Thursday, May 21, 2009

"Snakes," Part II

You all know about my friend T from this post and others, including this one (in which he revealed his fascination with poisonous snakes). T has been having a difficult time lately, as I mentioned in my last post, which is why it has been so gratifying to watch him work on his senior project.

I took my friends to the school library last week so they could pick up some books for their projects, and T never hesitated. His long stride led him directly into the 500s and he planted himself in front of the reptile shelf. He quickly accumulated a stack of books on snakes, nice new books with lots of photographs and tables and statistics. He was hooked.

Today, he was among the first three kids who had already completed a rough draft of a written report. He told me he was ready for me to read it, which I did, with pleasure. Some people might be surprised to learn this, but T is a pretty good writer. He's very careful and methodical with his writing. Give him a structure and he internalizes it almost immediately. With T, at least, I've seen the wisdom of scaffolding and structure for kids with LDs. He struggles with writing when the assignment is more free-form, but something he can outline and plan and make boxes and bullet points for? He'll rock it. I gave him a few small pointers and made some corrections, and he nodded and scribbled and set about typing his handwritten notes on his computer.

I don't know if he still has lunch detention, but it's worth noting that, during a week that has been completely chaotic in my usually peaceful and orderly school, T has been very quiet. I'd like to flatter myself that this focused and self-chosen project is giving him a lot to do, and it's work that he likes to boot. I have no idea if this is the case. But I'm really happy to see him bearing down on his work--and, more to the point, doing it with almost no reminding or prodding from me. He's very self-directed right now, sitting and working for long periods of time without getting distracted or frustrated.

Good news? Hey, I'll take it.

Friday, May 15, 2009

To a T

Poor T. He's been having a rough time of it lately. I'm usually not one to feel much pity for chronic behavior problems, but in this case, I'm really not convinced that it's all his fault.

T's one of the few kids I've taught for two straight years. I got almost all new kids this years, but T and I have a bit more history together. Only once in two years did I ever have a problem with him in my classroom; he threw an eraser at a kid who said something negative to him, and I wrote him up for detention for that and called his mom. (His mom is a great lady.) The next day, he was pretty reasonable about it. He apologized and seemed to accept that he had a detention coming for that. I let bygones be bygones, and we went back to our usual pleasant working relationship.

T was suspended two weeks ago for getting into a fight with another student. I already forget the details because I wasn't there. But T is a great big boy and the student he fought with is a lot smaller--he could have done some serious damage, though he didn't. I wasn't terribly shocked when this fight transpired, though. The student he fought is, shall we say, a tad on the irritating side, and has a terribly deceitful and unpredictable streak as well. I'm not surprised that T was moved to slug him. Not that I'm defending the fight, particularly because of the mismatch in size, but I chalked it up to boys being boys.

I've talked to his mom and she doesn't know what's wrong. She says he's been taking his medication and that nothing is wrong at home, and I have no reason to not believe her. Indeed, I thought he had settled down since his suspension. Today, for example, he asked if he could come to my room during lunch to work on a project, and I said he could. I was waiting for him when my phone rang.

The lunch aide asked if I had given T permission to come to my room.

"Yes," I said. "Did he give you the note?"

He had, she explained, but he was also supposed to have detention. (Detention at my school means eating lunch in the main office with the secretaries or a school aide.) Was the project due tomorrow?

"I don't know," I said. "It's for another class. I just said he could come to my room if he needed a quiet place to work."

She deliberated for a minute or two and hung up. T never made it to my room. When he eventually returned for class in the afternoon, he was downcast and sullen. I knew he'd probably been upset that he couldn't work on his project and had probably gotten himself a few more days of detention.

Later, I asked how long T was supposed to be in lunch detention. The principal's secretary sighed. "How many days of school are left?" was her answer.

"How long has he been in?" I asked.

"Since before spring break."

Doesn't punishment kind of lose its effectiveness after, I don't know, a couple of days?

Also, am I wrong for kind of feeling bad for T?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A World Without Teacher's Choice

Inspired by Accountable Talk's post on Teacher's Choice, I want to imagine for a second where my classroom--and my budget--would be without it. No one is going to buy me bulletin board supplies, or art supplies for my eighth graders (I'm not an art teacher), or little prizes for good behavior, or what have you. And I can't compromise on this stuff. I'm lucky to teach some really expressive, artistic kids, and they LOVE to do arts-and-crafts-y things. This is not my thing, not at all, but I have been converted to the idea that arts-and-crafts-y things can be used to demonstrate really deep understanding of and engagement with literature. So I let my kids do them because they like them, I can grade them, they make my room look nice, and everyone is happy.

ANYWAY. So I'm guessing all the posterboard, markers, colored pencils, crayons, etc. are all on me next year. Or on the kids themselves, which is probably the only alternative--I simply can't spend hundreds of dollars that won't be reimbursed. There's still the $250 tax write off, I guess, but still, I always spend more than the tax deduction and Teacher's Choice combined.

Maybe the only way to do it is to put the costs back on the families, sad though it is. Many kids at my school can afford it--though certainly not all, and I'm aware that I'll have to continue to underwrite those costs. If only they knew how much it costs teachers to have all the little extras in the classroom--a classroom library that is updated a few times during the school year, art supplies, fun activity books, games, DVDs, etc.--maybe they would join us in telling the city that yanking Teacher's Choice is a crock.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Enlightening Conversations about the UFT's Most Dysfunctional Well-Intentioned Chapter

I would say that my school has the UFT's most dysfunctional but well-intentioned chapter for a number of reasons. I personally like my CL despite the fact that I think she has made some mistakes and I don't always agree with what she does in her role as CL. She is a nice person who has gone out on a limb for me, personally, and I honestly believe her when she says she wants to make some changes in how she manages things next year. I believe she earned my vote and I was happy to vote for her again for 2009-10, and I was pleased that she won the election.

That said.

Our chapter is in shambles. After the departure of our principal, who has had, as I have mentioned here before, something of a reputation for difficulty, everyone in the building wants to shake things up in some way. People who were never interested in anything union-related wanted to run for CL and delegate and join the CC--people who never bothered to attend so much as our chapter meetings, let alone attend anything else. I will admit that I am not the world's most engaged union member (at least not in a visible way), but I do regularly attend chapter meetings, even when I don't want to, and I'll send e-mails and make phone calls and what have you. Okay. And because I am not the world's most engaged union member, I think it would be fairly silly, at best, for me to run for any of those positions, but lo and behold, people far less engaged than myself are running for them. Silliness.

I had a conversation (hence this blog's title) with our current delegate today, a colleague I like and admire very much. We shall call him Mr. T. Mr. T is a fabulous teacher and person, and, as he is active in the leadership life of our school, I wanted to approach him about how to get more involved. I feel like a great many dictates come down from on high that I know nothing about and understand even less about, and I would like to be part of the conversations that form those decisions. I have no excuse for not being involved anymore; my instruction, grading, and classroom management are now slightly better than half-assed, and I'm not doing grad school anymore since I finished my M.S.Ed. and have no idea what I'd do another degree in. So SLTs and the like seem to be something I ought to get involved in. I figured Mr. T would know.

And he knew. Oh, did he know. More than I ever wanted to know. In a mere fifteen minutes, Mr. T filled me in on way more of the dirty dealings of committee memberships than I ever wanted to know. Did you know that Inquiry Team openings are supposed to be posted? You did? I didn't. They were never posted at my school. For the first time, I knew that you could express interest in being on the SLT and run for a position on it. I learned for the first time that anyone can show up to any SLT meeting and ask questions and bring up concerns. And I learned way more about the elections for CL and delegate than I ever could have imagined.

This quote from Tom Brokaw, which appeared in New York Teacher a while back, applies:

You've been told during your high school years and your college years that you are now about to enter the real world, and you've been wondering what it's like. Let me tell you that the real world is not college. The real world is not high school. The real world, it turns out, is much more like junior high. You are going to encounter, the rest of your life, the same petty jealousies, the same irrational juvenile behavior, the same uncertainty that you encountered during your adolescent years. That is your burden. We wish you well.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Teaching Is Not a Calling

Maybe it's a bit lazy of me to simply link this post, but I liked it. Shame this person doesn't seem to be updating.

I feel the same way. Complaints aside, I like my job and I feel that it is important. But at the end of the day, it's still a job. It's only one aspect of my life and my personality. Even a very good, very important job must be kept in perspective.