Tuesday, September 29, 2009


I think I've reached my breaking point.

Crying in class? Check. Screaming so loud at misbehaving kid that good kid next to him jumps back in fear, while misbehaving kid continues to not care? Check. Resisting urge to actually physically harm misbehaving kid? Check. Slamming door to classroom so hard that stuff falls on floor? Check. Spending lunch period in classroom with door closed and lights turned off, hysterical? Check. Watching good kids cover their ears in futile attempt to avoid the commotion created by bad kids? Check. Conferencing with the guidance counselor about how one of my kids apparently drew graphic images of, like, anal rape in his notebook? Check.

This is not the kind of teacher I want to be, and this is not the kind of person I want to be. And I want out. Any readers out there want to hire me?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Dangerous minds indeed

Ohhhhh boy.

William's behavior has escalated to the brink of complete insanity. Just to give you a small tasting of what our days are like, here are my notes on him from last week:
  • Jumping over kids on rug
  • Does handstands and somersaults on rug
  • Flips over backwards on rug
  • Squashes Samantha against the wall with his body at the water fountain
  • Goes into Julio’s backpack
  • Physically pulls a boy away from the closet
  • Says “Shut up” to other kids
  • Calls Jane a “dum dum”
  • Says “Suck my dick” repeatedly to Jonathan
  • Throws eraser at me
  • Makes post-its into paper airplanes and throws them
  • Pushes Jose with his body
  • Smacks his fist into his palm in someone else’s direction (as a threat)
  • Takes cards out of Mark’s desk
  • Throws ball around the room
  • Tries to block Julio from walking around him, then trips him on purpose
  • Runs in hall during fire drill, knocking Julio to ground
  • Throwing paper airplanes
  • Kicks over Jose’s schoolbag on purpose
  • Calls other kids “babies” and “liars”
  • Throws pencils and writing folder across the room
  • Keeps going into the closet, closing the door, banging the doors from the inside and screaming out loud chicken noises
  • Says “Big far liar” and “Liar” to other kids repeatedly
  • Says he wants to play with blocks and toys
  • Takes Jose’s hat and wears it around the room
  • Throws his own hat across the room at the garbage
  • Jumps on top of a desk and bounces backwards onto the floor
  • Goes into the closet and balances on top of books in closet
  • Says he hates the class and all the kids are “ugly”
  • Shoves Jose so that he falls to the floor
  • Shoves Julio into the closet
And these are only the incidents I've witnessed with my own eyes. Two parents came up to me at Meet the Teacher and told me their kids complain about William. Multiple students wrote notes to the tattle turtle about him. Meanwhile, my AP has plenty to say on the subject of what she expects to see during an observation, but remains totally mute on the subject of the total freaking insanity in my classroom. "Just document everything," she tells me. (Oh, the restraint it takes not to flip her the middle finger, shout, "Document this!" and leave the school forever.)

At one point, in desperation, I sent two kids to fetch the guidance counselor. What do I do, I asked her, when William is grabbing things out of other kids' hands, or jabbing pencils in the direction of their faces, or doing backflips on the carpet, or yelling out so loudly that I can't make myself heard? What do I do with the other 26 kids in my class?

She stared at me like I was speaking Chinese. Then she asked me if I had established any consequences for his behavior.

"Ooooh, consequences!" I felt like saying. "What a fantastic idea! I hadn't thought of establishing consequences for kids who beat up on other kids all day long!"

Then she told me to send home a behavior chart every day that his mother would have to sign, and set up a meeting with her every week if I had to. So...still no ideas on how this is fair to the other 26 kids in my class.

I told her that William frequently throws things around the room, and obviously he won't give them up when he's told to. Her advice for that? "When he's not looking, take away anything he's throwing and put it up high so he can't reach it."

OK. First of all, this is a kid who stands on tables, and who at nine and a half years old is about two feet taller than the rest of my second graders. Second of all, anything he's throwing? Is pretty much anything in the classroom that's not nailed down (and sometimes he even goes for the brass ring and tries for those things, like all the time he spends banging away at the broken pencil sharpener). We have these stupid old tennis balls on the bottoms of our chairs (to prevent them from scraping against the floor, because all the rubber tips fell off), and he takes them off the chairs and hurls them against the wall and the ceiling. He shoots free throws at the trash can with paper towels from halfway across the room (because naturally he visits the bathroom whenever he wants and spends time at the sink whenever he wants).

Oh, but what's worse than William's behavior? The fact that he's taking Julio right along with him. Last week, Julio managed to fit in outbursts of the F word and the "sh" word amidst his busy schedule of (a) playing Tic-Tac-Toe with William during my writing lesson, (b) eating chips in class, (c) emptying his pencil sharpener onto the floor and (d) teaming up with William for a loud and raucous duet of "I Kissed a Girl" (yes, really).

Am I the world's worst teacher, or what? Based on the fact that two of my 27 students are hysterically and completely out of control in my classroom, I'm tempted to say yes. And yet my students managed to learn how to use counterweights to balance objects in science, how to decide when to use the "ck" digraph spelling pattern, how to plan out a small moment story in writing and how to tell time to the nearest half-hour on a clock. And this past Friday, when it was inching towards dismissal and William and Julio were literally bouncing off the walls and all of our nerves were frayed, I plopped down in front of the rest of my 25 kids on the carpet and said to them, perhaps unwisely, "Can you believe how some kids act in our classroom?!" and they collapsed into shocked agreement, all on my side. "Can't we get through one day without giving you a sore throat?" one of them said plaintively -- and that came from a kid who -- if I didn't have William and Jose tearing up the class -- would be one of my behavior challenges.

Ohhhhhh boy.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


This just in: William hears like a bat!

It took a lot of pep talks and a little bribery, but with twenty minutes to go in the school day on Friday afternoon, William passed his second hearing test with flying colors (and made off with a cool toy of his choice from my prize bin, whereas all my well behaved students had to make do with "You get what you get and you don't get upset" -- sigh). Which is excellent news, because it means that the school psychologist can evaluate him, a process that will hopefully keep him out of my hair (William, I mean, not the school psychologist) for most of the day on Monday. Meanwhile, Friday was William's best day in school yet, by which I mean I did not once come close to crying while having to chase him away from everything in the classroom. In fact, he had an excellent, hard-working, quiet writing period, to such a degree that other students actually noticed and complimented him on it. Which brings me to...

Things Going On in My Classroom That Are Actually Going Right
1. Table tallies. All I have to do is say with exaggerated casualness, "Hmmmmmm, I wonder which table I'll be able to give a tally to for the nice way they're working now," and all of a sudden my room is a frenzy of seven-year-olds badgering each other to sit up straight, fold their hands, zip their lips, and get all the crap off their desks. My favorite part of table tallies is how frantically the kids hiss directions at each other: "Table tally, TABLE TALLY!!!!" as if the table tally were actually, like, some kind of cool reward. But I'm not complaining, because it works -- even on my chattiest table.

2. The compliment box. It's literally, like, a shoebox with a stack of index cards next to it, and the kids have free reign to write someone a compliment and leave it in the box. When I see a nice stack starting to pile up, I take some time away from our extremely busy academic schedule (shhh, don't tell my administration) and read the compliments out loud to the class. It's so sweet to see their faces light up when they hear a compliment directed their way, and it's especially nice to see who gets recognized: my very best behaved student, who deserves all the recognition she can get; and of course my naughty friends, who looked slightly awed when they realized someone had actually caught them being good.

Now, there are definitely times during the day when it's looking like the compliment box is getting out of hand -- like during writing time on Friday, when there were half a dozen kids standing around it writing compliments -- but want to know a secret? I kind of don't care -- after all, writing compliments is writing too, and goodness knows my class needs all the ego boosts it can get. What's even better is that my tattle turtle isn't seeing much action, while the compliment box is nearly always stuffed. The compliment box is definitely the very best thing I've had going so far.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The last 10%

Let's lead off with the ridiculousness that I absolutely have to get off my chest: my running anecdotals on William's behavior! Here is just a small sampling of "Things William Does All Day" --

  • Rocks in my rocking chair
  • Shoves another student in the chest and yells, "Shut up!"
  • According to other students, says the "f word," the "d word" and the "h word"
  • Pushes past other students like they are bowling pins
  • Stands up on chairs
  • Hides in the closet
  • Throws himself to the ground, repeatedly
  • Rolls around on the ground
  • Somersaults
  • Cartwheels
  • Says, "Duh!" whenever someone else answers a question
  • Makes loud noises, randomly
  • Then tells other kids to shut up or be quiet
  • Fake farts
  • Throws index cards up in the air
  • Takes the caps off all the markers
  • Moves around all the magnets on the math word wall
  • Repeatedly sticks pencils into our broken pencil sharpener
  • Throws little bits of garbage at the other students and everywhere
In short, he is delightful! In the meantime, he has joined forces with another student, the closest he has come to a kindred spirit. This other student has, like, the worst case of undiagnosed ADD in the universe, and as much as I try to keep the two of them apart, somehow they always end up near each other. Actually, no matter where they are in the room, one of them will make a loud noise, and the other one will echo the same noise, and then my dominoes go falling around the room: first William, then Angelo, then Juan, then Kyle, then Jonathan.

Literally 90% of my energy every day is focused on these two boys, which is an epic shame because the rest of my class is perfectly lovely. Sure, I have some wrigglers and some whiners, and some kids who call out and some kids who have trouble focusing, but William and Angelo are the energy-suckers of the bunch. Meanwhile, the school pyschologist is doing his best to get William's referral going, but first the school needed to test his vision and hearing, and -- are you ready for this? -- William messed with them. Mr. D came back to report that the hearing test lady thought William was just being uncooperative. So I took him aside and we had the following conversation:

Miss Brave: "William, remember when Miss F came to test your hearing?"
William, smiling and looking away: "Yes, and I couldn't hear nothing."
Miss Brave: "Well, that's what we have to figure out, because Miss F thought maybe you were just being your silly William self and you weren't really giving it your best effort. So she's going to come back tomorrow and try again, and you have to give it your best effort, because if you don't, Mom has to take you to a hearing doctor and I don't think you'll enjoy that."
William: "Yes I will! It's fun!"

Seriously, though, if he fails the hearing test, Mr. D tells me it could take a long time to get him tested by a doctor -- a long time that he would spend in my classroom, doing worse than absolutely nothing.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

When school closely resembles Office Space

Remember this post when I revealed all the money I'd been spending on school supplies? Well, it's been three days, and I feel like I'm out of supplies. Out of supplies! Three days!

I put mechanical pencils in all my table caddies, which I knew wasn't the brightest idea in the world because what do hyperactive second grade boys do with mechanical pencils? They jimmy all the lead out until they're all empty. I bought three packages of markers, and after writing my 27 students' names one thousand times, the blank ink is drying out.

Yesterday, I broke almost every working printer in the school trying to print out copies of my homework sheet and reading log. First I caused a paper jam in the computer room, which led our high-strung technology teacher to start screaming. Like, literally screaming. Not at me, but just in general about our crummy technology. Then, I tried again in another room, which will remain nameless because I caused a paper jam there too (after four measly pieces of paper -- four!) and couldn't figure out how to clear it, and the printer was making really horrific noises and no one was around to help me, so I just switched it off and left and prayed that there was no trace of my print request in the queue.

I couldn't print in my own classroom, because the printer is broken. (And bolted to a huge table. And taking up valuable classroom space. But apparently I'm not allowed to ask to have the giant broken printer removed, because we're supposed to be using technology in our classrooms and it would look bad if I requested to have a giant broken piece of technology taken away.) I couldn't print in the library, because the printer was broken. I couldn't print in the other section of the library, because the printer wasn't hooked up yet. I couldn't print in my old office, because that printer wasn't hooked up yet. I couldn't make copies in the office across the hall, because the copier was broken. I couldn't print in my colleague's classroom, because she successfully petitioned to have her broken printer taken away. I couldn't print in my other colleague's classroom, because even though she has a printer, she can't get into her laptop cart.

Are we seeing a pattern here? Meanwhile, our literacy coach used to print out our monthly checklists for us and put them in our mailboxes, but apparently this year it's our responsibility to print them out ourselves. Except they're several pages long and need to be printed on legal-sized paper because we have to fit 27 names across the top, and I can't seem to find a single printer in the building that consistently works without giving me a minor heart attack during my lunch period. (During which I did not eat lunch, by the way, as I was too busy demolishing our building's crappy printers one by one.)

This year, we're using a whole new program to do running records. That means that the billions and billions of copies of running records we all made last year are now defunct. Seriously, I have a couple of trees' worth of useless running records sitting around. So we all needed copies of the new running records. Now, it would have been nice, and logical, if the school had automatically put in copies for us over the summer, but of course they didn't do that. Nevertheless, we got an email on the first or second day of school from our principal that read, "By Friday, you should be starting your running records."

Okaaaaaay. Um, with what? With what hypothetical copies am I supposed to be starting these running records? Aargh.

Friday, September 11, 2009

"Teachers have to be strong"

"Wow, Miss Brave's strong."
"Yeah, teachers have to be strong."
--student conversation as I open a top window with one of those giant window poles

On the first day of school, when I walked into the cafeteria to pick up my class from lunch, their 27 faces lit up and I heard my name rising amongst the chatter: "Miss Brave! Miss Brave!" and I felt that rush of the pleasure of having my own class for the very first time.

On the second day of school, when I couldn't start my after-school program with my seven 50 minutes students because we didn't have our student books in yet and all the kids wanted to know "What are we going to do now?" and I was flat out of ideas, I got them to help me sort markers and Fundations tiles and do other jobs around the classroom (my classroom). They were so pleased and so eager to help -- "Can I have another job?" "I want to help too!"

Today, on the third day of school, William threatened to punch another student in the face. I took it as a threat against all of us, against the classroom community I'm trying to build. Later in the day, I found myself yelling -- at him -- for the first time. The rest of my new class was slightly stunned. William merely smiled.

A commenter on my last post suggested that I make William into a leader. Believe me, I tried. Because he's the tallest boy in our class (by about a foot), I made a big deal about how it was his responsibility to watch over the back of the line and make sure everyone was behaving in the hall. The next thing I know, 26 other faces are turned around in the stairwell, and kids at the back of the line are warning me that William is about to jump from mid-staircase. He loves to act as my helper, but he seems incapable of doing it without calling someone else stupid or making fun of his classmates. I gave him a teddy bear to hold onto during group lessons in the hopes it would keep his hands occupied; he used it as a weapon.

But then he came into school and bragged that he had brought in all his school supplies; and then he sat up straight and tall with his hands folded after writing more than a page in Writers' Workshop. But then he snarled "Duhhhh!" at other students who eagerly answered questions; and then he usurped my rocking chair, pushing it violently back and forth.

I have 27 second graders in my class. My girls for the most part are wonderful, good listeners and followers of directions. My boys are chattier than they should be, and a few of them are emotional and moody. But William by far receives the most of my time and energy, and I'd wager that he occupies the attention of my other students as well; when he's not harassing them, he's making them laugh; when he's not scowling at them, he's distracting them with his antics. He's 100% That Kid -- the kid that makes you think, "If only I didn't have That Kid in my class, my class would be perfect...other kids would get so much more attention without That Kid around...That Kid ruins everything!"

Since school has started, my 27 second graders have completely erased my appetite: good for my wedding dress waistline, bad for my mental health. By the time I got home today, I was in tears and tatters, which is always made worse when I realize that there is little to no chance that That Kid is at home right now crying over me.

But enough about That Kid. I have a weekend to live.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Obivously something wasn't clearly enough articulated

We have these things at my school called "articulation cards." They're supposed to be used to place students in classes appropriately. At the end of each year, teachers rank their students academically on these cards. They also put down the names of other students from whom the student should be separated.

Today I got the articulation cards for the students in my class. Naturally, I have these two students whose articulation cards say they shouldn't be placed in the same class together.

We have six second grade classes; you'd think they'd manage to keep them apart.

Also, I spoke to my AP about the infamous William. She told me they had "difficulty placing him" (obviously), and "think [I] would do well with him" (doubtful). But, she hasn't heard from his mother all summer, like she was supposed to, so...basically, she's hoping he doesn't show up.

Sigh. If anyone out there has motivational suggestions for a third-time second grade repeater, I'm all ears!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Punching out...and in

I wonder if there's a name for the condition in which one panics before the first day of school and finds oneself making endless return trips to Staples, forking over exorbitant amounts of cash for anything that might conceivably make the day go easier.

If there isn't, I'd like to propose to name it after me.

I already bought two packs of punch-out letters, but foolishly abandoned them at school. With a limited amount of time left tomorrow to get my room ready, and with many, many letters that still need to be placed on my walls, I found myself at Staples tonight, buying two more packs so I could punch out the letters beforehand. (Sidebar: Those letters are the devil. Way harder to punch out than I thought they would be. Arranged in seemingly random order. And when they only give you one W in a pack, and you want to spell out "Look What We Did," you're doomed right from the start!) I sent Mr. Brave off to Best Buy to purchase a new printer, because ours is always on the fritz and I foresee the need to print out many things in the first few days of school, such as the letter to send parents that I haven't written yet and therefore can't ask for copies of.

I bought a huge pack of mechanical pencils (on sale) in case the kids don't come in with pencils. I bought about 40 folders during the penny folder sale and am now contemplating asking Staples if they'll let me trade colors, since I bought my folders in a rainbow and then realized I should buy them all in the color of our writing folders, since they'll definitely wear out during the year and I'll need new ones. Then I started worrying about all the things I didn't see in my room: Where were all the dry erase markers? We're being told constantly that we're completely tapped out of money for supplies, so am I going to have to go back out tomorrow and buy tons of dry erase markers?

I have to say, last year, I was not this nervous about returning to school. And I'm 100% sure that if I were going back to the position I had last year, I would be cool as a cucumber right now, instead of panicking over my punch-out letters. Yes, yes, this year will be a grand new adventure, and yes, there's even a possibility I might like being a classroom teacher, and yes, this experience will be good for me even if I don't like it. But right now, I feel like every student in New York: I don't want to go!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Time for a back-to-school emotional breakdown

It's been an emotional seesaw of a back-to-school week. First there was the nightmare of the backing paper; then I started to get a little excited about my room. Then I saw other teachers' rooms and worried that mine wasn't finished enough; then other teachers told me they thought my room looked great, so I felt better.

I was back at school again this morning, and my day was packed with errands. I was looking forward to relaxing and enjoying this last weekend before school. Which is why you should never, ever check your DOE e-mail when you're looking forward to relaxing and enjoying a weekend.

I got a memo about interclassing ESL students due to the results of the NYSESLAT. This happens every year at the beginning of the school year; ESL students get switched around depending on whether the NYSESLAT deems them "beginning, intermediate or advanced" ELLs. I have a holdover on my roster whom I had been expecting to be interclassed to an ESL class (I don't have any other ELLs), and he was.

OK, fine. But then further down on the list, I see I'm getting a new student. But not just any new student. My new student happens to be William.

Now, I had William in my AIS reading group last year. That's because William was in second grade last year. What's worse, William was in second grade the year before that. The 2009-2010 school year will be William's third year in a row in second grade. Put another way, William has been in second grade as long as I have been a teacher.

I don't think William belongs in second grade for the third year in a row, and I don't think he'll get anything out of it. At this point, I don't think William belongs in general education at all. Even though he's never been "diagnosed" with a learning disability of any kind, he's so emotionally broken down by being held over so many times that he's completely uninterested in anything I have to teach him. And then there's the other issues -- William is a big kid, and I just can't picture him next to my other students who were in kindergarten when he was in second grade for the first time. I already have boys on my roster to watch out for, and putting William -- who has a lot of anger and who last year hit, kicked and choked other kids -- just seems like a terrible idea.

Worst of all, he's being moved into my class from a CTT class. As in, a class with two teachers and a para that serves special education students? Most ridiculous of all, he's not even ESL, and neither is the CTT class, so I have no idea why they would do this to us.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Next time, I'm hiring the cast of Design Star

So I've been an elementary school teacher in the same NYC public school for two years now, right? I'm not exactly Ron Clark, but I know my way around the classroom. I know what a meeting area is. I know not to surround a meeting area with any fascinating objects that will inevitably interest my second graders more than, you know, our meeting. I know what seat sacks are for.

But I had not, until today, ever attempted to set up my very own classroom, and what I have to say about that is HOLY EFFING WHOA.

So first of all, my very unscientific sampling of NYC public school teachers on Facebook suggests that teachers all over the city have been dutifully trekking into their classrooms all week to set them up (despite objections by the union). But noooooo, not at my school, where we very specifically received one day. One lousy, measly day, a day on which I also happened to be scheduled to attend a workshop.

So what did I do? Did I maturely shrug my shoulders and say, "I don't want to give up my unpaid summer time anyway; I'll just get it all done on Tuesday"? Um, that'd be a nope; I e-mailed my principal in a panic and in return was granted today.

Today. One lousy, measly day (besides Tuesday). So this morning, the soon-to-be Mr. Brave and I loaded up the car and headed off to school.

I thought I was prepared for the overwhelming task ahead of us, but it turns out nothing can prepare you for trying to center gigantic sheets of backing paper so that no bulletin board is peeking out from underneath the borders, or for hanging a number line three inches from the ceiling, or for putting tiny squares of mounting paper on cut-out candles so that every single freaking kid's birthday is represented on the little month cakes. Or for moving heavy furniture from wherever the janitors decided to leave it. Or for unlocking closet after closet full of...I don't even know what those closets were full of, because I haven't finished unpacking them yet.

Seriously, people. The backing paper alone took like a good hour and a half, mostly because it turns out it takes way more backing paper than I thought it would to cover my enormous bulletin boards, so we had to go rogue and borrow some from a supply closet, which turned out to be all ripped at the bottom. As Mr. Brave put it: "Who knew putting backing paper up was just as difficult as climbing Mount Kilimanjaro? I mean, it's just as dangerous, and what's the altitude at the top of that bulletin board, anyway?"

Then our next major task was to rearrange all the furniture, a challenge made even more daunting by the fact that the janitor had specifically warned me not to slide any furniture across the floor (you know, right after he put all my furniture wherever he felt like it). So before we actually moved anything, Mr. Brave did his best to help me conceptualize my vision for my layout. Now, Mr. Brave is brilliant in many ways, but he is not a second grade teacher, and our conversation went something like this:

Miss Brave: "So if I put the meeting area here..."
Mr. Brave: "What's a meeting area? Like, what do you do there?"
Miss Brave: "...and I wanted to have my Fundations stuff near the meeting area..."
Mr. Brave: "What's Fundations?"

On the up side, though, Mr. Brave was consistently outraged on my behalf: "Your Fundations cards are missing the Y! They should buy you teachers a whole new package! They should give you laborers to move all this furniture for you!"

In the end, I arranged my classroom...exactly the way the previous teacher had it. Hey, it worked for her.

Then, in the middle of the day, I got a text from one of my co-workers; apparently our union rep had sent out an e-mail encouraging us not to come in early to set up our rooms. If we come in early and give up our free time, the thinking goes, the DOE won't have any motivation to push back the first day of school for students.

Now, this was my first year setting up a classroom, but it was definitely at least a two-person, two-day job. You can't convince me that if I hadn't given up my own time to set up, I wouldn't have just been screwing myself over for, like, the rest of the year. Remember back in June when we first got our two days before Labor Day back and the great plan was for all the teachers to show up on the same day as the students? Now there would have been a clusteryouknowwhat.

By the end of the day, we had been at school for close to ten hours. We used all of our double-sided poster tape, all of our mounting squares, and about a million staples (thank you, one-touch stapler). My school shopping list got longer, my French-manicured nails got shorter, and the first day of school got a heck of a lot closer.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

School is a battlefield

The past few mornings, I've been awake early, my mind buzzing with all the things I need to accomplish before school starts. Most of my tasks are mental -- how many classroom jobs do I want to have? What will our morning routine look like? -- and some of them are physical, like going to Staples to laminate my number line and gathering all the supplies I've accumulated and packed in around my apartment over the summer, like a squirrel hoarding nuts for the fall.

This morning, when the soon-to-be Mr. Brave asked why I was up so early, I told him it was because I was getting nervous. Mr. Brave served in the Army, and I asked him if he had ever been nervous in Iraq.

"No," he said. "I just remembered my training. I had men underneath me who were scared, so I couldn't be scared."

There are those who like to draw the analogy that teaching is like going to war (you know, with teachers being on the "front lines" and all that), and so this morning I suited up in my panda slippers (because it sure feels like fall) and decided it's the same for me: I'll have students underneath me who are scared, so I can't be scared. I just have to remember my training.

And the wackiness, of course.