It is what it Is

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Nov 13 2011

I am still alive… barely

How my year really looks

For those of you loyal readers who missed me (hi, Mom), one might be wondering why there have been no posts in two months. The answer is exceedingly simple. I work 100 hour weeks.

Nine weeks have flown by before I even blinked. Thursday and Friday was a whirl of submitting my grades and getting ready for Parent Teacher Strategy meeting scheduling and reflecting on the fact that I created a plan for nine weeks worth of instruction. Somewhere around week 2, that went out the window.

So let me go over a few things,

1. Bwahahahahahahahahaha. I need to take a minute and laugh at myself. I just read a post about how the first nine weeks are going to be all about freedom fighters and that I’m going to teach the amendments. So far, I’ve taught polygons, summarizing, vertebrates, and explorers. We’ve written personal narratives, grown yeast, and read the first third of Where the Red Fern Grows. Yeah, right. I have taught so little of what I’ve wanted to. On Veteran’s Day, I realized that many of my students had never heard of the Revolutionary War or the Civil War. This follows the geography quiz where kids didn’t know Lake Michigan is next to Chicago. I remediate knowledge gaps daily.

2. Most days, I love my job…but I have the unique experience of having a crazy child in my classroom. My TFA MTLD, my coworkers, my administration all agree they have never seen a child so challenging or insane. I could make this blog one hundred percent about how bizarre and troubled this particular student is. For background, she has received more detentions than any student in the school, I met with her mother in the first week to try and establish a positive relationship (fail), her mother’s boyfriend left me a voicemail cursing me out and accusing me of child abuse, and she has lost the privilege of participating in class at all, or even having a desk. Here’s a sample of what interacting with her looks like on a regular basis:

Wednesday – November 9, 2011 – PN monitoring

P requested sitting on the carpet immediately when she came into school. During morning journal and literacy she was uninterested and only completed half of her literacy quiz. When I asked if she wanted to check her work, she said no and threw it at me. I positively praised her for completing the work she did, staying on task, and rewarded her with playing with clay in the five minutes before PE.

When we came back from PE she slapped her belt on the desk and announced “Introducing P——- N——, the psychopath”. I asked her if she knew what that meant and she said no. I had her look it up and determine if it was a positive or negative word. She decided it was negative.  I asked her to pick three words to describe herself and the first thing she picked was lazy. She then erased it because it was a negative word and I praised her for finding positive words instead. She chose special, helpful and nice. When she couldn’t find helpful in the thesaurus she switched to healthy and got frustrated. She said that her mom says she is special, is very creative and artistic like her sister. P told me her sister is in college and wants to be an artist but is studying to be an embalmer. I asked P what she wants to be and she said a veterinarian or artist. I asked her to pick what she needed to learn this year to go to college and do that. She picked multiplication, division, and fractions. I asked if she wanted to practice those and said no, it was too hard. She started getting attitudinal so I left her alone.

In the afternoon, she worked at her desk on math. She refused to work on division with the rest of the class so I gave her a subtraction worksheet so she could feel accomplished. She got frustrated during taking notes and banged her desk around the floor. I redirected her to open her book, take a look at the notes on the board and presented different options on how to complete the work (copying from the book, copying from the board, drawing different shapes and identifying them using the chart). She refused and began cutting up her manipulatives and destroying things at her desk. This was all accompanied by loud banging and animal noises.  I kept my door shut to prevent the noise level from disturbing other classes. When it looked like she was going to cut her hands, I took the scissors away. She had a meltdown, including screaming, cutting me, and clawing her face  I became seriously concerned for her safety and called my master  teacher (no answer), SPED teacher (no answer), and Academic Interventionist. Ms. W and Ms. Y arrived within a minute and attempted to calm down both P and the rest of the class.

I have write ups like these for every day of the school year.

3. My class and I get very frustrated with this child. While that morning was productive, it was at the expense of a guided reading group. I felt like once I had her talking, in the interest of long term engagement and relationship building I did not want to shut that connection down. My students complain of headaches and stomachaches regularly and admit it is because of the noise level. I recognize the chain reaction of management issues when on student is out of control the two or three others on the edge who take their opportunity. Without her in the classroom, I have limited to no management issues.

4. I have 24 boys in my class. I have a full class of boys, plus 5 girls. It is so much fun to watch them understand new concepts. On the weeks that I have planned in advance, I find that my students are mostly engaged and interacting in my lessons.

5. I rarely sleep or see my friends. My eating habits now include school lunch and that’s it. I haven’t seen the news in weeks, and the only way I know what is going on is through my smart phone’s news apps, if at all. I have a very dear friend who now begins our phone conversations with filling me in on important world events and the economic situation.

6. Now is not the best time to ask me about my life or my job. We’ve gone straight down the path to “my life sucks” part of the school year. You can see it on this chart.

How my year really looks

Created by a TFA 2nd year

7. I’m really trying to stay positive and I think I’m doing alright so far. I keep my complaining to a minimum and focus on making my daily trials amusing at least so people will enjoy my anecdotes. The problem is I feel like quitting on a daily basis. I could rant and rave endlessly about unfair my job is. My pay is not enough, the demands are too high, and I’m more ineffective than I want to be.

It’s hard. But it’s important. And I’m going to keep doing this.

(And maybe someday I’ll get to update my blog too)

5 Responses

  1. Lauren

    I know at the end you mention that you’re trying to keep your trials amusing for your readers’ enjoyment, but I honestly do think your positive outlook is sincere. I know a lot of people in your position who would not be able to handle it this well. Your interactions and activities with your class seem very thoughtful and I am sure that they help–maybe it’s just too early in the school year for you to see it. Keep your head up! And P…how hasn’t she been removed from your class? It seems like she needs some extreme counseling and an alternative school. I don’t know if those exist for elementary-aged kids in your area, but she’s a clear case that they should!

  2. That graph is hilarious. And so true.

    Even though P. is a struggle, it sounds like she’s someone you can make a big difference for in the long run. Keep up the good work!

  3. alwaysawildcat

    My roommate and I (both TFA year 1) just spent a good 5 minutes laughing at that chart. SO accurate.

  4. Wess

    I LOVE THIS BLOG. PLEASE UPDATE WAY MORE THAN YOU THINK YOU SHOULD.
    :)

  5. Moseis

    We can’t save them all. No Child Left Behind is simply not true. And, this is coming from someone who does budget lessons and speaks about college all the time.

    You will burn out if you keep working 100 hours a week. As my mentor told me, “they (field of education) will kill you and FILL your room, take care of yourself, so you can teach.”

    I don’t buy into the hype that we are martyrs, especially as textbook companies and consultants make millions off of a system that does not ensure reading and writing workshops, starting with K, nor does the system ensure all children (as they used to in AMERICA) can multiply. For the love of St. Peter, I am afraid for this country, and no, as a citizen, as a parent, as, like you, an outstanding teacher, I don’t expect you to work 100 hours a week. I find it sad.

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Legal Disclaimer: this is only *my* opinion

Region
Chicago
Grade
Elementary School
Subject
Elementary Education

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