Sunday, February 28, 2010

New assistant principal

Five school days down, 20 to go until spring break! Actually, last week ended up being a four-day week since Friday was a snow day. We got almost two feet of snow here in NYC -- highly unusual -- and we've had TWO snow days in the past two weeks, also highly unusual because NYC schools never close. I remember growing up in northern NJ listening to school closing announcements on the radio in the morning, and no matter how many schools in NJ were closed for snow, it seemed like the DJ always ended with, "But New York City public schools ARE open" -- so Friday was a real gift.

Since playwriting enrichment ended in January (thank you, God), I've been teaching "Arts & Crafts: Collage" to four sixth grade boys and one seventh grade boy. It's been going well, except they got kind of bored with collage, so I decided to order them latch hook kits. They had never done latch hook before, and they LOVE it! It took me about half an hour to re-learn how to do it (embarrassingly enough), and then another boy who picked it up quickly helped me teach the others. Three of them are doing skull & crossbones, and two are doing wolves. They're enjoying it so much! They thanked me profusely for ordering the kits and kept talking about how cool they're going to look when they're done. One of the boys said happily, "I like latch hook. It's relaxing!" :) So that's been a lot of fun.

In other good news, we finally hired a new assistant principal. I haven't actually formally met the man, I've just seen him around, so all I knew about him was that he was a white 30-something guy named -- well, I'll call him Patrick. It was funny because when I was telling the reading specialist about two kids who got into a scuffle during advisory and how I had nowhere to send them, she said, "You could've sent them to Patrick."

"Um, does he WORK here?" I asked. "I thought he was still just being interviewed and observing."

"Well, I guess technically he is," she admitted. "But I heard he officially starts tomorrow."

And sure enough, we got an e-mail from the principal on Wednesday that it was Patrick's first official day as vice principal. Hopefully having him around will be helpful. I checked my e-mail just now and the principal had sent us all an e-mail with a behavior contract we're supposed to discuss with the kids in our advisory group tomorrow and have them all sign. Oh, if only we had done this on the first day of school instead of the 106th day of school! This could have been a very different school year....

Sunday, February 14, 2010

I didn't get fired

Well, I still have a job.

The special ed director had already scheduled my mid-year review for Thursday during the second-to-last period of the day, so all day I worried about whether she and the principal were going to use that time to fire me. But then the time came, and the special ed director came to get me, all perky, and led me not into the principal's office, but into the conference room, where a couple of other teachers were grading papers. She did my whole mid-year review like normal, and then at the last minute she asked, "Oh, and did you give any thought to our conversation on Tuesday?"

"Yes," I said. "I want to become a better teacher. I want to stay."

"Okay, that's great! That shows your dedication and commitment," she said enthusiastically.

And that was that. It was rather anticlimactic, actually. The principal wasn't even there! Which is fine with me -- if they want to pretend like it never happened, I'll just play along.

Now I'm on my one-week February vacation. It is so, so, SO nice to have this week off. I really needed it. As my dad said the day he was released from the hospital, "If I'd had to stay here one more day, I would've had a nervous breakdown!"


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

I might get fired tomorrow

Bit of a setback yesterday.

I was doing well, didn't even raise my voice last Friday despite a near-riot in my homeroom at the end of the school day when I came quite close to being trampled by a group of eighth graders. But during my advisory class the last period of the day yesterday, they were being so obnoxious -- throwing pillows at each other, talking over each other and me, not of them was even throwing milk (don't ask) I raised my voice to show them I was serious and meant business. But the special education director and the principal made me meet with them after school and told me that an adult who was also in the library at the time thought I lost my temper. Both the elementary school music teacher and the librarian were in there, so it could've been either of them. I really felt I just raised my voice and was firm. I didn't think I lost my temper like I did on the two occasions last week -- I didn't feel out-of-control enraged or anything. But I guess that was the librarian's or the music teacher's perception. And who knows, maybe all the stress of working in that place is making it impossible for me to distinguish between raising my voice and yelling. I have no idea anymore. :(

Anyway, it was such a frustrating meeting because every concern I tried to voice, the principal twisted my words around to make it my fault, and that that's why I shouldn't be working there anymore. When I said we haven't gotten lesson plans for advisory in weeks, she said as a professional educator I should've been proactive and realized I had to start creating my own. I said, "I would've been happy to do that -- I *have* been doing it, on the fly -- but it was never communicated to us." She said there are so many creative lessons I could create with advisory, and if I can't, maybe this school isn't the best fit for me. When I said the behavior in the hallways is scary-- the pregnant math specialist was knocked to the ground in the stairwell last month by kids running wild, pushing and shoving -- the principal said, "Oh, those were just students being careless. The math specialist knows that. She's not afraid of the students. If you are afraid of them, you can't work with them effectively, so maybe this school isn't the best fit for you."

Then it dawned on me what she was trying to do. I let her talk for a while and just yessed her to death. When she asked me what I was thinking and how I was feeling, I wanted to say, "You shithead! You're trying to force me to quit three days before February break so you don't have to pay me over vacation week! THAT's what I think!" But I behaved myself and just repeated back what she'd said to me, that we have to be positive with the students, respect them, be role models, etc. Then she insinuated that I would be happier teaching in a school for juvenile offenders. "In schools for juvenile offenders, you walk the halls and can hear a pin drop, it's so quiet, because they're so boxed in they can barely move. Here at CrazySchool, we want to give our kids more freedom than that," she said with her enigmatic smile. "But this isn't for everyone, so maybe this school just isn't a good fit for you."

Anytime she asked me what I was thinking, I said I completely agreed with what she was saying and that I was committed to staying. It was actually pretty comical to watch her try to hide the disappointment on her face every time I reiterated my commitment and refused to quit. In the end, we finally left it that I would take today (which ended up being a snow day, thank God) and "reflect on whether this school is a good fit for you." Such B.S. I mean, is losing your temper a couple of times -- not swearing, not using berating language, not hitting a kid or anything -- really a fire-able offense?

So now my decision is made for me. I was doing my best to stick it out, but I can't work at a school where I feel like the principal is going to be gunning for me, just waiting to catch me doing something wrong. That is, if she doesn't just fire me tomorrow. She'll either have to terminate me so I can collect unemployment, or wait for me to quit after I've found another job.

I'm very curious what will happen tomorrow.

Thursday, February 4, 2010


I didn't scream uncontrollably at any kids today! :-D
Also I helped one student with a science test, and another with math.
All in all it was not a bad day.
We even get out early tomorrow. On Fridays our school day for the kids ends at 3 PM instead of 4:30, and usually we teachers have professional development from 3:15 - 4:30. But tomorrow, professional development is cancelled! Only because we have to go in for an all-day professional development session on Saturday, though. Sigh! I just hope it's useful.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


This morning during breakfast I was watching the door to the cafeteria to make sure that no more than one girl and one boy went out to the bathroom at the same time. Some kids grumbled, but grudgingly either waited their turn or decided they didn't actually need to go (probably none of them actually NEED to go that soon in the day anyway).

But this one seventh grade girl blatantly refused to wait, even after I explicitly told her she had to. She walked right by me and started sauntering down the hall to the bathroom, merry as could be, even as I followed her telling her to come back. I finally physically blocked her from walking, and she STILL wasn't listening to me, so I lost it and started screaming. Second time in the two days I've screamed at work this week, albeit each time with a different kid.

And what did she do? Laughed in my face, of course. She thought it was just so funny, getting an adult to yell at her like that. Until a parent who was bringing their elementary school kid to school late walked by -- and started scolding ME! "You shouldn't scream at the students," she said angrily. "You're a teacher. You're supposed to set an example."

Of course, now that she knew she had another adult on her side, the kid I had screamed at put on a hurt look, as if she was sooooo traumatized, the poor defenseless waif, and said primly. "Yeah, why you yellin'? You're supposed to set an example!"

"And you're supposed to listen when I tell you to do something!" I shot back. I was so angry. And who should magically appear but the social worker, of course, just in time to witness all this, as she did with the kid I screamed at on Monday. She probably thinks I'm more in need of counseling than the students at this point.

So an hour later the special ed director (my boss) asked to meet with me, because that parent, "as well as others" (the social worker, I assume), had gone to her with concerns. She told me, in a nice way, that we shouldn't scream at the children. And she's right, and I felt guilty. Not that I think that girl was traumatized in ANY way...but we are supposed to be the example. The longer the school year goes on, though, the harder I'm finding it to take all the abuse and disrespect yet continue to "turn the other cheek" and be a good example.

"You don't seem that happy here," my boss said.

"Um, is anybody?" I asked. No, I didn't really, but that's exactly what I was thinking. Instead I said, "It's just frustrating, because the only consequences we have are suspension, which is only for extreme cases like fighting, or calling their parents. And if we've called the parents before and it hasn't really helped, there's nothing we can do."

Her advice was to stay calm and not to get into a back-and-forth with the student ("Don't go the bathroom!" "I'm going." "You can't!" "I will!"). Just give them a choice and a clear consequence: "There's someone in the bathroom right now, so you need to wait your turn. If you don't, understand that I'll have to call your parents. It's your choice." And, she said, "There's always the option of silent indoor lunch with Juan."

I was like, what!? We have de facto in-school detention??? I knew Juan sometimes detained kids during lunch, but I thought that was only at his discretion.

"I didn't know that was even an option for us," I said. "I avoid giving kids silent indoor recess because I watchsixth grade's indoor recess during that time, so I wouldn't be able to keep any kids silent on punishment with the sixth graders running around."

"Yes, you can either keep them with you when you eat lunch and have a silent lunch with them then," she said (yeah, like I want to give up my 20 minute lunch period -- it's short enough as it is), "or you can arrange for them to go to Juan for a silent lunch and recess."

Isn't that interesting? Here we have this great new discipline tool that was NEVER communicated to or shared with us at all. How was I supposed to know that was even a choice?

But I do have to stop screaming. Both because it's the morally right thing to do, and because I can't afford to get fired. Of course, I wouldn't mind if they just don't renew my contract for next schoolyear if it means I'll qualify for unemployment, since there's no way I'm coming back next year anyway. But I have to get my stress level under control. Right now I feel like I'm getting carpal tunnel syndrome in my right hand and my stomach muscles are as sore as if I'd done 1,000 sit-ups, even though I haven't done anything over the past week except work three days and spend the rest of my time sitting around the hospital keeping my dad company. I don't usually feel stress physically like this, but I don't know what else it could be. I literally feel like I've been beaten up!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Week of tumult

What a week.

1) One of the fifth grade teachers quit at the end of last week. That brings our total resignations this schoolyear up to seven.

2) Remember the kid who threatened to punch me in the face a week and a half ago? I screamed at him so loudly on Monday (while I was being observed by the special ed director no less) that I hurt my throat, and both the principal and the social worker came running out of their offices to see what was going on. I laid into the principal about how the kids get to disrespect, make fun of, verbally abuse, sexually harass, and threaten teachers however and whenever they want, and nothing is being done, and nothing changes. I had to walk outside ten blocks in the cold to calm myself down. The inmates are running the asylum, my friends.

3) My dad came home from the hospital today (YAAAYYY!!!) -- but with a diagnosis of lung cancer.

I hope the next seven days are much less interesting.