Thursday, November 29, 2007


I can't believe I haven't included this in the blog before! This is one of my favorite stories about the district. I thought I had written it but I just searched the blog...

When I started in my district, the schools had just been converted from K-6 elementary schools and 7-8 junior high schools. The elementary schools were overcrowded, so they became K-5, and the junior high schools were changed to middle schools, 6th-8th grade.

A junior high school next to the school I worked at was one of these. Let's say it was called "Gecko" Junior High School. Well, this district, always willing and able to do a bad job of things, decided to save money and not replace all the metal letters. Instead, they made a sign that said "Middle School" and nailed it up over the "Junior High" portion of the sign. So, now you have a sign that is partly in old metal capital letters and partly in a newer wooden or something sign, reading:

GECKO Middle School SCHOOL

Awesome. The best was that no one noticed - or more likely, no one cared. This sign stayed up for years and bothered me every time I drove by. It's already a bad school - dangerous, bad reputation, in a violent area - do they need to look like idiots also? I mean, if you have so few reasons to be proud of your school already, you don't need this kind of thing.

Finally, Lindsay, who was no longer working in the district, submitted it to Chronicle Watch, which checks on things that are supposed to get fixed. Apparently, they thought it was as ridiculous as we did, because they published it, and it was eventually fixed. Sort of. At least, the last "SCHOOL" was removed, although the fastenings for the letters are still there, so now it kind of looks like this:

GECKO Middle School ------

There really is nothing like high standards in education, is there?

Monday, November 26, 2007

No News and No Clothes

I've asked a couple of teachers at my old school about the missing administrator and there continues to be no news. One teacher hypothesizes that it is part of the conspiracy to privatize schooling. I think it's part of the conspiracy to keep poor black and Latino kids lacking in education.

No, I'm not kidding.

Anyway, in thinking about the lack of information in regards to the disappeared administrator, I was reminded of the story The Emperor's New Clothes. The district seems to like that approach - pretend nothing's wrong and it won't be! The clothes are lovely! What incredible tailors!

The Emperor's New Clothes is, incidentally, a part of the third grade reading curriculum. If you have read the story, you may agree with me that this was a silly choice for third grade. What is the outcome of the story? The emperor gets scammed because he wants to believe that he's special, and no one wants to be the voice of opposition, so he ends up walking naked in a parade, while a little child is the only one willing to state the obvious, "The Emperor's naked!"

Can anyone guess what the problem is? Remember, third graders are about eight years old, sometimes nine. When the word "naked" comes up, there is a unanimous reaction. Every child in the room says "Naked?!? Gross!" Then 90% of them fall out of their chairs. They just fall out of their chairs because it's too much for them. Most of the class ends up laughing, repeating it over and over: "Naked! Naked! Naked! They say naked in this story!" It is impossible to get them back on track. Especially when the particular edition of the story features a back view of the emperor: "Look at his naked bootie, yuck!" I would have skipped the whole story if I had been allowed.

Maybe they should have people who work with real children choose the stories. And the spelling lists! On one spelling list, we had the word "hoe." It went along with "toe" and other long o words. If you don't know why the word "hoe" (it's the pronunciation, not the spelling) shouldn't be on a third grade spelling list... ask your kids. You'll be surprised at the vocabulary they shouldn't know.

Blue hair:

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Dreaming of Teaching

No, I wasn't dreaming that I wanted to be teaching again! I had a dream in which I was counting the days until summer vacation and then I woke up and started trying to count... thinking to myself that at least I got Christmas break soon... then I realized I wasn't teaching! It was a huge relief, even though I had to work sooner that way... nothing is as emotionally exhausting as teaching.

Oh, and my hair is bright blue now - I'm happy with this color and will post pictures soon.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Purple Hair

Oh yes, and I have purple hair right now. It's lovely what you can do when you are not teaching.

Gulliver in Hookerland

It's rare that I agree wholeheartedly with Dr. Phil, but if you read this post, you'll see why I do.

He says that sometimes, with the way little girls dress (I think he was talking about Halloween, but I feel like this much of the time), you "look out the window and feel like Gulliver in Hookerland."

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

How Many Feet Do Chickens Have?

I substituted for a friend last week. It was a really good class and I enjoyed it, although there were definitely reminders about why I am done with this district. (For example, they don't seem to want to pay me for subbing, which is a problem!

The school is very similar to my old school. The kids are absolutely city kids. There was a word problem that asked if a farmer had five chickens, how many chicken feet were there? (It's second grade, so it's not too complex). The problem was not the addition but the chickens. No one seemed to know how many feet a chicken has! The overwhelming consensus was that a chicken has four feet. There were some odd pictures of four-footed chickens.

I was also reminded that kids bleed a lot. There was a bloody nose, teeth coming out, scabs coming off, scraped knees... all sorts of blood! And pee. There was an accident - a girl that just used the bathroom had an amazing amount of pee that ended up all over her chair and the floor. I got the class out discreetly but then one kid yelled as loud as he could when someone asked where the pee-er was, "She can't come out, she peed all over herself!!" Awesome.

I brought the gecko, because we all know that the gecko is everybody's favorite. Tiger was a huge hit, as usual. The kids were very gentle when petting him. They have some high-tech camera projection thing in the classroom so that you can put a piece of paper in front of it and it will show up on the screen for the whole class to see. Tiger cooperated very nicely by crawling under the camera so that there was a projection-screen sized gecko on the wall - it was pretty cool!

Despite the cool high-tech camera/projection thing and the all in one scanner/copier/printer, the school doesn't quite have both feet in the twenty-first century. Yes, I know we're almost at 2008, but this district seems to be pretty firmly planted in the early 1990s. No computers in the room except for the teacher's laptop (which is pretty unusual and might be the sign of a good principal - the laptop, that is, not the lack of other computers). And the Internet is "down." And has been for quite some time. I think they even have that crazy Internet thing in the Third World now - you'd think we could manage it here! Apparently it doesn't matter to the district.

Maybe they're actually paying attention to the Case of the Missing Administrator and that's why they can't deal with the Internet problems? Nah. More likely it's sort of like the clock guy. Maybe there's one Internet guy in the whole district and he's pissed off so he won't tell anyone how to fix it.

Now, don't even get me started on the radiator guy, if there is one. More on that later.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


I'm a little late - I forgot to talk about Halloween.

I just have this to say. There are not words to express how relieved I was on Halloween. Why, you might ask? Because I did not have to endure children on sugar, children trying to surreptitiously put on their costumes, or children who have stayed up all night on Halloween, then come to school the next day simultaneously exhausted and totally wired on sugar.

Instead, I got to carve pumpkins myself!

For those who aren't aware, Halloween is one of the two most difficult days for an elementary school teacher, in my opinion. The other is Valentine's Day. Combine sugar, artificially created holidays and school parties and, wow...

I'm glad I'm working at home on the computer right now instead of teaching!

Friday, November 09, 2007

Literally Unbelievable

First, an intro from Lindsay:
Before I started teaching at B's school, I would listen to the stories that B told about her experiences there, and I would find that they put the listener into a very awkward situation.

She would tell these stories that were literally unbelievable. Rats running through classrooms? Kids peeing in sinks during lockdowns? Verbally abusive administrators? You can't believe that that's actually happening. Here. In this country, which we all had a much higher opinion of ten years ago, when this was happening. The stories were so unbelievable, in fact, that you sort of had to do a gut-check: Is B lying about this? Logic kicks in, and you realize, either B is lying or this stuff is true.
Lindsay is not the only one who has mentioned that. I've had several friends say the same sort of thing, "You know, until I saw where you teach, I really thought you must have been exaggerating." "I wasn't sure you weren't lying." Every one of them changed their mind after seeing the school. So, get ready for one of these stories.

An administrator seems to have disappeared. I'm not sure yet if I mean "disappeared" as in the magic tricks or "disappeared" as in the South American dictators' means of disposing of their opponents.

The short history which I may have explained already is that our K-5 school was broken up at the beginning of this year into two K-3 schools and one 4-5 school, which I like to call a "throwaway school." You'll see why. Next year, there will be two K-4 schools and one school of only 5th grade, and the following just two K-5 schools. The problem with this, of course, is that it's hard to find people - either teachers or administrators - who are serious about their career and want to work at a school that will phase itself out in two years. It's also hard to think that the district will care about this school if it will phase itself out.

So, sure enough, they couldn't find a principal for the 4-5 school, and instead got an assistant principal who, while he was technically under supervision of one of the principals at the other school (I guess that principal was technically principals of two schools, if that's possible), would run the school. According to everyone I talked to, he (the assistant principal whom we'll call "Joe") was doing a great job, keeping order, establishing routines and structure, all the things kids really really need.

Until a month ago when the teachers were told that Joe would be out temporarily because the district had not completed his employment process somehow. I don't remember how exactly the teachers explained it to me, but I remember thinking that it sounded like his TB test paperwork hadn't come or something. Something minor. Except that it's been a month and Joe is not back.

Teachers have tried calling and emailing Joe and he hasn't responded. The district hasn't answered any questions (nor have they appeared overly concerned that a school has been missing their administrator for a month). The principal who "oversees" Joe has only answered by saying that he feels attacked and he can't have a conversation when he feels attacked. Joe seems to have disappeared as effectively as Pinochet's political prisoners.

(OK, maybe that bit of alliteration at the end there was overly dramatic, but seriously, how do you disappear an assistant principal? And why aren't more people concerned??)

Oh, and I forgot. When asked why the administrator is missing, the "downtown" office (main district office) asked if there was a problem at the school. Um, you mean besides the fact that the administrator's been gone for a month, no one knows where he is, and the school is dissolving into chaos? No, no other problem besides that. These people are amazing.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Stephanie Update

Stephanie's dad called me yesterday to let me know that she got a 4.0 in her first trimester of 7th grade and to thank everyone who is helping her get to the leadership forum in Europe by donating... specific thanks to Doug, Lindsay, Chris, Lynn, Carrie & Jason, Laura, and Alex (and some others who wish to remain anonymous. You guys are awesome and every little bit helps! This is a girl who will NOT waste the experience - she's amazing. One person expressed concern that the organization does not set up an easy tax-deductible way to fundraise - I think, honestly, it's because most of the kids don't have to raise funds. I think the fast majority of them just have their parents write a $4500 check and they're off. Stephanie's dad is taking extra fights (professional boxer) and working tons of extra shifts to try to pay for this, which is why I'm trying to get people to help.

If you are someone who has always wanted to help public education and doesn't want to give money to the schools because you don't know what they're doing with it... please consider this. Tell everyone. Forward it. If you have given money - please let me know your address so I can send you a thank you note from Stephanie. I'll put up a picture of her awesome report card just as soon as I find my camera...

Saturday, November 03, 2007

No Wonder I'm Still Tired!

I've been really frustrated that I don't seem to be getting untired - I've been not teaching for 4 months and I think I should be back to "normal" by now, but I'm still exhausted!

Then this conversation with Warren helped me remember what the last few years have been like. We were talking about "Alex," an extremely disturbed child I had two years ago whose dad threatened to set him on fire once (it even shocked the woman working at Social Services when I called). Somehow, the conversation went to "Rick," a kid who flat-out refused to do anything - and when his parents came on a field trip, they were more trouble than he was. I said something along the lines of "Thank God I didn't have those kids the same year," and then I realized... I did! I not only had the two of them but I had 13 others - yes THIRTEEN OTHERS - who were behavior problems and probably should have been in a special day class/group home/intensive counseling.

I think I said something like, "How did I do it???"

He said, "This is why you're so tired!"

I guess so!

Friday, November 02, 2007

They Can't Keep Employees? Really? What a Surprise!

I am so done with this district. Even just in subbing for them, they are still doing their best in guilt-tripping and devaluing me. The guilt-trips just don't work for me. Apparently the district personnel believes they will, though, or they would stop...

I agreed to sub for a former colleague today. No problem. I wanted to sub for her, was going to bring the gecko, of course, get to see my old students... then yesterday, I woke up and couldn't get out of bed. I had that slightly run over by a train feeling and couldn't stop being exhausted. I wasn't able to get out of bed until 3 pm, at which point I canceled my subbing job. I left a message with the person I was subbing for and canceled the job, figuring that if I couldn't get out of bed, I wasn't really able to safely supervise 2nd graders, and oh yeah, I had a FEVER. Not making this up.

So, feeling slightly guilty - because the field of education has sort of beat into me that I should feel guilty - I went to bed figuring that I had done everything I could. Then I got a call this morning from the person in charge of sub paperwork. She says (read this in a snippy tone of voice, please) : "You accepted a subbing job and canceled at the last minute. That school has 5 teachers out today. Call them and find out how you can go over there and sub right away!"

Excuse me? Am I five years old? Or am I a professional who might - believe it or not - only cancel because of something valid like ILLNESS?

Warren sums it up best: "It mystifies me that they haven't figured out that this isn't the way to treat employees." Then he adds: "They seem to think that you need them and you really don't. They need you." Funny thing about this district. They talk a lot about how hard it is to retain employees. Hmmm. Isn't there something about insanity being when you try the same thing over and over and expect different results?

Do I even bother to point out that a) I wouldn't cancel if I didn't have a reason, b) a better way to phrase it might be to first ask me why I canceled and not order me around like a 5-year old, c) this is why they lose employees at such an amazing rate?

Or do I just resign completely and forget the leave of absence?

At some point, I think I resign and write a letter explaining exactly why. And send it to anyone at the district who can read.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

A Brief Political Note

I'm trying to keep this blog about school, and I will be writing about Halloween at school later on today. But once again, one of the presidential candidates has astounded me, and not in a good way.

Rudy Giuliani (and I really believe that if he had just let his NYC mayorship be his swan song, he would be remembered lovingly by America... now he's just starting to make himself look like a...well, a jackass, really) talked about torture. Oh, he's against torture, just like everyone is, but it's all in the semantics.

For example, he's not sure that waterboarding is torture. He says that just because the "liberal media" describes it as such, he isn't sure that they are accurate. Really? If it's not torture, why doesn't he volunteer to try it so he can tell us firsthand how not torturous it is. John McCain points out that Pol Pot used waterboarding during his genocide in Cambodia, and it was also used in the Spanish inquisition. He (McCain) says "It's not a complicated procedure. It is torture." But apparently, the current administration is defining torture as causing death or organ failure. So, psychological torture isn't torture? Really??

McCain makes another excellent point - and he might know this being the only former POW in the group - that people will say anything - not necessarily the truth - to make the torture stop. Not that I know anything about it, but I would imagine that potential terrorists who are willing to die for their cause would somehow be trained to come up with untrue answers under torture. I mean, you'd think they'd think of something, knowing that's a possibility.

Giuliani also says that sleep deprivation is not torture. In fact, he makes fun of it. "They talk about sleep deprivation. I mean, on that theory, I'm getting tortured running for president of the United States. That's plain silly. That's silly." Wow. I can only hope that his mouth continues to get him into trouble before anyone votes for him.

Either the man really doesn't understand the difference between sleep deprivation as torture and sleep deprivation that political candidates (and nursing mothers, truck drivers, etc.) experience and he's a complete fool, or he's making jokes out of torture. Either one is a serious problem. Sleep deprivation was used as torture by the former Soviet Union and by Pinochet's regime in Chile. It's cruel and by the way, it can lead to death. The Nazis discovered that.

The thing I am most confused about is why we are even having this debate! Quite honestly, I'm less concerned about what torture will do to the terrorists as I am concerned about what it will do to us as a nation? How can we possibly justify following in the footsteps of Caligula, Pol Pot, Pinochet, and Stalin? Oh, and the Spanish Inquisition. Lovely people they were. Definitely the model of democracy that we want to use.