Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Two funny stories after two weeks of silence

The other day I was trying, with minimal success, to help one of my ESL first graders write a story about what she did on vacation. But I kept getting distracted by what I could see out of the corner of my eye: Edward and Andre clowning around and getting into minor squabbles with each other over such earth-shattering matters as who had the taller pencil. So because I am extremely meddlesome, I kept warning them to get back to work.

Finally I could take it no longer. I got up from the tiny stool on which I had been perched, marched over to them and fixed them with my best gimlet-eyed glare. "Do you know," I said icily, "how much time I am wasting when I keep asking you to be quiet?"

Andre had the good grace to look slightly chastened. But Edward blinked up at me, opened his mouth, and said:

"A hundred?"

Uh... "A hundred what?" I said, exasperated. He blinked again.

"A hundred times?"

Oh. Hmm. I really couldn't argue with that logic, so I just bit back a laugh and slunk away.

* * *

One of my favorite "special" kindergarteners is a chubby, rotund boy with glasses whose speech is often hard to understand. This morning we all sat down at the meeting area and he piped up with something I couldn't quite catch. It took a few repetitions and some deciphering on my part, but I finally figured out what he had said: "Cute hair, Miss Brave!"

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

That's so meta

Today in my "special" kindergarten class, Jordan wrote, with very little prompting, my most favorite small moment story ever:

Page 1: "Mis Brave wz at school." (Picture of Miss Brave wearing glasses, which indeed she was today, with her head only vaguely attached to her body, floating outside the school building.)
Page 2: "Mis Brave wz at the carpit." (Picture of Miss Brave sitting on a chair at the meeting area in front of "childrens...sitting criss-cross applesauce!")
Page 3: "Mis Brave sed go back to your syts." (Picture of Miss Brave with her mouth wide open -- "Look, you're talking!" -- and all the kids walking back to their seats.)

I was so impressed. Really the only prompting I did was to remind Jordan that he could not include Toys 'R Us, red glasses, children who were absent this morning, or an incident in which I supposedly threw back my head and said, "Ah ha ha!", because none of those things really happened. (Although I did really enjoy Jordan's impression of me; apparently I laugh just like Count von Count!)

Monday, February 11, 2008

Happy 100th day of school!

My school celebrated with a huuuuuge school-wide party that culminated in Miss Brave getting hit in the face twice with a jump rope and then going deaf. The youngest grades wore adorable homemade shirts and hats and buddied up with the older grades, the self-contained fourth graders took turns (!) and got along with each other (!!), and a good time was had by all.

84 days to go!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Stand and Deliver...but to whom?

It's no secret that there's a major problem with teacher retention in this country. Something like 50% of all new teachers leave the profession within five years. Programs like Teach for America and the New York City Teaching Fellows recruit thousands of highly qualified candidates every year, but a great number of them stick around just long enough to collect their subsidized master's degree before fleeing the profession for another.

There are countless reasons for this, but I'm starting to think that one of the problems is that teacher recruitment programs, in their slick advertising campaigns, give the naive impression that teaching is all about connecting with your students. "Picture their eyes lighting up when you explain electricity," reads the home page of the NYC Teaching Fellows. Teach For America's website informs us that "of the 13 million children growing up in poverty, about half will graduate from high school. Those that do graduate will perform on average at an eighth-grade level. You can change this."

I can? Sign me up!

Of course, there's a reason teacher recruitment programs have slick advertising campaigns. But most of us went to school and had teachers ourselves. We saw our teachers teaching our classes, and that was pretty much it -- remember the cognitive dissonance you were sure to experience if you ever saw your teacher someplace out of context, like the supermarket? We never saw the stuff that goes on behind the scenes.

And being a teacher in America today is so much about what happens behind the scenes. The trickle-down effect from No Child Left Behind to the Department of Education to our principals to our administrators to our teachers has meant more data collection, more structure, and more pressure.

I guess my point is that anyone who is drawn to teaching because they want a career that's All About the Children is naturally going to find themselves disenchanted with what's really going on in schools. I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels like if all I had to worry about was doing the best teaching job I could do with my students, I could rest easier than I do with all the additional worrying about my government, my administration, even my colleagues.

One of the (flimsiest) reasons I wanted to teach rather than entering another career was that after having gone straight from college to graduate school, I didn't want to start out in an entry-level position somewhere at the bottom of the totem pole. I was ready for responsibility and I was ready to be in charge of something, like a classroom. But at least at my school, very little of what and how we teach is left up to the professional discretion of the teacher in charge. I don't know how much of this is true of schools that don't follow the TC model, or if it's simply a sad consequence of high-stakes testing in general, but I see all these cool conceptual units at teacher websites and I think, "Well, I could never teach that, because I don't have the freedom to design my own unit of study." And I have more freedom than the classroom teachers do!

"Picture their eyes lighting up when you explain electricity." But are they the eyes of your students, or the eyes of your assistant principal? And guess whose eyes are going to have a bigger impact on your career?

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Miss Brave and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day...2

This morning I arrived at school to find a memo informing me that I was being assigned to cover the in-school suspension room today. Problematically, an earlier memo had already assigned me to cover the kindergarten (yes, that'd be the entire kindergarten) over in the annex at the same time.

Miss Brave can do a lot of things, but she cannot be in two buildings at once, so the APs said they would find someone else to cover the in-school suspension room.

Then, the professional development session for which I was being assigned the mass prep coverage in the annex was canceled -- which is probably a good thing for me because the memo instructed me to "set up an educational video for the students" and I don't particularly know how to use all the projection equipment at the annex, and I didn't really have time to learn yesterday because I needed my lunch to prep for my first grade and my prep to prep for my new fifth grade and I am not an A/V expert and this is not my job.

So I walked back over to the main building and up four flights of stairs to discover a TESTING -- DO NOT DISTURB sign on the door to the room in which my office is located. This happens to me all the time.

So I did what I usually do: I sat in the hallway. With my coat and all the other junk I had dragged over to the annex. Then the APs came and found me in the hallway. The suspended kid had finished his testing, so off we went to the in-school suspension room. Unfortunately for me, when the period ended, no one came to relieve me until fifteen minutes into the next period. At which point I went back upstairs, retrieved my things from the hallway, and entered my office.

Did you notice how all of this went on before ten o'clock in the morning and I haven't said one word about teaching anything yet? Increasingly my days are filled with this kind of frustrating minituae that puts me in the kind of mood where I am already primed to snap at the kids from the second I enter the room. No one ever says, "Hey, Miss Brave, how about those periods those kids are putting at the end of their sentences?"; they only say, "Miss Brave, please perform some arbitrary function that is only tangentially related to the job for which you were actually hired." Especially because the first five minutes of every period are filled with the piercing agony of wondering whether or not I'm about to be observed. My kids have been working on the same stories for so long. Next week, because it's the week before vacation, I want to do a fun writing project with them for once; we'll read I Took My Frog to the Library ("I took my frog to the library, but he jumped on the checkout desk and scared the librarian") and then they'll write and illustrate their own "I took my _____ to the ______. Here is what happened next!" stories. But I'm afraid if I do this during an observation, somehow it won't jive with our school's official "No fun allowed!" policy.

The good news? My new fifth grade class went pretty well. We talked about the meaning of the words "grammar" and "punctuation" according to the dictionary and how different languages (they're all ESL) can have different rules of grammar and punctuation. Then I gave each of them a card with their name on it and the meaning of their name on the back. They thought it was neat to hear where their names came from, and they clapped after every definition as I read the names aloud. Then they wrote about whether the meaning of their name fit them. And the very best part is, no one asked me to go to the bathroom once!

Monday, February 4, 2008

Guess who has bronchitis?

I'll give you a hint: It's not Joel Klein!

The bronchitis doesn't excuse it, but it might help explain the fact that I was so mean today. Or maybe it was the weather, or the Monday blues, or the February doldrums. But today...I've had it. I'm fed up with cryptic memos instructing me to do things I don't understand and I'm fed up with being totally left out of the loop on memos that concern my program. I'm fed up with being locked out of my own office during state testing, and with professional development sessions that eat into my lunch time and prep time and instructional time, even though I never get any professional development myself, and I'm fed up with living in fear of being Observed. I'm fed up with rude and obnoxious kids and kids who go crazy when a girl's nose bleeds all over her white shirt and then all over the floor and kids who feel they have to re-enact for me that morning's projectile vomiting incident and kids who can't stop getting on each other's nerves, which consequently gets on my nerves. I'm fed up with having no friends at my school, not to mention a mentor.

I was never this mean to kids until I started teaching. Which means that most of all, I'm fed up with myself. This is not the teacher I wanted to be.