Saturday, December 15, 2007

"I'm not calling for a second chance
I'm screaming at the top of my voice
Give me reason, but don't give me choice
Cause I'll just make the same mistake again."
James Blunt

The not so new one called kids names so horrible I will not type, or hint, at them in a public forum, nor would I repeat them to my mother on the phone. He also rocked back and forth in his chair, chanting, "I'm gonna kill some one," over and over again. When no one responded, he said it louder, and when still no one responded he stood up on his chair and screamed, "I'M GONNA KILL SOME ONE!!!" Security entered the room, having been called by another teacher. Amazing, the few times I've called they've never come.
He was removed and my kids sat, stunned.
"I feel like I'm on that show where they arrest people and they put it on tv and then it's a show," said Joshua. "If I was on that show, I would give people my autograph."
I thanked my kids for ignoring him - we'd had a class meeting earlier about how sometimes, when things are going on at home or inside of you, you say and do things that you don't mean and that the best thing we can do for him and ourselves as a class is ignore him and help him when he expresses a need for help. Since that meeting my kids had been beyond amazing. His pencil fell on the floor, 3 of them raced to pick it up. He needed a piece of paper, 2 of them were ripping one out of their notebooks. These were kids that were ready to rip him to pieces 30 minutes before....
And then, somehow, they all went back to work, and so did I, and eventually, the new one came back as if nothing had ever happened.
I can't imagine growing up in a world, or being educated in a classroom, with peers who say (and feel) such intense anger and hopelessness.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The New One

My not so new new kid has been wreaking havoc on my classroom.
Transitions are hard for him, and he has been bounced around from classroom to classroom for 2 years now, so I've definitely been holding his hand through the last month of getting used to instruction in my room.
But each morning gets worse, and the days less productive, so finally today I told him he would not be allowed back in to my classroom without a parent conference.
After spending the day in suspension, his foster parent was at my door when we dismissed.
At what point is the environment not right for the child because it is not right for the rest of the children?
Maybe a 12:1:1 would work for him somewhere else, but because of his history here, the dynamic in this room, with these students, does not work.
He needs consistency, and our school has given him nothing but inconsistency, and with new paras every day, my room is not as predictable as he needs it to be.
We must figure out a way to lead this kid to success....starting with tomorrow.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Gone...

Today my para was terminated. Officially. Finally. After 3 months of not showing up, then coming back last week. 3 months of different subs every day, some times every period, some times not at all.
The inconsistency is killing us.
This is a good thing....but change is never easy, and it will not come without resistance.
12 days before the ELA...said my NYC educator brainwashed self.
Worry more about their emotions and your classroom culture overall...said the good teacher that worries more about them than about whether they are a 2 or a 3.

This too shall pass....and at the end it will be me, and my babies....and eventually, just my babies.
For I, too, will be gone come September.
But I will be gone in the right way.
I will leave them smarter. More confident. More able to handle whatever life throws at them.
And they will always be mine.
But this is not a healthy place to work, or develop as a professional, and it is time to move on.
They will not be abandoned by me. They will be empowered. And she will be just another person who couldn't handle them.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

15 days...

And I don't understand why life revolves around the ELA.




But it does.




Last night we were sitting on the couch, eating dinner, and my boyfriend asks me a question to which I respond, "There's only 16 more days until the ELA."
Thank goodness he puts up with me.
And that soon the test will be over.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Today we were talking about electricity, starting with figuring out what the kids already knew.
I was surprised about how much my kids knew about Benjamin Franklin and his experiment. As the kids began to discuss replicating Franklin's experiment, I reminded them of how his experiment was very dangerous, and how he's lucky he didn't die, which led the kids to discuss how they would change his experiment if they were him. They are, afterall, experts in the design of scientific experiments :)
"I would wear rubber shoes," said Malik.
"I would put rubber tires all around me," said Ken.
"I would use a dummy," said Adony.
"A dummy?" asked Joshua.
"How would you know if the dummy got shocked?" someone else asked.
"A dummy?" Joshua asked again.
"Yeah, a dummy, so then you wouldn't risk your life," said Adony.
"But dummies have feelings!" exclaimed Joshua, a look of utmost concern on his face.
It took every ounce of control to hold back my laughter....there had been a misunderstanding...and only I had caught it.
"No they don't!" exclaimed Malik! "They're dummies!"
"DUMMIES HAVE FEELINGS!!" exclaimed Joshua.
Now he was upset. Fists banging on desk, standing up in anger....it was time to intervene.
"Yo - they're like dolls," said Adony.
"What?" asked Joshua.
"Like the kind they use to test cars," clarified Adony.
"Oh," said Joshua.
And I smiled....and so did Joshua....and eventually we carried on our conversation, but not before a much needed, tension breaking laugh.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Highs:
2 of my babies got perfect scores on the short answer part of their state Social Studies exam. We were at school until 8 last night grading them. They blew most of the gen ed kids out of the water. SO incredibly proud of them. SO proud. My kids that didn't get perfect scores weren't far behind those that did. If they weren't so darn big I would pick them up and spin them around in circles. I hoped for it...wanted for it....planned for it....but for some reason, didn't expect them to score quite as high as they scored. I expected more silly mistakes like I had seen in class. I won't be able to tell them their exact scores until the official ones come back in April or May, but today I told them they did well on that part, and my expression was satisfaction enough. They were excited - we gave them 2 cheers - they smiled all morning, and so did I :)

They are motivated, oh so motivated, to meet their goals. Be they reading, writing, or behavior goals, my kiddos know where they are and where they're headed and they know how they're going to get there. We are a group on a mission and it's clear when you walk in our room. At least when I'm in there....

Lows:
Rotating paras every period - one day I had no para for 3 and a half hours (super duper illegal)
New students routinely - lack of structure makes my kids angry. They are focused, but edgey. They go off at everything and everyone. It takes every little ounce of control to say, "calm down, calm down," in a calm voice over....and over....and over....knowing that it's what they need.
A cluster (prep) teacher who covers my room for 50 minutes a day who does not plan lessons and has no classroom management skills. My kids feel like their time is wasted and they have no respect for him. The minute I leave my room is a war zone - loud, dangerous, toxic. They arrested Adony today, and by the time I returned from a meeting in the other building, only 2 kids remained in the classroom. He had taken my calm, focused class and allowed it to spiral into chaos.
"They get a zero," he said, referring to their behavior system.
I wanted to ask what he got...for allowing it to happen, day after day, and contributing to it by being an awful teacher, but I let it go...and instead worried about the 9 kids who were not in my room.
More lows than highs and the further we go down this journey the more I realize the dangers of such a strong attachment on both ends.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The only day of this "holiday" I did not spend the majority of my day working on things for school was Thanksgiving. I cooked, ate, watched a movie, and remembered what it was like to be a person who sat on the couch without a computer on her lap typing out some kind of lesson plan or tracking sheet.

I made it through last year by telling myself that this year would be easier - that experience would allow me to work less - spend more time with friends and relax more. Instead, experience earns me the students no one else can handle, the rotating paras (the newest arrangement is a different para each period, which drives my kiddos absolutely crazy), and the chance to see what it's like to teach all 3 elementary testing grades in one room.

It is the 3rd month of school and I am burnt out.
My efforts to make instruction more purposeful (because I feel like now I actually understand what I should be doing) result in 70 hour work weeks.
There has to be a balance...but teaching 3 grades so far has meant 3 times the amount of work and while my kids are learning, I am exhausted.
There has to be a better way...

Monday, November 19, 2007

Another new student today, on the day my regular para was supposed to come back but didn't (after nearly 2 months absence).
And so it goes....instability is not good for my kiddos.
I wish I could put them in a bubble and protect them from everything, but that would not be preparing them for life.
This new student used to be in my room. They tried general ed for a year, but it didn't work, so now he's back.
"No matter where you go, you always end up back here, huh?" said the science teacher. I wanted to smack him and yell things that would be oh so inappropriate in front of my children.
I must provide structure - as much as I can - but still prepare them for a world that is bound to be unstable - and for people that so often will not do or say the right things.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Why I Hate Special Ed

I'm not calling for a second chance, I'm screaming at the top of my voice,
Give me reason, but don't give me choice,
Cause I'll just make the same mistake again
James Blunt

Background for those of you who are not special educators:
Every student in my class has what's called an IEP (Individualized Education Plan). It's reviewed every year by me, the parent, and any other staff that works with the student (speech therapists, counselors, etc.) Once every 3 years students are re-evaluated to see if their current environment is still appropriate given their academic and social emotional progress. As part of their IEP I have to evaluate where they are currently (both academically and social/emotionally) and set goals that determine the progress that must be made throughout the course of the year. IEPs are legal documents. What's written in them MUST happen. Part of kids' IEPs is their promotional criteria. Kids can either be expected to meet standard criteria (the same as regular ed kids, only they get the services provided to them as a result of their IEP), or they can be expected to meet a modified, or lower promotional criteria, meaning they are passed on to the next grade not having met all of the previous grade's standards. I am SO aganist this, feeling like it sets kids up for failure and that it's social promotion. I also feel like it gives teachers an excuse to be lazy. (Point in case the teacher before me.) Exceptions are severely learning disabled students and other students who, because of their diagnosed disability, are not cognitively capable of reaching that grades' standards. THOSE are the students for whom modified criteria is meant. I do not teach any students like that.
Half of my students are emotionally disturbed and are capable of performing on grade level. Some already do, and some, in certain areas, actually perform above grade level. As a result, their promotion criteria is checked as standard.
And today...
However, today we were told that we are not to have any of our students with standard criteria because if they are capable of meeting standard criteria they should be in general education. I brought up the point that many emotionally disturbed kids are academically gifted but need a smaller setting (and in fact are usually in more restrictive settings than mine) and I was told that they should be in general education.
So last year special ed was all about bad behavior, and this year it's all about low academics. Kids continue to be shuffled around like pieces of paper instead of living, breathing beings. They're trying to send Adony to another school because someone somewhere typed a number wrong - boy did I throw a fit about that. You will NOT send my baby to another school because someone does not know how to proofread.
And now, I'm going to send my 5th graders to middle school with IEPs that say they only have to meet 65% of grade level standards to pass? Why are you telling me I have to set them up to fail when it's taken me a year and a half to get them to believe they are as smart as everyone else?
One thing is for sure - they will never see that IEP. I will have one page that I present at the meeting to the parents and the child and one page that goes in the "official" file.
Something is very very wrong with this system and I do not understand how something that is so obvious to a second year teacher is happening in such a seasoned school.
I wish the people that made these decisions would actually spend time in good classrooms.
I must advocate.
I must fight.
But most of all, I must put every single thing I have in to moving these kids as much as I can because I may be the only person that ever cares enough to do so.
Part of me wants to scream and kick and fight and be that person, but then the other part of me sees my kids - screaming and kicking and fighting to just be taught - now - and I just want to shut my door and ignore all of the things I can't control and just....TEACH.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

There are Stars in NYC

We took them to the Planetarium at the Museum of Natural History today. They LOVED it. They clung to me, their eyes wide with excitement, the entire time. Adony, at 13, is toocoolforthat, so he covered his mouth with his hands in that might be praying/might be shy expression he has - but really, he was impressed. He laughed, stomped his feet, yelled, "YO!!" when the room felt like it was spinning. I laughed - knew the tickle he felt in his stomach because I had it, too. They were fascinated. I couldn't stop smiling. These are not the kids I knew a year ago.
I love experiencing moments like that with my kids.
The people at the museum were grumpy.
We go every year so, needless to say, once the planetarium was done, so were the kids, and for kids that are used to eating lunch at 10, our assigned 1:15pm time was much too late....but the 30 minute planetarium show was enough to make the day worth it.
"You are the best teacher ever ever ever!" exclaimed Joshua as he skipped by my side on the way back to the train. (Yep, I take my babies on public transportation, and they are just great!)
"Yo, you always say that on every field trip," said Adony.
"Why do you think I bring him?" I joked. "Teachers have egos, too."
And we laughed. Joshua hugged me as I walked down the street and I couldn't help but wrestle with decisions that have already been made.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Torn

My kids are not making as much progress as I wanted them to make.
Our first round of running records was this past week and some of them are on track to meet or exceed their goals. Some, however, have not grown since September.
This is normal, I know. But still, there's that little perfectionist voice that eats away at me saying, "What are you doing wrong? Why are they not learning?"
It is this voice that makes me a teacher. That keeps me up at night. That makes me keep 8 kids in at lunch when they don't do their homework. (I don't care that the night before was Halloween.)
We have so much to learn - accomplish - a huge gap to close before the year is over. The sense of urgency sometimes makes me sick to my stomach. And there are days the kids feel it, too. Damien always complains that, "This class is a step up to the 9th grade." He's not used to the work.
"How come, when we meet our goal, we get a new one that's higher?" asked Malik last year? "Why don't we just get a party?"
"You do party." I replied. "When you graduate, I will throw you the biggest party ever." They laughed, and when back to work.
We are motivated. We know where we're going. Yet lately, it seems that the thing that motivates me the most is the mere passing of time. The fact that this week is the Social Studies test and Parent Teacher conferences. Next week is Thanksgiving, then after that, hard core test prep for the ELA, and Christmas just around the corner. I'm forever looking forward, but why? Because we're making progress, or because I'm tired and something inside of me just needs to make it through?

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

No Babies = Unhappy Ms. G

We had professional development today.
I won't even go in to how useless the day was.
We spent the day grading the practice ELA tests our kids took last week.
PLEASE HELP ME GROW AS A TEACHER. PLEASE.
Just as I'm thinking about not being at our school anymore next year - precisely because I need to grow and move forward, not get dumped on....I miss my kids....after a day.
I miss their laughter and questions and the fact that their chairs weren't taken down from their desks all day.
It's so odd to be at school without them.
Most teachers love PD day.
I hate it.
Bring on the kids :)

Monday, November 05, 2007

And He Returns

They're sending Joshua back. As a 4th grader. Promoted in November.
I didn't ask them to.
I should have known it was never really a choice.
He was happier than I have ever seen him.
He bounced. Literally bounced up and down the halls. All day.
I gave him a tight hug and focused on being happy, too.
The worries about differentiating instruction, and numbers, and what's fair and not fair and my intense anger at colleagues who do not do their job will come later.
Every day I become more and more jaded about this system and what it does to kids....but for now, he's mine. He always was. They just took him away for a little while.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Life....

Closing the windows on my computer and I'm reminded - this is how I spent my Sunday night.
Grad work.
Math data.
A report for an IEP meeting.
A memo to our school psychologist who does not do her job.
An email to my mom that contains only the address - no text. Good intentions, but ran out of time.
And this is life.
My kids.
7 days a week. 24 hours a day. I'm not sure that it will be this way next year at this time so for now, as I prepare to shut down for the night, I'm okay with grad work, math data, IEP reports, memos, and an email that will end up as a phone call on the way home tomorrow.
Enjoy it.
Be in it for the right reasons.
Give everything you have and then leave if leaving is the right thing.
And stay if staying is the right thing.
I am okay with the way I spent my Sunday.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

You tell yourself
That the things you need come slow
But inside you just don't know
Rob Thomas

October is hard. I don't know if it's the weather or the fact that the newness of school has worn off and the tests still seem so far away (and honestly, that's why our kids come to school), but the end of October and the beginning of November are hard. For me. For the kids.
I'm exhausted - mentally, physically, and spiritually.
The kids are restless and so am I.
Keep your fingers crossed and that we get some renewed energy - we need it.

Monday, October 29, 2007

They want me to take Joshua back. (They never sent him a few weeks ago because he's too low academically...so I only got Elvis back).
His new teacher hates him, tells him he's ruining the class, tells me he's retarded and will never make any progress.
He comes to me everyday at lunch and we read, do math, or simply talk about life. Lately he's been cutting out coloring pages because I took away his scissors (he was cutting up his worksheets into confetti and screaming "Happy New Year!" in the middle of class). I made a deal with him that he could use his scissors during lunch if he was having a good day - problem solved.
I love this child.
His new teacher does not, nor does she want to put any effort in to teaching him, but I do not teach his grade, I'm already teaching 2 curriculums, and diffentiating down to his level would require TONS of effort. It would basically require making a 3rd lesson plan for each subject everyday.
And he's not supposed to be on my roster. He's supposed to be on hers. And somebody needs to make her do her job.
But he's my kid. Even though he's on her roster, he's my kid.
We had a meeting about him today. Me, my principal, and my lit coach, who sees him come in my room for the entire lunch hour everyday.
"I know you're TFA, and I'm not asking you to answer this, please don't answer this, but I know lots of TFA people leave after 2 years to pursue other things, and this is your second year. Please, if this is your last year with us, please let Joshua spend it with you. He needs to spend it with you."
I cried. I tried to hold back the tears, but I cried.
I cried because I'm exhausted. I cried because I want him but it's not the best thing for the rest of my kids...or really, for him either. I cried because the system is failing him....and me....and all of us, and because his new teacher gets paid over $70,000 and is getting away with not doing her job while I am scrambling to keep my head above water because I love these kids.
I do not know if I'm coming back next year.
I do not know if I should take Joshua back.
I know my heart wants him back.
And I know that, most of the time, I teach with my heart. But my heart is pulled in a million different directions and it can only take so much before it breaks.

Monday, October 15, 2007

If I Ran The Zoo...

Oh wait, I do.
When Dr. Seuss wrote If I Ran the Zoo, I bet he didn't know that my little classroom in the Bronx would one day be home to 100 crickets, 8 anoles, 30 earthworms, 1 grasshopper, a beta fish, 9 children, a wonderful long term substitute para (mine is gone on sick leave until who knows when), and me, the teacher now known around the building as zookeeper.
My kids are SO invested in their new science curriculum that they check on their mini ecosystems (containing crickets, anoles, and earthworms) multiple times daily. Our grasshopper, brought in by a student who thought it was a cricket, is still alive and well nearly a month after it was brought in. We've discovered that it likes not only grass, but grapes and apples, too.
Upon hearing about our pet grasshopper, a parent of one of my students went out and bought us a proper class pet - a bright red beta fish, who completed our little zoo. I'd have never thought that caring for animals would be such a uniting experience for 12 and 13 year old kids who, on the outside, act so tough....
There's only so much the street can take away and to see my kids huddled over a grasshopper they've named and nurtured over a month makes me realize, even if only for a little while, that they are, like their peers across the country....just kids who deserve a chance to make something of themselves.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Return of the 3rd Graders

Only this time, they're 4th graders.
Yep. They're promoting them, in the middle of October. The 3rd graders (who used to be mine) have been causing chaos in the whole school, not doing their work, not wearing uniform, and pretty much running the other building are getting rewarded a)by coming back to my class and b)by being promoted to the 4th grade.
Oh - and they've managed to waste almost a month of instructional time in the process.
But it's not their fault.
It's my administration's fault, who knows NOTHING about special ed.
Someone came in today and told them they were too old to be in that class, so our special ed AP has decided she'll just promote them. That will fix the problem of them being too old for the class with the teacher who can't control them anyway, and the problem of me having 3 grades in one room.
"They can't multiply, or read on the level of my class," I reminded her. "I've gotten new students since then."
"Yes, but now they're 4th graders," she said.
"Yeah, but they're still at a 2nd grade level," I replied.
"It's the only thing we can do," she said. "Some kids just can't do the work, and we can't hold them there forever. That's why they're in special ed."
"No, they're in special ed so they get extra help and master the basic skills they need to function in society. Until they do, we keep them here. They made a lot of progress last year, but we can't push them through to a grade they're not ready for." I said. I could feel the tension in my neck.
"It's the only thing we can do," she said. "You'll make it work!"
I wanted to scream, "YOU MAKE IT WORK! YOU COME IN AND TEACH THEM! OH, AND BY THE WAY, DO YOU CARE THAT I'M GETTING THE REST OF MY KIDS READY FOR THEIR SOCIAL STUDIES TEST?"
No, she doesn't.
Arg.
I really want to not go to work tomorrow, but unfortunately, that would only punish the 9 people who deserve it the least - my babies.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Bright Spots

Today we had an amazing discussion about voting and government and political office. It was born out of our social studies test prep and studying a line graph of voting trends. The conversation was slighty off topic, but bordering on brilliant, considering some of my students can't even tell you the name of their country.
We talked about why more people vote during Presidential election years, voter fraud, campaign funding, voter registration, taxes, why it's important to vote....the kids wouldn't stop asking questions, and before I knew it I was merely a member of the discussion, not the be all and end all answer giver. At one point I even sat down on a chair and listened to them discuss, Malik serving as moderator. This is how I love to teach. By lighting a fire beneath the kids and watching what becomes of it.
"We're off topic," reminded Chris.
"I know," I said. "It's okay, I'm so impressed with you guys right now. I wish I had this on tape."
"You do?" asked Malik.
"Yep. I'd put you on one of those political news shows." I replied.
They laughed, and kept on talking. I sat back, crossed my arms, and listened as my kids had a discussion that I thought was so far beyond them.
Prepare to be amazed....I thought. They have some amazing things up their sleeve :)

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Disneyland?

And the magic continues, even during test prep.
Welcome to 5th grade, where thanks to the Social Studies test, which is given in the middle of November, we start test prep during the second week of school. We're in full swing now, and our lowest kids get 4 and a half hours of test prep a day. (2 and a half hours during the school day, and 2 hours after school.) It can be hard to focus, for all of us, but my kids are doing amazing!! We took a pre-test on Monday and my kids scored the highest out of all the other grades. Yeah. Go my kids.
"I'm gonna tell my kids they need to go to special ed," said one of the gen. ed. teachers.
"Please don't do that," I said. "That's all we need to be doing is feeding stereotypes," I said.
She gave me the most evil look imaginable.
I gave her a smile in return. It probably looked sarcastic. I'm not a very good liar.
Whatever. My kids, for once in their lives, are focused and driven, and their scores are already showing it. For those of you that have been with me from the beginning, I think you know how incredible it must feel for them and for me. Finally it comes together.
Lessons flow, and we have so many 'light bulb' moments, where kids 'just get it'.
We haven't had a fight in my classroom yet this year and it's the 5th week of school.
If I'm dreaming, I hope no one pinches me until July :)

Monday, October 01, 2007

Victory is Sweet

And sounds like the jingle from McDonalds.
So we won.
After weeks of trying but not succeeding, my babies did it. They behaaved consistently enough to win the weekly behavior contest by 4 points!! (91-95) They were pumped! I told them when they won we'd add a new cheer to our cheer wall (they get to do a cheer for someone when they share work that they've done, and they recently made up a 'McDonalds cheer, which is basically just the ba da ba ba ba, I'm lovin' it' song.) They've been DYING to make it a cheer and today when I told them they won they burst out, all at once, in to the McDonald's song. My AP, who just happened to be walking by, looked in to my room, and all I could do was laugh.
"It's a cheer," I said.
"Ok..." she replied.
"Hey! We won!!" shouted Malik, my AP's least favorite student.
"I heard," she replied.
And all we could do....me and my now 8 babies....was smile :)

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Exit 3rd Grade

In the last 2 weeks my 3rd graders were taken out of my room and put in another 12:1:1 room. I knew it was only a matter of time. I told them in June they couldn't put 3 testing grades in 1 room like that, and they finally figured out it wasn't a smart thing to do and they magically created spots for my 3rd graders. It was sad. Joshua cried. I almost did, too. He wrote me letters every day for the first 3 days. Jose has been creating as much chaos as he possibly can, and Elvis has been making himself known as the class bully. They are, after all, 11 year olds in a class with 7 year olds. My babies, now with real babies.
They're too smart for that class. The 12:1:1 where they were placed has kids that read on A and B levels. My 3rd graders read on L, J, and Q levels. Yeah, they're gonna be bored and drive that teacher crazy. Math wise, they blow that class out of the water. If there's one thing about special ed kids, they need to be challenged. Put them in an environment where they feel like their time is being wasted and bad things will happen.
Oh, and did I mention they got sent back to the teacher they had before me? Who hates them?
So all I can do is tell them to work hard so they come back to me as 4th graders. She tells them the same thing. (When she's not telling them how much she liked her class before they came.)
6 of 1 half dozen of the other, I know they had to go, and my class can advance much faster without them, but in my heart they're mine, and it feels weird to know that someone else is teaching them.

Week 5

Going in to week 5 and I can't find the words to describe to you - we are a class reformed.
My kids wear their uniforms. Everyday.
They do their homework. All of them. All of it. And if they don't, they write me a note that says, 'this is too hard', and they stay in during lunch and I help them finish it.
They're invested in the class points competition (although we still haven't won....they're reformed, but not perfect, and we had a bad week a couple of weeks ago).
But even more so they're invested in their learning. They want to know what objectives they've mastered (they have self tracking sheets for math where they get a sticker each time they demonstrate mastery of an objective on a test or quiz). They want to be tested in reading to see if they've moved up a level.
I sense in them a hunger to do well - to learn - to be something, and while I always knew it was there, last year I felt like I believed in it much more than they did.
But they're different now. A year has changed them. A year has changed me. And the best part is that we experienced it all together, and now we get to come back and take the best of last year and magnify it, leaving the worst behind.
I still think about the ones that left everyday. I worry about them and wonder if they're really in a better environment or if it's just different. My principal says all the time, "Sacrifice 1 for 12," meaning that I can't worry about the 1 we pushed out because of his behavior. But isn't that was special ed is? My 12 were once another teacher's 1.
But still....everyday we succeed because he's now gone.
Hopefully somewhere he's part of another teacher's 12.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Maybe We'll Be A Teacher Movie After All

Happy Rosh Hashanah to everyone! (Hence why I'm posting when I would usually be teaching Reading...) In NYC we get Jewish holidays off, too, which is part of the reason why we have a 10 month school year. (3 or 4 extra days off = a month more of school)
Things are still going well, and I must admit, all of this political restructuring (which seems to ALWAYS be happening in our school system) is making a big difference in our school this year. An important thing to know here is we share our building with another school (common in NYC). In the past this has been a big problem because our kids fight all the time. They couldn't even go to lunch when the other school was at recess because they would fight. The 'our school is better than yours' attitude is so contagious that when I see yellow uniform shirts on the street (our kids wear white), a little part of me thinks, 'ew, ps (fill in the blank of their school number).' Bad, I know, but true. It's part of our school culture.
That is, until this year, when the regions are gone and the principals have much more power over their schools (and are, supposedly, going to be held accountable for their decisions). All of the sudden they're stressing unity. Our school goes down, basically we're going to bring down the other school too, and their principal won't have it. So over the summer they got together and developed a plan to turn things around. Now we have this behavior system that's building (not just school) wide where the kids get points for every period and the class in each grade level that wins at the end of the week gets a free period. They've provided us with all kinds of board games and money for pizza parties at the end of each month. I keep waiting for a camera crew to jump out and be like, yeah, this is a joke, this isn't your school. I asked for this last year, and they actually did it, and the WHOLE SCHOOL is buying in to it. Our kids actually wear uniforms every day. That NEVER happened last year, even though it's a city wide policy. Kids keep each other in line for POINTS. They care about learning. They do their homework. Don't get me wrong, it's not a hunky dorey suburban school. There was a fight during lunch yesterday between Elvis and Malik. But my AP broke it up, told me to go eat my lunch, and it was put in the system (for suspensions) THAT DAY. They're not playing around this year. I still can't believe it. They're serious about turning things around, and I don't even care what their motives are because it's good for the kids.
It's going to be a different year and maybe we'll be one of those teacher movies after all...with the crazy beginning and the music montage and the happy ending?
Probably not.....but my kids are finally getting what they deserve, and that's an incredible feeling.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

New Year

3 grades
3 TEST PREP grades
Oy
Minus Mario
And Iran
And Kevin
And Amanda
Plus Brianna
And some others that are still in limbo. The roster has been a mess. I had a kid for half a day yesterday. Today I was told I had a new student. Then his old teacher asked if we were an inclusion class. I told her no. His IEP is for inclusion. You can't put in him a self contained room. So no new student. At least not today.
Administratively it's a mess. Thank goodness I deal with that for about 45 minutes a day, and that's if I can't avoid it.
Classroom wise, it's amazing. The shuffling of a few students has made a HUGE difference. Kids came back with a new focus. I came back with a new focus. Yesterday we walked in a line for 30 minutes because they were crazy at recess. Today when I came to pick them up they looked like soldiers :) My babies. They listened. I wanted to pick them up and twirl them around and say THIS YEAR WILL BE DIFFERENT!
Instead I said, "Very nice line!" I privately praised those who I knew were responsible for the line for their leadership and let them knew it was what I expected from them.
We were playing a game today and 2 students came back from speech and Yahkemp - yes, Yahkemp - said, "Everybody take 2 steps back so Elvis and Brianna can fit in the circle." Again, a can I pick you up and twirl you around? moment. Too bad he's as big as me. Instead, I gave him a wink that only he saw. He also got a super star note home.
My class dynamics are complicated. 4 5th graders that have a history of being my biggest behavior problems. 4 4th graders that are low academically but don't have many behavior problems except if meds are forgotten. 4 3rd grade - learning disabilities and lots of behavior problems. I'm relying on the 5th grade to be leaders and keep the 3rd grade in line. I'm counting on the 4th grade to encourage the 5th grade to be leaders (so far it's working great). I'm also counting on the 5th grade to be tutors. So far the 5th grade is totally eating up this "I really need your help" attitude, and from experience, they'll continue to.
Keep your fingers crossed for purposefully different dynamics, a calmer school, and for me figuring out how to teach 3 curriculums!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Countdown to Kiddos - 6 Days

Somewhere over the rainbow
Skies are blue
And the dreams that you dare to dream
Really do come true
(I've been obsessed with the Bob Schneider version but that's definitely not who wrote it...)

Tomorrow is my last 'free' day, although I would hardly call this summer of moving, grad classes, and meetings 'free'. I've been planning like a madwoman, laminating, copying....getting ready for these kiddos whose not so enduring qualities have all but disappeared from my memory over the last 8 weeks.
I can not WAIT to see my babies. Some of them are coming to help me set up my room I think.... They're great cleaners, their little obsessive compulsive/ADD selves. Plus they know JUST how our room is supposed to look and they take great pride in it.
We're doing lots of new stuff this year. A leadership curriculum, class meetings (which I started doing at the end of the year last year, half heartedly), full blown math centers (I've got to cause I'm teaching 3 grades of curriculum all by my lonesome), and by golly I will figure out how to get Elvis and Adony to read ON GRADE LEVEL if it kills me.
I've got my work cut out for me but I'm SO focused and SO motivated. I made the coolest welcome back video for my kids featuring highlights from last year and inspirational music. Full speed ahead and never looking back. My kids deserve this. Time to go to work - more stories to come :)

Sunday, August 12, 2007

It's That Time of the Year

When school supply sales mean long lines full of teachers and families at Staples. The spending of meager teacher's choice money has already begun...
Thinking about starting over with rules and procedures and pumping kids (and me) up for the year is so overwhelming when all I've done all summer has been grad school. 2 more weeks...
I'll have a 3 day break between the end of classes and the start of school....ugh...
I'm excited to see my kids - excited for the year that lays ahead, for the growth that will happen and the relationships that will be formed, but mostly I'm just excited to be on the other end of learning for a while :)

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Papers, Schmapers

Grad school in the summer = not fun
I've been doing grad school and moving, hence my large absence here. Below is a brief I wrote about a "race issue" in my class. Part of the anecdote was already written here....

I teach 13 students, 8 of whom are diagnosed with emotional/behavioral disorders, all of whom are either Black or Latino. I am White, from the Midwest, and totally out of place in their culture, although somehow they didn’t seem to notice until 2 months before school was over.
In late April, two of my students got in a fight at lunch and as a result of that fight, were given a superintendent's suspension. In order to be given one of these suspensions you must first go to a hearing. The day before Malik was to go to his hearing about the fight, he began worrying about his fate, particularly about unfair judgment on behalf of the judge. Yahkemp, one of my other students, had just returned from a superintendent's suspension and was attempting to comfort Malik in his stress. Below is a dialogue that happened during choice time, a time students have to play math games, read, or draw at the end of the day as a reward for good behavior.
"What if the judge is white?" Malik asked as tears ran down his face.
"What?" I asked.
"White people lie and they never believe me. What if the judge is white?"
”Man, if you just stay calm and tell the truth, they on your side,” comforted Yahkemp.
"I'm white, I don't hate you, I do believe you when you tell the truth, and what you're saying is very racist, Malik," I said.
He looked at me, confused."You're not white," he said.
"I'm not?" I asked? "Then what am I?"
"I don't know. You're Ms. G. You listen to me. You know when I'm lying."
"Now I do, but that's because I know you like you're my own kids. In September I didn't. We've gotten to know each other. You know when I'm having a bad day just by looking at me, right?"
"Yeah," he said. "And when you want to laugh but you're trying not to," he said.
"Exactly," I said. "But the relationship that we have doesn't change the fact that I'm white. If anything it proves the fact that not all white people are out to get you."
"Yeah but see you're not white," chimes Yahkemp. "You're white on the outside but black on the inside."
"What?" I ask."Like, you get sunburned and you can see your veins but you're not like white people," he said. He was completely serious. It was an incredible segway to so many conversations that happened 2 minutes before it was time to go home.
“You’re really white?” asked Christopher, joining our conversation from across the room. “But are you Dominican or Puerto Rican?”
“Neither one,” I said. “I’m German and Swedish.”
“So are you Mexican?” Christopher asked?
He asked the Dominican, Puerto Rican, or Mexican question at least 3 more times, while my other students all listened. The next thing I knew my assistant principal was pounding on my door – we were late for dismissal. We left it at that - them not knowing where I came from because I couldn’t explain it to them in a way they would understand.
The conversation that day made my students curious about my background. They asked numerous questions about my family and my niece (who is biracial and who they had seen before in pictures.) While it did not break down racial barriers in the classroom, it allowed me to see myself, and white people in general, through my student’s eyes. White people, to them, have money, go to private schools, and are against who they are. Since I was their advocate, teacher, and shopped at C-Town, I could not be white.
We had two more months before the end of the year and I meant to bring in pictures of my ancestors, maps of where they immigrated from, and stories of what life was like for them as a child, but then I realized I didn’t really know. I know I’m German and Swedish. Other than that I don’t know much about my culture. It was not something I celebrated or studied as a child, and I would say my culture is much more midwest/Kansas than German or Swedish. I grew up giving the farmer wave to people on the dirt road that takes you to my house. I never back talked in school and you most certainly never had a discussion with race with someone that had a different skin color than you. On pg. 31 Jones encourages teachers to ask the question, “How do I want their lives to have been impacted by the time they spent with me?” I want my students to look at white people and not assume that they have money, go to private schools, or are against them. I want them to see my skin color and not be afraid of it. The conversation that I had with my students that day was uncomfortable for me. It was against how I was brought up, but in order for both my students and I to learn from and about each other these conversations must happen, and they must be open and honest. As their teacher I must face my fears, open myself up, and learn alongside my students.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Adopted

Adopt a Classroom - the coolest website ever! Today we were adopted by one of my college professors. My kids are going to be so excited! Now I can get computer software that they've been begging for. (Teacher's choice money covers things like paper, pencils, sharpeners, glue, scissors...things kids are supposed to supply themselves but don't/can't.)
What a great way to start off the year - I'm so pumped for school to start!
Want to help? Leave a comment and I'll send you our link - I don't want to link our page here because then it would tell you my school, and that's a little too public for my comfort. But any little bit helps!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Life Without Babies

It took 4 days to miss them.
After 6 I was ready to go back.
I'm not sure my life is ready for me to go back and my spirit definitely needs the break, but I miss them. My laughter is different without them.
The 2 weeks since school has been over have been spent at home, first in Minneapolis and then in Kansas, with friends and family. Being a person with a first name, driving a car, eating lots of food that is bad for me and taking 4 hour long naps. I returned to a hot city with sidewalks that burn my feet and not nearly enough green grass or fresh air. As we hunted for an apartment yesterday sweat ran down every inch of our body. We want to eventually move back to Minneapolis. To cooler weather and green grass and cleaner air...a place that is closer to our families and a lifestyle that is more ours.
And Target. Oh how I heart Target. That you can drive to. That's not in the Bronx.
Nevertheless, yesterday we walked....and sweated....and walked some more to find a new place to live because for now I need to be here for 13 reasons. On September 4th every single one of them will be in one classroom...my classroom...again.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

False Endings

I still have 3 days with them.
We're making memory books (I spent $70 getting pictures printed) and finishing their portfolios and cleaning the room. Some of them have essays to finish, we have presentations to give....the days will be busy, and the kids are excited about everything we're doing.
So why, now that grading, report cards, and all of my IEPs are done, does it feel over? Why do I get a huge lump in my throat when I think about not seeing them every day, even though I know how much I need the break, both personally and professionally? They've accomplished so much, we've all learned so much, and it's time for the year to be over, but there's a little part of me,the part of me that felt like it would never end, that is not ready.
Today on the train I was worrying about who would watch them during the day.
Then I remembered - they have parents. The amount of responsibility that we take for them during the year is so substancial that to have it all taken away at 3:40 on Wednesday will feel a little...a lot...there's no word to describe it. My whole life here, for the last year, has been them, and now I'm given 2 months to reclaim it, for me, and it's daunting.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

While teachers across the country are on vacation, we are still in school. I'm not sure why...I have many theories, and when I am free of the confines of TFA I will probably voice them here, but until then I will just say that we are still in school.
My para got another job, which means I have a different substitute everyday. They always show up 20 minutes late. Sometimes they speak english. Sometimes they don't. Sometimes they stay awake for the whole day. Sometimes they don't. Sometimes they do what I ask them to do. Most of the time they don't.
"Man, I wish it was just us," Kevin said today. "We don't need anybody. It can just be us. We like a little family."
The sub came in and everybody groaned. I felt bad for her. On the inside I kind of groaned too.
I've tried including their names in word problems and giving them time to introduce themselves to the kids. The fact is the kids are tired of different people everyday. They don't even let the sub help them any more. They'll wait 10 minutes for me to help them while the sub just stands and watches. We're all tired...me....the kids, and we long for the routine that worked for us all year. Being forced out of it day after day is uncomfortable and instead of adapting we all rebel, me and my 13 babies.
5 more days...5 more days...5 more days...

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Staying

I decided to stay. Slowly, over the last 2 months...for 13 reasons. Joshua, Adony, Adrielis, Amanda, Mario, Elvis, Julius, Christopher, Jose, Iran, Malik, Kevin, and Yahkemp. In spite of the fights, and the weapons, and the times I've been hit.
Things have changed. Not drastically, but things have changed, and I'm learning the things I need to learn to be able to produce more change.
In the last 2 weeks I've spent 20 hours planning for next year with the 2 other teachers who are on the 5th grade team. I'll be looping with my kids so I'll be teaching 4th/5th grade students, mostly 5th grade curriculum.
It feels good to be going in to September with so much under my belt curriculum wise and knowing my kids. There's a big part of me that can't believe I'll be at this school for another year. There's an even bigger part of me that is so relieved that I will not be leaving my students for good in 17 days.
It's not time to go yet. They've made huge gains but we're not done. They're not the people they need to be for me to leave them. I want to see them graduate (5th grade, mind you, but it's a milestone to all of us none the less).
I want to leave and be ready to leave and be able to tell them.
I wasn't able to tell them.
Year 2 is 4 months away...

Saturday, June 02, 2007

TFA End of Year Reflective Guide

Qualitative Analysis: What are you particularly proud of in terms of your students' achievements this past year that are not captured in the quantitative data?

I am proud of the way my students learned to work together in a classroom. The culture in my room has done a complete 180 since September. From the way my students participate in games and behave during lessons to the way they treat visitors, my students are different people. Just the other day we had a visitor in my classroom and after my students left the visitor complemented me on their handshakes. I hadn’t even realized that they had all greeted her with a handshake. For the most part, they’ve learned to live and work together. They’ve learned how to laugh and let go of anger. They’ve learned how to trust. They’ve learned that there’s more to life than what they see outside of their window and they’re working together to get it. They’re growing up to be amazingly inspiring people. It doesn’t fit on a spreadsheet, but I’m so proud of that.

Minus 1 Makes 13

Loucchie was sent back to his old school.
"He needs to be sent to a home for bad kids," said his mother.
"He needs to be taught how to read," I said (to my Assistant Principal).
I'm scared for him, for his future, and for society in 10 years when he is angry at all the wrongs that have been done to him.
But he was only unofficial.
And I still have all the officials to worry about.
But still...I worry....about the one who left....and now instead of avoiding his building as I walk to the bus I look for the kid with the attitude and the beat up knuckles who saved his ice pops to show his grandma and who doesn't know all the letters of the alphabet and I walk slowly past his window, hoping he'll see me and shout my name, but there's only the sound of the ice cream truck and kids playing in the street and busses honking and the silence of one more kid....forgotten.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Still Unofficially Mine

Even though today was an off day.
Even though he was repeatedly disrespectful to my para, who none of my kids dare disrespect.
Even though he fought with kids, even my kids, during recess.
Even though he broke stuff in my APs office (where he was sent when he fought during recess.)
Even though he refused to work, or do anything, when I left for my prep, and in fact chased me down the hall and stared at me through the window, demanding with his eyes that I return to the room.
It broke my heart to see the old Loucchie and know that our relationship was not yet deep enough for me to pull him out of what ever monster had a hold of him. "DON'T TOUCH ME, DON'T TOUCH ME!" he screamed. The rest of my kids would have wept in my arms. But this is not June for us. It's September. And in September they would not have wept. You can't buy time...time is what we need.
Tomorrow we have a field trip. He cannot go, because he, at the end of the day, is here on a suspension.
I pray that he stays home....just tomorrow...and that on Thursday we build again.

Monday, May 28, 2007

And Loucchie Makes 14

He threatened to punch my face in once. Told me to watch out because the next time he saw me on "the block" I was "going to get it." I see him almost every night when I walk to the bus.
I can't count the number of times he's ran in to my classroom and cursed me out, then stood outside my locked door and screamed "F*** YOU!!!" at the top of his lungs.
2 weeks ago he called me a "stupid white bitch" and kicked another teacher as we walked to the main building.
I've written up every incident and requested time and time again that he not be allowed in my classroom or near my students.
He doesn't even belong in our school. He's on a superintendent's suspension from another school. None of that mattered on Wednesday when the suspension teacher was gone and they needed a babysitter. An aide attempted to bring him in to my room.
"He can't be in here," I said. "He's threatened me numerous times, I've written it up and requested that he not be put in here."
"They told me to have (my para) watch him."
"Well she's not here right now and he can't be in here," I said.
They left, and as soon as my para came back so did the aide, with the student.
He was ours for the day. I gritted my teeth and tried to hold back my anger. My students sat silently. I had just been defied and they all knew it.
"One word from you and you are out of here, do you understand me?" I asked him.
"Yes," he said.
And he worked. And worked. And worked. Silently. All day.
And I realized what I should have realized all along. He acts the way he does because he cannot read or write or add.
He stayed that day, an hour later than he was supposed to. He did work while my class played games and at the end of the day he asked if he could come back tomorrow. I told him we would see.
The next day he came back.
He worked....and worked....and worked.
I let him play a game with us. He tried. He couldn't. He couldn't read the words for sight word bingo. I don't show my kids the cards. He couldn't multiply for around the world. My kids have come so far. He's only beginning. His spirit couldn't be broken. He asked to come back tomorrow. I said okay.
He came back with pencils and notebooks and paper and asked to be in my class. I told him we would see. He asked for a clothespin (on our negative consequence chart) and for his name to be added to our reward system. He wanted to know what table to sit at for table points. He wants to belong. He already does.
I tested him for reading. He doesn't know all of the letters of the alphabet.
The kids have adopted him like one of our own.
I can't stop thinking of ways to help him.
People keep peeking in my room, in disbelief that I have Loucchie sitting down and working.
Actually, Loucchie has Loucchie sitting down and working.
If only it wasn't June already.
He's unofficially mine, I think. Not on my roster, but mine. Out of all the lessons I've learned this year, the power of forgiveness and second chances may just be the most powerful.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

3 of my students are getting superintendents suspensions that start tomorrow. Malik was upset about his, worried about going to suspension "court" and having to defend his actions in front of a judge who would decide how long his suspension would be.
Tears ran down his face and he pounded his fists into his desk and through clenched teeth he asked, "What if the judge is white?"
"What?" I asked?
"White people lie and they never believe me. What if the judge is white?"
Yahkemp, who has returned from his superintendent's suspension believing I am the best teacher in the world, was giving him advice like stay calm and tell the truth, but Malik kept saying, "The judge is going to be white, white people hate me, they never believe me."
"I'm white, I don't hate you, I do believe you when you tell the truth, and what you're saying is very racist, Malik," I said.
He looked at me, confused.
"You're not white," he said.
"I'm not?" I asked? "Then what am I?"
"I don't know. You're Ms. Gronquist. You listen to me. You know when I'm lying."
"Now I do, but that's because I know you like you're my own kids. In September I didn't. We've gotten to know each other. You know when I'm having a bad day just by looking at me, right?"
"Yeah," he said. "And when you want to laugh but you're trying not to," he said.
"Exactly," I said. "But the relationship that we have doesn't change the fact that I'm white. If anything it proves the fact that not all white people are out to get you."
"Yeah but see you're not white," chimes Yahkemp. "You're white on the outside but black on the inside."
"What?" I ask.
"Like, you get sunburned and you can see your veins but you're not like white people," he said.
He was completely serious.
It was an incredible segway to so many conversations that happened 2 minutes before it was time to go home and now they will be gone for at least 7 days.
It will come back up. It needs to. They need to learn to live in other parts of the world.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

This Week...

Mario got arrested for assaulting a student who attends the other school that shares our building. In the process he also incited a riot and hit the other school's principal.
Adony and Malik jumped Jose at lunch. The ambulance was called. There was blood in his urine. It's not just play anymore.
I wasn't there for either incident. Lunch. Before school. After school. They wouldn't do it in front of me.
It doesn't take away the responsibility I feel because they are my kids.

We're doing running records again - this time they're making HUGE gains. Last time they didn't and I lectured them for 45 minutes. I guess it worked...
It's such a mix of intensely positive and negative that at the end of every day I am exhausted.
It only grows more exhausting as my relationship with each one of them grows but the relationship is what they need so I give...and give....and give....and when they leave at 2:50 on Friday I put on my sneakers, shuffle home, collapse on my white fluffy comforter and breathe....breathe....breathe....and think about them.

Friday, May 11, 2007

113 + 70.
Today Joshua completed this problem correctly, by himself, on the board.
We all clapped. We gave him 2 cheers instead of the usual one. I got out my cell phone and took a picture of him next to the problem. What I really wanted to do was cry but I couldn’t because they wouldn’t understand why I was crying.
The para in my room (my usual para has been on jury duty for a week) didn’t understand the big reaction.
“I used to sleep on the rug,” Joshua explained.
(And when he wasn’t sleeping I was begging him to sleep so I could teach, I thought to myself.)
“And when he stopped sleeping he couldn’t add 3 + 5,” I added.
“Not even with cubes,” he chimed in.
He was beaming.
So was I.
He’s come so far.
I’m not even sure how. I can pick out little mile stones, like the day I put a frog number line on his desk and he took it upon himself to keep it spotless, even though the inside of his desk is a disaster area, or the day we were playing a math game and he shouted, “6 times 6 is 36!” and I said, “How do you know that?” and he replied with a simple, “I was just thinking what you said about tallies and I got it.”
Somewhere it started clicking for him. He can add and subtract with regrouping and is beginning to multiply….and he used to use my fingers to add…progress requires reflection.

Friday, May 04, 2007

5.1.07

No internet this week - this is from May 1st.

If I don’t say this now I will surely break
As I’m leaving the one I wanna take
Forget the end and see the hurry up and wait
My heart is starting to separate

The Fray

My meeting on Friday, which turned in to more than one meeting, didn’t go at all as I thought it would. In spite of all that has happened, I thought that we could go in, have a discussion, and come up with a solution to the situation. I envisioned coming up with a way to stay at my school, educate my kids in a safe environment, and keep nurturing the relationships I’ve spent the last year building. When it comes down to it, I want to stay. I want to fix things, but I can’t do it by myself.
It didn’t happen. 2 hours later I realized I am young and na├»ve and have a lot to learn about how education systems work. They can’t split my class by grade levels. We don’t have the physical space and the region wouldn’t do it even if we did. I also realized that nobody in the room (except for my Program Director) had the passion that I did for my kids. It’s easy to say you care about the kids. It’s hard to live like you do.
This makes it even harder to leave. I went back to my room and cried to another teacher for the entire lunch hour, then spent the next 2 hours teaching kids who will feel abandoned in September if they walk in and I’m not their teacher. It doesn’t matter that everybody else leaves them. I’m not everybody else.
But then today was Yahkemp’s first day back from suspension. In 20 minutes I was hit by a book that was thrown at another student (he missed and hit me, bad aim?), cursed at, and he pretended to jerk off in front of me. “Can I go back to suspension now, please? My seat is still open there.” he informed me.
“No,” I replied. “You need to be here. You’re part of our class.”
He spent the rest of the day threatening students, yelling at me, and rapping at his desk.
I’ll fill out the reports, and if anything happens it will be weeks from now.
Already the room is different.
Already other kids are fighting.
Already other kids are angry.
Already I’m reminded of why something needs to change.
Already I remember why it’s not abandoning them. It’s demanding that something be done to ensure their safety, and mine.
So why does it feel like it’s the wrong thing to do?

*Update: Yahkemp got a 5 day superintendent's suspension and a 5 day principal's suspension, which means he's suspended at another school for 5 days and at our school for 5 days.
Finally something is happening. 4 of my other kids are suspended in school next week, and 5 are suspended in school the week after that. Not that suspensions are the answer, but consequences are, and they need them. Better late than never, and late is at least a place to start.
The world will not know or care if they had an IEP. It's time they be held accountable for their actions, and it's time that we bring the focus back to learning.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Three Musketeers

The three that are the biggest bullies, for whom there are little or no consequences, who sing and dance and fight and refuse to do what anyone tells them - they were magically suspended this week - the week that I have my meeting with my principal about transferring.
Funny how things work, and funny how quickly I forget about the chaos. The fights, the bruises, the fear my kids felt just a week ago seems gone with them down the hall. All of the sudden I'm able to make it through all of my lessons again. I have students who participate, laugh, listen. They are not perfect, but things work again. Table points, pats on the back, the teacher look. Everything that used to work....works.
They're not angry when they walk in the door.
My head doesn't pound when I leave.
I haven't thrown up all week.
I like my job again.
I've learned to forgive them again.
If only I could learn to forgive the three down the hall...and stick to my guns (bad choice of words) when I go in to that meeting tomorrow.
They gave me a good week on purpose.
They implemented consequences this week, after not doing it all year, for a reason, and it's not because they had some big epiphany about the need to be consistent.
Be strong....be strong....be strong.
This is your life, too.
It's hard to remember that sometimes.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

I've been getting nosebleeds and throwing up randomly for 7 days now.
I get headaches and my heart beats fast and I dread going to school.
For the first time in 8 months it's hard to shake my kids' hands in the morning and forgive their actions the day before, knowing the effect that it's having on my physical and mental health.
But with 8 weeks left, I would not trade this experience, or any of them, for anything.
I have seen the system at it's worst, and I have done my best to fix it.
I have had kids work extremely hard for me, and because of it have numerous students leaving reading and doing math on grade level.
I have grown both professionally and personally more than I ever thought possible in 8 months.
I have remained calm in times of intense chaos.
I've showed up, day after day, to shake their hands, smile, and greet them with a cheerful "Good morning!" when others would not.
But still....it hasn't been enough....and it continues to fall apart in front of my eyes.
They curse and fight and yell and throw things and refuse to work or listen or even take home their homework, let alone turn it in.
They're more concerned with gangs and who's jumping who after school and who's looking at them funny across the room than anything school related.
Somehow, in March, it fell apart, and it's slowly turning in to something that feels like failure staring me in the face every single day.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

And So It Spirals

I'm not sure what happened today, but I know it involved rocks, windows, the suspension room (where they were supposed to be during my lunch break), and their names being announced over the loud speaker.
They were out of my room for the next hour with my para, my AP, security, and the parent coordinator. Parents were called, voices were raised, many tears were shed. It's what should happen in situations where kids are out of line. Get what happened next.
My para left. The kids started to get out of control. (Still in the hallway, mind you.) The rest of the parents didn't show up. So they bring them in my room. Never mind the fact that I'm teaching. Never mind that kids are engaged. Never mind that I have no clue what is going on with the angry, out of control kids you're bringing in to my calm room. Never mind that you have no respect for me as a professional or a person. "Sit down at your seat and do your work." they said.
"THEY CAN'T DO THE WORK BECAUSE THEY WEREN'T HERE FOR THE LESSON" I wanted to scream! I gave my AP a do not even bring them in here and leave them like that look and she got the message - she stayed. Malik flipped out on the rug while Yahkemp flipped out at the table, mostly at my AP. Her presence instigated anger but I needed a witness. They would go off on anybody for anything. If she was leaving she needed to take them, and she wouldn't do that, so she needed to stay.
My AP and Malik went back and forth across the room. Don't engage, don't engage, it's not worth it, you've been having such good days I said, almost as a mantra as I rubbed Malik's back. He circled the rug like a lion in a cage. I circled with him, ready to stop him from running. He didn't. Instead he cried. Tears of anger...frustration...tears from being caged by emotions and so much that he can't control.
I don't know how to leave but I can't stay.
Stories from earlier in the week include fights and objects being thrown and students threatening suicide - they can't take the fear and constant threats and bullying...a student stormed another teacher's classroom and demanding that she not press charges for a PSP he stole proclaiming "I'm from the streets, you don't know who you're messin' with."
We called the social worker - she removed the student and brought him back to my room.
I'm so attached to them.
I don't know how to leave and it's not healthy.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Last week we had a week off of after school, which meant I was done teaching at 3:40 everyday. I could plan, or go home, or schedule meetings. It was amazing to feel so free.
Afterschool starts again this week, which means I teach until 5:00 again. I didn't realize what a big difference it made in my spirit until I had the week off.
2 and a half more months. Stay focused. It's the only way the kids will stay focused. We are not done. We can't be done. Our goals are not met.
So why does June feel so close that it's all any of us (first year teachers) talk about?

Friday, April 13, 2007

My PD

I don't know how much she gets paid, but it's not enough.
On the day my para quit and my kids went nuts, she was at my school. She came by during lunch, just out of coincidence, and sat with me for an hour while I cried, and told me, over and over again, why I was needed in that school. I didn't believe her then. I do now.
She was the first person I called when Elvis grew over a year and a half in reading.
She was the first person I emailed when my class actually mastered a math objective on our tracking sheet.
And she's the person I go to with stories of fights and security that doesn't come and a principal that has no control over his school.
She listens and brainstorms and fights...for my kids...and for me.
She meets with my principal and stands up to him in ways I couldn't. She has an organization behind her. An organization that is willing to send me to another school if things do not change at mine.
I am not on my own. I was not sent in there to drown, and I will not be forced to stay in an environment that is not safe.
She listened and in 45 minutes she made all of the chaos feel manageable.
And then she drove me home.
I would have quit that day in October had it not been for her, and now she's saving me again.
Whatever she gets paid...it's not enough to be a hero to 51 people.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Today my Adrielis asked me if I was going to be her teacher again next year.
"I don't know sweetie," I said. "That's not my decision."
"If I work really hard and I go to the 4th grade will you?" she asked.
"I don't know yet," I replied.
"I hope so. I pray every night that you'll be my teacher again," she said.
I knew she meant it.
I wanted to cry.
Or cancel the meeting I have tomorrow about transferring.
If only I had 13 of her.

Beginnings

Today we began again.
We started new reading and writing units...new math unit that is fun (with transparent mirrors). They love beginnings. Something about the possibility and all that is to come excites them, and me.
We took time to set goals for the end of the semester and talked about why it's important to set short term goals. We need focus if we're going to make it through the next 54 days together.
Today was, for the most part, better. There were only little fights. They were engaged. Nobody forgot their homework.
So why am I so...tired?

Monday, April 09, 2007

"Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced."
-James Baldwin

In spite of a week off, a trip home, green grass, lots of sleep, and a stack of work that was finished I still do not feel ready to face my classroom.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Options

Green grass and clear skies and just not seeing them brings clarity.
This is not how people work and learn and live.
On the Friday before break my para was knocked down, hitting her head on a desk and twisting her ankle. My para is a solid, prison-guard-like lady. One of my students was on top of her. Accidentally, on his way to charge another student, but still, she was injured just the same.
No one came to my room.
They need to be separated. Their parents have been saying it for years.
They are not safe together.
They are not learning what they need to learn together.
I am not able to be a sane person with them...together.
If I wanted to break up fights all day, every day, I would not have been a teacher.
We were at a meeting for IEPs and they were talking about how decisions about students should be made by a team and I wanted to laugh. TEAM? Security doesn't come to my room. Parents don't show up for IEP meetings. Half of the time administrators don't show up for IEP meetings.
There is no team. It is me, my para, and the kids that nobody wants, and it is too much.
But they are my kids, and how do you just leave them?
But it is my life, and my career, and I could be teaching kids that listen instead of fight, working with a team of people instead of struggling, all the time, on my own.
This isn't how schools are supposed to be.
This isn't how jobs are supposed to be.
This isn't how lives are supposed to be.
So the smart thing to do is to transfer at the end of the year. I could be so much more effective somewhere else.
But how do you leave them?
Maybe you don't.
Here are my options, at least as I see them now, for next year.
1: Stay at my school and teach another class. (This would never happen because none of the other special ed teachers would take my kids)
2: Stay at my school and demand that my class is split. The 3rd graders stay with me, the 4th graders move to a different class. This would stop some of the fighting but also open up a lot of spots and who knows what kind of kids we would get in.
3: Request a transfer. TFA doesn't normally do this, and I'm not sure it's what I want, but I cannot teach in an unsafe environment for another year, nor can I bear to place my kids in an unsafe environment for another year.
Between a rock and a hard place. Do you stick it out and see if it gets better? This is my career. This wasn't just a 2 year thing for me. I can't imagine staying at this school for another year and having the spirit to ever teach again.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

A New Low

"F*** Ms. G" was written in huge letters on the inside of the closet.
It happened during the school day.
Most likely during the transition before or after lunch.
It was brought to my attention by my para as the kids were packing up to go home.
No one admits to it, of course.
There was no punishment, not today at least. I don't want to punish the innocent or accuse someone who didn't do it.
I showed it to my AP, expecting a reaction at least for destruction of property.
"It was probably one of your nasty children," she said. She closed the door and left the room.
Nothing.
I took a picture of the door and left.
No planning.
No cleaning.
No grading.
No extra investment in a system where I'm constantly abused. Did I mention I got hit in the lip by a kid's head yesterday? Yeah, bloody lips are now all in a day's work I guess.
This is not what I signed up for.
This is not a healthy work environment.
I have two more months and then I have some big decisions to make. So much of what goes on in my classroom is illegal. Not only did I have my 13 today, but I also had 2 kids who were supposed to be in suspension. Paras don't come when they're supposed to. Security never comes when called.
The program I'm in is a 2 year commitment. They don't like to transfer people from their original school. I don't want to leave the program. I also don't know if it's mentally healthy for me to be at this school for another year. Kids don't know that there's any other way to be educated...it's so incredibly sad.
Teachers...any suggestions on what to do about the whole closet situation? It's still up, for now. It's the first time those words have ever been written, or said, to me in my classroom, and I don't want it to set a precedent.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Is It June 27th Yet?

Because we all need a break.
My kids and my para and my feet and my brain and my spirit.
Today we were multiplying decimals. I was talking them through a 2 by 2 digit problem on the board. Part of the problem said 2 x 4.
"What's 2 x 8?" I asked.
"16," someone answered.
"What's 2 x 8?" I asked.
"16!" they answered again.
I was annoyed. They know this. Why are they saying 16?
"What's 2 x 8?" I asked I could feel myself glaring at the kids who weren't speaking up. Why aren't they giving the right answer? I thought to myself.
"16!" they answered again with blank stares.
"Someone please use tallies or count up or do whatever you have to do because you are not focused," I scolded. "TWO TIMES EIGHT!" I said, obviously annoyed, tapping the marker on the board like I do when I'm frustrated with them. It's a habit they, too, have picked up.
Finally the speech teacher in the back spoke up.
"You mean two times four?" she asked? I looked at the board.
"Yeah," I said. I apologized to the kids.
"Okay, two times eight," I said.
I wish it had been on purpose.
The kids laughed. They joked that I needed to be on first warning of our negative consequence system.
I need a break.
A very long one.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Buckled In

Ups:
Jose stayed after school. We laughed and learned and I realized that I spend more time with him than I do my family, friends, boyfriend, or any other person in my life. He's 10 and emotionally disturbed and incredibly bright and he sits with me every day while I write my lesson plans, and writes a book on the computer next to me.

Yahkemp responded to me without yelling. His mother told me I was an angel from God.

My kids got so in to the multiplication game I made up they were jumping up and down. My assistant principal walked in to see what was going on. She saw 13 kids incredibly engaged. I didn't ask them to keep it down. I shut my door.

Downs:
I was spit on on my way to work this morning and called white cracker. I kept walking and couldn't help but wonder why some people think we're doing a disservice by being here.

There was a fight between a 9 year old boy and 10 year old girl today in the lunch room. The boy is one of my after school kids. She knocked him down, picked up his head in her hands and beat it repeatedly against the table while aides and students watched. It took paramedics over 20 minutes to revive him. The kids went on like nothing had happened. The adults were scared. I'm not sure if it was for the student or their jobs.

My para isn't showing up or calling in, which means sometimes there's someone in my room and sometimes there isn't, and it's never consistent. My kids are having a heyday with all the new faces and personalities. The revolving door needs to stop.

**We have 3 months left. So much progress needs to be made. I'm tired. Today, for the first time since I started teaching there, I felt like my school was an unsafe place to be. The kids are not protected from each other. The culture of disrespect is scary. To see it spiraling out of control and to be somewhat responsible for the outcome is terrifying. How can one affect change in this type of environment? I came here to do just that...but saying it and knowing how to do it are two very different things.**

Sunday, March 18, 2007

My Poets

One of them, at least. We're in the middle of our poetry unit and my kiddos are coming up with some pretty good stuff.
Here's one of Malik's. More to come if I remember to post :)

Why?
Why in a big world
Is there fighting and tears in people's eyes?
I can't think that you can just be born in a world
Where people fight
Fist in your face
Why and again why do people do gang banging?
That is the question no one knows
So I ask why.

I wish I could scan the picture he drew to go along with it.
We're doing free verse, focusing on content rather than rhyme or rhythm or anything like that. That will come this week when we start writing raps. They can't wait....

Monday, March 12, 2007

What Goes Up Must Come Down, Over and Over Again

I'm realizing that this is a roller coaster.
That in September I shook the hands of 13 kids, asked them to sit down in seats that were (then) randomly assigned and we began a ride together. I knew there would be good days and bad days, but was in no way prepared for good months and bad months.
I'm not sure if it has to do with the weather or me or them or the academic content or a combination of things or the fact that we're all just human but this year has been incredibly up and down. When it's down I scramblelikeamadwoman to bring it back together again. This takes away my time to call, write, blog, workout, sleep....breathe...hence, my absence here.
I can't even really explain what brings us in to a downward spiral or what pulls us out. It's always gradual, and I'm always relieved when it's over.
Today I attended a workshop on reading comprehension. It was my first professional development day all year. It was so nice to wake up and know I would be a normal, peaceful person for a day. To be filled instead of just filling...to absorb and ask questions instead of constantly giving answers.
And no one asked me to go to the bathroom. All day.
Still, the workshop was only a few blocks away from my school and I found myself wanting to go visit my kiddos. To make sure they were okay....that Elvis wasn't kicking people under the table and Yahkemp wasn't goofing around in the hallway and that no one was picking on Kevin and that Kevin wasn't retaliating. I missed them. A lot.
It was a nice reminder that, even in the spring, when we're all in a countdown to summer, I love my job at least 8 days out of 10. There are probably 2 days out of 10 when I get up because it's my job and I have a rent to pay and food to buy and it's just what adults do. They get up and go to their job even when they don't want to. But the other 8 I go because I love my kids and believe in what I'm doing. On the 2 'pay the rent days' I beat myself up for my attitude and lack of passion. I tell myself that my kids deserve someone that wants them 5 days a week, 10 months a year. Then I remember what I was told when I came in to this job, and the attitudes of so many people in other professions, who chose their jobs solely to pay the rent, and I realize that my percentage is pretty good.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Sunshine

New York is finally melting.
I walked home from the gym today in capris with my coat unzipped. The streets were crowded with street vendors and kids and piles of snow and ice that are finally starting to melt.
Even though it's 40 degrees and I return to 'real life' in 5 days, it feels like summer. I haven't touched a paper or gradebook since Sunday.
I've cooked and hung out with friends and gone to the gym and laughed and talked to my roomates and caught up on email and remembered what it felt like to be a person and not a ball of stress and anxiety.
4 months until summer.
I hate thinking like that, but it's what will get me out of bed come Monday morning.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

I am not in control of my school or my kids's home lives or "the system" or special education in New York City but I AM in control of my classroom.
Friday morning I reminded us all of that. We had a class meeting about behavior. I admitted to them that I had not been doing a good job of rewarding their good behavior. They admitted they had been disrespectful. We reflected upon our first semester success and what had allowed us to achieve it. We talked about where they wanted to go with this semester and how they were going to get there.
I need to be more consistent. Even when I'm tired and sick and preoccupied.
I need to continue building culture. I stopped and it slipped. This weekend I printed pictures of our field trip - a set to put up in the room and a set to give to the kids. We came up with new rewards for when they fill the cotton ball jar, and we spent the day of our cancelled field trip (the bus never came) playing games. Clue, Battleship, Guess Who...anything where they had to interact with one another. At the end of the day we ate ice cream and laughed and told stories about the year so far. I didn't teach much. Not math and science and reading. I taught them how to function and how to get along with one another. It's a lesson that has somehow been forgotten. We're raising kids that don't know how to be people. On Friday we were people...together...and it was nice.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Our union person is just down the hall.
She knows what is going on.
Nothing is done about it.
Welcome to teaching Special Education in the Bronx.
This is why I'm here.
This is why TFA is here.
Kids like mine need good teachers.
Today was more of the same...not just in my room, but in my entire building.
Something needs to change.
The system needs to change.
I'm once again brought back to the big picture...
Wendy Kopp...please save us...

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

I can't decide if it was a step back or just progress in a direction that I wasn't planning on but today there was a fight.
No, 10 fights.
Probably more like 20, but I lost count.
From 1:00 - 3:40 I was restraining someone. The entire time. Not always the same person, not always from the same fight, but always restraining someone.
My back hurts...my neck hurts...my arms hurt...my head hurts...my ego hurts.
My babies don't fight, not anymore, not with each other.
Today they did.
There was a brawl in the lunch room involving only my class. There was no "what did they do to you" reaction. It was only them. 10 of them going at it as we ran from table to table trying to break up what looked like the most dangerous one at the time.
It was them - all them.
I was disappointed. Embarrassed. Angry. Security came, took 8 of them, went on lunch 5 minutes later and sent them back to my room, still fighting.
For 2 hours I yelled, lectured, restrained. No para. No aides. So illegal. The speech teacher stayed and tried, like me, to get kids on task. We called...the office, in house suspension, administration. My door rotated with the kid who was most angry at the moment. I couldn't send all of them out, nor did I want to. I also couldn't keep all of them.
I still haven't figured out what brought on the fight. I wasn't there when it started. It continued after they were on the buses. What kept it going was looks. Tears. Clenched fists. Pride.
This is what September was like.
Today I bled. Scratched on the arms and hit in the jaw.
There will be no reports filled out because, according to our contract, we're not supposed to break up fights.
I guess I'm supposed to let 13 emotionally disturbed, lack of impulse control students go at each other while security sits at their desk and eats lunch or refuses to come to our building. It's cold out, you know? And I signed up for this. They're special ed. If I heard that one more time this afternoon, I was going to punch somebody.
"Man, I don't like this class," said Joshua in the midst of the craziness.
"You know what?" I replied in a moment I can't decide if I regret or not. "I don't either right now. This is embarrassing. We're not showing people how much progress we've made, but we're in this together. We sink together we swim together. Nobody is leaving."
The last time there was a fight like this in the building the teacher packed her stuff and didn't come back.
"Tomorrow's a new day," said Malik with a smile on his face. He waved to me as he left. So resilient, I thought to myself.
On the bus he punched a kid in the head and ribs.
I'm showing up tomorrow with my life vest.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Significant Gains

http://link.brightcove.com/services/link/bcpid348471276/bctid353578845

The organization I'm a part of pushes us to achieve "significant gains". To catch kids up academically so to speak.
The focus is on reading and math.
We have investment plans and tracking tools and endless amounts of data.
The people at "the office" are very good about focusing on all of this. They see the big picture -the numbers across the country - how we're "affecting change" for thousands of kids in schools from NYC to LA.
That vision is what brought me here. I was driven by a desire to make significant gains and teach kids to read and add and multiply and write so much so that I left my family and the life I had built in Minneapolis to start over in New York City. 5 months in to this my idea of significant gains has changed.
I don't see numbers or visions of organizations anymore. I see Joshua with his chubby cheeked smile, Jose with eyes that light up when I call on him, Adony who smiles when he sees me walk through the gate in the morning, even though he tries to hide it, Mario, who follows me around until he gets the help he needs, Amanda who gives hugs so long I have to remind her you only hug for 5 seconds....and on and on with their quirks and personailities that have no place on a spreadsheet.
They're my mission - guiding them through this year of their life. Reading and math are only a part of that. Leaving them without giving part of myself and without taking part of them with me is cheating all involved. They are my significant gain.
The link above is to a video a teacher at my school jokes should star my students.
Significant gains, to me, is so much more than my kids' reading and math data. It's their ability to interact with other people. It's their ability to trust me, as an adult, a white person, and an authority figure. It's my ability to spark in them a curiosity that makes them want to learn.
It's knowing that in 5 years they will be in school, not on the street or in jail, and knowing that I did everything within my power to make that happen.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Even during weeks like this one, where I only work 4 days (11 hours a day, mind you), and my kids are managable...no big fights or disasters to speak of....my bed calls me the minute I walk in the door.
By 7:30, I have to constantly remind myself that I am 24 years old. It is not normal for me to go to bed yet, even though, every day, I am physically and mentally exhausted by 3:40.
I wonder what it's like to have a job where you leave with energy...
Something tells me I'd miss the moments that exhausted me.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Back

Today they were excited to learn.
To have me back.
To be back in their routine.
They gave me hugs and pictures they drew while I was gone. They didn't stop smiling for the first 45 minutes. They also didn't stop asking questions and telling me stories. Reader's Workshop today was a waste...I think we all needed some time to re-connect. They comforted me in a way I didn't know I needed but in a way that was very natural to them. We're a family, with a culture all our own.
"If you ever leave for that long again, take me with you," said Iran.
I smiled. He didn't. He was serious.
Today they reminded me how much I loved my job.
I didn't even realize I had forgotten.
But I had.
I couldn't help but look at them and think of our September and October...when fights happened multiple times every day, when I cried at the end of every day and fought back tears as I stood in front of them because I felt so hopeless.
Today I stood in front of them and wanted to cry because I felt so...at home.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Jose has a brochure.
He carries it in his back pocket.
It was given to him by his priest. I've never seen the brochure in detail, just when he pulls it out briefly and waves it around, making some claim like, "This brochure makes me not lie!" (after he's just told a lie) or "This brochure makes me not hit people!" (after I just caught him hitting someone).
His 10 year old, emotionally disturbed mind either does not want to or cannot understand what the priest said to him when he gave him the brochure, but he carries it around everyday with the best of intentions, and it was his answer to the worst news I'd given them all year.
My grandpa had died and I would be leaving for four days.
I'm not sure which part of that sentence was worse for them - I'm pretty sure it was the last part.
Some said very grown up, mature things like, "He's in a better place," or "I'm sorry for your loss."
Others said things like, "If you're leaving I'm coming with you," "Don't leave us here," or "We're not going to learn anything when you're gone because we're going to be bad because we're always bad when you're gone because we want you to come back."
Jose was the first person to blurt out a response. He whipped out his brochure and, without raising his hand, yelled, "If I pray real hard this brochure will bring your grandpa back to life. Can I do that? Can I pray really hard and he'll come back?"
I knew right away the 10 minutes I had allotted for the be good while I'm gone conversation was not going to be nearly enough.
We had a 30 minute conversation about death and my grandpa and the memories I had of him and what I would be doing for the next four days when I wasn't with them.
"Will there be candles on the casket?" asked Joshua?
"I'm not sure," I replied.
"You're going to have a fun vacation with your grandpa," said Adrielis.
"It's not a vacation," I said.
"Yeah, he died. Duh," said Mario.
I gave him the that wasn't appropriate look.
He apologized, more to me than to her, which wasn't what I wanted, but is what usually happens.
I had the most open and vulnerable conversation I would have for the next week that day, the day he died, with a group of 8-13 year olds. I didn't cry or get angry at the amount of questions or attempts to make small talk. It wasn't until I left that I realized what an accomplishment that was.
I missed them...worried about them...am afraid lessons weren't taught and if they were that they weren't taught the way I wanted them taught in spite of the fact that I left super detailed plans.
Tomorrow I go back to normal life. My kids. Only a week ago I got a call at 4 in the morning. It feels like it's been forever...

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Faith

Our first fieldtrip was a chance for me to learn what happens when you put faith in your kids.
They come through. All of them.
It went as well as it possibly could have.
My emotionally disturbed, lack of impulse control, self contained even during lunch babies were much better behaved than the 'gen ed' kids.
They skated the WHOLE time. They helped each other up, held hands if someone needed help balancing, supported each other in ways I had never seen before without me asking them to.
I took pictures and smiled and laughed and skated with them (for the first time in my whole life).
My plan was to not skate, but by 11 Joshua and Amanda were on their hands and knees begging me to be on the ice so I rented skates, said a little prayer (or 100) for myself, and braved this new experience with my kids. They surrounded me.
"We'll catch you, don't be scared," Elvis kept saying.
"You're doing great! Just let go of the wall," encouraged Iran as he skated circles around me.
"Go faster, you're never going to learn if you don't go faster," said Mario.
My kids....pushing me just like I push them.
Eventually I let go of the wall, then picked up speed, then helped other kids as they learned to skate. They boys couldn't resist the urge to teach me to skate faster and before I knew it I had Iran on one side and Mario on the other, holding my hands, skating around the rink, all of us with smiles on our faces, me praying I did not wipe out in front of my 13 year old students.
We were vulnerable together.
There was no making fun of each other, no put downs, no fighting.
Joshua bounced as he walked in to the park. "I'm so excited, I'm so excited, I think I'm going to explode," he said. I've never had someone squeeze my hand so hard...
Later, as he skated between another teacher and I, he put his head on my arm and said, "Ms. G, I love you."
"I love you, too Joshua," I replied.
"No, Ms. G. I really really love you."
I smiled and looked over at him. By now it had begun to snow. Joshua, my little 10 year old who spent the first 2 months of school sleeping on the rug because it was the only way I could teach the rest of my kids, had now earned a field trip. He went from refusing to write his name to writing entire pages in his kindergarten handwriting...from screaming when I asked him to subtract to begging for double digit subtraction to ''exercise his brain.'' He's changed. I've changed.
He skated and stuck his tounge out to catch snow flakes and hugged my arm. "This is the best day of my entire life," he said.
I didn't know what to say, so we just kept skating.
It could very possibly be mine, too.