Monday, October 30, 2006

She Couldn't Resist

Or at least that's what I'd like to believe.
My para came back today.
Despite the fact that she talks on the phone during class and is often late and sometimes falls asleep during lessons, I wanted to give her the biggest hug ever.
My kids shouted her name when she walked in the door like it was Christmas.
She tried to hide her smile when I gave her the letters they had written her on Friday.
Even with their chair throwing, melt down antics...she couldn't resist.
Something about my kiddos is powerful :)

Sunday, October 29, 2006

“This city’s made us crazy and we must get out.”
Maroon 5

From the bottom you can only go up, right? That means tomorrow will be a better day.
Friday brought drama. Friday was full of kids who were off even before they walked in the room, drama between my para and principal, seeing first hand what happens to kids with emotional disorders when they are (or feel) abandoned, and the chance to see what happens to my classroom when all of this happens on one day…
It started when we said the pledge 4 times. None of the fourth grade classes were participating so we stood outside in the yard and said it over and over and over…
Christopher was having an off day – yelling, attempting to hit one of the girls, tipping over desks and throwing the contents around the room.
Drama between my para and principal resulted in her quitting – walking out at 10:30 in the morning. It was not a discreet departure – she told everyone goodbye, let my kids know she was not coming back, the whole nine yards. As she walked out the door Joshua begged her not to leave. “I promise I’ll do my work!” he pleaded. “COME BACK!”
“It’s okay,” I reassured him and myself. “Sit down at your seat.”
My first plan was to ignore it – move on with our spelling test and writer’s workshop, but one by one they cried until 12 of them were in tears.
We could not move on.
I passed out their writer’s notebooks. “It’s okay to be sad and to be upset,” I said, “and it’s okay to cry when we feel sad or upset. One way to get out our feeling when we’re sad is to write.”
I gave them 20 minutes to write or draw or sit quietly and they did. Most of them wrote letters apologizing for their behavior and begging our para to come back. When the timer went off we had a brief discussion where they asked me a lot of questions I couldn’t answer…why did she leave, is she coming back, why don’t people like our class…I told them over and over again it was not their fault. I don’t think they believe me.
The rest of the day was chaos. Me trying to push us forward academically and my kids feeling abandoned and unable to focus on what we needed to learn.
Worksheets and activities got us through the day, but not before at least 7 fights and 2 kids running out of the room and around the building.
My kids are not getting what they need and it’s my fault for not advocating for them.
I’ve never been so emotionally drained in my life.

In an effort to recover mentally and escape the rain me, a roomie, and friend went to Boston. Rented a car, drove, ate, explored, listened to music…I came home feeling rejuvenated but now, with Monday morning just around the corner, I find myself counting down the days until Friday.Do people really live like this?

Friday, October 20, 2006

How To Save A Life

Let him know that you know best
Cause after all you do know best
Try to slip past his defense
Without granting innocence
Lay down a list of what is wrong
The things you've told him all along
And pray to God he hears you

As he begins to raise his voice
You lower yours and grant him one last choice
Drive until you lose the road
Or break with the ones you've followed
The Fray

We spend 2 mornings a week together, reading level A books as he eats breakfast in my classroom. 'The cat jumps over the couch...the cat jumps over the plant..." He struggles less and less each time and never complains that he's reading kindergarten level books.
He was my biggest behavior problem - now he's my biggest crier.
Where kids responded with anger they now respond with tears, my disappointment in them the worst consequence many of them could imagine.
On Tuesday, in between lines of a story about a balloon, he brought me closer to tears than I have ever been with a student.
"You know, Ms. G, I really appreciate what you're doing with us but me and M, we're gonna drop out."
"What are you talking about?" I asked. "You guys are both doing great."
"Yeah but we blew it. We're too old. We're just gonna be in here until we old enough to leave."
3 more years and they'll be old enough to leave. If they're not retained any more they'll, at best, complete the 7th grade.
At first I thought he was kidding, until the book remained on the same page for 20 minutes and I found myself pleading with him...trying to convince him that he was too good for the streets and this life. That I cared about him and would do whatever it took to get him to succeed.
"You always say that but it's too late," he said.
"It's never too late. We're going to get there together," I said in a voice that begged him to not give up.
He's the kid I restrained 2 Fridays ago.
The kid who was the biggest thug in my room until his mom, in a meeting I demaded before I would let him in my room again, admitted to me that neither she, nor any of his 4 brothers, can read.
It was at that moment, as I held him while his mom yelled, that I committed to do whatever it takes to give him everything I had.
People keep warning me not to give too much - not to try to save these kids because most of them don't want to be saved, but I don't know how not to.
How not to ask their side of the story before condeming or run outside when I hear them fighting during recess or hold them when they cry because they've finally realized the severity of their actions.
I don't know how to not fight for them or how to mentally leave them at school. I don't know how to teach them subtraction with regrouping so that it actually makes sense and I don't know how to get them to walk in 2 quiet, straight lines but I do...each and every day...know how to care about them.
Unfortuneately, that's not enough and if they're going to have the chance I want them all to have I need to step it up and figure out how to do the other things....

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Chaos comes in bits and pieces.
Yesterday I had 7 extra kids in my room - 9 at some points.
That means 22 kids in a 12:1:1 environment.
Not good.
We started out learning, then keeping busy, then crisis managing, then just coping.
Iran walked around the table repeating 'blup, blup, blup'.
"Iran," I said with my hands on his shoulders. "This is not an appropriate reaction. I know there are a lot of extra people in here but we need to try really hard to make good choices," I said.
He stared at me.
"Blup, blup, blup," he said.
Malik was doing backflips off of chairs.
Christopher kept asking for me every 5 seconds.
"Christopher, I know there are lots of extra people in here and it makes things confusing, but I really need you to work on being a good role model right now," I said.
They don't know how.
They don't cope well with new people or a change in schedule and all of the coping mechanisms I've taught them (go to the rug, read a book, draw, hang out in my 'Austrailia' corner) were not available because THEY WERE FULL OF EXTRA KIDS.
Not just extra kids - the kids who were having behavior issues in other classrooms, because someone decided it makes sense to put them all in one room.
I'm beginning to have some serious questions for people who decided 12:1:anything was a good idea.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Maybe...just maybe

I can do this.
Today was good.
I woke up ready to go to school because everything for the whole week was planned.
During my prep I talked with a student who was having an off day instead of frantically making charts for the rest of the day.
During lunch I helped other 4th grade teachers instead of planning, and after school I planned math and guided reading for NEXT week.
Suddenly my life has purpose.
I know where we're going, even if it's only for this week.
I realized today there have been no fights in my room for over a week. At the beginning of the year I was happy when there were only 5.
Maybe...just maybe...we...together...can do this.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

7 Hours of Mad Productivity

What I did today:
2 grad assignments
All of my week's grad reading
2 sets of progress reports (the ones I send home every week and the quarterly ones required by my school)
Graded 3 days worth of standardized tests
Graded spelling and math unit tests
Entered and sent my student achievement data to my program director
Wrote detailed lesson plans for the whole week in every subject (first time I've ever been able to mentally do this - yes!!!)

My brain is tired, but ready.
That's a good feeling.
No lesson planning at night this week - wahoo!
Now if I could only figure out how to work 5 days a week instead of 6...

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Herbivores Have Mad Love for Worms

Today we went on a nature search. After observing nature for the past 2 days and learning about ecosystems for the past month, today we got our hands dirty…literally.
They came back in with clear cups full of worms, dirt, and leaves.
One of the worms escaped to the floor. My big bad thug boys were going to stomp on it.
We all stopped. I had just yelled in my classroom. That was the only time it had happened that it had not been an issue of safety.
“Sorry for yelling but we do not kill living things in this room,” I said in a more calm voice.
“Man, herbivores have mad love for worms,” said Mario.
“Yes we do,” I said. “I’m sorry I yelled – it was not necessary or appropriate,” I confessed.
“It’s okay Ms. G,” said Jose. “You can work on it.”
My little echos…
We went about our day with worms watching us from their place on individual students’ desks. (Try letting them dig up worms and then taking them away – doesn’t work.) At the end of the day Iran asked me if I would like to keep his as a class pet.
I smiled and told him no. All of the worms needed to leave at the end of the day.

Today was a good day. Hands on activities all of the time = engagement = human like behavior from my kiddos.
Now if I could only figure out how to give them that each and every moment of their time in my room.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

I Heart Electric Pencil Sharpeners

Our biggest issue today was pencil sharpening.
Our school doesn't provide pencils or sharpeners and while it wasn't such an issue in the beginning of the year, it is quickly becoming one.
The hand held pencil sharpeners I bought for my kids lasted about a week before they were either stolen or broke. Guess the $0.99 store isn't good for everything after all.
I had a few that still worked and had been letting the kids use them until they started breaking the lead in the sharpener, at which point I became the official pencil sharpener.
Bad idea.
Today, on our first of 3 'practice test' dates when my students take last year's ELA test to show them how much the need to learn before they take this year's ELA test, the pencil issue erupted.
They all needed 2 pencils.
No one had more than 1.
The ones they had weren't sharpened.
That meant that I was sharpening 25 pencils with a hand held $0.99 pencil sharpener in the moments before they were to begin a test.
The problem only got worse throughout the day so tonight I decided my sanity was worth $20 and bought an electric pencil sharpener. They will be allowed to use it - 1 at a time - first thing in the morning and right after lunch.
This should save my sanity and my fingers!
Now...anyone feel like donating pencils?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


Today was not great, but it was better.
Learning happened in my classroom today.
There were no physical fights.
Anger was released by Jose coming up and asking me for a hug instead of punching someone.
Transitions were smoother because I wrote directions on the board.
No one complained that the classical music was 'wack'.
When the math coach walked by singing 'Chicken Noodle Soup', one of my kids reminded him that, "that's not appropriate for a business setting."
Progress is what was needed on this day where the thought of seeing my students again made me want to call in sick.

Friday, October 06, 2006

No para again today.
Me and my 13 babies made it through on our own, struggling through every mini lesson, guided practice, and independent practice...every transition and melt down and change in schedule.
Slowly but surely it became Friday afternoon.
10 minutes until it was time to go home. In our own ways we were all counting down the seconds.
Then Jose, in his excitement to come to the board to participate in our math lesson, accidentally stepped on Adony's foot.
Jose is tiny.
Adony is almost 6 feet tall.
Adony gets up from his chair and gives a look to Jose that tells him to run.
Over backpacks and coats and garbage cans Jose runs with Adony right behind him.
He squeals - it's a game to him.
He trips and falls and Adony begins kicking him.
He realizes it's not a game and curls up into a fetal position.
In the 5 seconds it takes me to run to them from across the room Adony kicks his back, ribs, and head.
I restrain Adony and tell Jose to run down to the in school suspension room.
2 of the other boys run next door for help.
They all saw it before I did - Adony had snapped.
He began pulling on anything he could - the ledge at the bottom of the white board, chairs, door knobs, trim along the closet. "Relax, relax," I kept saying. Usually he would be calm by now. His body only got more tense and his heart beat more and more rapid. It wasn't until he was pinned up against the door, with my hand between the cold metal and his chest that I realized how serious this really was. He was beyond the point where he was able to bring himself back and was pulling me along with him to go finish what he had started.
"Call security," I yelled to the teacher next door, my bare feet on the floor. You can't restain kids who weigh more than you when you're wearing heels.
Before I knew it the social worker, in house suspension worker, and a literacy pull out teacher were all at my rescue...sort of.
They yelled.
And yelled some more.
They told me to let him go and he tore off down the hall.
In bare feet I caught him again. He was not ready for freedom.
Jose was removed from the building and as they once again told me to let him go I knew that no one else knew that his heart was racing and tears were streaming down his face.
I looked back at my classroom and realized that my kids were silent. 2 of them were crying.
I gave Adony over to security I entered my room and shut the door. He screamed and pounded the metal with his fist.
I WANT MY TEACHER. LET ME IN TO MY CLASSROOM! It was not a request. It was a demand. It took 3 of them to physically restrain him as I braced myself against the door so he could not open it.
"Put your homework in your backpack and your chairs up on your desk. It's time to go home," I said in a voice so calm it suprised me.
They did.
By now at least 30 kids were in the hall.
This is the closest thing to chaos I've seen in a very long time.
One by one they left.
Outside Adony stared at the wall and waited for Jose.
Before they left there would be another, smaller fight.
I walked back in the building to pats on the back and comments like 'I don't know how you do it,' or 'I'm glad it's not me in that room all day.'
10 minutes after my last student left the yard I left.
It wasn't until I got on the bus that I realized my whole body was shaking.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

No paras or push ins today.
Illegal in more ways than one.
Too many kids, not enough help, assemblies and library time that throws us out of routine.
Today was not a great day.
Tomorrow will be better. Fridays are always better.
Days like today I realize that despite sometimes good intentions, there are many people at my school who a) really don't care where my kids end up in life and b)are scared of my students.
Fear combined with people just earning a paycheck does not set a first year teacher up for success.
I have to fight day in and day out to make sure my kids are getting what they deserve.
Today they didn't.

My roomie has a quote on his door that says, "It is impossible to teach without the courage to love, without the courage to try 1,000 times before giving up."
I love my kids...their funny sayings, their artistic ability, the fact that they come to school everyday and how they hug me SO tight when they're angry...but there are moments when one can't help but feel overwhelmed by the situation and how hopeless it feels at times.
Everyday they show me what I'm made of. I hope I do the same for them.

Monday, October 02, 2006


I came face to face with New York City this weekend. On Friday evening, my nice quiet apartment invaded by a mouse.
He ran across the hall in the kitchen and I told myself to ignore it - it had to be my imagination, right? After all, I'm TERRIFIED of mice and both of my roomates were gone and my dad was 1000 miles away.
Pretty soon the mouse ran in to my room.
I screamed.
The mouse ran from my dresser to the bookcase.
I screamed more.
The mouse ran from my bookcase to my closet.
I stood up on my bed and began to scream even more.
I called my dad - no one was home.
I called a friend, who laughed. "What am I supposed to do?" he asked.
"I don't know but there's no way I'm leaving this bed until something happens to that mouse."
In the next 3 minutes the mouse ran back and forth between my dresser, the bookcase, and my closet, me screaming each time the furry little grey thing ran across the floor. At one point it stood in the middle of the room, not knowing where to go next, and I just stood on my bed and screamed.
Soon my friend arrived to rescue me along with one roomate. The mouse was not seen for the rest of the night, but appeared the next day ON OUR KITCHEN COUNTER.
Where are all of my midwest boys when I need rescuing?