Sunday, January 23, 2011

A day in the life....

Well. Last week was....interesting to say the least. Let's look into a typical day (otherwise known as The Order of Horrific Events)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011.

7:00 am. There is a slippery layer of ice on the roads. Many suburban schools are closed, including my son's. NYC schools are open, not delayed, of course. I our car slips all over the road as my husband drives me to the train station with my son in the backseat. I am afraid for our safety, but luckily make it to school alive and early. My stomach is already in knots.

8:20 am. (homeroom time) Assistant principal comes to my door with a new student for my homeroom class.  I now have 31 students on my roster. I welcome him warmly and stop my teaching briefly to get him settled. He tells me he has been transferred from another class in our school. He seems like a nice kid.

9:25 am. (first period) I am now teaching my honors class. They are very attentive and thoroughly engaged in the poetry lesson. The day has started out well. My door is open because if I close it, my classroom becomes a stifling 90 degrees and germs take over. I cannot afford to get sick again.

I hear screaming in the hallway. One of my homeroom students (Kayla) who hardly ever comes to school (she is not in the class I am teaching at the moment)is being dragged by the ear (or the hair? The shirt? Can't tell...) by her mother who is screaming profanities at her. Kayla is screaming back. Her mother attempts to throw her daughter into my classroom, does not succeed, and continues to beat her daughter with her notebook right outside my door. Her daughter is hitting her back.

After fumbling with my stubborn doorstop, I manage to get the door closed. This goes on for a little bit and then my AP and security show up and they all go away. I wonder how they got past security in the first place.

My honors students are silent with their mouths open. There is more information about them in previous posts. They question me about the incident and I tell them they are lucky to have parents who love them. I am shaken. I have never seen anything like this before. I have seen a lot, but not this.

Five minutes later: AP comes in. He hands me the notebook that Kayla's mother was beating her with and asks me to please hold onto it. It is still on my desk now. At the same moment the office secretary comes in and hands me a coverage slip for during my 3rd period prep for an 8th grade special ed class. My paper-grading and lesson planning will have to wait again. I average two coverages a week.

The way coverages work in our school is that instead of hiring substitutes to cover for absent teachers, the Powers That Be would rather have their own staff be paid per session to cover for them. We do not seem to have a choice. If we get a coverage slip, we have to show up, or else the class may be left unattended. Not only is this not economically savvy, but I believe it may be a way of putting pressure on teachers to come in to work even if they (or their child) is sick, because we know how difficult it is to be forced to give up our prep time to cover classes. It is a way of keeping staff attendance in check. Please be advised that this only is my professional OPINION on this matter. Not necessarily a definitive truth, just a gut feeling.

OK....where was I???? Sorry....Back to first period....again, I digress...

My teaching first period has been completely thrown off. My once-engaged students are now upset and unfocused. The poetry lesson is almost trashed and it takes me another ten minutes to get them (and myself) back on track. The period ends about 20 minutes later and I was not able to complete the lesson. The kids are being tested on this material in a little over a week. My classes' scores are printed out and subject to scrutiny by the administration.

Third period: Go to my coverage. I do not know these students. I am not certified to teach eighth grade OR special education. They have no idea who I am and the boys pretend that I am not there. I finally get the boys settled playing a math game on the computer. The girls are sitting around a table gossiping. I join them and give them a Langston Huges poetry book. We take turns reading the poetry out loud and discussing the content. It is extremely difficult to keep them focused. Luckily, this was not nearly as painful as the last time I covered a different eighth grade sped class. The last time, they were trying to run out of the classroom. Most of them outweighed me by several pounds and tower over my 5'1" frame.

Fourth period: I scarf down a PB&J (made for me with love by my dear husband) while trying to grade papers. I feel very distracted.

Fifth and Sixth Periods: I attempt to repair the damage done to my poetry lesson with my honors class. When the instruction is over, I multi-task by giving a related assignment, helping students who do not understand the assignment, and administering a Running Records Test to individual students. Wait...definition time!!!

Running Records: (ruh-ning-rec-ords....AKA an assessment that labels children with letters representing their reading ability) An assessment REQUIRED to be done by all English teachers in my school three times a year to determine a student's reading level so they may choose an appropriately challenging book. This is a test where I have to meet with each individual student during class time, have them read a passage, then question them verbally about what they read, requiring them to recall specific details and make inferences. You may want to know what the other 29 students are doing while I am doing this, or how I teach WHILE administering this test. The answer is: I have to do it and figure it out on my own with no help. My students are not independent enough to just work quietly for a period while I administer the test. I have to complete 60 of these assessments by the end of the month WHILE teaching my regular curriculum.

Seventh Period: I have my rambunctious mainstream homeroom class. There is information about them in previous posts as well. I am not even attempting at this point to do with them the poetry lesson I was doing the previous three periods. I have sent two students to their desks to read a passage for the test, written two assignments the class needed to finish up on the board, explained to the class how to make a poetry book by folding paper....
....and my AP walks in for an informal observation. She stays for what feels like a reaaaaally long time. I smile and say hello and she does not answer me. She goes through my students' portfolios, looks at their work, and writes everything down.

My students are flagging me down for help, asking me for answers about the assignment that are not only right on the board, but were explained to them twice. I help individual kids. I, again, am thrown off, and manage only to complete one running record assessment that period. AP leaves without saying good-bye.

On the train on the way home: I call my mother. I cry. I tell her I don't know how much longer I can do this. I know I have to continue because I need to keep teaching, fulfill my life's purpose, pay my bills and my rent and keep food on the table. My mother tells me I'll survive and keep going for my son. My husband is unemployed (he was let go about nine months ago) has gone back to school, and is still trying to find work. I am completely trapped. This economy is breaking me.

So that's a day in the life of an "urban" school teacher. Ask any of's almost typical. Let's see if YOU'D go home without shedding a tear or two.

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