Sunday, December 20, 2009

The toughest week: part 1

Last week was HARD.

Rough part #1: Being sexually harassed at a group of seventh grade GIRLS (!). Yes. Who would've predicted THAT? I've blogged before about how my playwriting class has devolved into mayhem -- even though it's only 11 kids, six of the girls (I secretly think of them as the "Nasty Six") should never be in the same class ever again, because they just goad each other into worse and worse behavior. Last Tuesday as they were (allegedly) working on their plays, one of them asked me if I was married. "No," I said distractedly while I went through some papers, "I have a boyfriend."

"YOU have a boyfriend?" they marveled incredulously, as if I were so repulsive they couldn't grasp the concept. Then they started asking me all these questions, innocuous ones at first: what's his name, do you have a picture of him, how did you meet. This, by the way, was the first time I ever lied about how the Nicest Guy in the World and I met (on I never mind telling other adults, but I knew instantly that they would have a field day with that information. So I lied and told them we met at a friend's party.

But then their questions quickly descended into outright sexual ones. "Do you kiss your boyfriend?" "Are you still a virgin?" "Do you give your boyfriend head?" That last one shocked me so much, I thought I must not have heard it correctly, so I said, "What?" And she REPEATED it! No matter what they asked, I said, "That's really inappropriate and disrespectful. I'm not answering that. You have an assignment you should be doing." But they would just laugh their heads off and ask me something even worse. And honestly, I didn't know what to do. Administration has been on us to keep the kids in class and not kick them out unless it's a safety issue, and I didn't feel threatened physically...just emotionally! So I just took it for the rest of class until it was finally time to go. I was dreading class the next day, but luckily it was cut short due to an assembly. They asked if I'd brought in a photo of my boyfriend, which of course I hadn't, and when I said no, one of the girls said with a smirk, "No photo of your imaginary friend?" They don't believe the Nicest Guy in the World exists, I guess. This time they didn't get into the sexual questions, but probably only because the period was shorter than usual.

But the next day I was helping in one of the seventh grade math classes, and a group of kids on the side of the room kept looking over at me, whispering and laughing, so I knew they were insulting me in some way. I don't really care one way or the other, except that they weren't getting their work done, and they were distracting me and the kids I was helping. Then one girl from my playwriting class detached herself from the group, walked over to where I was standing, dropped a paper at my feet, and slowly walked away. Thinking she was just littering, I called her back to pick it up, which she did with a big smirk and handed it to me. It said, "Ha ha ha lolsz SHE GOT NO NECK = Ms. Artichoke." Which is kind of funny, because I actually have a very long neck -- these kids can't even make fun of a person correctly! Unless it's some kind of sexual reference I'm not aware of (I'm getting the distinct impression that some of these 12-year-olds know more about sex than I do).

I knew Mitchell and the other administrators would probably be pissed if I kicked anyone out of class, but I felt I had to nip this in the bud immediately. I can't do my job and actually teach the kids I need to teach if half the class is laughing at me to such an extent that it's distracting. So I immediately took the girl who dropped the note and the one who wrote it out of class. I did it calmly, but they were NOT happy about it. I brought them to my room for the rest of the period to have them do the math there, and the note-writer finally settled down and did some work. But the girl who had showed me the note, the one who's in my enrichment class, started crying and carrying on about how she shouldn't get in trouble because she hadn't written the note. Without permission she ran into Mitchell's office (no one was in there -- all the administrators were at a leadership meeting), and I watched as she called her mother -- which was great, since it saved me the trouble of dialing the numbers myself. ;o After she sobbed to her mother, I got on the phone, and told her not only about the girl's behavior in class that day, but also the things she'd said to me on Tuesday. "She was asking me really inappropriate and disrespectful questions, like 'Who is your boyfriend?' and 'Are you still a virgin?'" I explained.

At that, the girl burst into fresh sobs and hollered, "That is not true! I never asked who your boyfriend was!" Which I thought was really funny -- THAT was the question she objected to? But she admits to asking me if I was still a virgin?? Talk about being a few sandwiches short of a picnic.

Her mother was appropriately mortified, apologized on her daughter's behalf, said she should definitely know better and asked to talk to her daughter again. But again, she ran out of the room without permission, back to my room, where she wrote this statement:

"In playwriting I agree that I give Ms. Artichoke attitude. But I didn’t ask Ms. Artichoke if she have a boyfriend? And is she a virgin and do she suck boys penis. And ask her about her sex life. And her relationships. It was Inez. And Debony. Me and Karla be laughing at it. And they be sayin she got no neck – Janique, and others."

After lunch, Mitchell finally got out of the leadership meeting and talked to them, and sent them back to class. The girl who wrote the note saw me in the hall later and apologized. But I didn't see the girl from my playwriting class again that day, and she was absent on Friday.

So on Thursday after school, I went to the special ed director and asked her if she could be in the room with me during playwriting this coming Tuesday, because this group of girls is basically sexually harassing me and I don't feel comfortable being in the room alone with them. She asked me to tell her the whole story, and when I did, she practically fell off her chair. Which was nice to see, actually, because while on one level I like her, on another level she can be a little by-the-book and robotic, so it felt good to actually get a reaction out of her.

"Well, that IS sexual harassment, and we take that very seriously," she said. She called the principal that very second in her office and told her I would be filling out a discipline report about the incident, which I did that night.

I also told two of the people who work in the office about the whole thing, and they were so appalled about Inez, the girl who'd asked (twice) 'do you give your boyfriend head?', that they called her mother and talked to her themselves! "Inez is a Christian!" the woman in the office said. "She lives above a church. Her father is a deacon!"

Whatever they said must've gotten to her, because she came to my room the last period of the day on Friday practically trembling, saying how sorry she was, promising she was going to change her ways and stay away from 'bad influences' (the other five of the Nasty Six, I assume), and asking my forgiveness. She even hugged me!

The whole incident was so bizarre -- like an episode from "Mean Girls," except they forgot I wasn't another seventh grade girl they could push around but an actual teacher. Thank God this class ends on January 6th. Not a moment too soon for me. Unreal.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

If you don't have anything nice to must be blogging!

I'm sorry I haven't put up a new entry in so long. I really don't like my job lately, so blogging about it only makes me feel like I'm whining. More kids keep joining my playwriting enrichment class and it has descended into chaos. They talk so much we can barely read a scene aloud. My advisory class still sucks, too. I'm not sure which is worse: being blatantly ignored even when you're standing right in a kid's face telling them to stop talking and do their work, or dealing with the rudeness and disrespect they engage in when they do acknowledge your presence. Kids are cutting class, hiding in the bathrooms, hanging out in the stairwells, and when they do go to class, so many of them are so incredibly rude to teachers. How dare we ask them to learn, right?

When we were evacuated a couple weeks ago after someone (an adult) caused nauseating fumes by cleaning paint brushes with gasoline (don't ask), I chatted up the sub who was in for the science teacher that day. He said he has subbed in almost every charter school in the city, and our school is the only one where, when they call him to sub, he truly hesitates, because our kids' behavior is so awful. Isn't that interesting? Same types of schools, same city, same population, and yet our students' behavior is that much worse.

But then I turned around and chatted with Jill, the long-term English sub, and *she* said, "I've worked in schools where the kids screamed 'f--- you!' right in my face and threw objects at me, and these kids don't do that."

I felt like saying, "Give them time." ;O Actually, one student did whip a pencil at me a month or so ago. It hit me in the back, but still. I brought him to the office and he was talked to, but I don't think anything else happened.

Last Thursday the dam finally broke and I cried in front of Mitchell. Mortifying. The board suddenly wanted all this data last week to show the kids were learning something, so we had to give them this diagnostic test in English, and they were NOT happy about it. I helped proctor the test, which took almost two periods for each class, and the one seventh grade class was not very good about it, even though their history teacher, who they generally like, was in the room with me. Just stupid stuff like banging on the desk, whistling, trying to talk. But I walked out of there thinking, I cannot do this again with the other seventh grade class, with only the long-term English sub to back me up -- not during the second-to-last period of the day, when I was overtired and hadn't had any periods off except my 25 minute wolf-down-my-lunch time.

I rarely ask for help, but I tried to ask this time. I tried the mature, professional approach first. I went to my direct supervisor, the special ed director, and told her my concerns: the one seventh grade class had been just barely OK with their regular teacher and me both in the room, but I feared the second class wouldn't take it seriously, especially with just me and the sub there. I asked point-blank if someone else could come in and help us proctor, but she basically said no, to just "set the expectation" that they should take it seriously. Um, I can't even get them to let me finish a sentence! But I just said, "Oh. Okay." She said I could talk to Mitchell about it if I wanted, but clearly she wasn't going to help me.

So I went to Mitchell, and he basically said the same thing. "There are going to be two of you in there, right?" he said. Yes, one of whom is a sub they don't take seriously, I tried to say in a polite way. It became clear he wasn't going to help me either, and I finally broke down and started crying. Well. THAT got his attention. Suddenly someone else was found to help proctor the exam. Suddenly he and the special ed director wanted to know how theycould offer me more support. But it shouldn't take going to them in tears -- or in anger, as other teachers have done -- to get that, should it?

So. It was incredibly embarrassing, but it was effective. One of the other teachers graciously, courageously tepped in to teach my advisory class last period, since my weepiness had just barely stopped at that point. I brought my laptop and worked in the back of Mitchell's office that last period, listening to the myriad crises that presented themselves: one student claimed all her school books had been stolen; two others were taking a long time to finish their diagnostic tests; another had lost her locker key, couldn't get into her locker to get her winter coat, and Mitchell couldn't find the master key. All those ridiculous but time-consuming issues are probably why it's only the squeaky (i.e., weeping or enraged) wheel that gets the grease around there.