Monday, April 6, 2009

If wishes were attitude adjustments

William and Jonathan have officially pushed me to the breaking point. Today, when I brightly called Jonathan over for guided reading, I was rewarded with a huge sigh and body language that screamed, "I hate reading, school, and you (not necessarily in that order)." While Jonathan and I were having our guided reading, William was doing what he does best: simultaneously not reading at all and preventing other kids from doing their reading.

During the mini lesson, Joseph ripped a sticker (presumably awarded to him earlier in the day) off his shirt, tore it in half, and then proceeded to rip it into tinier pieces that he stuck to each of his fingernails like he was giving himself a manicure. Meanwhile, William was playing with some little toy on wheels, which I valiantly tried to ignore until it went skidding across the table and clattered to the floor, causing everyone else in the group to turn around because they completely lack the ability to ignore a distracting classmate.

After the mini lesson, I called an emergency circle meeting to discuss why our group has recently devolved into a cesspool of eye-rolling, loud sighing, ridiculously gloomy body language and general rudeness and mutiny. Even my sweetest, hardest working, most enthusiastic kids have lately been all doom and gloom. I think it's spring fever, only without the spring.

So anyway, I'm having this emergency circle meeting at which we're getting to the root of the various obstacles to becoming good readers: "I'm tired," "I have a headache," "I have a stomachache," "My eyes hurt," "Other people are bothering me and then everyone gets in a fight," "I'm bored." Bored is the one that killed me, because guess what? TC is boring. And guess what? School is probably boring too. A typical schedule for these kids is reading, writing, word work, lunch, math, read aloud, social studies. It's been a long winter, so they don't go out for recess. They don't get choice time. They don't get to play games, or draw. It's just go go go all the time with academics -- no wonder they're bored. It's a virtual pressure cooker of academia.

Anyway, I humored them and took suggestions on how to make our reading time more interesting. Of course, I got the usual "You could let us play with toys in school," to which I was all, hello, you already know how to play with toys, you don't need someone to teach you how to play with toys, but how about someone teaching you how to read? But then some of the kids actually offered some halfway thoughtful suggestions, like giving them more opportunities to choose their own reading material or occasionally letting them use a puppet to act out their books. OK, I can work with that.

Can Jonathan work with that? Obviously not, because he spent this discussion trying to shove some tiny broken pieces of God knows what through slats in the closet door. When a classmate hissed at him to stop, he yelled at her. When I reminded the group at large that if we see someone doing the wrong thing, and we try to help them do the right thing, but they continue to do the wrong thing, we should just take care of ourselves and ignore them, he took this as an opportunity to taunt his classmate.

Meanwhile, while I was trying to have this genuine, grown-up discussion in a circle on the floor, William was sitting above us on a chair, being obnoxious. Yelling out things like, "It should be a toy workshop in here!" Flat out refusing to join us in the circle ("I ain't going nowhere down there with them!") but also refusing to relocate to a different spot in the room. In short, William is only satisfied when he is working his hardest to antagonize everyone else. If I ignore him, he goes right on being disruptive until he is impossible to ignore. But if I give him the attention he wants -- whether it's positive or negative -- he shuts down completely, pulling his sweatshirt over his head or burying his head in his arms. But then five minutes later, he's at it again. Because he doesn't know how to be part of a group, doesn't understand how to make friends without acting like a clown who calls attention to himself.

Their classroom teacher and I have tried virtually everything for these two boys. We have communicated with their parents through e-mails, notes home and phone calls about positive and negative behavior. We have tried rewards of every shape and size. We have awarded special privileges and taken them away. We have tried partnering them with every variety of classmate and sitting them in every variety of reading spot with every variety of reading material. We have been patient and we have been generous. But now my patience is exhausted, I am out of strategies to try and I don't know how we are going to survive the next two and a half months.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

We gotta get outta this place

It's preference sheet time again, and if I want to get out and enjoy the beautiful day, I should be busy as a bee cranking out my letter of intent to re-apply for my current position. (For whatever reason, all out-of-classroom teachers have to submit a resume and a letter of intent to re-apply for the jobs they currently hold, even if they've held the position for years. Presumably because out-of-classroom positions are considered desirable and therefore apt to be subject to seniority rearrangements? I know that in many schools, out-of-classroom teachers are practically considered the scum of the earth and don't appear to work very hard, but in my school we're working our fannies off just as much as anyone else.)

But instead I'm clicking around the Internet, randomly applying for jobs in other school districts, trying to find anyone in this economy who might be hiring. I spent the weekend clicking through the Facebook pages of teachers with whom I attended school in Massachusetts, whose elementary school websites look like cheery places where teachers design their own units and nobody collects their binders or rearranges their schedules at will. It reminded me that there was a time when I actually enjoyed teaching -- imagine that! -- and that maybe there are schools left where all the joy isn't sucked out of learning by checklists and labels and data. I always thought I would stick it out in NYC public schools or leave teaching altogether, because the alternative -- getting a teaching job in a district outside NYC -- is nearly impossible. The whole thing has left me feeling pretty gloomy on this first pretty spring day.

Naturally "the grass is always greener" and all that, but it's that time of year -- just three days before our spring break -- when I'm so discouraged and disheartened by the thought of another year in this place. I don't know how teachers do it year after year until they retire.

Just a few days ago a colleague of mine, who is tenured, advised me to "get out" as soon as I got my tenure. She's been at my school more than five years. I could never, ever envision myself still here in five years...and I pray that I won't be.