A Rock and A Hard Place

This week has been taxing, every single day. My room has been too cold to inhabit for most of the week, so I’ve been squatting in another teacher’s room during periods when she doesn’t need it. This has happened several times this year, because my room is probably the coldest room in the building (I once had my water bottle freeze in my classroom, no joke). Teaching out of another classroom is always stressful, because I don’t have access to all of my supplies, and I’m not that well-organized as it is. Nothing sucks more than needing an office referral form but not having one at your disposal.

I stayed up really late Sunday planning what I hoped would be a monster lesson. All said, I probably put about 7-8 hours of labor into it. How did it go, you ask? Let’s just say it was a learning experience. I typically take notes on everything that went well in a lesson, everything that didn’t go as planned, and what I would do to improve it. When I plan a really ambitious lesson, more usually goes awry, and Monday’s lesson was extremely ambitious. I wouldn’t say it blew up, but one thing I’ve learned is that it’s silly to plan magnum opus lessons up late the night before, without consulting with anyone.

After school Monday, I felt really fatigued. I tried to go to bed early, but did not sleep well at all. By Tuesday afternoon, I knew I was sick. Everyone told me to take a day, but at this point, I am absolutely desperate to keep things on track in the room, and because of this schedule, I simply can’t afford to take days off, unless absolutely necessary.

So, I’ve been working ill all week. At this point it’s not too bad, and I will definitely take time if I feel like I need it medically, but otherwise I need to there. The kids haven’t been making it easy. Not many feel my sense of urgency, and I have failed to effectively convey it to them. I’ve tried to take my classroom management to next level. I’m definitely sweating the small stuff. I’m demanding absolute silence during my instruction. I’m trying hard to cut the turnaround in grading time. But the kids aren’t on board. Tuesday, after having to send about 8 kids out of class at one point or another, I brought the class to a halt while I called parents from the doorway in front of the students. I did the same thing with my nightmare homeroom class yesterday. I’m giving the kids speeches till I’m blue in the face, imploring them to understand what they’re up against. Still, kids still won’t stay in their seats and quiet, and I’m being cursed at on a nearly daily basis. I’m so exhausted by the end of the day that I’m pretty much just coming home and working from my bed.

Why am I so desperate to keep things moving?

Our grade is on an A-Day/B-Day schedule with 110 minute periods. This means that I see 2 of my classes one day, then the other 2 the next day, and it alternates like that, ad infinitum. So let’s say I missed a Thursday. That means that the class I saw the previous Tuesday, I would not see again until the following Monday. By then, everything is forgotten. And let’s do some math–I see each group of kids 5 days out of every 2 weeks. This means that they get an average of 275 minutes of instruction. But we don’t have any passing periods, so you have to subtract the non-zero transition time from that, too. A lot of the schools in the city are giving the kids 90 minutes of math instruction 5 days a week, for a total of 450 instruction minutes of math a week. For this and other reasons, I’m perilously behind on pacing. By my count, I’ve got 25 instructional days with each class left, but by the curriculum pacing guide, I’ve got 44 days of material remaining. Even moving double-time, there’s almost no margin for error, assessment, or the 3 weeks of review also mentioned in the pacing guide.

So that’s where I’m at right now. I spoke with my new assistant principal for almost an hour about this dilemma, and I think she’s up for some pretty radical approaches to the problem. That’s good, because nothing conventional is going to make it happen at this point. Considering where I’m at as it is, I’m not looking forward to how this is likely going to effect me personally. But I’ve got to find the fortitude to make it happen, somehow.

Chugging Along

It’s not all doom and gloom 🙂

I’ve got one student who has pretty much been a rockstar all year. He’s totally respectful, and almost always on task. He’s so consistent that it’s hard to imagine him any other way. On Friday, at the honors ceremony, he received an award for being on the Dean’s List. After the ceremony, his grandmother thanked me and claimed that his achievement was due to my efforts, and confided that this was the first time he’d ever made honor roll.

I don’t really take much credit for it. Most of the time, I feel like I’m actually letting down students like him who have to suffer through the chaos and my lack of experience as a teacher. But it is really good to know that good things are happening in my room too. I’ve got nothing but awe and respect for the kids who come to my room and do nothing but the right things, in the midst of so much gone wrong.

On another note, I’ve been reading through a fantastic series the Baltimore Sun has done profiling our CEO of schools, Dr. Andrés Alonso. I haven’t finished it yet, but from what I’ve read so far, it provides an great and truthful look at Dr. Alonso, the school system, and what his vision is for it. When I’m done reading, I’ll be sure to post my thoughts on it. It can be found here. I think he’s doing great things, but I, like many people, definitely have my reservations on some of his approaches.

Lastly, the countdown continues–5 full, 5-day weeks until spring break. I appreciate all the support I’ve been receiving. It’s going to help me keep my stamina up for this long stretch!

Widening The Gap

I got most of my NWEA test scores back, and the results are not what I hoped. I really felt like some of my kids had gained a lot of ground, but the numbers don’t back it up. On average, kids who took the test in the Fall and the Spring lost one point on the performance scale. The biggest gains were seen in the special ed pull-out class, which I don’t teach.

I just mailed off the second batch of scores, so hopefully it won’t make the situation worse. But I’m not too optimistic, because most of the tests in the batch were from students who are chronically absent or were delayed because they carelessly messed up their bubbling somehow.

So much for TFA’s big goal of 2 years’ progress in one…right now, it seems as though I’ll be lucky to see progress at the end of the year, period.

I can’t afford to spend time feeling discouraged though. I’m trying to teach my butt off to catch up with the district pace. Right now, we’re several weeks behind, due partially to the fact that we’re working with only slightly more than 1/2 the instructional time of most schools.

Still Alive

I just wanted to make sure to update my journal to announce that I am, in fact, still hanging in there. After my awful Tuesday, things did perk up during the remainder of the week. These next 7 weeks are going to be intense. Just one day off between now and Spring break, and the majority of my grad school coursework is also crammed into the same time period.

Everyone’s Got A Limit

I finally broke down at school today.

The weirdest part about it was that it wasn’t my worst day at school. It was a fairly bad half of a day. I worked my butt off to reach those kids and try to get them to take ownership over their education, and in my afternoon class, they fired back hard. It has been a number of weeks since it’s been so bad in my room, but compared to the typical day in the Fall, it wasn’t really all that bad. Kids cursed at each other across the room. I got little to no respect when I tried to speak. I had to break up a fight between to students who were horsing around. The same old “you don’t teach us anything” accusations. Today, it wore me down though.

I was fine when I sent the class on to their next hour, exasperated with their behavior. I was fine when my Hopkins supervisor debriefed me with a look on her face that seemed to say, “I don’t know what I can do for this kid”. I was fine when one of my students told me I needed to take control of my classroom and have the kids in the class before clean up their mess behind them. I was fine when half the kids I held for detention walked out. I was fine when the last kid to leave called me a faggot under his breath as he left the door.

I might have been fine if I had the chance to spend an hour to myself to cool down, but we had a team meeting after school that I had to go to. I left the meeting to get some papers, but had to detour to my room, because I knew I was about to lose it, and when I got to my room, I just bawled. To make a long story short, I pulled it together, but when I went downstairs to try and continue my duties, I ended up breaking down again, but this time in front of students, staff, faculty and administration.

I’m kind of humiliated, but on the other hand, kind of not. I mean, I’m not freakin’ Superman. I guess it all eventually adds up, even if it takes 6 months. I hate being vulnerable, and I hate being a charity case. But everyone’s been very supportive and given that what happened happened, it makes it easier to deal with.

I think what made this day different from any of dozens of bad days last Fall, is that I’ve really tried to reach out to individual students, and the more I connect with them, the less I can keep my guard up. I’ve probably had 20 or more individual conferences with students just these last 2 days, and although I don’t usually take misbehavior personally, when I reach out to a student, it does hurt to have it thrown back in my face. It’s a lot easier to take it on the chin when you keep your distance.

A tiny part of me says take a day, but the rest of me says forget about it. A day off wouldn’t make my problem disappear. I’d have to go back to school eventually, so it might as well be tomorrow…