"Fire is motion / Work is repetition / This is my document / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all defenses."

- Cap'N Jazz, "Oh Messy Life," Analphabetapolothology

Friday, September 25, 2009


yesterday, i felt revived. like someone had pulled me up from the bottom of a pool just in time, sucking air hard and deep into my lungs.

i wanted to write, and read beautiful things, i wanted to walk, dance, do a cartwheel on the sidewalk. i wanted to be a better teacher, be a better daughter, give the best hugs, make the best stir fry, and i wanted to create things.

i haven't felt that way in a long time, and it made me cry. tears from sadness or happiness, i don't know b/c it's the same (you cry because you're so happy you feel sad you weren't always like this). i was happy i've been writing again, sad that i hadn't written anything i could be proud of in a long time, eager to keep it up.

i want to collect people's stories. i want to help my 7th graders petition the school for things they care about. i want to find some felt and make finger puppets for my boyfriend's nephew. i want to give someone else a haircut. i want to make a valentine for a long distance friend. i want to pack a picnic and eat it somewhere exciting! i want to swim until i feel exhausted and fall asleep with my hair wet around my face.

i read parts of my blog today because i wanted to remember a certain voice i used to have, a way of thinking about life that i've recently recovered but had previously forgotten. i feel glad that if i disappeared one day, these words and stories would exist somewhere as a memorial, as a reminder.

i want to record ppl reading their stories. i want to start by recording my own.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

savage inequalities

this week in grad school, i read Shame of the Nation by Jonathon Kozol (author of the other famous book on educational inequity, Savage Inequalities) and rewatched Children in America's Schools.

i didn't know how to feel as i was reading about my own teaching experience, unnerved by the truth of what Kozol was writing and the accuracy with which he was depicting the inner city school where i work every day (i kept thinking, "this is my school"); stunned to realize that nothing has changed since these books were first published (Shame was published in 2005, Inequalities in 1991); disgusted that the concerns given so much media attention have still not been resolved or alleviated.

as so many educators and administrators know and ashamedly admit to knowing, the quality and maintenance of a school/district tell a child so much about what we think s/he is worth, what his/her education is worth. my greatest agony as a teacher has been seeing the disfunction and disorganization rampant throughout the school district, and my school's administration, and knowing full well that it trickles down to the students, and wanting so much to do anything i can to protect them from the disorder – making my room as clean and bright as possible, communicating with them as much as i can about any changes to the schedule or school events, keeping detailed records of all my students' emergency contacts in a portable rolodex, being explicit about the purposes of all their classes – lest it be unclear from administration or other teachers why they are required to go to advisory, for example.

that was an interesting story, btw. i had my advisory students, 7th graders, do a free write on what they thought the purpose of advisory is. most of my students answered with something to the effect of "advisory is for students to get to school on time [and not miss their important classes because they woke up late]". one of my students, Andrew, wrote, very astutely, that
"Advisory is a wake up class. When I say wake up class I mean some students sleep late... and without advisory the students will sleep in most of their classes."
alternatively, when i asked my students to write about what they want advisory to be, they respond, uniformly, that they desire activities, games, the time to converse with one another, art, reading, writing, and "fun!" the same student i quoted before wrote,
"This year I want advisory to be fun and exciting,
so exciting it will make students want to come to school."

in a norm-setting activity this week, i probed the same advisory class to discuss the realities at school, the things they see on a daily basis, and the ideals, the dreams they had for our school and our community. the observations they shared were pretty telling, but most striking was this list from my student Marta:
Reality: I see lots of fights.
Ideal: I want to see peace in school.
Reality: I see some walls that have writing on them, tagging, graffiti.
Ideal: I want to see more murals on the walls.

interestingly, in stark contrast to the assumptions of administrators, school officials, and even faculty regarding what students need during a school day (that they need a prolonged "passing period" to get to their core classes on time), what students themselves identify as necessary is stimulation. clearly what the school is offering is not engaging or meaningful enough to motivate them to come on time, and makes students feel as if school is an unsavory task, an unpleasant obligation. what the school is lacking is excitement, beauty, and life.

this year has been interesting so far. it is still too early to tell how my practice as an educator will grow and change in the coming months, but i am steadfastly trying to listen more to my students and give them a chance for voice and self expression. i am giving more time for collaborative conversation in my lessons, and more activities that require my students to argue and justify their claims (even in math!) i am still undecided whether the community i am seeking to build within my four-walled classroom is enough to combat the negative energies outside, and if the insularity only serves to negate the long-lasting lessons i hoped to instill, but the attempt alone has been worth the energy.

oh, and one more thing: my advisory? not a single person has been late since the start of week 3. i'd say that's pretty good already. :-)

-ms. lee

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

a poem

submitted to my comment box in my 6th grade class:

the heart pumps within you. it pumps so that you can breathe, live so that you can love one another. you should always cherish the moments you have with your partner.

good advice. lately, i have been forgetting this much too easily and much too often.

also: i need to remember that i am not too old or jaded to learn.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

portraits of a city

LA can really be breathtaking sometimes.

fight the power

i just got back from a long walk to/from the Culver City Farmer's Market.

while crossing the street on the way there, i saw a cop car turn on its siren and edge thru a line of waiting cars at a busy intersection.

on the way back, i saw what seemed to be the same cop car flash its lights, get in the opposite lane, and speed past the line of cars waiting to turn right.

had it really been the same car? if so, i'd just witnessed two abuses of power, and all for what seemed to be a joy ride power trip around the block.

pretty exciting stuff for a tuesday night.
i got plums! juicy.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

teaching updates!

hi all,

sorry for the lack of posts and writing. i'm hoping i can find good reason to write here again, but i'm happy to say my absence is due to the fact that i've been spending my time and energy doing other things.

the most significant thing being that i've started teaching again. i am now nearing the end of week 2. year 2 has gotten off to a good start so far, but i am wary of getting too hopeful and optimistic. i find myself constantly tense in my classes, sensitive to every movement of my students, remembering how small habits could eventually expound into mammoth annoyances (pencil sharpening, bathroom breaks, whispering, and tardies being the biggest red flags in my class so far).

ben came in the day before school started to help me decorate and clean my classroom, and it's actually a clean place where i feel happy coming to work every day, and the kids seem to love it.

(embarrassing realization: the poster looks like it says "Welcome to Ms. Lee's Ass" – which, i assure you, it does not.)

i had the first week of classes planned out, and have been working hard to always plan one week ahead of time (so far it's been working well but i worry about the weight of all my classes and preps once the year really gets going). having a clear and consistent plan for my students from the beginning of the year has already saved me lots of frustration and anxiety, and i'm much happier about teaching my students and my content area as a result of having a quiet and orderly classroom. i've worked really hard this year at establishing classroom norms and fostering community values and collaboration among my students.

students working together to test strategies for building the tallest tower of cups.

as a result, i've had much better success with group projects and even more impressive, having my students self-regulate and resolve their own problems, whether its personal quarrels with classmates, or confusion regarding a class task. i've also established a comment box for the students to drop in notes to me, which so far has helped me understand the needs of my students better, and also given them an outlet to submit ideas.

in short, i'm happy to report that there's less time to spend here, because there's so much to do away from the computer! i'm finally seeing my ideals of democracy and community realized in my own classroom, and i finally feel like i'm doing something good for these students (rather than feeling like i'm damaging my students permanently by being an inexperienced first year teacher, which was the general sentiment i had last year).

more later, but now, some lesson planning.


Wednesday, September 09, 2009

a postmodern schooling-related rant (kinda)

i had to write a "blog" post for my grad class and this is what i spat:

These authors seem to be in conversation regarding the interconnectedness of the school and society, and the unique role the school plays as a social institution. Provenzo opens up his chapter discussing the interconnection from a postmodern view. He goes on to explain that a postmodern perspective is one that takes culture and history as a context for changes and phenomena that may occur or be observed. I found his discussion of technology particularly interesting. In page 9 of his introduction, he discusses the importance of seeking new perspectives as our culture and society are redefined. That is, coming to consider those things we once took for granted to the point of being invisible, questioning our most basic assumptions of how things are and whether they need to be this way, and what makes them that way to begin with. His discussion of technology, its advantages and conveniences in our modern age, but also its downfalls, rang particularly strong with me. Take technology as an example of how education has sought to adapt to the changing times, but with, what I believe, are drastic results. In this day and age, students are constantly plugged into something: they surf the web to talk to friends, everyone has a phone that text messages as well as sends photos, they know how to use video technology and post videos to YouTube. Instead of talking to people face to face, or going outside to play games with other children, modern age school children are retreating online to talk to others through virtual mediums, and to play Capture the Flag on shoot-them-up video game simulations. Their hyper-reality translates into a constant need for stimulation and entertainment. Teaching practices have come to mirror this change in our children's interactive patterns: best practices now incorporate multiple learning modes, activities, connections to children's knowledge and experiences (frequently manifested as connections to their virtual realities - online games, movies, etc.). Even the drastically increased use of technology in teaching itself, the move away from low-tech transparencies and overheads to digital projectors, document cameras, Smart Boards reflects the change in the times but also the change in needs of our student populations. As a student in public schools, I never once saw more than a chalkboard or overhead used during instruction, never once played a game to "trick" me into liking math, and never had to have teachers explain mathematic conversions using elaborate metaphors involving superheroes to get me to understand or find interest in the subject. I was learning because I enjoyed the raw subject matter itself, and not the fancy instructional tricks my teacher could pull in a one hour class. But, modern day instruction requires hooks, and activities, and even "collaborative conversation" moments to be effective. When did we have to start teaching children to talk to one another and get along? This begs me to wonder, what elements of society does the school seek to accommodate and incorporate, and which elements does it perpetuate? Is our modern society losing its ability to talk to itself because of technology's fierce advancement and seduction of our youth, or is it because our schools are finding themselves also susceptible to the media and mandates of technology because of society itself? I believe Provenzo echoes my same concern when he writes, "simply stated, problems, conditions, and issues in the larger society tend to be reproduced in the schools" (10). The struggle we face as educators, parents, and citizens, is understanding the interconnection between education and society, and how they reflect and influence one another, for good or bad.

geez, my writing has deteriorated remarkably since becoming a grad student + teacher. sleep deprivation, i see you in my future.