When we came back from Thanksgiving break, I had four straight weeks of teaching staring me in the face. Just 1.5 days to go now, and it still seems a little impossible. These past four weeks have been anything but easy, even though it’s definitely not October anymore and I swear a lot of people promised me the worst was over. (A spoiler for soon-to-be new teachers: I’m pretty sure that all veteran teachers lie to you and keep changing the name of the month when things magically get better. First I heard September, then October. Several weeks back I heard December; now I’m hearing rumors about a wondrous turnaround in the month of January. Nice try, but I’m on to you).
At the start of middle school staff meetings we are always asked to add new concerns to the agenda. I’m at the point where I regularly say “pass,” not because I don’t have any concerns (believe me, I have several hundred at any given moment) but because they are the same old concerns and I know my school will not help me address them. Even so, a few noteworthy things have occurred this month:
-In the past week, the sixth grade has expelled 3 male students, all of whom started the year in my class. One was switched to another section two days into the school year, which luckily allowed me to appreciate his sense of humor a lot more. We had one especially memorable conversation at lunch about his opinion on the Kardashians’ morals. Last week, he burst into my room and announced to the class, “Ms. S., check out the new epidemic- it’s called WEARING SHORTS IN WINTER!” And yes, he was wearing shorts in below 20 degree weather.
Of the other two boys, one was not technically expelled- his parents switched him to another school- but I’d bet he was dangerously close to expulsion considering that his last write-up was for karate kicking a female student in the back. The third boy was expelled in the middle of the day today, not for any specific incident but apparently because the school had finally had enough. I could write an entire book about his issues, but instead I’ll just say that I actually am disappointed he’s gone- actually that all three of the boys are gone- because I’ll always feel like I could have done more. Interacting one-on-one with any of these boys was always a bright spot in my day, because it was easy to see how much potential they had. Here’s hoping they transfer to public schools with the right systems in place to help them.
-I finished my first semester of grad school, as required by my TFA region. I could probably spend 3+ hours making a list of all the things I hate about this awful, awful institution, but I’d rather not spend another second thinking about it until I’m forced to attend classes again in February. Ugh.
-We had an engineer visit our classroom and answer questions about careers in engineering! Actually, the engineer was one of my close friends who is a very talented engineering major but not technically pursuing a career in the field of engineering. However, the kids did not need to know this tiny insignificant detail and thus were pretty excited about it. We even spent some time brainstorming good questions before Ms. D. arrived. A sample: “Are you bad at engineering?” “Does Ms. S ever ask you to fix anything for her?” “Could you engineer iPads for all of us?” “Do you know how to fix faces?”
-We got our first set of return pen pal letters back from my mom’s 1st/2nd grade class- complete with pictures! Sadly, the pictures prompted my students to waste a good 5 minutes speaking in Somali, pointing and laughing at the adorable gap-toothed 7 year olds. Then, about half of my class threw a good old-fashioned hissy fit when they realized that many of my mom’s students had included sentences in their letters like, “I am so excited for Christmas!” or “What do you want for Christmas?” My students might not be too enthralled with math or reading, but man oh man are they defensive of perceived attacks on their religion: “WHATTTT IS THIS?! I CAN’T READ ABOUT CHRISTMAS!” “Christmas is so stupid! I’m not going to write a letter back to this stupid kid!” (My very favorite remark was the one I used as my blog title, which was yelled at me by a boy who is usually very quiet and respectful. That one earned us a lecture on respecting other religions and appreciating the opportunity to educate others about our own culture).
-I started using a Scholar Dollar system for positive behavior reinforcement. Basically, students are given raffle tickets or “Scholar Dollars” throughout the day as reinforcement for working diligently, following directions, setting a good example, etc. At the end of the week students enter all of their dollars in a raffle and the winners get a fabulous prize. We used a system like this at Institute and I actually dislike it because it’s a huge pain to keep up with throughout the day. However, 1.5 weeks in and a handful of my kids are responding well so far. If nothing else, it’s a great way to keep the hard workers motivated even when they have to sit through all the behavior lectures that the rest of the class inspires. Last week the grand prize was one free homework pass, 10 minutes playing games on the iPad, or a package of candy. I honestly thought they’d go nuts for the iPad, but little did I know that boxes of Bubble Yum from the dollar store are actually the most exciting thing ever, in the world.
-WE ARE GETTING LOTS OF BOOKS! Thanks to DonorsChoose, some very nice friends and an anonymous donor, my class is getting sets of The Hunger Games, The Giver, Hatchet and Frindle. They should be arriving shortly after winter break, and I could not be more excited that we’ll be rid of our horribly boring reading textbook.
-We took our second round of standardized testing for the year, and of the kids who actually put forth effort during testing, there were some pretty solid improvements. One kid jumped up 2.5 grade levels in both reading and math since he took the test 3 months ago. Either he bashed his fist down on the keyboard randomly during the first testing session (knowing him as I do, it’s pretty likely), or I’m just the most transformational teacher ever. I’m going to go with the second option.