Tuesday, October 27, 2009

I take one day off & look what I miss!

Weeks ago I predicted that the weeks between Columbus Day and Veterans Day would be too long for me to work without a break, so I put in for a day off yesterday -- and I'm so glad I did. Yesterday morning, as soon as the math teacher showed up to work, Mitchell showed her two letters he had put in her file, one about not having her lesson plans on the database, and the other was something about her advisory class (probably for cutting out early all the time and making other teachers watch her students). Apparently when Mitchell showed her the letters, she got really mad and said she'd had it. She walked out at 8:30 AM, leaving no one to cover her classes, so other teachers had to cover for her until they finally got a sub in mid-afternoon. And they thought we couldn't afford subs before -- now we're down ANOTHER core teacher.

The other news is, last Friday after work, some of the teachers went out for drinks at a nearby bar. Two female elementary school teachers got into an argument about who had the better class, and they ended up getting into a fistfight over it -- yes, a FISTFIGHT! So now they're both suspended without pay for a few days. Although I abhor violence, the idea of primary school teachers coming to blows did make me chuckle. You have to laugh, right?? :O

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Recess and enrichment. Ugh.

The kids have come up with a couple of new "games" during recess. Game #1: They slap each other until one or more of them falls down. They claim it's not "real" slapping and doesn't hurt ("We're just playing! Why you gotta take away our fun?"), but it looks like a lawsuit waiting to happen. Game #2: They tie things like scarves around each other's necks and drag each other around. During our staff meeting after school on Friday, we were coming up with ideas for how to put a stop to this, like making kids caught playing these "games" sit out for the rest of the recess period -- a 'recess detention' of sorts. Then Juan made this weird speech about how, when he was at the mic at the end of breakfast shushing kids and telling them to line up for class, someone from the public high school we share the building with came up to him and asked, "Do you feel alone?"

"I don't feel alone," Juan said. "I saw that teachers were going around getting the students' attention and helping me get them lined up. But that was his perception, and no one can do this by themselves." Then he made some soccer analogy about how when he played soccer, he would watch the action and his dad would tell him he had to get into the game, and he said he sees a lot of watching but we teachers have to intervene.

Then he got a phone call on his cell and left. The room was silent for a minute, until another teacher said, "Um, so does he like the recess detention idea or not?" And I thought angrily, what was the point of that little passive-aggressive speech? That he feels like we teachers are not doing anything to help? I wanted to say that I *DO* intervene -- on Thursday I must have gone into the fray five times during the 25-minute recess to try to make the kids stop slapping each other. But when I walked away, they were back at it within minutes. Maybe, I wanted to add, we're watching more and doing less because when we try to stop the kids from touching, slapping, and hitting each other, and they REACH AROUND US to continue doing it, it's a bit discouraging, not to mention dangerous. We already have one teacher still out with a badly hurt ankle because a kid, oblivious to the fact that we were trying to get them to stop playing basketball and line up, ran into her and squished her foot. We don't need that to happen to anyone else.

Oh, and Mitchell told us the principal told him we're blowing through our budget for substitute teachers, and if we keep hiring subs every time teachers are out, we could get to January, have half the staff out with the flu, and have no money left for subs. So now when a teacher is absent, the rest of us are going to have to cover his or her classes during our free periods, though Mitchell said he would balance it so we would still have at least one prep period a day. One of the teachers who was there last year told me afterwards, "That's really weird. We had a teacher quit on the second day of school last year, and another teacher who quit during the second week, and throughout the whole schoolyear we still never had any problem paying for subs." I thought it was strange, too -- I mean, aren't we SAVING a lot of money not having to pay salary and benefits to the English teacher who quit?

Enrichment started last week. Teachers came up with interesting, cool classes that are different from what the kids usually take during the school day, things like drumming, arts and literary magazine, community service, etc., the kids picked their top three choices, and we slotted them into a class. It takes place during the last period of the day, two days a week. I decided to offer Playwriting. I walked into the first day of Playwriting class on Tuesday, all excited, thinking, Great, it's only half a dozen kids and playwriting was their first choice -- they'll be really into it! It'll be a lot of fun!

Wrong. It was a disaster. We had literally been in the room two minutes when one girl asked another, "Why did you sign up for this?"

Looking totally bored, she said, her voice dripping with contempt, "I thought it would be cool, but I guess not." She had been in the room FOR TWO MINUTES -- she hadn't even given it a chance. I had to send one girl out to Mitchell's office because she was so disruptive. And Wednesday was even worse. Five of the six kids were blatantly rude, disrespectful, and out-and-out mean to me. They were getting personal, when I was nothing but nice to them. I was shocked. I ended up raising my voice -- I didn't say shut up or get personal back with them or anything, but I did raise my voice -- which I know I shouldn't have done. But there's only so much time I can be attacked before I get angry, no matter how young my attackers are. I've decided to give it another try for four more class periods, maybe start each period with a play in front of us and get into reading it right away, with each kid taking a role, and then moving into the writing portion of the class. And if they're still horrible, I'm going to ask Mitchell if I can disband the class, reassign each of them to a different enrichment, and just help out another teacher who has a larger enrichment class. I don't get paid enough to be verbally abused. No one does.

The ironic thing is, we took all the seventh graders to the Museum of Natural History on Wednesday, and it went really well. The kids behaved pretty well, and they were going around filling out the answers on the scavenger hunt sheet the history and science teachers had given them. So they know how to behave like normal young adults; when they're in school they just choose not to, I guess.

Friday, October 16, 2009


What a day. Our first resignation of the schoolyear.

Don't worry, it wasn't mine (!), nor the math teacher's, surprisingly enough, since she's said things to Cori like, "These kids make me want to leave teaching after 14 years!" and "I hope to be out of here by Christmas." It was the seventh and eighth grade English teacher who quit. But we all knew she hadn't been happy at the school. There were the little signs, like her coming in late half the time and never doing the mornings duties of helping to supervise Tai Chi and breakfast, like the rest of us (except the math teacher) do. I also remember she left our professional development in Long Island a day early because "she'd had enough," according to what Cori heard. And before school even started, the other special ed teacher told me she was trying to help the English teacher plan because she was already feeling overwhelmed -- in August! The other special ed teacher and the literacy specialist were not exactly impressed with her lessons, either, and I have to agree. Her idea of teaching seemed to be, "Open your vocabulary books and do the exercise on page 3." Not all the time, but a good deal of the time, which was worrisome. It makes me wonder what her demonstration lesson was like -- all of us who got hired before the schoolyear ended had to teach a sample lesson before our interviews. But she might have been hired over the summer and not had to do one. And our principal's interview process is not exactly thorough. For me, I did my demonstration lesson, which the special ed coordinator observed, got positive feedback from her, and went in to talk to the principal. She basically just told me a little about the school, I asked her a lot of questions, and then she offered me the job. I honestly can't remember her asking me a single question! It was weird.

Anyway, Mitchell already made arrangements for a sub for next week, and he's hoping to find a long-term substitute A.S.A.P. while they take their time to interview deeply and carefully so we find hopefully find someone who's a really good fit and not have to go through this again. I feel bad for him because he was hired in mid-August and had no say in the hiring procedures (such as they were) -- but now he has to deal with the aftermath.

Ah well, at least the weekend has arrived. T.G.I.F.!!!

Monday, October 12, 2009

A pencil in the eye

Last Friday, two of the most annoying seventh grade students got suspended for two days. One of them, during the middle of class, made a catapult out of rubber bands and shot his pencil into the air -- right into another student's eye. :O The poor kid had a big red splotch on the white of his eye, the kind you get with a broken blood vessel. And the other student got suspended for doing something similar -- he was just lucky enough not to hit anybody. Both of these kids are in my advisory class, so at least that should be a somewhat more orderly class for the next two days.
Also last week, while they were busy continuing to play basketball during recess, blatantly ignoring our calls for them to line up for lunch, a couple of the larger boys ran into the P.E. teacher -- and on top of her ankle. Now she's out until at least next week with a torn ligament or something. Never a dull moment....
Last Friday during professional development we were finally given time to meet and talk about what's going on in class, which was GREAT for me as a supposed "co-teacher." Mitchell has also put together a regular schedule of one period every week where the core teachers and I can all meet, so hopefully that will help me feel/become more like a co-teacher and less like someone who wanders in as the behavior police.
Tomorrow's Tuesday already. I LOVE three-day weekends!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Open House Night

Tonight was Open House Night. Out of 48 seventh grade students, only five had parents show up. That's barely 10%! I'd thought we'd get at least 15 or 16 -- especially since it's a charter school, so their parents chose it. Kind of disappointing. The sixth grade did a little better, with 10 or 11 parents, but still not as many as I'd expected. What is the average percentage of parents who attend Open House Nights? I wonder.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Post from Bizarro World

The most absurd day. This afternoon the math teacher kicked six seventh graders out of class at the beginning of the period for being disruptive and asked me to take them to my office (which I share with the math/reading specialists and the other special ed teacher). I asked her if she had a hand-out for them to do or anything. "We're doing adding integers," was all she said. O-kay. I copied the Do Now of four problems she'd had on the board, grabbed a math book and took the kids downstairs.

Fortunately, Cori, the math specialist, was in there because it was her prep period, and she immediately put aside her work to co-teach the Troublesome Six with me, which was REALLY nice of her. ("Adding integers? That's all?" she whispered to me at one point. "That's all the teacher told me about," I whispered back.)

That seventh grade class had a double (two periods of math back to back), so toward the end of the period, Cori and I brought them back upstairs for their second math period. As we were watching them walk back into class (some more quietly than others), who should come up to us but the Millionairess! Yes! The woman who founded the school with millions of her (and her late husband's) own dollars!! I'd heard stories about her but never met her in person; I was beginning to wonder if she truly existed. But in fact she does. She had two men with her (handlers??), and she asked us how things were going.

Cori, ever positive, chirped, "Oh, fine. It's just that now that we're in a bigger space than last year, the kids are still adjusting to making good transitions between classes."

"But they've been in school a month," the Millionairess said, peering through the window in the classroom door. I looked, and to my horror realized that two boys were in the back of the room beating each other over the head with their notebooks.

"Oh no," the Millionairess said. Here it comes, I thought. But this is what she said: "That plant in the back looks VERY thirsty."

Cori and I stared at the boys whaling on each other next to the plant, then at each other. Was this woman kidding?

"Oh yes, it needs to be watered," one of them men said after he, too, peered through the window.

"Those are great plants because if you forget to water them for a while, once you do they'll perk back up in 20 minutes," the other guy added.

"But still, it shouldn't get to that point. That plant needs to be watered," the Millionairess frowned.

After Cori and I reassured her we would remind the math teacher to water her plants, they walked away. And not a moment too soon, because it was too hard to keep a straight face anymore. Cori said, "I thought she was going to ream us out over those boys smacking each other around, but --"

"-- all she cared about was the plant!" I said. We could not stop laughing. Was I in some some of alternate universe??

"That epitomized perfectly the problem with this school," Cori said. "Caring more about the aesthetic than what the kids are actually doing!"

And she's right. I almost feel like, if that's our FOUNDER's attitude, what hope do we have!? Good grief!

Thursday, October 1, 2009


Things were better this week. And not just because, thanks to Yom Kippur, it's only a four-day work week. ;) Mitchell and the rest of the administration are back to being more positive. He actually wrote this great e-mail last Friday with the subject "thank you," and he thanked every single teacher by name for some specific good thing that they'd done. I thought that was nice.

Random things about this week, since I'm too tired to really think coherently:

I called two parents this week about misbehavior, leaving a voicemail for one and speaking directly to the other.

We're going to start offering enrichment classes (electives that we teachers each develop ourselves) the last period of the day, and since Mitchell is swamped, I volunteered to make up the survey for the kids to select their first, second, and third choice for which enrichment they want to take. Even though it took some time, I really had fun writing the survey and finding a way to describe each enrichment class so that they would all sound like the most amazing class in the world.

Tomorrow we have to finish and turn in something called our SMART Goals, which I'm not finding very useful, and our teacher self-assessment and individual goals, which I'm finding much more helpful. I have a meeting with the special ed director next Wednesday to discuss my self-assessment and my goals. Hopefully it will help me improve, so I'm looking forward to it...

...even though she came in and observed for most of the seventh grade English class this morning while they were being rotten. Well, not *exactly* rotten, but enough kids were talking and fooling around so often that the lead teacher and I had to keep re-directing them and re-directing them, so I'm sure she'll bring that up during our meeting on Wednesday. I just hope she has some useful suggestions on how to deal with them, because some of those seventh graders just make you want to tear your hair out -- or *their* hair out! It's affecting instruction, or the lack thereof. Yesterday I had to finish up class with the "bad" seventh grade English class (the one that gave me such a hard time last week) when the other teacher had to leave and deal with a student who purposely pushed her as he walked out the door for a time-out. They were terrible, as usual, but I didn't let it get to me. Now, whenever I feel my blood pressure rising, I think, Two years from now, will they even remember this particular moment? Will I? And I just let it go and keep doing the best I can.

But also yesterday, I pulled three sixth graders out of study skills class because they needed extra preparation for their math test today. I helped them answer practice problems on the dry erase boards, and at the end of the period as I helped one student with his last problem, I turned around to see that the other two kids, having finished, were writing "Thank you, Ms. Artichoke!" (except they used my real last name, of course) all over the board, along with half a dozen hearts! Wasn't that sweet? They even spelled my name right. Teaching can be a thankless job, but yesterday, I was officially thanked by three of the people who matter most: my students. :)