Anti-War Song by Schmu

Please give it a listen. I am a big Schmu fan!



There is nothing like a little flu to get things to snap back into perspective. When I feel sick my joints ache for the people I love. I cry easily, less because I’m sad than because of the realization of richness. How fortuitous to find myself reading Walt Whitman in the doctor’s office, when usually I read People.

And then I read David Brook’s op ed today in the Times and he repeated a line from his book, “Since people learn from people they love, education is fundamentally about the relationship between a teacher and student.” It is so easy, isn’t it?

Just bring love right into the classroom. It isn’t hard to do.

And the narrowest hinge in my  hand puts to scorn all machinery

Walt Whitman “Song of Myself”

Digital Storytelling: Final Project

This summer I took a PBS online course on digital storytelling and dynamic media. This is my final project:

First, let me say that it took all afternoon for me to figure out how to upload this on youtube. Second, I’m not sure why the pictures are so fuzzy on the youtube video; they aren’t when I play directly from windows media player. This may not look like much, but I’m pretty happy with it!

This is an example of a student project that I made into a digital story.

This  is a digital storytelling rubric that a teacher could use with an ESL or sheltered-content class.

For other information about digital storytelling and other rubrics click here.

A Poem about Virtual Schooling

This poem was inspired by an article about the life of a virtual classroom teacher and by Jonathan Franzen’s op ed in the New York Times.

Student/Teacher Lament: Online Learning

I miss your face,

I miss the wrinkles that tell me you’re older than me,

Or prove it anyway, I miss the rolling of your eyes beneath

The furrowed brow as we say the pledge of allegiance.

I miss you and your asking me a question because you see

Me slacking in the corner of the room

You decorated with movie posters and origami cranes

I miss your room.


I miss your face,

The face that makes me know I have to be on my toes

Because of the mischievous grin that always lurks just

Below the surface as you recite the Gettysburg Address

I miss you and your questions that distract from the

Assigned work on the corner of the desk

You inscribed with initials and swirls.

I miss your desk.


And the other things missed are funny things like

Church bells and reggaeton, a palpable mood,

Sandalwood, and birthday wishes,

A surprising rearrangement of chairs, a hug, a shrug,

And a pat on the back, a new piercing, a stolen smile,

Acceptance, and the blooming of love.

Dare I say it? Dare I say that love had dominion?

And that I miss non-virtual love?

Evaluation by the Numbers

Eight thousand eight hundred. That is my conservative guess for how many classes I have taught at Lowell High School in the past ten years.  180 days X 5 classes per day X 10 years. I then subtracted twenty classes a year that are missed due to assemblies, testing(!), and fire drills and ended up with the number eight thousand eight hundred. And so it does seem a bit odd or dare I say, daunting, that my evaluation would be based on my supervisor’s evaluation of only one of those eight thousand eight hundred classes.  I hadn’t been evaluated in ten years when SG told me he would like to come into my class. That’s cool, I thought. I mean I have been teaching 16  years and I have had all sorts of people watch me teach including student teachers, Cambodian interns, and deaf interpreters. I usually thrive on the audience; someone else to laugh at my jokes if you will.  Of course, none of them was evaluating me based on one class. But I wasn’t nervous.

I became a little passive aggressive about my evaluation and decided not to do the dog and pony show lesson plan trick.  I learned about this trick back at my job at Boston University (the eighties!) where I was told by colleagues that when the evaluator is scheduled to come into your classroom, you just pull out the dog and pony show lesson plan and knock his/her  academic socks off.  But everybody knows it is NOT really how you teach, because in a real classroom the teacher cannot plan an amazing lesson every day. And even if you did PLAN an amazing lesson every day, you couldn’t possibly DELIVER an amazing lesson every day because some days there is a technology malfunction, or you’re  interrupted by the loudspeaker four times, or you have a stuffy nose.  And so my passive aggressiveness came into play. I decided to show off my non-teaching strengths; one of which is to drum up $$$ to get materials and gadgets for my classroom without waiting for elusive school support. A year ago, I received funding through to purchase electronic jeopardy which costs about $600 and so I asked SG to come and observe my students playing JEOPARDY! electronic style. No dog and pony show for me!

The night before my evaluation,  I had a nightmare about a technology snafu during my evaluation (which btw, almost happened),  and had to admit that all the passive aggressive lesson planning in the world couldn’t prevent my real emotions from coming into play. I WAS nervous about my evaluation.  Although I didn’t believe my job was on the line, I did have that nagging insecurity, the demon that I have faced many times before.  The demon is fraud. And it sneaks up and tells me that I have been lucky so far that nobody has discovered the truth. That I’m not very good.

And so I understood the suicide a couple of weeks ago by Rigoberto Ruelas, a teacher in a tough school in LA who was labeled as ‘less effective’ in a published report ranking thousands of teachers in the LA Times.  Mr. Ruelas was a devoted teacher who reached out to troubled kids and spent weekends tutoring and making home visits. And yet what mattered, what became public, was a ranking based on standardized test scores.  The demon was in the data.  Right now, the data drives decisions and dredges up the demons.

Teacher evaluations are based on many sources of input. But there is always one source that seems to reign supreme and has the ability to bring us down and bring our demons up. In Mr. Ruelas’ case it was the published data based on test scores; in my case it was an observation of one class out of eight thousand eight hundred classes.

Rigoberto Ruelas may you rest in peace.

It’s not the Teachers!

“more than any other variable in education—more than schools or curriculum—teachers matter”. (“WhatMakes a Great Teacher”,The Atlantic, 2010)

Teachers are in the news. We don’t work enough hours, we don’t provide effective instruction, we haven’t solved every problem in American society.

But what I see in the proverbial ‘trenches’ is not what I read about in the news and on the blogs. In the trenches  I see is a bunch of teachers, both young and old,  trying their hardest to provide good learning experiences and good school experiences for students. For every lousy teacher we keep hearing about – the put  your feet up on the desk kind of teacher – I can show you dozens of teachers who go home at night and cry because they’re not sure they’re getting through or because of frustration with the system.

Last Monday, at teacher orientation, the director of curriculum and development repeated a line I had heard her use before: we can’t control what goes on in our students’ lives outside the classroom, so we need to focus on good instruction in the classroom.

It seems to make sense, doesn’t it? I mean we can’t control what kids eat for breakfast, we can’t control their parental supervision, and we certainly can’t control the amount of time they spend texting, watching TV, or gaming.  We can only manage the time they spend with us. For me, this means 45 minutes a day, 5 times a week.  And yet those 45 minutes, 5 times a week are not something I can  control either.  I can’t control scheduling issues, teacher shortages that leave class sizes unwieldy, technology failures, loudspeaker interruptions, and 90+ degree classrooms.  While it is pretty convenient for administrators, education officials, Arne Duncan, President Obama, and the American public to say if only the teachers were great, then our education system would be top notch, it is not the whole truth.

With over 3 million teachers in the United States, not all of us can be above average.  There are going to be some exceptional teachers and a lot of average teachers and a few clunkers. And just like in any workplace, those who are not performing should be let go (it can be done, it just takes administrator diligence.) But to rest the failures of the American education system and the achievement gap on teachers’ shoulders is capricious scapegoating.

These are not excuses for poor teaching; many educators are able to find ways to be effective and creative in spite of poor working conditions. But it is the reality of school and this reality does not promote or support effective instruction.

When a colleague and I spoke about some of these problems yesterday, she asked me why I stayed. And without a moment’ s hesitation, I replied, “Because I love my job.” I look at the teachers in my school and I see dedicated, concerned, hardworking people trying to cope within a flawed system. They have a genuine passion for education and helping young people succeed.

It is [simplistic to place] the total burden of providing effective teaching on individual teachers, rather than on society as a whole.” (Raymond A. Horn, Jr) Most of us just want to do our jobs and teach kids. We just wish the things outside of our control didn’t make teaching so damned difficult.

The Good Mother

I remember being 27 and pregnant with Mia; my first child when  I read a book titled “The Good Mother” by Sue Miller. Very briefly, the book is about a woman who faces losing her daughter in a custody battle. Reading that book, I realized there could be nothing worse than a child being forcibly separated from his or her mother.

I thought of that book when I viewed the memorial Trains to Death – Trains to Life at Friedrichstrasse Railway Station in Berlin. Unlike most of the memorials in Berlin, this memorial is not abstract, instead it depicts children, life-sized children, on a journey.  “The monument depicts seven life-sized children on a bronze railtrack plinth. At the back, two neat children in brown bronze, their smart suitcases and violin case upright, look ahead to the West. In front, East-facing, in black bronze, are five anguished children in shabby clothes and laceless boots. Behind them is a huddle of black battered suitcases gaping empty but for a tiny naked baby doll missing one leg in the corner of one case.” (Bronia Veitch)

Memorial Trains to Death, Trains to Life - These children are heading west to safety

These children are heading east to Auschwitz and death

From November 30, 1938 to September of 1939, 10,000 children were sent by their families or sent from orphanages if their families had already been arrested to possible safety in England. Most of their parents and grandparents would be killed in concentration camps.  Some of the children, such as my friend’s mother Ingrid, went to Sweden and safety. While Ingrid’s parents would never know that their daughter survived the Nazi regime, they at least knew they had made the right decision when they brought Ingrid to Friedrichstrasse station to put her on a train to Sweden in 1939. Three years later, Ingrid’s parents were among the 140,000 Jews deported to Theresienstadt. Approximately 33,000 died there, while 90,000 were sent on to extermination camps, such as Auschwitz where both of Ingrid’s parents were murdered. While 10,000 children were saved by the kindertransports, it is important to remember that 1.5 million children met a different fate during the Holocaust.

There is much more to this story; there is the complicity of the German state railway system which ran trains that eventually transported 1.5 million people to their deaths. The German state railway did apologize for their significant role in the Holocaust. But when did it apologize? A full 62 years and 7 months after the end of the war in Europe. 62 years.  Our group visited another memorial at track 17 of the  Grunewald S-Bahn station from which more than 50,000 of Berlin’s Jewish citizens boarded trains taking them to extermination camps. This memorial was created in 1991 and lines the platform of the railway.

The memorial with Yarzheit (Jewish memorial) candles

Each panel along the tracks gives the date and number of Jews deported and to which concentration camp they were sent

On my free day in Berlin, we happened to walk by the Friedrichstrasse station and see a mother with her two children standing in front of the memorial. Her children were having their pictures taken with the ‘kinder’. The little girl put her arm around the bronze child almost unaware that her mother was taking a photo. She was just a child at play. But any mother looking at the statue can’t help but ask, would I have been good’ enough to send my child off to an uncertain fate knowing that in all likelihood I would  never see my child again? Most Jewish mothers were not given this ‘choice’; their children were ripped from their arms and sent to their untimely deaths. And the kindertransports lasted but 8 months.