Wednesday, February 21, 2007


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 neck arms head 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

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.