Wednesday, October 22, 2008

This is ill

I'm feeling a little under the weather today. Nothing too bad, just a head cold. A student noticed that I sounded a little off, and offered these, um, kind words:

Student: Mr. Potter, are you sick? Because if you are you should probably go away. We'll be ok, we'll just sit and talk.

So sweet.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


A student said the following to me today whilst I was trying to teach:

"Shut up, boy. Suck my d***!"

I've been told a lot of inappropriate things by students, but this is the first time that a student has been so overtly and unabashedly awful. The only thing I could think of to say in response was, "No. Ew."

Although, I think I made up for my lack of snarky comeback when, in third period, another kid was acting crazy and I went over to make him calm down. He stood up in my face and was like "What?! Say something to me!" and I was like "ok, 'something.'" He started laughing so hard that he actually sat down and finished the assignment. So, I guess that makes me 1-1 for today?

Monday, October 20, 2008

I count!

Today is the annual audit at my school. For those of you unfamiliar with the gross bureaucratic incompetence that is DCPS, allow me to explain the audit process. All of the students go into their homeroom classes. Then they sit and wait. And wait. Wait some more. Finally, someone from DCPS central office comes in to - literally - count them. This is how they decide how much funding a school gets. Apparently there are no forms we could fill out that would do this better? There's no way to use enrollment forms or computers or the fact that we live in the 21st century and it is ridiculous that decisions are made because someone went around and literally counted everyone?

The best part is that once the auditors count the students, each kid gets a sticker that says (no joke) "I count!" What an upper for the kids. If DCPS were really being honest, though, I feel like they should have added, "Although, you don't count enough for us to give you a proper education or to not waste your time by having someone come around to LITERALLY COUNT ALL OF YOU. But, yeah, sure, you count!"

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Harry Potter and the Public Embarassment

After school, I was walking out and I saw that a former student was carrying Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Being that I, essentially, am Harry Potter, I was STOKED. I told her that the book was AMAZING and that she should come and talk to me about it once she finished reading it. I asked her if she'd read the first six books and whether or not she LOVED them, because I did. She was pretty mortified that I was being so nerdy to her. Also, she was with like five of her friends. Whoops. Was that embarrassing? My bad.

A Prize for Minnie Ripperton

Today, during the announcements, they played a part of the song "loving you" and said that any student who knew who sang this song should report of Mr. G.'s room to collect your prize.


Friday, October 17, 2008

Learning Circle

The experiment continues. I told my 3rd period class (my largest class with 11 students who have emotional disorders and 13 that have learning disabilities... the degree to which that is illegal is astounding) that I wasn't interested in teaching anyone who didn't want to learn. I sat in a desk on one side of the room and told students that if they wanted to learn they ccould come over and join me and I'd be happy to help them. At first, no one came. Then one. Then two. Pretty soon half of the class was over there. And the other half of the class was sitting looking SO bored and upset. At the end of class I was like "we're going to continue doing this until we have the entire group on board with learning." We'll see how that goes, but I'm optimistic because today I felt - for the first time in this class - that I was actually teaching children how to do things. Of course, half the class was learning nothing. But I'm hoping that eventually the half that is not learning will see that the kids who are learning are enjoying themselves and feeling good about how smart they are becoming. Fingers crossed!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

2 things that are amazing in VERY different ways

First thing (amazingly bad) - this conversation I had with a hall-walker during my planning period:

Mr. Potter: *Student*, why aren't you in class?
Student: Hi Mr. Potter. This school is boring. I want to transfer to Dunbar.
Mr. Potter: But Dunbar doesn't have walls. What do you think is going on at Dunbar that's so different from here?
Student: There's, like, stuff. And classes. I would go to classes at Dunbar instead of just walking the halls.
Mr. Potter: But there are no halls in Dunbar.
Student: Exactly.

Of course he's bored here! He doesn't go to class!

Second thing (amazingly good) - I tried a new management technique with my classes today that I heard about from a colleague. Essentially, you say that everyone who wants to learn sits in one half of the room, and everyone who doesn't want to learn sits in the other. Then you only teach the half that wants to learn. The great thing is that nobody is going to say, "Oh, I'm stupid. I don't want to learn." Because of course they do actually all want to learn. So then all the kids sit on the good side. But if they start talking or not working or putting their heads down, you say "I thought you wanted to learn? Which side do you want to sit on?" REVOLUTIONARY. I had children who have not done work all advisory actually learning! Of course, they could learn all along, but they weren't because they didn't ever have to make that choice. I'm going to keep this up.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Yes, thanks. I know.

Today, one of the new Assistant Principals (they're all new) came to me during my planning period and said, "Mr. Potter. I was working with a student in your algebra class, trying to help her with math because she said she was struggling. I showed her a problem with decimals, and she didn't know place value. I asked her which was bigger, 1 or .2, and she said .2. I asked her to do 56 - 93, and she said it wasn't possible. She's really far behind."

You think? He then asked if I could come up with a list of like 15 kids that were at a 6th grade math level or below. I asked if I had to limit my list to 15. Way, way, WAY too many children come to high school not knowing the multiplication tables or that fractions involve division.

The good news is that, for the first time, a person in the leadership of my school seems to want to do something about it. He offered to pull children out to help them get caught up, which is, like, amazing to me. An assistant principal in DCPS who isn't afraid of children?! That sound you just heard was my chin hitting the floor.

What does PSAT stand for?

If you answered Practice SAT, then, OK, fine, you are technically correct. However, I think the real answer is "Pretty Stupid-Ass Thinking."

Today, every child in my school (and in most high schools in DC) took the PSAT. Every single child. Even 9th graders with learning disabilities who can't read. Even children who do not know their multiplication tables, let alone any form of algebra. Every child.

The PSAT should be optional for 9th and 10th graders (there are some who could really benefit from the practice). It should be required for 11th graders (because that is when it counts for the National Merit Scholarship). But it should not be required for all children.

Call me crazy ("you're crazy, Mr. Potter") but I don't think that children need to take a test that they have no chance of doing well on when it doesn't count for anything. I'm all for high academic expectations, but there are 9th graders who can't read, and therefore cannot answer reading comprehension questions. Forcing them to try to do so will not work for anyone. A teacher down the hall from me asked her students to write one paragraph to our principal explaining how taking the test made them feel. All of the responses were things like "it made me feel stupid" or "it made me think I won't go to a good college."

Also, the PSAT costs money. It was free to our students because it was paid for by DC taxpayers. So, good work DCPS. We just paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to make tens of thousands of students feel dumb. I bet we could find a cheaper way of doing that...

"Starbucks is where white people ... go"

I live pretty close to my school (about a mile away), and so I frequently see students of mine on the street while I'm walking around the neighborhood. Today I saw a student on my way home from work. I was walking right by the new Starbucks by the metro when I bumped into her, and we had the following conversation.

Student: Hi Mr. Potter! Are you going into Starbucks?
Mr. Potter: Hi *student*. No. I'm not. Why?
Student: Oh, you know. Starbucks is where white people ... go.
Mr. Potter: It's where we go?
Student: Yeah. Or, like, I don't know. You know?

According to this blog, my student is correct. In the interest of full disclosure, I did go to that particular Starbucks this morning. Also, see here.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

On Lock Down

Today during fourth period (the last of the day, since we're on the much debated block schedule) our school went on lockdown. This means that all teachers are supposed to lock their doors and students are not allowed in the hallways.

I can sense your alarm: "Mr. Potter, are you safe?" "What happened, Mr. Potter?" "Was there a shooting nearby?" "Was there some sort of gang fight?" Calm yourself, reader.

While issues of safety (like nearby violent crime or gang activity) are supposed to be the causes of lockdowns, that is not how they're used in my school. Rather, my administration decided that there were too many children lollygagging in the hallways before class. So we went on lockdown so that those children would be trapped in the hallways, unable to enter class, and be caught by the assistant principals.

Now, there are two chief problems with this approach:

First, these children are not in class learning. They are being locked out of class so they can get in trouble. Of course there needs to be a consequence for hanging out in the hallway instead of going to class, but it needs to be consistently applied (that is, not decided arbitrarily by some cantankerous assistant principal) or else children will continue to try their luck and meander the hallways.

Second, it's like crying "wolf." What if there is some serious emergency and we need to be on lockdown for safety reasons (not out of the question in the neighborhood in which I work)? Everyone is going to assume that it's a ruse to get kids into classrooms, and no one will listen.

So, deal with my frustration.

My First Post

So, I hate blogs. Hate them. But - like a violent car crash or an ugly person in too-small clothing - I just can't look away. I decided to start my own blog about the trials and tribulations of teaching in a public high school in the District of Columbia for two reasons:
  1. High Schools in many low-income communities are so fantastically awful that we need more people complaining more loudly if we ever hope for anything to be accomplished. Thus, my loud complaining.
  2. I realized that without an outlet for my frustration I might actually burst into flames.

You can expect all kinds of anecdotes from my classroom and my school, along with links and comments about the state of secondary education in our nation's capital.