Thursday, May 24, 2007

Ain't No Cure for the (almost) Summertime Blues!

It’s been a while since I’ve written, and mainly it’s because I’m blocked. It’s been a rough couple of weeks with the weather change and the tedium in my classroom. Classroom management that I thought I had down started flaring up again, and most days I’ve been coming home exhausted and depressed. I feel so emotionally invested in my students at this point, but it feels like one step forward three steps back.

A wise rope in my support net recently told me that the school year is usually three weeks too long. Well, boy, it sure feels that way! Many of my students have checked out for the summer already! My relationships with the students are at their best right now, I’ve bonded deeply with several kids, and the majority of my class tolerate me at least. (I haven’t been called “white bitch” in about a month) But while relationships are great, academically the kids are done. I’m trying to push for one big ELA project writing a persuasive letter, but only half of my class is involved. Threats of Summer school or repeating the ninth grade seem useless to these kids at this point.

Is it Summer yet?

Thursday, May 10, 2007

I Want My Two Dollars! (yes, that's a shameless "Better Off Dead" reference)

As a first year teacher I am slowly becoming aware that the department of education’s system is inefficient and unfair, but recently I have also experienced how cheap the DOE is.

My principal is new, and as a gesture of goodwill she allowed each class a budgeted $15 for a pizza party, to be paid from teacher’s pockets and later reimbursed. I decided not to split hairs and bring up that $15 isn’t much to feed twelve teenagers, but whatever—free is free!

So, last Friday we ordered a large 8 slice pizza and I cut each slice in half so there was enough to go around I paid the pizza delivery person $13 for the pizza and $2 for tip. My students enjoyed some pizza, and I felt good about doing something nice for them, with little out-of-pocket expense (for once!) for me. Today, I went to the office to fill out forms for my $15 reimbursement ($15 is still big money to me with the college loans to pay back and all) and I was told firmly that the DOE doesn’t cover tip. I will be issued a reimbursement check for $13.

At first I was more puzzled than angry. I mean, it’s only two bucks…I’ve wasted more money than that on arcade games and Pixie Stix. However, the more I dwelled on the DO NOT TIP issue the more agitated I got.

Why doesn’t the DOE tip? Did they not expect teachers to tip? Don’t people understand that the tip is part of someone wages? Some guy had to drive that pizza over to the school in his car, stand at the front desk for an eternity while security rang my room, had to endure the taunts and physical aggression of thuggish students in the hallway, and faced the very real threat of being mugged on his way out (it’s happened before). Isn’t that worth at least $2?

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The System 1, Ms. C's Students 0

Something is wrong. Not small-time wrong, not wrong wrong like I forgot to send a Mother’s Day card, but life wreckingly wrong. The “system” in all its nefarious glory is destroying the lives of my students, and all I can do is watch. I have a student whose life is being molded by the failures of society. While my student wasn’t an angel, he definitely doesn’t deserve the damning changes and decisions that were and are made for him. While I really feel powerless to DO anything, I must say something.

Student M is 16 and just started his first job. He’s ED like the rest of my crew, but is relatively calm and shows effort in his schoolwork. M has the highest reading and math levels in my class and I’m really lobbying to get him moved into inclusion next September. M is the only student in my class who has never been disrespectful towards me, even when I am at my most demanding (or oblivious) as a teacher.

This week M brought in some photos to “show and tell.” Sonogram images. Four months old. My head was reeling, all I could think was that my student convieved while I was his teacher…why didn’t I tell him to be safe? Hell, why didn’t I discretely give him condoms? Why am I teaching freakin’ Ancient Greece BS when this kid’s life is going to revolve around providing for this child? Why didn’t I (or anyone!) teach this kid about not getting a girl pregnant? Oh wait…I remember now: Staff of my school was told to “emphasize abstinence” and only two people in the school were authorized to give out condoms, and only from 8:00-8:50AM or after school.

Teenagers have sex. Fact of life. Students with emotional disturbances have sex too, if not more sex, more often, with more people. I see it in my classroom, I see the students carrying photos of their babies, it’s not a secret. Why?! Why are we teaching abstinence to fragile students who are getting crazy like rabbits in the stairwell? Who does this serve? M is a bright student, M should be allowed to be 16, not worry about being a father next October. I had to leave the room when he told me.

“How do you feel about, M,” I asked.

He cast his eyes downward briefly, and he responded with a heartfelt “ I dunno.”

“Are you scared?” I inquired, never expecting him to answer.

“A little,” M said. And he collected his pictures and went to show someone else, conversation over. We haven’t spoken of it since, but it haunts my thoughts whenever I look at the boy. I can’t help him. What can I do?

I dunno.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Oh no! New Computers!

Today my classroom got two new computers. They were gorgeous Macs with thin LCD screens and all the trimmings. Like two magic guardians of knowledge and power, they stood dauntingly in the corner. And these wonderful machines of technology created the worst full-class riot I’ve witnessed to date.

Please recall that in November the computers were removed from the class because students ripped them apart. Now, the computers are back, and the class has taken leave of their senses. Students pulling keyboards out of other students hands, rap videos blaring from Yahoo music with scantily clad dancers shaking their be-thonged behinds. A seven students brawl with spine-cracking body throws towards the computer table. Class work was ignored out of hand, and a crowd three person deep ringed the Magic Boxes. Madness and chaos. And that was even before they learned Myspace was blocked out.

I warned them. “Away from the computer guys, we have work to do.”


“Log out the computer now.”

I didn’t even exist.

“Off, now. Don’t make me turn bitch.”

I got a chuckle or two, but all eyes were on the student who had googled an image search on weed.

I yanked the two plugs and faced a sea of angry eyes.

“No one uses the computers until we have a conversation.” I said to the livid and disbelieving teenagers. I went to the chalkboard, wrote “Computer Rules,” and we talked, as a class about rules that would be fair to both teacher and students when it came time to use the computer. I’m proud that the students themselves came up with more than half the rules, like 15 minute limit, and if two people fight over a computer they both lose a turn. I transferred the ruled from board to chart paper and invested in a log in book for students to put names and times they started.

Above all I stressed that students who finish work have first priority over the computers. With five weeks left in the school year, I’m still finding ways to manipulate the students into completing work.
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