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 me...you 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 behavior...it 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.