Thursday, September 27, 2007

Control-freaks, fickle, mean, insane. These are the kids I know, I know.

Yes, I'll admit it. I don't care. This is my weekly reflection for my Pace University class. I'm double-dutying it. That's right. Who are you to tell me I can't? (Oh, wait, sorry, you weren't judging me and responding like a mean and rude 8th grader? Oops! Sorry!)

In response to the topic "What I have learned about my students":

Control-freaks, fickle, mean, insane. These are the kids I know.

Okay. I follow the "No Personal Attacks*" world of thought. Hell, I am a product of that world. I introduced it to my students, we brainstormed what it means, we discussed how to start a comment/response to someone else respectfully... I've followed through, we still refer to it. But...

In my Advisory class I have 12 students, half are rude, mean, cruel and talkative, so the other half are unfortunately bored out of their minds because the RMCT kids get all the attention since I'm constantly reprimanding them. We've had four meetings so far, attempting to build trust and all that, to make it a safe place to talk about real life issues, etc., thus "No Personal Attacks."

There I am at the beginning of our first class, I'm expecting things to go smoothly, everyone to be warm and cuddly and teddy bears and nice and caring, kids will open up, which will allow other kids to open up; maybe some Barbara Walters interview-type crying, followed by young-adult revelations of what it takes to be a great person in this world, no doubt ending with "I love you, Ms. S-" "You're the best teacher!" "Three cheers for the greatest teacher in the school!". . . no.

That's not what happens. It's "Shut up" "No, you shut up" "Stupid" "You're stupid" "You're a dummy" "Shut up" "Quarter Ho" (that might have been "Corner Ho" - not sure), and so on. I'm yelling for quiet, and thus the chaos only gets livelier. Drama.

So. Today, I assigned seats. I let the kids complain, in a one at a time discussion, about why they think I've declared "no laughing" in Advisory. I try to explain that I want laughter, but when it's appropriate. So on. . . and on. . . and on. . . and on (did I mention they are all big talkers?).

Finally, I asked them what their best memories of Advisory in past years are. They got into it. They shared. I heard about wonderful games, trips, stories; great memories with other teachers. They told me I should talk to these great other teachers and get advice, and also bring in food. I made no promises. They told me about a used condom in the recess yard. I let them laugh uncontrollably for 10 seconds. They got to finish off the period telling "funny" stories about crazy people on the subway. I told them we could end with funny stories in every class (God help us), and next week we're starting with student surveys and talking about trust and they were okay with it.

Essentially, What I have learned about my students is that these kids get into it after we talk it out for a while. They want to be in control. I let them feel like they were. They are still mean to each other even with "NPA" but because they are enjoying the class a little more (because they have the control and can talk about condoms), they are no longer calling each other "Quarter/Corner Ho's" (Hoes? Hos? And I call myself a teacher of English Language Arts!). And that's good enough for me, at least for this week.

*Please have respect for each other**.

**i.e. DON’T BE AN A**H***!

- Don’t say “shut up”
- Don’t call each other names.
- Don’t laugh at each other, especially if it is
a serious conversation.
- Don’t hit each other.
- Don't make fun of each other.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


silence = exhaustion and lesson planning

Friday, September 14, 2007

Week THREE already??

It's true! We're about to enter Week Three. Hooray! I'm not dead! I'm still alive! I have survived!

I met up with my fellow fellers on Wednesday at a Pace-area bar, and it seems like it was pretty unanimous: those kids just don't shut up! That said, I think we're all freaked out and exhausted, but thank goodness it's hitting all of us, and not just one.

I was struck by how much my fellers are juggling. I've felt like I've been drowning all week, and I have only one ELA class that I'm teaching (though I'm also teaching 5 AIS periods a week, multiple library periods that must be determined, Advisory and have at least 3 meetings each week that I must attend). But there are some of my fellers that are doing all that AND teaching three English classes, some different grades to boot. Tough! My respect goes out to them. Right on! You can do it!

I was also struck with sympathy and anger for the fellers that expressed frustration at not being able to offer any kind of punishment, negative reinforcement (hello, detention???), to their students upon incidents of extreme misbehavior. My school is all about detention, and though I've only given one so far this year, to a student who called me a liar (for asking him to stop talking*), I know as a teacher who is striving to control classroom behavior, it's nice knowing that detention is an option. Or calling a parent. These other fellers can't call parents! What is going on here?? I am really surprised by that. I made a point of calling all parents between last week and yesterday, to introduce myself. It was a positive call. And the parents actually did seem to appreciate it. It was a chance to touch base. Many of them expressed thanks at my call, and told me to be sure to call them if there was any concern or too much socializing, one parent said she'd "nip it in the bud." Overall I think it's a great thing to be able to utilize parents in the process, and I would be upset if that was not an option available to me.

Okay, back to planning... working on the Short Story unit now.
I love suggestions, so whether you are a teacher or a regular joe/jane who likes stories, give me some ideas!!

*I'm stealing from another blog, Sassafras Junction, as I refer to this student as a "devil child," but here it goes: DEVIL CHILD! Do you think I don't see you talking, your lips moving, and hear the sound coming from your mouth, when I tell you to be quiet!! I'm not just going to randomly tell you to stop talking if I don't know it's you. But I KNOW it's YOU! You are looking right at me, your mouth is moving and I hear you and then you call me a LIAR??? I DON'T THINK SO! DETENTION!!!! SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP!!!!!!!
(feeling much better now, thank you!)

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Color me blue!

I like this template and color scheme much better. Less frantic. Surely this will help me calm down with all my lesson planning, eyeball gouging, etc.

Yes, yes, don't worry, I will fill everyone in on the first week of school. Basically, it was great!

Tuesday: Day 1. All day 8th grade orientation. My partner, Mr. W. and I spent all day on our feet and boy, were we tired after that!

Wednesday: 1st day of normal class schedule for 8th graders. Administered a few writing samples, had my first ELA class at the end of the day. See, I'd been preparing for this all summer. Before this day, I had all my lovely first lesson plans - count 'em, FIVE! - ready, as well as my first two weeks layout of classes. Because I knew that I'd be teaching double periods (90 minutes), my lesson plans were nice and chunky and ready to utilize each minute. Seriously, I had EACH MINUTE planned. But no! Night before regular class schedule, we all get an email that we are having a special Advisory period, 7th period (last period) on Wednesday. Sooo, there goes half my class. And, although I did a clean switch-a-roo of certain elements of the lesson, pushing them into lesson plan #2, the class unfortunately spent a great deal of time trying to figure out who was in whose advisory, and where were they meeting (this consisted of all students talking at once, and me sending a nice girl to my neighbor, Ms. T., and to the AP several times, searching, searching for answers. Alas, I didn't consider that my first "real" class.

Thursday: My first "real" ELA class. Periods 1 & 2, too, so I had control and energy from the start. It was great!! We spent most time on the old "No Personal Attacks" rule (anyone from Urban, or my Pace English fellows group, appreciates what I'm talking about - for more info, email me!), but that was okay. I knew it would take a while. The kids got REALLY into it, and finally, when it came down to the old fist-to-five assessment, the fewest fingers I got was FOUR!! RIGHT ON 8C ELA!!
The day was followed by a staff happy-hour that was a rollicking good time. Unfortunately, when I left I was a little tipsy and just knew I should have used the bathroom once more, because of course I realized that before I got on the train to come back to Astoria I had to find UNO cards (and any other easy game) for the field trip the next day (that was one way to entertain the kids while sitting in the park). So, after several trips, I found my (completely overpriced) decks of UNO at Essentials on 81st (or is it 82nd? no matter), and by the by, those nice people let me use their restroom! Thank you Essentials employees!

Friday: When I woke up and checked my email, this is what I got:
"Hi Ms. S-----, This is Tiffany H---, I just want to say thank you for the wonderful class about no personal attack it was a great lesson I will see you on Monday."
YEA!! How nice to wake up to that. It was also really nice that I wasn't feeling the effects of the drinking from the night before, because I've gone on field trips with bad headaches and it is NOT fun. But I was in the clear, and feeling even happier about my whole No Personal Attacks spiel, so all was good.
Went to Dunkin Donuts, bought a truckload of stuff for the kids, went to school, had our breakfast, went to Madison Square Park on 23rd. The kids were not thrilled at all about the art work, and less thrilled about the worksheet they had to complete, but most of the time was spent hanging out on the grass, playing cards and talking. It was nice. It was especially fun when I scared some of the girls telling them that Madison Square Park was originally a Potter's Field, and discussing what that meant (and one lovely child screaming, "So there's dead people under us RIGHT NOW?!?!"). Fun fun fun.

And that, my readers, was the first week. In a nutshell. Now I've been working all weekend to get the grading system together, and lessons for this week (3 DAY WEEK - THANK YOU ROSH HASHANAH!!). Time for wine and "Flight of the Conchords."

Friday, September 7, 2007

An old friend

I found out this afternoon that an old friend of mine passed away yesterday. Although I was never as close to him as I have been to others, his untimely death is incredibly sad and I am so very sorry that it has happened.

Upon ending my sophomore year at high school in NYC, I was asked by the administration to leave that school (since I was never there, cutting class, and thus taking up a spot that could be used by a more deserving child). Frustrated and fed up with my delinquency, I was moved to upstate NY, to New Paltz. I spent the summer there, bored, knowing no one. In September I boarded the school bus on my road, and soon after met Jay. I was a punk rocker freaky kid, 16 years old, and he was a skater freaky kid, in my grade. We hit it off immediately, and after school, on one of those first days, we hung out. He introduced me to his group of friends in NP, and I was welcomed into the fold.

Although I grew closer to some other friends, Jay and I continued to run in the same circle, and were always in the same places, sitting around together and just hanging out.

In January of that junior year of high school, I dropped out. I moved to other places, but as my parents have a house there, and my close friends were there, I continued to visit. For a long time I still spent a lot of time with him and other friends up there. As the years went by and my closer friends moved away, I stopped seeing Jay and others up there; I lost my connection through my close, more permanent friends, who know everyone better than I do. But I still saw Jay when those close friends were in town.

The last time I saw him was last year, at an old bar that we used to all go to. Because I have moved around a lot, I have always been paranoid that people wouldn't remember me as time has passed. But over the last 13 years, including last year's meeting at the bar, Jay always remembered me, and always talked to me like nothing had changed, time had not passed.

Jay was one of the nicest people I think I ever encountered. He was always so nice to me, and friendly and welcoming, always. He was also very funny. I was talking to my husband earlier about Jay. Luckily my husband had met him on several occasions and has experienced some of my fondest and funniest memories of him, which are probably too risque/controversial to write here. But that was one of the best things about Jay, and I'm so truly sorry that I won't be able to experience more of him.


Tuesday, September 4, 2007

First Day down, only how many days to go?

I'm so tired, this is partly taken from my email to my other fellows...

School's fine - It went really well today. We had a day-long orientation for the 8th grade, so my partner and I were with our homeroom the whole day, which is exhausting. I don't know how elementary school teachers do it, with their classes all day (at least, as far as I remember - maybe it's different now?).

But, aside from some kids truly questioning (not nasty or sarcastic, just really curious) the uniform and a rule here or there, it was awesome. Tomorrow I teach my first ELA class. Let's see how it goes!! I have worked on the class website all night, adding homework for the rest of the week. Oh, and don't forget I have my Advisory Field Trip on Friday, so I had to figure out how to get there (with another teacher's help!) and write out a permission slip. Harder than you'd think!! And Thursday is school-wide happy hour, hooray!!

So far, so good. Hooray, new school year! It feels like old times.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Oh, but I forgot to mention...

I sound so calm and together in that last blog, but never fear my friends.... I am....

First Day of School

I am lucky enough to do my first year of teaching at a school that I worked at last year as an Urban Teaching Fellow (not to be confused with the NYC Teaching Fellows, which is what I currently am - I know, I've been around the block, eh?).

I went back to school last Thursday, which was the first "official" day of school. Other teachers had been in since that Monday, but since I'd been told earlier this summer that I wouldn't have my own classroom because I was only teaching one section of ELA (English Language Arts), I didn't rush to get back. Of course, when I went in on Thursday I was informed that I do have my own classroom (the library) and I realized I had better hurry my butt up there to start cleaning and making my room ready for a loving, nurturing and intelligent learning environment.

So, two and a half days later I finally got the library relatively classroom-looking, and I'm feeling fairly confident.

Tomorrow, September 4th, is the first day for the kids. They arrive at 8:00am. I will be at the school when the doors are unlocked, at 7:00am, Starbucks in hand, ready to rev (how do you spell that word??) myself up and start labeling my bins for Writer's Notebooks, etc, which I have yet to do. Then my homeroom partner and I will go downstairs and pick the kids up from the cafeteria and bring them upstairs to homeroom. We will all be together all day, for orientation. We will be doing exciting things: filling out blue cards (contact info), filling out lots of thrilling paperwork, handing out supplies (it's a new thing for my school this year - we are giving supplies to each student for $15. This is to create uniformity and clarity in organization of classwork, etc.), doing "two truths and a lie", playing charades for the school's 12 non-negotiable rules, and all kinds of other housekeeping activities. Should be a blast (really? well, maybe not. we'll see!).

If I'm not an empty shell of myself tomorrow, I will write more and let you all know how it went!

Saturday, September 1, 2007

And then there was Vienna!


First off...
Before I talk about Vienna, I'd like to say, I'm a computer retard. Which means I don't know much of how to do fancy computery things. Despite the fact that I took a basic computer class when I was at Hunter College doing my undergrad. But I just figured out how to link things on this here blog, so get ready people... you're in for excitement. My whole blogging life is suddenly just huge!

Pretty European building


We took the Pendolino from Prague to Vienna early Monday morning and arrived at 12:30. Because of the teaching fellows and exhaustion, I didn't get much of a chance to study up on my German, or do much research in terms of what to see and where to go. Most of my reading took place on the train ride. I relied only on Rick Steves' 2007 Germany/Austria book. That was all we needed. (More on how I adore Rick Steves at a later date.)

We took Rick Steves' self-guided walking tour and tram tour around the city circle. It was beautiful (I still love Prague more, though). Pictures!

St. Stephen's Cathedral

Judenplatz (Jewish Square - memorial)

Painting on the side of a crazy circus tent in a square.

Rick Steves recommends The Palmenhaus for lunch, and so do we! We didn't understand the menu and just ordered. This is what we got.

Herzparadeiser mit Büffelburrata
(Salad of mozzarella, figs, pistachio and what were either some kind of purple chip or fried lavender petals)

Entrecôte Double mit Kräutersalat und Pistazienöl Trüffelcrostini (für 2 Personen)
(Steak with fabulous garlic bread with truffles!)

You can see that these very appetizing plates were quite a relief from what may have been. After we ordered, husband started talking about how maybe Austrians love monkey brains and that was what we would end up being served - you know, Indiana Jones style. I started having anxiety, but then the food arrived and it was all good. Yum!!

Here's a picture of a fantastic old Viennese cafe that Rick Steves says hasn't changed since 1880, including that hat stand you can kind of see in the center of the picture. It's true - this place was classic. I can't remember the name now, but I'll list it when I am able to access it.

Yummy apfelstrudel (applestruden) and topfenstrudel (strudel with sweet cheese and raisins)

This was an amazing gelato dessert named "Mozart" at a gelateria next to the little Danube. This had chocolate and pistachio gelato, chocolate sauce and this amazing stuff I can only describe as pistachio cream, or butter, or something amazing. Oh my god - it was sooooo good.

Vienna, in our 30 hours there, was great, it was very pretty and clean. I didn't find anyone to be particularly nice, but that might be because most of the salespeople and servers that we encountered were all older women, and perhaps they didn't like us young and lively and tattooed tourists. We did have two very nice servers at this biezel (neighborhood restaurant) that we went to for dinner on our one night there, so that was promising. Lots of wine and good food. Forgot the name of that place, also. Oh well. Hooray Vienna! If only I could recreate that Mozart gelato extravaganza, I'd be the happiest tourist in the world.