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The Life of an Inner-City Teacher

Monday, Nov. 18, 2013, 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. ET
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 The Life of an Inner-City Teacher(11/18/2013) 
10:41
Bryan Toporek: 
Good morning and welcome to today's free live Education Week Teacher chat, "The Life of an Inner-City Teacher." I've just opened the chat for questions, so please start submitting yours below.

We'll be back at 4:30 p.m. ET with Ilana Garon. Hope to see you then!
Monday November 18, 2013 10:41 Bryan Toporek
4:23
Bryan Toporek: 
Folks, thanks again for joining us for today's free live Education Week Teacher chat, "The Life of an Inner-City Teacher." We'll be getting underway in roughly 5 minutes.

In the meantime, please keep submitting your questions below. Thanks!
Monday November 18, 2013 4:23 Bryan Toporek
4:29
Bryan Toporek: 
Alright, folks, we're ready to get underway. I'm passing control of the chat over to today's moderator, Liana Heitin. Take it away, Liana!
Monday November 18, 2013 4:29 Bryan Toporek
4:30
Liana Heitin: 
Hi everyone and welcome to our chat on “The Life of an Inner-City Teacher.” Thanks for joining us. Our guest today is Ilana Garon, a 10th year teacher and author of "Why Do Only White People Get Abducted by Aliens?": Teaching Lessons from the Bronx. She also writes the Education Week Teacher blog View From the Bronx. We’re excited to have her here.
Monday November 18, 2013 4:30 Liana Heitin
4:30
Liana Heitin: 
Ilana would you mind kicking things off by telling us a little more about yourself?
Monday November 18, 2013 4:30 Liana Heitin
4:30
Ilana Garon: 
Hi everyone. My name is Ilana--as you can see, I'm a 10th grade ELA teacher. (I also teach 11th-12th grade AP English Lit.) I work at a public high school in the Bronx.
Monday November 18, 2013 4:30 Ilana Garon
4:31
Ilana Garon: 
I also wrote the book, above, WDOWPGABA (that's what I'll call it here.)
Monday November 18, 2013 4:31 Ilana Garon
4:31
Ilana Garon: 
So, I sort of balance my time as a teacher and a writer--and a runner! >
Monday November 18, 2013 4:31 Ilana Garon
4:31
Ilana Garon: 
Thanks for having me here.
Monday November 18, 2013 4:31 Ilana Garon
4:32
Liana Heitin: 
Ha, thanks for the acronym. It's a good one.
Monday November 18, 2013 4:32 Liana Heitin
4:32
Ilana Garon: 
It definitely made for some weird emails between my editor and me. :)
Monday November 18, 2013 4:32 Ilana Garon
4:32
Liana Heitin: 
We've got lots of great questions coming in, but first could you tell everyone how your book got its name?
Monday November 18, 2013 4:32 Liana Heitin
4:32
Ilana Garon: 
Sure. So, back when I was first teaching, I had this idea that I MUST get my students to write a research paper.
Monday November 18, 2013 4:32 Ilana Garon
4:33
Ilana Garon: 
I was trying to help them think of good research questions--you know, not "yes or no" types of questions, but ones that would require in-depth research to learn more about.
Monday November 18, 2013 4:33 Ilana Garon
4:33
Ilana Garon: 
I was eliciting suggestions from the kids--and that was the best "research question" i received (though ultimately not what she decided to do her paper on.)
Monday November 18, 2013 4:33 Ilana Garon
4:33
Ilana Garon: 
I thought it was so funny, I figured, "Someone should write a book with that title!" So I did. (I actually explain this in the book, too, in more detail.)
Monday November 18, 2013 4:33 Ilana Garon
4:34
Ilana Garon: 
So, one of the kids came up with the title, in essence. :) >
Monday November 18, 2013 4:34 Ilana Garon
4:35
Liana Heitin: 
Excellent. Now here's a question from Lauren, who is soon to be an urban teacher.
Monday November 18, 2013 4:35 Liana Heitin
4:35
[Comment From LaurenLauren: ] 
I'm a senior English Education student who will potentially be doing my student teaching next fall in an inner-city school. I'm both nervous and excited for this challenge, but I want to go in feeling as prepared as I can without having been in the classroom. How can I prepare myself?
Monday November 18, 2013 4:35 Lauren
4:35
Ilana Garon: 
Hi Lauren. Great question. This is hard a one to answer because I think few of us are prepared, no matter how much we think we are. My best advice: Go in with an open mind about expectations for yourself, and for your students.
Monday November 18, 2013 4:35 Ilana Garon
4:36
Ilana Garon: 
You'll have constantly revise both--in both positive and negative ways.
Monday November 18, 2013 4:36 Ilana Garon
4:36
Ilana Garon: 
Also, in a more concrete way, be VERY organized. Try to figure out in advance the practical things like how you'll want to keep records, grades, organize the kids, collect and return assignments, when you'll do planning, grading, etc.
Monday November 18, 2013 4:36 Ilana Garon
4:36
Ilana Garon: 
The more of that stuff you've got figured out in advance, the easier your time will be.
Monday November 18, 2013 4:36 Ilana Garon
4:37
Ilana Garon: 
And definitely, find a senior faculty member to advise you--the advice of a veteran is invaluable.
Monday November 18, 2013 4:37 Ilana Garon
4:37
Ilana Garon: 
Good luck with your student teaching! >
Monday November 18, 2013 4:37 Ilana Garon
4:37
Liana Heitin: 
Here's one from Rhianna that I know you'll relate to, Ilana.
Monday November 18, 2013 4:37 Liana Heitin
4:37
[Comment From RhiannaRhianna: ] 
What is your best advice for new teachers regarding how to keep work life separate or not bring things home emotionally? I taught 3rd grade inner-city kids for two years and never felt like I was doing enough for them... thanks
Monday November 18, 2013 4:37 Rhianna
4:38
Ilana Garon: 
Hi Rhianna. I struggled with this a lot too. It helped me to talk about my concerns with fellow faculty member in school, so that I could hopefully not dwell on the issues at home.
Monday November 18, 2013 4:38 Ilana Garon
4:38
Ilana Garon: 
Also, try to keep a packed weekend doing things that are fun and rewarding for you. Whenever possible, avoid doing school-work on weekends (I know that's not possible sometimes.)
Monday November 18, 2013 4:38 Ilana Garon
4:39
Ilana Garon: 
Doing stuff that is rewarding for you--hobbies, seeing friends, etc.--will recharge you so that you can focus more on the kids during "their time," on the weekdays. And keep you from dwelling on their problems at home. >
Monday November 18, 2013 4:39 Ilana Garon
4:39
Liana Heitin: 
(Running helps, too, right?)
Monday November 18, 2013 4:39 Liana Heitin
4:40
Liana Heitin: 
Ilana is too modest to tell everyone that she just ran her first marathon. :)
Monday November 18, 2013 4:40 Liana Heitin
4:40
Ilana Garon: 
Yes, haha, thank you Liana! Running is great--I highly recommend running a marathon as a relief from work-related stress. :) >
Monday November 18, 2013 4:40 Ilana Garon
4:40
Liana Heitin: 
Here's one about the ever-dreaded homework.
Monday November 18, 2013 4:40 Liana Heitin
4:40
[Comment From Andrew SchuschuAndrew Schuschu: ] 
As a current student teacher who has recently started teaching their first class, I currently have the issue of not all students completing the homework, or asking to complete or turn it all in at the end of the unit. Did you face this issue, and how do you think I should go about solving it?
Monday November 18, 2013 4:40 Andrew Schuschu
4:40
Ilana Garon: 
Moreover, the training was a helpful routine for me to get into on weekends and weeknights, which helped keep me sane. I'm now looking for more races to run. >
Monday November 18, 2013 4:40 Ilana Garon
4:41
Ilana Garon: 
Andrew, that is a problem that is soooooo common.
Monday November 18, 2013 4:41 Ilana Garon
4:41
Ilana Garon: 
Honestly, the students I'm working with are equally terrible about turning in assignments. I try to keep regular contact with their parents, and also "incentivize" homework completion with promises of things like movies, fun group activities, or (candy) prizes.
Monday November 18, 2013 4:41 Ilana Garon
4:42
Ilana Garon: 
But none of that is a perfect solution; this is a problem faced by teachers everywhere in low socio-economic areas, I'm beginning to realize.
Monday November 18, 2013 4:42 Ilana Garon
4:42
Ilana Garon: 
And no one has, as of yet, produced a good solution. Keep contact with parents as much as you can, and if you aren't already, use an online gradebook so that parents and kids can see what assignments they are missing via the internet. >
Monday November 18, 2013 4:42 Ilana Garon
4:42
Ilana Garon: 
Hope that helps a little bit. >
Monday November 18, 2013 4:42 Ilana Garon
4:43
Liana Heitin: 
Theresa is offering congrats on the marathon. She also has a great question:
Monday November 18, 2013 4:43 Liana Heitin
4:43
[Comment From Theresa AvilaTheresa Avila: ] 
What are some strategies you use to help encourage parental involvement?
Monday November 18, 2013 4:43 Theresa Avila
4:43
Ilana Garon: 
Hi Theresa. In our school, teachers are mandated to make at least 10 phone calls a week to parents--annoying, to be sure, but it gets parents in the mindset that they WILL be reached out to.
Monday November 18, 2013 4:43 Ilana Garon
4:43
Ilana Garon: 
That helps to promote involvement somewhat.
Monday November 18, 2013 4:43 Ilana Garon
4:44
Ilana Garon: 
Also when I talk to parents, I try really hard to validate their concerns about themselves as involved parents ("I know you're really pushing him to do better, etc.") before I deliver the news of "...but, he's not doing any of his homework"--letting parents lnow they are on the same team as you are helps.
Monday November 18, 2013 4:44 Ilana Garon
4:45
Ilana Garon: 
But we do have problems in our school with limited attendance to parent-teacher night, disconnected phone lines, parents who do not return contacts, etc. It is a real problem--for sure. >
Monday November 18, 2013 4:45 Ilana Garon
4:46
Liana Heitin: 
Here's another question about parents (a sad one):
Monday November 18, 2013 4:46 Liana Heitin
4:46
[Comment From Colleen BotsiosColleen Botsios: ] 
What supports are being used to help children cope with the increasing numbers of incarcerated parents in the inner city?
Monday November 18, 2013 4:46 Colleen Botsios
4:46
Ilana Garon: 
Colleen, I'm glad you brought that up. That is a common problem I've seen; just the other day, one of our students was saying, "Have you noticed how no one in this class has any dads?" Really telling. And sad.
Monday November 18, 2013 4:46 Ilana Garon
4:47
Ilana Garon: 
Keeping counselors in the loop has been productive, I've seen--a lot of times, if I see a kid upset and let the counselors know about it quickly, they can have a "session" later that day.
Monday November 18, 2013 4:47 Ilana Garon
4:47
Ilana Garon: 
Also just making myself available as a stand-in parental figure, to talk to during lunch periods or after school.
Monday November 18, 2013 4:47 Ilana Garon
4:48
Ilana Garon: 
Not a perfect solution, to be sure. But it's a start. Also reminding kids that they do not have to end up in jail just because people around them have--that there is always room for hope, improvement, and achieving goals. >
Monday November 18, 2013 4:48 Ilana Garon
4:48
Liana Heitin: 
Everyone, please keep those great questions coming in.
Monday November 18, 2013 4:48 Liana Heitin
4:48
Liana Heitin: 
Here's one on looking for a school to work in.
Monday November 18, 2013 4:48 Liana Heitin
4:49
[Comment From GuestGuest: ] 
What advice do you have for first time teachers when it comes to looking for a job in a school that is a good fit - especially as it relates to inner city teaching?
Monday November 18, 2013 4:49 Guest
4:49
Ilana Garon: 
Also, reminding them that though it's normal not to want to talk about your "family business" all the time, this isn't something the kids personally have ot be embarrassed about (when a relative is incarcerated.) >
Monday November 18, 2013 4:49 Ilana Garon
4:49
Liana Heitin: 
Great point, Ilana.
Monday November 18, 2013 4:49 Liana Heitin
4:49
Ilana Garon: 
Guest--something I realized, when I was looking, was that I had to talk to the teachers who were already in that school.
Monday November 18, 2013 4:49 Ilana Garon
4:50
Ilana Garon: 
One time I was interviewing at a place, and it seemed like a good fit. But I stopped a couple of teachers in the hallway and asked them about it--and unanimously, they were all like, "The principal is crazy. We're all on pins and needles. Whatever you do, try to find somewhere else."
Monday November 18, 2013 4:50 Ilana Garon
4:50
Ilana Garon: 
Scary! And later this principal had some disciplinary actions taken against him. At any rate, try very hard to talk to the teachers who are there, or ask someone who knows a teacher there.
Monday November 18, 2013 4:50 Ilana Garon
4:51
Ilana Garon: 
That type of interaction will give you a sense of what the climate is like.
Monday November 18, 2013 4:51 Ilana Garon
4:51
Ilana Garon: 
Helps a lot to talk with current employees, like in any job. That, and obviously consider things like location (in relation to your home--long commuting STINKS, and I speak from daily experience), generalized school philosophy, the vibe you get from the principal, etc. >
Monday November 18, 2013 4:51 Ilana Garon
4:52
Liana Heitin: 
Speaking of location...
Monday November 18, 2013 4:52 Liana Heitin
4:52
Ilana Garon: 
Inner city schools already have a lot of stress attached--you definitely want to ask all the questions you can to find one that is a good fit for you. >
Monday November 18, 2013 4:52 Ilana Garon
4:52
[Comment From LHLH: ] 
Do you live in the neighborhood in which you teach? Do you feel this would be an important consideration in the ability to form relationships with, and foster understanding of the needs, of students?
Monday November 18, 2013 4:52 LH
4:53
Ilana Garon: 
Hi LH. I do not live in the neighborhood where I teach--I was actually told not to. When I started teaching, several people in my teaching fellows class literally moved OUT of the neighborhoods they were now teaching in, bceause they felt it interfered with their sense of being a professional figure to students when they were constantly running into them in Dunkin Donuts.
Monday November 18, 2013 4:53 Ilana Garon
4:53
Ilana Garon: 
But I could see arguments for this either way, honestly. Being close to the kids might foster a sense of camraderie, etc.
Monday November 18, 2013 4:53 Ilana Garon
4:54
Ilana Garon: 
What I try to do, though I don't live in the neighborhood, is to know various local merchants and store-owners. There's a woman I buy breakfast from every morning, who runs a bakery. She knows me by name. Other shop owners recognize me--like the guy at the "bagel deli" who sells me coffee.
Monday November 18, 2013 4:54 Ilana Garon
4:54
Ilana Garon: 
They always ask how school is, etc. And knowing various neighborhood fixtures is a good way to connect with the kids. (We argue about which local pizza place is better, for instance.) >
Monday November 18, 2013 4:54 Ilana Garon
4:55
Liana Heitin: 
That seems like really helpful advice.
Monday November 18, 2013 4:55 Liana Heitin
4:55
Liana Heitin: 
Here's one from Brady:
Monday November 18, 2013 4:55 Liana Heitin
4:55
[Comment From Brady BurtonBrady Burton: ] 
Hi! My question is how to you make time to talk with students about issues that are "real" and deep while at the same time maintaining a focus on the subject of the class?
Monday November 18, 2013 4:55 Brady Burton
4:56
Ilana Garon: 
Hi Brady. That's a good question--and I take a lot of flack from it in my blog, where sometimes commenters feel I have diverted class discussion away from English and towards issues (or allowed it to be diverted).
Monday November 18, 2013 4:56 Ilana Garon
4:56
Ilana Garon: 
I try to allow the kids to discuss the issues of the day in a way that connects with the material, or at least is adding to our erudition as a group.
Monday November 18, 2013 4:56 Ilana Garon
4:57
Ilana Garon: 
It helps to ask myself, while discussions are happening, "Is this productive? Is this adding to our understanding? Or should I be shutting this down and re-routing?"
Monday November 18, 2013 4:57 Ilana Garon
4:57
Ilana Garon: 
I make a lot of on-the-spot judgement calls, where I feel we've gotten off topic, and I'm trying to decide whether this issue is "real and deep" enough to still be worth discussing, or whether the kids are just trying to stall. :)
Monday November 18, 2013 4:57 Ilana Garon
4:58
Liana Heitin: 
What are some clear signs you should be shutting it down?
Monday November 18, 2013 4:58 Liana Heitin
4:58
Ilana Garon: 
Yes. When insults are beginning to happen.
Monday November 18, 2013 4:58 Ilana Garon
4:58
Ilana Garon: 
That's always a bad sign.
Monday November 18, 2013 4:58 Ilana Garon
4:58
Ilana Garon: 
Or when there's a lot of interrupting going on--if the discussion gets too heated, sometimes, the kids will stop raising their hands.
Monday November 18, 2013 4:58 Ilana Garon
4:59
Ilana Garon: 
And start cuting each other off. That's always a bad sign too.
Monday November 18, 2013 4:59 Ilana Garon
4:59
Ilana Garon: 
I'll usually try to moderate that, get everyone focused again on having productive group conversations rather than attacking each other--and if that doesn't work, I'll usually table it.
Monday November 18, 2013 4:59 Ilana Garon
4:59
Liana Heitin: 
Sure is.
Monday November 18, 2013 4:59 Liana Heitin
4:59
Ilana Garon: 
Sometimes if it's an interesting issue, I'll add it as an extra-credit question on a quiz though, so that they can write about it.
Monday November 18, 2013 4:59 Ilana Garon
4:59
Ilana Garon: 
I kind of go on a case-by-case basis. >
Monday November 18, 2013 4:59 Ilana Garon
5:00
Liana Heitin: 
Great points, all of them.
Monday November 18, 2013 5:00 Liana Heitin
5:00
Liana Heitin: 
Here's a question on classroom management.
Monday November 18, 2013 5:00 Liana Heitin
5:00
[Comment From GuestGuest: ] 
There has been a lot said on classroom management--but it all seems to apply to younger students. Do you have any tips on classroom management for a teacher at an inner-city high school?
Monday November 18, 2013 5:00 Guest
5:00
Ilana Garon: 
Gues, that is a problem I have often written about--and inevitably get attacked for on the blog. :(
Monday November 18, 2013 5:00 Ilana Garon
5:01
Ilana Garon: 
It is something I struggle with! And I agree with you. Not enough has been written about managing behaviors of kids at the high school level. It's somehow supposed to happen magically.
Monday November 18, 2013 5:01 Ilana Garon
5:01
Ilana Garon: 
Something I've learned is that, whenever possible, I should avoid raising my voice or showing that I've gotten emotional about some issue of classroom misbehavior.
Monday November 18, 2013 5:01 Ilana Garon
5:01
Ilana Garon: 
Also counting to 10 or 20 and waiting for the kids to realize you're serious usually results in them quieting down a bit on their own.
Monday November 18, 2013 5:01 Ilana Garon
5:02
Ilana Garon: 
I also try to keep them VERY busy.
Monday November 18, 2013 5:02 Ilana Garon
5:02
Ilana Garon: 
But really, it is quite hard to manage the behavior of high school students--so many issues taht they are facing, and aspects of their behavior itself, are really out of our control as teachers.
Monday November 18, 2013 5:02 Ilana Garon
5:03
Ilana Garon: 
I feel a HUGE problem in inner-city schools is the lack of top-down discipline and accountability. The kids know, in NYC public schools, that there are no real consequences in place for anything. And they'll tell you themselves that it's a problem--they say their parents are switching them to Catholic shcool at the end of the year because there is "more discipline." From the mouths of the babes... >
Monday November 18, 2013 5:03 Ilana Garon
5:03
Liana Heitin: 
Here's an interesting one from Sarah.
Monday November 18, 2013 5:03 Liana Heitin
5:03
[Comment From SarahSarah: ] 
What is your opinion of home visits? Are they a good or bad idea?
Monday November 18, 2013 5:03 Sarah
5:04
Ilana Garon: 
Sarah, that's a good question. In our school, teachers are not even allowed to make such visits I don't think. We do have a parent-coordinator and sometimes an attendance coordinator (when budgets allow) who can make home visits.
Monday November 18, 2013 5:04 Ilana Garon
5:04
Ilana Garon: 
Having never been in any way encouraged to do such a thing myself, I'm honestly not sure how it would play out.
Monday November 18, 2013 5:04 Ilana Garon
5:05
Ilana Garon: 
I do feel that some of the things I'd learn from home visits, I also learn just from calling the parents (and finding out that their numbers are disconnected, or that they work 16 hours a day, or what-not.) >
Monday November 18, 2013 5:05 Ilana Garon
5:06
Ilana Garon: 
I don't actually know any NYCDOE teachers who have done home visits. It may be a systemwide thing, that teachers don't do these. >
Monday November 18, 2013 5:06 Ilana Garon
5:06
Liana Heitin: 
Here's one about a topic we've covered, that you may or may not be discussing at your school.
Monday November 18, 2013 5:06 Liana Heitin
5:06
[Comment From R. RogersR. Rogers: ] 
Did your colleagues or administrators talk about culturally relavant pedagogy? Have you thought about it, incorporated it? Please share yout thoughts?
Monday November 18, 2013 5:06 R. Rogers
5:07
Ilana Garon: 
Hi R. Rogers. Good question: I get annoyed, actually, at the admins in NYCDOE because they're constantly rolling out new pedagogy and a lot of it is pretty useless.
Monday November 18, 2013 5:07 Ilana Garon
5:07
Ilana Garon: 
And then the prevailing M.O. gets changed every year or two, so you have to switch everything you've been doing.
Monday November 18, 2013 5:07 Ilana Garon
5:07
Ilana Garon: 
I was talking to a veteran teacher about this; we both sometimes have the sense that the rules of what makes a good teacher, pedagogically, are constantly changing.
Monday November 18, 2013 5:07 Ilana Garon
5:07
Ilana Garon: 
So it's hard to feel like you're ever getting good!
Monday November 18, 2013 5:07 Ilana Garon
5:08
Ilana Garon: 
As for cultural relevance, I feel that is barely emphasized--the only sense in which pedagogy I've seen has been culturally connected has been in its emphasis on English Language Learners.
Monday November 18, 2013 5:08 Ilana Garon
5:08
Ilana Garon: 
Which really, isn't such a conncetion to any specific culture.
Monday November 18, 2013 5:08 Ilana Garon
5:09
Ilana Garon: 
I try, in my own lessons, to include novels and poems and artwork from many different cultures so as to give the kids a broader cultural framework with more that they could connect to individually. (This year for instance we're reading authors who are Jewish, Native American, Black, Latino.) But that's less pedagogy, and more content I think. >
Monday November 18, 2013 5:09 Ilana Garon
5:10
Liana Heitin: 
One more about your first year...and winning over students:
Monday November 18, 2013 5:10 Liana Heitin
5:10
[Comment From Natasha CochranNatasha Cochran: ] 
As a first year teacher, how were you able to get those students who were originally cynical of you, your attempt to "reach" them, and your lesson plans to participate in class and connect with the material?
Monday November 18, 2013 5:10 Natasha Cochran
5:10
Ilana Garon: 
Hi Natasha. So, this is what I realized as a first-year teacher:
Monday November 18, 2013 5:10 Ilana Garon
5:11
Ilana Garon: 
If I made any pretense of understanding the kids' lives beyond what they were telling me, they were suspicious. They didn't like poseurs.
Monday November 18, 2013 5:11 Ilana Garon
5:11
Ilana Garon: 
(Posers? Not sure how to spell that.)
Monday November 18, 2013 5:11 Ilana Garon
5:11
Ilana Garon: 
If I owned my white, nerdy, suburban, totally naive background, they liked it a lot more and thought I was funny.
Monday November 18, 2013 5:11 Ilana Garon
5:12
Ilana Garon: 
So, when they would make jokes I didn't understand, or say slang expressions with which I was unfamiliar, I'd ask, "What does that mean?" And let htem explain it to me. More often than not, they were happy to be the teachers.
Monday November 18, 2013 5:12 Ilana Garon
5:12
Ilana Garon: 
That helped me to relate a lot more to them, and thus to get them a bit more cooperative with my attempts at teaching them things.
Monday November 18, 2013 5:12 Ilana Garon
5:13
Liana Heitin: 
Essentially, teachers need to just be who they are, you're saying. Harry Potter glasses and all.
Monday November 18, 2013 5:13 Liana Heitin
5:13
Ilana Garon: 
I also took a lot of their suggestions about poems or music we should listen to, films we should see, or books we should read. That helpd them to feel ownership, I guess. And lots of individual, self-guided, workshop style projects as well--those things made them feel more personal connection to the work, which helped them get more into it. >
Monday November 18, 2013 5:13 Ilana Garon
5:14
Ilana Garon: 
Yes, exactly. I sort of came in realizing that what I was peddling would be--well--a tough sell.
Monday November 18, 2013 5:14 Ilana Garon
5:14
Ilana Garon: 
I tried really hard, and continue to try, to ask the kids "How should I change this? What should I add in? How can I make this more interesting?"
Monday November 18, 2013 5:14 Ilana Garon
5:14
Ilana Garon: 
I've been surprised how often they've had good suggestions. >
Monday November 18, 2013 5:14 Ilana Garon
5:14
Liana Heitin: 
Now onto a question about book writing:
Monday November 18, 2013 5:14 Liana Heitin
5:14
[Comment From MaryMary: ] 
What type of advice do you have for people who are looking to put their experiences teaching for an inner-city school into a book? How do you keep yourself from feeling almost exploitative to use these students for a story?
Monday November 18, 2013 5:14 Mary
5:15
Ilana Garon: 
Oh, I also try to read novels with them extracurricularly--Twilight, Push, Hunger Games, etc. They like that. >
Monday November 18, 2013 5:15 Ilana Garon
5:15
Ilana Garon: 
Mary, I constantly asked myself whether I was exploiting the stories by telling them. Ultimately, I found that no such books really existed as the one I wanted to see--books that focused on the students' individual stories, as opposed to the teacher's story, or the students as statistics.
Monday November 18, 2013 5:15 Ilana Garon
5:16
Ilana Garon: 
Realizing what I wanted to see (as a person who worked in these types of schools), and what I felt was lacking in literature about inner city teaching, helped me to write a book that I felt was honest and dealt with these topics.
Monday November 18, 2013 5:16 Ilana Garon
5:17
Ilana Garon: 
I also had a fair amount of consultation from teh students themselves, many of whom knew (excitedly) that they were in the book, and offered everything from "fake" names, to additions to the stories I was already telling (stuff I had forgotten), corrections of the facts, etc.
Monday November 18, 2013 5:17 Ilana Garon
5:17
Ilana Garon: 
My current students are furious at me...furious that I did not wait until I had them to write a book. (They found my book online, which is how they know it exists.) They feel they would have been better subjects for a book, and are totally irritated that I did not wait and wirte it about them! >
Monday November 18, 2013 5:17 Ilana Garon
5:18
Liana Heitin: 
Ha! What a trip.
Monday November 18, 2013 5:18 Liana Heitin
5:18
Liana Heitin: 
Here's one from Colleen.
Monday November 18, 2013 5:18 Liana Heitin
5:18
[Comment From Colleen BotsiosColleen Botsios: ] 
Can you tell us about a really bad day you've had teaching and also a really good day?
Monday November 18, 2013 5:18 Colleen Botsios
5:19
Ilana Garon: 
Yes. Really bad day: I had just had a break-up (we've all had that) and I literally burst into tears in the middle of class.
Monday November 18, 2013 5:19 Ilana Garon
5:19
Ilana Garon: 
I felt totally unprofessional.
Monday November 18, 2013 5:19 Ilana Garon
5:19
Ilana Garon: 
This was a couple of years ago. I think I actually told the students, "Sorry guys. Even adults get their hearts broken sometimes."
Monday November 18, 2013 5:19 Ilana Garon
5:20
Ilana Garon: 
Then some of the kids gave me a hug, and we went on with the lesson. Blessedly, the incident was never mentioned again.
Monday November 18, 2013 5:20 Ilana Garon
5:21
Ilana Garon: 
A really good day: I have lots of really good days, but I think any day that I feel the kids are engaged with the material, not arguing too much, and that I get opportunities to work with them outside of class as well--I feel those days are productive. I like when the kids come to see me at lunch (even though I become exahusted by it, as well, since I can never use that period for planning or grading.) It gives me a lot of one-on-one time with them, which I think is valuable.
Monday November 18, 2013 5:21 Ilana Garon
5:21
Ilana Garon: 
I've also loved days wherein we've taken trips. My honors class last year and I all went to see a movie called "No Place on Earth" about Jews hiding in caves in the Ukraine during WWII. The kids LOVED the movie, and we had so many great discussions afterwards. Stuff like that is why I keep teaching! >
Monday November 18, 2013 5:21 Ilana Garon
5:22
Liana Heitin: 
Thanks for answering--that was another question. Why do you stay?
Monday November 18, 2013 5:22 Liana Heitin
5:23
Ilana Garon: 
Honestly, I like working with the students. The outside factors, such as administrative issues, system-wide problems, lack of funding, crazy teacher evaluation schemes that have no bearing on things we can control, etc.--those things make me upset and frustrated.
Monday November 18, 2013 5:23 Ilana Garon
5:24
Ilana Garon: 
But I do really enjoy working with teh students. I get excited about planning "cool" lessons that will really get them excited about the material, including fun activities and conversations. I have great conversations at work; I don't know too many other jobs where I could, on a regular basis, have conversations that explore life so thoughtfully.
Monday November 18, 2013 5:24 Ilana Garon
5:24
Ilana Garon: 
Plus, the kids make me LAUGH!!!!
Monday November 18, 2013 5:24 Ilana Garon
5:24
Ilana Garon: 
We're reading the book Equus, by Peter Schaffer, in AP English--and the kids said, "We should change the title of this book to 'Fifty Shades of Neigh.'" I died. Seriously. >
Monday November 18, 2013 5:24 Ilana Garon
5:25
Liana Heitin: 
Oh wow. That is just perfect. I want to get this one in before we wrap up: Do you have any advice for aspiring teacher-writers?
Monday November 18, 2013 5:25 Liana Heitin
5:25
Ilana Garon: 
Yes! Aspiring teacher writers--YOU CAN DO IT! You have to be willing to sacrifice sleep, though.
Monday November 18, 2013 5:25 Ilana Garon
5:26
Ilana Garon: 
But really, I'm a proponent of teachers doing all kinds of interesting things outside of class, from running, to writing, to arts, to dance, to karate, to whatever.
Monday November 18, 2013 5:26 Ilana Garon
5:26
Ilana Garon: 
Those experiences enrich us as professionals, and ultimately add to our teaching in positive ways.
Monday November 18, 2013 5:26 Ilana Garon
5:27
Ilana Garon: 
The kids love that I write and that I run--there are kids for whom those two points are MAJOR ways to connect with me, because it gives them something they want to talk about. Having an interesting life that you can share with students is part of being a well-rounded teacher, and provides new opportunities for discussion with students, as well as positive role-modeling of a life well-lived.
Monday November 18, 2013 5:27 Ilana Garon
5:27
Ilana Garon: 
If that doesn't sound too corny. >
Monday November 18, 2013 5:27 Ilana Garon
5:27
Liana Heitin: 
We've got time for one last question:
Monday November 18, 2013 5:27 Liana Heitin
5:27
[Comment From RhiannaRhianna: ] 
how long did it take you to get past the survival mode as a teacher? When did you know you could take anything?
Monday November 18, 2013 5:27 Rhianna
5:28
Ilana Garon: 
Rhianna--after my second year, I found that I was simultaneously aware of how LITTLE I still knew, but yet, understood ways that I could rectify those gaps and enhance my teaching skills.
Monday November 18, 2013 5:28 Ilana Garon
5:28
Ilana Garon: 
My first two years were kind of a blur--I just was constantly putting out small fires, many of which I had inadvertently started through my own inexperience and lack of knowledge.
Monday November 18, 2013 5:28 Ilana Garon
5:29
Ilana Garon: 
After year 2, I thought, "I am beginning to get a handle on this." However, I think it took me until year 4 or 5 to actually feel that I was "good."
Monday November 18, 2013 5:29 Ilana Garon
5:29
Ilana Garon: 
At any part of it. :)
Monday November 18, 2013 5:29 Ilana Garon
5:29
Ilana Garon: 
(It's one of the reasons I don't like the programs that encourage teachers to leave after 2-3 years...they're only just starting to be good at the profession.) >
Monday November 18, 2013 5:29 Ilana Garon
5:30
Liana Heitin: 
And with that potential fire-starter...unfortunately that's all the time we have for today. Thanks so much to everyone for your questions and a special thanks to Ilana for her insightful answers! It's been a great hour. Hope to "see" you all again soon.
Monday November 18, 2013 5:30 Liana Heitin
5:31
Bryan Toporek: 
Thanks, Liana! That's a great place to wrap up.
Monday November 18, 2013 5:31 Bryan Toporek
5:31
Ilana Garon: 
Yes! Thank you very much everyone. Please visit my blog, "View from the Bronx," and leave me comments whenver you like. Also you can still email me at ilanagaron.com (my website--look for the little purple envelope.)
Monday November 18, 2013 5:31 Ilana Garon
5:32
Bryan Toporek: 
Folks, thanks again for joining us today for today's free live chat, "The Life of an Inner-City Teacher." A special thanks to our excellent guest, Ilana, and our great moderator, Liana.

We'll have a transcript of today's chat posted on this same page within the hour. Have a great rest of the week!
Monday November 18, 2013 5:32 Bryan Toporek
5:32
 

 
 
 

The Life of an Inner-City Teacher

Monday, Nov. 18, 2013, 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. ET

In movies, the urban teacher is generally portrayed as undergoing a transformation from hapless to heroic—in a single year, no less. But as New York City teacher Ilana Garon conveys in her debut book, "Why Do Only White People Get Abducted by Aliens," a new teacher’s learning curve is neither that steep nor predictable. And there’s likely no obvious heroism at the end.

During this live chat, Garon discussed the highs and lows of teaching in an inner-city classroom, as well as the many moving lessons she’s learned from students. Based on experience rather than any political agenda, she touched on systemic and local education issues, and relayed teaching tales—both amusing and heartrending. She also answered questions about the process of getting a book published and offer advice for other teacher-writers.

Guest:
Ilana Garon, high school teacher in the Bronx, N.Y.C., and author "Why Do Only White People Get Abducted by Aliens?": Teaching Lessons from the Bronx. (@IlanaGaron)

Liana Heitin, associate editor, Education Week Teacher, moderated this chat. (@LianaHeitin)

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