Taking The Plunge

I’ve got a heck of a week coming up. I keep being told there’s only 5 days to go before spring break, but these next 5 days are going to be crazy. Our school finished administering the MSA–the Maryland School Assessment–for our 6th and 8th graders. This is the big high-stakes test by which every school is measured. With that out of the way, all focus is on the Algebra I HSA. Everyone also keeps telling me that the rest of the year is cake after spring break, but with HSA upcoming, I know that’s not going apply to me.

There are 25 instructional days remaining before the HSA, and the idea of covering absolutely all of the material in its intended depth is out the window. A couple weeks ago, I e-mailed a TFA alum, seeking his advice on what topics I should be prioritizing. Yesterday, I spent a couple hours with our special educator, who teaches some of our Algebra I students as well, to come up with a specific game plan. It’s not going to be pretty, but we should hopefully be able to touch on most of the remaining topics.

Coming up this week, we’ve got several major things. The big schedule change goes into effect sometime this week, although there are a couple things that remain unsettled–most importantly, exactly what day the change is happening. Also, the 9th grade is rolling out a major incentive plan to push the students to start giving 110% to prepare for the test by attending after-school and Saturday school sessions, as well as completing extra practice work over spring break. In addition, we want to administer a full-out mock HSA this week to put in the students mind exactly what they’re up against and exactly what it is going to look like, as well as to allow us to collect specific data to provided individualized preparation plans for each student.

Problem is, none of this is quite set in stone yet, and there are still significant differences in opinion on when and how exactly each of these things is going to happen. I just hope it doesn’t turn into a circus…

The Myth of Parent Uninvolvement

Looking at the problem of inner city education from the outside, it was easy to point a hypothetical finger of blame at the issue of parental uninvolvement/apathy. But working at the school I work at, I can categorically say that that is probably the least of my concerns. That’s not to say that my students have rosy home lives, because that’s definitely not true for many, if not most of them. But I have yet to speak to a parent who doesn’t, at the very least, care about their child’s success. A couple of my parents have taken their misguided anger out toward me, but the vast majority have put their complete faith in me and my judgment.

My school, like the other “transformation” and charter schools in the city, does not have admissions criteria. Students sign up on a school preference sheet, and then they are selected for us by lottery. The top several schools in the city do select students based on performance, and they take most of the top students out of the pool. Consequently, we get a roughly similar cross-section of student as the zone schools the kids would go to by default. The biggest difference between us and the zone schools, I’m told, is that our parents cared enough to sign their students up for the lottery.

Generally, this better cross-section of parents manifests itself in the fact that I can generally look a student up in the phone directory, and maybe 75% of the time, I can get a hold of a parent right away. And when I get a hold of that parent, 95 times out of 100, that parent tells me I’m going to see a difference in their child come the next day (although whether I typically actually see that difference is a totally different topic).

The sad thing is that despite the fact that so many of my students have parents who are very well put together, some of them still come in to school acting completely misrepresenting their families in their behaviors. As a rookie, I didn’t know where my students were coming from, and therefore, what expectations I should have of their behavior. I have learned over the past year that most of my students truly have been raised to behave themselves appropriately. Some of my parents are completely shocked to hear the words that are coming out of their child’s mouth, or what their kid did in the hallway.

I guess it just goes to show how corrosive the most negative parts of urban culture can be to the morals of even the best-raised children.

On a similar note, I read an article the other day on the topic of charter schools and urban education that struck a chord with the same thoughts I was having when I wrote this entry (I wrote most of this 5 days ago):


I realize that my Sunday piece was kind of a downer, so I thought I’d write something about my favorite day of the week: Thursday.

I don’t know why Thursdays are so great, considering I still have to prepare for one day of school before the week is out. But Fridays always seem to be easier than any other school day, and so my Thursday evenings are usually pretty relaxed. Plus, Hopkins is on Wednesday night, and I feel relatively liberated when I leave school on Thursday, knowing I won’t have grad class for about another week. Or maybe I’m just so tired by Thursday that I start to get delirious.

Whatever it is, things always seem to be just a little bit brighter on Thursdays


Sunday is invariably the worst day of my week, simply because it precedes Monday.

Fridays are useless. Every Friday, exhausted from fighting the good fight all week, I typically barely have the energy to properly celebrate making through the week. I’m usually on my way to bed by 11, promising myself that I’m going to get a whole bunch of work done on Saturday. This never happens. Saturday is my day to forget about everything (unless I have Hopkins class). In any case, all the work I’m supposed to be doing gets pushed back to Sunday, and Sunday is when I’m hit with the full anxiety of everything I’ve postponed. I typically work a solid 10 hours on Sundays, trying to get all my ducks in order for the week. I always go to bed not quite fully prepared and restless due to the things in the back of my mind I know I still need to do.

Sundays are so bad that my Saturdays are beginning to suffer. I find myself caught in the dilemma of whether I should stay up late to “postpone” Sunday morning, or whether I should go to bed early so that when Sunday morning unavoidably does come, at least I’m not sleepy.

I need a vacation; spring break can’t possibly come soon enough!