The Secret to Success as an Urban Educator

I saw a status from someone who began teaching around the time that I was deciding to commit to teaching myself. She wrote that her former students were shocked that she had had a baby and that just because she has high expectations and wasn’t a “nice” teacher doesn’t mean she wasn’t a nice person in life.

Seeing that, just dumbfounded me. Particularly because we both teach in inner cities and teach special education populations, her more so than me as I am not a special education teacher, but for the majority of my years in the inner city, I had volunteered to be the general education teacher in inclusive classrooms for my grade level.

44027_article_full

And there is a side to teaching wherein if you want to be successful, meaning you help students achieve academically in your subject area, then you have to have high expectations, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t love your kids as well or that you have to be “a not nice teacher” to communicate those expectations. With city kids, that means being consistent in your judgement, consistent in your love and your criticism as well as being flexible and truly listening to what these kids have to say.

The majority of the students I have taught remain in contact with me, updating me on their lives and their dreams. They visit sometimes and when they do, it’s always with big hugs and excitement. That is how I know I am successful in what I do. Sure, I have years of data that back me and show my administrators that I am successful in teaching kids how to read and bringing them towards career and college readiness, but that’s not all there is to teaching.

I remember the first time a student called me mom. Continually. Later, when I asked them why I had become their mom I was told it was because they knew that I was there for them, even when they were acting a fool. They knew that they could come to me with anything and I would do my best for them. That was when I knew that I was on the path of becoming the kind of teacher I knew that urban kids needed.

Urban kids are different from your suburban kids that come from nice homes, with semi-intact families and better financial support systems. Urban kids are often starting school well below their suburban counter parts because of the environments they are raised in, they often have parents or grandparents working multiple jobs meaning they’re home alone more times than not or in state-funded daycare. Urban kids are also semi street smart, because really, kids are also kids in any environment and come into school with an attitude more times than not because they feel like they don’t fit.

However, if you hold these kids to a high expectation of achievement as well as give them them the empathy and love that so many just need, then you are not only going to have success in their academics, but you’re also going to have success in helping to raise a better future in that, your love and acceptance may be what sets that kid up for an entirely different path in life.

Within urban education, I firmly believe all students need it. Some more than others, specifically kids with difficult home lives and worse yet, the kids that have spent their lives in and out of the system. If you pursue your teaching career in an inner city district, you have to become an educator with clear expectations as well as someone who will become another mother or father towards the kids that you are working to educate.

And I carry that belief with me in everything I do. For instance, the college class I am teaching this summer is at the city campus. It took me less than 5 minutes to e-mail the students who missed the first class to just remind them that class was today. Within 30 minutes, I even had one show up late to class.

Sometimes, you just have to be that person for other people. If you want to be a successful teacher, you need to remember that you have chosen a profession where you are in service to others.

The Longest Wait

At the beginning of each school year, I think the longest wait is until Christmas break. Then we hit that mark of the school year and I look forward to the 100th day of school mark which brings us to the dregs of the year where school just feels endless. You’ll blink and it’ll be spring break and the year will start wrapping up pretty quickly.

That is, until, you hit June. In New  Jersey, we pretty much go to the end of June. This year it is June 26th. Which means as of today, if we don’t count weekends we have 13 days left of school.

13. 13 days that really feel like 50 sometimes. The kids are done. PARCC testing kills their desire to do anything after that and then when you add in all the end of year testing we have to do to them on top of curriculum and the like, the kids are just done. And really? So are you.

You start envisioning what it would be like if you could just take over total control. What would it be like if you could snatch every water bottle that is flipped? What about slapping every fidget spinner there is in your sight right into the garbage? What if you took every cell phone and made yourself a throne of cell phones? What if you could say everything exactly the way that inner devil is thinking it without sugar coating it? What if….

Of course you won’t because you love teaching and know you’re just burnt out from the year, but during this final sprint into summer sometimes the day dreams just take over and you think maybe Mrs. Krabappel did really have the best day ever when Bart spikes her coffee with booze after she gives him a “Z”:

 

Dallas & the Seasons of My Life

I’ve spent the last week decompressing from being in Dallas, Texas for much of last week. I was there for my final doctoral residency. Once I got out of the Dallas Fort Worth airport, I was immediately reminded of what I hated about Texas the most: the heat and humidity.

The last time I had been in Texas was when I went to La Porte, Texas to visit one of my little sisters from my sorority. I loved the openness and the relaxation that it brought. It was so different from NJ.

This time though, the residency was at the airport hotel and I didn’t get to see much of Dallas which was disappointing because I had never been and they have a pretty cool art scene. The point of this final residency was to, by Sunday night, have an approved DRP plan to submit for SMR and IRB approvals. Mine got approved the first day of “classes” which was Friday and it happened early in the morning. I then had to sit there for the next three days and work on my presentation and a paper for another class. I was so bored, but since these are considered to be “seat hours” I literally had to stay, in my seat….for hours.

Sitting around not doing a whole lot, to me, is more exhausting then even my most trying days as a teacher. By the end, I was extremely happy to go home to NJ to Phil and our tiny zoo. I am officially set to enter comps (doctoral comprehensive exam) in January. I probably could do it this next term, but with the wedding I just don’t think it would be a good idea. Better to let us settle into married life before I go crazy with another exam.

This spring was all about taking the School Leadership Series exam. ETS charges…are you ready for this? $425 PER TRY! How crazy is that??? I was so thankful when on the day, I got in the day before the 16th anniversary of losing my very cherished and much loved grandfather and was put on computer 16. I definitely felt like he was there with me that day and I finished with an hour to spare. It was a long 16 BUSINESS days of waiting, but when it came back that I passed I ran around our bedroom dancing.

In my personal diary, I talk a lot about seasons of my life. I firmly believe that women age in seasons, each one not like the one that came before it. A couple years ago, my more carefree season of my 20’s ended when I made a larger commit to my boyfriend at the time and we bought our first house. I remember how sad and excited I was to be leaving my life in Bordentown with my small apartment and my three cats. Even looking back professionally I was just a middle school teacher then with some publishing credits to my name.

Then I moved and I had finally made it to my life at the Jersey Shore, only 10 minutes outside of Point Pleasant where I had always dreamed of living. Then I started my PhD program and worked really hard to become a college professor. Then we got engaged and now, we’re going to be married in 5 months. I just don’t know where that time has gone, and lately, I have begun to have that feeling again…the one you get at the end of seasons as the new one starts intermingling. 2017/2018 is going to be a year of a lot of change: I will have tenure, I will be completing my doctorate and we might even be starting a family. All of those things, will push me into a new season of my life one where I will be settled, grounded and making huge leaps in my career.

And that’s just the stuff I know about, there’s still all the surprises that have yet to come and the very real idea that we could very well be leaving our little house at the shore to start a family life in my hometown. When I was just out of college and moved home to figure out my next move, my friends and I who were all in similar circumstance at the time, would joke…”All roads lead back to East Brunswick. Every last one, eventually we all come back.”

EBHS

It’s Gonna Be May

Anyone else think the Justin Timberlake meme from his N’Sync days with “It’s Gonna Be May” sprawled across the bottom was hysterical? It’s probably the best one that I have seen in awhile.

And here it is, MAY! I don’t know where this year has gone, I feel like it has been on fast-forward ever since I came home from Chicago last summer. I blinked and we were engaged and since then, it’s just been fast-forwarding to November and our wedding. We have almost everything done, and now it’s just working to save and pay for everything. We’re having a relatively small wedding, under 100 people. I am floored at what it costs! I can’t imagine financing one of those HUGE weddings where you invite 500 of your closest friends and wear a Kleinfeld’s gown. Crazy town!!

What I am looking forward to most, is giving the final in my college class tonight because as of next week, this means that my 12 hour days are done for the year and summer will be here before I know it.

I registered for my LAST class for my doctorate, come September I will be considered a doctoral candidate and not a student anymore. I don’t know where that time has gone either. I leave for Dallas in a couple of weeks for my final residency. I have already gained topic approval, and now I am hoping to come home with a mentor-approved research plan, committee-approved research plan AND scientific merit approval which will set me up for IRB approval and thus, the real writing of my dissertation will begin.

Then this summer is clinicals and I am teaching one college class. I’m extremely excited for clinicals.

I also start my certification to become an arts integration specialist. I think this will really help me in being better prepared to set up my case study for my dissertation. Our first class begins in just a few weeks. I am hoping I can juggle it all.

Then, before I know it, it will be November and I’ll be married.

I also added Stephen King’s IT to my 100 Book Challenge.

So far, my 30’s are going a lot better than my 20’s!

Why do you teach?

For moments like this.

Student: “Do you have ketchup in your purse?”

Me: “Nope.”

Student: “But you’re a mom, you’re supposed to have everything in your purse!”

Me: “Well, I don’t have kids yet soooo I guess I get a free pass!”

Student: “Um, I was talking about us, Kuzma. You have us and as a mom, you should have ketchup in your purse.”

Love you guys, too.

The Ides of March

I firmly believe that there is something to the idea of the Ides of March. This month is long and for teachers and students it is even longer because there is no break or three-day weekend this month. We just go straight through until mid-April when we have spring break. It’s a long stretch that makes everyone restless.

teen-brain-3-638

Like clockwork, every year, it is right around now that 8th graders start losing their minds. It’s rarely a slow approach to full-insanity, but rather, it’s like one day a light switch goes off and the little people that you felt they were becoming turns into full-on crazy, dipped into extra hormones.

It began here Monday. First block. Inclusion class. Observation. Inclusion teacher out sick.

It was all a blur. I think the observation went well. However, two kids went into full-blown middle school brain within the first 10 minutes. They have not recovered. It has begun.

Soon, the rest will follow. Then around the end of April, beginning of May 8th grade seniorities fully clicks in and you’re pretty much in survival mode until they graduate. It’s a fun, strange time of year, and it comes, every year, almost like clockwork.

What are we? The two fat white girls?

I have had a week. It’s been crazy. The kids are crazy. The entire school is just crazy. It’s that time of year though where instruction is winding down and high stakes testing will be our days here for what will feel like forever. Imagine, your classes go from an 80 minute block to 160 minutes while testing is occurring. It’s hard enough keeping these kids engaged for 80 minutes, but when you double it? It’s abysmal. I absolutely hate this time of year.

scared-woman-mouth-taped-shut-censorship-afraid-young-girl-duct-tape-lips-freedom-speech-concept-58402858

One way I combat this is to make sure I am stocked up on rewards. One of which is the passes we give kids towards a prize raffle when we catch them being good. I made sure to hit up the teacher that has them to make sure I had enough for the long days that are quickly approaching. As I stood talking to her, I could hear the change of classes begin in the hallway and in there, I heard my name several times coming from my last block class. I knew they were talking to their music teacher who they often confuse me with.

I thanked my co-worker for the passes and was just about to leave when the music teacher showed up there laughing at how the kids we share always confused us.

“I don’t get why they can’t get it right,” she laughed.

“Me neither, we don’t look alike,” I say, referring to her dark hair and my blond hair.

“Yeah, like what? Do they see two white fat girls and just think we both look alike.” She laughs.

I don’t because for at least a 5 second gap, I’m thinking did she really just say that? We barely know each other and just like, why would you say that? Had this been reversed, I would have hit on the, short and loud factor or even the white female factor, but fat? It wouldn’t had crossed my mind.

When I first started my job here, I was thin. I was the thinnest I had been in a very long time because I had been sick and depressed. Then, as the stress of urban education took hold of me, and as I met and fell in love with my to-be husband, I packed on the pounds. And, now, just about everyone I know at work knows I’m working hard at being thin again for our wedding in the fall.

So, in that moment, I knew I needed to respond so I laughed and shook my head before making my way towards my own room to set up for my last block, still half in shock over what just happened. I laughed to myself because one of the reasons I know I am successful as a teacher is because my kids have always felt comfortable with me. In fact, most people feel comfortable with me rather quickly and so many times, I am told things that I really don’t want to hear. This was just another one of those things.

I often wonder what it is about my nature that opens up this part of people, making them feel safe enough to word vomit all over a conversation. Or at times tell me something so profoundly personal that I leave feeling bad for them and wondering if they have any true friends to begin with? Often, it is something that I, personally, would only share with my two closest girlfriends and not the rest of the world. And even then, sometimes those conversations with them are still hard. It blows my mind when I seem to illicit them so freely from other people.