Sunday, April 18, 2010

The School Fashion Show

Confident, beautiful, self-aware, purposeful... affirmed.

The School Fashion Show

When the whole is NOT greater than the sum of its parts, who is to blame? How do you differentiate the success from the failure in a meaningful way?

Our school had a fashion/Talent show the other day; the individual performances were, for the most part, pretty good. However the show itself was as a great a train wreck as Britney Spears post baby. So what is the audience and the students and the teachers who helped them supposed to take away form all this?

The problem was, as you can imagine, in the organization of the show. For those of you who have any theater background this was pretty much a first dress rehearsal as apposed to a show. indeed, it was the very first time that the entire program was run through with all participating members!! I am no professional actor (contrary to popular opinion), nor am I a stage manager, but I know as sure as Obama is our first Black President that you must run through the program as though it were real time at least once before you allow an audience to see it.

The models walked great, the dancers danced well, the singers (the ones who did not act like they were...) sang nice original songs and played original music. However one of the acts did not show up in time, the order of the performances was switched for some reason on the fly (more than once), the DJ took it upon himself to direct some of the models and singers to continue, the principal stopped one of the dance groups in MID-SONG (DANCE) because she thought they were too inappropriate, which they actually were not, the show ran over time and the audience just decided to leave mid-act with two more acts still to follow, no one showed award recipients how to walk or shake hands or where to look, the new light system blew some kind of fuse which could not be replaced in time so we had to use over-head projectors to light the stage (because the system was not checked in time), the time between acts was filled with silence (no music), confusion, talking (audience) and scrambling. Even the damn invitations were only handed out TWO days before the show!!

All I can say is that I am glad I was not an organizer.... though I wish I had been. Can we blame the kids? NO!
The amount of work needed for something like this is more than just one teacher can handle, especially in a school where everyone is over-worked. Yet most teachers did not even know this was going on till the very end and by then it was too late.

What message did we send our kids? What are we saying about the value of preparation, hard work, commitment? What are we saying about effort and team-work?
We have a school full of students who come from homes that are not too dissimilar from this show, where, then, are they going to learn if not here, and if we fail what will become of them?

We curse the circumstances of our students, of their parents, of their needs, of their performance... what about us, as teachers, as administrators? What is the value of them coming to school? If we represent the future and the possibilities of education and career... had I been a students I would transfer, or even drop-out.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

ESL…ELL…ELA…TESOL…TOEFL…… Just let them learn!

When we feel alone, we will do whatever it takes to remedy that; for an immigrant that feeling never fully fades - be they from a land of poverty, war and discrimination, it doesn't matter: a transplanted tree's roots will forever wind towards familiar soil.

ESL…ELL…ELA…TESOL…TOEFL…… Just let them learn!

Though I have only spent the last few months teaching English as a Second Language (ESL), I have been fortunate enough, through research, experience, observation and conversations with fellow teachers, to gain a certain inside-outsider perspective on our attempt to educate our immigrant students.

There are certain areas in which we are committing great crimes against the most vulnerable of our citizens; I was surprised to discover that some of these areas are in “progressive” New York City. Because of zoning and cultural/racial clustering there is a number of schools that find themselves pretty homogenous in their immigrant/native language constituency. This fosters and environment where kids are free to communicate in their native tongue thus integrating socially yet falling behind academically. For most adolescents the former is significantly more important than the latter, particularly when they do not come from a background of education (themselves or their family). We see this in schools all over New York, however in other areas with immigrant populations schools are oft not equipped to provide a meaningful learning environment – yet they do not give the students the opportunity to naturally, and by necessity, acquire the language but instead shove them into quasi ESL programs which function more as ineffective special-ed classes.
Though the rate of acquisition varies and is dependent on a number of factors, the reality for most human beings is: if you are put in a place where no one speaks your language – you will learn that language! You will have to in order to survive. The more immigrants cluster and create self-sustaining communities the harder it is for them and their kids to acquire English, particularly if their local school are similarly populated.

I am a fan of bi-lingual education, like I am a fan of communism: it’s a really good idea, but its execution rarely holds true to its ideals -- making it a false hybrid – ineffective and detrimental. True bi-lingual education occurs when half the class speaks one language, the other half speaks another and the classes are taught in both at a ratio of 50/50. However most programs either do not have the heterogeneous population necessary and/or are not staffed with fluent, competent professionals who truly spend 50% of their time on one language. The result is another crutch for the English Language Learner (ELL), a crutch that more often than not holds them back as opposed to supporting their academic rise.

These are but some of the issues prevalent in the ESL community; the question of course becomes: how do we adapt our teaching to accommodate this type of grouping, or, how do we change zoning policy to restore a balance and allow for effective, dynamic learning experiences?

For my school the answer is obvious, it addresses the only question over which we have control; but what about the rest of the schools?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Final Return

They never seem to mind, the gulls, whether there is food for the bipeds, whether there is hot water... all they need is a salty breeze

This is another excerpt from the stories investigating immigration. This one goes many years before anyone even thought of it though. As I will eventually show, the seeds for immigration are sown generations before the actual act, this is a look at one such seed:

The Final Return

Suck, suck, suck…suck…,…,…suc…........,....
Barely breathing herself she lifted the now lifeless form from her breast. The little she had left she tried to give, but at some point he had no more strength to take another drink of her watery depleted milk. She buried her face in his tiny ribs; there were no tears – she was too dehydrated; but dry heaving sobs shook her so violently that her diaphragm had a spasm which stopped her breathing all together. They lay, mother and son, on the spotless parquet, curled and motionless. After some time her muscles released and her lungs swelled again, but she was not conscious for it. When her body was lifted by neighbors and carried down the stairs she could not recall the smeared passing of walls and doors. She did not remember her son being wrapped in a towel and taken out behind her. It was not until her body was shaken awake by the train did any sort of recollection re-enter her memory. Shiku-shik, shiku-shik, shiku-shik… slowly the train wound its way east, around the blockade, it headed to the Urals where the war was nothing but a story in the letters of the local boys conscripted to place their bodies in the way of enemy bullets with the hope that the latter would run out before the former. Whoever survived a day wrote a letter home proclaiming his love of country, his willingness to die even though the wounds are not so bad and the spirit is high and that mother, you should be proud that I am protecting Mother Russia and helping rid the world of Fascism. In the Urals life went on, there were quotas to fill for production, there was no time to sit and grieve – work will set you free.

She could not for the longest time recall why she awoke one day in the sun and crisp mountain air of the Urals. How did I get here? Why did they send me here? Where is my husband? Is he alive? Is Leningrad destroyed? Where is my son? Where is my son? WHERE IS MY SON?! But there was no one to answer her, though there were hundreds of people around, to most her voice was a distant echo, something surreal from the world where people were warm, had bread and water and slept without fear of midnight shelling. To those lying around her the only reality was the burning in their guts, the blood in their mouths from parched lips, the immense pressure in their skulls at which they scratched with whatever strength they had – just to relieve it for a moment.

Slowly, after someone put softened bread through her mouth and after awakening from sleep that came of natural exhaustion, she began to remember; images commenced their flurry and finally settled into recognizable formations. She saw the communal apartment, the tiny room where she lay after the factory shift was over, caressing her bulging belly. She saw the kitchen she shared with 5 other families, the toilet, the shower which would refuse to run hot water, even in the rare instances when the government allowed it to flow. She saw the emptiness that filled the bed for most of the year, remedied only once every few months when her husbands train brought him back to the northern capital. It was on one of those fateful returns that the seed would be lain, the seed that would drain her of her last reserves of strength, the return that would burn in her mind the last image of her husband – hero of the Soviet Union, First Order of Lenin – a model communist and soldier, we thank him for his service to his country, we are sorry however that there are no more bread coupons available for you, we know you are pregnant, we know but we cannot help you, trust in comrade Stalin and remember your husband died for him and for you.

"расцветали яблони и груши, поплыли туманы над рекой..."