Fighting the Good Fight–Repost

“Let me tell you what’s happening to me. I’m on the PTA at my child’s school, the Secondary School of Journalism in Park Slope. I’m currently advocating on behalf of my child, and seventeen other children whose parents don’t speak English. These kids are from Ecuador, Peru, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, everywhere. These kids have all done very well on their Regent’s exams— I’m talking 90/95th percentile. Very smart kids. They were on their way toward qualifying for an Advanced Regents government scholarship,that would give their parents badly needed money to help in their education. But the fine print of that scholarship says the children need three full years of a foreign language. 

And the principal at the school FIRED the Spanish teacher. She is not hiring another foreign language teacher for an entire year, effectively disqualifying all these kids from that scholarship they need. When we try to talk with her about it, she acts like she doesn’t owe us an explanation. When we try to call the Board of Education, they tell us to put it in writing. They get us all excited. They have us think if we write a nice letter, and use good grammar, and use all the correct punctuation, something will happen. Meanwhile another year passes, and nothing. And the kids don’t get their scholarship. You know something like this would never happen at a nice Manhattan school like Stuyvesant.

We’ve got a new mayor and a new chancellor. So we aren’t blaming them. But they need to know how impossible they’ve made it to help our kids. Trying to get something fixed in these schools is like praying to some false God. You call and email hoping that God is listening, and nothing happens. Meanwhile the kids suffer. All these parents that I’m representing are good, simple people. They say: ‘Don’t worry Annette, God is going to fix it. God will make it right.’ I love them. And I love God. But I tell them: ‘God won’t fix it! We’ve got to fix it!’”



Pearson’s ReadyGEN: May the Farce NOT be with you

Has anyone in NYC received the ReadyGEN curriculum and materials? Units 1 and 2 were scheduled to be delivered in August. Our school has yet to receive the materials.

Critical Classrooms, Critical Kids

Are there any NYC elementary schools NOT using ReadyGEN’s ELA Common Core curriculum?


Yasmeen Khan, education reporter for WNYC and, recently informed me that 86% of New York City public schools (grades K-8) have adopted at least one of the NYC DOE’s “recommended” Core Curriculum programs.  As I mentioned in a previous post, due to budget cuts, high-stakes Common Core testing and pressure to align curriculum to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), NYC schools feel they have no choice but to use the official NYC DOE programs, which are subsidized.  NYC Core Curriculum programs include, but are not limited to, E.D. Hirsch’s Core Knowledge, Expeditionary Learning and Pearson’s ReadyGEN.  

Over the summer, I reported that NYC elementary teachers are frustrated with NYC’s ReadyGEN ELA (English-language arts) program, which appears to be test prep -beginning in kindergarten – for Pearson’s Common Core state tests…

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Teach Peace. Teach Truth. Correct the Textbooks.

Here’s an email from a colleague I love and respect. She accepted my request to publish her message on the blog. Please respond to her invitation to take meaningful action!

Hey everyone!

I volunteer for the Sikh Coalition and the Coalition is currently working on a Campaign which requests that publishers to print accurate information about Sikhs in Social Studies.

Even though the Coalition is the largest Sikh organization in the country, and even though we worked with the Sikh community in 2010 to get Sikhism in the state standards, publishers just aren’t taking us seriously enough.

As K – 12 educators I am asking for 5 minutes of your time. Please review the social studies books you use in your schools. If you find any mention of Sikhs in social studies textbooks — correct or incorrect, write down some information about the book (title, publisher, date, ISBN #) and snap a picture of the text and upload the information here –

If you know other educators, please pass this message along!

Here is an example of excerpts we have found.

Screen shot 2013-06-03 at 8.49.55 PM

Please let me know if you have any questions.


Please feel free to leave any questions for Amrit in the comments section of the blog. I’ll be sure that she receives any inquiries or comments in response to her message. Solidarity. ❤


No One Wants to Know How Smart You Are. Don’t Talk.

I’ve lost count of the jaw-dropping, are you effing serious anecdotes I’ve heard (or personally experienced) concerning the New York City public school system in the last year. Just recently, I ran into a friend who has been teaching in NYC public schools for six years. She has decided she will not return next year. “Listen, I can’t take it.” she said. “No one wants to know how smart you are. No one wants to hear what’s not working. No one is interested in your ideas.” [Insert the sound of yet another teacher’s soul being sucked from its host.] In short, she has lost her stamina and can no longer tolerate the brick wall of denial, avoidance, and bureaucratic inertia that make it nearly impossible for educators in this system to function.

Yesterday, a dear friend told me that she was chastised for reporting sexual harassment. She was told “if the girls aren’t reporting it to the administration then there isn’t a problem.” Translation: “It does not matter what you see or hear. It does not matter was is really happening. As long as I don’t hear about it, it doesn’t exist. Furthermore, how dare you tell me this is happening? Now I know it exists! I refuse to recognize its existence until this arbitrary, on-the-spot rule I’ve just now fabricated is met.”

Do I really need to explain in detail how utterly insane, morally base, and downright criminal the author of that rejoinder is? If a population of socially, economically, and politically disenfranchised teenage girls are not reporting sexual harassment to an apparently hostile administration, then there is no problem? Jesus. Christ.

Another friend confessed that she is still struggling to understand the Heller-like absurdities that permeate the system. She was naive enough at a recent professional development workshop to ask questions about a particular policy that is not only non-sensical but also negatively impacting many already vulnerable students across the system. The response to her inquiry? The facilitator called her school, mentioned her by name, and leaned into the administration. In response, my friend’s boss suggested that she “stop talking.” Hmm, I wonder what Charlotte Danielson would say to this.

So, in the current blame-the-teacher climate that too often frames the education debate, where do we situate these anecdotes?

Please share your own experiences with the brick wall.

Inquiring into inquiry…

I love this post about inquiry learning.

Substantial Learning Gains–Teaching Seuss to Read

Dr. Seuss Wooden Nickel

Dr. Seuss Wooden Nickel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Graduate school is delicious. I love it. It is especially delightful to take a program that is grounded in practice. Such is my luck. This last semester I was asked to carry out a case study with a student in need of a literacy intervention. I was required to identify the student, administer word inventories and miscue analyses, and to learn as much as I could about the student’s prior schooling. With this information I was then required to design a literacy intervention, carry out that plan, and write up the results.

Well…the student I worked with achieved tremendous learning gains in two months (jumped several levels in the word inventory and moved from the primer level to level 3 in reading comprehension. It was an absolutely transformative experience for both my student and me. Here I am sharing my reflection about what elements I believe made such substantial learning gains possible–in such a short time (from mid-March to mid-May). NOTE: We didn’t do a lick of test prep ;-).

What the above results from pre- and post-assessments do not demonstrate is the tremendous socio-emotional transformation Little Seuss has undergone in the last two months. Indeed, he has transformed into a smiling, confident, participative boy in contrast to the reserved and quiet boy I found hiding in the corner of the classroom in mid-February of this year. In fact, just ten days ago Little Seuss approached me and said, “I want a nickname.” To which I responded, “Hmm. Let me think about it. We need a good one.” A week later I told him, “Hey kid, how about I call you Little Seuss?” He responded immediately, “No, call me Doctor Seuss because I know how to read.” I nearly cried. “Dr. Seuss it is.”

What facilitated such rapid growth?

I strongly believe that this intervention was successful for a variety of reasons, which are not listed in order of importance or degree of impact. First, I benefitted substantially from my colleagues’ collegiality and willingness to collaborate and brainstorm. In particular, one reading specialist at my school was always willing to look at writing samples, listen to my reflections on specific lessons, and to share ideas about what types of intervention were likely to benefit Seuss’s. On the same front, I received tremendous support from my supervisor and  a colleague responsible for overseeing the identification of students in need of special education services. Perhaps most importantly, I was also lucky enough to receive intellectual, emotional, and political support from my university-appointed field supervisor, Myriam, who generously shared her ideas and created space for me to talk through what I was learning throughout the case study process and to situate it all in a social-justice lens. Without Myriam’s insight and support I doubt that I would have been as fired-up and inspired as I was and continue to be.

Second, the miscue analyses provided invaluable insight into Seuss’s instructional needs. Once I had a sense of his instructional and independent reading levels, I was better able to choose appropriate materials for our work together. The miscue analyses also tuned me in to the difficulties Seuss was having in making sound-letter correspondences. As a result, we were able to focus on those particular needs from the bottom up—that is, through direct phonics instruction. However, it is important to note that my intervention used a blended approach, which combined explicit phonics lessons with multiple whole language experiences. Whenever possible I used authentic texts to introduce, clarify, or reinforce specific skills.

Third, from the start I was deeply concerned about the literacy poor environment in Seuss’s home. Therefore, I deliberately assigned him activities that were designed to create a more literacy rich environment in the household. For instance, Seuss and I would read a book, such as The Fine Gardeners together during a one-on-one tutoring session. He was then required to take the book home and read it to his mom in English, and to translate it into his L1 as they moved along. This practice had multiple goals: building a more literacy rich environment at home, building Seuss’s ability to read and retell, and to create opportunities for him to expand his proficiency in his L1. Seuss became an enthusiastic independent reader after successfully reading The Cat in the Hat to me during one of our tutoring sessions. At one point I asked if he wanted me to finish reading the story because there were still fifteen pages to go and we were running past our allotted time. He insisted “No, I want to read this myself.” He did. As we walked together back to his homeroom he told me “I love this book. I’m going to read it a lot.” Two weeks later his mother reported in a meeting with school officials that Seuss was reading everyday after school—a lot more than he had ever done before. If any of the causes listed in this reflection were to be identified as the most important, Seuss’s consistent effort in reading independently is no doubt the strongest factor leading to his dramatic learning gains. I am so darn proud of this kid.

Finally, Seuss benefitted from the constant and compassionate support his classmate provided him. Soon after I arrived to the school in mid-February I recognized that Max, another ELL in Seuss’s homeroom, was a bright, mature, and successful student. I made him an ‘editor boss’ whose job it was to provide support for Seuss and another student in his group. Seuss and Max soon became best friends, which I believe improved Seuss’ self concept and helped facilitate his construction of a new identity as a reader, as a writer, and as an active participant in a learning community.

Now, the million dollar question is: How do I find the time to work this closely with all of my students who are in need of such an intensive intervention? This experience–working with Seuss–has been the absolute highlight of my first year. He has taught me so much! Thank you Seuss!

Department of Mis-Education

Nearly every morning I wake up with a sense of dread. The innumerable structural inadequacies that complicate my ability to teach overwhelm me to the point of despair. However, once I walk into the building and begin interacting with students, I feel a sense of belonging and peace. Then the adults show up and disturb that peace. Politics, bitterness, back stabbing, and gossip. Each day I begin with an earnest desire to provide my students with quality instruction, conversation, and relationship. Each day I am beaten down by the slew of bureaucratic inertia and toxicity that has infested the system at large. It has become clear to me at this tender point in my teaching career that authentic teaching rarely happens in the classroom—and is even less likely to happen during a formal observation.

This reflection is written from the confluence of fear (concerning formal observations), a new awareness of the social politics among teachers, and the deep sense of uncertainty about whether I should remain in my current position next fall—or within the profession itself. Although I am absolutely certain that I have made a tremendously positive impact on many students’ lives, very little—if any—of this is measurable by the instruments used to evaluate teachers. Is it possible to function in a system that is so broken, so malicious, and utterly inhumane? Each day I watch this archaic and mindless machine crush the souls of curious, creative, and intelligent young people. I see the talents and intellect of teachers overlooked, obstructed, and wasted. All of this destruction is in service of what? Indeed, at this point in my experience I do believe that Lauryn Hill’s voice captures the truth most succinctly and completely: This is the Department of Mis-education (D.O.M.).

Late in the school year I narrowly escaped the hostile grip of my first principal. Her irrational compulsion to destroy me was not dissolved by my departure. She made sure to follow me to my new school by going out of her way to contact the main office there and inform them that she would be sending my file, which was filled with her vitriol. It filled me with panic and I continued to feel as if I were on a sniper’s hit list. How can I learn? How can I grow when I am living in a shadow of fear while navigating a maze of structural violence?

This, I suppose, is precisely the danger that Parker Palmer warns against in the final chapter of The Courage to Teach.  Palmer recommends that in order to not only survive the institutional dysfunction but also to actively promote change we must not make the institution our center. He writes that we must find a community of like-minded people who are devoted to creating motion that will promote change and ground ourselves in that community and within that spirit of change. What tears at my equilibrium is the seeming duplicitousness that is required to function within such a system—one that marginalizes the essence of its charges. I’m still processing my position in this institution—the D.O.M.—and how I can work within or against it—or if it is worthwhile to do either.

I wish I could write that I feel rejuvenated and that looking back I see that I have grown. Unfortunately this is not the case. Indeed, I feel deflated, defeated, and consumed by an existential doubt that creates an echoing voice that asks “Why am I here?” A backlog of hostile exchanges, baffling absurdities, and the debris from the tsunami of blind and brute force that swells up from the belly of a terrific beast—the D.O.M.—fighting viciously to preserve its own existence…all of this has left me shipwrecked and seeking cover. My only intention, at this point, is to spend the summer writing. As for my philosophy of education?—by definition, it is something that must happen outside the diseased walls of the D.O.M.

Reflections on a Haunted Induction

Shortly before planning this lesson I had been reading Anne Ediger’s article “Developing strategic L2 readers…by reading for authentic purposes.” While reading the article I became aware that I hadn’t yet deliberately and explicitly taught my students metacognitive or cognitive reading strategies. Perhaps in some cases I have stumbled upon a strategy that I understood intuitively and then clumsily in the moment made an effort to share that knowledge with my students. However, I had never—until I planned the lesson for this observation—deliberately designed a lesson focused on teaching strategic reading. Truly, upon reading this article I realized that most of the strategies mentioned within it were known to me intuitively but were learned so many years ago I failed to recognize that they are teachable skills. Now that it’s May…. Thus is the process of a fellow?

Inspired by Ediger’s article I decided to return to Brown’s Teaching by Principles to reread the chapter on teaching reading. In particular, I wanted to revisit the micro- and macro-skills mentioned in that text. Suddenly, I felt the space and the compulsion to design a lesson that was guided by theory and research. This, in my opinion, demonstrates some type of growth—but oh, G-d how much more I have to learn. I settled on two foci for the lesson: a macro-strategy (reading for a specific purpose—i.e., to learn how many people in the Global Village have access to clean air and water) and a micro-strategy (using a discourse marker—‘while’ in comparative constructions—to help interpret the text).

Ediger’s article begins by stating, “Learning to read is a type of problem solving…” (2006, p 1). As I made my way through that first sentence my students appeared in my mind’s eye, hunched over their New York State ELA exams with furrowed brows trying to make sense of passages that stumped many native English speakers who were previously thought to be reading on or above grade level. As I continued the article I asked myself, “Which of these strategies—if any—have I seen my colleagues teaching when I push in to their classrooms?” It continued, as I pored through the article my mind went on a journey revisiting classroom encounters, school visits, conversations with colleagues, moments in which I skimmed through this or that book.

A sort of pedagogical pastiche took form to show me—with absolute certainty—that I need to pick up my game and develop a much more deliberate and informed approach to my planning. I simply do not know enough about language, literacy, or instructional strategies that work. I have survived until now on intuition, raw intellect, and a big arse dollop of Grace. Moving forward, this will not suffice and so I am looking forward to this summer during which I hope to synthesize the experiences I had throughout the school year with the information I’ve learned in my coursework.

Theory and research are wonderful—indeed, I’d be happy to immerse myself in academic articles for days, weeks, or months on end. Real kids with their own diverse needs, personalities, and moods demand more than plans guided by theory. They need a teacher who is present, mindful, prepared, and flexible. My delivery—because I was being observed—was complicated by anxiety. Essentially, the specter of $%*#’s scowl is a heavy presence in any space in which I’m observed. It’s as if a chanting chorus is standing, swaying, heckling in increasing volume “U…U…U…U…U…U…U….” Deep in my gut there is a gnawing fear that I am a complete fraud, a failure, a terrible teacher. In the moments I am free from this phantom, magic can happen. It doesn’t always happen but it sometimes does. When the phantom is present, I am changeable, nervous, and I tend to abandon my plan. This is what happened during this observation.

I emailed my final lesson plan to my mentor around 8:30pm the night before my observation. I had mailed another draft earlier in the week but decided to make some revisions and resend it. She suggested that I think of ways to push students to move up the DOK matrix by asking higher-level questions. Trigger phrase. I panicked and essentially reworked my lesson—and in large part abandoned the careful thought I’d put into the original plan—to ensure that I do something to check that higher-order-thinking box. Thus, I spoiled what could have been a strong lesson by allowing my plan to be rewritten by a knee-jerk reaction grounded in fear. After the observation my mentor and I discussed the lesson. When I explained to her what my original intention was (the macro- and micro-strategies mentioned above) and how in response to her feedback I had made certain changes she clarified for me that her feedback was meant to be food for thought for the unit as a whole and not a directive to revise my plan. Luckily, I was able to reteach the original lesson to another group of students a few days later. In its original form it was successful—the students walked away feeling empowered. Too, I was careful to emphasize to the students that we were learning a reading strategy to help us cope with reading passages that may be difficult for us to approach. They actually sang “Yay!”

After our debrief I felt much more relaxed—it was clear to me that my mentor is committed to helping me develop my practice and that it is not her wish or need to tear me down. She is rigorous for sure but she is also humane, dignified, and loving. I am so grateful to work with a mentor who is a builder rather than a breaker. She helped me to dissolve some of that scar tissue that is very much leaning into my practice—especially when I am being evaluated—and I am grateful for that. She also took the time to read through my case study notes to give me feedback, advice, and encouragement for my work with J. In this observation—each step in the process—I recognized that I am not a brilliant, experienced educator who ‘has arrived’ but this recognition was accompanied ultimately with self-forgiveness, compassion, and permission to take time and space to grow. I know the potential lives inside me. I know I have the capacity to make it bloom. I now am prepared to give myself permission be precisely where I am right now: imperfect, searching, and practicing with the full force of my heart, intellect, and intention. I am learning and at times I teach.

Hidden Curriculum


Hey There,

I just pledged to ride my bike to work on May 17th, in honor of Bike to Work Day. It’s a huge, citywide celebration of bicycling and I want you to join me in being a part of it. Will you take the pledge?

On May 17th, activists from Transportation Alternatives will be staffing Fueling Stations around the city to give free iced coffee and breakfast to every bicyclist that rides by. It’s going to be an amazing day. I hope you’ll join me, take the pledge and ride your bicycle to work on May 17th.

See you in the streets!

Great Resources for Elementary Level English Language Learners

Sweet. New job, new students, and I’m happy to share some materials I made for my new students. Feel free to share these resources with your students and colleagues.

I’m in the process of building a wiki for my students. These days I am working with fourth and fifth graders at an awesome elementary school in Brooklyn. As testing season looms large many teachers and students are feeling stressed and overwhelmed about the “new” tests and looking for resources that will help students work on particular skills in need of strengthening. Many of my new students are struggling with mathematical language–they understand the concepts and are skilled in problem solving but they are often confused by the language used to describe the assigned task.

A colleague of mine found an excellent collection of resources on the Granite School District‘s website. Among those resources are printable flashcards of CCSS math terms by grade level. Each flashcard contains the term, definition, and an image demonstrating the term. I’ve digitized those lists for the fourth grade terms and created four sets of vocabulary cards on quizlet. You can also find all four sets on the class wiki I’m building. In the next few days I will also create a set that covers the terms in the fifth grade list.




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