Monday, January 17, 2011

My Famous Death Glare

For a little bit of background, I teach two sixth grade classes of English Language Arts, each of approximately 30 students. One class is an "honors" section. I place "honors" in quotes because I really do not like giving students the illusion that honors kids are "smarter" or "more ambitious". I have a number of students in my honors class who have low test scores, (about half fell below standards last year on the state test) and some of their behavior leaves much to be desired. On the whole, however, this class is much easier to teach, and most of the parents of these children are, if not involved, genuinely concerned about their child's success. In the suburbs, this honors class would be considered a mainstream class---a difficult one. But I don't need to give them my Famous Death Glare too often...

The other class of lovelies is a mainstream class, or what is more commonly known as "general education".  Most of these students' test scores fell below standards in preceding years. What a cast of characters! Some of the students would fit well in the "honors" class, because they actually do their homework, stay in their seats, respect themselves, and pay attention. There are two ESL students, three students who are mainstreamed yet have an IEP (they are pulled out for services) and two girls who just do not show up to school (more on them later---each has her own sad story).

 Out of these thirty students, at least fifteen are reading below grade level, five should be in seventh grade (I think a few should actually be in eighth and a few of these kids are reading below a sixth grade level, one WELL below) and surprisingly, many of those kids who are reading on grade level, have some serious emotional issues, lack of self control, and no support at home. This is most likely the most challenging class I have ever faced in my career, yet I am closer and more attached to them than any other group I have taught. This class is my homeroom. They are the first and last kids I see each day, and somehow, magically, the administration managed to worm them into my schedule two additional times more than the honors class each week.....I wonder why....?

I cannot turn my back for a second. My poker face hase been nearly perfected, wether I am trying to mask tears, anger, or (especially) laughter. The noise level occasionally reaches a point where even if I yelled as loud as I could I wouldn't hear myself. At that point I usually just give them my famous Death Glare and they quiet down after a minute. They throw garbage all over the room, write nasty words on their desks and in their vocabulary books (and tear them up, too), destroy my library, steal all my supplies (ones I bought with my own money of course) wipe their snot on their desks. Once, somebody deficated on a piece of paper and left it in my classroom.  But despite all their flaws and misgivings, they are loveable and sweet.

They cheer me up by writing me notes and drawing me pictures that say:
 "Your the awesomest teacher evah!"
or, my favorite, "Your the best teacher i ever had!"
or, my MOST favorite "You work you're ass of for us!:" (on a Christmas card.)
(Pease note that errors were placed in quotes purposefully, because writing them correctly would remove their endearing quality..)

When they're not fighting or talking smack about each other, they often help each other out. We are like a huge, crazy, dysfunctional family of 31 people. And I'm the mom of course. That's how they view me, and they've said so. I'm School Mom. I can only hope they behave better for their Home Moms, but I serously doubt it.

I wanted to give you a brief overview of my classes so I could write about a few particular kids, and I got away from myself, as usual. One more thing...did you notice my repeated mention of "test scores" and "state standards"? To anyone else but their teachers, these crazy, wonderful, unique individuals are just numbers. They are judged by these numbers. The English test they take each year is not appropriate to their ablilities. It may be appropriate for suburban priveledged kids who don't have to worry about drugs and violence and crime happening right outside their home, who have parents who support their education, and have a decent place to live with good food on the table. Sadly this is not the reality for my sons and daughters this year, in my homeroom class. It is a grossly unfair test. The people that wrote this test have never taught a day in their life. I know this because our state pays a COMPANY to write the tests. It's all about The Almighty Dollar. My students' educational fate AND their teachers' CAREERS are dependent on these numbers. It's STUPID and IGNORANT and it SUCKS.

I am expected to raise the test scores of these sixty students when I am ALWAYS alone in the classroom with them. I am constantly asked for data, hounded about "what am I doing to move them up?", scrutinized,  told which format to write my lesson plans, the list goes on and on. How can I move them up when there are so many of them? How can I move them up when they can't focus because of things that have happened to them at home? How can I move them if they're always hungry? Angry?  Don't get me wrong, I have moved some of them up. I'm a good teacher. But geeez! I can't perform miracles! We are basically told to dig a six-fool hole without a shovel, and then are pushed into the hole because we did not dig fast enough.

I hope you are beginning to understand now what we are up against, yet I do not think I have expressed myself clearly enough. Specific cases will definitely clarify for you the struggles of the City Teacher....and the students they try so hard to help.

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