Posts filed under ‘BAD DAY’

The Martian Sagas

This turned out to be a much longer post than I’d intended; if you want to get to tonight’s mini-drama, you can skip down to the line “Tonight, her family came to conferences.”

One of my students is a Martian.

We call them Martians because we don’t know what else to call them. You surely know the kids. They’re not from here. Their minds are just… somewhere else.

Tina (as I’ll call her) isn’t one of those weird bright kids who defies the mold – far from it. She’s not unmotivated. She’s not ELL, and despite my repeated efforts to have someone investigate it, she’s not SpEd. She’s cheerful and sweet and and Lord save me if I can’t imagine any life for her that doesn’t involve ankle-length skirts and milking cows. 

Tina walked into my tenth grade universe toting in fourth-grade level books (all horses and doggies and hoop skirts) expecting to have them approved for our independent reading projects, and when I gently steered her toward more age-appropriate offerings, it became clear that her comprehension was poor. Then I had her write, and that’s when I realized what a Martian she truly was. This girl might walk and talk in our English-speaking world, but there was something dreadfully wrong going on upstairs with the language-processing bits.

At the beginning of the year, I contacted the SpEd English teacher and Tina’s counselor, asking them to please test her to see if she could get some help or tutoring. I don’t know why, exactly, but they stonewalled me. Tina had received good grades in the past – effort and smiles will get you pretty far, I guess – and so she didn’t qualify without going through an intensive RTI process. I was adviced to change her seat in the hopes that this would magically improve her literacy. You can imagine my satisfaction with that response.

After our first writing assignment, I sent the following email to our SpEd English teacher and the appropriate counselor:

Thanks for your reply and for the clarification referring RTI….I’m not certain how changing her seat, etc., will help her become more literate, but I am already making accommodations where possible regarding personal book selection (she is picking books at a 4th or 5th grade reading level, and says she struggles with them).

I knew that she was below grade level in reading/writing, but it was this most recent assignment that really drew my attention. We read – as a class, with LOTS of discussion/explanation – the play Antigone. It’s not a tough piece. Then I gave each student a quotation from the play, asked them to interpret/translate that quote into modern English, and explain the context of that quote in the play. Next, they needed to evaluate whether the quotation was still relevant (which I explained to them) in modern society, and provide examples. This was written into a one-paragraph, formulaic essay – basically they just needed to follow my step-by-step instructions and fill in the blanks with their own thoughts.

Here is the complete text of Tina’s essay:

On page 207, line 581 – 582 of Antigone, Haemon says man’s wisdom is a gift of heaven, the greatest gift of all. What this quote means is to have wisdom in the way of a gift. It has to deal with Antigone by her getting a greatest gift given to her. There was no truth in this statement because she didn’t like but hanging herself. There was also no advice to it. I would have to say that it may be relevant today but not sure how it would be relevant. Why I think it’s a yes would be because wisdom is a gift, and but then no because wisdom was not a gift for Antigone.

To shorten a longer story, they didn’t care – her grades were okay, so Tina was okay -actual concerned teacher intervention be damned.

Little did I know that this woefully inadequate bit of writing would prove one of Tina’s better examples of literacy. Let’s just say it’s been a long year for her. She struggled valiantly through To Kill a Mockingbird and Ender’s Game, failing miserably on all assessments, doing decent projects, doing literary responses that proved that she’d looked at the pretty pictures on the covers and tried her best to glean meaning from in-class discussions.

She tries real hard and is a joy to have in class. Tina never fails to turn in an assignment, but they might as well be in Martian-ese for all the more they approximate what a tenth grade student ought to be capable of doing. (To be perfectly clear, her written work and reading comprehension is below the level of that I’m getting from my very most challenged ELL students.)

So.

Tonight, her family came to conferences. Mom, older brother, and two younger sisters, all as peculiarly elfin as Tina – and then Dad, who is likely related to Paul Bunyan. The siblings fanned out through the room, Dad crushed my hand in a handshake, and Mom took a seat across from me with a suspicious twist to her mouth.

I went through the usual rigamarole, explaining Tina’s Q3 grade (a C, which is what you get when your teacher doesn’t give credit for nice personalities but grades you as if you had serious accommodations, which is what I do since the school won’t do it for her) and mapping out the rest of the year. I talked about our testing “boot camp” that we’ll do after spring break, and about Tina’s current test scores (not passing, of course).

That’s about the time that Mom launched into me.

This is getting lengthy, so I’ll spare the play-by-play, but apparently she felt that as a parent she needed to notify me that I was demanding far too much of my students and that it was out of line. I could not expect a student to read an in-class book and an independent novel. If I was going to do so, I absolutely should never ask them to do any of the in-class reading at home. And – worst of all – I was making her child read books she didn’t like to read!

Although she didn’t say the words, “how dare you,” they were very clearly insinuated.

I pulled on my professional hat, thanked her for her feedback, and did my best to explain that A) I tried to expose students to many different types of books so that it would broaden their horizons; B) students had plenty of in-class time to read, and that I really couldn’t offer any more – in fact, with the last book, I deliberately made sure they didn’t have any out-of-class independent reading to do; C) at the sophomore level, you really needed to be able to handle multiple texts at the same time, and D) the idea that I forced any books on my students, other than TKAM and EG, is so far from reality that it’s almost insulting. I tried to draw Tina in, to hold her accountable for whatever goofy interpretation of my class she’d presented to her parents, but she just blushed and ducked her head.

On the inside, though, I was seething. It wasn’t that I was angry at the mom; her baby duck was being threatened with her first real “bump in the road” and she was just trying to protect her. And I can certainly deal with criticism.

It’s just that it was so unfair. My class isn’t too hard. It’s completely appropriate, completely on-par with the others. The problem doesn’t lie with my class; it lies with Tina – and I just wanted to tell her this, tell her that the reason Tina was struggling was that Tina was not smart enough somehow to deal with sophomore content, that Tina had functional literacy issues that I couldn’t begin to know how to address, and that the school was refusing to consider services.

But I couldn’t find the words to tell angry elf mama and Paul Bunyan that their perfect daughter needed special education services, and so I tried to convey my point, they blustered, I told them their daughter was a joy to have in class, and they left.

:headdesk:

Amusing visual for the evening: Tina – who might weigh seventy pounds soaking wet and who is almost certainly under five feet tall – has given up running for track/field and is instead doing discus and shot put.

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March 24, 2011 at 5:57 pm 3 comments

It Really Isn’t May Yet

Today’s video announcements were run (into the wall, according to the Broadcasting teacher) by a new crew. In addition to playing at least one promo video without any, y’know, video feed and allowing the camera’s “you need to charge your battery now, schmuck” warning to play all around the school, the announcements also wished the local college football team luck on their game tonight (it’s on Saturday) and played a clip declaring that it was almost time for end-of-year finals and announcing the date for graduation.

It was the funniest announcement video ever. I’m not ashamed to admit that when they declared that it was the end of May and time to prepare for final exams, I joined my class in mockingly exalting.

I’m not really anxious for the year to be over, though. I’m actually pretty excited about some of the stuff to come… although that is heavily tempered by my students’ piss-poor (sorry, but colorfully-marked quiz papers require colorful adjectives) performance on the first Antigone assessment. I can’t think of any excuse for earning a 1/15, 2/15, or even 5/15 on a quiz over a play that we’re reading aloud, pausing VERY frequently to discuss, clarify, and review. I mean, sure. A kid or two is going to flop on a quiz. But I’m talking about easily a third of my students, here.

I know why they failed the quiz. They’re sitting there, picking their noses instead of paying attention in class. When we’re doing class discussion, they’re tuning it out. These are the kids I’ve had to wake up in class, the kids who don’t stay on the right page. (It’s also the kids who don’t speak English very well, so that’s a legitimate problem.)

I’m not sure what to do about the other kids. Part of me wants to assign lunch detention, and when they show up it turns out to be remedial lunch club. Re-read, re-discuss, maybe watch clips from the old BBC movie version, re-quiz. My shoulder angel thinks that’s the right thing to do because it’s bending over backward to help these kids succeed. My shoulder devil thinks it’s the right thing to do because these kids deserve some penalties (as it’s clear – through other performance – that poor grades don’t bother them).

Then, the other part of me says that these kids aren’t freshmen or middle school kids, and I shouldn’t force success on them if they’re determined to make the choice to fail.

So yeah. There’s that. Not to mention the little side detail that I’d be making a LOT more work for myself. I’d need to write a remedial unit, skip lunch for who knows how long, chase down reluctant kids, forfeit ALL of my alone/down/prep time until I get them caught up. I’m being paid to leave no child behind, but am I being paid to raise an army to chase down kids who are intellectually AWOL?

In other news, after school  today I spoke to a 15-year-old student about the fact that she got suspended last week for smoking on campus. After I told her that she shouldn’t smoke, and had a short discussion with her in which she acknowledged wanting to quit, she suddenly launched into a recitation of her life’s soap opera that included drug-using parents, two years of marijuana usage as a tween, her ENTIRE medical history including birth control prescriptions, stories of her tweaking-on-meth sister and her paranoid-on-weed father having screaming arguments outside her bedroom door at 4 AM on school days…. The highlight had  to be the story about going to her sister’s house (“my sister’s my hero,” she said more than once) and having it fill with fifteen people with meth pipes, the house filling with the smell of cat-urine smoke, “big time drug dealers” offering her a pipe and having her sister intervene so that [my student] didn’t inadvertently offend them by refusing. I learned more about drug culture and about the sordid reality of some of my kids’ lives in that twenty minutes than I ever wanted to know.

The weirdest thing? She wasn’t telling me this because she was upset, or because she wanted to unload, or wanted help, or  wanted me to understand her life. She was  just talking, just running her mouth. Never once did she show any indication that she thought this was a strange conversation to be having with her English teacher, or that it might be information that would inspire me to contact counselors/social services. The only time she censored herself is when she accidentally said “shit” and corrected herself to “stuff.”

By the end of it all, I’m thinking, “Hon, if the worst you ever do is smoke cigarettes and smoke pot every once and a while, you’re doing pretty good.”

Aaaaaaand now, I do have to go talk to someone about what she told me, even though I suspect most of it took place a few years ago (if at all, because if teaching has taught me anything, it’s to not always believe what teenage girls tell you about their melodramatic lives). And I really don’t trust our counseling staff to have any subtlety about this. They’ll call her down tomorrow, so she knows exactly who tipped them off, and they’ll probably even tell her it was me. And then, as uncomfortable as this abrupt trust she had in me was, it will be dashed for the rest of the year. She’ll hate me. But if that’s the price to pay for the chance of getting her out of a VERY bad home situation….

I mean, how is a kid supposed to have any chance at a healthy life when everyone in her family/social world surrounds her with drugs?

September 15, 2010 at 9:26 pm 1 comment

Unacceptable Behavior

Today, we did the legendary Play-Doh Writing Process activity – an extended metaphor through manipulatives that I’ve found works long-lasting wonders for a certain section of my students, and gives us all a common vocabulary throughout the year – followed up by a short reading comprehension activity. It was a fun day, a good day. A nice way to spend class two weeks into the school year.

My 4A is a rough class, I can tell already. One kid spent the first two weeks of school – the first two weeks – suspended for gang activity. I’ve got a kid who has some sort of self-inflicted, highly specialized Tourettes and announces “strawberry!” in response to any query. Crap like that. And there’s a kid who I can tell is likely going to be trouble, but who hadn’t hit my radar yet – until today.

His first transgression was, as sophomores go, a minor one. Put Play-Doh into the hands of sophomore boys (or seventh grade boys, as I discovered two years ago) and you will inevitably get a phallus or two. Trouble Boy was trying to hide his Play-Doh penis by sitting on it (no, I’m not even going to go there) and I used my infinite charm and humor to persuade/slightly embarrass him into reattributing the clay to different projects.

While the class worked on their reading assignment, Trouble Boy was one of several who were completely screwing off and distracting others. I’d repeatedly tried to get them on task, to no avail; finally I announced that no one was allowed to leave for the day until they turned in their completed assignment. That did the trick for most of the goof-offs, but not Trouble Boy or his friend, Junior (he’s a junior in my sophomore English). They just kept right on their merry little way, refusing to do the work.

The bell rang, and I stood by the door to collect each student’s work. Most of the class had cleared out when Junior – a strapping young Latino who probably weighs 250 pounds and is taller than I am – came up to the door.

I asked for his work. He said he didn’t have it. I repeated that he was not leaving until he turned it in; he replied that he “was too” leaving, and proceeded to physically shove past me and out the door. Had I not stepped back, he would have knocked me on my butt. (I’m kind of wishing I’d let him – it would have been so much more dramatic!)

Still reeling from the sheer rudeness and non-acceptableness of Junior’s behavior, I collected a few more assignments and then confronted Trouble, who seemed to think he could leave without his work as well. Now, Trouble is a small guy, the sort who probably suffers from a Napoleon complex because he hasn’t hit his early high school growth spurt yet. He wasn’t going to be physically shoving past anyone.

I told him that he had to turn in his work, at which point he cursed, returned to his desk, and scribbled on a sheet of paper for a minute without even opening his textbook to get the questions. I refused to accept it on the basis that A) he obviously didn’t even read the questions and therefore couldn’t have gotten correct answers and B) even if he had opened his book, it was unlikely that “suck my dick” had anything to do with Greek mythology. Well, at least not the kind we study in high school.

At this point he got up in my face and began yelling about how I had just said it had to be done, not that it had to be correct, and that I would too accept it, and he was too leaving, and that I couldn’t make him do a good job on the work….

And sensing that I was in a far more touchy situation than I’d been in with the kid who was willing to walk through me, I stepped back and watched him flounce off down the hallway before retrieving his lame attempt at the assignment from the garbage and marching off to find the Dean.

Turns out that Junior is a good guy who hasn’t ever done anything like this before; I spoke to parents and they were horrified. He’ll get two days suspension, and I should get an apology note out of it. Trouble, on the other hand, is on a behavior contract after being expelled last year. He had one chance, and he just blew it over a ten question reading assignment.

It’s hard to know how to feel about all this, other than shaken up and infuriated and slightly unhappy that “I just got a kid expelled,” even though it wasn’t me but he who did the expelling. I’m glad I don’t live in the neighborhood, though. Trouble was seeing red, and I can just imagine how ticked he’s going to be when or if he gets booted.

I’m glad, though, that the Dean is backing me up for once on something. He’s taking it very seriously and allowing me to have input into Junior’s consequences. Having spoken to the Dean and to Junior’s parents, I feel confident that this was an out-of-character “snap” moment that won’t be repeated. (The Dean and SRO did ask if I wanted to press charges for assault, but seemed relieved when I declinedMy concern with him is that he did it in front of my class, and I can’t have this particular group of hoodlums thinking that it’s okay to act like that in my room (or anywhere else for that matter).

September 1, 2010 at 8:36 pm 1 comment

Had Just About Enough.

They gave the government teaching position to some coaching friend of theirs who already had a job.

It’s funny how quickly your spirit can turn. One moment, I was happily making unit plans and searching for the perfect desk calendar to map out the rest of my school year. The next moment, I was calculating whether I’d be Category I if I quit my job and took a position in a different district. There’s allegedly an English job – although I’ve never seen it posted – at the school where Mr. Bees student-taught. There’s also a language arts position at an area alternative high school, and one of the other LA teachers there was my freshman English teacher. She likes me. I bet she could get me in the door.

How easily all the fun can be taken out of a year. Now what am I supposed to do? How do I plan for the new year, get my room all fixed up, talk about all of the preparation and back-to-school stuff, knowing that every word of it is a dagger of disappointment for my husband – not to mention for myself? Moreover, do I even want to? Right this minute, I don’t even care.

My back isn’t broken – we’re going to get through this. Mr. Bees can keep working on his Masters, and we’ll get him subbing. He’s going to see if he’s qualified for the position Coach McJockstrap is vacating at a middle school. But I have to dump all of this venom somewhere so that it gets out of my heart and away from my job. It’s all going to be okay. But yesterday, and today – blech. We’re so disappointed. I can’t even put it into words. And after the other crap that has happened this summer… we needed this.

I know that we can’t take this personally – but I can’t help wishing they HAD taken it just a little bit personally for me. They had to know how much this was going to hurt.

August 4, 2010 at 9:42 am 3 comments

In Which My Head Explodes

my head exploding

Before school on Tuesday, I was told that my sophomores and juniors would be pulled out of English class on Thursday and Friday of this week, in order to register for their 2010-11 classes. I stressed about losing one day of our increasingly-precious time for the Shakespeare unit, and thought it was kind of lousy to have given us only two days notice, but rolled with it.

Knowing that I now wouldn’t be starting an activity until Monday, I back-burnered the handouts and whatnot for that activity to work on other things.

All day Wednesday I emailed various people, trying to find out exactly how long registration would take – would they be in there the entire period, or did I need to plan a short mini-activity? The response I received was that my students would probably be in registration for almost the entire period.

After school on Wednesday, I got another email. This one told me that on Thursday and Friday, sophomores would be pulled out of history class to vote for ASB officers, and juniors would be pulled out of their English class to do the same. Additionally, sophomores would be pulled out of their speech classes on Thursday/Friday to register.

That cartoonish sound you heard was me screeching to a halt and doing the world’s biggest doubletake.

Keep in mind that it is after school on Wednesday. After being told for two days that I would NOT have any students on Thursday and Friday, I’m now being told that I will have most of them after all.

I emailed immediately, asking if there was some mistake – and if not, what was going on? I won’t receive my absolutely-necessary photocopies from the print center until Monday; without them, I can’t just move forward with my original schedule. Not only that, but I’d spent the past two days stressing out and completely rearranging my unit calendar to make up for the loss of the day. (We’re on block, so one day is two days of instruction.)

This is the response I received – word for word, nothing left out:

It was changed late yesterday.
Sorry for the inconvenience.

I’m SORRY?!?!? It was changed YESTERDAY? Then why in God’s name didn’t the sophomore English teachers know yesterday? You’re sorry for the INCONVENIENCE? This isn’t inconvenient – this is unexcusable and unprofessional.

It’s 3 PM the day before. I can’t do the lesson I would have done, so I have to start completely from scratch with a new lesson that will fit in with what we’re doing. Did I mention that we’re under accreditation review, so I have to have a really awesome lesson that 100% meets the curriculum standards, along with a printed lesson plan and justification ready to go? Without belabouring the point, let’s just say that I didn’t leave work until 7 PM that day – and I probably shouldn’t have left then.

Then, yesterday, I get the other email. You know, the one saying that my juniors will be pulled out of their English class on Monday for their registration. Because it makes so much sense for the juniors to be pulled out of 174 minutes of instruction in the same class, back-to-back. And because two days notice is OBVIOUSLY enough for a teacher, since, y’know, we’re not professionals or anything. Certainly we haven’t been fighting tooth and nail for a computer lab period that day, that our juniors desperately need, and that will now be totally wasted BECAUSE THEY WON’T EVEN BE THERE.

If you noticed a mushroom cloud in the northwestern sky in the past 48 hours, that was my head exploding. Sorry ’bout that.

April 9, 2010 at 3:13 pm 2 comments

Flat

Well, I didn’t get in.

This is a pancake layer of disappointment on top of so many other layers. I am positively stratified with disappointment.

No Writing Project for me, I guess! It’s too bad, really. I would have been a really good addition. They really could have used me. I have expertise that they want, and passion that they want. I know that they are banking on me applying next year. I suppose I will. But I wonder if they know that they are gambling on the possibility that someone will even be a teacher the following year? What if the one thing helping you hang on through that rough patch – that “most teachers quit the profession within their first three years” patch – was the thought of joining this community, and then they reject you?

As it turns out, I am not very good at being rejected. In all honesty, I haven’t had much experience at it. I guess it was just my turn.

On top of that, I don’t know what this does to my MA, other than screw it all the hell up. I’m on a strict three-semester schedule, and now that six of my credits have gone up in smoke…

God, but this has been a week. Or a fortnight. I don’t even know how long things are lasting. Parent-teacher conferences tonight, all day tomorrow, and tomorrow evening. Grading essays like a madwoman up to the very end. Having to file for an extension on my own schoolwork. Mr. Bees lost his job. My allergies have kicked in, and the inside of my mouth is lined with stress-induced cold sores. Some, er, personal plans of mine are being sidelined due to schoolwork and conferences. Friends and family members raising my blood pressure over politics. I’m feeling flatter and flatter. How flat, you ask? The only thing getting me to and from work every day is my eponymous Third Eye Blind CD, blasted at top volume. Talk about angsty teenage flashback.

Okay. I have 20 minutes until dinner, and conferences start in 80 minutes. Got to clear off my desk, brush my hair, and load up the laptop. Ready… break.

March 24, 2010 at 3:42 pm 5 comments

No-vember

See, I knew that November sucked.

This is a chart that my district provided to us “new-to-the-district” teachers at one of our in-service meetings.

You may remember that I posted a similar graph during my student teaching. It charted the highs and lows, emotionally speaking, of the student teaching experience. Looking at it, I wonder if the roller coaster ride isn’t more about teaching in general than specifically student teaching.

It’s November, and I’m firmly in Disillusionmentville. (I’m hoping that I’m ahead of the curve, so to speak, and that I don’t really have five months of this to look forward to.) I don’t really like my classes very much. I’m not crazy about what I’m teaching. My students are making me crankier and crankier. I’m not even enjoying NaNoWriMo.

I was really excited about moving to high school. Not only would there be all of those great high school-y things (sports, band, dances, events, graduation) but I’ve have students at a higher cognitive level with more life experiences – students who would get my jokes and be able to dig deeper into things. Well, the events and whatnot are here, but not worth it. And the higher cognitive level is totally absent. I’m pretty sure that my seventh graders were brighter than the majority of these kids, and certainly more motivated.

This is depressing. I am not enjoying this.

My school doesn’t believe in Honors English. Juniors and seniors have the opportunity for CP and AP classes, or classes tailored to their interests in their academies, but underclassmen are all lumped in together. As a result, I might have 3-4 smart cookies in the class, but they’re totally buried by the kids who are being forced to be here and who hate being in school and who especially hate being forced to learn about writing and literature. I don’t mind the “average” or even the struggling kids – they’re charming and hardworking and surprising. But there are so many totally apathetic kids that it makes it really, really hard.

Some days this feels like drudgework. I look out at the class. I’ve got a great lesson on a subject I care about, and it’s not like we’re doing predicates here, I’m talking about swashbuckling adventure novels and how Shrek uses parody and incongruity to satirize fairy tales and gender roles and how The Princess Bride is a satire and how it and The Princess Diaries are Ruritarian romances. And across the room, I see blank faces, tops of heads, rolling eyes, smirks as kids communicate wordlessly across the room. They don’t care. They don’t care when I read a section of The Princess Bride aloud and bellow about my broken radio at the top of my lungs. They don’t care when I show them the different movies being parodied when Fiona beats up Robin Hood and the Merry Men. They don’t care when I say that their 100-point essay is due next class, because they’re not going to write it anyway.

Is it me? Is it them? Is it just November? Has anyone charted student morale? Is it possible that the students hit a wall in November, and that their apathy and lack of motivation have this big a drain on teacher morale? Or is the low teacher morale leaking out and affecting student enthusiasm?

Or is it just teaching?

Look at that chart again. Here, I’ll even re-paste it so you don’t have to scroll up.

When I was counting the months of “disillusionment” I realized that they stretched from November through May. That’s practically the entire school year. According to this chart, teachers spend the first quarter barely getting by, the fourth quarter reflecting on everything that went wrong (and hopefully, how to improve it) and everything else during the school year is just dreadful. The only high point on the chart is during the summer months.

That’s not what I think teaching is like. Not really. The best part of being a teacher is not June, July, and August. I love teaching.

Don’t I?

Exactly which part of that chart isn’t accurate, Mrs. Bees?

Well, hopefully the part where the bottom of the curve lasts for two entire quarters…

I don’t want to mislead anyone. I’m in no danger of burning out on teaching – this is, still, the best job I’ve ever had, and I love it. I guess what I’m trying to say here is that, as of right now, I’m not sure that high school is the best fit for me. I miss my short, sincere, silly little twelve-year-olds. They can’t grasp metaphor, they can’t remember deodorant, and they can’t shoot hoops, but they at least act like they like me.

November 17, 2009 at 4:12 pm 8 comments

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The Bee’s Knees

This is the teaching journal of a student first-year second-year THIRD-YEAR (!!!) English teacher. I am writing this blog as a reflection for myself, a way to keep friends and family updated, and a sharing-ground between other educators online. I love comments!

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