Saturday, April 30, 2005


This has been the longest month in history. April just kept going and going and going. May's going to be long, too. The district should build mental health days into the schedule for long months. Teachers and students could use them, especially in the self-contained classrooms. The finish line is in sight. I'm going to get there.

Friday, April 29, 2005

What if?

We always try to make consequences for the kids that will make them think twice. They aren't afraid of anything, though. What if Don Rumsfeld was working with us when we counsel problem students?

"Tony, let me introduce you to Mr. Rumsfeld."
"Tony, I'm not going to discuss the past, because that's the past. I'm not going to discuss the future, because quite frankly I don't think you have one."
"Son, have you heard of Pakistan?"
"She don't go here anymore. She live up in Olney."
"This Pakistan is more dangerous. No one can hear your screams in Pakistan."
Rumsfeld speaks softly into his lapel. Three large men in dark suits and dark glasses appear and grab the now agitated Tony.
"It's only going to hurt a whole lot, Tony." Evil Rumsfeldian laughter ensues.

Ah, a teacher can dream. Seriously, my kids were pretty good even on a Friday. I'm still holding my breath. Mondays are always insane.

Thursday, April 28, 2005


I used my educator discount and bought an iPod mini. Finally, being a teacher is really paying off. I love educator discounts. I've been coveting an iPod for some time so the extra money off is extra sweet. I'll be rocking out to the Stooges on the way to work instead of commercials.

The kids have been good for three days straight. It's inexplicable. I'm not asking any questions and I'll surf this good wave as long as it lasts. I was able to teach a lot of different things today, move the kids around the school, and walk out with a smile on my face. I felt like the teacher for a change. What's happening here? Have they turned a corner? I sure hope they have for their sake. We learn things when they aren't trying to kill each other or destroy the school. I would rather crack jokes than send students to detention. I didn't get into teaching to become an ogre.

I've got my fingers crossed for tomorrow and beyond. Got to get back to entering grades and listening to the New York Dolls. "Pills" is a most amazing track.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

But for the grace of God

I've been thinking about the third grader who was found hanging by his collar in a coat closet at Samuel W. Pennypacker School. A nine-year-old boy goes to hang up his coat and the teacher finds him. This kind of thing is a tragedy and could happen in any teacher's classroom in the city. It could happen to any of our students at any second of the day. It could happen on my rookie watch or the most experienced teacher's. Just the luck of the draw and a damn shame for a lot of reasons. There go I, but for the grace of God. Any random act from a student could result in loss of licensure for the teacher. Just like that, because we hold court over a powderkeg. Any spark or bump could cause an explosion.

Paul Vallas wants the schools to be safe, something like an 80% safe number by 2008. The lunchrooms, bathrooms, stairwells, lobbies, and hallways have been found to be unsafe in our schools. Hmm. Guess who is making them unsafe? If you guessed the kids press the enter button for your free cigar. The kids beat the other kids up. The kids do crazy stuff like hang over railings, throw objects from windows and stair towers, and things I don't even want to think about. Things I'm to scared to even contemplate.

I'm not sure what happened to that poor boy and I hope he is restored to health. I hope that poor teacher gets through all the nonsense that will transpire because of this unfortunate event. Mr. Vallas needs to get more of something from our kids because they are the ones that make this school district a living nightmare. The kids are the root of much of what happens here. If the kids want things to be safe then things will be safe. To view things any other way is to just invite laughter and defeat.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Gabba Gabba Hey!

I was just checking out a documentary about the Ramones on PBS. What a great band. The Ramones changed my life forever and I owe everything to them. Thank you!

Not bad, but waiting for the other shoe to drop

Today was a nice day. My students were quiet and attentive during shared reading. They were pretty good during guided reading. They didn't cause a disaster in the halls as they went to gym or the bathroom. I was actually able to enjoy my students for a while.

The afternoon was noisy and chaotic but still a success. They weren't too disrespectful. I attribute the day's ease with three of my worst behaved students being absent. One was suspended for punching a kid in the face and the other two were sick. What a relief. Is it possible for them to be out all week? Please?

I'm human. When the awful kids are out, things are pretty nice in the room and I wish they could stay away for good. There are so many students like this and I can do nothing with them. I don't have the skills and I wasn't hired to deal with them in the first place. I'm not a special education teacher. I don't have that certification. I'm not an ESOL teacher either. I'm not a prison guard. Some of my kids could use the expertise of all three.

Most likely I've cursed myself for the rest of the week by mentioning my good day. Still a lot of school to get through before the weekend. Who is the patron saint of teachers? Do they have an 800 number?

Monday, April 25, 2005

Swimming against a tsunami

My students come to school filthy. They come in shirts covered in foodstains. They smell like body odor. Their pants are torn and dirty. Some of my students come to school sick. One of my students came last week with a swollen eye the size of a tennis ball. He didn't seem too bothered by the eye when I asked him what had happened to him. "My eye? I dunno."

It's a shame and a travesty. Sending a kid to school with tennis ball eye or clothes covered in a week's worth of meals. Allowing a student to leave the house without a jacket on a day when it is snowing and sleeting, not mending a child's torn blouse or pants. It's a disgrace. It isn't their fault.

No one has time for my kids and they know it. Their parents don't come to school for their report cards. They don't come when the kids are in trouble. They don't come when the kid needs an emergency change of clothes. They don't answer the phone when I call to discuss their child's performance and they don't respond when I need the parent to come for a conference. It really bums me out and breaks my heart the way my kids get the shaft. They live in a crap neighborhood, go to a crap school, eat crap food, and have crap parents to neglect them. It's not fair. Their lives are filled with pain. I want more for them but have no way to give it to them. I would cry but don't seem to have any tears at the moment.

I'm feeling very down after the way things went today. The kids beat me up from the moment they got here. I sent the same people to the office again and as usual nothing happened. No one listened or cared or learned anything. One student got a punch in the kisser from another delightful student. Students from other classes mixed it up with my kids. Everyone yelled at everyone for everything. It was a loony bin instead of a school. How can I make it better when I am swimming against a tsunami?

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Might as well be Chinese

I'm working on my stuff and the reading is not sticking in my head, it makes no sense, it might as well be written in Chinese, it's putting me to sleep. My delightful wife just gave me some coffee. It's going to be a long f@$*ing night. Couldn't it snow? It's cold enough and I can't get warm for some reason. A snow day would be wonderful.


I'm not happy. I'm burnt. I need another day off. The sun is streaming in the window but I can't enjoy it because I'm writing yet another project for my class. I can't wait until this semester is over! The semester ends and then the school year ends. I can't wait until both because I need some sleep. I need a rest. I need to stop burning the candle at both ends. I need to know what end is up and I don't anymore. I need to go to bed at a decent hour, tonight. I need time to clean my house. I need more time. I need to read something for pleasure again.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Happy Passover

A happy and joyous Passover to all of the Jewish persuasion!

Heading out for a delicious grilled stuft burrito at Taco Bell. I can't get its delicious goodness off my mind. I stopped for one about two months ago on my way home from a teacher job fair. The job fair was ok but the grilled stuft burrito blew my mind. Mmm. Grilled to perfection. It has me under its spell.

Friday, April 22, 2005

He wouldn't do those things, he's right with God!

The student who wanted to pee on me was suspended this morning. His mother came to pick him up and then came to my room to have it out with me. "He wouldn't do those things. He's right with God. He's been baptized. He goes to church." I said "I'm just telling you what I saw. He's got to go home."

I'm not one for organized religion and I don't go to church much. My students all seem to believe in God and go to church regularly. Some go every day. They bring bibles to school, Jesus bookmarks, folders with rainbows and angels, and wear "I love Jesus" barrettes. The students I would classify as the worst behaved are always the most pious. The God that they believe in is angry and vengeful and full of hate for unbelievers and homosexuals. One day early in the year the kids were talking about who is going to go to Hell. I mentioned that I don't go to church very often. They went nuts. "Mr! You are going to go to Hell!" "Mr! You are going to burn forever!" "You better get to church, Mr!" This was coming from students that beat up weaker students on a regular basis, used horrible profanity as their primary means of communication, and attacked me physically and verbally on a regular basis. Spending all that time in church did nothing for these children. Certainly nothing positive, anyway.

The worst behaved students never miss a day and go to church every Sunday. Count on it.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Don't turn your back!

One of my students told me "I'm going to pee on you!" I told him to leave the classroom and not to come back until he apologized in front of the entire class. He came back a few minutes later and made a lame apology. I told him that he needed to leave and try again. As he's leaving he smacks a girl across the face. "I didn't do it, Mr." Five minutes later the school police officer is on the phone. "Your student is here and says you threw him out for no reason." "How about he smacked a girl across the face and threw her books across the room?" "Oh. Well, he says he didn't do it. We're sending him back up." I had to beg them not to. Amazing. Why is there always someone second guessing us? The kids are running this place and they know it!

The students are throwing rocks at another teacher in our building. The reaction from our administration is to blame the teacher and side with the kids. "Why did you have your back turned?" Geez. You kind of have to turn your back to write on the board, don't you? You have to take your eyes off the students to look at a textbook. You can't watch them all the time because you would never be able to do any teaching. You can barely teach on a good day.

The kids come to school just to f*&% with us. You can't stop children who just sit there all day thinking up lame things to do to teachers. It can't be done. It's like The Great Escape. They're just thinking of ways to escape, waste our time, and disrupt things. Don't turn your back on them? Come on? When a teacher gets seriously injured will they continue to side with the kids?

No one is held responsible except the teachers. It's always our fault. Everything is our fault. A teacher is getting pelted with rocks and nothing is done. What kind of message does that send? Thank God we have a union because our administration doesn't care about us. Perhaps when this teacher's head gets split open something will be done?

Wednesday, April 20, 2005


I'm listening to Air America as I write this and work on some lessons for tomorrow. Why would anyone want to be a Republican? I can't figure it out. They stand for repression, division, discrimination, and environmental destruction. They wrap all their evil in God, the flag, and money. Sick.

Where are the weapons of mass destruction? Where are they? Tell me. We are still fighting a war in Iraq and our soldiers are dying. Where are the weapons that were the reason for this war? I'm tired of reading about dead and maimed soldiers in the paper each day. When is it going to stop and when will Bush/Cheney be impeached? They lied to us. Mission accomplished, my ass.

How about fully funding NCLB while you're at it. The education President, my ass.

Just a few random thoughts before bedtime.

Things fall apart, the center cannot hold

I was giving a test today and thinking about some of the behaviors my children display. When I give a test the students will raise their hands again and again. “Mr, come here.” I’ll go to the student’s desk and they will ask, “Mr, is this answer right?” I’ll say that I can’t answer any questions because it’s a test. A couple of seconds will pass and it starts again. “Mr, come here.” Sometimes it’s the same kid. This will happen from the moment the test starts until the moment it ends. Sometimes the student gets mad when you don’t give an answer. “I’m not going to the next question because I’m not sure I’m doing it right.” Sometimes they get so angry that they rip the test in half and throw it on the floor. This is so frustrating because we can’t copy things in the building.

I have to make sure that whatever I give the students is in new condition. If I give a workbook with a dog-eared cover to a student they’ll give it right back. If I say that’s the only one I have they will throw it on the floor or shove it back in my hand or throw it across the room. The same thing happens with papers of any kind. If I give a handout with a jagged edge or a crease the student freaks out.

They constantly hit each other with everything. I’ll be teaching and a kid will get up, walk across the room, and smack another kid in the face with a ruler for nothing. They hit each other constantly. They don’t even wait ‘til your back is turned. At least two or three times a day there is someone in tears in my room because they were punched, kicked, or hit in the face with a textbook. When they aren’t doing this they’re insulting each other. The insults fly constantly. The lessons are always interrupted by kids yelling insults at each other. Sometimes the kids are from other rooms. They will yell insults in my open classroom door. Every once in a while a student from another room will come into my classroom and fight one of my students. Sometimes they chase another kid into the room. God is it annoying. I've got enough students as it is. I don't need another kid running amok.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005


I'm reading Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage by Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas. This book really gives me a lot of insights into the lives of my students. I have students from single parent families with 10 kids. Ten kids! There's something wrong with this picture. The book is great, but I wish it were better edited. Typos and factual errors are everywhere. To pay $25 for a book filled with mistakes is a travesty. Why don't publishers care about editing?

My Particular Shade of Hell

My school is a nuthouse but I need to keep things in perspective. Some schools are worse. Our kids are awful but there are worse kids in the district. My principal could be better but could be worse, too. I'm copping out. It should not be like this. I shouldn't have to rationalize the particular shade of hell that colors my school.... I've had it with these kids today. The heat was on in the classroom and the outside temperature was 85. The kids didn't stop talking and screwing around, so I didn't open the door. No crossventilation is possible with the door closed, so I roast with the kids.

What is the deal with cell phones in the classroom? I bring one to school for a lot of reasons, mostly because I don't want to be stranded without a tow if my ancient car breaks down. I never use it in front of the kids. I never take calls during class. I turn it off and leave the thing in my pocket. My teacher coach wears a cell phone headset in the classroom while she's observing my teaching. She takes calls in the classroom during my teaching! She makes lunch plans with friends, schedules doctor and hair appointments, and talks with friends during my teaching! Then she has the nerve to tell me things that are wrong with my teaching. Does she have any idea how rude it is to answer the phone and have a conversation during my teaching? Of course her ringtone is the longest available. What the f#$%?? This woman is supposed to be offering her expertise? She's talking on the damn phone and disrupting my class. I wish I could throw this woman out of my classroom. I'd sure as Hell throw a disruptive student out. When are these useless people going to leave me alone? There's always someone poking around asking questions, writing things in a notebook, walking through my classroom. Keep out! Keep away! Leave me alone! Get your own damn classroom and lighten the load for teachers that actually teach. Please keep away from me and leave your cell phone at home.

I need to start running on a regular basis again. I have been so busy and tired lately that I haven't been on the road much. My right knee has felt weird for the last few days, too. Why? Hopefully, I can start again tomorrow morning; running helps get the frustrations out.

Monday, April 18, 2005

So tired, I haven't slept a wink...

I am so tired. I didn't get to bed until 2 am this morning. Friggin' grad class has me burning the candle at both ends. Soon my masters will be in the bag and that fateful day will be a fantastic day. The clouds will part and a giant hand will bestow the coveted master of science in instruction. The air will be filled with the triumphant sound of "#1 Tonight" by Bad Wizard. My Mom loves that song. It will be awesome.

Check it out, my students were horrible today. Really awful. I mean if there was an award for horrible behavior my students would have received it with oak leaf clusters. Ugh. The warmer it gets the worse their behavior becomes. They never stop talking. They don't listen to me or to any other teacher. They could care less if the principal is yelling at them. Nothing matters to them. What should I do?

I wish I had some answers to that question. No one has any answers for that one. Other teachers say stuff like "more activities" or "be consistent." Be consistent. Come on, what do you take me for? The longer I'm in this job the more I realize that no one has answers. A new teacher like me needs a lot of help. I don't get much.

I wish that there was more time to watch veteran teachers in action. Watching veteran teachers would help me more than anything but my principal doesn't allow us time for this. It's a shame.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Educator Savings

Yet another Sunday devoted to writing papers for my grad class. F$%@ing useless. I have more writing to do before I get to bed.

There was some fun. The day was beautiful and my daughter is super talkative today. She's got so much to talk about and so many things she's interested in. I got to hang with her for some Indian food. I also got to Borders Educator Savings weekend. Finally, being a teacher pays off! I picked up a couple of books and Bossanova by the Pixies. "Dig for Fire" came on WKDU the other day as I was driving to work and it's been on my mind ever since. Hey, I think the Phils are still playing their night game. Better check for that and get back to my writing or I'll never get to bed.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Rollerblading Daddy

I rollerbladed this morning with my daughter. We attended the greatest birthday party ever. This place had an indoor soccer field, a jungle gym bigger than a three-story house, and a roller rink. My daughter did the jungle gym with her friends and I had the rink mostly to myself. Awesome. What a feeling. I want to have my birthday party at this place.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Meetings Part Deux

Actually, there were cookies. We were feted for a doing a good job around here. Nice. We don't get many positive strokes. I work my butt off around here, no matter what, but I would walk through fire if I heard "good job" more often.


This has nothing to do with anything- Study Cautions Runners to Limit Their Water Intake By Gina Kolata from the April 14, 2005 New York Times is a bit scary. I'm thinking of running the Philadelphia Marathon in the fall. I don't want to die. I need to do research.

Also the Mystery of Wendy's Chili Finger is the most compelling story of our young century, don't you think?


Professional development today in the school district. The kids left half an hour ago. We will have meetings from 1-3. I have no idea what the meetings will be about and they never tell us in advance. Why should we show up prepared or anything?

My kids took a whole bunch of fake money from one of our math kits. Big wads of this bright green cash is appearing in 4th-grade lockers, bookbags, and tiny fists. "I didn't do nothing, Mr." "Oh, this is mine from home." Right. You have a bookbag full of pretend $100 bills....

We did a survey of the students and asked them questions like "Do you like liver?" and "How many times have you gone to the movies in the past month?" Their answers are so funny. The liver question was a slam dunk. No one likes liver and once the kids realize what it means to eat liver they just freak. "What do you mean, Mr? You can't eat that!" I concur.

Soon, I will be doing some of my favorite things: leaving the building, checking out the dollar stores, hanging with my daughter and wife, eating Indian food, and drinking some delicious adult beverages. First, I must get through some meetings. Blah. A funny story about meetings and their uselessness. I used to work in test development. One day my team had a meeting about questions for the upcoming test. Eight of us were sitting around a board table. Our scary team leader was in a tizzy about questions that weren't good enough or had not been entered into our Kafkaesque computer system. We are all talking in jargon. "The MS is three away from UXing on the DQ at 12/10 on the BX9er. Well my 10Key is hotboxing on the SEMJON 3400TIC at 3200." "No." "Yes, and we are 3 away from a total collapse of the TYCOJO 190." After 20 minutes of this one of us said, "I haven't understood anything for the last 10 minutes." I seconded. Everyone else but the team leader said the same. Team leader went ballistic. I never laughed so hard in all my life. Two morals of the story: Laughing at unstable team leaders will get you fired faster than you can say Jackie Robinson and meetings are useless.

Better get my pencil. Meetings are starting. Don't want to be late. Perhaps there's some cookies.


If you were in college in the '80's you should do yourself a favor and pick up the Left of the Dial box set from Rhino. I'm listening to it as I write my lesson plans. Mmm. It's got all the tasty stuff you didn't have the balls to steal from the campus radio station. (If you are reading this you are probably like me - a mostly straight arrow boy scout with a penchant for delicious but very cheap canned beer.) I just can't stop playing a few of the tracks: "Lake of Fire" by the Meat Puppets, "Cattle and Cane" by the GoBetweens, and "I Want to Help You Ann" by the Lyres. It's so good. Why didn't they elect the Lyres president instead of Bush I in 1988? They could have had a joint presidency thing. The delightful infectious garage rock that would have emanated from the White House. I'm sure it would have worked better than what really happened.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

I'm so happy it's over

I want to throw the goddamn desk out the window, that’s how mad I am right now. All day long I’ve been fighting the same battles with these kids. They are driving me bats. They just left the room for the day. I'm trying to parse what just happened. What kind of sadistic bastard invented the self-contained classroom? All day with these kids. All day long it’s “He touched my pencil.” “She’s looking at me.” “My paper is gone.” “I don’t want to do it.” “You can’t make me.” That’s when they aren’t punching each other, sticking each other with pencils, hitting each other with rulers, throwing paper, throwing books, spitting, swearing at everyone, yelling, jumping off the desks, or tearing the posters from the walls. It’s a whirlpool of nuttiness today. Kids all over the place. Never in their seats. Never doing what they should be doing.

Respect. They respect nothing. They sure as Hell don't respect me. I will just keep trying to make a difference. That’s all I can do. I want to help. These kids take a dump all over me every chance they get.

Holy Cow!

Some of my students are mental. This morning a student got in my face because it was lunch time. He's shouting at me because he wants to go to lunch. He's inches from my face yelling at the top of his lungs because he wants to go to lunch. Guess where we were going? To lunch.

I'm working on a writing project with my kids. We are doing research essays. The students pick topics of interest, get source materials, and write 5 paragraphs on the topic. Holy Cow. You'd think I asked them to make the Saturn 5 rocket. Some projects just become too much. I try to make it easy for them all to hit a home run on this and still it's impossible. It's so physically and emotionally draining to create interesting lessons for the children to destroy. I could pay them to write these essays or to give a damn and it wouldn't matter. They still wouldn't do any of it.

What does matter?

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

National Library Week

Hey, it's National Library Week. Stop by your local library and use everything. I stopped by mine on the way home, checked out 2 books, and purchased $1.50 worth of used books. Gotta love 25-cent paperbacks!


We are supposed to be educating our students. This is constantly impressed on the teachers. People are always poking around making sure we are working hard. They never seem to notice the simple things that get in the way. The class phone rang all afternoon. From 1-2 it rang at least 10 times. "Do you have paper X?" "Do you have file 13?" "Do you have the 9 missing minutes from the White House tapes?" "Could you send down your attendance again? It never arrived." "Early dismissal for Mohammed, Jugdish, Clayton, and Sydney." "Remember tomorrow is early lunch instead of the regular lunch." "Remember tomorrow is Phillies t-shirt day." Every time we got calmed down and rolling the telephone would ring or someone would knock on the door or an announcement would come over the P.A. system. Education? Where? Not happening here.

I read an exerpt from The Learning Gap about Japanese schools valuing the classroom teaching. According to the book, there are no announcements breaking the instruction in Japanese schools. That time is reserved for uninterrupted learning. What a concept?

Our students know what is valued and what isn't. They miss nothing. They see that teachers are treated with contempt by the administration and they learn that they can do it too. It's quite obvious the adminstration values things like walking in straight lines, arriving and leaving at certain times, and keeping quiet more than preserving instruction time. Everything is allowed to get in the way of instruction.

I think a lot about what is making this year so hard. I have made a lot of mistakes and continue to do so. I'm still in there pitching, though, and that means a lot. On my worst day I still want to do this job. Some of my troubles can be traced to the administration. I was hired 3 months before the 2004-05 school year began. I was told what grade I'd teach 4 days before school began. I was given my class list on the first day of school. I saw my room for the first time 3 days before school began. Our school created a school-wide discipline plan on the afternoon of the day before school started. That was the last I heard of that document. No policy was ever put into place and this is a persistently dangerous school. We are one of the most dangerous schools in one of the biggest districts in the country and there is no discipline policy. Do you know how much easier it would have been if I could have introduced myself to my students before school started? If I knew my intended grade I could have bought a lot more stuff to prepare my room. If I could have seen my room I could have figured out what it needed to make it a wonderful learning environment. If we had a discipline plan the kids would have known what to expect if they got out of line. I would have known exactly what to do with them when they did.

I'm not the most organized person but I am responsible and want to do a good job. This is my life. I begged for this information for 3 months and was put off every time. I bear responsibility for my job performance (Accountablility in the parlance of George Bush and NCLB) but damn it couldn't I get a little somethin' somethin'? I'm still paying for this in spades. A new teacher feels it everywhere but the ability to establish a relationship before the start of school would really have helped me.

Classroom management always gets short shrift. I've yet to have a comprehensive class on this subject and it is the most important one there is in a school like ours. "Just get everything organized and the class will manage itself." Ok. Sure. Tell that to the entire class as they chant "kick his ass, f&*% him up" as a girl sits on a boy's chest and slams his head on the floor like a basketball. It's like something out of Dante. It really is.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

CYA as it burns to the ground

We do a thing called the CSAP when we have a student with a problem. The problem could be the classic student that doesn't stop talking but usually the CSAP is for students with profound academic, learning, or emotional/behavior problems. CSAP stands for something like Comprehensive Student blah, blah, blah. The real deal is CSAP is a nice way for people to have meaningless meetings and fiddle while Rome burns to the ground.

Let's say you have a student that refuses to speak, does no work, destroys things, eats things, and hits people. You think that something should be done because you're a concerned teacher and nice person. Start the CSAP. Begin creating the file. Get the dozen pieces of paper that need to go in the file: report cards, three years worth of academic and behavior information, medical records, ancecdoctal records, observations, discipline slips, psych reviews, and arrest records, if applicable. A meeting is held with the parents, principal, counselors, discipline teachers, and the classroom teacher about the student. At the meeting there are bold statements made like "I think there's a problem." After lots of people say that stuff and look at all the papers, there is a bit of silent reflection and then the excuses come. "We'll see if we can get some counseling...but the counselors are all booked up." "The student would benefit from special ed classes...but there's no open space here and it's too late to transfer." And it goes on and on and on.

Ultimately the CSAP process kills a lot of trees and eats toner and printer cartridges and typewriter ribbons. It doesn't result in any help for students. The CSAP should be called the CYA because that's what it's for. Cover your ass because if the kid puts another kid in the hospital or burns down the school at least you did the paperwork documenting the problems that no one was going to fix. You can't fail a kid without a CSAP but even if you go through the process, kill the trees, go to the meetings with an earnest look on your face, the principal and the parents hold all the cards. If they decide they don't think the child should fail then the teacher's grades are thrown away and the student is promoted. Bear in mind this kid could be illiterate or insane or both. This student could be a friggin' illiterate demon from Hell and he would be promoted if the parent said it shouldn't happen.

What is going on here? I'm through the damn looking glass.

I'm ranting about this stupidity because we've got a CSAP scheduled for every day this week. Two so far. They have stolen a lot of my time from more important things. They will result in nothing but it makes someone in some office feel good to see these fat folders filled with paperwork that will never see the light of day or do any good for the kids in question. They will be in class, not getting any of the services that would help them, because there aren't any services. It's a joke.

Too bad the joke is on us. What happens when these students that I can't teach hit the streets? They are angry, hungry, and deranged. They're coming and society has no place for them and has helped them with nothing.

Speaking of angry and deranged, my class was like that for the entire day. You would think that they would eventually calm down and want to try to do something constructive. You would be wrong. That never happens because rules don't apply here. I fought with the kids for the entire day. I must have said "stop talking" 600 times today.

I'm tired of kids telling me "I'm not doing that s*&$ you f%&^ing faggot!" It's demoralizing. There's so much that these kids could be learning and getting excited about and instead it's f this and f you and f off and f your Mom and suck it and kiss my ass and you name it. Mostly f*&k. They aren't even able to swear creatively. I need more. My brain is dripping out my ears after putting up with this. I need more.


Shout outs to the kind people who've commented on my blog. Thanks for reading my stuff; I know there's tons of competition for your eyes. It makes me happy that someone is reading my messages from the Badlands.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Invisible in the my classroom

Today was one those days where you never seem to feel comfortable in your own skin. I got up late because my alarm clock never went off and I never got back that missing hour. Everything was a little off and uncomfortable today and I lacked the feeling of confidence that you get from arriving early, well rested, and fully prepared. Tomorrow will be better. It won't be Monday for a start.

My students, especially the boys, were horrible this afternoon. There were two fights in the classroom before we were 10 minutes into math. Students were throwing paper and other junk around the room. They wouldn't stop talking. They ignored everything. I hate that more than anything. I hate feeling invisible in my classroom.

Tonight's night class was too long and too boring to believe. I looked out the window and watched the freight trains pulling out of the switchyard and watched the sun set in a magnificent burst of purple, orange, and yellow.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Miles to go before I sleep

I'm in the center of a vortex of reflection papers for my masters class, lesson plans for tomorrow, and who knows what else. Yet another day that was spent in front of the computer instead of out in the beautiful sun.

I did play some baseball with my daughter at the local ball field, so today was not a total wash. She wore her batting helmet all day long. So cute.

One more project to complete before dinner. A teacher's work is never done.

Saturday, April 09, 2005


Saturdays are wonderful, especially when they are sunny and warm like it was today. I'm slowly recharging after the week's excitement. It's much easier to recharge with the Forsythia in bloom and a cold beer in hand. Teaching makes me so tired. It's more mentally and physically draining than any job I've ever had. I fall asleep at stoplights on the way home from work sometimes. The people that say we teachers have it so easy are full of beans. Try being responsible for 38 people. Try it in any district in the world for a week and give me a call if you're awake.

I'm listening to "Over the Edge" by the Wipers as I write. What a great neglected album.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Good times!

Today was a pretty good day. It usually goes like this. Things get better and better and by the end of the week the kids are just starting to get on track and then the weekend happens. Monday morning will be a brand new week for them. Everything will be new and they will have forgotten everything.

Even though we lost our recess because of rain and lost our prep because of PSSA testing, I really had fun. I do love my students but rarely have time to enjoy them. Usually they are beating the Hell out of each other or something equally stupid. Today they were like 4th graders and I enjoyed being with them. They ask me interesting questions. I was able to joke with them and be myself.

I enjoy making up goofy sentences for our spelling tests, giving out prizes for good behavior, and helping the kids with their long division. Days like this make me happy to be alive and happy to be a teacher whether they listen for long or not.

I bought a whole bunch of comix and hit the gym on the way home. Payday and the weekend!

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Zero tolerance? You're kidding, right?

There’s a lot of anger in my school.  One of my students told me “I’m going to throw you out the window you baldheaded motherf&$er!” Nice.  I sent him to the discipline room immediately.  I got his response for asking him repeatedly to do nasty stuff like sit down, quiet down, get out a pencil, and get out a notebook.  I found out that this boy recently beat a cat to death with a baseball bat for kicks.  Last year he destroyed a classroom.  Warning signs anybody?  Why is this boy here?  I don’t want to get in the way of his education but he needs to be somewhere other than our school.  Every day this boy has a tantrum, refuses to work, throws things, destroys things, and is verbally and physically disruptive.  What’s it going to take?

The boy was back after 30 minutes.  This really undermines my tenuous hold on discipline in the classroom.  We have a zero tolerance policy at our school but it’s a joke.  It’s supposed to apply to threats, intimidation, fighting, and play fighting.  No one has been zero toleranced out of our school this year.  I ought to know.  I’ve had soda cans, bottles, erasers, milk cartons, staplers, the classroom phone, erasers, pencils, pens, wet paper towels, and condoms thrown at me.  I’ve caught more than a few kids red handed.  Have they been expelled or transferred to discipline schools?  Nope.  Have they been given anything more than an overnight suspension?  Nope.  Zero tolerance is a crock.

So much anger in my school and kids will go off over anything or nothing at the drop of a hat.  I’ve had kids ready to clobber each other with chairs over a piece of paper or pencil topper.  They sure look at you funny when you ask them if going to jail for assault and battery is worth it for a used five-cent eraser.  If you weren’t there somebody would go to the hospital for nothing.  So stupid.  We are the only role models some students have.  Their parents will go from zero to 150 over an eraser, too.  It’s so stupid and depressing.

My friend across the hall put things into perspective for me.  “If they wanted us to win they would have set it up differently.”  She’s right.  We have to fight the war with the army we were given (Never thought I’d paraphrase Don Rumsfeld). The school district sets it up like this.  She has 34 students and almost every one of them has profound discipline and emotional problems.  I have 38 students.  At least 20 of them have some kind of profound problem.  It’s a powder keg.  The whole school is packed like this and any moment something awful can happen and usually does.  The school district must like it this way because the more they say it’s changing the more it stays the same.

I heard on All Things Considered tonight that under NCLB they are going to increase to 3% the amount of special education students that can opt out of taking the standardized tests.  That’s a start.  They still want the test scores to go up every year.  I’m not a math guy but at some point this has to become mathematically impossible.  At some point the law of diminishing returns has to take over.  NCLB is a dumb law.  Hopefully it will get the butt kicking it deserves.  It can’t happen soon enough for me.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005


This is a hard job. Besides the classroom stuff there's lots of paperwork and I barely keep up with it all. Sometimes I can't face it. Yesterday, I drew on the sidewalk after school with my daughter. Drawing and pretending to be an astronaut was a nice diversion. You can't think about paperwork when you've got a cardboard box on your head.

We teachers spend a lot of money. I've dropped hundreds at the teacher's store, bookstore, you name it. The dollar store is a wonderful place for teacher stuff. I dropped by mine tonight looking for stuff to replenish our classroom prize box and there was some great stuff - lots of puzzle books, magic tricks, and craft kits. The kids love the magic stuff. I'm keeping a deck of magic cards for myself. I gave away 10 over the last few weeks including my own. Why should the kids have all the fun?

Watching them reminds me of my childhood. I wanted to be Houdini when I was in 4th grade. I would check magic books out of the library and learn tricks. I don't remember any of them. I must have checked Thurston the Great's book out 100 times. Perhaps this summer I'll have some time to practice some? The kids have no idea who Houdini or Thurston were but they are interested in magic, dinosaurs, and playing with dolls. That continuity with the past is nice and sustains you when a eight-year-old kid is calling you a motherf'er and spitting in your face.

I'm listening to an archived show on Whyy's Radio Times about teacher qualifications in Pennsylvania. Betsey Useem from Research for Action keeps saying that No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is the law and has been for some time and that's it. God, it irks me. I wish the show was in real time because I'd call in. NCLB is an awful law for too many reasons to get into this late in the evening. A rich subject for a lot of future posts.

The Phils lost tonight but Washington's Brad Wilkerson hit for the cycle. The cycle is one of the coolest things that can happen in baseball. I was at the Vet when Greg Jeffries hit for the cycle against Nomo on August 25, 1995, and I'll never forget it. It was one of the coolest baseball games I have ever seen. Let's hope some Phils begin to hit for the cycle all over the league. I've got my rally cap on!

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

"Yo, teach where the toilet paper at?" I should have given them a PSSA booklet.

This morning I barely got to work. Signed in late but they hadn't taken away the sign-in sheet. YES! I started out on time but the traffic died on the Ben Franklin Bridge. Franklin was great as a man, but his bridge leaves me hanging on a regular basis. The bridge has a soporific effect that slows things to a crawl. I would feel a little better about being late if there was a payoff at the end of the bridge - a gaping hole eating a semi or a flaming 12-car inferno - instead there's nothing, the traffic just begins moving. No rhyme or reason to it.

We started our PSSA testing today. Just one hour for my 4th graders. It took almost that long to explain the instructions and answer their questions. I prepare them for days in advance and they act like this is the first time they've heard of the PSSA. Why? Just as I'm about to start a teacher coach observer comes in to make sure I've given them everything and covered up every bulletin board, poster, etc. She says "Your children must put away everything but they can make a sheet with everything they remember that they think they will need for the exam. They can write it all quickly and have it with them on their desks." Things were settled and then this woman comes in and stirs everything up. Of course she leaves after saying this. Thirty-eight kids start asking "Mr.? Mr.? Can we use our books to write the sheets? Can we make the sheets? I don't have paper." On and on. Why did this woman come in? Last week we had a meeting about this crib sheet concept. Our administrators said not to do this. This coach was in the meeting sitting across from me. I was happy our principals said not to do the sheets. It might be allowed but it seems dishonest. As soon as she was gone I went right back into getting them settled without crib sheets. Crib sheets be damned.

Why do these teacher coaches exist? What purpose do they serve? My first one was great but she's the only one. I've had two since and they've both been mediocre at best and a pain in the ass at worst. Mostly the latter. I aspire to the teacher coach role. You arrive late each day, leave early, and write notes that no one will ever read. You give the evil eye sometimes. Other times you might offer a tip (this usually coincides with changing the clocks and the batteries in your smoke detector). Mostly, you just say "check the curriculum book" and that's that. The paychecks come by direct deposit. No teaching, no students, no hassles, no schedule, and no accountablilty. Sweet. The school district has hundreds of highly qualified teachers that teach nothing and they're highly paid too. Perhaps things would get better for students if these teachers taught? Just a thought for Paul Vallas if he happens to be reading.

Back to PSSA. Two children in my class cannot speak or write English. They took the English portion of the test this morning. I'm going to make a prediction - they failed. There's a substantial number of kids like this in my school and every one took the test in English. There's something wrong with this picture. No Child Left Behind is really helping somebody somewhere - probably at one of those Republican rubber chicken dinners with Limbaugh or Hannity doing the keynote address. It's not helping poor kids in Philadelphia or kids anywhere for that matter.

PSSA has made a mess of our schedule. We have no preps and the bathroom breaks are not at their correct times because test takers can't be disturbed by kids cueing in the hallway for restrooms. When we finally got to take our kids there was no toilet paper in the girls room. I felt so bad for them. There weren't any replacement rolls so the girls had to make a tricky decision. I don't really blame the school for the toilet paper. The kids destroy the bathrooms every day no matter what we teachers try to do. The kids use up all the toilet paper each day. Still, no toilet paper, dirty bathrooms, and an administration that only allows 2 bathroom keys per floor (6 keys for 900 students!) makes for a bathroom disaster almost all the time.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Day from Hell but at least there's baseball!

I'm really burnt. I just got home and it's almost time to go to bed. I've been out of the house since 7:40 a.m. My day of teaching was followed by my night class in West Philly. I need to do some lesson planning but it's not working. My mind is too fried. Teaching all day and then going to a useless masters class is too much. It bugs me to take a class, pay all the money, and have the professor not be able to interpret her own syllabus. Something is wrong with that.

Today was a day from Hell just as I figured it would be. It started easily enough. My students lined up pretty well, came upstairs without problems, and settled down and began writing their morning work. I worked on writing some reminders for a few minutes before I realized how quiet they were. They were writing. I allowed myself to savor the moment because quiet occurs so infrequently in my classroom. I should have left right after savoring the moment because ten minutes later things were out of control and it never settled down - 9-3:09 was like a street fight.

I get so upset about this. I am a teacher whose students don't want to listen to him. They talk all day long. What can I do about it? Everyone says "give them consequences" or "throw them out" or "pick your battles." Pick my battles, huh? I've picked them. I want them to stop talking. The problem is they don't get the message. They don't want to get the message. They aren't even meeting me half way.

At least my other colleagues are having this trouble, too. More howling and banging from the students across the hall. Other students from other grades and floors just run the halls at will.

I teach so little and deal with so much crap. Kids that sit and glower at me for hours. Kids that destroy everything that I give them. Kids that want to kick my ass, threaten me, and push me. I'm sick of it. They don't teach us what to do about this in any of the professional developments from the school district. They should. The School District of Philadelphia is full of kids like this but nobody mentions this or how to deal with them. They should because our classes and schools are filled with these students. Perhaps it's because no one knows how to deal with them? Perhaps no one can? Whatever the reason, no one ever says the words. We never say that the kids are responsible for their actions. We never do anything and nothing gets better. Bottom line, no learning is happening in my class when 20 out of 39 want to screw around at once. No learning would happen for anyone in that environment.

Speaking of learning, we are going to see how much they've learned. Spent all day covering everything on our walls so the students won't get any help for the PSSA tests. PSSA starts tomorrow. Will the ice cream truck pull up next to our window during the test. Will the school police go outside and ask the guy to move?

I'm reading a neat book: Al Capone Does My Shirts. My students should like this one (once I teach them about Alcatraz [how can you not know about Alcatraz?]).

Baseball season is on! Wonder of wonders, the Phils won their opener. I'm going to send good thoughts their way. It's only a matter of time before the wheels come off and come off they surely will.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Sunday night blues

So it's Sunday night and I have not one bit of interest in going to work tomorrow. I have been in a bad mood about it all night. My wife is annoyed with me. My daughter would be too if she weren't 4. We went to a family birthday party and I just sat there stewing the whole time. I didn't want to go to the party because my weekend was filled with stuff I didn't want to do like writing papers for my graduate class and cleaning the house. It rained all day yesterday and today as well. The sun never came out. It's depressing. Baseball season has started and I can't get the game to come in on the radio. Like I said it's depressing. Things have got to change soon. I have a Papa John's pizza and wings on the way. Papa's wings and beer, help me!

It's so hard to come into work anyhow. I teach in North Philadelphia. My students cut me no slack and they are 4th graders. They don't listen to me and have never listened to me. Harry Wong and his First Days of School book have not worked any miracles for me in my classroom. I'm not sure what would work because my rookie butt gets pasted every day. The veterans have the same troubles and this helps me feel better (although not that much better). My across the hall neighbor's students flip every day and there's always a kid howling like a monkey outside her door. Lately, the ice cream truck parks outside our window at 2 p.m. so I have "Jingle Bells" playing on one side of the room and howling monkeys on the other and in the middle I attempt to teach while my kids go bananas. It's a mess.

What am I doing here? Am I making a difference? Am I making things worse? Should I stay? I ask myself these questions each day. I have no idea what the answers are. I wish that my rookie year were going better.