Post 11: STOP and Stepping Back

While others enjoyed the beach, I was grading in a coffee shop is Astoria. Thanks Gossip Coffee for your amazing AC and banana bread muffin…

I wasn’t sure where to start? Equations? Subtraction?

Anyways, I became really disheartened when I came across the above work (It’s not the ideal set of questions, but it measures if students are able to solve equations given decimals or “not so friendly integers”). This reminded me of something I tweeted not too long ago.

I thought to myself, “How do  I get this student to solve for a variable, when she can’t subtract? Should I be reviewing basic operations with her? And if so…when? #overwhelmed


Overwhelmed is an understatement. And while I was slightly hyperventilating and dismayed, I heard  Sadie Estrella’s  voice in my head (mainly because I was just listening to her on ChalklineAt some point, she said:

“I have a really hard time when teachers say that these kids don’t know anything, even the basics. STOP.” ~Sadie

Even though the context for this was slightly different, hearing her say “STOP” allowed me to stop, take a step back, and look at my students entire work for this set of questions. This time, I tried to not focus on what she did not understand, but focus on what she DOES understand and start from there. This time, I felt proud of this student. Unlike others she was using the appropriate inverse operations to solve the equation. She just struggled with following through. She can’t apply algorithms because they don’t make sense to her.

Student work_solving equations

Even though, there are still gaps in her understanding…I have a better course of action to support her, and it isn’t going to be worksheets on worksheets practicing the standard algorithm for adding and subtracting, because that has already failed her. Time to take on some number talks and bring out some manipulatives!



Post 10: Feelings and Middle Schoolers- Let’s get Specific

Even though it is the end of the year, we have taken on going through some conflict resolution workshop with our students. In some ways, it is a pilot for next years advisory. We started from the basic which is attaching words to our feelings to better express them. In order to facilitate that we provided students with a feeling wheel so that they could go beyond saying that they feel angry, sad, happy, and so on.

Goal: Let’s get specific when we identify feelings and emotions.

Students “feel”, but as middle school students it’s hard to have the right words – I mean we struggle as adults to express ourselves…

And because I love gifs, this happened.

  • I showed each gif. Students shared what emotion the gif expressed.
  • I kept repeating we must be specific!!

Kerry Washington’s disgust and irritation wasn’t hard to pick up. 


Neither was NPH’s anger, but I wanted students to delve deeper.

What kind of anger is Neil/Barney feeling? Is it on the same level as the person above?


happy dancing blackish tracee ellis ross rainbow johnson
Tracee is happy, but what kind of happiness is she experiencing? How do you know?
disney bored tired whatever sleepy
What is Boo feeling? How do you know? Have you ever felt this way? Be specific.


We ended the session with students writing down specific ways they have felt and what made them feel this way on the vertical boards around the room. A few examples of what students wrote:

  • I feel frustrated when other students get the whole class in trouble (There were a lot along the lines of this).
  • I feel irritated when teachers get upset at me for being joyful.
  • I feel joyful when I spend time with my friends/family.

This was only session one. On to session #2 tomorrow when we discuss TRIGGERS. Fun.


Post 9: Finding Silver Linings on Monday

Mondays are tough to get through. I almost feel entitled to get a girl scout badge for surviving Monday. Each week. However, today I was determined to take notice of good things that happened. Thankfully there were more than just a few. Here are a few things that made me happy, smile, or just be thankful.

  • I was on time to our morning staff meeting. Yay!
  • Students were taking their final unit exam of the year (testing always sucks), but I was able to play music throughout the entire hour for each of my classes.
  • At the end of the day,  my advisory students sat through a demo lesson. Our 8th and 7th graders are used to this since we are a growing school, but this is the first of few for my kids. This is how I pitched it to them. -Me with a completely serious face-

    Okay 654, you have been given a great responsibility. You will play a role in deciding who teaches YOU at our school. After this lesson we’ll share some glows and grows. I want you to consider if you want this person as your teacher next year when you are 7th graders because you never know, this person just might be your teacher!

    We got a bit rowdy after a while, so when I mentioned maybe the responsibility needs to be passed on to another class, I heard a unanimous cry…

    Okay, so they weren’t that passionate about participating…
  • During the debrief the last comment.

    I would want him to be a teacher because he explained well, but no because I want you as my teacher and I would miss you.

  • I got to see my math coach at the beginning of the week. He usually comes in on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but with a modified testing schedule we won’t be able to meet, so he came in today. We were able to sit down and work together for an hour or so. Also Rob rocks!
  • Speaking of Rob, one of my students asked if we go to the same college, “because he’s really good at math too” because duh–all people who are great at math went to the same awesome college.
  • Hands down, it’s really the people that I work with that help me make it through tough weeks and make me love the place I work! Today a bunch of us stayed back to watch demo lessons and debrief about them. We had a team member out sick today and the 6th grade team flawlessly took care of all coverages within 5 minutes. Reminding me day in and day out we do the BEST for the children and the team even if it may inconvenience us. I’m glad to help because I know when I need them, they will pull through for me!
  •  A bunch of kids have started come up with me during lunch to play Heads Up, a combo of charades and taboo. Today the category they were playing was animals, so needless to say it was entertaining. Especially when my student made a werewolf sound when the word was elephant!
  • I did the “I’m watching you” signal to one of my students today when he was trying to be sneaky and he kept on doing it to me, but he did it by poking his eyes every single time. He’s not with it just yet!
    I didn’t look as creepy.


Bring it on Tuesday!

Post 7: Impulsive? Yes. Jerks? No.

At this time of the year it’s good to remember that my students are impulsive and make poor choices in the moment because their frontal lobes are still developing. They lack the same amount of white matter as adults, which leads to slower communication between the brain.

“It’s the part of the brain that says: ‘Is this a good idea? What is the consequence of this action?’ ” Jensen says. “It’s not that they don’t have a frontal lobe. And they can use it. But they’re going to access it more slowly.” ~ Read the full NPR article here.

It’s reassuring to know that this is developmentally appropriate — it doesn’t make it easier, but it helps me reassess my empathy and patience for my students, like student Kay. Or this latest example, which is the inspiration for this post.


Yesterday, my advisory (sort of like my homeroom) had a substitute for Science. We do internal coverages, so it was a full time teacher, but she didn’t teach the students. A nasty verbal altercation happened between 2 students and a bunch of students decided to go cuckoo and make the matter worse. Said teacher tried to calm the situation, but eventually the Dean and our parent coordinator had to intervene.

The following class they had was math. I was fuming at MY advisory. We reflect a lot at our school, but I was not in a place to do with them at that time…so the class worked silently the entire period. I remained upset at them the entire period for choosing to instigate and react in a way that made a bad situation worse. The covering teacher came back today during our advisory period at the end of the day. We reflected and pretty much every single on of the students had so much guilt in their eyes. A few of them apologized for their behavior and reactions on behalf of the entire class. I found out a few of them had already approached her privately prior to this time.

It was refreshing to be in the room to witness this. I let go of the anger. I had towards them. I felt less tense because I was reminded my students are impulsive, but they are also able to reflect and recognize (after the fact) the choices they make. It might take some a while to get there, but most (not all, of course) take responsibility for their actions. 

They’ll be impulsive again. But this time, I’ll think about the spotty connection in their brain. Like most wifi in New York City, it’s pretty slow.





Post 6: I overreacted, I engaged-I’m human and have feelings.

It’s hard to stay emotionally constant, especially with middle school students, though I try really hard to do so. My student (we’ll call her Kay) is an emotional child, who struggles to trust adults, but we generally have a semi-descenti-ish relationship. Today, I engaged. I overreacted because it’s tiring to be an emotional punching bag for 12 year olds. It wasn’t my best performance and I could have handled it so much better.

Tell ’em Channing!

My students were working on some practice problems that they needed blank scantrons for. I asked multiple times if anyone else needed one. I gave a bubble sheet to anyone who raised their hand. Made it clear I would only address silent hands. I walked around and assisted students and reminded others to get back on track. One of my students called out my name. I gestured raising my hand to let her know why I wasn’t walking over to her. She didn’t call me over again.

This episode took about 3-4 minutes towards the end of class. At the end of the period, I had students collect the work and a student (let’s call her Kay) grumbled and mumbled under her breath. “Can’t finish my work because no one gave me a scantron.” I went over to her desk with a scantron and put it on her desk…and she responded with a tone.

-Kay: “I got one cuz I had to get one myself from the back.”

-Me: (somewhat passive aggressively): I’m sorry you didn’t hear me TWICE when I asked who needs one and sorry you weren’t paying attention to raise your hand when you needed it, but your tone is completely out of line and uncalled for.

-Kay: I was calling you over and well you didn’t listen.

-Me: Again, not really appreciating how you’re speaking to me, especially considering I asked anyone who didn’t have one to raise their hand. (While she’s still talking over me.)

I don’t know why I kept bringing that up…it’s silly. I’m pretty sure she didn’t hear me and wasn’t paying attention, but reflecting back, not really worth holding over her head at this point. She needed a scantron and was pissed that I didn’t give one to her when she called out to get one. Understanding that she can get very emotional over stuff like this, it would have been so much easier on my sanity to let her huff and puff under her breath at her seat and then checking in with her towards the end of the day…but no. I engaged, because I’m human and have feelings.


-Me: I’m no longer having this back and forth with you. You’ve always been honest with me about feeling disrespected by your teachers and now I’m feeling that from you. We need to spend some time together, I’ll see you in detention…

I walk away…

-Kay: These teachers always …something, something, something <yelling at me from across the room…

-Me: and now you’re yelling right at me…we’re done. We’ll talk later.

-Kay: <still yelling across the room> Because you walked away while I was still talking to you…

I gathered my things and walk over to my next class. Half way through the period, I see her at my door and she asks to speak to me. My current class was working independently, so I agree to speak to her while standing at the door.

-Kay: Sorry about my reaction. I didn’t really mean to offend you. I didn’t hear you earlier.

-Me: I really appreciate that, but can we agree that you over reacted to not having a scantron?

-Kay: Yes. I overreacted.

-Me: I did too…our back and forth wasn’t really helpful or necessary. We still need to spend some time together so this doesn’t mean you’re off the hook for detention, but since we both overreacted we might need some space to to cool off before we talk about this. So how about we talk at lunch tomorrow instead of during after school detention?

-Kay: Okay. (Smiles)

We shake hands and part ways.

Till tomorrow…

Post 5: Being Candid…

Our school is looking for a few new teachers for the following school year and I have been watching some demo lessons and have gotten a chance to speak to some of them. Everyone has asked at some point to share my experience working at the school and it seemed like a great prompt for a blog post.

  • There are high expectations: Thats usually the first thing out of my mouth. This is the first school that I have worked at, but from what I’ve been told by teachers who have worked at other schools, we are asked to do a lot more than at any other place they have worked at. For example, implementing cross content instructional tools, looking at student work protocols weekly, keeping in touch with parents, assisting special education teachers in completing IEPs by giving them current student info on academics/social emotional behavior. All of this can be really overwhelming sometimes.
  • With bullet mentioned above, it can get pretty intense in our building at various times of the year, but it’s okay (and very encouraged) to reach out for support.
  • We hold our students accountable because we believe we are stakeholders in their success and many of us do that on our own time. Our AP and principal have standing detention with the students during our extended day, but I usually opt to hold my students. It’s just more meaningful that way, especially because sometimes it’s “we need to make up work because you chose to not finish it in my class” detention and that is just silent work time detention, “you didn’t do the work because you were so lost and shut down and then started goofing off” detention and the looks more like one on one support, and other times it’s “you had a bad day, so let’s just talk and reflect” detention, and sometimes it’s not “detention”, but come hang out with me and “let’s build a relationship” kind of thing. This too can be very, very overwhelming.
  • We collaborate A LOT, we get a lot of feedback, we give a lot of feedback, we are up in everyone’s business and that’s great for us, but might not work for everyone. We have time built in our schedule for much of this collaboration to happen.
  • We use SBG and there tends to be a learning curve (3 years in and I’m still towards the beginning of that curve).
  • We really emphasize supporting diverse learning needs and in an ideal world would love to have every single class be in an ICT setting!
  • From knowing my colleagues, working with my admin–majority of the people are happy here.
  • I’m happy where I work and with whom I work. I feel really supported and consider the people I work with an extension of my family, who really understand what I go through every day.
  • I work with really smart and awesome people who make me reflect on my own teaching constantly and who remind me I can do better each day.

Post 4: Defeat and Humility…I guess

While my tweet from yesterday was specific about a task, the feeling of defeat is something that has been lingering with me for a while. I have attempted to give my students tools to persevere in problem solving, but seeing so many of them give up so soon yesterday reinforced the feeling of defeat. While I recognize that there are so many factors beyond my control in order to make my students effective problem solvers, the little that I can control keeps me up at night. It’s all consuming of any (seeming) free time I have. I guess it’s a humbling reminder that we have one of the hardest jobs. We’re directly dealing with students and are their intellectual and emotional caretakers far beyond 8AM-3PM, even though some people may tell us otherwise.

One way to keep my self sane is to think forward and reflect on what I can do differently. It’s also that time of the year, where I begin seriously thinking and reflecting on what I need to do differently next year. However, I have about 2 months of school left, where does that leave my students right now? So while I am really grateful because, “there is always next year”, I don’t know how to get over this heavy feeling I have at this moment. Of course, recognizing that my students were not having a productive struggle in my first section, I made neccessary-ish adjustments for my next section. However, that seems more like plugging holes in a pipe, as an after thought — very half-hazard. So while part of the feeling deals with my students inability to problem solve, much of it is about my own teaching, my own planning, and my ability to control the things that I am in control of right now….not so happy with it and it’s a feeling that sucks.


Post 3: Trying to keep up with “time” when time is a struggle.

I’ve struggled with the concept of time my whole life. I struggle to get anywhere on time. I underestimate how long everything will take me. It takes me forever to say something aloud that I think will take me a few seconds.

Priority was a foreign word.

Related, I’ve always had trouble prioritizing. Everything. For majority of my life, that was never an issue. If I needed to get x, y, and z done, I’d get it done within milliseconds of their ultimate due time. Writing an undergraduate honors thesis? Done (research done two weeks before due date, written in 3-4 days). If I had to do a, b, and c things together no matter how intense, I would and I could. Taking a 3-day intensive weekend Islamic course the same week as mid-terms? Done. Help curating a photo gallery which required traveling 1.5 hours (one way) weekly for 2 months during my undergrad years and spending a bunch of hours learning how to use GIMP to photo edit while “studying” for Calc Honors, Linear Algebra, and Discrete Math? Done. All-nighters were my life because I decided all duties related to being VP of MSA, no matter how minute, trumped all classes. Sahar never said no to anything. “Sahar could you…?” Yes. Almost always. People asked because I never said no and I knew I would get it done. Everything. Without much compromise.

I got things done. I did them well. So there was no urgency for me to get my ish together.

That changed three years ago, when I started teaching. The inability to juggle everything thrown at me, inability to plan and execute my lessons in the best manner (as I was used to doing everything else in my life), and the inability to say no hit me all too hard. So much stress and anxiety manifested physiologically. My adult acne was at its all time worse and I had stress induced acid reflex and ended up going on meds to put both under control.

multitasking multitask multi-tasking
I wasn’t naive per se. I went through 5 years of undergrad/grad education, 3ish years of student teaching, so I thought I knew what to expect going into teaching. I also knew to expect the unexpected. Countless of teacher friends and mentors told me: you won’t truly understand what teaching is until you’re a teacher.

yes seinfeld true kramer correct
So now 3 years later, time, pacing, getting things done, and being an organized teacher are daily struggles. I’ve learned ways to cope and have grown somewhat. I’ve had to change my mindset about somethings. Perhaps if I have time, I’ll write about that later…

Post 2: Dear Teenage Self…

Posting twice in one week probably means I won’t be posting for a while. #oops #sorrynotsorry

friends sorry joey sorry not sorry im sorry

I went through a list of 30 reflection prompts Tina Cardone shared on her first #mtbos30 post and #2 seemed the most intriguing/stuff I wouldn’t mind being out and floating about the virtual universe. While only a preteen in 2001, the 9/11 attacks very much defined my young adult life and acted as a catalyst in my exploration of Islam. I began to develop my identity as a Muslim American during my teen years, so it feels appropriate to start there.

Things I would say to Sahar (circa:2001-2008):

  • Don’t be hasty: You do not need to become the ultimate Muslim overnight. That’s not even the purpose. You just need to do the best that you can and everything else will sort itself out.
    tina fey stop calm down cool it you need to cool it
  • While finding your identity as a Muslim American, don’t forget that a part of the religion is maintaining a good relationship with your family, especially your parents. THAT is not optional-it’s actually a part of Islam. If you end up neglecting that, you’re really going to regret it one day. Trust me.
  • Islam is not black and white. There is a grey area. It is purposeful in order to make the religion easy on people. So don’t make it black and white because you’re going to make it really difficult to function on a day to day basis for yourself; it’s also easy to fall into judging people and #onlygodcanjudge.
  • Seriously your wardrobe needs work. I get it, you want to make sure you’re dressing within the guidelines of a Muslims women, you’re going through a weird identity crisis, but read the previous point. Ask your sisters for help in this department. Don’t wait until college. Seriously. Don’t.
    lol comedy jon stewart comedy central the daily show
  • Consider applying to a college away from home. While you will be extremely happy to be a product of the NYC public school system (K-12, undergrad, and grad school) teaching in the system with $0 in school debt, you’ll sometimes wish that at the very least you had considered a college away from home.
  • Don’t ever stop practicing Spanish. It’s going to come in handy when you end up working with students whose families are from Puerto Rico and Domincan Republic.
  • Don’t want until you’re 22 to get your license. You might think that the MetroCard is life, but once you drive you’ll think otherwise. You can drive and use your MetroCard around the city. You can also easily escape the city. It’s the best of both worlds.

That’s it for now, but I’m sure there’s a ton to say to young Sahar.