Sunday, August 23, 2009

Is It Because I'm Tired?

Damn! I held to my good intentions for the last three years -- and in year four I blow it. Well, hopefully not big time, but blown, none the less.

My goal this second round of teaching was to stay out of trouble and off every administrator's radar range. I'd tilted at my windmills, I'd fought the good fight -- and in so doing I'd left education in 1990 after 22 years of teaching. This time I was doing it differently.

Until Friday morning.

The school Alma Mater song is short and dull - but loud. It starts off "Wyandotte forever, we'll be true to thee" and never gets much beyond that actually. Our principal, good intentioned I'm sure, played it through one time every single morning last year - over the intercom system.

The song was recorded from her computer and it was of the girls' choir singing the song with a piano accompaniment. The playback was from her computer at full volume to the intercom turned full volume. The sound was awful. Every morning at seven a.m. this song blasted through the hallways of an empty school except for staff.

I could understand playing the song for the students -- but for the staff? The staff requested the practice be eliminated this year. The principal gave her reasons for continuing to play the song. The alumni had heard it once and told her it meant the "world" to them that the song was still around. Also, the song is to build a "family" spirit for the staff and students.

This year for the last two weeks the song has been played at ear-splitting volume not just once but three times every single morning. Friday morning at 7 a.m. she played it four times.

F O U R freakin' times. It reacts on my eardrums exactly like fingernails on a chalkboard.

I lost my mind. I went crazy. I got so angry that if you could have seen me, steam would have been rolling not just out of my ears but from my mouth, nose, eyeballs, and out the top of my head.

So I sent an e-mail. I did title it "Heartfelt Request" but I was still very angry when I composed the e-mail. I had some sensibilities left and I did re-read and try to temper the worst language out of it -- and it did occur to me that it was NOT in my best interest to send the note off -- but then I thought about Monday morning - and maybe we'd be hearing that god-awful song FIVE times and I pushed send. I still had sense enough to avoid requesting she stop playing the song altogether -- I merely asked that she turn the volume way, way down so the sound was not so distorted.

The problem is -- I really have followed my rule of "being invisible" to the staff. I stay way up in my third floor classroom and do my job. The admin doesn't have to deal with discipline problems from me. I'm a good teacher and can impress "wildly" when / if an admin needs to visit to see me teaching -- but because my students aren't creating disturbances, nobody ever needs to visit. Even for the required observations (really). I invite the admin to my special classroom events and they come, meet the students for five minutes and go away. My room is pretty -- if you stop by and glance in the door, everyone remarks that they would like to spend time there. It is always neat and clean and full of sunshine -- even on gloomy days. My door is always open and my kids are always engaged in learning -- not always quiet but working at normal sound levels for students actively participating in the learning process.

I am always early to school - by at least 30 minutes, usually more. I stay in my classroom when the kids are there. I am not absent unless I'm sick. I go to the meetings I'm required to attend.
But. I do not join committees. I don't volunteer. I don't go to sporting events this time around. Bleacher seats hurt my back and Hubby's knees. I don't want to hang around school after 3 p.m. I don't offer to tutor gen ed students. I don't toot my own horn. I don't brag about my accomplishments. I don't party with any of the staff members. I don't carry gossip and I don't take sides in faculty feuds. I really have tried to stay off the radar screen.

Until this year. Last year the SPED department asked me to pilot and teach a new English class for SPED kids. Somehow the Language Arts coordinator got wind of the class and because I wasn't attending the English curriculum meetings, his nose got out of joint. He went to my SPED department, our administration, and finally to downtown about the classes. This year when I still showed up on the schedule with even more kids, I got wind of his discontent. Ever since I've been trying to "build bridges" between the English teachers and me by providing them proof that my work actually does dovetail nicely with theirs. In fact, I've been sharing my curriculum with them and agreeing to develop some lesson plans for them. Right now things seem to be smoothed over.

But I have become a blip on the administration radar screens. Hopefully not a big one - but now I've sent off a complaining e-mail. So -- when I finally surface, I've done so in two negative ways right at the very beginning of school.

Darn it!
The response from the principal to my e-mail was very cryptic: point taken. I'm hoping this does not mean that I'm the one actually "on the point" -- and skewered.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

It's ONLY the First Week?

Tomorrow, thank the lord, is Friday. I'm just holding it together physically until I can be rolled home Friday evening and fall into bed. I don't intend to get up until Sunday -- evening.

Teaching is wonderfully satisfying but never let anybody ever say it isn't a physical activity. This year, even more so, with my schedule.

I have co-taught in social studies second block for the last three years but really in name only. I love the social studies teacher but being in his room for 90 minutes drove me nuts and my need to verbalize with my kids drove him nuts, so contrary to actual district policy I did "pull-outs" with the students. I taught a group in my room with students that benefited from lots of interaction and he did "quiet seat work" in his room. We were both happy. In my room I have it set up so I can work with up to 10 students without having to move around on my feet constantly.

This year, however, we (okay, he decided) that we would have a "protected" classroom. He is fluent in Spanish and is a certified ESL teacher and I know how to teach "slower" students. So second block we have a 23 students who need lots and lots of interaction. He gets credit with admin for meeting student needs and they get special funding for our work and we no longer do "pull-out" sessions where we separate the kids because everybody is pretty much on the same level. This means that I'm on my feet for at least 60 of the 90 minute period, moving between desks and doing my "interaction" thing. The kids benefit -- I know that. But by 10:30, I'm already tired.

My 110 minute third block English group can be paced a little more evenly. I have the room set up so I can use my rolling chair (a desk chair with wheels) in the center of the room and I can get to everybody without having to always stand up and walk around. During my oral readings I sit. Tomorrow I'm stealing three more student desks from the first floor with the help of my guys and then we will be even more "comfortable" in my class. Right now I'm short two student desks but with the addition of three even I can sit comfortably with the students when I need to.

The 90 minute fourth block is split between my classroom and the physical science room. This is the first time since my first year in the building that I've tried collaborating with science. We have a new, young, energetic teacher who seems to like kids and is willing to do a true collaboration (which is different than co-teaching) and he has agreed to take the health community SPED kids and make modifications to his curriculum. I'm working with him three days a week for 45 minutes to help him out. Today during his class period, my first in his class, we had a fire drill. Down three floors (six flights of stairs), stand outside for ten minutes, back up the six flights of concrete stairs. Then it was move around lab tables for the next 30 minutes, bending down to help students take notes and learn vocabulary.

By the time I hit my own final literacy study hall for 45 minutes, all I could do was sit in my rolling chair and gasp. Luckily these kids are the ones going to the vo-tech school, so they had work they needed help with and I didn't have to initiate a lesson.

I explained to Hubby on the way home that there was no enticement in the world that could get me to go anyway other than home to bed. Obama could send his jet and limo to get me to the White House for a state dinner and if I had to walk onto the plane, off the plane, and from the limo to the White House -- I'd refuse to go. I simply didn't have any strength left.

Next week grad classes start -- 7 to 9 p.m. I'm not sure how I'm going to make it.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Man Thing

Walked into my combined junior / senior English class to find: 16 male faces and only 5 females. Shocking!

Collaborating with the Health Community I usually get girls, lots and lots of girls. Girls with attitude. Girls gossiping. Girls needing the bathroom every 15 minutes. Girls with boy trouble, girl friend trouble, and parent trouble.

If I saw a boy, he was usually a man by the time I got hold of him. Last year's junior / senior mix had 10 girls and 4 men.

But this year they are boys. Sweet faced, gentle, responsive, courteous. No back biting. No gossip. Just lovely, even-tempered boys.

My planned lessons have gone out the window. I'm digging up sci-fi, Huck Finn, Poe, and war stories.

So far these sweethearts have been receptive to nursery rhymes, cartoon drawing, and actually learning the vocabulary words first time around.

I LOVE it!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

First Week Successes

The first week of school went smoothly -- of course, we only had students on Friday and then only freshmen for their orientation day. Still, I'm heaving a sigh that many things were accomplished:

Juniors and seniors were in the building to provide most of the interaction with the freshmen on Friday; they trained for three days prior to meeting the incoming students. That meant we had students around and about and with them came their brothers and sisters, which for me meant that one of my senior boys was available and willing to help me set up my room. All the heavy labor -- and there was a lot of it -- was done by him. I'm forever grateful!

  • My room looks nice. My kid did a herculean job of moving furniture and desks. We got everything out of storage and set back up and while I orchestrated, he pushed and shoved. We even have a reading corner in the room this year. The frig is cleaned, turned on and chilling and my boy even got the clock set on the microwave.

  • My SPED presentation on Tuesday to the entire secondary SPED staff went well. I managed to be brief and sound intelligent at the same time.

  • I worked with the English department at my school but avoided the all-district English meeting and hopefully can avoid them in the future. I'm trying to align myself with the reading crew for all-district meetings.

  • I tried making "nice-nice" with the English coordinator because it seems he has gone to the district level to complain about my teaching an English class. Luckily my SPED coordinator is always in my corner but this means I'll have to tread with diplomacy and tact throughout the year with the English teachers. I think my plans for matching their benchmarking have so far been successful. When I presented them at their meeting and gave a copy to the Instructional Coordinator (IC) they reported back to my coordinator that they were very "happy and impressed" with our current level of cooperation. This means, of course, that I'll have to be willing to meet with them often and put on a positive face, and honestly, I'm not much of a bridge-builder, but in this cause I'll try my best.

  • I have a plan for the first day of school. Admittedly I don't have a plan for day #2 but partly that's because I have no clue what this new group of students is going to be like. I need to get a feel for them because the class roster shows I've got 14 boys in a class of 20 -- and that's way, way different from the make-up of the class from last year which was mostly girls.

  • I have 18 regular student desks in my room, but I've got a plan to have my favorite seniors sit around my back table in wooden chairs. I think (hope) they can cope.

  • Hubby provided breakfast for the NEA folks -- and it was beyond delicious: just scrambled eggs topped with smoky links but all hot and bubbly and tasty. During the meeting it was announced that our salaries are frozen for the year but we were grateful not to be taking a cut in pay.

  • My collaborative teacher is pleased we are working together again, as am I. We have an easy time of making our second block class work well.

  • My SPED team is, as always, my home base and my grounding in the school. I'm so tickled to be working with them.

Monday the entire school arrives. We've had over 1300 students enroll and that is about 250 more than planned for by the district. Classes will be over-flowing. We have many new first year teachers in our building. I imagine they won't sleep very well tonight. We will cope, though. We are urban-core teachers -- we ARE invincible!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

First Days

Wow Boy! Monday was tough -- physically tough. During the summer the janitors remove everything from your room so they can buff the floors. It appears they don't do much else except maybe turn your desk upside down six or seven times and shake it and leave your lounge chairs in the classroom across the hall and completely lose your bookcase. They don't clean anything. But the floors sure do shine. After doing the floors, they put stuff back in classrooms, but they don't much care whose room things go back into.

The first days are always spent on a scavenger hunt, looking for your desk chair, the keyboard to your computer, and your overhead projector. I didn't go in to school early this year; I spent the last free days of summer wallowing in TV reruns of Stargate and Burn Notice. So Monday, I came into a huge classroom mess.

It was hot. And humid. Very humid. Though we are air conditioned, the size of the school and the height of the ceilings preclude us getting nice and chilly. I spent the first hour pushing around loaded bookcases and file cabinets. By the time I had worked up a complete sweat it was time for the first all school faculty meeting.

I spent lunch snacking on the sandwich Hubby had provided and moving my teacher's desk and setting up the computer equipment. Then it was time to head down four flights of stairs to the cafeteria to get the equipment needed for the newest faculty push -- MIRP (used to be called Sustained Silent Reading back in the '80's -- now it's Monitored Independent Reading Practice). The whole school will be participating this year. The tub, the file folders, and labels, and the hanging strip blanket (which looks a lot like a shoe rack with much smaller cellophane panels) had to be lugged back to the third floor.

Next we had MIRP training. Then back up to the third floor to push around more furniture and work up a good lathering sweat before finally going home at 4 p.m.

I got home, fell into bed, and passed out. Hubby fixed me a plate of pancakes (comfort food) for dinner, I took a bath, and passed out a second time. My whole body hurt. I told Hubby the only thing not in dire pain were my lips, my ear lobes, and my eye lashes. Somehow I had wrenched my bad knee, strained my back, and pulled my shoulder and neck muscles. I took a muscle relaxer at bed time and when I woke up at midnight I swallowed my second Celebrex of the day (I try for only one a day and only if in dire pain -- but by midnight I was still unable to walk upright).

At 3 a.m. when I woke up to turn over (the arthritis is bad enough I can no longer turn over in my sleep) I was still in misery. But two more hours helped enormously and by 5 a.m. I was feeling much more normal.

Today we had Convocation -- away from my high school. Then it was SPED meetings in the afternoon at the downtown convention center. I spent the day, happily sitting on my butt. It was much needed rest.

Tomorrow I'm once again back at my high school, going to meetings and pushing around my classroom furniture to try and find a pleasing arrangement. Thursday is dedicated to spending a whole day in our classrooms, working on lesson plans and adding "pretty" touches to make the room feel more home-like.

On Friday the Freshmen will come for a day of orientation but this year, for the first time, a group of student mentors will be handling the entire day -- and the faculty is delirious with the joy that this freedom brings us.

Let me add that Convocation today was really lovely. Instead of importing pompous speakers and people of dubious importance, this district puts on a home-grown show of good cheer and support. The faculty members who can play instruments make up the band. The ROTC brings out the flags. The teachers of excellence selected throughout the year are honored. The superintendent tells some funny stories about her year. This year, at the conclusion, a kid came out and asked if we believed in him (the district motto is "We Believe") and he was charming and outgoing and well-rehearsed and we cheered him lustily, as he ran through the secretaries, the custodians, the cafeteria workers, the principals, the down-town administrators, and the teachers. It was a sweet, warm, soulful experience from a district who is proud of its accomplishments and aware of its shortcomings.

I'm very, very proud to say I teach in here. Now if only my poor old body would just cooperate . . .

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Off to School

It's that time of year -- school starts on Monday. This is my fourth year in this school district, my 26th total. My beautiful, historic building awaits.

I've accessed my roll through the school software and see that I have 18 students in my first semester English 3 / 4 class. That's a healthy number for SPED kids. Not nearly as big as gen ed classes which I hear are running 35 and up -- but these are special needs kids and you get more than 20 of them in a room and it's tough on everybody, especially the teacher trying to meet individual, critical needs.

I'm still co-teaching with the same social studies teacher who this year is also head of my SLC (small learning community). I like working with him -- he's easy to get along with in a classroom setting. Not always so easy in person, but then neither am I.

My SPED community is fantastic. I love these folks. They are knowledgeable, aware, and caring. The school psych is beyond great.

So, though the summer is ending for me -- I have a fine job for the next year. I am one of the lucky ones. I earn enough, I'm respected in what I do, I find satisfaction in it, and I'm good at it. The only flaw in the ointment is that I'm still working on SPED certification and start three hours of grad school in mid-August.

I'll be probably not be very vocal on this blog for a week or so while I try and get acclimated. Then I'll be back with kid stories instead of dog tales.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Just the Prettiest Two Boyo's Ever

From our vacation, two wonderful photos of the boys.

First Gus, the amber-eyed beauty who never, ever misbehaves. He's sitting in the back-seat of the rental car, somewhere in Illinois on the first day of the trip. Gus is five.

Next up, Luie, the character -- he's "woowooing" me here, to let me know exactly where the rental car is while I'm standing outside the car taking photos of DC; he's blind so he thinks I need help to find the car because my nose and my ears don't work nearly as good as his. Luie is 18 months.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Hero Bashing

I just finished watching the news coverage of Bill Clinton returning with two live journalists who had been sentenced to hard labor in North Korea for spying. Al Gore sent him, he met with Kim Jong Il, and secured the safe release of the women.

Now the conservative press have their story for the week. How many conspiracies do you think they can find in this event? How many villains can they name? Just how "het up" can they get? And how many evil, pernicious attacks can they make on Obama, Clinton -- both Hillary and Bill, Gore, and the press itself?

I'm all for free speech but the conservative pundits of this country have become vicious and ugly and mean -- and they see conspiracy and racism against THEM at every turn. How long will the American public buy into this reprehensible behavior?

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

The Last in the Series

I've been waiting patiently for the final Harry Potter book to be published in paperback form. The books are just too big for me to hold and read for 1000 plus pages. I learned that with the first, and only hard back, Harry Potter that I bought.

The series had been out awhile when I bought my first book from Sam's, the Walmart big box store. I wanted to see what all the shouting was about. I fell in love -- and I passed my book around to my friends and they all became hooked, also. After the first book though, I only read the series in paperback form so I was always a couple of books behind everyone else.

My Potter collection is now on the bookshelves of my classroom. I bought the entire Twilight series at the school library book fair last spring and read the first three in that series, but couldn't stomach anymore of it and never got through book 4. My kids love it and if it gets them to read, I'm fine with that. But the writing is nowhere near as good or the plots as inventive as the Potter series.

I suppose because a new Potter movie is out that Scholastic decided to publish the seventh Potter in paperback -- finally. I've been waiting impatiently since the book came out two years ago. In fact, I did cheat and read the last chapter online -- just to make sure Potter didn't die. On Saturday, there in the children's book section at Sam's, was Harry Potter and The Deadly Hallows.

I didn't open the book until Sunday evening and I've been wrapped up in it ever since. I cried when Dooby died and cheered when Potter went back to Hogwarts. I'm nearing the true and final end of the book now and I'll be sad to put it down. Three summers ago I re-read the series 1 - 5 books just to review all the events. I don't watch the movies but I love the story telling of the writer. I doubt that I'll ever re-read all seven books but I have found pure escapist entertainment in the series. What more can you ask from a good book?

The readers of sci-fi among my family and friends scoff at the Potter books, but I think they are just being intellectual snobs, believing that book meant for "children" can't be all that wonderful. When I read the last page sometime tonight, it will be like losing a good and close friend. It will take me awhile to find anywhere near the delight in another book that I have had from Rowling's Potter series.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Memories of Fritzy

In August of last year, Fritzy -- our 11 year old miniature Schnauzer -- was put "to sleep" because of kidney failure. We had done our best through the summer to keep him alive and the first week of August we let him go.

In October of 2005 I had put my heart dog, Wolfie, "to sleep." He was somewhere between 17 and 19 years old so I should have expected it -- but he had been healthy and hale everyday until the Saturday he suffered a massive bleed in his gut.

I agonized and second guessed myself about both decisions. Euthanization is hard, even when the dog is very sick. I sometimes wish that we could perform the same service for sick humans -- I know I'd choose it for myself rather than suffer an agonizingly slow death -- but then I think how very traumatic these decisions are to make. Anyway, both Wolfie's and Fritzy's deaths were quiet and peaceful. Hubby had away when Wolfie died and I had to make the decision and handle his passing alone. It never occurred to me not to stay with either dog; you are with them in life and you don't abandon them in death, even when your heart is breaking.

With Wolf I was bereft. Both Fritzy and I went into deep decline. I've written about this before -- but after Fritzy and I viewed the body (I had to go and get Fritzy and bring him back to the vet so he could understand what had happened to his pal) and had gone home to grieve, I heard Wolf's distinctive snuffle breathing all afternoon, until Hubby got back home to complete our family unit. When we all cried together -- that was when we knew Wolf was gone. With Fritzy, however, all three of us (Hubby, Gus, and me) were in the room with him. He lay quietly after the injection, the vet told us it would be a minute or so, and suddenly we all knew the exact moment his spirt had "left the room."

I was laying in bed this morning, canoodling with Luie, who came to us at Hubby's insistence, a week after Fritzy died, and remembering Fritzy. Luie is a character. Completely blind in one eye and able to see a little light and shape in the other, he is a whirlwind of motion. He runs and chases and investigates and talks. His "woo-woo" is a wonder to hear. He is always good humored -- and he seems to like playing jokes. He loves with great emotion -- but he can't stay still long enough to express it during daylight hours. Life is his playground.

Each dog has had their own personality -- Milly, our first, was the queen of everything she surveyed. Wolf was my lover -- as selfish as it sounds, my biggest heartbreak when he was gone was that no one or no thing would ever love me the way Wolf did -- heart and soul, he was mine. Fritzy was beautiful -- and persnickety. He wanted things done his way -- he knew where he wanted to sit and sleep and what he would eat, and he would go off alone if we defied him. Like me, his heart broke when his pal, Wolf, died. Gus, who came two weeks after Wolf's death, is serene. He is small and gentle and always calm. He does not complain. He likes to watch. He is the perfect dog, actually, for old folks. He loves to sleep most of the day and all night. He can hold his bladder for up to 18 hours with no complaint for he would never think of making of a mess. And then there's Luie.

Sometimes, I think the universe took Fritzy from us so quickly because there was Luie, in Tulsa, waiting. Sometimes, I think that Wolfie, seeing, from wherever he is, that my broken heart had to be healed somehow -- called Fritzy from us and imprinted Luie -- and voila! the rascal came to mend pieces of my heart together.

However, it happened, this morning, in bed, I was remembering Fritzy and lamenting once again my decision last August to end his life -- when I realized just how quickly and quietly his little spirit had left that room where the vet put him into his final sleep. I think he must have been ready to go, having been sick for so many months. And somehow, he must have known, that though he could NEVER be replaced, a little blind boy was waiting in the wings and desperately needed a home and an expensive eye doctor.

Fritzy was a wonderful dog, smart, loving, strong-willed, beautiful, and protective. Strangers were drawn to him because he was so pretty but they quickly knew not to touch. He was very vocal with strangers. He liked his alone time but he also wanted lots of cuddles and kisses every day -- and would demand them until they were delivered. He would paw and maneuver until he would get us to put aside the book or magazine or TV remote and focus directly on him. When he got sick, he never complained. Last July he lay in our bed, not wanting to eat or play or run outside -- but wanting to cuddle and be loved. He let me know in so many ways that he was ready for us to let go -- and then, when we did finally come to that fateful decision he was gone in an instant. His memory, unlike Wolf's, does not haunt me. That in itself is a lovely parting gift.

And then, with his going, came Luie. What a voyage of discovery we are all on! Wherever Fritz is I hope he knows how much I love and miss him -- and I hope with all my heart that somewhere he and Wolf are playing tug-0f-war with their favorite toy, Bite the Man. Meanwhile, I've got a wild child to take on an early morning romp.