Saturday, February 18, 2006

Above the Bronx

Last night I dreamt I was flying over the South Bronx projects in my white ao dai - the dress that my students in Thai Nguyen gave me on Vietnamese Teacher's Day. I've never felt so free.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Stickin' it to Stossel

Just got word that the NYC teachers' union is planning an anti-Stossel rally. I'm not much of a rallier or a union girl myself, but I do think John Stossel's a whack job on par with Tom Cruise. (Both smugly broadcast predictable party lines while actually believing themselves to be intelligent men.) But will protesting Stossel only make him more popular with his Libertarian fanbase?

Last month, Your Mama's Mad Tedious got some serious traffic after I turned on 20/20's "Stupid in America" and felt like barfing. Stossel insulted public school teachers for, among other things, not working hard enough. He did not have one nice thing to say about us. He did not mention the issue of low pay, and he conveniently blamed everything on unions. In lieu of actually barfing, I posted John Stossel: Stupid in the Studio, in which I pretty much spewed my anger about teacher voices in this country being muted and disrespected.

I wrote for my own sanity, but a lot of people seemed to relate. I got some thoughtful comments from people who truly want to see education improvements in America. I also got a few abusive comments from anonymous, anti-teacher Stosselites. This one's a gem: "Let me guess: You're an underperforming public school teacher, and an enthusiastic dues-paying member of the powerful and left-leaning NEA. Right?"
Holy knee-jerk. Dude didn't even read my post, in which I clearly say I'm not a union supporter. Some of us have minds and views that are not so easily pigeon-holed. But then again, I'm just a special ed teacher. I teach the troubled ones. Why would anyone want to consider my opinion on education?

If you want smug, party line politics, take a one-way ride back to Stosselville. And check out Cruiseville on your way. Your Mama's Mad Tedious is highly allergic to bandwagons, mindsets and all things predictable. (Which is why I love my students - true originals.)

Here's what the union is planning. Do what you want with the info - use it, bash it, cheer it - but by all means use your own mind about it.

From the UFT:

"Stossel needs a lesson: Video tapes of the John Stossel segment on 20/20 that bashed high school teachers and trashed the Unions (singling out the UFT) were distributed at our last Chapter Leader meeting ... It is infuriating ...The UFT needs your support on this. Hold a chapter meeting, show the video, get the signatures ... We will be delivering them at the rally in front of the ABC-TV studios on March 8. Show some pride in our efforts and fight back against the disrespect shown to us on national television. We work too hard and do too much good to let them paint us as the source of all problems and evil in the schools. Please stand up for us."

If someone were inclined to mocking unions and had a national TV news show to do it on, this might be a good opportunity. Just saying.

And just because I love mentioning his name, why would anyone watch 20/20 when they could be watching quality TV journalism on Anderson Cooper 360? Here's AC's take on what kids are doing in America's classrooms: "Dear Mr. Anderson Cooper." Just a bit different from Stossel's view. One of the kids actually wrote "Dear Ms. Cooper." Interesting.

Also, great words from Michael Winerip, a real education reporter: "By far, the issue getting the most ink is the need to reduce the time it takes to dismiss bad teachers - a pet peeve of the mayor's. While this is clearly a problem, the far bigger problem is holding on to good teachers. Last year New York City had 3,567 "regular" teachers leave, the most in memory, 936 more than the year before, and 1,100 above the previous three-year average. These are not retirees or troubled teachers - they're certified teachers in good standing."

Logical, lucid reporting. But something tells me "regular" may not include special ed teachers, in which case the NYC teacher turnover rate would be much higher. "Another One Bites the Dust" is the theme song for special education teachers in the New York City Department of Education. We drop like flies from a system that disrespects us and loves to label us "insubordinate" when we do our jobs and stand up for our students' civil rights. Why can't we just be pleasant and mute while our schools break disability laws, administrators wonder. How dare we challenge incompetence. How dare we be our students' champions. We are the insubordinate. We emerge from our dank, windowless classrooms at the edges of our school buildings to say, "This is wrong. We must change it." Our supervisors swat us away with petty warning letters that read, when you look between the lines, "Shut up or else." So we go back to our seedy rooms, to the kids that no one else wants, to the students who learn at the edges of society, to the only other people in the building who understand why we cry.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Time to Shake Out Your Brain ... Literally

I co-taught an English class with a teacher who always said, "Shake out your brains," when the class began to zone out. Our high school students knew it meant time for a mental break. Not so with Justin, a five-year-old boy I teach three times a week. Justin is high-functioning autistic, and children with autism tend to be extremely literal. Justin struggles with his literalism in adorable ways.

When I saw Justin starting to zone out, without even realizing what I was saying, "Time to shake out your brain," slipped out. Justin looked perplexed as he began to shake his head. When he stopped shaking, he said, in a regretful tone, "It's still in there."

IT being his brain. Which was still in his head. He had not succeeded in doing what I had asked of him, which was to shake out his brain.

Justin also has a tendency to put his feet all over me, and I am constantly asking him to stop. The other day, after asking him gently several times to move his feet, I finally said, "Justin. Please. How many times have I asked you to move your feet?"

His answer? "Six." I'm sure he was right.

Monday, February 06, 2006

The Irascible Professor

Welcome to anyone over from The Irascible Professor. For those of you who have not yet discovered the wonderful Irascible Professor, you can visit his E-Zine here. My Purple Stapler story is currently up as a guest commentary on his site.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Babe Ruth Visits Blog

The ghost of Babe Ruth is haunting this blog. He refuses to let me delete the picture of his Monument Park memorial, which I took during our Yankee Stadium field trip. I've tried to delete the picture no less than three times from my Gem of the South Bronx post. Each time, I delete the picture, republish the post, and republish my entire blog. The picture goes away at first, only to stubbornly and mysteriously reappear a few hours later. Sure, it could be a bizarre Blogger glitch, but this all began happening before yesterday's Blogger breakdown. Nothing remotely like this has ever happened with any of my other posts, and I am constantly editing and deleting things from my posts.

I prefer to think that Babe is watching over my students and me in the South Bronx. Now that he's not busy cursing the Red Sox anymore, he has plenty of time to hang out with us. On our Yankee Stadium field trip, a few of my students had the adorably off-base thought that the players were actually buried at Monument Park. It does kind of resemble a graveyard, but no, the Yankee veterans are not buried there. Somehow, though, the memorial does invoke Babe Ruth's spirit. Babe? Are you out there?

I've always felt that I have an other-worldly connection to baseball. I feel truly in my element in three places - beaches, deserts and baseball stadiums. Last season, I predicted that Jermaine Dye would win the world series. Guess who drove in the winning run and was the 2005 World Series MVP? Once, when I was interviewing fans at the Oakland Coliseum about their baseball superstitions for a Cal radio story (this was during the A's 20-game win streak), Jermaine Dye hit two homeruns - one right at the first fan I interviewed (about his lucky transitor radio), and another one two innings later right at another fan I was interviewing. Both men caught (or scrambled for) the homerun balls. I got it all on tape, and it made for a great radio story.

My dad used to go to Yankee Stadium in the 1940's when he was a kid growing up in the South Bronx, and he took me to Dodger Stadium all the time when I was growing up in L.A. He told me that if I didn't eat my entire Dodgerdog, I would bring the Dodgers bad luck. Once, I didn't finish the Dodgerdog, Fernando Valenzuela broke his winning streak, and I was thus inducted into the world of superstitious baseball nuts.

It's great to be able to share this passion for baseball with my students, especially through the sports journalism unit. The one (and sadly only) stellar thing about our school is its baseball team. I have one special ed student who is a pitcher on the team, and he is by far my most disciplined student.

When I was interviewing for teaching jobs, I got two job offers on the same day, and I couldn't decide which one to take. I finally decided to go with the school with the good baseball team. There are plenty of days when I regret that decision (I have a classmate who teaches at the other school, and from what I hear, it's far better), but I do at least get to share my love of baseball with my students, and this sports journalism unit is turning out great so far.

Next week, I'll be teaching a baseball math lesson on rate, distance and time in my resource class. We'll be taking the lesson to the baseball field. Perhaps Babe will join us.

Eleven days until pitchers and catchers report for spring training. Super Bowl? What Super Bowl?

Friday, February 03, 2006

Gem of the South Bronx

I got a grant from the Jordan Fundamentals program to teach a literacy unit on sports journalism, which paid for (among other things) our private tour of Yankee Stadium, including a talk in the press box. I'm teaching this unit to my 10th grade English inclusion class. Many of my students live for baseball, so I thought this would get them excited about reading and writing. So far, so good. The best part of our field trip was our visit to the Yankee Stadium press box. Students got to sit in the sportswriters' chairs, and they looked like real pros. I've never seen them so enthralled! We also visited Monument Park.

Yankee Stadium - A View from the Warning Track
To any teachers at high needs schools - schools where most students are eligible for free lunch - I highly recommend applying for this grant. You can get $2500 for one unit! The application deadline is usually at the end of May, and the 2006-2007 school year application should be available on the website soon.You have to create a budget and explain in detail how your unit is related to state standards. Your unit does not need to be sports-related. It's fairly competitive, but if you put together a clear application, you'll have a great shot. I applied for a combination of related books, materials, and field trips.

Only fourteen days until pitchers and catchers report for Spring training! The bleacher creatures should be coming out of hibernation soon. It's been a long, cold, lonely winter in the Bronx without them.