Friday, January 22, 2010

Miss Brave in the Sparkle Days

Yeesh! Where do I begin? In one day I've collected enough stories for a week's worth of posts.

Let's start at the top. And by the "top," I mean the head. And by the head, I mean "the head full of wriggling, squirming, itchy creatures that have apparently invaded my classroom." Yes, that means what you think it means -- lice has come to Miss Brave's class! Apparently Julisa's aunt e-mailed our parent coordinator that Julisa has been complaining of an itchy head since the winter break ended (which, by the way, was three weeks ago, thank you for waiting three weeks to tell us). So two school aides came up to my classroom to check my kids' heads for lice. (While they were taking a math test, by the way.) Introducing them was definitely one of the weirder announcements I've had to make to my class: "Boys and girls, we have some visitors in our rooms, and they're going to be taking you out into the hallway to...look at your heads." (Cue confused faces from the class.) "It's not going to hurt, and they're not going to do anything to your hair, they're just going to...look at your head."

Apparently lice is not a phenomenon with which my students are familiar, because at that point only one person whispered, "Ew, what if someone has lice?"

Anyway, there was a brief scare at one point when the school aide confided that poor Dana appeared to have a head full of nits, but I think they turned out to be dandruff. I have now been assured that my class is lice-free! Which doesn't stop my own head from feeling like it's crawling. Ew.

At lunch, I worked on my "promotion-in-doubt" list. I've just been informed that I have to designate Amhrita as promotion-in-doubt, even though she just moved here from Nepal. She's not "technically" an ESL student because she attended an English boarding school in Nepal, and in order to make room for more new arrivals with no English they transferred her out of an ESL class into my class. But seriously? She's an ELL. She's a sweet, polite, enthusiastic kid, and she's not hopelessly below grade level, and I just think it's kind of unfair to threaten to hold her over when maybe she just needs more time to adjust to moving to the other side of the world.

Next. During social studies, the guidance counselor poked her head into my classroom. Now, she is a lovely woman, but I have seen a lot less of her since William and Julio departed, which is kind of the way I like it. No matter how lovely she is, nothing good has ever come of having the guidance counselor poke her head into my room (except when she comes to reward my Student of the Month). But anyway, she came with news. Juicy, twisted, horrifying news. Apparently Julio's mother showed up this morning and wants to re-enroll Julio at our school.

Okay. Let's take a minute and revisit the story of Julio. Since kindergarten, Julio has had massive behavior problems. He was like the first six-year-old ever to be suspended. In first grade, Julio was diagnosed with ADD. His mother didn't like that diagnosis, but instead of getting a second opinion about why he might be exhibiting such grossly inappropriate behavior at school, she just pretended the diagnosis didn't exist. By the time he got to second grade in my class, he was wetting his pants (and my entire bathroom floor) repeatedly, threatening suicide, drawing pictures of violent shootings and stabbings and anal sex, screaming curse words, and throwing chairs. Literally throwing chairs!

I met with his mother. The guidance counselor met with his mother. The assistant principal met with his mother. Her response was to transfer him to another school. Where, on his first day, he cursed at and hit another student.

Somehow, in the time that's elapsed since that happened in November, his new school convinced his mother to sign an IEP that places him in a 12:1:1 classroom. I have no idea what his classification is, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's "emotionally disturbed." So what did his mother do? She showed up at our school, crying, claiming she didn't realize what she signed. We don't have a self-contained placement for him, but apparently she has the right to "cancel" his IEP and re-enroll him at our school. (Are you wondering what his zoned school is? Julio and his mom were staying with his grandmother and commuting to our school. She transferred him to his new school by listing his address as the grandmother's, but she's now claiming that they never actually moved, they just pretended to move in order to get him transferred. Which I know personally is a lie because Julio is a fairly bright kid and he told me what neighborhood he lives in.)

First of all: No backsies on this kid. Second of all, I think this is the first time in my teaching career that I've literally been this angry at a child's parent. I mean, there's denial, and then there's just doing the wrong thing for your child. You can't yank this kid around like a yo-yo just because you disagree with pretty much every teacher, counselor, principal and social worker who's ever assessed him. That is not what's best for him. It's one thing to have doubts about giving your child a "label," or placing him in an environment where he's not going to thrive, but it's another think to totally ignore the fact that your child is in pain, he is angry, he is disturbed. I'm not talking about a kid who used to get mad at other kids and impulsively reach out and pinch them, like Jason does. I'm talking about a kid who used to bang his head against the wall and then throw himself onto the floor in the corner of the room and curl up in a ball and sob. Even Julio knew that he had a problem, that he didn't react like other kids, that he couldn't control his anger and his frustration. None of that is going to change by sticking him back in a general ed classroom at our school (as if his two and a half years here did him a lot of good), and it's obviously only going to get worse as he gets older!

Whew. And now to switch gears a little. The other day, when I picked up my class from lunch, two of my boys were sitting off to the side by themselves. This is like wearing a giant sign on yourself that says I AM IN TROUBLE. Listening to one of my students try to explain how they got into trouble when I wasn't there is like Rashomon. "All I did was tell him to go in front of me!" "Well he was waving his hand up in the air and it looked like he was going to punch me and then they made us sit over here!" Okay, um, what? I still have no idea what went on. Anyway, my class was scheduled to be in the auditorium for three periods in a row while I was at a meeting (one thing I do not miss about being an out-of-classroom teacher is those ridiculous mass preps), so when we got upstairs, I geared up for full-blown Lecture Mode. You are representing our class. You want other teachers to want to spend time with us. You understand that our rules are the same whether we're in the classroom with Miss Brave or in the auditorium with other teachers. Then I had this funny conversation with some colleagues:

Me: "Ms. M, let me know how my class is when you're in the auditorium with them, because I told them they could earn compliments from you."
Ms. N: "Oh, me too, if they behave with you they'll earn a check."
Ms. J: "I just told them they better not make me look bad or they'll regret it for the rest of the year."

Heh, everyone has their own style. Anyway, my class happily received a good report, so up went the compliments.

Then it was Shaina's birthday. Shaina is a great kid, mellow with a good sense of humor. After we ate the cupcakes and drank the juice she brought to share with the class (with most kids calling out, "Thank you, Shaina!" without me even having to remind them), she asked if she could go offer one of the extra cupcakes to her first grade teacher. (See? Such a good girl.) As she was leaving, Bruce ran up to her and said, "Tell Mrs. C I say hi!" which I thought was cute. While she was out of the room, the rest of the class decided they wanted to surprise her by bursting into the happy birthday song when she returned. (Then they decided we should turn off the lights and "hide," to which I was like, uh, no. Where would we all fit?) And so they did. A bunch of the girls had been busily decorating cards for her while they were supposed to be packing up, which I pretended not to see because, well, I thought it was sweet and she deserved cards.

Then it was time to pull a ticket from the ticket jar. When my kids are behaving, I hand them a ticket on which they write their names, and then they drop it in the ticket jar. A few times a week, I pull a ticket from the jar and that person gets a prize. We've had a problem in the past with s-o-r-e l-o-s-e-r-s who act poorly when their name isn't the one called, so I've been trying to instead encourage celebration for the person whose name is called. (Because, let's be honest: Alex has about twelve times as many tickets in the jar as the rest of you knuckleheads.) Anyway, when I pulled Lyle's name from the jar today, everyone started calling out, "Congratulations, Lyle!"

I'm not even going to be glib about this: I was so pleased. And to celebrate their celebration of Lyle, I gave the whole class another compliment.

So what's up with Miss Brave in the Sparkle Days? Henry and Mudge in the Sparkle Days is one of my favorite Cynthia Rylant books in the Henry and Mudge series about a boy and his dog. In it, the "sparkle days" are what Henry and Mudge call the days of winter, when everything seems to sparkle.

Despite everything that happened this morning, we had a lovely afternoon. Today was a sparkle day.


Capt. Schmoe said...

What a great post. I am glad the Julio issue reappearing didn't ruin your day. I wonder what else Julio's mom is in denial about?

You hit the nail on the head when you said that his issues are going to get worse as he gets older. She needs get a grip on this now.

Good luck with this.

Ann T. said...

Dear Ms. Brave,
This is such a lovely story, like all your posts.

Like the Captain, I think Julio's mother has to get a grip. And I kind of wonder what Julio's mom's boyfriend is all about.

You are doing a great job. You really are.

Ann T.

Anonymous said...

I also was working on my PID list, and kept trying to find out the criteria for ELLs. No one got back to me, so I made my list and finally got the forms back only to read that the kids have to have been here no less than 2 years to qualify! (Which means your ELL shouldn't be on the list, no?). So, that means 2 of the kids I chose as PID should not be. The lackof communication from the admin this year has been just horrific.

miss brave said...

Yeah, that's the problem, my ELL is not technically an ELL, because she tested out of ESL. My feeling was that even though she's not clasified as an ELL, she's still new to the country and shouldn't be promotion in doubt. But apparently that's not the way we work.