Saturday, September 30, 2006

One month in.

Officially, I have been a teacher for a month. It seems both a quick-silver piece of time and an eternity. I’ve been handling it day-by-day and crisis-by-crisis. Wednesday my lunch was stolen, Thursday my giant teacher’s desk was overturned by a battalion of 9 students who also hit the library and created chaos and destruction there as well. Yesterday, Friday, I had a tall, creepy student with corn-rows bend down over me and whisper “You have a fine ass, you know that?” in my ear. (Earlier in the week I had been told I had "dumps like a truck." Funny, I never knew.) On a daily basis I am threatened, cursed at, ducking thrown pens and crumpled papers, dodging insults and propelled books…it’s life.

I wake up at 6:20AM, I’m in my classroom by 7:30AM, the students pile in anywhere from 8:30AM til about noon. Except for a few, most students cut class by 1:30, and I dismiss my 9th graders around 2:30PM. I putter around the class until 3:30 or 4PM and head home to rustle grub and relax, except Tuesdays where I have to head to the City for class. Yeah, Tuesdays suck.

I am asleep before 10:30PM. Without fail.

I. Am. Exhausted.

This job keeps me going like crazy, and though I strive to not shout, some day my throat burns with soreness. But, I love it. I love teaching stuff not on my lesson plan, drawing the “kids” lives into the subject matter. I enjoy watching them think, seeing their thought process and their emotions. Any given day is a soap opera, which student is dating whom, and why those girls want to jump this girl because she apparently “sucks dick.” Every day I laugh. Even on the bad days. I’ve only been scared twice so far, though I’m constantly angry at the administration. Most of my students have been locked up before. One of my students cut my class last week and was arrested an hour later for attempted robbery. I had to call his mother and listen to her cry over the phone as she swore she wouldn’t bail him out. Again. My second week I got elbowed in the face and my para got punched in the ribs. Next week I’m baking cookies.

They tell me you have to be a little bit crazy to teach emotionally disturbed kids, and some days I feel crazy because I do. Monday, I got a hug from a student before they cut my class. “See you later, Miss.” He said, all grins and charm.

Teaching wears me out, steals my time, urges me to think, and makes me drink. I spent last night at a dive bar with friends, meeting a new Teaching Fellow pal, a sort of friend-of-afriend. It really helps to compare notes and talk shop while getting plastered. (Like every seasoned teacher tells me.) And there is a certain sympathy you get from other teachers in the area. She teachers younger students, K through 5, so she has a much bigger chance of getting bitten. (Though I'd never put that past my kids.)

Monday, September 25, 2006

Even on a Good Day, Your Feet Hurt

You can tell that today wasn’t catastrophic because I’m home at 3:30PM. The harder the day, the longer I have to stay to pick up the pieces. And although it wasn’t a terrible day, I’m still tired. Teaching any kids is exhausting, but teaching emotionally disturbed, impulsive and uncivil students is like working retail, in the mall, for minimum wage, in hell. (Yes, hell has a mall, and several Wal-Marts.)

So I’m home, writing up tomorrows biology quiz…and sitting because my feet hurt. Talking about retail…my hooves haven’t ached like this since I worked at Yankee Candle many years ago. So long to an ergonomic chair at a kooshie desk job.

Now, you may be wondering why today wasn’t all that bad when last week took a few years off my life. The biggest reason is that the largest source of trouble and disturbance in my class has pretty much given up on any education. Meaning, she has decided she rather run in the halls all day, fighting girls and wrestling with boys instead of staying in class and, oh, I don’t know, learning. Last week I was very much the liberal minded instructor, urging Lavina to stay in class, grasp her education by the horns and get her (or the state’s) money’s worth. I even blocked the door, to my chagrin that caused a very big calamity. NOTE TO ALL NEW TEACHERS: Never block a student’s exit, especially when they are taller than you. So, for a change, this week I’ve decided to pleasantly let Lavina exit the class and go on without interruption. All liberal impulses aside, if the student wanted to learn, she wouldn’t be “running the halls” as she calls it. Veteran teachers tell me “You can’t reach them all, all the time.” And it’s true. When my students is ready to come in, sit down, put down her knife and leave her weave alone, I’ll be ready to teach her.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

It's Tough to Teach Students Taller Than You.

In all honesty, I wish I had more time to post more than once a week…but teaching is incredibly, amazingly exhausting. The week, as a whole, has been trying and I find myself hardening a bit to the taunts and troubles of my students. I no longer pause when a student calls me racist. I have no trouble giving no credit to students I catch cheating. (Though that makes me racist.)

Seriously, some days I just want to raise my hands to the sky and scream out my frustration. And some days are really worth it; for instance, Friday most of my class walked out before dismissal (Well, because they can…whose going to physically stop them?) but there was only myself and three students, and we played 45 minutes of pictionary. I had a really good time, and so did they.

The most trying human I have in my classroom is 15 year old Lavina. First off, she’s half a foot taller than me, black, and extremely angry. She doesn’t live with her mother, and the only contact number I have is her sister…who laughed at me on the phone. Lavina is pretty crazy, her first day of class had her storming around the room, trying to pick a fight with the only other female in the class. (Mind you, up until Lavina’s arrival this girl, Ronnie, was giving me the most trouble. But now she’s a fine student, with the bigger, meaner dog in the junkyard.) By the second day she was in a fight with a “Puerto Rican bitch with a bad weave.” She’s threatened me almost everyday, and let me say that the hardest thing I’ve done in three weeks of teaching was not back up when Lavina got up in my personal space trying to scare me. Made me hate being short.

The best thing I can do is keep showing up, not back down, not freak out. Eventually, most of the kids will stop giving me trouble.

I hope.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Rough 2nd Week!

You may have noticed my absence over the last week, and let me soothe your fears that I have not been shanked. Only that the week has been incredibly tough, harder than any college course of second-hand story could have made it out to be.

To start off, I have a new students either coming in, or leaving my class almost every day. Which means that some students I’m only working with a day or two before they go off somewhere else. At one point I had 19 students in my roster, where legally I’m not supposed to have more than 12. And this constant revolving door in my classroom doesn’t allow my class to settle down, I already know I have 3 new students that should be coming to my class next week, when the school busses start.

So, the first problem in my classroom is the constant chaos; I can’t be sure what’s happening, or who’s going to be around on any given day. A connected problem to this, is the fact that only 2 of my students come with any sort of punctuality; so I have student arrivals as a disturbance throughout my day. To the point I wish I could turn students away at the door.

This last week has really changed how I look at teaching, and has obliterated a lot of my naiveté when it comes to emotionally disturbed teenagers. I started out wanting to nurture my students, offer them rewards for hard work and not shout at them like I’m sure their family does. I wanted to start the year with good phone calls home, and positive notes when students do well. I was using soft tones with “Honey, please get started on your quiz” and “Sweetie, I would appreciate it if you put your umbrella down and stop poking Raquel.” For some reason I thought I could reason with these students, be kind but still be respected by them.

It was at that point, the inmates were running the asylum; doing whatever they wished because Ms. C wouldn’t yell at them. Don’t feel like doing your class work? Take it home, sure! Do it there! Better yet, have your older sister or brother do it! Awesome!

At first I was afraid to fail the student because they refused to work, thinking that if I could just find a way to reach them…they would realize how important the work is. I would attempt to engage the class with interesting hands-on work, so they didn’t just have to sit and glaze over. Chaos, with no productivity.

I had a student throw a book at a dean’s head. I got elbowed in the mouth when a student went to punch another student. I had everything swept off my desk, my trashcan kicked over, two students desks upended and a textbook thrown into a full sink of water by a guy who wasn’t even my student…just ran into my class and started threatening “the new teacher.”

After the first hit to the face I not only refuse to attempt to break up fights, I call security and head pretty far from the action. I got cursed out by a fighting student because I “didn’t pull the other nigga offa him.” I had to try really hard not to laugh out loud at that one. The things I bought, thinking it’d be good to have nice things for students…and electric pencils sharpener, and some nice bath and bodywork soap…destroyed, down the drain and filled with gum.

I’ve been bitched out, cursed at, insulted, defied and ignored this week. My administration has not backed me up in the least. I ask for a window in my door, so I can see whose trying to get into my door before I open it. Nope. I asked the assistant principal to say a few words about removing do-rags and hats when in the classroom, to which she walked into my classroom and told my students it’s ok as long as they don’t wear them in the hall.

So, two weeks in and I’m feeling a little bitchy. I’m not thinking twice before putting zeros in my book for students unwilling to hand in work. I have started inviting students wanting to learn into the back corner of my classroom at a big round table, and teaching them there, while the rest of the class goes nuts. What hurts the most is that I have students who truly want to learn, who want to get out of special ed, and into inclusive classrooms. And I can teach them! However, the students with the worst behavioral issues do their best to insure that those students become as distracted as possible.

My goal for the upcoming week is to harden myself a little more, realizing more that I can teach these kids, but I’m not expected to save them. And maybe rely a little more on my inner bitch.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Second Week Starts Tomorrow

It’s about a half hour before I want to be asleep on this Sunday night. I’ve done all my lesson-planning, I’ve bought some candy and treats for the week ahead, and I’m ready to commit myself to a second week teaching in Brooklyn. Let me take a deep breath, because last week took a lot out of me.

Let’s start by saying that for every disappointment, there’s a ray of hope, and for every tear-your-hair-out moment I saw some real ambition in my students. After assessing for reading I found that my 9th graders read at level 3 through 7, and I learned you cannot physically keep kids in your class…they’ll leave if that’s what they truly want. I received several hugs from students on Friday afternoon, and spoke on the phone with some guardians that left much to be desired. When they actually spoke English. I had horrifying outbursts, and I had students who refused to remove their head from their desk. I also had hardworking students and a 7:45AM call from a parent concerned about her son when he lied about his homework. Some of the phone calls I made were positive and left me with a sense of pride, even though only half of my class passed their first Bio quiz. I’ve gone through a whole bag of candy, half of my patience, and about 5 hours of sleep a night.

I have found that I can’t shut up about teaching, that it’s the center of conversation with whomever I can rope into a chat. There’s always a thought in my head, or maybe the plans for a solution for a student-problem. I’m always planning, thinking ahead, looking to the future where I’ll have all my students actually stay seated through a whole class.

After a week I feel positive, and I feel a little more down to earth. Othello isn’t going to work with these students when they cannot sit through a 10 minute read aloud without breaking into chaos.

Classroom behavior management, then Shakespeare.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Livin' on a Prayer!

I love a parade. Especially when I get to march along! Today I got to march with the United Federation of Teachers down 5th Avenue, NYC. The sky was blue, the weather mild, and the UFT marching band played a very decent adaptation of Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer.” The thought behind that song choice for the NYC teacher’s union was pure genius, let me say; and I hope some important bigwig somewhere got the hint.

While I enjoyed the music and the free lunch, I must admit the very best portion of the parade was when a very kind older woman who taught in a Manhattan school chatted me up cordially. We spoke about my new teaching assignment for a while after introductions, and then she places a Communist newspaper in my bewildered hand.

Apparently, I am now an honorary Pink-o Commie or some-such-what. Isn’t communism a bit outdated? It just goes to schow you that any faction with a printing press can get plenty of recognition. What baffles me the most is that the lady who spawned her communist tracts on me was so blatantly nice. I kept thinking of the character, Liz, from John Le Carre’s The Spy Who Came in From the Cold: Sweet, misled, and destined for destruction at the hand of the Communist Party. But I digress.

With aching feet and a free t-shirt it was a pleasure to support my fellow teachers and stand up to be counted. I was surprised that so few younger faces showed up, though. It seems like the bulk of the UFT supporters were old-hat teachers who had taught long enough to know the score. Made me all the more glad to have gone, the feeling that so many other young and new teachers were missing out.

That’s all from me tonight, I’ll have more info on my first school week on Sunday. Until then…

Goodnight, Comrade!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Take Two...and ACTION!

Day two, and I’m still alive and haven’t left teaching emotionally disturbed high school scholars for an easier job like crocodile hunting.

I’m up to six students, three angels and three devils; running the gamut of older student who left early to meet his parole officer to the blessed darling who handed in tomorrow’s homework…today. Amazing.

In addition to an exciting day of mayhem and teaching the same lessons from yesterday, I got a chance to meet my mentor. No, not the veteran teacher Ms. R who took me under her wing, but the Department of Education appointed mentor whose supposed to keep me sane. The school principal walked her in during the tail end of my scientific method lesson, making me backtrack a bit to re-teach the meat of the lesson so I could look good for the boss. Aside from that the mentor is a great boon, the missing piece even. True, I have a pretty decent network of people who care about me, and how well I do my job…From family in Texas, to my personal cheerleader at home, to my in-school mentor who lets me call her late at night when I feel defeated, and even the blogs of other New York teachers I read daily. (Links to the right!) However, in my Department of Education mentor I have unearthed the missing piece: feedback. She watched me during the lesson, and told me how I did, in detail. And I found that invaluable. To tell you the truth I feel like I’m flailing around in front of the class like I’m useless…and I can’t yet judge by the students if I’m making any progress at all. I know it’s much too much to expect in the second day, but I really don’t feel like I know how I’m doing. The feedback AND advice did much for my confidence, and I didn’t go home with a headache today.

Not that things are perfect. Not like they won’t be out of control tomorrow. But I have hope.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

First Day Teacher Blues

At least I didn’t get stabbed today. I can say that much for my first day as a teacher. But I feel like I have to ask myself: is it this rough for all teachers?

I had a physical confrontation with a student who was trying to come into my classroom and punch my student. It was a kid half a foot taller than me trying to punch my student through the door, when I attempted to close the classroom door the student stuck his foot in and tried to push his way through. God help me, I think I broke school rules by physically pushing the student out of my door before closing the door. Oh, and this was all in front of my student’s mother.

I learned a valuable lesson, not to have my door open at all, ever, no way, no how. A bag of cotton balls was stolen off my desk from a student passing my room. That’s right, cotton balls. I can only hope that he/she got a good deal on the black market of beauty aids.

I had a student start crying because his mom left the class and he didn’t want to be in “the stupid school.” When the mother was walking down the hall and the student called to her in anguish, his mother just gave a dismissive hand wave and left the building.

I heard the following said to one of my paras during a break by an ex-student of theirs: “My boyfriend was shot over the summer, so I had to find a new one.” No, the boyfriend didn’t die, was just laid up in the hospital for a while.

I had my class decide to forgo lunch and “hang out” in the classroom instead of the lunchroom. Sadly, I couldn’t see myself physically removing students from the room.

I dealt with a student whose eloquence relied heavily on the words douche and fag. Especially while denouncing Canada. I’m serious, this kid was really angry about the “Fags in Quebec.” Even after I admonished him on his use of bad language, I learned that “Homosexuals in Quebec” wasn’t much better.

Out of 16 students, 3 came. And one was a new student.

Out of the 3 subjects I was supposed to teach today, nothing stuck. And I don’t think it will matter, because I have to teach it again when more students come anyway.

I am frustrated, because I don’t know if we got anywhere. And even though I know it’s only the first day, I thought I’d be able to get through a mini-lesson. I could barely get through a few sentences.

However, I was able to do the following:

--Assess two students reading fluency, one reads pretty well on his own, and another needs help with less common words like analysis and special.

--Learn that if you silently stare at a student long enough he’ll flip out and make an attempt at an assignment.

--Find an interesting way to deal with my bad language student. I have him write “I will not use bad language” on the board each times he swears, and sign it as well. I’m not sure it will work forever, but I am cheered up because he obeys enough to do the writing punishment.

I’m hoping tomorrow I can FINALLY get some composition books, transparencies, pencils, and other basic class necessities that I get the feeling need to be stolen from the office more often than be handed out. And I guess that means that I am returning tomorrow. Determination is a bitch.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Tomorrow, I teach...

It’s the countdown, just a few short hours before I have to be bright and shiny in the classroom. My first day of class and I am a glorious mixture of horror and excitement. The truth? I am not nearly as prepared as I wish I were. I don’t know if 1 or 16 students will show up tomorrow, and I have no clue how I’ll teach.

But I want to get the first day over as soon as I can. Because the second day is always better, after I lose my teaching cherry and get comfortable in my classroom.

Good luck to all new New York teachers starting tomorrow!

(Now I only hope I can get some sleep tonight!)

Friday, September 01, 2006

Finishing Touches on My Classroom (With Photos!)

Oh, boy! Where to begin?!

For the most part my classroom is set up, even though I had to leave school early to get the results of my TB skin test. (I do not harbor a Tuberculosis infection, thank you very much.) I would have loved the extra time in my classroom, but on the other hand, who wants to catch Consumption?

Two things of note:

1. I am legally supposed to only have 12 students in my class, that's why it's called a 12 to 1 to 1 class. However, I have 16 students on my roster, and 9 desks. Green as I am, I asked an AP what was going on and where I'd put my kids and apparently, they aren't expecting half of the students to ever show up. I say, we'll see; hopefully we won't have students sitting on the floor come the middle of September.

2. While I have cluster teachers to instruct both math and Physical education, apparently (unbeknownst to me) I am going to be teaching a music class three times a week. That's kinda funny since I have no musical training, I figure I'll end up showing The Wiz and singin' some karaoke with the students.

Below are the very first photos of damn-near completed classroom...all I need up is the student work!

This is my classroom...It's devoid of broken glass, unlike where they stuck me at first. I'm pretty giddy and excited about the whole thing. And freaked out. And in love.

My desk! I have a desk! I must be a *real* teacher if I get a desk! (All part of faking it 'til you make it)

The only non-hokey, non-religious motivational poster at the teacher supply store in Brooklyn. I could see myself pointing to it when a student goes off. And yes, I realize that may not be the best course of action.

Today I learned my school is part of the Power of Choice program and that school procedure is to have a sign in class to promote it.

Corny, maybe. But it gets the point across fairly well. (If you can't read the smaller print it says "even if you miss you'll fall among the stars." Let it be said I am very serious about raising the bar for my students... High aspirations to begin with are crucial.

This is the Mystery Box. It took me 2 hours to gift wrap a good sized box, cut out and paint question marks and glue it all down. My main plan here is to make receiving a prize from the Mystery Box to be a desirable goal as opposed to some dumb thing in school. While the Mystery Box may be filled with Dollar Store trinkets, I hope the Mystery makes it more of a positive reward. I plan on circulating the prizes and keeping the box locked up so it always maintains an aura of mystique.

Things to buy this weekend:

1. A wall clock

2. 2 Padlocks

3. $20 worth of dollar store prizes

4. Spray deoderant for students who need hygeine reminders.

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