Saturday, December 29, 2007

There's a hand, my trusty friend

When the fiddle had stopped singing Laura called out softly, "What are days of auld lang syne, Pa?"

"They are the days of a long time ago, Laura," Pa said. "Go to sleep, now."

But Laura lay awake a little while, listening to Pa's fiddle playing softly and to the lonely sound of the wind in the Big Woods. She looked at Pa sitting on the bench by the hearth, the firelight gleaming on the honey-brown fiddle. She looked at Ma, gently rocking and knitting.

She thought to herself, "This is now."

She was glad that the cozy house, and Pa and Ma and the firelight and the music, were now. They could not be forgotten, she thought, because now is now. It can never be a long time ago.

My new year's resolutions as an educator are these:

1) to respect my students' tender minds, their easily wounded hearts, their efforts and their challenges;

2) to challenge myself to think beyond, to get creative, to stoke the fires that will burn tiny fires under the butts of each and every one of my 400+ students;

3) to reflect constructively on my teaching successes and failures and accept them gracefully as learning experiences;

4) to breathe deeply, speak smoothly, and enjoy the ride.

Happy 2008, everyone!

Friday, December 21, 2007

So nobody's going to call me "Miss Brave" for a whole week?


(And I've been waiting four long months to say that!)

I don't know if it's just the joy of the holidays, or if the fact that I got to sit in on a reading professional development session that opened my mind up to new possibilities (oh, how I miss teaching reading!), but for the first time so far this year I had a new, irrational thought that was terrifying and exciting all at the same time:

Maybe I'm not done here yet.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Miss Brave is it

The awesome Ms. Frizzle has tagged me to do a meme; I have to "share 7 random and/or weird things about yourself." Here goes nothing:

1. I love candy. (Except for anything that is malted!) I have been known to spend inordinate amounts of money at those sweet shops where you can buy bulk candy (and I feel a little guilty when I see little kids with their parents, who are limiting the amount they can buy while I go hog wild on the gummi sour octopi).

2. I thought "shut up" was a swear word until, like, the fourth grade. I was always really scandalized when I heard kids say it in the hallways because I'd think, "Ooooh, they're gonna be in trouble!" Little did I know I'd grow up to teach first graders whom I see walking home from school with fathers who liberally pepper their speech with far more profane language.

3. Once upon a time, I made it a point to know all the words to REM's "It's the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" and Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire"...because I guess there's something about songwriters who try to cram all the words they can into a 4-minute song that tickled my fancy?

4. In a diner, I invariably order one of three things: challah French toast, grilled cheese, or a mushroom and American cheese omelet.

5. I own a toothbrush that plays the theme song to Rocky.

6. I once ran a marathon, and it changed my life. It's still my greatest accomplishment, and if I could, I would tell that fact to everyone I meet. I am already committed to running the 2008 New York City Marathon, and if I stay in teaching, I'm going to find some way to involve my students in my training.

7. I read the Sunday New York Times sections in the following order: Real Estate, Business, Sports, Main, Metro, Travel, Book Review, Arts & Leisure, Week in Review, Styles, City and Magazine. If I can manage to finish the entire Sunday Times on Sunday itself, I consider the weekend a great success. (This past weekend, what with the sinus infection debacle, not only did I not even start the Sunday paper, I hadn't even started reading last Sunday's paper.)

OK, I know that I am supposed to tag seven other people to do this, but I am so not cool or worthy enough to tag seven other educaters, plus it is already 9:51 pm and that is the latest I have managed to stay awake in about a week. So if you're reading this, consider yourself tagged!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Punctuation takes a vacation

From September until now, my second graders and I have been all about punctuation. Sentences begin with capital letters. Regular sentences end with periods. Strong feeling sentences end with exclamation points. Questions end with question marks. That sort of thing.

We have worn giant question marks. We have held up stop signs to signify that periods encourage us to STOP at the end of sentences. We have shouted out sentences in our best exclamation point voices. We have stood up to pretend that we are capital letters and sat back down to pretend that we are lowercase letters. We have corrected texts that were missing punctuation. We have changed lowercase letters to capital letters and added periods where they were missing.

Much of the time, my second graders groaned when I cheerfully started off my mini lesson by saying, "Today I want to talk to you about how good writers always use periods at the end of their sentences," because that was the sort of thing they claimed to know already, Miss Brave.

Well, I've been reading their Flat Stanley letters, which is the first lengthy piece of writing they've done for me in quite some time, and I am chagrined to report that a great many of them failed to use any punctuation whatsoever. Their letters look like telegrams without the "STOP" parts: "I am 7 years old I am in second grade my favorite color is blue what is your favorite color". And those of them that did use punctuation often used it incorrectly: "how are you! I love my Playstation? what is it like in california!"

I'm hoping to remedy this with the Flat Stanley Editing Checklist, which asks: "Did I begin each sentence with a capital letter? Did I use periods at the end of sentences? Did I use question marks at the end of questions?"

For now, I can only say: what am I going to do with them oy?.

When is the worst cold ever not a cold?

When it's a sinus infection!

Do you think I can use my Teacher's Choice money to pay for all the medication I've been forced to take since starting this job?

Friday, December 14, 2007

When first graders attack

I've written about Marco before, in passing. He's a first grader whose IEP (that's Individualized Education Program, for special education students) says he belongs in a 12:1:1 self-contained classroom, except that right now he is in a general ed classroom with 22 other students and no para because of some mix-up with paperwork and the excuse that there's not enough space (:::coughillegalcough:::).

Today Marco's class had a substitute teacher, so they were already primed to be a little off. After my mini lesson, another teacher pulled Marco and a few other students out of the room for a strategy lesson. Everything was going remarkably smoothly -- the class was less than five minutes away from a green day and stickers -- when Marco came back into the room and decided that Elliot (who, by the way, is an enormous pain in the behind) had stolen his pencil, the one he had been given by his teacher Ms. S. Unfortunately, aside from the fact that it had a green eraser, the pencil was nothing special, and it was impossible for me to determine who the pencil actually "belonged" to. On the one hand, I wouldn't put it past Elliot to snatch a pencil off another child's desk. On the other hand, a bunch of other kids stuck up for Elliot (which is rare), and pencils are usually considered communal property.

Marco started to throw a tantrum, which is nothing new. He stood there with his hands screwed up into fists at his sides, opened his mouth, and bawled. "I want my pencil back! Ms. S gave it to me! I want that pencil! I want that pencil!"

The other kids were surprisingly kind about it. "Here's another pencil, take this one." "Look! You can have this green eraser!" "Marco, I'll sharpen it for you." But Marco was insistent: Elliot had his pencil, and he was going to get it back.

That's when he attacked. Full-on ATTACKED; he launched himself at Elliot and started to wrestle him with his whole body. I had to pull him off and restrain his arms while I sent Elliot to the other side of the room. Tears and snot were streaming down his face. "I want that pencil! Ms. S gave me that pencil, it's mine, it's mine, I want it!"

I loosened my hold on his arms and started rubbing them. "You have to calm down," I said. "You need to take a breath. Take another breath. I'm going to help you, but I can't help you unless you can calm down."

Later on I wondered: Should I have called for the guidance counselor? Should I have opened the classroom door and called for help from the teachers I knew were sitting out in the hallway? And then I thought: THIS IS THE WRONG CLASS FOR MARCO. In my special ed kindergarten, there are twelve students, one teacher, and three paras. In my CTT kindergarten, there are 21 students, two teachers, and one para. Not only is Marco not in a self-contained class like he should be, not only is he not even in a CTT class, not only is he in a general ed class with a para, but his teacher doesn't even have special education training or experience.

I need to think about what I could have done differently, and what I should do differently next time it happens. Because as long as Marco continues to be denied the services he needs, it will happen again.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Miss Brave got run over by a student

Marion: "Miss Brave, today you look like a ballerina."

* * *

I have so many priceless stories to share that I'm just going to make a list!

1. The Flat Stanley Project is going amazingly well. For those of you unfamiliar, Flat Stanley is a book about a boy who is flattened by a bulletin board and gets to have all kinds of flat adventures; for example, his parents mail him to California in an envelope. Ages ago, some genius of a teacher dreamed up the "Flat Stanley Project," in which kids create their own Flat Stanleys (or flat selves, as the case may be) and mail them around the world. There's a picture of Clint Eastwood holding Flat Stanley on the Oscar red carpet and pictures of Flat Stanley's visit to the White House (notice that Flat Stanley and President Bush share remarkably similar vacant expressions!).

Anyway, my second graders have finished creating their own "flat selves" and are composing letters to Miss Brave's friends around the world, who have promised to take our flat selves on an adventure in their city and write back. I accidentally asked the copy aides in my school to give me 5-page booklets, and some of my students -- in one class period -- filled up all five pages! (One of them, bless her heart, wrote volumes, but spectacularly failed to use any punctuation whatsoever. Sigh.) This is definitely the most enthused they've been about anything I've done with them, and it's great. I've already arranged to borrow another cluster teacher's bulletin board space for the month of February so that when our flat selves come back to us, they can go on display! (Their letters are too cute. One of Miss Brave's friends works in a zoo, and so someone wrote: "Please take my flat self to the zoo and let it see the monkeys.") Planned header for the bulletin board: Life in the Flat Lane. Meet the newest students at our school: The flat second grade!

2. In my special ed kindergarten, there's really only one student who's capable of producing a focused 3-page narrative on the same level as the rest of the kindergarteners. (We won't even get into the fact that we're now expecting kindergarteners to produce a focused 3-page narrative in the first place.) The other day, as usual, he came bouncing up to me: "Miss Brave! I want to tell you my story!"

OK, Jamie, I said; go right ahead. And so he did. Page 1: "First the taxi came to take me and Mommy and Grandma to the airport." Great! Page 2: "Then we were waiting on line to get on the plane." Wonderful! Page 3: "Last the police came to take my daddy to jail."

Er. What? Hmm. Could you maybe...repeat that last part again?

"He's in trouble," he elaborated, drawing out the second syllable the way only a little kid can when they're describing someone else's misdeed. "He did something bad."

Hmm. Hmmm. "Well, is Daddy home now?" asked the para. Jamie said he was. So...OK then?

3. Here's a scenario that happens constantly in my kindergarten classes, and it's why I love the littlest kids the most: I walk into the room. Before I can even give directions, Gloria's hand is up. "Miss Brave! Miss Brave!" I know I shouldn't call on her and open the floodgates, but she seems so urgent, so frankly desperate to tell me something, that I do."You're beautiful," she blurts out.

"Thank you," I say, flattered. Of course, the other kids aren't stupid; if Gloria tells me I'm beautiful, they'll up the ante and tell me that they love my shoes, my hair, my markers, they love everything about me!

"You are all beautiful too, and I love you all too," I told them, "but now it's time to talk about writing."

4. Just when you thought Darryl couldn't get any cuter, he swings for the fences! First of all, he started off the day by saying to me, "Yesterday we was laughing!" Clearly he enjoyed our impromptu giggle-fest as much as I did. Then I encouraged him to add sentences to his story, which he did with great enthusiasm. "Darryl," I said, "do you know what this means?"

"What?" he asked, unnerved.

"It means you're a real writer!"

He looked nonplussed. "I am?"

"Yes! Look at what you're doing! You're working on adding sentences to your story, and that's what real writers do!"

I could actually see the realization dawning on his face. "I'm a real writer," he repeated, clearly warming to the idea. "I'm a real writer! Mrs. C, I'm a real writer! Ms. M, I'm a real writer!" (Possibly I would have melted into a puddle of goo right then and there if not for the fact that at least three tantrums followed this announcement.)

5. My third graders decided to amuse themselves on line by singing "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer." Then Joshua added this priceless and bizarre coda: "My grandma got a tattoo on her booty!" It was the emphatic pronouncement of the word booty that nudged it right over the edge, and I couldn't help it: I laughed. "What did he say? What did he say?" the other kids clamored eagerly. I had to recover my stern face and announce that we weren't going to repeat it, because it wasn't polite, and Joshua's face assembled itself into an expression of remorse as he clarified, "She doesn't really have one, I was just saying it."

Externally, I said, "There is a time and a place to say those kinds of things, and now is neither the time nor the place." Internally, I said: "HAHAHA!" The day after that, Joshua revealed that he has a 13-year-old girlfriend ("I try not to think about it," his teacher said), and the day after that, he pulled a "Talk to the hand 'cause you ain't got a man!"

6. In my ESL first grade, there was a new student who speaks very little English. When it was time to pack up, some of the kids were yelling at him: "Go! Pack up!" Which, naturally, was not very effective. Phillip, who's always literally falling all over himself to be a good helper, leapt to his feet: "I will show him what to do!" And he did, quite beautifully. The new student made his way over to the door, where I heard a loud gasp from Jesus. And once again, against my better judgment, I called out: "What's the problem?"

Most of the time, my kids are really not potty mouths. They're always telling me that so-and-so said a bad word, which more often than not turns out to be "stupid." Which is why I was sort of scandalized when Jesus called out, quite clearly -- with the hallway full of kids lined up for dismissal and my whole class sitting there on the rug: "He said SHIT!"

I actually, literally, clapped my hand over my mouth. "Well, you don't repeat it!" I exclaimed.

7. Mark is a first-grader I haven't written about before now because there's no way to accurately capture the sheer WHIRLWIND OF MADNESS that is his behavior (and most of the time, after I deal with him, I'd rather not even try). Well, today he did something that sums it up: While my back was turned for two seconds, he took a scissors and cut a chunk right out of the front of his bowl haircut. (Then he denied doing it, but (a) there was hair on the table and (b) there was a chunk cut out of the front of his hair!)

So...I took all the scissors off the table. I banished him to a different spot in the room. I carefully crafted a note to his mother. And then I crossed my fingers that the wheels that are in motion to get Mark tested for special services turn a little bit faster, please.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Party like a kindergarten star

Miss Brave: "What would we like to ask Miss G to do with our Flat Stanleys when she gets them in the mail?"
George: "Can we ask her if she'll go see a PG-13 movie with them?"

* * *

I'm starting to have a problem with some of my kindergarteners.

They're too cute.

I know this doesn't seem like cause for concern. But lately, I'm distracted by their cuteness. Their cuteness gets in the way of my teaching.

This morning, I was attempting to have a writing conference with Darryl. Darryl, you'll remember, is the kid who once cried when I walked into his classroom, and then blossomed into a plucky little boy who's still prone to throwing temper tantrums every five minutes or so but who has shown tremendous improvement since the beginning of the year. Today, Darryl was so pleased with his writing that he was giggling happily to himself as he added to his story.

"It was snowing!" he exclaimed, pointing to a few wobbly scribbles on the paper. "And then I made a snowman!"

"You made a snowman?" I clarified with some skepticism, trying to remember if enough snow had fallen for Darryl to be telling the truth.

"I made five snowmen!" he embellished, scribbling with a flourish. He laughed delightedly. "Look! Five snowmen!"

I couldn't take it anymore. "Oh, Darryl," I said. "Darryl, Darryl, Darryl. You are so cute."

He laughed. I laughed. Then he asked, with a slightly worried tone to his voice, "Is that a good word, what you just said?"

It was too much. "Oh, yes," I answered. "It means you are very good-looking and wonderful."

He smiled, adorably, and then got back to work. I moved on to Maria. On the first day of class, Maria wouldn't even sit up, and all she drew was scribbles. So on Wednesday, when I saw her laboring to add a full sentence to the bottom of her already-labeled picture, I was hugely impressed. I had already lavished praise on her, but today I wanted to see if she remembered what her story was about. She was bent over the page, carefully creating some random pen marks on her completed drawing, when I interrupted and asked her to read it to me.

She read the first page. She read the second page. Then we got to the last page and ooops! It was blank. The story wasn't finished.

For a moment Maria stared at the blank page. Then her eyes goggled out in such a comic expression of surprise that I don't think I'll forget it for the rest of my life.

I decided to move on. But just as I was making my way over to another table, I heard a very small voice singing: "Party like a rock star, party like a rock star..."

I stopped in my tracks. "Who's singing? Joshua, is that you?"

Joshua gazed up at me. He nodded. I could see the gap from his two missing front teeth. The commotion had attracted the attention of the paras in the room.

"Sing it for Ms. M and Mrs. C," I demanded. So Joshua wriggled a little bit, thrust his crayon into the air and sang: "Party like a rock star, party like a rock star..."

That was it. It was Friday. And it was time to party like a rock star...kindergarten style.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

And the Oscar goes to...kindergarten!

Scene: Kindergarten
Characters: Miss Brave and Darryl

(Enter Darryl, pouting and looking miserable.)
Darryl: "Alejandro called me Darryl Banana!"
(Enter Alejandro, looking quite pleased with himself while Darryl is about to have a meltdown. Evidently, this is a serious insult. The gauntlet is thrown! Miss Brave tries very hard not to smile.)
Miss Brave: "You know what, Darryl, sometimes friends call each other silly names because they like each other and they want to say something funny, not because they're trying to be mean. Sometimes my daddy calls me silly names, too, and he's not trying to make fun of me."
(Darryl considers Miss Brave's speech for approximately one millisecond, then becomes distracted by the brilliance of his writing.)
Darryl: "Oooooh, look at this! Look at this!"
(A Darryl-prompted misdirection! Miss Brave is relieved. Crisis averted!)

* * *

I still have a cold (actually, since all of my 400+ students appear to have colds as well, I'm pretty sure I'm going to have a cold for the rest of my life), so my head is all congested. As a consequence, I feel like I can't hear myself clearly, so I tend to talk louder in all of my classes. To over-compensate for feeling tired and run-down, I produce a slightly manic kind of energy when I'm in front of my students.

So this morning (perhaps determined to prove that Miss Brave is, in fact, as funny as Mr. M), I put on the performance of a lifetime in my kindergarten classes. I was attempting to demonstrate that writers can include speech bubbles in their pictures to show that people are talking. Acting on a key piece of advice from my friend's mother -- a special education teacher -- I snuck some hand puppets out of the library (the librarian was away at a conference. Shhhh!) and prepared to break a leg.

My "story" went like this: Page 1 -- "First we put on our hats and mittens." Page 2 -- "Then we walked over the Brooklyn Bridge." Page 3 -- "Last we found the subway."

Ho-hum. But then it was showtime! Watch as Miss Brave dazzles you with delightful dialogue! I picked up a hand puppet with long brown braids, slapped on a Post-It labeled "me," and read: "First we put on our hats and mittens." (Miss Brave affects funny, un-Miss Brave-like high-pitched voice and shakes hand puppet so her braids wiggle.) "I said, 'It is soooo cold out!'" (Cue kindergarten laughter.)

Then I recruited audience members to participate in the drama. My young thespians, armed with Post-It-noted hand puppets of their own, were eager to play the parts of my friends, and in no time I had them reciting their lines with great gusto. Quickly we dispatched with my original story and replaced it, via the transforming power of hand puppets and speech bubbles, with a script to rival the great works of Shakespeare: "First we put on our hats and mittens. I said, 'It is soooo cold out!' Then we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge. Frank said, 'Wow!' Last we found the subway. Melissa said, 'It's right there!'" Writers' strike, eat your heart out.

When the curtains fell, the question for the director was not "Can I go to the bathroom?" but instead "Can we play again?" So for an encore, we speech bubbled The Rainbow Fish by imagining what the fish might be saying to each other. Who needs Marcus Pfister when you have kindergarteners: "Can I have one of your scales? NO!"

Alas, Miss Brave's First Law of School dictates that a class will behave perfectly during either the mini lesson or independent practice, but almost never both on the same day. So when I sent my miniature actors' guild back to their seats, armed with the power to add dialogue to their stories, they drew on each other's papers, sharpened their pencils (which were, overwhelmingly, already sharp) without permission and (my personal favorite) wasted time by measuring their pencils next to each other to determine whose was the tallest (with my older classes, I have tried explaining that the more writing you do, the shorter your pencil will be, and therefore the most prolific writers will have shorter pencils, but this Miss Brave logic is clearly too circular for them).

Alicia got up to sharpen her pencil after explicitly being told not to and then shamelessly tried to pin the blame on poor, defenseless Romeo. (I have to say, I kind of love it when they blatantly lie to my face and I can see right through it. I know that being five times their age and in possession of a master's degree pretty much overqualifies me for the job of kindergarten lie detector, but it still makes me feel a tiny bit powerful.) Oh, and Mario of "Alejandro said I was a girl" fame -- who is a perfect example of a kid who can exhaust your patience with naughty behavior but be so adorable and charming and clever that you can't help but love him to pieces anyway -- spent the whole period persisting in trying to explain to me how someone else at his table had attempted to defame him (I believe the offending word this time was "pig," but I have a hunch that this was a misunderstanding resulting from a matching game that I eventually took away from them).

By the time I got to 50 minutes, I had a splitting headache, and because last night was the first night of Hanukkah and I'm sure no one at my school knows that except me and the one other Jewish teacher, I decided to throw caution to the wind and read my third graders Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins, one of my favorite books. To my great surprise, they seemed familiar with the dreidel song, if not quite the exact nature of Hanukkah ("It's like the same as Christmas, only it's not Christmas"), so I promised them that tomorrow, since we usually play math games on Thursdays, I would teach them how to play dreidel (dividing the pot in half is so a mathematical concept). And that's how I ended up going to three different stores after school in the snow trying to track down a dreidel, dashing in vain down aisles filled with candy canes and mistletoe while the speakers blared Christmas carols.

Miss Brave, desperately: "Do you have any Hanukkah stuff? Any Hanukkah stuff at all?"
Rite-Aid dude, blankly: "No, sorry, we didn't get that in this year."


Monday, December 3, 2007

Elementary school germs are the most toxic

After feeling better on Saturday, I completely relapsed yesterday into the raging sore throat/fever/aches combo of which my body seems to be so fond. (When I get sick, I really go for it with gusto -- no such thing as a small case of the sniffles for Miss Brave!) Last night, between bouts of fitful sleep, I kept dreaming that I was on America's Next Top Model. Coincidence? I think not. Teaching, like modeling, is a profession you can't fake. There's no such thing as laying low in your cubicle and halfheartedly shuffling papers until you feel better.

Three weeks until winter break -- bring on the Purell!

Friday, November 30, 2007

Having a pity party

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, I outlined a rough draft of all my plans for the rest of the semester. For the first time since school started, I was ahead of the game. No more wild panicking on Sunday nights! No more cavalier dismissals of projects that could have been cool because I wouldn't have enough time to get my copies made! (I've read other teacherblogs where teachers complain about having to stand in line at the copy machine -- well, at my school, you have to get approval from an administrator before you can make copies, so you have to request all your copies at least two days ahead of time.)

Best of all, because I had oh-so-diligently done my planning already, I had a fabulous weekend planned out for myself. On Friday night, I was going to see Nicholas Kristof, my favorite New York Times columnist, lecture at the New York Public Library about conditions in Darfur. And on Saturday, I was taking a "chocolate excursion" over the Brooklyn Bridge to Jacques Torres Chocolate in DUMBO. It was so exciting! I finally had it all together!

So what happened? Why am I posting this at 7:48 am instead of organizing my stuff to lug over to my first period kindergarten?

GERMS HAPPENED. Kindergarteners happened. Kindergarteners with their snotty hands and their noses full of mucus and their cough cough coughing right into the open air. At least when you're a classroom teacher, you're dealing with only one set. But in a given week, I see, give or take, 425 students. That's 425 sets of germs, and 850 little hands poking me in the back and giving me high fives and hugs. Not to mention that I take the bus and the subway twice a day each.

When I think of all the germy germs I must touch in one day, I shudder.

So I'm taking my first sick day. The miserable virus of death didn't fell me, and neither did complete laryngitis, but now I have been waylaid by the common cold. (Except that this cold isn't so common: my nose went from zero to raw in about one hour, and then I had to deal with endless observations about it from my first graders. "Miss Brave, your nose is really red! It's running a lot! Are you sick?")

I suppose I should be thankful that I caught a cold from my students instead of, say, the virus of the second grader who threw up in the hallway yesterday morning. (I came very narrowly close to stepping in it, thanks.) But when I return to school, I'm returning armed with more hand sanitizer, Lysol wipes, and Airborne than ever before.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Thank you for riding the MTA

Like most New Yorkers, I think my commute stinks. I leave my apartment at 6:10 am, and it takes close to an hour to travel the 5 miles to my school by subway and then bus. The bus stinks infinitely more than the subway because it's always crowded with people who think it's okay to scream into their cell phones at 6:30 in the morning. And on the way home, I always, always (and I am only slightly exaggerating here) miss the bus, in that I see it whiz by as I am still high-heeling it to the stop.

Today I was standing at the stop when a "Not in Service" bus turned the corner -- but to my surprise, the driver opened the doors and beckoned me on. We recognized each other because we'd exchanged friendly greetings on the empty bus once before. "By the way," he said as I dipped my MetroCard, "are you a teacher?"

"I am!" I said, surprised. "How did you know?"

He smiled. "I just had a feeling," he said. "You have that face."

What I think he really meant was "that face of someone who probably wouldn't be getting on the bus in this neighborhood unless she taught here," but it was still a nice moment. He told me that my job requires a lot of patience. I agreed and pointed out that his does too. I told him that about my kindergarteners who are cute but wild; he told me about his old-lady passengers who curse him out and hit his bus with their canes.

Hmmm. Maybe our jobs aren't so different after all.

The wrong stuff

Samantha: "Mr. M was juggling, and all of the class was laughing!"
Alejandro: "Mr. M is so funny."
Miss Brave: "Is he funnier than Miss Brave?"
Alejandro: "Yeah! You're not funny!"

* * *

I have 18 classes to plan for, and the one that confounds me the most is my self-contained special ed kindergarten.

There are 12 students. Six of them are non-verbal, or at least not communicatively verbal (like, they'll recite the script of this morning's SpongeBob episode, but they can't tell you what they did this weekend). Three of them are still not progressing to representational drawing; give them a pencil and they'll just scribble on the paper.

Steven sprawls himself out on the carpet and rolls around; he frequently ends up crawling under the table and curling up in a ball. Antony roams around the classroom touching everything while the other students yell out, "Look at Antony! Look at Antony!" Emile and Jesus -- along with Steven and Antony -- are in their own worlds that come complete with their own sound effects: humming, tapping, scripting. And because a lot of the students mimic what they hear their teachers say, anyone who is acting out is met with a lot of stern voices from the other students -- because the ones who are verbal are very verbal and they all think they're in charge. "Antony! Zip it!" "Justine! Stop calling out!"

There are two paraprofessionals in the room, and today they both left to go change a boy's diaper, and that left me alone with the eleven kids. Remember the time I was alone in the auditorium with the 120 first graders? This was worse than that. Everyone was on their worst behavior -- including Miss Brave, who thought she was about to have a nervous breakdown.

I'm so frustrated by that class because every time I'm in there I feel like I have no idea what I'm doing. Number one, the para and I have very different styles. I can say, "Steven, sit up!" from across the room until I'm blue in the face, but the bottom line is, Steven's not going to hear me. Unfortunately, I can't be in twelve places at once, so that makes it kind of difficult to attend to everyone's needs.

Number two, does this class really need an extra period of writing on top of its regular writing period -- twice a week?! From a teacher who doesn't have a special education license? In her first year of teaching? I feel strongly that these aren't kids who are "behind," who need to have extra information poured into them so they can "catch up." These are kids who learn differently, and I freely admit that I am at a loss as how to teach them. Especially because I do only see them twice a week, and their needs are so differentiated -- Jamie can write a three-page story, complete with sentences, whereas Cody still won't even trace his name, let alone draw a picture. And even one-on-one attention isn't always what it's cracked up to be; I spent a long time sitting next to Jesus today, and I spent most of it trying to get him just to look at me. Steven stunned me by immediately getting to work drawing a full-fledged person (he used to just scribble; then all he would draw was SpongeBob and Patrick) and labeling it "me"...and then he spent the rest of the period writhing and squirming on the floor with his head in his hands, an issue I had trouble addressing because I was busy trying to make sure Antony didn't destroy the rest of the classroom.

I love those kids, I do. But I have no idea how to help them.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Gonna take on the world some day

Yesterday was the fabled Day Before a Vacation, in which teachers all over the country try to sneak fun activities past the watchful eye of the administration because they know their students will be off the wall otherwise.

My plan for the kindergarteners was to have them author a "Thanksgiving Book," for which they'd trace their hand on the cover and transform it into a turkey. But, all the kindergarten teachers got together and decided to show their kids a movie.

Have you ever taken a group of 12:1:1 self-contained kindergarteners and put them in a room with 100 other kindergarteners and expected them to sit still and focus on the finer plot points of A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving? These are kids whose verbal repertoire consists of (a) screaming or (b) echolalia. Warning, warning: MELTDOWNS WILL OCCUR.

That's how I ended up with one very heavy, squirming 5-year-old in my lap, while I rubbed his back and whispered things like, "Shhh, nice sitting" and "Look, Snoopy's making toast!" At one point, when the music started up in the movie, my little friend started patting his hands on his lap and then clapping them together: pat pat CLAP, pat pat CLAP. Hmm, I thought. That rhythm seems strangely familiar somehow. And just as it was clicking in my head, he opened his mouth and belted out:


Ohhhh yeah, my students will rock you, all right.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Breaking through

Bethany: "[My sister] Kiana said she's going to see you tomorrow."
Miss Brave: "Yes, I have Kiana's class tomorrow."
Bethany: "And she said, 'Oooh, I'm so excited!'"

Sure, I know teaching isn't about whether the kids like you...but it still gives me the warm fuzzies.

* * *

Besides three of my kindergarten classes (two of them special ed) and one of my first grade classes, I only see my classes once a week, so it can be tough to tell from week to week whether anything is getting through. During the "Connection" part of my mini lesson, when I say things like, "Last time I was here, we talked about how we need to use exclamation points at the end of our exciting sentences!", I'm often met with blank stares. Dear Miss Brave: Uh, have we met? Love, your first graders.

But lately I've noticed some small, encouraging signs. I've been telling my classes that the dot at the bottom of the exclamation point is just like a period in that it reminds us that we need to stop at the end of the sentence, but it's so excited about making the sentence into an exclamation that it's jumping up above the period because it can't sit still! (...much like the majority of my classes; today I actually uttered the phrase, "Second graders, a few of you are acting too much like exclamation points right now, jumping around, and I need you to act more like periods, who sit still and stop.") And in one of my first grades, as I modeled adding an exclamation point to the end of an exciting sentence, sweet spacey Eduardo called out, "It's jumping up because it's excited!"

In another first grade -- the ESL class of green day fame -- I worked on a story I wrote about going to see the runners at the New York City Marathon, in which I shouted, "Go, runners, go!" It's been two weeks (!) since I last saw this class, and yesterday Andy announced, "I remember the story you told us. Go, runners, go!"

And then there's Marco, a first grader who technically belongs in a 12:1:1 special ed classroom (meaning no more than twelve students with one teacher and one paraprofessional) but who, due to some !@#$-up with paperwork, is languishing in a general ed class. I say "languishing" because Marco is not unintelligent, but he is the kind of kid who appears to have a magnet on the top of his head that is attracted to another magnet hidden somewhere beneath the floorboards; he is just that incapable of sitting still in his chair without doing a face plant/body check onto the floor. In short: Marco needs a para.

I played the Noun Eater song for Marco's class on October 19. And every week since then, Marco asks, "Are we going to listen to that song? About the noun monster who eats people and places and things?"

This week I created giant wearable punctuation marks. I picked the quiet, well-behaved kids to wear the periods; the wriggly, excitable kids to wear the exclamation points (Kyle was among them, and it went blessedly well); and the curious, questioning kids to wear the question marks. (I have some extremely awesome photos of this activity that I'm not posting due to privacy concerns.) Then we practiced deciding who should stand at the end of Sentences Miss Brave Often Hears In This Class ("I need a drink of water"; "Can I have a drink of water"; "It's an emergency") and reading the sentences with the right tone in our voices. I was hoping the association would benefit them: "Remember, just like Kyle makes our class exciting, Kyle is going to make this sentence exciting!"

I guess that in the coming weeks, I'll see what's broken through.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Wanna be on top?

Thanks to my new DVR, I've been overdosing on marathons of America's Next Top Model lately, and today I had a bizarre thought: What if teaching were a reality show? And every week, teachers competed to see who could teach the most compelling, engaging, enriching lesson? And the teachers had bitchfights over things like whether to go with Teaching With Love and Logic or the assertive discipline approach? And they were coached by surprise celebrity guests like Harry Wong and Rafe Esquith? And every week someone got voted off by a panel of judges like Jonathan Kozol and Deborah Meier? And in the end the winner was crowned America's Next Top Educator and rose to fame throughout the nation?

Friday, November 16, 2007

Conversations like these are why my mini lessons take 20 minutes instead of 10

Christian: "Look at my motorcycle belt."
John: "You should get a monster car belt!"
Miss Brave, joking around: "Do you think I should get a monster car belt?"
John: "No! Because monster cars are for boys, and you're a girl!"
Miss Brave: "But I like monster cars. Girls aren't allowed to like monster cars?"
John: "What about monster trucks? Do you like monster trucks?"
Miss Brave: "Sure, I like monster trucks."
John: "But you can't drive it. Because it's too big."
Miss Brave: "Well, can you drive a monster truck?"
John: (nods)
Miss Brave: "But who's bigger? Miss Brave or John? If I'm bigger than you and I can't drive the monster truck, how can you drive the monster truck?"
John: "When I'm eleventy old, I'll be big enough for my feet to reach the pedals."

The kind of week I had

I wanted to rip off my own head, lodge it at the kids like a bowling ball, and say, "Here. I'm finished. You won."

This afternoon I came home, stunned, and ate half a bowl of tuna fish and two rainbow cookies in front of an MTV marathon of America's Next Top Model. Then I dragged myself off the couch and went out for a fast, furious run. I ran until I was warm and until I was sure that the kids weren't going to break me. I ran as if my second graders were chasing me. In a way, they were.

Friday, November 9, 2007

"That kid"

Kyle is one of the most challenging second graders I work with. He makes obnoxious clicking noises throughout my mini lessons, smirks when the class behavior stoplight changes from green to yellow, crawls under desks when he's asked to come to the meeting area, and spins around in chairs that he's expressly been forbidden to sit in when he should be working independently. And because Kyle functions at a low level academically and his personality switch is set permanently to "troublemaker," the only thing I've really gotten to know about him is that he likes to draw.

The other kids in Ms. J's class are always telling me, "Kyle is making me laugh," "Kyle is bothering me," "Kyle is taking my pencil," etc. Every week, I remind them that they are responsible for their own behavior, that no one is forcing them to misbehave, that the best thing they can do is to ignore the troublemaker and worry about themselves. And yet every week, the class seems to slowly disintegrate into chaos.

Last week, Kyle was absent, and it was like I had an entirely different class. The other challenging students in the class were remarkably focused. I don't think I had to issue one reprimand.

"Isn't it beautiful?" remarked Ms. J about Kyle's absence. "If I didn't have that kid in my class..."

She trailed off. Nearly every class has "that kid," that one student about whom you think, If I didn't have to deal with that kid, my class would be perfect!

Later that day, I was discussing with another teacher the remarkable transformation of Ms. J's class and the case of stubborn, defiant Kyle. Kyle wasn't responding to all the traditional behavior management techniques, I said. He doesn't to care about receiving praise. He revels in his role as the troublemaker. I don't know how to get through to him.

"Oh, Kyle," said the other teacher, remembering. "His first grade teacher had to testify against his father in court because he came to school with a belt mark across his face. He's probably been beaten up so many times he just doesn't care anymore."

That's when I vowed that I would stop thinking about Kyle as "that kid" -- that kid who is willfully and obstinately screwing up my vision of the perfect class -- and start thinking about him as a kid with potential.

This week, Kyle was back. During independent working time, I was surprised to see that he had completed the task I had asked him to do -- and what's more, he'd done it correctly. I hesitated over his desk, wondering how far I could push him, knowing that most of my past attempts at positive reinforcement had gone over like a lead balloon; as soon as Kyle realizes he's being praised, he usually chooses to do something defiant to end the moment and show who's boss.

"Kyle," I said in a low voice, "you did exactly what I asked, and you did a good job. And since I know what a good artist you are, I'm going to let you draw."

He stared back at me for a moment, like he couldn't believe it. "I can draw?" he repeated. "Can I use markers?" he asked eagerly.

I didn't let him use the markers. But I did call on him every single time he raised his hand, and I even dared to make a point of letting everyone know that I was calling on Kyle precisely because of the way he was sitting. And one of those times, what he raised his hand to tell me was that he had an art book at home.

Maybe this weekend, I can look into picking up some art supplies as a reward for Kyle. Maybe Kyle and I can strike a deal. Maybe Kyle will turn out to be "that kid" after all -- that kid who started out as my biggest antagonizer and ended up a success.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Let down your hair

What happens when Miss Brave has already collected everyone's papers but the teacher isn't back yet and Miss Brave has to stall:

Miss Brave: "Are there any comments?"
Yesenia: "I liked your story."
Ronnie: "Not me."
Miss Brave: "Ronnie, that was so rude. Do I come over to you when you're writing and tell you I don't like your story?"
Ronnie: "No."
(Cue other kids jumping to Miss Brave's defense)
David: "I liked your pictures!"
Eduardo: "I liked that story!"
Phillip: "I loved your story, Miss Brave!"
(Cue kids getting totally carried away with compliments)
Avery: "I love your boots!"
Yesenia: "I like your shirt!"
Boy's Voice: "I like your hair!"
(Cue moment of silence)
Avery: "Who said that?"

Alas, no one would own up to it. But somewhere in the middle of the rug in Mrs. C's first grade, there sits a boy who secretly admires my hair.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Are we grading on a curve?

Larissa: "Miss Brave! Look at my twisty ponytail!"
Miss Brave: "Oooh, I see! That's called a braid."
Larissa: "Yeah! And my ponytail is twisty!"

* * *

Well! Progress reports are out and it seems like the whole city is buzzing about them! Last week, I predicted that my school would get a B- or C+. Our actual grade: B.

I think that would hold more water for me if I actually understood how the grades were calculated. A friend of mine teaches at a school that's been designated "in need of improvement," and yet her school received an A -- and that's the story all over the city, from the Daily News to the New York Times. It's almost like the DOE calculations are designed to fly in the face of No Child Left Behind: The federal government wants improvement? How's this A grade for improvement?!

(Interestingly, both my elementary school and my high school received As. My junior high school got a C. At which of these schools would I say I was happiest? The junior high.)

Saturday, November 3, 2007

A change is gonna come

Phillip: "Miss Brave, what's your last name?"
Miss Brave: "Brave is my last name."
Alejandro: "Then what's your real name?"
Miss Brave: "Well, Brave is my real last name."
Phillip: "No, what's your first name?"
Miss Brave: "That's a secret."
Phillip: "I won't tell nobody!"

* * *

Changes are in the air. My students are starting to come to school wearing gigantic puffy jackets, staggering under the weight of their oversized hoods (small childre in rain gear are the cutest, followed closely by winter accessories). Most days I watch the sun rise from the fourth floor of our school; it won't be long before I'm watching it set there too.

Changes are in the air for Darryl: When he came to kindergarten two months ago, his round chubby face was nearly always screwed into a pout, and he threw a fit if another student so much as looked at him. Now he's landed a starring role in the stories of the other kids at his table ("This is me and Darryl at the park"; "This is me and Darryl going to Toys R Us"), and he listens, beaming, as his tablemates sing his praises as a friend.

Changes are in the air for Ms. N's ESL second grade: When I met them, I instantly dismissed them as my most challenging class, full of kids who literally did not stop talking for one instant, ever, with a handful who spent their time spinning around in circles or wandering around the room without asking to leave their seats. Then I read their writing, spoke to their teacher and realized that they're smart kids who are hungry for attention. Now I've fallen in love with them despite myself and that class is one of my favorites; more than any other, they respond to positive reinforcement, and I've never seen a group of second graders get more excited about locating all the adjectives in a story we wrote together.

Changes are in the air for Ms. L's second grade: In our last meeting, I happened to turn around just in time to see Julio carefully aiming the paper airplane he had constructed out of the paper on which he should have been writing. I snatched it out of his hand before he took flight, fixed him with a deadly glare, and asked, "Is this what you think of the work you've been doing?" My voice rose until I was addressing the whole, rowdy, misbehaving, defiant, obnoxious class: "Because when you make paper airplanes out of your work, instead of asking someone else to help you figure out what to do, you're telling me that you think that what you do is just garbage. And you're wrong. Because you can do better. You are all intelligent. But you need to show that to me. Because now, it's just garbage." I crumpled up the airplane and threw it in the trash. It was my Hilary Swank in Freedom Writers, Matthew Perry in The Ron Clark Story, Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Minds moment. Only later I realized: My voice wasn't quavering like it used to. They didn't scare me; they just pissed me off. Maybe that was a breakthrough.

Changes might be in the air for me, too, but it's more difficult to explain. Lately I've found myself imagining what I might do next year with my own class, or how I might fare at a school outside the NYC public school system. I still don't think I want to be a teacher forever; I still think it's highly likely that I don't want to be a teacher next year. But I know 100% that I don't want to be a writing cluster teacher next year...which still leaves open the possibility that I might be able to accept doing something else. Now that I've survived October, winter break seems just around the corner. And the cold, biting air never tasted so sweet.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Just that kind of day

Mario: "Miss Brave, Alejandro said I was a girl."
Miss Brave: "Mario, you need to worry about yourself now, not what other people are saying when they should be writing instead of talking anyway."
Mario: "But Alejandro said I was a girl."
Miss Brave: "Mario, I need you to think about what you should be doing right now instead of telling me this."
Mario: "But Alejandro said I was a girl."
Miss Brave: "Mario, I don't want to hear any more about what other people said. You're supposed to be writing."
Mario: "But Alejandro said -- "
Miss Brave: "Mario! You're not a girl, are you?"
Mario: ""
Miss Brave: "Then you know that what Alejandro said was silly and that he was just saying it to bother you, so I want you to ignore it!"
(Enter Miss H.)
Mario: "Miss H! Alejandro said I was a girl!"

* * *

I think anyone who's worked in an office can agree that no good can ever come of the phrase: "Didn't you get the memo?"

I learned that lesson the hard way today when my schedule was altered due to professional development sessions, but no one told me. As a result, I didn't show up for a class I was supposed to cover, and I had to face the disapproving wrath of a lady in the office who asked me, "Didn't you get the memo?"

As a matter of fact, I rarely get the memo, because my mailbox is way on the bottom and the aides seem to forget that it's there. So there I was, using my prep period to -- get ready for it -- prep, all the while unaware that what I actually should have been doing was wrangling Miss D's first graders. Not only did I end up feeling like a jerk (even though, as I never saw that particular memo before in my life, it wasn't my fault) and end up having to switch around my afternoon classes, but I could have had a last-period prep, which would have been ever so much more awesome!

One memo I did get -- on Thursday afternoon -- informed me that I have to submit grades for my students -- not my kindergarteners, which only leaves about 300 Monday.

And that's why at lunch I sent a text message to my friend that read, "This is the kind of day I'm having: Aaaauuugghhhhh!"

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

1 vs. 100

Actually, it was more like 120. First graders, that is. They were all in the auditorium while their teachers were at a professional development session, and I was the lucky winner of the mass prep coverage lottery!

I was told there would be two school aides in the auditorium to assist me. There weren't. I was told the television would be set up so I could show an educational video. It wasn't. I'm sure you can see where this is going: Miss Brave, all 5'1" of her, still recovering from laryngitis, stands in front of a roomful of 5- and 6-year-olds right before they go to lunch...and they all have to use the bathroom. Desperately.

Oh. My. God.

Should this experience ever happen to you, remain calm. Do not panic. Calmly raise your arms in the air and shout, "First graders, if you can hear me, clap once! If you can hear me, clap twice! If you can hear me, clap three times!" Repeat until everyone is listening, except for those kids who never, ever listen or sit still even for a moment who are hard enough to handle one-on-one, let alone in the midst of 120 other first graders.

Then panic.

Meanwhile, while I was learning a very important lesson about setting up for my own mass prep coverages beforehand, the teachers were upstairs doing their PD on how they should be organizing their assessment data. Because my office is nearby, I overheard some of what went on, and it wasn't pretty. Teachers are, to put it mildly, overwhelmed, overworked and overstressed. Teachers actually cried as they described struggling to find enough time to do everything that's expected of them while still feeling like it's never enough. Just when you get comfortable with the system, the whole thing changes. The focus of my job isn't even teaching anymore, someone said; it's collecting and organizing all this data. Someone else added: This is exactly why teachers leave the profession; I have had it and I'm done.

Stressed as I am, I can't even begin to imagine being a new teacher and being expected to maintain the amount of data that teachers at my school are expected to maintain. The mood at school these past few days has been noticeably tense and aggravated. Which is of course exactly what our students don't need: a school full of stressed out teachers.

And speaking of stressed out teachers: The only part of my job I really consistently enjoy and look forward to is the 50 minutes after school, which I spend with a small group of ESL first graders that I adore. ("Miss Brave, can I tell you something? I want to come to your house!" "I want to come to your house too! I could play with your little brother!" I don't have a little brother, but that appears to be beside the point.) So of course, I'm being transferred, to a different group of kids in a different grade.

I will miss Alex, who enjoys sneak-attack hugging me from behind. I'll miss Alejandro, whose mousse-spiked hair and serious earring bling make him 7 going on 17. I'll miss Cynthia, who bursts into tears if she doesn't see her mother immediately upon exiting the building. I'll miss Eduardo, who always has a story about his dog, and Phillip, who is eternally eager to help out. And I'll even miss Ronnie, who has a smart mouth and a bad attitude.

With the exception of a few of my kindergarten classes, which I see twice a week, they are the only kids in the building I've actually gotten to know. So I am really, really disappointed to be leaving them.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Second grade can stuff it

My second graders are out of control.

They're more violent than my fourth graders, ruder than my third graders, more immature than my first graders and have shorter attention spans than my kindergarteners. They tear up paper instead of writing on it. They flick pencils across the room. They tease each other, get in each other's personal space and just generally get on each other's nerves. They make obnoxious noises during mini-lessons: farting, humming, clicking, tapping.

Some of them echo what I say in a sarcastic tone of voice. Some of them flat-out refuse to do anything, choosing instead to spend their time spinning in circles or walking around the room on their knees. One of them once threw a full-out, kicking-and-screaming tantrum, fists and feet smacking against the floor.

Of my six second grade classes, I would say I'm making fair to decent headway with three of them. 50%? That's an awful lot of children left behind.

Last week, when my laryngitis was in full bloom, the teacher of my most challenging second grade told me I had to work harder at raising my voice. It's true -- I am not a yeller. I had always hoped to be the kind of teacher who understands that fear is not the same as respect, the kind of teacher who saves the yelling for really serious infractions. But also, when I raise my voice, there's something dishonest about the quality of it -- it doesn't quiver the way it used to, but it also still sounds like I'm faking it.

The truth is that my most challenging second grades have found a way to get under my skin. I can handle kids who call out, kids who bug other kids, and kids who are slow to follow directions. I have reserves of patience for kids who keep asking to use the bathroom, kids who are surreptitiously playing with toys at the meeting area and kids who stare vacantly into space instead of writing their names. But what gets to me the most is blatant, flagrant disrespect, because it means the way I typically discipline -- the calm, rational voice, the "I'm disappointed in you," the "I am so sad that you can't behave," the "I know you can do so much better" -- is completely ineffective.

My challenging second graders don't care about earning rewards. They don't care about letters going home to their parents. They don't care that I'm disappointed in them and sad that they can't behave and know they can do so much better, because they don't care about me. I'm just some lady who comes to the room for an hour a week and the more time they can waste by acting ridiculous, the better.

I won over my other second grades with fun, engaging lessons that got them really jazzed up for the first time. I acted like nouns and adjectives were the coolest thing in the world and for a brief period of time, they believed it too! But my challenging second graders were having none of it. They're already jaded, already desensitized and already too cool for grammar.

Second grade, you'll be the death of me.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Put your paddle where your mouth is

Yesterday I had my post-observation conference. My AP told me I have excellent classroom management skills and a "wonderful, nurturing tone" with students. I left the meeting feeling ready, for the first time ever, to face my freaky Friday afternoon classes, where I...

...made two students cry.


In other news, did you know that there are still states where it's not only legal to "paddle" students in schools, but where they actually do it?! Witness these comments from teachers at A to Z Teacher Stuff:

"I live in Louisiana and the use of corporal punishment is legal. Today my parish decided that teachers no longer have permission to paddle a student. It must be administered by the principal or assistant principal. I say HOORAY!!! I have never paddled a student in 15 years of teaching, however this new policy has the teachers at my school in an uproar. They just know all hell is going to break out now that they can't swing a paddle."

"It is legal in my county to paddle (and some of the surrounding counties). I witnessed my first one a few weeks ago. Being from up North, I had never heard of such a thing. I've come around to it though with having several behavior problem children in which every trick in the book hasn't worked."

"8 out of 10 kids will pretty much toe the line if a paddling is a possibility."

"My question to all of you who are against paddling is what do you do when all else fails?"

:::goggle::: "When all else fails, hit your students" -- it's a motto that's almost right up there with "No child left behind."

Friday, October 26, 2007

Dear Miss Brave

"Dear Miss Brave,

You are the best teacher I ever had."

And that was before I gave out the lollipops.

If for no other reason, their excessive hyperbole is why I'm glad I teach younger kiddos as opposed to older ones.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Miss Brave has lost her voice

Today I lost my voice completely. I went to Dunkin' Donuts this morning (in the rain, natch) to get tea, and literally nothing came out of my mouth. I was trying to ask if they had honey, but: nada. As a result, the cashier spoke to me like I was an imbecile: "Do. You. Want. SUGAR?!" she asked, emphatically waving a sugar packet in front of my face.

So I had to improvise: Instead of doing the adjective lessons I'd planned, I showed my classes a video about Halloween (although I was careful to emphasize that not everyone celebrates Halloween and that's okay, since as one first-grader matter-of-factly informed me, it's "the devil") and asked them to write a response to it. (I actually brought along a sign: "Dear Class: Miss Brave has lost her voice! Today we will watch a video about Halloween. Then we will write: What did we learn about Halloween?" Too bad the vast majority of my students are reading below D level!)

Naturally, they produced more from this exercise than any of my carefully crafted lessons so far.

But I left school today (earlier than usual, because I'm on my way to a doctor's appointment) feeling rather downtrodden, because the metaphor here is profound and unsettling: I have, quite literally, lost my voice.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

I wish I knew how to quit you

Nudity, nosebleed, no voice, and news of teachers quitting -- whew! It was an eventful day.

My wasting virus of last week disintegrated into a cough and laryngitis, so I sounded like the Bride of Frankenstein today. I was with the kindergarteners all day, and they were full of questions about it. Some of them were merely curious: "Why does your voice sound different?" Others were more forward: "Why is your voice all funny?" Still others were full of helpful advice: "You got to drink water to make your voice come back!" I tried to explain that even though I sounded different, I was still Miss Brave, and that meant they still had to listen to can imagine how well that went over with 27 4- and 5-year-olds.

On to nudity! Today Alejandro asked -- nay, begged -- to use the restroom. I was reluctant to let him because he tends to disappear for quite some time. But he insisted, several times, that he had to "do #2," so off he went.

The end of the period arrived, and Alejandro still hadn't returned, so his classroom teacher went off to the bathroom to bust him. But there she found him au naturel, as apparently the laws of doing #2 dictate...taking off all one's clothes?

So I was already pretty fried by the time a little voice piped up from the rug in the afternoon: "Miss Brave, I'm bleeding!" Fortunately it was only a standard-issue nosebleed, all over the hands, face and shirt of Julian (why, oh why are those school uniforms white?!). I sent him off to the restroom to get cleaned up, but while he was gone, Jake had some strange and graphic questions. "What happened to Julian? He's bleeding all over? He had a knife?" Of course, when Julian returned, he had to show off his bloody shirt to everyone at his table.

And last: Two new teachers (one with a self-contained special ed class, the other with a notoriously challenging bunch of kids) quit today.

I'm not quite sure how to react. On the one hand, every day I want to quit my job about as badly as I've ever wanted anything, and I haven't yet. I don't for a second think that makes me superior to either of those teachers, both of whom were in much more challenging situations than I am, but it does give me a tiny bit of pride that I'm sticking it out.

On the other hand, I'm a little envious that they've done what I desperately want to do but haven't. And on the other other hand...I just feel sad. I service one of those classes, and every time I've passed the teacher in the hallway, I think that the look on her face must mirror my own: It says "I'm smiling at you to be polite and friendly, but inwardly I'm falling apart." So I feel disappointed that there are other people in the building who are struggling as much as I am, but no one's talking about it for fear of -- reprecussions? Looking weak or whiny?

When I went to the DOE orientations and workshops over the summer, every single veteran teacher who spoke made sure to tell us about how back in the old days, they didn't have anything of the sort, and we were so lucky to get the introduction to the DOE that they never got. But what I know for sure is that those orientations were four hundred different kinds of worthless -- and I'm saddened by the fact that these new teachers obviously felt that they lacked the support or the motivation to continue.

Some part of me wants to be a crusader of sorts who gathers up all the new teachers (and there are a lot of us) and says, "We're all having struggles -- let's support each other!" But another part of me, like all the other new teachers, is too stressed out, too tired, too busy with my own issues.

Then, after school, I signed on to our computer and the DOE homepage came up. It informed me that there are five people who apply for every one person who gets hired to teach in a New York City public school. Oh, the irony: I worked really, really hard to get my job, and now I would hand it over to those four rejected applicants in a New York minute.

Friday, October 19, 2007


I guess now I can officially call myself a teacher: I have been Observed.

Every school is different, but at my school, Observations are a Big Deal. I know this because all the advice I've been taking from other teachers has been like a pop quiz:

Veteran Teacher: "Do you have to do ______?"
Miss Brave: "Uhhhhhhh..."
Veteran Teacher, ominously: "Find out before you get Observed!"

Now, I am nothing if not thorough. So like any good geek, I had read the section of the UFT website called "Know Your Rights." And according to UFT rights, "The principal should tell you in advance that he or she will be formally observing you on a particular day." Of course, when I tentatively mentioned this to a fellow teacher, she rolled her eyes.

"Welcome to hell," she said.

Then she warned me that the principal would not crack a smile and that her presence would probably cause me to forget everything I'd ever learned about teaching.

Welcome to hell, indeed.

If you count the terrifying memo I found in my inbox mere weeks into the school year ("FYI new teachers -- Observations begin this week") as informing me in advance, then OK, I was informed. But what actually tipped me off were the rippling waves of tension around the school hallways: "They got J. last week"; "I think she was looking for M. this morning" -- as if the APs were like a roving death squad of assassins rather than administrators out to perform observations. Probationary teachers (with less than three years' experience) get four observations; tenured teachers get two. At my K-5 school, there are six classes on each grade level, some of which are team taught, and that doesn't even include clusters, ESL and AIS teachers for reading, writing and math, most of whom are probationary. So that's a whole lotta observing going on.

By Tuesday at lunch, I couldn't take it anymore, and I called my mom, crying that I just wanted to get it over with already. So of course, not even an hour later, my assistant principal showed up at my second grade CTT class.

Immediately I started dropping things. My mouth went dry. My brain spun into overdrive. I was saved by two things: Fortunately, I happened to be doing that blessed Noun Eater lesson, which the kids freakin' love; and because that class has so many extra support staffers in the room, the kids didn't get too out of hand. Because the period before, I saw my wild first graders, and I did a lesson with them on "multi-sensory writing" that involved reaching into a "mystery bag," which turned out to be an unholy disaster of an idea and if I'd been observed during that lesson, I probably would have been fired.

But as it turned out, it went OK. Phew. Until next time, that is.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Lie to me

For the past few days I've been battling a crisis that's well known to all teachers: New School = New Germs = New and Terrible Illness -- in my case, a sore throat/fever/aches combo that sent me to bed at 6:30 pm last night.

I've only accrued two sick days, and it's only October, so I didn't want to use them. So I dragged -- and I mean drrrraaaaaagggggedddd -- myself to school this morning.

I hadn't showered. My hair was in a frizzy ponytail. I was wearing no makeup. I looked, and felt, like death.

Then in one of my first grade classes, a little girl skipped up to me, sweetly smiled her toothless smile, and said happily, "Miss Brave, you look beautiful."

Unless you count the fact that a grand total of two of my five classes were forced by their teachers to apologize to me for their was the only nice thing anyone said to me all day.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

"Only a job," or: The Devil Wears a School Uniform

It's no secret that I'm struggling as a new teacher. And because the most important thing I learned from my student teaching experience was not to keep quiet about it, everyone from my mom to my assistant principal knows that I'm struggling. All of those people are full of advice, and one piece of advice I've gotten from everyone from my nana to my faculty mentor is: "It's only a job."

"It's only a job," said my grandmother. "At the end of the day, it's a job they're paying you to do" ("They're not paying me enough," I replied) "and you just do the best you can."

"It's only a job," said my mentor. "You need to get out of the building, go have lunch with people, and not stress yourself out so much."

That's why in some ways I'm trying to look at this year as my Devil Wears Prada year. You know the story: She works at a soul-sucking job for a year that causes her to hate her life, but at the end of it comes experience and along with it, something better. Only in my case, the devil is three feet tall and wears a white button-down shirt.

But ask any teacher why they went into teaching, and nine times out of ten they'll tell you it was because they wanted to accomplish something bigger, to make a difference in children's lives, to do something extraordinary. Teachers don't become teachers just because they want any old job; they become teachers because they want to do something more.

So it's not only a job when Child Protective Services comes to school in the middle of the day to remove one of my students because of suspected parental abuse. It's not only a job when children come to me crying because someone hurt their feelings. And to be honest, I don't think I'd be a very good teacher if I felt that way. For all my faults as a teacher, I think one of my strengths is my ability to see potential in every single one of my students, even the ones that drive me to tears because they're so defiant and so disruptive.

I wish it were "only a job." I wish I knew how to compartmentalize my life and leave my concerns at school instead of taking them home with me. I wish I didn't wake up in the middle of the night worrying about what to do with my kindergarteners on Monday morning. And I wish I was at the end of the year, at the point where I could tell my own war stories to new teachers: "Oh, yeah, I cried every day, I wanted to quit thousands of times," I'd say nonchalantly.

But instead of being only a job, it's only October. And it's back to the devil tomorrow morning.

Breaking the workshop model

I think I've explained the workshop model before, but in case you've forgotten, it looks like this:
  • 10-minute "mini lesson" consisting of a short connection to students' previous knowledge; statement of the teaching point in which teachers explicitly tell the students what they'll be learning; demonstration in which the teacher models for the students; and active engagement in which the students try it out on their own
  • 35-minute "guided practice" period in which the students work independently
  • 5-minute share at the end of independent work
Before I actually became a first-year teacher, I was all about the workshop model. I thought it would be helpful, as a new teacher, to have a script of sorts to follow. After all, every mini lesson sounds a little something like this, but with all the blanks filled in:

"Boys and girls, we have been working hard on _____. Today I want to teach you that ____. Let me show you what I mean. ________. Boys and girls, did you see the way I ______? Now let's try it together. Turn and talk to your partner about _______. Boys and girls, today and every day I want you to remember that _______. Now off you go!"

A month and a half into the school year, the workshop model is pretty much the bane of my existence. Remembering the script and keeping the mini lesson to a scant 10 minutes is not as easy as it sounds. Neither is trying to shoehorn all the aspects of my lesson into the workshop model framework. I'm used to teaching in a style where I ask lots of questions of my students and invite lots of discussion. During the workshop model mini lesson, there are no questions allowed from the students and no discussion (except during the active engagement); it's all the teacher, all the time. I see my students raise their hands with these hopeful looks on their faces because they have something they want to share or something they have a question about, and it breaks my heart to keep saying, "Hands down, it's my turn now."

I think the workshop model probably does work for the population of students in the school where I teach. After all, taking advantage of those "teachable moments" that lead the lesson astray can be really confusing for students whose native language is not English, like the students at my school. But at the same time, the workshop model feels really one-sided. I can tell that there are kids who are confused, who aren't getting it, and I'm supposed to pull those kids for a 2-minute "re-teach" at the rug instead of changing tack and trying a different method?

This weekend, I took two New York State teaching certification exams (because my teaching license is from another state, I have to pass New York's exams to get my New York license). Mostly they were a joke, but they included lots of samples of class discussions -- and I realized that's something I miss. In my workshop model lessons, there's no back and forth, no "What do you think?", no "Who else has an idea about this?" I don't get to invite my students' opinions, their knowledge, their ideas. All I get to do is tell them how to punctuate their sentences and then eavesdrop on them while they try it. And even though I allegedly have more freedom as a cluster teacher, I've still been told by the powers that be that every class I teach should start with a mini lesson. It's hard enough being a first-year teacher as it is, but trying to shoehorn every lesson into a framework I'm not all that comfortable with is overwhelming.

Apparently the workshop model is mandated for use in schools throughout New York City, so...I should use it or lose it, I guess? Or I should, as someone suggested, plan two lessons: one to be taught the way I want to teach, and one workshop model to pull out when I'm being observed.

I don't think I'm ready to be that much of a renegade just yet.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Good riddance, Mr. Chips

If you enjoyed my last entry, you're probably under the impression that everything is hunky dory in Miss Brave's teaching life. It's just the way it happens in those teaching movies: She's off to a rocky start, but she plays the ragtag bunch of kids from the wrong side of the tracks a cool song and voila! She wins them over and the real learning can begin!

I may be new to this, but I think it's pretty safe to say that's rarely the way it works in real life. There are no epiphanies, and with most of my classes, I have to start fresh and win them over every single lesson. Those green-day first graders I wrote about a few entries back? They went right back from green to "make Miss Brave tear her hair out red" the very next day, and they've been there ever since.

I've been looking on the bright side because that's what makes for the happy anecdotes, the ones that make you smile and say "aww, teachers are changing the world!" But the unvarnished truth is this: I'm unhappy.

I should probably treat this as a "teachable moment" and tell you why, but another truth is this: It's Friday night at 9:15, I have to take two teaching exams all day tomorrow (because the DOE will not let me rest until they've sucked me dry of every dollar I've earned), and I'm about to go to bed. I've had enough teachable moments for a lifetime.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Low Down Noun Eater

Today I felt it for the first time. It happened in a brief, shimmering instant during my last-period first grade ESL class, which is stuffed to the brim with adorable, excitable kids who cannot sit still or keep their mouths shut long enough even for me to bribe them with stickers.

We were learning about nouns -- more specifically, we were learning about how a noun is a special name for a word that is a person, place or thing. I had just played this funky song called "The Low-Down Noun Eater" that I miraculously downloaded for free off the Internet, about a monster who eats every noun in sight.

I knew they would love it, and they did. When I paused the song in the middle to ask them what they'd just heard, they could hardly contain themselves.

"Whoa, whoa, one at a time!" I found myself saying, and that's when I felt it for the first time this year: the teacher's high. That feeling you only get when something clicks -- when something finally, finally, finally goes right.

I went to bed at 9:15 last night and was still exhausted this morning. I just found out that a fellow freelancer at the site of my Dream Job -- the place where I would have given up teaching in a heartbeat to work -- got hired full time. And I've lost so much weight recently from stress that all my clothes are huge on me and I feel ridiculous and dowdy every day compared to the other teachers.

So I needed that moment, fleeting and ephemeral as it was. I needed it to remind me why I thought I could do this in the first place. I needed it to remind me that my kids have so much joy in them that it would be totally unfair to stifle it all the time.

I don't know how it fits into the workshop model. I don't know if my administration would approve. But at that moment, I didn't care. Will they remember next week what a noun is? Maybe. But will they remember that Miss Brave let them boogey down while they were packing their schoolbags? I hope so.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

"Oh, no, not AGAIN!"

That was Darryl's reaction this morning when I walked into his kindergarten classroom. Then he started crying. OK, granted, Darryl is a "special" kid, but that didn't exactly make me feel spectacular.

I am a long, long, long way from being a successful teacher, but now I'm one step closer to being a successful blogger -- I was asked to contribute to the "New Teacher Diaries" at Edwize, the blog of the United Federation of Teachers, our teachers' union. (Speaking of which, I got my optical benefits voucher in the mail today -- thanks for the new glasses, UFT!)

So now that I know this blog has a wider audience than just my parents and a few friends, there's this temptation to whitewash things the way I do in the hallway when another teacher says, "How's it going?" but clearly isn't all that invested in the answer. (Sometimes I wonder what would happen if I just broke down sobbing and confessed: "Things are terrible, please help me!")

But I started this blog to capture a true, honest picture of my first year as a teacher. One of the first things you're told as a new teacher is that all new teachers feel stressed, overwhelmed, panicked and doubtful about the whole idea of teaching. And one of the first things you go on to learn as a new teacher is that you don't care that all new teachers feel stressed, overwhelmed, panicked and doubtful about the whole idea of teaching; all you care about is how you ended up in this classroom with 20 kids who are doggedly trying to kill each other and get your attention all at the same time.

I think the thing about great teaching, the reason that so many people think that teaching isn't exactly a job for the intellectually elite, is that great teaching looks effortless. Truly great teachers employ smooth segues and redirects, stimulating lessons that engage every child, behavioral management techniques that make the classroom run itself.

It's rare to find a first-year teacher that is truly great; and I certainly am not one. On some days, I'm an OK teacher; today I made my kindergarteners laugh by pointing out that when I write my story about going to the park and I draw just my face without arms or legs, oops, I am not done with my picture!

On other days, though, I'm an abysmal failure as a teacher. Instead of hearing the "excited workshop hum," like the wildly optimistic Teachers' College curriculum says I should, I hear sniping and hurt voices. Instead of the room being "on fire with energy" (oh, Teachers' College, how you toy with my tender teaching emotions), the room is on fire with anarchy.

Teaching is the hardest thing I've ever done. Harder than running the marathon, harder than overcoming relationship phobia, harder than watching the Mets' ugly downfall. (OK, I'm still not ready to talk about that.)

So let's lay it out on the table: Was I secretly a little bit pleased when my morning kindergarteners collapsed on top of each other in a stampede to give me goodbye hugs? Of course.

But right now, would I still trade that for the safety of a cubicle in an office where nobody would complain that he hit me first? Well...yes.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Tiny victories

Mondays right after lunch, I see a first grade class whose behavior I'll charitably describe as "a disaster." Individually, they're sweet kids. As a class, they're a whirling dervish of can I go to the bathroom, he hit me, she's writing on my paper, he ripped my paper, can I get a drink of water, my pencil broke, I am going to quit my job if the period doesn't come to an end. (Oh, wait, that last one is me.)

I've been having trouble planning lessons for this group because it takes so long to get them settled down that there's barely time for any of us to accomplish anything before the period is over. They're also ESL kids. What's the point of teaching a lesson on how to put a period at the end of a sentence when no one finishes writing a sentence by the end of the class?

Today before we started class I held up my "Class Behavior" stoplight (green = 2 stickers, yellow = 1 sticker and red = no stickers for you, say it Soup Nazi style) and issued a proclamation. It is going to be a green day, I said. I am so confident that it is going to be a green day that I will give you not one -- not two -- but three stickers on your class sticker chart if we're having a green day by the end of the class. You can do it!

Maybe it was because it's Monday, and they chilled out over the weekend. Maybe someone put Xanax in their food at lunch. Maybe it was because I looked them in the eye and dared them to behave. But praise Harry Wong, my first graders had a green day.

They weren't perfect. We still went through our usual round of can I go to the bathroom, he took my pencil, she's writing on my paper, I need to drink water. But it was turned down, like, forty notches. And Amber -- Amber -- who's usually out of her seat and at my side pestering me and talking out of turn -- spent the entire time writing, pausing only to display for me her handiwork. Literally my jaw dropped open: "Amber!" I exclaimed. "I am so impressed by how hard you're working today!"

She beamed. I beamed. Then Danny kicked Andrew and Eddie knocked over a chair.

In the end, I gave them their green day and three stickers anyway. And according to their classroom teacher, they talked about it all afternoon.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Lighter moments

I never intended for my teaching blog to be all gloom and doom. So for a little balance, here are some stories that prove that, no matter how infuriating my students are, they're still delightful:

Funny story #1:
It's the Wednesday before our two days off for the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah. The population of students at my school is more than 80% Hispanic, and the teachers seem to be largely Italian and Irish, so I'd bet a pound of gefilte fish that there weren't more than five people who knew why we were off. As we walk to the schoolyard for dismissal, I have this conversation with a first grader:

Phillip: "Tomorrow is birthday?"
Miss Brave: "No, tomorrow is a holiday for some people."
Phillip: "Tomorrow is Monday?"
Miss Brave: "No, tomorrow is Thursday."
Phillip: "I have gym tomorrow?"
Miss Brave: "No, there is no school tomorrow. What day do you have gym?"
Phillip: "Mondays. I like Mondays because I have gym."
Miss Brave: "When you come back to school, it will be Monday and you'll have gym."

Funny story #2:
After the regular school day ends, a lot of the kiddos at my school stay for an extra 50 minutes of small-group instruction for "at risk" students. In my 50-minute session, we usually get the kiddos packed up before the 50 minutes rather than after, so we'll be all ready to go at 3:10. Some of them stay in the room and some leave, which of course confuses them all to no end: "Are we going home? Do I go to computer?" Eduardo, in particular, is a total space cadet; every day I give him the same weary instructions: "No, Eduardo, you stay here with me, remember? Get your backpack...and your lunchbox...and your take-home folder...and your put those things inside your put your backpack on the back of your chair and come to the rug -- why are you lined up at the door? You stay here with me, remember?" "Oh yeah!" he'll say brightly, and then set about the task of pushing in everyone else's chairs and chastising them for leaving them out in the aisle.

Last week, we're walking down the stairs for dismissal, Eduardo and his Spider-Man backpack merrily bouncing down the steps no matter how many times I remind him that (a) we put one foot on each step and (b) we have marshmallow feet when we take the stairs -- when he suddenly looks up, alarmed. "Miss Brave!" he calls out. "I didn't pack nothing!"

It took 10 minutes for all my first graders to pack up their things. I'm not sure what sweet, aimless Eduardo was doing during that time, but I can bet it was more interesting than getting his homework folder.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Letters to a distraught teacher

Recently my dad, who's a librarian, brought me a book called Letters to a Young Teacher, by Jonathan Kozol. At first I was resistant to reading it: The reality of teaching is so far from the comfortable world of reading about it in books that I thought it would just make me bitter.

But I did read it. It's basically a series of letters that Kozol wrote to a brand-new first grade teacher in inner city Boston whom he calls "Francesca." As he comments on Francesca's classroom and her rapport with her students, he also expands on his theories about educational policy.

In one part, he reflects on how Francesca recounted an incident that happened in her classroom to a woman who was conducting a teaching workshop. A student in Francesca's class was telling other students about a story she had written, and all the other students picked up on it and started relating it to their own stories. The workshop woman was impressed that the students had made what she called a "text-to-self" connection.

In the book, Kozol and Francesca both agree that this woman is ridiculous and that teachers don't actually talk like that. And that's when it hit me: I talk like that. I like that stuff. I like learning all those theories about how children learn, about how they make those text-to-self connections. I like working with kids one on one and in small groups and watching those connections click, and on occasion I even like the excitement that comes from the whole class getting really involved in an activity I've set up.

But Kozol and Francesca are right: Most teachers don't talk like that. They're too busy actually teaching.

Where does that leave me?

Frantic, frenetic, unfabulous Fridays

"Shhh! The teacher's here!"

This is (along with "CanIgotothebathroomcanIgotothebathroom?!") probably my least favorite thing to hear from my students. That's because "the teacher" they're referring to is not me, but their classroom teacher. And what it says, in a nutshell is, "We don't respect or listen to Miss Brave because she has no power over us, but shhh! The real teacher's back!" And that's the worst feeling in the world, because it means I've failed in the basic, primary objective of beginning teachers: Behavior management.

Management is not, shall we say, my "thing." I'm too soft, too willing to get bogged down listening to everyone's sob story ("He took my pencil!" "No I didn't, it's my pencil and then she hit me with it!"), and too easily distracted by other problems cropping up in the room ("OK, one of you needs to be the bigger person here and -- JAMES WHY ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR SEAT SIT DOWN RIGHT NOW"). In my first grade class today, I spent literally almost the entire period dealing with the issue of whose turn it was to use the bathroom. Let me tell you something: I once ran a marathon, and it took me five hours. And I think I would rather run a 5-hour marathon every day of my life than spend another 30 minutes having the following conversation with first graders:

Child #1: "I gotta use the bathroom."
Miss Brave: "Someone is in there right now; you need to wait. And you need to stop calling out and use the bathroom signal. So last week, we were talking about --"
Child #2: "I gotta go bad, it's an emergency!"
Miss Brave: "As soon as that person comes out, you may go. You don't need to tell me out loud, you need to use your bathroom signal. Right now you need to wait.
Last week we learned that good writers -- "
Child #3: "Me too, Miss Brave, I can't wait!"
Child #4 exiting the bathroom with bloody hands: "Miss Brave, my tooth fell out!"
[Room erupts into chaos]

Behaviorally, this afternoon was a disaster. All three of my classes ended with their class stoplights on red (translation: Your behavior is atrocious and you get no stickers; when this happens I tell them how sad and disappointed I am that they won't earn a special reward from me, but actually, the fewer special rewards I have to dole out, the less expensive teaching will be), and two of those classes ended up in trouble with their classroom teachers for misbehaving with me, which makes me feel absolutely awful. It shouldn't be the classroom teacher's responsibility to discipline students for their misbehavior in my class; it should be mine. But I'm running off to another class and I don't have time and the students know it, which is why they misbehave in the first place. One of those classes gives their classroom teacher a lot of trouble, too; but the other one is much more respectful of their classroom teacher, and I'm just the crummy writing teacher everybody hates who comes in to ruin Friday afternoons.

It was Pajama Day at school today, but I'm glad I didn't wear my pajamas. If I had been wearing pajamas while A.J. and Joseph wrestled on the floor right in the middle of my lesson or while Carlo flicked pencils, point-first, across the table, or while second graders made armpit-farting noises solely to piss me off, I think I would have lost it completely.