Wednesday, May 31, 2006


I keep having all these topics I want to post about and I haven't had time to do it because we were taken off-line at school. Apparently there's some sort of upgrade or something going on in the district as a whole and they have to replace all the wiring. So, instead of waiting the three weeks until summer when it wouldn't disturb anyone, the district - in their infinite wisdom - decided to do it now. Even better is how it's happening in my school. The people doing the rewiring came to my class and cut all the wires, then decided they didn't really want to do that building, they wanted to do the other building. So they went to the other building and are rewiring it, leaving most classrooms off-line for only a couple of days. We've been off-line for almost three weeks, with those cut wires just hanging out of the wall, taunting me.

There may have been more method to the madness, but I don't happen to know of it. The real problem is that a research project we were doing has to be scrapped now because we don't have a staffed library so all the research was on the Internet...

We let our butterflies go - this was the best picture I had of them. The kids were very sad to let them go. Some of them made little butterfly books that I'll take pictures of. Yes, I know I just ended a sentence with a preposition.

Good news: our assistant principal (who is really good) is staying next year!

Countdown: 15 days of instruction left. The fatigue is setting in. Two more field trips before school ends, which should be fun, but exhausting.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Eighth Time's a Charm?

Our principal has decided not to return. That means next year I'll be on my 8th principal in 8 years at the same school. I'll be the first one to admit that it's a hard school to work at, but at least two of these people knew exactly what they were getting into. I'm not really willing to cut them a lot of slack because my kids are suffering for it. They NEED some consistency, partly because our school is never going to get anything to work if we keep re-starting every year and partly because the kids need to know that someone loves them and values them enough to spend more than a year on them.

I get so angry. Of all the kids who need people to stick around...

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Speaking of Tolerance...

More casualties of gang warfare in Oakland. I didn't know them but I'm sure some of my students had connections. They were in middle school near us. Middle school. I don't know how their families can even cope. At some point it's going to be a kid I knew. I don't know how I'd cope. This is where it feels like nothing any of us do will ever make a difference.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Teaching Tolerance

There is a wonderful website - Teaching Tolerance – that has great resources for teachers. I showed the kids a movie called “Mighty Times” about the Montgomery Bus Boycott. I was not prepared for their reactions. I remember being shocked by segregation and Jim Crow laws, but I also remember feeling separated from it – by time, culture, and geography. These kids do not feel that separation.

They’re confused about the timeline: “Teacher, you had slaves when you was a little girl?” “Who older, Rosa Parks or Janet Jackson?” “My granny was a slave?” but they connect with the injustice they see. They were appalled by the “Whites Only” signs and the “White” and “Colored” drinking fountains. When they watched the old movie of Rosa Parks recounting her arrest and how many times she had been treated badly by white bus drivers, the students were outraged. One of them said to me, “If I had lived back in the day, I would have been arrested because I wouldn’t have been able to control my anger.”

The movie touched briefly on the KKK and intimidation of civil rights leaders. They also showed a car with “n***** lover” painted on the side and asked me if that is what would have happened to me if I had lived back then.
The heartbreaking thing is that I’ve observed that there is still a feeling among the black kids at school that white is better than black (most of the girls prefer white dolls and have told me they want to be my color). Not only that, but lighter is better if you are black. The worst insults I’ve heard here are to call black kids a “Black African,” “Negro,” “burnt cookie,” or to say, “Your mama’s black,” or “Your mama left you in the oven too long.” They’ll have long arguments about who’s lighter or who has good hair. It makes me sad.

Time Travel and Foolproof Logic

The District has reached a new low in logic. For the last few years, we’ve had these things called “Buy-Back Days.” They are professional development days but because of the contract or because the district is cheap or something, they’ve been optional, and only the people who go to them get paid. Then the people who want more money can go, some of us can sleep in, and the district doesn’t have to pay for everyone. Then, to make things a little more confusing, our school is in the “intensive Support Network" and we have three more optional professional development days. For most of these days less than half of our staff showed up, not because we don’t want the extra money, but because we’re generally exhausted. I went to two of them, but I don’t know if they were district-wide or particular to our school.

Now things get interesting. We just got a new contract, as I mentioned, and it’s retroactive to the beginning of the school year. Under this contract, the Buy-Back Days are mandatory and we are compensated for them. Unfortunately, the Buy-Back Days have all passed. They might put one at the end of the year for people to make up, but that’s unclear, and it’s also one day, not three. So the District is telling me that I need to have gone to a training in October of 2005 in order to fulfill my contract. As much as I would like to do that, there’s really nothing at all that I can do about it, as my time machine happens to be broken at the moment.

I really shouldn’t be surprised though; this is the district that put June 31st on the official calendar. And I’ve seen the signs displaying our “Suspension Reduction Targets” (admirable) and “Attendance Reduction Targets” (slightly less admirable. They might possibly mean to reduce absences and not attendance. Although one never knows.)
While we’re at it, we might want to question the business model of firing all the first-year teachers, alienating them with the ridiculous re-application process, spending a ton of money to try and recruit new teachers, and then wonder why we can’t get all the vacancies filled. Hmmm…..

Thursday, May 18, 2006

An Great Opportunity! (Want to Help?)

Two or three of the fifth graders are going to the People to People World Leadership Forum for middle schoolers next spring in DC. This is a great opportunity – just even to go to DC, let alone be part of an international leadership conference. Each child has to raise something like $3000 by July. If you want to help, you’d be supporting some really incredible kids who don’t generally have an opportunity to get out of this neighborhood.

I told all the kids going to write something out so I could help them ask for support. Stephanie’s the only one who’s done it so far, so please consider supporting her – even just a little! Email me if you’d be interested and we’ll figure out who to write the check to. I’ll write a little more about Stephanie later. She’s pretty awesome.

Here’s the text of her letter in case you can’t read it when I finally post the photo:

May 16, 2006

To Whom It May Concern:

First, let me introduce myself. My name is Stephanie and I am a 5th grade student. I have been picked out of thousands of kids to go to a People to People World Leadership Forum in Washington D.C. There will be other kids from around the world who will be there too.

I am asking for your financial support to help me attend this Forum as it would be quite helpful. This will be a good experience for me as I will get to meet new people and make new friends. I will also learn a lot of things that I never knew.

I will be the first in my family to go to this. I will have something else great to add to my scrapbook that I will never forget. I am proud to have been selected as are my parents and the other members of my family.

I thank you in advance for any donation that you are able to give and if you cannot make a contribution, I thank you for reading this letter.

Yours truly,


Her dad (Dark Angel) came in today to see if I can go to her 5th grade graduation (I’d have to get a sub), and all the kids asked for his autograph. He signed an autograph for each kid, very patiently. Then a very unusual thing happened. A child put someone else before himself. Raymond came back late from something and didn’t get an autograph, so Jowan actually gave his up so Raymond wouldn’t be upset. This never happens. I was shocked.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Staplers: The Bane of My Existence

I have been through nine staplers this year. No kidding, nine. This isn’t one of those times when I exaggerate a tiny bit and say there were 85 million people at the REI anniversary sale – nine staplers have actually begun and ended their pathetic little lives in our class.

Office supplies do not last long in my class. One very disturbed little girl (who is now in a counseling-enriched special day class, thank God) had a habit of throwing staplers at the wall – and she could THROW. Other kids have tried to be helpful and put staples in the stapler, but managed to break the stapler in the process. The office wouldn’t give me any more staplers after the first four (can’t say I blame them!), so the others were all bought with my own money.

Pencil sharpeners are also a problem. The school provided an old-fashioned wall-mounted sharpener which immediately broke. They also gave us one electric sharpener halfway through the year – again, broke very quickly. I have bought three electric sharpeners on my own (since September) and the only one that is still functional is the one on my desk that kids don’t touch. I don’t know what they do to the sharpeners – they don’t seem to be treating them that badly (except for the one time Alan sharpened a crayon in the electric sharpener).

You’d think I’d learn after the first couple of electric sharpeners that I had to replace. But you can’t really run a classroom sans pencil sharpeners. I tried getting individual sharpeners but they seem to lose themselves. Also, at the end of each day, the floor is covered with pencil shavings, which makes me crazy and never gets all the way cleaned up.

So, if anyone has any ideas on either how to deal with the logistics of pencils (I despise pencils, I really really do) or how to extend the lives of the sharpeners, please let me know, as I would really appreciate some guidance! Donations of sharpeners and staplers also graciously accepted.

A future post will be about the vanishing scissors and the runaway tape. Or perhaps the markers that seem to take their own tops off, just to be dry out and be spiteful.

Another Sub Bites The Dust

I had jury duty yesterday and came back to find a note saying that the substitute was "extremely disappointed" in my students' behavior and that she won't be coming back. This is probably the fifth or sixth such note I have gotten this year, and shows exactly how "special" my class is.

The only sub who has done more than one day in my classroom this year is a woman who knows exactly how to deal with this group of kids. She's in her early seventies, a very short, chain-smoking, African-American woman with crazy gray hair that sometimes resembles a birds' nest and polyester pantsuits. She covered for me one morning when I got stuck at the drawbridge AND the railroad tracks and was about 15 minutes late. When I walked in, she was explaining to Jowan: "By the time I count to eight, you WILL be sitting down, you WILL have your hands folded, you WILL be quiet and respectful, and you WILL have a smile on your face!" He did.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Us and Them

This is a very interesting article that a friend found about how "simple living" is actually a privilege for the wealthy. Also will cause anyone to think who has been guilty (myself included) of judging the spending habits of the poor. One example: it's easy to criticize those in the inner city for making poor nutritional choices for themselves and their children - aside from a frequent lack of education, there are no grocery stores in the inner cities. When you have to buy groceries from liquor stores, there's not a lot of choices for fresh produce. Again, farmers' markets, Whole Foods, organic vegetables... may be getting back to the basics but it's an opportunity that many people don't have. Read it.

One student wanted to take this picture of our hands after I told him that I have always wanted to be his color. He didn't believe me. Let me state up front that I understand how many situations in life are much much easier for me because I am white, and I'm not at all downplaying any racism that anyone has experienced, or any pain from having the standard of beauty in our culture be closer to my skin color than his. But from a purely aesthetic point of view, I prefer his skin color.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

We Have A Contract!!!

It's not perfect and of course not what we're worth, but what teacher in this state gets paid what they're worth? The good thing is that we have security and no strike for the next THREE YEARS!

Thank you all for your prayers. These kids sure don't need any more distractions from their education!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Actual Appreciation

OK, for all my whining about teacher appreciation week, I got appreciated today. By one of my former students. He came in when we were in the middle of a test and I said, "Marcel, you're not supposed to be in this building during testing." (Someone suggested using aliases for the kids because it makes the stories easier to remember and more personal, so I'll try that.) He said, "Oh, I just wanted to bring you something." The something was a little stuffed Taco Bell dog that says, "Feliz Navidad, amigos," when you squeeze it. It looks like it's been well loved - I'll put a picture of it up later. I asked him what it was for and he said it was for Teacher's Day! And he's not even my student any more.

Later, the class had a little conversation that also made me feel appreciated. D'Anthony called some girl ugly, and the girl was sad, and I said that if someone were to call me ugly I'd just think to myself, "Well, I know I"m pretty!" and ignore them. The peanut gallery chimed in and it went like this,

"Teacher, you more like beautiful than pretty."

"You more than beautiful."

"You always beautiful."

"You the beautifulest and prettiest teacher I had."

So, sometimes I do feel affirmed here. At least by the kids.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Teacher Appreciation Week (Or: A Funny Funny Joke)

So, it's National Teacher Appreciation Week this week, National Day of the Teacher today, and California Day of the Teacher tomorrow. My first question is where everyone is who's supposed to be appreciating me? Second question: why can't California and the nation as a whole get together and have the same day?

Anyway, it was really nice of the district to give us a press release for Teacher Appreciation Week/Day/Days. We got a copy in our mailboxes so we'd feel appreciated. Here it is. .

Oakland Unified School District officials today asked all members of the community to help honor Oakland public school teachers during national Teacher Appreciation Week May 7 through May 14.

"Oakland's nearly 3,000 classroom teachers do one of the most difficult, most highly skilled and most significant jobs in the city," said Dr. Kimberly Statham, OUSD Chief Academic Officer. "Outside of the home, no one has more impact on the growth and future success of our children."

Established in 1984 by the National Parent Teacher Association (PTA), this year's commemoration also includes two additional noteworthy events: the National Day of the Teacher on May 9 and the California Day of the Teacher May 10.

In a letter to teachers this week, State Administrator Randolph Ward wrote: "As the California Day of the Teacher nears on May 10, I want to thank you for all that you have done, and will continue to do, on behalf of Oakland's children. You are an inspiration to all who watch you work by the guiding principles of commitment and excellence."

The National PTA recommends that parents show support this week by contributing classroom materials such as chalk, books and other supplies. The PTA also suggests planting trees in honor of individual teachers or creating a "Wall of Fame" where students, parents and principals can write messages to teachers. OUSD is encouraging all members of the community to find some way to express appreciation to teachers over the course of the week.

OK, so we didn't actually get the letter from the superintendent, but getting a press release saying he wrote it is almost the same thing, right? I mean, it's the thought that counts! And I'm sure the parents here will show appreciation by donating supplies and planting trees. Oh, maybe they're a little busy working multiple jobs to try to get above the poverty line or provide food for their children, but if they get their priorities straight, they'll definitely plant a tree for me. If only we all lived in the National PTA's shiny happy world!

The picture is of our volunteer athletes, who are incredible. I"ll write about them soon. They kick ass.


Oakland just had its 49th homicide of 2006. Last year at this time there were 26, so we're still on our way to setting a record.

Thursday, May 04, 2006


-One of the kindergartners was playing with his little toys, and the teacher kept telling him to put them away because he would lose them. Sure enough, the kid starts crying and says, "Ms. S - I lost my marbles!" The teacher said, "I know, honey, me too."

-The same teacher had a bunch of teacher rubber stamps that said things like, "Good Job!" "Parent Signature Required" and things like that. Her kindergartners went on her desk when she wasn't looking and stamped themselves all over. Only they picked the stamp that said, "Please correct and return to school." A bunch of them went home with "Please correct and return to school" stamped all over them. Wonder if their parents got the message...

-Another kindergarten teacher - who was eight months pregnant - got asked by a kid if she was pregnant. When she answered in the affirmative, he looked scandalized and said, "I know what YOU did!!!"

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Magic Pencils

We're taking the standardized test right now - and let me say that whoever thought it was a good idea to give eight year olds a really long, hard, scantron test obviously never had to administer it. I mean, I'm all for accountability, but this test is approximately FOURTEEN hours long for third grade (some parts of it are untimed, so it varies a little) over two weeks. It's ridiculous.

I gave them special pencils for the test and told them that these were their "magic pencils." I was mostly kidding, but they totally bought into it and are asking me how I made the pencils magic, and telling me that the magic pencils really do work.

One kid told me today that he was "being a pain" because he gets stressed out during the test. It's true - they all of a sudden have more needs than ever because they're worried and feel inadequate. And this group is needy to begin with! The minute the test gets passed out, they are all hungry, have to go to the bathroom, are going to die of thirst, need a Kleenex, have itchy bug bites, remember a relative who died that they're sad about, have something they have to go give to their sibling right now, their shoes are too small, they lost their earring, their braids hurt...

Monday, May 01, 2006

My Beast Friend

I found a note on the floor that said "L. is my Beast Friend Ever." We all need more Beast Friends, don't we?

Teacher Appreciation Week

Next Week (May 7-13) is Teacher Appreciation Week. Tuesday, May 9 is National Day of the Teacher. Appreciate a teacher, please.

Once we got appreciated by our principal from that year (long gone, thank the Lord) for Teacher Appreciation Week. It was pretty classy - a generic crooked photocopied appreciation certificate that she forgot to sign.

If you have kids, please do something nice for their teacher. Just a little note or something. Especially because for many of us, Teacher Appreciation Week is also Standardized Testing Hell Week, Part II.