Thursday, December 24, 2009
And there standing on a child's size desk, putting the final staple in the final decoration of final bulletin board was a woman.
I don't know what divine inspiration made me keep my mouth shut, a sudden flash of maturity and self control that neither my 23 year old self nor my 53 year one, displays that often. But I did.
"I'm the teacher for this classroom," I told her-
"Oh," she said climbing down from the chair, I'm the paraprofessional.
And that was the beginning of a relationship that changed my life professionally and personally.
I might have known some things about pedagogy and teaching children with learning issues but Mrs. Nieves taught me of compassion.
On the day before Christmas break, a student brought her a package wrapped in shabby paper and marked with a shakily drawn "N". The student lived alone with an elderly grandfather and the "N" represented just about the total mastery of the written language the grandfather and grandson contained. Mrs. Nieves received the gift as if it was the crown jewels of England.
I learned that school was not just a place where a-b-c knowledge was dispensed. On weekends and before long holidays she would stuff backpacks with boxes of cold cereal that she had to carefully hoard for weeks, since the cafeteria lady carefully monitored the flow of food in the lunchroom- Mrs. Nieves became adept at stealth and slight of hand, in order to provide the neglected child with a hedge against a long hungry vacation week.
I learned that a bag of used clothing could be presented in a way such that the recipient felt honored do the giver the favor of receiving it rather than shame of appearing to have the need of charity.
I learned that no child was too angry, too unresponsive or too smelly to deserve kindness and attention from an adult who went home to warm house and lots of food.
I learned other things too. I learned to speak Spanish a bit better. I learned to navigate the streets of the South Bronx and how to make the mimeograph machine spit out cardboard outlines of bunny rabbits and Santa Elves. I also learned to crave rice and beans and pasteles at holiday time.
By the following September, Mrs. Nieves was moved to a new classroom and I've moved to different classes and schools over the following years. I've met many people who have blown me away with the strength and devotion to the children they worked with but none more than the woman who had completed my bulletin boards before I ever stepped forth into the classroom.
Tonight we will pile into the car and drive North a few miles and eat rice and beans and pasteles with Mrs. Nieves and her family once more.
Shortly before midnight, Mrs. Nieves' son will don his Santa hat and dispatch presents to the crowd and we will receive plenty, but the best gift is being able to share the time with a family that is a true representation of the holiday spirit.
Monday, December 21, 2009
"It takes a lot more effort to excel than just get by"
I made a comment about Nathan's ability to figure things out quickly and he pointed out that he was really smart- just not particularly successful in school.
Short snippets today.
Usher was involved in a brawl last week and is facing a long suspension
E-mail from the principal
So need your input on the hearing. He most likely won't show up. If we show up and he doesn't, he will get 30 days. If we don't show, he will
be reinstated. Any thoughts?
I read Push (the book by Sapphire, about the abused teenager- it was made into the movie Precious)this weekend. Made me wonder who and what am I missing as a teacher. Usher is number one on the "am I failing to notice a life going down the drain list?"
Final decision email from the principal:
That’s how we all feel. We didn’t go to the hearing.
I'm a fucking snitch
Evan told me so.
I had to cover 9th grade math. Evan didn't show up. I called the office and reported him "cutting".
Evan showed up and called me a fucking snitch.
So I opened the door and told him to get out.
And there was the principal, right outside the door.
Long discussions. Lots of talk about respect. Final decision-Evan would not get suspended if he would come to me for extra help. Evan did for one day and has been missing in action ever since.
Evan is number two on my "am I failing to notice a life going down the drain list."
I have two strong candidates for number three and four also, but too depressing to write about tonight maybe during the break.
Last snippet (less depressing)
After a day of serious whining and holiday cookie eating I made it to the second half of the basketball game- which we won by a lot.
"Did I work with any of the players?" my husband wanted to know?
Every one of them.
With a twenty point lead and less than five minutes to go, the eleventh grade math teacher, changed her usual game cheering strategy from assisting the players and the refs with helpful advice, to yelling- at the coach to substitute in the players who had warmed the bench the entire time.
So finally he did. Nathan got the final basket. Sometimes even a little effort pays off.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
I am not in the ninth grade English class, but it must have been an "exciting" assignment because I heard about it all day.
I am always observing strangers. I would like to say its because I fancy myself a writer, an astute observer of the human condition. My mother (and then curiously my children as if advice and the need to keep me in line can be passed on genetically) would say that I am a yenta, the Yiddish word for one who can not mind their own business.
Also I ride crowded city buses. This affords me lots of time to observe strangers.
Tuesday night was the winter concert. With half a century of winter concert going as a performer, parent and educator I am the one in our building who thinks about the need to get the music teacher a bunch of flowers. There are no flower sellers by the school (that I know of any how) so I jumped on the bus to the subway- where the flower shop is tucked in a nook behind the stairs.
With a large bouquet of flowers I took the bus back to school, accompanied by many, many people who were heading home as the winter night was fully dark at 5:30. In front of me were four pretty young women returning from dance practice at the Catholic High School. How do I know it was dance practice?
They danced the whole trip. They practiced their, moves critiqued each other's styles and checked rhythms and counts. All on a very crowded bus and one that lurched forward and backward at every stop light. They apologized to me for the inconvenience.
"On the contrary," I replied. "You have provided quality entertainment on a boring trip."
How did I know they were from the Catholic High School?
I already told you I am a yenta.
Time to go to school. More about the winter concert later.
Saturday, December 12, 2009
I ended up at a workshop in a "campus" high school. To follow up to the last the post about the closing of my old high school, the city converts big old "failing high schools" into "campus high schools" which is four to five high schools each with their own separate staff and administration. This somehow improves graduation rates.
It also means you can't get a cup of coffee since there is no longer a teacher's cafeteria. I had to empty my pockets, produce produce id and walk through a metal detector to get inside. Depressing to go through such security measures and not be on my way to vacation spot on the other side.
Tuesday- The day started in the principal's office (actually it started with a 'coverage" a stand in and babysit the absent teacher's first period class, until I was relieved to go sit in with the science teacher for her formal observation debrief) The lesson included a simulation of the natural selection process that included groups of students competing for Cheerios using forks with a range of one to four tines. The lesson broke every rule I have for observations
-never teacher a new concept for a formal observation
-never attempt a lesson that you have not taught successfully before
-never ever include something in your lesson that can be used as a projectile
About three minutes after the Cheerios had been distributed Victor popped the cup of Cheerios out of Benny's hand who immediately responded by attempting to scoop up the remaining Cheerios to throw at Victor. He was unsuccessful. Like a prehistoric raptor, I swooped down and removed the tray from the table, rearranged the Cheerio scooping groups, with exclusion of Victor and Benny and crawled around the floor picking up Cheerios. All the while hoping to be invisible.
I wasn't. Chubby middle-age support teachers are rarely invisible.
And everyone knows prehistoric raptors did not adapt to changing environment and subsequently did not make the natural selection cut.
Or maybe everyone doesn't know that. The lesson was not rated satisfactory.
A Mr. Copernicus Story
Mr. Copernicus was teaching the Doppler effect. The last time I learned about the Doppler Effect was with Mr Friend in ninth grade. (Mr. Friend was really the name of my ninth grade Earth Science teacher- he qualifies for the more than thirty year rule, if the story happened more than three decades ago -I don't change the name)
I learned then, that the Doppler Effect makes fire engines sound differently coming and going. Must have made an impression - I still remember it.
What I learned from Copernicus is that the Doppler effect explains the expansion of the universe- by providing evidence that most stars are moving away from the Earth. (If Mr. Friend taught that- I don't recall it - too busy thinking about fire engines)
It has something to do with wave lengths and blue or red shifts. Of course, helpful support teacher me, turns right to the practice Regents questions and it all comes down to knowing that a blue shift indicates a star's approach while a red shift indicates it's retreat.
"We should make a poem," I helpfully suggest- and within in minutes -I'm jumping and cheering:
Shift to the blue- coming towards you!
Red you say- moving away!
Copernicus was at the back of the room doubled up with laughter.
Not the class- they've had my helpful input for three years- they know I'm weird.
"Don't you think it's important they understand the concept?" Copernicus asked.
"I think it's important that they pass"
And remember why firetrucks sound differently coming and going- for forty years.
My resolve to not make this a whining blog has kept me from including all the details about why the week was going downhill. But it was.
If co-teaching is marriage even the good marriages have their bad days.
And my spouse yelled at me, loudly, in front of the students who hardly give me any respect in the first place.
So I was pissed.
I was really, really pissed.
Had to stay for the monthly steering meeting so I needed to go out and eat a large plate of lasagna, a whole buttered Italian bread, and three Reeses Peanut Butter Christmas Trees before the meeting- where I was voted in as Recorder despite my campaign against myself.
Okay- by Friday I was in a pretty mean mood.
I was mean to the teacher who hadn't handed in the IEP I prepared 10 days ago when it was due, and all she had to do was copy it and submit it,
I was mean to the ELA teacher, her co-teacher, who dutifully handed me the incomplete, improperly prepared copies- because the special ed teacher had left early.
I was mean to school secretary who left Medicaid letters for me to distribute to the 85 students in different grades and homerooms , on my desk.
I was mean to social worker who handed me the attendance sheets that were due last week, along with the progress reports that shouldn't have been torn from the packet until June.
I left immediately at the closing bell.
I was not mean to the man at the liquor store who sold me nice Beaujolais and had the kid carry all the bottles out to the car.
Eight days and counting 'til winter break.
Monday, December 7, 2009
And sure enough Nancy Giles ended the segment with (and I paraphrase here) "and that's what I learned from playing in the viola in the orchestra at Jamaica High School in the early 1970's."
There was a time in my life that I thought the a good portion of the world went to Jamaica High School, I was talking to a friend in Florida about that conclusion once, and the stranger next to us in a store, leaned in and told us he had gone there too.
But somehow after, Ms Giles and I left, the school started to fade as the star of Eastern Queens, no longer did people fake addresses or interests in obscure coursework only offered at JHS to get in, but exactly the opposite began to occur. To this day, the "zone" for Jamaica includes large swaths of middle class neighbors but staying out of Jamaica was the common goal among the many families I interacted with as my children approached the high school years.
Jamaica High School got the reputation of a troubled High School. I am not sure if that is a euphemism for "Black" high school. Surely when Nancy Giles and I played viola together the school was racially mixed, and I had no illusions about the "whiteness" of the world as so many of my college friends did. But the school, that perches high above some of the most expensive real estate in Queens was abandoned by the middle class.
Last Friday, I read in the New York Times the Department of Education had scheduled it for closing. I read through the comments, many of which fondly recalled their years there and lamented its passing. I looked at lists of famous alumni, (Francis Coppola, defrocked attorney general of the Nixon years- John Mitchel, and several Olympians including the most famous- Bob Beamen). And I wondered if our "small secondary school" could move in.
Saturday night, I spoke with a friend, who works at Jamaica. I listened to her angst and told her of my secret wish that I would end my career at the building where I began to want to be a teacher. Her comment:
"Tell me one good thing about the small high schools.- What's one advantage.?"
I answered, we graduate almost everyone (though as I write there are several students weighing heavily on my mind).
But it got me wondering. I don't know that we will be able to move, or in the end if that would even be the best thing. I realize that my friend and her coworkers, are like the GM factory workers tossed out of jobs they thought were secure,jobs that they did well, by people of power who make decisions that effect everyone's lives but their own.
I love the school I work in, and I realize I work with a whole community of people dedicated to educating young people. Does that mean all small schools are good? All big ones are bad? Even I am not that naive. I often long for the accouterments of a large school, from a teacher's cafeteria to a variety of sports teams (let alone- the obvious a cadre of people who do similar jobs to share worries and strategies with).
And I wonder if years from now, random people in different corners of the world will realize, the tv commentator or the people next to them on the supermarket line all have fond memories of the their high school on the hill.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
I was working with the 11th grade geometry classes. Amazingly, the second geometry class of the day was getting through the quiz successfully. The teacher and I had drilled midpoint of triangles down to "halve it or double it" and everyone was busy halving and doubling and getting problems correct (even Leona who had neatly copied someone else's answers onto her page -still I pushed her through the process she managed to produce the right steps )
I asked Leona -didn't it feel better to get the right answers herself, and I got a slight nod of ascent. Hey it wasn't much but it was more than I've ever gotten before.
Kenneth was at the back of the 11th grade classroom- steaming. Kenneth is not in 11th grade, he's a tenth grader. He had gotten thrown out of music,(for tapping) and landed in the geometry teacher's room. Now the music teacher is one of the kindest most patient teachers in the school and she's married to a drummer-and has a high tolerance for tapping. There was something else definitely going on.
Kenneth was hitting a wall- the science teacher, and maybe the English teacher too. I wrote about Kenneth's trouble with the science teacher in the the Parent Teacher Conference entry. I reminded him that I was there for him-while trying to figure out in my brain what I could possible say to science teacher and then I told he could work on English projects in our room during lunch.
Third period, I surrounded myself with the attendance booklets that need to be sent out this week and all the other special service team filling out attendance booklets, with the exception of the team members who didn't pick up the blank attendance booklets in September so they didn't tell me we didn't have enough and we have to order more- even though they have to go out this week.
Fourth period Kenneth showed up and melted down. All six feet of him collapsed into tears.
"I just want to do well- I got to do well- I got to get into a good college."
I calmed Kenneth down enough to sit in front of the computer and went down to pick up sliced apples for him from the lunchroom.
I ran into the social worker (eating sliced apples) on the stairs and sent him into talk to Kenneth (and pick up the attendance booklets to fill out)
I could get no apple slices from the lunchroom (I'm not going to go into it)But Kenneth was in a better mood whenI got back and dictated a script about masculinity-short version a skinny guy with arms like twigs decides to bulk up to impress the girl who in the end tells him she liked him better when he was more cerebral and less of a musclebrain.
And then I listened to a whole bunch of personal essays and even more excuses about why people didn't have their personal essays in tenth grade English
And then I went to the eighth grade science to make timelines about the whole history of the earth (on one sentence strip)which I was supposed to take home to mark but I forgot to grab as I was on my way out to the Emergency room. (don't worry that parts coming)
And then I took part in an IEP meeting with Usher a repeating ninth grader with a third grade reading and math level. The gist of the conference was even though things had been totally screwed up for him for the last 14 years we were still willing to teach him to read if he would just show up to school on time (preferably not high) and stay for extra reading help.
And then I called the help desk (unsuccessfully) twice to order more attendance booklets.
And then I sat in on a discipline meeting in the principal's office as a Union rep.
And then I got to ride in the ambulance with Jolene a senior who passed out in the music room (afore mentioned music teacher had a busy day too)because she (Jolene- I don't know if the music teacher ate) didn't eat all day.
Note that with everything that happened today- I still managed to stuff in a meatball hero.
I could retire this June.
How could I possibly fill my days with so much fun?
Thursday, November 26, 2009
Wednesday is advisory day- I noticed in other blogs that some districts around the country are off the day before Thanksgiving, but not NYC we were in school and working- or eating- or working at eating. Advisory, is the system, that was best explained to me as the elementary classroom meets the homeroom . So almost every advisory had planned an advisory feast. Not having an advisory of my own allowed me to cruise the feasts for samplings in every classroom Note to inter-classroom feast cruisers, bring your own plate- the utensils and paperware run out long before the food.
I ended up in the eleventh grade math room (Excellent- baked macaroni and cheese). I had missed the part about saying what I was thankful for and when I arrived Nathan was planning his future.
Nathan: I am gonna name my fist kid, "D'money"
Me: As in "In d'money"?
Nathan: Exactly, it's like you're always talking about setting goals and having high expectations.
Eleventh Grade Math Teacher (who is in the same age range as TeacherGuppies): You're not going to get any woman to agree that.
Nathan: I'll give the kid the name when his mother is pregnant and can't think.
Me: Wait a second- I was pregnant- I don't remember being completely stripped of cognitive powers.
Nathan: Okay, then I'll name the kid when they knock her out for the delivery.
Me: Hey, I gave birth a quarter century ago and knocking women out for delivery was already out of fashion.
Nathan: Don't worry I'll figure it out
Eleventh Grade Math Teacher: Go get some more macaroni and cheese.
Me: And use protection. (Though I didn't say that out loud- even though I should have.)
The pies are smelling good! Happy Thanksgiving!
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
As if the worst thing about the this descent into the depths of human suffering, was that, this young white new teacher should be exposed to this kind of despair.
We didn't find the little girl. She disappeared from our register.
The paraprofessional remains a cherished friend to this day, thirty years later.
The South Bronx today has little physical resemblance to the burnt out shell of a borough where I began my teaching career. The buildings of the famous fires of "the Bronx is burning" decade have been either torn down or renovated. The tin window covers painted with fake plants have been replaced by glass panes. Whether the lives behind them have changed significantly for the better I could not say. I changed jobs and boroughs years ago.
Today we went on a field trip. We had one of those fancy coach buses I associate with Atlantic City runs and a bus driver that believed he could save time by following the GPS Unit through the side streets of the Bronx. We passed lots of building that could have been the site of that unsuccessful home visit three decades ago- had the building been completely renovated and made inhabitable by current standards. Who could tell?
The magical mystery tour through the Bronx did not impress my current students. I heard no observations about the neighborhood as we wound our way between highways. However, when we exited the major highway and found ourselves passing though rural towns the comments flew fast and furious. Eloise wanted to know if the kids went to school there, we had driven at least five minutes without passing a school building, something, Eloise thought impossible. Kelvin said the houses looked like where "every horror movie ever made" was filmed. Joshua wanted to know if Twilight was made there and Eloise still trying to absorb the possibilities of rural life, wanted to know what people do at night?
We did finally arrive at the environmental center in the middle of the woods. I might write about that experience at another time, but its late and I'm getting tired. But by the end of the day the fall sunlight was filtering through the trees and the air smelled of pine and fresh earth as we boarded the buses. More than one student told me they wouldn't mind living in the woods.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
"But when will he start to walk and talk?" she asked.
And in one of the most brutal reality checks ever, the doctor responded, "I don't know if he has the brain cells for those activities."
If my career had gone the way I planned when I was seventeen I would be teaching the young man, or others like him. But life rarely goes as we plan and me and my special education license spend the days in a high school where the IEP students look nothing like my friend's wheel chair bound, mute son. And they take algebra and earth science and are expected to pass. I expect them to pass.
Mr. Copernicus was grilling the class on a chart illustrating the temperature range of various climates on earth. He had worked himself into a frenzy stretching to reach the highs, skating across the rooms to illustrate the lines of consistent temperatures and blank faces abounded.
I had a suggestion, helpful support teacher that I am. I thought everyone should draw little sketches of the temperature climate in each zone. Oh- how multi-modality this exercise would be- each student drawing, tracing and explaining the ups and downs of seasons. So Copernicus, exasperated, handed me the chalk and said you do it.
And I did- and they did, and I thought it was successful.
And Mr. Copernicus muttered, "maybe I should hold my hand over their hand and move the pencil for them."
I like Mr. C. he's a new teacher and enthusiastic. He knows his stuff. And truly I am aware that I can be a real pain in the behind.
For a kid with a disability hidden behind a normal appearance it may be hard to believe that not getting it is not a matter of being lazy or inattentive. Its easy to say if they would work harder and study more they would succeed.
But in the end who knows how many brain cells any one of us have? There comes a time we all need someone to hold our hand (and maybe move the pencil).
Thursday, November 19, 2009
I liked the way the orange light looked next to the sunrise
The world turns. It revolves around the earth on a tilted axis. November, we in the Northern Hemisphere, see our days grow shorter as the the earth journeys towards the Winter Solstice. I learned that in Earth Science (well maybe I already knew it) but I heard it again today.
I was being aggravated- long story, one I don't want to tell. There are many blogs documenting the trials of being a teacher, I don't want to make this one of them. Mr. Copernicus (I don't have to make up a name for him, he gave that one to himself) was busy sketching diagrams illustrating the cycles of the Earth (or the Earth Science Regents) and Maryanna called me over. So I went to work with her. I was there to work with kids- not to be aggravated and if I am going to make the last few miles of a long journey I best stick to that.
The sun will rise again tomorrow.
Copernicus told me so.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Mine- the part where he clears all the shit out of the stables
Wait did I just say, shit, I meant poop or doodoo or as Wikipedia says, dung.
The busy room, gets even busier at the end of the marking period With the grading period coming to a close Friday, I have been deep into my negotiating mode. It goes something like this:
Student:I think I am failing everything?
Me: Why do you think this?
Student: I don't know but can you check my Teacherease page?
So I open the computer and check the student's electronic grade book page and the student is usually wrong- more than likely he's passing gym.
And then I print out the page (or many pages) of missing assignments and go around and negotiate with all the teachers.
I must have the most compassionate coworkers in the world. They all agree to allow student(s) to make up missing assignments filling up the busy room with an assortment of busy students writing about everything from the tasks of Hercules, the diffusion of oxygen across cellular membranes to the functions of quadratic equations. And I am supposed to know it all. And help get it done- all at the same time That's why when the English teacher asks for a favorite part of the Herculean story I respond with- clearing shit.
Oops! I shouldn't have said that.
But everyone swears they didn't hear a thing.
And anyway Jonathan says I can't get fired before he graduates, Connor says I'm like his school mother, and Bathea just wants me to finish the diffusion diagram
We go back to completing missing assignments- clearing the shit out of our own end of marking period electronic grading system, Augean stables
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
My father used to remind us when we complained about cold winter morning waits for the crowded public bus, that Abe Lincoln walked 5 miles to school, in the snow, everyday. It wasn't until I was in high school did I stop to wonder if spring ever came to Illinois, but that is another story. Standing on the bus stop less than 5 miles from my home, I felt stranded with no phone and no computer.
My little coworker is stranded with the half of the ninth grade math class with special needs. Somehow last spring it seemed like a good idea to break up the neediest math group into two groups, giving the math teacher a small group and my coworker, the special education teacher, who has proven herself an effective math teacher, the other group. Yet both small groups have been trying. Keeping my coworker's group inside a classroom has been like trying to hold water in a sieve. With the high school classrooms having both front and back doors they wander in and out seemingly at whim. So today we tried moving into the dean's office, a half classroom with only one door. I went in too. So here we were two teachers, ten kids, one door and still there was spillage out of the room.
But here's the part that inspired me to write about all this. First I went into the general ed. teacher's class. Groans, and other verbal votes of no confidence. But Nathan, from the tenth grade was visiting. Nathan, who usually does what he can to keep me helping anyone but him in the tenth grade math class, said, "Why you dissing Ms. Teacherfish- she's the one who gets you to pass the exams."
And then I returned to the special ed. math group and Shaheem, the new kid, said, "why you here? You're only supposed to be the science help teacher?"
Kareem picked his head up from the desk and said, "No she's the everything help teacher."
And then the dean arrived with the participants from the gym fight, and we had to leave his office and squeeze into our overcrowded resource room, leaking a few students along the way.
My bus finally came. I arrived home, phoneless and computerless, but the house is heated against the late autumn chill, and at least today I don't feel completely useless.
Friday, November 13, 2009
The year the district made teacher email mandatory I wanted to charge a dime a lesson on how to open (as to click open -not register) an email mailbox. I wouldn't have gotten rich, but I could have bought a pretty nice lunch.
I am pretty good with technology. I can change the light bulb in the overhead projector, I can make a Power Point presentation and even project it (sometimes I can't make the sound work) and I can scavenge the internet for just about any resource. But when the principal suggests we put our mini lessons on Pod Casts I put my foot down ( or in my mouth) or somewhere, anywhere other than the Internet,
Let me back up. We were killing time before the start of our monthly evening steering committee meeting and the discussion of uses of technology in the classroom came up. One teacher, who is in the process of completing a graduate degree in technology education, was enumerating the various technologies available for instruction. That's when the principal recounted a workshop where she had seen a demonstration by an advanced placement Chemistry Teacher who had placed the instructional part of the lesson on a Pod Cast to be viewed the night before, freeing up all the classroom time for hands on instruction. And the teacher in the tech program thought this was a great idea.
Now I believe that most students would rather look at their cell phone, I Touch, or computer screen much more than at some middle-aged chubby teacher, who's all disheveled because she's been wrestling the sound system in the projector unsuccessfully for the last 3 periods, but Pod Cast lessons? Come on- in the contest between Fibonnaci's Sequence and Facebook, Twister Formations or Twitter, what do you think is going to win?
But that's not the main reason - I'm not buying the electronic teacher . Technology misses the art of teaching It misses the heart of teaching. When did the Pod Cast notice that the viewer was dazed and confused? And when more importantly did it notice that the students were really excited? That the subject matter had lit a spark that needed to be fanned? That beneath the ennui there was passion?
And I didn't even get to my jaded, skeptical self part where I worry that digitally sustained evidence of "bad" teaching, (or teaching not aligned to this year's Next Big Thing) could be used against any teacher for any reason.
So will I continue to hunt the Internet for little clips of anything that can be begged, borrowed or stolen for a lesson. Will I continue to project Teacher tube clips (silently) ?
Am I a fan of PodCast lessons- not really.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Relatives came for dinner Sunday night. The chicken came out terrible but the baked sweet potato fries and the cake- oh wait this isn't a food blog. As much as I like to read about delicious recipes made from only organically grown local ingredients, or the next really great undiscovered cafe - what I really know - life in school.
I did serve a really large bottle of Pinot Grigiot with the meal and by dessert, my mother-in-law was well primed to give her opinions. I was in the process of comparing notes with my daughter's roommate about progress through the biology curriculum, when she mentioned that her inclusion class was doing as well as or better than the others. My daughter added her commentary on the status of her inclusion class, and her perception of her co-teacher, when I felt (for some unknown reason) that I should explain to my mother-in-law what inclusion is.
Now she is a woman who left teaching when classrooms had one electric plug in the front because the only thing you could plug in was a film strip projector, and copying meant hand cranking a mimeograph machine until your hands turned purple.
"I don't have a classroom in the corner of a school where I work with 10 kids all day long, in the new system, we go out and work with special need students in the general education classes."
“That's the stupidest thing I ever heard,” was her response. I was reminded of a co-worker whose reaction to the introduction of the inclusion programs, was “We work so hard to get them out of our classrooms and now you want to put them back?”
So do I think inclusion is the stupidest thing I ever heard of? I think I am long past the point of speculating about the inevitable. I think expecting a lot from everyone means, that some students will go farther than anyone ever predicted. And some kids will drive everyone crazy in the process. But at least at our level in our little world special ed is not at place – it's something we do or try to do.
The ninth grade biology teacher was frustrated by the inclusion class today, She was going over the structure of the cell for the umpteenth time, and trying to have the student answer the convoluted questions from the state exit exam. “I can't do this,” she muttered, “I'm not trained for special ed.”
So I took the chalk and did my thing and the bell rang and the period was over and everyone left.
There was no child left behind. Physically at least.
I could write all day pros and cons of inclusion and the shape of special education in our public schools today, but tonight's chicken is drying out and there are a whole lot of food blogs to check. And in the words of the ninth grade bio teacher, “it is what is”
Friday, November 6, 2009
Me, I'm a Mets' fan, as difficult as that can be, I can't work up any excitement about Godzilla. But all the talk brings to mind an old story.
Back in the late 1970's I taught a self contained first grade class in the South Bronx. As the weather got warm, we took advantage of the free subway passes and left the dank devastation of "Fort Apache" as frequently as we could. (See the Bronx is Burning the tv special on the Yankees of that era for more description of the South Bronx at is nadir).
One late spring day, we boarded the Staten Island Ferry, a free way to cruise New York Harbor and get a close up look of the Statue of Liberty. As we enjoyed the view on the outdoor deck, we noticed (and were noticed) by a group of Japanese tourists.
"Chinas," (pronounced Cheen-nahs) Edgar proclaimed loudly, using the Spanish word for Chinese.
The tourist looked at us.
"No, Japanese," one man with an enormous camera- answered back
Edgar looked at me, "Chinese?" he tried again in English
"No, Japanese," Camera Man corrected again.
Edgar was puzzled, he tried several more times, to ask the tourists if they were Chinese and each time Camera Man responded -"Japanese."
Edgar stood silently, considering the response, and I wondered how to get out this.
And then a light bulb went off in Edgar's head.
"Oh- Japanese- I get it! Godzilla!"
So somewhere in Japan there is a 30 year old photo album filled with pictures of a group of Japanese tourists, ten Hispanic six year olds from the Bronx and me, with the Statue of Liberty in the background.
Thursday, November 5, 2009
I will someday devote a whole entry to Connor For now suffice it to say that the principal used him as an example of resilience. When his whole world fell apart- he continued to come to school and work on a diploma.
But he's got to work a bit harder. He came in to apologize that he hasn't been coming for extra help.
"It's hard for me to get out of bed in the morning." Connor explained.
"It's hard for me to get out of bed in the morning too- and you have been only doing it for 17 years, I've been doing it for more than fifty- It's cold and dark and scary out there," I admitted, "but I get up and out."
Connor didn't come for help after school either. I got to chase him down next week. Graduation is close, but it can still be elusive if he doesn't make it out into the cold, dark, scary world a little quicker, and more often.
The ninth grade science teacher asked a question about cells. Tina raised her hand. That amazed the kid sitting next to me.
"First time ever, Tina raised her hand," he reported to me. (In this inclusion class I was sitting at one of the tables).
And Tina answered the question in a barely audible voice, but correct and complete.
The teacher moved on, less impressed then my ninth grader neighbor.
"Wow- Even Tina can learn this," he added.
Two teachers, one peer critic- Tina doesn't have a chance of becoming invisible
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
I got thrown into doing more Professional Development than I wanted to do.
I probably infected half the computers in the school with a virus (long story-not worth the effort of typing)
And I got stuck in the middle of at least three disputes I had nothing to do with.
Only comment worth blogging- the response from the bus driver when I changed to the second bus on the way to work.
Me: No school for kids today
Bus driver: Celebrate, celebrate, celebrate!
At least I got a seat on the bus (both ways!)
Monday, November 2, 2009
Did someone say "futility?"
I am working on my bad attitude. Especially since these days I'm one of the people who plan professional development.
So let me stop complaining, close off the blog and try to figure out how to make formative assessments interesting.
Or work on my pectoral muscles, these days its not size that matters, but direction (as in not straight downward).
Did someone say "futile"?
Saturday, October 31, 2009
Open school night came, that night 31 years ago and I was completely aware of my incompetency as a new teacher, yet Steven's mother was quite willing to discuss it with me. She advanced the theory that Steven was failing all his subjects because I was a bad math teacher. I didn't see the inconsistency. A veteran teacher reminded me that my teaching skills or lack of teaching skills wouldn't have explained why Steven had been placed in a Special Education class, 5 years before, before I had graduated high school.
But it didn't help. I cried all the way home.
And I feel the need to relive that story every open school night.
No one told me I was a bad teacher this year. I did hear a lot of stories. I did talk a lot. But I will only recount one here. (Names changed, back to the present)
I passed Kenneth and his parents as I walked down the hall. Kenneth has had an IEP since I met him in 7th grade, but as he entered high school last year, his ability to cope with academics and obtain good grades soared. He qualified for the honor society and when it came time for me to ask him about his career goals, he told me he wanted to be a doctor.
Kenneth and his family (which is doing a great job of keeping enrollment up in our school- soon there might be one member in each grade) were huddled around Kenneth's progress report. The grades in general continued to be good, but he had failed science. The junior science teacher is a tough cookie. Oh- the teacher in charge of the honor society was making a mighty fuss - how disappointing, how could Kenneth fail science, she expected so much more.
"He'll fix it," I said, "he's going to go to medical school to become a doctor so he can take care of his old teacher in her old age."
"Do you want a doctor who got a 55 in science, taking care of you?" Honor society teacher asked,
"Yup," I nodded and moved on.
"She has confidence in you, Kenneth," I heard the oldest sister say as I headed for the next conference.
I didn't cry on the way home.
(I don't know if Kenneth did)
Thursday, October 22, 2009
A couple of weeks ago I had been told to speak with the Art Teacher, she was upset that Darlene had drawn devil horns on a mask she made. And worse she had laughed in her face when she asked her why. None of this added up. I knew Darlene, Darlene's goal always appeared to me to make herself as invisible as possible. But I never got around to asking the art teacher what happened.
But Darlene's advisor was worried and I figured it was time to get to the bottom of this little mess. So I got the Art Teacher, the ELL teacher(who luckily speaks Darlene's language) and Darlene altogether in my little overcrowded room.
And here's a paraphrased version of what happened.
Art Teacher: We did a project on symmetry and the students had to draw the other half of an African mask, that I gave them. (there was more details with discussion about color and measurement, but that was the general gist) And Darlene did a great job. So I gave her an A and told her to mount it on a cardboard and that I would definitely display it at the school show. Then she ruined it by drawing devil horns. And laughed at me.
Me: (I am not King Solomon or even Judge Judy-the best I could do) Darlene do you remember drawing a mask in Art class?
Me: What did you do?
Darlene: I draw a mask,
Me (inspired now) Do you know why you drew the mask?
Darlene: To get a good grade,
Me: But what were you suppose to be learning?
Darlene: To draw a mask.
ok time to go to the translator.
ELL Teacher: (In Darlene's native language) But what was the purpose of drawing the mask?
and I won't belabor the point- but we didn't get any farther in the native language than we did in English even when I carefully drew the letters H B R and Q and asked her to identify the ones with symmetry.
In the native language Darlene continued to describe what must have been her very perplexing experience.
Darlene: I draw the mask and I think the art teacher like it. She give me a paper to paste it on. So I paste it but the glue move around and it make the paper dirty. So I draw ears on the mask to hide the dirt. And I draw very carefully so both ears are the same on both sides.
Art Teacher: So why did you laugh at me?
No verbal response- just smiles and quiet giggles.
And then the ELL teacher explained that, that's what Darlene does when she doesn't understand what she is being asked.
The Art Teacher thought that was strange.
Now, I've sat in conferences, meetings and bars all over the world, smiling and nodding as someone spoke to me at length in a language where I could only catch one out of every eight or ten words. Maybe the Art Teacher has the confidence to
say she doesn't understand, or insist on find someone to translate.
Not me I sit and nod and smile.
Luckily the bell rang, the Art Teacher agreed to change the grade, The ELL teacher encourage Darlene to speak up when she doesn't understand and I shooed everyone out of my little room. How did I get stuck in the middle of this?
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
-99 bottles of beer on the wall
- Its my turn to hold the PSP
-Are we there yet? (this one often heard when we are on the apex of the Queensborough Bridge)
What I heard today
- It depends on the DNA they can extract
-Austropithicus may have been a direct ancestor of modern humans
-The Greek alphabet sung to the ABC tune
No I did not fall asleep. Even if I had, I doubt Austropithicus has an id location anywhere where it could be retrieved by my dreaming self.
I joined the sixth grade on a trip to the Hall of Science. Their teacher was absent and I filled in. So there I was on the school bus listening to Bernie expound to Kenneth (and in Kenneth's defense he never lost interest). Bernie had a set of notebooks in which he collected things that interested him- like Fibonacci's Sequence, the epoch's of earth's history and something called the Gaia Theory.
So this, I think is what Genius must look like. I showed off Bernie and his notebooks to the 12th grade math teacher (the closest we have to a genius on our staff) and anyone else I could find, once we returned to school.
I know what to do with the other side of the IQ bell curve. Bernie - that's a whole other story.
"I was like that growing up," a staff member I shared the story with, told me. "I was interested in learning about theories of the Universe."
Me- I was interested in learning how to use eyeliner.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Let's take a math problem, for example. Graph four points on a coordinate grid, draw the line that connects two corners. Find the length of the line. Now pass in the paper.
Not of course if I'm in the room- because I cheat Wait, I mean scaffold. Forget the fact that no one wants to give me the time of day on a non test day- come the quiz I am a hot commodity
First of all I write the problem very neatly, so I used to teach third grade, high school juniors also get confused by unaligned numbers, misshapen letters and lines that defy the rule of physics that says two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time. I give hints, before I even leave the board. And then I flit around the room like a butterfly on roller skates, trying to get to everyone who suddenly feels like I might be the most useful person in the world.
So at the end of the period, just about everyone has gotten the points plotted, found the diagonal and one way or the other discovered the midpoint.
"Sometimes you have to scaffold," I tell the teacher. "If you fail everybody all the time you end up hating the kids, yourself, math and the whole universe. "
She nods in agreement. "But what about the real tests, when you can't scaffold?" she asks.
Knowing when and how to remove the scaffold, that's the art of teaching. Have I mastered it? Probably not, maybe tomorrow I will take off the roller skates.
Thursday, October 8, 2009
But now we are no longer Resource Room teachers, somehow we morphed into Special Education Teacher Support Services Teachers. Maybe we just lost all our entitlement to even second-hand resources. And we are supposed to be out in the world. And we are- all day. There might not be anyone in the school who hasn't heard me complain that I walk the halls and stairwells so much I should be skinny. But even the chickens come home to roost eventually and 2:30 found four of us squeezed into our little overcrowded, stacked with stacks, half room- half special services office.
The room was humming. At the desktop computer the new teacher sat trying to negotiate the quirks of the frumpy IEP program. Its unnerving to enter anything into a program without a save button.
And the student's file would not come up if she typed the full name into the find box, but somehow I knew typing the first two letters of the name would make it appear. (As I write this, I can't imagine why that worked or how I figured out to do that).
The science teacher wanted help with lesson plans, the testing coordinator was trying to locate the 10th grade PSAT applications and Serina wanted a resume.
Serina took me up on my suggestion to apply for a volunteer position at the Day Care Center.
"But, I can't work there," she reported, "I need a resume."
So I suggest she come to our room and she took me up.
I wrestled with the old laptop- the one that seemed so quick and small two years ago, but is twice as bulky as my current netbook and now can best be described as mad slow. And somehow or another I got a resume template to appear. A half hour later- low and behold a professional looking document proclaimed that Serina was an experience baby sitter who almost had a high school diploma.
"This is an import day," It's not everyday you get to produce your very first resume.
So we all shook hands and Serina took five copies and left the busy room
Sunday, October 4, 2009
Successful at last, the director agreed to interview two senior girls (after she carefully interviewed me about the nature of our high school- I suspect she worried we were an alternative hs for some sort of trouble kids). I passed the number onto to Lenasha - the ball's in her court now.
I am waving the white flag on the IEP issue. The instructions I got from the liason person appear to be correct even if the are contradictory from previous practices and the document currently posted on the Department's website. So back to the computer and our cranky IEP computer program.
A word about the 9th grade inclusion class. Our original plan had me spending only a couple of periods a week in the inclusion science class since the science teacher is so strong and the numbers are actually reasonable. However when I did drop by my experience felt like that old self contained special ed middle school class that I wrote about way up at the top of the posting. As the decades rolled by the names and protocol changed. No longer do we pigeon hole students into a separate class in a separate wing (or basement of the school) nor do we label students Neurological Impaired or health compromised. Now we put them in the same Regent bound curriculum and bar them from high school diploma if they cannot master the abstractions of quadratic equations or memorize the Greek prefixed names of the mitotic cell division. So no matter what the IEP says I am showing up more often even though I've given up aligning my schedule withing the union contract. Good thing today's NY Time magazine article says that anxiety prone people are better when they are kept busy at work,
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
The eighth graders are ruling the roost in the science room. Earlier this year I called Ursula's mom. I left a mesage on the machine that she had been continuously disrespectful. Her attitude changed- for about a day. By Friday, I was the victim of her mouth yet again. I walked out of the room and then decided I didn't have to be abused bu someone forty years younger than me. So I re-entered the room and somehow managed to get her to the dean's office. Somehow, I left the office with a negotiated truce (I promised not to get in her face and she promised to torture me less).
Today I sat with Ursula during science and tried to re-establish a civil relationship. I asked about the correct pronunciation of her name. And somehow this story came out.
Years ago I had a student named Jesus. Some called him by the English pronunciation of his of his name, some used the Spanish. I asked him what his mother called him.
-Gordito, he answered (the Spanish word for little fat one)
-His own mother violated him?- Ursula's tablemate asked.
Maybe, I think he just though it was an affectionate name. At least I made through science class without being disrespected.
And sometimes it feels like it is all worth it. Last week, we came to the conclusion the Avid teacher couldn't possibly get through the required binder check with 32 students in the class.So seventh period I showed up to help- so did the rest of the Avid team. Five teachers gave up their prep to get through the tedious paper work. No one asked anyone to do it. We just did.
Saturday, September 12, 2009
Tara brought Terrance into our room at one yesterday afternoon. If I have to scale large boxes to make it to my desk, that's nothing compared to Teriq's commute. Apparently this young man, who came from a self contained Special Education class, had left his home at 8:00 am traveled on three trains through three boroughs and walked the final two miles from the subway station to reach the school. I lost my train of thought while trying to answer a question he asked (I had only been interrupted twice)
"I get easily confused," I told him.
"Me too,"he agreed.
But he had made it here.
We sent him home with directions from HopStop and the a metro card and the hope he makes it back earlier on Monday.
Thursday, September 10, 2009
I overheard a young lady on the bus describing her new AVID program excitedly. "Wow, I though- our AVID program is off to great start. But alas she didn't go to our school. Someone else's AVID program is off to a great start.
Edward came in with his mother today. After a year of hell and a full medical evaluation this summer, Edward returned to repeat the eighth grade. He sat through the conference looking surly but he was compliant and restrained for the whole day. The recommendation from the summer private evaluation asked for the moon and the stars as well as Non-public school placement and I have my doubts that will happen but let his mom try.
Also repeating 8th grade is Dorothy. Years of living with a father a step mother who regretted Dorothy's existence has made Dorothy a student who could best be described as not a perfect match for school. Last year she did not spend any two days without having a major conflict that involved security being called in. Then she spent three months in a residential program in a facility that specializes in students with emotional difficulties. But she returned the last month of school- sporadically attending but on our register. She, like Edward was disappointed and frustrated at being held out of the high school. But with her magenta dyed bangs and newly contrite attitude, she explained yesterday that her missing the summer school state tests was just another way she felt screwed by the adults in her life. Her brother turned eighteen this year so maybe he could petition their real mom into the United States and she wouldn't have to live with the evil step mother anymore. So I negotiated a meeting with the principal and maybe she could make it up to the ninth grade at some point during this year. Dorothy has been to every class and two days have passed and we haven't called security yet- not even close.
But she a magic uniform- it disappears from her body at least three times a day.
And so another school year begins.
Thursday, September 3, 2009
Old teacher, new school year-again.
And so the last year I must work before collecting my pension begins. At 9:30 PM five days before the school year actually opens, my cell phone rings. K. wants to know if she has to be in school tomorrow because L. told her there was a meeting for the college peer leaders. So a few phone calls later I confirmed that was actually true. And so another school year begins, albeit a few days early.
Tomorrow I will try to make five special ed teachers, a literacy coach, a paraprofessional and the IEP computer all fit into one half size room. It should be something like the clown car in the circus.
And then I will go to the beach- catch a few waves before the school year settles in.
Saturday, June 27, 2009
But P. is still up there occupying the majority of my consciousness. Okay so my main concern at the moment is fixing my hair and finding an outfit that I won't have to keep my knees firmly pressed togethr if they sit me on stage, but the very first graduation is just hours away.
J. a chunky, Domincan decent eighth grader, who was the central point of much trouble for most of the school year spenour last two minutes together unleashing a torrent of insults that addressed ever insecurity about my appearance I ever had. All year, I had reminded people that J had could no more force himself to behave than a diabetic could force his pancreas to produce insulin. But it was painful.
Even more painful, was the last half hour with D. A tall light skinned 14 year old, who despite good to great grades on state tests continues to fail most courses. He repeated the 8th grade this year. A few weeks ago, after a meeting with his grandmother, the principal told him he needed to confirm a counseling appointment before leaving the school year. of course I am the only one who remembers this and I dragged him over to the principal's office. Within minutes we established that no appointment had been made and D. had again failed English and Spanish. D. showed almost no affect during the ensuing proceedings but within minutes the principal was crying and threatening that D. could not spend the next four years with us since she could not watch him destroy himself.
So I opened my big mouth, "he's a child., and he always is welcome here,"
And I am not sure how we got to the next point but he left with a note for his grandmother and a strongly worded message on the home answering machine.
If I felt good about anything, it was that M., the kid my colleague had described as the most unmotivated human in the universe,(she doesn't work with D.) was waiting for him outside, after a half hour of principal wrangling, Mr. depression did not have to leave alone.
So off into summer vacation we go.
Saturday, June 20, 2009
So between now and then lies a summer a vacation and one more year of school days to chronicle.
And a l have a computer that fits in my purse- something I couldn't have imagined when I faced my first class of students.
"I." saw me in the hallway after another afternoon of watching the raining bounce off the scaffolding as I watched people struggle through another Regents final.
I. "You look like Shirley Temple with your hair all curly like that"
Me: When I was little people said that to me all the time, but no one has said that to me in 40 years.
I. I like to watch old movies on tv.
And I took myself out into the pouring rain so my hair could curl more thinking about Shirley Temple being the first white person to dance with a Black person in the history of American Cinema. But I didn't mention it. Maybe I'll find a way to work that into the conversation next year.