Monday, November 23, 2009

The day the animals escaped from the zoo

In response to my last post, in which I confessed to jumping up and down as my two most notoriously troublesome students changed schools, one of my readers wondered: "What ever will you post about now?"

Oh, I don't know, how about the time there was a lizard in my classroom?!

Scene: Monday morning, second period. My kids are finishing coloring in some turkeys that a substitute teacher gave them last period. Everything is relatively, blessedly mellow. Then I hear a voice say: "Um, Miss Brave? There's a lizard!"

I look. My eyes see, but they do not believe. Actually, at first I think, Who brought in a toy lizard and dropped it by the door?

Then the toy lizard scurries across the floor. Then I think: A lizard? Seriously? Why me?

My kids are obviously more with it than I am, because someone started yelling out, "Call Mr. R and Mr. M!", our science teachers. So I did, but no one picked up in the science lab, and then while I was on the phone, one of my pull-out teachers appeared and tried to open the door.

Try to imagine, if you will, just for a second, what she might have seen. She's pushing open the door to our classroom, as she does every single day, only today there is a roomful of panicked seven-year-olds yelling at her, "Don't open the door!" and madly pointing downward at a creature she obviously cannot see.

Anyway, she got the door open a crack, and I explained the situation. To which she addressed my class at large: "Who is not afraid of the lizard? Maybe one of you can capture it."

Um, Mrs. C? I hate to break this to you, but there will be no capturing of any kind going on in my classroom by anyone under the age of 18.

In the meantime, the science lab is still not picking up, so I call down to the main office and say what might be my favorite opening line ever in a call to the main office: "Um, hi, it's Miss Brave. There's a lizard in my classroom and I don't know what to do."

Miss Brave: "I called Mr. M and Mr. R but they're not there."
Main Office: "Well, they did give each classroom a lizard."
Miss Brave (thinking: Is this some kind of crazy science experiment by our wacky science teachers? Did they legitimately just drop a lizard in front of my door to see how my class would react? I'm going to kill them!): "Um, okay, but it's running around on my floor."
Main Office: "I'll tell them."

Now envision the next few minutes: Kids screaming each time the lizard moved. Miss Brave yelling, "SIT DOOOOOWWWWWN!!!!" at kids constantly jumping out of their seats to see what the lizard is up to. Utter freaking pandemonium.

At last, Mr. M and Mr. R arrived. They grabbed the first thing they saw -- an empty drawer that had been housing the markers and crayons of the now-abandoned turkey project -- and wrangled the lizard. Once they had cornered him inside the drawer, they bizarrely grabbed the next thing they saw, which happened to be Felix's book report, and used it as a top.

"They took my book report!" Felix howled with glee.

"Felix," I said, "you are the only person who has a good excuse for not handing in a book report."

With the lizard gone, we debriefed. So far this year, my classroom has been home to a bee that refused to leave us and a ladybug that was the subject of much great fascination. My students were understandably delighted to have another up close and personal encounter with wildlife.

"First the bee, then the ladybug, now the lizard!" they chorused. "What's next, a bear?"

"I hope not," I said.

The lizard, as it turns out, had escaped from another classroom down the hall, whose members hadn't even noticed the lizard was missing. The next period, Mr. M and Mr. R arrived and noted, with mock seriousness, that of all the classrooms in the school, the lizard had chosen ours as his refuge.

"There must be good energy here," Mr. M said. My kids were eager to explain about the bee and the ladybug and the lizard and how we're apparently the animal-friendliest class in the school. Martin raised his hand and asked the science teachers if the lizard was cold-blooded, which they deemed an excellent question.

And later in the afternoon we began a thrilling composition about the escaped lizard. And that, my friends, is what I deem a teachable moment...and another adventure in the urban jungle of NYC public schools.

Friday, November 20, 2009

When it rains, it pours

Julio has left our school.

I wish I could tell you I reacted to this news with the maturity and wisdom befitting my profession, but I am not ashamed to tell you how I actually reacted: by jumping up and down in the lobby after I received his discharge papers in my mailbox. Yes, really. To be frank, when his mother mentioned at one of our many conferences that she was considering transferring him to another school, I did very little to discourage her; in fact, I told her that different schools do in fact handle things differently and who knows how Julio might react to a change in his school environment.

Well, now we know how he would react: by punching someone and using inappropriate language on his first day at his new school, resulting in an immediate suspension. Oh, Julio. I know this is totally taboo, but I do not miss him, or William, one bit.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Life after William

It's possible I may be suffering from PWSD: Post-William Stress Disorder.

As I mentioned ever so briefly in my last post, William has departed from us, to a special education classroom at another school. If I could say one thing to his new teachers, I would say, Please help him succeed where our school failed him for three years. If I could say two things, I would say, Please help him succeed where our school failed him for three years, and also, no backsies.

So here's the deal with my class minus William (who, by the way, had perfect attendance while he was in my class): It's like a whole new class. On the plus side, it's like a whole new class, but on the minus's like a whole new class. It's like September 9 all over again. It's like I turned around to find 26 other children sitting in front of me to whom I had not been able to devote a single iota of my attention because I was too busy chasing William around the classroom and trying to get him to give up my stapler (which he enjoyed using as a machine gun).

Don't get me wrong, I am not complaining about this development, but I am a little surprised by it. Even though I knew that William was holding our class hostage and making our days agonizing, I'm still startled by how much calmer everything feels without him. And part of that is my own personal fault, not William's or my students' -- for a while there, I let him control my emotions and my reactions, and of course that trickled down to my class. I was tense and, quite frankly, on the verge of panic when he was in the room (What am I going to do if he doesn't stop throwing that ball at the wall? How am I going to get him to quit the name-calling?), and that vibe oozed around the classroom like poison.

But on the other hand, our class was defined by William and his behavior for so long that it's almost a challenge to adjust to life without him. (Well, for me, at least -- other than Julio, who of course terribly misses his partner in crime, all of the other kids have adjusted well to bidding him adieu.) Last week, we took our first field trip, and all I kept thinking the whole time was: Oh my God, we never could have done this with William. When we got back, my kids were surprisingly mellow as they ate their lunches ("This is the best sandwich ever!" one of them enthused dreamily), and then something miraculous happened: One of the first kids to be done eating asked if she could read a book from our collection of Read Alouds. I agreed. Then another kid asked, and another kid. Before I knew it, my entire class was gathered in small clusters at the meeting area, sharing books. Some of them were reading aloud to each other. Some of them were obviously practicing their own "teacher" persona. Some of them had their heads bent close together, giggling as they pointed at the pictures.

Nobody was fighting, nobody was grabbing, nobody was shouting, nobody was using hurtful language. I had been planning to gather the class together to discuss the trip, but I hadn't counted on this beautiful, wondrous thing happening. I literally just sat back and watched them -- I even snapped a picture -- and before I knew it, it was time to go home.

It was the first time my classroom felt like a community. And slowly we will rebuild, and hopefully it will feel that way again.