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Showing posts from February, 2006

Loyalty and Authority, Part I

Loyalty is a funny thing with my students. I'm not sure I totally understand the psychology of it, but I have a working theory based on my experiences.

When I first came to this school, I came in January. That class had been through 6 teachers that year - a teacher who basically had a nervous breakdown (panic attacks when he saw the school) and 5 substitutes. These kids were not about to believe that I was staying, and neither were their parents. It took about 3 years of the parents being mostly polite but distant, and the kids asking me when I was leaving before I noticed a shift. (Incidentally, the kids weren't asking when I was leaving because they wanted me to leave; it was more of an understanding that teachers came and went all the time - especially young idealistic white teachers - and they were simply wondering what the duration of my stay would be.

After a few years, I noticed that the parents (and by parents, I mostly mean mothers and grandmothers, but that's the t…

What Up, Blood?

The same student who stuck up for me and said that I was light skinded and not white was what we here in this neighborhood call ghetto. I mean, to some extent, most things around us are ghetto, but all the other kids called him ghetto. I had to tell him that he couldn't call me 'Blood' or 'Dog' as I was his teacher, and it was disrespectful. He did try hard to respect my wishes. We had a conversation that went something like this:

[student walks into the room, sees teacher]

Student: [kind of cocky] What up, Blood? [looks at teacher and says quickly]: I mean, What up, Dog? [now looking really flustered] I mean, what up, mama? [now totally embarassed] I mean, what up, teacher? [Student sits down and puts his head down, after having totally confused himself]

I guess it wasn't really a conversation, because I didn't have to say anything. It's tremendously powerful when you realize you can get the kids to do what you want with just a look. It's also someth…

I've Made It!

The custodian asked me to write him a letter of reference today and we started talking. Turns out he went to school here when he was a kid. He asked how long I've been here and I said this was my 7th school year (longest of any teacher here, sadly enough), and he said, "Girl, you the OG of this school! You seen it all!" (If you don't know what "OG" means, you lead a sheltered life and should get yourself educated here). Apparently some adult had said something about me and one of my kids spoke up and said, "Don't you be talking bout my teacher! Don't nobody talk about my teacher!" I figure if I'm upsetting the adults and the kids feel loyalty toward me, I'm doing something right.

I do feel like I've seen it all sometimes. I was thinking of things I could write about and my thoughts sort of went like this inside my head: "Well, there was my first year when I didn't have a classroom and took over for the teacher who had a…

A Kid's Eye View of the Neighborhood

The prompt for a writing test was to describe your neighborhood. Here are some responses. I've included all the mistakes the kids made...


By AS (living in a shelter):
My neighborhood it dark because all the lihgts are out i wish they ern't and some nights i hear gun shots and i hear exsploshons in the in side it is good all the light on and i am meetting new friends. it has trash all over the growed some time i pick it up it good to pick it up because you can help the ebdvirment. it has shady trees. It looks like a night mayor. outside sometimes it smells like poop

By JR:
People be getting noked out. On east 14th ever were. People do drugs and saleing them. They do it every where. People be rily bad. Because they do bad stuf. There pepole that they be mean to you. They do it all the time. People be sad they there. Fillings hurt. People scream to much.

By JS:
Loud guns and dogs. Clean homes. People and homeys. Smells like food and sausages and smoke. It is dirty sometimes it is quiet…

Praise the Lord, a Kid Got Helped!

I usually just refer to my class as a Special Day Class because I have so many emotionally disturbed children in it. (SDC is a class with a much lower student to teacher ratio for emotionally disturbed or learning disabled kids - more or less) . Of course, it's not really, because I don't have any of the support or benefits of Special Day classes. But one of my students just got placed in a counseling enriched SDC - SIX, count them, SIX kids in the class, and she gets pulled out for individual counseling every day.

Oh, and the social worker who decided this girl needed this program saw her on a GOOD day. I've had this child in my class all year with 18 others who need help. Thank God she got help - usually they don't and it took a lot of pushing from her parents, my principal, myself, and a lot of prayer from everyone I talked to. I think (and hope and pray!) she'll finally be able to succeed and feel good about herself. Keep this girl in your prayers, along with al…

Dumpster Diving

OK, the promised dumpster story. I have a little bit of a habit of leaving things in places where they shouldn't be. And then not finding them again. Or something else happening to them. Last week, I had my wallet in a plastic bag from Walgreens, since I had bought something and just tossed my wallet in the bag instead of putting it away. Well, I took the thing I had bought out of the bag and (can you guess what happened?) threw the bag away. Not noticing that it was heavier than an empty plastic bag should be. By the time I realized this, it was after school. I went to find the custodian who told me that he had already dumped the garbage and I could have fun "going up in that nasty old dumpster."

As I walked over to the dumpster, I ran into 3 boys who were playing outside and really wanted to help. Apparently when you are an 8 year old boy, playing with garbage is a fun thing. Whatever. I told them they could help look through the bags if they got plastic gloves from the…

The Reason For Exhaustion

I'm not sure if people understand why I am SO tired after work. And if one more person says, "But you get off at 3 and only work 9 months a year..." We might leave at 3 but it's to go somewhere else to do our work - for many people at the same time they take care of their own kids. And often we don't even get to do that - we have after school meetings, tutoring, home visits, etc.

Anyway, there are two big reasons for the exhaustion. One is constantly being on the go. Teachers often don't even have two minutes free to go to the bathroom until the kids leave. (Hence the very high rate of bladder infections among teachers). I usually don't eat lunch until after school - we have a 30 minute lunch period and it's generally spent dealing with kids, getting the room ready for the next thing, making copies, getting homework ready... And we always have to be enthusiastic, fairly understanding, firm, and somewhat entertaining. That gets tiring!

The other reaso…

Romance and Logic in the Third Grade

One of my beautiful little girls here had an excellent question for me last year. She asked:

"When boys like you, why do they hit you and tease you and call you names and steal your stuff? Why can't they just say they like you?"

Then this is the kicker:

"And when do they stop acting like that?"

I had to break it to her that some of them NEVER stop. And that as adults, women often wonder about adult men why they just can't use their words and say they like you! (yes, I know I'll hear from a bunch of men - I'm sure you're the exception and always use your words and are frustrated by women's lack of communication. I'm just telling it from my perspective)

The same girl asked me once about Columbus. The conversation went something like this, and I have to say, I was very proud of her for the critical thinking skills she displayed.

Student: Why do we call them Indians when India is a different country?

Me: [some crap I can't remember about how Co…

Extreme Emotional Neediness

To anyone who thinks teaching is all about... well, teaching: here's the social worker/counselor part of my job. This is an extreme class, as I was the only returning third grade teacher and no one was sure if the other ones could handle the "challenges." But still...

AD: A beautiful little girl whose mother left her when she was a baby. She's being raised by her grandmother and great grandmother. She is one of the meanest little girls I have ever met because she's so miserable. She tells me approximately 17 times a day that she hates herself or that she wants to die. Sometimes she just falls on the floor crying because she is so overwhelmed. We've started a journal where she can write to me and I write back and that seems to help some - she partly just wants to be heard. The kids have started telling her when she is nice to them, which is great positive reinforcement. When I told her grandmother that she seemed sad and I needed to schedule a conference, her g…

Teacher, You're White?

There are many many ways in which this neighborhood was a culture shock for me. I'm from the suburbs. I'm used to most people looking like me and talking like me. This neighborhood is a little different. Our school is about half black and half Latino, with a few Southeast Asian kids. (We used to have a large Vietnamese, Cambodian, Samoan, and Tongan population, but over the 6 1/2 years I've been there, they've mostly moved away). People sometimes turn to stare at me on the street - there's not a lot of reason for a white woman to be walking around in our neighborhood.

There have always been white teachers at our school. Conversation from my first year of teaching (first grade):

Student 1: There is every kind of kid in our class: Mexican, Black, Chinese. [the "Chinese" kid was Vietnamese]

Student 2: What about white kids?

Student 1: Silly, there ain't no white kids. There's only white teachers.


I thought when I started teaching third grade that th…

Beginning

So, a few things have happened lately which have made me think about starting a blog (which I swore I'd never never do).

People ask me a lot about my job. They ask me what the neighborhood is like, what the district is like, if we're going to strike, what the kids struggle with, do I really think I should be paid more if I "only work 9-3, nine months a year" (don't get me started!), what I think about No Child Left Behind (again, don't get me started!), about the different cultures in the neighborhood, about what it's like to be a white teacher in a school with no white children...

Also, I have noticed a need to explain myself in this context, to explain what i see every day and help people to understand it, and just to process - and I'm an external processor. So I decided to try to write some of it down and hopefully it will serve a couple of those purposes.