Monday, April 30, 2012

Why Homework Just Doesn't Work

The general purpose of this blog is offer some laughs and entertainment.  However, I'd like to use the forum to hit on a more serious tale and topic this morning.

I am not a fan of homework.  I won't turn this into a term paper overly defending that stance (we would need to establish an understood definition of homework for that).  My position is based both of research data and professional experience.  I find most teachers are shocked when told they should not be giving homework, but few offer strong argument why we should continue to so.  Basically, because we've been doing it in the profession forever, and because most of us did it when we were students (no matter how unpleasant or ineffective), we should continue to do it.  This obviously isn't sound logic.  Oh, and I'm yet to find a curriculum that has "responsibility" included in what students need to learn (research evidences this doesn't work either by the way).

I currently have a family that sends four children to our school.  To our best knowledge, three different men are the respective fathers, but none live at home or are involved.  They're poor.  Mom drinks.  The children range in academic ability.  More importantly, they range in behavioral needs.

My teachers verbally express sympathy for the children.  "I wish I could just take this kid home."  is the sort of comment I'll often hear.  They then slowly ruin the only consistent relationship the child has by fighting the homework battle with them.

Throw out all the other issues with homework.  Kids like this can not complete homework!  They have nowhere to work.  No resources.  No support (unless an older sibling helps).  They will not come in the next day and say "My family is so poor I have no kitchen table to work at." or "My mom's new boyfriend was over last night and they played music and screwed real loud till 2 a.m."

Instead, they'll do what any of us would do- attempt to maintain some dignity in a life that has very little.  "I forgot."

Over the course of a year, teachers (understandably) lose patience with this.  Then the ostracizing battle begins.  By the end of the year, it's usually irreparable.  The teacher can't stand the kid, and the student has begun acting out.

Why are we letting it get to this point?  Fairness?  Do we really believe that even if we insist on giving homework that our top students will be damaged by offering differentiation in the homework process?  If that's the concern, couldn't we limit the issue by limiting homework to silent reading and math practice?

Last week we learned that a first grader (age six) from the aforementioned family was found in the parking lot of her apartment at 3:00 a.m. trying to read by the street light.  Her mom was inside drinking.  This was apparently the third time this has happened and the family is now being evicted.

Homework isn't the cause of those problems, but I think an argument can be made that it becomes another source of stress, inequity, and embarrassment for children who have enough to go around already.  Rather than making school a place kids like this can't wait to get to, we often turn it into a place where they'll face conflict with an adult upon arrival each morning.

This tale is hardly unique.  I have hundreds like it (as do most of you surely).  Please give pause to your use of homework and it's effect on all of your students.   If you are using homework to strengthen a child, make sure you are not having a reverse effect.  

Friday, April 27, 2012


Alan was one of my favorite bus drivers of all time.  The dude never said a word.  He never wrote any body up.  He wore the bus company wind breaker.

Alan looked kind of like Jon Lovitz with coke bottle glasses.  The kids loved being on his bus because basically there were no rules.  Anything that wasn't nailed down was fair game to become a projectile of some variety.  Over time while reviewing bus tapes I can recall seeing paper (of course), snow balls, book bags, those 'twirly whirly' things that fall from oak trees, Tootsie Rolls, and bird feeders the kids had made at school being used as projectile objects.  Yet surprisingly, we didn't get too many calls from parents.

This went on most of the year.  Then came the day that someone hit Alan in the back of the head with a V-Bomb on the ride home from school.  For those that don't know, a V-Bomb is paper folded tightly and bent into a 'v' shape.  It is then fired using a rubber band.  It made well, and aimed correctly, they can certainly sting.

Alan pulled the bus over and stood up to address the students.  The bus was silent.  I can only assume it was due to shock since I'm not sure most of them had ever heard him speak.  He certainly had never pulled the bus over (at least as far as we were aware).

He was calm and spoke in low tones.  "You know what?  I have a seat belt. (dramatic pause) You don't.  (dramatic pause) So when I flip this bus, I'm going to be just fine. (now yelling) But you all, will be bouncing around like pinballs in pinball machine!"

With that he sat back down and drove the rest of the route with what the kids later described as a 'creepy smile' on his face.  The kids didn't say shit.  They barely moved.

We certainly got calls that night from parents.  But we never saw Alan again.  He never returned, never called or answered calls according to bus headquarters, and I'm betting didn't return his bus company windbreaker or ball cap (not sure if those are deducted from your first check).  Only, when we looked at the tape did we hear Alan's great farewell speech.

I wouldn't drive a school bus for superintendent money.

Of course, this is still better than the bus driver who caught juggling on a bus tape... different tale....

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Firsts In Teacher Evaluations

I was sitting a classroom doing one of my first teacher observations after becoming a principal.  The teacher being observed was a solid special education teacher so this figured to be a pretty easy one.  The teacher was working with a small pull out group of 5th graders when I entered and grabbed a seat in the back of the room.

Shortly after I sat down, I heard some sort of chaotic screaming coming from the boy's student washroom which was located across the hall from the classroom we were in.  I was kind of hoping who ever was yelling would stop or that another teacher would address it.  But the screaming continued.

I wasn't really sure what the protocol here was.  Clearly, someone had to address the bathroom issue.  I just wasn't sure I was allowed to leave.  It was a formal evaluation scheduled at a time of the teacher's choosing.  To walk out might nullify the evaluation which would in turn create a 'but I worked extra hard to prepare this lesson for you' situation.  The screaming continued and I ultimately decided that I had to go address it.  I figured if I was quick I would be okay since the teacher was going to get a nice evaluation anyway.

I darted into the bathroom.  As I whipped around the wall, there stood one of our new 5th grade boys.  He was splashing like an infant in the sink basin.  He was soaking wet, foam soap was everywhere, and he was banging on the mirror with open palms as he screamed.  It looked like something you'd see in a mental institute.

"Dude, what are you doing!?"  The kid stopped and looked at me with a mixture of stun and embarrassment like I'd just walked on his taking dump.  After a few seconds he raced out of the bathroom crying.

Normally I would have pursued the kid and got a custodian to clean up the mess, but I needed to get back into the evaluation.  I decided to just let it go and hustled back to the classroom.

When I entered, there stood the very same kid I had just yelled at crying.  The teacher was trying to calm the kid down.  I hadn't even realized he was a special education student.

The boy eventually went under a table and refused to come out. The teacher spent the majority of the remaining time trying to coax him back to his seat (or least quiet his crying).

I figured this had to be a first in teacher observation scenarios.  The observer leaves the room during an observation, then creates a situation for the teacher being observed has to deal with that pretty much wrecks his entire lesson!

Luckily, skilled special education teachers are pretty used to dealing with the unexpected. He handled the student well. The teacher and I shared a good laugh over the incident, and we got the palm prints cleaned off the mirror.  

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Uninvited Guest

I've written in the past, and will probably write again in the future about a principal I served under- Marie.  Marie would fight battles that I believe most administrators wouldn't bother with.  She also wasn't interested in win-win outcomes.  She was going to win all battles with administrators, teachers, parents, students, police, and anyone else who squared off with her (or else go down swinging).  Her way is so uncommon it produced frequent awkward moments (most people avoid conflict), constant hilarity, and great stories.  I have a great deal of admiration for her style, but little interest in adopting it.  Below is another one of my favorites.

Marie usually put some sort of a behavior rider on the 8th grade trip.  Students would be expected to meet some expectation of good behavior in order to attend.  Frequently, parents of children who had lost the privilege would try to simply bring their children to wherever the other students were.  Marie always got word of this little scheme and would have the police pull the parents car over and let them know that the principal wanted them to know if they continued to follow the bus to this field trip they wouldn't walk at graduation in a couple weeks.  

One year the 8th grade class went to a water park for their trip.  Marie got word that one of the students who had lost the privilege was planning on having his mother drive him to the park behind the school bus.  Marie waited, and the kid was called in sick that day.  She called up her deans who were attending the trip and asked them to call her if the boy showed up.  Sure enough, he did.

Marie phoned the water park and demanded the manager be put on the phone.  When the guy picked up, Marie went crazy.  She screamed that he had promised her that her students would be safe from outside guests and already she has been made aware that an individual who is not on the list had infiltrated her group.  She wanted this corrected immediately or she was not only not paying, but taking to a local principal's list-serve to warn other school about the dangers of this water park.   By the time Marie paused for air, the manager was near tears.  The kid and his mom were escorted to a remote area of the park.  Marie wasn't done.

She called her deans back and asked them to get photos of the student on their camera phones and send them to her.  Once she had the photos, she called the county truancy department and informed them that she had photographic evidence that a student who had been called in sick was in fact, at a water park.  Marie didn't beat her opponents into submission- she wanted total knock outs.

Of course, all of this took about half a day, involved several government agencies, infuriated a parent who would no doubt call the superintendent, and all to keep a jerky teen from going swimming with his buddies.  Worth it?  Should student consequences be upheld at all costs?  Would you have done the same?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Knowing When To Pause Things

I was conducting some call back interviews one Saturday morning.  I invited one of my classroom teachers to join me and offer an additional opinion on who might be the best choice.  Jan was veteran teacher, roughly 50 years old.  We were sitting in my office chit chatting and waiting for the next candidate to arrive.

Whenever I am in my office, I have my iPod playing.  I have a fairly eclectic music library ranging from Sinatra and Beethoven to Slayer and Johnny Cash.  Based on the time of day and who may be in my office, I'm forced to make occasional adjustments to volume or song selection.

The phone began to ring out in the main office.  I don't normally bother to answer it, but the candidate was late and I thought perhaps they were lost.  My secretary obviously wasn't in on a Saturday, so I hustled out my office and grabbed the phone.  It wasn't the candidate, rather some guy trying to sell me something.  As I stood there leaning over the front of my secretary's desk trying to get this dope off the phone tactfully, for some reason my mind drifted to my iPod which I hadn't turned off.  I have roughly 20,000 songs on my iPod and only a handful are a little salty.  The odds of there being something inappropriate were pretty slim.  But people do win the lottery...

As I walked back into my office, Jan was pale and leaning back away from the stereo (as if leaning in the other direction made it hard to hear).  "What is this music?!"

My Spidey-Sense is good.  Probably the worst possible song I'm aware exists had come on- (Thank God the candidate didn't walk in while I was on the phone!) Startin' Up A Posse from the group Anthrax.  As I understood it, the song was intentionally written to be as offensive as humanly possibly as a sort of protest to the 'Parent Advisory' stickers that Tipper Gore fought to get placed on albums.  You can read the lyrics here, but be warned, they are pretty rough if language easily offends you.

It was a terribly embarrassing moment, and probably one that as principal could have become a larger issue (sexual harassment?) if Jan was that sort of person.  Luckily for me, Jan is also a staunch Republican and loathed the Gore's.  The explanation of what the song's (which had long been turned off!) intentions were seemed to even pique her interest some.  These days when I leave my office, the music gets paused.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Collateral Damage

Back when I was a wee lad in my early elementary days, the school librarian had a unique system if students wanted to borrow a pencil.  They had to leave a shoe on her desk.  The one occurrence where I needed to borrow a writing utensil happened to fall on the same day I had worn Moon Boots to school due to snow and forgot my other shoes.  If you unfamiliar with Moon Boots, allow me to fill you in.  Moon Boots are made from the same the same material they use on rocket ships to protect them as they re-enter the orbit and go a similar length up the leg as a call girl's boots.  The trauma of having to put 3 foot high article of clothing on my teacher's desk in order to complete my school work stuck with me.  I decided to use it...

From the day I became a teacher, I used the trick I'd learned when I was 8 years old.  In my time in the classroom, I never lost a single pencil.  In the majority of instances, kids aren't intentionally trying to 'steal' a supply.  The forget they have it, the bell rings, and they leave to head to their next class.

The majority of teachers I worked with took a student ID when they loaned supplies.  While this does achieve knowing who has what, it does nothing to help students remember to return things.  No child runs into the hallway or out for recess without realizing they are missing a shoe.  At the end of the day, my colleagues often had lots of IDs and few pencils.  Further, if kids are leaving without their IDs it may cause additional complications for them in terms of buying lunch, getting on the bus, checking out books, etc. depending on how your school uses IDs.

Some students will refuse to take their shoe off.  That's easy.  No pencil for you! Bring your supplies to class.  Some teachers I've shared this about worried about the smell.  First, I never actually had them put the shoe on the desk like my childhood librarian.  They just tossed their shoe to the side of the desk.  Most junior high classes already smell like the inside of a shoe, so I rarely had much of a problem with additional odor.  While some kids certainly didn't care for this method of borrowing, most really got a kick out of it!

Marcus Malone didn't like it.  He was a student in my summer school class.  Marcus was not in summer school because he was a genius.  I don't recall him ever bringing anything he was supposed to have.  He reacted with the same shock and disapproval every morning when I told him he'd need to leave a shoe if he wanted to borrow a pencil.  "Aww, man! I don't wanna take off my shoe!" He'd go back to his seat and seriously think it over (this took a lot out of Marcus) while class went along, and usually would elect to not borrow the pencil.

One morning he walks in and asks to borrow a pencil.  I tell him he can absolutely borrow a pencil if he leaves a shoe.  Marcus got a big smile on his face, unzipped his backpack, pulled out a spare shoe and set it on my desk.  In all the years I'd taught, no one had ever tried this.  Kids find all the loop holes!

For the rest of the summer, Marcus brought a third shoe every day.  He never once could remember a writing utensil, but could always remember an extra shoe.  Accepting the extra shoe didn't really serve the purpose of helping him remember he had borrowed something, but I really loved his out of the box thinking.  Him bringing an extra shoe daily instead of a pencil cracked me up and made him feel like he'd 'beaten me' (he had!).  Still, I recommend this loaner trick to all teachers.

Wanna know what my bathroom pass was?  :)

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Chance Encounters Of The 3 a.m. Kind

We had a sad little girl several years back with a plethora of problems named Annie.  She was not potty trained and would often sit in her waste till one of her classmates complained.  She would also pick at her skin out of anxiety till she bled.  This left her covered with scabs.  As you can imagine, she did not have very many friends.

The trouble was, her parents pretended like nothing was wrong.  They'd talked to people or read things that assured them all of her challenges were age appropriate.  Annie was academically gifted which they frequently pointed out.  Their denial prevented us from being able to provide her all the resources we had available.  Our meetings with parents were tense, and the relationship between school and home was strained to say the least.

Around the time this was all going on a friend of mine asked me to go to a Reverend Horton Heat concert with him up by his house.  My friend lived about 75 minutes away from where we grew up and hometown friends rarely went out there.  He was really excited about my visit and had local craft beer bars he wanted to take me to before the show.

As we enjoying our drinks, I noticed is was almost 8:00.  "We should probably get moving." I said.  "Openers will coming on soon."

My friend looked at me like I'd forgotten what year it was.  "Dude, the opener probably isn't coming out till 10:00-10:30.  The Reverend isn't going on till 11:00."

This detail hadn't been shared with me.  It was Sunday night and as I sat doing the time-math in my head, I was not liking the results.  If the band played for two hours, it would be 1 a.m. and I still had a roughly 90 minute drive (the venue was further beyond his house).  I get up at 5:00 a.m.

I never miss work.  In the last several years I can recall working without absence while having the flu, shingles, strep throat, & during a property closing.  Thankfully not all at the same time.  This was going to be tough though.  I had an ace in the hole.  My wife and I had just welcomed a new baby a few weeks earlier (I only missed two days for that one!).  No one would question if I called in and said the baby was up all night crying.  So I had a plan.

We got to the show.  I was already yawning and wanted to punch my buddy in the face.  I'm too damn old for 11:00 p.m. shows on Saturdays let along Sundays.  Instead I went to grab a beer.  I was standing up at the bar hoping to be served before 1:00 a.m.  As I stood there looking down the bar, trying to get one of the bar tenders attention, there he stood doing the same thing.  Annie's father.

What the hell was he doing way out here!?  I bolted without my massive inflated beers and headed back to my buddy.  I wasn't sure if he saw me or not (not being in suit when that's all people have seen you in is better disguise than it sounds), but we were in a tiny venue (less than a 1000 people) and the show hadn't started yet.  The odds of him not seeing me at some point weren't real good in my favor.  If I didn't show up to work because I was drinking at a rock concert late into the night and that got around to parents, it could be extremely damaging to my reputations.  Plus, this guy hated me.  Fuck.

I nice thick fog rolled over the area as the show ended to make driving nice and slow.  I got home at 3:36 a.m.  I slept for one hour and 24 minutes.  I then got up and went to work.  Coffee anyone?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Nightmare Of Climactic Proportions

Allen was an extremely low special education student who struggled with his social skills.  He was harmless, but he did cause frequent problems for himself (and us) by regularly calling others students 'gay.'  This is inappropriate and requires correction from any student.  However, it was particularly ironic in Allen's case because he was being raised by two gay women!  That fact that Allen honestly didn't understand this should begin to paint a picture of his cognitive level.

One day Allen kept falling asleep during a test.  Nothing seemed to be able to really wake him up.  We sent him to the bathroom. We went and got him a snack.  We let him go outside for fresh air.  However as soon as he was back in his seat and working on his exam, he'd start to nod off again (I know what you're thinking, the test must have been about Common Core Standards, but I assure it wasn't anything that boring).  We began to ask Allen the standard questions.

Teacher:  What time did you get to bed?

Allen: 8:30 I think.

Teacher: Allen, why then are you so tired?

Allen: I don't know.

Teacher: Allen if you got that much sleep you shouldn't be this tired.  Did you sleep good?

Allen (a little upset):  Yeah, but I did get woken up in the middle of the night.  Both my mom and Angela had a nightmare in the next bedroom and woke up screaming at the exact same time!

We let Allen take the rest of his test later and allowed him to sleep on the nurses cot.  Usually we call home in instances where kids are too tired to function in school, but we just let this one go.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Reason #1 Why Student Teaching Sucks

The high school I did my student teaching at had recently experienced tragedy and embarrassment at the hands of a student-teacher.  A year or so before I arrived, a male student-teacher had taken a student out somewhere for sex.  Drinking was involved and the student was killed when the student-teacher got into a car accident.  As a result, this school became extremely particular about who was working with their students.  Just to work their for free, I had to undergo an extensive interview.  I also had to promise not to have a job so as to give a full commitment to being a teacher.   I agreed.

Student teaching, as far as I can tell, is about the only unpaid internship that still exists.  As an administrator, I (usually) love having the free labor on hand.  It really sucks to go through it though.

When I agreed to the terms put forth, I had, I think, eight dollars plus some loose change.  When they told me I couldn't get a side job, I was initially pleased.  My excuse not to work had arrived!  The problem I discovered after I believe, if I recall correctly, one day, was that I still liked drinking beer.  The people who traditionally had this beer (bar tenders, liquor store owners, my buddy Frank) typically did not give it away for free.  That eight bucks wasn't going to go very far.

Never in my life have I had zero dollars other than when I student taught.  I don't even remember how I paid for gas.  My parents lent me money from time to time (my father recorded everything I borrowed during that time, from a stamp to a twenty dollar bill, in a 'little black book' that he took great joy in waving in my face).  I charged some stuff.  I drank Busch Light.

Mind you I didn't need a lot of money to get by.  All college kids are poor.  I survived on about 50 bucks a week in college happily, but there's a big difference between fifty and zero.

I was at home one night grading papers (translation- watching television) when I got a call from a market research company.  Every now and then they'd call me up and have me come in and taste some product Taco Bell was considering or answer questions about my chocolate buying habits.  It would take about an hour and they'd give you twenty to thirty bucks for your time.  Their timing couldn't have been better.

When they call, they go through all sorts of routine statements when you tell them you are interested ("HELL YES I'M INTERESTED!).  I wasn't really paying attention as I was already day dreaming about what I might do this weekend and how I wouldn't have to give my father the satisfaction of another entry in his book.  Then the woman on the other end of the phone said the most gorgeous thing to me that's ever been uttered.

"We'd like to invite you to come in to participate in a test sampling beer."  I peed a little in my pants out of joy.  But it got better.

After going through a few more procedural things to ensure I was 21, she informed me that this study ran in the evenings over the course of the next two weeks.  I would need to be available all 10 nights.  At the end of the study, I would be paid $250.

I've never won the lottery, but now I know what those people feel like when they check their tickets and realize they'll never need to work again.  This market company was going to pay me to do what I was going to be doing anyway!  They weren't just going to pay me- they were going to pay me 250 dollars!  I don't think I'd ever seen 250 dollars in the same place.  Did I even need a teaching job?  I was getting 250 dollars! $250!!!

"Again, to qualify for the study you need to be available every night of the study.  Is that going to be a problem?"

Of course it wasn't going to be a problem.  I left school by 4:00 every day, didn't coach, and of course, didn't have a second job.  "I'm good to go...err... um, I actually am realizing I have one minor conflict."  It hit me.  I had parent/teacher conferences one night over the two week window.  My cooperating teacher was a real prick and would no way let me out (not to mention, I needed to be there).

I begged.  I told them my sob story.  I promised to drink extra, come on weekends, anything...  It was no use.  I wasn't a candidate.  I needed a fucking drink.

I will forever have bad memories of student teaching & parent/teacher conferences, as well as general bitterness towards our profession due to the loss of my own opportunity to paid to drink beer (ok, perhaps I'm being a touch dramatic).  In the end, I went out the and got a weekend job for the remainder of my student teaching.  Screw em'.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Adventures In Background Checks

If I could take one thing that I do as a school administrator and do it all day long, it would be interviewing night custodians.  We had a hard time keeping one a few years back so I had the good fortune to interview 50-75 candidates throughout one particular school year along side the district's head of building and grounds- Mike.

As I said in a piece I wrote on a lunch lady, there is no qualification (other than being alive) to get a job as a custodian.  However, while finding lunch ladies is a real pain, we receive tons of applications for custodial positions.  It's a good job for someone without a college degree.  They are full time jobs, receive full benefits, and the work isn't back breaking.

When you're sifting through applications and resumes, throw out everything you look for when hiring teachers or even support staff.  Most of these people don't have college degrees and some may not even have a diploma.  Most have resumes that are almost impossible to follow, and the candidates usually show up in jeans & T-shirt, versus a suit & tie.  Basically, it's impossible to know what's going to walk through the door.

Toward the end of each interview Mike would explain to the candidates if they got the job they would have to be finger printed and have a criminal background check done.  "Any problems there?" Every candidate automatically says no to this.   Except for John Rogers.

John was bizarre and wasn't going to get the job long before we go to the end of the interview.  When Mike asked him about the criminal background check, John instantly shook his head and said no.  Then he paused as if he suddenly remembered something.

"Ahh, you know what?  There might be a felony in there."  John mentioned this as if this wasn't a relevant detail.  I was stunned.  I figured Mike would basically end the interview as there was no possible way we would be hiring someone with a felony on their record to work at an elementary school.  But he didn't.

"What'd you do?" Mike asked.

"Criminal trespassing of an automobile." said John.

Mike squinted a little and looked hard at John.  "Did you steal a car?"

"No no no," said John shaking his head and chuckling a bit.  "Nothing like that.  Did you know if you're in someone's car and you like, get in an argument and they call the police, you can be arrested for that?"

Mike just starred at him. "Dude, did you steal a car?"

"No, no.  I had just moved to the county, and you know how they like to make an example out of new residents around here."

"I've never heard that," said Mike. "If you stole a car I wish you'd just tell me."  I couldn't understand why he was pressing this since we certainly weren't hiring this guy.  Regardless, I was barely holding it together.  We all say silently looking at each other for about 20 seconds.

"Oh!" said John as if suddenly remembering something he'd been meaning to tell us.  "There may be a few misdemeanors in there too.  Stole some shit when I was younger!  You know, typical kid stuff!"

We'll be in touch.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Natural Consequences Are A Beautiful Thing

Michael Grady was one of nine siblings.  He was the second oldest and we wound up having all nine of the Grady kids.  All nine were special education.  They were constantly in trouble and frequently in fist fights.  Mom wasn't allowed on school property anymore and had a mouth that would have made Richard Pryor blush.

Michael was frequently late for class.  Not for any legitimate reason, simply because he was talking.  After so many tardies, a student had to stay after school for detention which  Michael hated.  So when the halls were about empty and it dawned on Michael that the bell was about to ring, he would tear off for wherever he was supposed to be.  Of course, running in the hall was against school rules.

Every teacher had lectured Michael about running in the hallway, but he could care less.  With the volume of time he was in the Dean's Office for other stuff, the staff knew the dean wasn't going to spend any time on his hallway running.  All we could do was lecture him, maybe make him go back and walk, but in the end he knew no one was going to do any thing and had an arrogant way of letting you know which made you want to punch the SOB in the head.  

One day a couple of us who were coming on to our plan watch Michael tear ass by us.  Before we could yell for his to slow down, he tripped and went sailing across the hall landing flat on his face.  He paused a couple seconds, the bell rang, and Michael got up crying. 

This kid was in fist fights once a week and had seven older siblings.  It was hard to fathom that he was crying because he tripped, and he certainly didn't care about getting in trouble for being late.  As he stood their weeping, he started fumbling under his sweatshirt and pulled out a (now busted) Discman (this was a hot item for kids at the time, and also against school rules to have).

We all busted into hysterical laughter.  "Sorry Mike, but we've told you about running in the halls!"  

Laughing was certainly a touch cruel given that his family didn't have much money and this was likely a really important object to him.  On the other hand, teachers rarely get to see the real shits get their come upins.  We enjoyed the moment!  Remember kids, walk while your in the halls because you might trip!    

Monday, April 9, 2012

James Westfall & Doctor Kenneth Noisewater

I met Emil for the first time when he was the administrator of the alternative school in our district.  He came around to meet with all the middle school teams.  He walked in wearing a yellow tank top and a pair of athletic shorts.  I thought perhaps he was the head of the teacher's intermural volleyball club, but of course, that club doesn't exist (if it did, a yellow tank top would be a nice choice).  When he opened with, "I'm gonna forget your names anyway, so I'll skip introductions" I was fairly certain he was an asshole.  He was.  His thing that day was that if any teacher used his program as a threat to students, they'd have to answer to him (was that a threat?).  Of course, we didn't really know who 'he' was because he didn't introduce himself.  Anyway.

A year or two later, Emil got demoted into a teaching position in our building.  Like many who receive demotions, he took the approach of acting like a perpetual two year old.  He did the absolute minimum required to keep his job and was disruptive as possible in doing so.  No area was Emil more recalcitrant than his professional appearance.

I've run into this issue in several places I've been.  The teacher's contract did not contain specific language regarding professional dress.  It read merely that teachers were expected to maintain a professional appearance.  This essentially left the definition of 'professional' up to each individual teacher.  Often times, teachers would make very liberal interpretations of this wording.  

My stance has always been that teachers should be formally dressed every day, and that jeans have no business in the work place.  Sorry, but "Casual Fridays" must be the dumbest idea ever generated.  The very idea admits a reduction of standards.  The thought that our profession would lower itself 20% of the time is bothersome.  This awesome clip from Curb Your Enthusiasm highlights one of the many problems with Casual Fridays.

With Emil, a pair of jeans would have been a major upgrade.

Emil routinely dressed like when I first met him: shorts, T-shirts, sandals, perhaps no sleeves, poor facial grooming, etc.  The school we taught at has a small circular theater where faculty meetings were held.  During a half in-service, Emil showed up in the theater wearing a tank top and a pair of short mesh athletic shorts.  He picked his seat and threw his feet up on the seat in front of him.  For the next two hours, the majority of the staff got an unobstructed look at Emil's balls.  No one said anything to him. Oh, he's a commando guy if you were wondering.

Of course, everyone bitched to the principal.  There wasn't much he could as Emil boldly declared when it was brought to his attention that he believed he was dressed professionally.  The principal asked myself and several other teachers if they would write anonymous letters to the superintendent complaining, which I did.  I do believe was called in, but as a veteran teacher of 20+ years and a former administrator, he knew they had no where to go with this.  In fact, it thrilled him to be causing such a ruckus.

My staff generally honors my request to not where jeans to school (including my awesome support staff who by contract are allowed to wear jeans).  When one decides to to break the unwritten rule, I let it go because I always stop and remember that it could be a lot worse!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Twisting The Night Away

I taught in a school with a fairly high teacher turnover rate.  The results of constant new faces is that people stop bothering to get to know each other unless they work directly with each other.  In a junior high setting where I was, there are lots of people you really don't work directly with.

I was on an academic team with a first year teacher named Joan.  Joan was a sweet girl.  She was quiet, single, didn't go for beers on Fridays, and generally kept to herself.  Basically, she was the perfect target.

As Christmas approached, the staff organized a 'Secret Santa' exchange.  You pulled a name and were supposed to buy that person a gift in the 10-15 dollar range and give it to them sometime during the last week of school.  On the final day before break, everyone would reveal who gave who gifts.  I pulled Joan.

Each staff member listed a few things on the sheet they might like in that range (side note- I always listed the same thing- BEER; I'm easy...).  Joan's read as follows:

Borders Gift Cards
Board Games (Sorry, Twister, etc.)

The week of the gift exchange.  Joan was pretty excited.  Everyday during our plan period, she would run down to the office to check her mailbox to see if her gift had arrived. On Wednesday, it did.  

Joan entered the classroom we were meeting in with a big smile on her face and a small package.  She opened the card and read it to herself.  As she sat reading, her face slowly became very red.  When she finished reading she put the card down and said, put her hands over her mouth and said, "Oh my gosh" out loud several times.  The rest of us on the team inquired what was wrong.

"I didn't mean it that way!  Oh my gosh.  I feel so naughty!  Oh my gosh!"

She handed the card to the teacher to her left, Beth, who knew what I was up to. It read:

Dearest Joan,
I find it highly inappropriate for a single young lady to be tangling herself up with random men on a Twister board.  So since you like to read, here's a book you obviously need spend more time reading.


As Beth sat reading the card out loud to the rest of us, Joan had unwrapped a copy of The Bible.  Joan sat there, visibly upset, pleading her case that her request was misinterpreted.  "I don't even know who this woman is! (we had no Rosemary in the building, but when people don't talk, it's easy to create human beings out of thin air).  

Beth tried to comfort Joan, but acknowledged this was inappropriate on Rosemary's part.  "Well, that does sound like her.  Regardless, you need to talk to the principal about this Joan."

That sent her, particularly as a first year teacher, into a whole new level of panic.  "But I didn't mean it this way!"

Eventually we convinced Joan the right thing to do was to go talk to the principal and she left for his office.  The rooms all had phones in that building.  I picked it up and called the principal in his office.  

"Dude- Joan's coming down to talk to you.  Play along with whatever she brings in."

"(Sigh) What are you up to now?"


A very nervous Joan inched into the principal's office and asked if she could talk to him for a minute.  He invited her in and offered her a seat.  She handed him the card and the principal quietly read it to himself.  

"Well.  Are you promiscuous Joan?"

The principal eventually agreed to speak to Rosemary and sent Joan back our way.  When she returned, a $30 dollar gift card to Border's was sitting on her desk.  She was a remarkable sport about the gag (though I don't think she thought it was as funny as the rest of us did).  Sure, it was a little cruel.  But it was also a little awesome... :) 

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Can I Borrow A Pencil?

Morris was a likable kid and a lousy student.  The latter part was a double problem for me because I was also his basketball coach.  Since he was always goofing off and rarely paying attention, coupled with the fact that I had to stay on him if I had any hope of him being eligible, Morris got the famed front-center chair in the classroom.

Afros were popular among the school's African-American students at this time.  The kids liked to wear hair picks stuck into their hair, but this was prohibited by the dress code.   However, many of the students also would keep their pencil sticking halfway into their Afro.  I'm not sure if this was for style, convenience, or both.

This didn't really matter for Morris since he rarely, if ever, had a writing utensil.  Most days he would ask to borrow a pencil before he'd even verified that he didn't have one.  I didn't let students go back to their lockers during class time, so a loaner was usually the outcome.

One Monday, Morris grabbed his front and center seat and predictably asked to borrow a pencil.  As I looked down to give him the standard teacher lecture about coming to class prepared, I noticed something.

"Morris, you have four pencils in your hair dude."

They were not sticking out for easy access, rather completely embedded in his hair.  Morris legitimately seemed to be unaware of their existence, making me shudder thinking how long they had been there.

Guess how many of those four pencils he had when he returned Tuesday?  :)  

Monday, April 2, 2012

Plumbing & How To Improve Independent Reading

Arturo was a 3rd grade kid who was impossible not to love even though he worked his hardest to piss you off.  He looked almost like a snowman: perfectly round body and a perfectly round head.  His million dollar smile is going to wind up getting him out of a lot jams in his life (and won't hurt with the girls...).   For as cute and charming as Arturo could be, he was stubborn as a mule, and a lazy student.  If he wasn't in the mood to work, he sat, crossed his arms, and did not move.  We never figured out a way to get him out of his funks, but did figure out that calling home only got him beat.  Arturo was only with us a couple years before his family moved along (he was in a at least four schools by 5th grade, but it'll be the schools fault when he doesn't pass a standardized test... but I digress), but he provided a nice bank of tales his time.  Below are my two, somewhat related, favorites.

We had a little boy named Brendan back when Arturo was here.  Brendan was a 1st grader when Arturo was in 3rd grade, and the poor little guy was a mess.  Among challenges we had with Brendan was that he would regularly crap in the urinal.  Brendan's father was no doubt embarrassed by the nature of the problem and the fact that he kept doing it.  He had a litany of excuses why his son was doing it, and wanted him to clean it up in the future.  As much as my custodian hated cleaning up messes like this, I am generally opposed to having children clean as punishment.  Further, I was not sure why the kid was doing it.  Eventually though, we had to tell Brendan that if he kept it up, there'd be consequences.

Sure enough, a few days later we discover a healthy dump in the urinal and call Brendan down to the office.  He's hysterical that he didn't do it.  Given that he's never denied it in the past, we give him the (temporary) benefit of the doubt (could there honestly be two knuckleheads frosting the urinal cakes?).  Sure enough, after spending several hours of instructional leadership questioning kids about who might be shitting in urinals, we find the culprit: Arturo.  He knew he was in trouble.  He knew we were going to have to call his foster mom who was likely going to hit him.  He just couldn't resist.  He thought crapping in the urinal was hysterical and knew we'd blame Brendan (who's antics were known).  I yelled at him for a while, typical principal BS ("This is VERY disappointing), before sending him on his way. As soon as my office door was closed, I cracked up laughing.

Of course, after this incident, I had to ask Arturo's teacher to keep a closer eye on when he used the bathroom.  Every now and then, I'd check in with the teacher as to how he was doing and whether any problems had a arisen.

"Everything's been fine, but he's been going to the bathroom quite a bit lately.  He says he's had diarrhea (Arturo was the kind of kid who'd just bluntly tell you that)."  Shortly there after, Arturo was granted permission to use the bathroom when he was caught sneaking back into the classroom several minutes later to get a book.  "I can't poop without something to read!"  What 10 year old says that?!

Despite never taking a book home, Arturo finished the year with the highest independent reading scores in the third grade.  :)