Saturday, March 28, 2009

A Model that Works!!

So my visit to my friend's 4th grade classroom in the Bronx was incredible. It is a true 2009 school--classrooms equipped with smartboards, new computers, access to laptop carts, teachers trained on how to use them and provided with laptops that can be seamlessly transitioned between teachers and classes. I was asked to briefly watch a 5th grade class and when I walked in they were all quietly working on their individual laptops. Before lunch--the 4th grade teachers had an hour prep period--20 minutes of which they met with an in-school professional developer. The girl with the biggest behavior problem refused to do her work, although she was apparently more sedate than usual. Teachers rotated for grouped and leveled test prep and lab science has its own teacher. Yes, this is an elementary school.

However, outside of basic resources the students were overwhelmingly engaged in their lessons and the examples of student work I saw were equally impressibe. Teachers were beyond cordial to each other--they were friendly (!!!) and there were no airs of hostility. I saw what the complete kit of Everyday Math looks like and I saw how leveled reading groups actually work (there is a school resource cabinet where books are sorted and leveled for classroom checkout)!!! I could keep going on and on--but essentially this visit has given me hope in what I can do given the support and resources. I brought home stacks of information which I doubt can be used on the class I currently babysit--however, God willing I find a new school for the 09-10 school year I have pages of notes and new resources that I would be very excited to incorporate into my classroom.

Inhaling the Rain of Spring Break...Ahhh

Being in NYC with my 25 y.o. crew gives me a lot of insight and hope of possibilities for the future. I see them living their lives and managing the stresses of the non-profit world (what I plan to do) and teaching (what I currently do). They manage active social lives and are seemingly happy and healthy. Yes, the grass always looks greener and I guess I'll see---I will make a classroom visit/observation to a friend's 4th grade class in the Bronx. It is good to see my friends, parents and grandma, but I can't help but think of the quickly nearing testing and the rest of the school well as my own future. I desperately NEED to change schools, but am scared of the reality or possibility that reviews from my principal will hold me back, as unfair as it is to me--with neither her nor me wanting me to stay. While up North the ideas of graduate/doctoral studies have been pushed upon me--"now is the time to go to school!" Wake Forest is offering free tuition plus a stipend to "minorities" (I hate this term btw)...etc, etc. The thought of more school makes me frustrated--I go to school now and am sadly barely maintaining--because as I see in my job searches-experience is valued way more than schooling.

And as I go in the classroom everyday I see why. My boughie Amherst lambskin diploma doesn't mean anything there. It means I maneuvered the system enough to get in and out, but in the process gained little life skills, acredidation or experience to get the kind of job I ultimately want. As feel good as a liberal arts college was at the time and while the name means something in the Northeast--I would have been better served (and in substantially less debt) had I gone to the University of Massachusetts Amherst for free and gotten a degree in a major with actual job training. I value my knowledge and education, but it has served thus far to be fruitless aside from my innate knowledge that I am a better writer, more well read and more intelligent than my principal.

Yes, I understand that a BA is less valued than MA or PhDs--however, while I can't be held to it, I will not be making the choice to pursue any more schooling after I finish my master's next summer. However, I will stay encouraging my B to go ahead and get his BA on, because as hard as the economy is and he will confirm--that is one degree that is important to have under your belt. He is lucky to have started with experience to guide his college-bound options. I was raised highly valuing education and have been accused of preaching on it--but I will continue to do so, despite my mixed feelings about the continuation/value of my own education.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Graduate Grumbling

*So I found this really cool pic that brilliantly expressed my anger. Gotta give credit. Here's the LINK

So on Thursday night, me and another first-year teacher (who attempts to both teach and keep her sanity at my school) did a presentation on "questioning in literature." Following what I felt was a well presented 45 minute discussion (although strained by both our and every other teachers' fatigue and desire to be on spring break) the professor proceeds to follow with 5 minutes on the nee for some teachers to take spring break and re-evaluate their desire to teach...

Although not directly addressed at me and my partner it definitely felt so. I left class angered and simply wondering--well damn, who is on my side? Does that sound selfish? Needy? Well it may be so, but that's how I feel. Long ago I realized my teaching program was unwilling to give me support, nor the teacher's union, certainly not DCPS or my school--administration or teachers.

I'm not asking to have my hand held--but shit I was throw in into this thing and feel like day in and out I'm asked to re-invent the wheel. Yes, I signed up for this, but no I wasn't able to fully comprehend that my job would steal my energy, happiness and identity. It would be an understatement to say that my job is my life. I live, breathe and sleep for my job. Do I need to re-evaluate my choice? Hell no! I do that every day I get called a "bitch" by a 10 year old, or realize I pour out my heart to a class of closed ears, or get told by my principal that I don't have what it takes to be a teacher, or threatened to be jumped by a parent.

Maybe this job isn't for me, maybe. But I'm willing to take a gamble at another year of misery with a different approach and different circumstances. Although I struggle with thoughts of quitting on a near monthly basis I'd like to see my commitment through and see if with some changes I can be more effective, a better teacher and happier at the end of the day-- I'm seeking more positives than negative. Nobody self-reflects more than me and the insinuation of anything less than that is slightly offensive.

Speaking with other new teachers at other schools (even schools down the street from mine) relay co-operative lesson planning with other teachers, administrative support disciplinary support, etc and I simply wonder: what if? If I had any more resources (not even material resources, although that would help, but personal and systematic) could I become the highly effective teacher I see myself having the potential to be? I'm willing to chance it--this year be damned.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

HIV/AIDS Education in the District

This weekend I was confronted with some startling HIV/AIDS statistics that have recently been published. With stark headlines such as, "HIV/AIDS rates in DC higher than Africa," media all over the United States have perked up their ears to put in their own say on what the problem is in DC.

Here's a quick link to the WASH POST article detailing changing rates and problems...

As a public school teacher in one of the wards with the highest HIV/AIDS rates I can truthfully say that there has been absolutely no workshops/awareness or even talk about what has not just appeared as a problem, but has been a problem for years. If anyone is more at risk than the children coming up in a community laden with fears of HIV/AIDS I'd like to know who.

The sexual promiscuity of students at my school, with each other, with older high school students and even older out of school men and women is terrifying. Sexual education as taboo as it is, is necessary. Children coming from mothers with 10-12 children are clearly going to be less knowledgeable about safe sex and condoms as their Ward 3 counterparts. The abstinence only approach has failed the students of DC and it is showing.

Doing a little research I found that ALLEGEDLY HIV/AIDS prevention is incorporated into DC testing standards, yet I have heard little about this and had to seek out the information on my own to even find a small mention. While classroom teachers are not obligated to teach on HIV/AIDS it is relegated to Health & Physical Education (Gym) on the DCPS website stating, "HPE classes meet one day a week for each grade level in elementary schools"...well I will be the first to say my children have DEFINITELY not received this much time for fact we don't even have special subjects (gym, art, music, library, technology) although there are teachers for all at our school. Hmmm....guess they're not getting their due time in PE and thus have not learned about HIV/AIDS at school, although I would be willing to bet that a fair number of my students know someone affected by HIV/AIDS.

While HIV/AIDS in DC is an issue that needs to be tackled from many different arenas, in order to look hopefully toward the future and ensure change, educating the youth should be a primary task and the public schools are the venue where this should be taking place. If DC is finally scared into changing their attitude and their ideology behind public education of HIV/AIDS then where better to start than in the public schools? I for one offer my students at the alter of education because in this over-sexualized country and under-educated population, these are some of the invisible victims of the crisis that is storming DC.

DCPS on HIV/AIDS Prevention Education

Friday, March 13, 2009

Spring Fever

So we are getting crazy close to testing time and I am getting more and more anxious. March has began. In front of the main office is a huge calendar mapping out the days left until DC-CAS (the comprehensive exam for all DC students which determines how well I have done this year). Last week my class took DC-BAS (the benchmark test, which we have had 4 of throughout the year) and begrudgingly my principal said that my class's test scores have improved...(how? i am really unsure).

Anyway...this week I went in full test prep mode giving my kids all sorts of practice probes, both used in the standard test format, through self-created board games and jeopardy. While they initially found some of these activities to be fun and exciting it only took a few students who didn't care to bring down the whole class (the usual culprits J, AJ and H).

I have already spoken on J, but AJ and H are without question my two worst behaved students (with the exception of M&M who comes to school so rarely that I am much less affected). What makes it worse is that they are brothers. They are 2 out of a 8 kid family, which is one of the main families known through the school for their terrible behavior. 5 of them attend the school, 2 left last year (who were apparently worse) and their mother just popped out another one...WTF!!!!! WHYYYYYY TRICK WHYYYYYYYYYY???? AJ bragged to me Thursday after some incident where he attempted to incite classroom disorder and probably succeeded that he "won't get expelled. I hit the principal. I can do anything." Anyway...I will blog some other time about the need for a uniform school discipline policy, back to the subject...

Anyway, despite the fact that I believe (although this is my first year so who knows) that based on the DC-BAS we have been taking all year I can pretty accurately predict who will be scoring around what levels on the exam I will continue to try to drill the testing strategies and try and familiarize my students with this monster of a test that they face.

However it is spring and my 5th graders are clearly feeling all sorts of spring feelings and crazily enough are taking themselves more and more away from the goals of DC-CAS. While I am feeling intense pressure from the school, the district (I even heard a rap song about DC-CAS broadcast on the radio last week) kids seem to be caring less. "Does this mean I will pass the grade? Is this on my report card?" No and no. The accountability is placed entirely on the teachers and administration, but the students have no conception of the meaning of the test. They are told it is important. Everyone talks about it. But it means nothing to them.

And even scarier is the thought of what happens after the test? The test is in mid April and we continue on until June. The test is so built up in the students' minds they are done after the test. And honestly in my mind I feel very similar, yet we are forced to endure 2 more painful months where I attempt to teach and the poor behaving students act worse, while the well behaved children no longer feel the need to behave anymore with testing done.

I guess it is really just a matter of freestyling. Everyday this week we have worked on test prep and while I would rather try to broaden my teaching approach I feel greatly pressured to go hard and focus on testing. That is what DCPS cares about and that is what the students have been trained to care about. As far as what I will do once we are done testing....I guess I just have to wait and see.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Flavor of Love...5th Grade Style

So this week one of my favorite teacher's pets (not really, she just escapes to me instead of going to aftercare and tells me the 5th grade gossip) told me about what a group of some of my fast little girls had participated in.

3 of the girls in my class along with a few from other grades apparently participated in some sort of gathering/competition/???? to win the prize of "girlfriend" for this lil boy who I'll call J.

J is a very intelligent boy, however he chooses to use it to bully every kid in my class both verbally and physically. He relentlessly picks on the other kids for his perceptions of their intelligence, wealth (which none of them have...himself included), looks, clothes, cleanliness, so on and so on. He plays football and is concerned with his appearance, which I guess he feels makes him better in some way. He has no consideration for the feelings of any of his classmates, particularly the girls.

All 3 of the girls "competing" for him have been brought to tears by his bitter teasing on multiple occasions. One of the girls competing actually last week brought him in for a meeting with the local police over sexual harassment (which my principal and her parents said I was primarily responsible for).

The behavior of the girls once friends and still so in name has become unbearable. They behave worse and worse attempting to impress J by showing him their bad attitudes which they hope can match his. They attempt to publicly embarrass each other and alternate weekly between after school fights with each other in the bathroom to claiming themselves as best friends.

I have not had a tv or if so had a tv with no cable for probably most of my life....I would say that makes me different from most Americans. And the longer I teach I become more and more convinced that tv is an unnecessary games too. Obama spoke of it at his address this week, urging parents to turn off the tv and the games and read with their children. I think that an essential part of my childhood were the hours I was spent waiting for my dad to get out of work at the library. The kids I have in my class who willingly will read a book or have parents who will turn off the tv and make them read are so much ahead of my other students.

This may seem like a complete tangent...which it kinda is...but when I was told my 3 girl students had "flavor of love'd themselves for J" I immediately was sickened at the obvious power that tv has over my students. While I cannot start a one-person fight against tv and video games as rotting children's minds I have told my B that if we ever have children that I will lay down the law on both and I guess that's really what it comes down to. Parenting.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Security!! Security?

So, after coming home from an unsurprisingly unpleasant day at school, following our 4 day weekend and upcoming friday half-day, i was talking to my girl V about my day. And as I was venting to her I realized...where had security been?

I have recently moved from an open space center [hard to explain, but essentially the school has no walls in between different classes and the dividers between classrooms and hallways are bookshelves and rolling lockers] to the room that had once been set up as the school's computer lab. (at the principal's demand the 2nd grade teacher and i had been moved to the 3rd floor to "control the noise level on the first floor," as well as enter her immediate warpath) ugh.

Ahah So thats where the "computer lab" is! The room consists of 4 rows of glasstop desks with old Compaq computer screens below and pull out keyboards. So there are 20 seats around these "desks" and then I have 7 other students who are randomly placed around the small classroom (less than half the size of our previous center).

Well, since moving upstairs I have come to realize that less and less would I get security into my room when I called on the intercom. Sometimes I would get one, sometimes I would get the school secretary. And now that think back the last few weeks there has been no response. I call on the intercom and they assure me, "someone will be there." and i have to move on knowing that's the most i can do and some points and the kids know that.

Well that's just ridiculous, why wouldn't security come you say? Incidentally, I was talking to the 7&8 special education teacher and she was recalling a story from years back of a teacher who no longer worked at the school. She had told me that at one point things had gotten so hostile between this teacher and the administration, primarily my principal, that she had told security to no longer respond to his calls.

While my kids are bad it is true that most of my students are not being thrown out for any sort of excessive violence or any threat i feel, but because of general bad, rude, disrespectful and disturbing behavior. However, it's not as if threats of violence would be unforeseeable, as I am almost positive that fights occur between some of my students daily.

I can't knowingly say that my principal told security not to come to my class, but apparently it is not outside of her character to do so. And as far as I see it's not really within my power to do much without any proof or power within this stupid system.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Teacher Morale Low? Forreal??

Washington Post's Political Blog..."DC Wire" reports that DC teacher morale is low...

Real talk? I would have thought that much at least was obvious in the failing public school system of DC. In a position where we get no respect from Michelle Rhee on down to the kids who taunt teachers with "I'll get you fired." And after a colleague of mine was reported and is under investigation for allegedly choking a kid. Which I cannot say that she didn't although she denies the claims. But the fact is that the child, who is a bitter opponent of this teacher, only needs to say the word and her teaching career is in jeopardy and her life becomes mass chaos.

There is little respect for the profession and Rhee's dictatorial tactics have scared teachers and administrators into doing what is not necessarily best for their particular school community. School policies made in downtown DC, which may work brilliantly at Rhee's prized Oyster Bilingual (which her daughter attends) might not work down on my side of Southeast where resources, funding and staffing all still remain prominent problems.

Maybe....just maybe...these are a few reasons for low teacher morale. After reading the post I drop down to the first response, which says exactly this:

"Who cares about teacher morale. Chancellor Rhee is attempting to get results. Teachers are not used to accountability. If I suddenly had to work for a living after years of skating, it would lower my morale."

Posted by: swordboat | January 17, 2009 10:18 PM

You don't care about the teachers? Fine. But when you have a low morale with your employees it is PROVEN to affect their performance results.

The low morale of teachers at my school has led to the loss of 2 first grade teachers, leaving the first grade class to be taught by the Computer Resource Tech. The low morale of teachers has led at least 3-5 20 year+ DC teachers to state to me, "Get out while you can! I'm going to Maryland!"

And personally for me, coming into this negative environment with a low morale for the teachers brings me down every single day.

It could be bearable that the temperature is outrageous at nearly 80 degrees. Fine, I'll whip out the summer clothes while I'm in the building.

It could be bearable that I miss close to every drop of daylight in the windowless building, coming in at 8 and leaving out at 5. That's fine I'll bask in the sun on weekends.

But it is not bearable to be coming into work everyday and have the feeling that most everyone there does not want to be there. I know that. The kids know that. And that is an ineffective way to teach and not the supportive, learning environment that is supposedly endorsed.

Its even harder to do a hard job when it feels as if no one gives a damn about you or what you are attempting to do in the face of what is definitely not a perfect system (hello, we still don't have a contract?). Show some appreciation, respect or at least try to understand the impossible tasks that are demanded of many of us every day. The community of parents, children and children's advocates and the community of administrators, education policy makers and Rhee's office are able to function as well as they do together and attempt to enact change on each other because of teachers. We make this shit work.

Read the Blog and the ignorant responses...

Inauguration Day~!

The day Black America has been waitin for has finally arrived...2 short hours ago Barack Obama was sworn in to become our nation's 44th president. Livin in DC has been definitely exciting if not completely overwhelming this past weekend...

I guess this weekend in particular would be one where I should be excited to go out and be a part of the unique DC festivities that came out to celebrate this incredibly historic moment. And I had every intention and plan of going out and doing just that and then I began to feel a little bit suffocated and stifled....looking on facebook: "so and so is in DC," "so and so says on my way to DC," "let's start celebrating Obama!"

While as much as I feel the spirit of celebration and the pride and that have taken over I also am still grounded by the state of the country, especially DC. With the city crowded, over-crowded with tourists, public transportation flooded beyond any normal capacity the inauguration seems to not really be an event that many people of DC would be attending. Other restrictions on the event, such as the use of strollers, prevented a single one of my students (who come from families of 6 or 7 children) from attending the event.

One of the things that I have really supported of Obama has been his advocacy of public service. As a public servant I wish that:

1) Advocacy of public service was incorporated into schools in more than just the teasing of children who receive them. I see our schools instilling beliefs of individualism in our children rather than encouraging them to work together. I know of some private schools that require community service for graduation, but I think better than that (and more practical for me the urban public elementary school teacher) would be school service trips and larger than that an entire effort by the public school system to support itself, as well as the school communities.

2) I saw more people working to support and provide public services to those in need. It seems that despite Obama's advocacy I saw more people talking about celebrating, attending events, drinking on U St, standing in the winding lines at Ben's Chili Bowl and throwing around money downtown, than talking about donating their time to Obama's call for service on Monday's holiday. I'm not gone stand here preaching like I didn't go out and celebrate and I'm not faulting anyone for that. I'm just saying. Sadly for DC this weekend's events didn't really seem to spur that much public service outside of profiting bartenders and cab drivers downtown and all the vendors at the inauguration events. Then again I thought about going to go volunteer at the middle school down the street from me, but then couldn't bear to see a child on my day off of work...

Obama spoke today on the work America needs to do and the American people need to do to bring this country together and to get us through this depression (get it right. not a recession. we in a depression now).

So for me, I'm not going to preach what I think anyone should do. But as I watched the inauguration from the comfort of my crib that as much as I realized how blessed I am in this time of immense need that I have been comfortable doing my job and nothing else. Seeing that as my contribution. But I should do more and I can do more. And that is my goal.

So rather than spending the extra money from my check partying or getting drunk with the white people downtown, I have recommitted myself to my dreams and ideals that brought me to DC in the first place and I see what I need to do to improve myself and my new community.

A Little Something to Make You Feel Grateful

Friday, January 9, 2009

Here We Go Again....

So here I am beginning 2009 with a renewed promise to myself that I am going to post more often and more thoroughly. So here goes----

Welcome to my life as a 5th grade teacher. First week back to school was probably just as miserable as I had imagined it would be. A full 2 weeks away from school definitely spoiled me...and here comes Monday morning. I had an impending sense of doom all break, but as soon as I hear my alarm Monday morning I know this week can only be worse than I had predicted.



Have y'all ever seen that Dr. Miracle ad with ole girl pulling at her hair? That picture can pretty much sum up to you the level of frustration that I have been having this week.

After...count it 3.
THREE WEEKS of trying to drill in the relationship between multiplication and division with absolutely no Christmas season co-operation from my lil angels I told them Monday morning that we would be having our unit test on division on Friday. I gave them a practice test on Monday and Wednesday and we played division related games on Tuesday and Thursday.

Welcome to Friday where I pass out the math test (which is *SURPRISE* mostly composed of EXACTLY the same questions from Monday and Wednesday's practice tests which we went over...well to be fair it was more of an attempt to go over the test).


"Can I take this home and get my mother to help me?"

"We haven't learned division."

"How many years have you been teaching? This is gonna be your last year because you're not doing your job."

~select quotes from unhappy 5th graders concerning division, which has been taught to them since...get this....THIRD GRADE.

~happy friday. im leaving to start forgetting about this week and preparing for the next one....