Tag Archives: Writing

What’s Been Going On (?)

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This is as good a time as any to make a comeback. There are too many things happening in the world of education, both here in New York City and around the nation, to remain on the sidelines much longer. Doubtless there will be time enough in the coming months and years to discuss all of these developments. For now, it might be worth it for me to get somewhat personal to let you know why I have been away for so long and what has been happening on my end. I did not say goodbye the last time, so maybe now I can give a proper hello, again.

You might recall that I moved out of Manhattan into Astoria in Queens over the past year. This was due to the passing of my mother and the fact that the real estate managers did not allow me to inherit her apartment. They were none too polite about it either. While I figured that I had grounds to fight them on this issue, I did not have the stomach to do so. Instead, I cut and run in hopes of making a fresh start of things. I love the neighborhood here in Astoria for its diversity, affordability and proximity to Manhattan (and, therefore, to work). Getting this place in this neighborhood for this price helped me bounce back after my mother’s passing, although I do not think anyone fully recovers from losing a beloved parent.

In the tribute I wrote to my mother last year, you might recall that I mentioned an older brother I had never met named Tommy. He was my mother’s first born and he was taken away from her at an early age. She would spend the rest of her life talking about him and missing him. Well, this past spring I received a message on Facebook from one of those accounts with a fake name, no picture and no personal information, the type that is usually used as a secondary account. This person said that they knew I had an older brother named Tommy and knew how to get in contact with him. I wasted no time in asking this person for Tommy’s contact info. I called Tommy on a Sunday and we spoke for a few hours. A month later he came up here from Florida for a weekend visit. This past summer I went down to the Tampa area to see Tommy, my sister-in-law, my niece and my nephew. We spent a week and a half trying to make up for a lifetime.

If only I had received that Facebook message two years earlier, perhaps meeting her son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren would have given our mother more reason to hold on just a little longer. Every day I was down there I imagined our mother was there with us, happy to be with her two sons and big family in the warm Florida sun. While I have shed many tears over what could have been, I am happy that fate saw fit to provide me with a family when I thought I had none left. The fact that I have somewhere to go during the holidays and a niece and a nephew to spoil has given me a newfound happiness. If Florida was not such a red state with awful teacher salaries and no job security, I would have moved down there months ago.

All of this is to say that I did not realize how unhappy I truly was until I spoke to my brother for the first time. This was around the time I disappeared from blogging. I realized I was using this website as a way to throw myself into something so as to forget my depression. While that is not necessarily a bad thing in most cases, it is not the ideal situation for a blog that purports to touch on vital public issues which need a rational and dispassionate (as much as possible anyway) treatment. Also, my own obsession with the written word was keeping me up until 2 am on most nights, which left me a four hour of window for sleep. It was getting tougher to get up in the morning, to get into work on time and to be on top of my game when I was there. Fueled by black coffee and cigarettes, I became overly testy and wound as tightly as a modern baseball. Something needed to give and this blog, which I love because of the people who come here to read and comment, was collateral damage.

On the bright side, stepping away from this site followed by an agreeable summer vacation helped me gain my footing again. I feel self-possessed enough to jump back into the fray, which means maintaining this blog and returning to union activism.

Anyway, I hope everyone is having a good start to the school year. For those of us in New York City, this entails reckoning with the new evaluation system. For educators around the country, it means another year dealing with the forces of education deform who show no signs of abating. Common Core is on the horizon for New York and other states as well. All of this combined with the prospect of a new mayor here in New York City makes this an interesting, if not a happy, time to be associated with public education.

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AIN’T NOTHIN’ LIKE THE REAL THING

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This blog started two years ago as a labor of ignorance. Certain things were going on around the country and in my career that I felt needed exposure. Little did I know that there was an entire universe of teacher bloggers who were so eloquently describing many of the things I was thinking, feeling and experiencing. I am thankful to have come across them. Writing this blog has opened up more doors and introduced me to more fantastic people, both online and in person, than I ever thought possible.

After almost 300 posts into my blogging career I can say that I have no intention of stopping. Being banned by the Department of Education really showed me that I was onto something. As far as I know I am still banned on DOE servers because, 9 times out of 10, I cannot access this website from work during lunch. I get the feeling that this website, combined with my foray into education activism, has made me a marked man. Without totally giving away why I think this way let’s just say that I can pick up on non-verbal cues very well.

I have a big mouth both online and in person. The lengthy pontifications you read here are just polished written versions of ramblings to which my coworkers and students have been subjected. They also take a great deal of effort on my part and have seriously cut into my sleep time. The posts that go up here at 6 in the morning were usually completed just 4 hours prior, this one being no exception.

To mitigate some of the damage this is doing to me, and since I cannot be trusted to shut up of my own accord, I have been harassing a few choice people to act as regular guest bloggers here. I targeted these people because I envisioned each of them bringing something new and unique to this site. “Target” is the correct word here since it is no easy task to convince people with their own lives and responsibilities to commit to writing for no reward, no recognition and no tangible benefit. On top of that, they have to deal with an arrogant egomaniac like myself who will be constantly on their case.

Yet, I have managed to get assurances from them that they can be somewhat regular contributors to this site. I will introduce each of them with a separate post.

So I would like to take this opportunity to introduce you to the first of the guest bloggers who will be coming around these parts from time to time. We’ll call her Ms. Ortiz.

I first met Ms. Ortiz 7 years ago at the high school in which I currently teach. She was an incoming freshmen starting a new school and I was a younger (less old) teacher getting a fresh start in a new work environment. That first day of school is still clear in my memory. I was sitting in my classroom a half-hour before the first period of the school year was scheduled to start. In walks this freshman wanting to know if the room she just entered was where she was scheduled to be. After I answered in the affirmative she took a seat in the front row and we spent the next half hour in awkward silence. She was the first of my new students that I met in my new school and we were off to a heck of a start!

Little did I know that this was an adumbration of the rest of the school year for Ms. Ortiz. I should have known that a freshmen who shows up a half-hour early on the first day of school and sits in the front row voluntarily was going to be trouble. Over the course of the school year she would prove to be an incredible student. She was always raising her hand, asking questions, handing in 3-page homework assignments and generally spoiling me as to the type of student I could expect in my new school. I thought “who are these strange creatures who do all of their work and are genuinely interested in the topic”?

But this was nothing compared to the research paper she turned in. The assignment called for a 3-page biography on a historical figure pre-1600. What Ms. Ortiz handed in was a learned tome on the life and career of the Roman Emperor Constantine. Until this day she swears it was only 6 pages but I distinctly remember flipping through at least 14, not including cover page and bibliography. There was no way I could have given her anything less than an “A” despite the fact it was a classic case of overkill.

After her freshmen year with me Ms. Ortiz went on to have a bright future in history. She went into the Global Honor’s class, then AP U.S. History and, finally, AP European History.

This is why I was surprised when, after she graduated, she said she wanted to be an elementary school teacher. Something did not seem right about that. She was a brilliant person with an expansive mind who loved history. I could not imagine her  finding fulfillment in either a k-6 education major or a career in teaching rudimentary skills to young children. She would barely be able to use the history she loved so much.

So I lobbied vigorously to try to get her to change her mind before it came time for her to declare a major. Why not be a history teacher? I don’t know if it was a result of my harassment or not but she eventually did decide to go with her love of history. She is now in the latter part of her junior year and coming by the school to observe classes. Next year I will mentor her for her student-teaching internship.

While I am proud that Ms. Ortiz is taking this path I am also concerned. The last student-teacher I mentored was never able to find a job and ended up going into law instead. Even if she does land a job, how long will it be before Ms. Ortiz gets her first taste of harassment? Will she work her fingers to the bone in the first three years of her career only to have some maniacal, incompetent principal deny her tenure? At every step of the way I second guess the advice I gave her to go into teaching at all.

The good thing is that Ms. Ortiz knows what is happening to the education system. She will not be one of these reformy Tweed drones who mindlessly accept every policy and directive handed down to them. Not only is she too smart for that, she has a conscience. If the DOE ever starts hiring again, we would all be well served for them to take on new teachers as tuned in as she is.

Ms. Ortiz will be coming around from time to time to share her experiences on what it means to metamorphosize from a student into a teacher in this age of madness. How does a young teacher adapt to this ridiculous system? How does a young teacher view her prospects for the future? What lessons are there to be learned as a young person trying to break into our thoroughly “reformed” public schools? What lessons can we learn from her?

We hear so much from people who want to break into teaching because they want to “save” the world, “save” the little poor kids from the inner cities and, above all, “save” themselves. The internet is awash in the sanctimonious musings of arrogant, privileged brats who think the most important career to which you can dedicate your life is some sort of charity work. They swoop in like marauding Vikings, plunder all that they can and leave the students they claim to want to “save” still stuck in the inner cities while they go off to make six figures in their “real” careers. But, hey, at least they get lots of pictures for their tumbler account so they can prove to all of their privileged friends that they were “there”.

Finally, with Ms. Ortiz, we can hear an authentic voice. We can finally know the “journey” of a person who wants to teach because they love their subject and loves the idea of getting other people to love it too. We can hear from someone who is not in a rush to show everyone back home that they were “there”, since “there” is home for Ms. Ortiz

I will not tell you exactly when Ms. Ortiz will post her first piece. I will just let you come to this site one day in the near future to be pleasantly surprised to find it here.

Please welcome Ms. Ortiz to the Assailed Teacher blog, an authentic voice for the next generation of authentic educators.