Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Jamie Escalante

If you were ever a teacher, knew a teacher, took a clase de espanol, had a substitute in math or loved math you know about Jamie Escalante and have seen Stand and Deliver.

Just today Sr. Callejo and I were doing the finger man tricks with the third graders and talking about how you need ganas to succeed in school.

"To be a teacher you need to believe in the potential of people." Jamie Escalante

Second Day of Testing or The Day I Got Thrown Up On.

Yesterday, ALDR started our New Mexico Standards Based Assessment (NMSBA), the state test that the children are required to take according to No Child Left Behind (NLCB) in order to access whether or not we've made Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). Whew...that was way too many acronyms! AYP is a powerful number. At best, if we have good numbers, we'll get some monies from the state to continue improving and at worst we'll be closed down because our numbers are so bad.

Thankfully the latter can't happen to us just yet as we haven't been open long enough. This year is our last “free pass” so to speak. Last year, we did alright. We passed in reading and came close in math. Our math scores did double, which was great and gave me some much needed confidence in our mathematics curriculum.

The kids have three weeks of testing. 12 days of awfulness. It starts at 8:30 and should only last until 10:00, but there are days, like yesterday that it can last until 11:00. It's hard because all the kids can be be done except one and the others can't move or talk until everyone is finished. So some kids can be sitting (reading if they choose) for up to an hour and forty five minutes. They have three days of reading, three days of math, two days of writing and three days of science.

It's a lot of work for them. And it's tiring. So after the testing, the rest of the day is sort of shot. Their eyes are glazed over. They can't focus. They are exhausted. This year, I have the fourth graders after the test until 1:00 and the third graders from 1:00 – 3:00. I have each group do some math, usually something fun and hands on and then let them watch an episode of Planet Earth or Seas of Life for some brain rest time.

I have nine fourth graders to test. What about the other four you ask? Well, two are severe special ed and so need one on one testing and two are mild special ed and so need small group testing. Because I only have nine students in my room, it was decided that I didn't need a proctor. This at first was fine with me, because all my proctors have done in the past is sit there and read a book while I do all the work. This did however mean, that if anything went wrong I was going to be in a tough spot as children are not to be left alone while testing.

As I mentioned earlier, my classroom is in an interesting spot in the school. This makes it very difficult to begin testing because there are so many people going back and forth between the rooms that it's hard to tell when everyone is where they are supposed to be for the next two to three hours. The other two classrooms also have outside access so you'd think that people (Mr. Rama a.k.a. my least favorite person at school) would realize that they don't have to interrupt testing to get from place to place. To deter errant people walking through my room during testing (which according to the test directions is expressly forbidden) I began locking two out of the four doors in my room.

Yesterday, as it was the first day there were the first day kinks to get out. ALL of the directions had to be read aloud to the students and two sample questions had to be worked through before the students could even begin. There were 26 questions in first session of the reading test. I think the students really struggled with it and put a lot of time and effort into what they wrote and how they answered. They asked questions that I wasn't allowed to answer, but that showed me they were really thinking. They weren't getting all the questions right, but I was impressed with how hard they were trying.

Today was an entirely different experience. We were able to get started on time for the most part, which was nice. There were only 16 questions. (Now, why they didn't let the kids get their feet wet with less questions on the first day is beyond me.) About five minutes after I had set them to begin, Jamie raised his hand. This child is so quite and so shy, I was surprised. I walked over and he told me he didn't feel good. I asked him what he wanted to do about it, my usual response to that question. He couldn't even get the answer out before he began to throw up. So I rushed him to the door. Which was locked. Just as I got it unlocked, vomit sprayed over my back and left arm. Lovely.

I opened the door, stood in the door way (you know, because I didn't have a proctor and couldn't leave the room) and grabbed the nearest garbage can. Jamie continued to throw up. The Kindergarten kids came by on their way to morning water break. I asked their teacher, Ms. Betty to run to the admin office and get someone to come help because I couldn't leave the room while the kids were testing. The office person came and said she was going to get the custodian. Which left me still standing in my doorway with vomit all over my back. Custodian came cleaned up and we sent Jamie to the office. The office person was able to give me a shirt, luckily Jamie missed my pants. (It was really nice of him.) She stood in the doorway of my room while I ran to the bathroom to clean my arm and change.

The students had 16 questions and three passages to read today and they were finished in about 30 minutes in. They did not spend any where near the amount of time on the questions today that they did yesterday. We aren't even allowed to point out to students if they've missed one. I was so upset as I walked around and realized that some students weren't even writing complete sentences for most of the short answer questions. They know how to do that. We've worked on it all year. They just want to be done with the test. (Frankly, I don't blame them.) I walked back upstairs to talk to return the tests to Sr. Callejo and mentioned how discouraged I was. You know what he said? “Encourage them to write more.” Ok. Seriously. Duh. I did that. But that was all the advice he had for me.

I heard an awful story yesterday from the current second grade teacher that was assigned to test the seventh graders. Ms. Billings is a lovely teacher, she does a great job and she's always willing to go the extra mile even though her life outside of school isn't easy. She was telling me that the seventh graders basically refused to take the test. They found it too difficult and threw their test booklets and answer documents on the floor. They told her that if they didn't pass it didn't really matter because it was her fault because she didn't teach them right. (She's the second grade teacher...she hasn't even spent a single day with them. Haha, lucky woman.) She was horrified at their lack of disrespect and their inability to do anything without complaining about it first. I wasn't at all surprised. They were awful to me last year as I've written about on many occasions.

I put that sentence in bold for two reasons. The first because she isn't their teacher and hasn't spent anytime with them and it shows the amount of maturity these kids lack, the second is the sentiment itself. More and more it is becoming apparent to me that my job is going to start depending on these scores. What with the firing of an entire staff at a Rhode Island school, the firing of an entire staff in Georgia and the idea flooding public schools across the country that students and parents should be more in control of what happens at a school than teachers. This really worries me and makes me wish that I was trained for something other than teaching, you know so that when all the shit hits the fan, I would at least have a back up.

It seems 100 percent unfair to me that my job should depend on these scores. Maybe in middle class suburban neighborhoods and others that are more affluent. Maybe. The odds that are stacked against my students (and therefore me) are tremendous. Lack of English Language proficiency, poverty, parents that work 24 – 7, students that come to school but decide not to learn no matter what we do, parents that take their students out of school early ALL the time, parents that don't bother helping us with disciplinary issues, parents that bring their children an hour late EVERY day and the school not having enough money to provide us with what we need to teach these children all play into how well the students learn.

And it's not only these everyday things. There's also the children that come to use a month before testing is to begin, like Eliza in the third grade, from a different school, already behind. We are still responsible for that child's scores. You know why she moved schools so late in the year? Her father passed away suddenly. Guess who found him at the bottom of their hot tub. Eliza. Tell me how can we expect her to be able to do her best? Or what about the pair the sisters (both of whom I've taught, but have in the classroom this year) that lost their father suddenly over the past weekend. We are held responsible for those scores as well. And yet these children should not even expected to perform under these conditions.

How can it 100 percent my fault when the students don't test well even when the kids have been here all year? Today alone, Jamie threw up at the beginning of the test. He's going to have to go back and re-do it. Fred, after missing all last week, (when we did review and prep for these tests) (not that was the only prep and review, but still) didn't get home from El Paso until after midnight last night. He was half asleep as he was working on the test and he won't be able to go back and look at it again. How is that my fault?

Now don't get me wrong. I think teachers should be held to a very high standard. I work to meet that standard every single day. I think teachers should be educated in what we teach, I think we should constantly reflect on how well we are doing, I think principals should be in classrooms observing, checking on student learning and giving the teacher feedback weekly. I also think teachers should be paid as if they are professionals and that schools should be castles.

Lots of things get in the way of this ideal. Principals (not mine, though today he didn't have very good advice), the government, teachers' unions (my opinions on that are definitely a whole other post) bad teachers and of course students and parents. We ALL need to do better. I'm doing my part and I know there are other fantastic teachers out there that are doing their part. At some point all that has to add up to something.

Nice moment of the day: I got a quick note from one of the girls that did the same Masters' program that I did in Bennington. She ran into one of the students, Kim from the class that I student taught in back in 2005 – 2006 year who wanted to know what I was up to. Which really warmed my heart. Exactly what I needed to bring my spirits up a few hours after being thrown up on.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Paper Cap Gun Ammo

On our way back from lunch, Brent announced to me that some of the other boys "had red paper and they were throwing rocks at it." I didn't think too much of it for a second and then it hit me what it was:

So I turned back to Brent and said, "Wait, does it make a spark when the rocks hit it?" When he nodded I knew exactly what I was looking for and it could certainly be considered a weapon. No one owned up to who actually had it but everyone was comfortable pointing fingers at each other, I said, "If it's not in my hand by the time I count to ten, I'm writing all of you up and you'll go to Sr. Callejo." Joey coughed it up and I was able to sort out who had actually been playing with it. I wrote up those four students, Joey, Gilbert, (I'm sure I'll be hearing from his father about that!) Kismet and Diego. Joey was suspended and I won't see him again until Monday and the others lost recess and computer time.

Kudos to Brent though. He didn't feel the need to pull me aside and tell me, which would have been fine of course. I love that he had the courage to just announce it in front of everybody. He knew it wasn't a safe thing to have at school (or anywhere without adult supervision for that matter) and he didn't care if his classmates knew he was the one that told. I like to think it means Brent trusts me. Which makes me feel really good.

The Weather Man

Sorry to say, but this is going to be another rather negative post.

A few weeks ago, I got a flyer in my mailbox at school that said the local meteorologist was interested in coming into the local schools to talk to children about what he does to predict the weather. Awesome. I called right away for the fourth grade. (Since I'm their homeroom teacher and well quite honestly because I like them better.) I ended up making the appointment for third and fourth grade anyway. All he needed was a DVD player and a dry erase board. I have both in my classroom already and hung up looking forward to it.

A week later, Ms. Hernandez started the staff meeting by announcing that she had called to make an appointment for her class and ended up making an appointment for the ENTIRE school on the same day and time as mine. She said to me in front of the entire staff, "As long as you have no objections, I figured that was the best thing to do." I'm happy to say this time that I stuck up for myself and explained that I liked the idea of the small classroom setting for my kids because they would be more likely to get something out of it and that was the reason I had set it up that way. It didn't change anything however, because obviously it didn't really matter if I had objections.

Today was the day he was set to come and we had all received a reminder note in our boxes. I wondered if anyone had set up how we were going to get a TV and a dry erase board over to the cafeteria for the presentation. So when Sr. Callejo walked through my classroom this morning to ask him I learned that no one had thought about this. Two hours later, about an hour and a half before the presentation was to begin, I got a note from the office that it was going to take place in my room for grades 3 - 7. I was not pleased. You can't trust 5 - 7 grade to behave anywhere for anything and I didn't want them all crowded into my classroom AND causing a ruckus. So I asked Sr. Callejo what was going to happen if the older couldn't calm down and pay attention. He said they would be sent back to their classrooms. I wasn't going to hold my breath. I was hopeful.

I had all the fourth graders prepare a question, each of them wrote it down on an index card and practice reading it out loud. Then they took the time to move all the desks and chairs to the side of the room. We clean up and organize so that all the kids will have a place to sit. I even made sure the seventh graders had chairs to sit in because they always put up a fuss about sitting on the floor. The weather man came in just as we were finishing and we had some fantastic lively conversation while he was setting up.

Then everyone else filed in and it was basically a free for all for the next hour. Only the third and fourth graders were trying to pay attention. We had a few errant third graders here and there, but it was easy to catch their eye and remind them to behave. Fifth grade through seventh grade however were talking and fooling around the entire time. Only Ms. Hernandez tried to do something about it and even that was only half heartedly. I was really really angry as I was watching my students tried to hear and learn to no avail.

Then of course, after everyone left we had to put my room back together. So a week before the most important test of the year, my students lost two hours of learning. I *so* hate it when I'm right.

Oh and after everyone left, my room smelled like gross, oily, unshowered, zitty tweens.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

CENSUS 2010!

I love the Census! It's perhaps one of my favorite things about this country. There is something so thoroughly satisfying about counting all the people in the country and the idea that the number could change peoples lives for the better.

It only happens every ten years, so much like the Olympics (yes...I know the games occur more often) there's hype and excitement about it. At least there is for me. And probably the people that work for the census. But no one else seems very excited. Everyone I've spoken to seems to say, "eh."

I think about the "Mr. Willis of Ohio" episode in West Wing where the democrats are considering using sampling data instead of a direct count. They wanted to do this because it would cost way less and according to research, give the government a better count. They argue that the standard way the census is done is unfair to many different minority populations (illegals, (whom while they are illegal still need to be counted) the homeless and all minority populations) in the country. The republicans say that the constitution requires a head by head number count.

It's an interesting argument. I think that how we get the number is far less important than getting people the right number of representatives in the government, the right amount of monies for the SCHOOLS and all the other social programs that depend on how many people live in a certain area. I believe the founding fathers would agree with me.

And after learning that only about half of the people of the state of New Mexico were counted properly last time around (re: illegals, the homeless and the various different minority populations) and that the one of the more serious reprocussions has been the over crowding of our schools, I was even more excited.

So how are people not excited about this?

I wanted to be the person that filled out the census for my family ten years ago when I was sixteen, but because it's supposed to be the "head of household" my father filled it out. I was excited this time and made The Boy promise that I could be the one that filled it out. (I was "Head of Household!" Sadly, the form didn't say that specifically.)

It was a disappointment. Sort of like the time I saw Maya Angelou speak and it dawned on me that she was a racist. (True story.) Or when I voted for Obama but voted nay on the wrong state constitutional amendment and had to go through the crazy process of getting a second ballot and walking out wondering if my vote was now even going to be counted in this historical election because my name was on the roll in two places. (Ok, obviously, I never quite got over that experience.)

So we got a letter a week ago from the census bureau. I was so excited, ready to fill it out, only to open it and find a letter saying that we would soon be getting our form. When we finally got it, it was in a small envelope. So I filled it out and set it out to mail. We picked up our friends' mail while they were gone for spring break and they got a big envelope! I was so curious how our forms were different that I asked him to open it up right then when he came to pick up his mail. His form was in English and SPANISH!!! Now, why didn't we get a form in both languages? After all, this is the only state in the union that recognizes both English and Spanish as official languages.

I can only surmise that they saw the (very nice) location and fanciness of our house and assumed we spoke English. Our friends live in a part of town where the neighborhoods aren't as nice and there are more small rentals than houses. The Boy suggested that perhaps the people that lived here before spoke English and they had that information on file. I guess that would be ok, though still not kosher according to our state constitution except that all the houses that were here before were torn down to make way for the fewer and nice houses that are here now.

I also think there should be more questions. There's so much more the government could learn from such an official form. After all, it does say on the envelope that our response is required by law. (How would you be prosecuted for that after all?) After all the time and effort the bureau put into the census I gotta say, I'm not impressed.

I came home to this flower from The Boy!

Oh and that's my favorite wine.

PS. I lined the children up the same way I did yesterday and didn't get any parental complaints. Whohooo!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Bad Interaction with a Parent

I honestly meant to write while I was on Spring Break. Really. I promise that was the intention. I just didn't do it. I did pretty much nothing, which was fantastic. There were lots of things I meant to do (grading, catch up on second drafts of lesson plans, fix the play that the fourth graders are working on) but mostly I sat around and knitted on a blanket I've been trying to finish for awhile after taking it apart and starting over.

There are lots of things that I need to catch the blog world up on. But for now, since I have 15 minutes before walking up to meet The Boy with the dog, I'll write up the most recent.

Over the past year it has come to my attention that the most dangerous and scary part of my day is when the kids are let out after school. Some kids are headed for after school program in the cafeteria, but don't want to go because their friends are waiting for their parents. Other kids peel across the school driveway at break neck speed for their parents' cars that don't follow the one way rule of the school parking lot. Those that are left begin swinging on the gazebo and throwing rocks. We don't use buses, so though we are a small school of about 120, that's 120 children running EVERYWHERE. Enough to put even the sanest of teachers into a pretty serious panic.

At the beginning of the year, I made a suggestion that all teachers walk their students out and line them up along the sort-of-basketball-court and as parents drive by children can get in to cars in a safe and organized fashion. This idea was not looked on favorably. Why? Who knows?
Goodness forbid we all do a little extra work at the end of the day in order to keep the children safe. (Though I gotta say our kindergarten teacher does a great job of keeping her kids corralled and accounted for.)

For the most part, I can keep track of whatever class I'm in charge of during the afternoon (3rd or 4th) during dismissal and speak to the parents I need to speak to. The last few weeks have proven difficult and the weather has improved and children have begun using dismissal as recess in earnest. The gazebo is between the "field" (read: rectangle covered with dirt, rocks, used heroine needles and broken glass) and the driveway. This makes it difficult for me to speak to the parents I need to speak too and keep Juanito from throwing rocks at Paulito.

Having had enough of that I decided that I would line up my students anyway. That way I could at least keep a good eye on the students that I am most responsible for. I started this afternoon. Once we got outside, I sent the students that go to after school program to after school program inside the cafeteria. I sent off the students whose parents were already parked and I lined up the rest.

Matt, a fourth grader has been having a lot of trouble following directions and getting his work done lately. He's labeled as gifted and in many ways he is ahead of the game. Today, however seemed to be particularly difficult for him as he refused to do work for Ms. Jenson this morning or for me this afternoon. And so after a few reminders, I caught myself almost begging him to do work. At this point I sent him to Ms. Hernandez so he could do his work in there. Later Mr. Dido took him for the last half an hour of the day as part of his gifted services. He came out a few minutes after the rest of my class with Mr. Dido. I sent him to after school program. He didn't want to go. (Well, he hadn't followed any other direction today, what would make that simple one any different?)

Gilbert is another of my fourth grade students. His father was waiting for him and so he was one of the students I sent off straight away. After Matt refused to follow the direction of going to after school program, Gilbert came up to him and asked for his phone number. I stopped the conversation and sent Gilbert back to his car, after explaining that Matt had a direction to follow and that this wasn't the best time to be asking anyway. I repeated my direction to Matt and he slouched off to cafeteria after shooting me his best sneer.

A minute later, Gilbert's father came strutting up to me. The following was our conversation while he was keeping cars from continuing through the correct one way:

Him: What was that with Gilbert and Matt?
Me: I'm sorry?
Him: (Angry voice) All Gilbert wanted was Matt's phone number.
Me: (Very respectfully) I understand, it's just been difficult lately to keep all the kids safe after school and since you were already here I sent Gilbert back to you.
Him: (Even angrier voice) IT'S AFTER SCHOOL!
Me: You're right! Well done, that's why you're picking your son up after all! Yes, sir.
Him: (Even angrier voice) You always seem to be annoyed about something! (Then he turned his back and walked away.)
Me: (To his back) I'm sorry you feel that way, Sir.

(I can't remember if it was annoyed or another word exactly, but it was something like that.)

Now, if I had been allowed to continue the conversation in a civilized way, I would have suggested that he and Gilbert walk into the cafeteria together to talk to Matt, or that he could, but I wasn't.

Now, Gilbert also has bouts of not following directions and fooling around in class. I talk to his parents about this. I also mention positive things during these conversations. So in no way am I always annoyed when speaking to him.

I felt a little guilty after this interaction, so I walked myself into the cafeteria and asked Matt for his phone number. He couldn't remember it! He gave me nine numbers and then when I said that couldn't be right, he gave me five. I went outside to pass on this information to find that they had already left.

I was surprised by this interaction because this is one of the families I know the best. I was their daughter Loo Loo's teacher when she was in fourth grade. I tutored her on my own time and was not compensated by them. (The school got a grant from the city.) I drove Gilbert and Loo Loo home a few times this year while their father was in the hospital, so their mother could stay with him or run some errands. (They are right on the way to my house.) And earlier this year Gilbert broke his glasses and on my own time (they even called me over Christmas Break) I helped them get glasses for cheap over the internet.

Now, I did those things as a pay-it-forward-sort-of-thing. My good deed for the day or whatever. But after all this I was hurt to be treated this way by this father. Thankfully, I kept my voice down and was respectful. (Mum taught me well and Sophia taught me how to stand up for myself in front of parents.)

The cool thing was that I was one of the first classes out for dismissal this afternoon. Other teacher saw what I was doing and copied it! So we had grades 1 - 6 lined up on the-sort-of-basketball-court.