Education Opinion

The View from the Bronx, Through New Lenses!

By Ilana Garon — September 09, 2013 3 min read
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Hi readers! Welcome to the blog. In case you’re just tuning in, my name is Ilana, and I’m a teacher at a public high school in the northeast Bronx--where I’ve been working in the same building for nearly a decade. Generally I teach English, though occasionally I’ve taught math and other subjects in emergency situations (such as once when the students threw a stapler at a math teacher’s head on the first day of class, and she quit on the spot--that was about six years ago.)

A little over-view of what I’m doing: I am our small school’s dedicated 10th grade English teacher. (Note that this does not mean I work with dedication, though I hope I do--it means that every student in the 10th grade has me as his or her English teacher.) My sophomore roster consists of four classes--one Honors-level, and three Collaborative Team Teaching (CTT) classes, wherein a Special Education teacher and I co-teach together every day. We alternate different methods of doing this, so as not to be talking at the same time--usually we take turns being the one to speak at the front of the room (doing guided notes, some lecturing, questioning the students, etc.), and the one to circumnavigate the room helping the kids when they’re doing group-work. The sophomore classes will be reading a bunch of novels, including Sherman Alexei’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, and a Shakespeare play (probably Othello). In addition to these, the Honors class is going to read Montana 1948, by Larry Watson, which I taught last year for the first time with great approval from the kids.

This year I also have the addition of an 11th & 12th grade combined AP English Literature and Composition class. I haven’t taught this course in a while, so it should be an interesting challenge. Historically, our school (like many inner-city schools) had not had great success with AP exams, though we still very much felt that taking AP courses was a worthwhile endeavor for our students, intellectually and academically. However, this past year, a bunch of kids earned passing scores on English Language and Composition, which is exciting and really raises the stakes. These students will be starting the year with Oedipus Rex, discussing Freudian Literary Criticism, and reading Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Peter Shaffer’s Equus, and Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, among other things.

(Note that I really like geeking out about what books the kids are reading; for an English teacher, this is the equivalent of making green and purple fire with elements in the chemistry lab.)

Also, while I am usually known by my curly pony-tail, Harry Potter glasses, and disciplinary tactics of questionable efficacy, this year one of these things is going to change: my glasses! I am sporting a new pair, which does not make me look like Harry Potter anymore. The students all agreed this was a major improvement.

For the most part, in writing this blog, I’ve been interested in talking about how the top-down policies of the Obama administration’s Race to the Top and (more locally) NYC Department of Education impact the running of our school and my class. In short, I talk about policy, and use classroom examples of its effects. That probably will not change. Some things I’ve been interested in of late include teacher recruitment and retention, teacher evaluation systems (and the fallacies in the current ones), student discipline, Common Core-related issues, and my favorite soap-box issue, the lack of alternatives to college prep. I also talk about things in the news that are interesting and relevant to the experience of teaching Bronx high school students (which I’ve also written about in my book, which came out last week--you should read it immediately if not sooner.)

I’m looking forward to sharing this year with you. All the best!

The opinions expressed in View From the Bronx: An Urban Teacher’s Perspective are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.