The Teacher's Desk

The Times and Trials of a Real Teacher

Day 28: Leave the Shit Alone June 16, 2013

Filed under: Teaching — carlienoelle @ 7:55 pm

A vivid memory of mine will always linger in my head until I am senile or dead. A humid day in Baltimore must have lowered everyone’s threshold of patience. I was eleven, maybe twelve, and I was arguing with my grandmother.

At the time, I was living with my grandparents under undesirable circumstances. My parents just divorced and although my mom lived with us too, she was barely around as she was trying to piece together her mental and emotional state. I had a list of issues and I won’t explain what they are because anybody over the age of fifteen can figure them out for themselves.

So my grandmother had picked me up from the Lutheran school I didn’t fit in to and we were arguing about the school dance. Despite the uncomfortable and awkward situations I was sure to endure, I wanted to go. My grandmother felt it wasn’t age appropriate and my mother wasn’t aware of the event, my request, or anything else surrounding the issue.

The argument ended when two slip of the tongues collided together. My grandmother, who had never cursed in my presence and has never cursed since, yelled, “I’m sick of putting up with this shit!”

“Then leave the shit alone,” I rebutted out of anger, so naturally that I sounded like I had been hanging out in biker bars for the last year or more. Right or wrong, you have to admit it was a pretty savvy remark for an eleven or maybe twelve-year-old and I was pretty impressed with myself. However, the moment it spewed from my mouth, I felt deeply ashamed and to this day have never used any such words to my family members. My grandmother and I continued the ride in the car in complete silence, breathing the stuffy air of disbelief.

When a middle schooler utters similar words, usually to other students, I regress to that day. Shame is in the air, but only I am aware of its existence. It’s as if I am embarrassed for the student to have the nerve to say such things while adults are in ear-shot. None-the-less I hear disgusting language throughout the day to such volumes, I can not punish every culprit or even discuss the situation in any meaningful way. I’m just relieved my grandmother is far from these rooms and hallways.  She supports the gays, rock music, and black people in public places, but other than that one day, foul language just isn’t her style.

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Day 26-27: My High Class and the School’s Low Expectations December 16, 2010

Filed under: Teaching — carlienoelle @ 4:07 pm

            It’s 7:35 A.M. or what I would call butt crack of dawn.  Coffee tastes so good, especially since I am not supposed to drink it.  It gives me migraines, just as pizza does, which is why I think of pizza as a cheese covered orgasm.  At least that’s how I remember it.  The coffee effect isn’t quite the same, but after I milk it down as much as possible I have just enough to make this morning tolerable. 

          Today we’re finishing up the reading and analyzing of a short story about gang violence. The students usually find it relatable and will engage in it for at least fifteen to thirty minutes.

          At 7:45 I ask, “What do you predict will happen to John?” I see a couple of hands, but since they are the same three hands I always see, I call on Jake who is more interested in his pen.

          “I don’t know,” Jake responds because it is his most comfortable answer.

          “There’s no wrong answer. Just take a guess. We know John joined the Royals and is wearing their purple jacket. We also know that one of their rivals is angrier than usual and going to the same party.” Despite my certainty that this is a simple situation, Jake continues to stare at his pen and shrug.  Maybe some multiple choice will work. “Do you think John will stay home from the party even though his girlfriend’s there just so he can stay out of trouble, or do you think he will go and get into a fight?”

          Jake thinks about it but quickly turns to see Mike Berona walking through my door. Crap. I was hoping to accomplish some things today.  I watch him head to the back of the room for his seat, which is unusual because he likes to go to two or three other seats first just so we can have a five minute delay of ‘Mike, go to your seat.’  Just as I am deciding to avoid the three minute attitude loaded excuse for where he’s been, I get a huge whiff of fresh marijuana smoke.  Immediately looking at the other kids to see what their reaction is, I take a sigh of relief as no one seems to notice.  I quickly decide that I got to get him out of here and with an administrator before they think this is the coolest thing since sliced bread.  I calmly make my way over to the call button while I watch Mike sitting calmly, a little too calmly for him.

          One of the secretaries, Kathy, answers my call over the loud speaker. You will always get Kathy when you call and you will always hear the announcements of the day given by her.  This is because she has the whiniest and shriekiest voice known to man and we, the beings of the classroom, are not agonized enough as it is.  

          “Yes, can you ask Mr. Kolowski to come to my room?”

          “He’s in a meeting right now.”

          “Just tell him to come as soon as he can unless someone else can get here.”

          “Has there been a fight?”

          “No.”  The administration of this school has decided that they do not need to assist us in anyway unless violence and/or safety is an issue. 

          For the next twenty minutes it’s business, or something like it, as usual until Kolowski comes into my classroom. In front of the class he says to me in a tone I mostly reserve only for my students, “What is the problem? I am in an important meeting.”

          The students stare in amazement letting out a few slight chuckles. I move closer to him and softly explain that Mike reeks of marijuana.  He gives a quick ok and takes Mike out of the room.

          Appalled at Kolowski’s’s reaction to my call and considering I never request him or anyone else unless absolutely necessary, I resolve to write an email as follows:

          “I was deeply concerned for the morale of my entire class when I noticed Mike’s state.  I did not want the other students to notice due to his popularity amongst them.  In addition, the gossip that would follow would disrupt their entire day. I hope you do not feel that I would interrupt your day for anything less than incredibly important.”

          Confidence surged through me as I deemed my email both mature and professional, but a quick “Please see me” was the response I received. 

         I spent most of the evening in a worrisome state as neither Kolowski or I was able to meet each other yesterday. Does he actually think that I am wrong? Did I say something that crossed the line? I kept reassuring myself that, no, he simply was going to fill me in on what happened. Or maybe he has some semi-confidential information about Mike that he wants to explain to me, so I understand the situation fully.  Despite my own consoling, I dreaded the worst. But hey, I usually do that just to find in the end it was all for nothing.

         After my first three classes the following day, I stepped into his office to see Kolowski sitting at his desk. He resembled a man somewhere between an exhausted Santa Claus at the end of his Christmas delivery and a grumpy grandfather not enjoying the two-year-old’s birthday party. 

           “Carlie, I wanted to let you know that though I appreciate you expression of concern, I am unsure as to why you believe that Mike was smoking marijuana,” he began as he confidently reclined in a chair I hoped didn’t break from the strain, or maybe I hoped it did.

              I struggled and began to panic. My instincts were precise. He is questioning me. “What do you mean? I told you he absolutely reeked of the stuff.”

              “Well, here’s the problem.  After I took Mike from your class, I brought him to three other adults in the building and they all agreed that he did not smell like marijuana. Now, Mike’s uncle is the one who drops him off in the morning and he smokes a considerable amount of cigarettes. It was probably just the second-hand smoke you smelled on him.  Carlie, isn’t it true that you are just frustrated with Mike? Perhaps that is what this is about.”

           Something inside of me, perhaps the last little bit of self-esteem I had left from this place sucking it away like a spiteful vampire, started to snap. “Cigarettes? You have got to be kidding me. I have not been out of college so long that I can’t tell the difference between cigarette smoke and pot!  As far as frustrated, yes! Me and the rest of the school. However, yesterday Mike wasn’t the bit frustrating at all. He was too relaxed from all the pot he smoked. He was quieter and happier than I had ever seen him.  If you think that I am more interested in my own benefits than the well-fare of the twenty-nine other students in my classroom, than your forty years of experience must be filled with people who don’t care about the real reason why we’re here and I hope you are not one of them.  If there is nothing else, I would prefer to go back to my room to prep for my lessons.”

         Honestly, his expression changed very little. I had neither shocked him or convinced him of anything. “I would only like to say that I am sorry you feel that way.”

            I walked hurriedly back to my room. There are so many levels on which this fires me up.  There’s no doubt that Mike out of my classroom isn’t my best part of the day each and every time, but I am not one to falsely accuse for my own benefit. Are others? I decided to robot my way through the rest of the day. I had enough for the day.

           On the way home I poured my heart, soul, and grief out to Lisa, my commuting buddy.

       “Oh, that reminds me,” she interjects once I pause in my soliloquy for more than three seconds. “Josh said that as he was on his morning cafeteria duty yesterday, he checked the bathroom, and Mike was in there, around seven forty. He told him to get out and Mike left.”

         “Really? That makes perfect sense. Unfortunately we’re not the kind of school where you take the kid to the office for tardiness and he gets in trouble.  There’s no consequence for that here. Did he smell any smoke?”

            “He said he didn’t really pay attention or get close enough.”

          “Oh, well. Even if I told Kolowski that Mike was obviously late to my class for smoking pot in the bathroom, he still wouldn’t do anything about it. In fact, I wasn’t expecting the kid to get in serious trouble or anything. What are we going to do, drug test him? I was just worried about him being in class with the others, that’s all.  But for the whole thing to get turned around on me is beyond my comprehension.”

             Once I got home, the only thing I could manage was laying in bed. I cried. I cried until my head hurt. I cried until Dan came home. Then I cried to him. 

           “I can’t be at this school anymore. I’d rather do anything else. How can you allow me to be this miserable?”

            Dan promised me it wasn’t forever. Just a little longer. One more day seemed too long.

 

Day 25: It’s only a pencil, or is it? December 8, 2010

Filed under: Teaching — carlienoelle @ 10:12 pm

        Is it me? Have I lost it? Now that I have been with these kids for a considerable amount of time, there are things that they do that make me want to strangle them. Not a lot, of course. Not enough to kill them or hurt them badly. Just enough to send a message.

          Half of my blue class comes to my room everyday with out a pencil. I could go on and on about the lack of responsibility and preparation this habit reveals to me, but it is another matter that makes me want to jump out of my third floor window.

          See, they sit for the first five minutes of my class not doing the warm-up. They look around aimlessly, chatter to a friend, yell at those of the opposite sex. When I then ask them why they are not doing their work, they reply with both a tone of disgust and annoyance, “I need a pencil.” Let me emphasize the tone. It’s the tone that I once used towards my grandmother in my teens that I still regret. It’s the tone that if I heard from another adult, I would refuse to speak to them again unless it was a life or death situation. It’s the tone that when used by a twelve-year-old towards an adult that cares about them, my heart begins to pound, my brain freezes, and my limbs have become uncooperative.

          After hearing this a few times on one particular day, I lecture, “It is bad enough that at twelve-years-old you can not manage to come to school with the one thing that you absolutely must have, a pencil. I can not even let you take your notebooks out of this room because it will be a miracle if they ever return. But more than anything, what outrages me the most, is that you don’t even have the respect and decency to ask for a pencil politely. A simple ‘May I please have a pencil?’ will do.”

          At this, the crowd is quiet, hopefully indicating some action of self-reflection and thought. Perhaps for some, they have gotten the point. However, two minutes later as I approach Tamara about her lack of work, I hear, “I need a pencil!”

          Disgust begins to boil in my stomach as if I need to vomit on her at just this minute, but instead, I resolve to laugh for fear of the previous possible reaction. 

          Another child points out to Tamara that I am laughing at her, but Tamara just denies it with, “No, she’s laughing at you!”

          No, some do not get it. They don’t get it at all.

 

Day 24: When your patience is no more

Filed under: Teaching — carlienoelle @ 9:20 pm

       Here is an email I received from a parent this morning:

 “Kevin was sent to detention for his disrespect. In order to command the respect of students, teachers need to lead by example. Asking Kevin if he is an idiot or if he is dumb is not the way to go. I understand he was trying to do homework during detention. A simple “put it away” would have sufficed. Hopefully, this was an isolated incident.  How disappointing!”

         Now let me explain. Kevin makes me want to scream almost everyday because he talks constantly and talks back to me to get attention. But the things he says to me aren’t usually disrespectful enough to really give any major consequences, which makes Kevin pretty smart. No matter what I have to say, even if it’s telling the class to get out their pencils, he’s going, “Oh, man. That’s bull.”  If I tell him to stop talking, he says he wasn’t doing anything or asks me what he did.  However, he was finally being enough of a jerk the other day that I could award him a detention.

          When he came to detention, I told him he could sit down and read the book he has to finish for my class by tomorrow.  Here’s a quick and dirty of the events that rise to the climax of this situation:

          Kevin- I want to do my homework.

Me- You can’t do your homework; this is detention.

Kevin- Mr. Kilowski lets me do my homework in detention.

Me- Well, this isn’t Mr. Kilowski’s detention; it’s mine.

Kevin- I have basketball practice today. I need to get my homework done.

Me- You should have thought about that before you earned the detention. Besides, reading is your homework anyway.

 Kevin- I don’t have the book.

 Me- Here, borrow mine.

 Kevin- I already finished to book.

  Me- Ok, what happens in the end?

  Kevin- Why do I have to tell you?

  Me- Because that’s part of your test tomorrow.

  Kevin- I don’t remember.

  Me- Then you should read it over.

  Kevin- I think the slaves escape.

  Me- Good. Where to?

  Kevin- Africa.

  Me- No, that’s incorrect.

  Kevin- No, it’s not.

  Me- Yes, it is. Now go ahead and read.

  Kevin- The only reason why I have this detention is because you blame me for talking even though I don’t do anything.

  Me- I certainly didn’t give you a detention because it’s fun for me, but I am sorry you feel that way.

            At this time, with all the calmness that is within me, I walk back to my desk, proud that I have so far not shoved the book down his throat. But when I look back at him, his math homework and pencil is out on his desk.  I quickly return to his side and ask for him to give me the pencil. He snatches the pencil away from the grip I almost have on it, so I grab every belonging of his that I can claim.  It is at this time when he says, “What? I can’t do my homework?” that I begin to burn with anger.

          “ARE YOU DUMB? OF COURSE YOU CAN’T DO YOUR HOMEWORK!”

          So this of course needs some straightening out. I feel mildly bad for being unprofessional, but not bad enough to apologize for anything. Plus, I know that this woman will be on my case for the next eight months if I don’t resolve this. So here was my response:

 “Thank you for your valid points.  My leading by example for the last couple of months has not been working with Kevin.  I have been nothing but respectful to him and I can not recall him ever returning the favor. I have no idea where he gets his disrespectful position from or why he feels he needs to argue with everything I say, but I assure you it is not from me.   He seems so angry in my room and it greatly puzzles me as to why he seems this way. I also do not want Kevin to think he is dumb or feel that I think that way. My point was that only a dumb person would believe  that he could do his homework after are discussion on that exact topic had just taken place, which he probably did not include in his story to you. I am sorry if you find my comment out of line, but I do not.  None the less, it is certainly not a comment made from a patient person, and I admit, my patience had completely vanished by then. The simple “put it away” was not working with Kevin. He did nothing but argue with me the whole first twenty minutes he was there.  I understand your concern and I hope that I can build more positivity between Kevin and I, and yesterday was not a good day for that. I am happy that after Kevin read his book for the last twenty minutes of the detention, he understood the ending much better and was ready for the quiz. Today he came in with a much better attitude and was excited to do well on the test, and I too was excited for him and hopefully portrayed that to him.  Thank you for your thoughts on this matter.”

 Hopefully, this will resolve the matter.

 

Day 23: Guilty Pleasures Without The Pleasure December 3, 2010

Filed under: Teaching — carlienoelle @ 11:30 pm

      Another teacher in this country has been accused of having sexual relations with a student. This time it was a twenty-eight-year-old female in Florida; however, Florida seems to often have females accused of this conduct. Fortunately this time, the teacher has been proven innocent, only after her career and character has been ruined, of course. 

        I am so absolutely frustrated with these cases. Teenagers are immature, self-serving, liars. You want to know how you can tell if a teenager is lying? They’re lips are moving. Ok, I’m being harsh. But a teenager’s brain is not fully developed until they are twenty-five. They don’t understand consequences and feel invincible. So why, why, why do we put so much stock in what they say?

         I guess we must protect the children, but sometimes I feel we need protection from them. In college I remember lectures of protecting yourself. For example, don’t ever put yourself alone in a room with a student. This just saddens me that I have to think about this stuff, but kids today know their rights and somehow have also figured out how to use them negatively.  I have lots of students who would like to degrade me and they don’t understand the power of an accusation.

          Never in my life have I heard my husband say an unkind word to anyone. He was raised by two wonderful parents determined to raise an upstanding citizen. Yet, in middle school he found joy in making his Spanish teacher cry by asking her in front of the class how she felt about her husband sleeping with other women and divorcing her. Apparently in his mind she deserved this because she gave his brother a D two years prior. Empathy and understanding during those years was not his strong point.

         Lying can be a second nature to some kids. Just last week, I clearly saw Yolemica’s pink and purple notebook fly through the air, land very close to another student three rows back, and heard the boy yell, “Don’t throw your notebook at me, Yolemica!” Despite this, Yolemica told me five times that she did not throw the notebook. Nobody else was near enough to do it. She seemed to not understand that she was caught in action and had not even a small, gray excuse to explain herself. She would stand by the lie none the less.   

          A few teenage boys thought it would be cool to have sex with a young teacher and did not think the situation through. I am not surprised by this. I am only surprised with the large group of adults who quickly believed them.  From what I have heard, the innocent teacher is suing and I say good for her. Maybe hitting people and schools where it hurts might make them think twice about accusing a teacher, since logic isn’t working. Schools should investigate accusations, but teachers are forced to take leave or resign before proven guilty. And the internet’s comments and harassment will remain despite legalities anyway.  But the ones who are never guilty? The innocent children who don’t know any better.

 

Day 22: Lovin’ Tough Love

Filed under: Teaching — carlienoelle @ 7:36 pm

          I got a good look at tough love today. Not towards me but  towards one of my students. Cute, nice girl.  Does some of her work in my class, but is failing two other classes. Her mom requested a meeting and since the seventh grade administrator is out today, the eighth grade administrator, Jen Goodman, is hosting the meeting in her office.

          I really didn’t know what this whole thing was about, but Goodman seemed to be in a rush, so she put everything on the table in under five minutes. Apparently Miss Cutie has been taking the wrong bus, hanging out with friends and boyfriends until late in the evening, and mom has been worried out of her mind. 

          “Is this the way you want to treat your mother?” Goodman yelled, and when I say yelled, I mean it.  In fact, her voice rang with authority and volume throughout the whole meeting in a way my voice is just not capable of doing.

          The girl had tears streaming down her face in a shame that I have seen many times before, so I was surprised when I heard, “I hate her!” passionately erupt from her lungs. 

          Well, if Goodman was angry before, she was fuming at this point. Through this better-than-television scenario, I learned that this little thing who has smiled at me everyday with innocence and charm had called child protective services on her mother.

          “Has your mother been beating you?”

          “No.”

          “Has she been feeding you?”

          “Yes.”

          “Has she been keeping you warm and safe?”

          “Yes.”

          “Then I don’t understand what the problem is. You’re lucky you have a mother! You call my kids and ask them what they think of me and I can assure you they will tell you I am the meanest, strictest mother on the face of the planet, but oh well. Just doing my job and so is your mother. Because despite that you just embarrassed her in front of a room of adults, she still loves you.  And let me tell you what we’re going to do. We are going to have a child agency come to your house once a week for counseling purposes and you’re going to do everything they ask you to do. I’ll be watching and if you don’t do what you’re told to, I am going to call DCF, but it won’t be on your mother; it will be on you. And let me tell you something: if they ever take you out of your mother’s house for any reason, you’re going to regret it.

          “So, here’s what is going to happen. You are going to go the bathroom right now. You’re going to clean yourself up. Your going to spend the rest of the day complaining to your friends about how bad you have it and how Mrs. Goodman is such a B-, but tomorrow, you’re going to come in a brand new student. You’re only going to receive A’s, B’s, and C’s. Then at the end of everyday starting today, you’re going to get on the correct bus home, and if you don’t, you’ll be with me until five o’clock everyday until I drive you home. Do you understand?”

          The girl nodded, sniffled a couple of times and went on her way. Her mother continued to sit all this time, solemn but pulled together. I sat amazed, because one day I too will have a little girl who hates me at some point.  Just as my first instinct was to hug my student and ask her to tell me about all the terrible things that are upsetting her so much, I’ll want to spoil my daughter in love and affection until she adores me.  But I’d be wrong.  It’s so much easier to want to be these children’s friend, but that’s not what a good parent or teacher or administrator is.  They don’t need any more friends. There are nine-hundred students here for that.

 

Day 21: Putting Out Fires

Filed under: Teaching — carlienoelle @ 7:28 pm

         As I am walking out of my classroom today to go home, well, running is more like it, I see three custodians at the boys’ bathroom.  I see Al, probably the friendliest person in this building. He may have one of the lowest paid positions, but I envy his lack of child-guiding responsibilities. 

          “What’s going on, Al?”

          “Well, it appears that a couple of your lovely seventh graders decided to light a trash can on fire using some chemicals they found somewhere,” he responds, smiling.

          “Really? Are they going to call the police.”

          “Nah, they’ll just give ‘em in-school suspension for a day or two,” Al says, still smiling.

          “With all they do trying to not deal with the discipline problems in this school, you would think they’d let the police take care of this one.”

          He continues on with his work but says, “You know they don’t want this stuff to get into the paper, especially since the kids are black.  The paper always makes the schools sound racist.”

          He’s right. A couple of years ago, the local paper said that far more black students were being suspended than white.  They negelcted to report the number of black students enrolled, which would have to be competitve with  other races.  Now the schools don’t want to suspend students anymore because they want the number of black students who are suspended to stay as low as possible.  Another reason why this school isn’t putting out many fires.