Thursday, November 29, 2007

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....

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


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.
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


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.