Friday, March 23, 2018

A Day in the Life of a Selfish Teacher with a Thug Mentality



Yep, I admit it. I selfishly spent a lot of my summer getting my classroom ready for my students. That's what people with a thug mentality do.

In 2002, I abandoned my dreams of making it as a playwright, director, and actor in NYC to become a public school teacher. I put in my notice at my non-profit office manager day job that both paid well and was fairly easy to do to enter into the New York City Teaching Fellows program, a program akin to Americorps that helps people transition from other careers into teaching, where my pay was nearly cut in half and my hours nearly doubled.

I made a conscious choice to enter into this career.

I’ve been reminding myself of that often, in order to prevent myself from slipping into a victimhood mindset. You can’t be a victim if you chose to be in the position you’re in, right?

But hearing the way my state’s governor – a man I did not vote for and who only came into power because too many people abstained from voting (a sin I find hard to forgive) – describes teachers has been pretty hurtful. He’s referred to those of us in my profession who’ve put money into our pension fund religiously and demand that our government not overhaul the retirement plan we were promised as selfish and having a thug mentality.



And sadly, I think there are many out there who agree with him. Teachers are vilified constantly, blamed for pretty much every societal failing you can imagine. People who have a vague or false understanding of how our retirement system works think we’re trying to steal money that wasn’t ours, which is totally false.

So, I’d like to present to you a day in the life of a teacher. This is my solemn promise to you, readers. This is not a pity party. This will not go on and on about how wonderful I am. There will be humor injected into this. This will be enlightening to you if you’re not a teacher, relatable to you if you are. Do I secretly hope Matt Bevin will read this, have a change of heart, cry and recant his earlier statement, then throw out his dangerous bill? 100% yes. But I know this will more than likely be more of a therapy session for me that is read by 5 of my friends who already empathize with me anyway. So be it.

*****

I’ve hit snooze on my alarm too many times. 5:30 is when I should wake up, but it tends to be closer to 6. It’s hard to pull away from my 4 year old, who sandwiches himself between my husband and me every night and is the World’s Best Snuggler.

It’s pitch black outside and everyone else is asleep. I use the dimmest lights possible, so as to let my son, my 9 year old daughter, my husband, and my dog get as much sleep as they can. The cat is wide awake, so he uses this opportunity to weave between my legs and nearly cause me to fall to my death down the stairs.

I kiss all their heads and say the silent prayer that I do every day, that they will each be safe in their individual schools (my husband is training to be a teacher, too). This is a prayer I share with so many these days.

I get my large travel mug of coffee and insulated lunch bag filled with leftovers, throw my canvas bag with The Little Prince on it that my best friend bought me filled with graded papers and my laptop over my shoulder, and head out.

I get to work by 7am. I sign in at the front office and pretend to be a morning person (that theater degree comes in so handy). I make sure my copies and PowerPoint and board notes are in place.

I hear the hordes of 6th graders make their way up the stairwell at 7:25. I stand in the hallway and greet them, many of them by name. For some, this will their first and maybe only positive interaction of the day. Some want a hug, some want to tell me about their evening, some have questions about their missing work. Again, I pretend to be a morning person and chat with them, all the while scanning the locker-going kids to make sure nobody has brought a weapon in or is harassing another student or is sneaking a contraband cell-phone to class or is about to get into a fight.

Class starts. I take attendance while the students get started on their daily grammar practice. I stand next to the kid whose 504 plan states that he needs extra prompting in order to do his work. I gently remind my student on the spectrum to put her book away and get started. I peek at my student who recently lost his grandmother to see if he’s crying again today.

The phone rings. The office says a parent has called with a question about Friday’s field trip. The one I sent notices out about a month and a half ago. The one we’ve talked about daily. The parent wants to know if they can join us, but they didn’t check the chaperone slot in time for me to run a background check on them. I know they’ll be mad, but I tell the office to tell them no.

That reminds me, I need to double check my headcount. I have to report to the bookkeeper the number of kids who’ve turned in their money and the number of fee waiver kids – kids whose families qualify for financial support and therefore do not have to pay. I gave her a number a week ago, but then we got 2 new students and I need to add them in, too. I worry that the number of buses I reserved will be enough to carry us all, but I’ll have to figure that out later. I write myself a note.

We review the grammar answers, then move onto our projects. Rather than give the students a test on the book we read, I’ve assigned a project. They can either write an essay, create a poster, or make a Google Slide show answering this question: “How does the theme of A Wrinkle in Time reflect what’s happening in our world today?” I find that project-based learning is more motivating for students, and that it’s pushing them to be autonomous, independent, and creative. It has built-in differentiation, meaning gifted and higher-level students can make more complex pieces, while students who struggle can work at their own level.

They love this project. I pass out Chromebooks to those who need them, and hand out the poster boards, glue sticks, scissors, and markers I purchased with my own money. The magazines were donated to me when I put out a call for them. The graphic novels that we read in addition to the book were purchased with money I raised through Adopt-a-Classroom.

Halfway through another class, student X stands up and slaps another kid on the head for no reason. I ask for his agenda, where we give warning marks. 1-3 warning marks for the week – nothing happens. The 4th mark is a phone call home. The 5th a detention. The 6th the final warning. The 7th a referral. The next week, they get a fresh start.

He refuses to give it to me. He throws it on the ground and charges toward me, his fists balled up. “YOU’RE A F------ BITCH!” He screams, and I hear my other students gasp. He throws all my dry erase markers on the ground, pushes a book basket off and scatters the books that I’ve collected over the years, the ones I let students borrow freely. He goes out into the hallway and rips student work off the walls. He charges at me one more time, and this time I’m certain he’s going to hit me. It wouldn’t be the first time, and I’m reviewing all the expectations in my head. (Don’t put your hands on him. Don’t say anything that’ll get you fired. Try to duck. Try to keep him physically distant from the other kids.)

Once he’s clear of the door, I close it. It automatically locks. We keep it that way in case we have to go into a formal lockdown. We’ve trained the kids to barricade the doors, to move bookshelves and desks, piling them up to block a potential attacker’s path. Since my door opens out, not in, I keep a computer cord nearby. I loop it through, crouching down and holding it tight, hoping that if the day comes, my adrenaline will make me stronger than some angry young man. I’ve only practiced it once, during a drill, when I started to cry.

I call the office to tell them what happened, and they send someone to get the child. I try to get the class back to work, but that ship has sailed. All they can do is talk about what they witnessed. I’m relieved none of the Chromebooks were damaged.

I get the class to lunch, run to the bathroom (it’s been 4 ½ hours), then scarf my partially-heated leftovers down in 10 minutes. I peek out once from the teacher’s lounge to make sure the two kids that weren’t getting along aren’t sitting near each other. They’re not.

The next class is my most challenging. Some of the kids have really tough lives, stories that keep me up at night. Many of them have IEPs or 504s or health issues, so I have to circulate the room to make sure to write for the student who needs a scribe or repeat the directions for student Y or make sure student Z has a pencil. I’ll give him one if he doesn’t.

This class is incredibly loud, but lovable. Many of them were reading well below grade level at the beginning of the year. Many of them lacked motivation and had rotten attitudes. But here they are, clicking away at their Chromebooks and posting pictures onto poster board. I’m so proud of their growth that I feel myself starting to cry.

As I’m kneeling down to answer a question, I hear the door open. It’s a walk through. The administrator checks my white board to see if I’ve posted the learning target and closing task. They check to see if I’m using a timer to insure students stay motivated. They’re checking to see if I’m circulating around the room. All of these are best practices, ones that I’m proud to use, but I’m always relieved when I’m on point right as they enter the room.

There’s five minutes left of class, and I have 8 behavior forms to fill out. These are for students who’ve had chronic behavior issues. We’ve had a good day, so I’m able to give almost all of the kids almost all of their points.

They go to their related arts class, and I’m on planning. Today is my PLC – professional learning community. The other 6th grade language arts teachers and I rush to the bathroom, then convene in my room. We analyze the district-wide computer assessment to see if there were any gains in their reading scores from fall to spring. We notice where the deficits are, as well as their highest-achieving areas. We make a list of students with low scores in particular standards, then plan to reteach that standard in a different way for that particular group. We look at general standards that need more teaching for the entire population, and make a group plan as to how to address them. We each have our own style and our own resources, but we find common assessments we can use to gauge if the students are getting what we’re teaching.

We hear kids coming up the stairs and realize our planning is over. We run out to monitor the hallways. One more class to go.

This group is less motivated than my earlier ones, and I can see that several students are behind in their projects. I send a Remind message out to parents, telling them that I’m giving students ample time to do it in class, so there should be no need for homework (I don’t really believe in homework). I want to have proof that I’ve told parents this now, in case a student keeps goofing off, doesn’t turn it in, gets a low score, and then goes home and tells her parents that she had no idea she had a project due. These are kids, adolescent kids, and such dishonesty is par for the course. Unfortunately, it’s caused many parents to get angry at me and want a conference to discuss my practices. Better safe than sorry.

I get a phone call from an administrator. Two kids are threatening to fight, so we need to make sure they’re separated during dismissal. We’ll have to catch them in the morning to get them to write statements.

The kids are dismissed, and it’s 2:30. I’ve been going going going for 7 hours, with barely a moment to eat or pee. My feet are killing me.

I sit at my desk and look at the pictures my son’s preschool posts of him every day. He looks like he’s having so much fun. That makes me happy. I check a local news site, to make sure no catastrophe has happened. I check my phone to see I've received any texts.  I check Facebook, scanning quickly over the inflammatory political posts. I only want to read something good right now.

I check my email. Three parents want to know why their kids have zeros for the last homework. I email them and say that their child never turned the work in. One responds immediately to ask, “Why?” I want to write back, “Could you please ask your child that question?” I will take the work late, I won’t count off points, and the student knows this. I’m feel a bit defeated that I have to keep going over this again and again.

Time to start planning for my next unit. We’ll be evaluating poetry and song/rap lyrics on the topic of social justice. I found myself ignoring text books years ago in favor of writing by more diverse authors, some of whom are very contemporary. When I started doing this, student engagement went up triple-fold, although this takes a lot more time for me (as well as reams and reams of paper, of which I only get a certain amount).

I look at the standards my team and I said we needed to address. I find works by various authors that I can use to address those standards: Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, Bob Dylan, Beyonce. I put together a packet that involves different skills, such as using color coding to identify different types of figurative language. This will be incredibly fun work, for sure, but it also will help prep kids for the poetry they’re likely to see on the KPREP test later this year. This will culminate in their own performances, and I've purchased a $100 microphone using more Adopt-a-Classroom funds so I can make a podcast. I thrill at the idea of kids being able to share their work with family and friends outside of school.

The first copier I go to is broken. I go to another one, and it works, although it jams up about halfway through. Because this packet is so long – 14 pages, 7 double-sided – making 130 copies takes over half an hour. I use that time to answer more emails and grade some papers.

It’s 4:00. I’ve been here 9 hours, and I’m exhausted. I pack the other 100 papers I need to grade into my canvas bag along with my laptop and head home.

On the way, I see a student jay walking across 4 lanes of very busy traffic to go from the gas station that had a shooting a couple of months ago to an apartment complex. She makes it safely, but I make a mental note to speak with her tomorrow about road safety, and how you can’t just trust that drivers will make good choices.

I’ve sworn I’m going to eat better, but I stop at the grocery store to get a bag of chips. They’re the organic kind that have beans in addition to corn, so I tell myself they’re healthy. There’s nothing positive I can say about the Reese’s Egg that I buy, too.

I’ll need to pick up my own kids in half an hour, but I need some time to myself. It’s not fair to my biological kids that I’m so tired from being needed by other people’s offspring that I want to put off their needs, but I’ve found if I don’t take a moment to myself every day, I will blow up over something little. I watch “The Real Housewives of New York City” and eat the Reese’s Egg.

I’m grateful that my husband makes dinner, because all I want to do is sit on the couch and cuddle my kids as they watch “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” I hope that I can stay awake past 9, when their bed times are over, so I can grade those papers.

*****

Yep, this is the selfish thug life, my friends. Now you know.

 

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