Category Archives: administration

Things Fall Apart

It’s that time of year when things get hard.

Students stop showing up every day.

Parents come to conferences drunk.

Kids are arrested for fighting the principal and the SRO.

Counselors look tired.

Administrators release a giant exhale every time they walk from the hallway into the staff room.

Everyone does a lot of resting their head in their hands.

The Christmas tree lights are up in the main entrance, the spirit days are scheduled, the holiday dinner is planned.

But there’s just the permeating feeling of needing to hold on long enough to get through it all.

 

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A fight

I heard the yelling as I walked out of the copy room.

I saw the pushing a few steps later.

I yelled one girl’s name. “No! Stop!” She didn’t hear me yell her name.

I don’t know which one lunged first, but by the time I got there, they were both on the ground.

Everything happened so fast.

They both had long hair, which worked equally as a disadvantage for each girl but an advantage for the other one.

Two other teachers were there as well. We all tried to pull them apart.

They were so close to the stairs; I worried that they would tumble over.

Our SRO and VP came up. I’ve never heard an officer announce himself like that in real life. “Stop! Police!”

One girl’s boyfriend was recording it. “Put that away!” I shouted, putting my fresh copies in front of the camera. “You should be ashamed of yourself. You should be helping her stop this.”

One of them lost a shoe, her cell phone, and a clump of hair.

A clump of hair the size of a bald spot.

One girl was arrested. One girl was suspended.

Then I had to walk to class, stand tall in my cheetah print heels…and teach.

But first I took a few deep breaths in the hallway and cried a few tears and willed my hands to stop shaking.

Vocabulary Lesson

Set scene: Every day, I start every class with five or so minutes of silent writing time. Every. Day. I expect students to write silently. Well yesterday in one of my classes I had to ask a couple of girls to stop talking multiple times. So then since I was harassing them they got sassy. Obviously. Then, this:

Me: If you’re going to continue being insolent, I will ask you to separate and I will write a referral for each of you.
[Girl who I will from now on be calling “Red”]: Ex-cyuuuuse ME! But it is pronounced insubordinate! THANK you!
Me: No, the word I’m using is pronounced “insolent.” However, you are also being insubordinate. They are both good words to describe how you’re acting right now, and either will earn you another conversation with the vice principal if you keep it up.
Red: Ptchch. Whatever.

Levels of Intelligence

Boy 1: Hey, where were you?
Boy 2: The vice principal’s office.
Boy 1: Naw! You got in trouble!?
Boy 2: No, I didn’t get in trouble. She’s not even smart enough to say anything that gets me in trouble.
Me: Did you just call Ms. F “not smart”?
Boy 2: Yeah.
Me: Clearly, you have an incorrect internal evaluation of levels of intelligence.
Boy 2: No. The people I hang out with are so much smarter than her.
Me: Yeah? What makes her so “not smart”?
Boy 2: She’s just dumb. I’m not used to that. People I’m with every day are way hella smarter than that.
Me: Clearly.
Boy 2: Yeah. Clearly.

Welcome Praise

This morning in the staff room:

Principal: So we’re hiring people for next year, you know, and I’m starting to pull people from the district lists. The coordinator keeps sending me vetted lists, letting me know Oh, so-and-so has been teaching at the STEM center or This teacher has been at XXX school, so they wouldn’t be a good fit for you. And I’m getting mad, you know? I’m like, How about you just send me lists of candidates and let me interview the people I want to interview? I don’t want them to decide for me who’s going to fit well here just because we’re at the alternative school. 
Me: Yeah, this place isn’t Siberia. They don’t just get to relegate the lousy teachers here for you to deal with!
Principal: Right. Finally, I told him, Look, we have a GATE teacher here, and she’s doing great!
Me: So what you’re saying is, I am the standard of excellence here at our school.
Principal: No, that’s not what I said.
Me: Well, that’s what I heard: Ms. H sets the bar for all future hires.

Agony. Absolute agony.

Have you ever been excited about teaching a lesson because, seriously, how could it not be awesome? And then you get there and you start leading in to things and you know instantly and with absolute certainty that your students are just humoring you – that they’re just going through the motions, following the directions because you’re the teacher?

Yeah, me too. Like just the other day.

Actually, side note, this happens a lot more often to me in the alternative school than it did in the middle school. More on that later (probably).

This story isn’t a very awesome story; there’s nothing noteworthy or funny  or poignant about any of it. We read a chapter from All Quiet on the Western Front, I gave them a writing prompt based on a quotation from the chapter, they wrote about it, then we did a philosophical chairs discussion. Let me tell you – you talk to most teachers and they freaking love this discussion strategy. If you’d have talked to me a year ago, I would have told you all about how I freaking loved this discussion strategy. But, jeez-oh-pete, these kids wouldn’t discuss! I sat it up like a champ. I had my notepad out to jot down every wonderful bit of sagacity that came out of every single kid. I thanked them ahead of time for their participation. And then they sat there. Looking at me. With their eyes half closed and their backs all rounded, slumped over in their chairs. In the end, I felt like I had to beat them to get them to say anything and gave them credit for speaking up at all. It was agony. For all of us.

It depresses me to see teens with so little oomph left in them. I hate knowing that they all have shit going on in their lives, but yet they don’t see education as a way out of that. I’m frustrated with them and for the education system for creating human beings who don’t care to engage even a little bit unless it’s to fight someone or to stir up drama. I’m disheartened at how many of my students only know about failing, so they just take a zero (and another one on top of that…and another one on top of that) like a champ, not even blinking. And I feel like I’m going crazy trying to get them to fight for themselves by asking them to use technology in creative and interesting ways, and encouraging them to discuss whether humans are naturally cooperative or naturally competitive, and playing bombing sounds while we read a chapter about a WWI bombardment, and welcoming them when they walk into my classroom, and getting excited about typically mundane things like the genius German recruitment system in the early 1900s, and bringing them candy, and making sure they get up and move during class every so often, and all the other things I do to get them to wake the fuck up but just result in the same old blah.

I like my job. I do. And I don’t just mean my job as a teacher, I mean my job at this school. I like who I work with, both teachers and students. My administration is great. And I took this job because I needed something different. I wanted a new opportunity for growth and learning. I craved novelty. But I will tell you…This job has made me doubt and question so much about childhood and adulthood, school, the purpose of graduation, the authenticity of grades, rules and expectations, the fine line between passing and failing.

But maybe that’s what I needed. I think questioning helps us learn the best. So I guess this is what’s called “growth.”

Oops, I did it again.

Yesterday, I received this email from our department chair:

Hey would you be willing to facilitate [the department meeting] today.  I want to have others lead the group discussion as well as have the department get to know the new staff members better ….[the principal] set the agenda and I will have it up on the smart board for you….

Let me know
thanks

This had not been on my Plans For Thursday radar. Let’s see…Lead a meeting that I didn’t set an agenda for in a group of people who I barely know because I’ve only been on staff here for like two months and who can’t stay on track for three minutes at a time when it’s someone else’s paid position to lead these meetings…? But I said this:

Yikes! I didn’t know I was going to be put on the spot today! Sure, I’ll do it.

Because, you know, why not? I can be a team player when I feel like it. So she sends back:

Not on the spot….I just want everyone to get to know you!!!

Hmmm. Well, OK. If getting to know me is what you want, then I’m running this meeting MY way.
At our first department meeting, we agreed that we would start on time and leave on time. Well, that hasn’t happened all school year. Here’s one thing about me, since that’s the theme of the meeting: I effing hate wasting time. I believe that there’s a time for fun and goofing off and sharing feelings and telling stories, but not while it’s time to work.

We agreed our meetings would run from 3:05 to 3:50. I was in the room at 3:03 (two minutes after the final bell rang) asking to see the agenda, which was simply two questions that we had to brainstorm answers for: 1) Why do our students fail? and 2) What can we do to change that?

At 3:05, it was still only me and the department chair in the room, but I started asking her for ideas to get the list going. At 3:06 two more people showed up and jumped in. At 3:12 a teacher came in with a list (because we’d gotten these questions from the principal ahead of time) and I told him to look at our list and please only share out ideas that didn’t duplicate the ideas we had come up with seven minutes prior. At 3:14 another teacher came in and wanted to know what we were working on, so I directed that teacher to read the screen and then ask questions because we had started working nine minutes ago and shouldn’t go back to review because people couldn’t get to the meeting on time.

Can you see where this is going? That’s right, we got shit done. Because, here’s something else about me, I get shit done.

At 3: 25 I realized that one of our vice principals was sitting in the back. You know how I finally noticed? Because she suggested something and I said, “We already have that. What else?” and highlighted on the screen (because I was also taking notes electronically during the meeting) then she apologized and people looked back at her. I had a moment of regret right because I started thinking to myself “Maybe I should be nicer. Maybe I shouldn’t call people out for being so late. Maybe it’s OK to allow a few side conversations. Maybe I shouldn’t get so annoyed that the department chair is passing around a bag of candy in the back of the room. Maybe I don’t have to…” And then I stopped because you know what? I hate it when I go to a meeting and half of it is taken up with people talking and talking and talking about their own personal stuff forever and a loosey-goosey agenda and side comments that derail everyone else’s focus and then leaving that meeting realizing that I just wasted 45 minutes of my life. That’s my life! And I totally wish I was one of those people who has no problem checking out of the meeting and playing 1010 on their phone, but I don’t want to be rude, so instead I look like I’m taking notes but I’m really planning out my grocery list for the weekend or something. So yeah, I stopped worrying about being nice and kept running the meeting. My way. Because that’s what she wanted, right? For everyone to get to know me? Well, this is me. Being efficient.

We were done by 3:40, so we set the agenda for the next meeting and at exactly 3:50 I told people to go home. I mean, I was nicer than that, but that was the essence. You know, “Good meeting everyone. See you tomorrow.”

When we walked out, the VP caught up to me and said, “That. Was. Awesome. I’ve been to so many of those meetings and it’s like herding cats every single time. The English department is not well known for being very efficient here.”

Then this morning, my teacher friend who has her first period in the English hall (I’m not up there until later) sends me this email:

FYI- the word on the street is that everyone is all a titter about what an awesome job you did yesterday (admins especially)!

Be careful- much will be expected of those that are competent.

Can I be your sidekick?

And, of course, I said this back:

Only if you wear spandex and a cape.

But what I really wanted to say is “Shit, you’re right. Why can I never just aim for mediocrity like everyone else?”

I blame my father. It is absolutely 100% his fault I get myself into messes like these.

No Smoking

Today, our school had a spirit day – you know, where you get to dress up. Theme: The Outsiders. Now, as a rational human being and a reasonable observer of things like Rules That Make Sense, I didn’t even once stop to consider that I should cover with my students things that would or would not be OK to bring to school.

However, as it turns out, some people – ahem, kids – at my school clearly do not fall into that same category.

The ELA teachers received an email from one of our administrators this morning asking us to mention to our classes that cigarettes – even fake ones – are not allowed as part of their Outsiders costumes. At first, I thought it was a joke and said something back about them also not being allowed to carry heaters (guns) around campus today.

Then I heard the stories.

Yes, some eighth graders had the brilliant idea to bring fake cigarettes to school and pose in pictures in the hallway, “smoking.”

Oy. Really?

I probably shouldn’t laugh at this…

A sixth grader locked himself in his locker today.

I’ll give you a moment to giggle about that one.

It’s true. I’m standing there in the hall with another teacher during break and all the kids all around us are in and out of their lockers – but we’re paying more attention to the kids walking around us, dropping things in the hall, shoving their friends, and other raucous things children do during the ten minutes of freedom they have in the morning between classes. Suddenly, this kid rushes up to us and says, “That kid just locked himself in his locker!” and he pointed. By now, kids have heard and a crowd starts to assemble. Some other kid is at the locker, spinning the lock, fruitlessly trying a combination. The teacher I was with, A, steps in and shoos the crowd away, then yells through the locker to see if someone really is in the locker. Yup, a small voice answers back. She asks him for his code, but even when she tries it the door won’t open. Clearly, it’s jammed; if a backpack mis-positioned in the locker will jam it, why wouldn’t a human body? I run off to the office to get the janitor. The office ladies giggle while paging our custodian.

And that’s essentially where the story ends. Another teacher was actually able to get the kid out before the custodian actually arrived. And before an administrator arrived – a very angry administrator, I might add. Which is probably a good thing. Because someone needed to be an adult about it and the rest of us were busy giggling.

I’m so glad I brought coffee for today.

Today marked the last day of school before spring break. Thank God. For those of you who live or work near, with or around teenagers or barnyard animals, you know what this time of year does to behaviors…it’s time for a break.

Allow me to share just some of what I’ve been dealing with this week.

Yesterday, I had six little sixth grade girls come up to me and tell me that a boy has been slapping their bottoms, snapping their bra straps, and “tickling” their ribs. Come to find out, he’s also been lifting his shirt to “flash” girls and was caught today punching another kid (another boy) in the bum. Goodness…

At the end of the day yesterday, a coworker sent me a link to a website that uses my name in the URL that one of our shared students stumbled upon when he was searching for my class web site. Except this is in no way related to class. It was porn. Straight up jiggling fake breasts, giant dildos porn. It has since been taken down because I contacted the host site and explained that, as a school teacher, that’s just a really bad idea.

Then this morning, my principal sends out an email to all us teachers that the sixth grade boys’ bathroom had been vandalized. Evidently, the floor was coated in a giant pool of urine and soap and toilet paper had been unraveled all over the place. I just sent her back an email that said, “First boobies and now urine…Is this a frat house? If so, I am incredibly overdressed and under-intoxicated.”

There is some good news for today, though. Remember how I had that kid who died? Well I’ve noticed since then this horrible presence of stress in that period – this heaviness that the kids have had to wade through since October. But lately, I have noticed the wading is easier. For a while, it was really awkward and difficult to talk about death in that class – and when you’re teaching The Giver and a philosophy unit, death is an inevitable topic. But today, the kids were talking about dying and circumstances of death and were even bringing scenarios into the conversation that involved guns and shooting people…and it was OK. No one cringed. No one cried. No one asked, “Please stop.” It was heavenly. And I told the kids so afterward. I told them that I don’t like guns and that I’m usually the first one to bristle when they talk about gun violence flippantly, but today I realized that it was a little like a breath of fresh air. We can all breathe now. I told them I wanted to give them all a giant group hug because they were moving on and healing and it made me so happy to see. Then I wiped a tear and so did a few kids and I thanked them for being wonderful and sent them off to their spring breaks.

Finally, I have a piece of an overheard conversation to leave you with.

Girl: I don’t look forward to being an adult because you don’t have anything to look forward to any more.
Boy: You can look forward to retirement.
Girl: Oh? And then what? Death?

Yup, that’s all I’m looking forward to in my life…retirement and death. I’m so glad they understand…

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