Two Stories About Teaching in Queens



3900 30th Ave, Astoria, NY

Neighborhood: Outer Boroughs, Queens

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“The Case Of The Missing Pasta”

I tried improving my second grade special education students’ skills at addition by having them count pasta. I had them line up the brown and white rigatoni into two groups. Then all they had to do was add them. It worked well – my students were learning while enjoying what they were doing. Then I noticed that after each lesson my pasta supply got lower. Someone was stealing them.

I occasionally checked their book bags to find the culprit, but he was obviously too smart for me – I never found any trace of the missing pasta. Then one day I heard this loud cracking noise and discovered it was coming from my student Henry’s mouth. It was filled with pasta.

I tried getting him to stop, explaining they weren’t good for him uncooked. But he claimed they hadn’t hurt his stomach yet, so he felt they were safe. I had to abandon that lesson for the sake of his health. Plus, it was my pasta. He shouldn’t be eating what didn’t belong to him.

“The Indoor Voice”

A sheet was passed around to all the staff at my special education school notifying us that telling our students to speak lower by placing our fingers to our lips was no longer permitted. Instead, we were to use the more humanitarian approach – tell the students to use their indoor voices and not their outdoor ones. But the problem was the moment I’d say it, the students were suddenly reminded that they weren’t outside, which was where they wanted to be. So for the rest of the lesson, I’d be bombarded with their pleas, “Take us outside.”

Then there were students who spoke loudly in both places – inside and outside. I tried getting them to whisper, but they insisted on doing it in my ear. After getting an earful of spit and still unable to make out what they had said, I abolished that practice.

Next, I tried to get them to think before they spoke. And when I caught them thinking, I attempted to anticipate their questions, so they wouldn’t have to say anything. But that didn’t stop them from speaking afterwards. I finally accepted that just like rock music wouldn’t be what it was if it wasn’t played loud, my students wouldn’t be themselves if they had to speak softly.

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