Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Mar 11 2009

let’s fight over a kid. in front of him.

welcome to connecticut and your new school. ta-da no one wants you.

of course, too many ridiculous occurrences pop up in an average day to detail for you here, but in the 2+ months since my last post, i’ve come up with some doosies. or maybe they’re just significant to me because it’s my reality…

let’s start with today…

we’re in the middle of CMT testing (high-stakes state standardized tests for grades 3-8), so the kids are a little… uh… wound up. ironically, of course, my neighborhood school gets yet another new student during the middle of this super anal-retentive high-security situation. well, students who do not “test out” of our intervention reading program (read 180) are in my class. the read 180 teacher is a classless, uninterested, deadbeat tenured “teacher” who is very notorious around school. i sent this lovely new student (who is def going to be a heartbreaker/charmer) to her for testing. she rejected him twice before she felt it necessary to walk him personally back to my classroom to scream at me that she didn’t want him in front of him and the rest of my class. all while her students trickled into the hallway and continued their chaos. luckily, another 7/8 team teacher was walking by on her prep time and offered to take him to the office. of course, he ended up back where he was supposed to be (read 180) within a few minutes.
next thing i know, the read 180 “teacher” has once again left her class in order to escort him to my room and inform me that he, in fact, miraculously registered and took the test in oh… 1/10 the time it has taken even my brightest students. she lied to me in front of the very person who knew best that it was a lie. how can we teach our children morals when their “role model” teachers do it in front of them? of course, i played along and went right to my principal after school (and surprisingly received at least verbal support).

and the tough times always seem to last…

the week after february break, my 8th grade figured out a way to be even more of a disaster. they mutinied against me.
you might ask… in a classroom where the daily occurrences include water fights, screaming obscenities, playing revolving door with my two entries/exits, and humping chairs (“dancing”), what exactly does mutiny look like?
well… stolen art supplies thrown out the window. doors slammed on my face. students pushing their bodies up against my back and stepping in time with me. students cursing me out and screaming (in front of everyone) that i lie to parents. not even my best students even writing their name on papers, much less actually getting an assignment done (for more than a week). students lying on the phone that they’re the parent and trying to pull it off. blatantly ignoring me even when i am trying to get one specific student’s attention for multiple minutes (x20 students).
at one point, there were three adults and only 14 students in the room. they were still uncontrollable.

at the neighborhood school, our first expulsion in the middle school this year came from gang recruitment. you are 12 years old. if you get into a gang now, you won’t live to be 21.
i’m seeing some of my favorite (and more difficult) 7th grade boys falling into funks because of this ex-8th grader’s recruitment efforts. i can’t count how many tears i’ve shed for them, because i don’t even know how to combat this…
i don’t get it… you see all the tragic things that happen (including students being out for friends’ funerals about once a month) and you still can’t figure out a way to stay out?

well, i haven’t seen my 7/8 split in nearly 2 months… see, the funny thing about the CMT is that in perma-failing districts like new haven public, we have district mandates to stop ALL instruction and do intensive CMT prep for the entire month of february. we even have the third week off to let kids rest and then one week of CMT prep again to get back into the swing of things before the actual tests start. everything goes on hold for this test. the district makes weekly content-specific books with endless drill practice in the same format as the real test in order to make up/catch up in a last-ditch effort to raise scores and get out of hot water.
we even had pep rallies (featuring magicians, local rappers, and free t-shirts) at every school before the test. the magnet school had a parent pep rally night to make posters for the school and a special picnic the last day before the test. younger classes adopt older classes to bring them treats, cheers, and posters to inspire confidence and investment to give it their all. i even made breakfast for a couple classes.
here’s a fucking hint: maybe we should be cutting the cramming and actually teaching our students all year long.
cheerleading should be a daily thing, not a last-minute thing.

but there have definitely been some highs…

while one of my most unruly bipolar students is still reeling and screaming (i’m convinced he doesn’t have a volume level any lower than “shriek”), at least he’s yelling at me (not other students) that he doesn’t have what he needs to do his work. shock. in the past two months, his curse-every-other-word and pick-fights-with-everyone has dramatically dropped off. not gone, but i still can’t praise him enough. this is the same student who had such difficulties that last year he was on a modified day and literally played on the computer from 12:30-dismissal. at the beginning of the year, he left my class to do this at 1:30. he hasn’t left to go to the resource room in months…. :)

i still have to fight an uphill battle for my super-intelligent but very quirky and extremely needy autistic student at the magnet school. i pulled some serious strings with our CMT coordinator in order to get to proctor his test administration. i simply do not trust anyone else’s patience with him, and i refuse to let him fall into his stress-induced meltdowns during testing. even though he’s taken more than twice the allotted time every test (we take one a day), i refuse to rush him or cut into his needs. today it meant using every ounce of restraint to not pee my pants or rip his test out of his hands on the last question because (yet again) i had to be teaching at the other school in mere minutes. other teachers call me a softie, but i’m the only one listening to his needs.

with all this CMT testing, i actually only have two classes to teach outside of proctoring and spending my mornings crowd-controlling the 5th/6th grades while the CMT coordinator sets up. of course, its my two classes at the neighborhood school and of course they’re super rowdy from being beaten down in testing all morning. i’ve made my own mini-unit that focuses on one country a week and we do tons of stations about tourism, food, culture, history, people, and currency (with all my materials being my own personal photos and money from my travels and prepared-in-class food to sample). i think it’s a pretty sweet deal, but my 8th graders don’t give two shits. the good part is that since i’m only prepping for one class (albeit a very prep-intensive class), i actually have time to breathe. i’ve tried to get a lot of extra/make-up work done in the lull.
i keep thinking… so this is what it feels like to have a reasonable amount of different level classes to prep for? it’s going to be super-tough to get back into the swing of having 5 classes to figure out…

another huge perk… yale apparently has a two-week spring break. which means i’m currently at my favorite (but typically too-full) coffee shop on campus…. and i’m going to soak it up while i can. :)

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