First Person

How to Fix a Trailer in 17 Easy Steps

If you work for the NYC Department of Education, getting small things done can often be a large task. But I’ve been doing it since its inception, and I have some advice for those who are bewildered, or simply discouraged. Even if you’ve been exiled to the most filthy, decrepit, and crumbling trailer in Mayor Bloomberg’s New York, you can do it. Just follow these simple steps.

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A trailer at Francis Lewis High School. By Arthur Goldstein

First, try all the normal channels. Go to the custodian and explain how cold, how wet, how malodorous and revolting the trailer is. When that fails, go to administration. Fill out the forms, make the requests, and do whatever official policy dictates. Go in every now and then to remind them when nothing gets done. Demand luxury items, like soap.

Repeat every year, as necessary.

Don’t give up when you discover bar soap instead of liquid soap, even if it grows a curious oozing black crust the kids refuse to touch. Just pick it up with a piece of paper and interrupt a Very Important Meeting to show the assistant principal. The soap bars will soon disappear. While no new soap will replace it, you can make yourself feel important by boasting to the kids about how you got rid of those grungy soap bars.

After the fifth year or so, you may find your trailer’s desk filled with fast-food garbage.  Throw it out yourself. If you wait, you’ll only learn the hard way that no one else will. Stop dumping the trash when someone finally pours soft drinks into the drawers, as your hands will get sticky and there’s no running water in the trailer bathroom.

The day you find the desk covered with ice cream, with paper plates stuck to it, it’s time to throw in the towel. At this point, you can’t leave anything inside the desk, and you can’t leave anything on top of it either. Have someone help you carry it outside. You’ll be amazed at how quickly the custodians locate and remove it. When they ask whether you want a replacement, say yes, no, or whatever comes to mind. You won’t get one anyway.

Next, run for UFT chapter leader. This can hasten the negotiating process. While assistant principals throw teachers out of their offices within a minute or two, they tend to wait five, sometimes even 10 minutes before evicting the chapter leader. Of course, your opponents will viciously battle you for those extra minutes, but don’t give up. In my experience, the best way to win is to get the Daily News to call your home and ask you to write a column opposing mayoral control. When it comes out, make copies, drop them in staff mailboxes, and many of your colleagues will vote for you.

After you win, unfortunately, the trailer will look the same. Don’t hesitate to take further action. First, call Sandra Dunn-Yules from the UFT to do a health and safety inspection. Spend hours exploring the entire school, and then show her the trailers. “I’ve seen worse,” she may say, even as she agrees they are abysmal. When she returns with people carrying fancy-looking equipment, be sure to express gratitude rather than disappointment they aren’t wearing Hazmat suits.

The next thing you have to do is get UFT Vice President Leo Casey to visit your school. Show him the overcrowding, and the trailers. Have him set up a meeting with Elizabeth Sciabarra, the director of the Department of Education’s office of enrollment. Whatever you do, don’t forget to have him tell you to file a grievance. Make sure he emails you to specify the grievance be under Article 10, E, 1 of the UFT Contract — that the DOE is failing to meet its responsibility “to provide the appropriate recognized standards of workplace sanitation, cleanliness, light, and noise control, adequate heating and ventilation.”

That’s pretty much it. Your trailer should be fixed by the following day. The faucets will be repaired, the heat and AC will work (at least for a while), the floors will be cleaned (as best they can), and you’ll have more frequent toilet paper, paper towels, and filled soap dispensers. In a few days, you’ll even get a new used desk.

It takes a little doing, but it’s worth it. Once you’ve done this, you can focus on how to get a real classroom (I’ll submit a follow-up just as soon as I work out the details).

First Person

To close out teacher appreciation week, meet the educators whose voices help shape the education conversation

From designing puzzles to get kids fired up about French to being christened “school mama” by students, teachers go above and beyond to make a difference. Chalkbeat is honored to celebrate Teacher Appreciation week with stories of the innovation, determination, and patience it takes to teach.  
Check out a few of the educator perspectives below and submit your own here.

  1. First Person: When talking about race in classrooms, disagreement is OK — hatred is not by David McGuire, principal at Tindley Accelerated Schools and previously a teacher in Pike Township. McGuire is also a co-founder of a group called Educate ME.  
  2. First Person: What my Bronx students think about passing through scanners at school by Christine Montera, a teacher at East Bronx Academy for the Future in the Bronx. She is also a member of Educators 4 Excellence-New York.  
  3. First Person: What 100 ninth graders told me about why they don’t read by Jarred Amato, High School English teacher and founder of ProjectLITCommunity.
  4. This fourth-grade teacher doesn’t take away recess or use points to manage the class. Instead she’s built a culture of respect by Liz Fitzgerald, a fourth-grade teacher at Sagebrush Elementary and Colorado Teaching Policy fellow.
  5. First Person: Why I decided to come out to my second-grade students by Michael Patrick a second grade teacher at AF North Brooklyn Prep Elementary.
  6. Meet the teacher who helped organize the Women’s March on Denver, a profile of Cheetah McClellan, Lead Math Fellow at Denver Public Schools.
  7. First Person: At my school, we let students group themselves by race to talk about race — and it works, by Dave Mortimer, and educator at Bank Street School for Children.
  8. What Trump’s inauguration means for one undocumented Nashville student-turned-teacher a profile of Carlos Ruiz, a Spanish teacher at STRIVE Prep Excel and Teach for America fellow.
  9. First Person: ‘I was the kid who didn’t speak English’ by Mariangely Solis Cervera, the founding Spanish teacher at Achievement First East Brooklyn High School.
  10. First Person: Why recruiting more men of color isn’t enough to solve our teacher diversity problem by Beau Lancaster, a student advocate at the Harlem Children’s Zone and  Global Kids trainer teaching, writing, and developing a civic engagement and emotional development curriculum.
  11. Sign of the times: Teacher whose classroom-door sign went viral explains his message a profile of Eric Eisenstad, physics and biology teacher at Manhattan Hunter Science High School.
  12. First Person: How teachers should navigate the classroom debate during a polarizing election year  by Kent Willmann, an instructor at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education. He previously taught high school social studies in Longmont for 32 years.
  13. First Person: I teach students of color, and I see fear every day. Our job now is to model bravery by Rousseau Mieze, a history teacher at Achievement First Bushwick charter middle school.
  14. Pumpkin pie with a side of exhaustion: Why late fall is such a tough time to be a teacher by Amanda Gonzales, a high school special education teacher in Commerce City, Colorado.
  15. This teacher was a ‘class terrorist’ as a child. Now he uses that to understand his students by Andrew Pillow a technology and social issues teacher at KIPP Indy College Prep Middle.
  16. What this teacher learned when her discipline system went awry — for all the right reasons by Trilce Marquez, a fourth-grade teacher at P.S. 11 in Chelsea.
  17. Here’s what one Tennessee teacher will be listening for in Haslam’s State of the State address by Erin Glenn, a U.S. history teacher at East Lake Academy of Fine Arts and Tennessee Educator Fellow with the State Collaborative on Reforming Education.
  18. An earth science teacher talks about the lesson that’s a point of pride — and pain a profile of Cheryl Mosier, a science teacher at Columbine High School.
  19. A national teacher of the year on her most radical teaching practice: trusting kids to handle their bathroom business by Shanna Peeples, secondary English language arts curriculum specialist for Amarillo ISD.
  20. How this teacher went from so nervous her “voice was cracking” to a policy advocate by Jean Russell, a literacy coach at Haverhill Elementary School,  2016 Indiana Teacher of the Year and TeachPlus statewide policy fellow.

First Person

I’m a black man raised on the mistaken idea that education could keep me safe. Here’s what I teach my students in the age of Jordan Edwards

The author, Fredrick Scott Salyers.

This piece is presented in partnership with The Marshall Project

I worry a lot about the students in the high school where I teach. One, in particular, is bright but struggles in class. He rarely ever smiles and he acts out, going so far recently as to threaten another teacher. As a black, male teacher — one of too few in the profession — I feel especially compelled to help this young black man reach his potential. Part of that work is teaching him the dangers that might exist for him, including the police.

The killing of Texas teenager Jordan Edwards proves, though, that it’s not just black boys with behavior issues who are in danger. Jordan — a high school freshman, star athlete and honor student — was shot dead by a police officer last month while leaving a house party. As he rode away from the party in a car driven by his older brother, officers who’d been called to the scene fired multiple rifle rounds at the car. One bullet went through the passenger window, striking Jordan in the head. Murder charges have since been filed against the officer who fired the fatal shot.

It’s a near impossible task to educate black children in a society that constantly interrupts that work with such violence. Still, it’s incumbent on educators like me to guide our students through the moment we’re living in — even when we can’t answer all their questions, and even if we’re sometimes confused ourselves.

I began teaching in 2014, the year the police killings of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Tamir Rice dominated headlines. The tragedies have piled on, a new one seeming to occur every month since I first stepped into a classroom. I currently teach ninth-graders at a predominantly black charter school in Brooklyn, and I often find myself struggling to make sense of the events for my students.

I’ve shown them clips from popular films like “Selma” and “Fruitvale Station” and prepared lessons on the civil rights movement, and I’ve done my best to ground it all in the subjects I was hired to teach — American history, composition, and college readiness. My hope is that these films will encourage my students to connect today’s police violence to our nation’s history of racial injustice. And, because there are no easy answers, they’ll simply be encouraged by the perseverance of those who came before them.

I can’t help but worry I’m sending them mixed messages, however, teaching them lessons on resistance while also policing their conduct day to day. As an administrator and one of few black male teachers in my school, I’m often charged with disciplining students. I find myself having a familiar talk with many of them: “get good grades,” “respect authority,” “keep your nose clean.”

It’s instruction and advice that can feel pointless when a “good kid” like Jordan Edwards can have his life cut short by those sworn to serve and protect him. Still, I try in hopes that good grades and polite behavior will insulate my students from some of society’s dangers, if not all of them.

The Monday after police killed Edwards, I asked the students in my college readiness class to watch a news clip about the shooting and write out their feelings, or sit in silence and reflect. Many of them were already aware of what happened. I was proud that so many of them were abreast of the news but saddened by their reflections. At just 14 and 15 years old, many of them have already come to accept deaths like Jordan’s as the norm, and readily expect that any one of them could be next. “Will this police officer even be fired?” one asked. “Was the cop white?”

The young man I worry about the most was more talkative than usual that day. During the class discussion, he shared his guilt of being the only one of his friends who “made it” — making it meaning being alive, still, and free. The guilt sometimes cripples him, he said, and high-profile police killings like Jordan’s compound that guilt with a feeling of hopelessness. They make him think he will die in the streets one way or another.

I didn’t know what to say then, and I still don’t have a response for him. I’ve always taught students that earning an education might exempt them from the perils of being black in America, or at least give them a chance at something more. I was raised on that notion and believed it so much that I became an educator. But deaths like Jordan’s leave me choking on the reality that nothing I can teach will shield my students from becoming the next hashtag.

In lieu of protection, I offer what I can. I provide a space for my students to express their feelings. I offer love and consideration in our day-to-day interactions and do my best to make them feel seen and, hopefully, safe for a few hours each day.

Fredrick Scott Salyers teaches at a charter high school in Brooklyn. He began his career in education as a resident director at Morehouse College. Find more of his work here.