"A teacher affects eternity, he can never tell where his influence stops." Henry Brooks Adams

Thursday, January 28, 2010

One Thing

When we got the news, of course it was--as it always is--shocking and sad. One of our former students, only a high school senior, had died. She had been sickly off and on, and she died of natural causes. But, at just 18, no causes can really seem natural. The other 7th grade teacher and I went to the funeral to represent our school. I was prepared for the funeral, I have been to too many funerals, though not to any of former students. I had steeled myself to be strong, to "keep it together", to say a few words to the parents and grandparents. What I was not ready for when I entered that room was the sea of faces I recognized--dozens of our former students looked up at us. How could I have forgotten that her friends would be there? Dozens of young, sad faces--not quite ready to take this step into adulthood, but knowing that this--their presence to honor their lifelong friend--was necessary and important, that was the sight that brought me to tears. They looked so young, not fully formed but determined--one foot right into adulthood, and one still back in childhood somewhere. They took comfort in each other, and they remembered their friend, and they made us proud of how they are growing up.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Challenge to Dr. Ackerman

This is a Letter to the Editor I wrote to the Philadelphia Inquirer--it appeared in June. Surprisingly enough, Dr. Ackerman never responded!

As a Philadelphia Public School teacher, I am very disheartened by some of the opinions about her teaching staff that Dr. Ackerman has voiced lately. While all of us are not perfect, I daresay a huge percentage of us do our utmost to teach our students well everyday. We do this work because we are called to do it, and we believe that we make at least a small difference in the lives of our city's children everyday. We do this work in crumbling, leaky, rodent, insect, and mold infested buildings. We do this work with some children who haven't slept or eaten or been cared for in any significant way by the people who are supposed to raise them. Most of us take classes outside of the school day to better our instruction and learn new ways to help our students. We love our students and care for them in a way that many, many parents and students appreciate. If Dr. Ackerman thinks that we are doing such a poor job, I challenge her to run a series of "Master Classes" for teachers starting in September. Walk into a school in the morning with a lesson prepared (pick a different grade each week) and walk into a random classroom to teach the class. Rules: no calling the principal ahead of time, no culling the difficult students from the class, come without an entourage--just pick a class and show us your magic. The district could make a podcast so all teachers can learn from it. Perhaps you could teach us something, Dr. Ackerman.

Just A Day

First high school report card day: As seventh and eighth grade teachers at our neighborhood public school, we can be sure of this one thing: We will have visitors. One of the lovely things about our school is that no one ever really leaves--most of our graduated kids will come back to visit. Today they come back to show us their first high school report cards. Some are proud, some are chastened, but most come back to tell us that we were right (we knew that): high school IS harder, there IS more work. We look at the proffered report cards, congratulate on As and Bs, encourage "Work harder, you know you can" on the Cs, and look rueful and scold a little while encouraging greater effort on the Fs. We ask about families, clubs, sports, etc... This day is a good day, we get to see a small bit of the fruits of our labors, we get to see that even a knuckle-headed, goofy seventh grader matures, we get to look at the students we have now and remember that they, too, will grow, mature, sometimes take our advice. And, we get to hope, and see that hope in them.