Wednesday, October 31, 2012

My "Lazy" Student has Dropped Out of High School. My "Bad" Kid is Saving His Own Life.

The student I called "Joey" in this post has dropped out of high school. I'm devastated. I wish he would choose what's right for his future, but I'm worried that he won't.

The student I called "Mike" in this post is doing "One Goal," formerly known as "US Empowered." He's taking school seriously and he's working hard this year. I couldn't be prouder.

Why I love My Hood

I had always hated Halloween for stealing my birthday (which was yesterday). Then I moved to Logan Square. Two kids tonight:

Me: Who are you? Quienes son?
Older brother: We're robots!
Me: wait a second. Are you Optimus Prime? [Nods] And are you--
Older bro: We're not really robots.
Me: Are you Bumble Bee? [Nods. Takes mask off.] Whoa! You're a little boy! I really thought you were robots!
Older bro: We're not robots! We're kids! [Takes mask off]
Younger bro: We're kids!
Me: You sure had me fooled.
Parents (whisper): Say Happy Halloween.
Kids: Happy Halloween!
Me: thank you!
Older bro: You're welcome!

Two Americas: Health Edition

In the America I grew up in, parents beg for a diagnosis of anxiety disorder or ADHD so that their children can have extra time. In my students' America, they refuse treatment because they're embarrassed or their home culture frowns on therapy and mood and mental disabilities.

In the America I grew up in, I was taught about health and nutrition more than once. In my students' America, that's not tested, so it's not taught.

In the America I grew up in, we got proper treatment for asthma (one brother and I have it). In my students' America, you use your rescue inhaler every day because you don't know that there are better treatments out there, and neither do your parents.

In the America I grew up in, my parents could afford glasses. In my students' America, free glasses are first-come, first-served.

In the America I grew up in, we had good health insurance. In my students' America, you have Medicaid or nothing.

In the America I grew up in, you didn't miss school if you had a sports injury. In my students' America, you miss multiple days of school going to the doctor and going downtown to get your Medicaid approvals.

In the America I grew up in, we had sex ed more than once, and very few people got pregnant. If you did get pregnant, you got an abortion and no one talked about it. In my students' America, you don't get sex ed because it's not provided for in funding or policy. If you get pregnant, your parents force you to have the baby to teach you a lesson, or because abortions are against your religion. You are forced to raise the baby to teach you a lesson. And, chances are, you drop out of school to raise your child.

In the America I grew up in, teachers are rarely sexist or racist. They know about political correctness. They never claim that fathers shouldn't have to pay child support if abortion is legal. In my students' America, that's not the case.

In the America I grew up in, students with disabilities get everything they need. In my students' America, you can be an amazing student with a physical disability who advocates for yourself and all the other students in the school. You are the most amazing young woman your teacher has ever met. You are afraid you won't get to go to the college of your choice because you won't be able to afford it.

Drive: I post this all the time, but it bears repeating.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Guest Post by a Colleague: What We Won in the Strike

A colleague and friend at my school wrote this on her Facebook page. She is very, very smart.

We could call this another letter to my brother.
For those of you that have been asking... Here is what we won in the teacher strike (see below)! This is just an outline, so if you're curious, I can explain in more detail why these are such great things.

Overall, we need a system that makes teaching a sustainable career that can attract and retain highly qualified teachers in the urban environment. The system must also be set up in such a way that teachers have a chance at being successful with all of their students, despite the great obstacles that many students face (poverty, crime, drugs, gangs, etc.). These small victories in the contract help move towards these goals.

  • Better resources for students with special needs and better support for special education teachers 
  • More transparency for teachers in evaluation 
  • Fairer, more detailed and reliable systems for evaluations and ratings
  • Less emphasis on student test scores 
  • Greater due process protections for non-tenured teachers
  • Better opportunities for teachers to take care of themselves so that they can be the best teachers they can be
  • Paid family and maternity leave
  • Continuation of our current pay scale and salary schedule (instead of a misguided version of "merit pay")
  • More art, music, and PE teachers [for elementary students. Most elementary schools only have one of these three "specials." --mb]
  • More social workers and nurses if we get gambling money from the state (fingers and toes crossed!!!!)
  • Slightly more money for supplies (from $100 per teacher per year to $250 per teacher per year)
  • Textbooks must be available for distribution on the first day of school
  • Current class size protection language kept the same (the board wanted to eliminate limits on class sizes) and $500,000 put aside to hire new teachers in order to alleviate problems with large class sizes
  • $500,000 to hire new special education teachers to alleviate exceptionally high case loads for SpEd teachers

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Two Americas: Pre-Election Edition

Back when he ran for president the first time, and I supported him avidly, and campaigned for him, Barack Obama was a little bit tetchy about the "two Americas" line of thinking espoused by John Edwards. At the time, many of my university advisors and mentors supported Edwards. Edwards struck me as smarmy. I was right about that, but my profs were right in one regard: Edwards was the only one really talking about inequality and poverty. Inequality is the greatest problem our nation faces today. I know that's a bold statement, but I believe it to be true. There are very much two Americas in this country. I grew up in one, which we will euphemistically call "the suburbs." The other one is in urban and rural areas with high rates of poverty. We will euphemistically call this America "the city," but it should be understood that it also refers to Indian reservations, Appalachia, the Mississippi Delta, and other high poverty areas.

"Arne Duncan and Obama Love School Testing"

In the America I grew up in, the suburbs, everyone takes the PSAT, because it is the test that qualifies you for National Merit Scholarship Money. In the city, not everyone takes the PSAT. This might be because your school doesn't offer it. Or you can't afford the testing fee of $14. Or you can't get a ride to school that day (a Saturday). Or you have to babysit your little brother. Or you have to work. Or your parents don't want you to go to college out of state (if you're a girl especially), or they don't want you to go to college at all.

In the city, your parents didn't go to college, so they don't know how to help you apply to college, even if they want you to go. They don't know about test prep books and test prep programs and The Fiske Guide and The Princeton Review. In the suburbs, where I grew up, your parents force all those books on you when you're a sophomore in high school.

In the America I grew up in, the suburbs, the school has plenty of athletic fields and offers nearly every sport that the state sports association offers. In the city, you can't hold softball and baseball practice at the same time, because both teams have to use the park across the street from the school. The football team and the boys' soccer team have to practice on alternate days, or organize their weight training schedules around each other. The ultimate frisbee team can't practice on the field at all. In the suburbs, most schools have ultimate frisbee teams. In the city, most schools don't know ultimate is a real sport. In the city, the track team practices by running up and down the sidewalk. If you're lucky enough to have a field or a track, it was paid for by a philanthropist.

In the suburbs, you never miss an athletic event because your bus didn't show up. In the city, this happens all. the. time. It just happened last week to an amazing, inspiring student with a physical disability who was about to compete in her first and only swim meet (it was the last meet of the season). She didn't get to compete.

In the suburbs, no one will let you drop out of high school without a fight. In the city, they don't have time to track you down if you don't show up.

In the suburbs, your parents take you to a psychiatrist so that you can get diagnosed with ADHD or an anxiety disorder because you want extended time on standardized tests. In the city, you think extended time makes you look like a dumb kid, so you turn down the offer.

In the city, you constantly have to write thank-you notes to the wealthy donors who are helping to pay for your education because the state can't pay for it.

In the city, you tell your teachers to work in the suburbs because you think it would be better for their careers.

If this doesn't make you angry, then I don't know what would.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

I sort of take back what I said about subs

Sometimes when you're sick and you're rushing to get everything together, your colleagues are awesome. I just wanted to say that.

Also, on the day I had to take for my defense, my sub was awesome. She works in our school a lot, she knows most of our students by name, and she's terrific, even with the ones we love the most.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

I used to think A, but now I know B.

I recently had my students use a writing prompt from where they fill in the blanks in this sentence, then write a story. 

I've discovered that it's a really good way of reflecting on learning. For example.

I used to think: Hard working, caring teachers could save the world, one student at a time.
But now I know: They can't without major changes in economic and education policy.

I used to think: My PhD would not help me be a better educator.
But now I know: It does.

Conversations with Students: a series

Me: Check this out, I have four fat markers in my pocket! Do I look like a tagger?
Student: Nah, you gotta sag.

Student: Ms. Barton, you've accomplished so much and you're so young! You're so successful!
Me: Thank you, that is so sweet of you to say. I don't feel very successful, though, at least not usually.
Student: Well, I think you could probably have chosen a better career...
Me: And that's why. Because people say that to me all the time.

Me: J---, you're inferring that Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones is black because she speaks African American Vernacular English.
Student: I still don't believe that's a real thing. [pause] Ms. Barton, you must have a lot of black friends.
Me: Well, I do have some black friends, J-----, but I wouldn't say I have a lot. I study African American literature and culture. That's what my dissertation is about. That's why I know about AAVE.
Student: You must really love black people.
Me: Well, I love all people, but I do love black culture. That's why I've studied it for so long.
Student: Ooohhhhh, so that's why you got this stuff here [pointing to my posters of MLK and James Baldwin]
Me: Right.

Me: I want to tell you something. You're not in trouble. Your pants are too tight. If you wear tights, you need to have something on that covers you down to your knees. Otherwise Ms. Lisa will put sweatpants on you.
Student: Really?
Student: Ms. Barton, I have some other pants in my backpack. Should I go change now?
Me: It can wait until lunch.

Larry Cuban on Blame

Saturday, October 13, 2012

I'm a Feminist Again: A Micro-autobiography

Now, I'm guessing that the majority of my handful of readers have read the title up top and said, "again"?

Yes, again. I have always been a feminist, even, I think, before I knew the word, because I have a strong, successful mother and I grew up in a household with four brothers and no sisters. Us girls gotta defend ourselves. Someone--my dad?--gave me one of those little feminist quote books that you can get in the bargain section at Barnes and Noble. Maybe I bought it for myself. I had a little commonplace book that I started sophomore year that had all these feminist sayings in it. I got all mad at my family whenever they tried to tease me about PMS (which they did all the time!) I loved Gloria Steinem and Joan Didion.

But when I was in college, I sort of got over feminism. College was a magical place of surprising levels of gender equality. Maybe Title IX has something to do with that--no sarcasm, that thought really just occurred to me. In college, gender-based literary studies sort of turned me off. I did take one class that I really loved about race and class, so I started to get interested in that. My roommate all four years of college is/was queer and I want to say he was a gender studies major, but now I can't remember. He was really involved in the women's center and also the LGBT group. College was the first time I had a lot of gay friends, so I got really interested in the queer studies side of gender studies, but a lot less interested in the women's studies side.

The Quaker school was also very progressive from a gender standpoint. We had faculty members who were out, we had an active GSA, my colleague taught a gender studies senior elective, and tons of students took it. We had very few problems with body image or disordered eating, even with the boys on the wrestling team, which had the same following as a football team (since we didn't have one of those. Football is too violent for Quakers.) It's true that I sometimes butted heads with male and female students in ways that had to do with gender, but the students at that school didn't seem to "need" much education (though they always do, I now realize) in political correctness, because Quaker education is awesome like that.

Political correctness, by the way, is a sort of obnoxious but convenient name for the practice of avoiding saying things that are racist, sexist, homophobic, or disrespectful toward people with disabilities, or disrespectful, discriminatory, or stereotyping of any one group. A lot of people think political correctness is silly, but maybe they wouldn't if they had the experience I had at the beginning of this year, with my 9th grade students unwittingly whispering sexist anti-Asian racial slurs, at first as a joke, and then, after I had explained how personally offensive it was, about me directly. (This is a "teens don't know any better, and they're mean" moment.) Since everyone now reading this blog knows where my school is, I don't want to embarrass my school or my students by explaining any further, but let me just say it was shockingly ignorant. Once the Dean of Students came into my class to explain to them the seriousness of what they were doing, it was over. I'm really proud of my 9th graders for taking it seriously, and several apologized to me personally.

So anyway, back to feminism. In grad school I got really interested in reading about the history of gender and class in a class with Lauren Berlant, and I also continued to be really interested in the dynamics of gender and race and class. But making the argument "this text is misogynistic" just didn't interest me at all. So I sort of left it. I planned one dissertation chapter where I was going to talk about gender and these two awesome female playwrights (Lorraine Hansberry, who you've heard of, and Alice Childress, who, in my opinion, deserves to be even more famous). But I ended up cutting that chapter to save time. I may end up writing it some day. But it's not all that surprising, given the trend of my interests, that it was the chapter I decided to cut. Of all the texts discussed in my diss, only one is by a woman (Alice Childress's play Trouble in Mind, which has experienced a bit of a revival in the last decade, so if you ever get a chance to see it, do see it. It's a brilliant play.)

These days I find myself returning to my feminist roots, including rediscovering Didion (I mean, I've read Didion all along, but right now I'm on a Didion bender. I wish she would let me write her biography. That's never gonna happen.) The main reason, I am beginning to notice, is that my students are just dumbfoundingly ignorant about gender and race, and the whole multiculturalism revolution in general, and, sad to say, so are a lot of teachers (I've written about this before). When I was in coursework for my teaching certificate I wrote an essay about how there are literally libraries of books about "the problem with black boys" and ONE about black and brown girls.

Now, it may surprise you, since my school is about 95% Latino and about 5% African American, but my students constantly use racial slurs about each other and about their white and Asian teachers, and literally, literally sexually harass each other and their female teachers. My students say all kinds of awful things--racist, sexist, you name it. And they sometimes think awful things. And my girls have terrible body image issues. And lots of girls accidentally become mothers.

So I had one student last year who became a mom at 15, and She. Is. Awesome. She has done such an amazing job of figuring out how to give her daughter a great life and still be an honors student. I'm so proud of her and impressed by her that sometimes I wish that she could help me if I ever get pregnant--and I'm twice her age. This year, I have another student, a junior, who is due at the end of the month. She's in lots of discomfort, but she is an extraordinary young woman, because she comes to school almost every day, and she does all of her work, and she's one of the hardest working students I've ever met.

So one day I asked the one student from last year, now a junior, if we had a support group for moms at our school. Here's our conversation:
Me: Do we have a group for students who are moms?
She: No. I kind of wish we did.
Me: Yeah. Lots of other schools have one. Maybe I'll start one or try to find someone to start one.
She: That would be great. I'll help you if you want.
Me (in my head): No, you'll start it and I'll help you.

So that is exactly what's happening! I'm so excited. She's excited. Our co-sponsor is excited. The other moms and expecting moms at the school are excited. I just hope it actually gets off the ground. I asked my student--the one who will now put on her transcript that the was the founding president of this group--what we should call the group when we talk about it at school, so it sort of has a code name. She said--I'm not making this up--that it should be "something about not giving up." So we decided to wait for inspiration to hit us and let each other know when we had an idea. I asked my husband, who is a brilliant song lyricist. He said we could use FIGHT as an acronym, and then we figured out what the words would stand for. But then I said it would be better if it was a Spanish word, so then he figured out an acronym for L.U.C.H.A. Either way, I'm going to have to turn away the male students (one in particular I already have in mind) who think it's a fight club or a wrestling club. But it's gonna be great. And this is another one of those times when I'm just so full of love for my students for helping themselves, and believing in themselves, and fighting for what they deserve.

Thursday, October 11, 2012


OK, not really finished. I still have to file. My students are appalled that I successfully defended my dissertation but I still have to revise my conclusion. I just tell them that revision is always important.

It is pretty awesome to defend. It is even awesomer to have students seek you out to say congratulations. And to get a group hug from five of them at once. I will remember that for when I'm feeling bad about teaching.