Thursday, March 26, 2009

I'm not as insane as you'd think

When I'm frustrated, I do what everyone does: I vent. I've been very frustrated for the greater part of the year. We've had a very rough batch of 7th graders, who are sort of settling in...but may I please point out that 5 of the originals are no longer with us, for various reasons. Makes a lot of difference. So did rearranging their class schedules at midterm. Divide and conquer, you know?

And a lot of times, when I'm venting to people about work, I get suggestions that I move on to another school. Not at the moment, but the next school year. And I was with them on that until after the redistribution in January. However, I also ended up dropping my morning duty, which I'd had every morning for first semester, and traded out one of my 7th grade classes for one of the 8th grade classes in drama, which is a quarter-long course. This meant I now taught 4 8th grade courses and 1 tiny 7th grade writing course. Which, bonus, means in a few weeks when the 8th graders graduate, I will teach...1 class a day! WOOOOO!

Not only that, but I felt the administration take a large proactive swing. Some children, as I mentioned before, are no longer with us. Others were shifted around to levelize the classes.

My quality of life went up...even though the accident in January brought it way down.

And still, people kept telling me to get out. Go somewhere else.

But the day of the accident, I told my vice principal that I had thought about not returning, but feeling their support and having my own personal support network at work made me change my mind. I wanted to come back. And I meant it. I still do. I plan to. I didn't send any résumés out, which I had been planning to do come January. I decided to stay. And people think I'm crazy for it. I got my certification this year; I could make a lot more money in public schools (but I don't wanna get shot at work...) or many other Catholic and private schools. Yet, I decided against it, even though we desperately need more money right now. So I'd like to make a list of the things that are making me stay, because I feel like people need to understand.

1. The administration backed us. They generally do. They were proactive, and things have vastly improved.

2. I have a support network of coworkers, without whom I could not have made it through the last 4 years.

3. We have a kid who, while in the 5/6 classroom, was isolated from his peers because he has proximity issues. He would growl at kids and push them. He's probably our lowest performing student, to boot. They kept his desk away from everyone with a no-fly zone around it. The kids stayed away. He tried to do it with us, and we did not allow it. He now will sit next to other people and has stopped growling. He makes conversation with me almost every day. He doesn't wear his black leather gloves to school as often as he used to. (Yes, even on hot days....and I thought I had germaphobe issues!!!) He hasn't made much progress academically, which is not good. He has, however, become more functional for the real-world. He came with us to the Inauguration (the post is still coming) and stayed in a hotel room with three other boys, stayed with his chaperone at all times, and actually got to the point where he "snuggled" up with a group of kids in order to stay warm while we were waiting for the Inauguration to begin. He beat my foot at one point, but he didn't realize it was me and thought someone was trying to step on him, when in reality I was blocking him from being stepped on. But when I showed him whose foot it was, he mellowed. Point being, I am part of a team that really accomplished something major with this kid. That's an amazing feeling.

4. Back to my support network, these teachers have made every day worthwhile. Melissa (B)K (broiler?) helped me through Katrina. We both lost the same amount of stuff, and when I was paired with a God-awful she-beast after the storm, she and Kelly helped me cope. I can't thank her enough for what she did for me. Melissa B. helped me deal with the God-awful she-beast as well....because she also shared a room with her and helped me put things in perspective. She's also such a kind and gentle soul. I miss Sabrina dearly, especially her e-mails detailing her life in Japan (AHEM! I know you'll see this at some point!!!). We had a lot of great, goofy times, and she and Mark were like two peas in a pod. I had a hard time going straight home from Rock-N-Bowl without having to drop her off Uptown first. I also miss coercing her to just accept a ride home and shove her bike in the back of my Rav. I loved dragging Gal around New Orleans with Jen. Charlotte cracks me up sometimes...she's a bit ridiculous, no? Dawn I can talk to for hours about many subjects, including Sabrina. I've loved every minute I've spent with my new incarnation of my work posse. I've managed to suck New Jenn in to the JCC world, bwahahahhaha.... Kristin and I think alike a lot of the time... Michelle H.H. has reluctantly joined my #5 reason why I love my job.... The three of them are the greatest group to eat lunch with (more than likely that lunch is an Amy's organic vegetarian meal or peanut butter from my "grocery store..."), share a pint with, spend 3.5 hours in a book store with, attend a party with, blow off steam together after work, go to a festival with... Bernie turns everything innocent into something dirty. Terry is fun to make afraid of me, hahaha... Brendan wore a kilt on St. Patrick's Day...Nick tells amazing stories about the wrestling team...Michelle McM is hi-friggin-larious....Coach cracks me up, even if I can't understand half the things he says in that thick Mississippi accent....Chris was awesome until he left...Candice is a phenomenal thinker and has really helped me see things clearly....and Len is goofy as all hell, when he's not busy being principal...

5. We started a book club at work!!

6. Since we don't have a sub pool, we sub for each other. And when we don't have enough people to sub, Len does it. As principal, he shouldn't have to. But he makes sure to get in the trenches and help out.

7. My first 8th graders are going to be seniors next year. I want to be there for them.

8. We may be moving next year to a new campus. Superficial, I know, but I want in on it.

9. It's where I got my start teaching.

10. I love seeing what these kids accomplish. Some of them come to us so broken and beaten down from other scholastic experiences. To watch them

11. Teaching is tough and demanding no matter where you are.

12. I'm established there. People want to be in my class. Or to not be, in some cases, hahaha.

13. I've been promised the stuff I have really wanted to teach these last four years as my areas next year.

14. I had an e-mail from a former student, who moved on to another school this year...he's been in touch off and on all year. Anyway, his last report card was all A's and one B. I taught him for two years, and I'd like to think that I had a small hand in that success.

15. I focused a lot on a lot of superficial things and adult-related things. But I can't even begin to properly detail all of the kid moments.

16. It's been really exciting building a school and establishing traditions.

17. I enjoy the small-school atmosphere a lot of the time.

18. I found something that many people strive for: a job that satisfies me (most of the time) with people I love working with, in a place that makes you feel appreciated most of the time. Parents are a different part of the equation, but once in a while, you get that parent that really backs you, and everything is amazing. Why would anyone give up the happiness quotient?

Friday, March 06, 2009

Another one for the books....

I made a bust in class today that has my head reeling....

My friend Kristin was out sick today, and so I had to sub one of her classes: 7th grade science. Just had to watch a video on baby animals. Awesome. I like animals...especially when they're babies!!!

So we're watching the video, it's on VHS, and there's a long section where the sound drops out. About 1 min. in, the sound dropped out, and I hear something make an electronic noise.


I THOUGHT it came from "Q," who had his backpack on the table, but he's a really good, really bright kid, and I thought, "Nah...can't be him!"

No one will own up to it...although the sound came back on the video and apparently N was trying to say it was her iPod. She listens to that thing so loud that I can hear the lyrics, so it probably WAS her...turns out, it wasn't a phone, but was the iPod, as I learned was in her bag and she bumped it. I let her slide because she owned up to it and inadvertently helped me catch a serious problem.

I said if no one would own up to it, then everyone would have to turn in every electronic device. They could get them back with no consequences at the end of the period if someone would woman-up or man-up and admit they were guilty.

No one admits it, and I collect a Play Station Portable, a CD player, the iPod, and 7 cell phones. Seventh graders are way easier to control in some ways than the other kids. Oh, I KNOW there were more that weren't handed over. I did this once with 8th graders when a phone rang, and no one turned anything in except the guilty kid, who didn't even admit he was guilty until I turned his phone on and it repeated the exact sound I'd just heard.

Q actually gave me his phone, but his was the last one I wanted to check.

Bernie was there and heard it when it went off...he'd come to ask me something and just happened to be in the most awesome place at the most awesome time.

S immediately gets on the defensive swearing loudly that it wasn't I start thinking it WAS! I checked his phone first, but it wasn't him. He did, however, have it on in his pocket, so there was some Catholic guilt weighing in on him.

I get Bernie to help figure out which phone went off, and I grab Q's phone off the top of the pile. No missed calls....and a text message from "A's dad." At 12:06 p.m. March 6. BINGO

I get A to give me her phone, which is in her hand, and she hasn't erased her messages.

Q sent her one that said "porn," another one that said "dick..." and a few more one-word texts. Texting from your pocket mustn't give you much time to text more

I scroll through and find out they've been texting since 8:30 this morning! I think, hmmm...I wonder how many days THIS has happened at school! Seeing such questionable messages sent between two 13-year-olds nearing the end of 7th grade is concerning. There's probably cause which allows you to search a bag, so I figure this extends to phones....and the texts are completely visible as I scroll. Not like I'm prying.

THEN I find he has another one he sent her that says, "i only have one condom now." With worse spelling than that, though. There's one that says his dad is passed out drunk, and another one that says he was so drunk that he "just threw up whatever the hell he just drank."


So I look at her phone...on application day, she was wearing jeans with patch letters that said "a boy's name starting with 'T'" on them, and she wrote, "i love t" all over them in marker.

Anyway, there's a text to a kid named T: "i can't wait to suck your **** or f*** again"

I KNOW!!!!!!!!!

Disturbed, I ask Bernie to watch the kids, write them up, and go to the principal...who's meeting with the VP. I censor the messages, because while I can say it to VP, I think Principal's ears would fall off to hear those words, hahaha.

Later, I was was eating lunch, and the principal came in in his goofy, jovial manner and said, "Want to hear the best thing of all?!?!?!?!" He says he called A's mom to tell her the phone was taken away. You can only pick up confiscated items on Thursday if you lose something on Friday, you're pretty much SOL. He called her mom, who says that her dad has been in the hospital or is sick or something, and so they've been letting her use his phone because something happened with hers (Taken away? I don't know. Maybe broken? Not important to the story, really...) I don't know if, in these circumstances, he had them pick it up earlier. he didn't say if he did or not.

He didn't actually see them...but my write-up for Q said that he was sending vulgar text messages to a female classmate in 5th period. Hers just said she was texting a male classmate during 5th period.'ll get out somehow...I'm pretty sure that they are having great weekends and that I'll TOTALLY get teacher of the year for the second year in a row, since the students vote, hahaha.

Oh, and true to my word, all electronics were returned with a warning to keep it in their lockers (school policy). No consequences other than the mild heart attacks they all probably had when I picked them up in the first place.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

I'm really wrestling with something

I know we can't save them all. And you can only help those who want to help themselves. But I just had to make a painful decision with one of my students. I'm not helping him any more.

What kind of teacher is that?

It's my second year with him. He's from a bad family situation...a dad with more kids than I can count, a mom with a few kids, and one stable adult: his grandma. But to put him in our school, grandma, who kicks ass and has a high value on education, drives charter buses. Which means half the time, he's with her and sort of on track, and half the time he's with mom, who has zero boundaries. He's from a rough neighborhood and his cousin made headlines recently as a perpetrator in a heinous crime. He's a brilliant kid, great artist....and he doesn't give a damn about school. He says we're all out to get him.

I challenged him on that recently and said that we bend over backwards for him. Honestly...any other school would have kicked him out for behavior by now. But we give him chance after chance after chance. He must think I'm a complete idiot. He doesn't finish a test, I pretend to have not given him enough time. He doesn't turn in a project, I pretend to have lost it. He recently took a test. Literally. He stared at it and did nothing, then left without turning it in. I followed his schedule and said "You must have just grabbed it absent-mindedly...can you grab it for me?" He made a big show of digging in his bag, then not seeing it. I asked him to check my room. He didn't see it. I got stern and said it had 5 minutes to appear on my desk...or it was a zero. Guess what he ended up with? We've called grandma, who is very much on our side. She is wracked with guilt because she can't be with him all the time.

Anyway, when I called him on that, and said that we do so much for him...he thought for a minute and said, "Well, nobody but you cares. You all don't understand." I told him, no, that I can't empathize with him. I can sympathize, and I can listen, but I won't understand his neighborhood, or his family situation. He said he doesn't care anyway...his plan is to drop out at 16 (He's 15 now) and then basically follow the path of so many in his neighborhood. It breaks my heart. I love this kid. I ache for him and his situation. I want to save him from that life. But he's old enough now that he has to make the totally conscious effort of accepting help and saving himself.

I once asked why a bright child like him allows himself to fail, and he said that he wasn't doing well in "regular" school, and he made an "A" on his first test with us. He showed it to his dad, who promptly asked who he cheated from, because there was no way his son would make an "A." Now, I took that with several grains of there some truth hidden in there?

We tried to get him into NOCCA, the arts high school. But he wouldn't get his art portfolio together, and he failed classes. No way could he get in. Every "out" we've given him has been thrown in our faces.

He also mentioned one time that he wanted to just fail out of us so that his grandma will do with him now what she did when he failed his other school: move him somewhere else. He's already a 15-year-old 8th grader. But sharp as a tack and talented to boot!

I learned today that grandma has agreed, against her will, to allow him to go wherever he wants, based upon his ability to pass this year. He has a 28.28 F in my social studies class. He takes no notes. He puts his head down, refuses to read (and he's an excellent oral reader!)He draws during class. Now...some kids process better if they have something to do with their hands...I had one student, over the course of the week, make over 100 beautiful, delicate snowflakes during class instead of taking notes...could contribute to discussions, would stop and read without complaint when asked, and made an "A" on his test. So when that kid does something else, I don't worry. I know he's processing.

My troubled child only fills in his study guides, then doesn't study. He complained that he's failing my class because the tests are too hard. I said he should try taking notes. He said no, that it all comes on his study guide. I can't argue that point...but when I asked if he studies once he fills in the study guide, he said no. Well, wonder my tests are too hard!!!

I'm so afraid of what will come of him. When I see violence from his neighborhood in the news, I read it while holding my breath.

I know I can't save him. I went to the vice principal...numerous times...and she told me, "The teacher shouldn't put out more effort than the student." And so I stopped. I let him in on that. I told him it was up to him to decide to save himself, because I was working too hard, and he was doing nothing.

But why do I feel like a failure?