was a word I used because I felt like when an instruction was given, I was called out, as well as keven, not because we’re dudes, but also because I just needed to say that word. ¬†I could’ve just perservered and held it in till the end so that no one will get the wrong idea about who I was calling sexist. ¬†Ms. kim, you probably want me to apologize for what I said. ¬†If you really want me to, I can. ¬†but, what I feel whats best is just respect her throughout the time we still have with Cal Shakes because I owe that to her.”

So, context. ¬†We’re having this amazing visiting teacher from Cal Shakes – a Bay Area Shakespeare group. ¬†They’re awesome and this teacher is great at managing. Unfortunately, I saw the same things from the students that they gave me when I came in at the beginning of the year. ¬†A lot of testing, a lot of rudeness… just a lot of sh…enanigans. ¬† Plus, I’ve been dealing with this issue of kids throwing out the word “racist” and “sexist” especially at adults… and I’m sort of like, these are loaded words, and in the sphere of adults, they’re overused. ¬†These issues –sexism and racism– are real, but they lose their clout when people misuse them! Anyway, kids know that I’m sensitive about those words.

Anyway, she’s really great at management and has been calling kids out on it, and so of course, they’re responding with derogatory speech and attitude. ¬†I’ve been having different students reflect, but at this point, it sometimes feels fake.

I read this letter today after school, and I smiled big in my head. ¬†This boy had left my room angry saying, “Why do we always have to check in? I’m never checking in.” ¬†He missed school the next day, but today,¬†he gave me this letter, happier. ¬†I read it, and honestly, to spell it out for all you readers,¬†this is why I teach. ¬†I get to witness the awesomeness that’s inside each kid that I come across. ¬†Sure, there are parts that our school has instilled in them… and maybe even a teensy piece has to do with me. ¬†But really, I didn’t teach him to write THIS. ¬†I didn’t teach him to put these pieces together and follow up with me like this.

Tomorrow, I’m going to tell him I read the letter. I’m going to suggest that apologies still go a really long way, and that he should apologize because as an adult, I know how much it means to me. ¬†And I’m going to leave it at that. ¬†He doesn’t need a standing ovation. ¬†I just hope he continues to grow.

Update 4/3 —

Had a talk with him in the morning.  I was rambly (per usual).  Midspeak, I stopped myself.

“Do you get what I mean?”

“I hear you.”

“Can you speak back what you heard?”

“Hold on, I’m processing.”

“Okay, okay. Well..”

“I’ll do what needs to be done.”



Pushing Back Against the “School Saves” Narrative

An unpublished post from 2/20/14 (two months ago).  Still applies.

We’ve seen this everywhere: stories, op-eds, movies. ¬†The teacher or the school flies into the neighborhood or town. ¬†Takes out their Mary Poppins carpetbag of tricks and voila, students change!

I watch clips like these, and I’m not gonna lie – it gets me every time. I cry, I weep, I feel guilt, I feel relief.

Yet at the same time, I feel scorn, and I know the satire and the naivete. And it reeks.

I see someone of privilege come in and say the exact words I say to my kids:

The positive, “I know this is not you – I know you can do better, you are better.”

The strict, “You gotta give respect to earn respect!”

The risque, “After you die, you rot in the ground, and everyone else will go on living!” .. ¬†That sort of response is supposed to achieve a hush-hush effect, the whole “did she really say that?” thing. ¬†The words that adults disapprove of yet also admire and defend showing how this teacher is “level” to the kids. ¬†This teacher was just spouting “real talk.”

Honestly, it sucks. ¬†How does a teacher from a middle class background actually know anything about their students? ¬†How can they realistically speak “hard” “street” words when they drive a car and have insurance and a savings account? ¬†Half of these teachers are in their first jobs out of college and they weren’t going to make it as I-bankers or get into law school right away, so they’re here to make themselves for competitive.

I’m not saying baby the kids. ¬†They don’t need that. ¬†But… there has to be something more.

I know Lisa Delpit and David Whitman could probably give a more nuanced explanation/critique. But my poor poor mind is so frizzled that at this point, only the emotions that I felt from grad school remain.  The actual research and analyses?  Buried somewhere in the recesses of my brain (or so I would like to think).

Inspirational Words from a Teacher of Reading

I’m slogging through writing my last paper for HGSE. ¬†I read this for my paper and I’m, well not completely rejuvenated, but my interest is re-piqued.

“I am not a machine. I am not a silver-bullet reading program that will sit on a table in room 165 and wait for Alvin or his mother to push the ‚Äúon‚ÄĚ button to tease, push, cajole, nag, nurture, and so much more. Nor am I just anybody. I have energy and expertise. I know language, writing, and reading, especially as they concern adolescents. I understand the importance of phonemic awareness, phonetic connections, morphemic knowledge, textual organization, metacognitive awareness, contextual strategies,¬†critical literacy, and multiliteracies. I appreciate the value of struggling and succeeding by our own efforts and of being able to say, ‚ÄúSee, you could do it,‚ÄĚ whatever the task, and then watching pride grow into a smile. I read professional literature daily and reflect on current research and practice that encourage literate thinkers and learning strategies that are effective and com- pensate for student strengths and weaknesses. I create a curriculum that is responsive to the students who come into my charge, and I make hundreds of decisions and adjust lessons on the spot according to my assessment of student learning. I am aware that there are social forces in the community and at work‚ÄĒcultural differences, school structures and politics, and teacher variability. And I acknowledge that I have deficiencies; some I don‚Äôt recognize and others I work to repair.

I am all of these things, for I am a teacher. I am also dispensable‚ÄĒeasily replaced by another READ 180 teacher. I am gratified to believe that I am not so dispensable to Alvin and his mother. Apparently, they are looking for a teacher of literacy, not a manager of computer disks and discrete skills, such as those set forth in a reading program. I have them to thank for reaffirming what I know and feel: pride in being a teacher of reading. Of greater significance, however, is that Alvin and his mother, by recognizing their challenges as readers, have brought the response to compre- hensive reading instruction into focus: the place for the teacher in reading.”

Lupino, E. (2005). Taking place: The teacher in reading. International Reading Association, 49(1), 4-10.

Black History Month is over

But Thurgood Marshall is timeless, and I recently came across this piece of his that I read a few years ago. ¬†The lines still resonate. ¬†Man, when I was little, I didn’t want to be the first female president, I just wanted to be on the Supreme Court. ¬†I felt (and still feel) that they were actually the ones who shape the important decisions of our nation.

“The Sword and The Robe”
By Thurgood Marshall

The task of interpretation is the cornerstone of the judicial process.
¬†As we undertake it, we must strive for neutrality. None of us is perfect, and I recognize that neutrality is more ideal than real.¬†Each of us brings along to the judicial role certain preconceived biases. It is, I suppose, impossible to make a decision totally uninfluenced by them.¬†But we as judges must try to do so to the extent we possibly can.This ideal of neutrality is particularly hard to maintain in times such as these, when our society faces major unsolved problems. Indeed, we judges are frequently criticized these days for our neutrality. For example, it is argued by some members of our society that the judiciary has not taken an active enough role in combating crime. It is urged that we as judges, should take sides, that we should stand shoulder to shoulder with the police and prosecutors. Convictions should be easier, appellate review more rapid and resort to habeas corpus ‚Äď what the founders of this republic called the Great Writ ‚Äď drastically curtailed. All of this frightens me, because when I was in law school,¬†I was taught not that judges were there to see the defendant convicted and punished in every case¬†but that they were there to see justice done¬†in every case.¬†Of course the state had to carry a heavy burden to obtain a conviction. Of course appellate judges would weigh each case carefully. Of course an individual, once convicted, could attack his sentence later. This, so I was taught, was not to coddle the guilty but to protect the innocent. I was raised in the days when the prevailing maxim was: “It is better that a thousand guilty people go free than that one innocent person suffer unjustly.Well, that’s just what I was taught, and maybe I was taught wrong. But¬†the suggestion that we as judges take sides frightens me¬†for another, more fundamental reason as well. As I have said, judges are required in our system to be as neutral as they possibly can, to stand above the political questions in which the other branches of government are necessarily entangled. The Constitution established a legislative branch to make the laws and an executive branch to enforce them. Both branches are elected and are designed to respond to everchanging public concern, and problems. Indeed, as we were reminded just last November, the failure of either branch to respond to the will of the majority can quickly be remedied at the polls.

Bar the framers of the Constitution recognized that responsiveness to the will of the majority may, if unchecked, become a tyranny of the majority. They therefore created a third branch ‚Äď the judiciary ‚Äď to check the actions of the legislature and the executive. In order to fulfill this function, the judiciary was intentionally isolated from the political process and purposely spared the task of dealing with changing public concerns and problems.¬†Article III judges are guaranteed life tenure. Similarly, their compensation cannot be decreased during their term in office ‚Äď a provision, as we have recently seen, that certainly has its tangible benefits, Finally, the constitutional task we are assigned as judges is a very narrow one.¬†We cannot make the laws, and it is not our duty to see that they are enforced. We merely interpret them through the painstaking process of adjudicating actual “cases or controversies” that come before us.

We have seen what happens when the courts have permitted themselves to be moved by prevailing political pressures and have deferred to the mob rather than interpret the Constitution. Dred Scott, Plessy, Korematsu, and the trial proceedings in Moore v. Dempsey, come readily to mind as unfortunate examples. They are decisions of which the entire judicial community, even after all these years, should be ashamed. There have also been times when the courts have stood proudly as a bulwark against what was politically expedient but also unconstitutional. One need only recall the school desegregation cases to understand why this ability to stand above the fray is so important.

Our central function is to act as neutral arbiters of disputes that arise under the law. 
To this end, we bind ourselves through our own code of ethics to avoid even the appearance of impropriety or partiality. We must handle the cases that come before us without regard for what result might meet with public approval. We must decide each case in accordance with the law. We must not reach for a result that we, in our arrogance, believe will further some goal not related to the concrete case before us. And we must treat the litigants in every case in an evenhanded manner. It would be as wrong to favor the prosecution in every criminal case as it would be to favor the plaintiff in every tort suit.

We must never forget that the only real source of power that we as judges can tap is the respect of the people. We will command that respect only as long as we strive for neutrality. If we are perceived as campaigning for particular policies, as joining with other branches of government in resolving questions not committed to us by the Constitution, we may gain some public acclaim in the short run. In the long run, however, we will cease to be perceived as neutral arbiters, and we will lose that public respect so vital to our function.

I do not suggest that we as judges should not be concerned about the problem of crime. Every thinking American is worried about it. And just about all of us have lurking somewhere in the back of our minds what we consider the ideal solution.

But when we accepted the judicial mantle,¬†we yielded our right to advocate publicly our favored solutions for society’s problems.
The tools for solving these problems are in the hands of the other branches of government because that is where the Constitution has placed them. That is also where we should leave them. I therefore urge that you politely disregard any suggestion that you give up the robe for the sword.

Personal semi-related plug: ¬†Just like they overturned Plessy v. Ferguson, we can overturn Roe v. Wade. ¬†Stop the gendercide. ¬†Stop the racism. ¬†Search both sides for yourself (instead of swallowing skewed “facts“). ¬†Take responsibility.¬† And realize that it’s not simply speaking out for life but also promoting preventive actions and safe, safe, respectful, and SAFE spaces. ¬†
Thurgood Marshall, you may have been pro Roe (unfortunately, in a case with fabricated premises), but that doesn’t disqualify your powerful words. ¬†If anything, it shows how no matter how hard we try to be neutral, human beings are easily swayed. ¬†A reminder to be all the more vigilant in our thoughts and convictions.

Poesy to jumpstart the weekend


My daughter plays on the floor
with plastic letters,
red, blue & hard yellow,
learning how to spell,
how to make spells. 

I wonder how many women
denied themselves daughters,
closed themselves in rooms,
drew the curtains
so they could mainline words.

A child is not a poem, 
a poem is not a child. 
there is no either/or. 

I return to the story
of the woman caught in the war
& in labour, her thighs tied
together by the enemy
so she could not give birth.

Ancestress: the burning witch,
her mouth covered by leather
to strangle words.

A word after a word 
after a word is power. 

At the point where language falls away
from the hot bones, at the point
where the rock breaks open and darkness
flows out of it like blood, at 
the melting point of granite 
when the bones know 
they are hollow & the word 
splits & doubles & speaks 
the truth & the body 
itself becomes a mouth. 

This is a metaphor.

How do you learn to spell?
Blood, sky & the sun,
your own name first,
your first naming, your first name,
your first word.

Margaret Atwood

I randomly stumbled across this poem and couldn’t breathe by the end. ¬†Words are so powerful. ¬†I think of Lucy Calkins who wrote some inspiring stuff. ¬†(I’m not sure if I would totally follow everything she promotes, but I do like what she has to say!)

“If we ourselves are immersed in an ongoing way in our own writing, we have a fabulous resource to draw from when we teach. ¬†But it is not necessary to expect that all of us, as teachers, will regularly draft, revise, and publish our own essays and poems. ¬†What is¬†necessary, however, is that we have memories of a time when we loved writing and that we draw on those memories when we teach writing. ¬†If we have even once in our lives experienced the power of wriing, our teaching will be forever changed.”

And when I read Atwood’s poem, I thought about my own flirtations with composition, and I am so thankful to empathize, feel, know what Lucy Calkins is talking about.

Social Justice, Entrepreneurship, and Fashion?

A small hobby I picked up last year was perusing fashion blogs. ¬†(Having just come back from Asia with its quirky fashion choices and being a big fan of Tim Gunn, it was only a matter of time.) ¬†I don’t read them much but today, through one of the blogs, I found out about Radiant Cosmetics.

It’s a cosmetics line started by a girl named Nicole who loves fashion and makeup. ¬†She was working in New York ¬†City at a fashion house, but realized that such dreams in themselves were empty. ¬†You can read more about her on the Radiant Cosmetics website. ¬† My main point of bringing this up is because of this little caveat: 20% of the profits from this for profit company goes to Free the Captives, an anti-human trafficking organization.

Granted, I don’t know much about how this is done or what the quality of the organization is. ¬†However, what excites me is the simplicity in that this girl took her interests and mixed it with something greater to start a company that plays to her strengths and has utility. ¬†Raising awareness and money in itself isn’t going to change things in the short run. ¬†But it is much better than living life as if things are going well.

Finally, on a personal note, I guess examples like this reminds me that it’s not hard to start something! ¬†I keep on coming back to this point. ¬†Relatively, it’s not easy either. ¬†However, it’s not impossible. ¬†In fact, it’s very possible. ¬†I’m not just spouting tautologies, I just want you to know that starting something and doing it well is not impossible. (Okay fine, maybe I am.)

[But also, it’s not like I’m “saving the world one student at a time” as one classmate put it. ¬†In all of this “do-good”-ing, it’s always good to be aware that in the end, these are but temporary fixes to the more pervasive issue, which is sin. ¬†“As for me, [the only reason I’m not desperately hopeless is because] I know that my Redeemer lives, And at the last He will take His stand on the earth” (Job 19:25, NASB).]