Friday, December 19, 2008



see you all in two weeks!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

the month of december is the craziest month

so says my mentor teacher. J. must be right, because the kids, in recent days, at least some of them, have gotten really out of sorts. why is december the craziest month? well, the holidays (christmas, for them, i suppose) are coming up, and what does that mean? it's money crunch time. it's present shopping time. it's family they never want to see, and family they might be reminded of that they just can't see. i don't know. the kids. it's strange. what i got myself into is the drama that has unfolded (YOU'RE RUINING OUR FRIENDSHIP!) (BUT I DIDN'T SAY ANYTHING!) (YOU KNOW IT'S CAUSE YOU LIKE R.!) (BUT I DON'T...I MEAN I DID...BUT I DON'T NO MORE). sixth grade girls.

bullying is: stealing I.'s stuff and hiding it. ripping the shower curtain open while she's in it (gym). spreading rumors. nasty, nasty stuff going on. girls are mean. do guys do shit like this? i hope not! although boy bullies sure are nasty, themselves.

all that left me just completely and utterly drained. i was so involved in trying to get things settled and straight and just dumbfounded by all the shit that was flying out of the bullies' mouths and the poor look on I.'s face. it cut into my actual teaching time. actually, it cut into ALL of my teaching time. it was ridiculous--i left J. there with no idea of what i was actually doing, and i'm sure she reached into the far corners of her butt and pulled out what she could. it seemed to work: the kids presented what needed to be done, and everyone is more ahead in that class than my other class. that leads me into a nice segue into...

my two classes: 208 and 203. i imagined that both were going to be very, very hard to manage. 208 worse than 203, for some reason. it seems it's been the opposite. 203 is my ADHD class, and 208 my behavioral/strong personality class. well, it seems like 208's been really great to me. attentive, participatory; they want to express their ideas; they do their homework (!!); and my strong personalities have changed in the past few days, so i'm pretty happy about that. 203, like i said, has been my terrible, no good, very not nice class to me recently. they've been very loud, disrespectful, and distracted several days. well, yesterday, something might have clicked: E.'s mom was in the class right before E. came in from gym. he must've been extremely surprised! he had no clue about it. i had a talk with her afterward, and gave her notice of the homework for the night: to read a poem and write a paragraph, etc. seems to've worked: today he was attentive (although still a bit distracted by his ID chain), and involved in the conversation about the poem. he's wicked smart, this one, and all he needs to do is buckle down and focus. and focus he did this afternoon (at the end of the day, no less!). the story:

the class was their usual selves. and i was having trouble, and absolute trouble getting them to quiet down when someone or i was talking. so, i remembered something that worked amazingly in gym, and with J. at one point: one full minute of total silence. strangely enough, it worked amazingly. amazingly! people were talking, and i kept adding minutes, announcing it as the talk continued (GROAAAAN...COME ON!!!). when J. came back into the room, she said she could hear a pin drop. after three minutes, i passed out sheets for the different assignments we're doing based on the webquest on "surviving adolescence." i gave a small talk about how i had the power right now because i was speaking, and that when i have that power, all eyes should be on me, the room silent, because i am controlling the room now. i read the sheet of paper in utter silence (!!!) and calmly told the students, two by two, to get their laptops and to log onto the website. E. was doing marvelously, and T., who also is a source of trouble 'cause of his spaced-outtedness and general unapologetic attitude toward his actions (or complete unawaredness of said actions), was doing extremely well, too! the day ended excellently, and i was quite happy with the outcome. so, that class went very, very well. let's hope tomorrow's the same story!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

growing pains

it's been a bit of a while since i last posted. but there have been many things that've come up. the boy who i had "the talk" with has seemed to start confiding in me, and i think wants to hang out with me during lunch time. this is extremely flattering!!! i mean, come on! who doesn't want to hang out with this kid? he's mischievous and a little troubled by certain things at home--like i alluded to in my last post--but he's pretty nice when we get to regular facts. he's actually very nice. at what point, i'm wondering, is being a confidant too much? not now, at least, because it seems like he wants to talk to me, tell me things about his life, i'm guessing.

tomorrow i read a poem on the school's tv station (we have one! pretty neat, eh?). i'm announcing that in january, i'll be absolutely on about students reading poems on the station as well. if not, i'll keep reading them. but the idea is that students want to read, and they should, and should practice with me as well--after school or during lunch, etc. i hope this thing goes on. if not, then i'll just pick 'em and read each week. i mean, i don't mind it.

i broke down in one of my grad classes yesterday: i'm having a tough time with my mentor teacher. Ms. B is actually a wonderful teacher. but, she's organized in a way i am not experienced enough to be organized, if that makes sense. basically, she's too experienced, and hasn't trained me or given me any guidance or feedback on my teaching, when i do teach. so, i finally swallowed my embarrassment and overwhelmed self and went to talk to her. i told her some (emphasis on the italics...there are lots) of my concerns with her--especially on feedback, and she said she absolutely agreed. in fact, she had finally realized this as she read my journal (i know, i know, you keep too many journals, andrew, come on!)-cum-lesson -planner that mentioned me wanting to do my own thing (in terms of always coming into class not knowing what the lesson of the day is going to be...this happened a lot...i wanted to begin to make my own lessons), and then independently realized she wasn't giving any feedback. so, the conversation has begun and will continue, i think, all next week, when she gives me feedback on the different things that i need to know. for example:
  • handling discipline in the classroom
  • classroom management and redirection approaches
  • delivery of content
  • time management
  • clarity of thoughts/expressing thoughts or explanations
  • learning targets
  • do i teach to a certain side of the room?
  • individual attention--too much, too little?
  • accomodating kids with IEPs
those are just a few that i could think of, for now. i'm sure there's more. we'll see how things go. but for now, the process is going forward, which is good. now all i need to do is get all the many, many papers i need to write out of the way this weekend. yikes.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

the talk

"the world is terrible!" says one of my students. well, technically, he's not one of my students. but he knows me, just like all sixth graders in six land know me. "the world is terrible!" this is after all of the students go for lunch. something's been bothering him all day long. it's come to a head, and my teacher (i've come to say "my teacher" for my supervising teacher--it's much easier to say) isn't there. i guess it's now or never.

"what's wrong?" i ask.
"everything!" he answers.
what's everything? i think. "what's everything?"
"everything!" he says.

i realize this is going to become a guessing game, so i have to pull something out my butt. i asked about his grades, if he's disappointed in them. he says yes. but that's not it. is it family? parents yell at you about grades? no. is it about your brother? i hit it. yes.

the conversation goes on this way, and i glean some of the information from student. he's got an older brother, who he looks up to. he wrote about his brother in a creative piece a while ago. he's a light in an otherwise bleak dark spot, it seems. now they're not speaking. maybe i should've gone deeper, but i know they're both not calling each other. i haven't gotten into the root of the problem, but i start to give advice based on my own experience. how sometimes the other person doesn't realize they're causing you pain by not talking. sometimes both parties don't realize what's important; they forget. all it needs is a little push--an email, a call--from one person to remind the other of what's important.

i guessed that was the problem. i tell this to my sister, a social worker (she's just come home for thanksgiving) and she told me that was the wrong thing to do. or, at least, on a legal standpoint, it wasn't something i should've done. i can't tell them to do something because what if it causes problems; what if i had guessed wrong and there was a real good reason they weren't speaking to each other? the best thing i could ever say is to have him talk to his parents to see if it would be ok to call the brother. it's a family issue, keep it within the family, i suppose. it's not my call. the kid's only a sixth grader, afterall. the best thing i could every do is simply listen.

what a tough situation to be in. it's a good lesson, to learn, i suppose. to just keep my mouth shut and listen instead of give advice. sometimes no advice is best. maybe moreso on a legal standpoint. but then again, is it ok to give advice? or who am i to tell a kid what to do, or what they should do? i'm leaning towards following my sister on this one. she's always been the wiser one about these kinds of things, anyway. but i put it out to the public: to advise or not advise?

Friday, November 14, 2008


whether you believe in it or not is one thing; to actually experience it (ADHD or just hyper-activity) as a problem in your classroom is another story. i have--will have--three students in one class (two for sure, at least) who have ADHD/hyper activity. all three are extremely off-task, and have the discipline/redirection memory of a goldfish (pretty much a little more than 3 seconds (after some quick wikipedia research)). they act out to impress each other sometimes, or just act out.

my teacher has worked out a deal with one of the kids: he concentrates for 20 minutes, he can leave for 5 to get a drink of water, take a walk, whatever. he's upheld the deal for the most part. the other has a hard time since he's bullied. i think part of his acting out is that, and also his general notion that he has to be funny in class. that's what he had confessed to us, anyway, when we (i should say my teacher, because i am sometimes so in awe of her ability to care for the kids that i stand there dumb and shushed-up) (she says it's cause she's a mother) had a talk with him and his friend. the other kid is just out of this world. he put a lock in his mouth--a locker lock. i mean. i mean, really. sixth grade? kid's a space cadet. and yet, he wants a reward system to tell him that he's doing well so he'll focus! is that possible? will that happen? i wonder.

my question is: how do i deal with this triple threat? when it becomes unleashed, the wrath of hyper-hell comes upon us. when they're focused, they are on. it's a rare occasion, but it happens:

"MAKE DIRECTIONS AS EASY TO FOLLOW AS POSSIBLE. Always have the students attention before starting to introduce something new. Give students time to beging homework in class before they leave to help answer questions that could arise.

MONITOR PROGRESS. Look at the students assignment notebooks and/or folders on a regular basis to make sure they are doing what they are suppose to. Ask them to tell you about the goals they have for some of their assignments, feelings about your class, ect..

USE ALTERNATIVE ASSESSMENTS TO MEASURE LEARING. Don't rely only on the traditional standardized tests where you sit for a long time and fill in bubbles. To an ADHD student that could be tourture. Try such ideas as orally giving a test, projects like discussed earlier, ect.. "

think these things work? how do i assess writing if it won't work? although, writing doesn't seem to be too much of a problem with these kids. keeping them writing might be. does it work?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

a follow-up for names

calling Paola Paola now--i wonder what kind of effect that's had? i call her that, but there's no smile on her face or anything. do i take this to heart, or do i just chalk it up to that's just how it'll be?

i don't remember what it was like to be a sixth grader. when something pleased me, did i just as soon turn my back to it? or if not turn my back to it, just not show as much enthusiasm?

either way, i still like calling her Paola. it makes me smile.

turn arounds

it's insane to see how little turn-around you get when you give a talk to some of your students. even regular redirection.

i have a class. the class that makes me worry because i don't exactly see the kind of dynamics that play out. there are a few kids who can be on-task, there are a few kids who are very on-task, and then there are the extremely hyper and plain disruptive kids. these four children are the ones that bring down the system. they destroy the dynamics of the class, and create a culture of disruption because they feed off of each other, which in turns allows the others to feed off of that energy. the class ends in a big quilombo (a big mess in argentine spanish), and i end up looking like my top is going to blow.

i've tried to get some of my students (two, in particular) to strike a deal with me: you fulfill such and such criteria, and i will allow you to sit in a certain place. you say that sitting next to certain people will allow you to concentrate better than sitting alone, then i'll let you do it. but you abuse that, and all privilege is taken away. i feel as though they understand this. they know what to do, but they still ignore it. they're so into impressing each other with fart noises (something i myself enjoy, which takes all the fun out of it), belching, and side conversations that they blatantly forget what it is their original task is supposed to be as well as the deal they struck with me.

discipline and redirection does not work. i find myself calling them out on the stuff they pull--today i called one kid out about calling another kid stupid, or some such insult. i asked, in a very, very harsh voice, "tell me why you think that was appropriate. why? why was saying ____ appropriate? tell me why you're disrupting my class with those outbursts." and just kept on insisting until the "ummm..." stopped and he said i don't know. and then i turned into a calm, low voice and continued. i say it as if it were that simple, but it's never that simple.

i sometimes survey my classes and think to myself: i just don't know what to do right now. and i honestly don't. they expect me to act a certain way because that's how i've been acting up until now. how do i break that mold? one of those disruptive kids, while i started to look like my top was going to blow, said to everyone, "oh he's going to yell! 5...4...3...2..." what do you do with this? what do you do with so many different challenges in one single room without your head spinning?

on the plus side, we're doing robert frost! the road not taken leads to strawberry jam and peanut butter sandwiches.

Friday, October 31, 2008

names are important

a quick story about names:

there is a girl whose name is p. every pronounces it as if it were the illegal payoffs that radios used to do (and maybe still do? corporations? anyone?), payola. she's most certainly latina, and so i wonder why she doesn't correct teachers or anyone, really, when they pronounce it strangely (in my head, i always think it's a gringo pronunciation).

i saw her in advisory (i believe i've explained what advisory is before), and asked her to come over for a second.

"P.," i said to her, "how do you pronounce your name? Like P. or P. [latin sounding]?"

she looked at me, her eyes lighting up just a bit and a small smile on her face, and said, "Both."

"Which do you prefer?" i asked. she shrugged.

i said ok and went about my business checking this blog, checking my other one, editing some poetry, looking other poems and whatever until the end of the block. suddenly she comes up to me and says, "Which one do you like?" and i told her P. she ran back, almost skipping, and i think i saw a smile.

interesting how important a name is. i hate to say it, but my methods teacher was absolutely correct about names--we had to write a "where I'm from" poem and before that speak about our own names, where they come from, how we feel about them, etc. like it or dislike it, you have a name and it's important for teachers to know it, and know it right. judging by the way she smiled and ran off, i think i just took an important step toward something, who knows what, with this girl just by pronouncing her name correctly. it must've meant something.

the teacher's out of the room blues

i've started to feel much more comfortable as a teacher in this room (i'm at school as i write this), and i announced which classes i'll be taking over to the kids. i did it through a powerpoint presentation, really, of what school i graduated from (GW, naturally), how i taught in santiago, chile (the kids were extremely impressed with the spanish, at least in one class--the other collapsed on me out of hyperidity and utter lack of self-control), and where i've traveled, and that now i'm at Duggan Middle!

today the teacher is out of the room, and i'm certainly not alone. i'm with a competent sub, and i really don't need to be here. she's wicked nice, and knows how to handle the kids to the T. anyways, the teacher is out and i don't have much to do but observe. which might actually be a good idea now that i think about it.

still this laziness in some of the students. still this apparent disregard for the apologies that they say not two minutes before they start acting up again. what seems like sincere apologies. it's pretty insane. you just don't know what the hell they're thinking, sometimes. really strange.

Friday, October 24, 2008

mtel english subject test

i passed it, baby!!! one down, one to go!

ups and downs once more

from one day to the other is like new england weather: it's never constant. how is it that group work can be so efficient one day, and the next is a train wreck? maybe there are other strategies? how do you figure this stuff out?

i took a leadership position away from a girl who was supposedly "facilitator" of a group--because, quite frankly, she wasn't going to do the work. she shut down completely. another kid wouldn't do his work because he was tired and hungry. how do you counter-act something like that?

maybe more insight will come as the day rolls by.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

los caminos de la vida (life's paths) or, ups and downs

yesterday was a terrible day. as my teacher was debriefing me of the different challenges that i am facing in choosing which classes i will inevitably take over, my vision started to get edgy. no hyperventilating, but i was not focusing. i was overwhelmed.

the problem was, i had a class collapse on me. a very difficult class, and one whose scores on their interim assessments (progress tests we give every five weeks that don't count towards their grades, but give us an indication on where they are according to our standards, etc) were terrible. most, if not all, were feeling quite dumb. the class collapsed: loud, disruptive, inattentive, and above all, just all over the place with not following directions and other things. one of the kids left the classroom so upset, she cried. that class in general just won't have it some days, and others are far more balanced and easy to get together. the class collapsed.

all this, piled on top of a day of "is this the class i really want to tackle?" angst and indecision. i felt myself becoming more and more uncomfortable with the lesson i was teaching--modeled by the teacher for a block, and then taken over by me. overwhelming. i didn't have a plan, and barely time to adjust. i swallowed hard, and then came the next class.

is this the life of a teacher? venting session upon session came to me at any opportunity i clamored for: during grad class, to a friend (who i must call) (a classmate), to another friend, and advice given by my big sister. i organized myself a bit, and made a small pro and con list of things (since when am i so organized? i'll never know) that i know to be true about one class. i lay in my bed under the sheets, warm, except for a slight draft (my nose'd be cold in the morning, for sure). i rationalized to myself a few things, sighed, felt a little more resolved and slept.

today, i decided to take on a new tactic. i'm still experimenting, after all. i didn't raise my voice in the least. i didn't panic. i stayed at a low, steady decibal, and didn't dare raise it another notch. i told my first class (by the way, i haven't mentioned this, but my mentor teacher was out at a workshop in the library all day, and a sub was there. officially, i was told not to do anything, maybe, at most, set the sub up. i didn't do that. i don't know if that's good or bad. in fact, i held back the last block just to let the poor guy do his job. this is something i have to hold back on, for sure, next time. it ain't my job to take over like i did. but it just happened) that i had decided that i wasn't going to raise my voice at all, and i kept saying things like, "i'm just going to keep talking until i have eyes on me, until q. [one of the students] stops hitting himself with his folder, until i have silence." and it worked!!!! how? i haven't a clue. but with every class it worked. maybe it won't another time, but damn. anyways, the idea behind today was group work. i've never seen them work so well with each other. their groups were settled and working, reading aloud to each other in group voices, and working on every question needed. my toughest kids were the hardest workers. i'd like to repeat that: my toughest kids were the hardest workers.

it hit me: what these kids need is structure. they need clear directions, and an environment where they can work together. otherwise, everything just begins to fall apart. the lesson must engage them both as individuals, but also as groups. i think, if i can balance them between individual work and group work, that this thing will be more of a cakewalk than diving into the batter before it's mixed, like i thought yesterday. whatever that metaphor means. maybe it's not as easy as it seemed. it most definitely isn't. but what worked well was group work and structure--they picked team leaders who kept everyone in check and focused, and everything worked fantastically. i'm going to experiment soon with this. let's see if this can be replicated!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

i'm not black and i'll never be, epilogue

looking over at what i had written yesterday, and having told the story again to my urban education teacher and feeling a few tears coming to my eyes, and real worry beat my forehead, i'd like to comment a bit further on this whole subject.

as i spoke to my urban education teacher about this today, i started to choke up a bit. i really won't relate to them like that, ever, i told her. no, she said, you will in some way. but you're noticing the differences; and i can see it on your face.

my face: furrowed, heavy, sudden, unhappy.

i don't feel great about this; it worries me a lot that, makes me wonder if i will relate to them at all about certain things. it felt like loss, i wrote last night. that's a very abstract thing, loss. but you know how it feels, don't you? how your chest feels punched, not by a fist, but by the bottom end of a metal bucket; and gutless, not in the sense that you're a chicken or scared, just gutless. you feel not so great. for moment, my head sunk down into this, and then i was out of it. i'm over-blowing it, perhaps, but it certainly felt like a sinking moment.

i'm trying to think how i can develop relationships with these kids. maybe i'm a little too eager. one step at a time, after all. next week i have to plan something about the children's rights packet they've been reading for the past two weeks or so. it's a craft project, but i want to make it interesting and personalized. why should they want to do this, is really the question that i want to ask myself when i plan this lesson? what the hell is so special about this, or maybe: how can i make this special enough that they'll be interested in it.

tomorrow i study for the MTEL, the teacher's exam. saturday, i take it. let's hope i can define what a participle is!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

i'm not black and i never will be

is what, after a little while, has sunk into my eyes and gut after a long day at school today. i taught. i taught four classes non-stop, with some help from the sub here and there, and with help from the paraprofessional (just so we know, a para is an aide to kids with disabilities--this one is very personable, seems to know a lot of the kids, and is pretty old school in terms of disciplining in a tough-but-fair way, i suppose...i'm not quite sure of all this stuff quite yet, but let's move on to the story) during one class.

the idea was simple: have the class read two pages and have them make 10 multiple choice questions if there's time. i kinda thought to myself...10 multiple choice questions is going to take a long, long time--let's bag it, and do a discussion. much easier. and more of my strong point, i think, although it's certainly something i need to hone in on.

the real boom moment--when my own sense of self was completely tipped--something clicked--i'm not quite sure how describe it--a sinking feeling, a deep sinking, a terrible sense, almost like loss. the para, the aide, took over my class once he entered the room. it was fine. i didn't mind; he's a nice guy, and absolutely good enough to take over a discussion such as this, talking about children's rights, and what that all means to them, women and men's differences (wonderful discussion bout that), and hiring situations. i pulled it all together to get back into the whole "rights" thing, and then, as we were talking about adults and interskate 91 (a roller rink) and gunshots on boston road, boom it hit me how absolutely alienated i was and am from their experiences. they could want to go to rollerskate, and suddenly hear gunshots. i do not live in springfield, i thought. i'm totally sheltered. that was one.

soon, the conversation turned back to rights, and the para---like i said, a black guy, really nice, funny, serious, too---turned his language completely around, and stopped talking to them like an adult in school and started speaking like a black man, a peer, like how now it were suddenly real, like he had said when he started to speak as if he were speakin to you on the street. and then boom again: i'm not black. i'll never be black. and i won't ever be able to relate to the kids just like this para did.

i said it felt like loss. only now it does. really, i just felt alienated for a second, and strange. i'll never relate to them on that level. that's what race is about, i guess. maybe i'm starting to get it.