Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year's Eve!

I want to tell the story of taking kids to the Nutcracker but I am too tired tonight, so I'll do it soon. In the meantime, I have gotten several questions about why the name of the blog is "Being Light Skinded" and if I haven't misspelled "Skinned." You'll find the answer here.

More stories coming soon, I promise. I have some good ones!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Payment Received!

Yes, I finally got paid for subbing! And it was even on time for one of the time sheets I submitted. The other one, as we already know, was submitted months ago and had to be resubmitted.

Therefore, I have revised my estimation of L, this woman in the subbing department. She didn't completely fail to pay me. All she did was "lose" my mailed in timesheet after telling me that she didn't "like to get them mailed in." (coincidence?) Oh, and she refused to answer any of my emails or phone calls about the matter. And she called to yell at me when I canceled a job because I had a fever. But I did get one of my payments on time.

Maybe I was wrong. Perhaps she's not really really really really, REALLY unprofessional. Maybe she's only really, really really, really unprofessional.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Interesting Followup

I didn't get paid on payday (yesterday) but I did get in the mail today a direct deposit slip saying that I will get paid next week. Considering that next week the offices are closed, I'm not feeling too positive. Also, it would really help if ANYONE in the district answered my emails/calls about this. I did learn that I'm not alone. A few (at least) regular full-time teachers are not being paid either.

Think about the kind of dedication (some might say stupidity, but I prefer dedication) that it takes for a teacher to show up to work for four months without getting paid.

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Money That I'm Owed

The money that I am supposed to have earned from subbing (for which I've now submitted two timesheets) is supposed to be in my account tomorrow. Let's see if it is. Anyone want to make a little bet? I'd estimate that the odds are about 3 to 1 in favor of me not getting paid. Ridiculous, but true. Check back later for further report!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

More School Closures

The district is ready to close more schools. the people in charge don't seem to know (or care?) that this is a cycle that doesn't end. They close the schools where students who have completely given up on the educational system say that they are finally paid attention to. Apparently the test scores are more important than making the kids feel wanted or encouraging them to attend school. A lot of the schools that the district closes have only been open for a few years.

One of these schools that is about to be closed is Sankofa Academy. Sankofa started in 2005. It is just beginning its third year. Does anyone here think that just over two years is enough time for a school to prove itself? A raise of hands, please, if you do. That's right, I didn't think so.

The principal at Sankofa has spent years trying to plan for the school's opening. Of course, the school wasn't perfect. It started with grades 1-3 and 6 and 7. This is obviously a very awkward group of ages, and the district eliminated the middle school grades. Before that, the middle school kids caused a lot of disruption - what self-respecting 7th grader wants to be in a school with first graders? Even though the discipline problems have been eliminated for the most part, the district wants to close the school.

Does it seem to anyone else that the school was set up for failure? And then blamed for failing?

The other reason that Sankofa is being closed is because of low enrollment. Oakland is pouring money into creating small schools, and then punishing them for being small. After spending all this money (and years!) opening the school, they're willing to close it after less than three years instead of trying to support it.

And they're surprised that parents are pulling their kids out of the district??

The other school being closed, Burckhalter, was just modernized - at a cost of millions of dollars - and after the changes, parents were hoping to re-start a PTA and change things. But the district doesn't want to give them that chance. Why would they spend so much money on a school just to close it?

Of course, all these closures just alienate parents further. When a parent - and a community - fights to keep their children's school open and the district steamrolls them, closing it without listening... why are they surprised that these parents are sending their kids to private schools?

In 2000, when I started, the district had 54,000 students. Now it is less than 39,000.

I don't think I can write a letter to the editor or to the district since I'm still an employee. But the rest of you, feel free. I'll help you.

Monday, December 17, 2007

So Outta There!

Wow, this district is messed up. I tell you, I love these kids, and they need good teachers, and I felt called to this district when I came... and I don't think I can go any longer. They have successfully completely demoralized me.

The missing administrator - we're just going to leave him missing. I think it's been three months now, and the only thing ANYONE can get out of the district is that he's not coming back. That's all. And by the way, I emailed two local reporters who have previously covered events/problems at this school and they apparently had no interest. I guess administrators disappearing off the face of the earth doesn't matter when the kids in the school are poor. Because how well do you think that would go over in a middle/upper class school?

Speaking of how the poor kids are treated, apparently in October there was a break in a sewer line in a school not far from mine, causing raw sewage (yes, that's poop) to flow onto the playground. The school didn't close. Apparently it's OK to have the kids at school when the contents of the toilets are on the yard.

Why are the people who are in charge of this district not ashamed? I honestly do not understand how they can sleep at night.

I am subbing now, and I still haven't been paid. I have turned in several timesheets, and I'm not sure if any of them have gotten from L, the sub manager, to payroll. L has a problem with me - she actually called and yelled (yes, yelled) on my voice mail when I canceled a sub job because I had a fever. No matter that I did everything in my power to alert the teacher. She said, among other things, "You call up that school right now and get over there and ask what you can do!" Coincidentally... she didn't turn in my time sheet that month.

I have emailed this woman now five or six times asking about being paid and she has not answered one of them. It's definitely the right email address, because I'm replying to one of hers from the summer. She just chooses not to answer me about when I will get paid. Now a teacher requested me for a sub and the sub computer system tells her that I am not available. Hmmm. I am available. The only way I'm not is if someone with the power to do so has taken me off of the sub list.

My current plan (and I would LOVE feedback) is to do this:

  • Wait until the next payday (Friday, Dec. 21) and see if I get paid.
  • If I don't, email the head of HR and explain everything, including the nasty voice mail left by L,(which sadly, is no longer on my phone) and how I haven't been paid even though I have turned the time sheets in TWICE.
  • Whether or not I do get paid, I will be resigning at the end of the year.
  • I will write a detailed letter of resignation explaining why a qualified, committed teacher is resigning from this district. I would love any input anyone wants to give about which examples I should use. I probably shouldn't send my blog to the district!
  • I will send this letter of resignation to the head of HR, the superintendent, and anyone else I can think of in the district.
  • I am thinking about sending a copy of it to the newspaper.
This last one is where I need feedback. I don't think the newspaper will publish anything like a letter to the editor anonymously. Do I send it in? I may at some point want to apply for teaching jobs in neighboring cities, so I don't know if I want to publicly badmouth the district. On the other hand, the behavior of the district needs to be made public. All these stories in my blog are not things that should happen in this country - in the richest state in this country. It doesn't matter one bit to me that these kids are poor, are minorities, are on welfare, are from largely uneducated families. It is not all right to treat them like this. And it is not all right to treat teachers - who are trying to help them - like this.

Please tell me what you think. I've had more than enough.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Best Form of Birth Control

Here's an interesting article on population control. I'm not saying I totally agree with it, but I'm not saying I don't, either. It might be a good idea!

Of course, those of us who are teachers already know that the best form of birth control is, as they say, other people's children. I'm not just talking about emotionally disturbed children in the inner city, either!

At my church - which I love - there are a number of very active children. Sometimes they run around not looking where they're going and run right into me. This is kind of cute when they are two and three years old and not so cute when they are eight or ten years old. I have to stop myself from stopping them and saying something teacher-ish like, "You need to apologize if you run into someone," or "You wouldn't like it if I ran as fast as I could into you, would you?" The couple of times those things have accidentally come out of my mouth, their parents haven't seemed to appreciate it.

Before the church Christmas concert last week, the children in the choir were lining up, with their fancy clothes on and their hair all done nicely... and they were crazy. They were pushing and hitting and kicking and screaming. And this group was probably 2nd-5th grade or so. Old enough to know better. I don't know who was in charge of them outside the church, but they weren't there. Another teacher friend and I were talking about how crazy they were making us when a woman said to us, sort of disapproving-ish, "Oh, they're not hurting anyone!"

Right at that moment, I looked over and there was one little boy hitting another little boy in the stomach as hard as he could. Just socking him. The other little boy did not look like it was a fun game and had sort of fallen down on the ground. Not hurting anyone! Maybe I have an abnormally low tolerance for children acting like fools, as we say in the ghetto. That's one nice thing about inner-city kids - you can call them on their crap. If you look them in the eye and say (forcefully and directly) "That is NOT how your mama wants you to behave," or "What would your mama think if she saw you?" or just, "Are you really going to act like a fool?" in the right tone of voice, they respect it and stop. They start up again pretty quick, but at least they stop for a time. Middle-class kids tend to say something snotty like, "You're not my parent!" or "I can do whatever I want!" or everybody's favorite: "You're not the boss of me!"

Please, please, middle-class parents, don't let your children be those kids. And don't even get me started on the rich kids who see their nannies more than their parents. Give me ghetto thugs-in-training any day.

Another friend had to drag us away from the kids at church, because I was going to intervene with the punching kid and then some parent was going to get pissed because I was insinuating that her child wasn't perfect.

Don't get me wrong - I really do love my church and there are many many wonderful children and parents there. This seems to happen everywhere I go, not just at church.

My favorite story is when I was at a hamburger restaurant in a nice part of town, so it's kind of upscale for hamburgers. This child - who was about 7 or 8 - old enough to know better - pitched a huge temper tantrum. I don't know what it about. Her parents were ordering something to go and the child, who appeared to be possessed, kept reaching up for pens, flyers, desserts, menus, anything that was on the counter that she could get her hands on, and flinging them to the floor. I mean, all right, my friend's 13 month old does that, but she's at the correct age for that. That's not a disciplinary problem. This one was.

The best part was that her parents did nothing. They sort of smiled indulgently, like, "Oh, isn't she cute," and left everything on the floor. Finally, the girl reached for something breakable - I think it was a mug or a glass - and I took it out of her hand and said (nicely), "No, honey, that needs to stay on the counter." I put it just out of her reach. The cashier looked at me gratefully and appeared to have had her faith in humanity restored. The girl, however - AND HER PARENTS - looked at my like I had just killed a puppy. It was obvious that they could not have been more offended. They gave me the look of death all the way out the door.

This might sound crazy, but this is one of the things I miss about being a teacher. I would love to have that girl - it would be such a challenge. She would learn to behave. As I tell the children, "You can fight me all you want, but it's my classroom and I am going to win." I know the trend right now is the student-led learning and letting students make the rules, etc., but (maybe it's an inner-city thing) I have found that the students are far, far happier at the end when they know who is the boss.

It's too bad I'm not the boss of all of the children I see out there.

Monday, December 10, 2007

To Be Expected

I told another teacher how I haven't yet been paid for any of the subbing I've done (and wont' be doing any more of until I do get paid!) Her response:

I told someone about your dilemma - I'd like to say she was horrified, but the response was more a resigned rolling of the eyes. This district does nothing to make subs welcome, as we all know.
It shouldn't be common enough that no one is surprised and yet...

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Playing Businessman on BART

To continue the BART stories:

When we'd get on BART to go wherever we were going, the kids were actually usually on their best behavior. They would occasionally yell things like, "Let that lady sit down, she's old!" that you wish they wouldn't yell, but it really did show that they meant well.

One of their favorite games was to pick up discarded newspapers and pretend to read them. Sometimes they'd really read them, but usually they didn't want to put that much effort into it. If I asked them what they were doing, they'd let me know that they were playing businessman. To them, that's what businessmen (and no, it was never businesswomen) did. They read newspapers on BART. Once, one of them told me that she was looking for a new job for me, so that I could "have a better job."

We met some real businessmen on BART once, and it turned out that they were even BART businessmen. They were BART executives who rode BART periodically to see how things were going firsthand, and they sat down with us. These guys - who were obviously high up in the system judging from what they were wearing - started asking the kids where they were going. They gave some pretty unintelligible answers because on the way to a field trip, they are always so excited that they trip over their words and end up making no sense at all. The executives were patient though and (although I'd be surprised if they ever figured out where we were going) asked to come with us. The kids got really excited and invited them, but the men said that they had to go to work but that they'd really rather come with us.

The best part was when we got off, one of them told me, "You know, those were the best behaved group of school kids I have ever seen ride on this train." Now, if you've ever seen my class in action, you'll understand what a miracle that is. If you haven't met my class, just think about how many times a group of inner-city, mostly minority kids who are for the most part proud of being "ghetto" gets called well-behaved. Yeah. It doesn't happen.

I think the preparation for BART rides really worked!

Of course, they didn't always behave that well, but they mostly did well on BART. On buses, for some reason, they tended to act up more. I don't know what the reason was. I know that BART was exciting for them. On the way to one field trip we got through all the hassle of getting to the station, getting through the ticket gate, getting on BART, riding BART... and as we were getting off, one of the kids said to me, "That was the best field trip ever!" We were still on our way to the field trip! He thought the BART ride was the field trip, and it was the best ever! I wish the BART executives had been there for that one!

The other rule on BART was that they had to sit if there was a seat. They all wanted to hang on poles, but their balance wasn't good and they couldn't reach the top poles, so if there was a seat, they had to sit in it. And, this being BART, they had to sit next to a stranger if that was the only seat, but if the stranger was crazy, they could raise their hand and I would let them move. They knew what crazy meant and didn't abuse it. They couldn't switch seats, either, otherwise it was a Chinese fire drill at every stop.

If there weren't any seats, I told them what to do. On trains with a lot of floor space, they could sit on the floor. Otherwise, they mainly hung on to me. If there weren't any poles to hang on to, I would hold on to the top bar, and they had to hold on to me. There would be two or three taller kids on each of my arms (which were stretched up to hang onto the bar), and two or three holding on to each leg. Some would hang onto my backpack or belt. They mostly managed not to fall over, but I never got a picture. I must have looked like some strange child-growing tree.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Tales from BART

Today, we're going to talk about BART - Bay Area Rapid [not really] Transit. I think BART is great; I just don't think the rapid part should be in there because it's a lie.

First, you must read this. I mean, you MUST. This describes the city I have worked in like nothing I've ever read before. Seriously. I just can't do it justice, so read it, please, and then come back.

Wow. I can only hope that if my students turn out to be thugs, that they turn out to be chivalrous thugs!

We often took BART on field trips. It was very convenient, because the school was not far from one of the stations. All right, it was about 3/4 of a mile, which was - for children completely unaccustomed to exercise - pretty far. And usually the chaperones were also unaccustomed to exercise. So the walk could actually get kind of long. Kids are funny: they whined and whined about their feet hurting, and the minute I said, "Run to the corner," they ran as fast as they could.

Before going on any field trip, we had a very serious talk about behavior. We talked about how the students were expected to behave on the BART or bus, as well as on the way there. Some points that were always covered were to stay with the group, not get ahead of the teacher, and not to run two at a time through the ticket gate because that causes big problems on the way out. Another very important rule was not to get close to the edge of the BART platform.

The BART platforms, if you don't know, are painted with a yellow stripe at the edges. The rule was not that you couldn't touch the yellow stripe - it was that you couldn't go anywhere CLOSE to the yellow strip. The platform itself was about 8-10 feet wide (although to a paranoid teacher, it felt like it was about 3 feet), with tracks on either sides, making it so there was no wall you could line the kids up against. And the platform was raised, which didn't really make a difference, because the drop to the tracks was the same, and the electric third rail was the same, but it felt more precarious. I would sort of line the kids up in the very middle as far away from either side as possible and make them sit down. The platform is also very slippery, so I was afraid of kids chasing each other and falling on the tracks.

Once I had a kid walk on the yellow stripe as if it were a tightrope. ON THE EDGE OF THE PLATFORM. (Do you know what electric third rails can do? Let alone being squished by a train!) Before I could get to him, one of the chaperones - a really awesome mom - grabbed him by the arm and started yelling at him about what she would do to him if she were his mother. I had already told the kids that if I caught them going near the edge, not only would I ban them from any more field trips in my class, but I would tell their fourth and fifth grade teachers to ban them as well. With everything else going on during a field trip, there is NO ROOM for children with a daredevil streak in them.

I didn't ever let him go on another field trip (and his mom wouldn't have either, once she found out about it), and I never had another kid do that because I always told this story. The kids would say, "And did he get to go on any more field trips?" Once I said no, they listened up and stayed far away from the tracks and the edge of the platform.

We passed all sorts of interesting people and things on the way to the BART station. Remember, this is not a good part of the city. We saw women working the street corners, drug deals, dog fighting, overflowing sewers... you get the idea. During my second year teaching, the kids told me which street to avoid because that's where the crackhouse was - we could go on either of the streets on the side of it but not that one. So, the trips to the BART station were always fairly eventful.

Once we got to the BART station, it was hard to get all the kids through the ticket gates. I always tried not to go during commute hours, but sometimes we had to. Then I would try to get them all in one line so that we only completely monopolized one ticket gate, but we would still get mean looks. We'd also get nice people asking where we were going though, which was encouraging.

The behavior of the students on the BART trains was always really good, and I'll share my secret. Children in the inner city, especially those raised by only a mom or a grandmother, take their mothers very seriously. We've all hear the "your mama" jokes - there's a reason those get inner-city kids so riled up. It is the worst thing you can possibly say to someone. But there is also a way to use this to your advantage.

I asked the kids how many of their parents took BART or the bus to work or school or appointments. Everyone immediately started talking at once, telling me stories about where their mothers work or do whatever they do. Then I asked them how they would feel if there were kids on the BART train who were acting crazy and yelling and pushing when their mothers were trying to rest going to or from work. They were shocked that any kids would even think of acting in such an irresponsible manner when their mother was on the train and tired!


That's all it took. They reminded each other and occasionally I would have to say "remember, somebody's mom could be on the train and be tired," and they would act like angels. That is one my accomplishments that I am most proud of in my teaching career.

It's bedtime, more BART stories tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Adventures in Subbing

I worked as a substitute last week at a middle school that had many of my previous students. It was a good day - not just because it was a minimum day and I didn't know it! The first class came in and started giving me looks and all sat down. The bell rang and I said, "Listen, I'm not a sub, I'm a teacher. I know what you're doing, so get back to your own seats." They all just stared at me. I told them I was going to count to five and they would be in their own seat. They stared at me until I got to three and then 75% of the class ran as fast as they could to their own seat. I didn't know enough of them to be sure that they had been trying to fool me, but I had a feeling... one of those teacher feelings that are always right.

Later I had to sacrifice one kid - he wouldn't do his work and was testing me to see if I'd really send him to the principal. The minute I did, all the other kids started working! As a treat, I let them see my blue hair at the end of class.

The middle school has a lot of classrooms - in fact, most of them - with no windows. I've never taught in a classroom with no windows, and I haven't been in one since I had an organic chemistry lab in the basement in college. It's horribly depressing and I'm not sure how the teachers or the students manage to teach or learn in a room with zero natural light, all day.

The other thing I couldn't figure out is what these things on the wall were. It looks like they are bulletin board material and you could staple things on them, but they're about eleven feet high. Any ideas?

I don't mind subbing when there are former students of mine in the classroom. The problem I am having is that the district doesn't want to pay me for some reason. The grouchy sub lady who yelled at me when I canceled a job because I had a fever somehow hasn't been turning in my time sheets. More on that later. Right now I'm just glad I'm not teaching.