Monday, November 23, 2009

Demonstration lessons

We've had the same long-term sub, Jill, for English for the past four weeks. But although she can sort of keep her classes semi-civilized (no easy feat with our crew), our principal isn't crazy about her pedagogy. They actually had Jill teach a formal demonstration lesson one day last week, and I didn't even realize it was a demo lesson, which isn't good -- you should really pull out all the stops and at least attempt to teach an amazing lesson when you're being observed.

Since then we've had two other potential candidates come in and teach demo lessons. And none of this one period in-and-out stuff -- Mitchell makes them teach ALL DAY LONG ("Is he trying to drive candidates away!?" one of my colleagues asked). Last week, when Juan, the discipline administrator, was observing, the kids were well-behaved, of course. But I was in the class that afternoon when he wasn't there, and the kids were terrible -- they wrote false names on the name cards he handed out, called across the room, yelled out, horsed around. They treated the guy as if he was a sub, and you know how badly seventh graders tend to treat subs!

But at least that guy soldiered on and completed all his lessons. This morning we had another candidate, a woman, come in to teach her demo lesson all day long. I wasn't in the room when it happened, but according to one of the other teachers, she had such a hard time that in the middle of her lesson this morning, she ran out of the room saying, "I can't do this!" and sobbing. (!!!) I'm telling you, these kids are a tough group. I'm lucky that before I was hired, I was only asked to teach a demo lesson to a group of four students. The only time I taught a demo lesson to a whole class was last Jaunary at a charter school in Brooklyn, and let me tell you, those kids were as good as gold. I did the name card thing, too, and they all put their real names; they were so quiet; they paid attention; they listened. I'm sure it was because half a dozen bigwigs were in the back of the room observing me, but I'm still glad. If it had been a horrible experience, I would've been terrified ever to teach a sample lesson again.

I have to hand it to the long-term sub we have now for math: Nicole came in last week and taught demo lessons for two days in a row, all day long, without pay, and then they finally offered her the long-term sub position, with the understanding that if the administration likes her, they'll hire her full-time come January. So far I like what I see -- she sticks to clear lessons that follow the basic lesson plan of modeling, guided practice, and independent practice. And she relates to the kids well, despite their behavioral challenges. It's much harder to find an experienced, certified math teacher mid-year than it is to find an experienced, certified English teacher, so I predict they'll end up hiring Nicole permanently.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Talking into the wind

I had a really rough day with my advisory class last Thursday. It's only eight boys, but they're giving me a run for my money. A couple weeks ago I thought, since negative consequences aren't working, let's try being positive. I took a folder, drew a circle, and divided it into pieces. I had them guess what it was, which they did pretty quickly -- a pizza. I said every time they were all listening, on task, doing the right thing, I would color in a slice, and once the whole pizza was colored in, we would all go out for pizza one day during advisory.

They seemed enthused. However. I have not been able to color in one slice. Not one! Because there is never even so much as a two-minute period where they're all listening and doing what they're supposed to be doing. Even the kids who are usually well-behaved are starting to slack off and not listen. Last Thursday we were in the library, where the other special ed teacher meets with her group of sixth grade boys, and the gym teacher was there with her girls that day because the gym, where they usually meet, was being used to take class pictures. By the end of the period I raised my voice with them. All I was trying to do was play a game with them, and they couldn't even all listen to the directions. So embarrassing. I sent three of them to Mitchell (the vice principal), one of whom refused to go, so Mitchell came down and we spent 15 minutes after school talking to the kid. The next morning I called all their parents. During the staff meeting Friday I suggested we make a space on the report cards for a grade or comments on the kids' participation and behavior during advisory. Maybe then they'll actually take it seriously. I hate that they're getting worse; that a potential reward doesn't make them act any better; and that they don't respect me. That's how it feels, anyway. Like they don't care what I have to say, even when I'm trying to play a game with them, and that it's acceptable and even funny to disrespect me. It's like I'm talking into the wind.

On Friday, Mitchell interviewed a possible candidate for the math teaching position. Cori, the math specialist, sat in and got to ask a few questions. The woman used to be a doctor (!), but then decided to become a teacher, and she has a couple years of experience teaching math to urban at-risk kids, though Cori said it sounded like she worked mainly with small groups, not entire classes. But she seemed promising enough that they may ask her to come back to teach a sample lesson. I wish they would get someone decent in there quick, because the current long-term sub has zero classroom management skills, and even if he did, his lessons are really not that good. I'm scared to think how much these kids are falling behind. :(

Monday, November 9, 2009

Duty for the prevention of making out

Last week, all of we teachers who have daily recess duty received the following e-mail from one of the administrators:

"It has come to our attention that some of our students are engaging in inappropriate activities during middle school recess, such as 'making out.' Please be sure we are actively supervising the playground by spreading out and monitoring students throughout the entire playground."

Um, okay. Of course during recess that day we all asked each other who had seen kids making out -- and none of us had! So who knows where they got that little tidbit from. But now, instead of each of us standing in a certain area of the playground and supervising, we all have to walk around the entire playground constantly to ensure the kids are keeping their lips to themselves.

Prevention of make-out sessions: just one more service we offer!

I finally made it to the podiatrist after school today so he could examine my ankle. He sold me some ready-made orthotics to put in my shoes which feel GREAT, really supportive, and he even showed me how to wrap my left foot with this Ace bandage type of material for extra support. (That was the closest I've ever come to feeling like an athlete -- getting my foot wrapped!) I could get custom-made orthotics, like I used to have, but they cost $450 and are not covered by insurance (!), so hopefully the regular orthotics will do the job.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Playwriting triumph!

Two weeks ago, my playwriting enrichment class almost made me cry. But today, they were wonderful! I had them do an improv activity where I gave them a few lines of a scene -- one was between a mother and daughter, another was two friends, and another was a principal and a student -- and they had to read the four lines given, then improvise the rest. They did an amazing job! They really stayed in character and went down a few different avenues before finally either solving the conflict (2 scenes) or reluctantly giving up (1 scene). The special ed director happened to be in the room doing some work, but she started watching and was so impressed, she went and got Mitchell, the vice principal! He walked in during the last scenario, which happened to be between a principal and a student who had been misbehaving in class, and BOTH of those students have been sent to Mitchell's office for once they realized Mitchell was watching I think they got a little intimidated and resolved the conflict kind of abruptly. But they were clamoring to do more! Afterward I had them write down their opinions of how the scenes went, and then they started writing some of the dialogue down. It worked out so well! Wow. It's such a relief not to dread teaching this class anymore. :-D

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Open Communication

Our professional development session last Friday was really interesting. A couple of days before, the administration had asked us to answer two questions, anonymously, in writing: 1) What does teacher support at our school look like now, and 2) What SHOULD it look like ideally? Then at the beginning of professional development, everyone's answers were read aloud. Similar themes emerged: teachers are feeling isolated, there's a lack of planning and co-planning time, support from administrators can be hit or miss, there are too many non-instructional duties, professional development is not as tied to our needs as it could be, etc. It was great, actually. I admire the fact that the administrators not only asked for our honest feedback but really heard it. Better to talk about the tension and low morale than to let it fester.

Friday was actually pretty fun because we had a Halloween party in the afternoon! We played music and had all kinds of snacks, even non-healthy ones :) and the kids changed into costumes: Michael Jackson, Darth Vader, old-time gangster, angels, cops, etc. They had a great time. Toward the end of the party I took my turn supervising the Horror Chamber, as I dubbed the room where they put all the kids with behavior, uniform, and/or lateness violations who weren't allowed to attend the party -- and let me tell you, they were NOT happy about it. Hopefully it will motivate them to get their act together before the Harvest Dance in November, or they won't be able to go to that, either.

My left ankle has been killing me lately. I start out fine every Monday, but by Thursday I'm hobbling around like an old lady. I have very flat feet and used to wear specially made orthotics (sp?) until they disintegrated from overuse ten years ago. But now that I'm on my feet so much at work in dress shoes (they're flats, but still), I think I need to get new ones made and actually wear them every day. Maybe the doctor will give me a note that I can wear my sneakers at work?

Speaking of ankles, the P.E. teacher is finally off disability and is coming back to work tomorrow. Hooray!

The kids are off this Tuesday for Election Day. Teachers have a professional development day, but we don't have to arrive until 8:30 AM and we get to leave at 4:00 PM! Maybe we'll even get a whole hour for lunch, too. :-D