#180days

I have decided to write about my experiences at school 180 times between our first day on the last day of August and our last day in June.  180, huh?  Where did I come up with that number?  When I first thought to do this during PD week and a half, yes, our week of meetings before school even starts, I immediately dismissed it.  Too much, tooooooo much to do.  It kept coming back to me and I kept writing.  I realized it is because I am fully committed this school year and reflection just has to be a part of that process.  It took me until now, actually September 13th, to actually post anything.  So yeah, huh!  I’m already behind and I predated things, which I feel is cheating, but for the sake of chronological sense making, I will go on.

I read my passage about the first day of school over and I realize that after two weeks so much has already changed.  My block one is amazing, Ihave had it out a couple time with my drama two because they are already letting me down and acting like entitled snots that upper classmen can often be, I’m having a blast in my life skills class although I’m still feeling my way through and I’m still having a blast.

This was not so last year.  Upon reflection this summer, I really came to realize this.  I felt as if I had one foot out the door even though I had no where to go, no other school I’d rather teach at or profession I wanted to go to.  I was simply depressed and full of anxiety that got the better of me and I did the bare minimum.  I look back and the year was lack luster at best.

This year I have painted myself into multiple corners but setting plans in motion that I can’t reverse.  It’s great.  This year is going to be great.

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Day One Part Two

Next block, right after. Another drama one and there were some personalities. I got though.

Next, my block off. PHEW! I called the teacher of the life skills students and set up a time to meet. I want to do this right. I have never taught a learning disabled student before.

Then my IB theatre class came in. A two year, rigorous honors course. Two levels of the course in the same block. Its fine I can do two completely different things at once and meet the demands of tis prescribed course just fine…and they are sometimes my worst behaved. Whether they are grumpy, disruptive, talking to each other and not listening, feeling entitled to break every rule because they are above them or so excited and all wanting to participate at once…It’s like trying to herd cats in a room fully of shiny objects when someone has just dropped a text book.   So I shared excited whispers with them as they entered. Hi welcome back I’m happy to see you complete this quietly shhhhh. It worked, really worked, for ten minuets.

Then the end of the day. I debriefed with my department, wrote my new agenda on the board read some emails, entered attendance, the online attendance and the air conditioning were both down this morning. I really needed to speak with my secretary but she was gone by the time I got to the office. I talked with another set of colleagues about the superintendent and others being in the building today to observe our first day and how no one ever visits my classroom, ever.

Then I wandered home. That was one day.

And I didn’t mention having to fight with an IB kid to comply with anything and I’m really afraid he is suicidal. Or the million kids who asked me where a class was and I had to tell a million of them they were in the wrong building. Or how I sent my lunch block to class a half hour early all the kids from last year I talked with all the wallflowers that hung back after class was over to share with me all their quirkiness because they sense right away they are my people or the crazy sad political situation with the teacher who broke my cup how I ate no lunch or breakfast how I wrangled kids out of the hallway..I’m probably forgetting other crazy things that happened.

I kept my ear to the ground all day. Did anyone know the “stabbing victim?” Did they see it happen? Was he a student here? Did I know him? Did I know the killer? Will they ever arrest anyone? Nothing came out of the woodwork, this time.

I don’t think I’ll sleep tonight. I can’t wait to do it all again tomorrow.

Oh PS, I overheard a student say my class was going to keep her coming to school.

Drop the mic.

Day One Part One

On my way to work, the first day of school, I rocked out to old timey Greenday, the Dookie album, and as I neared the parking lot the song ended and the DJ started with “the five things you need to know to be the smartest person at work” The first one was about an arrest being made for the 21 year old stabbing victim, and I held my breath, “not my city…, not my city…,” who died last week on High Street… I pull into a parking spot in front of the school I have worked out for nine years. This is year ten and I’m thrilled, yet I sob a little under my breath as I gave myself a moment of reflect, gazing out on the pavement of High Street.

I turn my car off and begin my day. My colleagues are all cute in their excitement, especially in the art department. What can we say? We’ve become quite a team in a short time considering that two of the three art teachers began halfway through last school year.

Homeroom starts and it’s extended. I’ll be with this group for an hour and a half. I have never seen such positivity and felt such a good vibe. I know some of these juniors and some are new to me. Even the ones who said they did nothing all summer and didn’t have a good time are cordial and energetic, so early in the morning. One girl walks in gets her schedule and walks out, ignoring my call to her. I don’t know where she went. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows. I go through behavioral expectations and we joke, and I’m honest, real, funny and serious. They are a mix of the same. Engaged for the most part and asking great questions. Then we talk about the SATs and I ask if they want to learn vocabulary in homeroom, I tell them it’s no problem if they don’t want to and my students will tell me if they don’t want to. And they all vote and they all want to. Fuck. They want to learn!

For no credit.

To study for the SAT.

To get into college.

Best homeroom ever.

Then abbreviated first block and I don’t remember much about it. Except Carlos was just psyched to be there and more students than ever told me they actually want to be in the drama class they registered for. We got some theatre games out of the way and the bell rang and I had bathroom duty. I went to speak with another teacher, a very unhappy one “looking elsewhere” and he knocked my coffee mug off the table shattering the ceramic. Lost cup. More importantly lost coffee. I’d have to go the rest of the day, the first day, on three sips of coffee. I kept my cool. I am a master.

The block three, my Drama Two and the class was electric. They are just great, every single one. I was grinning ear to ear. These kids are going to fight over parts. I used to only get that happening if there was a part with no words or only one line.

Then block four. Four or five kids trickle in, one kid with purple eyes, how very game of thrones of him. I looked at the class and told them there were many more on the roster, not to worry, I just didn’t know where they were. I could tell this part of the class would be a little tough, some quiet, some moody, no behavior issues. Then the rest of the class came in with two paras. They were life skills students, about eight of them, severely learning disabled and some minorly physically disabled. I’m not going to lie, it threw me for a loop and I had a good long moment, which I hid expertly, where I was a little less of a person. I wish someone had told me a whiney voice in my head said, a few times. A panic, how do I adapt my plan, how are these other kids reacting? I knew my actions were going to set a very large reaction. I looked around the room and gaged the kids. One girl had an arm tight up close to her body and her other hand held a napkin to catch the drool. One boy hugged me right away and domineered the entire talking time of the class while his friend repeated most of what I said. One para informed me one girl was really shy and I’m pretty sure her friend was crying.

Nearly every regular ed kid asked for a pass to the bathroom.

So I did my lesson as usual. A simple theatre game that not even my highest level students mastered today. Say someone’s name across the room and move and take their place. So much harder than it sounds. Most of the life skills kids hopped right up to do I and three of my regular ed students sat out.   I made it very clear they had that option. First time all day I did so. And they started and none of the regular ed kids would say a special ed kids name, but they called on everyone. Slowly, most people were warming up to each other.

Then I stopped the game and asked the kids who were sitting out what they thought the game was about. Purple eyes sulked in the corner and had nothing to add. The other students sitting in the risers had some good ideas. Class ended and by the time he left Chris had given me two more hugs. Holy fuck, how did I do? I don’t know.

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……..

Monitoring Site Visit, or any of the other ones.

Also titled:  Red Headed Step Children.

Two days of monitoring site visits just happened.  We always call that “people from the state.”  We are trying to rise out of level four status and become a non – shunned non – leper colony just regular high school again.

We just had the commissioner of something come to our school as well not that long ago although he did not actually make it but his underlings did.  I don’t even pay attention anymore to who is coming and why because the “state people” and anyone else never comes to my Drama classroom!  I’m polling my colleagues now but it looks like no one went to any of the arts rooms, although they said they would visit 95% of the classes.  If I tell you I feel like no one cares about the arts, theatre especially, maybe you’ll say I’m being whiney but here we go:

I haven’t been observed, period, since October.

Never any Big Whigs in my room.  Never any “state people.”

Last year our big thing during summer PD was to get actual arts training at the museums not just reading strategies.  There was a break out group for dance, visual art, and music…

Oh, and there was one, count it, one other theatre teacher at that training.

Most theatre teachers in our rather large district teach ELA or another subject, are not licensed, as I am, to teach theatre and teach one or two theatre classes as an elective.  They don’t even offer it in middle school anymore although I had it in my middle school (same district, but long, long ago.)

Students are hardly ever scheduled in my class because they chose it and others who want it are not scheduled.  That causes problems.  Students are changed and removed my from classes all the time, sometimes to help them graduate, sometimes mid way through when they don’t need the credits and some times I am told it will happen and sometimes kids just disappear from my list.  A fellow art teacher just told me she knew that another teacher called her class a “Throw away class.”  My current custodian has it out for me and I have never had that problem before.  Is it because of the extra bother my afterschool activities, during school performances, and productions cost him?  I’m sure it is and he simply doesn’t view that as a necessary part of the high school experience.

People (policy makers, politicians, educators) will say that the arts are so important to a child’s development.  But their consideration is not where their mouth is.

I am who I am today and WHERE I am because of the theatrical experiences I had in high school.  Legit.  I would not be a successful person without them.  I was involved in Shakespeare plays all four years of high school and THAT is where I learned to understand his words and I KNOW I would not have otherwise.  I learned to close read simply by the nature of what we do in theatre.  Would I EVER had become an English teacher – one who couldn’t understand Shakespeare but had to teach it??  Come on, probably not since my grammar is already a strike against me.  If I didn’t know I wanted to teach English – would I have ever gone to college?

Maybe, maybe, maybe….but my learning I gained besides all of that was and still is immeasurable.  We know it.  If you keep your ears and maybe your mind open you’ve heard it.  So.  People say it’s important.  However, a policy from the “state people” that consistently choses not to learn what happens in arts classes means they don’t care.  Actions and words people, actions and words.

I guess I just teach a throw away class.