Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Playground Showdown

OK, maybe "showdown" is a little dramatic, but it's time to stop being ridiculous about the playground. The San Francisco Chronicle has something called ChronicleWatch that is actually better in the print version because it usually includes a photo of the person responsible for whatever mess it is. I'm OK with a little public shaming, especially when our public "servants" are choosing to not do their jobs.

Time to submit this playground business and see if they'll do something about it. Seriously. The district can spare the manpower time and money to put up a locked fence but can't come fix the playground? Then we're going to tell all the kids they're going to end up "in trouble" if they play on it. First of all, as Lindsay pointed out, these kids wake up in trouble. They don't care about trouble, at least not most of them. Second, it is just cruel to have a playground sitting there that looks like a perfectly functional playground and tell the kids they can't go on it. Silly and mean is what it is.

We'll see what happens. I'm borrowing a name and e-mail address to submit it though, I'm not ready to cause that many waves quite yet.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Photos

Yes, the photos below are of the gecko eating his peeling skin. He doesn't have problems; all leopard geckos eat the skin that they shed, both because it has nutrients and as a way to hide evidence of their existence from predators. He pulls it off with his little teeny tiny teeth and eats it.

The other random photos of reptiles scattered around amongst the posts are from a program, in which Owen of the East Bay Vivarium came and showed the kids a bunch of reptiles, and a few centipedes, millipedes, tarantulas, and amphibians. It was pretty awesome.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Principals: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

I've been meaning to go through the list of principals I've had since beginning at my school. Here they are. An interesting bunch, to say the least!

Principal Zero: I call him Principal Zero because he was there up until the week before I started teaching, so although I never taught under him, the atmosphere at the school when I started was largely because of PZero. He was apparently someone whom you respect, even if you didn't like him. He was effective, and rather like an intelligent, soft-spoken drill sergeant.

Principal One: This is the woman who hired me. She was ditzy and liked to yell. She had been the assistant principal under PZero (and before that, a fourth-grade teacher, I believe), and I heard that she was great as an assistant principal, only dealing with discipline. As a principal, she was scatter-brained, and overwhelmed, and took this out on other people. She never got my name down, and in fact would usually refer to all teachers as "Mr. Man" or "Mrs. Lady." I'm not kidding. She had a tendency to have really long staff meetings, in which she would listen to every single person who had any complains and then argue with them about each complaint. Once, when a co-worker left a staff meeting (it had already gone an hour and a half beyond the contracted time) to go pick up his child from the babysitter, she paused the meeting to go down the hall and fetch him back to the meeting. Whenever I'd do something she didn't like, she would yell at me that she could fire me any time she wanted! She'd do this in front of colleagues, students, and parents. She decided to retire after a year and a half or principaling, because her friend (also a principal in our district) had a heart attach and P1 herself was diagnosed with extremely high blood pressure.
Principal Two: Actually an "acting" principal only for the time before school started my third year. Although she was never the acting principal during the school year, she was in charge of getting stuff ready during the summer, and was assistant principal for the year and a half before this and the year afterwards. She was an incredible kindergarten teacher who was the only teacher in the school with an administrative credential when they needed someone to be the assistant principal. She was a lousy administrator, especially an assistant principal, whose main duties involve discipline. You really really don't want a kindergarten teacher who refers to all children as "cherubs" to be in charge of discipline for fifth grade inner-city kids.

Principal Three: An interim principal, P3 is one of my favorite people. He came out of retirement when they couldn't find a good principal for our school, and said he'd lead the school for as long as it took to find someone else. I sincerely wish that they had never found someone else. He was patient, kind, soft-spoken, yet had a definite air of authority. He listened to teachers, was reasonable, intelligent, open to new ideas, dedicated, and wanted what's best for the school. I'm going to cry if I keep writing about him, because we only got him for six months.

Principal Four: P4 is also known by a whole host of bad names. She seemed really good at first, and in fact, some of our best teachers were on the hiring committee that hired her. She was black (this is relevant; you'll see in a later post) and said that she was taking Spanish classes to help her communication with the large Latino population in the area. She seemed wonderful... until it became obvious that she was evil. I'll have a whole post on her soon, because she really deserves an entire post dedicated to her evil ways. But one anecdote should give you the general idea. When the Latino parents (the school is about 50/50 black and Latino with a few Southeast Asians thrown in) wanted the school to spend some of its money on Spanish-language books for the library - since we do have classes that are taught in Spanish, however you feel about them - she said to them something that I would never have expected to hear out of an educated person's mouth. It went something like this (and read this in a loud, slow, condescending tone, like those people who speak really loudly when someone doesn't speak English): "This is what you should do. You should go down to the corner, and open a tortilla stand. Then, with the money from the tortilla stand, you can buy some books in Spanish. OK?" This was not, by any means, the only extremely racist thing she said or did. More about that later.
Principal Five: After the disastrous P4, we thought that maybe the district would get a clue. They picked someone who was not bad in any of the same ways as P4, but was still bad. Example: My classroom wasn't cleaned and it was the last day that we had before school started, as P5 lived almost two hours away and wasn't coming in on the weekend. I told her that my classroom was still messy and dirty and there was no way it would be ready for kids on the first day of school. She looked at a space right past my head so that she wasn't looking me in the eye and said, "I really don't know what you're going to do," and walked off. She also had a limp-fish kind of handshake and a tendency to walk away when she knew you were trying to talk to her. She'd do that with kids, parents, and staff - just walk away like you weren't even there. She had completely ineffective discipline. I don't think I ever saw her smile.

Principal Six: P6 was amazing. Absolutely amazing. She was passionate, intelligent, got things done, and knew how to get around all the silly rules and procedures in the district. She cared deeply for the kids and the parents, and even the staff. She would tell the kids that they were in her heart and that they were her family. She would plead with them to be proud of their heritage and to do their best to make their families and themselves proud. She never yelled at kids but would remind us that these kids have seen more violence and neglect in their short lifetimes than most of us ever will, so that there was a reason why they acted the way they did. Yet, she had high standards for them and didn't let them get away with bad behavior. This woman was incredible. I think No Child Left Behind and the Oakland Unified School District got to her. After one year, she left to be a principal in Berkeley. I don't blame her, and I shouldn't have felt quite so abandoned - after all, I know what a hard job it is - but I did. It was hard to lose the first really good leader that we had here.

Principal Seven: Here was another one who seemed better than she was. She appeared calm, together, and competent. In many ways, she was. But she also decided a few months into the year that the school was too hard for her and that she'd find a different position. At that point, she kind of checked out. She's also the one who never got Robin paid, and in fact, never even bothered to answer any emails about the missing payment, so I have bit of a prejudice against her for that reason.

Principal Eight: My current principal. I taught with him for 7 years and he was a great teacher. He seemed to be in the profession for the right reasons, loved the kids, was willing to work hard and not capitulate to district demands, but rather do what was right... someone I loved working with. Apparently they give you lobotomies as part of your administrative credentials. Now he's firing people for no reason and becoming a politician. It's sad. I had high hopes for this one.

Actually, it's possible I have Principals 6 and 7 mixed up. They may be in the opposite order - I can't remember. And don't even think about asking me how many superintendents we've had.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Beware the Ides of March

Many California teachers are aware of a phenomenon known as the "March 15th letters." According to the California ed code, a probationary teacher will become a permanent employee after two years, unless they are informed that they are no longer needed in the district by a non-reelect letter. I don't know all the exact details, but new teachers - in a district like mine - are often increasingly nervous as the Ides of March draw near, wondering if they will get a letter or have a job guaranteed for the following year.

That is, if the teachers are informed. A good administrator would tell the employee as the year goes on that the employee had things to work on, and point out exactly what they were. Then this hypothetical good administrator would give the employee multiple chances to make changes, provide feedback along the way, and inform the employee (if need be) why exactly the employee's services were no longer required by the school or district.

That is not exactly how things work in my district. Historically, the new teachers are surprised on March 15th by a certified letter saying that their services are no longer needed by the district. They usually don't know what these letters are, why they got one, or what their legal recourse is (none). The union is of little or no help and many many good teachers have left Oakland because - although this district usually changes its collective mind and rescinds some of the letters - nobody really feels like working for them after this experience.

My principal got one of these letter when he was a teacher. It was mainly because the principal at that time was out to get him, but you'd think he'd remember how it feels and try to do things differently. But you'd be wrong.

Three of my colleagues got these letters this year. Two have extremely difficult classes and have not received a lot of support. Of these, one would be a great teacher in a different area of Oakland, and I don't know why she didn't just get a transfer. One is a great teacher and has my evaluator (who probably would have gotten rid of me too if I wasn't tenured). She's gotten the same kind of comments as I have from said evaluator. The last has never gotten a bad evaluation, and while I don't know much about her teaching, you'd think that someone without a bad evaluation would be worth keeping.

Someone pointed out that there is one teacher per evaluator - maybe they were each told to get rid of one. I don't know why this would be though, because Oakland never has enough teachers. Maybe they figured that if they each fired one person, no one administrator would be singled out as being unfair. I don't know.

I have worked with people in my district who have gotten the "March 15th letter" on March 16. It's always baffled me that, when the CA ed code says the letters have to be received on March 15, the district doesn't send them out on March 1 or something to give themselves time. No, our district always seems to make a game out of it. I don't know anyone who has received one before March 15. It's like a little bit of excitement thrown in - Oakland roulette maybe?

It Brook My Heart

"Amani" came to school today in an even more belligerent mood than normal. I asked what was wrong and she said that it was all my fault, I just hate her and there's nothing she can do right. I'm out to get her.

OK. Deep breath. "Amani, what's really the matter?"

"You never listen to me, you hate me, you like everyone else better than me."

One more time. "Sweetheart, what's bothering you?"

She comes back with a note: "My mom told me that most of the time she don't even wanna be here with me and it brook my heart."

It brook my heart too. Her mom's overwhelmed, she's taking it out on her, but Amani doesn't know that. She idolizes her mom. She doesn't know how hard it is to be a single mom and how her mom's reacting (badly) to stress. And there's nothing I can say to make it better. No wonder she acts crazy. Negative attention is better than none.

Friday, March 16, 2007

NCLB Backlash

If you've been reading this, you'll know my feelings on No Child Left Behind. Well, some lawmakers are finally getting a clue! Please write to your representatives and let them know of the burden that NCLB puts on schools.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Playing Hooky

I skipped a meeting yesterday. It was a mandatory meeting, but I just couldn't take it. I'm awfully burned out - I certainly wish that my body or mind or whatever part of me is THIS burned out could have timed it a little better with the school year. There's still 56 school days left. And I am dragging myself through each one.

I think a lot of it is because of the stupid bureaucracy I am dealing with - I am sick of bubbling in forms and taking employee satisfaction surveys when I know that no one cares if I am actually satisfied. Tired of being told to recopy report cards (not that I did it).

So, there was a meeting after school and I started to walk in, and saw that the only empty seat was right next to my evaluator who hasn't said a word to me in a week. (Warren thinks I intimidate her because I'm standing up to her). Then my principal came to tell me that the mother of one of my students - one of my shyest, sweetest, most insecure students - cursed out our PE coach and wouldn't stop shoving him - he called the police on her. That's when I decided I was done with the meeting.

I found out from the coach that the whole incident had some rather disturbing racial undertones, which I can talk about more tomorrow when I'm not so tired. I ended up not just ditching the meeting but just leaving the campus early. Someone from the office asked me if I was leaving and I said I was going "downtown." Can I help it if they would automatically assume that "downtown" meant the district offices to deal with some kind of paperwork? OK, so I knew that's how they'd take it. But technically, I wasn't lying, because I was going downtown! Except it was downtown Alameda to buy some bubble tea before I went home to take a nap.

They Had to Commission a Report for This???

The Oakland Tribune published an article today entitled "Study Finds State Schools in Big Trouble." I have one word for them: "Duh."

Among the problems listed were:

  • Not being able to fire tenured - but bad - teachers

  • An irrational system for distributing money

  • Missing data on students and resources

  • Too many mandates (including many unfunded mandates)

  • Excessive regulation

  • One size fits all solutions for a diverse group of schools

  • Extreme inequity

Solutions recommended:

  • Giving more autonomy to school sites

  • Less regulation in schools

  • More funding for schools

  • Recruiting and retaining good teachers

  • Giving educators more flexibility

Seriously, they paid people to figure this out? They could have asked me. Think of how much money would have been saved if they had just emailed me instead of commissioning a report that included researches from 32 universities and institutions. And every teacher I know would say the same thing. Duh.

Maybe it's not very eloquent, but there's actually no better way to say it. Your state tax dollars at work, ladies and gentlemen of California.

Now we'll see if they do anything about any of these recommendations. I am doubtful.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

From Mystery To Medicine

The reading program that we're using has different units - they're each about 6-8 weeks long and during the unit we're supposed to do a lot about the particular theme. For example, right now in third grade, our unit is "Money," so all the stories we read are about money, the kids are supposed to keep track of observations about money in real life, etc.

One of the fourth grade units is something like "From Mystery to Medicine." When Warren and I were at Target some time back, they had the M*A*S*H boxed set - which is pretty obvious because it's so BIG, and it's called something like "Martinis and Medicine." I keep getting the two mixed up in my head and I know that people are going to look at me really funny when I say something like, "So, in fourth grade, when they're on the Martinis and Medicine theme..."

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Stephanie's Opportunity!

Stephanie is going to the People to People Forum next month. She sent me this email (she had a couple supporters in readers of this blog, so I thought I'd share). I'll have her write a little entry when she gets back. It couldn't happen to a better girl! The girl is smart, friendly but by no means a pushover, a natural leader... really, I just can't say enough good things about her!

It's almost time for my trip. I'm so excited to go because I have never been out of state before.Thank you for the card. I have not been on the computer for a while so I have not had time to write. I maybe able to come see you & Ms.Smith on the 6th before my trip.I'll send you & her a post card from Washington. Getting late gotta go. From, Stephanie

Over-Praising the Children

Other comments Ms. Evaluator crossed out (didn't say why they weren't OK, just that they're not ok):

  • Amani is good at math, although sometimes she gets sloppy and says she doesn't know something even when she does.
  • Ann is a good writer but doesn't like writing very much.
  • Lucy needs to be careful about taking her frustration out on other children.
  • Lamar contributes a lot to class discussions because he thinks on a very high level. (?)
  • Jessie understands concepts quickly but gets really upset with herself if she can't do something perfectly the first time.
  • TJ likes math best but is also improving in reading. (???)
Let me make it eminently clear to all worried parents out there that all report card comments had many positive remarks as well as specific recommendations. Apparently, though, it is unacceptable to imply that the child might be anything less than perfect. Is it because I'm white and most of these children are black that it is so offensive to mention areas in which they need to grow? Or are we never supposed to insinuate that they may have areas for growth?

There is an interesting article about over-praising your children. Children need to be told when they do something wrong, as well as when they do something right. Praise means nothing if they don't deserve it and if they have nothing to work for.

Friday, March 09, 2007

More Evaluator Woes

Today, she requested that I "re-due many of the comment cards" on my report cards and turn them in to her by the end of the day [How many of you caught the misspelling that she repeated five times? Also, anyone have an idea when I'd have time during the day to "re-due" half the report card comments?] She also said that I don't use "positive words and phrases" and need to work on "building a positive relationship with our community." She did the annoying "we" thing too - like when nurses say, "How are we feeling today?" She says, "In building a positive relationship with our community we need ot use positive methods to express our concerns."

Give me a break. Every single one of these parents has my cell phone number and feels free to use it. They drop in to check on their children and check on me. They invite me to their churches, bring me food, tell me whom I should marry, and cry to me about having to put their mother in a home. I have a positive relationship with our community. None of them feel like she's approachable. She's the one missing a positive relationship with our community.

I am so angry right now that it's hard to sit still. The nerve of this woman telling me that I'm the one who's wrong here. She says I can't use the words "rude," "lazy," or "angry," because those are negative. For example, "'Lamar' has had a couple of days when he was rude to me but overall he is working very well and his attitude is improving greatly." Now, Lamar has no problem with me saying this. His dad has no problems with me saying this. In fact, the reason why Lamar is doing better with me than anyone else, I think, is because I don't talk down to him, sugar-coat things, or pretend his behavior is OK when it's not. I tell him that he's being rude. End of story. He knows exactly what I expect.

The same goes for the words "lazy" and "angry." I said that one student was a great writer when he wasn't being lazy. Those are his mother's words and his words. And the truth. I said "TJ" had a hard time when he was angry. It's the truth. I've talked to his mother, his counselor and him about it. This is part of the reason I am effective - that I don't waste words. If a child is doing something wrong, they know exactly what it is and what I expect. And I believe that is a major part of why I have developed such good relationships with so many students and parents.

I am so angry. I wasted all day trying to deal with her and write her a letter. I'll copy it below. And people wonder why so many teachers quit after a couple of years. It's not because of the kids as much as it is because of the ignorant and crazy-making administrators.

I won't "re-due" the report cards. I won't even redo them. There are a very few comments that made sense - I'll change those. As for the others, I'll explain to her exactly why I refuse to change them. She'll probably demand that I change them, and I'll refuse. Report cards may seem like a silly thing to take a stand on, but I've got to do it somewhere and I'm about DONE with this woman.

Here's the letter:

March 9, 2007

Thank you for the quick feedback on the report cards. I found some of your comments to be very helpful but I cannot agree with all of them. Please keep in mind that I know all of the students and their parents very well; in fact I have known some of these parents for years. I have definitely built a positive relationship with these parents – many of them knew me beforehand and requested that their student be in my class. While there is always more to learn and I have not come as far as possible with report card comments, I simply cannot agree with all of the comments. In fact, with some of them (the ones you just crossed out and didn’t say why they need to be completely redone), I cannot figure out what could possibly be offensive or hurt the positive relationships that I do, in fact, have with the parents of these children. I have showed these particular comments to colleagues and they also cannot see anything past maybe one or two words that might be changed.

For example:

  • Lamar has been rude a few times. He has no problem admitting it, his dad welcomes the feedback, we’ve worked through it all together, and I do not think it is offensive or unprofessional to mention that he’s been working on this.
  • Tatania has had problems taking out her frustrations out on other children. That is neither offensive nor unprofessional – it is something that her mother needs to know and that Tatania is working on.
  • The same idea with Ann – she does, in fact, try to make writing assignments short and she does not generally read directions but waits for others to explain things to her. If you have a specific way to reword this while keeping the idea, I'm welcome to suggestions. But I cannot take this out, as it is important.
  • I do not understand why I cannot say that TJ likes math best – it is his favorite subject, he gets very excited by it. That can’t possibly hurt the positive relationship I have with his mother! Also, he does have problems when he is angry. He knows this, his mother knows this - I've even talked to his counselor about this. No one is upset with me for using that word.
  • I see nothing wrong with the comments about Amani. Amani does get upset when she doesn’t do something perfectly and she needs to take time to calm down. She doesn’t like to read directions and her mother needs to be aware of that. I said positive things about her as well, as she is a wonderful child, and gave specific recommendations. Amani's mother has thanked me repeatedly for being honest with her and asked me to continue with it. She has said that Amani has never shown as much growth as this year because I am completely honest with her (the mother) and don’t put up with any of Amani’s ways of manipulating her past teachers. She wants this kind of feedback. And it is not without positive remarks – there are many.
  • I tried to copy Deedee's report card last time you told me to because of the smudges and there were no blank third-grade cards then. Now if I redo it, it will not have her mother’s previous signature and date of conference. Do you still want me to do it?
  • I’m not sure when all of the smudges on the report cards happened, but the folder I handed you in the CIC on Wednesday ended up on the floor somehow afterward – one of the other teachers gave it back to me and I put it back on the table where you had been sitting. I'm not sure how long it was on the floor or if any teachers stepped on it.

Please realize that nothing on these report card comments is new to the parents. They get good phone calls as well as phone calls when there is a problem. They are intimately aware of all of the issues that I have raised and have not been offended by any of them. Again, I always have room to improve, and I will change some of the comments. However, I cannot compromise honesty with the parents, especially as I have received extensive positive feedback about these particular kinds of comments from the parents (especially Lamar's father and Amani's mother) when they thank me for the growth their children are making.


There are so many more important things for her to waste my time on than this.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Julie Kicks Ass

(and because I'm used to third graders, I'm waiting for someone to say "Ooooooh, she said ass... I'm telling...")

Julie took me up on the writing to the district superintendent, excuse me, state administrator. Here's her letter. Feel free to join her in writing.

"And, when the going gets tough, we must have the courage and stamina to stay the course."
Dear Ms. S------,
It has come to my attention that OUSD is contemplating closing East Oakland Community High School due to low test scores. While I do not have direct experience in that school, I know friends and community members who will be drastically affected by this decision. Children at this school will not continue their education -- many will drop out and never be seen or heard from again, except through the police department. These kids feel, for the first time, like school is within their grasp. As if someone cares about them, and their education. The school has only been open for two and a half years, and is serving kids who have not had the opportunities that students in wealthier districts have. It would be nearly inconceivable that they could catch up, to passing status, in such short time. But the concept behind the school is offering these kids hope -- not failing them. I know the district does not exactly have an abundance of cash laying around to "experiment" with alternative school styles. But you yourself said, on your website (as quoted above), that when the going gets tough, it takes courage and stamina to stay the course. It takes commitment. It takes sacrifice. No one is denying that. But I implore you to give this school a chance -- to stay the course and give it the time it needs to work with these kids. Closing EOCHS may save some cash -- but it will NOT get the district closer to its goal of educating the children of Oakland.

Julie might know a little something about difficult kids/families/situations also...

Also, the Oakland Tribune has an interesting - and sad - series of articles profiling one young man who was one of the almost 150 homicide victims last year. This is Part One.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

School Closings - Please Help

The district is closing four more schools. One of them, Merritt Middle school, is being closed because it is on a college campus which is undergoing construction. The other three - Kizmet Academy, Sherman Elementary, and East Oakland Community (EOC) High School - are being closed primarily for low test scores. Now, I don't know anything about Kizmet or Sherman (although I do think Kizmet has only been around for a few years - maybe 3?), but I know a little about EOC.

EOC is an alternative high school that focuses on teachers caring, art, music, and students having a voice. Education Not Incarceration (ENI) is working with this school to "stop 'pushouts' in real world terms: support of positive behavior, rather than punitive actions such as expulsion and suspension; a strong, culturally aware staff, and curriculum that empowers youth by relating learning to their lives; supporting the growth of the whole child by involving the entire community in the education of each student; and preparing students for higher education or living wage jobs by carefully connecting students to opportunities based on their individual passions."

Sounds great, right? Sounds like just what the youth of East Oakland need. Keep in mind, that a conservative estimate of Oakland's dropout rate is 50%. Many people say only one-third of Oakland's youth graduate, and you'd better believe that most of them are not in East Oakland. I personally know kids who are 12 years old, in 7th grade, and hanging out on the street smoking pot instead of ever going to school.

But no, my district has decided that - after 2 and a half years - the school should be closed because of poor test scores. The school has only been open for two years. They haven't gotten off the ground yet. The test scores are bound to be low right now because they're testing kids who don't normally attend school. Teachers, parents, and community members have worked to get this school started, and kids are now saying that they feel cared about, they like going to school, and that they can express themselves. They have an award-winning podcast, "This East Oakland Life," that has been featured by the BBC. Listen to it. The kids tell the truth - which at times is brutal - about everything from fast food to pre-teen prostitution.

Even No Child Left Behind allows four years before a school undergoes sanctions, much less is closed. I understand that our district is in trouble financially, but to close a school that is helping students who most desperately need the help - and who are FINALLY getting it - is inexcusable. The kids showed up at the school board meeting begging for their school to remain open, saying that for the first time in their lives they like school.

The state-appointed administrator, Dr. Kimberly Statham, is determined to close these schools. The mayor of Oakland, Ron Dellums, has weighed in, saying "I believe it is important to give institutions an opportunity to develop." One parent said, "If this school closes, I will lose what little faith I have in the district's alleged commitment to educating children," said one mother, whose son attends the 21/2-year-old East Oakland Community High School.

Me too.

The worst thing about it is that thes
e are not kids who will go to their second choice school. If my school had been closed, I would have gone to another one. These kids will drop out.

If this makes any of you as mad as it does me, PLEASE do something. You can write a letter to the Oakland Tribune, and express your views. You can email the state administrator, Dr. Kimberly Statham, call her office at (510)
879-8200, or write to her at 1025 2nd Ave., Room 301, Oakland, CA 94606.

Please don't use my name, just say "it has come to my attention that..." and express your views. Please. If the district cared about these kids, this wouldn't be happening. Please help them see that SOMEONE cares about them!

Friday, March 02, 2007

They Have a Dream

For Martin Luther King's birthday (OK, almost 6 weeks ago now; I'm a little behind), the kids wrote what their dreams are. some of them provide a window into what these kids deal with every day.

"TJ:" (more about this one later; a very troubled child)
I have a dream fighting other kids. I have a dream hurting somebody on the football field. I have a dream about running away from home, school, and my football team and when I came back everything was alright."

I have a dream that people will stop smoking and drinking, stop shooting people, stop stealing money, and stop hating people. I wish that Martin Luther King, Jr. was alive. I wish people would stop mugging people.

I have a dream that people would give dogs and cats good homes. I have a dream that people would stop being on drugs. I have a dream that people would respect their homes. I have a dream that people would give people in Africa some food. And I have a dream people would stop killing and fighting.

I have a dream that nobody was on drugs, that nobody killed each other and that no one got raped. I have a dream that my mom does not have diabetes and that I do not hear gun shots and that everything is OK.
These are not the kinds of dreams that many of us had when we were kids, nor are they the kind of dreams that kids should have to even think about. The last child in this list is moving. When someone came to his apartment to threaten his 16-year old brother's life, his mom decided she had had enough. The boys' father was shot and killed a couple of years ago and she was not about to lose anyone else that way. She packed them up and moved them in three days. We miss Kobe a lot - he was a wonderful, sweet child - but he may need to leave to stay that way. I hope he's found somewhere better.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Slipping Through the Cracks

Meet "Kayla." Kayla is from Alabama, and moved to Oakland shortly before school started in late August. There was some problem with her vaccinations - either she didn't get them all in Alabama, or Alabama doesn't require the same tests as California, or the paperwork didn't arrive in time - I don't remember. Regardless of the reason, Kayla was not allowed to start school on the first day of school. Her mother tried to bring her, and she was turned away and not allowed to start for a week. Since then, Kayla has come to school almost every day, missing a few days here and there when she was sick, and currently has 13 absences, all but 5 from illness.

Meet "Jennie." Jennie has 45 absences. Her mother always excuses them, explaining that Jennie has been throwing up or having diarrhea. Jennie's brother has almost as many absences, for the same reason. For a variety of reasons, I suspect Jennie's father of being violent and abusive toward Jennie's mother and perhaps the children. My unprofessional guess would be that the extreme gastrointestinal distress exhibited by Jennie and her brother, as well as their guarded - almost silent - demeanor, might be a direct result of the tension in their home.

Guess which child was brought to the attention of the attendance review board?


If you guessed Jennie - the child who has been absent over a third of the year, who acts like a scared rabbit, and who is probably desperately in need of some intervention - then you are logical, kindhearted..... and haven't been listening to a word I've said.

Kayla's mother (remember, 13 absences, 5 of which were because the district/state wouldn't let her start) received a letter saying that her child was truant, the case was going before the attendance review board, blah blah blah. She was not happy. To quote her, "First they tell me my child can't come to school yet and now they're saying I don't sent my child to school?"

She has a point.

I was supposed to fill out a form detailing how Kayla's "truancy" has affected her behavior and academics, etc. I skipped all the boxes to be filled out and just wrote in big letters something like "Kayla does not have a problem with absences. She was not allowed to come to school for the first week. Since then she has been sick a few times. She is not behind. She should not go before the attendance review board." Then I attached a sticky note saying that I had another student who has missed 45 days of school, and that I've brought this up to Highly Defensive Administrator many many times - can we do something about this one, please?

We'll see.