saturday mornings

Ask me anything   Musings from an educator, writer and photographer.

Cell phones in the Classroom

This year our school district, like many others, is test-driving allowing cell phones in the classroom. It’s optional, there are forms and guidelines, and most teachers have opted out. Since I (not so secretly) have not minded cell phones all along, this to me was not much more than more paperwork and more silly discussions in staff meetings. As I have operated all along (even back when they were banned as evil incarnate), cell phones are ok with me. Texting? Please put it away. No photos, no videos. Other than that, we’re all good. Seriously folks. Lighten up a little. 

Thank goodness we are no longer confiscating them. So, the other day one student was videoing another student dancing. During class, in my classroom. Sigh. More than a few of my colleagues would have gone ballistic over that. There would have been loud scoldings, disciplinary referrals, phone calls home, ranting at the next staff meeting.

I asked them to put it away. A few minutes later, when I was busy with another group, it came out again. I again reminded them that there was no videoing in the class room. I gently took the phone out of the one student’s hand. It was the dancer’s phone, so baffled, he didn’t object. The dancer grumbled that teachers aren’t allowed to take phones anymore. I explained I wasn’t taking it, only holding it until the end of class. Once everyone was back on task a few minutes later, I quietly went over to the dancer, told him he was a terrific dancer and I could see why he wanted a video, but please don’t take videos in the classroom during class. I handed him back his phone and asked him to keep it put away. He beamed, turned to his group, and said, “she thinks I’m a great dancer!” Heck, if I was that good, I’d want a video too.

Teen agers being silly at the end of the day. Gosh. Who would’ve thought? We can get into power struggles with the students, or we can build relationships, have a sense of humor, remember what it was like to be 14, and enjoy teaching. 

— 1 week ago
#cell phones in the classroom  #middle school  #building relationships with students  #gentle discipline in the classroom 
America’s Teachers Still Don’t Think Black and Latino Kids Are Smart →

“Show me a well-funded school that respects students’ culture and history, treats teachers like professionals and parents as partners, and I will show you a high-performing school.”

This. YES.

We MUST change how we approach education. We must do better in our public schools. 

— 1 week ago with 1 note
#Public Schools  #public education  #minority students  #teachers  #better schools 
Tales from School

October 11, 2014

This week’s classroom tales include the ongoing culture wars at my school. My school is a middle school in a rundown, ancient building. We are mostly poor - as indicated by the FARM numbers (free and reduced meal numbers - 80%) and non-white (over 60%).  We have a fair number of middle class kids, lots of working class kids, and too many desperately poor kids. Homeless kids, foster kids, children of gang members, children of drug users. The nearby neighborhood (across the street) is know for gangs and drugs and violence. 

Our faculty is mostly white. By “white” I mean White Anglo-Saxon Protestant. WASP. Solidly middle class, solidly Republican. Too many of my colleagues neither understand our students nor want to. Too many of our students don’t trust white people. With, too often, good reason. Ferguson, for example. Trayvon Martin. And on and on. 

I have found that the middle class white teachers can be sorted into three general categories. There are the regular folks who do their job, mean well, but don’t see their white privilege or really understand what their students deal with. But they are nice folks who do their best. That’s ok, as far as it goes. 

Then there are the Great White Hope folks. These people make my blood boil. How lucky our students are to have them. If only these poor students would assimilate their WASP values and appreciate the presence of these wonderful, white role models, the students would be so much better off. They don’t phrase it this way, but I swear - almost. These white teachers assume that every other white person thinks exactly as they do. They get angry when they find out that someone like me, who is also white, disagrees with their words and attitudes and behaviors. 

Which brings us to those white teachers who are not WASPs. They don’t come from Protestant families, they don’t vote Republican, they may have grown up poor themselves. They are frequently descended from Ellis Island immigrants, the poor and oppressed ethnic Catholics and Jews from Europe, who have not forgotten where they came from. The wonderful, late sociologist Andrew Greeley pointed out that culturally, Irish Catholics are more like African Americans than their white, protestant neighbors. 

I’m one of those ethnic Catholics, by way of New York City. First woman to go to college. My grandmother never even made it to high school. My great-grandmother arrived in this country as a lone teenager, carrying one suitcase. Not too unlike the teens arriving across our southern borders these days. Poor Irish, poor Mexican. Not much difference. 

The Great White Hope teachers make me angry. They are arrogant. They do a lot of harm. And they are so damn impressed with themselves. 

I tried being an administrator. After four years, I headed back to the classroom. At least in my classroom, I can be who I want and have fun teaching my students. I don’t judge them. I’m not better than them. I simply have the advantage of three generations who worked hard to give their children better opportunities. As Governor Ann Richardson of Texas said, being born on 3rd base doesn’t mean you hit a triple.

When I sit in meetings, and listen to my colleagues say hateful things about the students, complain about how awful they are, I get angry. I used to ignore it, sit in the back, head back to the sanctity of my classroom. I realized, though, that I need to speak up. Take action. Stop being such a coward. It started with the dress code, last year. Our dress code is sexist in it’s language (as are most school dress codes) and racist in it’s enforcement. I refused to enforce it. There were two teachers who actually called me during class time to yell about how some girl (always black) was dressed, and even walked into my room. I told her to get out. I explained that I don’t have a problem with how the girls dress. I said I was too busy (teaching) to notice. She stomped off.

This year, I’m not going to watch. It isn’t enough to not be a hateful bigot. I must stand up. This year, I’m with my kids. My room has become the place they come to hang out. It always was, but now more so. In my classroom, everyone gets to feel safe. Physically, emotionally, intellectually, every way. Safe. We respect each other. When a teacher says hateful things, I respond. When a teacher badmouths a kid, I speak up. When a student tells me of bad treatment, I acknowledge and help them fight it.

Two African American boys complained to me that a white teacher (GWH) was constantly rolling her eyes at them and called them idiots. In the past I would have sidestepped. No more. I told them she shouldn’t talk to them that way. I said, since she wouldn’t apologize, I would apologize for her. We then talked about how they could deal with it. Don’t battle in the classroom, I said. We agreed they should tell their parents and tell their administrator, and that they could always come to my room. I’m their official mentor. The teacher dislikes one of the boys so much, she sends him to my room almost daily. We don’t teach the same subject, so that means he’s missing her class time. I have tried to talk to her. It does no good.

This teacher has been so awful that people have been to the principal about her. Meanwhile, I try to be a mentor to provide support and a safe place. The part that’s wrong is that there are too many teachers like her. If you dislike the non-white kids so much, why the hell are you here? She’s not the only one. There are two others who are just as bad. And that’s jus in my wing of the school. 

I’ve taught a long time and in a lot of schools. I’ve taught in private, wealthy white kid schools, middle class schools, and schools that were mostly disadvantaged and non-white. You know what? Kids are kids. They want the same things. A teacher who cares and respects them. A teacher they can trust. A classroom that is a safe, engaging place to be. They want to feel valued and respected. Who doesn’t want that? 

If you, the teacher, can’t do that for every student in your room, please - go into another line of work. We can’t just hide in our classrooms anymore. We must stand up, speak up. Be the change. I’m a little late to the activism, but I’ve waded in. Stay tuned. Finally, I’m ready to step up. Being there for my kids isn’t enough. I have to fight too. I have to speak up. I have too teach them how to fight for themselves and win. Then I need to get out of the way. I have great students. Look out. They will do great things one day. 

— 1 week ago
#education  #education reform  #racism in schools  #middle school education 


Seven million Americans work part-time because they have no other choice.

Can the US do better than this? These experts think so. 

Photo: Susie Cagel

This. We can do better. Speak up, vote, make a difference. 


— 1 week ago with 674 notes
#jobs  #education  #earth 
Flow: For Love of Water →

Time for me to start posting again. Watch this. And if you haven’t yet, stop buying water in little bottles. 

— 3 months ago
#water  #flow for love of water  #world water crisis 


Four African teenage girls have invented a urine-powered generator. This is a huge accomplishment and could change life in remote areas all over the world.




A Urine Powered Generator. An amazing accomplishment by four brilliant girls. The girls are are Duro-Aina Adebola (14), Akindele Abiola (14), Faleke Oluwatoyin (14) and Bello Eniola (15).
  • 1 Liter of urine gives you 6 hours of electricity.

  • The system works like this:

    • Urine is put into an electrolytic cell, which separates out the hydrogen.
    • The hydrogen goes into a water filter for purification, which then gets pushed into the gas cylinder.
    • The gas cylinder pushes hydrogen into a cylinder of liquid borax, which is used to remove the moisture from the hydrogen gas.
    • This purified hydrogen gas is pushed into the generator.

This is amazing. Give them a billion dollars right now. They may have just saved the planet. 

folks are doing a PISS poor job of reblogging this.

I don’t think I can top the last comment. Nonetheless, this is awesome. 

(via amberjoyloves)

— 4 months ago with 98178 notes
#girl scientists  #aftican girl scientists  #girlsrockscience 


Iceland in fall — October 2012

Shot on Hasselblad 500C/M + Ektar 100

Iceland is on my list of places I’d like to visit someday. Perhaps in retirement, with my camera. 

(via seabluecranes)

— 4 months ago with 1130 notes
#iceland  #photography  #bucketlist 



delphine diaw diallo

 Delphine Diaw Diallo is a french senegalese photographer based in New York City. In 1999, Delphine graduated from the Académie Charpentier School of Visual Art in Paris.  In 2008, she moved to New York to pursue a career as a fine artist and quickly developed a style that juxtaposes reality with imaginary consciousness, fashion with documentary, and tradition with modernity.

Official site > delphine diaw diallo

Love this. Such interesting work.

(via seabluecranes)

— 4 months ago with 827 notes
#photography  #art 




the fact that there’s only about 5000 people who’ve reblogged this scares me. That means that less that 5000 people know where these come from.
I feel old…

very odd

I kbow

I just feel very hungry

very hungry





the fact that there’s only about 5000 people who’ve reblogged this scares me. That means that less that 5000 people know where these come from.

I feel old…

very odd

I kbow

I just feel very hungry

very hungry

(Source: somethingclassic, via yeahwriters)

— 7 months ago with 628694 notes
#very hungry literature →



One of the teachers who works in the ninth grade wing of our building had to send letters to about 80% of her parents for Ds and Fs. And, unsurprisingly, nearly all of these were because of missing, late, or incomplete work.

I realize there are a lot of other factors going on (kids have crazy…

Preach it.

So, I will be the voice of dissent. A lot of middle schoolers don’t do the work because no one pushes them. Because it is easier to not do the work. Because D’s are acceptable and F’s are familiar. Break the cycle. I push them to do it. Yesterday, everyone did the homework before we did the (very fun) lab. No homework, no lab. A lot of us bring kids up at lunch to do the homework. Have make-up work days and reward the kids who got everything in on time. (cool computer games works well). We push them to get it done. Maybe not full credit, but most credit. We push them to the C or B. We help them create the work habits we want. And sometimes, they get there. We turn our failing students into successful students. Nag, support, drag, remind, repeat. It works. By mid-year, a lot more students have developed that work ethic. Teach them a work ethic. Many of your students don’t know what that is or what it feels like or why they would want to bother. Show them. Teach them. Help them get there. You are not just teaching your subject area. Teach good habits. Teach how to be a successful student. We are teaching children. 

(Source: powwhamteaching)

— 8 months ago with 91 notes
#homework  #middle school  #work ethic