Tuesday, December 22, 2009

One day more

There's no denying we got off to a rough start this year. But now that William and Julio have left us, we've evolved into a kind of cozy classroom community. Most of their transgressions are now frustratingly predictable: Kyle forgets to put his schoolbag in the closet every. single. day; David needs an engraved invitation to the meeting area when all of his classmates are already there; Viviana's loud, chatty voice pierces through every direction I give like a siren; Jason cannot resist the urge to insert explosive noises and mime punches in an effort to liven up every mini lesson. Even when my class is driving me up the wall with their chatting and their resistance to following directions, not a day goes by when I'm not thankful that chatting is the worst I typically have to deal with; I do not miss the days of peeing on the floor and jumping off tables and loud swearing.

And then there are times when it all comes together and I get to sit back in satisfaction and think, "Ahhhhh, Miss Brave's class." Last week, for instance, we arrived alarmingly early on a field trip and had to sit on the bus for a half-hour. We'd already had two students get carsick and we were in for a long thirty minutes of "Is it time yet? When are we getting off?" until I suggested we play a round of Guess What Character Miss Brave Is Thinking About. They asked me questions about the character -- "Is he helpful?" "Is he from a book by Kevin Henkes?" -- until someone finally guessed correctly, and then I gave someone else a turn. They were raising their hands, they were calling on each other, and when we finally got to go inside (and we had to wait again), some of them continued to play amongst themselves. It was great.

Last week, I received in my Department of Education e-mail a "Holiday Gift Memo" from the DOE's "ethics officer." The e-mail encouraged me to review the Chancellor's Regulation C-110 on conflicts of interest and reminded me that, as a city employee, I "may not accept gifts or 'tips' for doing [my] job" and that "teachers should only accept individual gifts from parents that are of a sentimental nature and/or of small financial value."

Apparently the over-gifting of teachers was a growing problem in the suburbs, where wealthy parents were competing to out-gift each other by lavishing upon their children's teachers gifts of spa certificates (!), Coach bags (!!) and Rolex watches (!!!). But in NYC public schools, when I read Mayor Bloomberg's admonishment to parents to keep it under $50, all I could do was roll my eyes. My students don't even pay for lunch. How could they pay $50 for a Christmas gift for a teacher?

Today, two of my students presented me with holiday gifts. One of them, Alaina, is new to my class and new to the country; the other, Marco, is my class clown, and handed me the bag looking like the gift had been entirely his parents' idea. No, it wasn't a Coach bag. It was better: a large tote bag (perfect for lugging heavy teacher manuals), with plastic slots on the front (the perfect size for sliding in photos of my class), and best of all, embroidered with my name. I now have my very own teacher tote with my name on it! Eat your heart out, suburbia.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Still too busy for a real update

But in lieu of one, I present Kids Say the Darndest Things: Miss Brave Edition.

(1) I go to pick up my class Monday morning after the Thanksgiving vacation. Marco spots me and grumbles, "Aw, man, school ruined my weekend."

(2) It is time to line up on a Monday afternoon after a difficult Fundations period in which way too many students are talking, faking explosion noises, futzing around with the carpet or just generally not paying attention. Consequently, I am grouchy. One of my smartest and most well-behaved students bounces up to me and says brightly, "Miss Brave, it's a good thing it's time to go home, because I was about to fall asleep at the carpet!"

(3) We are discussing the vocabulary word "flood." Manuel raises his hand and says, "If there is a flood coming, you should turn your TV off, because I know that water and electricity are not a good combination."

(4) We use the FOSS science curriculum at my school. I think it's excellent and my kids loooove science. The materials for each unit come packed inside large boxes that I don't have room for in my classroom, so I store them in the bathroom we have inside our room. One day I am giving a science test when Bryce raises his hand and says, "Miss Brave, is our next unit in science going to be Pebbles, Sand and Silt or New Plants?" I was astonished. "How did you know what our science units were called?" I asked. He gave me a 'duh' look and shrugged, "The bathroom."

(5) We are working on a "realistic fiction" unit in writing, creating realistic but fictional characters and stories. On an extremely cold Friday, I remind the students to put on and close all their layers of clothing. I tell them it reminds me of the scene in Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse when all the students are buttoned and zipped and tied and snapped and ready to go home. Christian points out: "Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse is realistic fiction!" I want to kiss him.

(6) I am meeting with my five K readers for guided reading. We are discussing the word "busy" and I ask them to explain what it means. Jason says, "It's like, okay, Miss Brave, ask me if I want to play a game." I oblige: "Jason, do you want to play a game?" He answers: "I can't, I'm busy in a group with the teacher."

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 side...it'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.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

I definitely did not teach this in a mini lesson

Today it was blissfully quiet in my classroom during reading. It was so quiet, in fact, that I was considering granting my class a much-coveted compliment (they have been stuck at 16 forever, while they need to get to 25 to earn themselves either (a) a popcorn party or (b) a Michael Jackson dance party. Yes, I said that).

I assumed it was quiet because William is no longer with us (do you hear that? It is the sound of a choir of heavenly angels singing...it is also a story for an entirely different post). As it turns out, I should have known better. It was not quiet because my students were so studiously reading their books, drinking in the vast store of knowledge that can only come from endless re-reads of Mr. Putter and Tabby Bake a Cake. No, it was quiet because they were using the post-its from their book baggies -- which are supposed to be used to mark important parts of their books and jot down notes, thank you very much, yes I did teach that in a mini lesson about how readers blah blah blah by blah blah blay -- they were using the post-its from their book baggies to write and pass each other notes that read, among other things, "Suck my balls" and "Have sex with me." (And, by the way, the only reason I know exactly what these notes read is because I had to go digging through the trash can, CSI-style, to retrieve the evidence.)

Excuse me, I teach second grade. I do not teach middle school or junior high school, and precisely for the reason that I did not ever want to rehearse a phone call home that included the words "Today your son wrote 'Suck my balls' and 'Have sex with me' on a post-it."

What makes the whole thing even grosser is that these notes were being passed to girls, like, now I have a case of seven-year-old sexual harassment on my hands, which does not jive very well with our class trip to the petting zoo tomorrow.

Meanwhile, you know how every class has those girls who are very precocious and very prissy and very bossy and know-it-all and can always be counted upon to Inform you (yes, that's Inform with a capital I) who was doing what? Well, my authoritative informants assured me that Julio was the culprit (naturally), but his mother angrily told the guidance counselor that it wasn't his handwriting. (Which means that he didn't write the note, he just passed it around and flashed it at my Informants, which isn't really necessarily any better but ensures that his mother will probably hate me forever now for accusing her son of being a budding pervert.)

But, having now added Handwriting Comparison Expert to my growing list of teacher skills, I know who the real author of the note is. Alas, the number on his blue card turned out to be disconnected. I sort of hope he's at home right now playing with his DS, because I suspect that once I get in touch with Mom, today will be the last he sees of it for a long, loooong time.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Every kid has a story

Every kid has a story. That's something I have to remind myself constantly in my class, because -- even putting aside William (who remains in my classroom, despite assurances from virtually everyone in the school that he'll be gone "any day now") and Julio (whose mother just sent me a lengthy form to fill out from a psychiatrist, hallelujah), I have some naughty, naughty kids in my class. But, unlike William and Julio, there's usually some kind of motivation for their behavior, and that's where the stories come in.

Jason is one of those naughty boys. He's so naughty, in fact, that his articulation card clearly stated that he shouldn't be placed in the same class as Julio (see: pants-wetting, tantrum-throwing and overall violent behavior). Wonder of wonders, I ended up with them both, and while Jason started out the year okay, lately he's been acting up. And by "acting up," I mean that (a) the tattle turtle received an anonymous note that read: "Jason tried to punch me in the face at lunch, (b) Jason passed a note to another student that read "dum dum," and (c) somehow the words "Shut up, crybaby" were deemed an appropriate response to another student playing a math game.

Jason is actually very bright, but he's also extremely lazy and a total whiner. I'd been communicating with his mom via e-mail, but after he broke out the "dum dum," I broke out the phone call. "What did he do?" she said knowingly after I introduced himself, sounded exasperated and affectionate at the same time. After speaking with his mom, I realized I'm so used to getting a total blank response from William's mom and excuse after excuse from Julio's mom that I wasn't expecting an actual positive response from a parent. That's when I got the story. Of course, it doesn't excuse the name-calling and the refusals to do classwork and the bordering-on-rudeness, but it does explain it a little. Jason's mom wrote me a long note today in which she explained Jason's side of the story but also conceded that "you never know with kids who's lying" -- a parent who's willing to admit that her child isn't perfect! How novel! And now I know that Jason is getting counseling outside of school, and we have a plan to keep Mom updated via e-mail.

It's not easy teaching a class of 27 kids, but it's even harder teaching 27 classes of 1 kid. But every kid has a story.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Friday cupcakes

Yesterday, while I was walking my class upstairs with William at the front of the line (which is not where his line spot is, but you try getting him to stay in his place), he enthused to me: "We're going to have a party!"

"Where, in after-school?" I asked.

"No, in our class!" he responded, jerking a thumb to the back of the line. There was Arianna carrying three boxes of Entenmann's Halloween cupcakes that I had no idea were coming.

Now, Friday was Joan's birthday; Saturday was Arianna's. A few days before, Arianna had said to me: "My dad asked if the class could sing happy birthday to me, but I don't want to take away from Joan's birthday."

My hardened, blackened teacher heart melted, and I assured her we could sing to both of them. But I had not been forewarned about the cupcakes.

Arianna is a holdover; she was in my reading group last year. She is a quiet, sweet little girl who tries very hard, has low self-esteem, and giggles when I tell jokes to the class. Naturally, I adore her. I get the impression she doesn't necessarily get pumped up by her family at home, so I was surprised they went out of their way to send her in with birthday cupcakes. Here was the problem: There were 18 cupcakes for my 27 students. (Well, 25...thank goodness Julio was absent and William was with a pull-out teacher, because the day might have ended with a food fight instead of singing if they had been there.)

That's why, seventh period, I found myself sawing through the gooey cupcakes with a plastic knife. Robert gave each student half a paper towel, Tanya collected all the garbage, and I handed out baby wipes so everyone could clean their frosting fingers. Then a student from across the hall popped in to offer me a cupcake from her birthday party. When she proffered the box of cupcakes, I nearly fainted: They were from Magnolia Bakery! You bet your sweet frosting I took one.

As we all settled in to eat our cupcakes, my students started venting their complaints about William: "I know why I can't behave," Jose said sadly. "It's because William keeps saying mean things, and I try to ignore him but he keeps saying them, and then I just get so mad!" Melinda agreed: "When William keeps coming to my table and bothering us, my brain just gets so angry and I just have to say something to him."

And I really can't blame them. They're seven years old. It's hard. Even I can't control my anger at William sometimes. How do I explain to them that William is angry, and frustrated, and compensates for that by trying to bully them? How do I explain that William is obviously not in an appropriate setting, that we're working to find a better environment for him?

All I know is, for forty minutes on Friday afternoon, I got a taste of what my classroom would be like without William and Julio. And oh my, it was sweet.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

This is why I wanted to stay a reading teacher

We just finished our first unit in math, and I feel like a dismal failure as a math teacher. I have 16 students in my math group. From the pre-test to the post-test (they have exactly the same questions), 6 of my students got exactly the same score (usually because they got exactly the same question wrong), 6 went up, and 4 went down.

I despise math.


Yesterday afternoon, very close to the end of the day, Julio had an accident. He was already in the bathroom when it happened, so I figured (a) he had waited too long to ask me to go, (b) he was fooling around in the bathroom and underestimated how much he had to go, or (c) he had trouble getting his belt undone and ended up wetting himself. Anyway, I called downstairs and the office called his mother, and because it was so close to the end of the school day, his mother just took him home. There was an awkward period in between when he wouldn't pull up his wet pants and come out of the bathroom, so he simply stayed in there with his pants down, only he wanted to hear the story I was reading, so he kept sticking his head out of the bathroom, which of course caught the attention of some of the girls, who squealed, "Julio has his pants down!" But eventually Mom showed up and I figured that was the end of it.

Today, Julio had another accident. Again, he was already in the bathroom. But this time, he peed all over the bathroom floor. Again, he wouldn't pull up his wet pants and come out of the bathroom, but today, he started wadding up toilet paper and throwing it out of the bathroom. When I confronted him, he flat-out denied it, and then -- maybe in a misguided attempt to get rid of the evidence? -- he stuffed the toilet paper in his mouth and started chewing it.

So now we have the pants-wetting, and the violent and sexual pictures he's been drawing, and the fact that when he gets angry he bangs his head against the wall and says things like, "I'm going to kill myself." Last year, when he was in first grade, he scrawled a racial slur on the hand of the only African-American child in his class. And every day, when I pick up the class from lunch, I hear, "Julio punched me, Julio kicked me, Julio spilled milk on me."

Mom promises she's looking into getting him counseling. But in the meantime, I can't hold my breath.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The pencil problem

My classroom has a pencil problem.

Before the first day of school, in my adorable naivete, I supplied each table in my classroom with a table caddy filled to the brim with pencils, erasers, crayons and a pencil sharpener.

That was my first mistake.

Within weeks, all of those things had disappeared. The pencil sharpeners were broken. The erasers were missing. The pencils had been swept up by the janitor.

That's when the complaints started: "I don't have a pencil." "My pencil is broken." "I don't know what happened to my pencil."

Every afternoon, our pencil monitor sharpens pencils. Every morning, I sharpen a box of pencils. And by second period, all of those pencils are broken, or missing, or both.

Now, I have a few naughty children who simply snap them in half, or use them so inappropriately that they break. And I have those others who simply can't stop sharpening their pencils, even when they are sharp, so they sharpen them until they break or get too tiny to use.

But for the love of God, where are our pencils going? Do my students not know how to use pencils without pressing hard enough to break them? Why, every single day, do I spend half the day dealing with a total effing lack of pencils?

Yesterday, I put new pencil sharpeners on all the tables. This morning? They were all gone. According to many reliable student sources, the culprit was a student who was absent today. "He took all the sharpeners," they took me solemnly. "I saw him. He said not to tell."

Why do I have so many students who think it is acceptable to just take things that they want? I already have William dancing around the pencil sharpener, saying, "I'm going to break it!" I have William blatantly taking things right off my desk or snatching things right out of the hands of other students and then accusing them: "Shut up, you big fat liar! Who asked you? I'm gonna punch you in your head!" (Nice.)

And the one desktop pencil sharpener I bought (again, with my own money) has had a group of children crowded around it constantly, no matter how many times I explain that only one person at a time should be standing near the pencil sharpener.

I've been reduced to begging my students to tell their parents to send them to school with an ample supply of sharpened pencils (and really, is that too much to ask?) or at the very least a pencil sharpener. But I beg of you, other classroom teachers: How do you solve the pencil problem?

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Opposite ends of the spectrum

Sad but true: On any given day, 90% of my energy is directed toward making sure William and Julio don't burn down the school. Which leaves a paltry 10% of my energy for kids like Leah.

Who is Leah? Leah is your basic dream student. She is polite, conscientious and intelligent. She raises her hand; she never calls out. She always follows directions, and in a timely fashion. If I say, "Put away your social studies book, take out your book baggie and go to the carpet," Leah will always be the first (and often only) student there. Best of all, Leah does all this without fuss: She never brags about how smart she is, or yells at the other kids at her table to get their mess together so they can get a table tally. She just does what she needs to do in a totally mature fashion without any complaint. Even my other brightest students are in my face all the time, asking me for drinks of water (albeit extra maturely: "Miss Brave, my throat is really dry, may I please have a sip of water?") or trying to show off for me, but not Leah. That would be just so...beneath her.

Now, I know there are teachers who might find Leah boring. After all, she never kicks up a fuss; it's actually a treat to see her even smile, because Leah is clearly not in school to fool around, she's in school to learn. But I, for one, am thankful I have a Leah in my class. Leah doesn't get caught red-handed by the School Safety Patrol at lunch for drawing pictures of naked ladies. She doesn't have to be sheepishly returned to the classroom fifteen minutes after dismissal for managing to leave school without her backpack. She doesn't pretend to be shooting machine guns at the other students, or blow air inside her book baggie with her mouth hoping it will blow up and pop, or crawl underneath a table and pout when she gets upset.

She just tries her best, every single day. Thank goodness.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Options in October


First of all, I want to say thank you for the outpouring of support that followed my mental breakdown. Your comments were comforting and in some cases a lot more constructive than those of my colleagues' ("I'll pray for you" and "I'm going to throw some holy water at your room" were two I heard today...OK, I'm glad I'm not the only one who notices that my class is a 3-ring circus, but throw me a bone, people), and I'm touched to know that so many people out there were thinking of me and trying to help.

Now, the plan. We've put both William and Julio on a token economy system, where they can earn little cards that give them the privilege of going to the gym, the computer room, or art. And for William, at least, the last two days have been -- cautiously -- great.

Holy effing moly, did I really just say that? Knock on wood and cross your fingers, people. He raised his hand during Word Work. He sat up straight and flashed the quiet signal. And...this is the kicker...he successfully navigated a science experiment that involved using a sharpened pencil, clothespins, and a sharp, poky wire.

Last period.

After gym class.

OK, I just got chills down my spine, so I need to type that again slowly. I gave him sharp objects...last period...after gym class...and he was fine. He was better than fine; I started calling him "Professor William, the scientist."

That's the thing about William: He drives me to tears, and Xanax (oh yes, I said it), but every day I give him another chance. Today, during Word Work, he sat at his seat (the separate desk I set up just for him, with a little clipboard propped up next to him that says "William's Goals") and hollered, "I NEED HELP! I NEED HELLLLLPPPP!" And I thought: Ooooh, what an improvement! Because last week, he would have been tossing his Word Work book up at the ceiling and doing backflips on the carpet.

Of course, classrooms are full of yin and yang, and as William has been improving, his sidekick Julio has not. Today I had a long talk with Julio's first grade teacher after school. Our conversation revealed all sorts of interesting tidbits; the juiciest was that Julio has, in fact, been diagnosed with ADHD, but his mother doesn't want him on medication. Dear Julio's mother: For the love of God, give your son some Ritalin. I mean, I would respect her right to explore options other than medication if I actually thought she would, you know, explore options other than medication, instead of living in the gigantic bubble of denial she's created. Like, failing to show up for a meeting with me two mornings in a row because you bring him to school late every day? Doesn't really give me the impression that you're all that invested in how he's doing. And while we're at it, let's ask some other questions, like: Why does your son constantly draw pictures of people shooting and stabbing each other? Why does he shout curse words when he's angry? Why does he tell me he's going to kill himself? OK, seriously: Your seven-year-old threatens suicide when he's angry.

And he's angry a lot. This kid is not stupid. He knows he can't sit still, he knows he doesn't behave when all the other kids can. He's like an alcoholic who doesn't know how to quit because -- oh, right -- he's seven years old and needs more help than I can give him. Especially with 26 other kids in the class. One of whom is effing William! (Dear administration: What a fantastic idea it was putting these two kids together. Seriously, am I being punished or something? No love, Miss Brave.)

I would like to close with the unexpected, and much-needed, laugh I got last week when this happened:

Scene: Our classroom, dismissal. Chaos reigns. Papers fly. Schoolbags hit desks. A sweet little girl walks up to me and hands me a box of wipes.

"Miss Brave, my mom said to bring these in for the class."

I take the box. I say thank you. It is only when the day is over, and all the kids have gone home, that I retrieve the box to add to our collection. It is then I notice: They are not baby wipes. Or Clorox wipes. They are Preparation H medicated hemorrhoid wipes...and the box is half empty.


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.

Friday, August 28, 2009

ARIS this

I'm willing to take bets that I am the only NYC public school teacher out there who logged into ARIS (that's the New York City Department of Education’s Achievement Reporting and Innovation System to you) before the school year started. As I was very diligently logging in to my DOE e-mail (which I have also very diligently checked over the summer, only to be sent into panicky tailspins by the missives of my principal), I was informed I had to reset my password (which the DOE makes us do practically biweekly, as if anyone is really trying to hack into my e-mail and find out which exciting coverage I'll be made to do next), and on the default home page I happened to log into ARIS out of curiosity -- at least, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Sure enough, my class list is up and running, and there are changes: I lost one sweet girl and gained one (different) sweet girl, one boy I am not excited about unless he's matured a heck of a lot over the summer, and one unknown boy from another school.

Now, I am all about the lists and charts and organizational tools, but I'm already frustrated by ARIS. Maybe it's because I've got second graders, so there's not exactly that much data to go on, but almost every single data field on my students was blank, and the ones that were there are cryptic. My new student from another school has an IEP, but I can't tell what's on it. Several of my students have "health alerts," but I don't know what they are. And a handful have "closed 407s," which (because I am a huge dork) I had to research to find out what exactly that meant. (As far as I can tell, it means they were absent a lot, and the DOE investigated.) This is my third year in the system, and I don't see how I'll ever keep pace with all the acronyms and numbered abbreviations.

But all the tools we use at my school to measure student progress -- running records and Everyday Math assessments and checklists and such -- don't factor into ARIS. So pretty much all I get out of it is a list of 27 names and a record of how many days they were absent. Which doesn't do much to help ease my anxiety of what it will be like when those 27 squirmy bodies are filling my new classroom.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Wackiness: As a measure of teaching ability, entirely underrated

A couple of commenters on my last post agreed (in a complimentary way) that I get a little "wacky" during the summertime, which made me consider the unfortunate truth that I am not nearly wacky enough during the school year. Frankly, I'm losing a little bit of my wackiness as the summer lurches to a close and I spend more of my time planning lessons and scrolling through pages and pages of the school rules and regulations binder ("changes are highlighted in yellow") that my principal e-mailed to us because apparently we're not printing anything anymore, ever. (How this will affect our ability to deliver effective instruction this year and whether my administration will make any allowances for this remains to be seen.)

I'm already having back-to-school nightmares. I think there is a disconnect between how I am during the summer vs. how I am during the school year. Sometimes I think I'm still not comfortable in my teaching skin, that it's not yet part of who I am, but rather something I just have to do between September and June. Which isn't to say I'm not passionate about it, because I am, but I've gone very quickly from idealist to cynic about the entire career.

It's been a big summer: new teaching position, new apartment, potentially a new car -- I don't think I ever mentioned that someone smashed up the side of my car while it was parked near my school and charmingly failed to leave a note. I've been driving it and its $2,000 (!) worth of damage all junk-heaped up ever since. And it will be an even bigger fall. I'm prepared to come to work early and stay late, to feel a little exhausted and overwhelmed at times, to make foolish mistakes, to rue the day I ever wandered into the university education office and asked, "Is it too late to join the program?" But I'm also grateful for the things that will make this year different from my miserable first year teaching: the support system I have among my fabulous colleagues; the little bag of tricks I've managed to develop over the past two years as a direct result of being pulled for coverages so very, very often; and the loveliest place to come home to that I could ask for (mostly because it includes the soon-to-be Mr. Brave).

Goodness knows my school has plenty of goals and expectations for me in the coming school year, but here's a new one of my own: Be wacky, sometimes. If that doesn't help my teaching fall into place, at least it will help my sanity -- and that more than anything is the best I can ask for.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Putting the ACK! in August (or, Why are the stores already selling Jewish New Year cards?)

It always takes me about a month to adjust to the rhythm of the summer. For the first two weeks in July, I dream about school: it's not over yet, it's just begun, I'm getting excessed, I'm being moved to high school, you get the picture. And just when I'm settling into vacation, blam! August hits like a ton of bricks and I start having those back to school dreams. A few days ago I had the one where it's the first day of school and my classroom is completely unfinished, and also it's like the middle of first period and I have yet to pick up my class.

So I took that as a sign I should get my butt over to the school supply store. (Actually, if you really want to know, it went down like this: July 30 -- I get an email from the UFT about our Teacher's Choice allocation money for the coming school year. As always, we can start purchasing school supplies on August 1. Which I don't, because I spent August 1 at the beach and a baseball game, because I have all the time in the world to purchase school supplies! August 2 -- I have my bad dream about the unfinished classroom. August 3 -- helloooooooooo, school supplies, I've been expecting you.)

Then I spent the whole afternoon Velcro-ing little stars and hand cutouts with my students' names on them to Popsicle sticks. "Helping Hands," get it? "Star Readers," get it, get it?! I am 98% sure that, come September, I will regret having put names on all that stuff, as I am 98% sure that, come September, my roster will change, but it probably won't change as drastically as it would if I had an ESL class, and I have extras. Also, those nameplates from Target? Cost one dollar, people, get 'em while they're hot (and boo-yah, Carson-Dellosa).

Then I spent far too much time printing and laminating times and subjects to use on my Flow of the Day. Flow of the Day, by the way, is a fancy way of saying "class schedule," and when I Googled the term out of idle curiosity about whether any other school systems refer to it this way, the #3 link was a Yahoo! Answers inquiry about, ahem, that other flow of certain days...of the month...right, that one. At any rate, my flow of the day (no, not that one) will look all fancy-schmancy, which I'm sure will be a comfort to me when it's the second week of school and all the cute little stars and hands have fallen off their Popsicle sticks.

Meanwhile, those five minutes in July I spent browsing the Everyday Math curriculum? Hmm, probably not going to cut it! But that's OK, because I have the whole rest of August to get Miss Brave back together, right?


Wait, why are you making that blam noise?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

What the new year will bring

So I've been hibernating for a little while, getting used to the idea of being a classroom teacher for the first time. (Pet peeve: When my students found out I would be going to the classroom, they all said, "You're going to be a real teacher next year?" I kept explaining, I'm a real teacher now, I just don't have my own classroom!)

Slowly and painfully, I am getting used to the idea. Bonuses: No more coverages or suspension room ever again!

Many of the first grade teachers had their students write letters of greeting to their second grade teachers (hello, that would be me!). They are too cute not to share, and so here they are. I'm preserving their spelling and grammar, so you'll just have to do your best to decipher them like any good second grade teacher would.

"Dear Miss Brave, I am so exited to be in your class next year. because you were are writing. [Note: She remembers when I was her kindergarten writing cluster teacher! Awww!] Let me tell you about myself. My favirit subject is sincese I love to do some fun things. math is fun becaue we have game day on Friday. I am very smart and Ms. S Loves me because I am grat I am I best in class Ms. S does not want me to leve. I Love to read ficshin books. I am a grat sutint I never miss behave with teachers. I allwes do a grat job. I am reading K level books. [Note: She will be a higher reader in September of second grade than many of my AIS second graders were in June. That's going to take some getting used to!] I am in a hihtg level. I am prod of myself. you will love me. you will never get mad at me. trust me I will not miss behave. I am a hard waking gril."

"Dear Miss Brave, I am so ecxited to meet you. [Note: He already knows me. Obviously he doesn't remember.] I hope you are nice I wonder how the classroom would look like. Let me tell you about myself. Ms. S said that I beahave somtimes. my favoret subject is gym. because it is a fun subject. I am so excited to be in your classroom. you are so lucky to have me because I am in J books I promise I will beahave and wont get in truoble."

"Dear Miss Brave, I am so exsided to be in senkent grad nexst year. Let me tell you about myself. I love to read and I'm in level I and reading is so fun deacause you get smart and I like reading none fickshine because you lern stuff. I Like to wite beacus I like to wite nonefickshine. I like math cuase I like to add and take away. and I will Love to learn my hole life and I think wordwork is giong to de hard beacaus we are going to spell harder decaus we are going to be smarter. I like social studies beacause I like to larn more and more and more evey day cause my parents want me to and I will Love to learn evry day and I will try to be on time evrey day and be here evrey day exsepd whene I'm sick."

"Dear Miss Brave, I am so exsited to be in your class. I am so happy to be in 2nd grade. I was student of the moth one time and wrod master too. let me tell you about myself my favreit subjuct is gym and art I love gym cuse I like haveing fun and I love punting and makeing suff and when I am sad I just sing it makes me flle so much buttr I love to wite poty and I love to read nonficshin in math I love doing adoing with base ten blocks and I like taping out songs in wrod worck and I am a good child I do not get in troble and I do not bring a toy to school"

"Dear Miss Brave, I like to read do we read a lot in second grade? [Note: She has no idea...] I'm so glad that I'm going to sectond grade. When are we going to second grade? I hope I have fun at second grade. What class are we going to be in. In 3 more days is the last day."

"Dear Miss Brave, I am so glad that I'm going to secont grade with you! I've always wanted to go to secont grade and you look petty and when is your birthday and I am 6 years old and I love you and I love science because sceience is my favrite thing to do and writing and reading and math and word work is my favrite thing to do I love everything to do Do you like everything to like science or writing or reading or math or word work to"

"Dear Miss Brave, I like Art becus I can make crafs I bo not like word work we have to sand out all day in word work. my favorite book is maelia beloomer it is a boot a gril that bus not wunt to wer a dig drss. my favorite colr is Red I will see you nex yer."

Dear Miss Brave, I am so happy to be in your class because you are so fun. [Note: That's what he thinks now. Ask him again in October.] Let me tell about my self I sometimes I behav bad and I help cids and I come to scool late and I have bloblus with my hands and I like writing and math and gym and luch."

Dear Miss Brave, I'm so glad to be in your room I hop I lrn los of new dings in 2nd grad Let me tal you auput my salf wal I cun good and dab unitul but mapy if you put me with good kids ul pinv [Note: I'm pretty sure he means, "I can be good and bad, but maybe if you put me with good kids I'll behave -- thanks for the tip!] My forvat attivut [favorite activity?] is math wulam utitpicrasy and I'm funy I like rideing and wrading so as wal math and you are liky to hav me kus I I'm a cute little boy."

"Dear Miss Brave, I am so Happy to see Miss Brave and I seed you in the KindrGrden. Let me tel you odout my self. my favorite period is Reading in Reading is fun! I get more levels. I read chapter books only at home."

"Dear Miss Brave, I am so exited to go t second grade because I will be very smart at second grade. Let me tell you about my self I love reading I am in level K! I also love writing. Did you know I can be very quiet. I like to play with my friends."

"Dear Miss Brave, I am glad to go to your class Im glad to have you do my 2 grad techer. I like Majik Tree house I like to Draw What do you like to do?"

Monday, June 15, 2009

Got a revolution behind my eyes, we got to get up and organize

The organization sheet is here.

But before I reveal its contents, let me just tell you about the grief it has caused me these past few weeks: I am exhausted. My head hurts. I itch. I couldn't eat at our potluck lunch this afternoon because my stomach was in knots.

So where did I end up? In a second grade classroom of my own (not a CTT class as previously rumored; I think those teachers felt so strongly about co-teaching together next year that they asked my principal to reconsider keeping them together).

People keep asking me, "Are you excited? Are you happy?" The truth is that I'm not, but it's not even completely because I have to give up my (relatively) cushy AIS position for a classroom, or because I'm totally switching gears again for the second year in a row. It's because my administration has been acting like they're the Wizards of Oz these past few weeks, refusing to divulge any information about their decision-making process -- or, come to think of it, any information at all. There are teachers at my school who got called into the principal's office a week ago only to be told that they were moving rooms, but meanwhile there are other teachers who are making huge program changes, to positions they didn't even ask for at all on their preference sheets, and no one in the administration had the courtesy to tell them in person. More than anything else, I feel disrespected, like I'm being slighted for something I don't even know about. You tell me how fabulous I am all year and then boot me for someone who didn't even apply for it? That, as Cynthia Lord's Catherine would say, stinks a big one.

And now, my head is spinning with everything I'll have to do next year. I'm completely overwhelmed...and so totally done with this year that I don't know how I'm going to stand the next few weeks. And don't get me wrong, it's not that I dread the idea of having my own classroom -- I'm already swimming with ideas and plans. I'm ready to see it as a challenge: You want me in a second grade classroom? I'm going to make it the best second grade classroom it can be.

But please, let me have a little summer first. Please.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Rumor has it

I now know that I am not second grade or first grade AIS next year. The latest rumor (one of my colleagues said to me, "Miss Brave, have you heard any rumors about yourself? Because I heard a rumor about you!") is that I'll be doing a second grade CTT class (although I think CTT is now known as something else...see, I'm not even up on the lingo). CTT stands for "Collaborative Team Teaching," and CTT classes contain 40% special education and 60% general education students, with a special ed teacher and a general ed teacher team-teaching the class.

I did check CTT on my preference sheet, but the rumors say I'm with a special ed teacher who is currently in a third grade CTT. She and her co-teacher work really well together and want to stay together next year, so I have no idea why my crazy administration wants to split them up and I feel really weird and awkward about the whole situation even though I obviously have no control over it.

Meanwhile, Monday is like the absolute last day according to our contract that we can be notified about these things, but administration is still saying things like, "The reorganization sheet isn't final" and being extremely coy about everything. Monday is definitely going to be an interesting day.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Not counting my chickens

So. It's not a secret that I don't always exactly love my job. But I do consider it a vast improvement over what I did last year. When preference sheet time rolled around, I dutifully dusted off my resume and worked up a letter of intent (because for some reason even AIS teachers have to re-apply for AIS) for an AIS position. In second grade. (There's no place for listing grade preferences for AIS, but I sneakily mentioned in my cover letter that I looked forward to being part of the second grade team again next year.)

On Friday, one of my second grade colleagues, a lovely and dynamic teacher whom I consider a friend, was called into the principal's office and told that she'd be taking the second grade AIS position next year.

I? Was told nothing.

Needless to say, I have spent the entire weekend freaking out. What does it mean? Am I going to first grade AIS? Am I going into a classroom? Why would administration make us apply for AIS positions when they just end up giving them to whoever they want anyway? (My colleague, who I am, don't get me wrong, happy for, and who I believe will do a great job in the position, nevertheless did not actually put in for AIS.) Why would they tell her that she was taking my job without telling me what I would be doing?

Then I started getting paranoid: Does my principal know I sent out a few resumes through the open market transfer system? Does she know I say unpleasant things about our school on my blog? Am I being punished?

At this point, best case scenario, I go down to first grade AIS (because the first grade AIS teacher would like to go into a classroom). But here's what I don't understand: Not to brag about my general fabulousness or anything, but this year, I have gotten pretty much nothing but compliments from administration. In my last post-observation conference, my AP told me I was "flawless." So if I'm good at my job, and they like the way I'm doing my job, and I ask for the same job again next year...why wouldn't I get that job? Why would they give it away to someone who didn't even request it?

Aaaaarrrghhhh. Rumor has it that our reorganization sheet is being released on Tuesday; I'm hoping I'll find out something before I get the paper in my mailbox and potentially start, like, crying in front of the entire office when I see my name next to a fifth grade class or something. But in the meantime, the waiting is exhausting.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

At long last, a good day

When I walked into the office this morning, I said to the secretary, "Who am I going to be today?" To my great surprise and relief, the answer was nobody! For the first time in what felt like a very long time, I got to be myself...and, for a change, it felt wonderful.

On Friday afternoon, one of my students handed me a folded note and instructed me to read it at home. (I cheated.) It read: "Dear Miss Brave, I have been practicing for level L, on Monday will you please read with me?" (Her note-writing skills have vastly improved; a few weeks ago she wrote me a priceless note, now hanging on my bulletin board at work, that read: "Dear Miss Brave, Me and Edward are mad at you because you are always passing Alyssa and Luis to the next level but you do not pass us.")

So I read with her, and sure enough she moved up a level. Then, like clockwork, Alyssa tiptoed up to me and handed me another note: "This is from Edward." (The aforementioned Edward conspired on the first note but then chickened out and asked the writer to erase his name.) Edward's note, naturally, read, "Will you move me up a level please?" So competitive! So I wrote him a note back ("I will read with you tomorrow") and made him happy.

Bayani is a tough kid to do running records with. He reads nicely but gets really, really nervous when it comes time to talk about the story and answer questions. So every time I do a running record, he seems like he's not ready to move up a level, and then he cries and I promise that we'll try again with another story in a week or so. Today we tried again, and he is now a level L. He was sitting at his desk, literally hugging a level L book to his chest, and with a beaming smile he said, "I'm so happy!" Teacher dream moment!

Rosa is a girly girl. She's the only pre-adolescent girl I've met who's had her hair highlighted. Her nails are more nicely manicured than mine, and she's always fussing with some part of her adorable matching outfit. Today I overheard Rosa saying to someone, "I'm a level K, but I want to be an L. My daddy says if I move to L, he'll buy me new shoes."

That was too funny to resist, and I was in a good mood, so I said, "Let's give it a try." We read the story about the chicken pox, and when she was retelling the part where the mom comes home and the kids realize they're about to get in trouble, she said, "Then the mom came home from work and Dusty said, 'We're busted!'"

That's when I cracked up for real. Then I asked her, "So what kind of shoes are you going to get?" And for the rest of the day, Rosa was all smiles.

Monday, June 1, 2009

In the past 8 days of school...

I have had 5 full-day coverages.

I'm not a math teacher, but even I can tell you that is messed up.

Today I covered a class with a student who is, shall we say, behaviorally challenged. Severely behaviorally challenged. As in, when I was calling students to line up and I said, "If you are wearing clothing with buttons on it, you may get on line," he made a rude gesture and yelled out, "My penis has buttons!" No matter what I said to him or how I said it, he responded by screaming at me: "MAKE ME!" (Or, occasionally and more perplexingly, "MILK ME!")

On our way into the classroom, he grabbed a bucket of plastic weather symbols, dumped it out onto the floor in the hallway and then tossed the bucket at my feet. I looked up and saw an assistant principal standing a few feet away in the hall, watching the whole thing. Oh good, I thought with some relief, she'll help me handle the situation, since this is a student she's very familiar with and I've never dealt with him before.

She watched the entire situation unfold, did nothing, said nothing, and walked away. Meanwhile, Mr. Personality ran into the classroom, grabbed hold of the closet doors, began slamming them -- BANG! BANG! BANG! -- and then screamed out, "That was an ACCIDENT!"

Thanks for your help, AP! Honestly, I do not want to work in a school where that kind of thing is OK.