Saturday, October 2, 2010

Better Kids does NOT equal less work

I'll admit.  I was one of those teachers that transferred to a school like the one I'm at (what is called a "Fundamental School", but technically isn't) the moment the opportunity arose.  As many of you have read, I was fed up with the status quo and the way I was being treated at my former school.  I'll even admit that I thought it would be easier for me at this school.

BUT, I have never worked harder as a teacher in my life as I do at the school I am now at, and I worked hard at my former school.   Schools like mine are full of some of the hardest working teachers around.  That is not to say that other schools don't have hard working teachers; they do.  I'm putting in nearly 14 hour days, save the days that I have appointments to make.  I'm taking stuff home for the weekends, not that that is anything new.

Yet, I'm still happier and less stressed than I was at my former school.  I feel I'm only going to be an even better teacher than I was before.  The bar has been raised higher for me, and luckily for my students, I'm never one to back down from a challenge.

The difference isn't in the quality of kids because the other schools do have the same kids, even my old one.  The difference is in the way the students, parents, and faculty all "buy in".  There isn't any finger pointing placing blame, but (here comes the corniness) hand holding and pushing each other up the hill.  We may all rise to the top together; but if we go down, we go down together too.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Once Upon a Time

Once upon a time, in a land not to far away (when you work 10 minutes from home, you can't claim it's 'far far away land'), Miss B toiled and was troubled as she worked her fingers to the bone in a school that time would probably like to forget.  She was sexually harassed, normally harassed (there really shouldn't be such a there such a term?), and overall taken advantage of on a weekly, if not daily basis.  She was stolen from, lied to, and overall stressed the hell out. 

Yet, she showed up to work every day (2 sick days the whole year) and poured her heart out to her students to get them to work, to help them, to teach them.  Her struggles to assist these kids that others had given up on usually ended with her in tears.  However, she never once gave up on them.  She tried strategy-after-strategy and even used bribes from time-to-time.  She sounds quite the martyr (well, except for the bribery), and maybe she would be but obviously she bitched quite a bit about her tormented times.  Martyrs don't bitch.  Mother Teresa never bitched.  Miss B is no Mother Teresa; nor is she a Gandhi - but I digress.

Now, as the new school year is about to begin for most teachers, Miss B included, her story starts anew, at a new school, one infinitely better in reputation and resources.  Miss B will be teaching English still, but also a new subject she's never taught before.  She has some experience in the subject.  She did 3 1/2 years of it in high school herself, and started out within the subject's major during college and people often say she can be quite dramatic (or is it melodramatic?), but that was quite a bit ago and Miss B could quite possibly f**k it up.

The question(s), dear readers (reader?), is this:  Has Miss B sold out?  Has she given up on the kids that truly needed her help? Or, has she gone where she can get to them before they ever have to step foot into her old school?  Is it more noble to deal with consequences or to step in before there are any consequences to be dealt with?

Monday, June 21, 2010

No Sarcasm Left Behind

"The fact that teachers aren't accountable to anyone is the problem."

Apparently, I'm not accountable to anyone. Wow! I wish I had known this before.  If I had, I'm sure my stress level would be at a nice cruising altitude.

I was under what must be a mistaken impression that I was accountable to my government, state, county, district, and school.  Not to mention, accountable to my students.

The federal government, thanks to No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and now to Race to the Top (RTTT), puts an emphasis and judges a teacher on the test scores of his or her students.  Test scores that have no importance to the students because it doesn't allow or disallow them from graduation. 

You mean this test that takes days and hours doesn't really matter to me?  Oh! Of course, I'll try my hardest Miss B so that your "merit" as a teacher can be judged accurately.

That's what all students think when they take these state-mandated tests, right?  They all get a good night's rest, eat a proper breakfast, and were paying attention all year and the years before that.  Or if they didn't, it doesn't really matter because those things would never have any bearing on how well a student does on a test. Nor would their socio-economic status or ability to speak English.

I'm so glad that I'm not accountable to anyone.  It's always good to know you work so hard for nothing.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Bad Blogger, Bad, Bad, Blogger

I know it's been over a month, but I don't like to write unless I have something to write about.

So, to tide you over, here is a tweaked version of a poem I wrote about my student.

One slice

not turned in

muttered under the breath they think I do not hear
I hear

Carving out
my heart

Blatant insults

for me
For themselves

them sink
as they refuse the hand held out

to help
to save
To shelter

A cut
Bleeding out

Until nothing

So close to…
hitting them over the head with a bat
(or whatever is handy)

Monday, April 19, 2010

Day of the Weed

So, tomorrow is April 20th, or 4/20.  For those that don't know, 4/20 is the unofficial national day of smoking pot.  A day that most of my students seem to be planning to celebrate to the fullest.  Many of them ask me what my plans are for the day in quite seriousness as if it were Memorial Day or even Christmas.  I simply explain that I don't celebrate Hitler's birthday and leave it at that.

When I was in high school, it was explained to me that the name and date came from a police code, but I don't think that's actually true.

Every year, when this "holiday" rolls around, it makes me think of the prevalent use of the drug in schools and why kids smoke it.  For decades it's been students' drug of choice, even though a smart and enlightened teacher can smell it a mile away (as I did a week or two ago with a student).  Do students do it as a way of rebellion?  I honestly can't answer that as I've never touched an illegal substance for fear of becoming addicted.

Is it the peer pressure to try it and then they become hooked?  I'm not sure the pressure is truly out there the way many think it is.

What is so appealing about a drug that makes 9 out of 10 users look completely idiotic while on it?  Is that the allure?  If that is the case, forget about the cannabis.  The simple fact that a large majority of you (students) aren't doing your work and seem to take the prospect of failing with the attitude of a Doris Day song will get the same foolish looking results.

Monday, April 5, 2010

In Memoriam

I feel I should acknowledge that Jaime Escalante died last Tuesday the 30th of March.

I did not know him personally, but like many teachers his story was inspiring to me.  He never wavered in his faith that his students could perform and even out perform.

I wish I had his constant faith in his students.  While I care deeply for my students, my faith in them has wavered.  This year more than any other.  However, my belief in their abilities has not.  This is probably one of the biggest frustrations I've faced this year: knowing they could do and be so much more than they are.

I'm a bit jealous of teachers like the late, great Mr. Escalante.  He was always able to keep his faith in his students and he was beloved by them for it.  His students pushed themselves to the brink to meet his standards.  They pushed themselves because they respected him and loved him the way he loved them.

So, rest in peace Jaime Escalante.  I can only hope I can be a fraction of the teacher you were.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Now You Care?

What are we teaching our students when we let them suddenly care a week before the end of the quarter?  If a student comes to me, after seeing the counselor, and asks me what s/he needs to do to raise their grade (after they have been turned in per the demand of the administration) from below 20% in a week, should I really do what I can to help them raise this grade?

I know I should be saying yes and I did tell the student to do all of his/her missing work and do some extra credit essays of his/her choosing, but what does this really teach the student?  That it doesn't matter how many "In Danger of Failing" notices you get from a teacher and grades the teacher posts to let you know you aren't doing your work, that if you give a half-asked effort in the end you'll succeed.

What is truly more important?  Getting kids their diplomas regardless of if they really learned and if they are really ready for life after secondary school or having them grasp the concepts and truly gain the knowledge we are supposed to impart as educators.  I want to teach my kids not only how to pass a test the state demands they take, not only the standards of my content, and not only what I can give them through books, but what it takes to succeed at life.

When we allow students to work the system to allow for their laziness, we are doing nothing but assisting them in stacking the deck against themselves for the future.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Why I Do It

Some people ask me when I tell them all that frustrates me about the bureaucracy of being a teacher, "Why do you do it then?  Why not just quit?"

One, I'm not a quitter.  In high school, I produced, directed and wrote a play about teenage domestic violence.  I cast it with other members of the honors drama class and a week before we were supposed to hit the stage the "Big Man on Campus" who was cast as the abuser got cold feet at playing such a role and quit.  So, I found someone else to play the role.  The day before we were set to take the stage, when we were doing final rehearsals, the replacement quit for he too was lily-livered.  I didn't give up though and found someone to step up and play the part and he did it well.  I think tenacity is in my DNA.

Two,  let me tell you the story of Gem*.

In my second year of teaching I was handing back some papers while the students were supposed to be working independently.  I came up to Gem and another girl talking when they weren't supposed to and chided them for it.  They said something about talking about Gem not getting along with her stepmom.  I told them I know what it's like to not always get along with a stepparent. As I began to walk away I hear, "Yeah, but does yours hurt you?"

My alarm bells went off and I began to worry about what they meant by that.  Hurt her how?  Emotionally?  Physically?  So instead of wondering, I put a note for Gem to come see me before school on her latest assignment and handed it back to her the next day.  She arrived like the good former honors student that she was and I pulled her aside and asked her about what I heard and how it was meant.  My heart sank as she let the truth roll out and I saw the mark she reveled hidden behind her clothing. 

I wrapped my arms around her in a hug she seemed to sink into and told her what I had to do legally and suggested she tell her father what had been going on behind his back.  She agreed and she left after I promised to wait to report it.  She came in later that day, crying, and begging me not to report it.  I told her that I could never live with myself if I didn't report it and something happened to her; explaining that it wasn't just a legal issue for me, but a moral one as well.

I reported it and it became a bit of a mess because they knew who had reported it.  Her stepmother threatened to get me fired (maybe she succeeded because I was let go due to budget cuts at the end of that year), and things got worse between Gem and her family.  Nothing was really done besides a visit from CPS and the only thing I could do to help her after that was listen to her and give her what advice I thought wouldn't cross any lines for the remainder of the year (it might be a good idea to spend the summer with her grandmother, take your brother up on his offer of a couch, etc).

Now, you might be wondering, "Wouldn't that be a reason to give up?  To quit?"  For some people, yes.  Some have left teaching for exactly that reason.

For me, though, because of this "incident" I have a special memento I pull out whenever I question if this is what I'm supposed to be doing, when I question my calling.  A letter from Gem that she gave me the last day of school that year, when I was saying good bye to the students and school.

I'm not going to share all of the letter because it was meant for me and it means so much to me, but I'll share a part so the few readers out there can understand why I keep doing what I do even when many think I should quit.  This is why I do what I do:

"Dear Miss B

...You don't know how grateful and appreciative I am for what you have done for me.  Thank you so much for caring enough about me and feeling that it was your duty to step in and see if I was have made me realize that what has happened to me is not ok and you were definitely an adult that could count on...that is something I'm not used to.  You have made me find the strength to stand up for myself..."

* Name changed because I'm not stupid

Monday, March 22, 2010

Hostage Situation

"We need to hold the students accountable for their work."

When I hear those words, and gather at the hidden meaning behind them, I feel like instead of holding the students accountable for their work that I'm being held hostage.  The hostage taker?  The administration.

Instead of looking at the structure of the school, the students, and parents for why the students are doing so poorly (and when you have so many students with different teachers doing poorly, the odds are it's not the teachers), the automatic blame is put on the teachers.  We aren't doing enough to hold the students accountable, apparently.

When a student doesn't do an assignment, they get a zero.  I was under the impression that is one way of holding them accountable.   Apparently not.  Another?  Get the parents involved.  Well easier said than done when you can't even directly communicate with more than half of your students' parents because of a language barrier and your school doesn't provide any support for those situations.  Even when you have been able to speak to parents, it hasn't done a damn bit of difference.

I've sent notes home, made phone calls, had conferences, tried to give detentions for not doing their work, tried to bribe them with prizes to get them to do their work.  I've done everything shy of putting a gun to their head.

What has it gotten me?  The figurative Uzi is pointed at my head as the hostage taker makes demands. And, unlike the good old U.S. of A., I don't have the luxury of not negotiating with terrorists.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Frustrated and Failing

"If 5% of your students are failing, then you are failing as a teacher."

If only 5% of my students were failing that would mean I would only have 10 failing students of the 200 students that I have.  Instead, 55% of my students are failing right now with only a week to go before I have to turn in grades.

Yes, right now, I feel like a failure of a teacher.  A failure because I do my best to contact parents, but when there is a language barrier it's hard to do and I feel like I failed to see the future and take Spanish instead of Italian (not that I can speak it anymore).  I send letters home (with Google translated Spanish) and have done so twice this quarter because that is the best way I can communicate with parents despite the fact I know the letters will probably never reach home.  I don't have the translation ability to call at 5, 6, 7 at night.

I think sometimes administrators and society forgets that the kids my colleagues and I work with are the ones that came to us with bad study habits, apathy, no support, and bad attitudes.  They came to us having failed and not on the course for graduation.  Of my two hundred students, every single one of them had failed English previously.  Helping one child to learn and pass is a success, let alone 90 of them.

As the saying goes, "You can lead a horse to water...".

But I'm so frustrated because I'm trying so hard to find ways to get my horses, all my horses, to drink.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Teacher Tormented Takes the Stage


Obviously, I've started a blog.  What inspired this?  You may ask.  The answer:  My students, society, and The Freedom Writers (and the Freedom Writer Teachers).

You can call me Miss B.  My students once did.  The students I have now?  Not so much.

Why the title Teacher Tormented?  Well because that is what I often am.  I know it has a connotation to be negative, but it isn't always.  Yes, I certainly feel tormented by my students (apathetic continuation high school students from the inner city); and, I certainly feel tormented by administration and their lack of understanding; and, I feel tormented by a huge vocal chunk of society that automatically judges me and finds me lacking because of my profession:  teacher, educator, profesoressa, maestra, and the many other platitudes that "apply".

However, most of all, I'm tormenting myself.  I feel like a failure as a teacher on a weekly, if not more, basis (even if my colleagues think I'm "Teacher of the Year").  I torment myself to do better, find the way, the road, to get through to my students and make a difference, teach them something, get them to learn and not to simply plug and chug.

So, welcome.  Welcome to my own little Freedom Writer's diary.  The freedom to express myself; the freedom to try, to be passionate, and to strive to make a difference despite the fact I sinfully think of some of my students as "rat bastards".