Tuesday, January 26, 2010

ANOTHER teacher quit (!)

Yep. The sixth grade humanities teacher resigned today -- effective today, of course. No one ever gives two weeks' (or even one day's) notice at this school. Since you need a scorecard to keep track of all the personnel changes at this point, let's review:

1) The 7th/8th grade English teacher quit in early October.
2) The 7th/8th grade math teacher quit in late October.
3) A technology specialist (he worked with teachers, not with students) quit in early December.
4) The vice principal quit in late December.
And now 5) the 6th grade English/history teacher has quit in late January.

Here's the e-mail he sent to me and the other special ed teacher tonight:

Dear Artichoke Heart and _____,
I am sorry I did not tell you in person - I simply couldn't say it over and over today - but because of deep financial need and certain health reasons, I left CrazySchool today and accepted a position offered to me last Friday and confirmed this morning at a school I applied to last year. The position starts tomorrow. The hours are fewer, the school year shorter, and the salary significantly higher. I was caught between the needs of my family and my health and then the kids at CrazySchool. It was a horrible choice, but in the end, the only one I could make, I felt, was for family and health.
You have, of course, every right to be angry because what I did to the kids is not right. I hope, in time, they and you understand. However, in the interim, if it's possible, could you try to keep the trial of Socrates going? I know they love doing it and are looking forward to it happening. If not, I get it.
If you'd like to write, even to yell at me (the words are reverberating in my head anyway), feel free. My home e-mail is _______.

It was a privilege to work with both of you and I wish you only wonderful things.
Be well.

Can you believe it? It's like working on the Titanic, wondering each week who will be the next to jump ship. Unreal. But this teacher was in his late 50s and had over 30 years of teaching experience. Considering I was barely able to get them to match my salary to what the NYC Board of Ed would have paid me, I'm sure he would have gotten paid more for all of that experience at another school. More money for less work, you can't knock it.

In other news, my dad is in the hospital. :( He wasn't feeling well so he went to the doctor today, and his blood pressure was so low the doctor sent him straight to the hospital. (Thank goodness he didn't pass out while driving to the doctor, considering how low his blood pressure was.) So I'll be spending tomorrow with him. I hope he gets better soon -- or better yet, immediately!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Brooklyn Museum; advisory

Went to the Brooklyn Museum on Saturday! I was a couple minutes early, so as I waited for the Nicest Guy in the World to meet me, I studied the shiny black sculptures conveniently placed in the lobby. I especially admired Rodin's Orpheus, his reach upward. The placard said, "This sculpture, with its intense torsion and strain, its mixture of exaltation and despair, reflects the complexity of the theme and Rodin's willingness to have his works express the internal conflict and ambiguity of actual experience, even when dealing with a mythological theme. According to the Greek myth, when Orpheus's wife, Eurydice, died, he descended into the underworld to try to regain her. This he accomplished through the persuasive power of his music. But returning with her to the upper world, he was unable to restrain his passion and glanced back at her too soon, ignoring one of the conditions set by the gods, and lost Eurydice again."

The cruelty of those gods. Always testing you.

Last Friday I had a nice day. I taught a small group lesson in sixth grade social studies using this neat play about Socrates. It was fun, and it went well. The special ed director observed, and I think she's going to give me some good feedback!

But today ended on a sorry note. We're supposed to receive lesson plans for our advisory classes (small groups that meet twice a week). But at least a third of the time, maybe even half the time, we're not given any lesson plans, so each teacher ends up with a group of eight kids they don't have anything to do with. This is despite the fact that at the beginning of the schoolyear, we were told we would always be provided with easy lesson plans that were basically scripts we just had to follow. In the past, whenever I didn't get a lesson plan, I would always make something up from scratch ahead of time (as if I didn't have a thousand other things to do). But last Thursday, I'd had it. We hadn't gotten any lesson plans that week, and I thought, you know what, I'm not going to kill myself to do this anymore. We still went around at the beginning of the period, as we always do, and said our "rose" and our "thorn" (positive part of our day/negative part of our day), and discussed that for a few minutes. But other than that, if the powers that be don't care enough to make sure we have lesson plans for these classes, I'm giving the kids a free period. I can get stuff done, the students will be glad not to have work to do, and everyone's happy. Right?

It worked out fine on Thursday. But today we didn't get any lesson plans yet again -- and wouldn't you know, it was the ONE DAY the principal emerged from her office on the fifth floor and came all the way down to the first floor, where my students and I meet. So she saw them being "free." One boy was reading and a couple others were drawing, but a few were playing with their handheld electronics, which they're not supposed to use at school. I'd turned a blind eye because all I had for them was paper and markers if they wanted to draw. I'm sure it looked bad, so now I'm just waiting for her to send an e-mail out to all teachers about making sure students are "on task" during advisory. To which I'll say, fine -- give us a task for them to be on! ;O

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Chaos, continued

I made it through the first week back at school from Christmas break. Everyone seems angry at each other -- the teachers, I mean. Well, not everyone...but it was Mitchell's idea before he left to re-do the entire school schedule, because right now the kids have six periods of math, English, science, and history a week, but only a few periods of music, art, and theater, so those teachers really have a part-time teaching schedule, though of course with duties, skills classes, enrichment class and advisory class, they're still busy. But the core content area teachers are even busier. So the scheduling committee went through all this work to re-do the schedule at Mitchell's request, and of course made it worse (ha ha). I personally thought some parts of it were better than the original schedule, but the people on the committee were upset at the complaints. I can't really blame them. The whole thing was Mitchell's idea in the first place, and now they're left holding the bag.

There are still a lot of discipline issues. Sending kids to buddy rooms isn't really working, because they end up disrupting the class they're sent to, and there's no real consequence to things like chewing gum (make them spit it out and they're blowing bubbles with a new piece five minutes later), coming to a class late, going to their lockers in between classes.... Discouraging. It's the middle of the fourth year of this school's existence, and we're still figuring all this out?? You'd think we were a first year charter school! All we have is the warning-time out-buddy room system, which isn't working, and suspension, which is applied inconsistently (four kids were suspended the other day for cutting a class, for example, but other kids have been caught skipping class and they've just gotten a phone call home). We can't really have detention, since our school day goes so incredibly late, and we don't have in-school suspension. So now we're convening a discipline committee to try to figure something out.

Over the weekend, a friend was telling me about when he taught at a school for students who'd been kicked out of inner city public schools. They had two huge guys standing in the hallway at all times. If a teacher told a student to, say, take out his notebook, and the student refused, the teacher just had to step out into the hall and call one of the guys over. If the student still refused to take out his notebook, the "bouncer" would literally drag the kid screaming out into the hall. By the time the kid returned to class, he had NO PROBLEM taking out his notebook. !!!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The toughest week: part 2

Mitchell, our nice, smart, talented vice principal who I really liked, resigned the week before Christmas vacation. :(

A few of the other teachers had suspected something was up. On Tuesday, one woman whispered to me ominously, "Mitchell's desk looked awfully clean this morning." Then there was a leadership meeting with all the administrators on Thursday morning that went on forever. And on Friday, he was absent. "There's an important board meeting this morning," one of the other teachers told me. "Why would he call in sick today of all days?"

At 3:00 that afternoon, we got our answer. Mitchell sent an e-mail to the whole staff (except for Joyce, the principal) with the subject line CONFIDENTIAL. He wrote:

"Good afternoon.
I wanted to do this in person today, but sadly, Joyce asked me not to come in. I am writing to let you know that I have presented my letter of resignation effective 3 pm today. There are a whole host of reasons why this decision is best for me at this time. However, there is one that is most important as it relates to each of you. My role as Vice Principal should have been one of instructional leader, decision-maker, mediator, advisor, supporter, advocate, supervisor... None of these functions were able to be performed to the best of my ability and for the best interest of the students because of the approach of those to whom I answered.

Needless to say, this is not a choice I anticipated having to make at this point in the school year, nor do I expect it to be an easy transition for you. I am sure some of you will even be angry at me and frustrated by my decision. I understand this and you should know that the middle school team is the only reason I struggled with this decision for this long. I am confident that you will move forward best serving our students and families no matter who is in leadership.

Thank you for your unending support and your dedication to our important work. Know that I care deeply for you, even after such a short time together. Be assured that I am here for you and welcome you to be in touch if you ever need anything. My e-mail is _____ and cell number is _____.

I am sorry that this has had to happen via e-mail. I will miss you and wish you and your families a very well deserved holiday break."

We were all in shock, reading it. Mitchell was so dedicated, and so supportive and motivating when the math teacher and then the English teacher quit -- and now HE was resigning. I wonder if Joyce threatened to fire him and he said, "You can't fire me -- I quit!" There was definitely no love lost between the two of them. (During one of our professional development sessions, he gleefully high-fived people as soon as Joyce left the room.)

There was also a -- well, "scandal" is too strong a word, but an "issue," shall we say, with the report card grades. When report cards were due in early December, the administration suddenly realized we hardly had any math or English grades for the kids -- the subs certainly don't get paid to grade papers, so they hadn't. Mitchell and a few of the specialists scrambled to figure out what assignments had been given and what grades the kids deserved. In English, a lot of the kids hadn't taken the sub's assignments seriously, so they'd barely done any work; therefore, they got really low grades on their report cards. But their parents hit the roof, so Mitchell ended up writing a letter to all the parents saying he understood their concerns, and that each student would instead be given the grade they'd received in English during the last quarter of the previous schoolyear, since those grades were higher. ??? That didn't make much sense to me. But one of the specialists who'd helped figure out the grades told me she asked Mitchell point blank, "Could I lose my job over this?"

He assured her, "No, you're safe. If anyone's going to be out over this, it'll be me."

So, I feel like we don't know the whole story, and we probably never will. But I'll miss Mitchell a lot. It'll be sad to go back to school from Christmas break tomorrow, knowing he won't be there. :(