Monday, March 20, 2006

Part 12: Surviving Middle School

Recap: Last time, at the last possible minute, I had been moved from teaching 3rd and 4th grade up to teaching 7th and 8th grade. This was both devastating, as I had really bonded with my partners and had already seen the kids that day, and thrilling, as my certification area is 6-12 English.

I gathered the few thigns I had in our 3/4 classroom. It didn't amount to much, as it is my first year teaching. I had a few books on space, which was one of the subjects I was teaching, a couple of containers, a rolling cart we'd purchased, my easel from childhood, my name plate for my desk, and...well...that's about it. Oh, the sweater I'd left at school and the variety pack of Sharpies I'd treated myself to for getting the job. Forgot about those. But that was it. I trudged up the stairs to what was going to be my new room, and my heart sank. It was pretty bare. Glenda, the teacher I was now partnered with, decided at the last minute that she would return. They put the few kids returning from the high school's 7/8 class in that room, as well as a few overflow kids. They had merged 7/8 A and C, as well as 7/8 B and D, to make two classrooms, but they were to capacity. We became 7/8 E. The other two decided to name themselves 7/8 Q and 7/8 X, "because these letters don't ever get any love." It was a last minute classroom with last minute students and last minute teachers. I felt like we were an afterthought. We had 11 students, while the other two had 17 each. I felt very small and very alone all of a sudden. There were no bulletin boards set up, no decorations, no nothing. Just desks. And only one small teacher desk. There was also a refrigerator, as the iguana from next door, Lou, requires vegetables. Our room had the space for the mini fridge.

How all of these classroom animals survived, I'll never know. Apparently, the military had commandeered the school (we were under marshal law, remember), and we think they were feeding the animals. I don't think any of them died.

My new co-teacher sized me up for a minute, spit out a few things about the schedule and where some books were, and then disappeared. I looked at the barren room and my heart sank.l This was to be a totally different experience.

I spent the whole weekend worrying. I didn't know if things would work out. I hoped they would. There was only one away to find out.

Monday morning was hard. I kept seeing my 3/4s, and they were all happy to see me. But I had to stand with the 7th and 8th graders. My little ones were confused. We decided it would be best for the other teachers to break it to them. I looked at this new class of mine. They were taller than me in some cases. These aren't typical 7th and 8th graders, either. They have been failed in every sense of the word by other schools. I have 15-year-olds in my class. Many cannot read or write scrpit. A couple can't tie their shoes. Most are afraid of school, having had horrible experiences at other schools. We are their beacon of light; their last resort; their salvation. The days can be long and hard sometimes, like when one 15-year-old 8th grader talks about how he loves Thomas the Tank Engine. Or when one child's anger management issues surface, and he starts seething for no reason. Or when a 15-year-old 8th grader can't read the word "the" but is otherwise extremely intelligent. But then there are the rewarding days, like when that last child reads an entire page in reading class. It takes him about 20 minutes, but he can DO it. Or when a child with an eating disorder trusts you enough to have you be the person she confides in and realizes she needs help. Or the moment you see that light bulb physically go off above a child's head. Or when that very first child gets off the bus in the morning, greets you with the biggest smile ever, and tells you "Good Morning!"Nothing more rewarding.

We spent the first few days on some healing issues. We gained a few kids, including one whose brother was in the room next door as an 8th grader. They lost their home and it was easier to have both kids in the same school. For that first week, though, I had nowhere to hang my hat, so to speak. We shared the tiny teacher's desk while we waited to see if another was available. No drawer space was cleared for me, so I lived out of a tote on the mini-fridge. The low point came when Glenda referred to me, twice, as "my helper."

I don't know if you know much about co-teaching. Essentially, it's like the mother and the father overseeing their children. Two teachers, sometimes trading off teaching the full class, other times breaking into groups and teaching two different subjects in the same room at the same time. We are equals, like parents. But, since I was a rookie without a degree in education or a master's in it, like SHE has, I was nothing. She was curt, she cut me off, she belittled me in front of the kids, like when I was reading something for them to reflect on, and she walked up to me and loudly said, "Slow down, please." She was rude to me and to the children. She refused to get my name correct. Eventually, after hearing the kids call me by name, she eventually got it right. It wasn't until January, when I went ballistic over it, that she stopped even trying to pronounce my first name correctly. That's an issue of respect. She had none, and I received none.

The worst came when a girl in the class wrote in her journal this direct quote: "I hate my teacher. She's so mean. But at least the assistant makes it fun." The assistant. That's how the kids saw me, because that's how she treated me. We were both new, we were both displaced, we should have been there for each other. But we were not. I tried. Believe me, I tried. But there comes a point where you can't give any more. I gave up by the end of October. This was the second week of October.

The other teachers were nice, but it took a while to break into the circle. Their dislike for my co-teacher manifested itself in ousting me. Then they started noticing how she treats me, and they took me in. Thank goodness.

Once I saw that journal entry (she had folded the page, but Glenda had opened it and I didn't know it had been folded, so I read it.), I knew something had to change. It wouldn't be my new partner's attitude, that was obvious. So I went to the storage room with the maintenance people, and we found a desk. It was missing a leg. But Mr. Mike quickly located it and fixed the desk. Later that afternoon, they delivered it. It was huge. It had more drawers and more surface area. When they delivered it, the kids were so funny. They were excited for me, because I had my own space now. They all wanted to help clean it and move me into it. Best line of the day whispered to me from the girl with the journal entry: "Your desk is bigger than hers!" This was because she still saw me as the assistant. So I sort of cleared that up gently. I was no longer the assistant. And, best of all, because we all have our petty moments, was her obvious envy over the desk. She kept eying it up and making comments about its size. Sorry. You claimed the other one and wouldn't let me even have half a drawer to store my purse. You snooze, you lose.

The weekend of Halloween, Mark was very ill. But he still came in town. My insurance check for my car arrived that week, so my parents, Mark and I went to buy a car. We decided on a Toyota, without a doubt, because we've had such great results with our Toyotas. Then, I decided, after gazing at Kevin's and then sitting in Kurt's brand new RAV4 , that that was what I wanted. It had room to throw in lots of things to evacuate. As I told the salesman, "An SUV saved my life. Why wouldn't I want one?" After about 5 hours, we drove my brand new green RAV4 home. No more driving mom's car.

For Halloween, the other two classes worked together and had a haunted house for the little ones. Just another thing we were left out of at the beginning, for whatever reason. So, feeling sad about how sad my students were, we hastily organized a "haunted pumpkin patch." We let them bring costumes (older kids couldn't wear them on Halloween), and made paper pumpkins. The little ones were trick-or-treating in the middle school and high school classes anyway, so when they knocked on our door, the kids sprang into action. They hid in the room and made scary noises. They showed the little ones the pumpkin patch, and each child got to take home a handmade pumpkin. Some were foam, others construction paper, but they all loved it.

In the afternoon, we had the school's annual Penny Party. There were booths all around. One of my 3/4s put me in the "jail" for leaving the class. One of my 7/8's "bailed" me out. I worked a little in the hair spraying and face painting booth, and walked around and observed the kids. My teaching partner was put in jail a few times, and was eventually released on "good behavior" each time because none of the kids bailed her out, and I pretended not to see her. Petty, again, but you get what you give, lady.

Follwoing the Penny Party, we had the Pelican Party. Normally, these are two different events, but because we didn't know how trick-or-treating would go, with so many people not being home and with so many neighborhoods being unsafe or uninhabitable, they combined the two events to give families something to do. They had space walks, a DJ, and tons of food. All Saint's Day was one of the holidays we lost, but we were able to come in for 9 a.m. that day since we were required to stay so late the night before.

After that, I ran home, changed into a costume that wasn't Catholic school approved (it had a low V-neck. That's all. I wore a different set of clothes during the day with my fangs and my wig, so it wasn't a problem. But I had a more fun version of my vampire getup for later.) and went to "the Cabin," as we affectionately refer to Kevin and Geoff's/Alicia and Kurt's. It's just easier to say, you know? The other roommate, Alex, had come in for the weekend, and he was firing up the barbecue for the first time since the storm. We had a lot of fun. It was the biggest gathering of all of us since the storm. We had a blast, took crazy pictures, ate tons of food, and imbibed a little. Halloween was something we needed.

Coming up next: Part 13: A true Thanksgiving


Annie (Anne-girl) said...

I remember those pictures. You guys seemed to have so much fun in them. It seemed like a blast. And it's funny to read more about the You-Know-Who in your blog. I wonder if she'll ever read this.

Mae said...

You know, I wonder about that. I've been waffling on whether or not to discuss her. The thing is, I didn't plan on it. It just happened. And I thought about it before posting it. I think I'm pretty much leaving it as it is and all, because things will pop up from time to time that may reference our incompatibility. I mean, there's no chance of her ever seeing this online because she's too computer phobic and computer illiterate. (That's a whole blog site unto itself, really.) But if I do make this thing a book, then what? I guess I'd have to do some serious editing.

My favorite Halloween picture is from the Penny Party part of the day. It's her in jail. Made my day!

Annie said...

That's be awesme if you turned it into a book. I think it'd be a really neat first-hand account of what it was like to go through Katrina and then what it's been like afterwards.

As for her, well you already know my feelings about it. But I think it's be hard to not talk about her if, and when, you decide to publish.

Did I ever see the pic of her in jail? I'll have to go back and look. That would make me laugh. Kinda like some of the ones I've shared.