Sunday, September 30, 2007

Watching and learning

I've seen a lot of things that suburbanites don't usually see this week. I was writing about yelling last week and how I thought things might escalate into shooting. This was a traffic stop that I was witnessing. I heard loud shouting and thought "fight." Well, it was but between a guy in a car with the window down and the cop with the ticket book looking down on him. There was a Philly cop that was shot in the face with a sawed-off shotgun at a traffic stop the day before. It was on my mind as I watched the shouting before I got away from there. My kids talk about their parents and their exchanges with police. Usually, they talk about rude behavior, screaming, disrespect, and sometimes watching their parent leave in the police car. They describe the things they say or family and friends say in low-risk situations like being pulled over. The things they say are things I don't even think when around police. It's no wonder they get a nightstick in the kisser or a free ride in the police car. Their words turn a simple situation into an enormous confrontation. I'm like, "Yes sir, I was very wrong sir, yes sir, you want my license, no problem, anything you want, sorry I'm so slow, thanks for the expensive ticket, may I have another?" I'm not excusing bad behavior, bad behavior on the part of police sometimes, or having a police record. I'm just a white boy finding meaning in a world I visit for teaching but a world that is now a bit of me. I'm slowly learning.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Beauty of the Guided Reading Folder

I wrote a song in honor of my successful week: "The Beauty of the Guided Reading Folder". I'm going to put up an MPEG of it when I can.

The beauty of the guided reading folder. (2x)

Em G D Em

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. (2x)

Em G D Em

Turn it up to 11 and make it stupid, dirty, and repetitious.

I'm in a fabulous mood. Of course there's too much work, but that's the teacher's lot, right? I'm taking a break from paperwork to write to you, the lovely readers of my blog. I'm enjoying my new school. I'm getting a modicum of respect. I'll jump through a hoop of fire for a bit of respect from a supervisor. I don't need more money. I just need a kind word or a knowing tip of the hat. Why don't more people understand that? I see it every day with my kids. Give a kid a bit of a break or a job or a kind word and they change a bit. Browbeat them, intimidate them, put your hands on them, or yell at them and you've blown the whole thing. It's very easy as a newbie to yell. New teachers yell much more than veterans. Once you gain that perspective and get ahead of the wave, you get better. The administrators that make intimidation, shame, and physicality their currency are that floating stuff that needs to be flushed down.

Back to the paperwork. Thanks for reading. Enjoy my song and send your royalties right here.

The Irony!

I drove up to North Jersey the other night for a meeting at Seton Hall about charter schools. I was stuck in traffic on South Orange Avenue and this man begins backing through the four lanes of traffic. He's on foot coming from the basketball courts across the way. I'm wondering why this guy is backing up and hoping that I don't run him over and then I look over and see the reason the guy's backing is the man in front of him is brandishing a big knife. He doesn't want to turn his back because he doesn't want that knife in his back. I'm inching toward this. There's nowhere to go. I just start laughing at the irony. What else to do? I've driven from my school's dangerous inner city neighborhood to Newark only to be involved in more inner city mayhem. I've actually driven 95 miles and paid turnpike and parkway tolls to get to this spot. What a life I lead as a teacher. I escaped from the knife wielding maniacs and got to my meeting in time to buy a Seton Hall t-shirt and score a beer and some hot dog bites. Ate some White Castle on the way back.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

On the way to work...

I was driving to work this morning and about a block from my school there's a lady walking down the street. She is looking from side to side and dressed in a belly shirt. She looks out of place and looks suspicious. There's been this BMW driving erratically around me on the way in as well. The BMW has been driving slowly, weaving in and out of the lane, speeding up, and driving up to the curb. So I pass this woman and the BMW slows. I look in my rear view mirror and the woman is talking to the BMW. Hmm. A little prostitution? It's not just for breakfast anymore. What a neighborhood. This is about 500 feet from the school. I haven't seen any drug busts lately. In the past I've had to slow to allow the squad of ATF men to run across the street with battering ram. Someone was about to get arrested. Later today, there was a huge altercation across the street from where I park. I was leaving and in the corners of my mind there's this voice saying "get ready to hit the deck if this stuff gets out of hand." What an environment to work in. I only work here. My kids inhabit this environment.

On another front, I am so tired lately. I'm burning the candle at both ends. I can't catch myself up this week. Meetings, meetings, and more meetings to eat our time, too. Enough with the meetings, administration!

Sunday, September 23, 2007


Another Sunday night turning into Monday morning and not being able to get to sleep....

Why? I'm ready for tomorrow. Just can't seem to shut down....

Saturday, September 22, 2007


Another week in the books. My kids are still pretty good. There's some annoying behavior starting to surface, especially from the girls in the class. Girls love the drama. Everything is turned up to 11. Everything. My theory is they are imitating what they see at home and in their neighborhood environment. Everything there is street Shakespeare-style high drama at high volume - sex, drugs, guns, fire trucks, big chains, loud music, and big rims.

There is much to celebrate, though. Things are still very positive. My kids love to read. They beg for their independent reading time. The essential question is how do we keep that positivity and keep reading when it isn't material that they care about: eg, the curriculum? How do we keep it positive when reading is the essential part of understanding word problems? Word problems bring up another important set of questions that stem from the basic red-pen diagnostic. My kids read but their comprehension skills are absolutely not there. Their vocabulary skills are not there. They are good word callers but they don't understand what they are reading. How do I get their comp skills up and not destroy their natural interest in reading?

On another note, I'm transferring vinyl records to my iTunes as I work on this blog and other things. I'm listening to a record called Smallmouth by an under appreciated Columbus band, Scrawl. I haven't listened to this record in about 15 years. I forgot how good it is. Brings back wonderful cigarette hazy memories of the Khyber Pass. This ought to be available on CD. Are you listening Rough Trade?

Monday, September 17, 2007

A good Monday.

My kids were good today. Mondays are tough because it's hard for the children to transition from their world back to the shared school world. I'm happy that they can be so good. My classes in previous schools were not so great on Monday's or any other days for that matter.

I'm getting nervous about upcoming observations. I have nothing to worry about but it still gets to you. Some stage fright. Dread of administrators, too. I have very little positive experience to draw from where administrators come in.

Time for bed. I'll dream sweet dreams of completed homework and delicious sloppy joes.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Savoring it.

I'm up too late tonight, but my work is done. I've corrected my papers. Things are looking up. I'm on top of my endless wave of student work. I'm soaking this moment in. It could be the last time this year. Eventually, the work buries you.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Lesson Plans in the Can!

I just finished up my lesson plans. It was a beautiful day. I viewed it though the window as I typed on the laptop. I set up a wireless network at my house first. So it is a bittersweet day. I was able to type in my sunny back room instead of in the dungeon-like office. The magic of wireless internet service is the bomb. The data just zooms invisibly through the air. Amazing! God, I sound like a friggin' dummy. I'm sure someone's reading this saying "that rookie schoolteacher's brain must be made of cornmeal mush." Writing lessons for five hours kind of has that effect. I am done on a Saturday and that's a great thing. I can enjoy the rest of my precious weekend. In previous years, I was grumpily writing lessons until the wee hours of Monday morning. I wouldn't teach half of the stuff anyhow because the awful behavior of the kids derailed most of the lessons.

Tomorrow will be fun. I'm going to hunt for used books for the classroom library. My kids read and have requests. I'm looking for basketball stuff, some basic stuff for my low reader, Super Diaper Baby and Captain Underpants, any relationship fiction stuff for girls, and High School Musical. What's more fun than buying books?

Friday, September 14, 2007

It's the weekend.

Hello, everyone. I've had a wonderful week with my kids. I haven't said that in years. I have a great group of kids. I enjoy teaching them. I can't wait to get back and try new things with them. Having students that don't want to kill me is a soothing tonic. No one throws desks at me. No one throws punches at me. I'm not used to this.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Almost nostalgic

I was at work much too long today. We had afterschool meetings. I was going to do lesson planning tonight but instead I drank a beer and watched TV with the wife. A dumb movie and a beer is a great thing after a long day. Yes, I know, I should have planned the whole next week's lessons and then read Proust. Sorry, Margaret Spellings.

I am impressed with my kids. I've never had such a smart class. Not since student teaching in the suburbs. These kids know stuff. We worked on subjects and predicates today. Classes in the past would look at me like I'd sprouted another head when we'd go over this stuff. "Predicate? His sister live up around the way. Predicate use to go up at Stetson. Got his ass thrown out." My kids are different. "Ate is the predicate. Ate the sandwich is the complete predicate." My new school is a whole different ballgame. I'm not used to somewhat respectful kids with prior knowledge. To quote from the book of parentspeak, "I think I done died and gone to heaven." I'm almost bit nostalgic for being told to go f@#% myself before I lock up my car in the parking lot. Almost.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

There's not enough time in the world...

I have so many ideas and so many things to do and not enough time. Being a teacher is a major undertaking. The old saw is teachers have it easy. Let me disabuse you of that line of thinking right now. We have so many things to do. I teach all the subjects and that means planning, teaching, and grading all the subjects. That's about a zillion papers over the course of the year. Add in all the other business to keep up on and now you're up to a jillion papers. There's meetings, parent nights, phone calls home, pretzel sales, etc. Each of these requires a file and papers and more meetings. Remember that big warehouse at the end of the first Indiana Jones movie? That's where it all goes at the end of the year.

Seriously, I have about 500 things a day to keep up on and if I get to 100 then it's a pretty good day. If you see a teacher give them a big kiss on the lips and then say "let's get you to Staples, the copies and supplies are on me." You'll be doing a big service.

Over and out. Time to correct more papers.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

I'm Back, Baby!

It's official. I have returned to write more missives from the belly of the beast that is public school education. I'm at a different school. No more yucky principal from Hell busting my balls. Thank God I don't have to hear the wind whistling through that moron's bald head anymore. I'm reading a cool kid's book tonight, The Flunking of Joshua T. Bates by Susan Shreve. I love kid's lit.

I'm really tired the past few days. I haven't been sleeping too well for whatever reason and once you get behind that's it.

My class is pretty good. I have a few talkative girls. There's also some self esteem issues specific to the inner city. We are reluctant to start work. We mumble. We pout. We must get in the last word. It's manageable. We need to get pumped up and motivated. We'll do it.

Ah, it's good to be back. Now on to planning my lessons for next week.