Category Archives: Personal

lunch.

so, it’s raining outside. it’s lovely.  i have takeout chinese food sizzling on the pan in the kitchen… it was leftovers. it was supposed to be my lunch.

lunch. I spent that time talking with my principal who wanted me to do a conflict resolution conversation with a student, with whom, I was just fed up.

fed up. i’m fed up with this sad excuse of a “social-emotional/wellness/all-in” outside program that we use to intervene with our kids. they work set hours, while we work into the night. they make huge promises and deliver very little.  i don’t understand how in writing, they could email out a plan, and the very next day, not follow through.  (it’s in writing with stakeholders cc’d!).  they give students voice while taking away ours. it’s disempowering.

and disempowered is how i felt after 3 days of constant confrontation.  and with my principal, I felt defensive. and uncooperative. and discouraged. and unpleasant.  and i said a silent prayer of repentance to glorify my God and then returned to the conversation that was taking place as my lunch minutes ticked away.

A way my principal has supported me is through her patience and pushing back at my negativity.  In our conversation, I realize that I’ve been burned in these “conflict resolutions” not by her but by this outside program.  She sat there giving me ideas for how to approach the impending restorative conversation.  I took out a post-it and wrote as she dictated, because at the moment, I had no headspace to think of how I could help this child.

“What are classroom expectations? What part of this is difficult? How can I redirect you? How can I help you?”  Tears stream down my face as I begin to write these down verbatim. Humbled. doubtful. broken. Kids are slated to come back in 3 minutes and I keep breathing in and out but I can’t seem to stop sobbing.  I thankfully get to take a break, but there is still no privacy.  I stand in the playground, my back to the school, and tried to get the red out of my eyes.  Four minutes. and I’m back in the classroom.

In my classroom, there’s a slight respite.  Yesterday, a student asked me if I was angry, and I apologized, and exhaled, and smiled – it’s not their fault.  Today another asked me how I was doing.  I said that I didn’t want to be here, but it’s not because of them.

They are sweet. I saw a bunch of them after school scrambling for cover or running into the rain. it was lovely. i think my chinese food is done reheating. i’m going to go eat my lunch.

When You Try Your Best but the ship still sinks

I had a smaller group today of about 8 7th grade boys.
After they finished making fun of at my saying “dude”, we talked about which classes they felt “grounded” in and which classes worried them, and then talked about why they felt each way, and then about what they could adopt from the “good class” to the “bad class.”

They love humanities (because it’s fun, they ask questions, they try their best, and complete their work).  From a teacher perspective, I also see that there is a real community and within the structure and expectations, students know what to do to succeed. They feel successful!

The class that the boys were most “worried” about was (surprise, surprise), TTO, our math pilot.  They brought up things like…
– not wanting to be laughed at
– teachers not able to answer their question right away and then their session is done during the “independent zone” time
– teachers not explaining why but just how (CM was referring to our recent project, and all I could do was nod sympathetically, because it’s true!)

And I’m just nodding.. because I *totally* get it. And yet, what can I say? I’m the teacher in this program. I can’t honestly bash it with a clear conscience because we are still working at fixing it.  They did ask me why I was teaching TTO, and I did honestly respond that I didn’t have much of a choice.  I told them I didn’t want to teach humanities and that I wanted to teach math, and this was the choice of our school.

My question is… why do we want to keep tweaking and fixing it? What does it offer that we so desire?

  • Honestly, were our students pretty behind when they started? yes.
  • (Are we setting the curve in Oakland flats schools? yes).
  • Are kids learning math? yes.
  • Are kids learning more math? sure! possibly!

But what about considering these other questions:

  • Are they happy? maybe that’s a nonissue.
  • Are they getting opportunities to work deeply with math through inquiry, pauses, wonderings, and struggle? no. And maybe that’s our fault. we’re “just not leveraging the tasks and small group collaborations to their full potential.”
  • Do they understand expectations? Maybe.. but again, that’s our fault too, because we could have better management.

With TTO, our students might be learning more math.  But is it at the rate that it’s worth the opportunity cost of happiness and … just.. kiddo noises?  I think I’m actually fine with them slowing down if it means we can have a better relationship, and they don’t leave thinking math is boring and online programs suck (because if used in moderation, it wouldn’t be bad).  During the short transition period between schools, I like to visit other classrooms.  These past 2 weeks, this is what I’ve seen:

  • 1 humanities class pausing before starting the day because kids have been working so hard, they did 10 minutes of theater games before getting started
  • science class finishing up their lab reports, color-coding their drafts, and listening to music and staying focused and walking around to get the supplies they needed.
  • another humanities class doing a jeopardy review game before a test
  • another humanities class spending earned time outside on a Friday
  • classes starting to gear up for their expeditions

Basically, the more I’m with this pilot, the more I realize that I came to teach middle school so that we could get excited and learn to be fine with struggle and pause and reflect (for real — I mean if you do reflections like every 3 weeks, how do you even measure growth?  how do you grow in 3 weeks???) and stop being motivated by external factors so that the kids could become super pre-adults who have creativity, assurance, and communication skills………. I didn’t come to teach middle school so that my kids could become testing automatons a la Korea and Singapore. Been there. Done that. Left that. Leaving this.

How To Be a Good Teacher

This week, I’ve seen a bit extra in the “this is good teaching” or “this is a model teacher” news realm.  It ranges.  Here’s this super exuberant principal who uses his infectious enthusiasm and awesome dance rooms in the classroom, and then there is this new kind of instruction (no ‘please’; only high expectations).

Both seem sort of ridiculous.  For instance, it’s not fair to expect the kind of teaching as shown by that principal since not all personalities work like that.  (Plus, there isn’t evidence that this is “deep” so much as algorithmic learning).  Then the latter, with the crazy “live” coaching in a scripted manner .. I snorted. Who would actually want that for THEIR own child?

I always think it would do society good if everyone took one year to teach.  Their teaching would in no way enhance the lives of their students or help out schools in any way, shape, or form.  It would just be a civic duty of society to allow freshly graduated non-students to finally understand a smidgen of what teachers go through on a daily basis.  THEN, they can humbly go on with their lives and learn to be more generous with their wallets (as taxpaying voters) and lighten up on the criticism (as parents).

In my opinion, two things are in the making of a good teacher: coaching and experience.  I think experience is ultimately how you get to be a good teacher. I don’t even think I realized I wasn’t a good teacher (in fact, that I was a rather POOR teacher) until my 4th year in. (I think most people mistake intelligence, creativity, and score results as “effective teaching” when in reality that’s achievable by most.  We can talk about what true “teaching” is later). Most people quit before then OR (yikes), in some charter worlds, take on higher roles.  What a sad-looking future!  Yet you NEED the experience by starting to accustom yourself to how students act, how to negotiate tactfully, how to balance your work and your life, and how to TEACH…  and those years zoom by before you can return to anything as a teacher!

But experience is nothing without a good coach to shape your experience and help you reflect.  (I think this is hard because I don’t think every coach knows how to coach, either.  COACHES need to be coached.)  But last year, I finally figured out how the teacher-coach dynamic should work in a way that benefits me (the teacher), AND this year, I have an amazing coach.  (Actually I have 3 very adept coaches, but you know how it is, over-coaching can sometimes suck too… BUT I’m lucky that I just get to really delve into different facets of my teaching with 3 different views).  Anyway, my math coach is awesome.  We meet weekly.  I feel like I get stuff done.  I feel like I go in bite-sized steps to plan what to next.  I feel like I’m becoming a better educator and I don’t want to go back to what I used to do.  AND I appreciate my coaching sessions instead of dreading to go to them because I get real feedback and we brainstorm and she’s actually had experience with the same demographics and material.  It’s good.

No expectations to create a sing and dance show.  No requirement to go by a script.  Rather, we come up with what *is* best for kids to help them to become critical thinkers and dynamic self-directed learners… and we just keep trying to coax them in that direction.  THANKS WENDY BATY!

 

This is why I teach

letter

“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.”

“Okay.”

“kay.”

Is it important to be earnest?

I was pretty disappointed today.  The day started with an extreme high.  I woke up early, went to Starbucks, stood up for myself to a dirty-mouthed panhandler, made two new acquaintances, and it wasn’t even 7:30am!  Then, I got the speakers I ordered through a small grant I received, our NGLC grant team had our interview today, which I felt went super well (and I was gratified to work with colleagues who are passionate, well-spoken, intelligent, different, and are teachers), and then I spent the rest of the day working with a small group to pull all the parts of our grant application together.  It truly felt like an accomplishment to … see our handiwork.  Then to top it all off, the iPads I had gotten through DonorsChoose finally came in!

I was getting ish done for my kids and my school.

And then, I talk with the sub.  I see the quality of the work the kids did while I was gone.  And that was all ish too.  Just.  wipe the floor with it. kind of stuff. and behavior. ugh.

It sucks.  I wonder how I’m going to address the lack of respect and the lack of learning that happened.  I wonder if I will bring up trust.

Because to me, it’s really just this simple:  if I can’t trust them to “take charge of their learning” (a school value), I can’t leave them.  Even if it means I need to pass up opportunities to enhance their learning.

But then, the selfish part of me protests because such a decision sucks for me too!  I love doing these kinds of things (applying for grants, brainstorming pilots, etc) in addition to teaching.  In fact, I’m almost at a point, though, where I’d rather be writing grant proposals and researching best practices and talking about data coaching, than actually teaching in this specific classroom.  (Though one silver-lining: I think these will be the hardest kids I’ll have in a while…)

No matter.  The facts of the here and now is that I’m here.  I’m teaching.  And tomorrow, I need to face the kids.  I need them to know this isn’t okay and that they haven’t “gotten away with it.”  At the same time though, simply meting out a punishment doesn’t seem to be right either.  If I just give a class-wide detention, I’ll be the enemy and they’ll be the victim.  If I run a class conversation though, what might come of it?  I think I’m just afraid.

That is to say..

When I talk about trust, learning, respect.. should I be earnest and truthful?  It’s different with middle schoolers.  They don’t know which lines are taboo and they don’t necessarily listen to reason.  I think part of the reason why I’m brusque, joke a lot, or fake sensitivity around them is because I fear being too honest or earnest with them – because if they reject it or tear it to pieces, that’s my heart on the floor.

2015 Resolutions

I’ve never been one for resolutions, much less, New Year’s Resolutions… but last year, I tried.

To be honest, I forgot #s 1 and 3 and focused mainly on #2.

I think, I’d want to keep last year’s resolutions and roll them over onto this year’s.

I remember the darkness of 2013.  Most years, I write a quick year-end update to email my friends.  I remember at the end of 2013, I just couldn’t.

2014 was much better. I think that summer in Taiwan, where God reminded me that His plans are so much higher than my own sort of kickstarted the recollections of what it means to be a child of God (These things I call to mind and THEREFORE I have hope).

This year, I spent my winter break hiking in the mountains of Peru.  Everyday, God’s blaring glory challenged, overwhelmed, and swept me.  Everyday, to be faced with the intricacies below my feet, above my head, at a part of the earth where I am gasping for breath and am reminded of my finiteness, was.. healing.

Resolutions?

1) Seek God and His will – not by looking inwards, but looking to scripture. (A tweak of last year’s #1).  This is how one attains wisdom.

2) Again, guard my heart, so that I can guard my mind and words.

3) Practice forgiveness.  *sigh* .  And this part is the hardest.

And maybe adding 4)  Forget the memories that need to be forgotten.

my responsibility? my duty?

She looks up at me and smiles (smirks?).

“Come on, Ms. Kim. This is boring. You know that, right?”

As I’m trying to work on staying calm and never raising my voice, I’ve realize that with that comes my old tendency to stutter.

“Is it difficult for you to read?  Maybe that’s why you don’t get it,” I suggest lamely.  Inside though, I am full of comebacks and right now, that conversation still niggles at me.  I don’t feel furious, but I do feel indignant.  How dare she?  This story is amazing and how dare she pass off this text as “boring” when it’s  more along the lines of the fact that she can’t read 7 pages straight.

Okay, okay. In this mentality, I see all the areas where I fail. I get it.  Is it her fault she’s so low? Nooeewwwp… Should I take it personally?  Newwwp.  blergh.

I think one of the comments I hate the most is the flippant, “That was fun today,” or “You should do this more.”  Because in them saying that, it assumes that other lessons aren’t fun, or that lessons are *supposed* to be fun.

I feel like getting to her eye level and saying, “This is boring for me too.”  Teaching ELA to kids who are constantly behind and feel complacent or defensive or insecure or whatever about it is boring. It makes me long for the days when I taught math.  When it was easier to just group, differentiate, and figure out what kids mastered and what they hadn’t.

ELA is the worst.  You have to teach vocabulary, grammar, writing, writing, reading, comprehension, fluency, speaking, listening.  It’s not Robin Williams and his classroom of rich prep boys.  It’s not even Hilary Swank and her underprivileged yet eager to succeed group of urban kids.  It’s this weird middle where my kids are behind – victims (?) of the system – yet they .. act like it’s my fault.

Thinking though.  Maybe I need to have less rigor on Mondays.  Maybe I need to slow down.  I now understand why/how kids end up as they are in college.  This slow slow progress somehow starts before high school… and middle.  I don’t know. It’s discouraging.  Back to the drawing table.  What are the minimal things I want my kids to get down before they move on?  I’m almost 2/3rds done with first semester.  It’s still just trial and error.

I miss reading To Kill a Mockingbird with my old students.  I cried when I read the verdict of Tom Robinson in that class, and I still cry now when I read it.  Although now, I think of mockingbirds and I think of my students.  And I hear stories of how all of them are scattered and falling through cracks and making the wrong friends.  And I feel like everything is hopeless.  And when we do high school suggestions during parent-teacher conferences, and kids are planning to go to the crapcrack schools around this area, I just think, what’s the point?  Why do I bother trying to do the hard things?

I think I’m extra sad because today I found out that my Ren Man is hanging with the wrong crowd and just going the wrong way.  I found out same case for Diva.  I found that Emo is most likely not going to have a chance to go to the ivys because her high school doesn’t support her in that way even though she’s freaking brilliant.  She taught herself geometry.  WHO can SELF-TEACH themselves GEOMETRY in 8th grade?  And the system is so messed up, that even if you prepare them super well, or even if you don’t prepare them well at all, they’re all going to end up wherever depending on the luck of the draw.

And then. with kids who are unappreciative, or just mean, or hurtful, why bother trying?

Folks, welcome to Oakland public schools.