National Urban League Summer Internship

Do you know a college student currently seeking an internship?

Encourage them to apply to the National Urban League Summer Internship! Click the link below for more information. Be a part of one of the oldest civil rights organization! Gain skills and experiences that will last you a lifetime!

http://www.iamempowered.com/talent-management/internship-program

If you have any questions, feel free to email me at theangrypublicschoolteacher@gmail.com!

Tweet me @MsAngryTeacher

“Read More, Learn More, Change the Globe”

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Dear Diary,

It was the day before our big writing assessment.  We’ve been intensely preparing for the exam for the last five weeks. I was giving my students words of encouragement, telling them to keep a positive mind and reinforcing some the skills and tips I’ve taught. The students were chatty, expressing their anxiety, confidence and fear to their classmates. As I instruct them to be quiet, a student’s hand pops up. I get the class to be silent and pick on the student who is patiently raising their hand.

“Yes?” as I call on the student to share his question or thought.

The student made eye contact and asked “So, when are we going to learn Language Arts?”

I was dumbfounded. I couldn’t believe that was the question, so I asked the student to repeat himself. “Excuse me? What do you mean?”

The student’s response was “Like, grammar and stuff.”

At that very moment, the thoughts that manifested my little angry brain were overwhelming.

What do you mean when are we learning language arts? What do you think we’ve been doing the past five months? What is your definition of language arts and how is only learning grammar going to help you become a well-rounded person?

These were the questions that ran through my mind in the 5.7 seconds I paused to gather the right words to address his point.

I’m not sure what limited my student’s scope or why he asked the question he did but I do know that standardized testing constrains our children’s mind so much that they start to believe that reading passages and answering multiple choice questions correctly are the norm and the means of success. I asked my student if he would much rather have me provide him a book with sample questions from our standardized test that fit more of the convention of what an English class is supposed to be, but that didn’t seem to encourage him either.

I paused for a moment and placed myself in his shoes. I started to think about all of the things I disliked in previous Language Arts classes.

One of the things I always had an issue with were teachers who assigned reading and writing activities as a punishment. Have you ever been in a class where students were forced to write a structured five-paragraph essay about a topic that was irrelevant to the content or to the students’ lives, all because the teacher couldn’t manage his or her classroom well? Or have you ever been in a class where the teacher sends you out and forces you to read a book and come back with a one-page summary?

I have.

And both did nothing for me.

These kinds of approaches contribute to our students’ apathy towards reading and writing. If we use reading and writing as a punishment, then we shouldn’t be surprised when students groan and moan at the mention of an essay or independent reading time. Why? Because students are being assigned to write a one-page essay explaining the importance of following rules and regulations. Students are being told to grab a dictionary and define words that aren’t taught in context and have no relevance to the specific content. Students are being asked to leave the classroom and read a book they have no interest in and later provide a summary about a chapter that was difficult to get through.

We’re constantly preaching about “the real world” and discussing the importance of doing well in school so that you can be successful in “the real world”. However, some of our methods are not practical. Our boss isn’t going to send us out of the room and ask us to write a one-page essay on why we should never miss a deadline. Neither is she going to tell us to take the day off to read the biography of George Washington and provide a one-page summary.

If we want students to love reading and writing, we have to provide them material that is relevant to their lives and serves a greater purpose to society. We have to give them the opportunity to read and write about experiences that relate to their background, interests, environment, education, etc.  We have to increase our access to books with more diversity, particularly those that feature characters of color. Reading a book with a main character that so closely relates to you empowers our students because it sends the message that their lives are worthy of written and shared to the world.

I can’t deny that some of these disciplinary writing assignments may have served a greater purpose, like teaching our students to reflect on their mistakes and renew their purpose and/or focus. I understand that students may sometimes need to communicate their thoughts on paper to further realize the magnitude of their actions. But when we don’t communicate this to students, and merely impose an assignment on them as a consequence for their poor behavior, the meaning of the assignment is no longer there.

My vision before entering the classroom was to instill a love for reading and writing in my students. As I’ve stated before, I am a product of a public school so many of my experiences have shaped my views on education and the classroom. What made me love reading and writing was finding material that was relevant and relatable. I was always obsessed with reading and writing about people like me. Fiction and non-fiction that revolved around women, human rights issues, Latinos, Blacks, and city life always intrigued me. Reading helped me discover who I was while writing helped me express it.

This is what I want my students to experience. From the first day of school, my students were instructed to write as their daily warm-up. Most of the writing prompts asked them to write about themselves and connect them to something larger, society.

My favorite writing prompt was :

“What does your education mean to you? If you could ask the county commissioner to change one thing about your school experience, what would it be? Is your education fully preparing you for the life you want in the future?”

This writing prompt, by far, provoked the most thought and discussion amongst my students. They spoke about current resources, class relevancies, uniforms, etc. I could go on and on about what that would require another post.

After preparing for the writing test for so long, my students are sick of writing. But one thing I am proud of is of the many students that pushed themselves to be better than before. Benchmark after benchmark, they were knocked down and criticized but that only pushed them to want more. When I see the growth in many of my students’ writing, my heart smiles because my students used the constructive criticism to become better. They never saw defeat as the end-result. When I pose a question to my class about race that prompts a deep conversation about stereotypes and identity, my heart smiles because my students are engaging in a level of conversation that was levels above any conversation I had in the eighth grade. My ultimate goal is for students to learn that their microphone is always on and at that any point, they can use their voice to create the change they want to see.

So to my student that asked me when are we learning Language Arts, here is my answer. I want you to break free of the constrains of the standard classroom. I want you to let go of the fear that reading, writing, presentation and discussion skills are just things we do in class but they hold no real value to our education or our life. I want you to remember that a test is just a test, but the ability to connect your life experiences to that of society holds greater value in our world. Your ability to express your ideas and present your arguments will only perfect itself with practice.

Lastly, READING is POWER. POWER is KNOWLEDGE. But KNOWLEDGE is only POWER when you APPLY and SPREAD it. Everything I teach has a purpose. You may not understand it now, but hopefully you will later. Your VOICE is your greatest weapon! I know I still have a ton of work to do as a teacher, so bare with me as we learn and grow together.

 

Sincerely,

the angry public school teacher

 

the angry public school teacher

Dear Diary,

I am angry, fed-up, and drowning. I am a public school teacher and I am overwhelmed by the perils of public school education. I am a first-year teacher, educating 8th-graders, and I am overworked, extremely underpaid and discouraged by demands and discrepancies of our current public school system.

My anger stems from issues both inside and outside the classroom. I am an 8th-grade Language Arts teacher that came into the classroom having to address an array of literacy problems. Too many of my students are not writing anywhere near grade level. They are having trouble with grammar rules including: capitalization, indentation, sentence structure, fragments, run-on, and punctuation, things I imagined would be tackled before the 8th– grade. There is absolutely no reason my students should be writing proper nouns with lowercase letters, or writing their own names forgetting to capitalize. There is no reason why I am walking around my classroom, writing arrows on my students’ essays, reminding them to indent so that their essay can have some form of organization. But that’s the least of their problems. Asking students to express themselves on paper and write their ideas down is like asking teenagers to surrender their phone for the remainder of the year. They’ll fuss and fight and argue that they can’t do it until you have to tell them in a “not-so-nice way” that they must. Then they give you what they can with the utmost attitude.  It is with all these challenges and setbacks that I was expected to prepare my students for their writing assessment coming up this month. When presented with this task, I almost broke down and cried in front of my principal.

Another challenge I face is that many of my students have difficulties comprehending texts. Their definition of annotating is highlighting the text almost in entirety, since everything seems to be important. They have trouble understanding the main point of an article, which makes analyzing and evaluating close to impossible. How are students supposed to break down and connect to a text that they can barely understand? When I envisioned my students reading, I anticipated them becoming one with the text. I hoped that they would be reading beyond the words and questioning the author. I envisioned mini revolutionaries ready to cause a ruckus because of the lack of objectivity an author poses. To my dismay, what I got was a bunch of 8th-graders groaning and moaning when they were told they had independent reading time. When I demanded each student have a book out and read for the next twenty minutes, students would walk to our classroom library and pick any book, despite their interest in it.

I’m not mad at my babies for what is considered to be their shortcomings. I am mad at a system that allows our students to move on to another level despite lack of mastery of the current content. But even so, proper demonstration of such content doesn’t affirm that a student is ready for the next level or college work. Demonstrating mastery of content on a standardized test by no means determines a student’s ability to succeed in our world. And yes, I know college is not for everyone but everyone should know how to properly read and write and if not that, at the very least present themselves.

My babies have challenges with presentation as I just recently gave them the task to research information and present it to the class. Students that usually have no issue voicing their thoughts and opinion on a given topic went up in front of the class and spoke in a quiet, shy, and insecure manner. They were like turtles hiding in their shells. It was painful to watch but served as my wakeup call that I need to provide my students with the skills necessary to become confident presenters.

As I write this, I have to admit, I was not surprised by my students “shortcomings”. I am a product of a public school education so I have been on the other side of the spectrum. I had my first college class as a junior in high school when I was accepted into a summer college program. I had a very difficult time expressing my thoughts out loud and on paper. I wasn’t confident and didn’t feel smart in a room full of students from specialized high schools because I attended a regular high school with a low graduation rate. If it had not been for my teachers telling me they believed in me, I would have never worked as hard as I did because I hardly believed in my intellect or my ability.

However, it didn’t end there. During my first year of college, I felt so dumb and incompetent in comparison to my affluent classmates. I was a freshman, struggling with vocalizing my ideas. I remember sitting in my philosophy class listening to my classmates discuss the existence of God. I just sat there quietly praying that 80 minutes would zoom past us.

I HAD NOTHING TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE DISCUSSION.

Literally, NOTHING.

Mind you, this was a topic I was extremely interested in as I was trying to discover who I was and what I believed in. But my classmates, the majority of whom came from private school, engaged in a level of conversation that was above my rigor. I felt intimidated even sharing a thought. Their comments fostered discussion, and the one time I developed the courage to speak, all I received were acknowledgements and head nods.

I became a teacher because of the teachers that changed my life. Four of my high school teachers along with three summer college instructors got me to where I am today. If it weren’t for their guidance, cheerleading, love, reprimanding, counseling, instruction, and overall support I probably would have attended a mediocre college in my hometown, lived at home with my family, and had a part-time job at a clothing store that would have probably become my full-time job because of the lack of jobs today. But because of my teachers, I was able to attend a prestigious private university that allowed me the opportunity to travel across the country, spend a semester abroad traveling to different Asian countries, intern at both a civil rights organization and international law firm, work in the student center, join a sisterhood, present at two conferences, take classes of my choice, meet my life-long friends and land a job in a different city doing something that I’m interested in. I was able to step out of my comfort zone and head in a direction that seems to have some sort of promise.

My current discomfort, however, makes me angry. Even after eight months of living down south, I am still disconnected to my surroundings and the experiences of my children. My surroundings don’t inspire me and I can never relate to the lives of my students. Yes, I come from a low-income neighborhood, and yes, I attended Title 1 public schools all my life, but our surroundings play a unique part in our growth and maturity. The things that I endured as a middle-schooler/high-schooler in NYC are much different than the experiences of someone from Georgia or any part of the world.

I’m angry because I’m uncomfortable. I love what I do. I genuinely do. I love standing in front of my classroom using my knowledge to spark a change in the mindset of my students. I love when my students come back to my classroom excited because they finished a book and couldn’t wait to tell me. I love to see the look on my students’ faces when I’ve graded their writing assessments and they’ve exceeded the standards. I love choking on my words when a student poses a question I can barely answer.

But I miss my comfort.

For once in my life, I miss my comfort zone.

I am eternally grateful and blessed for the opportunities that have come my way. I am pursuing my passion and making some sort of change in the community. Do I sometimes wish I was doing it in my own community? Yes. Do I need more money? Yes. And while I spend many days angry wishing my circumstances were different, I know that no other profession will give me the experiences and skills that I have gained.

I wish I had started writing earlier, but get ready for the next five months!

Yours Truly,

angry public school teacher.

Edited by J. Peraza