Garden Altercation

I am full to brimming for things I want to write about.  Since Thursday – graduation day, I have been running through my mind reflections I wish to put down in blog posts.  There’s going to be a slew about graduation itself but since I decided to have planting day the day after I’d be out all night after graduation, I have more stories to tell.  One simply needs to be written today because it’s resting uneasy with me and writing it out always helps me understand.

We started a school garden last year and along with one other very important entity we also team up with a community group.  They run the community gardens in our city and are doing amazing things.  I was working with a woman – Ms. O. and a student that works with the organization and is a twice over student of mine.  This student – E – is an odd one to define.  I love him to death but he makes a lot of excuses for the fact that he gets picky and choosy about which classes are necessary for him.  He skips, he recently lost it with a teacher and got suspended.  He struggles with a lot but isn’t reaching his full potential.  E. texted me – he has my number from last summer when he was our connection to the organization to help keep our garden going over the summer.

Because of that text Ms. O. found out he was just coming into school at 10:30.  Her and I began to talk and this is where I stepped in it – I said He’s been coming in a lot lately.  I only know of one other instance actually.  Then I said “I’m a little worried about him.”    Out of a general understanding that he may be doing “ok” and may graduate, even on time but that he isn’t pushing himself and he’s pushing back a lot.  I really should be much more careful about what I say and how I say it.

When he got there, I didn’t hear the exact conversation but Ms. O. would not let him plant and he was possibly going to get suspended from work with the organization.  (They write grants so they can pay for stipends for students.)  E was very irrationally angry and closed down saying if he gets suspended from work he’ll stop coming to school.  I felt so uncomfortable in the situation.  My instinct was to help my student out, ease his pain, help him be understood.  I also tried to reason with him and toe the “live up to your potential” line and he was not in a place where he could hear it.  The fact is he often is not.

Moments later after I had sent E to the library I spoke with Ms. O. who was upset and angry but in control of herself.  She did say the things she said next rather loudly, however. I am going to summarize what she said:  No excuses he is no doing well.  The group he is in is all about leadership.  She explained she has had him at her house doing some work and paying him for it.  She said he had to work harder because this was the real world, we all have problems.  She mentioned herself and her husband and mentioned they went through their struggles.  She said of course he is going to have struggles, he’s poor and Puerto Rican.  He’s always going to be PR and there will always be people who will judge him for that but he doesn’t have to always be poor.  I went over his absences for her, at this point I had the official “look up” so I had accurate facts.  He had in some classes 28 abs for the year and she said:  “That’s a whole month of school, what is he going to have to do summer school?”  I said he has done attendance buy back I have an image of his paperwork.  E had shown it to me and I took pics of it on my phone.  She didn’t understand the concept and launched into an opinion.  The background before I give it:  Ms. O. is a black woman who has dedicated her time and a lot of her life that I know about to making kids in our defunct city into leaders.  Her focus is on social justice and on community improvement in a really tough town.  She also says it like it is.  She’s an educator and those of us who truly are always have to teach.  What she said next, which was not directed at me, although I’m sure she meant to get me thinking.  And it did.  “This is what makes me angry about this school and it’s from the white teachers.  They don’t push these kids, they give them every out and expect so little from them.”

I believe as a general statement she has a point.  We may say: “These kids have it so hard.”  These kids these kids…but do we think these kids also can do exactly the same level as other kids?  No.  It’s also a debate between tough love and being gentle.  Too gentle?

I have more thinking to do on this matter but that altercation- and the fact that a pitch fork went missing…yeah…that happened…cast a dark cloud over the day.  One thing I never like is when another person’s situation involves and changes my relationship with a student.  However, if I am going to acknowledge the dark parts of the day I am obligated to pay attention to the wonderful ones as well!

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I’m so proud of this garden!!

My school is awesome.

With the last few posts, I may have made it seem like I work with a lot of assholes.  There are certainly those who don’t get our students and should not be here.  There are racists and those who take things personally and those who want to be the students’ friend and those who are simply mean.  Yes.  But I work with many wise hardworking selfless people.  I’ve been in a bit of a tail spin about that in fact.  One of those people, Coach E. is leaving for PR next year.  She works with ELL students, in kind and gentle.  praises applauds and gives her life to this school.  Students feel safe and loved in her class.  And extra bonus, nothing gets by her she can be so tough and so kind.  What will we do with out her??

Our Adjustment counselor, who for years has handled way more than her case load and taken countless kids to the hospital for sucidailty, filed for abuse at home, led groups empowering the! bullied started a young mothers and then a young fathers support group, led for years a support group for students with severe illnesses like sickle cell TAUGHT them all so much and handled the burden of our most horrific cases…retiring.  She was always the person to call.  What will we do with out her.

My mentor who has a room right down the hall who is a teacher leader who is honest, professional, kind, always solution oriented…moving.

ugh.  All my peeps are leaving.

I need to make a new mental list.  One that highlights all the amazing talent and people we still have here.  Because we are strong

You know you’ve taught them well when you don’t need to anymore!

I have had two magical days with block 2.  I need to brag.  It’s the end of the year and this ENTIRE class has been participating and leading themselves in creating a physical theatre piece set to a spoken word poem a student from our school wrote and got on NEPR.  It started yesterday when B started talking to the class and saying “Ok from the tree pose!  Come on J!  No let’s do this, let’s do it that way…”  Others joined in.  C. walked in and my jaw dropped that she was ok with joining, she skipped the entire rest of the year!  No she’s fully participating and laughing.

I am usually such a control freak in my class.  I never thought I would be but there are some reasons to be.  Sometimes, when you give then the reins they do what block 2 did.  Sometimes they don’t so I often, now that I’ve grown, try to hand leadership over to them.  I believe in the I do we do you do model which in theatre looks like, I show you how to do something – for example, freeze like a living statue.  I use a lot of youtube videos for exemplars, then we all do it together and I coach, yell out things constantly do things in tiny parts and give tons of feedback, sometimes going back to exemplars or using students as such.  But when I go to the “you do” anything can happen.  They can do it but lack luster.  they sometimes all sit down, they sometimes get too goofy and I need to step in saying stay in character!!!  And my favorite, they start to fight with each other.  No my favorite is when they just can’t think of anything.  Or it takes them sooooooo long.  So, my big lesson I constantly learn is when to SHUT THE HELL UP.  🙂  Those are the times when they got this!

The “Gotcha!”

Yesterday a colleague said:  “so you began and ended the day as the voice of reason, huh?”  I felt proud of myself in that moment.  This comment came from my mentor, a woman I greatly respect.  And, although the thought exhausts me that I often have to teach other fully grown adults who just don’t get it, I was glad to be an influence for good around here.  In the morning it was the cell phone controversy and after our teacher meeting it was the “Gotcha!”  A teacher says to me (with out even saying hello or how are you)  “So our student pulled the wool over both our eyes I guess…”  HUH?  WHO?  Speak for yourself lady!  I quickly figured out who she meant.  We have a mutual student “J” who is not doing well.  She’s a repeater and failing this year as well.  However, I managed to forge a relationship with her and she showed amazing work ethic and was a leader in my class.  Also, an emotional mess.  It’s true.  This teacher spoke about how she got in a fight with another student and her verbage was telling.  She starts with “I don’t know what the fight was about.”  So at that point, teenage girls, it really could be anything.  She continues:  “the girl looked at her wrong, or something.  She had to be removed from my class because of that then she found the girl in the hallway and attacked her again.”

“looked at her wrong”  “attacked”  powerful.  Maybe entirely true.  Quite possibly.  “And her mother is no help.”  All I know about the mother is that she called, wanted updates, wanted to pick up her daughter’s work when she got suspended.  Now, J. told me she was getting greatly bullied.  I’ve been told lies before.  Because I choose to give students the benefit of the doubt and understand that they are doing the best to handle their struggles with the limited resources they have…doesn’t mean I’ve been duped.  Shit doesn’t go down in my classroom and I don’t write students up for things I don’t see, but I don’t assume students are just bad.

This teacher really wanted to feel like she won…against a teenager.  Lame if you ask me. 😛

The cell phone controversy…

…is really about control.  Well, not entirely.  In the hands of Ms. S. down the hall it is.  She shared an idea of some sort of locker system to lock kid’s phones away in.

I see that going swimmingly.  Let’s play out the pros and cons:

Pro:  No more fighting (about phones).  At least, after we got the phone from them and got it into the locker…

Students wont be disengaged from the lesson because of their phone.

Students wont have their recording devices readily available to post every fight, all the bullying, and well, other things get recorded in a high school, too.  (In case you can’t see how this is going, this is going to be the only pro I agree with.)

Cons:

Giving a student a pass to the phone lockers for emergencies real or otherwise.

Giving all our students passes to all their phone lockers when we want them to use their phones for educational purposes.

Taking the requirement of classroom management of phones away from teachers so we will be less prepared to handle it when…shocker…they find a million other ways to not pay attention in class.

she had some defenses:

admin should be held to the same 100% no excuses teachers are they don’t back us up blah blah blah.

a rule should be a rule either follow the rule entirely or don’t have it at all.

when suggested the cell phone policy be disbanded and students taught how to use it and how not to she rolled her eyes.  She didn’t say it but I read it all over her face.  “I teach art, not behavior!”  NO.  You teach students.  Teenagers at that.  Part of your job description is teaching them to be better nicer healthier people.  Do your whole job or none of it at all, please.  😛

She said it’s such a social thing pantomiming texting with her hands.  yes.  With out the phones they would and do just talk, and sleep, and doodle, and ask for passes and hit the students sitting next to them and sing songs out loud if they can’t play them on their phones…again, it’s about teaching why engagement and respect are important.

When it was brought up by a colleague that a neighboring well to do district has no electronic policy, they are taught how her response was “our students are not able to handle that.”  Yup.  That’s just racist.  And classist.  And ageist.  No student learns how to do anything when they are simply controlled.  No, that’s not true.  they learn one thing.  That you are no good at controlling them.

Phew!!! New Challenge?

I just finished a 31 day Haiku challenge on my conjoined blog “jussittinheretrynawritedisbook.”  I have been very conflicted about the experience.  I felt that I did not create my best work having to stick to a deadline and I may have bit off a smidge more than I could chew.  A poem for every number day it is??  So on day thirty I needed thirty Haiku?  I also really have been neglecting my novel. It needs much more serious revision.  I have had no time to do it, I’ve been blogging!

despite these two serious concerns, I’mma do another challenge.  Partly because it will involve the number 19, (my fave #!) and partly because I am very addicted to the one upside of my self imposed blog challenge.  Writing practice. I have never had a month that I have paid so much time and attention to my love of writing.  So here is this month’s challenge:

With 19 days left of school I am going to post in classtheatrix each day about wonderful theatre ideas/struggles and all the other political issues that trouble all people involved in Education – and achem – our country.  I have been ignoring this half of my blog and I have lots of resources/opinions to share with you.  And no, I am not going to count this as day one.  Which probably means I’ll be behind!  On the first day!!  I had to finish my haikuuuuu……..