Monday, April 6, 2009

If wishes were attitude adjustments

William and Jonathan have officially pushed me to the breaking point. Today, when I brightly called Jonathan over for guided reading, I was rewarded with a huge sigh and body language that screamed, "I hate reading, school, and you (not necessarily in that order)." While Jonathan and I were having our guided reading, William was doing what he does best: simultaneously not reading at all and preventing other kids from doing their reading.

During the mini lesson, Joseph ripped a sticker (presumably awarded to him earlier in the day) off his shirt, tore it in half, and then proceeded to rip it into tinier pieces that he stuck to each of his fingernails like he was giving himself a manicure. Meanwhile, William was playing with some little toy on wheels, which I valiantly tried to ignore until it went skidding across the table and clattered to the floor, causing everyone else in the group to turn around because they completely lack the ability to ignore a distracting classmate.

After the mini lesson, I called an emergency circle meeting to discuss why our group has recently devolved into a cesspool of eye-rolling, loud sighing, ridiculously gloomy body language and general rudeness and mutiny. Even my sweetest, hardest working, most enthusiastic kids have lately been all doom and gloom. I think it's spring fever, only without the spring.

So anyway, I'm having this emergency circle meeting at which we're getting to the root of the various obstacles to becoming good readers: "I'm tired," "I have a headache," "I have a stomachache," "My eyes hurt," "Other people are bothering me and then everyone gets in a fight," "I'm bored." Bored is the one that killed me, because guess what? TC is boring. And guess what? School is probably boring too. A typical schedule for these kids is reading, writing, word work, lunch, math, read aloud, social studies. It's been a long winter, so they don't go out for recess. They don't get choice time. They don't get to play games, or draw. It's just go go go all the time with academics -- no wonder they're bored. It's a virtual pressure cooker of academia.

Anyway, I humored them and took suggestions on how to make our reading time more interesting. Of course, I got the usual "You could let us play with toys in school," to which I was all, hello, you already know how to play with toys, you don't need someone to teach you how to play with toys, but how about someone teaching you how to read? But then some of the kids actually offered some halfway thoughtful suggestions, like giving them more opportunities to choose their own reading material or occasionally letting them use a puppet to act out their books. OK, I can work with that.

Can Jonathan work with that? Obviously not, because he spent this discussion trying to shove some tiny broken pieces of God knows what through slats in the closet door. When a classmate hissed at him to stop, he yelled at her. When I reminded the group at large that if we see someone doing the wrong thing, and we try to help them do the right thing, but they continue to do the wrong thing, we should just take care of ourselves and ignore them, he took this as an opportunity to taunt his classmate.

Meanwhile, while I was trying to have this genuine, grown-up discussion in a circle on the floor, William was sitting above us on a chair, being obnoxious. Yelling out things like, "It should be a toy workshop in here!" Flat out refusing to join us in the circle ("I ain't going nowhere down there with them!") but also refusing to relocate to a different spot in the room. In short, William is only satisfied when he is working his hardest to antagonize everyone else. If I ignore him, he goes right on being disruptive until he is impossible to ignore. But if I give him the attention he wants -- whether it's positive or negative -- he shuts down completely, pulling his sweatshirt over his head or burying his head in his arms. But then five minutes later, he's at it again. Because he doesn't know how to be part of a group, doesn't understand how to make friends without acting like a clown who calls attention to himself.

Their classroom teacher and I have tried virtually everything for these two boys. We have communicated with their parents through e-mails, notes home and phone calls about positive and negative behavior. We have tried rewards of every shape and size. We have awarded special privileges and taken them away. We have tried partnering them with every variety of classmate and sitting them in every variety of reading spot with every variety of reading material. We have been patient and we have been generous. But now my patience is exhausted, I am out of strategies to try and I don't know how we are going to survive the next two and a half months.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Spring fever for sure, but to be fair to TC, they promote "Free Choice Workshop" for K-2 kids, which my class loves. Also, every workshop I have gone to has said that the lessons and units are suggestions, but not scripts. They are meant to be adapted to your classroom and made your own. Having taught 1st grade for 20 years, both using a basal and using TC, believe me TC is much better.

miss said...

That's a good point, Anonymous -- I 100% agree that almost anything is preferable to a basal. And I concede that TC is meant to be adapted to your own classroom...the problem is that my administration doesn't really see it that way, so everything we do is in lockstep with TC and with each other. Time and again I'm denied the right to make modifications for my students, even though I'm supposed to be providing "academic intervention services" for the struggling kids! So I guess the blame lies mostly with my own school...surprise, surprise.

KitchenSink said...

Nothing against your school, but it sounds like your talent is being wasted in a place with ineffective leadership. Get out while you still have energy to make a difference, and find a public school with more effective leadership. (Visit and ask the teachers about the working conditions, they'll tell you. By the way, is it still true that in the DOE teachers are allowed two observation days during the school year? You should take those and go visit model schools...maybe you'll find some ideas to bring back...maybe you'll find some better places to go.)

KitchenSink said...

Nothing against your school, but it sounds like your talent is being wasted in a place with ineffective leadership. Get out while you still have energy to make a difference, and find a public school with more effective leadership. (Visit and ask the teachers about the working conditions, they'll tell you. By the way, is it still true that in the DOE teachers are allowed two observation days during the school year? You should take those and go visit model schools...maybe you'll find some ideas to bring back...maybe you'll find some better places to go.)

KitchenSink said...

Nothing against your school, but it sounds like your talent is being wasted in a place with ineffective leadership. Get out while you still have energy to make a difference, and find a public school with more effective leadership. (Visit and ask the teachers about the working conditions, they'll tell you. By the way, is it still true that in the DOE teachers are allowed two observation days during the school year? You should take those and go visit model schools...maybe you'll find some ideas to bring back...maybe you'll find some better places to go.)

KitchenSink said...

Sorry, mouse problems...

Independent Educator said...

KitchenSink - I have only just started following this blog, but where in this situation do you see ineffective school leadership? I see at least two teachers who care enough to worry about struggling readers. While I empathize with their efforts to connect with the second graders, it seems like they are doing everything right.

Jason said...

Maybe the little hoonyat( it is a made up word from one of my teachers) wrote " I should do what Ms. Brave tells me to everyday" about 200 times it would stop.

Make the brat wrte lines.

It will most likly work.

- Jason Oller
(future teacher)

ceolaf said...

KitchenSink,

The job is hard. Really hard. Harder emotionally than anyone who has not worked in a classroom can know. Just a fact, right?

And we do not provide all students and all teachers the ideal circumstances and resources needed to maximize each students' learning. Another fact, right?

But we all knew both of those things before we read this post.

Is it really morally accetpable to leave those kids? Yeah, it would make Miss Brave's life easier. But what does that do for the kids? What does that do to the kids? If she just leaves, she is washing her hands of this year's kids, and all the successors. That's not right.

Angela said...

This is such an enjoyable and relatable post! I've included it with this month's Cornerstone Accolades.

http://thecornerstoneforteachers.blogspot.com/2009/05/cornerstone-accolades-april-2009.html

Anonymous said...

I just stumbled upon your blog and am reading these older posts. I have to say that the scenario you describe (no choice time, no recess, etc.) is clearly a recipe for disaster, no matter what your prescribed literacy program is.

I thank my stars that my kids go to a school where they are out EVERY day no matter how cold the winter (they only stay in on rainy days) and that choice time is revered. I don't understand how schools can not see how key this is, especially, I would imagine for active boys...