Friday, May 23, 2008


I'm not sure how to break this news, but, um...

I might be coming back next year.

The worst thing about being a cluster teacher in my first year was that I was totally alone. I shared my office with another cluster teacher, who has been very kind to me, in the library with the librarian, who is also very nice, but I was still the only one of my kind. I didn't have common preps or lunch with other teachers on my grade because I didn't have a grade. Planning meetings about math or reading at faculty meetings and grade conferences weren't relevant to me because I didn't teach math or reading. My mentor never mentored me, and there was no one I could ask for advice about my position because it had never existed before and no one thought to tell me what to do with it.

But since I've been assigned to second grade AIS, I've felt more like I'm potentially part of a team. The other AIS teachers have welcomed me ("I hear you're joining us next year!") and so have the second grade teachers ("Hello, fellow second grade teacher!"). In my mailbox today I found a 2008-2009 TCRWP (Teachers' College Reading and Writing Project) curriculum calendar for second grade, addressed to "All Classroom and AIS Teachers," something I never would have gotten my hands on as a writing cluster teacher. Suddenly I felt the warmth of recognition: Someone actually thought to put a relevant document in my mailbox! I exist!

I already know the vast majority of kids I'd be servicing next year, and on the whole they're a good group. I would work with a group of no more than eight students at a time, and as a push-in teacher I would rarely be in the classroom alone (no more getting in the middle of fights between eight-year-olds). I would get really, really good at teaching reading (is there a better story in the world than the daughter of a librarian growing up to be a reading teacher?). I would, for the first time, get to go to all the professional development sessions that all the other teachers always get to attend (not that they're necessarily so fantastic, but at least they would give me some idea of what on earth I'm supposed to be teaching). I would get to see my students from this year -- all 425 of them -- grow and learn and change. And I might finally feel like part of a team: the second grade team.

And the truth is, I have gotten better at my job; I've gotten calmer, I've gotten smoother, and I've gotten stronger. Everyone does say that the first year is the hardest, that you have to stick with it. Maybe...I should stick with it.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Ooops, I did it again

Remember when I was going to be a kindergarten teacher?

Forget everything I posted yesterday! This morning my principal changed her mind. I'm now going to be a second grade reading teacher -- or, as we like to call it at my school, "Academic Intervention Services" (AIS). In AIS, I push into each of the second grade classrooms during reading and work with a group of no more than ten struggling readers.

AIS is what I originally applied for, and I am excited about the possibility -- I already know and teach all of next year's second graders (and they're a lot nicer than this year's second graders), I like teaching reading, I like small groups and I kind of like the idea that I don't have to be with one group of kids all day. But I am a little bummed that I got myself all jazzed up for kindergarten, and I think I would have had a lot of fun teaching over in the annex.

But will my principal change her mind again tomorrow? Who knows!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The verdict

Yesterday, no less than five people stopped me in the hall to ask me that fateful question: "Miss Brave, do you know what you're doing next year?"

It was a loaded question, and not just because I've been thinking about leaving the school system altogether (something I haven't shared with anyone at my school). My school isn't keeping my writing program next year, and so besides the possibility that I might get excessed, I was headed for a change no matter what. I applied for a literacy AIS position and listed my top three grade preferences: first grade, kindergarten, second grade.

This morning the principal called me into her office and gave me the news: In the fall of 2008, if I decide to stay at my school, I will be a kindergarten teacher.

On the one hand, this is good news; I did not want to teach an upper grade. On the other hand, I had privately decided that if I was given an upper grade, I would definitely be leaving, and so now I'm just more confused than ever about whether to stay or go. Out of all the grades I teach -- and I teach K-5, so that's six different grade levels -- kindergarten is my favorite. In fact, I almost got my Early Childhood teaching license rather than an Elementary one but I didn't want to limit myself in terms of job marketability.

News travels fast at my school; everyone was buzzing with gossip today about who's moving where, and all of a sudden I was more popular than I've ever been. And slowly my head started filling with visions of Miss Brave's classroom and Miss Brave's kindergarteners, with their clean slates and their moldable little minds.

I wouldn't be starting over entirely. I certainly have a better grasp on behavior management than I did at the beginning of the year, my writing curriculum would be totally kick-ass, and I have the TC model down pat. But in another sense, having my own classroom would be like going through my first year of teaching all over again. Am I ready for that?

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Stuff it, Jean Piaget

Here's an excerpt of an online conversation I had with a friend who's a sixth grade math teacher about the recent trend of edgy behavior among our students, likely due to spring fever:
Teacher Friend: everyone is so crazy
are your students horrible?
me: uh, I had a 6-year-old threaten me with a scissors today after repeatedly pretending to jab himself in his private parts with a that's a "yes."
Teacher Friend: uh
you win

I wanted to say, "I always win"...but I refrained.

In short order, that incident is exactly why I've come to believe that college teacher preparation programs leave new teachers woefully unprepared for the reality of teaching. Because -- at least in my college teacher preparation program -- we talked about, like, Piaget and his four stages of development, but we never talked about what to do when a 6-year-old holds a scissors up to his face and pretends to cut his mouth open, throwing the rest of his sweet, well-intentioned classmates into a blind panic while even the second biggest behavior problem among them urged everyone else to "get all the scissors off the tables!" and the most level-headed little girl in the class responded, "No, we love you very much" when the threatening student rhetorically asked his classmates: "Don't you want me to die?"

He is the second student under the age of 8 to have talked in my classroom about wanting to kill himself. He is the third or fourth or fifth student, I've lost count, under the age of 8 to have talked in my classroom about wanting to kill his classmates. He is not the first of my students to respond to a teacher's request with a defiant "Make me" or "I don't care." He will probably not be the last of my students to deliberately destroy a teacher's property while I look on and try (a) sweet, rational, polite and warm reasoning, (b) eerily and icily calm commands and (c) mind-blowing, earth-shaking, fear-tactic yelling and find them all ineffective.

He is, however, the first of my students to request that fellow 6-year-old classmates "kiss my buttocks" and the first to proclaim loudly that he is a "sexy baby" in the middle of storytime.

What, I wonder, would Piaget have to say about that?

Monday, May 5, 2008

Meme me

Ms. M at New York Teacher and Julie at Mildly Melancholy have tagged me for a here goes nothing!

1. What was I doing 10 years ago?
Oh boy, I'm about to reveal my age here. Ten years ago, I was in my freshman year of high school. I went to a nerd-tastic public high school in New York, and my freshman year exists in my memory as a blur of Julius Caesar, Things Fall Apart, my evil math teacher, and our ridiculously strenuous gym class (the only class in my life I have ever been in danger of failing) to which I owe my running to this day. In May, right around this time of year, one of my classmates took his life. I've always thought that our school administration handled it badly -- they announced it over the loudspeaker and I watched my classmates break down around me -- and I always think of him in May.

2. What are 5 things on my To Do list for today?
(1) Check the public library website to see if my copy of Mary Roach's Bonk has come in yet; (2) Charge my iPod so it will be ready to play the audio version of Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge tomorrow; (3) Hit the ATM (oh, let's face it, that's on my To Do list every day); (4) Pick up my allergy medication at Duane Reade; (5) Find an Amelia Bedelia book to read to my second graders.

3. Snacks I enjoy:
Carrots and ranch dip; chips and salsa; bagel chips and hummus; Cheez Doodles (actually, I enjoy Cheez Doodles so much that I can't keep them in the house); and many, many others.

4. Things I would do if I were a billionaire:
Buy my parents a really nice house. Buy myself a really nice palatial apartment in the city, and maybe a SmartCar. Travel a lot and take my friends with me. Donate a nice chunk of change to my favorite charities.

5. Three of my bad habits:
Picking at my cuticles, snacking excessively between meals and failure to organize my personal things as well as I would like to in an ideal world.

6. Five places I have lived:
OK, really? Five is a stretch for me. (1) Waltham, Massachusetts -- where I went to college. I lived in various dorms all four years, but I feel like I absorbed the culture of the town because I know it's pronounced Wal-THAM, not WAL-thum. (2) Medford, Massachusetts -- graduate school. (Medford? Is pronounced "Meffuh," by the way, at least if you were born and raised there and you speak with the famed "Medford Mumble." (3) Somerville, Massachusetts -- also graduate school. It is marginally nicer than Medford, as evidenced by the fact that it has a Starbucks instead of a Dunkin' Donuts, but I lived there with acquaintances rather than my best friend as I did in Medford so it was also exponentially less fun. (4) and (5) Two different apartments in my current neighborhood, one where I lived with my parents from birth until college and the one I live in now.

As you can see, I don't get around much, but the truth is I have always adored New York and felt like I was destined to come back here to stay after my college/grad school stints in Boston (which I adore) and its environs.

7. Five jobs I have had:
(1) Phonathon caller at my college -- basically, we cold-called alumni and asked them to donate money to the university (as you can imagine, I got chewed out a lot by miffed alumni); (2) Coach at a branch of SCORE! (a tutoring company for upscale elementary-age children) (3) Researcher at a company that produces popular children's television shows; (4) Teaching assistant for an undergraduate class in mass media (I minored in journalism in college); (5) Campus tour guide for my university's Admissions office.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Mr. Rogers days

On Fridays, I typically leave school at the same time all the students do. And on some Fridays -- today, for instance -- as I walk to the bus stop, I have what I like to call my "Mr. Rogers days." On a Mr. Rogers day, I see as many as a dozen different students walking home, and all of them call out to me: "Hi Miss Brave!"

Sometimes they're walking home with relatives or friends in different classes, and they mutually realize that I teach both of them: "You have Miss Brave too?!" Sometimes they notice me up ahead and I can hear them whispering from behind: "Omigodit'sMissBrave!" Sometimes they spot me from across the street and they scream my name like I'm a rock star: "MISS. BRAAAAAAAAVE!" (You know that scene in The Graduate where Dustin Hoffman shows up at the church and screams, "Elaaaaaaaine!!!!" That's kind of what it's like.) Sometimes they introduce me to their families: "That's my writing teacher!" Sometimes they point out their houses. Sometimes they express astonishment that I have a house to which I go after school. Sometimes we stroll together for as long as a block, chatting about the weather and about our plans for the weekend. Once, a first-grader advised me to ride a motorcycle to school. I jokingly expressed concern that the wind would muss up my hair. Very seriously she explained to me about helmets and ponytails. "It will be fine," she promised.

On Mr. Rogers days, I smile and wave back at all of them -- and eight months into the school year, I've reached a 99% accuracy rate with their names! (Please remember that I have over 400 students on my roster...I'm pretty proud of myself for remembering anybody's name at all ever.) On Mr. Rogers days, I wish them all a good weekend and tell them I'll see them next week. And on Mr. Rogers days, I'm happy enough to mean it.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

I am a swift wind sweeping the country

Yesterday in the schoolyard, one of my few soft-spoken, mild-mannered students ran up to me. "Miss Brave!" she said. "Remember when we made our flat selves and we sent them to your friend and your friend took a picture?" (How could I forget?) "I have the picture, and when it's vacation, I'm going to visit my cousins and my sister in Santo Domingo and I'm going to show them!"

My boyfriend has been telling me for months that the Flat Stanley project was one my students will remember for ages to come, but I don't think I really believed him until that moment.

Today, in that student's ESL class, I played the R. Kelly song "The World's Greatest" as part of a lesson on metaphors. I had printed out the lyrics on big chart paper and accompanied them with lots of pictures so that there would be visual aids, and we talked about what kinds of metaphors we might hear in the song before we listened to it.

It was fabulous. They really, really liked listening to the song, and they begged me to play it over and over again. And it was just awesome to see them all sitting there, all quiet for once, their lips moving as they followed along with the lyrics, grooving a little with the music.

Even though I was really not looking forward to returning to school after vacation, I've been surprisingly chipper these last few days. I've been keeping my cool over things that might have driven me over the edge before the vacation, and I've been working on reacting to challenging situations in a calm, non-threatening way. Plus, I got observed doing my "World's Greatest" metaphor lesson (in a different class), which means I only have to survive one more observation before the year is out.

Maybe I really am the world's greatest!