Ick Level Orange

I have a few seventh grade boys who come and eat lunch with me in my classroom once or twice a week – the Charmer and his friends. Because they’re not my students currently and because it’s a non-instructional setting, I’m pretty lenient in the language and behavior I allow. There are some lines that they shouldn’t cross (like when one of the jackasses said he had a BB gun in his locker), but for the most part, I let them get away with a lot.

Today they crossed a line.

I was helping another former student enter a writing contest while the Charmer and BB Bob drew pictures on my white board. They do this periodically, draw or write notes like, “The Charmer wuz here,” and I let them do it and then have them erase it before they leave. The Charmer called me over to see his rabbit and BB Bob’s dog. “Lovely,” I said.

“Here, let me show you how to do it.” BB Bob took the marker and drew two circles, one right next to the other. “Those are his eyes.” He added a long narrow oval coming down off of the circles. “That’s his nose.” He drew a small circle at the base of the oval. “That’s the tip of his nose.” And very quickly, what we had was something that clearly was meant to look like testicles and a penis.

I was stunned. “That’s incredibly inappropriate – you need to stop.”

BB Bob kept drawing, adding other details until it looked like the dog he’d claimed. Then the Charmer jumped on the bandwagon. “Okay, so here’s how to do a rabbit. Start with its feet.” Same two circles. “Add the body.” Same oval, but pointing up. “Now the ---”

And that’s when I was done. “Take a seat.”

“Lemme just finish ---”

“Take a seat RIGHT NOW.”

They sat.

I sent the third boy out of the room, as he hadn’t been involved, then started with BB Bob. I looked at him for a moment. He stared at the desk. “Look at me.” He finally dragged his eyes up. “You and I have had this conversation recently.”

“Not about ---”

“About what’s appropriate to do in front of a teacher, and what’s not. Was this?”

He shook his head, then muttered, “No. Sorry.”

“You can go.” I turned to the Charmer as BB Bob slunk out. He fiddled with his phone, checked his iPod, tapped a pencil on the desk – anything to not look at me. “Can I have your attention please?”

“I’m listening.”

I waited. After a moment he looked up. “I really am listening.”

“I believe you. I just wanted to be sure. Do you understand why that was totally not okay?” He shrugged. “Charmer, that was really, really, really inappropriate. I give you guys a lot of leeway, but that….that crossed a line. That wasn’t okay?”

“We were just messing around, it wasn’t like it was a big deal or anything. We wouldn’t tell anyone or whatever.”

“It was a big deal to me and it’s not about telling. I’m your teacher. That’s not appropriate.”




I paused, trying to figure out how to put this. “Because…well, because you’re a 13 year old boy and I’m your teacher and it’s not appropriate to use sexual stuff around me.”

“That wasn’t even sexual! And we wouldn’t tell anyone anyway!”

“It was close enough, and that’s not the point. The point is it made me personally uncomfortable. Whether or not you would tell, I was uncomfortable with the fact that it happened at all. And it needs to not happen again. Do you understand?”


“Okay.” He left after that; lunch was over and I had kids coming in, but bleah. I think I got my point across, but I feel like it’s not a point I should have had to work to get across – it should have been obvious. Am I wrong here?

I told Ms. Reading about it after school, to get her perspective and see if she thought I needed to take any additional steps, like report it to admin or anything. This is the third time I’ve had a kid do something that was to some extent sexually inappropriate – one student, when I told a group of kids that I loved them one day, asked, “Physically?”, and another kid, when my husband came up in conversation one day, said that really I wanted to get with him (that one was in the middle of class. AWESOME.). Both times, I reported it to admin and had conversations with the kids about why it was inappropriate. That way, the situation was dealt with and I covered myself. Both times, the kid in question understood the issue right away, was very apologetic, and has been totally cool and not at all creepy ever since.

Ms. Reading felt it had been addressed sufficiently. She suggested I just not have the boys come in for a few days for lunch. I didn’t want it to look like punishment, so she said I could put it on myself, say that I’m just still feeling uncomfortable with the issue the other day and needed a break for a few days.

I’m still not sure. What do you think? Should I report it? I dealt with it – does it need to go further, not even in a I-want-someone-else-to-get-them-in-trouble sense, but just in a I-want-someone-high-up-to-be-aware-of-what-happened-in-case-it-comes-back-on-me sense. A teacher’s career can be ruined so easily by an accusation of impropriety. I don’t think I did anything specific wrong, but I somehow created an atmosphere in which they felt comfortable doing something like that.

Thoughts? Advice? Personal stories? Anything would be appreciated!

Can I do that?

We finished watching Freedom Writers on Monday, but because we got a surprise snowstorm, attendance was low, so I’ve been playing the end of the movie at lunch for the kids who were gone.

The movie ends at the close of sophomore year, when the students find out that they’re going to stay together for junior and senior year too, and will have Ms. Gruwell as a teacher again. It’s a triumphant moment for them, and very sweet to watch because they’re all so excited. You feel how much they love her, and how much they love each other. It's really nice.

After the movie ended and I turned the lights back on, a student turned to me. “Can YOU do that?”

“Can I do what?”

“Go with us to seventh grade.”

I explained that my school doesn’t work that way, that though I’d love to, it’s just not how we do things. There would have to be an opening, and right now there isn’t one. He nodded, and another student asked me something else, and the moment passed. But.

Not everyone would feel that way, I know that. I’m sure plenty of my students will be delighted to move on to a new teacher and not have to deal with my temper and standards. But for the rest of the day, I felt a little crystal of joy in everything I did.

A Delicate Balance.

I got myself into a potentially awkward situation on Friday. DC was in my room after school working on a narrative he was behind on. He wasn’t happy about being there – it was Friday, after all, and he just wanted to leave – but he’d agreed to do it and I wasn’t going to let him out of it. He yanked his binder off the shelf, tossed it on the desk, and flopped onto the seat, throwing the kind of attitude that only a teenager can really do effectively.

I ignored him.

His best friend came in to also catch up on some work and sat down at a different table group. DC leaned his head on his hand and sighed loudly. He rolled his pencil back and forth across the desk.

I ignored him and sat down with his friend, Oh Yes (so named because he says that remarkably frequently in a remarkably sweet way), to go over what he needed to do.

Another student came in to say that Ms. Reading had donuts, so I went over to see if she had any left. She had two, and I asked if she’d mind giving them to DC and Oh Yes, because my room was chock full of sulkiness and I thought the donuts might help dissipate some of it. She was down, so we went back to my room.

“Hey, guys, I have these two donuts left and I thought you might want them.” When she offered them the treats, Oh Yes was all over it. DC shook his head. Ms. Reading and I exchanged looks – I shrugged. “Here, DC, I’m going to leave it anyway. I sure don’t need it so maybe you’ll do me a favor and take it.” Not a word. “Are you okay?” He nodded, and that’s when I saw a tear drip off the end of his nose.

Ms. Reading left, and I asked Oh Yes to go get a drink of water for a minute. He understood and scurried out of there.

This was the fourth time I’d seen DC cry. First time had been right at the beginning of the year; I’d had all kids who hadn’t done their homework two days in a row call home to tell their parents. They’d been warned it was coming and I wanted to start the year off with the message that homework matters and if I assign it, you damn well better do it. He’d been maybe the third one in his class without it, so I started dialing numbers. Finally his dad answered. When DC told him why he was calling, his dad started yelling so loudly that kids across the room dropped their pencils in fright. I grabbed the phone from DC, sent him out of the room, told dad it wasn’t a huge deal but next time he needed to get it done, and sent DC to the counselor after he washed his face and collected himself. It was awful.

The second time was after he and I talked to another teacher about his grades one day. She was clearly irritated at how little work he’d turned in, which I understand, and he was clearly completely intimidated by the situation. I tried to defuse it a bit, but his eyes were awfully full and the tears spilled over as soon as we walked out of the room. That time I reminded him he was a good kid and gave him a few minutes to get it back together. He seemed okay pretty quickly.

The third time was a day that I’d snapped at him, maybe two months ago. Honestly, now I don’t even remember what I said; I was tired and frustrated with the day and with him, and I didn’t think about HOW I was saying WHAT I was saying, and it hurt him. I apologized right away, but it didn’t do any good, and I spent the night feeling terrible. The next day I apologized again – this time I explained where I was coming from, I talked about how I’d misinterpreted the situation, I told him how sad I was that I’d hurt him and how bad I felt about that, and I said that it was important to apologize to people we care about when we hurt them, so that’s what I was doing. He didn’t say much at the time, just listened and nodded and said we were cool when I asked, but that day he stood with me and joked around while I was doing hall duty, and I knew it was okay.

This time, I remembered how upset he was the time before and so I approached him carefully. I figured he was mad that I wouldn’t let him leave – I didn’t think I’d handled it cruelly or thoughtlessly, but it didn’t matter what I thought, it mattered what he thought.

“Can we talk for a sec?”

He nodded.

“You seem really upset. What’s going on?”


“Something I did?”

Shook his head no.

That surprised me, but okay, great. “So….then what is it?”


“DC, you seem really upset and I’d like to help if I can. Honestly, you’re kind of freaking me out right now. What’s going on? Is it something to do with school?”


“My class? Reading? Social studies? Science?”

I got a quick shake no on everything till science, then he nodded. DC doesn’t do well at science. He doesn’t like it, he’s in a class that gets in trouble a lot, he doesn’t do his work…it’s not a great scene. He’s passing right now, albeit barely.

“Science. Did you get in trouble today?”

Head shake no.

“Did you get yelled at? Are you missing more work? Are you failing again?”

Nos on all.

“Honey, I want to help you, but you have to talk to me. What’s going on with science?”

He took a deep shuddery breath and wiped some tears away. “When Ms. Science yells at me, she makes me feel so bad about myself. I feel like she thinks I’m worthless. She acts like I’m dumb and useless.” His voice was low and flat.

“Oh, DC. I’m so sorry. That’s a crappy way to feel.”

He nodded and blew his nose.

“Why are you thinking about this now?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know...I just started thinking about it.”

I handed him some more tissues and thought for a second. How could I help him? “Okay. The way I see it, you have two options. The first choice is to just ignore it. You have a month left of school. Get through the next four weeks and then you never have to worry about it again. The other choice is to talk to her about it. It’d probably be kind of hard to do, but that way you stood up for yourself. That’s what I’d probably do, but it’s up to you.”

All was quiet except for sniffling.

“What do you think? Do you want to talk to her? I can help you if you want.”

He whispered, “I don’t want to be there.”

Oh. “You want me to talk to her.”

He nodded.

Um. “DC…I don’t think I can do that. First of all, teachers respect it more when a kid is part of the conversation. I know I do. But also, as much as I care about you and as much as I want to help you with stuff, I’m not your parent. I’m your teacher. There are things that I just can’t do. So I can do it WITH you, but I can’t do it on my own. I’m sorry.”

He said he’d think about what he wanted to do, and then he got to work on his essay. A few more used tissues filled the trash, but he was fine by the time he left, and we left it at that.

He wasn’t at school today, so I don’t know what he decided. If we do end up having the conversation, it might be uncomfortable – I like and respect Ms. Science very much, but my heart broke a little bit seeing how distraught DC was over the situation, and if he does decide to talk to her, I don’t see the conversation going well. Because remember time two of tears? That was Ms. Science. They just don’t connect. And I will feel caught between advocating for my student and not upsetting my colleague.

I’ll touch base with him tomorrow and we’ll see where we are at that point. Hopefully I can manage the balancing act that will be required should he decide to go forward. If not, well, only a month left, right?

Freedom writing.

I read a post on Life at the Morton School that made me think, especially because of the timing. It’s about the book The Freedom Writers Diary and the movie Freedom Writers, and Miss Eyre is passionate in her reasons for disliking both (the movie much more). Her biggest issue, and one that I totally agree with, is that Gruwell’s process isn’t sustainable. She managed it for four years, and then she left, because how could you possibly keep up that kind of pace? Working three jobs so that you can fund your classroom as fully as you want – I could sure find things to do with that kind of money, but I sure would be unpleasant to be around if I was working that many hours.

I, however, unlike Miss Eyre and unlike several other teachers I’ve seen post about teacher movies, looooooove the genre. I love watching the passion those teachers show, I love watching the kids engage, I love the inspiration I take from the movies. I don’t take them as a message that if I don’t give up my entire life to my students, I’m not good enough. I take them as a sugary Hollywoodized version of education, and you have to find a way to view them through…..whatever the opposite of rose-colored glasses is. What’s across from pink on a color wheel? Green, maybe? Perhaps this is an indication of my youth and inexperience as a teacher, and frankly I’ve always been quite the idealist, but it’s how I feel, at least at this point in my career. I watch teacher movies to be inspired, rather than to see a teacher call his students skanks to their faces, because I see enough crappy stuff every day and I’d rather focus on the positive for my entertainment needs.

Freedom Writers is a movie that I saw in the theatres and I loved it. I bought the book because I was interested in getting a more complete sense of the stories, and I loved it too. Like Miss Eyre commented, the stories ARE extraordinarily engaging and moving, and my kids love them too.

I use excerpts from the book in class as models for personal narratives and responses to literature, because the kids find them fascinating and they’re very nicely done. This year, I also used it when I had an incident with a student being hit repeatedly and no one reporting it – we used two essays to discuss why snitching and being a rat (as my kids refer to it) could actually be important and even save a life someday. I can’t say that they all connected to that lesson, but I had a student later report something that she’d witnessed, and when she did so, she said she’d decided to come to me because of what we’d read that day. So yay! Got through to at least one!

Anyway. For the first time this year, I’m also showing the movie – we’re actually finishing it tomorrow. I’m doing it for a few reasons. First, we just finished writing personal narratives. My kids worked their little butts off and did a simply phenomenal job, and I am so, so pleased with their effort, so it’s a reward. They’re loving it, too, though they are much more interested in the parts with the students than with the adults (which is true for me too). Every time I have to stop it, because, y’know, the bell is about to ring or something crazy like that, they gasp and beg for more. It’s cute.

It also allows class time for the students who aren’t done to complete their writing – many of my kids, particularly the ones who get behind in class and don’t get their work done, just won’t come in before or after school to finish assignments. Am I teaching them a bad habit, that they don’t have to take responsibility for their work because the teacher will make it easy for them to get it done anyway? Maybe – and that’s a post for another day. But this way, they do get it done, and as teaching Language Arts is my primary goal, that’s where I focus.

Watching the movie during class gives me the opportunity to grade some of their narratives. We’re spending two and a half days watching – each full day I can get about one class worth graded. Since each long essay we write takes me anywhere from 16 to 24 hours to grade thoroughly, this means I can get their work graded in a more timely fashion and without spending quite as many evenings and weekends rockin’ out to sixth grade handwriting. Finally, I believe the movie does have lessons to offer about life, school, and writing, and we’ll discuss those lessons at the end. Socratic seminar, I’m thinking.

But I’m a little nervous about one part of that discussion – the part about how totally hardcore and insanely dedicated Erin Gruwell is. I’m a little worried that my students will…I don’t know, judge me for only having the one job, and spending my evenings not selling bras to buy them dinner at a fancy restaurant. I’m pretty sure they know I’m dedicated – they know I love them and work ridiculously hard for them, and hopefully they will understand that the movie, though based on reality, still isn’t actually realistic, because Gruwell’s career wasn’t realistic. We’ll have to see how that goes.

How is it only Wednesday?

It’s been a hell of a week. So far:


• I had a student report to me some pretty unpleasant things going on at home. First Social Services call of the week.

• Another student told me he had a BB gun in his locker. Though he immediately said he was kidding, and I believed him, I still reported it, because come on. You don’t say that crap, EVER, but especially not on April 20th. They searched him, his backpack, his locker, his brother’s locker. No gun, but they found gang-connected bandanas. He was suspended for a day for representing colors.

• The Eyeliner Queen was suspended for three days for cussing out another kid. She was given an opportunity to try mediation, but refused.


• The Charmer told me something that led to my second Social Services call of the week. With his trust issues, he kind of lost it when I told him I had to report what he’d said. He’s feeling angry, hurt, anxious, guilty, and I feel terrible that I’m part of him feeling that way. He’s not speaking to me.

• I started coughing so hard 8th period that I thought I was going to throw up. I told my kids to tell the teacher in the adjoining room that I might be dying, got a teacher from across the hall to come over, and hacked my way down the hall, tears streaming down my cheeks. A kid even came to check on me. Five minutes later I finally stopped.


• I sent a student to the office for pushing another kid in the hallway, to try to prevent a fight. DC then came to me and said it was his fault because he’d shot the kid with a rubber band, they’d gotten in a pushing match and it eventually degenerated to blows. No adult saw this. His name had not come up. It was out of nowhere. When I asked DC why he’d told me, he said he thought it was better to tell the truth now rather than try to hide it and have it come out later. I guess I appreciate his honesty.

• Another teacher told me that she suspects several of my favorite students of gang involvement. These boys are funny, smart, charming – of course a gang would want them. I want to cry.

If tomorrow’s not better, I’m going home, going to bed, and not getting up till June.


I am sick. Phlegm-y, cough-y, losing-my-voice-y sick. And I am bitter about it.

I hate being sick at the best of times. Not like anyone wakes up to a scratchy throat one day, and is like, “Aw yeah! Here comes a totally sweet cold! ROCK!”, but I am a bad sick person. I swing between feeling totally pitiful and wanting everyone to feel sorry for me and take care of me, and hating life and wishing everyone would just back OFF already and LEAVE.ME.ALONE. It is not a good combination.

This round, though, I am somewhat more bitter than usual. Dude, it’s spring. The weather is finally nice and while I would like to be in the mood for wearing strappy sandals and cute little (not THAT little – still school appropriate) spring skirts, instead I want to huddle in an oversized old college sweatshirt while sipping peppermint tea laced with honey and lemon.

I thought about staying home yesterday, and by the end of the day, I really wished I had. But my kids are in the middle of an assessment, and yesterday was scheduled as a conferencing day. Can’t really have a sub do that, and if I switched lessons to something a sub could do, then it throws our schedule off, and I have to come up with something random but still useful, and I dread coming back to the sub note detailing just which of my little 8th period darlings had terrorized the class today…unless you’re REALLY sick, like vomit-y, fever-y, delirious sick, staying home as a teacher just isn’t worth it. I’m bitter about that too.

This morning I feel better. My nose has faded from a brilliant red to what I think is a somewhat more charming shade of pink, my snot levels seem to have receded slightly, and my voice, while throaty, is currently above a whisper (it was yesterday at school, too, but by last night, I was considering buying an air horn so I could command attention when needed). I would have preferred to get more than two hours of sleep last night, but apparently my body had other ideas, so I’m going with it and assuming we’ll make it through somehow. If I completely fall apart by the end of the day, well, tomorrow’s lesson CAN be done by a sub, so there’s that.

God, I hate being sick.

Why Adverbs Matter: A Cautionary Tale

The following exchange took place in my classroom the other day after the daily announcements, one of which had been for eighth graders interested in playing football next year for the high school. A student whom we’ll call the Goofball sits at the front of the room and I was standing near him.

The Goofball: Man, I wish I could play football – I’d get laid.

Me: (He cannot possibly have just said that he’d get laid. Maybe he said late? That doesn’t make any sense, but you never know.) What did you say?

The Goofball: If I could play football, I’d get laid, because ---

Me: (In the middle of class? Seriously? This is what you say?) Okay, stop. Let’s talk after class.

The Goofball: But I was just saying ---

Me: After class!

After class, I pulled him out in the hall. It was the end of the day and I had a few kids staying after to catch up on some work, so I didn’t want to have this conversation in my room.

Me: Okay, Goofball, tell me again what you were saying.

The Goofball: Okay, see, there was this announcement about playing football next year….

Me: Right…

The Goofball: And I was just saying that I wished I could play, because I can’t, because I won’t be in high school.

Me: Right, but that’s not all you said.

The Goofball: Yeah, I was saying I’d get laid out.

Me: Laid out.

The Goofball: Yeah.

Me: But that’s not what you said.

The Goofball: No, I said get laid, but that’s what it means.

Me: Get laid means get laid out.

The Goofball: Yeah.

Me: Like get knocked down, laid out on the ground.

The Goofball: Yeah.

Me: You know what else it means, right?

The Goofball: …No.

Me: You seriously don’t know what it means?

The Goofball: No.

Me: (Is he scamming me? I kind of don't think so.) means have sex.

The Goofball: It does?

Me: Yeah.

The Goofball: Oh. Ohhhhhh.

Me: You really didn’t know that?

The Goofball: Nooooooooo.

Me: Here’s what we’re going to do. You’re going to go next door and call your mom, and see if SHE knows what get laid means.

A minute later, he came back into my room, wide-eyed.

The Goofball: Well. My MOM sure knew what it meant.

Me, starting to snicker: And now you get why it was wildly inappropriate to say in class.

The Goofball: Yeah. Oh yeah.

Me, laughing hysterically at this point: And why you can never, ever, ever, ever say that again in my classroom.

The Goofball, nodding the whole time I’m talking: Oh yeah. Mmhmmm. Never, ever, ever, ever, EVER again.

How could I NOT love my job?


There’s a quote that I love, that drives my practice, by Angela Valenzuela (1999), an education researcher from Arizona State. She says, “Students will not care about school until they feel cared for by the adults in the school.” And, oh, this is so, so, so true.

In my last post, I referenced an incident in which a student who should have already been suspended got in a fight with another student. It was a mess – administration had screwed up royally, and everyone involved knew it.

I shouldn’t have been involved at all, as all the kids who were part of the whole thing were seventh and eighth graders, but I was. Here’s what happened (I feel like Monk!).

I was outside grading papers one day during seventh grade lunch. (My classroom is windowless, so when the weather is nice, I like to get some outdoor time if possible.) Whenever I do this, former students come over to say hi, ask what I’m doing, chat a bit.

That day, one of my favorite kids (henceforward known as the Charmer, because he is ridiculously charming when he wants to be, and a huge pain in the ass the rest of the time) and two of his friends came over. They were really upset about something that had happened this morning, and wanted to talk about it, so I figured that was more important than finishing reading the paragraphs I was on right then and asked what was up.

It took a while for me to get clear on the issue, but what I finally gathered was that another seventh grader had been roughed up by some notoriously bad eighth graders and they’d stolen his iPod headphones. He’d come to class (possibly in tears – that I never quite got straight) and the Charmer and friends had asked what was wrong. He told them, so they went and tried to chase the eighth graders down. Unsuccessful, they returned to class while The Victim went to the office to report what had happened.

Me: "Well, I’m sure it’ll be dealt with." The Charmer: "No, nothing happened, we asked The Victim and he said they weren’t even getting suspended. That’s messed up." Me: "You don’t know that, and neither does The Victim. Even if he’s involved, they can’t tell him what’s going to happen to the other kids. There are privacy rules ---" The Charmer: "But they didn’t even get sent home! They’re still here!" Me: "AND they have to wait until a parent can come get them. They might be in the office for a while ---" The Charmer: "No! Not the office. We saw them in the halls."

That silenced me for a minute. Because that really isn’t what should have happened. Still, I wanted to give the admin the benefit of the doubt.

Me: "...Oh. That’s weird. Well…I’m sure it’s in process somehow…." The Charmer: "No it’s not! Nothing’s going to happen. They do whatever they want and no one cares. It’s seriously f--, uh, messed up."

And that broke my heart. Because he was right. It was seriously messed up.

We’d just heard a couple of days before about how we weren’t meeting AYP and our growth wasn’t there and we were now in trouble with the state and steps were going to be taken. I’d been thinking a lot about the reasons that we weren’t making growth, because, as mentioned in my last post, it had been presented as being about instructional issues. Which totally exist, but, again, not the only problem. The quote I opened this post with kept running through my head.

The Charmer is a very smart kid, but he’s had a hard time of it in the last year; his mom lost her job the previous spring and the family became homeless. My state has legislation that requires that homeless students stay at their current school if the family wants that, so he stayed at our school for the rest of the school year despite living in a shelter over ten miles away. Dad’s not really in the picture – he left when the Charmer was four or five. His older brother graduated from high school last spring and got his own place, so the Charmer was left as sort of the man of the house. It’s a story that’s really pretty common. Which is really pretty sad.

Over the summer, the family moved to a shelter an additional 20 miles from school, so he started the year in a school there. They managed to get an apartment in our area through financial assistance from a local non-profit and moved back.

The Charmer had been back at my school for about six weeks when this all happened, and was already known by his current teachers for derailing classes, questioning authority, making inappropriate comments, and being generally obnoxious. I’d intervened in a situation for him a few weeks previously, when he’d been kicked out of a school dance for something he’d done accidentally and was able to get him back into the dance by guaranteeing that he would not do it again, and we’d talked for a while that day, so he knew I was on his side and cared about what was going on with him.

I’d been trying to convince him to take honors classes – he’d been in all honors in sixth grade but had refused to do any when he reenrolled. When I talked to his teachers about him, they were skeptical about any of the positive things I brought up, because all they saw was the irritating little shit who was disrupting their classes and didn’t care.

He’s the type of kid who, once you have him, he’s with you, but you have to earn his respect. He doesn’t give it out for free. He doesn’t trust many people (his mom, and sort of his brother) , and it makes me sad. He cares about school, because he wants to go to college, get a job, and not have the financial problems that his mom has. But that means he’ll work on the things that affect him, that he gets a grade for, but not on the things that don’t, like our state reading and math tests that only affect the school. Because as he sees it, the school doesn’t care about him or his classmates. No one cares.

That wasn’t okay with me. So I thought about it for a couple of days because I didn’t know what to do. Finally I decided to tell my principal that a few former students had come to me with a problem and I didn’t know how to respond to them, and ask for advice.

Although my principal is not perfect, I generally like her a lot. She is very open to conversations and has never made me feel like my opinion is invalid or useless even though I’m still new to the profession. I told her the deal, explained my theory about the Charmer buying out because of stuff like this, and said I didn’t know what to tell the kids.

She was great. She totally understood why I was worried and acknowledged that the admin had screwed up. She said I could tell the kids that, and I could tell them that the eighth graders in question did end up with severe consequences, though they came a few hours later than they should have.

I told them the next day. I’d love to say that it turned things around, that they saw the light and realized that the school DOES care, that they started working their butts off and became model students and citizens. This is a blog, though, not a fairy tale, and not so much.

They were still angry that it had happened in the first place, and that the consequences had been late, and I don’t blame them for that. But they learned that a teacher had cared enough about their feelings to do some research and get back to them on it. They heard about an adult admitting to a mistake, and trying to correct it. They had their feelings validated instead of dismissed.

A few other things came out of the situation too. Two weeks later, I started mentoring the Charmer formally – he said that he trusts me more than anyone else at school, so that’s something. Three weeks after that, I finally persuaded him to go into math and science honors. He and his friends have lunch with me periodically and I talk to them about their concerns. Sometimes I agree with them, sometimes I don’t. Either way, they see that someone cares enough to have the conversation, and that can’t be a bad thing.

The bulk of the responsibility.

I recently read a post by Sue King, a principal in Pennsylvania, which I found through Dangerously Irrelevant, in which Sue discusses what she says versus how it is perceived by some of the teachers listening.

As we're having some of the same conversations at my school with some of the same results, I thought I’d add my perspective on why her comments may have been misinterpreted to some extent by part of her audience (like all those qualifiers there? Nice, right?).

Sue says in her post that she accepts “the bulk of the responsibility for how things have gone” at her school in the time she has been principal – I wonder if she has said that to the teachers? At my school, we’ve been told that if we improve our instruction, everything will change.


Yes, there are certainly instructional improvements that could (should...must...might) happen (oh, I could spend hours on THAT subject), but, um, that's not the whole story. And to imply that it is, which is what I took from the quotes with which she opened the article as they all address teaching practices, is disingenuous, short-sighted, or both.

Sue says that her school is “blessed with plentiful resources, very involved and supportive parents, and a student population that is extremely compliant and very well-behaved.” My school’s not. We have decent resources, but the other two….not so much. Which is okay, because I believe that the school’s impact can be tremendous no matter what, but it’d be easier if we had more involved parents and better behavior. The lack of those two things, though linked to the high poverty at my school, I believe is due primarily to administrative failure to promote those.

If we don’t offer parents opportunities to be involved, they won’t be. Many of our parents weren’t successful in the school system when they were students – they want to help their kids, but they don’t necessarily know what to do. They aren’t made to feel welcome, that their help is needed or even desired. We don’t have any kind of parent group, like a PTA or PTO. Just doesn’t exist. The last round of parent/teacher conferences, we used an auto-dialer to remind parents about the event – which is great, but they didn’t do it till day of, and some parents didn’t even get the message until the next day. Helpful. Over half our kids don’t speak English at home; though other languages are spoken, the vast majority speak Spanish. Some of the materials we send home are translated, but not most of them. I’d love to be part of starting a parent group, but I’m on three committees already that I believe are also important, and I just don’t have any more time to give right now.

Behavior….the behavior stuff really pisses me off, not just because it's such a waste of time, but because I feel like it could be dealt with so much more effectively. I am known as a pretty strict teacher, and I don’t have a lot of behavior problems within my classroom. The problems I do have I try to take care of myself, because I don’t want to give up my authority, but some issues have to be sent to the office (physical contact, sexual harassment, truancy). We have a whole matrix of consequences that administrators are supposed to follow – it doesn’t happen. One administrator does, but the others seem to frequently ignore what they agreed to do, and just dole out whatever consequences (or lack thereof) that they feel like. One time it actually led to a student who should have already been suspended starting another fight with another student. Kids know this, and they hate it. When you talk to them, they talk about how inconsistent the consequences are (though they tend to say that things are unfair or that the admin don’t care what happens to students). And then they buy out, and they don’t try as hard as they should or could, and they don’t demonstrate growth, and they don’t even make as much growth as they could, and the test scores look bad, and the school gets in trouble, and it gets dumped on the teachers. Some of the behavioral issues could be taken care of by changes in instructional practices, absolutely, but by no means all. No one seems to want to address that.

When we were being told about the trouble we’re in (because we are, a significant amount), the focus of the conversation was on instruction. No acknowledgment of the other issues. No responsibility taken by anyone higher up.
Responsibility for gaps must be shared. If it's not, teachers feel like they're being told they're not doing a good job, even if that wasn't what was meant.

Maybe Sue’s school doesn’t have these other issues that my school does, so maybe their conversations really need to be about teaching exclusively, but I have a hard time believing that’s all they need to consider.

It's amazing.

Until a few weeks ago, I’d never thought much about donuts. Tasty, fattening, kind of messy…that was as far as it went. But a few weeks ago, that changed. A few weeks ago, I learned that the offer of a round frosted deep-fried culinary treat gets students falling over each other to jump as high as you want.

So far this year, I have used donuts to:
- persuade a brilliant but stubborn kid to go into math and science honors after three months of trying to simply convince him to do it
- get a student to agree to stay after school to do make up work so that he hopefully will not continue to fail 80% of his core classes
- convince some disaffected bad-ass boys to consider joining school sports
- cheer up a sobbing seventh grader
- open a conversation with a kid who needed to talk
- make students feel special

That last one really gets to the heart of it. Every kid wants to feel special. Every kid wants to be noticed. Every kid wants to matter to someone.

And the offer of a donut…it’s a little thing, but it does it. It shows them that they are real, that they’re a person, that they are cared for. The hole in the center is the lens of a laser that zeros in the student chowing down, that lights them up so that everyone can see that they count.

Everyone needs to count.

It’s amazing what you can do with a donut.

If that's the case.

Here’s the thing. I love my job. I love, love, love my job, a ridiculous, disgusting, embarrassing, slobby, gushy amount. I know not everyone feels that way about their job. I know probably most people don’t feel that way about their jobs. And I have bad days too, days where I come home so beat down I want to crawl into bed, pull the covers over my head, and not come out till June. But most days? Almost every day? I. LOVE. MY. JOB. And….I don’t get why people do it if they don’t love it.

Because teaching? Is fucking hard. I work my ass off, every day, in a never-ending cycle of planning/implementing/assessing/evaluating, for not all that much money, and an awful lot of time, and a fair amount of public criticism.

So if you don’t love it, what the hell? If you don’t come home bursting with stories about the hilarious or terrible or awesome things your kids did that day….if you don’t laugh every day at something funny someone did, intentionally entertaining or not….if you don’t have colleagues whose opinions and advice you value and enjoy….if you don’t love the look on a kid’s face when he or she fiiiiiiinally understands something you’ve been working on…..

….maybe it’s not for you. And if that’s the case, leave. Because you’re making the rest of us look bad.

April Fools!

Okay, yes, I'm a few days late, but this week, the first back from spring break, has been a little hectic and I haven't had time to post before now. So.

Last year I didn't do anything for April Fools' Day at school - I'm not big on practical jokes or on trying to embarrass people for believing what others tell them. I tend to be pretty gullible (I was totally the kid who bought everything. My friend Liz: "Did you know the word gullible got taken out of the dictionary? It had too many L's!" Me: "Really? How weird!.....Oh.") and I never liked that feeling. But this year, I thought it could be fun, if it wasn't done in a mean-spirited way.

Someone on a teaching forum I read suggested trading classes with a colleague, which I thought would be perfect. It would have to be a subject I could actually teach, meaning science was out - even with a lesson plan, I might not be able to answer questions (pathetic, seeing as it's sixth grade science, but often true). It also seemed best if we had the same basic students, eliminating math and social studies, as they have all the English Language Learners who get pulled out of standard Language Arts. Reading it was!

I talked to the reading teacher on my core who agreed it would be fun. We cleared it with our principal who loved the idea (my principal is generally awesome - though I disagree with how she handles a few things, overall I feel very fortunate to have someone who is supportive and open to ideas, even from a second-year teacher), told our core, and went for it. We each planned a lesson that the other could teach pretty easily - my class, they were analyzing a personal narrative for examples of sensory details and figurative language after a warmup matching figurative language terms to examples; her class was reading newspaper articles, practicing using context clues for unknown vocab, and writing responses.

Day of, we wore nametags with the other's name and swapped rooms. (We tried for wigs too as we have very different hair, but we couldn't find any that weren't super expensive.) As the kids came in, they'd ask, "Ms. Teachin'! What are you doing here? Where's Ms. Reading?"

I'd respond, "Um...I AM Ms. Reading."

They'd say, "Why are you teaching this class?"

"Because I ALWAYS teach this class. I'm Ms. Reading, and I teach Reading. Seriously, it's been like this all year - what's the deal?"

They loved it. Most of them figured out pretty quickly that we were doing it for April Fools' Day - a few, I'd have to ask them the date and then another name for that date before the light dawned. And they adjusted really quickly to calling us by the other's name. Throughout the day, they'd run up to me and say, "Hi Ms. Reading!" then giggle uncontrollably.

I only got caught out a couple of times....once when a student stated the reading teacher's first and last name, said it sounded funny, then asked what my name was. I responded Allison without thinking, just as another student said the reading teacher's name for me. The kid who tricked me glowed with triumph, as did the kid who'd remembered the swap better than I had.

It's important to have fun in the classroom. We still got all the work done that was designed for that day, which matters, but my guess is a lot of these kids will remember that day and that their teachers cared enough to do something silly at least as well as they'll remember the difference between a simile and a metaphor.
"I'm a dreamer but I ain't the only one Got problems but we love to have fun" -K'naan, "Dreamer"

I teach eighth grade Language Arts at an urban school. My kids kick ass and will change the world. I want everyone to know.
Copyright 2009 I'm a Dreamer All rights reserved.
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