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, February 28, 2007


After I spent too much time collecting field trip slips, after I worked out problems with a few teachers who have been sick and came to school the day of the trip, after the confusion of lining up a hundred students from a half dozen classrooms, after trying to get one adult for every ten children, after all of this we headed out to the Sears Center to see the Chicago Storm play an indoor soccer game. (They call it football.)

If you read this blog, you will remember one of my students explained to me in the after school program why the upper grade students will not do anything else in gym except play basketball: “We’re African-American. We only play basketball.”

So I turned his statement into research. We had a flurry of sports related projects, met with Nicole Long from the Chicago Storm, and then we settled into the long bus ride to Hoffman Estates to watch the “Chicago” Storm take on the Rockford team.

We arrived right on time—after the introductions and the singing of the national anthem. We had a blast.

The game was as exciting as Nicole had told us it would be. At one time I took a group of about twenty students to empty front row right next to the action—the ball shooting past us with nose breaking speed, men knocked incredibly hard into the sides of the playing field, the sweat and struggle to win painted on every feature of their faces.

Before we left the school a great number of students were going on the trip because, well, because it was a trip. After the first quarter, one of my students was whooping it up and she was contagious. Students were dancing and cheering and yelling and having a great time. They were learning about a new game and they liked what they saw. Some of them even asked the gym teacher who was on the trip too if they could play indoor soccer when they got back to the school.

Even when we took a break from the game and walked around the Sears Center—and here I have to tell you more than three quarters of the hundred students who went have never seen the inside of any kind of stadium before—the students had a grand experience. At one table outside our seating area, my students lined up to participate in arts and crafts. They pulled out cell phones (even though they’re not allowed in school) to take pictures of themselves with Striker, the Storm mascot. They rushed to where the players were to get autographs. They even took a seat in the club.

The half time show introduced my students to a great number of animals—including a python the trainer draped over the cheerleaders. They walked the python close enough to where we were sitting, we could see into its eyes.

How cool is that!

The game was a part of the school day show so we had to listen to a few make-a-goal-and-keep-it speeches, and overall everything went smooth as ice cream. We enjoyed ourselves immensely.

By the way—one of the school’s biggest discipline problems came on the trip, too, and she was one of the best behaved students there. This is why I try to take all of my students on a trip—though this particular student isn’t one of mine. Oftentimes you can learn a whole lot about somebody when you observe them in an entirely different environment. And, yes, she had a great time, too.

Thanks for inviting us.

Oh, and by the way, the Chicago Storm won 21 to 10 and when I entered my classroom, the first thing I saw on the blackboard this morning was a great big heart. Inside of it someone had written, "Mr. Brownstein's 7th grade classroom. Thanks."

Monday, February 26, 2007


The morning went smoothly, but I could not finish my science lesson. My homeroom was next door and I had my other class. We were studying a handout about the migration of the wildebeest, but I was not able to continue.

We have a few teachers who have taken a few days off due to illness and I have been the lucky one to take the problem children. Lucky? No, I think unlucky is the better word. The substitutes can’t handle them so they come to me. Again and again and again.

I guess I’m tired. It’s time I learned to say no.

It’s hard to watch a twelve year old meet up with an older boy—a high school teenager—and then walk down the street with their arms around each other. One of my students changes whenever she loses her boyfriend. But she doesn’t know what it is to have a boyfriend. Sex is not a boyfriend. I’m sorry. It’s not. My students are too young, but they don’t know this.

So why is this blog called the cursing carnival?

Because I had a lot planned, but suddenly the girl placed in my room from another class could not—would not—be quiet, the boy placed in my room from another class could not sit still, the girl I worry about because she’s not old enough to do what she is doing could not stop whispering and then the cursing boy began to curse and curse and curse.

I stopped teaching. I called his mother. She asked me why I had lied to her. I didn’t understand.

Why did you tell me he does all of his work? she asked, but I never told her this. I told her he only does his work when he is in the room supervised closely by another adult.

What time do you get to school? she asked and I told her seven AM.

She said she would be at my school at seven. Great. I tell her he curses up a storm and all she can tell me is I am a liar.

That’s not the question. Her son has been cursing for days and days and no punishment seems to work. I mean what is a suspension really but a few days off to play video games and watch television?

I usually go to the home of my irate and misbehaving students, but I’m tired.

Yes, that’s it. (But I’m up for suggestions on how to stop these problems.)

And then after school suddenly too many girls are yelling and cursing and threatening each other. I am the only adult from the school outside. I already had to hear the parent tell her six year old son to kick the girl’s --- if she messed with him again and I had to deal with the mother who was angry because a boy wanted to punch her daughter—and what could I do about it—and…and…

No, I’m tired.

But I do have a great field trip planned for tomorrow. There’s always something.


Seeking funds from a science grant from a larger grant given to the Chicago Board of Education: Part A school information—address, phone, etc.

B. Eighty percent of upper grade students will show a ten percent gain on the standardized test’s mathematics section.
Students will be able to demonstrate graphing techniques (functions, x y coordinates, scientific graphs for use in science fair projects, etc.) utilizing a variety of technologies.
Students will be able to demonstrate effective extended responses with oral and written reports utilizing a variety of software and technology.
The professional staff will utilize professional development in mathematics through technology to engage their students and develop strategies to ensure every child succeeds.

C. Presently _____ has a severe deficit in mathematics at the upper grade level according to standardized testing. Engaged activities utilizing a variety of technologies will enhance our curriculum and empower our students to develop a more comprehensive understanding of mathematical concepts. This grant will also offer our students independent exploration discovery time and allow them to research a variety of problems in mathematics. Furthermore, the teacher as coach model will offer our students opportunities in problem solving, critical thinking and communication skills. The extensive staff development component of this grant will provide our teachers opportunities to expand their repertoire of strategies to reach every child successfully. Brain research demonstrates that everyone has a different learning modality. Through staff development and frequent meetings with all of the involved teachers, all of the upper grade students at ___ will be able to develop, explore and integrate into their learning style the best methods to expand their mathematical learning stream.
_____ will also commit the following resources to enhance and ensure the continuation of this project: staff time for collaborative planning; in house staff development to pass the information learned at the staff developments to the entire staff; time to offer peer tutoring (teacher to teacher); and the development of a core group of students and staff to further develop goals, strategies and objectives. ______’s vision is to create a community of lifelong learners. This grant will offer the entire educational community of _____ this opportunity.

Thursday, February 22, 2007


It’s been an interesting week to say the least. On Friday of last week, I set a new personal best—most fights broken up in a two hour period: 8. (Fortunately none from my room—and this includes two after school when I was the only staff member outside to assist during dismissal.)

If I were to start to give A’s for cursing, a bunch of students surrounding me—and some in my own class—would get an A each quarter.

The bully problem persists in a few classrooms, and the girl who has been victimized in the past in my classroom has now become the biggest bully of all. (But she made everything easy for me by yelling and cursing out the assistant principal. Bullying the assistant principal? Not a good thing.)

In the last five days—starting back with last Friday—I have had between three and six students from other classrooms housed in my room because either their teacher or a sub could not control them. And let’s not leave out Tuesday—the day I spent an equal amount of time between my room and another room because…well…because…(At one point a student hit the teacher and then started dancing around the room.)

So yes, the last few days have been a daze.

But there is good news too.

Jim Burnette, a rep I met at the No Child Left Behind convention (sponsored by the Illinois Resource Center), dropped by the school yesterday morning at 7:30 for our Least Restricted Environment (LRE) meeting. He brought by a lot of resources to assist us. (I’m trying to spend a few thousand dollars and he wanted to help me spend it and I would like to spend it with him and his publishers.) It was a great meeting. We were able to look at a number of great projects and ideas.

But here’s the best part. The superintendent of the Chicago Public Schools was going to drop by sometime during the day and Jim offered to help me clean up the LRE Resource Room. (This is a room we set up to assist teachers who are having inclusion problems.)

Jim reps for Heinemann and others. I’d give you his contact info, but first I’d better get his permission. I’m hoping to spend the money with him to purchase a number of much needed material so our school can become a full inclusion setting. (Unfortunately, the LRE grant is contingent on a lawyer’s approval.)

Thanks for the help, Jim.

Oh, by the way, the principal’s meeting (which is why the superintendent showed up) went very well. When people from the meeting made their walk through and came into my class, they saw my students mixing chemicals to create mixtures and solutions. And everything worked. The chemicals went from clear to white to yellow and back to white. In the end, every group of chemists had a cup of chemicals layered with different colors. (And did I tell you at one point the chemicals fizzed and began to boil?)

Finally a day that was not a daze.

Saturday, February 17, 2007


The Superintendent of the Chicago Schools is coming to my school sometime during the week of the President's Day Holiday.

So, of course, we suddenly have to make the school perfect and everyone in the world knows no school anywhere is perfect. We are not going to be teachers; we are going to be actors.

Principals, please listen: A school is a school. Almost every teacher I know is passionate about teaching and they are trying as hard as they can.

If the superintendent is coming because he wants to close our school down, no matter how good we look, he will see only reasons to close us down. If he is coming because he is proud of us, no matter how bad we look, he will see only the good.

Once in my life--back in the day when Chicago schools went on strike every year--I ran a school for neighborhood students during the strikes. One teacher, a friend of mine, could not control his students in his classroom and he could not control them in the school I created temporarily. Nonetheless, when the Chicago Tribune showed up to write an article about us, I did not take over his spot teaching the high school students algebra. They were loud, everyone talking, he was at the board chalk on his suit and face, paper all over the table and chairs--not a perfect situation. The Tribune reporter came in with her photographer only minutes after I had let out the elementary school classroom. The place was a mess.

The next day on page 3 of the metro section there was a great and very positive article written about us covering half the page. Instead of noisy students, the reporter used the words "overzealous learners". Throughout the article were the words "engaged," "exciting," "wonderful." Even the mess became a compliment: "a real learning environment." The article was so complimentary, if we had been Catholic, someone would have nominated us for sainthood.

The photo was great too.

Principals, you don't have to put on an act. Your teachers care about the school, too. Let them do their job. The visitors come to the school with a ready made agenda. No matter how we do, they will make the situation fit that agenda. Sorry, but that's the truth.

We're teachers teaching in sometimes very terrible and demanding conditions. We're not actors who put on a show for one day. We're teachers who teach everyday.

Enough said.

Friday, February 16, 2007


What can I say? The NCLB Conference sponsored by the Illinois Resource Center (www.thecenterweb.org) I attended this year was great. My presentation was at 10:00 on Thursday morning (Everything Should Be Absolutely Free to Teachers--A Grant Writer's Workshop: Do you have a literacy project you want to fund? This session will introduce you to all of the steps needed to successfully write a grant to get your ideas funded. Michael H. Brownstein has written more than three hundred funded grants over the last three years.)

Every year I receive a great number of samples for my school and a few curriculum aids are very helpful. My presentation on grant writing didn't flow as well as I hoped, but maybe I'm being a bit too self critical. (On the spot I created for my audience two grants--one for classroom libraries and one to counter the negative impact of bullies.) Everyone who spoke to me only had compliments and a few of the vendors told me all of the good things they heard. I've been doing this convention for years and I have never seen any real feedback in writing, so I'm open to it. If you want to comment on how I did, feel free to use the comment button on this blog.

I am the chair for inclusion in my school so I attended the inclusion workshop--excellent job ladies. If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know how I have a difficult time with workshops, but in this one I learned a thing or five.

I will every now and then publish a successful grant on this site. If you want to read it, it will always have the word "grant" in its title. So I guess you'll have to check in every now and then.

Anyway, the conference was very good, I would like to thank Positive Action, Project Reality, Frog Press, Coach and others--including the Illinois Resource Center (thanks for inviting me)--and others for their assistance. Unfortunately, I had to get back to school to run the recreational part of the after school program, break up a few fights at dismissal, cross the children after the after school program ended, and break up another fight.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


We didn’t have a snow day. My high school children did. Not us. Chicago schools were open and the snow kept falling and the wind kept blowing and only one front door—the one near the office—opened easily without having to push against the piles of snow.

We had a field trip planned when the rest of the area was having a snow day—so it was cancelled. Child after child came to me with trip slips and I had to tell them it was cancelled. On the first floor, three teachers did not make it in—the storm was that bad. Others came in late or took the subway and were late.

My classes were angry they did not have a trip to go on. They had lunches and extra money and they were ready. The weather was not. We didn’t have a snow day like my children’s school and we didn’t have a field trip either.

Only a few students were absent on the second floor and somehow all of the teachers made it in who teach on the second floor. I could not finish my lesson on THE SKELETON MAN, the novel we are reading with one of my classes. I did not get to make the chemical reaction with one of my classes. I did not get to go over the research with my students because some of them were angry.

No snow day. No field trip. You mean we have to do work?

OK—we aren’t having a snow day today either. The front door of the school is blocked in by snow so we have to enter in from the back. The snow blower is hard at work removing the snow and I think the sidewalks will be clear by 8:00. The roads in Chicago are clear. The highways are awake and well, thank you. The trains I take to work are all on time and on schedule and I made every connection.

North of the city, my children have a late start day. Ten inches of snow fell where I live. No snow day for them today. They go to school after 10.

It’s actually hot in my classroom. We’re directly over the ancient boilers and they are running fulltime now. Tonight it’s supposed to go to zero. Too much heat can’t be a bad thing.

As I stood in the thick snow after school—the after school programs were cancelled— sending children on their way home—myself and one other security officer—one of the parents told me, “We won’t be in school tomorrow. This weather is ridiculous.”

I came from the northside to the southside to get here. Is it so hard to walk two blocks?

Sunday, February 11, 2007


How mundane.

Bathroom time.

When I first arrived at the school where I presently teach, I was pleasantly surprised to see doors on the bathroom stalls, Before then, every inner city school where I taught or visited did not have doors on the stalls.


A bunch of excuses were always offered. Fighting. Vandalism. Flooding the bathroom floor.


In my school, no one is allowed in the halls until our ninety minute reading block has ended. At 10:30 I know exactly which three boys and one girl will have to go to the bathroom. One by one I offer them the pass.

Last week I let two boys go to the bathroom together. One of them--a very quiet student who has an incredible wish to belong--poured a chemical on the floor and another chemical on his shoes and started a fire.

He thought the chemical on his shoes would stop the flames from burning them. It did not happen. Fortunately, an adult was nearby and the fire was put out quickly before anyone could be hurt. Only the shoes were messed up.

I hate taking older children to the bathroom. The girls use it as gossip time--and we do have a brief free time after lunch in my classroom--and the boys, well, it depends on their moods. Why is it I have to stand in the boy's bathroom and a woman teacher has to monitor the girls?

But now we're into peer pressure. That's a million word blog by itself.


Friday, February 09, 2007


We have had three really nice things happen during the last two weeks. A rep came by from a science book company and I received a commitment from her for additional material when we place our order.

Derrick Robinson, a doctor from the ER at the University of Chicago Hospitals, came into the room and read to us as part of the Real Men Read Program. He was great. He read a story about foster children and then told us about his life and trials.

Nicole Long from the Chicago Storm, a professional soccer team, dropped off soccer curriculums and a hundred tickets to attend a game from the Kids-4-Soccer Foundation. She hung around and fielded questions from the students in one of my classes. She even made a bet with one of the boys: “If the game is not physical enough for you,” she said, “I’ll give you a soccer ball autographed by the team.” She was great.

So why am I tired?

Long ago I learned people really do want the public schools to succeed. They come to the schools and hope to leave with a satisfying experience. The children are engaged, they’re good listeners, they obviously care. No one wants to leave a school thinking what’s wrong with that class? Why are they so rude? Did I hear someone curse?

I go to my students homes for good news and bad. I made two home visits two evenings ago. Good news and bad. I made another last night.

Every good thing that happened in my classroom—the science lady, Derrick Robinson from Real Men Read (sponsored by Concordia), and Nicole Long from the Chicago Storm bringing us good news from the Kids-4-Soccer Foundation—was interrupted by one student. She couldn’t stop talking or giggling or eating. During these visits she went totally into another zone—so loud I had to remove her from her place and sit her with me—and I knew, I just knew, my visitor was not thinking kindly of the class I call “the best in the school”. Furthermore, it was never her fault. Never.

I thought she would apologize and quiet down when I walked her and her little sister home. But, no. She ranted and raged and raved and then raged some more until I left her and went to her house by myself.

This is why I am tired. If you are looking for money for your class or a special project (mentors, for example), inviting the individuals into your classroom makes a lot of difference. I’ve raised thousands of dollars without even writing a word. A phone call, an invitation to my classroom, an acceptance to visit, and usually everything flows. My class understands, problems are resolved ahead of time, students are engaged active listeners and even if they don’t care, they look like they do.

No one wants to punish an entire class over a disruptive student. It just happens that one bad apple does ruin the bushel; one moldy piece of paper destroys the paper behind it; one person yawns, others yawn too.
You get the point.

I’m tired.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007


Wednesday and I don't have any real breaks. All day my classes come at me one after the other, until lunch and then I only have fifteen minutes--not enough time.

No matter.

We begin the morning with vocabulary. Our bell ringer. The students find the definition of a word using context clues. Then we get into our research. The students answer questions from encyclopedias. For the most part though, we're reading THE SKELETON MAN and most of the class is into it. Nice story, THE SKELETON MAN. Nice legends, nice realistic fiction. Can it be based on truth? So, yes, we're studying nonfiction, too.

After lunch the entire seventh grade has been coming into my room. We're interpreting data and making all kinds of graphs--stem and leaf, histograms, etc., etc., etc. And they're catching on.

There's problems too. A few students still want to play the bully card. It's an uphill battle, but I'm winning.

Oh, by the way, I spent a few minutes on the phone with representatives from the Chicsgo Storm, a professional soccer team. I won a grant from them for two hundred students to become part of a mentoring program. Worth about 8000 dollars.

Not bad for a day's work.

Monday, February 05, 2007


OK, so I’m lying. I don’t have the Superbowl blues. Chicago lost, the hysteria is over, now we can get back on to the important issues of the day. Grossman being beat up by the sport’s columnists is not one of them.

I have to admit I had an interest in the Bears not winning. Every school I have worked has had break ins and vandalism when a Chicago team wins—except for the White Sox, and I really can’t explain that one.

It seems in Chicago celebrating a victory means destroying a community. Schools get wrecked, stores get looted and the famous Yellow taxi cab gets turned over onto its back. Someone has to pay for all of this—and seldom does anyone get punished. So, no, I’m not all broke up by the fact that the Bears lost.

Homework for my classes over this weekend was to do research on the most popular sports in the world. Football—American football—did not make the top five list. Rugby or cricket came in second. In Thailand kite flying is the most popular sport.

So there you have it.

But do you know what I would like to see as the most popular sport in the world?

Yep, you guessed it: education—where a perfect A report card gets all of the acclaim.

Sunday, February 04, 2007


It's really cold outside. I mean really cold. This is a good thing. The last year Chicago won a championship--not counting the White Sox (cause no one really seemed to care)--schools all over the city were vandalized. A school where I used to work was hit hard--almost every room had some kind of destruction.

The news reported more Chicago and state police will be out tonight. My school has an ADT system and I hope that's enough. But the cold may be the best thing of all. This kind of cold will keep people inside for sure.

I hope so. This year we already went through a number of windows. Bullets. Rocks. Other things. Oftentimes a squad car hangs out behind the school in the small hours of the night. I hope they're there again tonight.

A few rooms have been vandalized this school year, a few cars scratched and windows broken, a few teachers hit in action (and one bit in the arm until she was bleeding).

So we're in the Superbowl. I hope the schools survive.

Friday, February 02, 2007


We have had a policy in my school for awhile now prohibiting cell phones. I’m sorry, I just don’t seem to see this great urgency to have one. I don’t know why I would need to talk to someone all of the time everywhere I am no matter what. It puzzles me—people on the train, in the shopping center, on a date—all of them, talking, talking, talking on a cell phone. Obviously I’m one of the last people in America with a phone connected to a wall in my kitchen.

One of my students asked, “What if there’s an emergency?”

That’s why we have a front office. Nothing like getting a call on your cell phone telling you your mother—God forbid—has just been shot thirteen times in the chest and—then you lose your signal.

I’d much rather have the call come to the office where we can handle it quietly and much more compassionately. Once a mother entered my classroom to tell me she had to take her son home and then she fell to the floor and became hysterical. (Someone tried to burn down her apartment and shot her father a number of times.) I needed help right then. A person’s help. Not a cell phone.

(OK. OK. I’ll give you one emergency. Your car stops in the middle of nowhere and it’s freezing outside and you don’t know what to do. A cell phone might be handy right then.) But not in school.

Which brings me to my story of a cell phone ringing in my classroom of seventh graders and one fifth grader so out of control, they placed him in my room because—so they think—I can control him until he is ready to go back to his own class. (Another story altogether.) The boy with the cell phone denies he has a cell phone, but not a minute later he is under his desk, the cell phone to his ear, returning the call. Unbelievable.

“What cell phone?” he asks. “I don’t have a cell phone.”

He has it against his head. Everyone can see it. So he’s busted. But what does he do? Does he apologize? Does he put it away? No. He keeps on talking only now he’s no longer under his desk. So I ask for the cell phone because that is the policy of the school. We are mandated to confiscate the cell phones. And he does a most amazing thing. He starts to curse out the girl across from him. And won’t stop. And he is still on his cell phone.

I remove him from the room. His homeroom teacher takes him aside for a bit of a discussion. Security confiscates the cell phone. He gets time out at home.

End of story.

But what about the basketball game in the heading of this blog? Nothing. After school in the After School All Stars, the boys tell the gym teacher and me that they want to play basketball.

Not an option, I explain. We play all kinds of sports. Not just basketball. When you signed up for the gym program, you knew this.

But we’re black. Basketball is what black people play.

Sorry, I answer. That’s not true. Soccer is what is played all over the world. Not basketball. Soccer. And it’s played in every country in Africa and in every country in the Caribbean.

The students don’t like this response. So I ask them to sit on the stage.

Basketball. We want basketball. We never play—

We have a situation. The gym teacher has the volleyball net set up. He wants to teach volleyball—which is a fairly fun game if given a chance—but, no, they want basketball.

They don’t get basketball. They didn’t get a lot of other things either. I’m the coordinator of the program. In the gym, they finally play kickball. And next week?

Next week we’ll be in the classrooms doing academic enrichment and community service projects. No basketball. Sorry. It’s time to learn American sports, football for example, is only popular in America. Real football—which we call soccer—is the most popular game in the world. And basketball, well basketball is basketball--just another American game.

Cricket anyone?