Saturday, January 30, 2010

Out of the Cage

My father took our school careers seriously. If we had schoolwork due we rarely ventured out of the room we were working in (which was probably the dinette, the alcove off the kitchen that contained an oval wooden table with a notch in it, where my father incurred the wrath of my mother by once sawing through whatever he was sawing -straight into the tabletop. Honestly, I never remember my father sawing anything ever again).

But I lose track of my story here. If we strayed from the notched, oval dinette table for a breath of air, a sneak look at the tv or a bathroom run - he would yell
"Get back in the cage!"

My father was not so much a disciplinarian as a comedian. He categorized the world into kvetches and kibbitzers- those who whine about the foibles of life and those who make jokes.

He was most definitely the latter.

And so I thought of my father this Regent week as I was confined to the overheated, under-decorated dean's office, doing the "read aloud Regents."

One of the accommodations available to students with Individual Education Plans is "questions and directions read aloud for all exams other than those measuring reading comprehension."

Really- all the state exams are tests of reading comprehension. I just looked online to see if the state had posted this week's Living Environment (Biology) Regent- but they had not yet so I paraphrase. One question described in three to four sentences the mandible of two different blood sucking insects before getting around to asking if insects are herbivores, omnivores or producers. Oy!!!

But if the exam isn't actually an "English Language Arts" exam the "questions read aloud..." modification, allows students with significant reading disabilities to have the questions read aloud.

And I am stuck in the cage.

Take Jonathan for example. Usually students with reading issues are masters of disguises. They have a whole wardrobe of disguises to mask their inadequacies with the written word. Their eyes are tired, they just weren't concentrating, they just don't like the teacher that reported their difficulties, so they refused to cooperate.
But not Jonathan. Jonathan went up to his adviser the first week of ninth grade and told her he couldn't read.

Jonathan arrived from an English speaking Central American country right before the start of the school year two years ago. He had not attended school in his native school for a while. Tall, and physically well developed, Jonathan had worked as a butcher for the last several years, until an aunt had somehow managed to bring him to New York. The fact that had come from a part of the world where English is spoken, immediately disqualified him from the programs that service English language learners who are SIFES, (students with interrupted formal education). Why such programs do not exist for native English speaker? You'd have to ask Klein/Bloomberg.

So Jonathan struggles along. Last year I got him an IEP and made sure the questions read aloud modification was stipulated. Jonathan takes his education seriously. Trading in his butcher knife, for a pencil means he doesn't squander the opportunity of acquiring a New York State Regents High School diploma. He made me read the questions slowly carefully and I watched him sweat through documents about Neolithic advancements in agriculture, consecutive odd integers, and the effects of distant galaxies on wave length measurement. (All the while praying he and the others would pass and I would do nothing that would put my so-close-I-can-taste-it pension in jeopardy).

A whole week of reading aloud Regents, four hours in the morning, four hours in the afternoon.

Thursday the principal pulled me out to sit in a conference as the union rep. Then it was time for the afternoon's Regent. I heard the voice of my father.

"Get back in the cage!"

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Quotes of the Day

Regents Week:

Short comments

Bella- I feel confident about the ELA Regents, I took your advice- I wrote my hand off.

Quincy- I'm here! You can cancel the APB -(I called his cell phone twice, the Homeroom teacher called his mother and the social worker called the pizza store across the street.)

Nathan- Sometimes we're all just a bunch of angle- side- sides.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Friday afternoon basketball

I have the worst cell phone in the school, staff and students included. I mean it works and everything- when then dentist's office gave me an appointment for the end of February, I set the alarm in the phone to ring that day- so I wouldn't miss it.
This is a huge improvement from the old days when I would have written the appointment me my pocket calendar. Of course chances are I wouldn't have looked at the pocket calendar any where near the time of dentist appointment - or even more likely- by the time the appointment rolled around the pocket calendar would have been long lost.

I rarely loose my cell phone. If I can't find it at transition time (you know the moment you leave the house for work or leave work for the house or you leave anywhere to go someplace else) I look for it madly for 30 seconds and then I call it. Unlike my keys, or my wallet, the phone has the decency to ring and so I can followed it's muffled sound under the couch pillows or beneath the pile of forgotten coats in the cloak closet until I locate it, subdue panic and proceed to the next location of my life.

But this isn't a post about cell phones-I did want to say that with all the above mentioned positive qualities, compared to everyone around me, my phone sucks I can't check my email, find a good restaurant in the neighborhood or play video games during staff meetings ((well actually I use my netbook for the playing video games during staff meeting part- but hey I'm not finished complaining) And everyone else from the principal on down can do those things on their phone.

But this is a blog post about Friday afternoons and basketball and me having the only charged up, receiving service, working cell phone in the hosting team's gym last night.

I had planned to leave school exactly at dismissal yesterday and be home early enough to cook dinner and still have plenty of laying-on-the-couch-time, but Thomas wanted help with a science poster on sickle cell anemia and I didn't have the heart to split. Then Thomas wanted a ride to the basketball game and I had the car. And then I wanted to watch the game, which we lost in the last quarter.

With 43 seconds left Kenya fell. Kenya is the almost 7 foot star of our team. And I have been working with Kenya a long time. Somewhere in the second half the teacher next to me asked me if Kenya was passing all his classes and would remain academically eligble to play next semester

"It's possible," I answered, "But I forsee alot of together time for the two of us next week," (starting with the disease of the week poster I stayed late to help Thomas with).

Kenya does not like losing. He does not like taunting. And even though he looks and attempts to act like a rising NBA star- by the end of the game the combination of being loudly heckled by the home teams fan and the lack of scoring was too much for him. When he fell on his knee he writhed in pain and gave a full out performance.

Conversation heard behind me,
"Just drag him off the court and finish the game."
"Shut up -ma"

So somehow after the game ended and the home team cleared the gym, I was on my cell phone calling Kenya's grandmother, who is in no condition to sit around the emergency room, calling the principal to figure out if we could take him there, calling back the grandmother to get phone consent to treat, calling the emt's supervisor to get permission to transport Kenya in the coach's car, since Kenya made in abundantly clear that he wasn't going in a fucking ambulance.

Bottom line- Kenya is okay. He'll back in school on Monday to finish his science poster. Perhaps will switch the topic from Rabies to knee injuries.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Orphans in TV land

The midweek blahs set in- or maybe just inertia- but 8pm rolled around and I had only the energy to roll around the channel guide on the remote control. PIX had a new show and since nothing old appealed to me I watched it.

So here's the gist of it. This very pretty almost 16 year old blond girl who is tired of living in foster care since her foster brother opens the bathroom door when she hasn't finished brushing her teeth, decides she would like to be emancipated. So she somehow has in her possession a paper from her file with the name and addresses of her biological parents who she needs signatures from to become independent. However, when she goes to the hearing for emancipation her biological parents accompany her, volunteer to cosign a lease for an apartment, but the judge denies her petition and grants custody to the biological parents since they didn't have their signatures notified on the paper Ms Cute blond foster child gave them to sign the day before.

Okay- that's the first fifteen minutes of the show. What follows is love scenes and tearful confessions, and commitments and re-commitments until the final scene where everyone gets to celebrate foster-no-more-kid's 16th birthday and when she blows out the candle she doesn't have to make a wish since she already got her's.

And that's just the premier.

Conner came to my room yesterday and as we reviewed for the umpteenth time for the math regent he looked up and said, "I don't know how much more of this I can take." And he wasn't talking about math.

At 18, Connor is not looking for signatures from successful biological parents who made some regrettable, but forgivable mistake in their high school years. His biological mom lives a few blocks from the school but never could take adequate care of him, his father is an ocean away. Child Protective Services removed him a while back and Connor negotiates the morass of administrative "intervention" almost on a weekly basis. It's his story and I won't tell it but unlike Ms. TV Orphan he knows just how hard it can be out there on his own.

Quadratic equations I can solve, the vagaries of Child Protective System I cannot. I told Connor to make an appointment with the principal, a social worker by training with lots of experience with the foster care system, I figured she would be in the best position to help him.

I was in the principal's office myself earlier in the day, shuffling through intervention plans, testing schedules and teacher complaints but bringing Connor's issues up didn't rise to my consciousness.

I forgot to remember how hard it is to negotiate the world alone, until I stranded myself on the couch and watched an orphan in TV Land where wishes are granted within 60 minutes even with commercial breaks.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Good In Math

I spend a lot of time in math classes. I solve for X a lot, find the interception of two lines and can even determine whether a graph illustrates a function or not. I act like I know what I am doing (most of the time)- and when I get hopelessly lost my ego allows me to find a bonafide real live math teacher -fast.

And I admit to the students who are struggling to find x, set up a ratio or sharpen a pencil with a rounded edge scissors-that I spent a school career, being not so good in math.

They usually don't believe me. I have become so proficient at locating that pesky little x even when it is surrounded with coefficients and exponents and even annoying little other variables. But that is what Facebook is for.

I joined Facebook late- I am too old for this -I protested long and loud. But then the ninth grade team went to Atlanta last summer the same week one of the Teacher Guppie's best friend got married and I wanted to see photos fast. Surrounded by twentysomethings at work and at home I somehow got a Facebook account set up (my first friend after the Teacher Guppies was my mother-in-law,`so I could no longer play the age card) And last week my best friend from junior high school found me and I quote from her message

(She writes about communicating with another friend) One of our more recent reminiscences was how bad we were at math. I told her by leaving after 8th grade she missed all the fun! She missed Mrs. Auerbach's 9th grade torture session, in which I was pretty sure YOU were my other half in what Auerbach called "The Idiot Twins". If Barbara had stayed we could've been "Idiot Triplets"

I'm gonna print it out.
Next time someone tells me they can't do something in math I will tell them if one of the idiot twins can they can too.


Inertia: the tendency of an object that is in motion to stay in motion and an object at rest to stay at rest unless acted on by an outside force

The middle school science teacher finds herself in the position in which her lesson plans are reviewed by the administration at the beginning of each week.

I find myself in the position of being cc'ed those lesson plans- in what capacity?
a) Coach? b)Mentor? c)Union Rep? d)chief shmuck?

I pick (d) if I have to choose.

So last night I set myself up in front of the Jets game with laptop and cheered.
For the Jets- not the lesson plans.

I did not launch the laptop 10 feet in the air (velocity 5 meters/second backwards) as I did with my cell phone when David Wright hit a homerun while I answered a parent's phone call the last season Shea Stadium was open) I did manage to learn basic physics while the Jets overtook the Chargers.

Me: When you fall backward cause the bus started suddenly when the light turns green, that's inertia, when you lurch forward when it stops that's momentum.

Mr. Not-a-teacherfish: Nope- that's inertia too, INTERCEPTION!-we got any more chips?

Me: No- some chocolate cake, what you mean it's inertia?

And Mr. Not-A-Teacherfish who was paying better attention in physics class in 1972 then Future Teacherfish who was sitting behind him, decides to search the internet for a better definition of inertia before searching the kitchen for a better piece of chocolate cake.

Somewhere between the Jets second touchdown and the Charger's missed field goal I got an inkling on how inertia and momentum might be related.

That's the thing about being a Special Ed teacher who wears the coach, mentor, union rep and chief shmuck hat - I get to be maven on so many things.

On to Indianapolis. Let's go Jets!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Blowing it Up

When my mom was quite ill I found myself in the airport often. One morning I found myself at the coffee bar next to two New York Times reading businessmen. Guilianni, had made one of his public school demeaning, teacher bashing comments the day before. The suits were discussing it. I can even remember one comment exactly.

"All NYC schools should be blown up and they can start all over again," one said to the other. (Apparently in those days you could talk about blowing something up, while in the airport without instantly meeting the TSA).

I had plenty on my mind, I should have kept my mouth shut- minded my own business. But as my colleague says- I can't, its just not my nature.

So I turned and asked, "When was the last time you were actually inside a NYC school."

And they did reply. They had never been in one.

So I invited them. Come, anytime to ours. Come see what goes on. Come watch children from all different countries learn English, and everything else. Come see one teacher keep thirty kids, happy and engaged with limited supplies. Come see what really goes on before you offer to blow it up."

I would have given them a business card- but teachers don't have those. At least not this teacher.

They called my plane and I boarded.
As I settled into my seat, I heard the gentleman behind me.

"She's passionate about her job, you got to give her that."

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Little Red Wheelbarrow in the room

Late night.
New Year.
Semester drawing to a close
So many worries.

Okay-I felt poetic. I like English. I like words. If I had my druthers I would work with the English Department- but the job available when I was desperate to move on was a special service teacher strong in math and science. I already said I was desperate to get away from my old school. I developed a spontaneous strength for math and science. So I spend my days solving equations and talking about cells dividing.

But the English coach was late for sixth period open resource room and David was waiting for assistance. What stands between David and a high diploma is passing the English Regents. David has been faithfully coming for coaching and I listen the background or our little crowded room.

In a school full of noise, David is a quiet island in stream of continuous commentary- complaints, cries and cursing.

So I grab the poetry anthology and thumb to William Carlos William's "The Red Wheelbarrow" four verses, four words per verses- not much of a diversion into the world of literature- while we wait for the coach. And we try to figure out what it all means. Of course five minutes into to this I'm wondering if I know what it all means.

"It's setting is outside," David begins. I press him to say more.
"Water," he adds. "Maybe a farm, there are chickens."

And the English coach returns and wants to know what the connection between water and the farm is, and why glazed?

And what's the theme? Or significance?
Sixteen words, so many questions.

And then Quentin arrives. What stands between Quentin and the diploma is the Math Regents. So we take out the papers and start substituting y's for x's and using the inverse operation and there it is neatly on the paper- the answer- no wondering or uncertainty.

Maybe I'm grateful the English position wasn't available.

New year,
So many tests
So many worries
In our little crowded room