Monday, October 30, 2006

Return of "Mark"

It’s been a full week and then some since the incident of assault, and something remains to be fishy. I spoke with my chapter leader only twice during the past weeks, once over the phone when he told me to press charges from my house, and I saw him last Wednesday for a fleeting in the halls where he gave me a number to call.

The phone number was incorrect, and I didn’t even know who I was calling. I ended up getting a phone number for a woman named Gail who is supposed to help me file a report with the UFT, but she’s always out when I call her, and she calls me back when I’m teaching. We aren’t allowed to use cell phones during the school day.

I bring this all up because Mark showed up in my class today.

He was removed by my para, bless her, and then returned refusing to leave my class. Once he was bodily removed from the class Mark left school grounds.

I just wish I could know this whole thing would end up ok. I’m still waiting for Gail’s call.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Court Date for Assault

Monday I was told that today, Friday, was Mark's school hearing and that I wasn't invited. You know, to keep the hearing from being "adversarial" my principal said. Yesterday I was told that the school hearing was cancelled and rescheduled because Mark's court date is scheduled for today.

Mind you, I heard all of this second hand in an "oh, by the way..." tone. I was reminded that Mark is seventeen, and the law has done him wrong. Especially because this wasn't the student's first offense.

Let me tell you how I feel: I'm glad there's a chance Mark may see some jail time. Not because I want revenge, or thinks he needs the kind of discipline prison can give. I'm just glad he's not returning to my school. Even though he'd be put in another class, it's a pretty small school and my own classroom is an easy target. I'd be lying if I didn't say he was a student who made me nervous for my health, and though I can empathize with a bad childhood, drugs, bad parents, and the American system that may have done him wrong Mark fills me with more dread than pity.

I'm glad he's the exception more than the rule.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Why I Can't Hate My Job.

At this point I feel like I’ve told last Thursday’s assault story to everyone but my mother (she’d flip out and worry herself to death) and I’m right in the crunch-time of grading for tomorrow’s report card deadline, my classroom’s sink is clogged with gum, and half the phone calls I tried to make to parents this afternoon were dialed to disconnected phones.

After I met with my Department of Education assigned mentor today I took a moment to ask myself: Why? Why on earth am I doing this? It wasn’t a crisis of doubt, but wonder at how I’ve survived almost two months as a teacher in a Brooklyn school full of emotionally disturbed high school students. There has to be some reason I haven’t run screaming, and here I am wondering how hard it would be to set up a field trip for my kids…just to go anywhere except staying in that claustrophobic classroom all day.

I realized, today, as Lavinia and Marvin stayed after to make up some missing work before the marking period ends that I love these kids. It broadsided me, and I don’t know what to do about it.

Marvin, who drinks Vault energy drinks and literally bounces around my room, but nonetheless does the best he can on assignment. His mother cried when I called to tell her Melvin made “Student of the Month” in September.

Lavinia “the Diva,” who can change from a gutter-language trull in public, to a thoughtful, hardworking young lady when it’s one-on-one. This afternoon she changed her Biology grade from failing to passing by really buckling down and getting some work done. And even though she’s failing her other classes, I’ve learned (and she has learned) that she is completely able to get the work done.

David, even though he can turn on a dime. He has the highest grades in the class, and is never modest, but earns the ire of other students with his bragging. It’s like he can’t stop from pointing out his “highest grade on the test” even though he knows it will most likely end with a book thrown at him. As a teacher, I feel like my sole job is to validate his worth with grades.

Pamela, who shouldn’t even be in my class…the social hermit and, I speculate, learning disabled. She gets the brunt of class harassment, and I feel like I do more harm than good when I admonish those picking on her. But she has a wonderful smile, when she smiles. Only, I get a little freaked out when she mimes blowing people away with an invisible shotgun. Pamela also loves to dance (when she thinks no one is looking) and go “Meep beep” like road runner. I love her, because I could not make this stuff up.

Derek, who has the neatest handwriting I’ve seen from any student, and only comes to class once a week. I’ll never know why he screams out loud, wordless roars in class, but it certainly expresses how I feel sometimes.

And Ron, who is the smartass of my classroom. And also the most frightened of the school he’s in. And also the most brilliant writer. And also the most terrible bully to Pamela. And also the most “normal” of my group, if it weren’t for his anxieties about school, he could be in any normal high school…harassing less-fortunates elsewhere.

I work in a blissful chaos, and I next-to-never get through a whole lesson. People pouring through my doors is a constant distraction, as are the students standing on/laying on/throwing desks and fighting. But, I come back. Everyday, I return to the scene of the crime and to familiar faces: “Good morning, Miss,” on the lips of my early students. I go back, even on the bad days, and even after bad days.

Today, was a good day. Tomorrow, who knows?

Monday, October 23, 2006

Was it a Concussion? Or Just a Teacher's Headache?

First off I want to thank NYC Educator and everyone for all the good advice and support…you all put my administration to shame. Physically I feel almost perfect today, only a sore spot on the back of my head where it smacked the floor, and I’m out of the danger from a concussion. I filled out a load of paperwork today for my line of duty day off and the incident report. My Union Chapter Leader has been MIA the last few days, so I’m waiting on him for the UFT paperwork. Many other teachers as well as the AP and principal stopped by to see how I was today, and I’d feel like a celebrity except for another teacher who got punched in the mouth on Friday and is absent. Rough school, they say. And Mark… (Let me remind you, dear readers, that I don’t use the real names of students) Mark has a hearing on Friday, the principal asked his mother to plead no contest to the charges of assault. According to the principal Mark will be reinstated into the school in a different classroom, after 5 days of suspension.

Let’s do the math:

1 case of assault + 8 written accounts of violent behavior = 5 days of suspension.

That makes little sense, and makes me glad I pressed charges.

Today was a tough day in class, I won’t kid you. My students were all off the wall, even though a few hugged me this morning. (I didn’t know whether to trust them or now.) Part of me thinks they missed me, at least so far that I am a constant positive part in their lives, while everything else may shift and be unpleasant. The other part of me thinks they enjoyed the hell out of their “day off” on Friday when nothing was expected of them because I wasn’t there. Today they worked off a ton of steam, and I never had more than half the class sitting down at any given time. I even became a bit of a laughing stock from a few of the more smart-ass students. “Ms. C, you’re too nice. We’re black, you gotta treat us like we’re ignorant.” This came from one of my smartest students, Ron, who verges on the cusp of gifted…and who can be a real pain. You’ll remember him as the boy I was calling security on because of his cell phone on Thursday. I gave him quite the fish-eye, not bothering to answer. He thought is was pretty funny that his teacher got knocked down. I’d try to talk to his guardian, his grandmother; but she doesn’t have a working phone. Fabulous.

But even though the class was rambunctious and I don’t think any learning got done today, I wasn’t scared. The majority of my students are challenging, not evil or even that dangerous. (As long as you don’t block exits when they want OUT of the classroom.) I very strongly hope that I can get the class back into some kind of shape, I can feel the ground I’ve lost by this whole debacle.

Well, as Scarlet O’Hara said: “After all... tomorrow is another day.”

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Assault and an Ambulance Ride

There’s no poetic or witty way to put it, so let me lay it straight: Thursday I was assaulted by a student, and shipped by ambulance to the Maimonides hospital.

It happened near the end of the day on Thursday; one of my students, Ron, was pulling out and showing off his Razor cell phone and I offered the following warning:

“Cell phones are not allowed on school property, if I see it again, I’ll let security know, and they will take it.”

And I figured that would be the end of the disturbance. Until Mark. I may have mentioned Mark before, the 17-year-old 9th grader whose technically supposed to be in 8th grade because he never passed the 8th grade reading tests. I never was able to assess his reading skills because the student refused to cooperate or do any work, it is my speculation that the student could barely read and lived in shame. Long story short, Mark was a very angry young man and I had written a dozen anecdotals on him because I found him to be a danger to other students, teachers, and myself. The Tuesday prior he pulled the hair of a visiting teacher, for no reason other than she asked him to complete an assignment.

Back to the story: Mark asked Ron to see his phone after I told Ron to put it away. My action was to walk over to the classroom phone and dial security. Mark hopped up out of his seat and vaulted to the phone, first hanging up, and then disconnecting the line. I struggled to hold on to the phone and the student shoved me down. Hard. I was knocked down head first, and my glasses flew across the room. Holy Mother of God, I saw stars.

My initial reaction, and the one that stuck with me the longest was shock. Even after my Paraprofessional, Ms. W, helped me to my feet and ushered me into the main office I was turning the situation over in my brain, and hoping that the other students wouldn’t get too out of hand while I was gone.

I received a lump on my head the size of a Cadbury egg, and I broke down in the principal’s office. Out of pain, out of anger, and out of failure. The principal was very sympathetic about the whole ordeal, which I appreciated greatly.

Here’s where the situation gets sticky, and I learned a big lesson about administration and who my friends are in the school. I arrived back to my classroom after school was dismissed, and the first and ONLY person to mention my post-assault options was my Para who said I should press charges. Especially since I had asked to have this student removed prior to the incident. I had spoken to two teachers, the principal, the assistant principal and the school nurse…and no one had mention either that I could press charges, or that I could take “line of duty” days off. And when I began to make a little noise about those options the sympathy on people’s faces began to drain away.

If I didn’t see a doctor that same night and tried to press charges it would instantly get downplayed from assault to harassment; so I made plans to see a doctor. Insult to injury (Haha! Witty!) I had only had health insurance for a few weeks, so I had yet to register for a doctor, and HIP told me I wouldn’t be able to see a physician until the next day. No good. This is where the ambulance came in, being the only way I’d get into the hospital is by way of the emergency room. Yes, I felt a little silly, riding in an ambulance for what ended up being a mild concussion. But the EMS folks were kind and the ride quick. The doctor visit went well, and swiftly, mild concussion, don’t drink or operate heavily machinery, come back if there is nausea or passing out…and I was discharged so I could wait for the police and make my statement.

Two hours later and no cops. My boyfriend had since shown up, frantic and worried, and we were waiting for the cops. Around 6:30PM a doctor came to the waiting room where we were…well…waiting, and told us we could be waiting for up to eight hours and recommended we called the cops from home and gave a report that way. Fine and good. We headed home by subway, and I was pretty shaky, my head was throbbing like a hangover.

From home I called the police and they arrived within minutes, my statement taken and the report filled out. I feel like I’ve told this story a hundred times, to my family, my friends, teachers, the police, doctors, EMS workers…and I doesn’t get any less fantastical.

Nothing got me ready for this, the Teaching Fellows program never brought it up. Some part of my arrogantly thought that it would never happen to me, that I’d be that caring teacher who reached all her students and somehow quelled their anger and anxiety. Now I know why the other teachers smiled at me and called me young. Ms. R, my teacher friend from the summer stood by me the whole time, and asked me why I didn’t hit him back. As it turns out, she was the union rep for the school, and missed her college class to wait for the ambulance with me. I am grateful for what allies I have.

Tomorrow I return, and I have no idea what to expect. How will my students see me now? How will they treat me? How should I act about the whole thing? They saw their teacher go down hard and eat dirt, ushered from the class in a fury and absent the next day. What ground might I have lost with them?

Monday, October 16, 2006

A Walking Drug Prevention Advertisment

One of my better students, known for getting his work done most of the time, and rarely throwing chairs came into class high as a kite today. Now, I’m not the most observant teacher in Brooklyn, and I can probably bet you that I’ve had students come in under the influence and put their head down…and I was none the wiser. However, when my student has a track record of at least starting his work, but instead comes in shrieking the chorus to “Lean On Me” at the top of his puberty-laden throat…I can get the drift. Especially if they reek so bad of pot that another student requests I "spray the high nigga down with Lysol or some shit.” Poetic, not really, but apt nonetheless.

My response to the rest of the class? Telling them that Marvin was a lesson in drug prevention…a walking anti-drug campaign in the form of relentless idiocy and futureless caterwauling.

And when the class laughed at Marvin’s antics and general foolery (i.e. falling off desks, goofy grins, and shouting at windows) I made sure he knew that his classmates were laughing at him, not with him.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Like a Brick Through a Window

The day I was hired by the New York City Department of Education I thanked my principal for giving me the chance to teach. Her response to me was sarcastic, that I should come back and say thanks come the middle of October.

Yeah, now I know what she meant.

Today I had a student put his head through the classroom window. The student, “Oscar,” was sitting on a desk, banging the back of his head against the window. I asked him kindly to cease and desist, and added a teacherly glare for good measure.

“But Ms. C! The windows are plaxi-glass!.” He said to me, continuing to bang the window. I didn’t even have time to tell Oscar that it’s called plexi-glass, not plaxi-glass before his head snapped back and through the window. The class laughed uproariously.

I was a tad freaked out, and thankfully my paraprofessional cleaned the glass while I had Oscar close his eyes as I used a sleeve to brush the glass out of his hair.

Is it summer vacation yet?

Monday, October 09, 2006

Emptying the Desk

Ah…another relaxing three-day weekend. Any yet I can’t keep my mind off the classroom. I spent two hours after class on Friday cleaning out my desk. No, not just neatening it up and getting it tidy, but emptying it out. Why? Because I have a student who knows he can get to me and shake me up by throwing all my belongings in the trash.

This student, let’s call him Mark, is 17 and in 9th grade. On top of that my assistant principal is spouting noise that he should be moved into 8th grade if we end up hiring another teacher. So he’s angry. Very angry. And jealous of my students who can get through a lesson and have more reading skills than he has. So Mark disrupts my class so the students can’t learn. And he’s been pretty successful so far; starting with singing at the top of his lungs crude rap lyrics with plenty of expletives…which I can ignore. But when he starts calling gang curses at my other students and tagging all their belongings the students look to me for maintaining order. And then Mark moves to my desk, throwing all my stuff in the garbage. This has happened a few times, the last time I tried calling security and Mark pulled to phone out of the wall and threw that away.

So I am taking all the stuff out of my desk, eliminating the way in which the students can get me to become upset. I am looking forward to giving him a cool eye next time he seats himself at my desk so smugly expecting to rile me up by throwing my belongings in the trash. I also feel smug, myself. Very “how do you like me now?” as I attack his misbehavior with a nonplussed stare.

The sad part is that even though I think I can get a handle on him acting up, I can’t force him to do his work…especially if he’s not up to the grade level. Why kind of system sticks me with an 8th grader and expects me to pass him to the 9th grade? Even my paras can’t get any work out of him, and it’s frustrating for me…but not nearly as it must frustrate the boy.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Teacher gets a day off!

Let me talk for a moment on one of the greatest pleasures of being a teacher: tons of days off. Happy Yom Kippur! I enjoyed the day by taking a very long bath and baking. And next week I have Columbus day off. You think of every day that I defy death-dealing gang-bangers and wonder if a few extra days off a year counter the balance. Well, yes. It does.

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