Friday, September 19, 2008

The crying game

Confession time! For the past few weeks, I've been reading online about other teachers who are already feeling over-worked and over-stressed. Several of them have mentioned experiencing their "first cry" of the school year, and when I've read about that first cry -- something with which I am all too unfortunately familiar -- I have, I admit, congratulated myself on avoiding it. Ha ha, I may have even thought. I am no longer a first-year teacher! I know exactly what I am doing now! I am immune to the first cry!

OK, you know what comes next, right? And the worst part is that my first cry came over the stupidest little issue. I mean, last year I had first graders threatening to stab me with scissors and fifth graders who wrote on the walls -- those were incidents worth crying over.

This particular incident probably isn't even worth the time and energy it'll take trying to explain it, but here goes: This year, during 50 minutes, I was assigned to the art room, where my students will be working on a computer program. I was psyched about it because (1) I have experience working with the program and think it's really helpful for our students and (2) they are totally independent while working, and I wouldn't have to do the ridiculous backflips I did last year trying to come up with a plan for 50 minutes. (See, technically teachers are not supposed to "plan" for 50 minutes, but you can't exactly show up for 50 minutes totally empty-handed, but it's at the end of the day and you're likely to be completely fried by that point, and so are the kids, so 50 minutes is pretty excrutiating. In my opinion.)

Anyway, of course there have been tons of problems so far, starting with the fact that because we're not in the computer room, we have to set up 16 laptops every afternoon, and they're Macs, which we're not so familiar with, so picture two teachers racing around from laptop to laptop, barking at the kids to stop touching buttons, while other kids whine about how they haven't gotten to play with the computers yet. Half of the laptops won't turn on, the other half won't connect to the Internet, all of them require us to enter two separate passwords before the kids can actually get started...I'm so glad the Quality Review wants us to focus on our use of educational technology!

Meanwhile, all along the art teacher has been semi-reprimanding me every day because she feels that our students are too loud in the hallway while they're waiting to be let inside. Our 16 students are coming from 3 separate classrooms on 2 different floors, and sometimes they get there before I do (my co-teacher is coming from our annex down the block, so she's always 10 minutes late anyway). The art teacher has been bugging me to start picking the kids up at their classroom instead of letting them walk in a group by themselves, so I finally acquiesced, even though it means traveling around the building and making us even later for the Great Laptop Setup Debacle.

One classroom sends us only two kids, so I decided those two kids couldn't possibly make such a ruckus in the hallway as to cause the art teacher to object. But yesterday when I arrived with my merry band of 14 students (making zero noise in the hallway, I might add), one of those two students was waiting for me alone in the hall. Well, not alone, because the art teacher was with her, informing me that I would need to pick up that student as well (from a third classroom on a different floor), because she "can't be up here alone." Even though I explained that normally she would be traveling with a partner (who happened to be absent), the art teacher claimed that the two of them couldn't wait in the hallway alone...even though this is what all students do when they, for example, go to the bathroom together. She suggested I tell those two students to wait for me in one of the other classrooms from which I'd be picking up students...which I think basically translates to "It's OK to inconvenience another teacher to send two students to their room to wait, but not OK to inconvenience me by having these two students wait in the hallway outside my classroom."

So, OK, fine, I tell her I'll take care of it. Wait, the crying part is still to come! So at the back of the art room is a small workroom. The art teacher has been bringing her 50 minutes group into that room, even though her assignment is in a classroom, because I guess she feels that it's all part of her work space and she can bring her kids in there because it's quieter than the classroom. But, that workroom is slowly but surely being transformed into a room that will be used during the regular school day exclusively for the same computer program that my kids are working on during 50 minutes. Yesterday I noticed that the laptop cart had been moved into that room and tables had been set up. I know that room is designated to be the computer program room. So I tentatively mention to the art teacher that maybe I will bring my 50 minutes kids in there, because, well, clearly that's the room that's meant to be used for this program, and (this part I didn't say out loud), her 50 minutes assignment isn't even in the vicinity and she's just having her kids read silently anyway, which they can do virtually anywhere in the building.

And in the same imperious tone she used to inform me of my pickup duties, she completely dismissed my suggestion, all "I'm bringing my kids in there."

"Well," I said carefully, "it just seems silly to move the laptop cart in and out of that room when it looks like it's set up to be in there during the day."

"That's not my thing, I don't know what to tell you," she said with a wave of her hand. (That's right, it's not your thing. Because it's not your room anymore! It's the computer program room! I'm sorry you lost your space, because goodness knows that no teacher in this whole school has enough of it, but you have an entire huge art room here and we only need your teeny tiny workroom space and you're not even supposed to be in here during 50 minutes anyway!) And then she walked away.

Ahem. That's when the tears, ridiculously enough, started. I was just so frustrated and fed up with trying to get this program off the ground day after day for our kids, when it hasn't been working, when I think it could really help them, and all I was asking for was one tiny thing that would make my job easier, like can't you find another place in this whole school to take your five students to do silent reading that they can do anywhere? I literally stood in the hallway (because I still hadn't let my kids into the room yet since I didn't know where to put them) in front of these 15 kids while my eyes welled up. I think the majority of teachers at my school are great, but there are some who are so embittered and possessive of their own stuff and space and materials and interests that it's really frustrating. I mean, it's not like I wanted to send 16 kids to the art room to cause a ruckus; I'm just trying to do my job here.

So I took a deep, shaky breath, put my hand on the door handle, and said to the kids, "You just have to give me a minute to think." I went inside to pull the laptop cart out of the workroom, and surprise! With the addition of the tables in there, it's really not meant to be moved in and out; the cart was crashing into tables as I tried to maneuver. I pointed this out to the art teacher, who was already parading in with her group, and she gave me the same "I don't know what to tell you, it's not my thing" line (that's right, it's not your "thing," so why are you in here?).

Fast forward 50 minutes to after my co-teacher has arrived (I had to explain, "I'm having a moment" when she showed up and I was still near tears) and we've spent 50 minutes racing around the library like mad trying to make sure everyone's laptop will turn on (no) and log onto the Internet (no), everyone's Macromedia Flash player is compatible with the program (no), everyone is logged in under the correct name (no), everyone can maneuver the touchpad because the laptops don't come with mice (no) and Julianne goes downstairs before her bus arrives (also no). Finally, when we are both exhausted and sweaty, it's time to put the laptops away. That's when the paraprofessional who's going to work with the program during the day arrives to tell us that our AP says we should just leave the laptop cart in the workroom and let the kids work in there.

Seriously, you should have seen the glare of death I got from the art teacher. It was the first and only time I've ever felt like there was a genuine beef between me and another teacher at my school, and it was all because of this stupid 50 minutes program assignment that I didn't choose. I magnanimously tried to patch things up by suggesting that we switch places (i.e., take your kids out into that giant room behind us! Look around and marvel at all the room you'll have out there while no one has to maneuver a giant heavy cart in and out of a tiny room for no good reason other than you for some reason want to be in there with your tiny group!), but there was totally an awkward vibe in the air that I'm still puzzling over.

And that, my friends, is how Miss Brave cried her first cry of the school year (in front of her students, mind you, although none of them noticed). Let me tell you, there is nothing like an inagural cry to remind you who you're working for! (The correct answer: Not the art teacher!)

1 comment:

Ms. M said...

My first year the only time I ever cried was over the bitchy coaches that I had to share a tiny room with. They were just as your say totally "embittered and possessive of their own stuff and space and materials and interests." It's always the adults and almost never the kids that make the job hard. Hopefully she will get over it soon.