Friday, August 31, 2007
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.
Saturday, August 25, 2007
"Oh, I had such meanie teachers they made me quit school in the 11th grade!" Whine.
"I went to parent teacher's night and the stupid, crazy teachers couldn't even run a PowerPoint presentation." (this particular one wants to make me bite nails on a regular basis - http://www.plain-jane.com/ -- which is why I don't read that whiner much -- and she lives in my home town!). Whine! Whine! (I don't feel bad about linking to this one -- she is always complaining about other bloggers . . .fair's fair).
"Why should WE respect teachers who are lazy and incompetent -- AND then they get three months off EVERY summer?" Whine! Whine! Whine!
And on and on they complain and groan and moan.
All this carping -- by folks who have never stood for 90 minutes before a classroom of 15 year olds right before lunch -- makes me want to puke.
Here's the thing -- and I've been on both sides of the world (business vs. education) -- when you walk through the school doors at 6:30 a.m. (not 7:30 you dweebs!) until you leave at 3:00 p.m. (if you're lucky) you are on call. You don't get a coffee break. You don't get a bathroom break. Elementary teachers don't always get a lunch break. High school teachers get 20 minutes for lunch -- NOT an hour. The day IS intensive and that tension does NOT let up because you need (want) to sit down for minute.
In business, you work for 15 minutes (on your butt -- not on your feet) and someone stops by your cubicle to chat. You work another 15 and you head down the hall for coffee or a coke. You feel the urge to pee, you go to the bathroom when you need to. You can call your spouse to arrange for dinner that night, or call your child and see how his day is going, or arrange for tickets to the ball game. Ask a teacher if any of those things EVER happen during his / her day!
I teach 90 minutes blocks. It's intensive the entire 90 minutes. I don't sit down. I dance. I cheerlead. I provide instruction. I offer up examples. I give individual attention. I meet with five different groups during a ten minute time-frame. Kids touch me all the time. They touch me physically and mentally, pulling out my energy and absorbing it like a sponge.
One 90 minute block with a five minute passing period, followed by a second 90 minute block, another passing period -- and finally a 105 minute block. All of that's before my 20 minute lunch. Then I get 45 minutes for planning -- and because I'm a cooperative teacher I actually do use my planning period for meetings. I end my day with a 45 minute block of teaching study skills. The I have 30 minutes to attend content area meetings or prepare for the next day.
I walk 1.62 miles a day to do this -- inside a huge old building that is somewhat air-conditioned and even less heated. I'm usually either hot (summer) or freezing (winter). The only elevator is a freight loader at the back of the building and school is three stories tall. I stand during most of the 90 minute time-frames -- or I walk around, touching kids, keeping them focused, using my body as a tool in my teaching.
I counsel kids that others want to kill. Tell me, business people -- just how many people DO YOU work with that can get killed by just stepping outside the building? I work with pregnant 16 year olds. I counsel students with severe learning disabilities whose parents (you! you folks who are out there complaining about teachers) haven't provided the kids with breakfast, the proper meds, or a good night's sleep. I walk the halls after a Code Red has been called -- looking for the intruder that may come armed with a gun or a knife or a bomb.
The parent I listed above skipped her Advisory meeting at her son's schools because she was pissed that the teachers she had visited with couldn't produce PowerPoint presentations for her to view (and to be fair, because she was feeling guilty). Gad. This is wrong on soooo many levels. First -- Advisory. These classes meet once a week in our school and are designed to make a connection between the school, the child, and home. The Advisory teacher should be the one the PARENT wants to meet -- and if you haven't learned that yet, then you, yes - YOU PARENT -- the one constantly carping about MY profession, haven't bothered to know about your child's educational day.
Secondly, no PowerPoint presentation in my classroom? Lady -- I MADE MY LIVING doing PowerPoint for the senior executive level of the #3 telecom company in the world! I make better PowerPoint presentations than you EVER thought about -- but I have NOTHING to show them on! What! You think every classroom is filled with media software right at our disposal! I wish! We'll raise your taxes, idiot -- then maybe I'll have the right materials so you can view MY PowerPoint presentation. And I'll blow you away with all my animation and slide transitions and rising and falling music! Hell, lady -- I don't even have a white board or an overhead projector. I'm glad to have chalk and a blackboard!
So get off my back! Get off teachers' backs. Stop your carping. Pull your whinny self out of your depression and quit blaming teachers for all the problems you've faced in life. Just like every other profession -- we have great ones, good ones, mediocre ones, and poor ones.
Honestly -- nobody you had for 10 months of the year for 60 or 90 minutes five days a week along with 30 other squirming bodies ever ruined your life, unless they met you after school and did something unspeakable. Your own parents may have ruined you -- or you might have ruined your life by the choices YOU made (dropping out of school) -- but your English teacher barely dented your exterior. And if she did make an impression on you for the good -- hurrah! She really WAS a miracle worker! Praise AND respect her!
As parents you owe teachers the same respect you would offer a co-worker or the janitor in your office building. Nothing more or less. But you owe them the common courtesy to stop griping about how they "ruined my life" -- because they honestly DID NOT! Quit complaining because you wish your life was different -- and quit blaming the teacher because it isn't.
Rant over. For this August. Go to last August, though, and the same woman set me off.
Wednesday night I found out that a book had been assigned, about a quarter of the class had the book, and it had to be sent from a small town in southeast Kansas up to the big city. Even worse, next Wednesday's assignment was from the book -- reading two chapters and then writing from an lesson that was only printed in the book. Bah!
I rushed home, ordered the book by next day mail -- and it came this morning (which was a day late but I'm still not a dollar short, so okay, no complaints). I delved immediately into the chapters and found the book, not exactly exciting, but sensible -- which is probably the best that can be hoped for in a grad level text. At the end of the reading I started the writing process. About three hours in I began batting flies. It's deep summer here in the heartland and I live in a hermetically sealed house fueled by cold air-conditioning. Flies do not get a chance to enter my home.
Now here's the backfill. This week, after years of dithering, Hubby gathered his crew and they tore off all the ugly siding that Hubby had put on the front of the house in the 1980's (not the sides or back -- he only put the ugly stuff on the front -- he painted the rest and it looks fine -- but the front of our home slowly weathered to ghetto hideous because he never bothered to stain said front paneling). Then in the early 1990's someone shot a b-b pellet through the smaller front window and we never replaced it. The glass cracked and cracked, until finally half the glass fell into the front yard. The dogs clawed the front door into muddy tatters. The garage door began to disintegrate - and since it was the only thing painted, the paint started to peel. Last year, for a reason only known to Hubby, he pulled all the guttering down along the front of the house -- and then the aneurysm hit and whatever had been planned was put on indefinite hold. I have never complained about the front of the house, believing that my griping would give him cause to complain about my housekeeping - and the less said about that the better.
But on Thursday I came home to a Pepto Bismal colored home-front. When I recovered enough to find my voice, I realized that what I was looking at was insulation. The new paneling was neatly stacked in the driveway, with the huge dumpster that had also been delivered. Wow! The front also has had awnings over the windows -- large metal things that gave us shade from the afternoon sun -- but they were over 50 years old. In the front yard lay the awnings, with the tops all covered in slimy green gunk (which, thankfully, I hadn't been able to see from inside the house or the street).
The view from inside the house was completely different with the awnings gone. The sun poured in -- and it was bright all day long. I could see way up the street and way down. The big picture window has an incredible view which I had never realized before - and I've owned this house since 1974.
On Friday more insulation and some paneling went up. This morning the crew was hard at work by 7:30 a.m. Thankfully, the doggies know the crew and only barked when the pounding sounded like the postman was trying to get inside the front room. I scurried into the office and went to work on my paper, ignoring the din.
However, the flies got annoying so I finally wandered out from lair -- and found all the windows off the front of the house. The kitchen had a brand new window already installed, a lovely, clean white framed window with screens and inside locks - and EVERYTHING I've never had before.
But in the living room the picture window was gone. Open to the street was my whole house. The neighbor kids were congregated in my yard, peering in. The lady two doors down waved at me as I stood, peering out, in my nightgown, hair uncombed, teeth unbrushed, scratching. I had gotten so used to the privacy of my little domain, windows with awnings, covered with shades AND curtains, it had not occurred to me if I could see out -- THEY could see in.
New things are good, right? I've just got to make some adjustments.
Friday, August 24, 2007
Today I only needed to go from my room to the first floor once. Unfortunately on the return trip the elevator was not working so I had to hike up the five flights it takes to arrive at the third floor: two flights between one and two and three flights between two and three.
This afternoon Hubby delivered a truck full of supplies to the loading dock where students did a massive unload and delivered 12 moving boxes, two chairs, a coffee table, a file cabinet, and a work table to my room. Though my paraprofessional did most of the labor, I needed to be available for supervision.
Total miles walked from 6:30 a.m. to 2:35 p.m. -- 1.62. And this was an easy day.
Saturday, August 18, 2007
There's nothing like a week of hard work to make a gal crave a huge big ol' steak! With a twice baked potato full of cheese, bacon bits, green onions, butter, AND sour cream. Add in a simple green salad -- no weeds or strange greens or odd bits of gourmet vegetables -- with an accompaniment of blue cheese dressing and you've got a feast.
All summer I'd been craving a steak. Not one of those cheap cuts from the lower end of the meat counter. Not a delicate little patty just seared on the grill and sliced paper thin. No! I've been hankering for a carnivore's steak! Big! Juicy! Tender! Dripping juice! Crispy outside and just barely pink inside!
This afternoon Hubby and I went to the Bourne Ultimatum at the cheap movie theater. We had a small popcorn and a huge diet soda and enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. After the movie we drove to the small town steak house, serving their own corn fed beef and I ate my steak. Hubby, wimping out, had two very nicely broiled pork chops. But I had the 8 oz filet mignon and I savored every single mouthful.
First came the bowl of pickled beets. Then the ice berg lettuce with a big old slice of cucumber, a small tomato, and a bowl of homemade blue cheese dressing and served with huge, hot slices of garlic toast. Finally, the steak was delivered on a platter so hot you could hear the sizzle all across the dining room, dripping juice, tender, and succulent.
What a treat! I won't need that kind of meat now for a couple of months, but how sweet to live in the heartland where a good steak is right around the corner.
Friday, August 17, 2007
First week of school recap:
* Temp over 100 degrees: two days; temp over 90 degrees: five days
* Naps required on arriving home from school: four; however, naps do not describe the sound three hours of sleep needed every evening from Monday through Thursday – naps which provided just enough sleep to give me the extra push to take a bath before a night’s worth of rest was required
* Code Red complete school lockdowns: one – all day today; reason: new student on my caseload had anonymous death threat issued against him; 1200 students in school and I get the new kid everyone wants to kill.
* Eight teachers in community; number absent on first Friday of the school year: four.
* Number of days paraprofessional already absent: four; however, that counts two days last week while we were still in meetings
* Number of students on my caseload: 26; two teachers on the first floor have only 8 and 10 students respectively; life can be unfair sometimes
* Number of pregnant student in caseload: four
* Number of coworkers who helped out when asked: every single one!
* Number of hugs from returning students: too many to count!
Thursday, August 16, 2007
Last week was a different matter. My days were taken up with a variety of meetings: content area, SPED, school policy, literacy training, and most frighteningly, meetings with the police that are permanently stationed in our school. These are officers with tenure on the police force that have been trained to handle incidents in an urban high school setting.
When I left teaching 23 years ago, we had fairly ineffectual security guards in our school. They weren't allowed to carry weapons other than hand cuffs and mace and they didn't need them, actually. They usually spent their days swilling coffee and flirting with the senior girls. The officers of 2007 are fully armed with all the equipment necessary to handle gangsters, bank robbers, rioting teenagers, and most frighteningly, alien intruders. They carry themselves like the competent police officers they are.
The meeting with the police team involved instruction in what to do when an intruder came into our school intent on mass murder. Since his (they are nearly always men) aim would be the highest body count the police were intent on teaching us strategies to evade being shot dead.
Let me repeat that. The highest body count. Shot dead.
My job, once I had processed the necessary information and applied it to my own classroom, was to meet with my advisory students and discuss our strategies when an intruder would go on a shooting spree in our hallway. Not if an intruder would go berserk -- but WHEN an intruder decides to shot us dead.
The strategies are fairly simple. First move away from the shooter. Make sure you move away silently. Do not scream. Do not panic. Do not rattle doors, windows, desks. Do not alert the intruder you are escaping.
My classroom is at the very end of the third floor hallway and we have only one entrance. When the intruder comes through the door the first strategy will not work for us. If we hear him shooting at the other end of the hallway we might be able to escape down the rear stairs before he approaches our area. Since the building is very big, we would probably be able to avoid being shot unless the intruder started in the middle or in our corner.
Then the strategy is simple. Barricade if you have time; if not, fight. Do not die laying on the ground cowering.
That's what I told 18 students in my advisory on the first day of school in 2007. Do not die laying on the floor in a passive position. If a gunman enters our classroom, we will fight him with everything at our disposal. I will lead the fight -- and thus be shot dead first. I actually uttered the words: push my body out of the way and fight for all your worth; do not die without bringing him down with you.
After I'd given them my speech, my students simply sat stunned, staring at me. We had no more conversation until finally, one student asked me why our school would be a target. I had to explain that everywhere is a target now. On Sunday a man entered a Methodist Church 20 miles from us and killed five people. No where is safe any more. It is better to have a plan in mind than simply die in frightened panic.
The students again subsided into silence.
What a God-awful start to a brand, spanking shiny new school year! We planned how we might die, not what we could learn so we would be prepared for life. We talked about our death. Something in our world has gone hideously wrong.
Friday, August 03, 2007
I started the week at a literacy seminar and I actually wasn’t prepared for the commitment I was making to the process. The first day was boring and I can’t say that I learned anything. The second day, which involved techniques for introducing and teaching vocabulary in the classroom, was much better. However, by attending the two-day seminar I found I had committed myself to a year-long process that involved on-sit e classroom visits by the resident experts checking to see if I was following prescribed procedures and several more all-day seminars.
On Monday Hubby met with his orthopedic surgeon because his right knee had suddenly deteriorated miserably and he could barely walk. The doctor held his hand and asked him, “I said only moderate exercise. What in God’s name have you been doing?”
Seems Hubby had been so happy with his rapidly improving knees that he had ridden his stationary bike for 45 minutes three days running, which had sent him backward in terms of recuperation. A stern warning and the last of the three shots were administered.
On Wednesday Hubby decided that our old
We left the car and headed straight for the dental school where I was having a root canal on a broken back molar at the tune of $500. Hubby was forced into delivering me because our only operating vehicle now was his huge industrial van which I’m scared to drive. The $500 tooth had infection around it and four deep roots and was a big back molar so I had to go to the graduate student doctor for the procedure and pay the big bucks. The $500 is only for the root canal. Another $400 is required for the crown to top it off.
I’ve had at least one root canal in my life and I actually think there were two, which proves that neither was traumatic or memorable. In my recollection, the dentist deadened your jaw, scraped the root until the tooth was dead and you had no more trouble. This procedure was far different and I guarantee I’ll never forget it.
First, the rubber dam which they use to isolate the tooth, once inserted across my mouth, made me hysterically claustrophobic and I was absolutely sure I was going to die of suffocation. Extreme agitation is only a mild description of my reaction to that awful thing. Plus, I have this small mouth. They stuffed it full of dam and then propped my jaw open with a huge rubber cube that caused me such pain I started to thrash in the chair. No, it was worse than that – I tried to tear everything off and get up and leave. Eventually, my dentist managed to position the cube more to the front so I wasn’t in such awful pain and he unwrapped my upper lip from the dam so I could breathe out of my mouth. At that point I could just barely tolerate the accoutrement in my mouth.
I was deadened by four shots which weren’t THAT awful and the procedure began. Electrodes, heat sensors, probes – two hours worth – all jammed into my mouth. I tried to think of other things, of pleasant thoughts and words to favorite songs, but after the first hour all I could do was count seconds until they would remove all the crap from my mouth. I worked hard not to cry and not to moan repeatedly out loud. The actual procedure wasn’t so awful but all that crap in my mouth was ghastly.
Things began to go wrong for my dentist, too. The electricity in the cubicle we were working in flickered and went off. The x-rays of my mouth were lost. A technician had to be called to retrieve them from the system. The roots of the tooth, four very long ones, had calcified and consequently we broke four probes and wrecked at least six sensors while trying to gauge just where the roots ended. Meanwhile, I’m suffering agonies in the chair, wanting everything out of my mouth. The x-rays were almost impossible to get because there simply wasn’t room left in my mouth after all the apparatus had been jammed into it for the tool holding the film to fit in also. Plus I have a very strong gag reflex.
After two and half hours the dentist called the job complete. I struggled out of the chair and fell into the street, where Hubby sat patiently waiting for me in the 95 degree humidity. We got me into the van and home, where I immediately fell into bed and slept away the afternoon and the lingering effects of the Novocain.
Around the throbbing in my jaw woke me. I’d never had a problem with a root canal once it was finished. I thought, incorrectly obviously, that once the roots were removed and the tooth was pronounced dead, you wouldn’t feel anymore pain. However, because the bottom of the tooth had shown infection surrounding it, the dentist had poured acid (yes that was the term he used) on the roots and had let it sit for 20 or so minutes. That and all the heat and dental probes have clearly riled things up and I was hurting. Popping ibuprofen seemed to ease the pain and though I was up most of the night, I was coping.
On Thursday I attended a four hour Macintosh workshop to learn about Mac and Microsoft 2003 programs. Again Hubby was required to drive me in the big old van (which has minimal to no air-conditioning). When he picked me up, he was carrying the ball-joints from the
Thursday evening the jaw began to throb in earnest. I spent most of the night propped up in bed reading novels and trying to ignore the pain in my face.
Friday morning we had planned to have a leisurely breakfast out and do some final shopping before school starts next week. Though we were still without the
Once more Hubby ferried me downtown to the dental school. My mouth was already so sore that I opted to do this procedure without Novocain. This time I cried through the entire ordeal. The moment he pulled out that rubber dam I started the water works. The huge rubber cube caused more. “Please,” I moaned, as he jammed it into my mouth. Of course, my nose stopped up and then I couldn’t breathe at all except through my mouth. Eventually I took to moaning, low, animal sounds, snuffled through my tears.
The poor dentist worked as hard and as fast as he could. He even sang me pop rock songs from the 1960’s trying to take my mind off my mouth. His assistant wiped at the tears and they patted my hand. I cried harder. The tooth itself really didn’t hurt but everything around it ached mightily. I was only there for forty-five minutes but I’m sure it seemed longer to everyone in that little cubicle. At the end, they filled my fists with pills and scripts for heavy duty pain killers.
Once released, I hobbled out to Hubby as fast as my legs could carry me. We stopped and got Hubby some lunch and me a big bag of pain med and then took me home and put me to bed, where I lay, surrounded by dogs, a bottle of water, and a couple of good books, the tears still streaming down my face.
Meanwhile Hubby went out and test drove the
Next week is the first week of school. Hopefully, by then, I’ll be off the medication, the car will be in the driveway, and Hubby will be prancing around on sturdy knees. Until then, I’m keeping these lovely big pain pills handy.