Friday, November 28, 2008

I Think The Pot Just Called Me Black...

Recently, when I have written about issues I have had with some of my students’ parents, things have gotten, um, heated. And that’s cool. It used to make me upset, and now I just kind of think of myself as the Linda Richman of Teacher Talk – like I could prompt a discussion with the words, “Parental Involvement...not really parenting, not really involvement...discuss.” I do like to think I have a better wardrobe than Linda...

Anyhow, I do think it’s good to discuss things and you can disagree with me at times (although I’m always right, so it’s a waste of time...you’ll see it someday too, trust me....). So let’s chew on this latest parental gem, shall we??

I had a parent approach me very early in the school year, requesting that her daughter be evaluated for possible learning disabilities. At the time, I had only worked with her child for six or seven days, so I felt like I couldn’t really contribute much to that conversation. I respected the mother’s wishes however, and talked to her about the process of getting a child evaluated and referred for extra services. All the parent had to do was write a letter requesting an evaluation...which she did. Fine.

Once I got to know her child better, I disagreed with this decision, finding no evidence of real issues with learning, but again, I figured she was the parent, and I needed to respect her wishes.

Great. All very supportive and lovely, the birds are chirping, and the sun is shining, right?

THEN...fast forward two weeks. I’m in my room at 7:30 a.m. (an hour in which I am not exactly charming) getting some things ready for the day. I came in that morning armed with a serious To Do list (Shocker, I know! I do heart my lists...) and was feverishly crossing things off when said mother shows up and demands some of my time. (There was yelling.) How the hell she got past our security guard (Who has a serious attitude and is not afraid to use it no matter what time it is), I’ll never know. Our conversation went something like this:

Her: Mrs. Mimi! I need to talk to you!
Me: Is everything OK? Did I forget about an appointment to meet with you? (I love saying this. I totally know we didn’t have an appointment to speak, but I like to passive aggressively inform people that it is NOT COOL to just SHOW UP...it’s not like I sit with my feet up sipping a latte before the kids come in, sister.)
Her: It’s about Little Girl.
Me: OK....
Her: She gettin’ tested??
Me: You’ll have to check with the Weave. Once the letter is sent out to request an evaluation, it’s kind of out of my hands. She should know more.
Her: (grunts)
Me: Sorry, did you say something?
Her: She need to read more! (Notice all the exclamation points, please, because she was totally yelling....at 7:30 in the morning...for no apparent reason.)
Me: I agree. Right now I meet with Little Girl in a small group two times a week. I also conference with her individually another two times a week. We have a reading specialist who owes me a favor, and so I got her to work with Little Girl and additional two times a week. Each morning, I meet with her privately to discuss what she read at home the night before. She tells me that she isn’t allowed to read at home.
Her: I don’t have time for her to read.
Me: Ok, but it would be wonderful if she could have just 20 minutes of uninterrupted reading time.
Her: That’s your job, not mine. You’re supposed to do whatever my child needs. Do your job. I need to do whatever I can for my child.
Me: (Not pointing out the irony that she feels the need to do whatever she can for her child yet can’t find 20 minutes to allow her child to read at home.) I see. I would really like for us to work together on this....
Her: Look, I need you to meet with Little Girl every day during lunch. Read with her at lunch and teach her more.
Me: Pardon? (I said this not because I couldn’t hear her yelling at me, but because I again, wanted to passively aggressively make my shock at her request clear.)
Her: I said, read with her at lunch!!!! I need to do what I can for my child. And you’re supposed to do everything you can for her.
Me: I try to. But Little Girl needs time to eat, and socialize with her friends. It’s really the only free time the kids get all day. I wouldn’t want her to start to see reading as a punishment.
Her: Just do what I say. She don’t need to talk to her friends. I need to do whatever I can for my child.

Now, I understand this woman’s desire to get more instructional time for her child...BUT (and there’s always a but), dude! Really? I’m sure the kid would love it if I pulled her out of lunch EVERYDAY to read. And by the by...maybe I’d like to, oh I don’t know, eat lunch myself, or...I know it sounds crazy, use the bathroom! Get a drink of water...unheard of! I didn’t point out to this woman that I routinely WORK through my lunch because although I love my To Do Lists, I also hate them because they are endless.

Also, just for the future, showing up unannounced at a teacher’s door, yelling at her and then out of the blue accusing her of not doing her job because she expresses concern for your child’s need to eat may not be the best way to get what you want. Or start a conversation. I’m just saying...

And since she was off doing “whatever she could for her child”, I guess she didn’t have time to return the phone calls from our guidance counselor who called to talk to her about getting her daughter tested. Evidently she was SO busy doing “whatever she could for her child” that she also neglected to respond to the certified letter from the Board of Education requesting additional information to get her daughter tested. While her mother was off “doing whatever she could for her child,” Little Girl’s case was officially closed because of a lack of response from the parent (who initiated the case in the first place.)

And you’re going to tell me I’m not doing MY job? Pot? Kettle? Black? Anyone?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Be Careful What You Wish For...

Tonight was the night! Parent-Teacher Conferences. Everyone wants to put their best foot forward. For teachers, that usually means pulling out the "conference clothes", shoving piles of papers into available closets and sprucing up the 'ol bulletin boards. Yes, friends, we put on a good show.

We learn by example, I guess, because the administration lays it on pretty thick. Serious dog and pony show. I mean, if they could flame dancers, I think they just might jump on it. Can you imagine, flame dancers on every stairwell lighting the way to your child's teacher?

Part of the show includes making sure that our building is absolutely spotless. Spotless! Hallways are waxed, and bathrooms are scrubbed. Teachers do their part too...you know, with all the pile shoving? (We do love our piles.) However, there is one aspect of this Grand Clean Sweep that remains a volatile battleground.

The classroom carpet. (Insert "Debbie Downer" music here.)

Now, the custodial staff (many of whom I do love very much...I mean, they clean puke for us) adamently maintains that it is not their responsibility to clean the carpets. To me, this does defy a bit of logic on several levels. 1) Only custodial staff has access to the closets in which the precious vacuums are housed. 2) They sweep our floors, and come within mere inches of the carpet. 3) Do we really want to get into being asked to do things that are not in our job descriptions....cuz, um, I might have one or two things to add to that list.

Usually, this battle ends with children spending weeks sitting on a living science experiment. Eventually, I will break down and beg, borrow and steal a vaccuum from a fellow colleague. Oh, right, and maybe this is where I should mention that my colleague (you know, the one I borrowed the vaccuum from?) BOUGHT the vaccuum with her own money because she couldn't stand her dirty carpet a moment longer. Call me crazy, but I'm fairly certain that purchasing a vaccuum isn't in her contract. She just happens to be a super rock star.

Yesterday, I went to my Super Rock Star colleague and asked to borrow her vacuum. And that's when she told me...

It

is

broken.

Damn! Now the parents are going to see my filthy carpet and, despite all my efforts teaching their child to, oh, you know, read and write, they're going to blame ME for having a dirty rug. Hey, teachers are easy targets.

In a final act of desperation, several teachers went to our principal and asked if it was at all possible for the custodial staff to release the precious vaccuums from their locked closets and make them available to us.

Because God forbid, we come out and actually ask someone else to work as hard as we do!

But, surprise of surprises, our principal says that he will ask the custodial staff to pop around and vaccuum our rugs for us, since we have so much going on. And they did...they did vaccuum...which I do appreciate...I just wish it wasn't during Writer's Workshop.

And so, when that moment of quiet, when I looked around and see all twenty of my little friends were dilligently writing away, filling me with a sense of pride was hideously interrupted with the incessant noise of a vacuum cleaner, I realized....it's just easier to do it my freaking self.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Ummmm....

I have parent teacher conferences this week...yea, I know you probably do too. I am simultaneously dreading the late nights (just poke me in the eye now) but secretly enjoy talking to most of the parents. Also, this time of year is usually brilliant fodder for the 'ol blog and I know I have been letting you down as of late.

So, I am waiting for tomorrow night with breath that is bated, and until then...check out this gem:

Mrs. Mimi,
How you be? (That is a direct quote, by the by.) I looked at the conference schedule you sent home. Those times are not good. I would like to schedule a weekend conference.

At this point, please insert the sound of screeching breaks as I pause and re-read this message.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Just A Thought...

I just went to the art store in an attempt to relive my childhood. You see, when I was little, there was an art store near my house that I went to so often, I practically bankrupted my parents. (Thanks mom!) But then it went out of business. The other day, I was driving around doing errands when I got lost and...stumbled upon the same art store!

Since there was no school today, I decided to (hold on) do something for myself (ta-dah!). It was dusty and cluttered and fabulous. Pens, pencils, papers, all kinds of paints scattered everywhere. I was chatting with the owner, and revealed that I am a teacher. Just then another woman walked in and the owner told me that she was a teacher and long-time customer as well.

Me: Hi, how are you? Enjoying the day off?
Her: (grunt)
Me: (Did she just grunt at me? Or did she just have lunch and is suffering from some indigestion?) I hear you're a teacher too.
Her: Yea. Where do you teach?
Me: In the neighboring city. (Ok, I didn't really say that, because that sounds a bit lame, but I'm certainly not going to out myself for this blog post)
Her: Me too. What school? (More grunting.)
Me: The Blah Blah School.
Her: Never heard of it. You new?
Me: No, actually I've been teaching for eight years.
Her: (grunts) You hate it yet?

Um, pardon me? First of all, we're not at work today and that's pretty killer. Second, why do you keep grunting? And third, what is wrong with you? I don't even know this person and am just trying to exchange some pleasantries, but she seems hellbent on grunting and being negative. Even I, Ms. Negative Von Complains A Lot, am not THAT negative, especially on a day off.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

I Think I Just Saw A Pig Fly By

I know I have been a tad angry recently. Ok, maybe more than a tad...maybe fairly angry is more accurate. Ok, ok, you're right...it's more like ragingly pissed. Yea. That's more like it. I realized just how angry I was the other night as I cried about my job while making dinner (and then quickly feigned that my tears were about the onion I had been chopping- can't let a crack show in my oh-so-fabulous exterior, now can I?)

Intense, right?

I'm guessing that you've been able to pick up on my anger in my more recent posts. After all, I've never been one to feel or do anything subtly...just ask Mr. Mimi. (Love you, honey!)

Just in case you couldn't pick up on my seething irritation, I will give you an example. (I know, you're thinking "lucky me", right?)

Let's look at my week last week, shall we? On Wednesday, I definitely had a "crying over onions" kind of day. That morning, I had a meeting with the infamous Bacon Hunter, in which we discussed the ridiculously useless tests she forces us to give our students yet oddly refuses to allow us to correct, opting instead to uncharacteristically do it herself, yet then totally in character, give us the results two months later when the "data" is even more irrelevant than it was to begin with. So we were enjoying a wonderfully productive chat about that when she brought up this irritating little gem:

BH: (eyes only half open, face a mere inch or so from actually lying on her notebook) So, when can you get me the tests?
Me: I think by next Friday.
BH: Well, it's up to you, but I need to know exactly what day you will get them to me.
Me: Uh, by next Friday.
BH: But what day? I need to know so that I can email all the teachers of children I meet with that day and cancel.
Me: What?
BH: Well, I can't exactly meet with children when I have all that paperwork to do...

Uh, what?? When the Bacon Hunter has actual paperwork to do, she gets to cancel working with children in order to finish said paperwork between the hours of 8 and 3? So she can do what? Resume her hunt for bacon?? But when an actual TEACHER has, I don't know, say twenty math tests, twenty report cards, twenty writing rubrics or twenty reading assessments to do, we have to DO IT ALL while simultaneously managing to teach a full day....

But that my friends, was just the tip of the Iceberg of Bullshit.

Just a few minutes after our meeting, I was (gasp!) working with my students when three big, loud, strange plumbers walked into the classroom (without knocking, making eye contact or asking) and sauntered to the back of my classroom. They proceeded to turn the faucets on and off and use what we refer to as "outside voices". Clearly, twenty sets of eyes were riveted to these intruders (rather than to our shared story) as one of them (seriously) answered his cell phone and began to have what was clearly a personal conversation.

Knowing it is wise to choose my battles, I told the few who were despereately trying to maintain focus to just turn around and watch. Upon noticing all the little eyes staring holes through his back, the most offensive offender turned and said, "Lady, I'm just trying to do my job."

Yes, me too, my man, me too.

After lunch, the same three men returned to my classroom (again, without knocking, making eye contact or asking) to change a light bulb, which necessitated them standing on a desk. While a child was working. At the desk.

It was at this point that I started chanting "I love my job, I love my job, I love my job" in my head.

As we were packing up to go home (finally, the end of this ridiculous day was in sight!), our end-of-the-day routine is rudely interrupted by the flippin' phone. Relinquishing my tenuous hold on their behavior, I reluctantly went to answer the phone. The security guard at the front desk demanded that I send down one of my friends packed up to go home.

"But we're leaving in seven minutes," I said.
"I don't care if you're on the way out the door; her mother doesn't want to wait," replied my not-so-polite co-worker.
"This is ridiculous, we're in the middle of packing up. She isn't ready. We'll be down in five."
"Her mother says she wants her daughter now. She's sick of waiting for YOU to be ready."

Deep breaths. I love my job, I love my job, I love my job?

I bring my friends downstairs, say goodbye and head to office to check my mail, thinking the worst is behind me. As I enter the office, a familiar bark comes my way.

"Mrs. Mimi!" barks our secretary.

"Yes?"

"Are you going to pick up your pay stub or do I have to send you a personal invitation?"

"Excuse me?"

"Your pay stub. Duh! It's been ready since 1:00 and you still haven't picked it up."

(Did she just say "duh" to me?) "Um, well, I've been teaching since 1:00. So, no, I haven't picked it up yet."

"Then why you just standin there? You think I gots all day?"

No, I think you "gots" some major issues with simple grammar and a huge attitude.

So, yea. That was my day on Wednesday. My anger spilled over into Thursday, and Friday as the pointless interruptions and unwarranted attitudes continued to fly.

You can imagine what went through my head when The Weave popped into my room on Friday morning to hang for our morning meeting. (Well, you're going to need to imagine it, because even I wouldn't have the cajones to put that kind of foul language into print.)

At the end of the day, I skanked into the office in an attempt to avoid the bullet-like commentary of our barking secretary and found a note from The Weave in my mailbox.

I read the note on my way back up to my classroom. I was so shocked by what it said, that I almost walked straight into my locked classroom door.

She gave me a compliment.

Wait! Not ONE compliment, MANY compliments. About my lesson, it's tone, my classroom and my interactions with the children. Hold on, let me read this again, that can't be right.

But it is, I have received an actual compliment. I feel strange, and unsure of how to take this new sort of interaction. Should I trust it? Is it a trick? Is her note missing a page filled with other scathing remarks?

Yes, there is more. There's feedback. Actual constructive commentary that might help me improve my work with kids.

Addicted to the odd display of positivity and promise, I quickly read her feedback. It read, "During your morning meeting, you reviewed some strategies for addition problems with your class. Your kids had great ideas. Perhaps you could chart those ideas and post them somewhere in your room. Better yet, maybe you could somehow credit each child with the strategy they shared. Here's an example." And she sketches what this chart might look like, followed by a big smiley face.

Great idea, right?

It would have been, if she hadn't been sitting in front of the EXACT SAME CHART as she was observing our morning routine. Yea, we made one. And displayed it. And she sat right in front of it. Seriously, like two feet away.

(sigh). Her heart was in the right place, I guess. Now as for her keen powers of observation, we'll have to save those for another day. Baby steps, people.

In the name of not crying over onions anymore, I'll take it.

Who's Peeking?