What would you say is the hardest part of teaching? For me, it is lesson planning. It takes me on average six hours a week to plan instruction for the nine science units I teach each year. It's not just the writing of the plans that is laborious; it's the intellectual contemplation that goes into it. I must figure out ways to make my instruction clear and engaging. I have to be skilled at knowing when to skip portions of the curriculum and supplement other parts on my own. I must also differentiate the content, pedagogy, and assessments based on ...


Twenty years ago, the guidance counselor at my school was in middle school. His house stood on a corner lot in a gang ridden, Hispanic neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. He told me he would be doing his homework in his bedroom and hear shooting outside. Instead of getting down low, he would go to the window to see the action. He'd see the shooter, the runner, and the get away car. Then he would go back to doing his homework. Last week, exactly one block away from the counselor's childhood home, another shooting occurred. This time our ...


Sometimes I wake up to the sweet sounds of Cameroonian children singing in my head*. They are singing, "Oh, we thank you for what you've done for us!" Then I ask myself, what did I do for them? They have changed my life! If you have followed my blog for any amount of time, you probably know my story: Grew up poor and in the 'hood on the South Side of Chicago. I was the 6th of eight of children; my mother stayed home to raise us while my dad drove tractor-trailers across America. Except he didn't always bring the ...


When I went to Cameroon, I was famous. Or at least a really important person. An American teacher who has come to see how educators there can improve their practice. First I did a live radio interview. Then I traveled around to schools, observing classroom instruction, and meeting with teachers and administrators afterward. They had hard questions: *How can we teach students science without any science materials or equipment? *How can we effectively lesson plan with virtually no teacher guides? *How do we teach when none of the students have textbooks and only a few can afford to buy notebooks ...


Water. Every living organism needs it to survive. One of my least favorite principals used water as a weapon. Of course he would deny that. The water cooler in the main office was expensive to maintain, he'd say, and it was a discretionary item, not a necessity. He told his staff to stop filling up our water bottles—only so much in a cup and not to keep coming back for more. But what's a teacher to do when her throat runs dry from educating students all day? Apparently we were consuming too much of the water so the principal...


I am staying in the port city of Douala, Cameroon, grand central station of the 18th Century, where kidnapped Africans took the dreadful voyage to the Americas to live out their lives as slaves—if they survived the Middle Passage at all. For the first time in my life, I journeyed to the Motherland, U.S. passport proudly in hand. As I traveled from Chicago to Brussels on the first leg of the trip, it was like any other flight. People minded their own business. They were polite, not asking too many questions. It was an evening flight so the ...


She was so mad that her face was red, eyes tearing, and imaginary puffs of smoke were coming out of her ears. She didn't have an appointment with me, but there she was. In my classroom. Screaming. In my face. Why did you fail my child? I tried to explain. Why did you fail my child! After unsuccessfully trying to finish a sentence about ten times, I realized that this angry mother was not really asking a question. She was demanding that I apologize, that I admit I made a mistake and change the grade. It didn't matter that I ...


I'm told that there's a special place in Heaven for middle school teachers. I'm in no hurry to find out, but I hope it's true. First you love me. Then you hate me. Now you just don't care, except when your best friend decides to. So what I thought :P was a typo! Does that make me lame? You told me that WTF meant Wednesday, Thursday and Friday— but now I'm on to your games. You little hormonal rascal. Always laughing, or crying, or refusing to talk, rolling your eyes. You worry me, make me fearful. For I have two ...


Somebody just tried to kill my little sister! Like most of us, she works hard to put food on the table. She has a son and daughter, both still in diapers. She has a mortgage, student loans, and a greedy little dog named Sir. Everyday she pounds the pavement in and around Chicago, trying to make a living doing real estate. At 9:45 a.m. last Friday, she found herself parked on a residential block in the city's notorious Roseland neighborhood on the far South Side. Having just wrapped up a phone call, she put her hand on the ...


**This post was updated a few hours after publishing to reflect new information received via email from a missionary in Cameroon. They made all the bricks. The villagers squatted low and scooped up red earth in their hands, packed it into block molds, and left the muddy mix to harden in the hot African sun. There's a heap of 3,000 bricks, I'm told. "So why haven't they built the school yet?" I asked. Because of a land dispute between traditional leaders and herdsmen. The rainy season is only weeks away, and if the dispute is not solved soon all ...


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