Friday, September 15, 2006

Three weeks and counting . . .

Teaching is hard work, physically and mentally. Exerting emotional control over a classroom takes as much, if not more energy, than the physical stamina required to get through a day spent on one's feet. Today was the end of my first three weeks back in the classroom after a lapse of 16 years. I am exhausted.

My position is not that of a regular classroom teacher. In fact I only have an office where I meet seven children for 45 minutes at the end of each school day.

I’m called a collaborative teacher, meaning I go into the classroom of other teachers who have my special education students and work with them to adapt and modify lessons, as well as provide physical remediation to the kids. It’s not must my kids, either. Because we don’t want the SPED (special education) students immediately identifiable, I work with anyone in the classroom needing assistance.

I also take groups of kids into pull-out sessions if they need skill development or some sort of alternative classroom assistance. Sometimes, the kids are behavior problems. Usually the behavior problems are caused because the students simply aren’t able to do the assignments and their frustration level boils over.

I am horrified at how the vocabulary levels of inner-city children have slipped since the 1980’s. Reading on any level above the 5th grade is almost non-existent, mainly because the kids can’t recognize the vocabulary. Some of my special education students, all mainstreamed now because George Bush decreed that “no child is left behind” read at pre-primer levels. I have one student who can only identify the beginning letters of words. This child comes to school every day. She always has her supplies. She is never tardy. She comes to me to try and get every assignment completed. She is never angry over her situation.

Many of the other students do get angry, though. They are highly frustrated by their lack of ability to move forward. Every class, every assignment, causes their irritation to grow. To cover their inability to function, even on primary levels, they act up. It’s better to be thought a trouble maker than to be called stupid.

The other portion of my job I’m less sure about. I carry a caseload of 19 special education students, mostly mentally and developmentally retarded but some with mild behavior disorders. I’m to ensure that their special needs are met and to develop individualized educational programs from them as they are included in the general school population. Special education students are no longer taught in segregated classrooms.

When I left teaching 16 years ago I was running a program for students aiming for college. We were trying to match our curriculum to that of the suburbs so the children could compete on a college level. My literature lessons included Twain, Shakespeare, Steinbeck, Fitzgerald, Harper Lee, and Wright.

This week I worked with a pull-out group from a junior level English class on a short story by Bret Harte. The students needed to identify foreshadowing, point of view, and theme. I read the story to them because I had to. Nearly every sentence we had to stop and explain what Harte’s words meant. If Harte wrote “the skies were leaden” the students had no idea what to make of that. Once they understood that the skies were full of clouds, the color was gray, and that it was November, they realized that Harte meant it was going to snow. The story was four pages in length – and it took two 90 minute sessions just to read it.

Eventually we got through the story, but then we had to take the test to prove we understood the theme and the author’s message. The children could relate the events of story to me but they had no idea how to identify a broader theme. With a directed conversation we eventually got past details into a broader vision, but then they had no idea how to get their thoughts on paper.

Initially this group of juniors chose to come with me into the pull-out session because they believed it would be a fun experience. Two of the boys left mumbling that they never wanted to have to work with me again. My two SPED students, used to the process, suffered with stoic faces. One young man and two of the girls asked me if I could work with them on the next lesson because they finally “got it” – meaning they understood what they were supposed to do to pass one of the benchmark exams required of 11th grade English.

To get the kids through only four of the 360 benchmarks they need to pass this year I had to completely rewrite both their exercise sheets and their benchmark tests. The system does not appear to be designed for the level of kids we are actually dealing with.

Monday of this week I got up with the dreaded teacher’s disease. Every first year teacher knows they have to build up their immunities to all the student germs and until that happens they catch everything that comes down the pike. This time, for me, it was the sore throat, horrible headache, tight chest, and dreadful exhaustion. By Wednesday my head was so full of junk the bones in my face ached. Today, day five, I began to think I might be on the road to semi-recovery.

Today was also supposed to be my first pay day. I didn’t get a check. I have been told that the check “is in the mail” so I’m hoping that tomorrow I might be able to buy groceries and pay some bills. That sad little last check in mid-August from the construction company seems like it didn’t go very far or last for very long. After this first check from the school district, they will use direct deposit so this glitch is hopefully only a one-time thing

Tired, sick, and still unpaid, I must admit that my first three weeks of teaching have been exhilarating. I’ve met parents, I’ve attended workshops. I’ve waltzed into classrooms with my happy song-and-dance routine as the collab teacher everyone really wants to work with. I only want to physically murder once nasty, horrible girl. I want to cherish at least six other students. I like most of my colleagues. I love my school. Three of my post-grad assignments are complete and turned in and I’m close to finishing the fourth.

Nothing is a bed of roses. The most you can hope for is to feel fulfilled. I’m way beyond fulfillment on this one.

Friday, September 08, 2006

2,996 -- Mohammed Salahuddin Chowdhury

Dedicated to his family and his religion

Schooled in Bangladesh
Earned a master's degree in physics
Studied real estate and computer science in the US

Worked as a waiter atWindows on the World

On September 11, 2001 Mohammed Salahuddin Chowdhury was working to support his pregnant wife and six year old daughter. He believed he was living the American dream.
Two days later his son was born.
He is quoted as saying: New York was the place to succeed — especially if you are confident, smart and very good-looking.

2,996 is a tribute to the victims of 9/11.

On September 11, 2006, 2,996 volunteer bloggers
will join together for a tribute to the victims of 9/11.

Each person will pay tribute to a single victim.

This tribute proudly honors Mohammed Salahuddin Chowdhury and his family.

Mohammed's son will be five years old September 13th. His daughter will be 11 this year.

We honor him by remembering his life.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

A Place for Joy

We attend a historic church in the northeast section of our city. The church has been on a downslide for the past 40 years. In 1996 the congregation actually voted to close the church doors and walk away in defeat.

Hubby and I joined this congregation 1998. Obviously folks with a better sense of history elected to try one more time to salvage a once great memory. The church doors remain open, but the congregation is sadly diminished.

Hubby is the music director at the church. We were brought in by a dear friend and influential city lawyer who lives in the historic Northeast in one of the great mansions built in the late 1800’s. Many of the church members live in these huge old homes, many of which are on the historic register. Because the area is in the urban core quite a few of these 100 year homes have gone through difficult times but now they have either been restored or are undergoing complete renovation. Others congregation members live in the little bungalows built in the 1950’s that dot the streets along side the great mansions. The diversity in the area continues to grow with each passing year, first the working class whites took over as the weathy moved to the suburbs, then the African Americans, the Hispanics came in the 1980's, and now the Asians. Our church opens her arms to everyone, whatever their racial identify or sexual preference.

Hubby and I live a long way from this once elegant portion of the city, though we still live in what is called the "inner city." We commute to the church because we are proud to part of the effort to save this stately, elegant lady from abandonment.

The church was built in 1888 by a famous local Methodist preacher. He gave the land and enough seed money to build a small church. The intent was to build a cathedral next to the original building and turn the original space into an education wing.

In 1925 ground was broken for a great stone cathedral. The Depression saw the church sold on the courthouse steps because the construction payments could not be met by the suffering members, but generous city benefactors returned the church to the congregation.

The church is situated on the highest point in the Northeast area, built with a tower instead of the more traditional spire. Consequently cell phone companies adore us and pay a substantial sum each month to erect their radio antennas atop our flat tower. These $1000 + payments from the cell phone companies help keep our doors open and the gas bill paid. The Catholic Church just around the corner, with its beautifully pointed spire is not so lucky.

I’m not a particularly religious person. Organized religion has usually felt hypocritical to me. In this church I found my home: a warm congregation, a place where my meager services can contribute, and a feeling of peace. We have the same problems people experience in any church. We gossip and we sometimes are petty. Fund raising is awful. But when the music pours forth in the gorgeous, soaring sanctuary I find I believe in God. My prayers, once left unsaid, have become an integral part of my life since joining this church. I may not believe in the dogma and dislike much of the ritual, but my soul has accepted the spirit of this beautiful space.

Today, our pastor spoke of love, a fitting message for Labor Day. Our ensemble sang Dona Nobis Pachem and I felt real peace enfold me. I knelt at the communion rail and offered up thanks for all the blessings of these past several weeks. I’m glad I could speak this morning with the Almighty Power of our universe and feel the Supreme Presence of love and peace enter my heart. This has been a beautiful Sunday. I am indeed grateful, and joy fills my soul.