Being an Afro-Latina Teacher in the South

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I’m Dominican. A Dominican from Washington Heights with brown skin and curly puffy hair. I am also a Black woman. When I was 10, my mom put a desrizado in my hair because I had too much hair to manage. Ten years later, just like every other girl who wants to free herself from the constraints and standards of European beauty, I transitioned into my natural hair. I became aware of my African ancestry at a very young age. In high school, I learned about internalized racism and self-hate. In college, I continued my learning and joined a women’s organization filled with women that recognized their Afro- Latino heritage. I love all aspects of me and have found opportunities to use my heritage to spark teachable moments, especially in my classroom.

Every morning I parade the hallways of my school while on the phone with mother for our usual morning mother-daughter talk time. These conversations are filled with endless complaints, jokes, and of course, bochinche. I tell her that I miss her and that I wish I’d woken up to her platano con salami that morning. I’m rushing down the hall with my head leaned on my shoulder with my phone in between, hands occupied with a stack of copies, when I notice my coworkers giving me puzzled looks. I’m wondering if I’d worn my clothes inside out, or if I had dried up drool on my face. Nevertheless, I walk past them and continue my persistent attempt to get my mother off the phone. One thing about mothers is that they always have one more thing to tell you that prolongs the conversation to fifteen more minutes. We finally end our conversation and in the distance, I hear a coworker shout, “Aye, what you over there speaking?” I was confused because I’d never been asked that question before.  

I grew up among Dominicans, who all knew I was Dominican by just looking at me. Even from a plane 50,000 feet up, a person looking down could spot me and say, “Yup, she’s Dominican.” It always annoyed me when I was younger because I wanted to be different from everyone else. I grew up in Washington Heights in New York City where in a class of 32 students, 31 were Dominican. If you were anything but Dominican, you were an outcast. We’d think, “How did you end up here? Are you lost?” It didn’t help that I had an accent that screamed, “Yo Soy Dominicana”. I couldn’t escape it, if I wanted to. I grew up with being known as Latina by others, so I haven’t quite gotten used to others not immediately recognizing my Domincanness when I’m outside of New York City.

Eventually I answered my coworker and said, “Spanish.” “Oh, you’re Mexican?”, he replies. That three-worded response helped me put everything into perspective. My school is diverse. 75% of my students were African-American. 14% were Latino and the rest were White, Asian or Native American.  Many of my Latino students were Mexican. Some were from Central American countries such as El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras.

When my students heard me speak Spanish for the first time, their reaction mirrored the reaction of my coworkers, except my Latino students were able to tell them the language I was speaking. “She speaking Spanish, bruh! You Mexican, Ms.?” To hear this question again for the second time frustrated me because the only association my students had to the Spanish language was Mexico, when there’s this huge, diverse Latino world. “I’m Dominican!” I pronounce with enthusiastic pride. Overcome with confusion, they ask “Where is that?”. I rush to the globe in the class and point to my relatively tiny island. “But you look Black. Why do you speak Spanish?”, they press, and in the quickest way possible, I gave my students a history lesson on the transatlantic slave trade, colonialism, and the Afro-Latino connection.

Although I gave students a history lesson, it was still unfathomable for them that I shared similarities to the Latino students in the classroom. Aside from the fact that they associated every child that spoke Spanish to Mexican descent, they just couldn’t believe that someone who has features that they attribute to Blackness, speaks fluent Spanish. As a matter of fact, even my Latino students had a difficult time accepting me being Latina.   Sometimes they would ask me things like, “Where did you learn Spanish? Did they teach you Spanish in college?” or they would say things like “Wow, you’re really good at Spanish,” and still have a “HOW, SWAY?” look on their face when I told them that Spanish was my first language. They would brush me off and continue doing what they were doing.

My students often say, “This is the first time I met a Dominican,” or “I didn’t know you could speak Spanish and not be Mexican.” As their teacher, I know better than to judge them for their ignorance. When my students say things like that I get excited about the opportunity to inform my students about a world that is unfamiliar to them. It gives me satisfaction and joy to tell students about my culture and speak about how closely connected we are because of our history. Any opportunity I have available to teach my students about African ancestry in the Caribbean, particularly in Dominican Republic, brings me joy. I showed my students videos of Celia Cruz and had them create a banner of prominent Latinos during Latino Heritage Month. I paused ELA class and taught my students how to do a basic step in salsa. I’m always excited to do this because I’m exposing my students to things they’ll never find in textbooks. Perhaps through their one interaction with their Afro – Latina teacher, they’ll realize that there’s a huge world out there for them to discover.

Most southerners aren’t exposed to Latinos outside of Mexicans and, on to a lesser extent,Central Americans. Even in my two-and-a-half years living here, I’ve always been the only Latina at my workplace and I seldom find others – particularly Afro-Latinos – in social settings. I search through the crevices of the city to find things related to my culture, but I hardly ever do.

To be honest, I haven’t gotten used to the south. I miss the salad bowl of diversity in New York City and I miss being surrounded by my culture. I miss stopping by the bodegas and buying un peso de platanos from primo. I always ask myself what my purpose in the South is and why the universe brought me here. I’ve started to accept that perhaps my purpose is to be a disseminator of history for my students. Through my identity and my existence, I am providing my students a depth of knowledge they may have never been exposed to had we never crossed paths. It’s important to me that my students know that to be Black extends to more than what they know and that they yearn to learn more about their history and the world outside of their neighborhoods. 

Sincerely,

Ms. Angry Teacher

 

Six Reasons Why I Love My Teacher Team

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My teacher team is the realest.

When I was in middle school, it never seemed like my teachers worked on teams. The teachers seemed to either work alone or work with with another colleague to do some planning. But for the most part, I didn’t sense that feeling of teamwork amongst my different teachers. My teachers never discussed what was happening in our other classes. It was unexpected if my math teacher mentioned my 99% average in Language Arts. It really didn’t seem of much concern to them, either. For the most part, what you did in one class had no influence in your other classes. You could have acted a fool in Language Arts and count on not reaping any consequences in math class.

That is not what my teaching experience has been like.

When I first started on the eighth grade hall, I was told I would be on a “strong” team. To be honest, I had no idea what that meant. Teams? In education? It just didn’t make sense. On my first day of work, I met my teammates. I later learned that everyone in the building is on a 4-person team that consists of Language Arts, math, science and social studies teachers. We were accountable for the same 112 students and had to ensure that we built policies and procedures to better serve our team demands. I’ll have to admit I was nervous AS HELL. I feared I’d be the weakest link on a team of strong teachers or that my teammates would be annoyed by my constant cries for help. But later on during the year, I realized it was the best thing that could’ve happened to me. Below are the five benefits of working on a teacher team.

5 Benefits of Working on a Teacher Team

1. Support network within reach

The words “lack of a support” serve as a common topic of discussion amongst educators. Being on a team allows teachers to support one another during the most difficult times. Having someone witness my hardships firsthand allowed them to gain a greater understanding of the issues I faced in the classroom. As such, their able to tailor a solution fit for your needs as well as they students they also teach. Essentially, helping out your teammates serves for your benefit as well because the issues he or she deals with may soon become bigger issues you may have to deal with. My first year of teaching would have been even more difficult if I didn’t have three understanding teammates by my side that occasionally brought me food, cookies, coffee and gifts. 🙂

2. Cross-content knowledge

It’s easier to know what students are learning in their other classes when you’re in contact with their other teachers all hours of the day. It also allows teachers the opportunity to come up with projects that require the knowledge and skills of all content matters and also hold student accountable for each of these skills. In my school, several teams developed team projects for their students that required the skills and knowledge of all four core content subjects. For example, in science class students were creating paper roller coasters. Students had to use mathematical equations, apply scientific terms, write a chronological summary of the steps they took and publicly present this information to their peers. Not only were students able to spend class time working on their projects, but they also had the opportunity to receive specific feedback on a specific facet of their project. It enhanced the learning experience and yielded better results.

3. More student accountability in academics

When you have teacher teams, teachers are able to exchange conversation about the academic progress of a student. We also have access to the report cards of our students and can assess the overall progress or lack thereof of our students. As such, it also allows for the teachers to identify opportunities for students to grow. Whether its the inquisitive student with a 94% GPA that needs to be recommended for gifted testing or discouraged low-performing student, the team can now find a solution to address the specific needs of each type of student. During our team meetings, we would discuss the students that needed extra attention and refer them to different services, AS A TEAM. When students see that all team teachers are concerned about their failing social studies grade, it may encourage them to work harder since all teachers are holding them accountable.

4. More student accountability in discipline

During my first year of teacher, I was that teacher that struggled with management, complained about a student’s behavior and was countered with a response like “Wow. He/She doesn’t do that in my class.” Whenever we had these issues, my team would strategize and come up with incentives and consequences for frequent misbehaved students. Whether it was lost locker privileges, silent lunch, a parent phone call, or a parent conference, we always came together as a team to address those students with chronic behavior problems. The math teacher of our team was our team lead and I would often hear him reprimanding his class if he received or noticed any behavioral issues in other classes. The students knew the teachers had each other’s back and that we weren’t going to go against each other’s authority. The students knew that we expected them to respect every adult, especially the team teachers.

5. More effective parent conferences

There is nothing better than having all four content teachers present in a parent conference sharing strengths and weaknesses about a particular student. For the most part, the team teachers agree upon a student’s strength and weakness and able to share this with the parent as one. When one teacher tells the parent that child is lacking effort and seldom participates in class, the parent may or may not address the issue depending on their perception of the severity of the issue. However, when there are four teachers sharing that a child lacks effort, the parent may realize that this is a serious issue and apply appropriate consequences in the household so that this issue no longer impedes the learning of the student. My most effective parent conferences have always been with my teammates. We bounce off each other’s commentary and devise solutions with our parents. Team conferences also help eliminate the skepticism a parent may have about a particular class or teacher.

6. Way more efficient and productive

We’re teachers. We have 1 million things to do. We have paperwork we need to fill out. We have parent phone calls we need to make. The beauty of teacher teams is that you’re able to delegate the work. You can appoint someone as your Communication Liaison or someone can assume the role of Notetaker during all meetings. When you have positions outlined for the team, the effectiveness of the team increases, your team is far more organized and you can focus on doing what you’re supposed to do, which is teach.

Being on a team is the greatest thing that could have happened to me. I LOVED my team last year and I love my team this year.

BLACK LIVES MATTER from a disgruntled teacher

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“the system isn’t broken. it’s working exactly as it should be.”

it’s a shame that in this day and age we have to continue to justify why black lives matter. too many lives taken at the hands of senseless, unjust, illogical cowards. too much energy being out into a fight that shouldn’t exist.

every time I’m running forward, I’m pulled back by a harness that never seems to come off, no matter how hard I pull on it.

those that serve to “protect” us do nothing but police out existence, deeming our mere presence as a threat for others.

we are humans. our sons are humans. our lives hold worth.

what will it take for a systematic change? will it ever happen?

to all our children living in the very system that was built against their success, happiness, and freedom…you matter.

you’re valuable.

-angry public school teacher

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Year 2 at a Glance: SGA, Teacher of the Month, Latino Heritage Month and Academic Frustrations

dear diary,

We’re in the last weeks of the Fall semester and I couldn’t be more excited.

My second year has gone off to a better start than my first year. I was actually there for the first weeks of school so I was able to set the culture of my classroom. I was able to practice procedures and imbed the culture of constant reading into my students.

My coworker and I started a Student Government at the school and held the first school-wide election for our students. It was exciting. We had many students interested in running for executive board positions. We had our students campaign, make speeches, visit classrooms and share what they want to see out of my school. It was creating a culture of student voice and students seemed excited about electing their Student Body Executive Board.

After a week of campaigning, the results were announced during morning announcements. Students cheered as they heard the names of their candidates being said. It made me extremely proud to know that our younger students feel as though they can confide in someone to make decisions about their academic experience.

Latino Heritage Month started September 15th. Last year, there was no special programming or even a mention of the occasion. This year, I wanted to change that. With the help of the art teacher, students created flags of different Latin American and Caribbean countries. These flags were hung around our main hallway, for students and visitors to see. My Assistant Principal and I worked together and gathered up facts about the history of Latinos and Latino Heritage Month. This information was disseminated to the staff everyday during morning announcements. Teachers and students seemed receptive to the information, thanking me on the daily for providing the information.

I felt happy to be at work. I stayed late hours grading papers and planning my lessons. I ensured to organize my classroom on a daily and find ways to track and incentive student success. I was very adamant about reading. I made my students read at every moment. If there was even a second of free time, students had to take out a book and read it. I didn’t allow students to enter my class unless they had a book. It’s worked because my students now understand how serious I am about reading.

On October 15, 2014 I won Teacher of the Month. I knew I had been nominated about two weeks prior to that when my Assistant Principal sent an email telling us to vote. A colleague nominated me for being one of the founders of our Student Government. The nomination in itself was an honor because it signified my growth. I was at a very different place than I was last year and everyone noticed it. My assistant principal kept saying “what a difference a year makes” and he was right. I had a new found energy that I was happy about spreading to others.

But the honeymoon phase is long gone. The past month and a half have been trying. The first 9 weeks of the semester were difficult, especially for my students. They were transitioning to middle school and getting used to having 6 (some 7) different classes. Our school is very structured and our AP of Discipline is consistent with ensuring that students are following all rules, especially our dress code. This environment was very different for our students. The students were getting used to having more than two teachers and having different demands and expectations from each.

As I moved along in my content, I realized that my students struggled with reading and writing. After taking their STAR testing, I learned that most of them aren’t even on grade level. In fact, they were several grade levels behind. Considering the district I work in, I expected for my students to be a little behind. My students come from circumstances that inhibit them from obtaining top quality education as a student from an affluent neighborhood would receive. However, what I came in touch with was unbelievable.

After assessing their reading, I assessed their writing. I was faced with the daunting truth that my students had trouble with simple grammar rules like capitalization, punctuation and word usage. Some were even forgetting to capitalize their first names. I realized that these errors were nothing but bad habits because students would immediately take note of it when I merely mentioned there was an error. This led me to conclude that students were must have forgotten all their grammar rules during the summer of that they weren’t held accountable for their errors in previous years. I also remembered that we live in the age of social media where there’s no accountability for correct grammar, and as students post on these sites they brings those habits into the classroom. That in itself is a feat I’ve been trying to battle.

I’ve been very frustrated this year teaching the content. Last year, I was in eighth grade so things were different. Many of my students had challenges with reading and writing; however, they were able to comprehend they were able to persevere through the struggle and move forward to learning the content. Sixth graders haven’t learned how to persevere. As you’re teaching the content, you’re also teaching them how to work through the parts they haven’t quite mastered. I’m still in disbelief at the lack of prior knowledge my students came to the sixth grade with. I would expect my students to be aware of parts of a speech, parts of a sentence, paragraphs, indentation, and all the other basic things we learned in elementary school. But when students have to recall that information, a somber silence grows in the classroom. A sense of frustration bears over me and suddenly I feel like my lesson is a failure. Teaching things like sentence variety becomes unbearably difficult especially when students are stating that their fragments are complete sentences.

I’ve tried doing everything I can. I’ve sought the help of veteran teachers, collaborative teachers, administrators, Pinterest, Youtube, and any other resource that will aid me in delivering my content in the clearest way. I see my students growing but I guess I want quicker results. I keep telling myself that my frustration and hard work will pay off in a couple of years, and that my students will have appreciated my nagging for constant reading and writing.

Until then, I will continue to seek opportunities to further my skill set to ensure that I am doing everything to meet the needs of my students.

At least it’s Thanksgiving break.

sincerely,

the angry public school teacher

Dear NYC Teachers: Your Attempt at Solidarity Was a FAIL…

As a NYC native, I am embarrassed by the actions of the very teachers a part of the largest, most diverse school system in the country. The teachers below are the teachers I would never want my child to come in contact with. I don’t care how great they are or what levels they push their students to. I don’t want my baby to come in contact with anyone that sides with a task force that criminalizes Black and Brown children for the sake of it. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, refer to the picture below. This group of teachers thought it was a great idea to wear “NYPD” t-shirts in solidarity to support the “great” NYPD in the midst of the backlash they’re receiving for Eric Garner’s murder.

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This is utterly and ridiculously unacceptable. The teachers clearly did not understand the implications of their actions, which is strange as they were warned by the UFT (United Federation of Teachers) beforehand to not wear the t-shirts. You would think they would sit down and attempt to rationalize the request. But no, these women clearly wanted to be bold with their actions and go against the police force discourse currently occurring. They wanted others to know that despite the long history of police brutality and institutionalized racism, particularly in New York City, they still stand with cops. I guess it’s easy to do when you’ll never be a victim of racial profiling or NYC’s “effective” Stop-And-Frisk policy. It infuriates me to know that these teachers are supporting the very system that will one day racially profile their students.

With the recent killing of Eric Garner and the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, it is a shame that these teachers chose to side with the very people that will one day racially profile one of their students. It is a shame that they decided to pose all giddy and happy as if something great were accomplished by promoting the message that the NYPD is great and supportive. What you have done is told every single one of your students that you side with the NYPD and its racist policies. That what they do is keep us safe, even if its at the expense of our Black and Brown children. You’ve implied that its ok for the NYPD to randomly stop your students and search them because the mere melanin in their skin makes them a threat to society. You’ve told our children that men like Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo, and Eric Garner deserved to die because they were doing the “wrong” thing, when they were simply minding their business. You’re telling our students all the wrong things. And it’s quite a shame.

How about you ladies be advocates for your students and their families so that racial profiling, excessive force, and senseless murdering can stop. How about advocate for the NYPD to protect and serve, not just those that benefit from institutional racism, but all of us? We can’t all be supporters of the NYPD when our actions are criminalized for the mere fact that we are brown. You will never know what it’s like to feel threatened by the police, instead of safe and protected. If your intent was to teach our students that the NYPD is great and someone they should see positively, then your intent failed. So please take your privilege and exit left.

I Almost Quit Teaching

Dear Diary,

I almost quit teaching…

I was going to quit in May, move in with my mother, and search for a job that didn’t demand so much of me. Over time, I grew apathetic about everything. Early mornings, late nights, inconsistent parents, preparing for the state test, grading papers, assigning work, creating interesting lessons, closing out the year, dealing with limited resources.

I told myself I was not built for the difficulties that came with teaching. I made a plethora of excuses: I’m too young to be teaching, my facial expressions inhibit me from building relationships with my students, I’m not making an impact on any of my students’ lives but simply widening the opportunity gap.

…I missed my family. I missed them so much.

Moving 900 miles away from home didn’t seem worth it anymore. I felt like I wasn’t achieving anything I set out to do. I felt disorganized. I felt confused. The struggles and obstacles I endured crippled my vision and hazed my purpose. I didn’t care about the long term anymore. I wanted to be happy “right now,” and I felt like teaching wasn’t ever going to give me that happiness. My life felt like a series of hopeless endeavors.

I struggled with money… A lot. Along with it being my first year of teaching, it was also my first year living on my own. I had to do what the big kids do, pay bills! I was paid once a month so when the end of the month hit, I paid everything at once: rent, utilities, electricity, car insurance, cell phone. My rent and utilities were more than I could afford so I had no spare money to actually do anything fun and enjoy life. When I had $40 in my account, I had to be smart and save it for gas. I had trouble learning to budget. As hard as I tried, it was too difficult since my income was monthly.

I lived 30 miles from my school so my commute to work consumed a lot of my gas. It was nearing towards the end of the month and I was short on cash. Pay Day was three days away but that was too far for me. I needed to fill up my tank to get to work and back for the next two days. So I drove with my gas light on for a while hoping I would make it to work. Just as I was getting ready to drive onto the highway the car started shaking and the dashboard lights came on.

YUP. I RAN OUT OF GAS.

I called into work and told them I had car troubles and that I would be late. I was already prepared for this moment so I knew what I had to do. I called roadside assistance. I knew they would provide enough gas to get me to work, but the real question was whether it would be enough to get me back. I left work and prayed to every god possible that I make it to my certification class. My gas light turned on while on the highway and I prayed I didn’t bump into traffic. Somehow, I made it to my certification class and shared my experience with my closest friend. I lied and said I lost my debit card, which prompted him to give me some money for gas. I thank God for friends like him.

Aside from financial stress, I was gaining weight. I saw physical changes in myself I wasn’t used to. I was always a slim girl and would eat anything and everything whenever I wanted. My friends and family would always say “It’s going to catch up with you one day,” but I would brush them off and continue indulging in my double patty burger with large fries.

When I gained my first five pounds, I was ok. It wasn’t that serious to me. As a matter fact, I could have used an extra five pounds. But as I gained more weight, my face got chubbier and I lost all the muscle I gained from running track many years ago. I told myself I was going to work out and eat healthier but I just didn’t know how. So I addressed my problems with what I knew best: eating. Consequentially, I gained a total of 20 pounds and lost every muscle on my tiny little frame. I wasn’t used to seeing that person in the mirror. I was irritated by the “Oh My God, your cheeks are so chubby” comments. One thing the world does, is let you know about all your insecurities over and over again.

I was at the doctor’s office more than usual. My weight gain caused hormonal changes in my body I didn’t know how to deal with. I was moodier, more emotional, depressed and simply disinterested with everything in my life. I felt sluggish; my body couldn’t move at the pace it used to; I was often sick and called out of work multiple days at a time. When I visited the doctor he would welcome me with a look of familiarity and asked, “What’s wrong this time?” I would lay in bed all day as if I was gravely sick when in reality, I just had a bad cold. But when no one is there to bring you hot tea and crackers made with love, self-care is not even a question.

I saw my struggles manifest in the classroom from late March to early May. I was absent more often so my students started asking questions about my health. Some even rumored that I quit because I was tired of teaching. I became more irritable and easily bothered by any little thing the kids did. There was a negative aura in my classroom and I was the biggest contributor. When I was in a good mood, my students would make snarky remarks like “You seem to be happy today.”

My students picked up on everything. One morning I had been crying because of a terrible note the substitute teacher left about my students’ behavior. My students noticed the redness in my face and asked what was wrong with me. Of course I lied and said I had just sneezed.

I was living my worst nightmare.

I hated waking up to go to work.

But the thing about teaching is, you have to put your own struggles aside. No one is going to hold your hand. No one is going to tell you to take a break. Directions aren’t going to be repeated for you. Multiple opportunities for success aren’t going to be given. Your students aren’t going to be understanding of your day-to-day struggles. They aren’t going to excuse you for being unprepared or having a shitty lesson plan.

At the end of the day, you CHOSE this profession. And this is something that I constantly had to tell myself. I chose to move 900 miles away from home. I chose to live on my own. I chose to be away from my mother. And I chose it because I had a purpose. I even wrote down my purpose:

I teach because I want to provide students the opportunity to create better lives for themselves and their families.

However, I won’t be able to do that if I let all my struggles consume me. If I let the slightest bit of stress deter me from my path, then my purpose has been defeated and I am no longer serving my students.

My first year of teaching taught me that struggle is only what you make of it. There were many things out of my control. I wish I paid cheaper rent. I wish my commute to work was shorter. I wish my mother lived across the street from me. I wish I had my family a drive away so I could celebrate my successes with them. But the reality is that I can’t control any of those things. When I’m at work, I need to forget about all the things happening in my life and focus on what’s important. I needed to find a way to achieve happiness so that despite the obstacles going on in my life, I still maintain a smile and give my students the greatest me.

Why? Because they deserve a teacher that is ALWAYS at her best.

I ended the year on May 29th with a beautiful candlelight ceremony for our outgoing 8th graders. I grew attached to many of my 8th graders. The things I learned from them were amazing and unforgettable. They will never know how much they truly taught me.

We brought the year to an end with a poetry unit. I learned a lot about my students’ lives, neighborhoods, families and dreams. I obsessively emphasized the importance of doing well in the 9th grade so that they have a greater chance of attending a 4-year college. Many of them left me notes and letters, which I saved as mementos. During the Bridge Ceremony, numerous parents expressed their gratitude. I was very proud of that moment. To know that in four years many of my students will be entering college felt refreshing.

I learned a lot about myself.

They taught me patience, flexibility, and resilience. I told them I would never forget them for the mere fact that they were my first students. Most importantly, I learned that it is ok to make mistakes. I’ve always been comfortable with making mistakes. In fact, I prefer to make mistakes because my greatest lessons have always come from them. I was a first-year teacher. There was no way I was going to be perfect. I’m at the very forefront of my career and will never have all the answers. But what I will have is an open mind, a sense of purpose and a kind heart because without it, there is just no point in teaching.

I can’t write all of this without thanking the greatest asset life gave me: my mother. Without her help, support, love, push and kind words, I would have never made it through. I owe my life to her.

sincerely,

the angry public school teacher

Yo, Mr. Mayor! Let Me Talk To You for a Minute

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dear diary,

I’ve been out of work since Tuesday because of two inches of snow, ice and sleet. I had Thursday and Friday off anyway, so I have an impromptu winter vacation…again. This happened two weeks ago, when my county closed school for four days due to “bad” weather and road conditions. Down in the south, the THREAT of snow closes schools and government offices and clears the shelves clean of any bread, eggs and milk.

Continue reading

It Takes A Village To Educate A Child

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dear diary,

Have you ever threatened a student with a phone call home and their response is “Go AHEAD! Call my mama! You want me to call her for you? She won’t care!” followed with an eye roll?

Me too. Twice, actually.

Any variation of the above response is COMPLETELY UNACCEPTABLE.

To begin, it implies several things. First, the parent has not instilled strong values in the student about the importance of respecting others, especially those working hard to provide you the skills and knowledge that you need.  Secondly, the parent fails to recognize the importance and value an educator holds in their child’s life. Third, the parent does not want to form a positive relationship with the teacher, which would ultimately benefit the parent, since the goal is to raise good, critical, working citizens. Lastly, the parent does not hold their child accountable for their misbehaviors, ultimately encouraging the behavior to continue.

The foundation starts at home. Parents are the most IMPORTANT players in a child’s education. A parent instills the values and habits of a student that drives them to be successful in the classroom. They also teach them the importance of respect, which is extremely conducive to a positive learning environment. When a student exhibits disrespect, the student is immediately reprimanded by the parent because the parent does not tolerate an ounce of disrespect. A parent emphasizes the importance of education and why it is necessary to obtain, whether they attained it or not.

Parents are the first part of the equation. The adults they interact with outside of their parents are the second.

A student will not be successful if they are not being held accountable by ALL adults in their lives. This includes teachers, neighbors, pastors, community leaders, aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, etc. When a student is in school, the teachers, counselors and staff become the students’ “parents” for the time they are in the building. Not only is it our job to instill useful knowledge and skills as well as provide safety, it is our responsibility to ensure that are students are practicing excellence and speaking to others, especially adults, in a respectful manner.

Although a student is not on your roster or even your grade level, it is important that we continue to hold that child to our expectations of respect and excellence. Respect is important and necessary. What good is having a student with excellent grades and decent test scores if they have no respect for adults? If we give a blind eye to a student that is clearly exhibiting disrespect, we have basically told the student that it is okay to display disrespect in front of adults that are not responsible for you. When we are in that building, we are responsible for ALL students.

From experience, I’ve learned that students will be combative when they are disciplined by an unknown educator. This has definitely deterred me from disciplining other students because I thought I’d be wasting my time going “back and forth” with a student that believes he or she shouldn’t respect me. But as time progressed, I learned the importance of disciplining ALL students when I realized that many of the current 7th graders will be in my class next year. If I don’t voice respect as an expectation, who knows what will be of their behavior next year.

Teaching should not fall on just the shoulders of the teacher. When a student’s bad grades or misbehavior is not up to standard, it MUST become a concern for the parent, teachers, counselors, administrators and heck, even the pastor! The students needs to see that the adults in his or her life have very high expectations for him or her. It gives priority to the situation and has the potential to produce a change in the student’s academic performance.

We need both parts of the equation in order to see the best in our students. We are responsible for our babies until they can truly apply the skills and knowledge on their own, without the help of an adult. Till then, we continue to teach. It truly takes a village to educate a child.

sincerely,

-the angry public school teacher

Meet Luis : An Angry Battle-Worn Teacher

Brooklyn Bridge

Tell me about yourself. Why are you the “angry battle-worn” teacher?

My name is Luis Miguel Lopez and I am the “angry battle-worn public school teacher”. I’m making the correlation to war because it feels like everyday, I’m fighting to help my students succeed and somehow, it doesn’t feel like I’m getting through to them.

I am an 8th grade ELA teacher in the Bronx. Much like the students I teach, I am a product of the New York City Public School system. I attended both Elementary and Middle school in Brooklyn. I went on to attend Murry Bergtraum High School for Business Careers, the school that helped lay the ground work that would lead me to becoming the teacher I am today.

I then attended CUNY New York City College of Technology where I earned an Associates Degree in Liberal Arts & Arts. Following that, I transferred to CUNY Brooklyn College where I earned my Bachelors Degree in English education.

While accomplishing all this, I grew up in the Southside section of Williamsburg, Brooklyn in New York City. During the time of my upbringing, my neighborhood was not a safe place to go outside and play. Gang and drug activity riddled my neighborhood and I typically wasn’t outside past 5pm. While all this was going on, my sisters and I knew we didn’t want to become a product of out environment like many people we knew in our neighborhood. We knew we had no choice but to excel in school. Had we failed or did poorly on a report card, my old school Puerto Rican mother would have our “heads on a plate”.

Why did you decide to become a teacher?

My decision to become a teacher stems way back to the 7th grade.  My ELA teacher’s style of teaching and the way he made me want to learn instilled, in me, the desire to teach. Then, as I went along my career, I realized I can connect to students fairly easy. It only made sense that I followed the education path.

Tell me about your educator journey. Were you always a teacher? 

My journey is a little tricky. I was in the classroom during my student teaching but walked into a hiring freeze when I graduated from CUNY Brooklyn College. I was ready to make a difference and help shape the young minds of the students I come across. But I was promptly stopped and I had to find another way to educate.

I then found a job at an after-school program run by the Brooklyn Philharmonic, named the smartARTS Academy.For four years, I remained with the smartARTS Academy, working my way from Program Staff to Parent Coordinator, and eventually to Site Coordinator. It was in those four years, I fell in love with the idea of impacting students’ lives in a way formal school teacher could not. I became a loving, nurturing, extremely involved, educator who could address every aspect of my students’ lives within smartARTS.

At the beginning of 2013 our program’s grant renewal was denied and we weren’t going to be running beyond the 2012-13 school year. I immediately knew I would have to reenter the search for a teaching position in the Department of Education. I began applying to as many teaching positions as possible. I interviewed all over the New York City. Some places didn’t want to hire me because of the time I spent away from formal teaching. Other places just never got back to me with a follow up of the interview. All summer long, I felt discouraged and I was honestly ready to walk away and reestablish a new career. Then, my current Principal contacted me asking for an interview. I consented and I guess “the rest was history.”

Where do you currently work? What was your vision before entering the classroom?

I have to admit, I never envisioned myself teaching in middle school. However, once I gave it a try during my student teaching, I realized I could make a stronger impact on my students. I became the 8th Grade ELA teacher of a title 1 public middle school in the Bronx. Before my first day, I was nervous and unsure of what I was walking into. However, being a man that was confident in who I was, I was ready to impact my students’ lives. However, when I met my students, I was met with foul language, misbehavior, and sheer defiance of everything I was intending to do. The behavior only got worse, seeing as students will ALWAYS test to see how far they can push before a teacher brings down the hammer. Within two weeks, I ended up getting hurt breaking up a fight. I began to suffer anxiety because I couldn’t believe the amount of disrespect and lack of interest in their own academic lives my students displayed.

What are some of your current frustrations with our current education system?

I am frustrated in knowing many of my 8th grade students are not prepared to take on 8th grade tasks. I sometimes don’t have the time to go back and rebuild some of the skills the students either forgot or never learned. It just becomes such a juggling act that no one really is prepared for until they are faced with it as an actual teacher.

Not to mention, as a teacher, we are extremely under-appreciated and our job never ends because there is always something to be done.

Did you feel you were prepared to teach? Do you feel you need more support in anything (instructional planning, student investment, behavior management, etc.)?

I did not feel prepared to teach because of the time I spent away, however, I was willing to challenge myself. The system has provided the standards my students need to meet. My coworkers have provided me with the support I need/needed to help these students. I admit, I wanted to walk away because this was not why I wanted to teach. My classroom management was always strong because of my firm demeanor. For the most part, I receive a lot of support from my administration. I have a literacy coach I can speak to when I need help implementing content. Overall, I feel like I can ask whoever in my school for help and I won’t be turned away. One thing I was told I brought to the school was a firm sense of discipline and follow through. When I say something, I follow through and I don’t go back on my word.

Has behavior changed in your class? How are students responding to your leadership now?

As the year has gone along, most of my student recognized my leadership and do show me respect. They have come to understand that I always want respect across the board and I am always willing to discuss anything during the appropriate moment. Students recognize I care and they are receptive to it. For the most part, a simple glare can help some of my student refocus.

What’s one piece of advice you want to give to other first-year teachers?

At the end of each day, remember you are one person and you can’t do everything.

Thank you for sharing your story, Luis! Continue fighting hard!

-angry public school teacher

“That is NOT the Harlem Shake”

Dear Diary,

Last week’s lesson was so DOPE. Dope is the only word I can use to describe the level of engagement, curiosity and connection my students had with the material on the cultural appropriation. It was AMAZING. To give context, we are currently reading is Walter Dean Myer’s memoir, “Bad Boy”, which takes place in Harlem. I wanted my students to connect to the text so I spent a great deal of time talking about the new viral online craze so terribly and incorrectly named the “Harlem Shake”.

“Does anyone know what the Harlem shake is?” I asked.

Their responses pretty much summarized the foolishness you see in the video below.

Well, everyone…I’ve been sent to spread the truth.

Students (and to any others this applies to), what you see in that video IS NOT THE HARLEM SHAKE! This no-rhythm, off-beat, tasteless humping would get POUNDED by the REAL Harlem Shake. Diddy is in his private suite somewhere in the Superbowl rounding up the team for the revival of the Harlem Shake (Just kidding, but he should).

Anyway, many of my students were surprised and confused when I revealed to them that the ORIGINAL Harlem Shake was something totally different. To further solidify my point, I showed my students a video of Harlem residents reacting to this new version of the “Harlem Shake”.

The videos helped them realize that people, specifically Harlem residents, are truly angry about this new version of the Harlem Shake. They find this new viral online craze to be disrespectful and a false representation of what Harlem is about. Thus, my students learned that the original Harlem Shake is more than just a dance; it’s a representation of culture, art and unity amongst a marginalized group of people.

The original Harlem Shake was used as a form of expression when words weren’t enough. It was about staying on beat, and simply having a good time. It was about being with your cousins and playing G-Dep’s “Special Delivery” while making sure your shoulder shake is coordinated with your other body movements. Rather than using violence to solve issues, Harlem youth would be encouraged to battle it out in the form of a dance competition. The Harlem Shake was a part of a lifestyle.

The biggest takeaway from the lesson is that Black culture is rarely ever acknowledged and/or celebrated. It is stolen, recreated, and given a whole different meaning without giving proper recognition or citation to the originators, subsequently erasing our history. This is what’s going to become of the Harlem Shake if this online craze continues and if we fail to educate the younger generations of its originality.

While my students were attempting to imitate the original Harlem Shake, I urged them to use this knowledge to educate others the next time the “Harlem Shake” comes up in real-time or conversation. I urged them to recognize the importance of digging deep into our history and not accepting information at face-value. ALWAYS GO BENEATH THE SURFACE.

Black is beautiful. Our art, culture, and intellect is beautiful. Thousands of years ago, our history was stolen. Our legacy was stolen. And thousands of years later, things haven’t seemed to change.

Sincerely,

the angry public school teacher

P.S. I hope to one day gain the courage to do the Harlem Shake for my students since they request it ten times a day.