Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Teacher/Paraprofessional Politics

At 8:30 this morning a faculty member took my aside to warn me that yesterday a paraprofessional (the faculty member wouldn’t say who) had told the principal that a student told her I had used explicit and sexual language towards them in class.

I was shocked, shattered, and enraged in exactly that order. On the heels of the Piñata incident my demeanor was as clean as soap towards students. It galled me, walking on verbal eggshells, but in order to maintain goodstanding in my school, I wasn't saying boo to a moose. So, when out of the blue I hear that someone is spreading outlandish rumors and putting dirty words in my mouth I was freaked out and angry.

Who do I trust? I went to my chapter leader, and his advice was to continue having no reaction to any inappropriate student comments, and to have him or the union rep present at any other “meetings” the assistant principal wanted to have with me. As for now, since the para didn’t actually hear me say sexual things to a student (Well, duh) it’s all hearsay…but it makes me uncomfortable that my name is on the lips of higher-ups in a negative way.

I just want to teach. 95% of the energy I process is engaged in teaching and my grad classes, my social life and loved ones are pretty much put on hold. I DO NOT have extra energy to waste on worrying over who is saying what to whom.

What makes me even angrier is that no one is attacking the way I teach, but hitting below the belt and making claims about the safety of students. I have to wonder if the mysterious paraprofessional informer had anything to do with last week’s piñata problem.

Even worse is I can’t really imagine why anyone would want to cause trouble for me. Ok, I’m not naïve; I’m aware there is a very tenuous bond between paraprofessional and teacher, and that Teaching Fellow’s aren’t always seen in the most gracious light…But I haven’t anything that could be seen as an act of war towards anyone. I only want to come to work, teach, and go home.

If I wanted politics, I would have run for office.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Anthem For First Year Teachers

I am going to make it through this year, if it kills me.

Today was a good day. A really good day. And it freaks me out how surprised I am that no one got hurt, nothing in my classroom got harmed, most kids did work, and I actually got through a lesson. My feet don’t hurt, my throat isn’t raw…and I feel pretty good about what I’ve got going on.

However, I have to remind myself that Today is Today…and has no bearing on tomorrow. I feel like if I put my guard down for a split second everything will fall apart and I’ll have kids flying through the air. You may say that I should celebrate the good day, and leave worrying for tomorrow...but I warn you; that's what the grasshopper said to his ant buddies.

Veteran teachers all told me that I have to take it one day at a time…and I laughed off the advice for some corny shtick. But it’s the truth; students are so different day-to-day….and a student who hated me last week actually said good morning to me today.

I tell myself to hope for the best, and throw my Teaching Anthem on the stereo. It’s “This Year” by the Mountain Goats, and it’s one of those tunes that gives me the resolve I sometimes need. (As if I only have to get through this one year and everything will fall into place. I'm not that naive...but it's nice to dream.)

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Friday, February 23, 2007

The "Piñata" Problem

There was an icy fear in the depths of my chest when my assistant principal asked recently to talk with me alone. I may be young, but I’ve been in the working world long enough to know when I’m in trouble. Wracking my brain I tried to come up with all the sins I may have transgressed over the last month…Did I fill out all my phone logs? Did I miss an IEP hand-in date?

“Ms. C, did you tell a student that your butt was a piñata?” The assistant principal asked me once we were seated and alone in my classroom.

“I did say that, assistant principal. But only after the student commented to the lunchroom that I had a big ass,” I said, baffled by why I was having a private meeting regarding lunchroom banter.

“That’s sexual harassment, Ms. C. I understand the student made inappropriate comments towards you, but you should have addressed the comment only by asking the student not to talk to a teacher that way,” said the AP, presumably as she watched my eyebrows crawl up onto my forehead. Would it help if I said that I was using a metaphor?

“It was a playful remark, AP, I didn’t think it was overtly sexual. I felt I could either give a flat ‘don’t do that’ response, or I could let the student know his comment didn’t ruffle my feathers. I honestly didn’t see the harm.” I said, trying to remain calm and not shout about the absurdity.

“If the comment was reported you wouldn’t be allowed to teach until the case was heard out. You might have thought nothing of the comment, Ms. C, but these kids are lunatics, and you’re a pretty girl; they could get the wrong idea.” Pretty girl? Did the assistant principal actually think I was flirting with students?

I salvaged the situation as best as I could, swearing up and down that I would never say anything untoward to students again, but inside I was seething. How could something so benign turn into a big ugly mess? And this happens in a school where a student can curse me out in front of the same AP, and nothing would happen. It’s over now, and maybe it was an inappropriate comment, but it makes me very uncomfortable about teaching. I’ll be watching my words like verbal eggshells.

It seems as though teachers are between a rock and hard place when handling administration and savvy students.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

No Smorking on the Subway

One of the best parts of living in NYC is waiting over a week for someone from Time Warner to come to my home and repair my internet.

Anyway, I’m back and with a fabulous story of my wonderful kids.

It was the end of a pretty average day, I was tired and a little hoarse from shouting…but generally no worse for wear. I was leaving the school and hopping onto an uptown train when I saw a pack of female students from my school a little farther down the car. I knew better than to initiate contact with the kids while outside school grounds, knowing that:

A. I’m not cool at all.
B. I have little authority in the classroom, and absolutely none in public.
C. Even I would have been a little weirded out being hailed by a teacher outside of the high school environment. (Think of that scene from Mean Girls where Tina Fey bumps into her students at the mall.)

So while my antennas were out and I knew the girls were there, I played my cards close to my chest and sat distant from them. (See diagram below)

Now, most of the girls in my school smoke; in the hallways, in the bathrooms, in the stairwell…they’re pretty blatant about it, and on the train several of them had cigarettes out. There was a very stodgy old woman sitting across from me on the train casting disgusted looks over at the students while they laughed and caroused raucously.

“Don’t you dare light that cigarette!” she shouted at the girls in a stern voice.

Oh, brother! I thought. I was seriously feeling pretty defensive towards my kids, of course they know better than to smoke in the subway. Maybe I have been working with minority students too long, but I can get real uppity when I sense irritating injustice…would the lady have spoken up if it were just some white kids instead? Mentally, I rolled my eyes at the elderly woman but said nothing. At least I did until one of the students acknowledged my presence with a hearty hale “Sup, Ms. C?!”

Of course the old lady equated me as their teacher and made a bee-line for the empty seat next to mine.

“Do you TEACH these kids?” she demanded, looking me up and down. I nodded and said yes, not seeing any way out of the conversation.

“HOW?” she snuffed emphatically. And let me add, indignant facial frowns add wrinkles.

How could I respond to this question? I felt loyalty towards these students, hell-bent as they may be. “With patience, understanding and sometimes with prayers,” I told the older woman, hoping that my Yoda-esque response would sate her and make her go away. I just wanted to go home.

“God bless you!” she said to me. Sadly, after that I couldn’t hold onto my moral outrage any longer and explained how the children can’t have all the blame…that the environment and bad/no parenting all mix and create the problem behaviors. I then confidently told her that the girls were good kids at heart, and conspiratorially told the old bag that the kids wouldn’t really start smoking on the train.

So of course, because of my pride, I’m wrong and the girls light up. And not just one or two, but FIVE cigarettes are being passed around. As the subway car grew dusky with the smoke I sighed, working up the resolve to live up the term TEACHER and admonish their behavior. (I felt like such an idiot, and if the lady wasn’t there to judge me, or if I hadn’t come off as the Holy, Helpful teacher I probably would have just changed cars.)

“Guys, that’s really not a good idea. Someone’s gonna end up calling the cops. You guys can’t wait to smoke until you get outside?” I tried calmly appealing to their common sense, meanwhile I’m thinking: Oh god, I’m such a loser…these girls aren’t going to listen to me, I’m going to look impotent and lame. Great.

And the girls laugh, like I knew they would. Though, they didn’t specifically blow smoke in my face like I assumed they would. I ended up hailing a cop upon my exit, partially because the smoke was stinging my eyes and partially out of frustration for my inability to do anything.

Moral of story: If you’re caught practically bragging about being a teacher in poor, urban areas…prepare to back it up with actions, even if it ends up with you looking like a fool.


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Know Your Population

Tuesdays we have a poetry class during ELA, ran by a poetry intern that has been working at my school for nine years.

Today, she left her bag out in plain sight and her wallet “full of credit cards and 200 dollars” was stolen either in my class or the classroom of another teacher.

The poetry teacher frantically passed me in the hallway panicking in a freaked out way (frankly, I freak out pretty bad anytime I think there’s a chance I may have lost something valuable) and hastily panted to me:

“Ms. C, no one in your class would have taken my wallet, would they?”

“Ms. Poetry Teacher, ANY of my students would have gladly taken your wallet,” I replied.

I truly felt bad for Ms. Poetry Teacher; I had my pocket picked in Union Square when I was very new to the city, and the memory still stings when I think about how bad it sucked to call and cancel half a dozen credit cards.

However, this woman worked with emotional disturbed students for twice as many years as I have worked months; I love my kids but I would never tempt my students by leaving personal belongings of value within plain sight.

Don’t be naieve, know your population.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Crack is Wack.

As the new term starts so does the craziness. One of my students is a “cousin” of another one of my kids (cousin means they live in the same neighborhood, apparently) and Monday I heard from student A that student B was picked up by the cops for selling crack. At first I thought the kid was kidding/lying/hallucinating but lo and behold, Student B didn’t show up and was taken completely off my roster. Student B no longer exists at my school, transferred off to some day treatment center in upstate NY.

She was 14, and selling crack on the street. It gives you an idea about the population I teach.


Friday, February 02, 2007

Happy Teacher

Normally I use my blog to complain, de-stress and generally pollute the internet tubes with my shell-shocked bitterness. Today, though, was the day all teachers (especially new ones) dream of: The near-perfect day. I literally walked home with a spring in my step. My kids were pretty well behaved; they stayed in the classroom for the most part, if not exactly in their seats…They were productive: I was able to get them to do a free write, listen to me read a chapter out of Down These Mean Streets, copy a whole page of Global Studies notes AND answer pertinent questions and even got them to organize their portfolio binders. This might not sound like a lot of work to do in a day—but think of the population that I teach; this was more work than I would get out of my students in a bad week.

The students were good, and I was good: on top of the ball as teachers go. And I was shouting! These students respond favorably when you shout at them! How crazy is that?! And I’m getting better at the shouting and the being firm.

I wrote little notes to each student’s parents stating how happy I was with the day’s behavior and productivity.

Now, if only I hadn’t just jinxed myself for a massacre on Monday. Oh well, have a great weekend everybody!
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