Wednesday, September 23, 2009

There Will Be Stories.

It is so encouraging to wake up three weeks in and still feel like I have the best job in the world.

Though, Sunday nights are still very difficult for some reason. I go to sleep (or try to) and find myself anxious, sick, and depressed. Then I wake up Monday morning and can’t wait to get to school and spend time with my kids. I don’t know why, but something tells me I should just get used to this. Maybe it’s the upcoming nine weeks without any breaks…

My feelings toward TFA change daily. Today, my mood is: displeased. After the 12 hours we spent away from Jackson due to the “South” Delta Pro-Sat in CLEVELAND on Saturday, I spent several hours on Sunday reformatting “Tools” I had already created to fit TFA’s preferred template in order to turn it all in, oh, about a month after having these tools in this format would actually be useful. And, as I’ve been teaching science for a total of 6 DAYS, and most of the Delta has been in school for well over a month, much of the Pro-Sat information (like last time) was geared for people weeks ahead of me in terms of data and familiarity with their students. Most of my weekend was dedicated to what I felt was arbitrary training-for-training’s sake rather than actual work that I could have been doing for my students and my classroom. On the other hand, the Middle School Science Learning Team has been helpful both weeks regardless of my belated state and has made me feel a little bit less like I’m trying to crawl onto a treadmill while someone else is pushing the “Increase Speed” button.

Highlights of the week:

- Professional development day: My staff had an impromptu jam session by turning our acrostic poems about READING into incredible songs and chants during our PD last week, AND we Tootie Tah’d together- without any students present!

- BEST MOMENT YET: So, a few of my favorites (whatever, it happens) seem to have been behavior problems in the past; they sit in isolation at lunch, teachers seem to get on them a little bit quicker than other students for minor misbehaviors, you won’t see them as teachers’ helpers or on Student-of-the-Week lists, etc. But for whatever reason, (maybe they recognize a new teacher and new classroom as a fresh start), they are an absolute joy in my class. One student in particular, let’s call him Big D (if you saw him you’d understand), even started bringing his glasses to class this week so he could see the board. Well, my all-boys group from the inclusion class had, per usual, gained control of my classroom as I was trying to model how to measure things. (And yes, my 5th graders need to learn how to use a ruler, scale, and thermometer. Especially before doing a lab that uses all three.) Anyway, he sat quietly all day taking down notes, took home my sample copy of our foldable to make sure he had all the information to study off of, and asked if he and his friend (who is also incredibly well-behaved during my Chaos Class) could stay after school to work. Then at the end of class, he tapped me on the shoulder, looked DOWN at my face, and asked me: “Was I good today?” We can’t let students stay late or request they come early without their parents’ permission, but I took down his home phone and told him I’d tell his parents how wonderful he was all day. He was beaming as he gave me his home number, and then asked, “Do you want my dad’s cell phone, too?”
*** On a less warm ‘n fuzzy note, Big D’s Dad said three words to me: “Ok. Thanks. Bye.”***

- TIED FOR BEST MOMENT: In my worst class of the day today (usually they’re great) I was shouting my lesson over the students because they wouldn’t stop talking. I was just about to repeat the boiling point of water for the umpteenth time WHEN --- my principal walked in. She asked the students, “What are we learning today?” In my head, I say to myself, “Oh God. NOTHING. Nothing at all.” The kids all responded: “Physical changes!” (WHAT?! They heard me?!) Then the principal said: “What else?” Again. I thought NOTHING. NOTHING else. The kids shout out: “We’re learning to use thermometers!”, “And a balance to measure mass!”, “We’re looking at shapes!”, and one girl even shouted out, “We’re learning to become science masters!” I couldn’t help but congratulate them after… let’s just hope it sticks!

- I went on my first Field Trip as a teacher. During the field trip I learned:
o ALL KIDS, I repeat, ALL KIDS love Miley Cirus and High School Musical. I’m still not sure if I find this hilarious or scary.
o Field trips are EXHAUSTING. No matter how ‘easy’.
o The schools in Jackson, like many parts of the city, are black, or they are white. Maybe one or two truly mixed schools. It’s not surprising, but shocking when you see it right in front of you in the faces of 500 elementary students sitting in huge sections of dark or light skin. And in Jackson, it’s pretty easy to see how closely race is associated with geography (again, not surprising, but still jarring to be confronted with). If you’re from North or East Jackson, you’re probably white. If you’re from South or West Jackson, you’re probably black. It’s not something lost on native Jacksonians, either. After I told my yogilates teacher where I worked (& she seems to be generally open-minded individual) she stopped, looked at me, and said, “You’re in West Jackson?" [Pause] "Bless you, honey,” while shaking her head.

So, there are some of thoughts. I can barely stay awake when I get home anymore. I even skipped the gym today because: A) I just couldn’t do it. B) I have too many things to do/fill out/plan for.

Tomorrow, we have a lab about chemical changes involving baking soda, vinegar, and actual DANGEROUS CHEMICALS. Matty B is coming to observe.

I WILL have stories. :)

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Mother of All Blog Posts

I have the best job in the world.

My students are incredible. They love to talk, but it’s mostly because they’re curious – about EVERYTHING. If, or rather, WHEN, I can harness that curiosity and direct it toward science and methods of inquiry (let’s be honest, that’s not always, or ever, an easy task), we will have a lot of success this year in lab. They’re all excited about exactly the same units I am: we’ll dabble in cosmology when we “investigate the Earth as part of the solar system”, we’ll build Rube Goldberg Machines when we “design and construct simple and compound machines” at the end of the year, and since several students have already made this request, we’ll maybe dissect a frog when we discuss tissues, organs, and organ systems (hmm… “Scalpel, please, and a paper bag”).
At this point, my only worry is time. The schedule right now is a crazy sprint of eight sections, 30 minutes each, without any breaks until I take the last class to lunch before lab. Depending upon whether the students are being sent to me or I am picking them up, we could be running 5-10 minutes late at the beginning of class. I give them “five” (usually seven) minutes on a Do Now Activity (assessment/review of lesson from the previous day), spend about 10 minutes catching up on content (two of the four 5th grade classes haven’t talked about science at all this year), leaving 5-10 minutes for them to create a graphic organizer relevant to THAT day’s objective or, on Mondays and Thursdays, a Word Wall game to review vocabulary words they’ve never actually learned. Remember this is supposed to be a science LAB. Do you see a lab in there? Because I don’t.

We MIGHT switch to an A/B format (not likely) so I am seeing four of eight sections every other day (Monday-Thursday) for 45 minutes – which is better for lab time, but reduces the amount of time per week we spend on Science to an hour and a half. That means I’d have about 30 hours total to help them master 27 learning goals before March 3. Oi Vay!

That said, I recognize that I am blessed to be here. For one, my classroom is beautiful (though I did work my butt off for it to become so). Second, I have a principal and assistant principal who have established a positive and motivating school culture and hold teachers accountable while remaining pretty hands-off in the classroom. Though I understand this is more convenient for me than for self-contained teachers who already have quite a bit on their plate without extra administrative work, like scheduling, that may slip through the cracks with the focus of the administration elsewhere. But because of the positive culture in the school (for the most part – we’ll get there in a second), a big part of my job is already done for me. The kids know that college opens doors to any occupation they choose, and they know that going to school now is a necessary step in order to go to college in the future. I don’t have to drill that information into them. They believe in education. They believe in themselves. I just have to convince them to put that belief into practice.

I’m not saying everything is perfect, either. This morning I saw a morbidly obese student, probably in Kindergarten or 1st Grade, get paddled by her mother just outside the doors of the school. I was literally frozen in shock. Part of you feels like you are intruding on something you are not supposed to be seeing and wants to slink away and hide, while part of you wants to run screaming, tackle mom, and yell at her for not only hitting her very young child with a plank of wood (and letting her other daughter laugh at the girl afterwards) but also for letting the girl gain weight to a point that is dangerous even for a six year old! Phew. Ok. Suspending judgment, Alex, suspending judgment.

Then, my Assistant Principal requested that I watch the kids in the ISS room while the woman who normally works with them ran to get them breakfast (the free breakfast line was so backed up this morning kids were 10, 15, 20 minutes late to class). I obviously said yes, though I was convinced it was a test, and walked into the room. There were maybe 4 or 5 kids in a room the size of a two and half racquetball courts. It still felt like the room was spinning - it was abuzz with ADHD. All the kids were seated where they were supposed to be, but the new person in the room definitely had them excited. First, it was, “Are we gonna do science today, Miss?” Then, “Are we gonna dissect frogs?” I’m used to that question, now, so I say: “I’m thinking about it… but I’m not making any promises.” “AWESOME! We’re gonna dissect frogs!” Then, the only girl in the room (who has escaped into my classroom several times since) decided that she was going to faint and leaped over the back of her chair onto the ground. I told her to get back in her seat immediately and went over to stand right next to her so she had nowhere to leap. I started asking her questions, which seemed to keep her mind occupied while her body was forced to sit still. I asked her if she liked science. Yes. What do you like about science? I like cutting things open. … OK. (Oh, and don’t get me started on my 5th grader who started explaining how to make crack while standing in the lunch line and is currently working on a movie called “Scooby Jew”…)

Anyway, while I was in the ISS room, I finally found my Principal about 5 minutes before I was supposed to get off morning duty and start doing whatever my real job is. I asked her about my schedule for interventions on Fridays. I started to get a blank stare (which isn’t really a blank stare, it’s more of a thinking stare that is clearly expecting you say more), so I offered to create the schedule myself. My principal said, “Thank you so much, that would be really helpful!” and walked away. (Don’t get me wrong, my principal’s leadership style suits me perfectly, but that is exactly what she did.) I didn’t know for what subjects or grade levels I was to intervene, but I started making schedules for several different scenarios. When I went to ask my Team Leader what time of day would work best to pull her students out for math, she said to me, “Well, I don’t know! I’m a teacher, not an administrator! I’m not supposed to be doing schedules!” and continued venting for a few minutes after unnecessarily explaining that her frustration wasn’t actually directed at me. Eventually, I figured out that I am to pull only 5th graders who need math intervention work for half an hour at a time, and finally created a schedule that, as far as I know, works for everyone. But at that point, I was still looking at only half a day’s work on Fridays. Probably not ok if I’m getting paid full-time.

Then, at about 11:00, the woman I covered for in the ISS room knocked on my door and told me the kids from her room (I’ve had to stop myself saying “the ISS kids”) wanted to do an activity. PANIC ATTACK. An activity? RIGHT now? Turns out NOT right then, thank goodness, even though I offered to. Rather, at least two Fridays a month, I’ll be doing a science-related activity with the students from the ISS room – one that we can put on display in the hall. Any ideas??? Besides foldables, por favor. At least I have a couple more Friday afternoons taken up each month. Also, the girl who can leap over the backs of chairs from a sitting position is apparently going to come to visit me during her resource time. The woman I covered for literally said: “She likes you… I don’t know why. Probably because you’re young and attractive”.

In other news, at 2:00 p.m. my school gave me free nachos. I love my school.

And in case you were curious, if you type Obi Wan Kenobi into Microsoft Word (2007), it doesn’t tell you that you spelled anything wrong. If you type Quantarrius, Montaza, or Barack Obama, Spell Check yells at you. PCs are geeky racists. I’m getting a Mac.