Monday, April 30, 2007

Reviewing My School's "Quality"

If you’re working in NYC I’m sure you’ve heard of the “Quality Review” that brings people in from England to audit schools and grade them. Nothing specific was ever said on how or what the Quality Review graded, but it’s assumed that schools need to be on best behavior when visited by Quality Reviewers.

My school has been getting ready for the Quality Review for the last five months, making these cute binders for each student (They become projectiles too easily for my taste) and giving teachers all these lists of how their room should look, and what to say if the Reviewer asks any questions. Our weekly grade meetings during a shared prep was based solely on what teachers can do to get the highest grade on the review. Administration was absolutely frantic trying to push many new policies on both teachers and students. (Policies like universal grading systems 8 weeks before the end of the year) It’s safe to say that administration had everyone up in arms about “looking good.” Teachers were bribing students with money to be quiet and do work. This superficiality makes me a little bitter, but I followed along wanting to CYA more than make a stand.

What’s funny is when the Quality Reviewer came recently I only saw her for a few moments during a staged grade meeting that she sat in on, and we never spoke. The gossip mill states that the Reviewer only visited three classrooms in my school before saying that they “saw enough” and left. I never saw the reviewer.

I guess pretending to be a good school isn’t enough. I feel like if administration can spend so much energy in making things look good…why can’t they actually make it a good school?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Fellows Helping Fellows

Today I came full circle. A year ago I visited my first classroom before beginning summer training as a Teaching Fellow, and today I had a Fellow-to-be observe my classroom.

I have to ask…did my eyes widen like saucers on my classroom visit? Was I so eager to ask questions and wrap my brain around how a classroom is managed?

My guest stayed and asked many questions that I was glad to answer, and more, I got to see my class through a fresh pair of eyes. Yeah, it’s been tough, and yeah I’ve made mistakes…But I’ve also been lucky enough to learn from them. If I were the shiny and raw educator so many months ago I must have grown a little, hardened a little and found some truths that worked.

The Fellow asked if my class and the school were always so crazy, and I responded that it was par for the course. The kids were actually pretty normal: loud, standing on tables, running in and out of the room, cursing at teachers and paraprofessionals, play fighting on the desk. It’s all about that touch and go moments where you can teach a little, feel a bond with a student, and really see potential through the smokescreen of aggression.

I told the Fellow-to-be exactly why I’ll be in the same place teaching the same population next year: First Year is hell, no matter how ready you think you are; but it makes you ready for anything.

Monday, April 23, 2007

An Ugly Double Standard (Caution: This post contains inappropriate langauge)

It wasn’t even 9AM yet and some student from my school was being carted away in handcuffs for robbing people outside the school. One of the older school-safety guards came into my class to report the going-ons to my paraprofessional and as a parting remark casually said: “If you kids are gonna mug people, don’t do it in front of the school.” With that one careless comment, the whole day was shot.

“Whaddya mean ‘you kids?’ I didn’t rob nobody! You can suck my dick!”

Normally an adult who worked with emotionally disturbed students wouldn’t be unnerved by a cussing teenager. I’ve only been at it a year, but I’m used to kids who will use the word fuck or bitch like a verbal placeholder instead of um. Instead of being understanding the school safety officer retorted with “Fuck you, ya fuckin’ retard! You can suck my ass ya fucking faggot!” before walking out my classroom door.

And chaos ensued. The student ran out the door to cuss more at the school safety guard, several students ran after him, and the remaining students parroted the aforementioned comments at the top of their lungs. No one was doing their ELA work.

Things got worse as the student’s rage got so big that he couldn’t focus it at anyone, and all adults, including my silent self, were a target. At the end the student was in tears and the assistant principal was making arrangements to get the kid into another classroom. I had to step in, explaining that my student didn’t really start it.

He was shouting “You tell us not to fuckin’ curse at adults, ya’ll violated! Fuckin’ hypocrites!” And while I didn’t support the language I had to agree with the sentiment. And I said so to administration. The AP backed down, the student calmed down half way through the day, and I made a point to explain how I felt about the situation: “I don’t condone inappropriate language in my classroom, from students or adults. He definitely shouldn’t have cursed at you, but you shouldn’t have let him get to you and freaked out.”
I salvaged the situation on the classroom end, but remain unsure of what I could do about the school safety officer. He's been at the school for years and years, and I'm very new. I told administration what was said, and that stopped any further punishment against my kid, but doubt any action would be taken against the officer. If I were to make a big stink I'm pretty sure life would get really tough for me, but I just can't bring myself to explain how unfair life really is to my student.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Welcome to the Cold War!

How many teachers live each day in fear of nuclear attacks? I wasn’t aware that the nuclear holocaust was so near until my administration told me so! That’s right; today my school performed a Shelter Drill! At 1:50 Pm this afternoon administration announced over the PA system that we were having a Shelter Drill, and my colleagues were as perplexed as me! No, we didn’t crawl under our desks and cover our head. Instead we walked out the front door and down the block. Just like a fire drill. I was actually a little disappointed; I was hoping to check out some secret bomb shelter in the basement. How bizarre.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Don't Badger Me!

Here’s something that will brighten your day as it did mine. A student of mine made this specifically for me when she found out that my favorite animals were badgers. It took her two days, and it is wonderful! I had to busy myself with paperwork because I started getting teary-eyed, it’s such a special thing. I feel all hokey and dorky for loving it, but it is my first Gift From A Student and it makes me feel like I’m doing something right.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Black and Blue

Wow, what a week…Let’s just say I earned a whole week’s salary in three days. My students came back with a vengeance and I sense that none of them got anything nice in their Easter baskets. I ended up in a pretty nasty scramble with the 6 foot student who refuses to take his medication on Thursday afternoon. I woke up Friday with a bruise the size of a tangerine on my arm, and had to chat with the assistant principal who agreed to suspend the student, but told me I should have said something sooner.

The struggle started when my student Derek tried to write “You can sock my dick” (his spelling not mine) on the welcome back card for a returning teacher who had been sick for a long while. I got dragged down by the student when he attempted to run out the door with the card. What fries my batter is that Derek didn’t know the returning teacher and had no beef, only wanted to be negative for negativity sake.

On the brighter side, students who saw the bruise were as outraged as other teachers. This was a tremendous surprise! Students who normally couldn’t tolerate me were angry about how I’d been “violated.” It gives me much food for thought concerning the show students put on vs. their true feelings.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Void During Spring Break

It’s been a true vacation, this last week away. I woke up last Monday in a cold sweat at 4:15 in the morning. I was awash in the void that is *not teaching* and I couldn’t help but feel isolated. So much of my energy has been focused towards teaching and learning to teach that without school to head towards each morning I am facing a hole in my life.

Where had my hobbies gone? Wasn’t I somebody before I started teaching? Why can’t I relax and just enjoy a week off without feeling restless and prickly?

Is it normal for first year teachers to feel useless when outside the classroom for an extended period of time?

I guess all that matters is that I’m back at school now, embracing the barrage of students because I really missed them.
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