Friday, August 31, 2007

Welcome Labor Day

This past week has left me bone weary. I have been laboring in the classroom and I'm tired. Really, really tired. This morning it was a kind of sick tired, where you dragged yourself from the bed at 5 a.m., threw on the worst pair of "happy pants" that you own, the unconstructed bra, the super big tee, no makeup and certainly no jewelry - and dragged yourself off, hoping for an easy day. You also had to warn Hubby that you actually might not make it through the entire day.

Somehow, on the days you look your worst, you have the most visitors and students. It always works that way. You think I'd learn and put on the fancy clothes when I'm at my lowest point.

I've been named "buddy" teacher by my administration for the dysfunctional English teacher that the district sought to fire last year. All the "I's weren't dotted and T's remained uncrossed" so instead of firing her, they transferred her to my high school. She's a terrible teacher in every sense of the word. Nothing she does is appropriate. She's late nearly every day. She plans poorly. She has no sense of classroom rapport with the kids. And she can't teach her way out of paper bag. I've spent three weeks now modeling the proper technique in her classroom to no avail. Thursday I gave up. I pulled the lowest group of students out of her third block to teach myself and walked away from all the other blocks. Being with her now makes me angry on a deep inner core level and it's to both our advantages that I stay away. Our administration must do its job and document her failure in the appropriate manner. Everyone deserves a chance to succeed. I've given her my best and now, I firmly believe, she needs to be fired.

So . . .beginning yesterday I completely rescheduled my day. My para spends her time with the Algebra and science students. She hates English and Social Studies the way I hate math and science so we make a pretty decent team. In my new schedule I work with 25 students throughout the day, in five different classrooms, mostly in English / language arts.

Today, however, was full of counseling. Students on behavior plans were acting up and had to warned that "the end was near." My 4th block classroom had become noisy and at least once a period I had to intervene in some loud altercation during the past week. These are mostly LD and behaviorally disordered students and I recognize that at the end of the day they are keyed up and need to let off steam. However, when I have to physically position my body to calm them down, they've gone too far. Today they got the lecture -- and the severe looks -- and the stern voice. It was kind of amusing to see their hang-dog expressions. I really like these kids and they know it. We ended our day sharing rice-crispy treats and planning for a better next week.

Colleagues were having problems with overly large classrooms and unruly students. Since 75% of good discipline actually comes from good, organized, relevant instruction, I've become the go-to person to help teachers restructure lesson plans so that work for the teacher and the kids. Today I got to write a lesson plan for "The Prince" -- around vocabulary and theme that allowed social studies kids to pass benchmarks over its contents. That was certainly a first.

The 11th grade English teacher was having difficulty getting across the concept of paradox and irony. Given the right story, paradox is fairly easy to get the kids to see. Irony, though, is very difficult. Idioms are hard, too. If you say to a 2007 child, "the principal will call you on the carpet if you throw paper one more time" they have no idea what you really mean. The class was reading stories and trying to apply the proper terms but everyone was failing. We worked on slowing down her instructions, speeding up her activity transitions, and doing a much more dramatic reading of the stories. We had a wonderful story by Alice Walker that perfectly demonstrated simile, metaphor, paradox, and hyperbole -- and most of the students actually got the hang of the concepts.

In third block, I had planned a quiet lesson for the kids culled from the poor teacher's class. We have just started reading "To Kill a Mockingbird," covering Scout's first days in school. We did a fun, creative writing assignment around "point of view" using a quote from the novel where the kids took a picture of a pair of shoes and wrote about that person's day. However, our kids cannot just write without a huge amount of prior structure being established and solid expectations enumerated. Right in the middle of our discussing character development and point of view for each one of the individual students, in walks our floor principal as well as the principal of the school for an impromtu observation, and they stayed for over 30 minutes.

By the end of the day, I dragged myself home, fell into bed, and slept until 6:30 when Hubby woke me for a chicken salad. It's 8:30 now and I need a bath. Last night I was too exhausted to get into the tub, and then so tired that I was sick from 1:30 until 4 a.m. when I finally managed an hour nap before starting my day. I'm going to sign off here, jump in the tub, and hop into bed surrounded by loving dogs within the next couple of minutes.

This Labor Day I'm planning on resting up from my labors of the previous week. That and write and important paper for grad school. Once again the house will remains uncleaned, the sawdust from the new windows is still on the floor, and the underwear is piled high in the laundry basket. I need Labor Week -- not just a Labor Day celebration.

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