A Teacher's Day

The day in the life of an inner city large urban school district teacher after the high stakes testing ends and there is still three more months left before summer vacation.

Location: Chicago, Illinois, United States

I have taught school for over thirty years always in the inner city and for the most part always upper grade students. I have two children and I have been married for twenty years.

Friday, March 31, 2006

On the way home I ran into one of my former students. Remembered his face, but not his name. He told me life is very hard for him. I asked him how old he was? He told me 22.

"Finish college?"

"No," he answered. "Quit high school. Got kicked out."

"Never thought to go back?"

"How? I want to, but I don't know what to do."

I told him about the GED and he said he would look into it, but only if I would tutor him. "You're the only teacher who ever taught me anything," he said.

It's interesting how you touch someone and never know it.

Once he told me his name, I remembered him. He struggled as a student, but he tried. Trying isn't always enough.

"Of course, we'll help you," I said using "we" on purpose because I knew it wasn't just me who would be able to help him, but all of us, all of us teachers at the school he remembered so fondly.

"I work for Avon now," he said. "In Morton Grove."

"That's good," I told him. "That's good."

When I walked away, I saw a penny on the ground heads up. I picked it up. Heads up! That means good luck for the rest of the day.

It started. Yesterday afternoon when it was time for some students to go to incentive free gym, students who thought for no reason whatsoever that they deserved to go, became very loud when they discovered they were not going. One student took a paper with a grade of 60% and changed it to a 100%. Then he walked to the closet to get his coat.

"I'm going no matter what," he snarled. It was a real snarl. And then he cursed under his breath, not loudly, but loud enough.

"If you go," I said, "this will be the last gym class for anyone in this room."

Remember I made a rule about taking away field trips if someone walked out of the room? The rule was made for him.

We had a fight across the hall between two boys bigger than me. It took three men to break it up.

We had a child go into a cursing tantrum. The principal came to the room to retrieve him.

We had two boys go to the bathroom, see an empty room, grab a third boy who had walked out of his room, and together they knocked over desks and made a mess.

We had two boys wrestle in the hallway.

All of this on the second floor. All of this at my end of the hall. Two of the four incidents from members of my class.

The social studies teacher came to my room to hand back papers and the children began yelling at her even though they knew they had to write in complete sentences--and that means the first letter of the first word is capitalized and the sentence ends in a period.

Recess was canceled for three rooms because they could not get in line at the start of school.

The ISAT high stakes testing is over.

One teacher said, "When I teach all day, the class and I are winners. When it's like this, the community wins big time."

Three months to go.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Today everything changes.

Testing is over. The students who did well and know they did well will begin to change. The students who tried, but feel they failed, will also change. The students who were disruptive before the test will begin to be even more disruptive. What does it matter? they will ask. What can they do to me?

I've taught in the inner city for a long time. I know this is what the students in my school are thinking. Not all of them, of course. Not even a fifth. But enough.

One eighth grade student already told me he didn't care what happened to him. "I always do well on the tests," he said. "So what if I have all F's and D's. I'm passing anyways."

He probably is.

Today the sun is shining, it's going to reach the low sixties, and I WANT to be outside.

It's going to be an interesting day.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Wednesday, the last day of ISAT testing!

The seventh graders have science and math; the sixth graders only math.

I'm going to start writing grants again--the BP Leadership Grant, Hallmark, Lowe's Educational Iniatives, and so on. Last year I wrote almost a hundred grants and most of them were funded. I'm going to write new grants to DonorsChoose, Project Reality (they have excellent character education books), Biz World, CS & C, the Education Foundation for Excellence, Target, the Ezra Keats Library Foundation, and many more.

I've been working too hard on the LRE grant my school received--$110,000. I'm still writing it. So far we've received $40,000 of the grant.

I'll have the time.

High stakes testing pressure ends today.

But what happens next? Will the students think school is over? How will we keep them on a schedule of learning with three more months of school to go?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Tuesday's test went smooth as ever. The seventh graders had two parts. The sixth graders took their test in the school lunchroom and then spent over an hour in the gym with free time.

After lunch, I had to test 211 on science. My class went to 211 for math. They go there anyway on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The assistant principal told them after lunch they could have free time. When students are telling me 25% of 100 is 28%, I think they need all the math they can get. By sixth/seventh grade all of the students should have some understanding of perimeter, area and congruence. Many of my students do not.

Free time is not an option when we are supposed to go to math.

So instead of sitting down and getting ready for instruction, I had to watch one girl stamp her feet up and down a few times while she whined loudly, "We never get to do anything." Then I had to listen to some of my sixth grade boys complain, "Why do we have to pick up this mess?" (The mess they themselves created.) Of course, one boy just had to say, "I'm not going to math and no one can make me."

Sometimes you have to snap. I asked which was more important--gym or math?

Dumb question.

You already know the answer.

The assistant principal walked in and told the child he was going to go to math no matter what. (I guess she heard him when she was by the door.) You would think he would have straightened up and started acting right. No way. He frowned, turned his back on her, and when she asked him to come to her, he told her he could do what he wanted.

She snapped too. She explained how important it was for the testing to go on, how she was the adult and he was the child, and finally she told him he wasn't that big of a person that he could afford to show off in front of everyone.

He looked at her finally, but did not say a thing. Then he turned his back on her and went to his seat.

Ten minutes later 211 was in my room and 209 was next door.

Tomorrow we take the last math test on the ISAT and the last part of the science test. The first part was easy, or so most of my students said. Here's hoping tomorrow's test is just as easy.

Tuesday, March 28th: We take the second part of the math test on the ISAT and the seventh graders take the science portion, too.

It should be an easy and boring day. The room will be stone quiet because they know how to test. It will go almost to lunch time. I bought a book to read.

And I'm tired.

I'm tired because the phone started ringing at 9:30 when one of my friends called me from Jefferson City, Missouri to tell me what was going on next door.

"Can you call the police?" she asked.

I live in Chicago, but I'm always calling the police down in Jefferson City because they are scared to call the police themselves. The police have this habit of telling on you. They don't walk up to you and ask if you saw anything. No. They ask if they have solved the problem or if you need them again, please let them know.

The people on the block are scared to call because they are positive the gangbangers and teenagers who go to the house on the block and cause havoc through great big fights will seek revenge by destroying their property.

They may be right. Twice they have vandalized cars and more than once they have tagged buildings and sidewalks with hard to remove spray paint.

Nothing ever happens.

You would think after the police go to a residence ten times in a month they might think something is wrong.

But they don't.

So last night, when I should have been getting ready for testing, I found myself calling the building's landlord and the police.

In a little while I'll have to prepare my class for the seventh grade science ISAT test, get my two students ready for the final preparations for the All City Science Fair, and get myself prepared to coordinate the After School All Stars Program. I don't know if I'll have the energy to do the crossing guard job at 4:45 because by that time, I'm sure to be too tired.

Five police came onto the block in Jefferson City, talked to the lady of the house in question who explained all of the teenagers as people who came to a party uninvited and it wasn't her fault.

It never is.

One boy went away in handcuffs and the smell of marijuana just ate at the air.

Anyway, cross your fingers. I'm hoping we do better on the ISAT today.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Friday's ISAT Test was a disaster. Not for me. I was sitting with seventh graders proctoring them. No, it was my sixth graders. They were the disaster.

The proctors told me afterwards they were really worried. Walking around the room they saw puzzled expresions on almost every child's face. The first few problems were too easy, they explained, and yet no one was getting them right.

2(3 + {} ) = 6 + 36

My class almost to a T put down the wrong answer. How do I know? After the test, one of the proctors showed me one of the problems. He had changed it, of course, and I asked him to put it on the board.

"How do you do this?" he began.

"We already know," came the reply of a few students. I sat on my desk and watched.

One sixth grade girl refused to look at the board. "It's 36," she said with disdain.

"Right," he said.

"Told you we know this," the class shouted out.

But no one knew it. Not even the proctor. How do you tell an adult he is wrong?

"Excuse me," I interrupted, "but 36 is not the answer."

Everyone looked at me.

"It can't be 36, because both sides have to be the same," I explained. "It has to be something else."

He looked at the problem, touched his hand to his forehead and said, "Yes, of course. I've been under a lot of pressure...Of course, let me show you."

Then he added the one side and asked the class what he should do next. The sixth grade girl turned her back to him. "I was right," she said. "It's 36."

He showed them how the answer was 18 and then gave them another example.

So on and so on.

They didn't know .50 is equal to two quarters or how to simplify 16/24. They were lost when they had to find the area of a square inside of a square.

After school the principal was worried. She has a right to be. In Chicago the charter school movement is not only alive and vibrant, but its devouring the system. We're on probation this year. What will happen next?

Today the math teacher is absent. She emailed me her lesson plans. I can only cross my fingers and hope when we resume the ISAT tomorrow, my class will do better.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Today we start the math test--ISAT math, part one. Yesterday we finished the reading portion. The last test was not easy at all. What made it even more incredible is the way parts of the test were made up. All of the tests were really different this time. There must have been at least four different stories. Of course, we teachers never had the time to even look at the entire thing, but I did notice how some parts of the test were heavy on context clues and other tests were heavy on "find the answer in the reading portion".

Unfortunately, one of my students who is very weak in vocabulary had the vocabulary section and another who is strong in vocabulary had the reading comprehension section.

I wonder how Illinois will score this one.

The sixth graders faired better. Their proctor told me they seemed to know everything that they needed to. It was as if they had studied all of the vocabulary.

I hope so.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Today is the last day of the reading tests of the ISAT. Yesterday's test seemed pretty easy. The extended response--the essay portion of the test--seemed fairly easy too. Unfortunately, two of my students did not know there was another part of the test after the essay. We had to use the extra ten minutes. They told me they were done and I saw they were not. They became really nervous. I told them to take a deep breath. They still had time. They had done this kind of thing before. Both of them finished. Perhaps making that section first next time will make it easier for my students to understand. It's a reading test, after all, not a listening test.

I gave my students free time to unwind and then we finished reading THE BIG WAVE by Pearl S. Buck, the novella we have been reading as our novel study.

After lunch we worked with the calculators to get a better understanding of how they can assist with the mathematics portion of the test. It went fairly well, but one of my seventh graders could not--or forgot, I hope--how to draw a right angle. We reviewed that and moved on.

My sixth graders felt the test was not as hard as the first part on Tuesday and my seventh graders actually told me they enjoyed reading the story about the zoo. Enjoyed reading it! I guess teaching has its rewards even when they come from the most unexpected places.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Session one of the ISAT Test went very well. We split my class up and sent the seventh graders to the art room where the art teacher proctored the test. The assistant principal gave the test to my sixth graders. She told me one of the students finished the test in five minutes. I told her immediately who it was.

The other day we were writing a response to an essay question on THE BIG WAVE by Pearl S. Buck. He brought his finished essay to me and, of course, had a totally wrong answer. One of my seventh graders was nearby when I pointed this out.

"I did too read the story," he protested.

"No, you didn't," my seventh grader said. "You have to stop doing that. You know as well as me that you didn't read any of it. You just made it up."

"I did too--"

She cut him off. "OK. Believe it if you want, but everyone in this room knows the right answer because they read the story."

I stopped her then and I asked her to go over the essay with him. "Perhaps you two can read the pages together?" I asked.

They went to his table and began reading.

My seventh graders told me they thought the first section of the ISAT wasn't that hard. My sixth graders were a bit more concerned. Today we take the second section of the reading ISAT Test. I have my fingers crossed.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Today is the first day of the ISAT, Illinois's high stake testing. My sixth graders need to do well on this test or they need to have a C average or better on their report cards. If they do not have one or the other, they must go to summer school in order to pass. The problem is that most of the twenty sixth graders in my split sixth/seventh grade class have already failed once--a few twice--and most of the failures came in sixth grade.

Research has shown repeating a grade does not make a better student. Most of the time it's just the opposite. This class came to me with a reputation of disruption, walking out of classrooms, and fighting. I stopped the walking out of classrooms and fighting fairly quickly by posting the rules including my favorite: "Field trips for the month will be canceled if there is a fight by any student from our room. They will also be canceled if anyone walks out of a class without the teachers permission." Now the class takes care of itself. We almost had a fight last week, but most of the students made sure it did not happen--and only a few minutes were wasted.

My partner in the upper grade cycle is afraid a few of the sixth graders have no chance of doing well on the ISAT math portion. (She has been responsible for teaching math all year.) One girl in particular already failed once in third grade. She still cannot divide, multiply two numbers times two number or subtract when regrouping is required. The students do get to use a caculator during the test, but she does not even understand how to set up a division problem. When sonmeone makes it to sixth grade and still cannot subtract 28 from 106 (her answer was 122), I get a bit frightened too.

The principal after discussing it with her administrative staff felt the students should take one test a day stretching the test period into two weeks. I'm not so sure about this. I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

Today is also the primary elections. They're being held in the gym. All in all this promises to be an interesting day.

Monday, March 20, 2006

We had a pep rally for the ISAT test--three hundred screaming children and the loudest music I've heard in years (and I used to be a Led Zepplin fan). The music went right through me, but the dancing was fairly interesting and the "shout outs" and chants were fine.

My class used African drums to create a beat.

"We're from 209 and we want to say
The ISAT will be a real treat.
Now sit back while we make a beat."

Then one of my students flipped again and again down the entire gymnasium from one end to the other, landed in front of a talking drum and immediately all of the drummers--including the gymnast--started beating away. The rest of my boys began dancing wildly in front of the drummers and the audience went wild. The best part about it was my classroom organized and orchestrated the whole thing themselves.

Guess it worked.

Tomorrow is the ISAT. Cross your fingers.

Tomorrow is the beginning of our high stakes testing and I'm a bit nervous. We're allowed to post specific types of charts and posters around the classroom. I made a bunch myself, but I'm not sure they are perfectly legible. It doesn't matter now. These posters have been up for months. I guess I can't worry about that.

I can worry about other things, though. My sixth graders have to do well or they fail. My seventh graders have to do well or they do not get to select the high school they want to attend. The neighborhood high school actually has a police station with jail cells in its basement. Not someplace I would want to send my personal children.

It's not even seven and I got an early ride to work. Usually I walk the four miles. I'm prepared for the day, but sometimes I'm not sure the day is prepared for me. My school is in the inner city of Chicago, 98% of the students qualify for the federal free breakfast and lunch program (on certain days we even serve dinner), and they are supposed to wear uniforms. I teach sixth and seventh grade reading and science.

And I like my job and I like my classroom.

Where is this log going to go? I wish I knew.