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.