Of all the classes I’ve visited so far, Cynthia Castillo’s at Augustus Hawkins High School is the friendliest.  Within five seconds of their entry into the room, kids are coming over to say hello and encourage me to stay.  One boy informs me that I’m “cool” and say he hopes I’ll to sub the next time they need one—even though all I’ve said so far is “hi.” (Yes, I know, I’m sure if he knew me at all he would not think I was cool.  But I take compliments where I can.) Continue reading Voice!

The Kid I Didn’t Kill

I once ran over a student in the parking lot.  Gio was standing in front of my car, waving, grinning and doing a little hopping dance in apparent joy at seeing me, which made no sense because only an hour earlier he had brought my entire class to a standstill by taking a half-eaten pear and mashing it into the floor with his shoe.  Obviously, I threw him out of class, though he did not go easily, muttering profanities and slamming the door behind him.  The sight of his beaming, delighted mug in my windshield was like a red flag to a bull.  Enraged, I gunned the engine and squashed him flat. Continue reading The Kid I Didn’t Kill

One teacher, one conversation

She was raised by a loving but strict and religious father.  She studied hard, not wanting to disappoint him. He worked long hours, so she often came home to an empty house and studied alone.  From the time she was fourteen, she had a job and bought her own things.  At fifteen, she started to see the world differently than her family did.  She felt torn between conformity and a growing desire for independence.  But to talk about her feelings outside of her family felt disloyal.  Continue reading One teacher, one conversation

The Reason My Head Exploded

 Oh shit!  He called on me.  And I haven’t done the reading!

I’m sitting in Robe’s class at Campbell Hall Episcopal Day School opposite a semicircle of fifteen teenagers, all of them looking at me expectantly.  I feel unprepared.

And conspicuous.  Man, do I feel conspicuous. What’s the difference between a class of 15 and a class of 50?   In a class of 15, there’s nowhere to hide.   Continue reading The Reason My Head Exploded

Grassroots Uprising

Robe Roberson is a 5’2” Korean man with an Australian accent. Or so he tells me in an email before we’ve met.  In fact, he turns out to be a 6’9” African-American guy with a mischievous grin and stubbly beard. “Sorry,” he says, laughing apologetically when I meet him.  “I’m used to saying crazy stuff with the kids.  You work around teenagers too long, you forget what normal people are like.” Continue reading Grassroots Uprising

I’m a Bad Person

That’s right: I’m bad.  And so is my husband.  At least according to Allison Benedikt, who wrote in Slate that only bad people send their children to private school.  Her argument is basically that if people with money stopped opting out of public schools and used their resources instead to improve them, those public schools would get better. Continue reading I’m a Bad Person

I’m Afraid of Being A Statistic

Dennis’ students at Venice High grab seats fast.  They have to; it turns out Dennis’ seating chart (yes, he has one, I was wrong) operates like musical chairs.  If you’re late, you lose your seat and someone on the outside without a desk gets your place, leaving you perched on a chair by the wall.  Packed together, the kids chat and flirt.  Five are absent, bringing the total down to 45 today.  How does the class fit when everyone is here?  Continue reading I’m Afraid of Being A Statistic

Is choice good or bad for neighborhood schools?

Dennis Danziger at Venice High warned me that his classroom would be” around 95 degrees.”  There is no air conditioning; a rotating fan buzzes vainly in a corner.  Sun streams through Venetian blinds hanging at a haphazard angle because the cords are inextricably tangled.  In the days since Dennis’ warning, the weather has cooled off a bit.  The room may not be 95, but still, it is warm.  Continue reading Is choice good or bad for neighborhood schools?

“What the F%#* is that Bar Chart?”

Dennis Danziger

12th grade English Composition, Venice High School

Venice, CA 

I lied.  I said I was going to follow only teachers of 11th grade English, but I broke my promise because Dennis Danziger’s class sounds so amazing.  I just have to remember not to call him an educator.

“If anyone calls me an ‘educator,” he says, “I’m gonna punch them in the face.”  Continue reading “What the F%#* is that Bar Chart?”

The Year My Test Scores Sucked

As I drive over to Dennis Denziger’s class at Venice High, I keep comparing Jennifer’s class to my own experience.  Most of my time as a teacher, I taught English electives.  But in 2011-12, I taught one section of English 11, and it was a train wreck.  The subject of “English” is a morass; even supposedly measurable areas like vocabulary and grammar are in fact very difficult to disentangle from much more intangible, emotion-laden things like meaning, thinking, imagining and believing. Continue reading The Year My Test Scores Sucked