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updates for 02.11.2012

7 new posts today


It is 11:00 on a Friday night and I am...blogging?  Another way my life has changed drastically since last year.  Hmmm....not gonna dwell on that one too much! This week has been a roller coaster.  Actually, most weeks have been roller coasters, with me alternating between "How can I ever return for a second year?" and "Wait, they are listening and they are working!"  Which is an improvement since the first months of school, when my room was a not-hot-at-all mess where my students would literally write "F*** SCHOOL" on my wall (as if I needed a tangible reminder of their feelings towards my class) and throw objects and water around. I had a really meaningful conversation with my MTLD tonight, which is helping me put things into perspective.  I think one of the biggest takeaways from this conversation was that sometimes, you have to separate the person you are from the teacher you are.  Maybe in real life I'm shy, maybe in real life I avoid confrontation, maybe in real life I absolutely crave, and need, stability and order.  But as a teacher, I can't be shy.  I'm the adult in the room, and I have to own that and show my students, and myself, that I'm in charge.  I also need to accept that "middle schoolers" and "stability" are entirely contradictory.  There are way too many hormonal changes, combined with the challenges my students already face, to have any semblance of predictability or order.  I need, as a teacher, to recognize my students' emotional stages, rather than adhere to a 100% compliance standard that's, frankly, insane to expect. So how do I feel right now?  I actually feel alright, and not defeated, with a new sense of perspective I'm going to prioritize.


In which there is a giant tease

When I first started working at my school, t-minus 7 months ago, I was literally told almost immediately about my district's love of snow days.  "We get off for everything!" they gleefully told me, "Even the tiniest flurries!" Naturally, this has resulted in me waking up whenever there is the slightest hint of a chance of snow with a mind full of hope, joy, and confidence that the ever reliable ksdk.com will inform me that, "Yes Ms. B., today is the day, go back to sleep because the weather is far too inclement for you or the children to travel to school." Here is the confluence of unfortunate happenstances that has created the world's most giant tease.

  • Global warming is clearly present and among us, because this winter has been freakishly warm.  This is my 5th winter in the city, ironically the only one that I have spent driving everywhere instead of walking everywhere, and now it decides to be a temperate zone?  REALLY?
  • My district has apparently developed a stronger stomach for ice and snow, because even when the roads were so bad that teachers were 3 hours late for school, we still had a day of teaching and learning (read: UTTER CHAOS).
  • Even though it was supposed to still be snowing at 4, 5, and 6 two mornings this week... it wasn't.
Giant, giant tease. Here's the other big tease of my teaching life this week: the despair has begun to recede.  Things aren't better (HEAVEN forbid), but I have become a person again which is lovely.  I knew I was getting better when my sixth hour was irritating beyond all belief today and I followed up, "You're driving me up a wall!" with, "and what type of figurative language was that?" And lord knows the children couldn't come up with, "an idiom," but they sure were more excited about trying to guess than they would have been if I had just asked the question under normal circumstances. In the past few weeks, people have told me lovely things about myself as a teacher.  They have told me some, don't be shocked now, nice things that my kids say about me.  Some of this is a wonderful boost out of the (let's go ahead and be melodramatic) abyss, and some of it just seems to be a tease for when things will inevitably get hard and dark and dank and depressing once again. For now though, I'll take the tease.

laughing inappropriately

I used to think there was nothing worse than when a kid started laughing at you while you were disciplining them. Except when I started laughing while I was discipling them. Which happens more than I care to admit. These kids are freaking hilarious. Today during a quiz, a kid was talking or something, and I went over to his desk and just kind of tapped his desk to let him know that he can't talk. "MISS! I DID NOT WRONG." "It's okay, just don't talk during a quiz." "But Miss! I digress!" I just started cracking up laughing. A 15 year old kid who barely knows the English language using the word digress was absolutely adorable. After I started laughing, G just said. "See Miss, I just make you laugh and you love me one more time." And how right he is.. shoot.


Unmarking what's in stone.

One of my favorite students is Brax. He was quiet and calm early in the year. Around a third grade reading level, he told me chapter books were much too hard for him, and that he liked books with pictures. When he got his first Diary of a Wimpy Kid book in his hand, he read ferociously. He devoured one after the other, and refused to read anything else. Then he ran out. He didn't understand (did I ever tell him?) that those books are at a fifth grade level, and the smaller, unillustrated books I often put into his hands were two or three levels below that. It all boils to appearances, I guess. I didn't know much about Brax in the beginning, besides his reading level and the painstaking slowness is his writing. He finishes everything last, if he finishes. Obsessively keeps the tip of his pencil sharp, and is a great writer but is never able to complete more than three sentences. As the year goes on, and he understands my expectations well enough for his behavior to crumble in an attempt to mask his personal doubt, I've slowly learned more about him. Brax's dad is dead. Brax lives with his aunt. Brax has low self-esteem. Brax is smart, and despite his low reading level will remember basically anything from class. When Brax participates, he has the right answer. Brax is much more confident telling the right answer under his breath while another student is answering incorrectly than just volunteering to share the right answer in the first place. Brax has gotten into trouble. The office slip says "illegal substances." Brax thinks he is stupid. (His words.) Brax's dad isn't dead, he's in prison. Brax's mom is around, too, and has three other kids. Brax is her only child that doesn't live with her. Brax's mom had severe postpartum depression when Brax was born, so he went to live with his aunt and uncle. Brax's mom's response to Brax getting into drugs is, "They should just lock him up. That boy ain't nothin but trouble." Brax's mom treats Brax differently than her other kids. Brax's mom wants nothing to do with Brax. It was Brax's uncle, not his dad, an uncle that raised him with his aunt, that died. In 2008. Brax never recovered. His prescriptions have changed a lot over the year. Currently it's anti-depressants in the morning, ritalin in the afternoon. He refuses to do any homework. Once when I sent an essay home it came back in his aunt's writing. I've kept him for an entire block more than once, during which he wrote nothing. He's called his aunt from school. His aunt has sat with him through a class. This week, we had a conference with his aunt, counselor, the vice principal and myself. Today Brax spent the last five minutes of my class calling out from his separated seat, "I want my two dollars back! I didn't get any pizza at the pizza party [that we had before Christmas break, two months ago]! I want my two dollars! Y'all tryin to rip me off! I want my two dollars!" It left a lingering like a stab wound. He wasn't trying to be funny. His defiance isn't silly or funny or cute like some kids. It's desperate. It has an ache in it. As he called this out, I pulled an office slip and completed it on his desk. He refused to look at it, talking about his two dollars. He spent all of class prior to the pizza reminder writing "I don't know" on every single blank we completed. Anything that was multiple choice he got right. He knows all the answers, he just doesn't believe that he could ever get anything right. He does not believe he can succeed. At this point he's infinitely more scared of success than failure. When Brax finally left my class, I was nearly in tears. There is nothing I want more this week than to show this boy how much I believe in him, to show this boy what he is capable of. Brax is so worthwhile, so creative, so funny and interesting and sweet. But he doesn't believe any of it, any of us. His depression is toxic and pervasive. His interest in life is nonexistent. I spent my entire first period attempting different ways to engage him, to trick him into just completing the work, but it somehow just enabled him to do less, to call out more, to disrupt my entire class and my train of thought for the hour he's with me. As he and the rest of the class walked out, I consciously reminded myself that this is not personal, this has nothing to do with me besides the fact that I don't let him do nothing. This is not a personal attack. This is not a personal failure, it's a test of endurance. I have to prove to him that I will not stop caring, I will not stop trying, and even if he fails the sixth grade I will still be telling him how smart he is. I thought for a while that he was only doing this with me, that it was a personality conflict, but I got his progress reports today and in science he has a 54%. I haven't looked at any others. I can't lose this kid. No matter how much success I see anywhere else, I can't lose him. But the more I think about it, the more I think I never had him in the first place.



I'm tired of picking up after my students and maintaining the sharpened-pencil supply. Does anyone have any suggestions?


like vs. love

When TFA made me an offer, it was the Mississippi Delta and secondary math.  That was my placement.  And, because I was so desperate to do TFA, I accepted math as my placement.  Honestly, I've been trying to make peace with that placement ever since. I am completely neutral about math.  I really don't care about it at all.  I don't hate it, but I don't love it either. What I'm wondering today is:

  • Will I ever LOVE teaching if I'm teaching math?  
  • Will I ever be the best teacher I can be if I'm teaching math?
I'm not enjoying teaching math.  I'm enjoying teaching, but I'm not enjoying teaching math. I don't wake up in the morning and go "yippee!  scatter plots!".  It's that time of year when everyone is thinking about what they're doing next year, who's coming and who's going, etc., and I'm considering asking my principal if I can switch to social studies.   Actually, I'll probably ask him soon -- what I'm debating is how I'm going to state my case.  Should it be "I just can't teach another year of math -- please please please move me!" or should it be "I'm okay with doing math for another year, but if there are any social studies positions available, I'd like to be considered." ? My math department is fairly weak, and I know my principal thinks a lot of me, so I think he would keep me in math unless I was really unhappy. Let's do some pros and cons for staying in math: Pros:
  • I've got a year under my belt.  Even though my school is going to Common Core next year, I'll pretty much have the gist of it figured out.
  • My classroom's already all set up for math.
  • Since math doesn't come easily to me, I'm good at breaking things down and explaining them.
  • Teaching math involves less paperwork than other subjects.  I only grade papers about once a month.
  • I have absolutely no passion for math, and it's REALLY hard to get my students invested in something that I'm not invested in myself.  The best I've been able to do is get them invested in me and my class.
  • It's really hard to be creative with math, and, since I don't enjoy thinking about math any more than necessary, I haven't been too incredibly creative in my teaching.
  • This sounds horrible, but I don't care if they like math.  I care if they feel safe in my class, and I care if they respect me, but I don't care about their passion for math.
  • Teaching math is draining for me because I don't like it.  I think my passion for history would energize me if I were teaching social studies.
What do all of you out there in cyberspace think about this? Right now, my kids and my love of teaching itself are sustaining me. My spring course for Pro-Sat is about having more joy in your classroom, and we discussed the things that make us happy about teaching -- they asked us when we enjoyed our jobs the most.  My answer was "When we're not doing math.".  When I read to my kids, when we're encouraging each other and working as a team, when we're talking about our lives -- that's when I truly love my job.  All of this is more of just something floating in the back of my mind than it is an urgent decision I have to make.  Also, switching subjects might not even be an option.  There is such high turnover at my school that there will probably be an opening somewhere, but I'm not sure if my principal will want me to switch.  I can't assume that this is even an option.  In other news, this was a LONG week.  Every week is a long week, but this week was especially long.  I'm sitting in my messy classroom, trying to force my foggy mind to think through what I need to do this weekend.  Tomorrow is Pro-Sat, so I won't have a Saturday.  I have this afternoon/evening and all day Sunday to work.  Blech.  I really don't like Pro-Sat weekends. BUT this nasty Pro-Sat weekend is followed by a lovely 3-day weekend, so it'll be okay. 5 weeks 'till Spring Break!!!  

And Then It Becomes Easier.

It has been one month since the second semester began and maybe I should knock on wood, but it has become so. much. easier. I cannot decide if my recent engagement has caused me to be in an euphoric state, and being in the state has helped ease the pain of teaching in the inner city or if FINALLY not switching classes resulted in consistency, which yielded better classroom management practices and routine for my students. I like to think it is a little of both.   There are about 50 days left of school and I have such a empty feeling inside. My students spent so much of the year in chaos, not being able to be taught, that now I fear the achievement gap with the kiddos in my classroom may have actually increased. It is painful to hear them say that our classroom is better now because we are learning (even though I did not teach any of them during the first semester because they were in different leveled classrooms). I wonder what those teachers were doing for my students to proclaim that this is the first time they are learning. However, like I said before, I need to find a piece of wood to knock on  so come Monday, I do not feel like I was dropped off in the fires of hell again.


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