Monday, June 29, 2009

"Yo, Later" to All That: Why I Love Summer Vacation But Hate Missing the Kids

So the 2008-09 school year finally ended. I say "finally," but I didn't start counting the days until after spring break, and I didn't get REALLY antsy until the last week of May or the first week of June. I have friends who teach in other areas, and seeing them go on summer break so much earlier started getting annoying. Still, on Friday, it was our turn.

I will say, about summer vacation, that you will pry it from my cold, dead hands. While I agree that low SES children absolutely need more academic, cultural, and physical enrichment over the summer, I do not agree that more plain old school is what's needed. They need the kind of summer camps, sports teams, arts programs, and the like that middle- and upper-class children have access to for free or very low cost. There is also the issue of time for simple rest and play that all children--I would venture to say all adults, even--need. My non-teacher friends often complain that teachers should not be "special" among working professionals in the amount of time we get off, but to me, this is a reductivist race to the bottom. Why not work for more vacation time for ALL workers, not less for teachers? Tell me, if you're not a teacher, that you wouldn't like more than 2 weeks and a handful of holidays off year. Of course you would.

Anyway. Summer vacation. I have a long list of plans that I already summed up on NYC Educator, so I won't recap them here, but I'm very excited. I like to think that I spend summer vacation doing all kinds of cultural and intellectual things so that I'm a better teacher in the fall; that as I become a more complete and enriched human being, I will be a happier, more confident, more secure person in front of a classroom. (Oops, did I say "in front"? My bad. I know I'm supposed to be a "guide on the side" and all that. Except I don't really dig being a guide on the side.)

Saying goodbye to the kids, though...that was hard. Harder than I thought it would be. I taught an extraordinary group of kids this year and I got pretty attached to them. It's the first year that I felt like I did the kids more good than harm, and I feel like I saw actual growth in some of them that I could take partial credit for. (Partial, though--any kid who does anything has to learn to thank himself or herself for taking that first step and caring to do better.) I learned how to have the right kind of "relationship" with the kids this year; I feel like I could show them that I liked them and cared about them without being their "friend," so to speak. I had a lot of fun with them in the classroom and on their trips and other activities. I feel that, if they availed themselves of the instruction and other opportunities I provided, they should be ready for high school and beyond.

And this was the group that reassured me that I can teach, because I was pretty close to quitting last year. I worked really hard last summer to make sure I was ready to do a better job, and they met me halfway and "played along" even with my goofier ideas. They surprised me over and over with how compassionate, insightful, and tough they could be. On at least one occasion I can think of, a very boring assembly, they held their tongues purely as a favor to me. These kids had my back as much as I had theirs, and I told them as much on Friday. I told them it was the best year of my career. And I meant it.

Best of all, they made me believe I could do it all again next year.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Suggestions for "What No One Will Tell You..." Series

If you read my first guestblog at NYC Educator, you know that my next planned installment is on how to start teaching lessons. I'm a middle school ELA teacher, but I'm going to try to keep it pretty general. I'm a big admirer of Gary Rubinstein's suggestions in The Reluctant Disciplinarian, and much of what I do is based on his advice.

But I'm also soliciting suggestions from all of you. If you're a new teacher, if you know a new teacher, or if you were a new teacher once yourself, please leave a comment for me with any feedback for further installments in the series. I'll give you mad props in the blog post if I like your idea.

Stay tuned for a new entry here on my last day of school.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Guestblogging at NYCEducator

I'm super excited that, for the foreseeable future, I'll be guestblogging every Wednesday at NYCEducator. I'm working on a series of "advice" pieces for new teachers that are tongue-in-cheek, sarcastic, sassy, and tailor-made for dealing with the strange and wonderful world of the NYCDOE. Please feel free to share this info with your young and newbie friends, and check me out at NYCEducator every Wednesday!

Oh, and if you're not reading NYCEducator EVERY DAY, you should be.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Freedom's Just Another Word for Nothin' Left to Lose

For all you teachers who have never done something like this, take heed: It is not a good idea to plan a field trip for your middle school students AFTER they have had their graduation ceremony AND their senior trip.

Allow me to elaborate. For months now, threats of being removed from graduation and/or the senior trip have been sufficient to discourage egregiously bad behavior among my little friends. There have been, this year, only two fistfights (both of which involved the same problematic little friend) and no real major classroom disruptions. I attribute this to a combination of a more tranquil and cohesive group of students and my much-improved classroom management. I can count on one hand (okay, maybe two) the number of times I've had to raise my voice this year. I've been able to deal with incidents of whining, sassing, etc. with phone calls and e-mails to parents. I wrote up exactly one kid for detention (the stapler-throwing incident I wrote about here a while back). No removals. No suspensions. And if my own winning manner with the darlings wasn't enough, well, nobody wanted to be left out of graduation or off the trip.

Well. Both are now over. Both were smashing successes with all our little dears on their best behavior. And now the tougher cases in the eighth grade have realized that, as the title of this blog indicates, they have nothing left to lose.

Which brings me to my point: IT IS A BAD IDEA TO TAKE YOUR FRIENDS ON FIELD TRIPS AFTER THIS POINT. I had the pleasure (?) of escorting mine on a trip under just such circumstances. And any threat I could lay out to discourage bad behavior was like a wet noodle. It was a somewhat trying field trip.

It did not help that the individual who planned this trip--which, it is worth noting, was neither myself nor my grade partners, all of whom WOULD HAVE KNOWN BETTER--did not apparently take into consideration that this trip was being planned for "seniors" with nothing left to lose. Or that there might be bad weather. Or that, when dealing with middle schoolers, it is always better to order too much food than not enough.

I am planning a longer and more comprehensive post on field trips in the future, but I had to blog about this now before I completely exploded.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


(Not me, before anyone panics. No, I am, at the very least, satisfactory. Now and, with any luck, forever.)

I've been hesitant to blog for a while. There is a lot happening at my school which, I fear, may make it easy for a reader to identify where I am. We have been in the news and the internal DOE gossip for a number of reasons. So I'm going to try to be careful in these next few posts and be even more vague than usual, but it will be difficult. I couldn't take it anymore this afternoon, though.

A colleague spoke to me this afternoon. She is being threatened with a U-rating. She is supporting her family because her husband has been laid off. Her youngest child is going to college next year. She asked me to write something to support her.

Without even thinking, I told her I would. I have had nothing but good experiences with this person. She is a lovely, warm woman who never has an unkind word to say about anyone. And she certainly seems to be, at minimum, competent in her position, though our work is very different and I'm not sure how qualified I am to comment on what she actually does. But she has come through for me in sticky situations and, bless her, she is DISCREET. She does not rat people out. I am rather old-fashioned inasmuch as I value not being tattled on and, in return, I do not tattle. (Unrelated: I was extremely tempted to tattle today when I saw two little children at my school buying sodas in the teachers' cafeteria for their teacher. But I did not tattle.)

I don't know why my superiors are out to get this woman, and I can't even begin to guess. I mean, I have heard rumors that one of the higher-ups thinks she's incompetent. But why, again, I don't exactly know. And even if she is, aren't they supposed to, I don't know, help her out or talk to her first? Has that been done? I don't know.

I don't know what to write, either, and God only knows what kind of effect this will have on my "career." She told me the letter would be anonymous, but we all know what "anonymous" means in the DOE. I don't necessarily buy that--not coming from her, but coming from the DOE. I have to accept that, if I do this, I'm putting at least a bit of my "career" on the line. At minimum, I may have to put myself out on the Open Market next year, though that may be a foregone conclusion anyway (stay tuned for future posts explaining this). Because apparently I have to implicate my superiors in this--at very minimum, support my colleague's statement that she wasn't offered training, assistance, whatever. And, obviously, go against the administration's general thrust of wanting this person gone.

It's a weird way to be ending the year. As far as my kids go (more on this later), I love them dearly and I will cry my eyes out to see them go. And I have gotten to know many of the kids coming up and I'm looking forward to spending the year making new friends with them. That, of course, is exactly the right way to go out as far as the kids are concerned. But the grownups? Things are going way south, way fast. And I'm at a crossroads.

June 26 can't come fast enough.