Maybe I should update my blog name to Childrens Do Learn after Bush's most recent battle with the English language. I worry because my students constantly label things "mines" as in "That pencil is mines" but how can I blame them when our own president hasn't quite figured out plurals.
Thursday, September 27, 2007
The Antagonistic Midget (henceforth known as AM) wasn't in school today and an amazing thing happened. I actually got to see what it's like to teach. Over the past week or two I had actually been expending so much time and energy that teaching was a secondary concern. Today wasn't easy by any means, and there's still another student who's almost as bad as AM, but it was still a big improvement from yesterday.
As it turns out, if I have the chance I can actually teach. Most of the students listen to me and respect me and when students weren't on task there were consequences. I know I still have a lot of work to do to become a more effective teacher. But, after the day I had yesterday I needed a day like today. A day where I didn't even think about quitting after it was done. A day where I felt like things were going to be okay. A day where I remembered why I wanted to do this. And most importantly, tomorrow's Friday.
Posted by ruben_b at 5:28 PM
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Imagine if you were at your job and all day there was an immature, hostile midget just sitting there, heckling you. You try everything in your power to get this midget to calm down and shut up. You ask nicely. You talk calmly and see what's bothering the midget. Finally you just try to ignore the midget as they continue to just harass you. Would you be able to do it? And even if you could, how well could you do your job?
Obviously this is a barely veiled analogy for the situation I find myself in with one of my students. After thinking I'd made progress with him through a couple of techniques - ignoring him, not giving him attention for negative behavior, offering him choices, reverse psychology - today things steadily got worse.
Of course the day didn't start off too well with him. The individual behavioral sheet I sent home detailing his misbehavior returned with a lengthy note on the back from his mom. It began by making excuses for his behavior based on his distorted events. It ended with a threat to report me, because apparently I had tripped him purposely! Obviously that's why I got into teaching. So I could trip 9 year olds.
So that was how I started my day. By the end of the day when it was time for the kids the go I was taking my class down the stairs while the student was hurling insults at me. After they left he went out of his way to come up to me while I was talking to a parent and bumped into me on purpose. I really feel myself being pushed to my limits, but I know that's what I signed up for. It can only get easier, right?
Posted by ruben_b at 9:16 PM
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Was trying to think of a hook or something interesting to base today's post on, but all I could think of to say was I made it through another day. It wasn't a rough day, wasn't a good day, but I did find out that tomorrow five kids are being added to my class. So, to be honest I'm kinda dreading tomorrow. Because, as things stand I'm barely in control of my classroom and now all of the sudden my class is growing 25%. I do feel like I'm starting to get a handle on things though, and since there's nothing I can do now, I just gotta brace for the worst and hope for the best.
The thing I find most overwhelming right now, besides my challenges with classroom management, is keeping up with all the mandated assessments and paper work. Almost every day there's a new assignment or test or goal I need to introduce to the class. And meanwhile I spend so much time trying to get my class under control, sometimes I honestly just forget how much they need to learn. That is until I check their math homework I see a student missed 120-70.
Still, onward and upward right? Knocked Up came out on DVD today, so I gotta be thankful for the little things like that that are helping me stay sane.
Posted by ruben_b at 7:07 PM
Monday, September 24, 2007
With a little help from my uncle who told me, "You do not seem to be having enough fun with all this," I realized I might be dwelling too much on my challenges and downturns. But to be fair, for now the ratio is heavily in favor of those experiences. Still, if I am going to not just survive, but succeed at this job I need to keep my perspective positive.
I've tried in a couple of ways to make a couple of adjustments towards this end. It starts by just reminding myself why I'm doing this at all. Going to school Friday, dreading it, I stopped myself and said, "Think about these kids. Think about what they're up against. What the f*** are you complaining about?" Maybe not the absolute most positive way to get my head straight, but it was a start.
Secondly, as important as it is for me to reflect on what goes wrong in my classroom I'm trying to single out the successes, few and minor as they might be at this point, and my strengths. For example, I'm happy with the way the Read Aloud, Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr. Fox is going. The kids seem to like the book and I'm happy with my choice to read it. Overall I think reading and writing are strong areas for me. My calmness (while being severely tested) also seems like an asset.
Today was an okay day. Control felt fragile at times. My main problem child is beginning to test things further and further to the point that today he was actually pushing up against me, perhaps trying to incite some sort of physical reaction. In the afternoon his partner in crime vomited all over the classroom and the custodians didn't come by to clean up until after the kids were dismissed. The fact that I still managed to teach a lesson on constructing circles using compasses with the scent of vomit wafting through the class feels like an accomplishment. Not a phrase I thought I'd ever write, but definitely proves I was right when I was deciding to do Teaching Fellows over a paralegal job and I thought, "At least with teaching I know it'll never be boring."
Posted by ruben_b at 5:40 PM
Friday, September 21, 2007
I survived another week. Now it's time to regroup. The one thing I know I have going for me at this point is my ability to reflect on what's working and what's not working and do my best to fix it quickly. Despite a conference with my main problem child and his mom this morning he acted out horribly this morning. He did better in the afternoon, but I have no idea why. One of the more frustrating things I'm dealing with is sifting through all the advice I'm getting. Ignore him. Give him incentives. Give him a chance to help. I have more advice than I know what to do with and it's close to impossible to remember and execute all of these different ideas.
I held a class meeting to close up the week- the same agenda as the first week with my 3rd graders. Overall it went okay and it was a nice way to close things up. Started off with thank you's, then things we could do better and just like the 3rd graders the class was very astute and thorough in mentioning all the things they could improve upon. I had each of them sign the agenda afterwards to acknowledge that they understood what we'd talked about. This week I really felt myself pushed to the breaking point, and even though I know it's not the last time, or even the worst, I feel confident I can face what's coming.
Posted by ruben_b at 9:50 PM
Thursday, September 20, 2007
Just when I thought things had hit their worst, today proved me wrong (a feeling I'm becoming all too familiar with). It was right after second period today, around 10:16 when my classroom fell apart completely. The "chaos" I described the other day doesn't come close to comparing to what took place today. After making progress yesterday with my new no.1 problem child he decided today he didn't care about the incentive (playing on the basketball team) that I'd offered to him). This meant as far as he was concerned he was free to do whatever he wanted.
Misbehavior spreads like a fire and I was running around just as frantically, trying to squelch it as it broke out in every corner of the classroom. The amount of outright defiance and disrespect on the part of the kids was just overwhelming. There were students getting up out of their seats, talking, yelling, passing notes, throwing paper and erasers... And of course any time one of them was caught in the act: "I wasn't doin' nothin'!" I can handle misbehavior but the back talk and the excuses drive me crazy. When I finally dropped them off for lunch I was shell shocked.
I took one of the main problem students aside - a young black girl as tall as me and going through 4th grade for her second time - and started out slowly and mildly to point out what she was doing wrong. I tried appealing to her ego and asked her if she knew what it meant to be a leader and if she could be a leader, but as she rolled her eyes and avoided my stare I got right in her face and started yelling with all the pent up anger I had. "Can you stop yelling in my face?" she said. "I would, but you don't listen, so I have to get in your face. So listen to what I'm saying and shut your mouth!" At this point I just don't know what I'm doing. I left the cafeteria and sat in my room with my head down for a few minutes. Wondering if I would be able to even finish the day.
Obviously I survived. Things were mildly better after lunch and I'm going back tomorrow. So, I guess we can still chalk things up in the victory column. But honestly, I feel just like an alcoholic - I'm taking things one day at a time and praying for the "serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference."
Posted by ruben_b at 6:38 PM
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
A quick funny story: We're discussing parallel and perpendicular lines and all of the students are struggling with the pronunciation of the words (let alone the meaning of them). So I decide to help them out by breaking the words down into syllables. "Repeat after me," I said cheerfully. "Per."
"...uh..." Laughter. "Dicular."
Just one example of the many missteps large and small I make each day. Being able to laugh them off is essential and so is being self-aware and reflective. It's really not fair that my kids have to suffer along with me as I find my way, but luckily they give me enough problems that I don't retain too much sympathy for them. Today was another day of ups and downs- major improvement on the part of one problem child, but more problems arising with more students... It's beginning to feel like a game of disciplinary Whack-a-Mole. For a brief second one problem is resolved only to have another one pop up in its place.
Posted by ruben_b at 8:33 PM
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
I've been worrying a lot about how once the students have become comfortable with me the "honeymoon period" would be over and the real misbehavior would begin. From conversations with veteran teachers and my own expectations I figured this would happens sometime late next week. Like most of my expectations, I was wrong. Today it was clear: The honeymoon was over.
So far I've been seating my students in rows as per some professional development I received over the summer. But I wanted to give them a chance to try group learning today, so I assigned them to groups for a math activity. Even "chaos" seems like an understatement. It took them an eternity to find their groups even though I had numbered them off 1, 2, 3, 4 and asked them to group by their number. This proved to be too complex. Desks were in disarray, students couldn't remember their number, students refused to join their assigned group... Eventually I just scrapped the whole experiment and had the students work silently and individually in their Math Journals.
In part this was a small mistake on my part. I didn't give clear enough directions on making groups. But the misbehavior also indicated a larger lack of control over my classroom. And to be honest, it was scary. At least three of my students are downright rebellious and blatantly disregard simple directions from me. Sit down. Move your seat. Stop talking.
I'm like a broken record player and with some of these students I'm fighting a losing battle. In fact, with at least one of them I have to admit I've all but surrendered. It's not like they scare me. But seriously, what do you do when you tell a kid what to do and they just say no? For the time being I can't send them to the assistant principal or principal because there's a whole chain of events I'm supposed to follow. So, basically I'm trying to discipline these kids with one hand tied behind my back.
All is not lost. I have a ton of support around me. I'm surrounded by tons of teachers and administrators with experience. With a bit of creativity and a lot perseverance I might just make it through this.
Posted by ruben_b at 9:06 PM
Monday, September 17, 2007
I knew from Day One that my biggest challenge as a new teacher would be discipline. It's just not really in my personality. And despite reading The Reluctant Disciplinarian and having countless conversations on the topic, I knew nothing could create a side of me I don't have. I'm not saying I'd planned on letting the kids do whatever they want in my classroom. I just don't feel like I have that killer instinct that I've seen in veteran teachers that allows them to silence a classroom or curb misbehavior with just a look.
I'm doing my best to develop this look and a certain tone that commands respect and obedience. The problem is half the time I'm pretty sure I'm just being a dick. Like outright disrespect towards the kids. Basically in trying to channel this darker persona I worry that I'm disregarding legitimate questions or belittling students even if they're raising genuine concerns. I know that there is a very real danger in letting the idea of having control turn into outright power tripping. The other day when I was reprimanding a student (and doing a pretty good job of it if I may say so myself) I could have sworn I heard the Emperor in the back of my head: "Good. Use your aggressive feelings, boy. Let the hate flow through you." I shook it off, but I have to admit it had me a little worried.
Posted by ruben_b at 6:17 PM
Friday, September 14, 2007
The No Child Left Behind Act is now up for renewal in congress and as you might expect, things are getting pretty heated. I have to admit I'm largely ignorant on the subject of education legislation in general and the NCLB Act in particular. I'm pretty new to the game and just haven't been following the subject that closely. But I've gleaned this much conversations with people more experienced and knowledgeable than myself: NCLB=bad.
The ideas behind NCLB are sound in theory. Equality of education for all students regardless of race or economic status. More accountability for schools - teachers, administrators and superintendents. However, like most things to come out of the esteemed halls of Congress, the bill ended up more of a corporate handout (publishers of textbooks and testing materials) and a system of loopholes.
As a result five years later schools aren't much better off, and in many cases are probably doing worse. Setting high standards and fighting what President Bush called "the soft bigotry of low expectations" is certainly a worthy cause and an essential part of fixing America's broken public school system. However using standardized tests is not the same thing as setting high standards. This is evident in the tactic used by some states to lower the standards of their tests so as to raise the percentage of students passing those tests. Meanwhile, NCLB does nothing to address class size, teacher training/competency, or funding not linked to testing. So somehow testing became the cure-all for education and the only ones unquestionably benefiting are Kaplan and the other testing and textbook companies.
Perhaps what's worst of all is that in the new version of NCLB, even the standardized tests aren't going to be standard as the law is being relaxed to give suburban schools more flexibility. Understandably, teachers and civil rights groups are unhappy with the new, "improved" NCLB. Dianne M. Piché, executive director of the Citizens’ Commission on Civil Rights put it this way:
“'It strikes me as not unlike allowing my teenage son and his friends to score their own driver’s license tests,' Ms. Piché said, adding, 'We’ll have one set of standards for the Bronx and one for Westchester County, one for Baltimore and one for Bethesda.'”
For more information on NCLB check out educatorroundtable.org and then if you feel like it, sign the petition to dismantle NCLB.
Posted by ruben_b at 12:33 PM
Thursday, September 13, 2007
Seems funny that a school that's 80% Hispanic and 16% Black needs two days off for Rosh Hashanah, but I'm obviously not complaining. I'm more than happy to have two days off to recharge and catch up on lesson planning without the problems of finding a sub or using up sick days. The rabbi at services last night compared Rosh Hashanah to the beginning of a new school year - nervousness, anticipation and a chance to start over and do better. The major difference I see from the teaching perspective is I have to be reflecting each day on what went wrong and what I can do better as opposed to once a year. Still, there's something to be said for a religion that builds in holidays to reflect on everything you're doing wrong with your life and give you a chance to start over. Reflections and observations on my new 4th graders to come...
Posted by ruben_b at 5:02 PM
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
So today came and went. My 3rd graders have been cast to the winds (or rather into the capable hands of four experienced teachers) and my 4th grade class assembled. The roster lists 25 students right now, but I had 19 today and several may not show up ever which would be nice. It was amazing to see how much a year's difference makes. Of my 3rd grade class at least 66% were genuinely cute. A year later much of that deceptively adorable exterior has been lost for most of my students. I see that as a definite advantage for my classroom advantage.
I'm also very happy with the level of literacy- verbal and written - amongst my 4th graders. It really reinforces why I wanted this grade in the first place. To be sure, the roots of attitude and rebelliousness are starting to show. Still, I will take the cognitive gains over the docility any day. Furthermore, my 'problem child' is someone else's problem now. Of course, I have a new batch of problem kids with my new class, but none of them with the severe learning disabilities of my old class's distraction. Again, given the choice, I will take a student who chooses to misbehave over one who can't control his behavior any day.
I have a lot of work to do. I have to get my new curricula and textbooks. I have to restart communication with parents. And in the mean time I still need to learn to be a good teacher. But after today, I actually had the feeling that things will be alright.
Posted by ruben_b at 5:36 PM
Monday, September 10, 2007
When I first found out I was to be teaching 3rd grade I was disappointed. All summer I had hoped and planned to teach 4th grade. File that under "Be Care What You Wish For." Today I was informed my 3rd grade class is being dissolved and my students will be spread across five other classes. I'll be taking over a 4th grade class culled from the four other 4th grade classes, some of which at this point have as many as 37 students! (At this point I should mention the legal cap for students in a classroom is 28. Also I have to ask, if the school had an overcrowded 3rd grade last year, wouldn't it be logical to assume they needed to accommodate a larger 4th grade class instead of planning for a larger 3rd grade class?)
My first reaction to the news (which was sprung on me as I picked my kids up after lunch) was shock. It felt a little unfair. I was developing a relationship with my students, developing a classroom management system and developing routines. Now I would have to start all over with 25-29 students who I wouldn't know. That means starting from scratch in terms of assessing their abilities, behavior and interests.
I'm still nervous and a bit anxious about finishing the week without a lesson plan for 4th graders. But, as bad as it sounds I'm also a bit relieved to be rid of certain students, and I'm now thinking of this of an opportunity. I know I made missteps early and I left rules unsaid and certain procedures unclear. Today I already felt the class slipping from my control (mainly because of the same disruptive student). Tomorrow I get a fresh start with a group of kids at the grade level I originally wanted. So despite the challenges, I'm going forward with optimistic enthusiasm.
And to lighten things up... from the auspicious pages of The Onion: "Teach For America Chews Up, Spits Out Another Ethnic-Studies Major".
Posted by ruben_b at 5:05 PM
Friday, September 7, 2007
After this week I'm pretty sure a teacher coined the phrase TGIF. Unlike most Fridays though, today I wasn't looking forward to a a wild night at a bar or a party, I was just fantasizing about passing out. Since I don't have much energy and my last few posts have been a bit lengthy I'll just keep this to a few short observations, reflections and predictions.
- The quietest kids suffer most, because while I'm constantly riding the kids who are misbehaving, they're just there waiting for instruction. And when given an independent task, they're usually the first to finish while all the students not on task need extra time. So when I let the whole class finish, they're usually left waiting. Something I definitely need to work on by coming up with extra work for the good workers.
- Every student wants to learn. Regardless of what we might think, every student is excited for the chance to learn. It's just a matter of finding a way of reaching them.
- Today my problem child continued with his noise-making and distracting. But for maybe 5 minutes or so he read a book, and wrote a short response. It's a small step, but one in the right direction.
- Students are a lot more self-aware than we give them credit for. During a class meeting I held today to mark the end of the week I asked the students to finish the statement "We can do better...". The responses I got covered every area of misbehavior - walking to and from class, talking, not paying attention, not doing their work... They know what they need to do, I just need to give them a reason.
- If someone asked me to do 7 hours of reading, writing and math in a room of 20 other people with no air conditioning when its 85 degrees out with 66% humidity, I probably wouldn't want to do much work either.
Posted by ruben_b at 6:55 PM
Thursday, September 6, 2007
You knew it was coming. Even though I didn't find myself 100% exhausted at the end of the day that isn't a reflection of my classroom management skills at all. By the end of the day I felt like I was in a tub of water, about to boil over. There was a hum of chatter. I can quiet them by standing at the front of the class, two hands held up, but invariably the chatter grows and grows and grows...
Meanwhile I'm completely stymied by my most severe problem child. He is a sweet, chubby kid originally from Guatemala. But he literally cannot control himself. Beyond the basic behavioral problems (gets out of his seat without raising his hand, calls out without raising his hand, etc.) he has a whole other slew of issues. All day he sharpens his pencil, constantly asking to empty the shavings while he is left with nothing but a stub at the end of the day. Randomly he takes out pieces of paper to fold into all sorts of wonderfully distracting shapes. He distracts anyone and everyone he's seated by, especially the girls. And by the end of the day he does nothing but make noises - airplane buzzing, dog barking, beeping, etc. By all accounts he needs an evaluation for special ed, but his mom refuses. And when discussing his behavior late this afternoon I asked him, "Do you want to move on to Strike Three and lose your class job and have me call your mother?"
He replied, "No, I don't want my mom to hit me." It might have been the most heartbreaking thing I've ever heard. But I can't let that stop me from following through own my preset management. And meanwhile nobody around him can work.
All I have left to keep my sanity is that tomorrow is another day, and I will look for a new way to do better. Or better bet, tomorrow isn't just another day, it's Friday, which means I'll have the weekend to recover my sanity.
Posted by ruben_b at 6:12 PM
Today as class was ending I was amazed I didn't feel completely drained. Although my temper was short and I'd spent the last hour (or two) riding a storm of talking and shortened attention spans, I managed to complete the day without feeling the need to pass out immediately on the 4 train. This seems in some way like a small victory.
Another minor success was not losing my shit when the Reading specialist failed to show up for my prep period and using a game on the spot to manage the class. It was quasi-successful. After the game wound down there was still about 30 minutes left in the day so I let them draw. Ostensibly they were assigned to draw self-portraits to hang up, but really I didn't have anything else up my sleeve.
I'm also happy to report that after seeing some of my co-Fellows last night at Fordham, things could be worse. We were all sharing stories. And while I heard plenty of stories that made my blood boil with jealousy, I was reminded to be thankful I have had no cases of violence (yet) and that unlike one poor Fellow, I wasn't relegated to some far corner of the school with no support and all the problem kids. No, I'm lucky enough to only have 4 problem kids. But then again, I'll gain about 10 kids, so maybe I'll pick up another 1 or 2.
Posted by ruben_b at 5:56 PM
Wednesday, September 5, 2007
I'm incredibly lucky to have an amazing support system around me. I have friends, family, fellow Teaching Fellows and co-workers all rooting for me and telling me I have what it takes to do be a good teacher. The thing is, with the exception of the Teaching Fellows and my co-workers, nobody else really knows that. In fact, I am not a good teacher. At this point even my passion (which is largely nonexistent by lunch) and my intelligence are moot factors in being an effective teacher. At this point being a good teacher is a long ways off. I'm working towards competence.
Today was not an exceptionally better day than yesterday. The only thing that stuck out in making it an improvement, was that it was not the first day of school, so it had that going for it. My only solace in the fact that I am failing in many ways is that I am aware of that, and I'm moving quickly to fix it. I've implemented a system of consequences and rewards. I've assigned classroom jobs. I use a timer that more or less keeps the students moving from task to task. When I'm working with English Language Arts lessons, I feel pretty comfortable and I see learning going on.
Still, the struggles outweigh the few successes and the downside of this all is the fact that the first days of school are the most crucial in establishing the class climate for the entire year. Meanwhile, I'm dealing with only 18 students and I can expect at least 10 more in the next week or so. So even establishing control over the students I have is a first step at best. And while I learn the ropes, the ones who are truly suffering are the students.
I'm thankful for the experience and I know that down the road I can be a great teacher, but I can't help but wonder if my presence is doing more good than harm. Data shows that effective teachers can raise the lowest performing students by one or more grade level, while poor teaching can set a student back as much as two levels. It's data they tell us to inspire us as teachers, but it's really scary stuff when considering what's at stake in terms of my own success as a new teacher. Probably too much to dwell on after just two days though.
Posted by ruben_b at 11:49 PM
Tuesday, September 4, 2007
I woke up at 5:30 and I don't know if I got more than an hour's worth of solid sleep. Having the chain-smoking father of your best friend drive you to the 4 train at 6:15 in the morning, while chatting away in a thick New Yorker's accent is a surreal experience. Even more so when you're straddling intense nausea and panic. I can remember the panic vividly now, but when I'm trying to recall everything I felt after I first picked up my class in the auditorium it's a blur.
The kids starting filing into the auditorium slowly a little after 8. Outside in the front of the school building it was a madhouse as parents and their children struggled to find their class assignment and make their way into the building. I did my best to present myself as a firm, knowledgeable and experienced presence as I started gathering my kids. I knew I only had one chance to make a first impression, and in teaching just like anything else if not more, the first impression can make or break the whole year.
Throughout the course of the day there were a lot of ups and downs. The first half ran somewhat more smoothly as I had more than enough getting to know you, English Language Arts lessons and explanations of rules, routines and procedures to get by. Before I knew it was lunch time. It was after lunch, when the kids were rowdier and I was struggling with a few math lessons gone awry that things really got hairy.
By the time my class of 15 (about half of what I expect to have by next week) and I made it into the last hour I was constantly asking for their attention, although I'm not sure what for. I wasn't operating on any real plan by then and was basically just killing time (We spent an absurd amount of time going over homework, especially considering I'd made the assignment up on the spot) until I could pass out my certificates of appreciation for completing the first day and send them home.
In the end I still felt a huge sense of relief and accomplishment. Tomorrow will be just as long and difficult and exhausting as today and the day after, but the first day is done, and I'm ready to get some sleep.
Posted by ruben_b at 7:36 PM