Saturday, November 23, 2013

Discipline or not?

Bernardo came to resource room, a rare occurrence, to tell me he wouldn't be there for a few days since he was probably going to be suspended.

We have a new method this year to deal with behavior issues suspend, suspend, suspend.  If you are wearing a hat you get suspended, if you take your cell phone out you get suspended, if you have  a major or minor fight you get suspended.  If you curse out a teacher you get....

well maybe you get suspended.
Maybe you don't.

Being disrespectful to teachers is not a huge infraction apparently, not like walking around the school with a hat on is.

So Bernardo told me the story.
It was a long story.  They all are.

Mr.  (now I'm having a problem here- I'd like to insert the name of a forest animal, because that would be the teacher's name in translation, but for some reason most of the forest animals I am coming up are real names of teachers in the school- which is condition I find fascinating and when I share that opinion with colleagues I get the kind of looks that makes me think I will never really fit in.)

Back to story.
Mr. Forest told him to move his seat,  And the long and short of it was Bernardo didn't.

So I called the dean who said, she had just gotten off the phone with Bernardo's foster mother who shared the fact that Bernardo had stopped taken his medications because he wanted to join the army and you couldn't join the army if you are on meds.

You can't join the army if you can't read, didn't graduate high school or can't move your seat when a superior tells you to- either, but that conversation with Bernardo is still in the future.

If I thought the dean's office was uncaring and inflexible, it was just because I hadn't spoken to that dean.

She explained sadly, that she didn't really want to suspend Bernardo, but a) he would need to be removed from Mr. Forest's class for a week, b) he would need a place to go fifth period and c)someone would have to talk to Mr. Forest about why Bernardo was not going to be suspended.

I went to talk to Mr. Forest.  Mr. Forest attended the high school in the days when the school was populated mostly by second and third generation families of European immigrants who worked in the blue collar trades NYC had no shortage of then. I wouldn't doubt he was the first member of his family to graduate college.  He is a well liked teacher with few discipline problems, but one who looks back wistfully,  to the days when the school was a respected institution instead of building that is persistently on the list of schools in need of improvement.

Mr.  Forest was one of the people who complained loudly about what was perceived as a lax discipline policy last year.  So it was with great trepidation that I approached him.

I told him how Bernardo had been abused by his father and ended up in foster care.

"My father, was everything to me," Mr Forest recalled, "I want to be everything to my son.  Let the dean make whatever plan she thinks is best."

The plan.

Bernardo did not get suspended.  He apologized to Mr Forest and promised to move his seat next time.He had to attend my fifth self-contained math class for the week instead of going to Mr. Forest's general ed one.

On Wednesday afternoon I heard Bernardo reporting to the other kids in the resource room that I had been banging my head against the wall during fifth period.  I can't recall the exact incident, But I do recall banging my head against the wooden closest, (so much more comfortable than the hard plaster walls.-  Fifth period math has been going less than smoothly this week). He is happy to return to Mr. Forest's class next week.

Oh and by the way- Bernardo didn't curse out Mr.  Forest.  That was some students in Teacherkarps class.  They were not suspended. She told me about it on the car ride home Friday.

I will go negotiate with the dean about them  on Monday.

I am an equal opportunity negotiator. (Busybody?)

PS:  We had a discussion on Friday about the new suspension policy.
"Why do they think giving us a week off is a punishment?"  Evan asked.

I pressed the group for what they thought would be an appropriate policy and got no concrete answer.
I think the answer is an engaging curriculum, which is what we have less and less of every year.

But what do I know?  I'm just a  white suburban soccer mom.

Monday, November 11, 2013

A week in and out of hell

Here's a teacher joke.
If NYC schools were arranged geographically - I would say the superintendent told it. But alas under the reign of mayoral control NYC schools are arranged by network or cluster, or clustered network, which unfortunately has nothing to do with chocolate or nuts, which one would hope- anything that has the word cluster in it- would. I was sent out to another high school in our cluster for training.

And they all begin with the two words Children First.  
Wishful thinking.

So here's the joke already.
A teacher dies and goes to  heaven.  St. Peter takes him on a tour.  After showing him the modest sections reserved for lawyers and doctors, since they had lived lavishly on earth, he shows him the elegant section reserved for teachers since they had not had their just rewards on earth.  The teacher is impressed, but wonders why the other sections were filled with gleeful noise, but the teacher's area was strangely silent.

"Oh, " says St. Peter, "It's only quiet today, because its Election Day, professional development day- there all in hell."

It was a shortened version of hell.  They let us out at 12:30 and I walked home, stopping for a short visit at a friend's home, a retired teacher. I listened to the joys of being retired.

The restarted week began Wednesday morning with a note that three new students were being transferring into my self contained class.  Two are much lower functioning than the those already there. They came with a paraprofessional who promptly fell asleep.  Kenneth told her loudly she couldn't sleep in class, she was getting paid to be there.  I told Kenneth it was not his job to tell her that, but wished my filter was as porous as Kenneth's.  Bettina took  my attendance sheet to make sure, they were really transferred in, then told me not to worry, she was just taking attendance for me. (And then for the record, I was unable to find the attendance folders for the rest of the day, since it got stowed with the work folders,)  Owen walked out of the class for most of the period, and when I questioned him upon return, he confided,  he hated looking like he was in the retard class. I had nothing more comforting to say other than he was man enough to take it.

I told the programmer I thought the number on the register was too many for the size of the room.

He essentially responded - with "I'm woman enough to take it."

Wednesday afternoon, the assistant principal wanted to look at the folders from that class, essentially to determine if I am an effective teacher or not.  (I'm not - we've already established that effective teachers don't spend half their day looking for their attendance folder).

Thursday Elisha was working on the problem of the day when she said something that I never expected to hear from a student,  "how do you expect me to do this if I don't have my notes?"

Wow- we're using our notes!

Except of course the assistant principal had her notebook.

But wait- didn't the network maven say something about children first?

So I call up and an aide brings down the notebook - just for the class time- it must be returned immediately. She opens the door and hands it to me. Looks around then says she'll be back to post mission statement. Every classroom now must have a mission statement.

Elisha stands up, climbs over Dominic's desk, pushes Damion out the way, grabs the notebook and returns climbing over Kimberly's desk this time.

Where are those forbidden cell phone cameras when you really need them?  

Our web-based IEP program was revised over the last weekend.  Now a glitch crashes the program if you hit the save button twice.  We were given new laptops.  I'm not used to the keypad quite yet.  I crash the program repeatedly during my lunch hour.  I wonder if I smash the new laptop and retire immediately will they take the $1243 they made me agree was the price of the new laptop , from my final paycheck or will they deduct it from my pension.  But in a moment of clarity I remember they are selling chocolate in the basement.  (Surreptitiously, the mayor is against selling junk food in school).

In the basement I meet a teacher who used to be in our small learning community but opted out for lunch duty.  "Is this really better?"  I ask.  He complains that if they wouldn't keep changing their minds so much who knows maybe it wouldn't be but for the time being, he rather pick up the milk containers from the floor.

"Have I seen the knew mission statement?"  he asks.  I haven't the aide said she'd be back with it tomorrow.  

I have one mission I tell, him, to get some of the knowledge in my head, into the heads of the students.

"Transference,"  he tells me- we could make a one word mission statement.

Or maybe just - Teach

But then what would we talk about in hell on Election Day?

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Bad Days

Larry Ferrlazzo posted the question on his blog, "What do you do when you are having a bad day in the classroom?"  My reply included drinking  wine and watching stupid  tv.  That's what I said on Monday, when I read it.

Then I proceeded to have a series of bad days just to make sure my answer was correct.

Monday, I noticed I had eight Individual Education Plans to write.  A long time ago, when the current special education law and I were both very young, I learned that students with disabilities have plans developed by a team based on their specific needs.

I learned quickly, for teachers in our system, that meant, I had to write an IEP and get a parent's signature on before a deadline rolled around.  There has been much informal discussion-in our little office, just how sincere the process should actually be, but let's just say its been my experience that getting the plan filed is the critical part.

For students I see in a the Resource Room or the self-contained program I have at least a glimmer of who that person is, but its much harder for me to get a picture of a student who I only see for 45 minutes a day in math classroom dominated by the general education teacher.

I find Lamont, one of the students I hardly know,  For a half hour after school, I try to  gather enough information to make a stab at assembling his IEP.  I ask Lamont to fill out a survey about his plans for life after high school.  Lamont leaves it largely blank and when I press him, he says, "honestly Miss, I don't see myself as having a future."

Now it is past the end of the school day, I go directly to the phones only to find that not one counselor is still answering, and leave messages with three different ones.

Lamont tells me it doesn't matter, he doesn't matter.  I respond with that of course he matters, he matters to me.  Which probably sounds as completely lame to him as it does to me.  I think, he matters to me so much that if I hadn't be randomly assigned his IEP to write, I wouldn't had even this much of a conversation with him.

I try again, "you could matter to me, we could try to make each other matter."

And then Lamont says the one thing that gives me reason to hope,  he asks, "how?

"How do you make yourself matter?"

Listen, I know the derivation of the distance formula, I can find the area and volume of many figures, I can even explain math to people who truly believe math is put on the face of the earth purely to torture them.

But I really don't know how we make ourselves matter.

On Tuesday I called a series of guidance offices until I finally got a counselor to talk to Lamont.  He spoke to her for an hour, and she told him to come back any time.  She asked me to send him to her office from time to time, but on Wednesday, she said he voluntarily came up during lunch.

The rest of the week wasn't much better, just the problems were more mundane, lost cell phones, reminders from for the random IEP assigner that I needed to file the cases.  Mad disrespect (I caught lip- from one of my favorite Resource Room students- and ended up calling his mother) and the rest of the stuff that will keep me from ever being that  much discussed, effective teacher.

I had a glass of wine every night this week.
I ended the reply to Larry Ferrlazzo's post that after the wine I had to forgive and forget because that's the only way I could get up and do it again tomorrow.

Maybe that's the answer to Lamont's question- how do I make myself matter.

I get up and do it all again.
Even after a string of bad days.

PS: I bet I matter to the owner of the wine shop.