Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Bad Day

After a particularly long week I called up a former principal of mine (Chris)  who I had worked under and invited him for a beer.  We agreed to meet at a little hole in wall between our schools. 

We grabbed a couple seats at the bar and a fat guy with an gnarly beard served us a couple of draft beers.  I started in about whatever had been gnawing at me that particular week. 
My friend sat quietly looking ahead and doing his best to pretend he was interested.  "I've had a bad day" he finally interrupted. 

"We caught two students having sex in the bathroom."  Chris was principal of a junior high and kids that age having sex is no small deal.  "But that's not the best part." He took a gulp of his beer.  "The students were both male."

Even though I could tell he wasn't kidding, I did the thing where I make him tell me he's not, as if that honestly verifies anything.  "But that's not best part." he said still looking ahead.  "They're both self contained special education students."

I was beginning to feel a lot better about my week envisioning the calls Chris clearly had to make following this incident.  "But that's not the best part."  Another gulp of beer (I ordered another one)... "We don't think the sex was consensual. And that's not the best part either.  Rumor has it, one of the students is HIV positive."

He went on to explain that district office told him he was unable to share the potential HIV issue with the other child because of HIPPA.  The thought that a student under the roof of his school may potentially have become infected with an incurable disease is a pretty tough one to shoulder.  I probably would have started with hard liquor. 

When I get calls about two different buses whose student passengers are misbehaving, have a parent unfairly rip me a new one, or perhaps find a weapon on a student making a life altering bad decision, I always remember that my day could be much worse.  It could have been Chris's bad day. 

A brief disclaimer... the stories I tell in this blog are true.  The tale above largely comes from a colleagues perspective.  While I have no reason to doubt is credibility, I also know how things can stretch while sitting in a bar.  Consider this my admission that I cannot personally verify his story.  My involvement of listening to this being told is authentic! 

Monday, February 27, 2012

Barber Shop Boss

A close friend of mine worked at a local junior high for a principal who was universally hated by the staff and did all sort of bizarre, potentially illegal things.  It's always an amazement to me how some of these administrators can keep their jobs for so long when their incompetence is so widely known.  But anyway...

As my buddy and I would share work stories over a beer now and then, he'd always bitch about his boss.  A lot of the stories were pretty good! He's read the entire newspaper in the garage with the custodian each morning.  He'd buy himself lunch regularly out of the office petty cash.  He'd call female teachers on the weekends when he was drunk.  However, I'll admit as unacceptable as the aforementioned instances are, there were other times my friend would complain and I would understand why his principal was doing what he was doing.

One day my pal starts complaining that his boss runs his personnel errands during the school day.  I'm guilty of occasionally filling up the gas tank or picking up a prescription while I'm out running between central office and school, and admitted this to my friend.

"Yeah- well do you get your haircut in the middle of the school day?!"   Ouch.

Principals need to be more acutely aware of how closely their staff watch them.  Of course, when you return to work with a new hair style, even those who are barely paying attention notice.  It's a quick way to lose your teaching staff and destroy a school.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Communication Breakdown

My first year of teaching was Jim Oscar's last.  He had taught for 30 something years, and in my opinion, was a giant prick.  I don't know how he was during his 'peak' years, or what a career of that length in the classroom will do to a person, but Jim is exactly the type of person I hate to work around: never smiles, appears to hate kids, writes lots of referrals, etc.

Jim took a cell phone off a kid in class one day.  This was in the real early years of cell phones, where a student having one was universally treated about the same as having a revolver or a heroin needle.  As with seemingly all student issues, Jim wrote a referral.

The dean and I were friendly and he called me over to take a look at this particular referral later that day when I was down near his office.  Jim had written the following:

"Michael had a cell phone out in class! THEN LIED AND TRIED TO TELL ME IT WAS NOT REAL!!!"  He wrote the last part real big, with lots of underlining, so everyone could see just how mad he was.  To highlight his point, Jim had taped the phone to the referral.

The phone was made of chocolate, hallow, and covered in decorative novelty foil.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Elmo & Friends

Several years back I worked at a large middle school whose teaching staff largely resembled the "Island Of Misfit Toys."  I figured that out pretty quickly after bring hired.  I just didn't know that some of the misfits actually played with toys....

Latrice Johnson was a fourth year teacher who taught 8th grade language arts. Her reputation wasn't very good in terms of teaching, but to be fair, I never observed her or worked with her.  Latrice was quick to write referrals and send students to the Dean's Office for misbehavior.  On one particular occasion the student was almost out of control with anger by the time he reached the Dean's Office.

"Puppets!" he screamed.  "What?" questioned the dean.  "PUPPETS!  She talked to me after class with PUPPETS!" "

"You mean like Mr. Hand?" said the befuddled dean.  "YES! PUPPETTTTS!"

This led to the discovery of the fact that Mrs. Johnson has been using puppets as her primary form of classroom management for sometime. You have to remember that 8th grade boys have muscles and mustaches.  They're pretty much past playing with dolls.  Mrs. Johnson would have her students stay after class and tell the puppet on her hand why they were acting the way they were.

It didn't stop there though.  Mrs. Johnson would frequently reference Elmo in her teaching, and openly admit that watching Elmo videos after school was her form of therapy (she should come to my house, my damn kids won't turn that crap off...not very therapeutic in my opinion!).  On one occasion several lap top computers were stolen out of her room- while she was teaching.  Amazingly, they were recovered.  When Latrice heard the news, she shouted, "I'm so happy!  I can't wait to go home and watch some Elmo videos to make me feel better about this day."

Administration talked to her about this stuff, but she refused to relent.  She believed in what she was doing, and continued to use the puppets frequently in her classroom management.

Obviously, this is a person you wouldn't want teaching your child. The principal was a first year administrator and thankfully saw it the same way.  He opted to not bring Latrice back and gave her the reason of not being age appropriate for junior high students.  She sued the school district claiming racial discrimination.

With all the talk about 'bad teachers' that politicians and other uniformed outsiders have been slinging for years, this is one situation where I take some exception with the way things are in education.  A tenured teacher has basically an iron clad job for life unless they commit a crime.  A non-tenured teacher can simply sue.  How is administration supposed to remove ineffective teachers?  No principal or superintendent wants to be in the newspaper for something like this, and certainly does not want to put the district (and tax payers...) through expensive legal proceedings.  This principal was new, and perhaps too naive to understand that his courageous correct decision was going to be largely problematic.  Merit pay, judging teachers based on high stakes test results, and other goofy things that people outside the industry are cooking up are unfair and not likely to improve teaching.  However, at some point, there HAS to be a method for removal of really awful teachers like Latrice.  

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Stimulus Tool?

I worked with a high school biology teacher named John Johnson (seriously).  Mr. Johnson kept a long hollow steel pipe on the ledge of his wipe board.  While he was teaching stimulus response, he would take the pipe off the ledge and slam it down on the tile science room floor.  It scared the shit out of everyone in the room who knew he was about to do it.  It literally created am ear piercing noise.

John was a good guy, but his teaching must have been what Ben Stein's character in Ferris Bueller's Day Off was based on.  He was a dry dude, and when he turned the lights out and started delivering notes via the overhead projector, students occasionally fell asleep.

The student who falls asleep in class has long posed a bit of a quandary.  The students basically turn on their vulnerable classmate hoping that their teacher will stop acting like an adult, lower themselves to their maturity level and pull some prank.  The teacher often reverts back to their college days and begins quickly searching their mind for some gag that won't get them fired.

John Johnson went for his big pipe.  With a silly grin he tip toed over to his victim, a freshman girl with little interest in the basics of cellular metabolism.  Mr. Johnson hammered the pipe on the floor near the girl who nearly fell off her stool.  Like I said, the noise startled you when you knew it was coming, but after the class recovered from their own shock they howled with laughter.  The girl was of course embarrassed and pissed off, but what leg could she stand on when she's sleeping in class?

News spread quickly through the school of the incident.  Both from students and John telling everyone who had ears (it was kind of funny... a little cruel, but still kind of funny).  The problem was, John kept teaching with the lights out, kids kept falling asleep, and John kept slamming his pipe down on the floor.  It became 'his thing.' You could hear the damn pipe echoing through the whole building.  At first all the student in your class would giggle and you'd say something like, "Oops, looks like someone fell asleep in Mr. Johnson's class."  But the first time you were walking down the hall on your plan with a cup of coffee and nearly had a heart attack because some asshole keeps tossing an steel rod around, it ceases to be cute.

John Johnson carried on with the pipe routine till he retired.  I picture him sitting around in retirement telling war stories to anyone who will listen about what he used to do when kids nodded off his his 9th grade biology course, and still just thinking it was the most hysterical thing of all time.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Death and the Internet

I spent a few years working at a large urban junior high.  Academics honestly usually took a back seat to behavior and safety concerns.  Gangs, poverty, drugs, & disrespect were the issues that were usually the primary focus each day.  As one might expect, our gifted population was fairly thin (no doubt because a large portion of truly gifted kids were unidentified).

We had one kid though who was the total package: James Baldwin.  James (who like a truly gifted student preferred James rather than Jim or Jimmy) was a straight A student.  He would have like either killed himself or been killed by own of his two parents (who lived in the same house and were still married) if he so much as brought home an A-.  He only talked with other high end students (didn't want to get with the wrong crowd...), and had never been any kind of trouble... ever.  Well, till the day he got mad.

We got rumor about midday that James had been handing out slips of papers to students with the web address written on it.  This was nearly ten years ago when educators barely knew what to make of the Internet.  There were no legal classes on this sort of thing like there are now, and certainly nothing like Facebook where similar situations are not uncommon.

None of the administrators could believe it, but one thing was for sure- the principal in question was not going to take this well.  She was an original model flame thrower.  Staff, students, and parents routinely left her office in tears for minor offenses.  I felt there was at least a chance I would witness something like spontaneous combustion, fire breathing, or perhaps the first ordered quartering in US public schools in the 21st Century.

The principal called James down and began to question him.  You can imagine how this went with a kid like James.  He was a blubbering mess in no time.  He obviously had no idea how easily he would be caught and no idea of the severity of his actions (why when students misbehave do we turn from teachers to lawyers.... but I digress...).  The principal asked- "What did I do that make you so angry that you need me to die?"  James, through short snotty breaths answered the question, "You won't let us have water bottles in school."

At this point the group of administrators in the office were barely holding it together.  "James.  I do understand why you're so upset, but why do I have to die?  Why couldn't it have been or  I just think the penalty for not letting you have a water bottle is a little steep.  Don't you?"

By this point James resembled the witch after she gets water tossed on her at the end of The Wizard Of Oz.  He was soaked and seemed to be reducing in mass as more and more snot and tears poured from his head.  The Principal told James to take the website down, and called his parents to let them know he was getting a one day suspension.  No quartering.  

Friday, February 17, 2012

Duck Tape Can Fix Anything

I've worked in several places where "sagging"- the style of wearing your pants so they hang down around your lower butt thus exposing your underwear- has been a problem.  In every school I've ever worked in it has been a strictly prohibited style of dress, likely because of concerns it's some sort of gang identifier (I've never known it be one...).  I've always treated it like gum chewing.  It's a minor offense, I ask the student to correct it, and go on with my day.  There are enough challenges and misbehaviors that spending a great deal of time fighting sagging pants is, in my opinion, an unwise use of time.  Hell, maybe if I'd stop eating pizza for dinner four nights a week my pants would sag a little.

Some teachers, I suppose just like the gum rule, are hard core on the sagging issue- particularly female teachers who in fairness, should not have to know whether their students wear boxers or briefs.

While working at an urban middle school, sagging was full on battle.  Teachers regularly complained in faculty meetings about how huge a problem this was.  Many teachers were upset that the dean of students would often take little action on referrals that teachers wrote for sagging.  One teacher took matters into her own hands.

Beth Jones was an eighth grade social studies teacher who had more than a few screws loose.  One particular student, Byron Washington, was a classic offender of the sagging rule.  Byron came from a bad home, had zero motivation to learn, and didn't gave a damn about school.  He was hoping someone would kick him out.

Ms. Jones yelled at him day after day about the pants thing, and was tired of her referrals on Byron resulting in little consequence.  So one day, she called Byron to the front of the class and pulled out a brand new role of duck tape from her desk.  In front of the class, she used the entire roll around his waste to hold his pants up.  Byron, who in 8th grade was about 6'3'' with a full mustache, stood in front of his classmates crying hysterically and begging his teacher to stop.  When she finished the roll, she sent him to the Dean's Office.

When Byron reached the Dean's Office he'd probably lost 5 pounds from all the tears and snot that flowed out of him.  He was broken and totally humiliated.  The dean immediately removed all the tape.

Around lunch when the dean and Ms. Jones got a chance to talk about things, it got very ugly and unprofessional.  It's the only time I can recall seeing two adult educators (at school) screaming, "Fuck you!" "No, FUCK YOU!" at each other.  The dean felt that in addition to being overly humiliating, taping his pants up was a borderline civil liberties violation as he couldn't use the bathroom (a entire roll of duck tape covers a lot ground...).  To this day, I doubt either individual believes they handled that situation wrong.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Tastes Like Justice!

Several years back one my best and most experienced teachers came to me and said, "Have you seen the new kid I got today?  I think you better come take a look.  I think he's psychotic."  Rick, or "The Rick", as we often came to refer to him was definitely a strange cookie who would provide many memorable moments in his time with us.

Rick's relationship with his mother and overall family situation was also predictably strange.  There was no father in the picture.  He had a younger brother who looked like he was about ten years old, yet at every conference still sat on the mom's lap.  This kid was always seemed to be eating a giant candy cane, a Popsicle, or some other highly sticky treat which was all over his face, clothes, and fingers.  While on mom's lap, he would squirm like a three year old might while touching all my pencil cups, the candy bowl, family pictures, and anything else on my desk in arms reach (mo did little to prevent this).  It was almost impossible to concentrate on the conversation with the parent because the 'little' brother was making you so nervous. But I digress....

One day we had to call Rick's mother for some minor misbehavior.  We put Rick on the phone and had him explain what he had done wrong.  The two of them talked for a minute or so and Rick (who was already upset) used some tones and words with his mother that simply put, if I had done, my father would have told me to pick a window (then tossed me through it).  His teacher who was also with us in the office felt the same way.  "I hope your mom washes your mouth out with soap when you get home."  Rick listened to our standard adult lecture ("are we gonna have to have this talk again?" "Is that how we act in school?" "Would you like if we did that to you?" ect.) for a couple more minutes and then asked if he could use the bathroom, which we allowed.

Minutes later, a different teacher ran into my office and said in a very panicked state, "Somethings wrong with the Rick (everyone in the building knew him...)."  I raced out my office towards the bathroom near where this other teacher had seen him.  There stood Rick, foaming at the mouth.

I would have been worried if I didn't know this kid and see the expression on his face.  The foam was the foam soap you get in the bathroom.  Rick was washing his own mouth out with soap.  Lesson learned?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

"Scream For Me Long Beach!"

Our 7th grade English teacher was a guy whose class I think I would have a hard time getting an A in if I took it today.    His expectations felt impossible and the students who got A's, really earned them (no crossword puzzles, or dictionary copying points available here).  He had a poetry unit that was particularly bad.  A friend of mine who was a near straight A student got really raked over the coals during the poetry unit and wound up not getting an A in the class.  His parents were pissed and he forever hated poetry.

With 8th grade came another poetry unit.  My buddy, despite being a fantastic writer and now working with a new teacher was still completely demoralized when it came to poetry.  He hated it and believed he was a poor poet.  When it came time to submit a poem for grade, my friend submitted the lyrics to the Iron Maiden song- The Trooper.  The Trooper details a soldiers perspective of a Crimean War battle.  

The guys were all laughing pretty hard when our 50 something female English teacher returned the heavy metal lyrics with gushing accolades and an A grade (this same teacher ironically enough refused to allow any reports/reading to be done on rock music)!  However, my buddy began to sweat a little a few days later when the teacher called him out of lunch to tell him that she loved his poem so much that she had submitted it to some national poetry contest or organization of some sort.  He spent the next week wondering if he'd be arrested for copyright infringement, flunk 8th grade Language Arts, and/or be sent to the iron maiden (insert rim shot).  In the end he said nothing and the whole thing came to pass.  Up The Irons! 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Teaching Can Be An Emotional Job

A few years back we had a real doozy of a student teacher.  The fault was fine.  His credentials didn't meet my normal filtration standards, but males are hard to find in elementary school so I reached a little.  He wound up being a total mess.  He had no instructional abilities, was routinely mocked by 4th graders (often for good reason), and worst of all, cried all the time.  Not just to his cooperating teacher, but to anyone on faculty who mistakenly made eye contact with him.  Truthfully, he became quite the topic of comedy in the teacher's lounge.

His cooperating teacher, Ann, wasn't so amused.  Situations like this are tough.  You are both the mentor and the gate keeper to the profession. That's a fine line to walk with a guy like this.  To the young man's credit, he tapped out.  He realized that he didn't have the 'it' factor required to teach and quit a few weeks before he was set to finish.  Truth be told, the university was pushing for him to finish, he probably would have graduated, got his 'licence' to teach and been 'out on the road' with the rest of us (harming kids).  He deserves more than a little credit for not dishonoring our profession, and it no doubt cost him significant financial strain as he had to pick a new career.

Given his propensity for crying, after making his decision he zipped all over the building bawling like a superstar athlete who just announced his retirement.  He was hugging everyone, making all sorts of dramatic speeches, and leaving lots of snot on people's shoulders.

As a sort of thank you/I'm sorry, I offered to take the cooperating teachers and few other staff members who had been particularly the target of this guy out for some drinks and laughs.  Then my mischievous side got working...

I was able to pull some strings and get the student teacher's picture that was taken from his work badge and print it out.  I took the picture over to the grocery store with the idea of having a cake made with his picture on it which I would bring to our night out.

When I arrived at the grocery store, I handed the picture to the lady at the bakery who smirked as she took the photograph.  "What you want the cake to say?" she asked.  I hadn't thought about that.  I stood there trying to think of something witty.  "Is this a birthday? An anniversary?" She paused and took a deep breath.  "Sir.  Is this a divorce?" at least somewhat starting to get get that this may be a joke.  I tried, as best as one possibly could, to explain why I was having this cake made (she did not seem to get it) and then asked her to put "I Love You Ann" on the cake.

The place we headed Friday for drinks was actually an upscale restaurant with a cool bar attached.  They are actually known for their giant desert servings.  I arrived early and spoke to the hostess about our little joke and he was totally into it.  He put the cake int he cooler for me.  However, he also wound up finishing his shift and not properly explaining what we were doing to his relief.

After everyone had arrived and had a 12 dollar drink or two, I said, "You know, this place has that awesome carrot cake, and the pieces are huge.  Let's get a piece and share it."  I yelled for the waiter, and asked him to bring the table a piece of the carrot cake.

The new hostess apparently thought it was Ann's birthday because when the cake emerged from the kitchen it was loaded with candles and all the available staff were singing Happy Birthday.  Of course, this inspires others (particular those who are drinking) to also join in the song of celebration.  The people at my table who all knew what was going on were crying with laughter, but Ann was totally confused.  Until they put the cake down.

When she saw his face, she got bright red around the time the song was finishing and then blew out the non-birthday candles so the staff would leave.  The waiter offered to cut the cake and serve us (pretty nice, since we didn't buy it their) and Ann agreed but gave one direction. "Do NOT cut his face.  Please box that.  I've been telling my husband about this guy for two months and now he was see exactly what I've been dealing with!"

Monday, February 13, 2012

Adventures In Job Interviews

Several years ago I was interviewing for an administrative position in an extremely rural area.  It didn't take long for me to realize that this wasn't the right position for me.  While the school seemed great and the people were all very nice, I had been in more urban settings and this job wouldn't have been a very good fit.  The school board was doing the interviewing and I just mentally had decided to interview as aggressively as I normally would using the remainder of the questions as practice & experience.

One of the board members, while glancing over my resume commented on a middle school I had previously worked at.  "What sort of discipline did you deal with while you were there?"  I assumed this was the point in the interview where I was supposed to qualify myself in terms of discipline management.  The school he referenced was a rough one no doubt.  He'd really set me up for a home run answer.

I tried to act casual.  "Guns, knives, gangs, drugs, fights, teacher disrespect, student drinking, assault on staff... you name it, I pretty much saw it over there."

The board member got white as ghost.  After a long pause he squeaked out, "My daughter's student teaching there in the fall..."

Sunday, February 12, 2012

This Swingline Could Be Yours... If The Price Is Right...!

I student taught at a large high school.  During that time, the majority of the department I was in left for several days to attend a national conference out of state.  This left the majority of the students with substitute teachers for about a week.  Generally, teachers worry about how their students will behave with a substitute, but at times the larger concern may be the substitutes themselves...

In one classroom a female substitute put her first name on the board, and began telling the class how many times a day she and her boyfriend had sex.  She emphasized the importance of women receiving pleasure.  Administration got word of this routine shortly before lunch time and called her down to send her home.  When they talked to her, she openly shared what she was doing, and asked when they would need her next (and inquired about full time employment).  She had no idea her sharing her orgasm count might potentially be frowned upon.

My favorite though happened down the hall the same week.  The substitute disregarded the teacher's lesson plans and instead played games all week.  This might not have been that big of a deal except the substitute gave away all the teachers supplies as prizes!  The regular teacher returned to a cleaned out classroom.  His stapler, scissors, pens, wipe board eraser- everything had been handed out to some very lucky participants.

Subbing is a terribly difficult job and good one's are treasures.  There's no harm in laughing at some of the adventures the poor one's create though...

Friday, February 10, 2012

School Must Be A Partnership With The Home

I was working at urban elementary school as an assistant principal.  Most of my time was spent dealing with pretty heavy disciplinary issues (I certainly wasn't any sort of instructional leader).  I was walking through the hallway and a kindergarten class was coming from the other direction.  The teacher stopped me and pulled me aside.  She explained, with a little smile, that one of her students had called another student a 'bitch.'  She wasn't going to bother me with it, but since I was passing by, could I talk to her.  "Sure."

I pulled the little peanut out of line and crouched down next to her.  She did the typical little girl bit which entails putting your head down with a very sad face (by the way- this works!).  I asked her what she did, and she confessed that she had said a bad word.  Her sister was model 5th grader in the building, so I next asked, "Do you hear your sister using words like that?"  With her head still down, she shook her sad little had back and forth and stood silently.

After a long pause, she lifted her head, looked me in the eyes and said- "But my mommy says it all the time!"

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Poor Eating Can Lead To Blockage

I taught middle school with a woman several years back who I'll call Pat Arnold.  Mrs. Arnold, by even the most generous allowances, was massively overweight.  She was in her early to mid 40s and would definitely be required to purchase to two airline tickets if she were flying.  Pat taught a different grade and was in a different part of the building so I'll confess that I didn't get to know her very well.  I'm guessing teaching was a second career for her, and likely because she thought it'd be easy and she'd get her summers off.

During her first year Pat earned a pretty solid reputation as a lousy teacher with poor management skills, but for whatever reason, administration brought her back.  The legend (and her waist size) continued to grow in year number two.  Students reported that Mrs. Arnold didn't stand while she taught, rather wheeled around on her desk chair.  They also indicated that she didn't stand for the Pledge of Allegiance with the exception of the time she was being observed by the principal, and in that instance didn't seem to know the words.  There was also a rumor that she once ate an entire fried chicken in front of the class during instructional time.  Again- it's hard to know where the line between legend and reality is sometimes in a middle school, but regardless, Pat was let go after year number two.

Due to program and other personnel changes that off season, the principal moved a lot of classrooms around and I wound up being assigned to Pat's old room.  The desk was disgusting! The top middle drawer where pencils are typically stored was a collection of salt and ketchup packets from an impressive variety of fast food restaurants- some located no where near our school.  The whole structure had this sort of greasy film covering it, similar to what you find on the inside of the paper that wraps up your double cheeseburger.  This whole environment was going to need an awful lot of Pine Sol.

After a day or two of cleaning, a few bags or garbage, and plenty of disinfectant Pat Arnold's memory in the room was fading fast.  I had a few bulletin boards done, and the computer was hooked up and running (and while I hope this story encourages responsible eating, because I know that all people must eat I won't describe what sorts of things were shaken out of the keyboard because it could possibly permanently ruin your appetite).  I noticed that the principal had emailed out a copy of the new schedule and I printed it off so I could hang for quick reference.  This was the first time I'd used this particular printer, a standard issue sort of printer for a desk top computer, and when the paper moved from the back end where it was loaded and tried to draw through towards the front it quickly jammed up.  Something was blocking it's path through the machine.

I looked down the opening to see if I could see anything.  There was definitely something down there.  (Reluctantly) I plunged my hand into the printer opening with hopes of removing the obstruction.  My fingers wiggled in the depths of the crevice, when I finally found it.  It didn't come out on my first pull.  This baby was really stuck.  I tried again... success!  I slow raised my hand to see what I had dislodged.  There in between the ring and middle fingers used to yank the object loose was caramel covered walnut.

Of course I have no idea how the walnut got inside the printer.  But I imagine Pat Arnold sitting at her desk behaving like Gremlin- wildly tearing apart some pastry or candy bar while giggling psychotically as the outer parts of the food item broke off and flew erratically like a space ship burning up in orbit, chocolate on the corners of her mouth, and crumbs all over her shirt & lap.  Like I said though, the line between legend and reality in a middle school is often hard to locate...  

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Lunch Lady On The Lam?

The two greatest adventures in school hiring come when the need arises to hire a custodian or a lunch lady.  All the qualifications you look for when hiring other positions can be thrown out the window.  The only real qualifications for these jobs are: 1) being alive and 2) having not done time for certain crimes.  I'm not trying to be disparaging, but experience isn't worth much in these jobs, and the people who apply for them often aren't pursuing more glamorous jobs for a reason.  The difference between the two is that you'll get a lot of applications for a custodial position (I'll write about this one later...).  It's usually full time, often has benefits, and doesn't require any success in school.  Nobody wants the lunchroom job.  It's only a couple hours a day (no money), the kids often act like assholes (no respect), and the kids know the lunch ladies have no true power (no authority).

I've done my best over the years to fill lunch room positions with moms who want to get out of the house for a couple of hours and know some of the kids.  However, following a resignation I couldn't find anyone.  I had already begged my current woman to stay on an extra couple weeks and I was getting desperate.  Despite best efforts, I had only one application.  I brought the woman in only to find that she spoke virtually zero English and smelled like she lived in a garbage dump (my secretary sent me out for coffee after the interview so she could Fabreeze the entire office)- not someone I was going to have around people eating.

I whined to my secretary later that day- "What I am going to do here?  Someone has to supervise the lunchroom!"  My secretary paused and said, "Well another application came in this afternoon, but I didn't think you'd be interested."  I told her as long as she didn't smell like a pile of dirty diapers and could speak basic English to set her up ASAP.

The next day was my interview with Maria.  Maria was a Hispanic lady (hey, Bilingual I thought), dressed nicely, and on time.  I cut right to the chase and asked the most honest question one can ask in an interview for a job that's top skill set involves opening ketchup packets or piercing Capri Suns (the 'where do you want to be in five years' questions doesn't work too well here)- "Why (the hell!) do you want this job?"

"I love kids!" she said confidently back to me (shit, I wish half my teachers would say that I thought).  Without invitation she continued (in broken, but perfectly acceptable English), "In my native Puerto Rico, I was studying to become teacher (experience working with kids and in schools... I've hit the lunch lady jackpot!).  I was part way through my practice teaching when this little boy come up to me and put  toy gun in my back and say 'Oooo, I like the way you move lady' but I said no-no (wagging a finger)... I'm the teacher and you will show me respect (confidence, she's perfect)!"  She paused and took a sip of water from the little 1.5 oz Silo cup we generous provide those who interview for jobs (they're also nice to have on hard if the state ever begins requiring urine samples... ).  "But it not a toy guy, it was REAL gun with REAL bullets!  I then find out that boy is son of Puerto Rican drug lord and I have to leave my home for my safety before they find me."

I sat there looking at her for a few moments (eh, she does love kids...), "I think you'll do great here Maria!"

Maria worked one week and the disappeared without a trace.  Seriously.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Um, I think you're missing the point...

A few years back I received a call from a concerned parent.  Another student had threatened to stab her son.  While threats are always a concern, in this instance (as most) the guilty party was not literal in his declaration.  Regardless, I assured mom I would address the threat and assured her that her son was safe.  Mom thanked me.

She then continued to stress that it was really important that her son not be stabbed.  First, she explained, her son is a thin boy and may not be able to sustain a knife stab as much a heavier child.  She continued by explaining that she was physically unable to have more children and would not be able to 'make another son' if he were to die.  Are these really the two best reasons why her son shouldn't be stabbed?  This is usually where I bash the phone into my head once or twice.  It doesn't make the conversations clarity any better, yet I so often feel the need.

Mama Mia!

My office is directly next to another empty office, both which the school secretary can see into.  Due to privacy concerns with day-to-day office traffic, none of the other school positions which warrant the use of an office have ever wanted the one next door.  As a result, we've always used it as a sort of multipurpose room.

One of it's top uses is to house students who have been removed from lunch and/or recess or either disciplinary or medical reasons. It makes sense since the secretary can easily provide supervision.  That's not to say she's in love with this extra responsibility during the day.  The room is often filled with less than our best each midday.

A couple years back we had a student, Jamal, who ate many a lunch in the office.  Jamal (a 5th grader) was really a nice kid and had many likable qualities, but he was impulsive and frequently in trouble.  On this particular day, I saw Jamal bringing his hot lunch into the small office as I worked at my desk.

Three or four minutes later I heard a dull pop followed by screams from Jamal.  I wheeled in my swivel chair and looked out at my secretary who eyes had gotten very wide.  Jamal was still screaming like he was in serious pain so I leaped up and race around the corner into the other room.

There sat Jamal, covered from head to toe, in marinara sauce.  The hot lunch had been ravioli and it comes preheated in a cellophane sealed cafeteria try.  Apparently Jamal had decide he would somehow 'pop' open the ravioli by somehow punching the top, but must have also used quite a bit of force.

Not only was his face and clothes covered with hot marinara (he was fine... no injuries other than pride), but so was the ceiling, the carpet, the ugly office pictures of beach scenes that hung from the wall, the side pages of his text books, the phone, the chair upholstery, the blades of the fan... everything.  The room looked like a scene from the end of The Godfather.  Talk about natural consequences!

(After knowing Jamal was okay) I had to excuse myself to my office so I wouldn't piss myself from laughter.  Though our building custodian was none to happy, the rest of us got a huge kick out of the whole thing.  No one was hurt, nothing was really damaged, and Jamal learned to peel off the cellophane.  

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

No Child Left Behind?

Several years ago I was working as an assistant principal at a tough urban school with a large Hispanic population.  One of our Hispanic students mother called and told us that her 6th grade daughter brought 600 dollars in cash to school and 'gave it away.'  I immediately had my doubts as the families we were servicing didn't have lots of money.  Further, if a nickle hit the ground, it was gone in seconds and no one knew anything about it.  Even if the story was true, the odds of me actually being able to retrieve the money was pretty damn slim.

The 6th grade bilingual classroom was in the upstairs of a fairly large building.  There was an empty room at the end of the hall that was used for IEP meetings which I used from time to time when I didn't want to walk all the way back to my down stairs office to speak with students.

The story I got was that the girl had given six different boys 100 dollars each.  She was relatively new to the country and had no understanding of the value of the money.  Supposedly she gave the money to the boys so they'd be her friend.

I grabbed the six boys and the girl and brought them into the empty room.  I pounded my fist on the table and yelled "You all better give me that money right now!"  Amazingly, four of the six boys instantly pulled out the hundred dollar bills and nervously put them on the table (one other kid brought the hondo  back a day later, the other kid spent his and his parents said he wasn't giving the money back).  I couldn't believe it.

I barked at them for a while about how they should have known better (blah, blah, blah) and then left to take them back to class.  I told the girl to sit tight and I would be talking to her some more when I finished with the boys.  I continued to lecture the boys as we walked back to the classroom, dropped them off, and then went on with my day.

Around 2:30, maybe 20 minutes till the end of the school day, the girl walked into the office crying.  "The man told me wait in the room!"  I had forgotten her!  She sat in that empty room for four hours, missed lunch, and was too scared to move!  I felt terrible!  Normally, this would obviously not have sat well with a parent, but when you're able to return a wad of hundred dollar bills it tends to ease tension!