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.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


Nike Day—and my school opened its doors to over a hundred volunteers, photographers and TV cameras. Every teacher received a Nike sweat shirt and every student a Nike T-shirt. There was some apprehension that someone would embarrass us to the visitors, but I knew this would not happen.

Long ago I learned when people come to your school with good news and positive expectations, a verbal dispute becomes overzealous behavior and students perceived as leaders are the best enforcers of classroom rules.

In the afternoon, four Nike volunteers (Erwin Erspamer, Jim Heldu, Jimmy Khounlavong, and Aaron Maines) from Detroit (how cool is that?) and Chicago were in my class waiting for us to return from lunch so we could do the owl pellet ecology healthy habitat experiment.

As usual, I selected one of my students to take the volunteers into the hall, introduce themselves to the Nike volunteers and then bring them back into the classroom to introduce them to my students. Then everyone took their place at a table. Each volunteer had five to six students, two worksheets and one owl pellet.

They took charge of their tables immediately with small talk and encouragement. Soon we had owl pellet pieces all over the table, fur and feather, and bones attached to the vole skeleton worksheet. We identified the number of voles each owl had eaten—one group found the skull of a mole—and then we collected our data as a group and discussed our findings.

Was the owl’s habitat healthy? Yes, for the owls. They definitely had enough to eat. How about for the voles? They were not allowed to overpopulate, my students inferred. No owl ate more than two voles—this per owl pellet—and a few only had one. Were the owls leaving some voles alive for the future? We could not decide.

We graphed our results and wrote a conclusion on what we learned.

Then the four volunteers played the healthy habitat game where I am nature. Using seven pencils, the four volunteers had to have one in their hand to stay alive. Each pencil represented one vole. The rules are simple: you must have one vole to go into the next round, I cheat (because nature cheats—hurricanes and lightning and tornadoes don’t have patterns we can one hundred percent predict), and you have to figure out the other major rule by yourself.

One volunteer was too greedy. He ate more voles (possessed more pencils) so I killed him off. “You’re getting too fat and that makes you too slow,” I said. My class was there with me supporting, enjoying the Nike volunteers, and laughing. Another volunteer grabbed too many voles and I got rid of him, too. Remember: Rule 2—I cheat.

In the end, the remaining two did not die. They grabbed one vole and left the rest on the floor so they could multiply. They figured it out. If they ate all of the food, there would be no more left for them later. Some voles have to survive to multiply and keep the food chain alive and healthy. Would owls do that? We still could not determine if they would.

Thank you, Nike, for sending to my classroom these wonderful volunteers. And thank you, Erin, Jim, Jimmy and Aaron for helping my class have a wonderful hands-on ecological opportunity.


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