Summer school has ended, which means posting will be quite light until the school year begins ~Aug. 25 (school doesn't start until the 2nd, but training will begin prior to that).

Here are some observations that came out of summer school:

Students do not like to be called on their behavior. Yes, this should seem obvious, but it's a little more counterintuitive than that. While students might pretend that they don't know that they're doing anything wrong (e.g. a student is talking with his/her friend during work time, but they're also done with their work), they know that they're supposed to be meeting my expectations, and they are failing to do so. In all honesty, I think it's embarrassing for them to fail to meet expectations. The rub, though, is this: I need to find a way to keep expectations so high that students, even when falling short, will still act appropriately.

All students can learn. This is one of those buzzworthy catchphrases that gets used by the most progressive of progressive educators. There are problem students, students with behavioral disabilities, and students with learning disabilities. There are students who know better, students who know nothing, students who go to bed hungry and wake up starving. The myriad students have myriad problems, and life keeps blundering forward without them. Except. Except that teachers can slow life down, can push them into the crowd. Perhaps we cannot teach them how to run, but at least we can teach them how to fall forward and let the momentum of the crowd push them along until they can get their own footing.

I may have spoken of this student before, but one of my precious little petunias made so much progress by the end of the summer that I couldn't help but be a little teary-eyed when I saw her test scores. This is a student who had no desire, no will, no visible ability. But we worked with her, pushed her, kept her moving when she wanted to stop, and by the end of the summer she had gone from understanding naught to getting a 96% on her test. It took a lot of work, a lot of frustration, a lot of elbow grease. I would finish working with her and just sit in my chair with my eyes staring at the ceiling because I was exhausted from explaining. But she did the progressives proud, even though she was LD and ADD and whatever other acronyms they wanted to append to her name.

I'm going to get pissed off, but I need to keep my temper. I'm usually on a pretty even keel. I don't like to get mad, and I truly enjoy working with students. But students know how to push buttons, and that's something I need to keep in my cortex. Even when I worked in Korea I had this problem, and those students were positively angels compared to what I've dealt with here. Students will eventually insult me, my family, my future children, my car, my clothing, my way of walking, my way of talking, my sense of humor, and pretty much everything else there is about me. I have to maintain a sense of balance in all of this, though, and realize that what they say doesn't matter. Tough to do, indubitably, but possible.

More observations later this week...


Sometimes, you just can't win.

Today started off fine. My second hour class, who had been part of the problem of the previous day, actually did their work. My LD/ADHD students did their work, other students kept doing what they had been doing, and the world was a beautiful place.

Of course, by the end of the hour the student who had her mom called the previous day decided to throw a fit and get all pissy about whether you have to do multiplication or division first in math (hint: you do them in order from left to right, unless you are a pigheaded 12-year-old). By the end of the hour, however, we were able to at least get her to finish her worksheet.

Third hour is where the escalation started. I shouldn't have done it, but I wanted to start the day off right. I talked to one of the three students who had had trouble the previous day, told him I wanted him to have a good day today, that tomorrow was past, etc. I then went to talk to the girl I made cry and her quite boisterous table-mate. I told her table-mate that I wanted to have a good day today, that I know she was rude yesterday....and that's where I lost her.

I made a rookie mistake by referring to the previous day's crapitude. I should have just let it go, I should have said that today was going to be a great day, and left it at that. But no, like a jackass of epic proportions, I decided to call attention to the fact that she was an insolent little cur yesterday (perhaps "prickly little pineapple" would have been a been a better use of nomenclature). She then went into a crazy rant about how she was going to apologize (she really wasn't) and act like an adult today (ditto), but I should have just let it go. Instead, I kept pushing until I couldn't push any further. The boundaries broke, and I lost her. I had to spend the rest of the hour attempting to keep her quiet.

It didn't help that the principal scheduled a tornado drill at 10:15, which is 20 minutes into class, and that lunch is at 10:40, so we had a completely disjointed class period. Between the drill and refocusing on our work following it, we didn't get much done before lunch.

After lunch, my insolent little cur didn't return. Other students told me that she had been taken out of lunch and was in the office. I wasn't entirely sure whether it was because of behavior or because of counseling matters (after this student's mother had a stroke, she had apparently taken her out of school for a full year so that the student could take care of her). Either way, the prickly little pineapple made it back to class with about fifteen minutes to spare. I told her I was glad to see her (in a weak attempt to build up a rapport that had been thoroughly trashed with the whole "rude" debacle from earlier). She said she was doing fine, and I told her that we had started to work on order of operations, and that she could copy down the notes in her notebook. She seemed amenable to this, then asked me if she could ask me a question. I said sure.

"Which food do you like more, tacos or sausages?"

Given that I have been 13 years old before, and given that I still watch the same type of movies 13 year olds watch, I was fully aware of the innuendo.

"That's inappropriate. Please sit down."

"What!? What's your problem? I'm not being inappropriate!"

"Just sit down. It's inappropriate. Get to work."

"You're the one who's inappropriate!"

And then the gates of hell decided to open, and demons decided to fly on brimstone wings, and students decided to talk loudly for no damn reason. While it hadn't been a great class period so far, it also hadn't been that bad. Even with the tornado drill, we were still able to do a bit of work, and the students seemed to understand Order of Operations.

What's funny about being a 13 year old is that you assume that everyone else is naive, when it is you, in fact, who is naive. My mom once told me a story about how she told her parents--whom she had never heard utter a swear word in her entire life--that "her generation" had a new word for sexual intercourse. The word started with an F and ended with what I assume should have been a mouth being washed out with soap.

Of course, I'm no better, since at the age of 12 I assumed that golf had been invented about 5 or 6 years before I started playing it, since I had never heard of it before then.

There is bliss in not knowing how unbelievably little you know.

Everything Changes

So, here goes this: Today was not a good day.

I've had a few bad days so far, but it's rare that I have a day so bad that I feel horrible about myself when I go home. Usually, the feeling bad about myself floats in my emotional soup for a few minutes, but it sublimes into the air with the rest of the barely perceptible emotions before I leave for the day. Not today.

Today we had to call parents, had to separate students, had to do pretty much everything you don't want to have to do in order to get the class under control. Though none of this actually happened during my lessons, it still stuck with me because I'm still a contributing member of the teaching team (motto: We educate young minds so you don't have to, you complete failure of a parent). Being a part of a teaching team means that I'm not really "responsible" for what occurs when I'm not at the front of the class teaching, but it effectively means that I'm "hugely, positively, definitely responsible" for making sure the students are behaving when the other teacher is teaching.

This hasn't really presented a problem until today. Today was a bad day, as I have previously stated, but it was a bad day in many, many ways.

We were learning about Scientific Notation today, i.e. changing large numbers with lots of digits into fewer-digit numbers multiplied by a power of ten (292,000,000 = 2.92 x 10^8). This isn't a difficult lesson, especially considering that we worked on square roots yesterday and they understood that about as well as your average Papua New Guinean understands the electoral college. Today was supposed to be a break for everyone, since the lessons should have been easy and both the students and we would be able to work through it quickly.

First hour, the hour I taught, went that way. We got through the lesson (barely...need better time management skillz), and I thought everything was working well.

Second hour started auspiciously. All of the students were able to do the warm-up problems, even the ones who are perpetually having trouble. One wonderful little wallaby, a girl with learning disabilities who usually quits after the problems get too difficult, was able to push through and finish the warm-up as well as pay attention during instruction. Two other students, however, decided that they didn't want to learn that day. These prickly little pineapples kept their heads on their desks, no matter how many times we tried to adjust their attitude. One of them understood the lesson, which made it difficult to discipline her, but the other had absolutely no clue how to change a problem to/from scientific notation.

The student who understood kept putting her head down on her desk and looking askance at the board in order to technically be "looking at the board" but in reality just sitting with her head on her desk. The student who didn't understand wouldn't even make the effort to work on problems. This was a quandary.

When a student is insolent, the teacher has a few choices. One choice is to just let it go, to allow the student to get her way, and to keep pushing the class (other than her) forward. This option is probably the worst, since it allows the student to dictate the attitude of the class and the acceptable level of defiance. Another option is to hound the student until he/she gives in to your will as teacher. This method can get boring for both the student and the teacher, since both of them are fighting so hard to actually get their way that they are completely tired of the game by the end. The last option, at least in this discussion of various options, is the teacher immediately and completely bending the will of the student to her own. This requires the teacher to be in absolute control in the classroom and for the classroom to have norms established that make students feel uncomfortable if they don't conform. It's funny, I'm a huge fan of individuality, but I realize the need for conformity when it comes to behavioral norms in the classroom. There's just no conceivable way to keep control if all of the students are enforcing their own ideas about normative behavior upon the classroom.

Well, the teacher in charge of the class attempted to do option 3 on our prickly pineapple. That...did not go well. The student whined, complained, got angry, got more insolent, and finally got a trip out to the hall for all her trouble. While in the hall, she got the wonderful opportunity to talk to her mom at work, which I'm sure is what every student wants. And every mom, for that matter: it must be fun to get a call during your work day telling you how completely unmanageable your child is. Fun, fun stuff.

Since this post is getting long, I'll attempt to distill what happened in the final class period into a short paragraph or two.

Two girls in the back refused to listen. They didn't pay attention, then got mad at me because we made it a requirement that they finish the problems on the board in order for them to leave the classroom for the day. I told them that if they had listened, they'd have no trouble completing the problems (and, honestly, they wouldn't have. The problems took most students about 1 minute, if that).

After I took the time to explain how to do scientific notation to one of them, I attempted to explain it to the other one. She was having none of it. I told her she couldn't leave until we finished the problems, and I got her to finish one of the two sets. The bell rang, and she still hadn't completed the second set of problems. I told her that we'd work together to get it done, and that's when she started weeping.

I'm not heartless. Seeing a tiny, thirteen year old girl cry basically made me feel like an ogre of some variety (possibly one who lives under a bridge--yes, I know trolls usually live under bridges, but my capacity for imagination was a little skewed: there was a vulnerable child crying, and I was the presumptive cause). This girl, as I'd learned earlier in the summer, has ADHD, learning disabilities, and she no longer takes her meds. This girl is a mess, and I made her cry. I let her go without doing the problems. I have a feeling that will come back to bite me.

The big bad wolf is alive and well.

Well, that was fun

I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to observe a fellow newbie's classroom on Friday, and let me tell you: Everything I've written about my students now has to be re-examined. This poor teacher had just about the worst group of kids I'd ever seen, and that's saying a lot.

The thing about it was, the students were not blatantly bad. None of them cursed her out, none of them was defiant to the point of being cruel or mean, none of them really DID anything wrong. It was just an amazing accumulation of attitude and asshole-ery that undermined the entire classroom structure.

For example: A student was supposed to come up to the front of the board in order to do a problem. Most of the students in the class have some sort of behavioral disorder, whether it's ADHD or FAS or anything in between, I really don't know. The second another student came up to the front of the class and got the teacher's attention, there was nothing she could do to control the rest of them. They were shouting across the room at one another--nothing rude, nothing mean, just yelling random statments across the room that had zero relevance to the problem on the board--and once they started to lose focus it was nearly impossible to get them back on track.

I talked to the teacher afterwards, and she knew what the problems were. Since most of the students had either a behavioral disorder or, in some cases, a learning disability, them getting kicked out of class really didn't have much effect on them. In addition, she has yet to refer a student down to the office, so they know that they can get away with murder--well, maybe not murder, but at least a kidnapping with request for ransom--without getting sent to the office.

We actually talked about what she should do within our big classroom group, and the technique was basically to be sure to send one of the students to the office the next time it happens in order to show them you mean business. This struck me as odd, however, because then you're basically premeditating a dismissal for a student, though you don't necessarily know which student the dismissal will fall upon. Someone else mentioned this in class, and the explanation we got seemed satisfactory:

You oughtn't to decide that a student is going to get kicked out of class, but you must leave yourself open to that possibility. When it gets to a point where the students are no longer learning, that's the point where someone needs to be sent out to send a message. Give a warning, such as "the next person to do X will get kicked out." But what if the person who does X is actually behaving better than other students, but mistakenly does X at the wrong time? Then you should take that student aside and talk to him/her while waiting for another student to do X, because another student, invariably, will do X, because students are dumb like that. When a worse stduent does X, you can send that student down to the office without feeling bad about sending a kid who wasn't acting THAT bad down to the office.

Lesson learned.

I am the Big Bad Wolf

With all that's going on right now, I must say that I'm impressed that I somehow figured into a student's journal entry in her writing class. My precious petunia of a student got it into her head that I was treating her differently from every other student in class, so she decided to write about it instead of stab me. Or at least that's what I figure her two choices were.

Here is what happened, as far as I can recall: This industrious little ibis brought her cellular telephone to school (so many sixth graders to call, so little time...). Being that it's summer school, students get a little more leeway with respect to this, but that doesn't mean they can have their phones sitting out in the open during class.

When I saw the phone, I asked the little angel to put the phone away. As it happened, this clever student had dressed herself in athletic shorts this morning, so she didn't have a way to put her phone in her pockets. I told her that I didn't care that she had decided to wear clothes that were particularly impractical for both storing telephones and ballroom dancing, but that she had to put it away somewhere I couldn't see it anyway. Another student offered to hold it for the hour, but this precious petunia thought option Double-Q Lamda B, to put it between the pages of her notebook, was the best option. I told her that it was fine to put it there, but to make sure I didn't see it.

So what happened when I walked by her desk again? Of course the phone was sitting out right on the table. Being the strict disciplinarian that I am, I grabbed the phone and put it in my pocket, and immediately told her that I would give it back to her at the end of class, but no earlier.

She huffed and puffed, acting as though I had treated her differently than any other student. At the end of class, I returned the phone to her, as promised. I thought the issue was over, but her writing teacher let me know that she had said rather unkind things about me in her journal, which the teacher had read aloud in front of the class. The teacher, of course, didn't read the entry prior to reading it aloud, so the whole class was able to hear about my treacherous nature.


An error in judgment, to be more precise. I've exercised pretty good judgment since I started training at LoLMEECoA, but a situation occurred today which exhibited just how much further I need to go.

Let me back up: Good judgment, up to this point, has meant keeping my cool and not underestimating the lack of gateway skills (i.e. skills that allow students to work on a given subject, like being able to subtract is a gateway skill for being able to divide, since it is a component of long division) of my students. I haven't gotten into many arguments with students, which is also a good thing, since those types of arguments never end well. No matter how sure I am that one does, indeed, need to use math outside of a classroom, it is difficult to convey such an obvious concept to a 7th grader with a chip on his shoulder. I've done my best to steer clear of power struggles and all of the drama that comes with them.

But my good judgment ran out today. One of my wonderful little wallabies and I were working on some problems, and that little scamp asked me if he could use the bathroom. Given that students tend to ask that approximately five times per class period, per student, I let the student know (cleverly, I thought) that he could go to the bathroom in exactly 6 minutes, since that was when the class period ended. This is a standard teacher thing to do, something that gives students what they want, but puts it inside the teacher's time-frame.

So, this little guy and I were working together for another minute or two, when all of the sudden some yellow liquid spurted out of his mouth and onto the paper. That was odd, I thought. Why would that yellow...oh my God he just threw up. Yes, my precocious little piranha had just thrown up in the classroom as a direct result of me not allowing him to go to the restroom.

Now, I don't want to blame the student, but if you're going to throw up, don't you mention that that's why you want to go to the bathroom? Just say, "Glorious Teacher, might I be allowed to head to the bathroom, because my pyloric valve has been acting up."

Instead, though, he sat silently, threw up, and made me feel about as awful as I've felt while teaching.

Politics, Schmolitics

The program that's training me to become a teacher guarantees that I will have a job, but they don't guarantee where it will be, other than that it will be in the district in which I'm teaching summer school, Hieronymus Bosch School Districtinarium. Why don't I have a job yet, even though I teach a particularly hard to fill subject? That, ladies and germs, is where Politics, schmolitics comes in.

See, teachers who gain tenure are free to transfer between schools in a district. Also, teachers who are both tenured and amazingly bad at their job are often given the option of being put on an "improvement plan," which means they have to have someone watch them and help them get better at their job, or they can get "pink slipped" and sent to another job in the district. Most choose the second option, since then they don't actually have to learn how to raise achievement levels and are instead able to sit in class and do absolutely nothing. This is one reason the achievement gap is alive and well.

So, an amazingly unimpressive tenured teacher gets pink slipped, and another principal HAS to accept this wonderful mound of flesh and blood. But principals know that this mound is bad, so they don't want to hire said mound. In order to not hire this person, they don't announce the openings they have at their school until some other poor schmuck of a principal has hired the mound. I've heard it's "like a game of chicken," and the principals are doing everything they can not to hire the pink-slipped mounds.

Where I come into this is that principals aren't releasing their openings until other principals have released them, and they're doing this to keep themselves shielded from mounds. Sadly, the mounds are going to get jobs no matter what, and they'll get them as soon as a frightened principal blinks. This means that I'm going to be waiting--and the entire school is going to be waiting--for some principal to finally blink (possibly not until the day before school starts), because union rules allow really, really terrible mounds of flesh and blood to occupy seats in the classroom and do absolutely nothing to help close the achievement gap. Lamez0rz


It's surprising how easily things can come to you if you've done them even once before.

My first day in front of a class was, as I have previously relayed, a minor disaster. The second time I got up there, however, I felt comfortable, in control, and completely at ease with the educational process. Then the bell rang to dismiss the students.

It's not that the bell's act of ringing changed anything, it's just that I was still feeling jittery from the previous day's debacle and wasn't inclined to cede control of the classroom to the capricious whims of an inanimate object that happened to announce itself to the world through its ringing. That's exactly what happened, however. I let the bell control my class instead of me.

In general, my classroom is dismissed only after all the materials are put away and every student is in his or her seat. This is how it has been since the first day my cooperating teacher (CT) laid down the rules, and it will continue until the end of the summer. The problem, though, is that in my enthusiasm and elation with my increased teaching aptitude, I forgot about this rule. Depressingly enough, this is a rule that has been ingrained into my head from the first moment I sat in the classroom and observed my CT, so it's doubly depressing that I forgot about it. As soon as that bell rang, I said "Have a good day" instead of going through the proper procedure, instead of making sure our animated little anemones had their butts in their seats.

Did my screw up ruin anything? No, of course not. The students would have eventually had to leave the classroom, with or without my permission. The aardvarkian little aardvarks need things like food, water, attention, computer games, awesome haircuts, etc., and not all of those things can be requisitioned for a 7th grade classroom. The bell had rung, so I did nothing technically wrong with respect to the rules of the school or the procedures laid forth by the LoLMEECoA association of concerned and slightly bemused parents (LoLMEECoAAoCaSBP). One of the things that I've learned in my classroom management workshops, though, is that you need to have control at all times, that you need to model the behavior you want to see, and that you need to be consistent. My letting the students go at the bell instead of after the arbitrary time set forth by my CT changed the structure of the classroom, it shifted the balance of power from me to the bell, and it shook up the consistency of the learning environment.

Since these adorable dust-mites are not forced to be in summer school, and since it is a bit more like daycare than real school, this inconsistency hasn't done any lasting damage. But what if I do the same thing next year? A lot of the students I'll be working with will have little to no structure in their lives. Many will have moved around dozens of times in the last few years, and at least a handful will be living in a homeless shelter. It isn't fair for me to take away what little consistency they have in their lives by succumbing to the tyranny of the bell. I must do better. I will do better.