Reflecting on the Monroe County Children’s Detention Center

In the spirit of double-dipping, my blog post this week will also be my reflection from my visit to the Monroe County Children’s Detention Center. I did not take pictures; it did not seem like the place to do so.

Both the tour and the discussion really opened my eyes to the intricacies to the criminal system as it applies to children and what that might mean for my future classroom and my practices. One new insight I gained through the experience was learning about the laws associated with minors in the penal system. The reduction of the population of children in detention centers means that there are more students than ever that are a part of the classroom who still have trials and pending court cases and dates. This adds another level of diversity in our classrooms now including students that may have been a part of the penal system. The result is students who are in and out of the classroom and may have gaps in their education, so that has to be addressed; the students still need to feel a part of the classroom and competent in the materials despite the missing school days, otherwise it can cause a disruptive class.

Another insight I gained was the type of education and the day-to-day life of the children in these detention centers. To be honest, I did not expect to see a lot of science work done. I was surprised to find that not only was there a lot science work up on the walls, but there was also a lot of good scientific discourse being used as well. I assumed that because of the circumstances the rigor and level of work would be vastly different, but that was not the case. There were pictures of students’ drawings of DNA molecules and a concept map about the different terms used in genetics. Looking at the student work I almost forgot I was in a children’s’ detention center, it just seemed like a non-traditional school building. The teachers who came in were RCSD employees and despite having to keep track of every potential materials used (since they would technically be contraband outside the class) and having a constantly changing class, create a really awesome classroom climate for these students.

As a science teacher, something I am wondering is how the students get their lab minutes or do any of the more intricate labs. The NYS relationships and biodiversity labs in particular require a lot of materials and rely on continuity in making the final conclusion. Since every student needs 1200 lab minutes to graduate, I wonder how that is accommodated in this setting. What would be the logistical pitfalls in doing labs and are they surmountable or are a lot of labs transitioned into a more paper-based form?

Another wondering I have regards the students who re-enter the classroom after time through the legal system for more petty crimes. What sorts of systems are in place to help these students come back into the classroom not just from an academic standpoint, but also a social one. It is already a difficult transition and when there are these constant interruptions in a child’s schooling, what can a school or a district do.

There was a lot I gained from our visit to the children’s detention center. The cultural pedagogy that I had been learning about came into play again, as many social factors came together to create yet another social identifier, one with its own unique challenges. But with all groups, we focus on the individuals and their learning and social needs. This visit help elucidate the problem, but there is a lot more I need to do before I help create a part of that solution.

So close to the end! Let’s do this!


Bittersweet Symphony

It has finally come. The day that seemed a million years away when we were looking at our calendars in August and were asked to use a colored pencil to shade in the days of an RCSD calendar. The day that seemed lost in the whirlwind of deadlines and lesson plans and wondering if you’re doing a good job and wondering what strategies work best of that one kid in seventh period…

The last day of student teaching and the last day at our eight week placement.

It’s sweet in that I feel accomplished. I remember coming into this school year so wide-eyed and a bit scared of the things to come. I wasn’t sure what kind of teacher I would be and how I was going to take all the theory from Summer A and B and apply it. Heck, I didn’t even feel comfortable in my teacher clothes. Now I feel comfortable being “Mr. Han” in all aspects, and I have very strong pluses  to build off of and clear arrows that I can work on to take my teaching to that next level.

It’s sweet because I’ve met some amazing people along the way. From the SSO’s who have a difficult job, but do it with a smile and a gentleness that is admirable to the secretaries that are willing to lend a hand to a student teacher who may not his stuff together on a particularly rough day, I have been blessed to meet these people. In addition, the other teachers that I had a chance to observe, who even though I would say “pretend I’m not here,” would take the time to explain their rationale and add to my notes. The teachers who would say “hi” to me in the copy room and give me words of encouragement when I needed them.

It’s bitter because I say goodbye to two amazing CT’s. Two caring, hard-working, and unbelievably strong women who I hope to grow up to be like one day. To Mrs. Barnum and Ms. Ortenzi, I could thank you every minute of every day and it still would not be enough. The things you have taught me, the tough love and gentle encouragement when I needed it, and the opportunity to work alongside you are things I will hold dear.

It’s bitter because I am leaving a bit of that behind for a new chapter. As hard as it was, there were moments of pure joy in watching the students grow, shine, and surprise me. The little conversations in the hallway, talking trash about each other’s sports teams and harmonizing to top 40 songs, that I will miss. I’m going to miss the students so much and miss the chance to create new little moments.

I know I’m going to wake up on Monday with a weird mix of emotions as I put on jeans (and not khakis).  There is a lot going on in my head right now. Part of it is because this last day snuck up on me, so I haven’t really given myself the chance to think about it. In navigating the student teaching life and all the pluses and arrows I often forget to process the more complex emotions. In the spirit of mindfulness I spill my bittersweet state of mind onto this blog. It was a hard journey, and there were moments when the last day could not come soon enough. Now that it is here… I’m not quite sure.

To the people at my placements: I would not be here without your generosity and kindness and I promise that I will pay it forward and make you proud.

Home Is Where The Heart Is

Sorry about the late blog post, boys and girls. The break bug got a hold of me, including my travel plans going awry. But that’s what happens when you fly budget airlines.

As the title says, I went home for break. And it was wonderful. I got fed to no end and there is something about family. No matter how tired or how stressful I had been, they know just how to get a smile on my face. I am also willing to try to put aside the stress and share in the joy. After all, they are my family: the people who have been there through both triumphs and my blunders and love me for them just the same. Walking towards the car and seeing my mom’s smiling face and my sister’s half-tackle, half-hug reaffirms the reasons I want to go back to New York City to teach. In a profession that is often a whirlwind of work and emotion, it’s nice to know that the people who know you so well, love you, and can whip up some fantastic comfort food to help ease the difficult moments are just a short distance away and getting to them doesn’t have to involve major planning or expenses. As a kid, I always thought I wanted to be far away from my family and blaze the trail on a new life on my own, but I realize that having those supports makes the job easier and will help put things in perspective. I know that I am a difficult person, so the people who can support me and I can support are the ones I hold on to, and there is no support like my Mom’s gentle care, my Dad’s stoicism, and my little sister’s ability to make me laugh at myself.

This break was also a week of doing interviews and planning interviews. I’ve had interviews for three schools this past week and moved onto the next round for two of them and waiting to hear back from a third. Yay! Thus far, they have all been phone interviews. While some people may prefer phone interviews, I have to say I prefer face to face interviews. It may be more stressful to have to wear the formal clothes and have to look the interviewer in the eye, but I like having the nonverbal cues to work off of and the more natural flow of conversation that happens in person. As someone who can talk on and on, its nice to know when to shorten a vignette or know that using humor was effective or not. Those nonverbal cues make the conversation more natural and I think there is a bit more seriousness when sitting in an office in a buttoned shirt and tie rather than sitting up on my bed in pajamas talking into a microphone.

While Rochester has been good to me and I have certainly gained a more worldly perspective through my time in upstate New York, New York City has and always will be home. My motivation in being a teacher was to go back and serve my community and help the students who are trying to navigate adolescence in a place that is as overwhelming and dichotomous as NYC. Home is indeed where the heart is, and the chance to go back makes that clearer.