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Introducing my friend Ms. H.

S. Yaeger's picture

Hey all.  I know I have spoken at length about my friend who is a teacher in a Philly High School.  I have created this post so that she can comment with a brief introduction and some facts about the school where she is a teacher.  She'll be popping in to share some of her ideas with us!


Ms. H's picture

Hello! Shannon told me that

Hello! Shannon told me that you might be interested in hearing a little bit about my school and my angels, so here goes...
I'm currently teaching at a Philly SD alternative disciplinary high school. Our students come to us by way of expulsion and with various academic and behavioral issues. The school is divided into non-graded cohorts, so I teach grades 9-12/English 1-4 together in one class with a maximum of 20 students on role.
Shannon's also encouraged me to talk about the sorts of resources we have available to our students..really, a lack of. Although every room is equipped with a Smart Board, I have yet to be able to use it as more than a glorified over head projector because I have no stylus pens. We have no library or computer lab. I was given a lap top to use for my class, but no charger. Each teacher gets one ream of copy paper per month- usually to make copies of text books because we don't have enough for each student to use during their class period, let alone take home. Although about 25% of my kids have learning and emotional disabilities, we have only 2 teachers who are certified to teach special ed and no guidance counselor. Most of this is a result of recent government cut backs. As for our students, many of them come from the poorest parts of the city and have no notebooks, book bags, pencils, or other basic school supplies. So far this year, I've spent almost $1,000 on not only school supplies and copy paper, but also novels, clothing, and food for my students (Just when you thought school lunch couldn't get worse, they go and cut hot lunch programs...). I guess all of this sounds pretty bleak and depressing, but I see great things every day. Yesterday my students turned in their first ever research papers and they were so proud to have been able to produce pieces of "real" writing. I've gotten to see kids who hate pretty much everything under the sun suddenly perk up and really get into an assignment and begin to ask questions other than "Miss, is class out yet?" I get hugs, hi-fives, and fist bumps on a constant basis. Best of all, every June I get to see my ducklings march down the aisle and turn in to beautiful swans.
So that's a little bit about where I work and what my kids are like. I'm obviously pretty gangsta from working in the Bad Lands, but don't be scared to ask questions or leave comments.

Serena's picture

Ms H - This is really

Ms H -

This is really interesting to me. I worked in a similar setting at an inner-city charter school with 2nd graders, but I couldn't imagine having the responsibility of working with high-schoolers. I remember feeling helpless and wanting to help the kids, who were all really great, but there was really nothing I could do; I hardly had enough money to care for myself let alone to do so for others. Still, it was touching when they would share their lunch with me despite the fact that it might be the only meal they had that day (really, I think they just didn't like their frozen fruit cups).

Recently we went on a trip to a special-admit school in west Philly to interact with the students, but I wonder how it would be to see the other side of the coin. All the kids were well-behaved and intelligent, but they didn't strike me as "real" kids - that is to say, the typical found in the city. I guess there is a fear of sending us to a "real" school due to fear of hood stereotypes - violence, drugs, sexuality, etc. I think if we are going to be having a conversation about how class informs education, we need to see the majority, not the minority.

I'm rambling at this point so I'm going to stop myself, but really I would love to know more about your work. Do any of your kids talk about college? If so, how? Do they see it as something feasible or have they not considered it for themselves?


- Sx

Anne Dalke's picture

On being "real" kids

I was very struck by your saying that the high schoolers we met a few weeks ago didn't strike you as "real," or typical, or representative of the majority of city kids. When we talked about this in conference, I heard echoes of Walker Percy's advice not to replace our own experience w/ a prototype, what's in front of us w/ what was in the past, the "thing itself" w/ someone else's representation of it.

And I heard us saying to one another that we can't call our own experience "real" and dismiss others as "not real"--that's turning what we know into the prototype for all knowing!

I'm wondering how all of this looks to you now, since we've had a panel discussing the school. Any afterthoughts ...?


Serendip Visitor's picture

First off, I think that 2nd

First off, I think that 2nd graders are scary (elementary teachers must have been saints in their previous lives!) and the frozen fruit cups are awesome...those kids don't know what they were missing!
Technically, I work at a special admit school, but my kids are admitted for totally opposite reasons. Prior to this, I've worked in 2 different "neighborhood" schools, one of which was recently taken over by a charter due to low performance. Honestly, I'm not really sure how I feel about the magnet school acceptance process. Generally, students must have a high GPA, near perfect attendance, never been suspended, and score proficient/advanced on the PSSAs in order to be accepted into a Philly special admissions school. Everyone else goes to their neighborhood comprehensive HS. On one hand, I feel like students who meet the criteria deserve to be rewarded for their hard work by attending a school with rigorous academic standards, but on the other hand, it's unfair that other students miss out on the those opportunities due to things that may be beyond their control. In my experience, most of the kids at the neighborhood schools work hard and want to be there, but there are always a few students who are constantly disruptive and seem to bring everyone else down with them. There's also a bit of a "this isn't a real school" mentality among the kids and, unfortunately, some of the teachers which I feel interferes with academic expectations.
As far as college goes, my students seem to have ridiculously unreal expectations for themselves. Many of them talk about going to big schools and becoming doctors and lawyers. I love my kids and want to help them in any way that I can, but the harsh reality is that many of them lack basic skills and no one- not the kids, parents, or "powers that be"- wants to admit it. Instead, they push kids through and wonder why the kids are failing...but that discussion could fill an entire Serendip of its own.
Thanks for asking about my goobers! I know this post is a bit on the negative side, but I really enjoy talking about my job, warts and all!

Anne Dalke's picture

Some more about being real

Ms. H--
What a joy to have another school practitioner contribute to our conversations about education and class! Thanks for joining us!

I'm struck in your post (as in Serena's) by your language around the "real": your kids' notion that "this isn't a real school," contrasted with what you call their "ridiculously unreal expectations for themselves." I'd love to go on talking w/ you about this...

has Shannon told you about our recent reading--Walker Percy's questioning what we think is "real" (and reminding us not to take others' representations for the thing itself), and Eve Tuck's encouraging us to look for "desire" rather than "damage" in our work w/ schools and oppressed communities?

I hope that she's shown you, too, our emerging diablog with students from Parkway West high school--you're welcome to join us there as well!

Serendip Visitor's picture

haven't talked to Shannon

haven't talked to Shannon about the Percy and Tuck pieces, but I will make sure to bug her about them this week. I have seen your diablog, though, as well as pictures of your trip.
By "real school, " I think the students are referring to the level of academic and behavioral expectations. In a lot of schools, it's almost impossible to fail a class and the kids are aware of this. (I'll try to be as articulate in explaining this as possible, but I'm working on very little coffee this morning!) There's a lot of pressure on schools to improve their "data" such as test scores and graduation and promotion rates and there are certain interventions that need to put in place before you give a student a failing grade. Even after following necessary protocol, there is a chance that administration will go back and override whatever grade a teacher has put in the system.
Also, a lot of kids are pushed through elementary school on the basis of social promotion. For instance, due to budget cuts, a couple of disciplinary schools were closed this year and the students transferred to other schools. Because of overcrowding, a number of 8th graders were magically promoted to 9th grade and sent to us a few weeks into the school year. Not only are they lacking academic skills, but their lack of maturity is glaringly obvious since our school uses a non-graded cohort model.
As far as unreal expectations go, many of my students complain about reading 4 pages or writing a 1 page essay, but talk about going to college to become doctors. I'm not so sure that this is a "Philly public school" thing as much as it is a "teenager" thing. No matter how many times you tell them that college requires a lot of hard work and dedication, the assignments remain undone and the stories are still "corny." (Which is definitely a teenager thing!)