Category Archives: getting to know me

Wit beyond measure is man’s greatest treasure.

Somehow, my class started talking about Pottermore while I was taking attendance. They were comparing houses and traits and so on.

One girl asked, “Hey, Ms. H, have you taken the quiz? What house are you in?”

I said, “It should be pretty easy to guess which house I’m in.”

Another girl spoke up with authority: “She’s Ravenclaw.”

The first girl asked, “How did you know that?”

“Because she said it was obvious,” she responded plainly.

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You’re HOW old???

Me: Height doesn’t have anything to do with age. Most of you are taller than me, but I’m twice as old as all of you.
Boy 1: What? How old are you?
Me: I’m 36.
Six kids: What? No way!
Boy 2: I thought you were 29!
Me: No. I’m 36.
Boy 2: Really??? Someone told me you were 29.
Me: No. I’m really 36.
Girl: What year were you born?
Me: 1981.
Girl: Shit. Yeah, well, I guess that really is 36 years ago. The oldest I would have guessed you at is 32.
Me: Thanks, but no, I’m really 36.
Boy 1: Snap! You’re only 24 years away from being 50! That’s so old!
Me: I’m actually only 14 years away from being 50.
Boy 1: What? That’s even worse!
Boy 3: My dad just turned 36 a few days ago.
Me: Cool. Well, I guess me and your dad have something in common.
Boy 1: Oh my god! Fourteen years away from FIFTY! Don’t you hate being so old?
Me: Nope, I don’t really mind it. I’ve gotten used to it, really. Just one year at a time.
Boy 2: Yeah, that’s not too bad, being 36. It means you’re smart. You know, wise.
Girl [laughing, clearly making fun of the boys]: Yeah, Ms. H. You’re wise because you’re so old.

Support From Home

Right now, I have two parents routinely checking in on their kids in my class, emailing me with questions and concerns, and following up with me on missing assignments and naughty behaviors.

Two parents. Like, for two kids.

That’s more than I’ve had ever at one time at this school.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is a large reason why in my house with my own children we don’t miss a single music performance, open house night, field trip, parent/teacher conference, baseball practice, soccer game, dance recital, tae kwondo ceremony, first day of school picture outside the school in new clothes, tooth fairy visit, spelling test study time, math homework assignment, or chance to discuss friend troubles.

End of Term

Tomorrow is the last day of school this year, so that means that today and tomorrow are finals. And that means that I’m seeing students I haven’t seen in a while. Because nothing says “last ditch effort” than showing up to take a final exam in a class that you haven’t attended all quarter. By the way, in case it isn’t clear, those students won’t be passing.

This has been a transformative year for me. I’ve gone from being sure that I need to quit my job to being sure that I’ll retire from teaching in another 25 years. I’ve also realized that there’s a little bit of love inside me for this job and for these kids. I never thought I went into teaching because of the people side of the job, but after ten years and some really incredible teacher friends sharing their version of what their passion looks and feels like, I’ve come to accept that yes, I really did want to teach because I wanted to work with people. One teacher friend told me that at the beginning of every year, she tells her students that she intends to love them, and that being together in the classroom every day and reading together and writing together are the glues that form that bond. I like that: I intend to love you. Love has always been a weird thing for me – difficult to recognize and accept and even difficult to pinpoint within myself. But this year I’m seeing it more and more, and in fact I’m seeing it enough that I’m even seeing it in my classroom.

I recently went to a graduation party for a student who I had in middle school. Do you remember that class four years ago? It was a tough year, but we made it through and now those kids are all going off to college. Anyway, the party was for Sweet Girl (read more about her here and here) and it was so, so wonderful to be invited to her party and to hear all about what her and a bunch of those other kids will be doing in the fall. In a strange way, it has been this class coming full circle that has helped me decide that I needed to stay in teaching. Maybe the events of that year were what gave me doubt in the first place, but it has definitely been those kids who have had the greatest impact not only on my decision not to leave, but also my realization that I’m in this for the love, for the heart, for the people. They are all where they are today because of me – not just academically, but emotionally as well. We processed together, healed together. And that wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t loved them.

As I clean my desk and get ready for summer vacation, I find that I’m looking forward to next school year more than I have possibly ever. I’m going to enjoy my summer, spending time with my kids at the pool and taking day trips and reading books and laughing with friends, but I think next year is going to be great. I’ll be in the same room (remember, I moved schools two years ago, then changed rooms last summer), teaching the same thing (English 11!), and I have a leadership position working with teachers as we make some pretty drastic (for some) changes to our grading policies district-wide. Things will be good at home, too: my kids will be attending the same school all day for the first time ever, we’re getting a foreign exchange student from Spain, and we’re starting some really awesome remodeling projects. All in all, things are looking bright. And I’m grateful.

Mad Dash

This Monday, we started fourth quarter. This is a true nine week quarter, as there are no breaks until the last day of school in June. That makes it simultaneously a looooong quarter and a very quick one (compare it to, say, second quarter, which is something like 14 calendar weeks long due to so much time off).

Today is Friday of our first week, so I know I only have eight weeks left. Eight weeks to cover two major texts and a handful of writing assignments. Eight weeks to do SATs and state standardized testing. Eight weeks to get as many of my 50-ish students as I can to pass junior English. Eight weeks to wake up in the dark hours, put together professional outfits, apply mascara, and hope traffic isn’t bad so bad that I fly through the front doors of the building after the bell rings. Eight weeks of hoping I’m getting this all right.

I toyed with the idea of leaving this year – leaving my building, leaving my job – but in the end I think I’ll be staying. If something else amazing comes up, then maybe. But I have some things coming up next year that will make it nice to be in the same spot, the same job, where I’m comfortable and I know what to expect. Who knows what changes the future will bring? But in the meantime I’m engaged in this mad dash to the finish line. Eight more weeks.

BigDick242

It’s not often that I laugh at something a student says – that anyone says – in a way that catches me off guard. My husband gets exasperated with me because I can sit through an entire two-hour stand-up comedy routine without even barely smiling. It’s not that I’m anti-fun or anything, just that I’m generally pretty reserved like that. I do laugh, easily, even. But, I don’t know, I guess I just measure my responses. Especially at school. So often kids say or do things to get a response and I just don’t give it to them.

However, I have this girl who says things all the time without trying to be funny that are just funny. And I laugh at what she says all the time in spite of myself – because what she’s saying is just barely on the tip toe edge of being crass. It’s the level of crass that when other kids say stuff at that level I’m able to look at them with a little glare and remind them that they’re in school. But her delivery is so natural, so candid, and so unassumingly witty, that, well, I don’t mean to, but honest giggles come out of me.

The other day, I overhear this sort-of-exchange between her and a boy in class. She’s actually just sort of quietly talking to herself at the beginning, but he jumps in.

Girl: God, sometimes it sucks being a good student. I have enough cleavage; I should just ditch all this and invest in my porn career.
[A boy two rows over throws himself on the desk to offer a high five.]
Girl, suddenly disgusted: Ugh! I’m not going to high five you for that! I’m not saying that so I can get your support! I have all the support I need from my online fans – guys like @bigdick242. Get out of my face.

And the same day, this between her and another girl.

Another Girl: Oh my god, I love Insane Clown Posse.
Girl: Yeah, I used to listen to ICP in eighth grade. It made me depressed as hell and definitely contributed to some bad choices. I regret those years.
Another Girl: What years?
Girl: Eighth grade.
Another Girl: Eighth grade is only one year.
Girl: No, I told you, I liked ICP then. It was more than one year.

It’s your problem.

I have a girl in one of my classes who is pregnant. She also has little – very little, by my understanding – siblings at home. She also has a mom who works and no other adult in the house. And so, as is too, too common with kids in less-than-awesome situations, she’s called on to babysit her siblings while her mother works, even if that means she has to miss school to do it. Add this to times that she misses school for doctor appointments, and you have a young lady with already too many absences in the fourth week of school.

I talked to her last week about it and she said, “Well, I talked to my counselor about it and they said that if I miss more than five classes and I’m still passing, I’ll be OK, but if I miss more than eight classes they’ll drop me. And I just think that’s too bad,  you know? I mean, I do the work, but if they want to drop me, that’s their problem.”

And I said, “No, honey, that’s your problem. It’s not a matter of them wanting to drop you, it’s a matter of you needing to be in school in order to pass classes and graduate and the fact that the state requires students to attend a certain number of hours. You need to do that. Your baby girl needs you to do that.”

“Yeah,” she said. “I mean, I am doing the work, even if I’m not here. But if they want to drop me, that’s their problem.”

*sigh*

Sometimes, there’s no getting through to people, you know?

Anyway, today I’m talking to my class about these short essays they’ve been working on and we traded them for peer review. Mama raises her hand and asks what I’m talking about. As it turns out, she was absent the last two days when everyone else was typing and didn’t check on line for the work. So today, while everyone else is two steps ahead of her, she’s finally writing her essay.

I am sorry for her, really I am. I’m sorry that she’s stressed about school and that she’s pregnant before even turning 18 and that she has life stuff at home that she has to take care of and I’m sorry for my role in this situation. I know that she is in a position to be mad at a lot of people that aren’t her and I know that she feels targeted and like no one is giving her a chance or a break and that things are harder than they should be. And to a degree, she’s right.But she’s also wrong, in that she made the choices that got her here and her mother made choices before her that got her here and those choices – all of them – are things I can’t change and can’t fix and can’t do anything about.

In the end, she will likely be dropped from at least my class – maybe more. And since the baby is coming at the end of next quarter, my guess is that means she won’t return to school next quarter…or probably the quarter after that. Maybe we’ll see her fourth quarter? Maybe she’ll come back next year?

These are the things I wish I could fix, could have some power to change.

Sometimes, it’s the little connections that count.

Me: Do any of you watch Game of Thrones?
A girl half raises her hand.
Me: Hodor!
She half smiles.
Me: Did you cry?
She gives a single nod.
Me: I was crying. Just a little bit.
Girl: I cried so much.

It’s all about the choices.

Me: Please. Get. Back. To. Work.
Boy: I am working.
Me: You’re not working. You’re talking. Still.
Boy: Why do I have to work on this?
Me: Because this is school. That is the expectation. It’s not social time.
Boy: But I haven’t had social time all week.
Me: That’s not my concern.
Boy: Are you saying you don’t care about my social well-being?
Me: Yes. In here, all you need to do is your assignments. You can talk in an hour when the bell rings.
Boy: I shouldn’t even be in this class. Why do I have to be here? Why do you care so much about me just sitting here working?
Me: Because that’s what this class is for. You couldn’t get this credit in a traditional class for whatever reason, so now you’re here. So get the work done.
Boy: I couldn’t get my credit because my cousin died so I didn’t come to school.
Me: That sucks. It does. But this is the consequence of that choice. If you don’t like it, then you know to make a better choice next time.
Boy: It’s not my choice to be here.
Me: No, you have to be here. Because you chose not to attend regular classes. And since you’re here, you have to do the work.
Boy: I don’t even like you.
Me: Also not my concern. Pick up your pen and get your assignment done.

So, so dumb.

For two blocks a day, I monitor what we call “Flex.” It’s set up like study hall where everyone is working independently on something different. It’s for credit recovery, mostly. The deal is that kids come in and have a set amount of work to do and 60 hours to do it in. At 60 hours, if they’re done with the work, they don’t have to come any more. At the beginning of the quarter they get put in here for one block a day. As the quarter goes on, they get put in here for two blocks a day. By the end of the quarter, some kids are put in here for all four blocks a day. Seven hours of independent work time. Ugh. Just the thought of it makes me want to vomit – and I’m a terrific independent worker.

Right now there’s this kid who’s in Flex for the entire day. He’s slow to start in the morning, gets a little bit done in second and third, but by fourth, he’s toast. So he’s kind to me in the morning when I’m in here, but sort of an ass most afternoon when I’m in here. Today I offered to let him go to the library to work – a change of scenery and away from peers who are distracting him. He said, “I literally just said one word. What the fuck? I’ve been in here for seven fucking hours. I should be allowed to say one fucking word.”

OK.

  1. It was not one fucking word. It was a series of words that he spoke in conversation with his neighbor over a ten minute period.
  2. He is absolutely correct.

We are running a school. Full of teenagers. These are people who should be moving and playing and doing. They should be experimenting. They should be discussing, engaging, reading, trying, and thinking critically. But because Things Are The Way They Are, these kids are put in a room and expected to get shit done, but since there’s a reason why these kids are in a program like this one in the first place, that model doesn’t really work.

I’ve had a really difficult time this year feeling sometimes like I’m expected to be no more than a band-aid and sometimes like I’m expected to be a messiah – between “don’t teach them any more than they need” and “teach them all of the things.” And this Flex program more than anything has been a source of some real existential trouble. Twelve more wake-ups. Only twelve more wake-ups.

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