Sunday, December 18, 2011

Rest in Peace, Prince George's County.

This post is based on the following article from the Post, "The Promise: Two wealthy men set out to transform the lives of 59 fifth graders."

In 1988, two millionaires from the DC metropolitan area decided to change the lives of a group of impoverished students in one of Prince George's County's poorest areas by announcing that they would pay for the kids' college tuition (matched to the tuition of the University of Maryland, College Park). Now, the Post has caught up with many of the students to report on the outcome of this social experiment. A little more than half of the students pursued college. About a fifth graduated from college. Today, most of "the Dreamers" hold jobs that don't require any collegiate work - barbers, repairmen, waiters, technicians - though some hold what we as an American society would classify as "the American Dream" jobs - a politician, two medical professionals, and a scientist...

I've been to Seat Pleasant. My certification class for mathematics instruction this year is in Seat Pleasant. While it certainly does not live up to its name, I would not say that it looks any more or less impoverished that the majority of Prince George's County. According to the article, though, Seat Pleasant has probably always been quite run-down and the rest of the County probably followed suit a short while later. Reading through the comments on the article, a few major thoughts came to mind.

The first is that this is another prime example of the saying that money doesn't solve problems. This county has a reputation for believing things and not people solve problems. We outfit our classrooms with expensive technology, but cannot be bothered to pay our teachers a salary equal to what our teachers are facing in the classroom. Instead, we fly officials out of the country to recruit cheaper teachers. We say our children come first, but truly, shortcuts come first. These two men, with good intentions, probably thought, "Hey, a lot of underprivileged students don't go to college because they can't afford it. What if they could?"

Okay, so now these 59 kids have the funds to attend college. But who is going to help them realize that they need or want to go to college? Who is going to support them through the journey of the next seven years that come before going to college? Who in their family even knows the first thing about applying to or succeeding in college? Who is going to help them change their attitude and perseverance in academics so that they even have a chance to be accepted into a college?

A lot of the kids in the group didn't seem too keen on seven more years of schooling, much less eleven more. Already, they were struggling with elementary school, why would money alone change their trajectory? While I do believe that many underprivileged students probably don't pursue college because it is too financially difficult to weather, I think that this article says more. All 59 students were told, if you want to, you can go. Twenty-four of them didn't want to.

The second thought that is that family plays an integral role in a child's success. Though the children had a mentor, the mentor either could not or wasn't prepared enough to influence the kids' attitude on learning. On several occasions, the principal had to sit in the room to ensure a sense of calm in the class. I'm not sure if a different mentor would have changed the outcome of this story at all. As much as the general public would like to think, a teacher can't magically cause a student to want to learn and succeed. We can try, but if you go home to a family that counters those seven hours of work that we just put in, seldom will we "win." And it's not all about your family or your teacher. I feel a lot of education talk today forgets about the stakeholder in the middle of it all: the student. Sure, when you're young you might not realize why you're in school or what purpose it will serve you. Adults might talk to you at every which angle to try to help you understand, but if you don't, you will be hard-pressed to attempt to do well. Few people work hard at things in which they feel there is no purpose to do so. I feel that today we don't put enough emphasis on the self-motivation of the child. We blame the adults for not doing enough, but I am sure that there are circumstances where the environment is nurturing (not so much in the case of the Seat Pleasant 59), but the child still turns to a life of mistakes or crimes.

This is not to say that adults don't play a large role, either, though. I just believe that the role of the student is so diminished, that we don't hold students responsible for their choices. However, as adults who have been there and done that, we should be able to be the best influence on our students as possible. Good teachers and parents are huge. Supportive teachers and parents are huge. And Prince George's County lacks both in a noticeable capacity. Recently, Mayor Bloomberg of NYC stated that teachers today come from the bottom 20% of college graduates. A lot of outrage ensued. I'm outraged. It's insulting. But, it's insulting partly because it's true in a way. I didn't excel in college, which is one reason why I found teaching more accessible than becoming a doctor (original aspiration), I wouldn't say I was the bottom 20%. But, if you walk the halls of my school in PG, and this is not meant to be an insult to my colleagues, barely any of the schools are recognizable or newsworthy. Many of the teachers I work with tell me that they didn't excel in school, like their students. In some ways, I thought that not excelling in college would help me to relate to my students, however, it has made it harder. College was not my shining moment, but high school was cake.

I was never a particularly motivated student, but I did my work and paid attention in class. My parents never finished high school, but expressed the importance of education to me as a child. In elementary school, they would look over my math homework. I remember that I was scared to let them know when I received a D on a worksheet in the 4th grade. They were not the extreme Asian parents that you might read about in the newspaper, but I knew that I should do well. Even so, doing well, A's and B's, wasn't difficult to me. I know that I could have been a 4.0 student had I put more work into it. I was nearly a straight A student, aside from math (which I am now teaching, ironically). But I didn't feel the drive that my sister did. I liked to be a good version of myself, but never felt the need to be the best version of myself. Similarly, most my students don't have the drive that it requires to succeed in school. To be completely candid, they aren't as fortunate as myself and aren't able to succeed without much effort. Many of my kids' parents seem like they aren't concerned with their student's education or as if they have given up on caring, as it hasn't yielded many results. The way I see PG County is in three scenarios: 1. an initially caring parent, who is probably low on resources, is defeated by the child's resistance and influence of peers who have unsupportive parents, 2. an initially uncaring parent who produces uncaring students who infect their peers, and 3. a continuously caring parent, who despite the hostile environment is determined to break the cycle, no matter the work required, and the child who responds to this attitude. Unfortunately, most of my parents come from scenarios 1 and 2. Scenario 1 is unfortunate, but scenario 2 has led me to believe that when I retire, I will run a free condom truck with several route throughout Prince George's County to prevent people who don't know how to have children from having children.

The third thought is that if money is not the solution, then what is? Ironically, education is the solution to education. Parents need to be educated in the ways to support their child. Parents also need to be educated in the ways to teach their children proper life etiquette. Too many of my students don't understand the reasons why we don't just yell out in class, talk during a test, throw items across the room... Not-yet parents need to be educated in the ways to not produce children when 1. they don't have the financial stability to provide for a child and 2. they don't have the desire to dedicate at least 18 years of their lives to fostering a productive and caring member of society. Teachers need to be educated, too. I wouldn't say that more formal schooling would really help. What we need is more time as lead teachers with mentorship. What we need is to experience and learn from examples of good teaching. In my years of being a PG County teacher I have seen few role models of good teachers. I don't know how to be a better teacher because I simply have not seen what that looks like in a place where students don't come to class on time or at all. Students need to be educated on why they go to school, and not just to the extent that they spit out answers such as "to get a good job" or "to go to college." Education is SO much more than that. And while students should have the right to attend a free public school to gain an education, I really do believe that students who do not take advantage of the opportunity should be released of the requirement for a year so that they have some time for reflection. Forcing kids who don't want to be in school to be in school is not only detrimental to the student - s/he doesn't learn anything - it's detrimental to his/her classmates because they don't learn when s/he doesn't feel like learning. And it's detrimental to me as a teacher because I am anxious before they arrive in class, wondering what havoc they may wreak today.

This was a really long post. In short, money doesn't solve problems. Parents and students, do your job right so we can do ours. Had this opportunity been given to my elementary school in 1999, I know that the results would have been different. Nearly all of the students would have pursued and completed college except for the ones who struggled through elementary school and didn't seem to have great home lives, even noticeable to me at the age of ten. Without the money, most of us would have taken loans to get through college, but we would have gone and our parents would have supported us. And that's what truly makes all the difference. And by the way, this post is titled as it is because I don't think PG County can be resurrected, not the way that things are currently going, anyway.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Two Oddly Related Things

One. Things I Do to Avoid Having to Begin Schoolwork After School:

1. Nap. (Although, is it called napping if it's for several hours?)
2. Online shop.
3. Read the news, magazine websites and others' blogs.
4. Facebook/talking to other people.
5. Eat.
6. Seriously think about starting schoolwork, but still not doing so.

Two. Very Important Lessons that I have Learned about Surviving as a Teacher:

1. SLEEP IS OF UTMOST IMPORTANCE. My ability to teach and mentor my students is directly related to how well I slept the previous night. Last year I went on very little sleep repeatedly, which was okay because my students were relatively easy to work with. This year, the story is very different and when I don't sleep long enough or well enough, I notice that both my students and myself suffer.
2. Retail therapy. Sometimes education-related. Two of my favorite purchases so far have been: Geometry Teacher's Activity Kit and How to Differentiate in Mixed Ability Classrooms.
3. Remember that school is not your whole life. After school everyday, I scan the news, interesting magazine articles and others' blog posts for a bit. Sometimes I read up on education news and blogs, but the bulk of my perusing is not education-based. I think it's important to not make education your only interest and expertise. As a teacher, you clearly care about education already, and your sanity begs you to care about other stuff, too. Extra points for reading material that makes you laugh or smile, because everyone could use an extra chuckle or two to fuel their day.
4. Teaching can be an incredibly isolating profession sometimes, despite working with lots of people throughout the day. A lot of times you feel like non-teachers don't understand the life you lead and if you're not in your ideal school, you'll probably want to avoid interacting with most of the adults (generally speaking, I find that fellow teachers are more irked with adult interactions rather than student interactions). Sometimes I definitely cut myself off from the world, but it's important to remember that having others, teachers and non-teachers to confide and converse with is extremely important to not feeling defeated when the going gets tough. You may not have time for long conversations, though, and that's why Facebook and texting can be helpful.
5. EATING IS OF UTMOST IMPORTANCE. My ability to teach and mentor my students is directly related to how well I slept the previous night eat/ if I eat at school. Last year I went on very little sleep lunch repeatedly, which was okay because my students were relatively easy to work with. This year, the story is very different and when I don't sleep long eat enough or well enough, I notice that both my students and myself suffer.
6. Think it and you're half way there.

Finding the correct balance of these two lists is where the magic is. Or so I think; I'm not quite there yet.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost

As you can guess from my serious lack of posts, I have been avoiding talking about how things are going in my classroom. They aren't. Going. Well, not anywhere positive at the moment. But I can't quit, it's not really an option. I have bills to pay and a body to feed. And though sometimes I think that I could just give up on teaching for now and put my biology degree to use, I watch videos on education or visit other educators' blogs and it reminds me that this is important. And that, though my situation is certainly far from ideal, this is a necessary obstacle to being able to make choices that are not only good for my students, but good for myself, too. At the end of the school year, I will have my certification, but I will not be putting it to use in Prince George's County.

The only way is up!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

From Zoo to Classroom, Hopefully

Hi, everyone.

I'm struggling.

My students are exhausting me. I didn't feel this negatively about my students last year, ever. I guess this is one of the ways in which high school is different. Worse, I feel that a very small fraction of the kids are actually learning.

I'm hoping to turn this around. And I would appreciate any comments/feedback.


- I'm overwhelmed. With grading (warm ups, classwork, homework, exit slips... gah, so many papers!), with keeping make up work organized (mostly because I don't take the time to do it), with lesson planning (is there a way to streamline this process more?), with effectively rewarding and "punishing" students, with cleaning my overheads, with keeping my class website up to date, with basically everything involved in teaching! So I'm behind.
- I'm having difficulty in finding more interactive activities for geometry.
- I wish I had more technology so I could show my kids pictures of where geometry fits into the world.
- Students talk too, too much - and not about math.
- Students are often tardy.
- Students aren't learning to their fullest extent.

Part of this is my doing. I'm feeling disorganized and overwhelmed so I'm not the teacher I should be or can be. But the students are a doozy too... They don't listen to or read directions, most don't do their homework and they rush through every assignment.

I know what my basic problems are. How do I fix them?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Bag of Tricks: Classroom Management

Below are some things that work for me on the classroom management side:

- strategic seating charts. sometimes, they are the best thing ever, if they are down thoughtfully and purposefully.
- sticking to a strict routine so your students know what to expect.
- a tally board that encourages healthy competition among your classes.
- a job board that will ease your load and allow you to focus more on teaching and managing.
- a consequence sequence that you can stick to. this is really important for me because I have seen other peoples' consequence sequences and I have gone along with their sequences, but if it doesn't seem "you" then you may not enforce it. Pick rules and consequences you care about. And then stick to it. Make a chart, if necessary, to make sure you carry out consequences from minor to severe.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Ideal vs. Real/Powerful vs. Powerless

Being bipolar is practically a sub-job of a teacher. You kind of have to be up and down all the time. Your world is constantly in flux:

The copier is working. The copier is not working. The kids feel like listening. The kids do not feel like listening. Your colleagues are productive. Your colleagues are not productive. Your administration appreciates you. Your administration does not appreciate you. The school's power is on. The school's power is off. Therefore there is no school tomorrow. Wait, just kidding, yes there is! (Wait, just kidding again, no the power's out again, so now that you and all students have arrived, school is canceled... true story in the life of PG County.)

No one day is like the other. Although we teachers follow a bell schedule, that is about the only consistency that we experience in our careers. Because we interact with so many people and machines throughout the course of a day (and we know machines are purposely temperamental sometimes!) and because those factors play a role in how our day is shaped, teaching is anything but a monotonous job. Which is not so great for me, as a slightly obsessive-compulsive, anal-retentive, mildly to moderately anxious person.

I love routine. I can't give it to myself so well, but I appreciate when I am in that type of environment. Predictability is my best friend.

In some ways, teaching is completely the wrong career for me because I can drive myself insane with my need for order and for following "process" to things. (What is the correct process to follow for lesson planning? Grading? I need a formula.) However, lucky for me, I am okay with sacrificing small bits of my sanity for my love of actually teaching and working with students.

But I can only sacrifice so much. This got me to thinking: what is the difference between how I want things to be and how they are? And how can I close that contentment gap? (Teaching is full of different kinds of gaps...)

Well, for one, I hate how powerless I feel about the state of education and my ability to improve it. I'm one teacher of six classes in a school of probably 200 staff. There are 200 schools in PG County. Thousands of schools in the state of Maryland. And tens of thousands (?) of schools in the country. I'm just one. I don't make the decisions on curriculum organization (I'm sorry, PG, but you all have no concept of flow of topics.), I don't get to have my say on how ridiculous NCLB is and I don't get to fail the students that need to repeat a grade or class so that they aren't the twelfth grader on the cusp of graduation who can't read past a sixth grade level and doesn't know how to add or subtract fractions. Teaching can be a lot of these I CAN'Ts. And the I CAN'Ts... well, they suck. We are little. We don't make the big decisions. Yet, we have the most important job of any person in the education field. We're in the trenches. We see the reality. We work, every day, with those who touch the future. And for some reason, the higher up's decide that they don't really need our input when making important decisions such as NCLB.

Which, brings me, briefly, to this: don't you think it'd be a good idea to have governments poll the general public on decisions prior to making them? For example, at grocery store check outs, where you can usually donate to a charity or something like that. Those screens should also say "NCLB - good idea or bad idea?" "Tax cuts for the wealthy: yes or no?" "Should we change the food pyramid to something that doesn't look utterly confusing?"

Anyway, so yes - we have a lot of "I see students every day, I am a teacher, and yet I can't make any of the decisions that help to govern our schools." This probably won't change anytime soon - but don't worry - in 2024, I can run for president. So, as a new teacher, you can either 1. give up because of the I CAN'Ts - which I want to, all the time or 2. you can focus on the I CANs.

Today, I'm choosing the latter. Tomorrow, who knows. Like I said: bipolar.

The U.S. is not going to be this orderly, utopian (...economically sound) society any time soon. I'm not going to be president any time soon. But for now, I'm president of my little classroom and that's a start. I can run my classroom as I so please (mostly) and that at least, can be to the level of order that I require. So let's discuss: what do I need to have the "utopian" classroom and how do I get my current classroom there?

In my opinion, the well-oiled teacher would:

- Have a year plan - simple, just unit names so you can identify connections and create flow between and among units
- Plan by units for a high level of cohesiveness and succinctness portrayed in lessons in order to increase student success
- Plan activities that engage most or all students on a regular basis
- Have all copies created at the start of the week
- Be animated and interesting to listen to
- Go over HW
- Properly close out every lesson to tie up loose ends
- Incorporate life skills and lessons into the class. I like to give my students weekly drills on math topics that they have covered before (all the way back to elementary school) to keep them sharp. The curriculum as includes SAT Questions of the Week, which I like. But, I also want to include discussions about songs that I think have good messages. And I've also been obsessed with Hey, Arnold and other cartoons from my childhood because they main characters are portrayed as elementary and middle schoolers, yet the characters act WAY beyond their years. My kids could really learn a thing or two from Ginger Foutley or TJ Detweiler.
- Grade papers in a timely manner and return them at least weekly - with proper feedback - all the while updating online grades or providing grade sheets
- Offer outside of class help
- Be open for student conversations, questions and concerns

And, the well-oiled students would:

- Come to class on time
- Come to class prepared
- Listen, attentively. Participate, productively
- Complete assignments in a timely manner
- Help and be kind to classmates
- Clean up before leaving class
- Complete HW, ask questions if necessary
- Be a productive member of society: help their parents or siblings at home, volunteer, recycle...

And, the well-oiled room of knowledge would:
- Be clean and organized
- Have helpful charts and posters posted
- Have Harry Potter paraphernalia

So, step 1 is to outline what you want. Step 2 is to outline how you get there. I'll have to get back to you on that. Step 3: just do it. (Thanks, Nike.)

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Musings on my Drive Home

It's a new school year!

I'm at a new school!

It's a high school!

I teach 8x the students I did last year!

I'm back, changing the world one student at a time - starting much earlier in the morning (7:45) and ending with enough daylight left to visit the bank or the post office (2:25). With one week of a new school year under my belt - my last year of commitment to Prince George's County - I thought it would be appropriate to talk about how I feel about the Teaching Fellows Program halfway through it.

I would like to start with this: my program's situation is "unique." Of all of the Teaching Fellows Programs across the United States, mine had to be the one that basically shut down after summer institute, leaving all cohort members to essentially handle ourselves and not have any of the supports promised to us when we agreed to enroll. I'm not entirely sure, but I think a similar situation occurred with Twin Cities Teaching Fellows, because in the middle of the application process, and in the middle of the school year, their website shut down and the branch said that they were not training any new teachers. So, while my program's situation may be "unique," as so eloquently stated by DCTF which has taken our program over until our cohort "graduates," it is certainly not unheard of. So there's one thing: you're ready to change the world. You want to teach. So you enroll in this alternative certification program. And then, you get in! You get "trained!" And then they pop you in a school and tell you that they're peace-ing out. Good luck, though!!

Did the program's demise really make a difference in my experience and training as a new teacher, though? Well, I guess I'll never really know. But what I do know is that the shut down of PGCTF caused a lot more headaches than necessary for a group of fourty or so people set on plunging themselves into a hard-to-staff school district with the support of people who have been in the business of training new teachers for several years. Literally, the program shut down within the first two months of school starting. Our program staff evacuated (I understand, they had to find other jobs) and we were left with a bunch of substitutes that we did not know and that did not know us. We all stopped asking the program for support, instead, we turned to each other. Additionally, as a SPED fellow, we were told that by the end of our first year, we would be certified as SPED teachers. Well, it's the end of my first year. And I have no certification whatsoever to my name. These small miscommunications (?) build up to a lot of frustration against a program many people left their homes and uprooted their families for. So before you say YES to The New Teacher Project's offer of enrollment, think about whether or not you can handle this teaching adventure mostly on your own. TNTP provides summer "training" - overly idealistic and shallow (though no amount of teacher training will ever prepare you for the real world of teaching) and a cohort of generally hard-working, passionate people that you will grow close to, as well as content seminars during the school year - still too idealistic and mostly busywork - to get you to your certification, but mostly everything else is on you.

Let's back it up though. Let's look at the Teaching Fellows Program as a whole. It's a great concept, Michelle Rhee. You take these career changers and fresh-faced, optimistic college graduates who want to become teachers to serve lower performing areas and you let them. After eight weeks, they're allowed to start teaching - they're allowed to begin changing the world almost immediately - and they're going to keep creating that change with their optimism and commitment to service for two years. After that, hopefully they'll love it so much that they'll stay and become lifelong teachers and over time, the ratio of "effective" teachers to "ineffective" teachers will grow. Those formally lower performing areas will start to see increases in their test scores and therefore, in their students' achievement levels.

But does it work??

I say no.

I appreciate my experience in this program. I truly, truly do. I've met fantastic people and I love teaching. No other alternative certification program, except for perhaps TFA, would ever get me into classrooms as quickly and deeply as I have been allowed. And, my appreciation for teachers and for education has grown immensely. But here is what I believe to the core: fourty-some outsiders cannot come to a county of nearly 900,000 people and change its culture. Most of us aren't from here. Most of us don't live here. Most of us shudder at the idea of living in the county or sending any of our children to the county's schools. We're not a part of the community.

I'm not saying that we can't make positive changes. Most, if not all, of us have made ripples in our students' and schools' lives. However, I feel that positive, permanent, progressive change must come from within. As outsiders, we see a problem and want to swoop in to change it. But, I think that other things need to occur first: the insiders must be open to and want the change and the insiders must also contribute to the change. I'm not saying that PG County residents don't care about the progress of their community. However, it seems that the majority of the people that I have worked with don't really choose to act.

I work in a county where an overwhelming majority of my high school students cannot tell elapsing time, where most students fail their AP tests, where most students opt to take environmental science instead of chemistry because it is an easier course, where class sizes can go high as 50 students in a classroom... etc, etc.

The county's education system is undoubtedly broken. But no one is up in arms about the low quality of education that most students receive here. Instead, we look for quick fixes and fancy jargon. We coax our students into performing.

"We use the workshop model." means we introduce the lesson, we work on the lesson and then we conclude the lesson.

"We offer staff a wide array of professional development opportunities." At one of the most recent trainings I attended, two of my colleagues were sleeping. And for most of my PDs, I would have to say that I learned absolutely nothing useful for the 4 to 7 hours that I attended.

"We are piloting the FIRST program." means we pay teachers money to be observed and to be teaching in a high-need area - even if they are not making observable progress with their students.

"We use PBIS." means that we pay students with points when they do what we want them to so that they can buy or win things.

In PG County, it doesn't seem like "children come first." It seems like "Let's make it look like children come first." If PG County, or any another place that TNTP or TFA sends teachers, is to truly make progress, what we need is a culture change first. Schools - all schools - need to challenge students to take a large part in succeeding in their education. All involved in the education of students need to stop acting like it's the teachers' job to beg a student to listen, learn or participate. Parents especially need to be an example of curiosity, motivation and persistence. I understand that where I come from is different and so I bring my own ideology to my classroom. But my students should not be shocked about getting homework everyday, about carrying their books to class, about taking notes or taking a quiz or test that is not multiple choice or more than 25 questions long. I should not have to be okay with the fact that all the students that I failed last year moved onto high school. And I should not have to be okay with the fact that some of my teenage students do not know 7 x 6, how to read an analog clock, or how to carry during addition without a calculator. Or that on the third day of school several students were already suspended.

The expectations for students in this county are overall, very low and the kids, they live up to them just fine.

In summary, this is a very uplifting blog. I would like to reiterate that I love my job. Students, no matter where they come from, are mostly delightful to work with. Being a teacher has come to define the person I am today. But, I feel as a person a part of something so big and influential as the education system, things need to change. A lot. Until they do, our future as a country does not look so bright.

So, please, students: your time is NOW. If you fail to prepare, prepare to fail.

And parents, be unwavering in expectations of your students as well as in the support you provide to them. Raise them to be concerned for their society and for themselves.

And teachers, myself included, push your students and push yourself to not accept the circumstances and the rules forced upon us by others, many of which haven't a clue about educating a child.

And administrators and lawmakers, work to support those directly in the trenches: the students, the parents and the teachers. No matter where we learn and teach, our job is difficult (and so are yours). Ask yourselves: are you helping or are you thwarting? Are those real solutions or are they duct tape solutions? (And while duct tape can do practically anything, it's also the lazy man's way out.) I really hope that I can witness the rebirth of our education system, because the way it is now, the "good" districts have it good and the "bad" districts have it terrible.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

"Ms. FF, will you be here next year?"

"No, I won't be. I'm going to go to a different school."

   "But why?"

"It's just time to go."

   "But you've only been here for a year!"

"When it's time, it's time.... Your loss though!" :)

   "Yeah, you're a nice teacher."


1. It's summer break! Sleeping in now is just as, if not more, satisfying than when I was a middle schooler myself.

2. I am currently taking professional developments for Special Education Summer Institute and through all the PD's this year, I feel that I have learned one thing: teaching is kind of common sense, for those who have it. I'm not saying that anyone can do it (after all, not everyone has common sense!) or that it is easy (read any post I've written and you will know that that is the last thing I think about teaching). I'm saying that there is no "magic spell" that is going to instantly improve our students' academic skills and close that pesky achievement gap. What it takes is old-fashioned communication, consistency and hard-work. And nobody likes those things because they take time. Don't get me wrong. I enjoy learning new things from different perspectives from my own. But I believe that NONE of the "raising student achievement" PD's I have been to have truly taught me anything significant that I did not already figure out on my own from a year of fighting in the trenches. I could be wrong, but I feel that it is a little bit silly that we are contributing a large sum of money on education research which often validate what we already know about students and learning, in the hopes that we will find some easy answer (as in, "this is how your get your students to achieve more in the classroom...") to solve our educational woes. So why do I continue to attend these PD's? 1. In hopes that I will learn something useful (though I strongly believe that the absolute best way is to shadow other excellent teachers) and 2. I'm a first-year (or is it second-year now?!) teacher who shamelessly needs the money.

3. I am very excited to resume teaching the nuggets again in the fall. :)

Okay, so let's talk about how I closed out the year. I met with my principal in early May. He told me that I was probably going to be impacted by the budget reduction for the upcoming year. I took the news and reminded him that he only had one month left to carry out my final observation for the year. He had totally forgotten about all of the last observations he had to do. I left his office kind of upset, but I had to go to my next class. A couple of weeks later, my principal came to do his final observation of me. I had four students that day and was teaching how to identify the slope and y-intercept of a linear equation given slope-intercept form. My students had participated in a warm up based on finding slope using the slope formula and we reviewed what an "intercept" was. Then, I handed out graphs of linear equations (of varying difficulties) to my students. Their task was to find the slope and intercept of their individual graphs. They did their math on a white board. This is when my principal walked into the classroom. As they continued to work, I passed out post-its for my students to write down the slope and y-intercept that they had calculated for their graph. On the board, their linear equations were written in a chart, with corresponding columns for their slope and y-intercept. The students posted their results on the board and those who finished sooner moved onto watching a review video on slope and the y-intercept. Eventually, everyone watched the video and we came back together to review the chart. The students, pretty quickly, realized the trend: "the number to the left of the x was the slope and the number to the right was the y-intercept." Students then went to play, in pairs, a game similar to The Weakest Link on the computers in order to display their knowledge of finding slope and the y-intercept given a linear equation. Then, my principal left. For closing, we reviewed the rule for finding slope and the y-intercept using the slope-intercept form. Using a chart of equations, we called out the slopes and intercepts. Then, each student got a linear equation and determined their slope and y-intercept.

The next day, my principal had me go to his office for a post-conference. He told me that he didn't have a clue "where I was coming from" or "where I was going." I said that that may have been because he came to class after I had come from there and before I got to somewhere else. He told me that he didn't feel that the students "got it" at the end of the lesson. I told him that was because he did not stay until the end of the lesson and I showed him my students' work - every single one (well, to be fair, there's only four of them) "got it." He didn't seem impressed. He seemed to still doubt that they "got it." He told me that I wasted too much time and energy. I asked for an example. I felt that the lesson was very well organized and carried out. One of my best organized and carried out, actually. His example? (And he only provided this one:) "Well, you had to log into the computer..." True, I said, I could have logged in during warm up. But the log in had to have taken less than a minute! In short, he didn't provide me with a lot, or any, constructive criticism.

And then, he handed me my reassignment letter. The letter stated that due to budget constraints, I would be reassigned to a different school for the 2011-2012 school year. At this point, I was frustrated (after all, I have had good observations!) and I took the letter and signed it. He made a copy for me and I left his office to go to my first class of the day. (My school is very considerate, they always give me the bad news at the start of the day, like back in March when they called me up during 1st MOD to tell me that I was not a good teacher, "did not belong in this profession" and that I neglected my teacher duties.) Of course, the show had to go on. My students needed to prepare for their finals and it wasn't their fault that my admin was mean.

Fast forward a couple of weeks later, literally the last three days of school, my principal called me up for my end of the year evaluation. I was satisfactory in all areas (like on my mid-year evaluation). He asked me what areas I felt I succeeded in and needed work in (building relationships with my students and differentiation, respectively). And that was it. He thanked me for working at the school and wished me good luck with my future.

He didn't look over my students' MSA scores. (Which he had asked all teachers to bring as evidence of their impact.) He didn't mention the insensitive manner which I had been treated with by my vice principal. He didn't mention what an unsupportive first year he had subjected me to: three grade levels, two subjects, three different curriculums, three department meetings, three intensive sections, two poor co-teachers as "mentors", five "problem" children in a single MOD... Yes, I'm complaining. But I did with what I got. And I did it damn well.

I don't think that test scores are everything (but my school sure seems to think so!), but here are my numbers: only three of my students went down in their MSA scores (from basic to more basic). My proficient children stayed proficient and even two formerly basic students, who had never before moved out of that category, reached proficiency. This year, I have mentored four proficient students. More experienced, equally awesome, colleagues of mine who teach the same kids, have three.

YES, I know that there are things that I could have done this year in order to better raise student achievement in my classroom. Consistency. Organization. Planning. Consistency again. But I think I did pretty awesome this year. My five biggest accomplishments for the year?

1. Building positive relationships with each and every one (all 24) of my students this year, not including those in co-teaching (I love them, too, though).
2. NEVER giving up on my students and this year. Until the last day of school I continued to rethink and revamp my class to make it more efficient.
3. NEVER being unfair with my students. I apologized when necessary, I worked tirelessly to be sure that I was giving my students what they needed and tried my best to defeat bias.
4. NEVER letting my negative admin's opinion and treatment of me affect my ability to teach my students.
5. Keeping my class fun. Points. Music. Prizes. Harry Potter. Games. My witty quips. And applicable to my students and their needs... as much as 8th grade math can really be, anyway.

Anyway, so now the waiting game begins. Will I be reassigned for sure? HR says yes. Supposedly by the end of this month. I don't really care where I go. I have learned a TON this year and hope to continue to learn. I hope that wherever I go, I will create positive change. I hope that I will be a better teacher than I was this year. Admittedly, this rough educational environment is forcing me to become the best teacher I can be as fast as I can be it. It's a good, gradual, important learning experience. Even if I don't want to stay when it's over. Unfortunately. Because the kids are really fun to work with. The worst part about this whole thing is that I can't finish up with the 7th graders from this school year... but...

Crossing my fingers to be placed soon!

Happy summer!

And I leave you on a happier note:

"That is so creepy. What a stalker." - my colleague on my vice principal "watching me" from her office window :)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Year 1 Done in 1 Week

Will be back to post on closing out for the summer!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Here are my Suggestions:

It's almost the end of May! I have almost finished my first year as a 6th/7th/8th SPED math and science teacher/counselor/stand-in parent/shoulder to cry on/much needed disciplinarian and bringer of structure!

As the year is closing out, I am already beginning to feel excitement for year two. (That is how you know that this is the job for you - your administrators may not support you and make you cry, but you still want to teach the little nuggets!) I hope year two continues to be a year of growth and positive change.

Below are some growths and changes that I would welcome at my school for the 2011-2012 school year.

1. An overflow of flora. I would love if we had flowers outside the building and in the courtyard which is currently harboring too many patches of weeds. Flowers make people happy. Happy people raise student achievement (and close the achievement gap).

Update: Our maintenance staff has been so wonderful as to plant flowers outside of our school. I AM SO THANKFUL FOR THE FACT THAT THEY CONTINUE TO IMPROVE OUR SCHOOL even though I know that several children are not always (read: rarely) respectful of our school grounds.

2. Decked out hallways. This is one of my BIG GOALS for myself this coming school year. Our hallways need love. College banners hanging on the walls. Possible career aspirations dancing among them. A colleague and I were discussing that we aren't all about the movement to college. Most of our students won't go to college. Some of them probably shouldn't. To us, pushing college as the "only option" is silliness on our part as adults. When a kid doesn't like school, the last thing they need is being told to go through even more (optional) schooling. Yes, I think college is a great opportunity that opens many doors. However, not everyone aspires to a career that requires extensive schooling - and that's okay. If we can lasso them in with practical skills and connect to what they want to do and learn while teaching them about the greatness that is continued high education, I think that's a winning formula. No Charlie Sheen involvement intended.

     >>>We interrupt with rare praise for my school! One of our teachers took the initiative to make name cards for all the faculty in the building. Below our names are the degrees we have and the colleges we went to. It's totally cute.

3. Repainted bathrooms. With sinks that don't require you to hold the knob when you want water to flow out. Also, with waste baskets in the stalls because the girls are gross and throw them on the floor. Let's also add on a student conduct assembly at the beginning of the year. Amen to that. I'll lead it. And it'll begin like this: "Trash. It goes in the trash can. Here's how..." I'll have slides that go along with it.

4. Lockers that don't just pop open when you hit them. This is just a pipe dream...

5. Middle school appropriate desks. No cubby desks, please! Oh, and water fountains I will consider drinking from. One day I was incredibly thirsty, went to the fountain to fill up my water bottle and it was cloudy. Needless to say, I bring my own liquids now and would rather be dehydrated than drink that stuff.

6. Staff as a community. We should do something to pull our school community together. People should know other peoples' names. Hold conversations and learn about one another. It doesn't have to be anything big. A monthly breakfast. An icebreaker activity before the staff meeting officially begins. A calendar with everyone's birthdays. A bulletin board with information about or pictures of the staff. And I mean all the staff. Teachers, paras, DAs, administration, coaches, custodians, lunch staff, secretaries, and everyone else who contributes to the daily functioning of our school. Everyone matters.

7. SOLID school rules and consequences. School rules like RESPECT everyone and everything in the school (and hopefully, outside of it). School rules like COME PREPARED AND TRY YOUR BEST. Currently, our school stands meekly stand at: walk to the right side of the hallway, no backpacks or electronics, wear your uniform properly, and no destructive behavior or language. These are little not-so hairy or audacious goals.

8. Minimal requirement for cart teachers. It sucks. 'Nough said.

9. R-E-S-P-E-C-T for SPED. Teachers at my school have openly said that SPED belongs somewhere else and certainly not in their classrooms. No other way to say it: rude. While some students who are SPED should be in more intensive programs, many of our SPED students aren't too behind their peers.

10. Admin support for all teachers. And no telling us that our job is easy.

11. Time to meet and plan with co-teachers, department and team members. We need to be able to be on the same page with each other so we can teach strong lessons and convey a united front. Especially on the discipline side.

12. Again, assemblies and discussions with our students about proper conduct. Before the ideas of college can be pushed into their heads, they need common courtesies and practices of students to be drilled in there.

A school could be falling apart. But if the staff is positive, hard-working and united, I don't really think it matters. Improvements in student learning will be seen and we'll do the work we set out to do.

I will update soon on the things that I personally will bring to my classroom for SY 2011-2012. :)

The Reality of It

In my co-teaching science class, I am sitting with two students, D and J, playing Dots.

FF: "D, where are your parents from?"

D: "My mom is from the Dominican Republic and my dad is black."

FF: "Well, where is your dad from?"

D: "I don't know. I don't know my dad."

J: "Where'd he go?"

D: "My dad left me when I was a kid."

J: "Oh, me too. Man! I hate when that happens!"

I laughed, but upon reflection quickly after the conversation, I felt really sad for my kids. The fact that not having a father be present in your life is so common is pretty terrible. I think, often, that if my kids had two parents that their lives might be better. Because being a parent is hard work and probably, overwhelming at times, when you do it alone.

I also realized that for most of this year, I have not been annoyed or upset with my students. Less than 10 times, probably. My rationale was always that it is never the child's fault. They are children. They can't help their circumstances. Their upbringing. I spent most of this year feeling sorry for my kids. About a month ago, I began to rethink these feelings. Yes, their circumstances suck at times. But is it all that defines them? Half of life is what is given to you, but the other half, is what you do with what you are given. Some kids at school have horrible circumstances, but are working towards honor roll every quarter so they can get out of those circumstances. Some kids use it as a crutch. One of my kids has begun to state regularly, "but it's not [their/my] fault that [their/my] parents raised me poorly..."

Side note: he's hilarious and smart, so I can't take him seriously. But I appreciate that he understands the effects nurture has on a person's life.

I wish I had more time to talk to my kids about this kind of stuff. Next year I want to do weekly or biweekly conferences with all my students. (Very excited for year two. It's going to be much more eye-opening what kind of teacher I am, now that I have experience.)

"Maybe a pipe will burst outside the school and the whole first floor will flood! Fingers crossed!"

Monday, May 2, 2011

Eco-Friendlier Teaching

It may appear that we teachers hate the Earth. We make copy after copy, and then make extra copies of those copies. As an eco-conscious person, it hasn't been easy for me to adjust. I began the year with keeping electronic copies of everything, avoiding printouts as much as possible. In the middle of the year, I just gave in. This year I've been toying with ways to balance out my paper/toner usage. Please share any eco-friendlier ideas you have as a teacher/concerned citizen!

1. Meatless Mondays - just as it sounds. I don't eat meat for 24 hours. About 2,000 gallons of water goes into producing a single pound of beef! Incredible! Next year I want to try Meatless Metro Mondays, but I don't know how I feel about taking a 40 minute metro trip as opposed to just driving it...

2. Sidewalk Saturdays - on Saturdays, I don't drive for 24 hours. I put all my errands on hold until Sunday, where I try to plan out the trip as conservatively as possible.

(Can you tell that I love alliterations?)

3. Setting up a recycling bin in the classroom - My school doesn't recycle (neither does the county my school is in, really, and that is so 1991), but I got a paper recycling bin from my county and use it in the room. I empty it about once a quarter by taking it home to my apartment complex. It's kind of annoying but it definitely beats the guilt of shaving down trees!

Also, thank you to EVERYONE who read my last post/left constructive comments. I super appreciate it! Right now, I'm working on logging my hours for the week as a blog about how, as a new teacher, I spend my time. Thank you again for the help!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Dear School I Work At,

Sometimes I so badly want to abandon you. You are an old school building; you remind me of a bomb shelter from the World War era. Your classrooms are oddly shaped, your exterior is dowdy, your courtyard is full of weeds, and the paint color of your bathrooms probably couldn't be much more unattractive. Furthermore, your desks are outfitted for elementary school children, your heating and cooling are ancient, your stairwells too small, your lockers too easily jammed, your lights automatic so people don't feel the need to turn them off on their own, and your bathroom sinks are poorly designed. You are not fit for the large population that travels within you every school day.

But, I know all you really need is a little bit of love. Your bathrooms could use a fresh coat of paint, your hallway decorations could be updated for personalization and your courtyard needs some flowers. I said during my Chicago Teaching Fellows interview that I didn't believe we needed supplies, really, to teach (except for science, perhaps). I still believe this, so the fact that you are a school building in desperate need of TLC, does not bother me much. I want to help make you over and give both students and staff a pride in the school we operate in, but I haven't receive much of any support from the higher-ups. The point is, though you are not the best that you could be, you are not my biggest gripe.

Dear Children I Work With,

Sometimes (often), I don't want to come to teach and work with you. It can get frustrating that I plan and prepare lessons, but you all talk over me or don't talk at all. However, you all are the most pleasant part of my day and for that, I am thankful. I am thankful that I know that I love working with students and that I want to do it as a career. Even if I don't stay in this profession forever, let it be known that I think that this is the single most influential profession in the world. Except for maybe a tyrant who makes all decisions, and quickly. (When will there be a tyrant who dedicates large sums of money to developing education and not firearms?) Anyway, what I'm saying is, kids, we have our good and bad days, but there are definitely more good and even when you all are at your annoyingest, I still feel grateful for every single one of you. I feel very lucky to have taught you all this year and I appreciate each one of you in different ways. Please know that I don't dread work because of you. I come to work because of you. I want to see you all grow as much as possible before you graduate and I have so much that I want to share with you all. You are certainly the reason that I come to work. And certainly the reason that I enjoy it.

Dear Readers (or Reader!),

Sometimes, I want to leave my school. But it's not the school's fault. And it's not the students' fault, either. You've heard me complain about this before, but it's time for me to get it out again. Before I do though, let me say: POTENTIAL TEACHERS, if you are thinking about going through alternative certification or teacher certification in general, (and if you have no other doubts besides whether or not it'll be worth it) I say, DO IT. This has been an immense year of growing for me. I have never learned so much before about others or myself. This experience is GREAT. Prepare yourselves, though, the toughest part of working in a lower performing school (and maybe even higher performing schools)/working in PGCPS is the adults. The children, well, they'll be children. They are only partly responsible for the horrors that they can be. Often, they are good kids though. However, adults should have no excuses for the way they act and treat people. If you can, find a supportive school to work in. It's so important.

And onto my rant. It's 3 am, so I'm going to make this quick and possibly confusing so I can get to bed.

Last month, I was called up to my vice principal's office during my co-teaching (which, please later note, is reiterated as a place I need to be present). I was expecting to meet with my vice principals, but during my planning period. We had been exchanging emails prior to this meeting. She had expressed concern for my being on time to school, begin on time to co-teaching, being at co-teaching, and being on my post of duty. Another vice principal was also present at this meeting, though she didn't make many comments. The "main" vice principal of this conversation said that she was in my co-teaching 15 minutes after it had started and that I had not yet arrived. That particular day, I knew that I had arrived about 10 minutes after the bell. She continued by saying that my students were not receiving their services since I was not present. I replied to the email by saying that I am not regularly late to school, I never skip co-teaching, and that I was told that I did not have "duty" as I have a portable classroom (outside) and that is what my principal shared with me at the beginning of the school year.

Let's start with co-teaching. My vice principals said two things: 1. I am often significantly late to co-teaching and 2. Sometimes, I skip co-teaching. I agreed that I usually arrive to co-teaching about 5 to 10 minutes after the bell has rung and acknowledged that I should be getting there more promptly after the ringing of the bell. However, I rejected the statement that I skip co-teaching classes. I have never, ever skipped co-teaching without permission. (SPED teachers at my school are allowed to have off co-teaching on pay day Fridays in order to complete pertinent SPED paper work.) Though I previously took off pay week Wednesdays instead of Fridays, because I like to end the week with my students, I later only took pay day Fridays off because it was stated that Fridays were the only acceptable off day. Our vice principal said that this way, she could know to send a sub to stand in for us in co-teaching. To my knowledge, this doesn't actually happen. Despite stating that I never skip co-teaching, my vice principals insisted that I do. Let's please remember that this meeting is going on during my oh-so important co-teaching MOD!

Moving onto getting to school on time. Yes, I am late sometimes. Usually when I am late, I arrive no later than 9:05 AM, five minutes after duty time has begun. The days that this lateness occurs, there is unusually high traffic on 95 South and I leave at the same time pretty much every day. Anyway, I am not regularly or often late. And certainly not more so than any other teacher at my school. Since the meeting (about three weeks ago), I have noticed that I have been earlier than 2 of my 4 administrators every single day, except for two. I fully accept that I need to work harder to be on time as much as humanly possible (but life does happen every now and then). What is the kicker for me, though, is that my vice principal was basing her opinion on my arrival time on her observations of me from her office window. (She is located on the second floor, I am outside on the first floor; however, she can only see my room and not my parking space and not the school doors that I enter/exit from.) She stated that after 9 AM she will look out the window and see me arriving to school. ...or what looks like arriving to school. What exactly constitutes as someone looking like they are arriving to school? Carrying a school bag? I carry that around all morning. Having a sweater or a jacket on? It's cold sometimes. I felt that this method of judgment was highly subjective and unfair. Furthermore, once previously she had voiced a concern with me getting to school on time for a particular day. She stated that she had looked out to my room and did not see me in the window (= me being late). That day, I arrived 30 minutes ahead of duty time and -shocking, I know- was inside the school making copies.

Finally, we discussed being on duty where teachers stand outside of their classroom to monitor children. During the first few days (maybe even weeks) of school, I stood duty outside of my room. However, I noticed that the other teachers were not doing the same. I asked my principal if teachers in temps were supposed to stand duty. He said no because it gets cold outside. I stopped standing duty for this reason. My vice principals stated that they did not believe that my principal would say such a thing. They continued to say that I do not appear to care about the safety of the kids because I am not on duty. I voiced that I would be on duty, but I thought that I didn't need to be. They rebutted by saying: "We didn't know that we had to tell you where you needed to be, every minute of every day..." Look, had I not been blatantly told that I didn't have post of duty, I would be on my post of duty.

After this long conversation, which ate away at over 20 minutes of co-teaching, my vice principal went onto say that along with these concerns, she has seen my lessons (through formal observations) and didn't think that this was the job for me. She asked me what program I was in and advised me to contact the program staff to ask for other options I could seek for next year.

This is when I started to cry. I have spent countless hours working on school materials and poring over the students' progress and behavior. I love teaching my kids. I feel that I'm good at it and that I want to do this for a long time. Previously, I felt that she was focusing on my timeliness (though in a questionable way, because it didn't appear that there was any objective records taken), but now she was attacking my instruction and passion for teaching.

Forward to present time and my wonderful mentor suggested that we meet with my vice principal in order to discuss how I should go about recording and documenting my timeliness. I care about what I do and want to be able to display that by taking corrective and proactive actions. My vice principal responded to the idea for discussion with a no. She said that she didn't have the time to repeatedly revisit past issues with me and that it was my professionalism, not my instruction, that was being attacked. I was boggled. My vice principal told me that through observations, along with these other issues, teaching was not for me. How is that not an attack on my instruction? Anyway, she said that she and the other vice principal will handle the monitoring of my timeliness. How are they to do this when I arrive to school before them and park in a different lot? Shouldn't I somehow be involved in keeping these records and being knowledgeable of my progress?

I am frustrated, because I am obviously showing an interest in making sure that I eliminate concerns about myself as a teacher, but am told that there isn't time to discuss this and that basically, my vice principals can record anything they want on me, even if it's nonsense.

So that is the silliness of adults in education sometimes. Please beware of it as a new teacher. I know that I want to continue to teach, but I cannot do it at this school where I am being targeted and not supported whatsoever.

I hope that all teachers will one day work in supportive environments where the higher ups realize that teachers are often not the problem. We're not the enemy. We are working the trenches to the best of our ability and it is simply not acceptable for a school leader to say, "Well, you knew that teaching was hard and you still signed up for it, so deal with it." (This is not an actual quote from my administrators, though two have said something very close to this before.) These are the sentiments given to us teachers. What the higher ups should be saying is: "We know you're doing an immensely difficult job. What can we put in place to support you to make sure that you are doing this difficult job in the best way possible for you and the students?"

Haven't you heard? Effective teachers are the single most influential in-school factor that increases student achievement. Treat us better. I'm not a rockstar or the president, but I am a person working every single day to positively influence young minds.

Oh, support... Only in my dreams! Or at a KIPP school...

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

My Big List of Grievances

As a teacher in training, people tell you how hard classroom management will be. They tell you how hard it'll be to engage all your learners in a lesson on exponents. They tell you that the kids are way below their grade level in nearly every, if not every, subject.

Yes, all these things are true. And yes, all these things are hard to deal with.

But the real kicker is that while you are trying to manage a classroom, possibly with several ED or ADHD students (or just annoying children, especially 8th graders), when you are trying to plan fun, engaging lessons, or when you are trying to fill in the gaps of your little nuggets' education...

you get berated for not doing a kick-ass enough job. And furthermore, you get berated with negative comments (not positive/negative comment sandwiches) while receiving minimal support for the ridiculous job that you are trying complete with a smile and with a miniscule amount of optimism that you entered the job with. I don't mean to sound bitter, I'm quite thankful for this experience that I've had. I'm actually quite sure that I want to be a teacher for a LONG time and I'm positive that I love working with children. In fact, I'm quite sure that I am probably awesome at the latter and therefore the former is destined in some way, shape or form.

So this entry is not about how much I hate teaching or boo hoo how hard it is (even though, it is). This entry is about how there are so many UNNECESSARY obstacles to being a kick-ass teacher, even if you have it in you. And as of now, my main, unnecessary obstacle is: *drum roll* my administration.

Before starting teaching, I had read that it is the adults, not the children, that drive you crazy and make this job ridiculous and almost impossible to do well.

Oh, how I have never heard truer words. So now I will entertain everyone with comments from my administration that I have heard so far this year and conversations that I have had in passing/eavesdropping... (just kidding, I'm a professional! I don't do that!). The italics are accurately paraphrased as possible and change of meaning is minimal, if any:

My Big List of Grievances:

1. Administration telling me that my job is easier because I teach less children as a SPED teacher. I don't understand why you all send out so many children. Your classroom management should be better since you teach less children.

[At school, SPED teachers get every payday Friday off of co-teaching (1-2 MODs of 5) to do SPED maintenance] I shouldn't even be giving you guys off co-teaching. You guys have less kids so you don't have as many papers to grade, like the other teachers who have 20-some kids.

But my favorite has to be... Nobody forced you to teach SPED!

2. Administration yelling at me for things I didn't do. [One day, I came to school at 8:30 am.] Ms. FF, you know, it is expected of you to come to school by 9:00 am. Yes, I know, I was here at 8:30 today. (Which, might I note, was before this particular admin was at school.) Well, I looked out of the window at 9 and I didn't see you in your room. Yes, but, I was out there...

Ms. FF, you have been reminded that you have to be on duty at 9 am. I don't have duty (only for homeroom teachers)...

3. Administration sending me mixed messages. One told me that I am moving too slow for the kids. Another told me that I am moving too fast.

Regarding a particular worksheet with 8 practice equations, the latter administrator told me that I gave them too many problems to do and offered the advice: you should only have them do two equations for each operation (addition, subtraction, division, multiplication = 4 operations; 2 equations per operation x 4 operations = 8 equations).

4. Administration bad-mouthing other teachers to me. Yesterday, I observed a teacher and she planned lessons that were too low for her highest kid. That's why she has classroom management problems. (Because our school is small, it's not hard to know who is getting observed, and therefore, very easy for me to know who the said teacher was, without having to try to figure out said teacher - which I was not trying to figure out, but just knew).

5. Administration basically saying that our kids are not that hard to handle and then trying to reject/pardon them from after-school detention.

6. Administration promoting a sense of culture and community... but not really. Students who asked to fundraise for Japan were told they could only do so for a week. No announcements to support their idea have been made.

7. Administration talking about the best environment for our SPED kids and then going against it. Intensive kids --> co-teaching, co-teaching kids --> intensive; both for behavior/classroom management reasons and not ability reasons.

8. Administration using paraprofessionals as substitutes? Or people who organize the files in guidance because our staff is incapable of alphabetizing?

9. This is kind of back to #1: Administration giving co-teaching off more often for some teachers and not for others, despite teaching the same load.

10. Administration not knowing how to divide and prepare a bell schedule (for 1/2 days or 2-hour delays) properly. I kid you not, we have had schedules with some classes for 30 minutes and others for over an hour.

I'll stop there so I have some material for part two. And three. I'm off to do IEPs and powerpoints. Please let me reiterate that I love my kids. I love to teach. I even love to plan and prep sometimes, when it doesn't make me cry. But I don't feel the love or support from my superiors. Our school is a mess because our staff is a mess. We ain't got no rhythm!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

What I'm Teaching This Week

So, it was a 3 day weekend plus 1! We had a snow day today, despite a very meager helping of snow from Mother Nature. That means extra time to perfect my lesson plans for the week. Honestly, if I had all the time in the world, I'd make these great lesson plans and worksheets that I could use from year to year. This weekend I've had the time to spend 5+ hours on one science lesson that covers two days, but I know that that is a rare gift.

Something I learned about myself in college was that I "need" pressure to work quickly. When I get an extra snow day, I don't think about creating more lesson plans. I think about perfecting the ones I have already made. And when I work quickly, the results are nice, but they aren't my best work. And when I have "all the time in the world", I work slowly, my results show my immense attention to detail (down to the correct font sizing and spacing on my worksheets) and are more of a display of what I can do.

One thing that I am coming to terms with is that I am not a particularly efficient worker. I can work quickly and "get the job done" or work slowly and get the job done well. Why can't I be quick and great at the same time!!

Anyway, there's three days left for this week and I'm starting new units for both of my classes. For 6th grade science, we are delving in the inside of the Earth and for 8th grade math, we will be working with solving equations while reviewing for the MSA.

In 6th grade, we'll be watching BrainPOP!'s video on the Earth's structure, filling out our first K(no W)L chart and making playdoh models of the layers of the Earth and practicing taking rock cores with straws (courtesy Lesson Planet) :) I'm also going to try to incorporate Magic School Bus somehow... Though it takes a while for Ms. Frizzle and the gang to get to the point of things, my kids remember the information so much better when told in story format.

Will update on the math side soon...!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Week From Hell

I hate complaining.

It makes me feel like all I'm doing is sitting around musing about all the bad things in my life and doing nothing about it. It makes me look ungrateful for my job and, sometimes, it makes me feel like I'm a worse teacher for it because the good teachers are doing such a kick ass job that they don't want or need to complain to stop themselves from spontaneously combusting.

So, before I rant about my week from hell, I will cite 10 good things I like about my job:

1. I am learning math and science better as a product of teaching it. And I really miss being a student.

2. My paraprofessional is awesome. AWESOME.

3. All of my kids are hilarious at times and most are very sweet. I like that I have a good relationship with all of them, though at different levels.

4. I get to be inspired by good teachers doing the improbable every day. The 8th grade science teacher who gets my constantly suspended child focused and ADVANCED on the practice MSA. Amazing. The 7th/8th grade history teacher who works hard to break down assignments for students. The 8th grade science teacher who knows how to get her kids in line, get their respect and still manage to teach them.

5. Fellows. Without this job, I wouldn't have met such fun, supportive people :)

6. The experience. Despite how much I struggle with the idea of (sub)urban-school teaching and teaching itself, I know that this is an important experience to have, even if I never decide to teach ever again.

7. The dinero.

Okay, well... 7 is good enough for now.

And now, I present, my personal week from the below.

Monday - My co-teacher is absent for (legitimate) personal reasons. Book work sent in for the kids is varied and plentiful. Sub is math-clueless. Students in math did not want to review for their test this week.

Tuesday - Co-teacher out again. No notice. No assignments. Students continue yesterday's work. Sub is math-clueless. Students in math did better with reviewing for their test. Student writes inappropriate words on papers and leaves them in class. Said student also ran out of paper in the notebook I provided because he is constantly doodling. And had the audacity to ask for a new notebook. Science student breaks down at the end of class because he has not finished his assignment (write the definition of one word for our word wall) and must stay to complete it. (He had 15 minutes and was wasting his time.) Said student fell onto the floor, started crying, kicked chairs and tables while on the floor, attempted to knock over desk with supplies on top... for 10 minutes, at least. Child clearly belongs in an alternative placement and not in the 6th grade.

Wednesday - Co-teacher out again. Notice this time, but with no assignment. I had plans to take co-teaching off (as we are allowed every other week, to have our co-teaching MODs off; while most teachers have two co-teaching MODs, I have one.). Math coach has other ideas. Insists that I go in to co-teaching because a sub is present. I understand her concern for the students' well-being and learning, but I have responsibilities as a SPED teacher. Furthermore, I have no plans for the class. Sub is COMPLETELY useless. Fellow teacher provides assignment (thank goodness), but students need to be taught how to proceed. I had no idea what the class was on, so I hadn't had the chance to review the topic. Students are restless. They are sick of bookwork. Most students have no supplies. It's been long decided that that is not my job, so tough. I have to stay the entire MOD instead of getting to do my SPED paperwork. Not happy. Math coach is surprised that students have no materials. Welcome to PG county. Math coach is surprised that after instruction, students do not begin bookwork. Welcome to PG county. I am late to 2nd MOD. I get to class and students are in my storage closet where I keep snacks and prizes. I am further pissed. Science student finds large amount of my candy stored in a desk of the classroom. Long day, but science students are great... until they break my ruler (by accident). Staff meeting on niceness and minorities. Fellow teacher suggests that our African American students appreciate education more so than the Latino students due to the struggle African Americans faced in trying to get equal education rights. Additionally, she cites that these children have college-going parents who want the same for their kids, whereas the Latino students do not have college-minded parents. Annoyed that my time is being wasted. College-minded parents or not, most of our kids are a hot mess, African American or Latino or Asian.

Thursday - Took the wrong exit on the way to work. Hit immense traffic - on the same road from 30 minutes. Missed science meeting. Looks horrible. Co-teacher out again. Notice with work sent in, though co-teacher tells administration that I will be teaching a lesson as we discussed. We did not discuss. Says she will be back tomorrow. I was planning to get my co-teaching MOD off today, since I didn't get it yesterday. Not so. Math coach says I'm needed in co-teaching. I print out a copy of co-teacher's assignment and have to go teach and monitor the kids, despite a paid sub being present (though this one is better than the previous 3). Plus: teach kids, most get it, most take notes, and are working. Minus: I try to explain to math coach that I have other responsibilities and it is my right as a co-teaching SPED teacher to take off a MOD. Math coach attempts to understand but has the interest of the kids in mind and not my responsibilities. Understandable, but I need to cover my butt. Further peeved that my plans have been changed again. Math students moving slow and unable to take test. Had to confront stealing children. Had to give two days detention to stealing children. Pissed that this is the first time this year that I've caught children stealing from me when I am very generous with prizes and treats. Other math class better, though, cause my paraprofessional is AWESOME. Had to go to store to buy supplies for activity later in the day. Annoyed that we are not reimbursed. Annoyed that additional children have been added to our in school club hours before. Plus: activity was fun. Minus: slipped on ice TWICE during it. Exhausted, but had to go to SPED seminar class. Three very boring hours. Sub for co-teacher reveals that she is going to be back again tomorrow. Co-teacher said she would be back tomorrow. Hmm, conflicting information.

Which brings us to the now. As you may notice, each day's description was longer than the previous.

I want to take a personal day tomorrow. I am exhausted. I think I have bruises from falling today. I don't want to have to deal AGAIN with my co-teacher being absent. I feel like everything is a mess and I would love a day to get it all cleaned up, but the thought of being absent from school makes me feel guilty. But the thought of how overwhelmed and unhappy and stressed out I feel from this week makes me want to cry. I feel like I am doing so much better with planning and instruction, but the meetings and being below the power bother me. I just want to do my thing. Which I know is not really looking possible.

I am seriously thinking about quitting (if not being fired) after this year. This is a nice experience, but I'm ridiculously tired.

I feel no support in a disorganized school. I am a first year teacher who teaches three grades, three curricula and two subjects in three (previously 4) different rooms. I am supposed to go to two morning meetings and several planning meetings a week. My students are constantly suspended or absent. I have not yet been asked what can be done to improve my experience and support me as a first year teacher. Instead, I have been scolded for not being a first year teacher with veteran teacher skills and management. I'm not crying or asking for pity, I'm asking for understanding for an already challenging profession. I have thought about asking for more support, but don't want to seem weak or as if I am struggling, putting me even more so under radar. My math coach, who is very knowledgeable and well-meaning, would have me meticulously plan every lesson by the beginning of every week which I simply do not have the energy for.

I don't enjoy co-teaching. You may ask, "As a co-teacher, shouldn't you have produced plans and work for the students?" Sure, but that's not the "model" we've been following. My co-teacher has been teaching for a while and I believe that she recycles the plans from year to year. Previously, when I made comments or suggestions, I felt that they were negatively received. I accepted the status of aide because I enjoy getting to walk around and work with children one on one. Also I like being the "aide" because I have 2.5 other different lessons to teach daily. I didn't know what unit we were on because previous to the practice MSA, my co-teacher began reviewing with the kids and thus jumping from one unit to another. I emailed last week to ask where we were in the curriculum (I had been testing the kids the week before, so I was absent from co-teaching) so that I might look up material for the kids. No response.

Anyway, I just needed to discuss the situation and now I feel like I can breathe and finish off this week without a personal day.

Thanks for listening :)

Friday, January 28, 2011

How Do I Accomplish What I Set Out to Do in Teaching...?

And I mean, without killing myself over it.

I came across this clip from The Onion via Mr. Teachbad's blog. And I ask myself, do those who don't give a crap (and straight up let you know that they don't give a crap and then their parents echo the same sentiments) deserve my effort or time? My answer: kind of. Under different circumstances, they might've given a crap. They shouldn't be punished for being molded to not give a crap. On the other hand, I haven't adopted all of my parents' values (to their dismay) and I believe that sometimes, you can say, "Mom, that's nice that you don't care about your education or mine, but I do, so no, I can't watch Jersey Shore and Teen Mom with you, I have to do my math homework." It's all very nature vs. nurture, but I believe that as individuals, we often provide our own nurturing and we often do have the conscious ability to mold and shape ourselves and it is just BS to say that our kids are programmed robots who "can't help" the way they are. B.S.

People (who are not teachers/don't seem to remember being teachers of the trenches) are constantly telling me that I need to engage all of my students and that I need to plan lessons that, basically, can take them from apathetic, unmotivated youth who are well on their way to, well, no where (and I'm not trying to be harsh) to college-ready leaders of the future.

Yes, yes. That's lovely. And as silly as it kind of sounds to me now, that "mission", if you will, is exactly why I came into teaching.

What I hate about this amazing year I've had is that administrators have asked me to move some of my high basic kids to proficiency and in my head (and sometimes out loud), I laugh. Are you joking? The kid cannot even remember his name sometimes and you want me to teach him to remember 6 months of math facts and skills? I also hate that I am at the point where I "teach those who want to learn." The worse part is that I don't see how I can't. I don't feel that I have the time to try to convince the "others" to learn, while able and willing students are waiting on the side lines. Prior to the magic of PGCPS, I would have said, "We need to move and believe in every child." In a way, I still believe that... but I can't apply it to PGCPS. I desperately want to believe in every child's ability to achieve and their ability to actually care about their education and I desperately want to be a good enough teacher to actually make a measurable difference in their lives, but with the time crunch, the focus on standardized testing, the pressure... I'm just trying to stay afloat ...while some of my students sink.

In some ways, I am happy that I have had experiences that have taught me that a well-meaning individual isn't going to be able to change a broken school system in a year. In some ways, I am saddened by the fact that the improvement isn't that easy. As adults "guess and check" solutions (and quick fixes) for our schools, how many students are going to have to suffer as guinea pigs? Really, how much potential are we losing? Most of all, I wonder if a really good teacher could get my students to invest in their education, straighten up their behavior, engage them in issues bigger than themselves, and last, but certainly least, raise their MSA scores and grades.

So here's the thing: I'm just trying to survive my first year of teaching. I feel that I have been able to remain surprisingly upbeat about the lack of support I feel I receive and the state of PGCPS. I'm trying to improve the education that my students receive. I wouldn't say that I'm trying extraordinarily hard or my best. Because as it is, I am exhausted. And how easy it is to deny apathetic, sometimes rude and disrespectful children the same help and education that I provide to other students?

Sometimes, I feel justified in my actions. I have a student who, because of his emotional issues, has missed a lot of assignments and in-class information, because he comes into class angry and unable to participate, despite my speaking to him in a calm (but firm) voice and despite my use of reason. One of my class rules is "Rise above it." I really try to stress that as much as I can. I made a t-shirt to wear to class to show that I really believe in it. Every day issues are so minute that if you let them affect your life, you're going to miss out and regret it. I always say, leave it at the door and take what you can from the here and now (or something more middle school appropriate). But that reasonable talk doesn't usually work with him, so I let him stew in the back of class. I don't allow him to go to his favorite administrator because a hissy fit should not signal a fun trip to the office where it's sunshine and butterflies. I try to tell myself that I'm teaching him life. (And admittedly, I'm also trying to "win" and say, "You want to be miserable? Well, you can sit right here and do just that.")

Seven months ago, I believed in the ability of our education system to rise.
I believed that a good, well-intentioned teacher could inspire children to seek and fulfill their full potential.

I still believe those things, deep inside, under a hardened shell of cynicism... I look at the kids in my school who are starting fights, talking about gangs, writing hateful things about each other in the bathroom, wondering the hallways during class as they continue on their path to no where good, and outright telling me that they don't care that their county is the worst county, educationally... (and then some...) in the state.

And I wonder, what will it take for this type of school community to rise? And how am I helping it there? Sometimes, I wish I was teaching high school so I could talk to my kids about these kind of serious topics...

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Many Things...

A quick rambling of thoughts appropriate for 2 am on a school night:

1. Is it possible...? I could be a good teacher...? I'm sitting here planning my science lessons for the week and yes, I think it's possible! I feel very upbeat and into the activities we'll be doing. I also am having a lot of fun with our unit (waves). While math is certainly "easier" to teach (because of less prep, although maybe a good math lesson requires a lot of prep), I can't be enthused about it like I can science. Science was my favorite subject growing up, I majored in it, I wanted to be a doctor. Science, I love you and you are so much more fun than math. Please, PGCPS admin, let me teach only science next year. I really think I can do a good job in this area.

2. I met up with some fellow Fellows today for an event paid for by our non-existent program. People who used to be the inspiration of our group are a bit jaded now and that's sad to see :( But totally understandable. If there's any doubt - let me clear it up. This is an extraordinary group of people (and no one's dropped out yet!!). We will all make extraordinary teachers... somewhere else. Which is sad to think, because PGCPS needs us... clearly. But with their lack of infrastructure and communication, we've got to GET OUT of here before the system collapses and traps us under the rubble. It's not even a metaphor, some of the buildings might actually collapse on us.

3. I love teaching. I love working with students. But I don't know how long I can handle a job that follows me like it's my shadow. At school. At home. At social events. It's calling me, "There's still work to do!!" I fall asleep with papers all over my bed. I fall asleep thinking about school. I fall asleep due to lack of sleep from planning, grading, dealing with daily duties... I love that I have the rare opportunity to touch so many important lives. But, gosh, aren't there any less demanding jobs with just as much as importance? I just want my job to stop following me home sometimes! I hope that as the years go on, it will learn to stay at school. I really don't want to abandon this career; it is still very important to me, despite my learning of the darkness that is our public school system, especially amidst high-achieving school systems.

4. I don't find my education that incredible. According to the rest of the U.S., though, I am a product of a great school system. (And I not only won't argue that, I will toot that MCPS horn... toot, toot, we are awesome.) I just wonder though, if my schooling is considered exceptional, or at least my school district, as I didn't go to one of the more "elite" schools, what the heck is going on in the less awesome schools districts?! Oh, my.

5. Last note - I'm getting better at lesson planning, though it is still slow. Haven't gotten to math yet, but science is done for the week :) Yeah, science!

Thanks for reading :) Have a great week!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Teaching is B-A-N-A-N-A-S.

A year ago, had someone asked me, I would say that teaching is life-changing, world-shaping, an incredible profession...

I still think all of those things, but they would only come up after these thoughts: IT'S INSANE. LITERALLY INSANE. Men and women with optimistic hopes for shaping the future weathered down by the system. Men and women getting paid for teaching students ~40 hours a week, when they are really teaching, coaching, advising, parenting... ~countless hours a week. A job where the expression "there aren't enough hours in a day!" must have come from. And in the kind of school system I work in, teachers are the parents to children whose parents are in some way unable to "properly" parent their children. You know what I mean - telling them that drugs are bad and school is good; that you need to treat others as you wish to be treated and that sex and having babies is not for middle school (or high school).

Teaching is an important job. Even as I don't feel that I am a "real" teacher, I remind myself of that every day - what I'm doing is important, though challenging.But sometimes I wonder - is this job REALLY possible? Reaching children in urban schools and leading them to become the leaders of tomorrow? Can it REALLY happen? (And without killing yourself over it? And without it being some sort of miracle story turned into a movie?) I would like to say YES, IT CAN. But sometimes, when you're at the bottom of Kilamanjaro looking up, you can't help but say to yourself, "holy shift, this is impossible."

Anyway, I wanted to reflect on what an "ideal" week for me would like (all my responsibilities scheduled and fulfilled):

Class: 37 hrs 30 mins

Morning Meetings: Add'l time required - 60 mins/weekly; 90 mins/biweekly

- SPED Department Meeting
- Math Department Meeting
- Science Department Meeting

Planning Period Meetings: Add'l time required - 50 mins

- SIT Meeting
- Team Meeting
- Coach Meeting
- Collaborative Meeting (one for co-taught math, one for my intensive's math class and one for science)
     - Since there are 5 planning periods in a week and I should be attending 6 meetings, 1 add'l planning period should technically exist....

After School Activities: Add'l time required - 3 hrs (supposedly.)

- Extended Learning Opportunity (planning and tutoring math lessons)

Planning: (My coach has suggested that the lesson should be done (worksheets tried, activities attempted) and all materials need to be created/prepared/gathered before considering lesson planning done. It takes me an hour to two to think of how I would like a lesson to go. Then it takes me to time to create handouts and powerpoints - 1 to 2 hours. Then I have to make copies, gather or make materials, etc. - 1 hour to 2 hours. Each day I teach a "high" intensive math class, a "low" intensive math class and a low intensive science class. Theoretically, I have 3 prep's. About 1/2 of the time, I do different things with my higher class that I don't do in my lower class, so I say that I teach 2.5 different classes.) I'm going to calculate on the low end of planning (3 hrs/lesson), rather than the high end (6 hrs/lesson). I do also acknowledge that I am a slow planner. Also, my principal suggested that I should be only planning and teaching about 3 lessons a week as they overlap on days so that's why I multiplied by 3 instead of 5:

3 hrs/lesson x 2.5 lessons a day x 3 lessons a week = 22.5 hours

So in total, we're up to 65 hours a week. Now throw in some grading in there, IEP management, bulletin board updates.... Did I mention that teachers don't get paid enough?