Saturday, September 19, 2009

I CAN raise my voice

Thursday was something else. Dragged myself in for our staff meeting at 7:15 IN THE MORNING (!!!), and then it was kind of disappointing because we emerged after half an hour with only two definite decisions:

1) We should call the parents of the kids in our advisory class by the end of next week to touch base and introduce ourselves, which I think is a good idea.

2) We have to line the kids up in the classroom first and then walk them to their next class, rather than line them up in the hall, because that’s when they get into trouble – yelling, touching each other, general mayhem. Honestly, I think requiring them to line up is part of the problem. I can understand walking them to classes that are four flights of stairs away, like theater or dance (although it’s still ridiculous to have to walk junior high school kids anywhere). But all of their core classes are on the same floor – literally next door to each other. If the teachers dismissed them by row or by table, it would pace them so they’re not all out in the hallway all at once. Another problem, as one of my co-workers pointed out, is that some teachers don’t feel ready for the kids to come in – they’re still preparing – so they make them wait out in the hall even after the bell has rung, and the longer they’re hanging out in the hall with nothing to do, the more that chaos ensues. We specialists are supposed to walk through the halls ‘supervising’ during this time, but I feel invisible -- kids will literally reach around me to grab each other. For the first time yesterday, I didn’t feel safe, so I just got out of the way and gave up. The trouble-makers’ lack of intimidation around adults and authority figures is shocking.

Anyway, those two issues could have been handled in an e-mail instead of making me get up at 5:20 AM.

Then I went to one of my co-worker Andrea’s seventh grade math classes, only to find most of the class clustered in the front of the room and three kids off to the side, goofing around. Andrea said something to me like, “I’m teaching the lesson, but those turkeys don’t want to learn. If you want to try to work with them, go ahead.” I winced. Referring to the kids as “turkeys” is probably not going to make them behave any better. Just sayin’.

So I tried to get something done with one of the boys, and Cori, the math specialist, came in and worked with the other two. Then Cori realized another boy had been in the room a while as punishment for acting up in another class, so I took him to class, but it took a while because he had study skills with a teacher who floats, so it took us some time to find the room.

I returned to class after it ended, so Andrea had already lined the kids up and let them go. The other seventh grade class was in a line waiting to get into the room, so when the bell rang signaling the period was starting, I began to let them come in.

“Wait, I want to greet them each individually and hand them their worksheet,” she said, so I stopped them. But then she just wandered around the room, straightening out the desks and stuff as the minutes ticked away. By the time she went to the door with her worksheets, pandemonium had broken out, one kid shoved another kid, and that kid hit a girl who fell on the floor, hitting Andrea hard in the leg. The girl got up and complained her back hurt, but she said she was OK. Andrea wasn’t, though. I let the kids inside as she tried to take a minute and pull herself together, but then after the kids were in, she turned around and her eyes were wet.

“Go take a break,” I told her. “I’ll take care of them. Just go.”

She whimpered, “Thank you” and fled in tears. I got back inside, handed out the worksheets and managed to calm the kids down enough so I could hear myself think. Then I looked down at the lesson and waves of panic washed over me. It was on integers and rational and irrational numbers. Which is which, I thought frantically. I’d heard part of the lesson the period before, and I’d glanced at the material in the math book for a couple minutes that morning, but I hadn’t refreshed my knowledge nearly enough to be able to teach it with any sort of competence or confidence.

And then, like a miracle, Cori walked in. I whispered to her what had happened and said, “My math skills are just not up to teaching this lesson.”

“No problem,” she said, and for the next 40 minutes, she taught the lesson so expertly, it was like she’d designed it herself. The kids still talked too much, and we had to shush them every so often, but she got through the whole lesson, and those kids learned rational and irrational numbers (as did I). Watching her, I thought, What a pro. I already liked Cori a lot: she’s such a positive person, she brings up issues without whining, she takes her job seriously but never to the point of losing her sense of humor, she never complains. After she took over that class with such ease and professionalism, my admiration of her, already high, was magnified a thousand times.

In the middle of class Andrea wandered in, glassy-eyed, sat at her desk for a few minutes playing with her cell phone, then disappeared again. By the afternoon, though, she was back to teaching her classes.

At lunch, I told Cori how awesome she was. She laughed and said, “Well, I would’ve wanted someone to do the same for me. But I’m worried because Andrea used the ‘q’ word before class even started.” Andrea had told her that these kids made her want to quit teaching after fourteen years. “I wanted to say, ‘No! You can’t quit! Otherwise they’ll probably make me take over your classes, and that’s not what I’m supposed to be doing!’”

The next time I saw Cori, during my prep period a couple hours after lunch, she looked uncharacteristically befuddled. We’d held recess inside that day, which means the kids go back to homeroom and sit around for 25 minutes until lunch. Cori’s homeroom meets in the art room when there’s indoor recess. Apparently some vandalism occurred – a student purposely exploded a pen or something (?), and smeared the ink all over the room, staining the floor -- there were even ink footprints on one of the tables. So Joan, the principal, called Cori in and grilled her, asking how this could have happened during her recess without her knowing it. Cori said she didn’t think it had happened under her watch, because she would’ve noticed. “I mean, I was three or four minutes late to recess, so unless something happened then – “

“Why were you late?” Joan asked.

“Um, I was watching Amy’s class after she broke down in tears?” Cori said. But she still would’ve noticed the ink everywhere, so she thought it had to have happened the following period.

But, the next thing she knew, she was on her hands and knees in the art room trying to scrub the stains off the floor. Can you believe that? By the end of the school day they’d learned who did it and had suspended him, and Cori was running around collecting work for the kid to do while he’s out. She joked, “I think it’s more of a punishment for me than for him. I got to scrub the floor and run around collecting work for him, and he gets to have two days off!”

As soon as I heard that, I immediate wrote a formal e-mail to Joan and Mitchell, the vice principal, telling them how Cori took over Andrea’s class in such an amazing and professional way. I figured she would never brag about herself, so I should brag for her, especially in light of the hard time Joan gave her that afternoon. I’m sure the whole pen incident happened either when the kids got into the room unsupervised, or under the art teacher’s watch. I have homeroom with the art teacher, and I like her a lot as a person, but her classroom management technique seems to be to just shout over the kids. It’s so loud in there, a pen could literally explode – heck, a bolt of lightening could strike – and no one would even notice.

Speaking of loud, I got caught reaming Quigley out during my advisory class last period. He – never – shuts – up! He’s like that in all his classes, as far as I can tell, though he was in particularly rare form yesterday. I was just trying to give directions for an activity for five minutes, and he kept talking. When I tried to re-direct him, he just laughed and kept talking, making comments, fooling around. It’s so disrespectful. I want to ask him, do you talk to your parents that way? They’d probably be mortified if they saw his behavior.

On Wednesday I sent him away to sit at a separate table and not participate in the activity, since he was being so talkative and disrespectful. On Thursday, I screamed in his face instead (!). No, I didn’t actually scream. But oh boy, did I raise my voice. I reamed him out for a good 30 seconds (“Even now you’re talking! When your lips are moving that means you’re talking, and instead you need to be listening!”), telling him in no uncertain terms he needed to respect me by listening and not interrupting when I speak, just like I respect him by listening when he has something to tell me.

Just as I finished reaming him out, I looked over and saw Mitchell, along with one of my students, Shawn, standing in the doorway staring at me. “I just wanted to let you know I’m borrowing Shawn for a little while,” Mitchell said. “And tomorrow I’ll speak to whoever was causing *that* disturbance.”

So he totally backed me up, but I still thought, Oh, no, what did he really think?? I wasn’t screaming or out of control or saying anything inappropriate like “shut up,” but my voice was raised, and I did let the anger come through. And I don’t like doing that. I would love to be one of those teachers who can control a class without showing anger or raising their voice.

But on Friday Mitchell caught me in the hall to ask my thoughts about how this morning assembly went, and then he grinned and said, “Well, after yesterday I do know that you *can* raise your voice.”

I sort of half-smiled sheepishly, and he added, “But you know what? It was good -- you were firm. You made it clear that at that moment, you were the authority figure and his job was to listen.”

Whew, I thought with relief. So he was sincere when he backed me up. I told him how Quigley drives me crazy, and he said, “You’re not the first person who’s told me that!”

“His behavior doesn’t even seem sincere half the time,” I said. “I think he’s actually a good kid, but he wants to show off to impress his friends. He’s always looking around to see their reactions.” Which is normal at this age.

That, however, does not make it any less annoying.

The good part of my afternoon was in the sixth grade English class, helping Joe, who’s a good kid, no behavior problems, but he learns so slowly – he’s basically at a second or third grade level in both reading and math – that he’s supposed to be in a special class with only 12 students per teacher. But we don’t offer that at our school, so I have to get in there as regularly as I can. The English teacher did a neat activity where he played about an hour’s worth of music – different songs from the ‘60’s to now – and the kids had to write about memories any of the songs triggered or anything that came to mind. He’d prepared a list of prompts for the kids in case they got really stuck, and Joe did wonderfully. I helped him read the list, and in the end he picked eight prompts that interested him and wrote a couple sentences for each. He really tries, and I really like working with him.

1 comment:

  1. at the end of the day, in spite of all the ups and downs, isn't it nice to know you are making a difference. i know i'm so happy to be back in a school setting.