Friday, May 10, 2013


Tomorrow, I am graduating and it feels surreal. I can not get over the fact that I am actually about to leave the University of Pennsylvania and enter the real-adult world. Apart of me is very happy and excited to explore this next phase in life. Another part of me is ridiculously nervous about leaving Penn and having to go into the next phase of life. I do not know how to feel right now. Honestly, I have been looking forward to this moment for sometime, but right now I am not so sure if I am ready.

This year has been full of such rich memories- some good, some bad, all learning experiences. I am leaving the University of Pennsylvania as a better person, a better teacher, and a better scholar. The road to get to this point has not been easy. There have been some days when I just felt tired or overwhelmed with all of the work that I had to complete for this program. Those moments are very real- but they remain as real as the positive learnings that I am taking with me or the insurmountable friendships that were formed. From my experience as a student teacher to my experiences as a member of the Penn GSE classroom, growth has been cultivated within me and members of my cohort.

It has been a great pleasure to have been apart of Penn GSE classroom and professional groups. I look forward to future interactions and engagements with these people that I now consider to be apart of my family.

Inquiry Question: Overview and Inspiration

As I mentioned in earlier posts, each student in the Teacher Education Program pursued a research question that could help advance his or her practice as a teacher. I thought long and hard about my inquiry question and often changed my questions, but I finally decided upon the follow question for my research and it was as followed: How can I, as a controversial teacher, foster a classroom of respect and care. It was, without a doubt, an incredibly valuable experience and I want to share what motivated me and (to the extent to which I can), my findings.

Like many people who enter the field of education, I have always envisioned myself as the “transformative,” dynamic teacher who does more than regurgitate information from a textbook to students. Before even stepping into the classroom or familiarizing myself with  education theory, I felt that there was something exclusive and fundamentally discriminatory within most mainstream classrooms and I wanted to change that. My own personal experiences of exclusion in the classroom made me feel this way. Without having the language to discuss this feeling or even knowing how to address it, I simply knew that it would take something- or someone- bold and radical enough to make sure that other students do not feel this way.

I consider my own educational experiences as a child to have been tainted by biased textbooks and Eurocentric modes of thought. The history books and curriculums of my memory told me that people who looked like me did not contribute to any historical happenings. Despite attending a predominantly Latino and Black high school of 3500 students, I only had one teacher of color for all four years of high school and I was usually one of two Black students enrolled in honors or AP classes. Because of aforementioned details and my strongly substantiated belief that all of my classes promoted white middle class norms , I wanted to run every time I stepped foot inside a history class. While I enjoyed reading historical novels and visits to museums, I felt excluded, unwanted, and unappreciated in most of my high school history classes.

Despite harboring very negative feelings about history and social studies as a high school student, I loved launching historical inquiry on things that connected me to my community. When I took African American history classes as a sophomore and junior in high school, I realized that history had many functions that extended far beyond my honors world history textbook which my then-teacher used to tell me that Africa was of little significance. When I became a student at Yale University, I finally realized how diverse historical exploration could be. As a freshman, I was introduced to inquiry driven instruction and learning. In my African American Studies and Comparative Politics courses, for example, I was able to build upon my own understandings of the world, demonstrate my intellectual prowess, and perhaps most importantly, feel a sense of belonging. 

In order to honor the inquiry question at hand, I relied primarily on differentiation with regards to content and instruction. Differentiation allows for controversial and innovative teaching; through varied techniques and instruction, students have the ability to establish their individual identity and role in the classroom. Using a variety of differentiated methods, I have employed strategies such as the following:

•   Socratic classroom discussions
•   Co-planning and coteaching with students 

•   Large classroom debates
•   Small group discussions 

•   Stimulations 
•   Social Media
•   Technology (Youtube, Video Clips, Outside Blogs, TedX Talks)
•   Art: Music, Hip Hop, Spoken Word, Student Performances, s 

At the “conclusion” of this project, I realize that I have more questions than answers and I suppose that this is a desired outcome. Because my inquiry question is quite situational and dependent upon my students and their backgrounds, I will never had a set outcome to look forward to, even if I replicated the same instructional methods or classroom management strategies a billion times! In fact, as I pursued and concluded this research, I continued to think about the following questions:

  • Is controversial teaching always positive?
  • How can I continuously gage whether or not community is being created?
  • How can I make sure my classroom community is inclusive to all students, while upholding my own personal commitment to students of color?
  • What does care look like?
  • Could I replicate my instructional methods of care and respect in another classroom space?
  • How does my position as a Black male educator affect my ability to foster a community of care and respect?

As I continue to teach, I anticipate exploring these questions (and the question that I initially set out to explore ) with intention. 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Fasting for Clarity

Normally, one should not brag or promote the idea of fasting. Fasting- the practice of abstaining from an action or actions for a set period of time- is something special for the individual that chooses to do it. However, I am fresh out of topics to blog about and since I am doing one right now, I just wanted to share with you my experience with fasting. 

Every year, I go on something that resembles a Daniel's Fast (Daniel Chapters 1-3; 10 from the Bible gives context). By no means am I pastor, but I'll try to give a brief synopsis: In Chapter 1, Daniel rejected the diet of the Babylonians because it conflicted with his own. He maintained that he would continue the diet that he knew from his past and promised that it would enable him to do the work commanded of Nebuchadnezer). When I was a child, I really enjoyed the story of Daniel and it's always meant something to me. The fact that he was able to attain clarity, peace, and strength by living a less decorated life, is inspiring. In my adult years, I made the decision to take one month of the year to emulate, to an extent, Daniel's example. 
And so, I take on a very strict, clean lifestyle for one month. I try to modify this fast by giving up everything that I over indulge in- so basically, I give up on a lot of stuff. From tv to certain music to Facebook, I retire all of the things that bring me pleasure in hopes of attaining focus. By getting rid of things which could be distractions in my life, I try to just work on me- become a better person. What am I like without Facebook? What can I do with my time instead of tweeting about Scandal or yelling at D'Antoni's weak use of the Lakers during a game? These are questions that a fast, prayerfully, can answer,

The first week was met with bleh results. This was due in part to the fact that I kept telling myself that I had a lot of work to do and I had to give in against my will. A little devil in my head kept saying things like, "eat that WaWa breakfast sandwich" or "play that song a couple of times" because you're in the final stretch of work. There isn't anything wrong with the aforementioned things, let me be clear about that. However, as I enter a stage in life where  I have to make a ton of decisions (and complete a lot of work), clarity, structure, and productivity are great things to have.

I've been much better this second week with following through with fasting and its been such a blessing. I've gained some of the clarity and focus that I've been longing for. I am just about finished my analytic essay for the master's program. I have completed a lot of the grading and small end projects for my classroom. I've accomplished so much this week and navigated through a couple of challenges quite well. 

This final week will be full of very big decisions and submissions. I really do believe that this fast might do a lot for me... I'll keep you posted. :)

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Lupe's Strange Fruition and Teaching

Strange Fruition has to be one of the most thoughtful songs that I've heard in a while.  Food and Liquor II came out quite some time ago, true, but this has been the song that has really motivated me to write a lot of my lesson plans. I think the song, in many ways, reflects what has motivated me to be a teacher and what I think about each time I sit down to plan a unit. It's not so much that I fully cosign with the lyrical content entirely, but the song reflects the reality that a lot of experiences in this country have been suppressed and understated in our consciousness  Recognizing the sentiment of the song (for those who do not know, the song questions the paradoxical nature of the American dream and contrary American realities) and the traditional pro-American, exceptionalist narrative, I think that the classroom can be a means of finding reconciliation between the two. What does it mean to be an American and question the intentions of our nation's government and people? What does it mean to be a nationalist, despite more gloomy socioeconomic realities? These are only a sample of the questions that the history classroom, as a space, can interrogate.

Now I can't pledge allegiance to your flag
Cause I can't find no reconciliation with your past
When there was nothing equal for my people in your math
You forced us in the ghetto and then you took our dads
The belly of the beast, these streets are demons' abs
I'm telling you that setup in them sit-ups is so sad
The system is a slab

(Lupe Fiasco, Strange Fruition)

Monday, April 1, 2013

Spring Break/ Semester- A Big Fail? Hmmm....

My last post was a rant about how fake of a break my program's "spring break" actually was.

Well, it turned out that spring break would really be a break for me. Midway through the week, I caught a fever, fell pretty ill, and forced to the confines of my bedroom in Jersey. So yeah, I got the break that I asked for, lol.

I ended up going to Atlanta earlier in the week to visit my girlfriend. After a fantastic trip, I landed back North with an incredibly weary feeling. Despite the plush 50ish weather we were having up here, I felt like I was constantly being hit by the Artic cold. Knowing this feeling quite well, I drank a ton of tea and bundled up to avoid getting sick, but by Thursday night,it was a wrap. I spent Friday and Saturday sleeping in my room and trying to avoid a hospital visit, which ended up happening. On the bright side, I'm feeling a lot better and I got the sleep that I had been hoping to get! :/

Unfortunately, I did not get nearly as much work done as I would have liked. There were a ton of obligations that I had over break- meetings, work for my job, etc- that I could not fulfill. I didn't get nearly as much essay writing or grading done as I would have liked to. However, I am not stressed. I'm not going to let the "situation" get the best of me. There are so many things I wanted to do this year, that did not seem to get done. Two failed attempts to compete in a bodybuilding competition. Not surpassing work deadlines to have extended periods of personal time. Quality social time with friends and colleagues never really happening. Yeah, so much has not come into fruition. 

As crazy as this might sound, I wouldn't trade any of it. I'm learning a lot about balance, goal setting, human limitation, and centering. In some of the failures I've experienced, there has been a lot of learning.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

First Day of "Spring Break" (Emphasis on the " ")

"Spring Break"is finally here. It's quite ironic that in my last post that I reveled in excitement about the thought of an actual break, when in reality, this is probably the cruelest thing any program could ever do to a student. ;(

Our program is designed so that while you are (supposed to be) working on your master's portfolio for the entire year, a large chunk of time is to be dedicated to working on your master's portfolio. I have no qualms about working on my master's portfolio- in fact, I have been pursuing my topic fairly intensely for the entire year. What annoys me is that inevitably, one's entire break will be consumed by this project- if one wants to do well (or not loose sleep in the weeks to come).

It's sad because I have spent this past year orienting lessons, journal reflections, and inquiry questions of  practice to this overarching question about the intersection of controversial and innovative teaching with  safe and respectful communities. Having years of research experience, I anticipated my research to evolve and occasionally, take a life on its own especially since there is so much that happens in a classroom from day-to-day. Because of this, I have to challenge the expectation that one could finish this portfolio (beyond adequacy) without sacrificing sleep, time, and sanity- I think I am at that point where all of the latter are beyond sight.

I probably could relax this break... but in return, I sacrifice producing a high-quality product that makes the mark and actually could be of use for future practice. As I type this "on my break from typing my dissertation essay," I'm counting down the days to be down with "spring break."

Thursday, March 21, 2013


This is the FINALLY week.

In so many ways.

1. Finally Scandal
Scandal is BACK!!!!!! Jesus, Lord my God, thank you for bringing this show back into my life. I am mad excited to see what unfolds. At 9:30, I will definitely be sitting on my couch in with popcorn and Pinot Grigio, browsing through the web and reading commentary about the cast. I will be live tweeting and providing commentary with some of the best shade-throwers in the world. Can't wait. THEN at 9:55 pm, I will pray for brother Huck because Lord knows he needs it.

2. Finally Sleep
I finally get to sleep! I have slept a whopping 8 hours over the past few days. As soon as I leave school I am going home and knocking out in my bed (I am currently typing this blog post on my lunchbreak).

Spring Break is here! Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord! - and while its technically not a break because the whole week is supposed to be dedicated to working on the master's portfolio, it'll be nice to wake up at 9 am as opposed to 6:30 am this week.