Thursday, March 31, 2011

All in a Day's Work

You can learn many things from children.  How much patience you have, for instance. -Franklin P. Jones

Sometimes I come home with stories, and it sounds like it's been a bad week. But then I realize, nope, just your average craziness that is my elementary school.

This week, a 2nd grader bit a teacher. A first grader apparently hit a teacher when she tried to make him apologize to another kid for calling her names. And a 4th grader cussed out and flipped off a teacher who was trying to keep him from fighting another kid (who had thrown and hit him with a chunk of ice).

On the lighter side, today I walked a kid down to the bathroom. He comes back out almost immediately because the stall was inexplicably locked, but no one was inside. So I was like, well I don't know if it's locked for a reason, but go ahead and crawl under the stall and find out. He got down to his knees and awkwardly couldn't figure out how to get underneath the stall. So he stands back up and looks really uncomfortable so I said, (sigh) "do you want me to do it?" So I, who is twice this kid's size, crawled under the stall in the boys room and unlocked the door. It's a good thing I don't have huge issues with getting dirty/germs and really just found the whole thing entertaining.

There's a kindergardener who's got the same color red hair as I do--so I've been asked by multiple people if we're related. No joke. But he's wicked smart and also autistic, which makes being a part of the class not always successful. He's obsessed with Star Wars and the Planets (He knows so much about all of them! Probably more than I do!). And his current obsession is Harry Potter. So much so, that he's now writing "Ron" on all of his papers instead of his real name. Sometimes "Ron Weasley," Except that he spells Weasley "Weslay" but hey, he's 5.

The other day in the lunchroom, amidst all the shouting and whiny kids (he's sitting in my seat, she's mean, he hit me, can I go to the bathroom?), these two 5th grade boys start talking to me, and one goes, "Can I call you by your nickname?" So I ask, "what's my nickname?" and they both say "nothing!" and go back to their seats. Now, I have no idea whether some 5th grade boys have some secret nickname for me, or if they were just being smart asses per usual.

All in all, I love my job--never a dull moment with children. Every day is different. And even though I work with some tough kids, the grand majority are wonderful. Shoot, even some of the awful ones have their moments. I'm glad I never have to be worried about being bored at work.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Tell your sister I say "Hi!"

Nothing you do for children is ever wasted. They seem not to notice us, hovering, averting our eyes, and they seldom offer thanks, but what we do for them is never wasted. -Garrison Keillor

There are a couple of questions I get just about daily. Sometimes from the same the kids.

One, as I've mentioned before, is whether I have kids of my own. Which is often followed by whether I'm married, and how old I am, which is then followed by the kids telling me how old their parents are. I'm never sure whether to believe them, especially when they're kindergardeners.

(Yesterday I had a kindergardener tell me he was getting bigger--he was up to his dad's nose! Well, I asked him if his father is taller than me (answer: yes) and then had him stand up. Nope, you're not even up to my chest, much less my nose. Pretty sure you're not up to your dad's nose honey. At least he seemed to get my logic.)

But here's the new one:
Back story: Kim, my seemingly-identical-but-actually-fraternal twin sister visited, and I had her come to the after school program to hand out snack with me, and then come in the next day and read with some first graders. And all the kids freaked out. Seriously, it was as if they had never seen twins before. (And they have--there's a pair of 5th grade boys at my school who are twins.)

Well, we got a lot of "which one's the real Miss Amy?" and some kids giving Kim some hugs that I'm pretty sure made her feel a bit awkward.

Now it's been well over a month and every single day I get a question along the lines of: "When's your sister coming back?" "Where's your sister?" "What's your sister's name?" A couple kids have told me to tell Kim they say Hi. Which I think weirds Kim out, because she doesn't remember them that well, much less their names, and they all want to see her again.

Sometimes kids say to other kids "Did you know she has a twin?" One 5th grader calls me "twin." A couple of kids have jokingly called me Miss Kim or been like, "You're not the real Miss Amy! You're her sister!"

I find the whole thing very entertaining. But it's also a testament to the fact that, even though I've been a part of these kids' lives for half of a year, I'm a big enough influence on their lives that they still remember and are curious about my sister who was a part of their world for only a few hours.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Itchy Itchy Scratchy Scratchy

Children are contemptuous, haughty, irritable, envious, sneaky, selfish, lazy, flighty, timid, liars and hypocrites, quick to laugh and cry, extreme in expressing joy and sorrow, especially about trifles, they'll do anything to avoid pain but they enjoy inflicting it:  little men already.  ~Jean de La Bruyère, Les Caractères, 1688

"It's a wonder I haven't abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart." -Anne Frank

"Itchy itchy, scratchy scratchy" is from a book my kindergarden class read about tattling. A boy tattled on everyone and got some crazy tongue disease, so he learned only to tell on someone if someone's hurt or sick or hurting you. Well, I'm not sure all of them really got the message. Students are constantly tattling about the smallest issues, and issues that have absolutely nothing to do with them. He did this, she did that. Sometimes you have to pick your battle. They're sitting at the wrong table in the cafeteria? Is this hurting you, no. Are you sitting in the right spot, yes. So don't worry about it. Every kid has an opinion about everything--ask someone who's crying what is wrong and you'll get six different answers.

Sometimes I feel like I can handle anything when I successfully handle a situation. If you work with kindergardeners for example, you can't help but get a little dirty--from getting glitter EVERYWHERE, to pulling a kid up out of the mud, and washing them up. So many crying children. The other day I had a kid whose pants were too big so they kept falling down, and then he fell into the mud and was just bawling. I ended up using a paper clip to connect some belt loops to tighten his pants, as well and getting a bit of mud on myself in the process of getting him back to class and washed up. Today I had to take pens away from a boy who was throwing them at another table in the lunchroom. I've given kids band aids, had a kid throw up in class. I've watched a fight being broken up by some other teachers, and restrained kids myself who were on the verge of making poor decisions. It's amazing how much of a teacher's job--and my job--are not based in instruction, but in building character, and keeping a class under control. There are some kids who ruin a lesson for the entire class--it's so hard for one teacher to try to teach if there is one kid taking up their time and energy. And it's simply not fair to the rest of the kids. But what can you do?

So here's my weakness: discipline. Sometimes I feel like I just have a sign on my back that says "Miss Amy is a pushover, you don't have to listen to her." And it's frustrating--I feel helpless when I have to turn to another teacher or staff member to get a kid under control. Sometimes I feel like maybe I've failed, but it helps to see that it's not just me--a lot of the problem kids won't listen to anyone. And those they do listen to understand and see that it's not me, it's the kid. And I think I've gotten to a point where I'm more comfortable in my role at the school that I'm more successful in keeping kids under control--and I'm not as bothered by my "failures" because it's not that I'm failing-it's that the situation might just be out of my control. (I'm excited to go back to school after another year because I feel like there is so much more I can learn before anyone should trust me with a class of my own.)

So what is the best way to handle students who might be bullying other kids, or swearing, or hitting other kids or being disruptive in class? I clearly don't have an answer. I don't like being overly harsh with kids, but sometimes you have to put your foot down. I always try reasoning with a kid first--what's the right choice to make? would you like it if someone was doing that to you? throwing that pen isn't going to solve anything. How effective is this? Well, there are a lot of kids who are very responsive to adults. And don't have to be told more than twice to sit down, be quiet, stop that. But there are others for whom it really doesn't matter how many times you tell them, they aren't going to listen.

I'd take a muddy, crying kid any day, to a kid hell-bent on annoying/hurting/bugging his/her classmates and won't listen to adults. The school I work in has quite the cohort of students who would probably have been kicked out of another school by now. And I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, they need to learn that their actions have consequences, and that their behavior is unacceptable and they need to respect everyone else. On the other hand, I'm sure some of these kids have unstable home lives, and other such issues (which is why this is number who-knows-what on the list of schools they've attended), where it's probably beneficial that school remain stable. And maybe by giving them more time in a school than just shipping them off somewhere else where they'll be someone else's problem for a little while, maybe they'll chill out and realize that being in elementary school is a lot more fun when people like you and you follow directions and actually learn some stuff. (Seriously, elementary school should not be as hard as some of these kids make it).

Maybe I'm just being optimistic--I'm a glass-is-half-full and human-nature-is-good kind of person. I can't help but think--and hope--that these kids have a heart somewhere in their little bodies, and really do want to be good, just something, somewhere along the way, went wrong. Maybe it has to do with their home lives. Maybe there is a chemical imbalance. Maybe they're scared, and hide it by being mean. I like what John Steinbeck wrote in East of Eden about people:
"In uncertainty I am certain that underneath their topmost layers of frailty men want to be good and want to be loved. Indeed, most of their vices are attempted shortcuts to love. When a man comes to die, no matter what his talents and influence and genius, if he dies unloved his life must be a failure to him and his dying a cold horror. It seems to me that if you or I must choose between two courses of thought or action, we should remember our dying and try so to live that our death brings no pleasure to the world.
We have only one story. All novels, all poetry, are built on the never-ending contest in ourselves of good and evil. And it occurs to me that evil must constantly re-spawn, while good, while virtue, is immortal. Vice has always a new fresh young face, while virtue is venerable as nothing else in the world is."

So if nothing else, I have my hope in human nature, that something good will come out of a situation that seems to be going no where. They are, after all, just kids.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Teachers: Clearly The Number One Threat To America

All who have meditated on the art of governing mankind have been convinced that the fate of empires depends on the education of youth. ~Aristotle

It'll be a great day when education gets all the money it wants and the Air Force has to hold a bake sale to buy bombers. ~Anonymous

So with all this stuff going down in Wisconsin, and with budget cuts in educations, and ironically named proposals that instead of building "stronger schools and stronger communities" make their decisions based on economics--not based on what's right for the kids, it really makes me wonder what politicians (mainly republicans) are thinking. Because it doesn't actually seem to me like they are.

Moreover, Americans are silly. When polled, they may think that the budget should be the highest priority, but then don't want anything to be cut. Clearly, some sacrifices need to be made. But not in education. Like I've mentioned before, I believe that education is the key to our future. In the long run, it's what's going to get us out of the messes we're in--if we can lower the achievement gap, hopefully that will also help lower the poverty and inequalities we see in America, or send less people to prison (which is a huge expenditure compared to what we spend on our children.) And all of this should hopefully lead to a stronger public who will depend less on welfare and maybe more likely to stimulate the economy.

What's funny is that I often joke that "I clearly don't want to go into education for the money." So it baffles me when anyone claims that teachers get too many benefits/too much money for the job they do--and summer vacation! Aren't teachers notorious for not getting paid enough? We only entrust our children to them every day. Clearly our kids aren't worth the money to take care of our teachers.

"One thing we could do, is not extend the bush tax cuts to the top 2% of the country. That would earn us 700 billion dollars over the next 10 years. Oh, and maybe also we could close some corporate tax loopholes." No, we can't do that. That makes too much sense. We need to get the money from teachers.

Fox news on bankers: Banks create jobs, why do we feel comfortable bashing job creators? "See bankers, unlike teachers, provide a valuable service. And they don't work till 3. Their bell doesn't ring till 4."

I love John Stewart. He's hilarious, and makes some damn good points.

I guess my questions is, do any of these people have kids? Do they value their children's educations AT ALL? Have they ever met a teacher? Shoot, do they even remember going to school--did they? Even if your child goes to some fancy private school, there are still going to be teachers who are dedicated to their jobs. And when you think back to elementary, junior high or high school, isn't there at least one teacher you felt like made a difference? Sure, I've had bad teachers. But more often than not, they've been good.

I personally believe that the English teacher I had in 7th and 9th grade is the sole reason I have decent writing skills whatsoever. My junior high French teacher is probably the reason I tested out of 3 terms of French when entering college. (Yeah, that's right, junior high. I did take French in high school too). And my APUSH teacher junior year of high school was the best teacher I've ever had, and has helped inspire me to want to be a teacher, in addition to being someone I still try to visit whenever I go back to my hometown. (And taking educational psychology--with a specific professor--is what really solidified that thought of becoming a teacher, and turned my beginning-of-senior-year-of-I-still-don't-know-what-I'm-going-to-do-with-my-life-panic into a solid idea of where my passion might be.)

"Around the country, many teachers see demands to cut their income, benefits and say in how schools are run through collective bargaining as attacks not just on their livelihoods, but on their value to society." (NY Times)

And working in an elementary school--not anyone can be a teacher. Believe me. It's not just understanding the material, it's getting a bunch of unruly children to actually sit down and listen for long enough to try to explain it. The teachers I work with are amazing--and put in so many extra hours on lesson planning, grading, and trying to figure out the best way to handle each individual child. No one goes into teaching for the money--they go into teaching because they care about your kids and the value of education. Some bad teachers may not have started out that way--they may have burnt out but kept working because hey, jobs are valuable, and everyone needs a paycheck. They may become disillusioned because the government keeps cutting education budgets, because, hard as they tried, they don't have to means to give each kid the attention they deserve. It's not their fault--it's society's, for slowly abandoning them and undervaluing them, and then blaming them for America's problems. I read an article somewhere that mentioned that America's economy, the last time it was stable/strong was also when the unions were strongest. They aren't perfect, but they aren't the root problem. Yes, teachers need to be held accountable if they are going to abuse their power. But so does everybody else.