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Friday Fulfillment

Meetings, open house, a student suspended, a schedule that doesn’t flow… All the usual teacher struggles were weighing me down on a Friday.

In the middle of a BAS assessment, a student from four years ago walked in. She was a shy, ten-year old who hesitated to participate in the whole group and somewhat anxious making friends. She was proud today to tell me about her start at high school, and the straight-A report cards from last year, and two former students she’s now best friends with. I asked her what she’s reading and her favorite subjects, and also what she remembers about fifth grade.

She told me, “I remember how you taught me to believe in myself.”

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Essential Influential

Instructing, Leading, Inspiring

Several jobs per minute

Role model


Students are beginning their poetry books. Excited to help them with their publications!




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April 29, 2014 · 11:10 am

Testing to the Limit

“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”  – Einstein

My fifth graders completed two full days of ELA MCAS testing today. At 3:20, in between helping a student with a migraine so bad he was vomiting and another with a nose bleed, I announced to the class that tomorrow afternoon we have a practice test.

This year, we’ve had 5 district-mandated assessments, not including state testing. That’s at least 10 days, or two weeks of school, or about 60 hours that students have spent pouring over passages and problems. The reasoning, so I’m told, is to have data to assess student progress and help me inform future lessons. I guess all the other district tests and tasks, reading discussions and journal entries, open response essays, running records, reading benchmark assessments, quizzes, math projects, posters, homework, and online tools like First-in-Math and XtraMath don’t tell me enough about progress or planning lessons.

Our practice test tomorrow is to help students get ready for the PARCC field test in April. PARCC tests, which are designed to be Common Core aligned, will be officially administered in 16 states and Washington, D.C. next year, with field testing happening now. According to PARCC staff, 167,000 students have taken the field test.

I understand the need for common, standardized assessments. I don’t understand the need to test two-thirds of Boston Public School students, right after ELA MCAS and interrupting preparation for Math and Science and Technology MCAS in early May. Scores won’t be reported to students or school administrators.

It’s also mind blowing that district and state leaders continue to demand so much standardized testing. How many tests do we need to show what we already know?

Read more: Standardized tests are killing our students’ creativity, desire to learn – The Denver Post

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Through the Fog

I was driving home from Pittsburgh one night, and at the end of the 10-hour drive, it was extremely foggy on I-84 as I left Connecticut and entered Massachusetts.

The fog was so dense, I couldn’t even see the cars around me or guard rails. It was thick, rolling fog you’d see on a San Francisco postcard. I was already road weary, and being alone, I scared myself with thoughts if everything from driving off a cliff to a murderer following me to an alien abduction.

In a slight panic, I called my dad.

“Well, you can be a sitting duck or you can keep going.”

He told me to get off the phone, go slow and think before I make decisions.

Thank God for good dads.

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Achievement Gap


We know all the facts, but they’re easy to ignore.

I’m not surprised when I’m analyzing my student data and all of my black boys’ names are at the bottom, usually falling in the red or starting off the bell curve.

But I don’t think I’ll ever get used to all of the ordinary events that show how alive and well the achievement gap carries on in our communities.

For example, students had a choice of writing tasks after reading Island of the Blue Dolphins, and many chose a how-to guide. After I graded them, I sorted them in groups according to how well they’re meeting standards. Above, I chose two to compare. (I did not choose what I considered the best or worse). Both students are English Language Learners receiving the same interventions, both have two working parents at home, both are considered low-income, both have families involved in school activities, and both are “well-behaved” students. Can you guess which book belongs to the Vietnamese student, and which one is black?

Don’t worry; it doesn’t make you racist.

We’ve heard all the statistics. Nationwide, only 55% of black males can read on level in the third grade, compared to 84% of white males. By eleventh grade, it’s down to 25%, compared to 65% of white males. City and state officials report using literacy rates to project jail and prison allocations. In a low-income Boston school, 25% of black fifth grade students were proficient or advanced on ELA MCAS in 2012, compared to 47% of Asian students.

I hope these numbers are shocking, whether it’s the second or fiftieth time you are reminded of them. Black students, and males in particular, are making some progress, but at such slow rates. Teachers face a daunting task, and it should be clear that we can’t do it alone.

Some don’t believe in the achievement gap, or it’s severity. However, it suddenly gets real when they encounter thugs terrorizing their neighborhood.

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My brother: Where are you going this summer?

Me: Guatemala, Belize and Mexico.

Brother: You’re a goddamn fool.

He spent the next 20 minutes telling me about all the homicides and kidnappings and slavery and cartels and everything else you can imagine, Locked Up Abroad style. Right before he ended with telling me how stupid I am, he told me how I could end up in a situation where death is my best choice.

Great Sunday dinner convo.

I don’t think I’ve had specific goals when I’ve traveled outside of the U.S. Usually, I pick something I want to see or go wherever someone tells me or whatever seems reasonable for my budget. I decided I needed an adventure this summer, preferably in July, and in a Spanish-speaking area that included some beach time. So, why not Central America?

I don’t have many people available to travel abroad with, especially for more than a week. I went to Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay, and Argentina in 2011 with a company that gears its tours toward teachers, GEEO, and had an excellent experience. So for this summer, I checked out Gapadventures and chose something that seemed good. Boring, vague story short – I settled on Mexico, Guatemala and Belize for 16 days in July.

Other people have expressed concerns, but my brother’s rant really made me wonder. Is it that unsafe? Am I being foolish? There’s a lot of places I haven’t seen yet, so should I choose a safer alternative and wait? If I wait, what am I waiting for?

Decisions are tough for me, and I had one made, but now I’m back in limbo.





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Received this from a good friend, and I love it.

Because of her and another awesome friend, I started running again. Because of my workouts, another friend has started running. It’s amazing how you never know what little action can change someone’s else life. 

What inspires you, and do you inspire others?

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April 17, 2013 · 3:56 pm

Good enough

I had a great discussion (and run) with a former colleague turned friend. She’s going through a divorce, and although it’s been difficult, she’s realizing just how unhappy she was and that she was always making excuses for her should-be partner.

It struck me how angry she is with herself. She knew for decades – decades –  that she wasn’t happy with her husband, but she justified the problems and continued to shape her life around his. She convinced herself it was good enough.

It seems like too many women, especially women of color, are just too accepting. Even before we’re born, stretching back for centuries, we’re held to a lower standard. We’re told that we’re pretty for a black girl or smart for a Latina girl or whichever form of degradation the pitiful observer chooses to share with us. I have been told you’re … for a black girl several times from teachers, peers, and men, and they all really think it’s a compliment! Then, of course, we have the onslaught of conflicting media messages to sort through. Add in a general lack of healthy relationships in our community, and we end up making excuses and settling for whatever, and whoever, makes us the least miserable.

It may sound selfish, but we need to think more about what we want, believe that we deserve it, then put in the effort to get it. Whether it’s a career, a mate, friend, or a dream, thoughts like “It’s ok because…” or “I’m happy but…” or “Maybe one days things will…” or “I can’t…” need to be controlled and changed.

My friend and I talked about women supporting each other, and ways we can help empower young girls from explicitly talking about goals/relationships to different groups that work with girls in Boston. (From what I see – our future is dimming daily). It’s good to know some other women struggle with these issues, too, and to be more conscious about what I’m allowing in my life.


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Power of Poetry

I started shaping my students into poets, and I love what’s happening in our classroom in just two weeks. Children are so open when they know you care, and are like sponges when it comes to learning something new. I’ve learned a lot about their every day struggles and what’s important to them from just a few poems.

One of my kids, who’s a top achiever, has mice in his crowded apartment, not enough clothes to wear. Another is torn over her dad’s jail stints. One student is battling the mother’s alcoholism. And of course, there’s Justin Bieber and Nicki Minaj references throw in.

We’ve worked on wish, sensory and animal poems so far, and discussed Eloise Greenfield, Langston Hughes and Jack Prelutsky. I love their eagerness and feel like it’s a great balance to all the pressure some of them feel with MCAS. Will post more of their thoughts soon.

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March 23, 2013 · 10:41 am

“Ms. Harris, what are we doing for writing today?”

“Reading to be able to explain the main idea and supporting details.”

Sucks teeth. “How am I ever going to be a rapper?”

I carefully avoid teaching writing. I instruct students how to respond to texts and write informative reports. I follow the curriculum, teach grammar and syntax and word choice and synonyms. I model how authors revise time and time again, and even require that students use proofreading marks. But teaching the careful balance of art and law that makes language – I just can’t. Luckily, I only have to satisfy 11-year-olds’ sophistication.

But thanks to Bootcamp, (and a relationship crisis) I’m trying to turn some of this potential into kinetic energy. Yes, I know I’m a geek. So for my students that means a little of this, a little of that, lots of projects and a poetry unit. 

I will read an occasional poem, and that’s where it stops. In class, we read a variety of poems, but writing their own is usually forbidden. I know, I’m the worst teacher ever. I just have to teach them a complete sentence first and sensible paragraphs, subject-verb agreement, etc… to meet standards that include writing well-developed pages on a topic; that’s all.

However, we did write poems after reading one of my favorite books, Inside Out and Back Again, as we were between persuasive and informational writing units (yay I’m not the worst teacher). The semi-autobiographical book tells the story of a girl feeling Vietnam in 1975, all through free verse. Students and I loved the simplicity and structure, combination of humor and heartache, and historical references the author used.

With their Wish poems, I was impressed by their skills and expression, and learned about what’s on my their minds. I’m looking forward to sharing more with them, and will develop more poetry lessons where we can learn about writing, together.



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March 7, 2013 · 1:00 am