How to be a student: Part II

Yesterday I wrote about how confused I was with Sweet Child o' Mine and his inability to follow through and do the simplest things like completing classwork, and coming in to make up said incomplete work, and remembering for five minutes to walk back to the damn classroom and finish the freakin' work.

As I pondered, I had an epiphany. And maybe it's pretty minor as epiphanies go, and maybe it's something all of you already know....but it was new to me. Just a simple shift in thinking, and I feel like I understand a whole bunch of my students on a whole new level.

SCoM doesn't know how to be a student. He's years behind in it, and without intensive interventions, he may never catch up. Though he's in eighth grade, he's maybe a fifth grade level student.

I'm not talking academically, though he's behind there too because of this. I mean in knowing how to do homework. How to focus in class. How to ask for help when you don't understand something. How to remember when a teacher offers extra help. How to walk into the room at that time and sit down and get additional assistance. How to even know that you need additional assistance. How to know where your materials are. How to get to class on time. How to make choices about your studies. How to advocate for yourself when you feel a teacher has been unfair. Generally how to be a student.

It's linked to
the responsibility issue I wrote about a while back, how I'd like to know what I should be able to expect kids to do at different grade levels from a responsibility perspective and not just academically. Because then if we did that, I'd be able to look at what SCoM can already do and what he's lacking and then I could say, okay, he needs to be retaught x, y, and z to get him closer to behaving the way a fourteen-year-old kid should behave in school.

I've been delighted this year in my move to eighth grade at how much more responsible the kids are; how much more likely they are to show up when they say they're going to, in particular. And of course they should be better at that than sixth graders since they're two years older. But just because you age two years chronologically doesn't mean you do the same in actual maturity, particularly if you don't have anyone at home supporting you in that process. Not all my kids have that.

We have to teach them how to do that. We have to teach them, over and over, explicitly, how to do these things. Why it matters.

We have to support them in their process of trying to improve, because if we don't, they won't. If they don't have help in getting better in these areas, they're not going to make the academic growth they should make either. And when a kid is reading at a fourth grade level in eighth grade, we don't shrug and say, "Well, he's old enough to know how - it's not my problem if he can't." Why would we do that for being a conscientious student?

I don't know what that looks like yet, not really, but I'm working on it. If you have any thoughts, I'd love to hear them; otherwise, I'll keep you posted.

(Image credit to bengrey)

How to be a student: Part I

On Wednesday at lunch, I had a student working in my room. He was one of mine before the change, but no more. A few weeks back, though, I offered to help him bring his grades up so he'd be eligible for basketball and he took me up on it. I was delighted, because he's a really sweet kid, but not much of a student.

Since then, Sweet Child o' Mine's been coming in every day at lunch to work. Which sounds great....but since I have ten or so other kids who come in just to hang out, and since he's super easily distracted, the work has gone slooooooooooowly.

But Thursday was the end of the trimester, and thus homeboy's last chance to finish this particular paper and avoid failing for the tri. Which I pointed out to him, and suggested he come after school to finish. He agreed, and trotted merrily off at the end of lunch.

After school came. SCoM came in with a friend who'd left his backpack in my room. I pointed out to SCoM that he was supposed to be writing, so he left his backpack and ran out to tell his mom he'd be home later, and then came back in to finish his paper. Which he did really a pretty solid job on, considering how much time he spends messing around in class rather than actually doing any work.

Except. That second part never happened. In fact, nothing after leaving his backpack happened. He just never came back. And, oh, was I pissed.

Thursday he trotted in to say hi. I told him we'd talk at lunch. He looked confused. I pointed to the backpack and asked him why it was still here. "Ohhhhh....I forgot to come back in."

"Yep. We'll talk later."

At lunch, I laid it out for him. I'd been working hard to help him, but I didn't see much return. He couldn't even be bothered to come back in to tell me he was leaving - why should I trust him? Why should I stand up for him to other teachers? Why should I have any faith in him at all?

SCoM looked crestfallen. He apologized profusely; he'd gotten out there and the gym teacher had challenged him to a game of one-on-one, and afterward he'd just forgotten and walked home. He was really sorry, he really appreciated the help I'd been giving him, he'd work hard today and would come after school too.

Okay, I shrugged. His choice. Show or don't, it was his call.

He showed. He worked. He got his paper done, and did a pretty damn good job on it, for him. And I couldn't understand why this was so hard. Why DC struggled so much last year to finish his classwork. Why so many of them just don't do the bare minimum of things that we as teachers expect. And then I realized something....

Which I will explain tomorrow.

Livin' on a prayer (and a contract)

Another self-harm contract.

This is something we do at our school, when a kid seems to be potentially in danger of hurting themself; after the risk assessment, one of the next steps is for the student to fill out a contract about who they're going to talk to at school and at home, two people at each if possible, if they're feeling like they might do something really scary.

This is the third time I've been listed as one of the contacts. Once last year, once earlier this year, and today. It's kinda intimidating.

I just have to remember that kids are trusting me when they tell me the things they do, when they list me, that they're telling me because they know I care and I won't just ignore it or walk away or pretend that what's happening is okay. It's a gift, for a student to share their deepest secrets, shame, pain with me, and even if it's a burden, it really truly is the thought that counts.

But I fucking hate worrying that they're going to come to me with this particular crisis.

'Sup, Reddit-heads? (That's probably not a real term.)

Back in November, I had what I felt was an odd experience. Something that could generally be considered to be out of the ordinary, something that wasn't really appropriate, something uncomfortable and hopefully not to be repeated. Commenters here and friends in my daily life were all horrified (and mildly entertained - because let's be honest, also kind of funny in an oh-my-god-did-that-REALLY-happen way). No one ever suggested that I should've ignored the situation. No one ever shrugged it off as a normal rite of passage. No one ever seemed surprised that I asked the student involved to leave.

Until two days ago.

Two days ago, I got two comments. Anonymous comments, of course, because why have the balls to leave your name and real email address when you can hide behind the secrecy of the internet? Yes, I'm anonymous too...sort of. But not in the same way, I don't think.

The comments haven't shown on the post because I manually approve comments that are added after a post has been up for four days, and frankly I haven't wanted to post these two. But the first said this:
Oh, the SHOCK, the HORROR, a kid feels an attraction for boobs!!! That's totally unheard of!

Be glad that he asked first, when I was a kid I never did, I'd just go ahead and feel the land it as if it was my property, and people wouldn't take it too seriously either, after all it was just a kid!

Regarding as to why the kid would think the answer would be different, well, when you're young and inexperienced those things don't hold that much value and every subject is as natural as any other (which is how it should be, but people like to complicate).
Really. Reeeeeeeeeeeally. Is that so, Anonymous Ass #1? You used to just go up to women and feel them up? If you're not a registered sex offender these days, I can only assume you've gotten real fucking lucky so far and it's just a matter of time.

Then came AA#2. Same day. #2 was less dickish, just...well, just stupid:
How is this weird? I'm sure you're not the first teacher to get that question, and he's not the only kid who ever asked. He's a kid damnit, kids get pushed into all kinds of stuff by their friends. I can't understand you asked him to leave. you should have had a talk with him instead so he would learn it was not ok.
Y'know, maybe I should've just let him stay. We could've sat down and had a cozy little tête-à-tête about the situation. And then in the end we could've both had a good laugh about the misunderstanding. Except, wait. I was ALONE AFTER SCHOOL WITH A FOURTEEN-YEAR-OLD BOY WHO'D JUST ASKED TO FEEL ME UP. (This is where I'd use that sarcasm mark if I had it, just in case my AAs don't get this either.)

And, uh, spend about 13 seconds Googling and you can find bazillions of examples of inappropriate student/teacher relationships. Weird how I didn't want to end up allegedly in one of them (again, sarcasm mark!). Homeboy learned it wasn't okay; I just wasn't the one to explain it to him because I needed to protect myself first.

I couldn't figure out why a three-month-old post was suddenly getting all kinds of attention. So I went to my trusty Google Analytics and found that on Saturday, 537 people had visited my site. FIVE. HUNDRED. AND. THIRTY. SEVEN.


On a normal day, I get maybe 20 or 30 visits. On a good day, 50. Not 500.

Turns out my little post got picked up and posted by someone on which I guess is a thing where people submit links they like and other people....go look at the links?

Anyway, a gentleman (I'm guessing....) named SputnikKore submitted mine. Interestingly, the consensus on Reddit is that I'm a wacky overreactor; so it goes, I guess. But to clarify.

It's not that I was surprised that a kid might THINK that; I'm not naive and I understand that boys think about sex with any number of people. It was that I was STUNNED that he would ASK that out loud. I kind of can't believe that I need to say that, that I need to explain that I had to have him leave to protect myself from the appearance of impropriety, and that it was most appropriate for someone other than me to finish the conversation with him about why it was not okay.

I always thought that most people get it, that they understand what teachers deal with and that they sympathize, and probably most people do. I'm going to assume that the handful of clueless Reddit commenters are in the minority. Anything else would be too depressing.

And it's good for me to remember that although I have a small following, it could grow. Anything I put out on the internet has the potential to get picked up and explode. This was just a small puff of smoke, but another time, I could have a crater blown into my semi-privacy.

(Image credit to sklathill)

Saying sorry helps!

So I never actually got to send my email to the parent (I was trying to track down my administrator to clear it with her), because before I managed to sit down with my admin, the parent apologized. She said she'd been stressed with everything her family was going through but hadn't meant to be so rude and was sorry, and thanked me for everything I've been trying to do to help her son.

Her son still didn't have a pencil on Friday, but he did turn in the missing major assignment, and he's at least passing now (I'm assuming - haven't actually graded it yet).

So. There we go. Still not the most pleasant moment of my life when I read her first email, but I'm pretty impressed that she actually made the effort to make it right. Not enough of us apologize when we mess up; doing so goes a long way with me.

Too young.

One of my friends is going to a funeral tomorrow for one of his former students. We've only been teaching for three years....this kid had barely graduated from high school.

One of my students recently learned that a friend of his had been hit by a car. The car stopped, and the occupants jumped out and beat my student's friend to death with a baseball bat. Then they drove off.


(Image credit to L. Marie)

Turns out....

I'm not the only one. Hee.

This is why teachers don't want to talk to parents.

On Friday, I emailed a parent to update her on her son's performance in my class. He's missed a lot of school recently (with reason) but has made no effort when back to make up what he's missed or clarify assignments that he probably doesn't understand due to his frequent absences. When he is in class, he sits there without doing anything until I prod him to get started (something I only have to do with him, not any other student in that period), and frequently comes to class without any kind of supplies. He's missing a major assignment from almost two months ago (seriously! And I'm still going to accept it! I may have to change my late work policy here because this is absurd), and hasn't talked to me ONCE about it without me asking the status first. He is participating in extra curricular activities, just not, y'know, curricular ones. I said that I'd be happy to help him make up the work but that he needs to make an appointment with me to do that, that I won't force him. These are all things I thought she'd want to know.

Apparently not.

She emailed me back a furious missive about how bad my attitude has been since he started in my class, how I never say anything positive about him, how I complain about little things like him not having a pencil, how I said he could just not worry about the work while he was out (which I did - what we were on required direct instruction and I said he could continue his independent reading and then I'd catch him up when he was back [though I did not explicitly state that I'd expect him to actually do work when he was back....maybe that was my bad]) and how I clearly just don't care about him at all because otherwise I'd be more understanding.

Um. Okay.

This kid has something serious going on, that's true. And I have told him and his family in writing that his health is the most important thing, and I believe that. But....he's playing sports. Shouldn't I be able to expect that he can also make up missing work? And do the work when he IS in class? He's in eighth grade - shouldn't I expect him to actually talk to me when he comes back to find out what he's missing, especially when I've prompted him to do so? A pencil may be small, but it's kinda the basis of any possible participation, and thus it becomes big.

I'm frustrated here. I feel like I've gone out of my way to update this woman on her son's status (since she has never contacted me for any information) and I'm under attack. I'm glad she loves her son, glad she wants what's best for him, but I'm not going to compromise my teaching standards by letting him just not do assessments. And I don't know what to do.

My plan is to go to my AP with a draft of the email I want to send back, which will say something like the following:

Dear Angry Mom:

I understand how challenging this situation has been for all of you and I apologize if I upset you in any way. The goal of my email was to keep you aware of Kid’s performance in Language Arts, since at conferences you said you wanted to know if he was missing work or not living up to expectations in class and that email was a good way to reach you. I did send home that paper when Kid was out; perhaps I was not clear enough that he would still be expected to make up missing work. Though of course his health is the most important thing and always will be, he cannot pass the class without demonstrating the expected learning, which requires making up missing assignments. As I said in my first email, I would be happy to help him understand what he’s missing and complete that classwork, but he needs to talk to me about that. I really just wanted you as his mother to be fully informed about the situation, and again, I apologize if you took it in any other way. If you would prefer that I not contact you about Kid’s classroom performance, please let Mrs. AP, the 8th grade assistant principal, know, and you and she can discuss options.

Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Teacher,

Probably still too prickly but I'm annoyed with the whole situation. Any thoughts? Feedback? Commiseration?

Because GAH.

Sick day.

Second one I've ever taken. Feels weird. But I guess it's the right choice since I don't think I'd be very effective in front of a class today (pain issue, not actual immune-system illness).

Hopefully my kids are angels for the sub, and I don't need to regulate too much when I return. In the meantime, I'm reading, resting, and maybe going to do some grading. Well, I can't just have a WHOLE day off, now can I? :)


A student told me I'm her role model. She wants to be a teacher because of me.

I was speechless.

I still am.

THAT kind of day.

I started drinking whiskey at around 4:30 today.

Yep, THAT kind of day.

Honestly, most of it was really good. Got observed yesterday and in the post-ob recap, my principal had nothing but good to say. Everything in class went well - kids were engaged, working hard, productive. I talked several kids into trying honors classes in high school (I feel that if they're willing to try, they should get the opportunity), and talked two others out of taking a remedial class (which they don't need, they just thought it sounded easy).

And then. Oh, and then.

Two of my favorite kids lied. Flat out. To my face. They swore to me that they were telling the truth - swore on our relationship (and I have a GOOD relationship with both of these boys - Motormouth is one of them). And it was all a lie. From one, to avoid getting in trouble. From the other, to avoid ratting out a friend.

I went to the AP investigating the situation to say that I believed them. That I trusted them. To ask her to investigate further. And she did...and then they finally 'fessed up.

I cried when I heard. I feel betrayed, though I know it's not really about me. But about the broken trust. And about the fact that these two would have been involved in this situation (which I won't get into, but suffice to say, court dates will be assigned). And...well, and I feel stupid. Naive. Shouldn't have trusted. Shouldn't have believed.

It makes me not want to get involved. Not track down kids who are failing. Not push them to succeed. Not open my room before and after school and at lunch for a safe space, for extra help, for conversation. Not care.

I believe that they are better than this. But I don't know how to help them if they don't believe it themselves.

(Image credit to tanakawho)

Best note ever.

Yesterday in class, about five minutes before the end of the period, one of my boys (Drama King) very blatantly pulled out a piece of paper and started scribbling on it. He passed it to his neighbor, who dramatically scrawled back. Et cetera.

I ignored. I figured they were writing something ridiculous - something about liking pizza, or the Superbowl, or any number of other dumb things that 8th grade boys can write about. Didn't need to get involved. Until.

At the end of class, Drama King "accidentally" threw the note on the ground in front of me. "Oh no! I hope Ms. Teachin' doesn't notice our note!" he cracked.

"Seriously," Brilliant One, his partner-in-crime, agreed. "I really hope she doesn't pick it up and read it. That would be terrible."

"Yeah, way embarrassing. Boy, I hope she doesn't get it."

They were trying so hard; I had to play my part. So I picked up the note and read.

Drama King: Ms. Teachin' is a great teacher!

Brilliant One: I know! She's like one of the best teachers I've ever had!

Drama King: Me too! She's awesome!

Brilliant One: I'm so glad she's my teacher.

I kind of died. Because how cute is that?

Y'all, I know I say this, like, all the time.

But seriously?

We have the best damn jobs in the world.

(Image credit to


Just quickly - the meeting went well. Although I'd guess that the other teacher involved wasn't very happy with the outcome, because she was in the wrong and everyone acknowledged that.

But it was so great to have a parent advocating for his kid, the student advocating for himself, and everyone in the room actually listening. Imagine if more parents would stand up and demand that their kids got the treatment they deserve? Probably I'd get a lot more unhappy parent phone calls (because I'm sure not perfect), which would be frustrating, but wouldn't it be worth it?

That might actually help change some of the most problematic parts of education today, I think.
"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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