Friday, September 30, 2011

Swimming Along, In Spite of Gas

 A lot has happened since the beginning of year.  As with any teacher, September has been extremely busy and the main point of action has been to keep my head above water while putting in place the proper systems to make the day to day operation of the classroom secondary to instruction and working with the kids.   Over the past few years my team and I have learned how to run a fairly tight ship, which was reflected in the students' behavior these first two weeks.

Here are a few things that have happened:

The Stink Bomb
In the first full week of school, a stink bomb went off in my classroom just as a class was filing in.  I immediately pulled them back out and had them lined up in two columns against the wall in the hallway, only after identifying probable perps and having them pulled down to the assistant principal's office.  When the bomb had been removed to the trash can, I walked slowly to the front of the two lines, nearly shaking with rage, and calmly and quietly (so they'd have to lean forward to hear) told them that when we found out who had committed the offense, the person would be removed from my classroom for a week.  Then we sent them back into the stinking classroom for instruction.  My thoughts were, "How the hell did that just happen in my classroom.  It is my fourth  year and I thought (somewhat arrogantly, naively?) that my reputation had preceded me at least enough to avoid crap like that."
After class it was found out that the foul contraption had gone off accidentally in a young man's pocket and, in a panic, he's tossed it across the room to avoid smelling like he soiled himself all day.  Unluckily for the bystanders, it landed between three troublemakers who were seen as likely culprits.  After their quick, thorough interrogation, the responsible party was asked to step outside, where he reported immediately to the principal to turn himself in, explain himself, and ask for his punishment- surprising the principal entirely in the process, as he was a student who was suspended a ton in the past two years and has already been suspended three times in the first two weeks this year.
Afterward, I received the most sincere apology letter any student has ever written me.  It was even formatted correctly!  The student received just one day in-school suspension for having the device in the school, as opposed to the 3-5 he would have received, and was back in the rank and file the following day.

In spite of it turning out alright, whoever created the modern practical joke stink bomb is an asshole.

Based on the school culture work my eighth graders started last year, our school had the first homecoming in its history, complete with crowns and sashes.  While moderately successful, it was an important step toward building a normal, positive school culture that permeates schools in healthier communities.
I played basketball for the second time in New York during our student-staff basketball games, which took the place of the traditional homecoming football game- something that's difficult to pull down if you don't have an athletics budget, playing field, gymnasium, or even enough students to field a proper team.   The only other time I'd played ball was in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn against former D-2 players.  Someone should probably make a PSA to discourage scrawny white Kansans from doing that, but I did gain some cred with my students when I played this time.

The Germans
Still insane.  These students continue to challenge me on most levels, including the most difficult piece- my ability to keep a straight face.  While I'd intended to expand the elective, our new schedule wouldn't allow for it, so I've just cracked down and made sure their work period is better structured so some level of productivity can be had. 

Aside from the scheduling conflict, most people are apprehensive of German expansion, so we'll put it off for another year.

My 20 Elective Children
This year I inherited twenty fantastic children from my fiancee, who was their elective teacher last year.  She moved onto a pasture where there is more green and we decided to keep them in the family.  It struck me that the class of twenty is like a normal, well-balanced oasis of children in a system that has few small classes and fewer well-behaved classrooms.  The only management problem amongst these students is a seemingly perpetual running of the mouth- something found everywhere.  The amount of work required to teach this course is astronomically less than my others, as the only work it takes is planning lessons, delivering lessons, and grading the assignments of a small class.

It also struck me that this is the precise reason teachers flee the city for suburban districts.  The work load, while still very high and unreasonable there, is not crushing.

We're taking the eighth grade to D.C. again this year, which will be less work the second time around, as it is with anything.  The goal this year: have the students fundraise much more of the money.  This will be easier now that we know what the process entails and what we can expect of the trip.

In order to make the initial deposit, however, we already had an event at a local Public House on the Upper East Side.  Kids made posters for it, but were given minimal details, as Public Houses are generally not seen as great partners for K-12 education.
Perhaps we should reconsider that policy.

New Hire

Our math teacher was hired on as an AP in Brooklyn three days before the year began.  This is not uncommon in New York and it's one of the reason the schools struggle.  The massive reshuffling of staff in the waning days of summer throws the most important aspect of the school (other than the students) halfway into the air so that the veterans of the staff have to both prepare for their year and help pull on board, train and socialize new staff members.  We hired a new math teacher on a trial basis the night before school started and then decided after her first two days to keep her on for the year.  Having subbed on Long Island- where the kids tend to listen to adults the majority of the time- it's been quite a shock for her and like anyone who did a good job in another setting, she thinks she's failing miserably.  I empathize entirely, as I came from a similar situation when I first started teaching in the Bronx.

She's not failing.  The kids are safe in her room and she is in control of instruction, which is moving forward, however much her boat's rocking.  At least it's not capsizing, being struck by lightning and then being smashed by an oil tanker or two or three.

Or is it? (the DOE? the UFT?)

Academic Work

Two major pieces this year.  One is continuing the work I've done since I started teaching- working with a homegrown network of teacher to explore how to teach collaborative skills in an online space while cultivating good citizens.  The second will be working with programmers and "technologists" to create a new learning platform, game, or app that is highly usable and desirable for teachers.

Last and Not Least

My dear, dear history classes.  Stay tuned for new hats, buttons, and shenanigans as I joined up with a CTT teacher for one period, am teaching all of United States history (these kiddos didn't have history last year), and refocus my instruction on literacy.  More and more I'm convinced that the most important thing we can do for the students we teach is two thing: teach them to read and teach them to think.  To be honest, I care very little if they know a lot of content, but I do care if they leave the grade having not advanced at least one year in their reading and thinking skills.

And that's enough for now.

This weekend is a four-day break thanks to the large population of Jewish folks in the city.  The good teachers are using it to catch up, stop treading water and move forward with their battle plan.   With my students listening (mostly), following the rules, and completing the work when they're in school, I've had a fine start.  Now if the families of the students who have already missed more than a week of school could just make sure the kids come every day, we'd really be in business.

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