A Teacher's Day

The day in the life of an inner city large urban school district teacher after the high stakes testing ends and there is still three more months left before summer vacation.

Location: Chicago, Illinois, United States

I have taught school for over thirty years always in the inner city and for the most part always upper grade students. I have two children and I have been married for twenty years.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Dorothy Tillman--She's Baaaack

I just thought this would be a good blog in and of itself--just to let the world know what a coward is. This is the second time--I'm pretty sure that Anonymous wrote this and previous comments like it on the Tillman blogs--and, of course, Anonymous could not state their name. Sad. What a coward. So Anonymous, I posted your comments exactly as you wrote them. (I didn't edit a thing.)You can find them in the blog itself. I also created this blog just for you. Perhaps I'll let my audience respond to your noise.

At least I have the guts to list my name--Michael H. Brownstein.

Your turn.

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Dorothy Tillman and How We Change History":

No one commented because no one reads this crappy page. The kids in his class don't listen to him so he spends his free time venting online. Like columnist Mark Brown of the Sun-Times says he "Just another white man who Tillman sends into a "tizzy". I only found his sight because I was goggling Tillman. She is a very important women in our Modern History. This author will never be famous or do anything worth while or historic. Good Bless Ms. Tillman and I know there is much more in store for her. She was much much bigger than the office of Alderman. Her contribution to American is great and her contributions to the Black community is even greater. No one can argue that!47th Street is magnificant and it wouldn't have happen without her.

Second comment from Anonymous:

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Dorothy Tillman and How We Change History":

I see you have to approve this. I bet you won't publish.

Guess you're wrong. I published it.

Do you have the guts to repond to me--with your name?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007


Summer vacation is already a few days old. I’m running again—trying to get up to two miles (my wife thinks I’m moving too fast). I used to walk four miles to and from school—mostly to—so I don’t know what the commotion is about. What’s a mile or two of running between friends?

The chemistry class has some really interesting experiments. We attached copper to aluminum last night during the lab and changed a liquid with copper in it to a lot of copper. I’m going to try that with my class next year.

I’m writing a bit too—poems mostly. Nothing great yet—still have to do revisions and that sort of thing.

Not thinking much about school. It’s like a break in my head. One of the grants I write is due downtown this Friday. Hope it gets into the right place on time. Guess I'll have to make time to make sure it gets to the right place. (Hope I don't have to take it myself.)

Nothing much to report.

It’s summer and I’m not really thinking too hard on anything at all—except for chemistry.

My Son's Second Graduation

The graduation in Missouri was really nice. The children were well behaved and acted intelligently. The parents were equally together--no shouting or yelling, just a lot of polite applause. The university actually had a few seats in the front row just for parents to get close-up photographs of their children when they received their diploma. At one point they even stopped because one of the parents needed help to get the camera to work correctly. At the end, no hats went into the air--instead the new grads stood, faced us and just moved the stringy thing--the tassel--from one side to the other.

Even the commencement speaker were refreshing. I almost wanted to join his class.

At the end we had refreshments and we mingled and everything went really well.

Thanks for a nice afternoon.

Friday, June 15, 2007


The last day of school. My students were here for one hour—9 to 10 mostly just to get their report cards. I finished all of my records yesterday and only had a few things to straighten out: putting their new room numbers on all of their records, reviewing report cards one more time, and dividing the piles of records into three groups—two groups move to 8th grade and one child is going on to high school.

At 8:15, I was in the playground—all by myself—and had to do an emergency clean-up. Someone had broken a bottle last night and there was glass all over the playground ramps and slides. There is always glass on the ground, but why the slide and other stuff children are going to play on?

School started on time and ended quickly. One of my students is being moved because the consensus—and I fought against the decision—is that he will cause the soft spoken eighth grade teacher a hard time. I feel he would be perfect for her—soft spoken is something he does not know much about.

Anyway, we did have a fight the last full day of school and a little later a gang of girls wanted to fight a third grade girl over some he says/she says garbage, but that ended with a few stern looks. No fights this day. Perhaps it was because there were two uniformed police officers in front of the school. New idea? Were police in front of every school?

I’m taking a chemistry class this summer, so my hands will be full. I’ve got to do some work in Jeff City, Missouri a bit later on. I’ll be writing and getting a poetry book together for publication. (If you’re reading this and can help, please do.) I’m also going to work on my Mr. Thorn novel (the year the school was altogether out of control as seen through the eyes of a student) and a few other ideas—nonfiction and fiction work—and get these two ready for publication, too. (See parenthesis above.)

That’s it. I’m sitting at my table, the last item not removed from my room for comprehensive cleaning, amid paper and a large fan—‘cause it’s really hot in here—and I’m waiting on my records from the sixth grade teachers.

At noon I’m out of here. Too many errands—and another paycheck short too many hours. The board now owes me at least two weeks pay. Nothing like working as hard as you can without getting compensated for it.

And let us not forget the Board still owes me for after school work—eight hours at least—and all of my work for the Least Restricted Environment—at least five hours there.

Any ideas?

I’d say have a nice summer, but I’ll be writing this blog every now and then—probably more now than then, so I don’t want to say see you in the fall.

School’s over for this year!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Annual Seymour Brownstein Most Improved Student Awards

I came to work Tuesday only to find out the winner of the Seymour Brownstein Most Improved Student Award would not be participating in the graduation. His standardized test scores and report card grades were not good enough. He’d have to go to summer school and then move on to high school. Nonetheless, he was at school to support his classmates. An altogether brave young man.

A few others would also not be graduating including one student whose brother was shot in the face a few days ago murdered only a block away from the school. He did not come to school to support his classmates—and he had a very good reason not to. Life is hard too many times in the neighborhood where I teach.

I did have a runner up ready to take my winners place. When the time came for me to speak, the office called me downstairs, had me place my classroom of students next door or in the art room, and I took my place on the extremely hot stage.

Here’s how it went:

The MC stood up after the eighth graders finished singing one of their songs and introduced me: “We are honored to introduce to you one of our seventh grade teachers who has a very special award.”

How special? When the principal found out how much money I was giving the most improved student, she said that’s more than we’re giving our valedictorian. And I said, “Well, that’s how it is.”

Then the MC said my name and a very nice thing happened. The audience went wild with clapping and cheers and I, of course, felt really good about everything.

“There are two perfect young ladies,” I began, “in the class of 2007—a class by the way I taught last year and I just want to say they were the best seventh graders I have ever taught. These two young ladies, if I decided to have any more children, I would want two daughters exactly like them.” And the audience let out a loud sigh—just like the kind you hear on talk shows when everything is finally perfect. “My father who passed away over ten years ago always honored people who tried. He gave them one chance or two—sometimes even fifteen. All of us are worth that many chances and more. He taught me this. Anyway I chose these two girls because perfect as they were, they became even more perfect in eighth grade.”

Then I called them to the stage by name and they came and took their checks (twenty-five dollars each) and we shook hands and we took a photo.

Then I said, “It was very hard to pick a winner this year. We had a follower who has now begun to show leadership qualities and we had a student I wanted to pick but things went wrong. To him, when you have a lemon, turn it into lots of lemonade and when summer school is over your check will be waiting for you. The winner of the Seymour Brownstein Most Improved Student Award goes to a young man I taught after he was sent to my room last year in the middle of the year. He was well behaved and he did all of his work and he made major changes, but he could not allow negative peer pressure to be ignored. So he began to move in negative directions more and more. Well, this year he has not only not fought the entire year, but he has broken up fights with words and conflict resolution. He has not been sent to the office once for a negative incident.” And I heard “amen’s” all around me. “He has grown and become a leader and I hold in my hand not one check, but two.”

When I called his name everyone on the stage stood and gave him a standing ovation and he was so happy, he hugged everyone, told me, “Thank you, Mr. Brownstein,” (he is only the second person to thank me for the award) and beamed through more than one photograph. Then he took the two envelopes—each holding a check for thirty-five dollars for a total of seventy—and proudly went back to his seat.

When I left the stage a few minutes later, I remembered my father and how he always tried to do the right thing and how he always put into us the conviction and strength necessary to help to make this world a better place. So I paused on the stairs for a moment and thanked him again.

Then I collected my students and went back to my classroom where my class and I cleaned up—it being the last full day of school and all.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


OK--here's a fairly simple grant for those of you looking for character education help--or have a problem with bullies: Channing-Bete Violence Prevention. Click on the Channing-Bete and it should take you directly to the guidelines.

Today is the last full day of school here in Chicago. I was not here on Friday—attending my son’s second high school graduation (at the University of Missouri Distance Learning High School Program), got into a car accident near Jefferson city, MO after it ended (it took place in Columbia), and everyone is OK—thanks for asking—but we couldn’t get a car out of there until Monday morning. So I missed school on Monday too.

The graduation was very well done. Everything went perfectly from the commencement speech to the refreshments afterwards to the polite and excited intelligent applause for each graduate. (I’ll write more on this later.) I want to thank Alicia Bixby for everything she has done for Korey. She is truly a wonderful instructor and counselor.

What more is there to say? My grades are in, my reading results from standardized testing in reading are way up, my files are ready, and all that is left are my records. We’ll continue with the 209/211 tournament in double Dutch jump roping, two hand touch football, and half court basketball this morning. The eighth graders graduate at around 10 AM—and I get to give the Seymour Brownstein Most Improved Student Award. (Can’t wait.) So I guess my morning is taken up with items to make the last day ride smoothly. (I’ll give more details on the Seymour Brownstein Most Improved Student Award later.)

I had a T-shirt made for Mary Hilker, my eighth grade colleague. It says: “You can teach an old dog new tricks award winner.” I’m going to give it to her today. Second year teacher and she taught me a lot near the end of my career. Glad to have her at this school.

That’s it. Last full day. Let’s cross our fingers and…

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Stem Cell Research

Awhile back, my class began work on stem cell research. (I wrote about it briefly in a previous blog. We used the article by Jon Entine and Sally Satel, "Race Belongs in the Stem Cell Debate," Washington Post.) Below are essays my students wrote about stem cells, what they are, what they are good for, etc. One fallout of the unit was my classes’ feelings about the present laws and stem cell lines allowed by these laws. In discussion, they used the laws and President Bush's veto of any changes in the laws to show--or prove, if you lean that way--that the Bush administration is racist. (Except for one girl--I placed her brief essay in this space because she is the same girl with the cursing problem. This might give you some insight into who she is. I'm calling her ABC.)Because I cannot put full names of students on this blog, I've removed their names except for the girl I mentioned above.

By the way, I have tried my hardest to corret all of the misconceptions in these essays and others. (I mean, blaming the Statee of Iowa for the stem cell law is a little over the line--and I don't even know where he learned this.)

Room 211

Stem Cells

By doing this project, I learned new and interesting facts about stem cells. I learned that the future of stem cells will be able to develop many new treatments and cures for cancer. I also learned that stem cells come from umbilical cords and fetuses. There are only sixty-four stem cell lines that can be studied by scientists. Forty-nine are for a specific group of white people. The other fifteen are for Asians. These are the only lines scientists can study because President Bush did not approve the study of anymore than those sixty-four lines. I also learned that if I ever needed help and stem cells would be able to help me, I would not be able to get any kind of help because there are no lines being studied at this time for African-Americans.

Room 211

Stem Cells

What I learned from the stem cell project is that stem cell lines are being used at the present time to benefit whites and Asians. The law about stem cells is that politics get involved in science. Stem cell research is right now involved with white people from a small area in Washington DC and Asians from India and China.

What else I learned about the stem cells is that the people of the United States are trying to pass a law to make stem cells open for everyone. Stem cells can be used to repair injured or dying cells in your body. Because groups of people are different, stem cell lines have got to be made for each group, not just the white people in Iowa.

Stem cells can repair damaged cells like nerve cells or brain cells. Stem cells may be able to help cure types of cancer and even heart disease. Stem cell lines should be developed for everyone in every race.

Room 209
Stem Cells--Is the Present Stem Cell Law Fair?

Stem cell laws are fair because white people are better than African-Americans. White people have money to pay for the stem cell transplants. Stem cell laws are fair ands I agree with the law a hundred percent. The law is fair because what do you see on TV mostly is white people so they deserve more than African-Americans.

Room 209

Stem Cells

Stem Cells are special cells can change into another cell and heal it. For example, damaged nerve cells will heal when a stem cell line is introduced to it. Stem cells come from fetuses or umbilical cords. They are clones. I learned that in the human body muscles, nerves, skin, blood, and bones are all composed of special types of cells. The blood cells, for example, are adapted to absorbing nutrients and great amounts of oxygen from the lungs and stomach. Stem cells can heal damaged blood cells when they are introduced into the cell system. Stem cells can heal nerve damage, brain cell damage, and other cells that specialize,

Room 209

Stem Cells--Is the Present Stem Cell Law Fair?

I think stem cells are used for healing damaged cells. I already know that stem cells can create entire new cells that are healthy, but stem cells cannot be given to African-Americans because each race has a different number of stem cell lines and our country does not include every race in the stem cell research. Stem cells can create new lines that can reproduce babies. The use of stem cells on certain people is illegal. Stem cells can be used to clone yourself, but this is illegal, too. I like the fact that you can heal damaged cells like cells in your ear that make you deaf.

Room 209

Stem Cells--Are the Stem Cell Laws Fair?

In my opinion, the stem cell is a special cell that can change into other kinds of cells. It can change an injured cell and heal it. For example, a damaged nerve cell will heal when a stem cell line is introduced into it, the stem cell will become the nerve cell and make the nerve cell healthy.

Stem cells come from fetuses or umbilical cords. They are a kind of clones.

Stem cell lines go with different groups. Whites have twenty lines, blacks have a hundred thirty, Hispanics have one hundred fifty, and Asians have fifty.

In my opinion, the stem cell law is not fair because only white people and some Asian people are allowed to use stem cell lines. No stem cell lines are developed for black people.

Room 209

Stem Cells

Things that I learned about the stem cells are that stem cells are special cells. They can change into another cell and heal the damaged cells. For example, a damaged cell can become healthier if a stem cell is introduced to it because the stem cell takes over the injured cell and become like that cell. A nerve cell is a special cell and a stem cell can turn into a nerve cell.

Stem cells come from fetuses--babies who were not born--and umbilical cords. The stem cell lines are cloned.

Stem cell lines come in different values. Whites have about seventy stem cell lines, blacks have about one hundred fifty, Hispanics have about one hundred fifty, and Asians have fifty stem cell lines.

The last thing I learned about stem cells is that stem cells can make your life better because if someone is handicapped or sick, then a stem cell can be injected into the injured specialized cell that is not working really well and it can heal the injured cell and make you better.

Room 209

Race Belongs to Stem Cell Debate

The article, Race Belongs to Stem Cell Debate" by Jon Entine and Sally Satel in the Washington Post, is about stem cell diversity. They say the problem lies in the lack of genetic and "racial" diversity of the sixty-four lines allowed to be used for research. The stem cell lines scientists can study do not include any lines for African-Americans. Of the sixty-four stem cell lines, forty-nine are from white people and the other fifteen are from Asians. These lines were harvested from a rich suburb of white people from Washington D.C. or from Singapore and India. Even if humans are ninety-nine percent the same, there is enough of a difference so that every race has its own special stem cell lines. It isn't fair that African-Americans are left out of the stem cell research. Many scientists are afraid to discuss the race issue in the stem cell debate. African-Americans and Hispanics lose out. After reading the article, I feel the stem cell law is not fair.

Monday, June 04, 2007


The last quarter of the school year is almost on us and I have a few students who are failing. One boy got his head turned by one of the girls, but that has ended so now he’s on track, trying harder, and he’ll pass. Another told me it matters to him that he does well in school. His mother doesn’t care—has, in fact, never asked him about homework or school or anything school related. He’s missing today’s field trip to make up missed work so he can pass. One of my girls is in the same boat. She received a field trip slip, but she will not be able to go because she, too, will be staying back to makew up missed assignments.

Three girls in my class have just given up. I don’t even know why. One is so angry she went on a cursing temper tantrum that brought my class to total silence for a long time the other day. She called me so many names, you would have thought I was in a classroom with a few drunken trash talking trash peddling nowhere people. (And you thought I was going to use the word “sailor.”)

In her tirade, she talked about my color, my mother, and too many bodily functions. I, unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view) know too much about her. I know her mother has gone missing for these last half dozen years. I know she lives with her sister—and doesn’t like her. I know she is fed up with her life because she has told me this a few times. I know her phone is cut off. I know she is ashamed of where she lives.

I used to ask for help from certain teachers, but they have their hands so full of problems right now—and they are way too busy with end of the year tasks—and one of them actually told me she no longer wants to be bothered with this young lady.

During library, I gave my student conference time so I could assist her in improving her grades. She is in striking distance of a D in every subject—just two to four points away.

Her response to my extra credit work: “If you’re going to fail me, just do it.”

My response to her: “I don’t want to fail you. For some reason you want to fail yourself. Take this opportunity to pass. Do the extra credit I’m giving you.”

Her response back: “Whatever. I don’t care if I fail or not.”

My question to you, my readers, is: What’s my next move? About two weeks left of school and I want her to pass.


Sunday, June 03, 2007

Random Thoughts

I know I’m not like many people. I never watched American Idol, and I never plan to. I don’t understand the noise about it and why it’s so popular. I don’t understand this need for a cell phone. If it’s really an emergency, don’t call me. Call 911. If the car breaks down, likewise. Call the motor club. And why is it so important to call home when you’re shopping for food at the grocery store—and you have a list in your hand already. And people who need to monitor their emails every five minutes. I’m scared of them.

Oh, for the days when someone talking in the street by themselves was just a “crazy.” Now I can’t always tell.

And, God knows, in the neighborhood I work in it would be a goods thing to know if it’s a crazy or someone on their cell phone.

And reality shows? Whose reality is it? I mean since when is a survivor someone from Survivors and not someone who really survived—the war in the Middle East, the concentration camps, the many Holocausts.

I heard a story about a Holocaust survivor being put down by a reality show survivor. It’s time for a reality check.

At least that’s what I think.

So what does this have to do with teaching in the inner city? Maybe nothing. Maybe everything.

“I might not be able to go on the field trip,” one of my students told me, “cause I might have to stay home and watch someone else’s child.”


That’s what this is about.


Friday, June 01, 2007


My son who just graduated from high school has talked a lot about one of his teachers. So much so that after awhile I had to meet her—and I did—during parent conferences. Her name is Ms. Stacey Gibson-Turner, though I only know her as Ms. Gibson.

So here it is, the end of the year coming quickly, and I just thought I’d put in a few words about her impact on my son.

She did a wonderful job.

Korey feels more confident, more able to stand up to obstacles in his way and totally engrossed in his own mission to always learn.

Thank you, Ms. Gibson.

Though you were tough at times and controversial, I believe it’s great that you were able to open his mind and get him to rise up to higher and higher levels. He is on his way to college next year (he wants to be a botanist) and you set him on a pathway that will take him beyond the sciences (his first love) into the fields of literature and writing and…who knows.

So, again, thank you, Ms. Gibson for the great job you did in helping develop my son into a full-fledged scholar.

Thursday, May 31, 2007


Yesterday I did not go to my teaching job because I attended my son’s high school graduation. It was both interesting and confusing, but I’m proud of him and I’m glad he’s my son.

He worked really hard—was actually number one in his class a few times his senior year—and he has his future mapped out.

I had a few concerns before we entered the great room. He had been totally neglected by his yearbook—not mentioned anywhere. Calls to his teachers so I could make a videotape honoring him were returned when I was at work. His principal, a Mr. Freeman, promised me he would have him come down to his office for a talk—he had heard so many good things about my son. He did not keep his promise. My son’s graduation outfit was listed to someone named Karen. His name is Korey.

But it all worked out. He was in the program, we took pictures, and everything went well—though I still have issues with some of the parents who were really rude. At one point, when the President of the School Board was speaking, a great booing erupted in the stands all around me. They were booing because security confiscated a beach ball that suddenly began to bounce from row to row of graduates. He stopped, looked around, thought they were booing him, and then realized they were not. Later a teacher had to harshly speak to a row of parents behind me because they had purchased more balloons and they wanted them in the air.

Nothing like not hearing a speech—no matter how boring—because a row of adults is yelling, “Hit it. Lift it up. Come on. Keep it going. Hit it. Don’t let them get it.”

My son was given flowers by his sister and he promptly passed them out to girls he knew. The smiles on their face were well worth the money I spent on the roses.

That’s how I spent my day yesterday.

Today I gave my students a chance to catch up on missing work—and that went very, very well.

Except for the boy who does nothing. “Why can’t I go on the field trip?” he shouted at me, as if that would change my mind.

I just said, “You’re failing. This will give you an entire day to catch up on everything you missed.”

He let out a curse, and I moved away. (This was after school when we were dismissing the children, and it began to rain.)

Only two weeks left.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Memorial Day and Teaching School

"In a Web diary posted to the liberal online community Daily Kos on Monday, (Cindy)Sheehan said she was exhausted by the personal, financial and emotional toll of the past two years.

She wrote that she is disillusioned by the failure of Democratic politicians to bring the unpopular war to an end and tired of a peace movement she said "often puts personal egos above peace and human life."

Casey Sheehan, a 24-year-old Army specialist, was killed in an April 2004 battle in Baghdad . His death prompted his mother to found Gold Star Families for Peace.

But in Monday's 1,200-word letter, titled, "Good Riddance Attention Whore," Sheehan announced that her son "did indeed die for nothing."

"I have tried every since he died to make his sacrifice meaningful," she wrote. "Casey died for a country which cares more about who will be the next American Idol than how many people will be killed in the next few months while Democrats and Republicans play politics with human lives."--May 29, 2007


I never went to war. Korea ended a year before I was born and we lost the war in Viet Nam the year I began college. I never had the hard comfortable friendships true battle inspires and I never had comrades passionate enough to link into that all purpose male code—one man laying his life down for another. No, not me. I never had that.

But fake wars? That’s another story. The war on drugs, for instance. I was on the frontlines, a war that threw so much money at itself, it imploded filling prisons and creating cottage industries for curriculum products for every school and community in the nation. It never ends. Just one more victim and one more prisoner and one more person I know who was in the wrong place at the wrong time sending their lives into a spiral downwards so quickly the very system that wants to help has tied them into so many knots, it cannot.

I fought in the war against poverty—still do, in fact—and know this war too can never be won. We need poverty for the jobs it gives to us and for the cheap labor and for every gooey Hallmark Christmas story.

There have been other fake wars in my lifetime. Some were firecracker fads, some burnt themselves out under their own weight, and others were so ignored they just vanished and no one remembers.

The good in fake wars is your nightmares are never bloody. You don’t wake suddenly in a cold sweat. You never scream out in the middle of the night. At no time do you suddenly slip into a foxhole and find yourself crawling over bodies and pieces of bodies to get away. The participants of fake wars come and go as their interest dictates, not like soldiers who are stationed there waiting for the boredom to become one huge siege of adrenaline and leave with enough material for nightmares for life. No, most fake warriors are never made to stay. Some are in it for a week, some a month, some a year or two. Others make it their life—but they are rare. They become emergency room doctors. Inner city cops. Undercover narcotic operatives.

I became a teacher.

I am not talking about a two-year teacher either—two years in, a best selling book, author signings, TV talk shows. Nor am I talking about teachers who become teachers because this is all they felt they could do. Teaching for a paycheck, in other words. Then there are those who start in the classroom because all they really want is the most direct way to a desk in the board offices. They should have applied there to begin with. Teaching is not about money. It is about passion. I became a teacher because teaching is what I needed to do. The fact that they pay me to do it makes it all that much greater. Not too many people can say they get paid for their hobby.

I can.

So I wish you luck, Cindy Sheenan. It's a hard road, and it gets harder, and I hope you find your way back to it.

Thursday, May 24, 2007


Thursday and the sun is shining, a cool breeze comes across the playground and today is going to be a great day.

How can it not be?

A few field trips (so I’ll probably be holding a half dozen not nice children), a few teachers away on smaller field trips (and their class gets to stay behind) and a few irate parents (because children shouldn’t go on incentive field trips if they are failing).

Oh, well.

Another day, another fifteen cents.

But everything has been quiet, learning has been going on, students are actively trying to get hundreds, and the stem cell research project is on course and doing well. Our study of graphic novels ends today, and I believe my students really enjoyed reading them. I purchased a few sharks for dissection, and we may try to work on them this afternoon. No fights after school or before—just a lot of kids being kids and playing well together.

Someone stole the basketball hoop from our playground, so football and baseball have taken over. This is a good thing—playing other sports, not the stolen basketball hoop. My reading scores came back and everyone improved. This, too, is a good thing. A teacher nominated me for the DRIVE Award. I guess things are looking up.

It’s going to be a nice, sunshiny day.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


Monday, and my class began to work on graphic novels. Five weeks more of school, it's time for a break.

When two boys start to think to fight--and my students never fight (at least not in my room)--I did the only thing possible. (You can only ask for them to sit down and separate three times. If they can't listen, well...)

I knocked the garbage can down. The noise startled them into sanity. They sat then.

And the rest of the day--peace and quiet and quiet and peace--with the exception of one student who so badly wanted to fight one of his classmates so I kept the child with me even though neither one belonged to my room and that just shut off the valve for more craziness.

And then we did something fun and enjoyable and the kids really enjoyed themselves:

We dissected a sheep's eyeball with new dissection tools.

202nd Blog--and it continues and continues and continues

Friday came in with a wallop and stayed there like a headache in need of something really strong. Darvon perhaps.

So many teachers out and so few substitutes. By 1:50 the entire class (well, not everyone—five remained in the classroom) next door was in my room. The substitute started sending children to me at 9:15. When I heard the door slam so hard it raised everyone’s headache a decibel or two forty five minutes later, I walked out to see who he was sending to me now and—

Something’s are better left alone, but you have to do what you have to do cause some time’s that’s the only option you have.

The biggest boy in the next door room was already running for his life down the hallway. The biggest bully—and you read about her here a number of times—was chasing him with a scissors. Yelling at the top of her lungs, the scissors held high, I could not believe how fast she could run.

The security guard jumped from her seat and vanished. Unbelievable. When the boy reached me, the scissor wielding girl only a few yards away, I grabbed him hard at the shoulder and threw him into my classroom, slamming the door and turning just in time to be smashed by the girl as she slammed into me and the door, The scissors made contact with the wood missing my hand by mere inches.

She stepped back, the scissors in her hand held so tight blood was changing the color of her fingernails, and told me in no uncertain terms I had better open the door or—and all I could think to do was stand there and block her as the boy stood behind the wooden door. (At least he didn’t go near the window. I’m positive she would have shattered it.) I called out to anyone—as I was the only one outside in the hallway—to press the button and call for security. I yelled it again and again. Surprisingly, as I watched this girl prance and dance and scream before me, the scissors in a dangerous death hold, her face ferocious with anger and pain, I actually was able to keep count of how many times I called for help before I finally saw a teacher rise up and press the intercom for help.

The security guard? I don’t know where she went.

The sub? He was behind a closed door blocking it.

Help arrived a few minutes later (at least eight individuals) and the girl released the scissors. It wasn’t easy and I never once left my position at the door even when she tried to get through one more time.

In the end, I asked one of my students to wet a few paper napkins so the boy could stop the blood flowing from scratches at his neck. Then his uncle picked him up and her grandmother picked her up and—

By 1:50 I had my class and everyone in the room next door but five students and a student from a class down the hall and a few other children.

And that was my day…

Friday, May 18, 2007

201st Blog--Part 2

It took the security officer and me maybe a minute or so to break up this fight. Security threw the offending child over his shoulder and dragged him downstairs. The other boy—my student—shook it off and walked to the library (the opposite direction) with the help of an aide.

The police were called.

The offender was handcuffed when they arrived and the rest of my day was spent in the office where I was asked if I wanted to press charges, but never given the opportunity.

When the offender’s mother showed up, she was hysterical—or at least that’s how it appeared. She was shaking and crying and she had to be supported by two other adults.

When the police decided not to arrest her son—two hours later, and I was not allowed into this conversation—suddenly she was a new woman. Smiling. No more tears, no shaking, a light flip in her step.

Yeah, right.

I’ve seen acting before and I guess I will again.

This is how it goes.

Before the day was over, I found myself between three more incidents. Students kept on coming to the office sent by their teachers from 1:30 until the end of the day.

“I’m here cause I don’t want to fight.”

“I’ll kill her. Let me loose.”

“OK, so I cursed out the sub. What’s the big deal?”

Etc. Etc. Etc.

In the end, the offender in my fight earned a three day suspension. One of my students had a tantrum in front of the assistant principal and she earned herself a day. Another student from another class would not stop—she earned herself five days.

A seventh grader who thought he could get in a sub’s face ended up with a parent conference.

Grand Central Station at the office.

I was asked to go to 106 and help with the dismissal because they were so out of control—and they were, but they left the building without any real problems.
OK. Now it’s time to go home and I’m geared and ready with both security officers for a flurry of fights—but, just as the classes begin to dismiss, a baby in her mother’s arms reaches out to the fire alarm and—yes, you guessed it—pulls it bringing in three fire trucks.

No problem at dismissal. Every teacher is outside.

And then it began to drizzle.

Tomorrow—or Monday: Part 3.


Thursday, May 17, 2007

200th Blog

My last posting—May 10th—was my 199th blog. I really wanted very badly to have a positive blog for the two-hundredth posting. So I waited. And waited. And waited.

I couldn’t do it. I wanted the 200th blog to be full of great things. Not a few paragraphs. No, I was thirsting for many paragraphs.


Tuesday, May 15th, and three teachers are absent on the second floor and one on the first. No substitute came for 211 so I went outside during my prep period and assisted the gym teacher with my class and 211.

A sub showed up at 9:40 and I took both classes upstairs to our rooms. No problem there either.


All hell broke out.

206 emptied into the hallway as a fight went from the room to the hall and I went to help the sub while another teacher went to contain the students. The fight continued all the way to the lunchroom before it was broken up. If the eighth grade teacher had not shown up to assist with room 206…

And then it got worst.

After lunch, I again brought 211 and 209 upstairs and found myself alone in the hallway getting all of the students into their classrooms. This included students from 203, 204, and 206.

Two of my boys went to the drinking fountain even though I did not give them permission. How can you take care of your room when so many other unsupervised students are running the hallways?

The fight began in the hallway egged on by girls from other classrooms. I stopped it. I sent everyone on their way. But the fight was not over. The boy ran from his classroom into my classroom to continue the fight. I removed him again and he came in again. When I removed him the third time, I called security.

You get the picture.

Meanwhile, 204, 206 and most of 211 were in the hallway to see what all of the commotion was about. My student was having one of his every other day temper tantrums which I have learned to ignore. Unfortunately the boy from the other classroom could not ignore it. He rushed into my room a fourth time and got by me and got in the first solid blow.

(I am reminded of a time a teacher went off and I was all alone trying my hardest to stop him from seriously hurting a student. Perhaps I’ll tell this story. Perhaps not.)

Security arrived and pulled the offender off. He carried him into the hall. He carried him to the office.


Of course not.

The student broke loose after he was placed in the office and ran back into my room as my class settled—finally—into their work and jumped five feet tackling my student, knocking down chairs and tables and emptying out 211, 204 and 206.

(I’m proud to say my classroom moved out of the way and did not join the other classrooms.)

This is not the way I wanted my 200th blog to go.

So what’s in store for my 201st blog? The tale above continues…

Thursday, May 10, 2007


Another successful grant.

Hope this helps.

RIF in Chicago Grant Application

Contact information goes here.

Principal: ____________
Contact person: Michael Brownstein

1. How will being a RIF Distribution Site be helpful to your organization at this point in time?

Both the vision and mission statement of the _______ Elementary School promotes the life long learning of its entire educational community. Reading is a fundamental (no pun intended) part—if not the primary part—of life long learning. Our standardized test scores have been increasing, but we still have a long way to go. Introducing books and reading at the school level helps us to meet our main objective; however, getting books into the students’ homes greatly assists us as educators. We can force feed students to read at school and a program that brings books into the home empowers our students and engages them more because they will participate in more reading for pleasure. Research stresses the more a child reads, the more proficient that child becomes. Because the child selects and owns their book, they will want to read more. Furthermore, parental involvement in the program (the child reads at home) will reinforce the positive model for the successful cognitive development of the child. Our students will become our vision and mission statement: life long learners.

2. Would your site be able to raise enough money to run the proposed RIF program without funding from RIF in Chicago?

The quick response is no only because the school’s budget is stretched in so many directions. Our present budget projections show that we may have to layoff a few teachers or utilize our discretionary funds to purchase them back.

On the other hand, it is possible to raise fifteen hundred dollars over time through fund raising and other activities. This takes a lot of time and we probably would not be able to pay out the money in a timely fashion. We would not want to lose our opportunity to work with RIF during the 2007-2008 school year because of time and budget constraints.

3. If RIF in Chicago funding were made available, what percentage could your site raise?

This is a hard question because once again our budget is stretched to the limit and the projected budget for next year shows a drop of almost thirty thousand dollars. In order to maintain what we have, we will have to reach deep into our discretionary funds and these funds—at present—are being utilized to insure each student has their own textbooks, desks and other necessary materials to insure the success of our educational programs. In addition, teachers are purchasing more and more of the supplies needed for their classes—copier paper, for example.

4. Please describe your children and families in terms of their risk for school failure, special needs, home environments, and other applicable information.

_______ Elementary School is one-hundred percent African-American. Ninety-eight percent of our students qualify for the federal free lunch and breakfast program. The vast majority of our students live in apartments headed by a single parent, in most cases female. Even though the neighborhood is going through gentrification, it is still racked with high crime, prostitution and illicit drug trade. Our school has made strides in reading on standardized testing; however, the majority of the third and sixth grade still had to attend summer school in order to pass due to poor scores and/or poor grades. We have a small homeless population (about five percent of our enrollment) and another twenty percent of our students live with relatives.

5. Please describe your local population, employment rats, local industry, and any other applicable information.

The greater ________ educational community is made up of apartments and brand new condominiums. There are a few single family homes spread throughout the neighborhood. The area remains prominently African-American. Many of the households are run by a female. Furthermore, many of the rentals qualify for the federally funded Section 8 housing program. There are many vacant lots; however, there is also a lot of rehabilitation of property. The neighborhood is gentrifying. There is industry to the west of 44th and King Dr. (where the school is located) and the area is served by the Chicago Transit Authority’s Green Line. Downtown is five miles north. Ninety-eight percent of our students qualify for the federal free lunch program.

6. What challenges within the community prevent your site from raising enough money to operate RIF in Chicago without a scholarship?

Due to budget constraints, the entire budget of the school is set up to maintain at the present status quo and “bare nail” basic educational for our students. Nonetheless, in the upcoming school year, art will be removed from our curriculum because of a lack of money to compensate an art teacher. We will also lose our reading specialist: not enough money in the budget to maintain that project. We will also not be able to continue with the Joffrey Ballet Program or the University of Chicago Internet Project.

Fundraising will be utilized to pay for basic necessities (copier paper, for example).

7. What is your responsibility at your site?

I am the science chair for the upper grades. I teach reading and science to seventh graders. I am also the Teachers’ Union delegate, the chair of the Least Restricted Environment Project, and one of the two teacher representatives on the Local School Council. With the funding of this scholarship, I will also chair the RIF in Chicago committee.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007


We started our research project for the spring—stem cell lines across racial boundaries.

I’m excited about it and the groups for the most part are working hard on their questions: moral questions, racial questions, that sort of thing.

It appears only a few lines have been approved by the Bush administration and even though he declares he’s not a racist, it appears his actions show he indeed is. Why else would the sixty-four stem cell lines he approves be only for whites of European ancestry.

We’ll see if my classes can crack this puzzle. After all, cloning a stem cell line is the same as cloning an embryo. You can’t have it both ways.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Coca Cola, Albertsons and Reading Is Fundalmental

Evan Georgi, the executive director of Reading is Fundamental, dropped by my school about a week ago. If you don’t know RIF, you should.

Many years ago—before many of you were born—RIF gave me a library for a learning center I ran for a little bit of time behind Mason School in the field house on Chicago’s westside. It was a great opportunity because many of the children didn’t have even one book in their house, let alone a personal library. With the help of RIF all those many years ago, a lot of students got their first books.

So you know I was happy to find out RIF was doing well in Chicago—so happy in fact I invited Evan to my school.

We spoke for a bit about RIF, another teacher sat in and asked a lot of good questions, I went on duty, and before everything was over, I had a contract for RIF for my school next year and a grant application (which I will share later this week).

Evan told me she would come out on Literacy Night and do a presentation. She only had a week to plan this and I thought that wasn’t really enough time, but when literacy night came, so did Julie Lawrenz, the program coordinator for RIF. And Julie brought with her around four hundred brand new books—enough for many of the families visiting the school on Literacy Night to begin libraries for their children at home.

Too often, as the poet Andrew Hudgins explains, “I learned early that reading, which I saw as pure pleasure, was seen by my parents as work.” This is why I was so glad Julie and Evan could give my students the opportunity to select their own books and start their own libraries.

We—Julie and I—even let a few children get greedy. We let them select more than one book and since two and four are not numbers I really like (four, in fact, the unlucky number in China), some children went away with three or five books. (I added poetry books which were donated to me a few months ago.)

Anyway, we can’t wait to start our RIF program and September 2007 seems so far away. Nonetheless, we did get quite a few books and we did pass out quite a few books and this morning as I write this teachers kindergarten through fourth are selecting books for their classroom library. What a change to see teachers actually happy this early in the morning.

By the way, I have to thank Albertsons, the Coca-Cola Company and RIF for getting these books to my school where they are really needed.

And I have to thank Evan again for granting my school the gift of reading. Isn’t it so much better to give a book as a gift? Can you not see the possibilities? Trick or treating can become trick or reading. Christmas can be a festival of reading clubs. The tooth fairy could leave a book. Birthdays would be better than a trip to the library.

How cool would that be?

A nation of readers who read for pleasure and learning because they discovered all of its joys—and with joy even work is satisfying.

Yeah, that would be too cool.