Sunday, September 26, 2010

"I'll set your flag on fire"

Adam came by. Oh- Adam. Had he enrolled in a suburban district with a fancy Child Development department Adam would have been labeled Asperger's Syndrome and been given a paraprofessional to shadow him. But Adam's (highly educated, highly intelligent) mom was new to our country and our system when Adam reached school age so Adam got to get thrown out of a variety of public and private schools before he reached us in sixth grade.

By then Adam had a relationship with a neurologist (his mother is a great advocate and also highly capable of getting him what he needs, once she figured out the system) Even so his early years with us were tough on everyone. They involved a lot of parent teacher-conferences, some broken desks, and lots and lots of tears.. (Actually Adam was one participant in the first fight I broke up at our school).

Okay- but Adam is our success story. Our poster child for inclusion. He doesn't fight. He has friends, desks remain intact and his mother stopped crying. I checked up on him in our 80 million dollar database system the City figured would solve all our problems. (In my case – it feeds what my husband calls my cyber-yentering habit) Adam's passed everything, has a solid B average and
a passing grade on every NYS Regent.

So enough back story. Adam came in at the end of the school day and sat down.
Me: Need something Adam? Or you just here to visit.
Adam: Just visiting
Me: Glad you stopped by, how's the new school year going?
Adam: Not so go good.

Couldn't be to terrible or I would have heard

Me: What's going on?
Adam: I think the new principal is very disorganized, new schedules, new program cards, new bell times everyday.
Me: Yeah, it's tough on everyone
Adam: Yeah but for someone like me,who needs structure, its unethical.

Yeah and for me its an opportunity to end my long gratifying career with my big Union mouth leading me into lots of trouble.

But I didn't tell Adam that. I just assured him we were all there to help him get through the chaotic start. And since I promised myself this is not a venue for complaints, I'll end with a story about Thomas

The song “I don't want to work I just want to bang on the drums all day” was written for Thomas. Thomas drums something, anything – all day long. Thomas also came to us in sixth grade (though several cohorts after Adam). And he has been banging ever since.

Very annoying -if you are trying to teach him something.

But Friday morning I wasn't trying to teach anything, just sitting at my computer while Thomas waited for the new support teacher- drumming loudly..

Thomas: loud rhythmic drumming
Me: softly at first, “iko, iko ay yah-
drumming continues, new kid joins in
Me: increasingly louder-”Jockamo fina fin nay ah, jockamo fina na ay.

More students enter and join the drum core and I'm up and dancing. Now if you have a vision of some hip, svelt MTV dancer up in front of the class singing and dancing, revise it- think chubby middle-aged, atonal, off-beat, white Aretha Franklyn

My grandma and your grandma sitting by the fire
My grandma to your grandma I'll set your flag on fire

Loud unison drumming continues now by a number of students

Ay now, ay now, iko iko ay yay

And then the new no-nonsense - “I used to teach at the correctional facility” teacher comes in

Ooops- silence

New teacher walks- properly to front of room, turns slowly towards group and says:

“Jockamo finay fin ay ay, jockamo fin ay -Open your books please.

I leave - everything under control.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Tales from The Teacher Guppies

I admit it. I produced Teacherguppies, some with me own genes, some who just happened to have the (mis)fortune of working with me.

Science Teacherguppy walked into a colleague's Inclusion class. The students were quietly engaged in a lesson. Not minding her own business, (a definitely inherited trait) Teacher Guppy walked up to the one little girl sitting with a closed notebook and asked her why her book wasn't opened. The sweet-faced girl, opened her book, licked the first page and said "That's why!" turned the page, licked the next page and repeated, "That's why," and continued through the book. Teacherguppy watched in amazement.

"You asked," the boy next to her explained
Teacherguppy went back to minding her own business.

The other genetically related Teacherguppy was assigned a second language learner, with behavioral as well as motor issues. Lunch hour was over on this glorious late summer day and the second graders lined up to return indoors. But not the Teacherguppie's student. She maneuvered her walker over to the jungle gym. "It's time to go back in the school now," Teacherguppy tried in two languages.

"Shhh," replied the student conspiratorially. Maybe if TeacherGuppy would just be quiet, no one notice a girl with a walker trying to climb the jungle gym in the after lunchtime abandoned play yard.

And then there are the moments I remember why I went into teaching. The ninth grade TeacherGuppy (related to me only by school assignment) taught a lesson today on writing a six word memoir. I told him it sounded like a great idea and he said, "yeah that's what you said two years ago when you gave me the lesson," and then he showed me the 6 word memoir I wrote back then:

Old teacher, new school year- again.

And the kids wrote incredible memoirs that I will try to copy down and post later. Even with a fire drill smack in the middle the angst of teenage years got summed up in six word phrases

A colleague drove me home, we chatted, we complained. We're still having and unsmooth start to the school. When the principal asked me why things were going badly, I was uncharacteristically struck silent. I didn't know what I could say. I told me friend

"You should have just opened your book and licked the pages," she suggested
"That's why"
"You asked."

Friday, September 10, 2010

Another Year

The door opened.
"Get out!"
Pennington ejected.

The assistant principal walked by, "You can't possibly be kicked out on the first day of school, go back in"

So I opened the door, but the teacher didn't want him back in. Its not a good idea to piss off the assistant principal or aggravate a coworker on the first day of school, so off I went on my errands with Pennington ("the boy with two last names" the British evaluator who came to review the quality of our school two years ago, called him. Pennington, a virtual energy pack of activity had spent the whole period, the British evaluator observed, yawning and stretching. This earned Pennington's portfolio extra attention from our friendly Brit. Why we needed to import someone to review the school is a long story and hardly worth telling since the economic downturn means suddenly the local superintendents are capable of assessing quality and anyway everyone knows that the only real way to find out if a school is successful is to look at the standardized test scores-I read the papers!)

But I digress.
Pennington and I strolled down the hall distributing and collecting paperwork.

"Don't be too hard on Ms. Ejecting Teacher," I said. She had a real difficult summer and still is dealing with a sick baby.

"Yeah, I got to keep reminding myself of that, Pennington, acknowledged contritely.

And it was time for him to return to the room

But wait- first my computer had to be connected.

We have a new principal. Things were off to a rough start. Student programs not ready for opening day, teachers' schedules not ready, room assignments -not ready.
Chaotic start.

But my computer works.
Pennington apologized.

Another school year begins.