Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Sitting here during my lunch time on a Wednesday. Let me expand on that- sitting in my classroom eating lunch alone, like most days. There is a teacher's lounge upstairs but rarely is someone in there during this time. My feelings of isolation and feeling alone in such a big school continue to churn in my stomach. It is not a good feeling to walk in each day, chat with the one other person in the basement a bit and then spend the rest of my day pretty much by myself. I am not used to sitting an eating lunch alone- it doesn't feel good or make me feel a part of the staff here. I'm told that specials teachers are usually the ones that are left to be thought of last, a side thought. I am supposed to have a peer observer from the district stop in next week and watch me teach a class. I chatted with him yesterday about what he is expecting or some look fors but didn't really get a clear idea. I plan to just do what I do when I teach and see what feedback I get. That doesn't feel good either. Guess I'm in a place of not really feeling good. I still know I made the right decision to leave my comfort zone but I didn't expect I'd be put on a dessert island left to fend for myself. I may be whining a bit but I miss the connections with teachers that a classroom teacher experiences. 
Not only do I miss the connections with teachers but the connections with students. Seems like the 592 students step in and out of my room so quickly, I hardly know a thing about them. I don't feel like I'm connecting with anything here. I feel like a true misfit. 
Shake it off and step up?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

It's a balancing act that I'm losing right now....

I had a failed 8th grade lesson on Monday. I scrambled to find something for the other 8th grade group on Thursday. I came up with getting them going with blogging. I am finding it challenging to connect with what they are being taught in math, literacy, science or social studies because the teachers are finding it challenging to teach with they need to teach. There are probably about 13 extremely 'spirited' students who are preventing the rest from learning. This in all honesty PISSES ME OFF! I am frustrated that there are students in each class that do want to learn but are in classes with others who overshadow the whole class with their behaviors. 

Back to my trying to blog with the 8th grade. I found some college prep essay topics and also included some very basic topics for them to choose from. One of the topics was about a day in your life that you'd change if you could. I chose to write about this one as a way to model my expectations. I wrote about wanting to change not going to my brother's birthday party in 1996. I wrote about my sadness that he took his own life ten days later and how I wondered if it would have been different had I gone to his birthday to connect with him. WELL... as I was reading this to the class and starting to get emotional, one student's music started to blare out of his headphones so I could hear it at the front of the room. Total distraction to the entire class. I stopped mid sentence, walked over and proceeded to spend 3-4 minutes getting the student to hand over his headphones. It was a complete power struggle and he even stood up and stepped into my personal space to try and win. I finally got the headphones, walked back over and continued to read my blog post. I was emotional and truthful with these kids in hopes that they could see me not as this foreign white teacher in the room but someone who has seen tragedy and has felt painful emotions.  I wasn't sure how the students would react to this but figured it was worth a shot. I dismissed students to their work station and as always needed to reteach and explain directions again and again.

The student who I took the earphones from continued to be off task and disruptive. I walked back and forth behind students computers helping and wanting to chat with what they were writing about however, I spend most of the time with about five students trying to get them on task and working. The earphone student had is uniform shirt off his body and just hanging around his neck, he was trying to log in as a student sitting two seats down and was not doing what had been asked of him. (He ended up posting this after my push "I want to be a bo$$ uggh like ricky rozay.")   Another student was sitting there with a blank screen and was getting up zooming screens of other students. I never got to look over the shoulders of many other students to see what they were writing because they were quiet and working. I HATE that I spent so much time and energy on just a handful of kids. 

I thought for sure when I had a chance to review the posts students made that hardly anyone did what they were supposed to. However, I was wrong. I realized as I read through the postings that I had touched kids with my honesty and openness.  I had a few write about similar losses of family members. I had students put effort and thought into writing about things they would change in their community. I had kids who wrote about things they do when they aren't in school.  Somehow I still feel I failed the class by spending so much time with the disruptive ones. 

How do I let go of the need to focus on the over the top disruptive students and move towards the ones who are engaged and on track??? Do I just choose to redirect once and let them be? 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Shake it off and step up. But HOW?

I found myself Googling for help this morning. The search was something like "teaching inner city middle school students." I have no idea how to narrow the search to make it more relevant. I want to help these students but have no idea where to start. I had a big fat fail of a lesson yesterday with an 8th grade class. It took about 12 minutes to get them in the door and a call to the security guard to help a few stop blocking the door for other students to get in to get them settled. As I think back it was about 4 that were the issue. I feel awful for the the majority who were sitting in front of me ready to learn and listen. Let me rephrase that- I FAILED the majority of those students. However, I have no idea how to start teaching a class when the four or so disruptive ones are so disruptive the others can't listen. I am not afraid to admit I need some help. My school is very focused on Content Learning Objectives along with the entire district. Let me say clearly that I understand the importance of these objectives.

However, these 7th and 8th grade students can barely sit in a chair for a lesson/directions/instruction/discussion of no longer than 10 minutes. It's not that any of the middle school teacher's aren't working hard to create engaging and meaningful lessons. We all are working extremely hard trying to look at curriculum maps, objectives, standards and have them guide our designs.

I want to know how to teach a class of 30 8th graders. My role in the building is to connect with teachers to create lessons students can complete using technology in my room. I started the first few weeks getting them to realize my room would not be the place where they came in and played coolmathgames (a website that has the title 'math' in it but has very few true math games). We started in MS Word so they can get some functional word processing skills. This is so NOT how I want to teach these kids but many are so concrete that I have to so we can possible move forward.

However, I spend my 45 (well by the time we settle and actually work it's about 25 minutes) minutes pacing behind their work stations making sure they aren't on PhotoBooth (which I've deleted off all machines and is a bummer because who knows what kind of fun assignment I could create with that!) or coolmathgames or looking up random pictures or changing the settings on the computer so the Internet no longer works.

I am admitting I need some serious support with Middle School students in this population. They are students that are coming from broken homes where Grandma is raising them,  or their dad was shot on the border in a drug deal gone bad, or Grandma is raising them but doesn't speak English.... my list could go on and on and wouldn't sound much different from a lot of other inner city schools. So how do I tap into other schools that have been here, are here and seem to make progress?

So I try every day to breathe and find some simple things that brighten the day. Yesterday the smileable moments were: A Kindergartner walking in my room and saying "You're pretty teacher." A student at the end of the day who has stayed a little longer to help me get all the computers logged off. Having a delicious shredded pork burrito with my parents at Lucero's. A chat with a coworker at the end of the day realizing I am not the only one struggling for these students to succeed. And as always the highlight of my every moment- my dog Jeeter.

So with a cup of Peet's coffee this morning, I am headed in to school to keep on keepin' on.

Friday, October 12, 2012

In a Nutshell...

As all previous weeks have been, this one was once again a roller coaster ride. HOWEVER, I did have better class sessions with the 7th and 8th grade classes. Perhaps they are beginning to connect, trust or something with me. Yesterday I had the tougher of the two 8th grade classes and was able to see them actually get work done. One young man and I shared a smile even.  He was typing sentences about himself and needed another idea he is pretty low academically so I knew if I was going to get anything out of him I really had to connect with him to get him to write. I was throwing out ideas and I said, "Tell me your girlfriend's name." His eyes lit up and he replied, "you want to know my girl's name?" Then he proceeded to ask me how to spell her name.  I took this as a good opportunity to joke with him so I said, "dude, ya have to know how to spell her name so you can write her mush love notes." and his response, "I don't that miss." Usually when he has come to my class, which is sporadic due to behavior, he is pretty tough. Yesterday I felt successful with him. I need those small successes for sure!!!
The other highlight of my week was a little 1st grade girl that I saw each morning. Her dad would stand next to her line and wait until we walked in. I leaned over one of the mornings and said she had a great personality. In which he replied, "She's a handful!" Made me laugh because as he walked away she was barking orders that he better bring her home some cheese bites or else. 
I have been working with students using MS Word the past few weeks and look forward to diving in to some projects with them next week. I know it is not best practice to tease out a program and teach it in isolation but really felt I needed to build some routines and rituals around something simple. For the most part students did well. Some struggled with just the basics. I have some project ideas lined up for 3rd-8th but have yet to think of something for k-2nd. Part of the problem is having 2nd grade classes with 30 students and no para professional to help. I want to be able to do projects with them but need to think and research how I can be there to support so many when their needs are high. Just realized I am rambling here. UGH.
So in a nutshell - side story for a minute.... I bought Jeeter's halloween costume and took his picture. I used the picture as my computer desktop background to connect with kids. They loved it. Although some struggled with seeing he was a dog in a squirrel costume! Ha. It was a picture that I needed this week to make me smile..... In a nutshell, upon reflection- the week was pretty good. I just don't feel I've taught them anything they've learned for school yet. HOWEVER, feels like I'm making those connections and building relationships which in my opinion will take me farther than anything! Happy Friday!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

My Skin is Getting Thicker

Another week is done. On Fridays the essentials team (art, music, pe & tech) are put on different tasks instead of seeing students. Today I will be venturing up to the 7th/8th grade Science room to help. I wish I could say I was excited about spending more time with the tough ones. I am certainly learning that their anger, hurtful words and flat out disrespect are not entirely directed at me or the adults in the building. They have learned these behaviors, habits and lack of respect from many parts of their lives. Unlearning and breaking these habits will be tough but necessary to change the culture of the building.
Yesterday the principal popped in to my area and room to informally observe me with the 8th graders. I was not jazzed about the idea because the group is extremely difficult just to get in the room to sit for a lesson. However, she got to see first hand how a few of the students behave during instruction. She ended up escorting one out of the room for disruptive behavior. I wish I knew how to engage them and be able to keep classroom management intact. I've tried to show them some cool tech tools during the electives block at the end of each day but a handful just want to play coolmathgames.... which has about five games that actually have math value.
We had another teacher decide to resign, making it three.  I get the work is hard and it really will take a lot of perseverance to stay the course with these kids. I just don't like that the middle school students could see the second teacher's exit as a sign they have power over the situation.