Sunday, November 13, 2016

What Could Happen

There are two big questions:  What happened?  And what will happen?

I don't have an answer to either, but maybe here's a start:  on Thursday, I told my students that none of us, as yet, had any answers about this election.  I made each class spend five minutes writing down every question they could think of on index cards.  At the end of the day, I had a towering stack of cards, one that defied any attempt to contain its abundance:  rubber bands, paper clips, and folders were all useless and I ended up putting the cards loose in my backpack.

About a third of the questions were repeats, wondering how Donald Trump was elected.  Most of my students are from Brooklyn, have rarely left Brooklyn; they do not know a world where so many would vote for Trump.  Their incredulity rings clear in their questions -- why?  how?  What will happen now?

Other questions, though, get deeper.  My students are smart, perceptive, naive, funny and afraid.  Some questions dig deeply into policy and politics; others reveal vast, cavernous fears.  A sampling, presented without further comment:

Monday, October 10, 2016

Water, not rock

I've been trying to write this blog post for the last two weeks and I can't seem to start it right, so I guess I'm just going to keep typing.  I hope you'll keep reading as I try to figure this out.

I have a challenging group of kids this year.  I know this because everyone and their mom told me ahead of time that I would have a challenging group of kids this year.  I also know this because last year, I saw these kids walk out of classrooms with impunity, throw each other across the hallway in play fights that became more than play, swear with creativity and without compunction at their teachers and each other, and, worst of all, put their heads down, on their desks, in their cell phones, casting themselves out of the school building and away from our reach.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Balanced, home

During the first day of summer break, the custodians opened every locker in the halls of Oberlin High School.  The locker doors would stand open for a few hours while the custodians cleaned them out; they'd throw all the contents into a giant, industrial-sized trash can.  OHS was small and quickly traversed -- if you looked at a floor plan of the hallways from above, it would look like a lollipop on a stick -- and an enterprising seven year-old could easily investigate each and every locker before the custodians finished, skimming out treasures:  mechanical pencils with plenty of lead, a miniature stapler, an abandoned ugly clay ashtray from art class, a red knit hat.  The school was empty, save the custodians, administrators, and a few teachers who were still finishing up their grades and cleaning their classrooms.  The halls were ghostly-silent, and anyone who'd ever fought through their normally boisterous cacophony would find the whole thing eerie.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

An Open Letter to First-Year Teachers

An Open Letter to First-Year Teachers (or student teachers, or would-be teachers, or all teachers, or those concerned with the care and maintenance of teachers):

Dear First-Year Teachers,

It’s February, and you may be starting to feel existentially overwhelmed.  I know I did, when I was in your shoes.  You did your student teaching, you spent what seemed to be an interminable amount of time in courses on theories of education, and now you’ve had your very own classes for about five months.  You may – and I might just be projecting on this one – be feeling the weight of the system, in a way that manifests as a combination of anxiety and a sinking, dread-filled pit in your stomach.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Outside Jew

When people ask me where I live, I say "South Williamsburg."  Then, inevitably, in an inept and snobbish attempt to distinguish my neighborhood from Fancy Williamsburg, I add: "Where the Jews live."

Then I get even more awkward, usually because of the startled look on my conversation partner's face.  What follows is an increasingly ridiculous and offensive ramble:

"The Hasids!" I blurt.  "I'm Jewish.  Well, half Jewish.  But I live in a super Hasidic neighborhood.  They hate me because I'm the wrong kind of Jew.  But not all Hasids feel like that -- just the Satmar, that's one of the sects, Hasidism has sects.  I mean, sects, like sect.  Not sex.  Anyway, that's the sect that lives in my neighborhood.  And maybe they don't even hate me, I mean, I just feel like they know that I'm Jewish and I have tattoos so that I can't be buried in Jewish cemetery, I guess?  Anyway, those Jews.  I guess I also live where other kinds of Jews live, because I'm Jewish, so wherever I live is where Jews live?  But, um, anyway, HASIDS."

Friday, December 25, 2015


If you know me, you probably know that Christmas Eve is one of my favorite days of the year.  No, there's no orgy of wrapping paper and gifts, no roast beast -- and no, I'm not even Christian.  But I love tradition and I love family and I love anticipation, and on Christmas Eve I get all three:  decorating the tree, finishing the advent calendar that my grandfather carved decades ago (a small bronze cast of Notre Dame rotates in and out of ultimate spot), helping my mother cook, watching the cats try to outsmart the Christmas tree, and most of all, listening to the King's College Choir's set of Lessons and Carols.

If my family feels holy about anything, it is architecture and music.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015


Today is the first time in two years that I've had an end-of-marking-period "afterschool," in which I stay after school (duh doi) with kids so that they can do work.  Traditionally during these things, I tell the kids I can stay until the custodians set the alarm.  In Federal Way, that was 10 p.m., though I never had a kid stay that late; I think the latest was around 8:30.  Here, the alarm is set at 6 p.m., so I'm staying two days in a row to make up for it: today and tomorrow.

Because afterschool always comes near the end of the marking period, it coincides with me being ridiculously stressed out.  I dread it a little bit the day before it happens.  After all, here I am, trying to figure out kids' grades, drowning in paperwork, unsure what I'm teaching the next day, and totally unable to get work done while kids are actually in the room, so why am I taking valuable time away from my life?  Don't I need this time for, you know, EVERYTHING?

(And it's not like I can use afterschool for doing any of this stuff.  "Why don't you just grade while we're in here?" a girl once asked, to which I responded, "Do you actually want me to grade your work when I'm this distracted?  Because I don't think you do.")