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Speak No Evil

I’ve been the sponsor of the school newspaper for the last two years. It’s been mostly sixth graders participating, I assume both because I taught sixth grade and because sixth graders aren’t allowed to play team sports, but I did have a handful of seventh graders this year. Two were especially fabulous and served as the editors, working with other kids to come up with story ideas, proofread, do some layout stuff…they were great. To thank them, I was going to buy them lunch at the end of the year, but it never ended up happening (other events, absences, etc, all got in the way). So we’re going to lunch tomorrow, except that I just found out that only one of them is coming. The other isn’t allowed. Why? Ah, that’s the awesome part.

These two girls (let’s call them the Chatterbox [like any middle school girl, really] and Miss Opinion [because she always has one]) have been best friends since they got to know each other at the beginning of their sixth grade year – through their mutual interest in the school newspaper, in fact!

But, because they are teen girls, they have had a number of knock-down-drag-out-crying-screaming-mean-text-messaging-and-emailing fights over the past two years. Periodically I hear about them, as I’m close with both girls and they come have lunch with me sometimes. I’m especially close with the Chatterbox, though, and she came to me for advice about something one day after school a few months ago. She’d been chatting about this and that for bit but I could tell something else was up. I assumed another fight with Miss Opinion and said as much.

“Not a fight exactly. Just…I don’t know if I can be her friend anymore.”

Usually when they fight, they are both filled with righteous indignation over how dreadfully wronged (wronged!) they have been by the other, and oh, how could she do such a thing?!? They rant and yell and talk so fast you can hardly understand a word. This was different. The Chatterbox was quiet, fidgety, sad. “How come?” I asked.

“Well…I don’t know if I should tell you.”

“Okay,” I said, and went back to grading papers. I hear about enough middle school drama without asking for more, so I wasn’t going to beg her here.

After a minute, though, “I mean, I guess I can tell you. Just don’t tell anyone else.”

“Honey, you know I can’t promise that [I tell all my kids that I have to report three things: if they’re hurting themselves, if they’re hurting someone else, or if someone else is hurting them, and that I interpret those issues loosely, but that I’m always happy to listen, as long as they understand those base rules]. But if I can avoid reporting it, I will.”

“It’s not anything like that. It’s just that she’s been calling people something that I find really offensive.”

Interesting. “What is it?”

“Spic.”

Now, Miss Opinion is white; the Chatterbox is Latina. So I can see why she’d find it offensive that her best friend is using a derogatory term like that. I kept my voice calm. “Is she calling you that?”

“No! But she doesn’t get why it bothers me.”

“She…doesn’t get why it bothers you? She doesn’t understand that?”

“No. Well, see, she thinks it means illegal immigrant, not just Hispanic.”

“WHY does she think that?”

“Because that’s what her mom told her. Her mom has like a really big problem with illegals and she talks about them all the time and whatever, but I keep telling Miss Opinion that it means Hispanic – I even wrote it down on a napkin at lunch and showed her the letters – and she just doesn’t believe me, and it’s really bothering me.”

I know Miss Opinion’s mom slightly from conferences and stuff, and I’d always liked her, and I knew she had Latino friends, so this was a bit of a shock. And I had no idea what to do. “Well…I…um…do you want me to talk to her with you about this? I mean, I can…I just don’t know if it will do any good.”

“She won’t believe you either. It’s not like it’s a word in the dictionary or something.”

Ah, that was an idea. I grabbed a dictionary from behind my desk and started thumbing through. “Yep, here it is.”

The Chatterbox ran over and looked. She thought for a sec. “No…I don’t want to. Don’t tell her I told you, okay?” I agreed, and the matter passed.

A few weeks later, the Chatterbox burst into my room. “Okay, yes, I need to talk to her about it and I need your help!”

I looked at her blankly. “What?”

She stared back. “Spic?!?!?!?” Like, “Duh, how could you possibly not know exactly what I’m talking about at any given moment? Obviously that’s it!”

Right. “Um…okay.” We agreed on lunch that day, then I hightailed it on up to the counselor to ask if this was something I was okay to talk about with a kid (when I told her the issue, she was horrified and stunned, and thanked me for being willing to be part of a conversation about it rather than just letting Miss Opinion eventually get her ass kicked by saying it to the wrong kid, so that was that).

At lunch, the Chatterbox brought it up. “So it really bugs me when you use the word spic.”

Miss Opinion immediately started shaking her head. “It doesn’t mean Hispanic, I asked my mom, and it doesn’t.”

The Chatterbox looked at me and I stepped in. “Actually, Miss Opinion, it does.” I pulled out the dictionary and showed her the definition.

She was silent for a moment, staring at it. “Well…that’s not what I thought it meant.”

“I know. I believe that you didn’t think it meant that, but it does, and either way, it’s not a nice word. Would you go around using the n-word?”

“No, of course not!” She was truly huffy about that.

“Same thing, honey. You can’t say it. It’s not nice, and it’s going to get you in trouble someday if someone hears you say it and doesn’t appreciate it.”

“Well…fine. I didn’t know, though.”

“I know. Just…don’t say it anymore.”

The Chatterbox came to talk to me the next day. “Well, now she’s not really mad at me but her mom is.”

“For being offended by that word?”

“For telling you. Her mom doesn’t like anyone in her business and she said I got you in her business and she’ll never forgive that.”

“Are you sorry you told me?”

The Chatterbox thought for a minute. “No. I’m glad I stood up for what I knew was right. I just wish it wasn’t so hard sometimes.”

“I know.”

And THAT’S why Miss Opinion isn’t allowed to go to lunch with me; because I told her daughter not to use racial slurs.

I’m sorry I can’t take this girl out to lunch, because she really is a nice kid when she’s not parroting back her mother’s racist filth, but I’m not sorry I stepped in. Because I find that word offensive too, and hopefully hearing that it’s not okay from another white person might have some impact on Miss Opinion, and maybe she’ll think twice before she uses it again.

(Photo credit to The Rocketeer, http://www.flickr.com/photos/kt/309783238/)

Smooth Criminal

One day last year, we were working on procedural papers (how tos, basically). We read tons of models to figure out what traits good procedural papers include, but we also attempted to follow the directions on a few of them to analyze the accuracy of the directions. We made kites out of newspaper (some flew, some didn’t, but the kids had all kinds of great ideas for how to improve them next time). We experimented with teasing siblings (that one they had to try on their own, and were warned that they did not have permission to harass them extensively). My favorite to try, though, was “How to Cope if Zombies Attack” from How to Be the Best at Everything (The Girls' Book).

Now, obviously we were not in the middle of a zombie attack so some of the instructions could not be attempted (especially the parts about how to kill zombies; I told all of my classes that they specifically were not allowed to assume someone was a zombie and try to kill them), but we could do the part on how to act like zombies. The directions were to tilt your head to the side, moaning and drooling, while looking straight ahead and walking with your arms held out in front of you. And that’s what we did (drooling was optional).

Most kids thought it was super fun, because really, how often do you get to act like a zombie in the middle of your Language Arts class? When I told my husband about it that evening, he asked me if any had done the Thriller dance to act like a zombie (see a delightful version by inmates of the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center in the Philippines here - it's awesome). I laughed, because a couple of kids had, but not many. Few of my students knew much about Michael Jackson, though I'd guess they know more now.

Michael Jackson’s death has left me torn. On the one hand, he was a hell of an entertainer – his music, his dancing, his style (back in the day, at least) were all incredibly influential. On the other, he was probably a child molester, which is unforgivable, even if he himself was probably also abused as a child.

Much of the world seems divided into two camps, and each group can only see their own side. Either you adored him and mourn his loss, or you reviled him and celebrate for the children who will no longer be hurt. And I get both sides – I just don’t see why it has to be exclusively an either/or.

Why can’t we acknowledge that he was brilliant but troubled? Why can’t we despise his personal acts and his abuse of his power while still admiring his talent? Why can’t we learn from what happened to him and what happened to the children who trusted him, and use that as a lesson that, hey, some people are insanely talented in one particular area but are still huge assholes? And while you might admire their skills, you can also judge their acts? Wouldn’t that be a great lesson for kids to learn?

My students love music, hip-hop especially but also rock. We did research projects this year on their favorite musicians; choices included TI, Chris Brown, Metallica, 50 Cent and a number of others. They had three main tasks that went along with their projects: a biographical presentation on their musician(s)’s lives, a paragraph on what other careers their musicians might have chosen if not performance, and a paragraph on whether or not their musicians were making good choices in their lives.

The kids had a really hard time deciding if their subjects were making good or bad choices; in the end, almost all of them determined that their musicians were making a mix of good and bad decisions. The Chris Brown groups, for example, all felt that Chris Brown had been making good choices (by working with a tutor to continue his education and by doing performances for charity) but had recently started doing some terrible stuff (this was February, right when the news was all abuzz with his attack on Rihanna). One paragraph that I particularly enjoyed concluded with, “Will Chris Brown ever make good choices again????” Clearly all four question marks were necessary to show the author’s confusion and intense interest in the answer to this issue.

I thought that was pretty rockin’, that they were able to look at these musicians whom they adored, and be able to think, “Hmm, I like the music but not the lifestyle.” Hopefully they’ll remember that and continue to analyze pop culture icons beyond that base of admiration. Because giving people who screw up a pass simply because they’re famous doesn’t serve them or their fans well.

(Photo credit to earnest70six, http://www.flickr.com/photos/earnest70six/3661515727/)

Teacher game day!

I get way anxious during summer vacation if I don’t have stuff to do. And that stuff can’t be, like, painting various rooms of my house. I need stuff that involves other people; otherwise, I start calling my husband at noon, saying, “What’re you doing?” and “When’re you coming home?” And since he, y’know, works during the summer, I imagine phone calls like that are majorly annoying.

So I’ve been working on having something that involves human contact at least every other day. I had a minor panic attack on Monday of this week when I realized I had absolutely no plans until Thursday. A few text messages and a Facebook status update later, I was booked with at least two events every day through next Tuesday.

Today was a teacher game day.

We started this two weeks ago and are doing it every couple of weeks for the rest of the summer. I have a group of friends with whom I did my certification program; we’re a mix of English, science, and social studies folk (we had a math guy, but he moved, and we didn’t like any of the foreign language people). We’ve always gotten together every couple of months for happy hours to gripe and brag and drink and reassure each other, but even happy hours get expensive and we’re trying to not spend much extra money beyond normal school year spending this summer. So we’re rotating houses, making it a potluck, and playing board games. It. Is. AWESOME. We’re talking about teaching hardly at all!

Don’t get me wrong – I cherish (need, even) our school year commiserations. But it’s summer, and it’s nice to find other topics of conversation, like guys (or girls, but today happened to be all female), politics, summer fun, movies, music…it’s like we’re real people again! We’ve played Apples to Apples, Scattergories, and Catch Phrase, and next time we’re adding Taboo and Scrabble. It’s reminded us that, yeah, we actually like each other and have things in common beyond teaching.

Because being a teacher is a huge part of my identity, and same for my friends, but I’m also someone who enjoys water parks, and the movie I Love You, Man (have you seen it? If not, seriously, you gotta check it out – best bromance ever and Paul Rudd and Jason Segal are absurdly charming in it. And the tagline “He needed a best man…he got the worst” is a lie that makes it seem like it’s going to be a terrible and offensive film, when really it is simply delightful), and can squeal with glee when a friend finally hooks up with the guy she’s been digging for months…

We’re teachers AND people. Spending some time nurturing the latter aspect can only make us better at the former.

(Photo credit to Pensiero, http://www.flickr.com/photos/pensiero/487117524/)

Moving forward (I think?)

About twelve minutes after I posted yesterday about how I’d been bailed on by the Charmer’s mom, my phone rang. (Apparently me whining on this blog is like magic; the universe listened. Hey, universe, I am feeling discouraged about painting my living room. I wish someone would show up at my door and do it for me. ….No? Nothing?)

The Charmer’s mom was calling to apologize for missing my call; she’d had a tough night and a tough morning (I don’t know what that means. I asked if everything was okay and she said she thought so, so I didn’t push it). I asked if she wanted to reschedule. She said yes, as soon as possible, so I drove over.

When I got there, I saw the Charmer walking down the stairs. I called a greeting, and he looked over. After a moment, he muttered, “What the hell…..what’re you doing here?”

Ah. “Your mom invited me…she didn’t tell you I called?”

“No. Why’d you call?”

I headed toward his door. “C’mon in. Let’s talk.”

When we got inside, the Charmer disappeared into the back of the apartment. I heard him yell, “Mom? My teacher’s here. WHY is my teacher here?” They came back a moment later, and we all sat down to chat. I explained to him that I was worried about him, that I think he’s smart and funny but that he pushes teachers’ buttons, that he’s at the time of life where he could either choose to succeed or to fall apart.

His mom jumped in to say that I was there because I thought he had a lot of potential and that he should appreciate me seeing that and be grateful that I wanted to help him. He listened, asking the occasional question.

I said I wanted to keep mentoring him, trying to help him, but that it had to be up to him. If he wasn’t down, we wouldn’t do it. He didn’t say anything for a second, then said he wasn’t sure. Fair enough.

We moved on to the specific areas that concerned me most – grades, attitude, mouth. My friend here failed two classes and got Ds in two others in the last trimester. That’s crap. He’s way too smart for that. He was shocked to hear this (apparently he never got a report card mailed home – probably owed the school money and they hold report cards as an incentive to get fines paid) and claimed he had no idea how his grades were so bad. Which is bullshit, but our current grading system can’t be accessed outside of the building or by anyone other than the teacher (we’re switching to an internet-based one that anyone involved can access anywhere), so we couldn’t go far with that.

Then we moved on to attitude, and mouth. Which are linked, but different. The Charmer has a really hard time treating people with respect if he doesn’t feel they’ve earned it, which I get, but….kinda doesn’t matter. I’ve talked to him repeatedly about how it doesn’t hurt a teacher if he gets an attitude with them and gets kicked out of their class, it hurts him – they have a job, they’ll still have it, and they can just get rid of him and not deal with him if he causes problems. Same thing with a future boss – he’ll have bosses who suck, but if he gives them attitude and gets fired, again, he’s the one who gets hurt.

At one point during this conversation, his mom said something that he disagreed with, and he told her so in no uncertain terms. Voice raised, challenging posture, language that wasn’t particularly polite. It was the perfect example. I interrupted his tirade, “Hey. That right there. That’s what I’m talking about. You can talk that way to your mom because you guys have been building a relationship for the past thirteen years [although, seriously, still rude, but that’s his mom’s issue to deal with if she so chooses]. But you talk that way to teachers and administrators and you don’t have the relationships with them to be able to get away with that. That’s exactly the sort of thing that gets you in trouble, and you have to stop.” He shut right up, and I think it actually made him think.

Mouth…ugh. The Charmer is smart. He’s popular. He’s funny. He’s good with language. He’s a thirteen year old boy. He comes up with very clever things to say or do (as I have experienced to my chagrin a few times) that are incredibly inappropriate. I mean, wow. It’s almost impressive how he has absolutely no filter, but not in a good way.

As I explained that, I tried to dance around the specifics as his little sister was in the room, saying that he says things that offend people, that aren’t school appropriate, that go beyond how he should be talking in front of adults, but I could tell his mom wasn’t getting just how inappropriate I meant. She was agreeing with me and telling him he shouldn’t be cursing or calling people gay, which, yeah, also true, but it’s way more than that. Finally I asked her if she minded if I gave two specific examples. She agreed. I asked if she wanted her daughter to leave the room. She said it was fine, so I asked the Charmer if he remembered some of the things he’d said at the year-end kickball game.

He got defensive. “Yeah, but that kid called me Asian so that’s why I called him a --- ”

I cut him off. “Not what I’m talking about [though I will remember that to address another time].”

“Oh, when I said that kid was gay?”

“Also not what I’m talking about. But this is interesting – what else did you do that day?”

Finally he realized that he was screwing himself here and shut up. So I shared the teabagging and the balls in the face stories. His mom was horrified, or at least acted like she was, saying she was offended by that one as a woman.

To that he got defensive. “No, I did not say that. I know exactly what I said. I said—I said ‘Balls in her face!’”

I shot back, “And that’s not any better. She got hit by one kickball – singular. You said balls, plural. You knew exactly what you were implying by adding that ‘s’ to the word. It changed the meaning and you did it on purpose. That’s the kind of crap I’m talking about.” He actually blushed at that.

The conversation lasted for a little over an hour. Toward the end I asked again if he was okay with having me mentor him. He hemmed and hawed for a minute, not saying anything real. I waited. Finally he looked at me and blurted, “You know I’m not going to say no to you.”

I said, “So you’re cool with this.”

He said, “I guess.” I was okay with that as a response, but his mom wasn’t. She made him say that yes, he was cool with it.

We’re meeting Tuesday. I’m not totally sure how this will work; my guess is we’ll hang out, talk, play cards maybe, I’ll bring up stuff that I want him to think about, and periodically, when something’s bothering him, he’ll bring that up. It’s pretty much how our lunches this year went. Not that those were so terribly effective (two Ds! Two Fs! Double-you-tee-eff, seriously), but I’m not sure what would work better. If anyone has any suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

Either way, though, it was nice to get to know his mom (she’s a lot like the Charmer and clearly loves him a lot and wants what’s best for him, even if she’s not as involved in his education as I think she should be; I do think it's interesting that she didn't tell him I was coming over, though....any thoughts on what that's about?), and it’s nice to have a direction to go with this. Now (hint, hint, universe) if I can only get the Eyeliner Queen to call me back…

(Photo credit to y_davechen, http://www.flickr.com/photos/thewrongglass/3001504461/)

Mixed messages

I am feeling rejected.

I STILL have not met with the Eyeliner Queen. I got cancelled on, and when I try to reschedule, I can’t get anyone on the phone.

As previously mentioned, I’m concerned about the Charmer. So I talked to his AP about me trying to mentor him as well, even if he’s not at our school. She agreed, so I started calling. I left two messages before I finally got mom on the phone (she said she hadn’t had a phone; possible, but would she still have had voicemail? I don’t know). I explained my concerns and that I wanted to keep in touch with him; she said she thought it was a great idea; we set up a time for the three of us to sit down and talk. That was today. When I called to go meet them, she wouldn’t answer her phone. I left a message, and another one an hour later.

Here’s the thing. I can handle rejection; I don’t like it, obviously, but I can deal with it. But I really don’t like these mixed messages. If the Charmer or his mom have decided they don’t want me to mentor him, that’s their prerogative and I’ll respect that. But it’s frustrating to be told that this is a great idea, how wonderful, more teachers should do this kind of thing, and then get sent to voicemail. If the Eyeliner Queen’s mom has decided she doesn’t want me to meet her daughter, her choice. Just tell me.

I could just stop calling – take the hint and move on. And maybe I will. But I don’t want these kids to think I’m giving up on them like so many other people have in their lives, so I’m not ready to go there yet.

I just don’t know what to do.

(Photo credit to brothergrimm, http://www.flickr.com/photos/brothergrimm/383193489/)

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation

I used to think it would be awesome to have a job that allowed you to work from home; just get up, walk 30 feet or so to your “office,” and get on with your day.

No longer do I think that.

Summer vacation makes me realize what a freakin’ slacker I am in my house. I have approximately 13 million projects that I want to work on this summer; I have started one of them. And I spent all of an hour on it before I got bored and wandered off to play on the internet. I have also spent time this summer reading, writing, going to the gym, talking on the phone, lying on the couch, playing with my dogs, and watching movies. All are fine things to do – excellent, even. All are things that I don’t have enough time for during the school year, so it’s nice to take the time now and help me rejuvenate. But I also have alllllll these other projects that I really truly want to get done. I just don’t want to DO them.

I think the problem is that I do better on stuff that I don’t want to do when I’m accountable to someone else. If someone else is counting on me to complete something I’ve committed to do (like, say, students who depend on me to grade the work they’ve poured their little hearts into) and if I have a specific deadline for when to get it done (like every three weeks minimum because that’s when we do progress reports), then I’m more likely to actually make it happen.

No one but me really cares if the living room and bathroom get painted. My husband doesn’t even really notice home d├ęcor and he HATES painting so he’d probably prefer it if they didn’t. No one but me really cares if I rearrange my laundry room to be more efficient. Though my husband actually does a lot of the laundry, he’s fine with the current system (or, really, lack thereof). No one but me really cares if I take all the recipes I tear out of magazines and put them into binders to be more easily found. I do most of the cooking from those recipes (he uses cookbooks), so I’m the only one who has to sort through the mess. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

And when no one but me cares about something, if it’s not a big enough priority, it doesn’t necessarily happen. I will be happy when these tasks are done but the process of getting them done…bleah.

This makes me think about motivation – extrinsic vs. intrinsic (ha, school tie-in! Word!). Yep, it’d be sweet if we were all intrinsically motivated, if kids wanted to do stuff just for the sake of the learning, and sometimes we are, and sometimes they do. But not all the time, and…I kinda think that’s okay. Here’s the thing. I teach because I love my job, and I enjoy spending time with kids, and I love reading and writing and I like to share that love. But I also get paid for it. Which is my extrinsic motivation. Now, I could do something else and get paid more, but I wouldn’t enjoy it as much (I did that for several years and I don’t miss it). And I do work my butt off on my job, going WELL beyond contract hours every single day and taking on plenty of tasks that aren’t part of my job description but that I think matter. And that’s all intrinsic motivation. But the two coexist, and that works.

So sometimes kids learn for the sake of learning, and sometimes they learn for grades, and sometimes they learn because they like the teacher and they want to please that person, and sometimes they learn to avoid punishments for not doing what they’re supposed to. Lovely when it’s the first, but in the end, if they’re learning, isn’t that the most important thing?

As for all my house projects…we’re having a barbecue in a few weeks, so I’ll have to get at least a couple of things done by then, because I want to show off my home to people. And yes, I’m extrinsically motivated by praise for stuff I’ve done. At least that way it gets done, right?

(Photo credit to Simon Clayson, http://www.flickr.com/photos/claypole/2057195926/ I totally love this board. My favorite comment is in the bottom left - I hope that IS the smell I have.)

Summer reading goodness

So, at the beginning of May, Cassy of Reach for More (Aspira a Mas) had a contest for Latino Books Month. Turns out I won (woo!), and my prize was five books:

B as in Beauty by Alberto Ferreras
Into the Beautiful North by Luis Urrea
Hungry Woman in Paris by Josefina Lopez
The Disappearance of Irene Dos Santos by Margaret Mascarenhas
Houston, We Have a Problema by Gwendolyn Zepeda

The books came a few days ago (direct from the publisher! How fancy I feel) and I can't wait to read them. I'm not Latina (I'm about as white as they come), but I've never understood why my ethnicity should keep me from reading about other cultures - on the contrary, it helps me understand differences and similarities, and as my school is about 65% Latino at this point (and growing - we were 45% two years ago), getting to know more about Latino culture can only be beneficial.

In fact, I'm considering taking Spanish this fall, maybe through a local community college or...I don't know, some other way. I took French in high school and have long lamented its general uselessness in most of my life (though it often helps in reading literature, so there's that). I'd like to be able to communicate with my kids' families better, and I'd LOVE to know what my little angels are talking about as they stroll through the hallways, laughing and chatting away. I pretend that they're, say, comparing recipes for rice krispy treats (I add vanilla to mine, and sometimes bits of dried fruit like apricots or cherries - you?), or perhaps debating the merits of capitalism and socialism, but I know kids, and both of those seem unlikely.

Anyway, thank you, Cassy and Hachette Book Group! I'm totally psyched to have these fabulous books to enjoy this summer!

This won't go anywhere good.

A week and a half before the year ended, the Charmer mentioned the Over Achiever during lunch one day. I have a picture of her on my bulletin board (she gave it to me; I put up pics of any kid who gives one to me) and he’d ragged on it before. That day, I’d added one of him and his friends from a writing workshop they’d done with me a few weeks before. I pointed it out to him.

“Yeah, but you have it right above hers. Which is, like, way closer than I want to get to her.” I ignored him. He went on, “And now she’s acting totally crazy. Like can’t even be in the same class as me because she’s too in love with me or whatever.”

That caught my attention. “What? What are you talking about?”

“Yeah, like she’s so in love with me that it hurts too much to be in the same room as me so she’s not coming to math and science anymore.”

I changed the subject, but I was perturbed.

That afternoon was our end-of-year staff party. One of my colleagues, Ms. Librarian, mentioned the Over Achiever and how she was helping out in the library for the rest of the year. “I heard about that,” I said. “So she can’t handle being in the same class as the Charmer? What’s the deal?”

Ms. Librarian shrugged. “I don’t know…I guess she’d been making excuses to leave school every day early, and finally admitted that it was because of what was going on with him.”

“What IS going on with him?”

“Apparently he’s been saying some really inappropriate things to her, telling secrets he learned about her last year like about her dad [her dad has a drug problem and has had major health issues this year; it’s been incredibly hard on the Over Achiever, understandably] and just not being very nice. So her teachers agreed she could spend the end of the year in the library with me.”

Without even getting into what a terrible message I think that’s sending to her, I didn’t like the sound of this. Because it sounded like everyone had decided that the Over Achiever was the innocent tulip who was being viciously destroyed by the cruel Charmer. I didn’t think it was so clear cut as that, but I also didn’t want him to get in trouble for this. We had a week left of school. He just had to get through without doing anything dumb.

The next morning I went to talk to his counselor to see if I could help in any way. I told her what I’d heard and asked if it was okay if I talked to him about this and tried to persuade him to stay away from her for the rest of the year. She said that’d be great, because there was more to the story. The Over Achiever had come to school in pajama pants the day before (against dress code, but she’s the kind of kid who gets away with that stuff). The Charmer had allegedly said to another kid, “Yeah, because she left her pants at my house last night.”

Yes. Because she left her pants at his house last night.

Seriously? In seventh grade, who says stuff like that? With that added to the situation, I knew it was a matter of time before he got suspended, something I wanted to avoid if possible. So I went to pull him from his first hour class (they had a sub and I had permission from the counselor to try). He wasn’t there. Didn’t come to school that day or the next. When he showed again on the second-to-last day of school, he and I talked. He flat out denied having said that; he claimed he’d made a comment about her pants, just something about how they looked dumb, but he asked why he’d say what the Over Achiever had claimed, because that would be a compliment to her, like saying he’d want to have sex with her. And as horrific as that statement was, I could see his point. She’d been pursuing him and he’d been turning her down all year – why would he suddenly start acting like he wanted to be with her again, even in an insulting way? The logic was gross, but valid.

I got him to promise that he’d stay away from her, and that he’d try to stay out of trouble for the last two days. I thought he would, too. Then I heard about the last day of school.

On the last day of school, the Charmer really went above and beyond to be a delight. He walked over to a kid lying on the ground during a kickball game and asked the group at large if he should teabag the kid. During the same game, when a girl missed a pop fly, he said that was weird because she was used to having balls fly at her face. Then, finally, at the end of the game…he left. School. Just left.

My kids fall apart before vacations pretty frequently. School’s a safe place, with rules and consistency and expectations. Home’s not, for some of them. Parents aren’t around, or if they are, they’re not always that stable themselves. Food is sporadic. Kids have nothing to do, nowhere to go, no one to talk to. So they start acting out right before they’re going to be on their own for a while. I can only assume that’s what the Charmer was doing. I can only hope that’s what was going on. Because if that’s not it, if there’s more to it than a simple and temporary change in circumstances, then I’m terrified about what’s going on with him. This won’t go anywhere good, and I don’t know how to help.


(Photo credit to Nesster, http://www.flickr.com/photos/nesster/3168425434/)

Falling apart

So, the Charmer. When last we met our hero, he’d agreed to consider maybe applying to possibly choice back in to my school for next year. Full of conditionals, absolutely, but progress, I felt. And then. Oh, and then.

I still don’t really know what happened. Except…he fell apart. Suddenly I started hearing these stories about him and about what a huge asshole he was being. That should’ve been nothing new, but it was. It felt different this time. It felt mean. From him, AND from the people talking about him.


I have to go back, I think, for this to make sense. Backstory matters; sometimes it’s dull, sometimes it’s just the writer who needs to know it, but sometimes the audience needs it too. I think it’s needed here.


There’s this girl. In sixth grade, the two of them were together; as together as sixth graders can be. I don’t THINK it ever came to full on sex, but I don’t know, honestly, and I don’t really want to. Anyway, they were very close emotionally. When the school year started, I asked this girl, the Over Achiever (because she is – I don’t think she’s ever failed at anything in her life), how the Charmer was doing. She shrugged. “We broke up like a week after school got out. We never saw each other, so there just wasn’t any point.” I nodded, said something about how that made sense, moved on.

When the Charmer came back to my school, they…reconnected. Sort of. The Over Achiever came flying into my classroom one day after school, sobbing that she was there to say goodbye to me because she was transferring schools because the Charmer was being sooooooo mean to her. She credits me for one of her main achievements, getting elected to student council, because I’d pushed her to run (no way would she not have won. Most popular kid in school, even as a sixth grader, but it was nice that she appreciated my support), and so she said she didn’t want to leave without thanking me for all I’d done for her.

This was before the Charmer and I got back in touch, and I had no idea what she was talking about. I calmed her down and she spilled. He’d called her a bitch, but that he’d then apologized and they’d started talking again, and flirting, and he’d told all these people how much he liked her, and so she’d scooped up all her courage and asked him out, at which point he’d backpedaled and claimed he needed more time, and then started talking trash about her. I murmured platitudes about what a great kid she was, how she had so much potential, how she couldn’t make decisions based off a few bad days, how maybe it would work out with him and maybe it wouldn’t but she’d be okay no matter what, how she needed to decide if she really wanted to be with someone who would treat her that way…the same stuff I tell all my kids when they’re having trouble with a member of the opposite sex. She sniffled, and listened, and dabbed her eyes with the corners of tissues that she’d crumpled in her hands while talking.


A couple of weeks later, my school held a holiday celebration with a dance room. The Over Achiever and the Charmer were both in there, and clearly dancing to impress the other. I assumed they were working it out and would get back together shortly.


Apparently not, though. Somehow it never happened, though not for lack of trying on the Over Achiever’s part, or so I heard through the seventh grade grapevine. Weird stories; almost creepy. Losing her shit when another girl was going to ask him out and threatening to kick the girl’s ass, any time, any place. Pretending to be at his house and having a friend pretend to be him on the phone with a third person; making that person promise not to text the Charmer for real to verify, and saying that the friendship would be over if she did (the third person rationalized that she hadn’t promised not to call, so dialed the Charmer, only to be met with a horrified, “Oh HELL no she’s not over here.”).


Maybe these are typical seventh-grade-infatuated-with-someone-who-doesn’t-want-you-back stories, but this is not the typical seventh grade girl. This is a kid who is adored by teachers and students alike; a girl who gets awards constantly, receiving them as her due, a girl who is cheered by her peers, a girl who fields offers for boyfriends near daily. This is a girl who is a success by just about anyone’s definition, and a girl who is not used to failure. And she was failing with the Charmer this time around.

She was part of the reason he originally didn’t want to move in to honors classes; she’s in all honors and he told me he didn’t want to deal with her all day long. Which I get – it’s super annoying to be around someone that causes you pain, and when you don’t have to do it, why put yourself through that? And leaving out all the weirdness, she’d also really hurt him the previous summer. He’d cared about this girl deeply, had trusted her when he was going through some really tough stuff, and she abandoned him. Not that she didn’t have valid reasons, but he was still in pain. But he finally agreed to go into math and science honors, and only two classes with her didn’t seem that bad.

I don’t think it was, at first. I think they were fine, except that was when her infatuation escalated. That was when the threats to other girls and the lies about his relationship with her started. He’d complain about it sporadically to me, but he never seemed that worried, and I brushed it off. Maybe I shouldn’t have.

Tomorrow, the end.

(Photo credit to onkel_wart (very busy), http://www.flickr.com/photos/onkel_wart/2883128876/)

52 Teachers, 52 Lessons

I have a post up today on I Want To Teach Forever, as part of Mr. D's 52 Teachers, 52 Lessons series. My lesson? Apologize when you mess up.

I hope you'll go check it out. Even if you read it and think, "Man, this chick is pretty full of herself, recommending I read something so obvious, I was apologizing to kids when she was still in short pants," the series is full of all kinds of other interesting posts from teachers (and others). I've learned a lot from it.

And if YOU'RE a teacher and have advice for others (which, let's face it, most of us do - even if it's because we've learned from the error of our ways...), write about it and get it to Mr. D! He's always looking for more submissions. Share your knowledge of how to be a better teacher; people like me will appreciate it immensely.

God's work

I spent the evening with my husband’s family, celebrating his brother’s birthday with dinner at their parents’ house. It was a nice evening, albeit a bit exhausting; I have a six-year-old nephew and an almost-three-year-old niece. For whatever reason, I was exceptionally popular tonight. Both kids insisted on sitting by me at dinner (and from my niece, that’s nothing short of freakin’ remarkable, as most of the time she prefers to act as if she has never met me before and regards me with the sort of disdain you normally save for, say, a slug that you’ve just accidentally stepped on and whose guts are smeared across the bottom of your foot).

Dinner was a mix of trying to persuade my niece to eat without physically assaulting me (I was kicked, scratched, smacked, raspberried – she stopped each after getting the teacher death glare and a firm no, but kept coming up with new ways to attract my attention, each more charming than the last) and trying to listen to and field questions from my nephew (he finds my job endlessly fascinating and loooooooves to compare my kids’ behavior to his own).

By the end of the meal, after two timeouts for him, one meltdown from her, one spilled bowl of ice cream (a joint effort) and one ear-piercing screech, again him, I was exhausted. And they weren’t even my responsibility!

When I tell people that I teach middle school, I almost always get a Look. Its makeup varies – sometimes incredulous, occasionally horrified, oft sympathetic, periodically stunned, frequently a mix of two or more. I can usually predict the next thing my listener will say. “How on earth do you DO that?” they sputter, adding, “I could NEVER. That’s a really tough age.” And I smile, and say that I like that age, that they’re a lot of fun. If they seem interested, I expound, but mostly we leave it at that, because we both know: they think I’m crazy for doing what I do, and I think they’re misguided and shortsighted for not seeing how ridiculously great middle school kids can be, and ne’er the twain shall meet.

But after an hour or two with my niece and nephew, I am the shocked observer, ready to ask any ECE or early elementary teacher around, “How do you DO that?” Because it’s true – I could never.

Thank God I don’t have to. Thank God the people staring at me bewilderedly don’t have to. Thank God we can all specialize and spend our time with the ages we love and not have to be with the ages that leave us befuddled and frazzled and simply done.

A woman on an airplane told me once that I was doing God’s work by teaching middle school. I’m not religious, so I sort of brushed it off because I didn’t really know where to go from there. But now I think she’s right.

We’re all doing God’s work. Or gods’ work. Or no gods’ work; secular humanists’ work. Atheists’ work. The point is, whatever your religious beliefs, teachers are doing work that matters, that changes the world, that’s so damn hard but so damn worthwhile, and it’s okay if other people think we’re nutjobs for loving what we do. We know we’re not.

(Photo credit to Drifter Jen, http://www.flickr.com/photos/drifterjen/930584805/)

Lucky.


Three of the posts I’ve read tonight have hit me hard enough that I’m sitting here with tears running down my cheeks. In a good way, I promise, a good way.

First was a post by Pissed Off Teacher. She wrote about a kid who came, with mom and sister, to thank Ms. POd for her support over the past four years. The actual post seems to have vanished, I’m not sure why, but two sentences: “They claimed she would not be graduating without my help. I know that is not a true statement.” That’s where the tears started. If you don’t read this blog…oh, you should. She blows me away, just about every post. I so hope I am half the teacher she is in twenty years.

Next was a post from The Reading Zone. Kids. Reading together. Talking about what they’re reading. Actually seeking out another copy of the book so they don’t have to fight over it. Oh my god I want to inspire my kids to read like that. For great book recs and more, check this out.

Finally, a post from John Spencer at Television and Teaching (notice how these are all alphabetized? Why, yes, I DO use Google Reader to read my blogs of choice). This blog is all about lessons we can take from TV to apply to the classroom. I love TV (I know, that’s totally not cool to say as an English teacher, I should be all about The Classics….so sue me), so I love this blog. Always starts with a TV connection and then gives advice. Rockin’. In today’s post, I couldn’t relate to the TV connection, but the advice I could certainly use. It’s about how to get to know your families if you teach in a low SES area. I realized not too long ago that I simply don’t know enough about the area in which I teach, and I realized that when a student said to me, “You really don’t know much around here, do you.” And that period? Is intentional. When she said it, it wasn’t a question, and that broke my heart a little bit. And I will change that. John’s suggestions are where I’ll start.

I feel so fortunate that I’ve discovered blogs like these, and so many more…they open my mind, but more importantly, my heart, every single day. To me, that’s the magic of the internet; I can connect with teachers I would never have otherwise met, never have otherwise even thought about meeting, and be inspired by them. I can only hope that someday I can inspire others in the same way.

(Photo credit to cygnus921, http://www.flickr.com/photos/cygnus921/2678359760/)

Dilemma


Okay, I could use some help with this one, so if you're reading this and you have any thoughts, I would SO appreciate hearing them.

The Eyeliner Queen and I are supposed to be meeting periodically over the summer to talk about books and writing. I proposed it, mostly because I’m worried about her and I thought it would be good for her to stay connected to someone from school (a safe place) over the summer when she’s spending most of her time at home (a less safe place). I cleared it with her counselor, her AP, her therapist, her mom, and her – all said it would be a great idea.


But we never got anything specific set up before the year ended, and now I’m having trouble actually implementing anything. I’ve spoken to her mom five times since the school year ended, and I get nowhere. Each time, mom regretfully informs me that the Eyeliner Queen is out or that mom is out, and assures me that the Eyeliner Queen will call me and we’ll get this figured out. Each time, nothing. I even gave them my cell phone number, something I’ve never done with a kid or parent before, since I’m not in my classroom anymore. And nothing.


My belief at this point is that mom really doesn’t want this to happen and isn’t passing the messages on to the EQ. I know that mom has objected to my relationship to the EQ in the past, because I’ve had to make several social services calls, so I’m assuming that she’s decided to prevent this but to do so in a very passive way.


And that’s her prerogative as a parent, I guess, but I’m not sure what to do about the Eyeliner Queen herself. I don’t want her to think that I’ve just given up on her, that I don’t care about her and about the commitment I made to her. I haven’t; I do. But I don’t know how to get that across to her if I don’t ever get to talk to her. I don’t have her email address, though I know she has one. I have an old personal cell number for her, one she shares with her sister, that I suppose I could use, but that feels like I’m really doing a runaround on the mom. She IS the legal guardian; she DOES get to make decisions. I know she has a MySpace, but I don’t use MySpace with kids, and again, same issue as the personal cell phone. I am meeting a couple of my kids in a week and a half for a lunch I owe them, and one of them is friends with the Eyeliner Queen; perhaps I could mention that I’ve been trying to get in touch with her and see if they can pass on a message?

I talked to mom just a bit ago and she acted like she was writing down my cell phone number (before I’ve left it on voicemail at her request) so maybe she did, and maybe she’ll pass it on, and maybe I’ll hear back. But if she didn’t, or she doesn’t, or I don’t, what do I do next?

Edit: Never mind! Just heard back from the Eyeliner Queen and we're getting together on Saturday, so there we go. 'Course, plenty could happen between now and then, but at least we have a plan.

(Photo credit to the_moment, http://www.flickr.com/photos/fotomaker/582091438/)

Promise kept.














I was at school today for a planning today for one of the committees I’m on. While on a bathroom break, I saw a kid waving at me. It was the Slacker.


The Slacker is the ONLY KID who failed my class for the year. I work reeeeeeeeeeally hard to ensure that my kids pass, because the only way to fail is to not turn work in, and frankly I think that’s a dumb reason to fail. Every other kid passed. Every single one managed to turn enough work in to pass, even if a few of them just squeaked by. The Slacker…nope. And that’s in large part because his attendance is atrocious (he missed my class 20 times third trimester. That’s 67% attendance, as we have 60 days per trimester), and when you aren’t there, you don’t learn anything and you don’t get your work done. Come to school? You learn! You get your shit done! It’s a crazy little concept, one I hope will someday catch on, but so far, not so much. It certainly hasn’t caught on with the Slacker yet.

He’s a nice kid, but is simply unsuccessful in a regular school environment (fails everything, terrible attendance, can’t keep his hands to himself, can’t get to class on time, doesn’t do any work once he’s in class…just a disaster all around), so we’ve been trying to get him into our district’s alternative school. He was accepted once, after I’d put together a 63 page application, but then his dad didn’t show for the parent meeting, and he was out. We’re trying again for next year, but who knows.

I think I’ve mentioned before that I have my kids do assessments of my class at the end of every trimester. They’re sort of anonymous, but I know most of their handwriting and they have the option to put their name if they want me to know they wrote it. Questions about what they liked and didn’t, what I’m good at and what I could be better at, and anything else to add. At the end of second trimester, the Slacker wrote under the anything-to-add section, “I love this class.” He hadn’t put his name on it, but his handwriting is distinctive and I knew it was him. I’d stared at the page, trying to figure out why he would write that when he did nothing to demonstrate that appreciation during classtime.

After a few weeks, I finally decided to just ask him. He’d smiled, looking past me into the distance, and said, “I do love this class. I get to write about what I want to write about.”

Helplessly, I responded, “But, honey, you don’t do that much writing. I’d love to see more from you.” He nodded and promised to start doing more, start sharing his writing more, start participating more. Same promises he’d made all year. Same promises he’d broken all year. Nothing changed.

Anyway, so I saw him waving at me today. He was there for summer school, which was a surprise to start, considering his attendance; even though we claim it’s mandatory if a kid fails two or more classes for the year, realistically nothing happens if they don’t show. Thus a good chunk of our little darlings who should go to summer school don’t.

I walked toward him and he ran to meet me. He looked good; a new haircut, clean clothes, a big smile. “Your hair looks nice,” I said (I like to compliment haircuts because I like it when people notice my haircuts).

He smiled but clearly had more important things on his mind. Thrusting a paper at me, “Will you be here tomorrow? Will you read this?”

I took it automatically and glanced at it. A story of some sort. “You want me to read it and….give you feedback on it?”

“Yeah, and give it back to Mr. Summer School Coordinator.”

I looked at it again. First look: dull introduction, atrocious spelling, terrible punctuation (really no punctuation)…and a kid who wrote. On his own. Something he wanted me to read.

“I would LOVE to read this. I might not be able to bring it back tomorrow, though; is Thursday okay?”

“Yeah, that’s good.”

“And you’ll be here too, right, so can’t I just give it to you? Instead of ”

A bashful grin. “Yeah, sure.”

The page he’d handed me wasn’t particularly impressive stylistically or content-wise. It certainly wasn’t written at a sixth grade level, or even a fifth grade level. But it was a page of writing, from a kid who’d never written more than a few sentences at a time all year long. He’d finally kept his promise to start writing more and sharing it.

I wasn’t planning on going back to school tomorrow or Thursday, but I sure as hell am now.

(Photo credit to A Y U M i, http://www.flickr.com/photos/ayumina/2631198382/)

Keeping options open.















So, I was really sad about the whole The-Charmer-hates-my-school-and-teachers-in-it-for-generally-good-reason thing. And while I had (sort of) come to terms with him hating the three teachers he’d mentioned, he had two other teachers. When I’d sent him to class after our talk, I’d asked if he and I could have lunch the next day to talk about this further. He agreed. So the next day, I got him from the cafeteria and we got back into it.


“Okay, what about your other teachers? I thought you liked them. I thought you thought they were good teachers.”

Reluctantly… “Yeah, they’re pretty good.”

“So it’s not everyone.” Honestly, I felt better just hearing that he didn’t think EVERYONE sucked.

“I guess not.”

I kind of wasn’t sure where to go from there. I didn’t feel like I could just let this whole thing go, but I also didn’t really know what to say. These were my colleagues he hated, people I talked to regularly, people I joked around with, people I grabbed drinks with, people I considered friends. And he had a right to hate them, based on his perception.

Here’s the thing. Although I think every single one of the teachers and administrators he complained about has many fine qualities, it doesn’t matter. At all. Because my perspective as a teacher is totally different from the perspective of a student in the class. And my opinion does not matter.

I’ve heard teachers complain before about the whole teaching as customer service thing, and I get that. A lot of teachers already have to deal with crazy helicopter parents, obsessing over every little aspect of their child’s education and freaking out if their kid doesn’t get an A. I have a friend who teaches in a very high SES area, very different from my school, and with every.single.assignment he gives, he gets numerous emails asking where the rigor is in that assignment. Emails that he then has to respond to, rather than use his limited time to grade or plan. And, wow. I can’t even imagine how frustrating that is.

But, um, we kind of ARE customer service reps.

If someone works for TicketMaster (which I did, back in the day….ooh, terrible job), they have a job in order to sell tickets to people. Sometimes they can’t sell the tickets because the tickets aren’t available or the person has already purchased too many, but those are the exceptions to the rule. As teachers, we have jobs in order to educate children. Sometimes home lives or other issues get in the way, but if we’re not educating them, WE SHOULDN’T HAVE JOBS.

The Charmer felt he wasn’t being well educated. Based on what he’d told me and what other kids had told me, he wasn’t wrong. Some of his own issues are getting in the way, but that’s not the whole problem.

But there’s more to it than that. This is a kid who doesn’t trust people. Just….doesn’t trust them. He trusts his mom, and two of his friends, and sort of his brother, and sort of me. Not 100%, but sort of, and only because I’ve earned it over the past two years. This is also a kid who is smart, and funny, and talented. He sees through the fronts people put on to the truths inside their souls; that’s not something that goes over well, particularly when the person who has that capacity sometimes uses it to sneer at and judge people. Which he does. I’m not saying he’s not an asshole, because he often is. I just think there’s more to him than that. If he leaves my school, he’ll still be an asshole, he’ll still push people past their breaking points, but then he won’ t have anyone on his side. Am I helping him at all anyway? I don’t know. But at least he has someone who believes in him, who challenges him when he’s being a prick, whom he respects and who treats him with respect. I’m not sure he’ll have that (at least not at school) if he leaves. Maybe (probably) I’m giving myself too much credit here, but I just couldn’t give up yet. So even though I couldn’t argue with his current perception of the school, I had to try something.

Finally, I decided to address the following year. “I get that you’re unhappy with your current teachers, and…I don’t disagree with what you’re saying. I wish I could, but I can't. But I truly believe that the eighth grade has some incredible teachers.”

He shrugged.

“I’m not saying you have to come here. That’s not my choice; you and your mom have to make that decision, and maybe this ISN’T the best place for you. But…” I paused again. “I guess I just think you should keep your options open. I know you’re unhappy right now, but you might feel differently later.”

He shrugged again. “I guess. It doesn’t matter anyway. I already missed it.”

As previously mentioned, the Charmer doesn’t live in my enrollment area and he’d missed the deadline to choice in. “I know. But I told you that I’d let you know if it opens back up again.” Sometimes the district re-opens the opportunity to choice in, if a school isn’t full, and I’d told the Charmer I’d keep track of that for him and let him know if it happened. I’m doing the same thing for two other kids who moved out of our area but still want to come back. “Here’s the deal. If you choice in and you want to come here, you can. If you decide you don’t want to come here, you can always decline and just go to your home school. But if you DON’T choice in, you can’t change your mind. You lose the option. Again, not saying you have to come back. But do you still want me to keep you posted?”

For a minute, he didn’t say anything. Finally, with another shrug, “Yeah. I guess.”

More to come…

(Hopefully we do a better job at working with our students than following the above photo. Credit to Here’s Kate, http://www.flickr.com/photos/thedepartment/85386723/)

"I just don't want to be here!"













A while ago I posted about why I thought the Charmer didn’t want to come back to my school next year. I hypothesized that it was because of money – because he lives a ways from school and didn’t have the money for the bus all the time.


Yeah. Not so much.


A few days later, the Charmer and his friends were in my room again. Towards the end of the period, I asked his friends to leave because I needed to talk the Charmer. I had a whole speech prepared about how the money thing was an issue but not insurmountable, how I could have gotten him to school, how he needed to ask for help when he needed it. Never got to use it. Which is a shame, because it was a totally good speech too.


I started with, “So what happened the other day?”


He shrugged. “I was sick.”


I looked at him skeptically. “It wasn’t because you didn’t have a bus pass?”


“No.”

“You know, this doesn’t work. This isn’t going to fly next year – you have to figure out a way to get to school.”

“Well then it won’t be an issue since I’m not going here and my new school is like 10 feet from my house.”

“But if you want to go here--”


“I don’t want to go here! I keep telling you that!”


“I know, but you won’t tell me WHY. So WHY don’t you want to go here? If it’s the bus pass--” (And this was my opening, I thought. This was when I was going to masterfully turn the conversation so that I could give my helpful little rah-rah-rah we-shall-overcome speech. Shows how much I know.)


“It’s not the stupid bus pass! I don’t want to go here because I hate it here! Because the teachers suck and the administration sucks and I just don’t want to be here!” He was almost yelling.


I sat. I looked at him. I couldn’t believe it. “Oh. Okay.”


He looked down. “I’m sorry. That’s why I didn’t want to tell you. I knew you’d be mad.”


“I’m not mad…I’m just sad.”

“You’re mad.”


“I’m really not. I’m not mad. I’m sad that you feel that way, because…well, because I teach here and I like it here and I think we have good teachers, and it makes me sad that you don’t feel that way.”


“It’s not you. You don’t suck.”


“I know. But thanks.” We sat in silence for a moment. Finally, I asked, “Why do you think the teachers and administration suck?”


He rolled his eyes. “Seriously?”


“Yeah, seriously. These are my colleagues and I respect them and think they are good teachers. But it doesn’t actually matter what I think; it matters what you think. And if you think they’re bad, I want to know why. So why?”


He sighed. Then he told me. Stories of a teacher who doesn’t teach much because she’s burned out and the kids know it; instead of teaching, this teacher tells them stories. Then eventually they have an assessment, and they all get Cs on it because they haven’t done any practice for it. Stories of a teacher who treats different students differently, VERY differently, and again the kids know it. Stories of a teacher who ignores commitments she’s made to students, commitments about grades and work and credit, and instead fails the students that she doesn’t like to teach them a lesson. Stories of administrators who, instead of correcting students for mistakes, humiliate them in front of their peers by making them redo the mistakes repeatedly.

The bell rang before he finished. I sent him to his next class, because there was nothing else to do. But I thought about it a lot.

Everything he told me, I’d seen at points. But I thought…I guess I thought that I’d seen these things as aberrations with these teachers, as minor occasional issues that were surpassed by the strong teaching they do the rest of the time. And maybe for some kids they are, but not for the Charmer. And maybe not for more of them. I started asking other kids what they thought about their teachers and their education; not many, just a few that I knew well and trusted and who trust me, and some of the stories…too many of the stories…were the same. Some weren’t, and that’s good. But.


Once I’d heard his perspective, I couldn’t blame him for wanting to leave, and I couldn’t try to persuade him to stay anymore. Even if the tales he told were exceptions rather than the rule for most kids (which I pray they are), those made up his story at my school. And that’s a story I couldn’t try to keep going.


To be continued.



(I'm trying out adding pictures to make my blog more interesting for visual types. So? You like it? Photo credit to Philippe Leroyer, http://www.flickr.com/photos/philippeleroyer/2070899672/)

A good two years.

I finished moving to my new classroom yesterday. My lovely husband came in and helped me get it done, which was really good – the two of us spent close to three hours working, so had it just been ME, it would have taken me probably at least eight (he is stronger and more efficient than I am; I get distracted by shiny things and student notes and stuff).

I’m a little sad to leave sixth grade. Their exuberance and enthusiasm are so great, and they really want to love their teachers. You just have to give them a chance, and they’re in. Eighth graders…I don’t know. They’re a little more jaded and you have to prove yourself more, as I recall. Which I can totally do, but. It’ll just be different.

Mostly I’m excited. I found out that one of the reading teachers in my building whom I most respect will also be moving to my core with me, so that’s pretty rockin’. She and I are very different in some ways, but we both hold our students to very high standards, we both manage our classrooms in large part through rapport with the kids, we both believe in including ethics in our content lessons…we may butt heads at times as we are both strong-willed, but I think it’ll be awesome.

It’ll be fun to see which of my former kids I get again. The Eyeliner Queen probably won’t be back (long story), and BB Bob and the Charmer probably won’t either (another long story, which I’ll get to). But I know I’ll have some familiar faces, and that’ll be nice.

When I left my old room for the last time, I stopped for just a minute to look back. I’ll be in it again, of course, I’m still in the building and I’m sure I’ll be sharing curriculum with whoever is hired for that position, but it won’t be the same. Yesterday was the last time it was my room, or really ours, because it belonged to my kids as much as me, filled with our energy, our memories, our work and laughter and tears.

It was a good first two years. I can’t wait for the next twenty.

Take a ride...

...on the latest Carnival of Education over at Learn Me Good! My post on Slick is in it (AND featured on Joanne Jacobs - I feel so fancy, though both sites seem to believe I'm a man, but it doesn't really matter...). Also included are numerous other great pieces - I particularly enjoyed this post from Tracey of Walking the Dog. It's a lovely moment.

Go! Read! Enjoy!
"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.
 
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