Vox populi

Comments of the week: Schools cope with Hurricane Sandy

In response to the devastation Hurricane Sandy wrought on schools and families last week, city officials and educators have been scrambling to help school communities—some impacted more immediately than others—cope.

For some schools, that means making sure students have access to the resources they need to get their schoolwork done, whether it’s internet they lack, or unable to return to their homes. In other schools, some of the most pressing concerns for teachers and administrators include creating meaningful lessons out of the hurricane, and making up for the lost week of instruction.

In our Community section, iSchool teacher Christina Jenkins argues that schools should take the opportunity to teach students about how communities respond to crisis and natural disasters.

“Real life should trump our lesson plans,” she writes. “There’s so much to analyze: cartography, disaster risk and our ability to mitigate it, the fake disaster images circulating online, the power of crowdsourcing.”

Commenters agreed that engaging students on the challenges facing the city now was a good idea, but they suggested a few different approaches for doing it without preventing them from covering the curriculum they had already planned.

“ms. v” wrote:

I’m teaching a unit on designing emergency shelters that we started before the hurricane, but I’ve adapted it based on our specific situation now. When I taught science, various events worldwide happened at least once or twice a year, but we couldn’t drop everything to study earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, epidemics, etc. every time they were relevant here or abroad. Instead, I addressed them briefly in class at the time, and then looked for the places and times in the curriculum to connect bac to those major events with depth and analysis.

And “nycdoenuts” said teachers at his school were also trying to find a middle ground between ignoring the hurricane in favor of the normal curriculum, and launching into an in depth exploration:

We have real deep reservations about simply picking up where we all left off in our curricula -almost as though nothing ever happened. And on the other hand, we also feel a need to return the students to some routine of normal (particularly mine, who experienced only a minor impact last week). The ambivalence we’re all feeling is deep and raises questions that, frankly, are too big for me and my colleagues (what does a return to normal entail? How Long would that take? What would have to be done? and What parts of the school (the classroom? advisory?guidance?) would play which roles in that?).  I totally agree that the city is somewhat broken right now. I think we should expect that classrooms (which are an extension of how we here in the real world live) are going to be somewhat broken for a while as well.

Several readers also offered suggestions for how the city can add school days back into the calendar by taking away previously scheduled time off.

“Travis Dove” suggested getting rid of January final exams in his school, or replacing the January Regents exam period with more classroom time:

In January my school gives us finals for a week where we learn nothing – perhaps we can just skip those and have regular sized tests and get that week back. There’s also January regents week where we basically get another week long vacation. February break is also nicely placed, and Spring Break is the week where my school has planned every one of its international trips, so unless 20-30 kids are okay with being absent for an entire week, I don’t think that will work. As for summer vacation, in July, after AP tests, regents, finals, and everything else, it would basically be a week long board game session.

“An Effective Teacher says…” suggested doing away with professional development days, but not vacation days, which many teachers value as time to rest up:

…Most people simply do not understand how much time an effective teacher puts into this job every day, including weekends. They complain that we have summers “off”, but they don’t realize that during the school year the majority of us are putting in more hours in those 185 days than they do their entire year. I teach from 8am until 6pm every school day (and my lunch break is used organizing/phone calls). Add in the few hours of lesson planning, grading, and phone calls that must be done daily, and all I do during the week is work and barely sleep. On the weekends, I get caught up on whatever paperwork and lesson/curriculum planning I haven’t finished. These breaks allow me to rest a bit, but also continue planning, updating my online class site, gradebook, etc… Taking away the scheduled days “off” will hurt the students I teach and make me a less effective teacher.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”