Friday, October 4, 2013

Desperate Times Call for Desperate Measures

Urban education.  Poverty. Budget constraints. Overflowing classroom.  Hunger.  Illiteracy.  Homelessness.  

I had a day from heck on Tuesday.  My 1st hour class is beautiful and it was on Tuesday.  That lulled me into a false sense of security. My 3rd hour started it all.  And it just spiraled from there.  In that class, I have 38 kids and 50% special needs, you can do the math.  Hard core special needs.  Gang bangers, a couple of kids on the spectrum, some kids that just have no control over their emotions, some can't read, some can't get their ideas from their heads to the paper.  But so far, so good.  

Until Tuesday.  

Tuesday two of my more volatile boys came late, were unhappy with the hospitality of our tardy room and the fragile peace that I have been holding onto for the last 2 weeks shattered into a million bazillion pieces in an instant.  And my day just spiraled from there...and I couldn't pull the nose of the plane I was on up. My next hour is my most trying hour - 29 males, 7 females.  My sub was a wrestling coach who read to them and let them talk football all class period.  He was "maintaining". So, the idea of taking notes or writing an essay or discussing the implications that religion has on civilization is very much, shall we say...unappreciated. They are starting to suffer the effects of the carb and sugar crashes from their breakfast of Flamin' Hots and Tropical Punch at that point of the day. I called 19 homes - during class. And then one of the boys was unhappy that I expected him to put his phone away rather than making phone calls...and threatened to "Slap the white off" of me.  And from that moment, that class spiraled out of control and somehow I kept that from becoming the mob that was brewing...

Breathe...


And then my 6/7 class - a mirror image of my previous class...26 girls and 10 boys.  And among those 36 students is a boy, his girlfriend, his ex-girlfriend and a prospective girlfriend that was set aside for the current girlfriend.  Yea, about that... two words. POWDER KEG!  When someone throws a paper ball at the girl friend who feels SO threatened, so vulnerable, each and every time she walks into my room...she puts her butt length hair up into a quick bun...and I know what the powder keg is that is about to explode in my classroom. The rest are looking for some cheap entertainment, so they start fanning the flames.  I start thinking about the two things that feed fire - O2 and fuel.  Gasoline has already been set in place and I cannot, in all reality, put in them all under for a moment.  So, instead, I call the front desk to see if the violence prevention team can help me put out the fire. The woman on the other end...says "okay".  A few more minutes and a whole lot more posturing going on and I have no back up.  I call for security because I DO NOT break up girl fights.  NO way, NO how, Uh-uh.  They make their up there after I have gotten the ponytail to trust me enough to not be ONLY concerned with proving her strength and I get her out of the classroom.  And I talk her down.  And only then does security make its way to my room.  This is the moment when I discover that the violence prevention team was not available, as it was a lunch hour and they are always in the lunchroom. Ummm, that would have been a helpful tidbit o' knowledge when I called for assistance.  By this point I have lost my 3rd class in a row.  And I don't handle that well.  I am already frustrated that I do not have them eating out of my hand. It has been TWO WHOLE WEEKS!  And now... now I look like so many other teachers I have felt so bad for throughout my career - the ones that cannot control their classes.  I ALWAYS CONTROL MY CLASSES!

Lunch did not help, I was too steamed to eat.  My department meeting just fed my fuming nature.  And my poor, sweet little psych class had to suffer through a teacher who could not even speak.

I walked out of the school, to my FF waiting in the car.  He saw it as I stormed down the stairs...while the kids are still walking to the buses.  I wasted no time.  Had I won the lottery, I could have walked away from the education world FOREVER.  

I slept horribly that night.  O came down at 2:30am feeling yucky and I was up for the day.

And that day went beautifully.  And so did the next.  I had weathered the storm and they were ALL working for me.  And we had DISCUSSIONS in class - real honest to goodness, higher level thinking kind of talks.  For two days!  And I was amazed.  

I have spent the last 72 hours really ANALYZING what the heck happened.  I am in my 17th year in the education environment.  I know how to handle a classroom - what the heck happened??

I started looking at the school's test scores for the last few years.  And I read through my IEPs over and over and over.  And I figured out that oh so many of my stuffed classes can't read and struggle to put together a coherent sentence...and here I am asking them to not only put together a sentence, but several of them.  AFTER analyzing 6 documents in a DBQ (Document Based Question).  I walked them through it document by document, and nearly literally sentence by sentence.  

I thought it was a slam dunk.  But I realized how scared they were to show me, to show each other and maybe, in some cases, to admit their inadequacies to themselves.  That is a scary thought, for any of us really.  And rather than show their failings, they showed me how big and bad and hard a$$ they were...and I let them.

So, I needed to look at things.  I revamped the content I was presenting to them.  Added more media that spoke to them.  And began researching literacy alternatives.  As I was watching my kids after they finished some of their quizzes, I noticed a few reading graphic novels.  And then I started looking for historical fiction in the form of those graphic novels, comic books if you must.  And the light bulb shone oh so brightly above my head.

I am a firm believer in the idea that only reading makes you a stronger reader.  Whether you are reading a cereal box, a bill board or a classic novel, it makes no difference.  The fact that you are READING gets that ball rolling.  I know my brother and I were not the only ones who fought over reading the back of the cereal box at the breakfast table. So, if that applies to other kids, why not mine??  I looked at the novels in the storage room at the back of my room.  There is NO way that any one of my classes would be able to make it through any of those novel without me pulling teeth.  


I went back to my laptop and started looking for books I could use in my class - starting with Maus, one of my personal faves.  Then I expanded it to my whole department.

And then I looked at the invoice I was creating.

There is no money at school.  We are totally rebuilding our school.  There were budget issues from years past that are being addressed.  Our enrollment has been lowered so we can right our ship, but that means we have to do more with less.  I am begging the janitors to find me a file cabinet, there is no money for me to build a department library of comic books.  

I started researching and I made my list.  Maus I & II, The Mystery of Mary Rogers, Chasing Lincoln's Killer, The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln, Golem's Mighty Swing, Bluesman: A Twelve Bar Graphic Novel in the Key of Life and Death, A Life Force, Fallout: J. Robert Oppenheimer, Leo Szilard, and the Political Science of the Atomic Bomb, Deogratias: A Tale of Rwanda and Stuck Rubber Boy. DK has several for ancient civ.   I am more than certain that I will be adding more.  I want our department to look like the step-child to the English department.  I want to have the issue of "where the heck are we going to store THIS set of books??!!"  and I want to be able to hit the more hard core novels within 5 years...because we have changed the culture of virtual illiteracy. 


My list is long.  I am focusing on what we can use in World and US History, I will expand from there as time goes on.  And now I have to find the money.  I am hoping to find some success with DonorsChoose.org.  I posted two projects that will get me a class set of two novels and half a set of another.  (And within an hour TWO firewives threw their help my way.  I am indeed BLESSED!)  One of the Lts. from the J's time at the academy also tossed his support my way.  Never underestimate the generosity of the fire world.  If you are interested in donating, here is my page.  If you cannot, but would still be willing to help, please share my link on social media - through FB, Twitter, your blog - I would so much appreciate it...just make sure you let me know what your blog is so I can send you some love in return!

It takes a village to raise a child.  It is going to take the cyber world to raise my crew.  Thanks for your love and support, even if it is just good juju you are sending my way.

Today is Friday.  Pork chop parm is on the menu for tonight.  Life is indeed good.  Thanks for listening to my soap box pitch...I am back to saving the world again...armed with graphic novels!
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