Wednesday, September 27, 2006


Yesterday I left with blood on my arms and clothes.
Not my blood - blood of 2 of my students who in a 30 second episode beat each other's head against chairs and stabbed each other with pencils.
They sat in my room with paper towels over their wounds while I tried to overcome what had just happened so that I could actually teach something.
Nothing prepares you for days like yesterday, but even more than that, nothing prepares you for days like today.
When you get up to see your bloody clothes still soaking in the sink and despite the lump in your throat and nauceus feeling in your stomach you must go to work because you made a commitment.
A commitment to an organization, a community, a school, a classroom, their families....YOUR KIDS. Even in the moments where I feel like a failure I know that having me in the classroom is better than having a sub in that classroom.
Today was better - not good, but better.
It took me until at least 10 to breathe not be on edge or angry or apprehensive.
As they worked together through reading centers and guided reading classical music played in the background.
"Man, it's peaceful in here," said Malik. "This is mad cool. Do you like it Miss G?"
"Yeah, Malik. I do," I replied. I gave him a pat on the back. It was a moment where something profound could and maybe should have been said, but instead it was just a small little moment in this thing that has become my life.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Culture sneaks in....
When I respond calmly to their anger.
When I recognize good behavior.
When I teach from the doorway because my para is absent and I have a student who needs to take a walk to calm down. He paces while I teach and watch all of my babies from my maroon poster covered door.
When they call each other out for being disrespectful.
When they greet me with a firm handshake and good eye contact.
When they ignore Jose who sometimes crawls across the floor like a catepillar because they respect the fact that he is still learning how to calm himself down.
When they run up to hug me after recess and the boys - the ones that are too cool for that - give me a little wave from way across the school yard.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Today he won the lottery.
The kid who was supposed to be the toughest - who hides in closets (not this year mind you) - finally won the lottery.
He held his bag of cookies and danced around the room. When classmates offered to pay him for a cookie he responded in a voice that sounded a little too much like mine.
"You can't buy success," he said. "Hard work pays off!"
And that is how we left. With them all parroting my phrase in one context or another.
They're buying it - so am I.

Now for reading. I just got their scores back. 2 of my third graders don't even test at a beginning kindergarten level.
Kiddos - we've got a lot of work to do.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Things Change

And there are moments when this does feel like some kind of home (though not the wide open spaces, hang out with my niece, bike around lakes kind of home). My students are, day by day, becoming mine. We're figuring out each other's buttons and intentionally not pushing them.
They listen to me when they won't listen to other people.
They're excited to introduce me to friends when they see me on the street.
They love stickers and lottery tickets but love it even more when I pat them on the back or tussle their hair and tell them how proud I am of them for something very specific they did.
They're my babies - through thick and thin.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

I debated posting this since many of the people that read this only know very small parts of my life.
However, in order to keep this blog an authentic account of the life of a first year TFA corps member, it’s important to talk about what happens when we’re not in the classroom.
Today was our first real day of grad classes at Pace. (By the end of my 2 years teaching I will have my master’s in Special Education.)
Our classes were actually meaningful and I left with so many strategies that I can take to my classroom on Monday to help me understand and be patient with my students.
What was even more useful was reconnecting with the people who are in the same boat as me - teaching violent kids in a room where they’re unsupported in a system that is failing both them and their students. We’re underappreciated and overwhelmed and working 70 – 80 hours a week to try to make the impact we came here to make, and at the end of the day we crawl in to bed exhausted, sometimes inspired, and many times asking ourselves how we can live like this for 2 years.
We came here from separate lives - colleges where we excelled and friends who knew us inside and out, families that loved us, relationships we’d been in for years and futures that seemed to be falling in to place. We came here for a cause – because we believe in “the movement” and wanted to do something for the kids in this country.
Little did we know how much it would cost. It’s hard to start over in a city of this size. You can go for days, sometimes weeks, without seeing familiar faces. People that can see in your eyes when you’ve had a bad day are half way across the country and relationships that lasted years (including mine) don’t make it through the stress and distance and long work weeks. Lives are changing and while friendships are being formed the most tangible thing we have left at the end of the day is this….cause.
It’s not even that we don’t believe in it…we do…but the connections that made us us are gone and we’re not the same people that interviewed for this a year ago.
We’re first year teachers in survival mode trying to make it in this city where real connections are few and far between and we’re slowly realizing that this is not just a 2 year commitment. We’ve committed to live different lives and it’s too late to turn back.
I think they’ve raised the price of dreams.

Friday, September 15, 2006

I Just Told Them

We had a class meeting. We talked about 'peace building' and what we need to do to make our classroom a better learning environment. I reminded kids how much potential they had and that I moved here to teach them.
Then, one by one I pulled them out of the classroom to tell them what I couldn't figure out how to show them - that I care about their future too much to let them continue down this path.
Some of them bought it. Some didn't. They will eventually because it's not a line - it's the truth.
Today was our only good day all week but it came at the right time. They left with smiles on their faces and fought over who would hold my hand and I was reminded that some of my babies are still.....babies....even at 13.
I also broke the no smiling until November rule today. Not that I hadn't smiled until today, but today I laughed - let my guard down and enjoyed moments with my kids without worrying about 'asserting my authority'.
We played a vocab review game during science today because our enrichment teacher spent his 45 minute period telling my kids they had failed their quiz because they were stupid and not going anywhere. Actually Mr. Bad Teacher, they failed because you have them copy definitions and give them no time to explore or LEARN them.
So today we played a game - Jeopardy with ecosystem vocab. It took 15 minutes to play and 50 minutes to plan but they LOVED it. My toughest kid, the one who hides in closets, kept getting answer after answer right. I couldn't believe it. Neither could he.
"I'm smart! I'm smart!" he said as he jumped up and down after each answer.
I wanted to hug him and say YES YOU ARE - hello! I tell you that all the time!
But today he came to the conclusion on his own and it was so fun to watch that I couldn't help but forget the fact that he was not raising his hand before he spoke and that he was not sitting in his chair.
Learning is happening in my classroom, damnit.
There may be fights and disrespect and disabilities I have not yet learned to work with but my kids are LEARNING.
At the end of the day that has to count for something, right?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

I Asked For This

I wanted to teach special education.
I didn't want to team teach - I wanted my own classroom with kids who were my responsibility.
I wanted to build culture and relationships and I wanted them to be my babies.
I didn't know it would mean stabbings would go unpunished.
I didn't know I would be SO over ratio that I don't have workbooks for everyone.
I didn't know that my room would be the 'throw away' room - where people send their old curriculum and rowdy kids.
The end of the day today brought overturned desks and violence.
The day starts off well then slowly goes down hill, first when the enrichment teacher comes in, then right after recess. then the extra 50 minutes of the day when my kids are supposed to do worksheets above their level with only one of me and way too many of them.
By the end we are all angry....them at each other and me at the amount of instructional time spent yelling over kids and sometimes, on days like today, I'm angry at them for throwing away so much potential...
Kids refuse to work.
Kids repeatidly choose to be disrespectful.
There is no consequence other than my call home and loss of classroom privledges.
I love them and care if they succeed.
How do I go in my room and convey that tomorrow?

Thursday, September 07, 2006


I need to do something.
Yesterday after school one of my kids climbed on top of our tin roof and proceeded to run around/riverdance on top of the building. The janitor brought him down and reminded me that, in a month, it will be a funny story.
Today one of my kids broke the mirror on a teacher's car. He then stabbed another student with a piece of the window. The student was taken to the hospital in an ambulance.
My student was brought in, yelled at, and sent back to class.
In the last 2 hours of the day there were 11 fights in my room. I removed 2 kids for fighting and disrupting our learning environment and they came back from our discipline room with comics and smiles on their faces.
There is no system for major misbehavior in my school.
My kids can NOT be punching each other all day. How do you rely on classroom culture to fix these problems when you can't do team buildeing or culture building activities without students punching each other? How do you use the 'don't do this because you'll get in trouble' approach when there really isn't any trouble to get in to?
Call parents.
No working phone.
Visit parents.
Students are bussed and school doesn't have record of current address.
Someone knows where that kid lives.
I need to do something.
We will not learn in this environment.
The behavior of a few cannot hinder the education of the rest.
How do I balance reaching the disrupters with rewarding the workers?
How do I react out respect and not anger and how do I teach my kids to do the same?
Surviving isn't good enough.
"Bad day?" a veteran teacher asked me today.
"Yeah," I said, realizing that it was really only a bad afternoon and I should give my kids credit for a great morning.
"Don't worry," she comforted. "It's not you, it's them."
I couldn't decide if she was just trying to make me feel better or if she really believed that.
There is something I can do to change this situation, I just don't know what.
Veteran teachers, help!!!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

We Survived

Me and my 12 kiddos (2 were absent).
They did great in the morning, the afternoon was considerably more rough. I showed up to pick them up after lunch and 3 were missing - running the halls of the other building apparently.
The after school "enrichment" program turned out to be an extra hour to do a pre-assigned worksheet that was way above the level of my kids. Instead of stopping them I tried to work in small groups and one on one, which meant that while I was teaching 1 kid, 11 others were building towers with base ten blocks or seeing if they could get them to stick to their forehead.
Bad teaching - bad managing. Tomorrow will be different. Come on teacher self, you know better than to let chaos happen.
And then there were the fights - 2 of them - on the way back from lunch. The first one stopped when I issued a consequence. The second one didn't, so I stepped in between them and said, "Who do you think you are? My students don't punch each other." They both gave me an 'I can't believe she just said that' look, and joined the others in line. Looking back I can't believe I said that either. We do funny things in moments like that...
There were many great moments, like seeing their faces when I told them my principal said they have potential, and getting them to realize that that meant both he AND I believe they can do ANYTHING. And the times they corrected each other for being disrespectful, and how they follow procedures like lining up and moving to the rug so perfectly we didn't have to practice either one.
I got 4 hugs on the way out today. After the manipulative throwing and fights and craziness and way too many worksheets and just plain bad teaching, I got hugs.
Kiddos, I promise you I will work harder for you than I ever have anyone in my entire life.

Monday, September 04, 2006

"A journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step."
Chinese Proverb

Tomorrow my students and I take our first step in what will be a 10 month journey. I'm not as ready as I thought I would be. I'm not sure it's possible to be as ready as I thought I would be.
I spent the whole weekend copying and buying and creating and re-doing and dreaming about everything that could go right and wrong and I'm still not ready.
Thank goodness the first day of my first year of teaching will never happen again.
Kiddos, please know that however nervous or frazzled or unorganized I seem tomorrow I have a plan for you. A plan made out of a genuine desire to make sure you have choices in your life. I came here with a mission and I will put every ounce of what I have in to making sure you succeed. I will not tell you that staying in your neighborhood or living in the projects for the rest of your life is the wrong decision. When it comes down to it it will be your decision. But you will stay because it was your choice, not because you didn't have the skills needed to leave because tomorrow marks the beginning of a very bright future for all of us.

Saturday, September 02, 2006


We FINALLY have internet access - yay!
The past few weeks have been spent in training either with Teach for America, the Department of Ed, or my school. This week I spent 15 hour days in my classroom sorting through tons of curriculum (none of it is mine), meeting people, doing and re-doing bulletin boards, and yelling at kids trying to break in my room.
I'm beginning to recognize people on the bus and in the gym and on the sidewalk in my neighborhood. On Friday night I lugged everything I would need to prepare for Tuesday on the bus. A crate and a big pad of chart paper and numerous books and supplies screamed teacher to everyone I passed. One guy at the back of the bus insisted on giving his seat to me. As I argued with him telling him that I didn't need his seat, a lady sat down in the argued over seat and I was offered a seat by yet another person. I sat this time, saying thank you more than is natural in this city.
"You a teacher?" they asked.
"Yep," I replied in true middle school fashion.
For the next 45 minutes we talked about my former students and future students and why I was here. We talked about their struggles with drug addiction and unemployment and what it's like for people who fall through the cracks. They both live in shelters now.
We reached my stop and they shook my hand. "Welcome to our community," they said. "Keep fighting for our kids - we're glad you're here."
I got a couple of 'Amens!' from people sitting in our area of the bus and as I walked down my street with 2 bags, a crate, and aching muscles, the back section of a Bronx bus waved at me.