A Phillie Teacher

I was a starry-eyed teacher from New Jersey. Now I work for Philadelphia Public Schools.

Archive for December, 2010

Can we talk? No, we can’t.

Posted by aphillieteacher on December 31, 2010

The average teacher at New High School teaches 1 or at most two different preps a week. Few of them are new teachers so chances are these are not new classes for them.

In my case my entire Sunday afternoon is spent planning lessons, making flipcharts and graphic organizers for all my classes because I have 3 separate classes to prepare for. I am a new teacher, so all these classes are new to me as well.

One of  them is the keystone of any urban school: the Juniors! PSSA success is a must. The second essential group is the seniors: everyone must graduate! Must! (apparently sophomores are not a concern to anyone yet but I teach them too)

With all these important groups to teach, you might think the principal wants me to focus on doing well with one group or the other and getting everyone safely to June.

Apparently not.

During the week I teach one class then frantically move on to the next one. No time for reflection or refining concepts. Hell no! Another level of 33 inner city kids is sitting in front of me.

On top of that, every week there are new mandates from the superintendent’s office (desperation measures, usually) Spreadsheets on the juniors, literacy mandates . . I wake up at night wondering how I’m going to do it all.

It isn’t unusual at our school for roster changes to occur at any time during the year. Two of my colleagues (heads of department) saw what was going on and went to the principal on my behalf  to see if my roster could shift so that I didn’t have so many *different* classes – and she shot them down. Apparently she didn’t see the big deal in giving an English teacher a heavy load.

They urged me to talk to her myself.

So yesterday during winter break, I did. “I have trouble sleeping,” I told her. “I can’t teach well this way. I don’t know if I can get everything done.”  I spoke on a professional level, with professional emphasis on quality of teaching and learning.

“I’ll think about it,” she said dismissively.

I know damn well that in the 4 seconds it took her to say that, she was finished thinking about it. The answer was “NO”


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Posted by aphillieteacher on December 22, 2010

Police roadblocks stopped me from getting to school this morning. “If you want to get into the high school, park out in the neighborhood and walk in,” a tense cop told me.

Whaaat? everyone knows we shouldn’t park out in the neighborhood. The car might get keyed by some irritated student or . . who knows what might happen?

Being a dutiful teacher I parked in a side street then grabbed my tote bag and lunch before trudging three cold blocks to our school. That’s when I found out what was going on: a shooter was loose in the neighborhood and had already shot 2 policemen, the area was cordoned off, students were told via automatic dial to stay away from school . . . and I’m out there walking?!

Why are teachers always out of the loop? Are we really that unimportant?

By 7:30 the shooter was cornered in a basement and later taken out on a gurney. They say he shot himself in the neck.

Meanwhile we teachers carried on as usual. Without students, we were allowed to catch up with paperwork. After lunch we were treated to fabulously frivolous professional development about Exit Tickets and Guided Reading.

No mention of the disconnect between danger and faculty communication. No mention of what we should do in future situations.

Tell me about stress, and I’ll tell you about working at New High School.

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4 Days Until Winter Break :D

Posted by aphillieteacher on December 18, 2010

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Posted by aphillieteacher on December 16, 2010

Wild horses couldn’t keep them in today’s assembly


Only a week ago our principal vowed there would be never be another pep rally at New High School again. Little did she know how bad our next assembly would be.

Overall it wasn’t a bad assembly. Kind of amateurish, way too much down time between segments. But not too bad.

It was the students that were bad. Loud talking, brightly-lit cell phone displays and general wandering around is their usual behavior.  We teachers hate it, but it’s become a tradition here at New High School.

We were finally winding down to the last 20 minutes before the kids could go home. The vice-principal asked me to cover one of the exits to stop anyone trying to leave early.

Just as I reached my station a sophomore girl stepped on stage and began a solo. Her singing was like a signal: almost at once the students jumped to their feet and headed for the doors.

They picked up speed as they got closer to the exits and finally were full-out running!  There I was, stuck like a deer in a car’s headlights.

Fortunately there was a metal post separating the doors. It shielded me in the onslaught and hanging on tightly I avoided being swept away with the crowd.

As the noise and chaos died down, our fearless vice-principal stepped up to the microphone for a few words to the remaining students: thank you for coming today, everyone. It was a wonderful assembly and I’m proud of you.

So ends another day at New High School.

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My day in a nutshell

Posted by aphillieteacher on December 15, 2010

Most days I get home before my boyfriend, which means I have time to decompress and let the day fade into the past. But today he picked me up right after work and made the mistake of saying, “So how was your day?”

Uh-oh. It came rushing out:

    1st period a senior boy was nearly in tears and told me there are “problems at home.” Called the counselor to see if she could get to the bottom of this.
    3rd period, a girl pulled down her pants so she could apply lotion to the dry skin on her legs. It turned out she was wearing sport shorts underneath, but I think any 16 year old boy would see just pulled down pants and lots of thigh. I called her father later to alert him.
    5th period, one of the girls who came back from 10 day suspension for beating up a girl in class proudly told the class about the assault to a thrilled group of students. I called her guardian during my lunch
    Also in 5th period a girl told me “Go ahead and call my f*cking grandmother. I don’t give a sh*t” when I told her that if she wouldn’t control her language I was going to have to call home. I wrote this one up for an administrator to handle.
      8th period, a boy got angry because I refused to explain in minute detail what they were supposed to be doing in class (they were doing what they were *supposed* to do for homework.) When he furiously said, “You have to help me!” I reminded him that he left class yesterday, just when I was explaining all that and why do I have to give him special treatment and specially teach him something that he walked out on??” (can you tell that I’ve had enough of kids doing just what they please)

So that was my day. Nothing all that earth shaking, but it adds up when multiplied by 180 school days. I’m sorry my boyfriend had to hear it all, because usually when he asks how my day was, I just say “Oh, just the usual school stuff. Nothing new.”

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Teaching? I’m not teaching

Posted by aphillieteacher on December 13, 2010

. . . I’m grading papers and using a primitive rubric to do it with.

The district has finally gone above and beyond anything I dreamed of.

In its quest to raise PSSA scores for our juniors, it has suspended all literature instruction and mandates that every week until PSSA testing in March, the juniors will
1. read a non-fiction text selected by the district
2. write a 5 paragraph response to a canned prompt
3. peer edit and rewrite
4. track their scored “progress” on a district-made table

Forget about literature, free thought or anything akin to high school learning. We’re on a tread mill here, people!

On the bright side, I am liberated from writing lesson plans since everything is already done for me. Apparently that MA I got in literature was a waste of time and money because I don’t have to teach a damned thing — probably they don’t want me to.

Thanks for the paycheck, chumps. Meanwhile the kids are getting screwed big time.

Posted in Education, Philadelphia Schools | 8 Comments »

Leaks in the ship

Posted by aphillieteacher on December 8, 2010

Metaphor: New High School is a ship. The principal is the captain and the staff and faculty are the crew.

It is the captain’s duty to see that the ship is maintained, order is kept and everything runs smoothly. The captain sets the standard and all hands follow his/her lead. If the captain waivers or is derelict in duty, everyone on board suffers.

There are leaks on the SS New High School and we don’t seem to be sailing on even keel.

Teachers have stopped trying to enforce many rules because they know it’s a thankless task that will end in nothing but disrespect and jeers from the unpunished students.

Lateness and outright hall-walking is becoming rampant. Fights break out; last week there was a fight at the pep rally. The week before that, two girls had the temerity to go into a classroom and beat up another girl. (yes they were suspended. But instead of being shocked by such events, New High people are becoming immune)

Every change in routine gets the kids more and more wired. Last Friday the principal announced that there would never be another pep rally at New High School again. But tomorrow there will an assembly and next week two more. Teachers and staff are trying to keep the ship on an even keel, but it’s becoming harder and harder.

In September, uniform and “one school culture” was our principal’s highest call. Stroll the halls now and any observer will see that approximately 20% of students are out of uniform at all times. This will get worse because there doesn’t seem to be any sign of those in charge putting a stop to it.

The District Office is upset over our truancy rate. Rather than address the roots of the problem (parent non-involvement) the school wants to cover itself by printing a boiler-plate “please excuse my child” form for students to take home to be signed by the parents. If the parent sees it at all. Cutting and not being held accountable becomes easier every day.

Eh. This post seems disorganized and disjointed. Sorry, but I’ve been bailing water all day and I’m tired.

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How administrators make teachers miserable without even trying

Posted by aphillieteacher on December 3, 2010

“Without even trying” is the operational part of this debacle. How much thought do you think went into planning our pep rally for this afternoon?

Read the email we received this morning:

We are not expecting the pep rally to take up all of 8th period. You should be able to go back to the classes and get some work done.

Get some work done??? the last period of the day on a Friday after a Pep Rally????

The woman is delusional. If only I could hide under my desk!

Posted in Philadelphia Schools | 5 Comments »

Conference Time

Posted by aphillieteacher on December 2, 2010

We just had two days of afternoon parent conferences. Guess who came?

If you guessed “no one,” I’m glad to say you’re wrong. If you say “Only the parents of good students” you get partial credit.

The ones who showed up were parents concerned about their children’s progress. Out of my 150 students, a total of seven parents show up.

This isn’t to say that the parents couldn’t come aren’t good parents, but overall I would say that the children of parents who showed up are the ones who do their work, ask for help and participate in class. Whatever grade these students get, these are the ones I call the “good students.”

They try. They care. They learn. They are the good students. And their parents are the good parents. God bless them for caring.

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