Saturday, September 24, 2011


I took my Little Sister to an animal show today and we got a bat book.

LS: I hate bats.

Me: You know they eat mosquitoes, right?

LS: I LOVE BATS!  They are my favorite animal.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Homeless Children

A blogger I really like wonders "Do We Care About Homeless Children?"

I wish the answer was yes.  However I really think that if the answer was yes, we'd do something about it.  And very few of us do.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

A Day in the Life

From a teacher who wishes to remain anonymous, after Ann Coulter went off on "useless public sector workers."  [By the way, I don't like to think of human beings as "useless," but if there was one, it would be Ann Coulter]

First, Jon Stewart had the best response I've heard to this.  Ever.  Check it out.  Then read this day in the life of a good teacher.

I know, I know. But the word useless really got under my skin.

"Dear" Ann Coulter,
First you called kindergarten teachers "useless public sector workers" and then went on to say that public school teachers get off at 2 and get the summers off. Finally, you implied we're highly paid. Clearly, everything one needs to know really *is* learned in kindergarten: kindness, fairness, honesty, manners... Too bad you were truant.

Why don't you walk a mile in the shoes of a "useless public sector worker"?

6:00 Get up, get the tea going, get the lunch ready and the cats fed and tended, read that book you were too tired for last night; pray for students.

7:40 Eat breakfast in car; mentally run through day.

7:55-8:40 Borrow a book from a colleague you should have been given but never were, make a teaching chart, write your schedule and objectives on the board, type documents on computer and then save to flash drive to print downstairs because the school can no longer afford printer ink for classroom printers.

8:40-8:50 Greet parents (trying to remember which parent goes with which student), cajole students into participating in morning exercises, hand off materials to colleagues; remember to say something encouraging to A. before he does something that will require correction.

8:50-9:00 File into building, issue many reminders for quiet and hands off walls, remember to smile at the students as they enter, hug D. on the way into class, give thumbs up to fourth grade class across the hall for having a quiet line; check for homework, backpacks, uniforms; loan uniform shirts to students who need them (paid for out of pocket by yours truly); resolve at least one conflict; try to have a quick class meeting to go over agenda, review the rules and class pledge, and say good morning to each child while simultaneously logging onto computer to do attendance.

9:00-9:30 Pass out English Language Development boxes while lining up students to go to two other classes, receive students, teach an ELD lesson, get students lined up again and on their way.

9:30-10:30 Shepherd students back into class; adjust attendance to account for late student; lead a math discussion and try to involve student who never volunteers; teach a math lesson; reteach concepts to students who didn't get it the first time; get them to clean up and line up quietly.

10:30-10:45 Direct students who didn't do their homework to bench; dash to the bathroom; dash back to the yard; try to supervise yard and help with homework and resolve conflict and discuss how student can change his or her behavior for the better and encourage former student to keep up the good work; line them up again, remind them to be quiet and not touch the walls; do lots more reminding; compliment the fifth graders who are walking quietly and calmly; wink at that student who needs a little encouragement; finally get into the room.

10:50-11:20 Wonder how it can take so long to get into the room; teach a phonics lesson, a reading lesson, and a grammar lesson (except really that's impossible, so try to rejig things mentally so the most important stuff gets done); encourage A. with his reading and S. with her English; give J. a stamp on his chart when he finally says something in a kind tone of voice.

11:20-11:55 Review assignments for independent work time, give students time to ask questions, answer the questions, review the rules, start a small group, redirect students who interrupt to ask questions; interrupt small group instruction to answer the phone; send a student around the class with a quiet sign because you can no longer hear the students in the small group.

11:55-12:00 Get class to clean up; discuss what went well and what needs improvement tomorrow; line them up for recess; sit them down again when they can't be quiet; line them up again; remind A. to get in his spot in the line; remind S. that piggyback rides are not allowed; forget to put lunch in microwave; walk students to recess; bring students back up who need to finish homework, who've earned a prize (bought by yours truly), or who need to write a reflection because they've broken a rule; put lunch in microwave, blow out circuit; dash down hall to reset circuit, check with other teachers to figure out who else was trying to nuke something, negotiate who will wait; send students to lunch; gobble a few bites of lunch; run to the restroom; run to the cafeteria; try to get students to finish eating; remind at least four students to walk as they throw away their trash; line students up, remind them to be quiet and not touch the walls.

12:40-1:45 Teach a reading lesson, a writing lesson, and an inquiry lesson; except not really, because there's not enough time for that even when you don't have to account for time lost to confiscating toys, reminding students how to use their binders, or reminding students how to use the pages of a journal in order.

1:45-1:55 Pass out math facts papers; time individual kids who swear they finished before the timer went off yesterday; give the timed test for the day; reassure the kid who didn't pass that it's not a big deal, he just needs to keep practicing.

1:55-2:40 While teaching a science lesson, help groups work together without making each other cry; fix broken materials; remind students that though they are excited the noise must be down to a dull roar and there is NO RUNNING in the classroom; silently curse whoever invented tone generators (because the sound strips enamel off your teeth) and plastic balance beams (because as soon as you've helped each group zero their balance, the first balance you worked on now needs to be reset); be interrupted because though you did do the attendance, it didn't register in the system and now needs to be redone.

2:40-2:55 Direct students to clean up; call students to rug; ask for students ideas for what went well and what could be better tomorrow; line students up; send two students back to desks to get homework folders they forgot at their desks; walk students downstairs; say goodbye to each child, say goodbye to former students who are in the halls, help a student look for their sibling, answer questions from five different parents; be hugged by students that you are pretty sure have never been in your class, wonder who they are but hug them back and say, "How was your day, sweetheart?"

3:00-3:30 Teach a reading intervention class for free because even though you know it's a bad precedent to set, this program really works and ultimately will make your life easier; walk intervention students downstairs, talk to three parents.

3:30 Realize one more student forgot their homework folder, take it to the afterschool program classroom.

Do all the above while repeating the following actions innumerable times: implore W. to stop talking long enough to allow anyone to finish their sentences; ask A for the millionth time to turn around and do his work; ask W. to get off the floor; remind T. to pay attention; ask W. to stop spinning on the stairs; tell I. "You may do X", listen to him say, "Teacher! can I do X?"gently ask, "What did I just say?"; remind students to sneeze into their elbows and to use a tissue (bought by yours truly) and to throw the tissue away!; tell just about everyone that no they can't go to the bathroom during instruction time, then watch for signs of true distress and send that student out of the class, hopefully when no one else is watching; wish you could go to the bathroom yourself, make mental note to not bring soup for lunch unless it's Wednesday when there's early dismissal; raise your voice more than you should; try to remember to breathe.

3:35-6:00 Readjust lesson plans; grade papers; get math facts ready; stamp charts; write on students' weekly report forms; sharpen pencils because you forgot to remind the student helper to do her job at recess; have a conference with the resource teacher about a student; walk downstairs to make copies, realize you've forgotten something, go back upstairs, come back down and realize there's no paper in the copier, walk back upstairs to get paper, walk back downstairs, wait to use the copier because now there's a line; fill out a referral so a student can get special services; walk downstairs to turn it in, realize office is now locked, go back upstairs; gather up used loaner shirts to throw in the wash; Gather up stuff, forget coffee cup, go back for it; pray you don't get run over trying to get out of the parking lot.

6:15-10:00 Come home, empty pockets of toys and caught being good tickets; wonder how long you've had that dry-erase pen stain on your pants; feed cats, wash dishes, pack lunch, refill water bottle, heat up dinner. Eat dinner while checking email, check in on facebook, order prizes from Oriental Trading Company. Thank God that there were no lockdowns today and you didn't need to make a call to Child Protective Services. Thank God for your students, including the ones who can be hard-heads. Go to bed.

3:00 Wake up, thinking about kids. Realize A. needs to get into the afterschool program because no one at home can help with homework, you should call J's mom and tell her he's been doing better, and you forgot to get out the science materials for the next day's lesson. You also forgot to brush your teeth.

4:3o (if lucky) fall back asleep, wake up at 6.

Spend the entire day teaching children to think, read, write, do math, and be decent people. Work as many or more hours for free than for pay. Spend your own money on basic supplies and for any extras. Do this with or without the appreciation of administrators, parents, or children. Apparently, do this without any appreciation from the nation. Do it every day, for fourteen years and counting.

Who, exactly, are YOU calling useless?

No Love,
Useless Public Sector Worker, AKA Public School Teacher

P.S. - To the rest of you, while I'm ranting:
Don't call me a saint. Don't say there's a special place in heaven for me or that I'm doing God's work. Put your money where your mouth is and donate to a teacher's project on Donors Choose (I won't complain if you donate to mine, but really- donate to anyone!). Then harass your legislators until they do right by teachers, which includes doing right by teachers' unions. Then maybe we won't have to spend our "free time" begging on Donors Choose in the first place.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


I was working on my computer today when I got a facebook post from a friend and former co-worker:
"Hey, I am watching this special on PBS hosted by Tavis Smiley. He is at the Alameda Youth Jail and I think I just saw Frank. I don't remember his last name but I knew him as soon as I saw him. He had the scar on his forehead. Isn't that your old student. They said he was 18. Does that add up"

Yes.  yes, it does add up.  Frank (it is odd to use his real first name, but he's on TV with that name) was a kid in my first and third grade classes, in 2000 (I came in January and they had had 6 substitutes before then) and then 2001-2002.  He was famous at our school, not least because he was expelled in second grade for hitting a teacher or something like that - I honestly don't remember.  He was brought back for third grade and I requested him again.  He was one of those kids who caused trouble everywhere he went and was so angry that it was just coming out of his pores, even when he was six.  He was also really smart and an excellent athlete, but he didn't have time to really devote to these things because he was always, always in trouble.  

This child would sometimes just melt down.  I was 24 when I taught him for the first time and was not at all prepared for a kid with these kinds of emotional needs.  I sometimes had to give him time outs at the class across the hall, where the teacher would teach him multiplication to calm him down.  I can still see him and how proud he was that he had learned 12x12 in first grade.  Sometimes he would climb up on my lap and cry, sometimes he would show off how he could read, and sometimes he would steal my supplies and throw up gang signs in class photos

In third grade, I tried to get him more help but we just had so many obstacles - ranging from his family structure to our turnover in principals - that we never got really far.  He got counseling from an MFT or LCSW intern for a while but we lost our funding for her.  I had some amazing volunteers that year - Cal athletes - and one of them really took Frank under his wing.  His name was Patrick and he was a tennis player but unfortunately, I don't still have his information.  I'd like to tell him how Frank looked forward to Fridays when he could see Patrick.  His therapist tried to teach him visualization techniques to calm himself down and his favorite one was playing cards with Patrick.  He'd try to calm himself down by sitting in the corner and closing his eyes, then dealing the invisible Uno cards - "one to me, one to Patrick."

Frank's mom went back and forth about if she thought I was helping him and if she was furious with me.  I'm sure she had a lot to deal with and I know she loved (and I'm sure loves) her son immensely.  It's a hard, hard place for black boys and black men.  

This documentary is about exactly that - how difficult it is for black boys and young men in this country.  I have only watched two clips but it would have made me cry even if I didn't know any of the young men being shown because it's so true and so hard.

This is the clip.  Frank is the second to last one to speak and you can tell he is thoughtful and intelligent and wants better than what he has and what he's done.  I don't know what he's been locked up for, how many times it's been, or what he's doing now, but I've been praying for him for 10 years.  He both breaks my heart and reminds me of why I am so grateful and honored to have had the chance to teach where I did.

I am going to buy this when it comes out on DVD and I hope it affects many, many people.  Anyone who's tempted to judge kids who are imprisoned needs to actually listen to them.  Of course they've made mistakes and made bad decisions - in some cases, really horrible decisions that caused a great deal of pain.  But there's always a reason and a story behind it.  I don't say that to absolve them of responsibility but maybe to put more responsibility on all of us to stop this cycle and help these kids out.  They're worth so much more than this.

Monday, September 05, 2011


The regrets I have from my time teaching in a classroom are not what you might think.  I know I gave everything I had to those kids - no regrets there.  I was tired - very very tired - and would have done better if I wasn't so exhausted, but there wasn't much I could have done about that. 

What I regret most is not standing up for myself to authority figures in the school and the district. 

When my first principal told us that we should all be afraid for our jobs, I wish that I had said that I didn't feel motivated by a constant reminder to be afraid for my job. 

Each and every time an administrator answered my request to sign my after-school tutoring papers or reimburse me for something with "But don't you do this for the children?" or "I'm disappointed that you're asking me this - I thought you did this for the children," I wish I had said "Excuse me!  I am a professional and we had an agreement!  Please do not try to tell me that I am not committed to my job or these children because I want to be paid what I am owed!"

When I was subbing for the district and the sub coordinator cursed at me - actually cursed, and yelled - I wish I had said calmly that I wasn't going to talk to someone who spoke to me that way.

There were so, so many instances like this that I wish I had dealt with differently.  Sometimes I was afraid for my job, and at other times I was just too young to have experience or confidence, but I think that I would have been a better teacher and not have gotten burned out so fast if I had higher standards for the people in charge. Of course, I may have been fired, but still.  I wish I had done that differently.