Tuesday, October 28, 2008

State of the Union Address

To all of you who have been missing me - thanks for the emails and kind words. Sorry it took me so long to get something up, but I had to scrape myself off the bottom of the administration's shoe... you know, after being stepped on and overlooked repeatedly. Yea, it's been an awesome two weeks.

And to all of you who think I "complain too much" , stop reading immediately (although what I really want to say shouldn't ever really be repeated out loud), because it's going to start now. I figure better air out my frustrations anonymously here than in my classroom. It's either blog, or cry myself to sleep.

Some of you may remember that parking has been quite the issue as of late. And really, it's not the fault of anyone I work with that our number of parking spots is being cut back drastically. Truly, the people to blame are 1). the asshats who began giving out too many passes to their buddies rather than school employees, and 2). the d-bags at the top who decided to universally cut down on the number of parking spots AFTER the school year had begun and with no apparent system whatsoever. I get that. There's no one to blame at my school.

Or so I thought. Sadly, this situation has turned many of my former super colleagues (now officially d-bags themselves) who have turned into backstabbing liars. Yes, after banding together to battle against the administration, difficult parents and the lazy sacks of hair who populate our building, we have now turned against one another.

And I blame the union.

Today, we had a union "meeting" (you say "meeting", I say "waste of my time") to discuss the parking situation and voice our concerns. Silly me for thinking that someone (ANYone) would actually listen. You see, ultimately the decision of who gets the precious parking passes belongs to our principal. He might as well start wearing a creepy purple jacket and top hat and call himself Willy Wonka at this point...I wish I could find a parking pass in a chocolate bar.

However, our union rep is supposed to meet with him, share our concerns and our proposed strategy for determining who gets what. It all sounds fine, except that this might require that our union rep DO SOMETHING and/or LISTEN. Normally, she uses her extra free periods (given to her to complete union related business ) to go home early, so you can imagine her surprise when we called upon her to actually represent us. (Um, hi, it's called you JOB?!?)

So we go to this meeting and every single concern is either a) shot down by our union rep, or b) met with defensive comments from our union rep - although oddly enough, no one was attacking her or blaming her for anything. Oh, and did mention that she failed to write anything down??!?! Yet somehow, we are supposed to feel as if she is taking us seriously, and will represent all of our voices when she meets with The Visionary.


Oh, but wait! It gets even better!

There is a sheet for all of us to sign. We have to write our names, our addresses, and our approximate distance for school as well as indicate if we drive on a daily basis.

I write my name, my address, and my mileage (in big bold print) and I am about to fill in "yes, I drive everyday" when my conscience gets the better of me. Because I don't drive EVERY day. I mean, am I going to succumb to the pressure to become a d-jockey and blatantly lie to get a pass? No, the answer is no, I'm not. So I am honest and write that I drive about half the time.

As I walk out of the oh-so-NOT-productive meeting, I glance at the sheet. And it's then that I realized, I WORK WITH LYING SCUM!!

According to this sheet, some people have written that they live over 50 miles away when it is quite obvious to everyone with brain (and or access to a map) that that is physically impossible. All of a sudden, everyone lives HOURS from school, and NO ONE admits to living within the city limits, choosing to use a relatives much farther address instead. And my personal fave....there is on person who signed up for a pass, stating that yes, they drive EVERYDAY and live approximately 30 miles from school when they DON'T EVEN OWN A CAR!!! (I wish I was kidding.)

I fumed my way back to my classroom. And although I want to run screaming down the hall perhaps clotheslining my lying colleagues on the way, I don't. Because I blame our union rep for handling this situation so poorly, thereby creating an environment where everyone ceases to give a shit about one another. I blame HER for that. Oh, and for taking a pass when she herself lives approximately 528 FEET from school.

I hope a tree falls on her car.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Do As I Say, Not As I Do

The Weave must be bored. Cuz she's on the warpath. She wrote up one of my colleagues for her boy's behavior in the bathroom. Seriously, a TEACHER is in trouble because of how little boys behave in the bathroom at the other end of the hallway. Yea, it's that logical. And everyone knows little boys go down there to pee on the walls..or at least that what it smells like what they're doing in there. The pee smell really rolls down the hall now that the heat is on and it's nice and steamy.

I wonder what she thinks we can do about little boys in the bathroom. Go in there? Uh, NO. The Weave told my colleague to send them in pairs. She did. Then the Weave said send them alone. She did. Then, the Weave said call an upper grade teacher and disrupt their learning so they can come downstairs and escort your child to the bathroom. She did. Then, in a final stroke of genius, The Weave told her to stand in the hallway and wait to flag down another adult who might happen by...she did.

Until today, when The Weave happened to be the adult that happened by. And she flat out refused to take the little boy to the bathroom because it was not in her job description. Even thought my colleague was doing what she was told and the little boy in question was clearly doing the pee-pee dance. (In my experience, if they are already doing The Dance, you only have a few seconds before it's time to call home for a new pair of pants...)

At this point, I'm not sure how my colleague refrained from punching her in the face, because I don't think I possess that type of restraint.

And just like that, my colleague got a disciplinary letter in her file.

I refused to send my kids with books. I mean, come on...reading as punishment?? Instead they all wrote one or two poor choices they had been making at recess lately, and then brainstormed ways to avoid those choices in the future. I brought them down to the recess aides in a lovely little pile and said, "consider my kids punished. Let them play." I guess they were so frustrated with trying to get the other kids to sit and read (duh), that they let mine go. Hallelujah, right?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Two Steps Forward...Two Steps Back...

A little Paula Abdul? Anyone?? "Opposites Attract"? No? Oh well...

I love to read. I want my students to love to read, but I know that reading can be hard. It's hard to teach too - we can't always tell what's going on in that little head or determine what is the best way to help. I try to encourage my kids to be independent readers, and don't want to over-help, but then again, you don't want to push to hard and make them feel constantly frustrated. I guess in that way, I feel like we're always taking steps forward and back. (I'm trying to tie the song in here, people, it's not easy always coming up with a clever title.)

I try really hard to make sure that my students have something they find WORTH reading too because there is nothing worse than struggling through something hard that you don't care about either. (Believe me, if I didn't care about my job or my students, it would NOT be worth the struggle.) So, I let them read newspapers, magazines, non-fiction, fiction...whatever...just read something!!! With some friends it's working, with others...they still look at me like I'm crazy when it's private reading time. (sigh)

So you can imagine how PISSED I was the other day when the adults on recess duty informed me that my children were going to lose recess for the next week. (Seriously, a WEEK??!? I mean, like they're going to remember what they did wrong a week after it happened...And really? EVERY child? EVERYONE needs to get punished? Because really...when they don't get recess...you're punishing ME too. How do you expect them to sit and listen ALL DAY without any time to blow off some steam??? I'm not saying that they don't misbehave, but COME ON!!! You squeeze 80 kids in a tiny gym with nothing to do and only two adults? What did you think was going to happen?)

And it gets better. During the WEEK that they/we are all being punished, they have to bring books with them. So they can read. As punishment. Reading as punishment.

There are so many problems here, I don't even know where to start.

1. Again, a WHOLE WEEK (for everyone) without recess...ridiculous.
2. Reading as a punishment. Dude. Duuuuuude. Why are you doing this to me? To them? How do you think my little strugglers are going to take to finding a good book now?
3. Do you have any idea, recess ladies, how many books we are going to LOSE?? They don't grow on trees, you know.
4. What about the idea of "logical consequences?" Anyone? Anyone? No? Or the kids who really weren't doing anything wrong or even know what happened?

A few of my colleagues felt similarly and tried to approach the recess adults with an alternative solution. One that still allowed children to be punished for whatever happened (I still don't really understand what happened...when I asked, I was told that they were "just bad." Not that they made bad choices, they are just bad. Arg). Any sort of attempt at a dialogue was met with "just do what you're told."

I'm not even going to get into that one. It would just be nice, for once, if all the adults in the building were on the same page, because not everything needs to feel like a battle.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Parents Say the Darndest Things

Perhaps we look stupid, but you wouldn't believe the crap parents throw at teachers sometimes. I mean, we spend eight hours a day with your kid...remember us? Hi, we're not morons. While I am all for the school of thought which believes that parents know their children best...I just think that sometimes, parents need to admit what they really know instead of giving us some bullshit Jekyll and Hyde story. If I hear "Oh my, he never does that at hooooome....(insert doe-eyed expression here)" one more time, I may just give up.

Do you think we are out to get your kids? To make up vicious lies that hold them back in life? Because that's not why I got into teaching....however, I also did not choose this profession to deal with the denial of parents and the ridiculous b.s. that they seem to sling at us with increasing regularity.

Some examples....

I approached a parent earlier in the year about her son's reading level. I am very concerned because he is reading almost an entire year below grade level. While he is making progress, and hopefully he will continue to, boyfriend would need to make TWO YEARS worth of progress to truly be ready for the next grade.

Me: So, we need to talk about reading...
Parent: Don't even start that with me again this year.
Me: You've heard this before from another teacher?
Parent: Yea, but AT HOME, he's reading Harry Potter books by himself.
Me: Well, it's great that you have books at home for him to enjoy, but here at school, it appears that he's only ready for books with eight to ten words of text on a page...so I'm not sure Harry Potter is the best choice.
Parent: Well he reads it.
Me: All right, but then maybe you can see why I am confused that here at school, he really struggles with more complicated text...
Parent: That's your problem, not mine.

Ahhhh, well played, my friend, played. I have nothing to say to that, because it is just totally stupid. Stupid. She might as well have a neon sign over her head saying "Closed for the evening" because nothing I'm going to say is going to get through.

Another example....

One child in my class has been biting other children at recess. BITING. I know, ridiculous, right? Even though I am not present at recess (and a big halleluja for that because recess duty might just push me over the edge...), I need to deal because I am a grown up. Unfortunatley, all of us do not share that same philosophy because when I approached the parent to discuss this issue, she responded with, "Well, what did YOU do to provoke him to bite?"

Um, what? It's MY fault that YOUR child is biting OTHER CHILDREN at recess when I'm not even there?!?!? You're not even going to try to blame the other children? You're going to go straight to blaming me....dude. I can only imagine how you value my opinions on other issues. It's all I can do to not look right back at her and say, "Thanks...you're right. It must be me. How silly of me to even waste your time. I apologize. GOOD LUCK WHEN HE'S 15, YOU IDIOT! Have a lovely day."

Unfortunately, sometimes our little friends end up not getting help when they need it the most because of the issues their parents have with asking for help in the first place.

My Super Colleague has a student in her class who never speaks. Never. Not even to say his name. He responds with grunts and nods or whatever, but no talking. And although silence can be golden in the classroom, clearly something is wrong.

We are in my classroom one day after school when the parent of this child walks by. My Super Colleague has been trying to talk to her for WEEKS.

Super Colleague: I'm really worried about our friend. He isn't talking in class. Have you noticed any thing at home?
Parent: What? Really? No...I don't think so.
Super Colleague: Well, he as other children ask for him when he needs to use the bathroom, and hasn't truly spoken to anyone this year that I know of.
Parent: I don't know what you're talking about. At home, he's a chatterbox. Last night we were debating about politics. He likes Obama.

Um, what? You want us to believe that your child, who has never uttered a word in school, is suddenly debating about who has the better foreign policy? Riiiiiight.

As my former social studies teacher used to say, "Denial isn't only river in Egypt." I'm not saying it's easy to admit when your child has a problem, large or small, but when a kid needs help, it's time to be the grownup and deal. One of the biggest lessons I try to teach my students is that it is OK to not be good at something and even downright BRILLIANT to know when to ask for help.

Maybe I should invite the parents to sit in on our little talks too.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Finding My Zen

I spent last weekend with my very best friends, one of whom kept talking about finding Zen places...sounds dirty, I know, but this is not THAT kind of blog.

I thought about my own Zen place, and wondered where it was. Or how I lost it. Or if I ever had one to begin with...all of which made me feel very bad about my new-ageness. I like the idea of being Zen...it conjures images of well groomed, peaceful people, reading books and sipping on refreshing drinks in a garden and butterflies, yes...lots of butterflies. I realized that this image is in direct contrast with my daily work life which usually involves hair dragged into a ponytail because that is all that is possible when one gets up at 5, running around like said hair is on fire all day, desperately trying to have some sort of meaningful interaction with someone and maybe squeeze in one meager sip from my misplaced water bottle or shove down a sandwich in three bites. (Please note, however, that both my Zen image and my actual Real Life Image involve fabulous heels, so I'm not a total failure.)

This last week I focused on finding my Zen, assuming that it had been lost somewhere, like a misplaced pencil or something, and if I just tried hard enough, I would find it again.

I thought my mission was a lost cause when I was told we had a surprise concert (which had been planned months in advance but no one had bothered to tell the teachers, so I guess, really, the surprise was just for me). Surprise! Scrap your plans! Be flexible!

If I become any more flexible, I may run off and join Cirque du Soleil. I bet they're Zen.

So we're at the SURPRISE! concert, which is Brazilian drumming group. And not only am I lamenting how this "oversight in communication" (that's what the office calls it...you say "oversight in communication", I say yet another F*ck up from a bunch of morons...tomato, tomato, right? ), I am also lamenting having had four glasses of wine the previous evening. Now, I never have more than a glass during the week, because I am not a huge drinker (read - I am old and can't handle it anymore). But I made an exception because a very old friend was in town and catching up is just so much better over several (read - seven) glasses of good Cabernet. Long story short, the change in schedule hurt, the drumming hurt even more and I was definitely not feeling Zen.

And then the lady on stage started dancing. She had fabulously untamed curly hair and wasn't wearing any shoes (which is usually a big old check in the minus column, but somehow seemed fitting for her). She danced to the music shaking her shaky thing (which probably had some sort of name that we were supposed to learn during the course of the concert but there was just so much banging, that I had trouble focusing....or caring) and was totally into it. At first I thought she was ridiculous and lame...I mean honestly, most people who perform in elementary schools are one small step from multi-colored turtlenecks, suspenders and that weird sing-songy this-is-how-I-think-you-are-supposed-to-talk-to-kids voice. But then I realized that she was just super into it. And super talented. And probably could give a rat's ass what I thought of her anyway, because she clearly loved what she was doing.

I want to be the dancing lady with the shaky thing. She had found her Zen.

Later we were in the classroom, totally rocking out our math centers. Kids were (finally) making smart choices and starting to internalize all my talk (read-rambling) about taking responsibility for their own learning. At one point, when my small little cologne-spritzed current favorite chose the money game articulating that he chose it because he knows counting money is hard for him and he wants to improve, I almost had to wipe away a tear. (I can be that shmultzy, and I'm proud of it!)

And I realized. I am in my Zen place. With a shaky thing. Ok, not literally a shaky thing, but doing what I want to do. I know I have complained about my new batch of friends, but they are growing on me and have been surprising me a bit with how far they've come. I just get so bogged down by all the crap (let me define crap..."oversights in communication", jacked up copy orders, bat shit crazy parents, the administrative obsession with hard numbers over actual people...need I continue?) that I forget about the kids. Which is so sad, because although I hate it when people tell me to "do it for the kids", I do love my kids. And when they act bat shit crazy, forget to tell me something or screw up an assignment, at least it's because they're CHILDREN and still learning.

I think I have found my Zen. Will keep you posted.

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