Maybe I can do this NO I CAN’T SHUT UP

If I were a dog, I would deserve a firm smack on the nose, perhaps with some sort of rolled-up magazine or newspaper, for writing this post.  Then again, if a dog actually wrote a blog post, perhaps that would be cause for celebration and not censure.  Maybe this metaphor doesn’t quite work.  I don’t know.

I spent about an hour this afternoon sitting in my new classroom, just sort of staring at everything.  Have some pictures.  Ignore the clutter and the untidiness; there were parties yesterday and the janitors haven’t gotten everywhere yet (and the teacher did a terrible job of getting the kids to straighten the room.)

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As you can see, the room is cavernous.  It’s set up as a science classroom; there’s storage underneath the countertop all the way around.  That thing in the back is a vent hood.  I can burn shit in there if I want to.

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There’s room for, like, a million kids in here, and tons of table space too.  There’s 30 student desks, plus three round tables, four computer stations that are probably going away, two rectangular tables, a couple of bar stools for the counter space, and a couple of desk areas built in under the windows.  The versatility for seating arrangements is like nothing I’ve ever seen before.  Both of my previous classrooms could fit inside this one at the same time.

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Lots of board space, too.  The whiteboard is electronic, and there’s some chalkboard to either side of it, plus a fair amount of bulletin board space, especially if I get rid of the computer stations, which I’m planning to do.

God help me, I sat in this classroom today and for a couple of minutes I was actually looking forward to this fall. I cannot do this. I cannot allow myself this luxury when I don’t think I’m going to be getting paid for the entire school year.

This year was rough.  I have no reason to think next year was better, as the two cardinal rules of teaching in Indiana are that nothing ever gets better and everything always gets worse.  And “worse” next year is going to be unprecedentedly worse if I can’t get out this summer.

But damn.  This classroom.

On this week

CFog7gQWMAAlKa4The health app on my iPhone tells me that I walked ten miles– over twenty thousand steps– yesterday, and that is without a single second of anything that I could accurately describe as “exercise.”  It was just that busy of a day.

Every so often it hits me just how ridiculous my job can be, right?  Thursday, in particular, was like that.  On Wednesday evening the sister/cousin(*) of two of our seventh graders, who has been missing for several weeks, was found dead in a field a couple of counties south of here.  My understanding is that the man who murdered her turned himself in and led the cops to her body.  Thursday morning, as we were putting our heads together and trying to figure out what we should do about that, we had one fifth grade student brought down to the office whose nine year old cousin had just committed suicide the night before.  She had just confessed to a teacher that she was thinking about killing herself as well.

Within five minutes of that, we had two fights in two entirely different parts of the building, including one between two kids whose families have literally been feuding since they were in second grade.  

Within five minutes of that, the kid who got put up for expulsion for shoving me earlier in the year was back in the office because he blew up at somebody– an event that turned out to legitimately not be his fault, but he claims nothing is ever his fault.  On the rare occasions he’s actually telling the truth– which isn’t the case most of the time– we still need to do an investigation to verify it independently.

I tried to home iso him anyway, because generally once he gets his blood up he’s incredibly difficult to calm down even if whatever happened really isn’t his fault.  His mom’s response was to tell me that she wasn’t coming to get him, that we should put him in ISS, and that if he messed up in ISS– which everyone involved knew he was going to– we should call the police.

He’s 12.

I got to the office around 7:25.  By 7:48 AM, my morning was done.  Right there.  Done. Before 8 AM.

And y’all think I should be worried about test scores?


So. Right.  The ridiculousness part.  That was my morning.  Other stuff happened, but I had enough student issues on my plate before eight in the morning to keep me busy until well after noon.   What did I spend the afternoon doing?

Check the picture up there.  I spent the afternoon building radio-controlled sharks, learning to fly them, and then teaching 8th graders how to fly them.  And worrying about inflatable pools and popsicles.  We had our post-ISTEP celebration at the end of the day yesterday, and the theme was “beach party.”  And my boss is not the type to do anything half-assed, so there was extensive setup required to get everything right.  So there were games and competitions in the gym for a while at the end of the day, and then two dances– one for 5th and 6th graders, one for 7th and 8th, in separate parts of the building.

At the end of the 5th and 6th grade dance, something amazing happened.  There were, I dunno, 250-300 kids in the room, and maybe 12-15 adults or so.  We cut the music and the adults all raised their hands.  That’s all we did.  I was looking around while all this was going on, and none of the adults were talking to anyone.  The kids all did one of three things:

  1. Some went to stand next to their teachers;
  2. Some went and stood against the wall;
  3. Some went and sat on the bleachers.

But every kid in the gym was moving with purpose and to a destination, and they were all doing so quietly, with none of them being told what to do.  We somehow managed to dismiss half the building at the end of a dance on a Friday before a three day weekend, in– well, not silence, but manageable quiet– without talking to the kids.

And then I did a six-hour shift at my other job, which featured my high school co-worker not bothering to show up until an hour and a half after the start of his shift, a visit by a dozen or so special-needs adults, a group that comes by all the time and who I really enjoy having with us but who generally require about three times as much, uh, hospitality as any similar group ought to, and the immense, “well, this may as well happen” fun of having to clean up a pool of what was clearly menstrual blood on one of our picnic benches toward the end of the shift.  A pool that no one informed us about, and I only found because I was checking the gameroom.

It’s been a long goddamn couple of days, is what I’m saying.

(*) I’m not being dismissive here; I’ve heard both relationships from people who should know, and I suspect this is a situation where the kids are literally cousins but raised in the same house.

I can’t tell if this story is sad or funny

11138588_10206547522310491_2102370222246627824_nAnd the answer may very well be “both.”

(There is another Star Wars post coming.  Soon, I expect.  This will not be that post, but I could not pass up this image.)

A couple of months ago one of my sixth grade boys attacked me in the office.  I didn’t mention it here.  It wasn’t a big deal.  The kid was in the midst of a massive emotional meltdown and he has trouble controlling his temper on the best of days.  I wasn’t mad.  We had to put him up for expulsion, but when a kid’s special education disability can be found to have caused the behavior that led to an expulsion, that kid is frequently sent directly back to school and everyone involved knew that that was exactly what was going to happen and it did.

(I understand that this policy may prove controversial.  I’m not super interested in defending it or denigrating it at the moment.  It’s just how things work in our current system.  Roll with it.)

At his expulsion hearing, I went over what had happened and spent a few minutes talking with the kid about things he could have done to make the situation work better.  I made it very clear to both him and his mother that if he’s in a situation where he feels like he’s about to lose his temper, I want him to come talk to me if he needs to, and that under most circumstances my office door is going to be open to him whenever he needs it to be.  Since he came back, I’ve checked in with him on my own two or three days a week, and he’s been referred to me once or twice a week as well.

Basically what I’m saying is I see this kid every day for one reason or another, and I spend a fair percentage of my copious spare time talking him off of ledges.  But!  He hasn’t gotten into a fight or hit anyone since he came back.  In fact, to the best of my recollection he hasn’t even had a day of home isolation since he came back.  This represents incredible progress.

He needs a name.  We’ll call him David.

So today I got a phone call from one of the special ed teachers that David had been sent to her room by another teacher on a time-out and that he was insisting on talking to me.  I went to the classroom and found him in the hallway about halfway to meltdown mode– hands clenched into fists, breathing heavily, pacing around, the works.

I got the story out of him fairly quickly, and this is the part where telling this story gets a bit difficult, because I don’t quite know how to describe this other boy, who we’ll call Jonathan.  Jonathan is probably gay.  He certainly acts the part; he’s noticeably effeminate and he plays up his effeminacy (is that a word) to a degree I have literally never seen from a twelve-year-old before.  He gets picked on by the other kids from time to time, which will surprise no one, but what may surprise you is that we’ve had to deal with him for sexual harassment issues before.  For example, we had a big fooferall on Monday just this week because Jonathan was blowing kisses at several of the other boys in the room– a fact that they did not react to with calm equanimity.

Put the pitchforks down.  As I’ve said many, many times, bullying is an infinitely more complicated issue than society is ever willing to admit, and frequently what people might want to point at and screech “bullying!” is actually a situation with multiple bad actors.  This is absolutely one of those situations.

At any rate, David has gotten into an argument with Jonathan, and rather than punch Jonathan in the face he’s left the room, gone somewhere else, and asked to talk to me.  He’s upset with Jonathan because he doesn’t like “that gay stuff” and blah blah blah garden-variety middle-school homophobia.  Am I happy about it?  No, absolutely not.  Am I willing to pass over GVMSH because at this precise moment with this precise young man right now we’re working on don’t punch people in their faces, a lesson that he seems to actually be learning?  Yes.  Yes I am.  Judge me as you see fit.

I get a description of what has happened out of him.  As it turns out, what specifically set him off was Jonathan telling him, loudly, in class, that he was going to “do a booty porn” with him.

You read that right.  Booty porn.  David does not want to be in a booty porn!  In fact, he quite badly wants to punch the faces of those who suggest that he should be in booty porns.  But he has been told not to punch faces, so instead he left the room.

I deposit David in the office, tell the office to sit on him and let him calm down for a few minutes, and go find Jonathan.  I have a problem here; I can calm David down easily enough, especially given a few minutes.  What I can’t do is put him back in the classroom with this kid, and if Jonathan really suggested he was going to fuck this boy in the ass and videotape it– because hell if I can figure out what else “do a booty porn” might mean– then we’re right back to sexual harassment issues from Jonathan, and my day, much like an erect penis, has just gotten longer and harder.

(I’m very sorry.)

I talk to Jonathan in the hallway.  A bunch of the boys realize immediately why I’m there and a bunch of hands shoot up from kids who want to tell me what happened.  I wave them off.  Jonathan comes outside.  His story is largely the same as David’s in terms of the mutual harassment and name-calling that started the dispute, and then he says something that stops me dead.

“I told him I was gonna do a bully report, and then he got mad and left the room.”

Say “bully report” a few times really fast.  Now say “booty porn” a few times really fast.

oh what the hell am I doing with my life.

Now, here’s the thing: Jonathan is just clever enough that he could be lying.  And David, as much as I like the kid, is just volatile enough that he could have put the worst possible spin on what he thought Jonathan was saying.

Do you see where this is going?

I had to pull, one by one, and at random, about half of this poor teacher’s class into the hallway, to ask them if they heard the words bully report or booty porn.

The results?  50/50.

And then I had to go talk to my boss, and say the words booty porn to him a bunch of times, and explain to him why I was resigning immediately and refusing to deal with any of this nonsense any longer.

The end.

In which DO NOT WANT

drama_masks_lToday was exhausting.  We had a snow day yesterday for what turned out to be damn near no reason at all, and I kinda needed yesterday, as this is one of my Busy Weeks, so today was even more nuts than usual, especially since the AP began my day by handing me a stack of referrals from the last hour of Wednesday and asking me to deal with them.

For reasons that I can’t get into, I had to call a couple of seventh grade girls out of class and into my office toward the end of the day today.  I picked them from a list of kids I could have chosen because I know both of them fairly well, relatively speaking, and because as near as I’ve been able to tell they’re both relatively smart and honest kids.  They both happened to be in the same class and so came down together.

They walk into my office and one of them asks if they can shut the door.  “I don’t want to talk about this with the door open,” she says.

I raise an eyebrow.  There is literally no way that she can have any idea what I want to talk to them about.  It’s flatly impossible.

“You two are in so much trouble,” I say.  I am doing this to fuck with them.  They’re not in the tiniest shred of trouble, but I know they’re both good kids and they’re going to temporarily freak out if I tell them I’m mad at them.

And they don’t react.

Um.

“So, uh, why do you think I called you down here?”

“The Ellie Mae thing,” one of them says.  Now, I don’t know who Ellie Mae is, and that’s not her name, but it’s close enough in a way that entertains me.

I look at the other one.  “You’re both involved in this, right?”  She nods.

Note that I didn’t even know they were friends.  This is hilarious.

“Tell me your side of the story,” I say.

Two minutes later, having been led through a dizzying shitstorm of names and social media accounts and a web of cousins and aunts and uncles so thick that I halfway want to start drawing a map, I halt the conversation and tell them why they’re actually down in my office.  “We will deal with this other thing afterwards,” I say, parts of my brain screaming at other parts of my brain to run.  Because this has every sign of a Sally told Sherry that Susie told Sammie that Sharon saw Shayna say to Shalynn that Sally’s sister’s boyfriend’s third cousin was a slut, and I want nothing to do with it.

But, because I am a rockstar, I sort everything out and issue instructions for what is to be done on Monday. Only problem is that what was supposed to be a five-minute conversation ended up taking 25.

But I love it when they accidentally rat themselves out like this.

An actual conversation I had with a parent yesterday

exhausted_zpsa4303e7bHi, Mr. Smith?  This is Mr. Siler, I’m the <job title> at <school>.  I have your daughter Sally with me right now.  Do you have a moment?

No, sir, she’s not in trouble.  In fact, she asked me to call you.

Yes, that’s correct.

Well, this morning she found me in the cafeteria and let me know that another student who sits near her had been smoking on the bus that morning.  She reported that he was smoking marijuana, but as it turned out it was just cherry-flavored tobacco.

Yes, we’ve concluded our investigation and the situation’s being dealt with.

Yes, I’m quite happy that she spoke up.  She did the right thing.  But that’s not why I’m calling.  Yes, this happened this morning.  Several hours ago.  I sent her to class right after she told me about it, but she’s only just now come back downstairs to my office.

Well, you see, Sally is very concerned that it’s possible that her clothing might still smell of this young man’s tobacco.  She… uh… she says that you tend to smell her clothes before doing the laundry, and she’s very upset at the possibility that you might smell the tobacco on her clothing and think she’s been smoking.

Yes.   She doesn’t want to get in trouble.  She wanted to call you herself, but I told her I thought the story might be more convincing coming from me.

Yes.  Really.  

No.  I smelled her sleeve– she, uh… she actually insisted that I do that.  And I need you to understand that smelling a student’s clothes is not exactly a day-to-day job task around here.  In fact I’ve been teaching for thirteen years and this is the first time a student has insisted that I smell them. I can’t smell a thing.  Honestly, sir, I think she’s a little nuts.  

Yes, she’s right here.  She’s laughing, in fact.  Would you like to talk to her?  Okay.  I’ll send her back to class, then.  Thank you.  Enjoy your weekend.