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, April 28, 2006

A Rock and a Window

Thursday. The day began with a quiet nice. No incidents on the playgroud before school. No problems in the hallways. Classrooms filled and there were no problems there either.

We analysed poetry and interpreted an essay. Then we finished the owl pellet experiment. I had written a grant to DonorsChoose and they funded it. The actual owl pellets came from Nasco, the only science supply house I really like to use. Lori Wintlend of Nasco has just been an incredible asset to me through the years as I write grants and order items. (You should know that when I find someone who is helpful and willing to work out the kinks and make my life easier, I become very loyal to them. Since Lori works for Nasco, I shop with Nasco.)

The experiment went very well. Chris from the University of Chicago came in and assisted. One of my students did say the owl pellets smelled, and everyone at her table agreed, but when others reported they did not smell anything, they stopped complaining. Another student complained about itching suddenly and four others started scratching, but once again this stopped when others did not join in.

Peer pressure can be a powerful incentive.

Each group found the pieces for a complete skeleton of a vole in their pellet. Working together they placed the bones on a skeleton worksheet. Then we graphed the health of the habitat, wrote thank you letters to the donor and went to lunch.

Easy day.

And then--someone climbed over the small fence at the side of the school. I don't know where he got it from, but he was holding a very large and heavy rock. (It must have weighed twenty-five pounds. I lifted it.) He came to the window and threw the rock straight through. Glass shattered everywhere.

This is the sad part. There was a witness who could identify the boy. But she didn't. She told the police she could not do that. She did not want them to come back and intimidate her.

This is the sad part. The boy joined his three friends and they just walked down the street as if nothing at all had happened. Another person still in the school said, "I'd go and drive to where they are, but I don't want them coming back later to break my windshield."

This is the sad part. One of the janitors went outside and tracked them with his eyes for about a block. When the police came, they were still strolling down the sidewalk. None of the witnesses wanted to get in the police car and identify them.

Here is the good part. The police turned right instead of left. With the description they had, they actually went in the direction of the boys to see if they could track them down.

I went home.

It was already 7:30 PM.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

A Terrible Day

Sometimes it's better to just roll over and stay in bed.

A few years ago students from the 8th grade came rushing into my room. "Our teachers fighting!" one of them yelled.

I just knew I misunderstood them. What they must have meant was their teacher was breaking up a fight. But no. Their teacher was fighting. Three 8th graders were trying to hold him back and a special needs students, about six feet away, just stared him down.

I grabbed the student and pushed him into his classroom. I know I told his teacher to keep him there. Then I rushed back to the teacher in question. He wasn't just angry. His eyes were empty. His fists were clenched hard enough to crack walnuts. He walked towards the special needs student's classroom and even when I touched his shoulder and blocked his way, there was no response. He was past angry.

I turned.

Didn't I tell the teacher to keep the student in the room? Why was the student back in the hall?

The teacher roared, tried to get past me, his 8th grade students falling to the side as he let out a steaming bellow of rage. There was only one thing to do. I grabbed the student and literally lifted him to the stairs and down to the first floor where security from the office was now running.

Something like this happened yesterday. A student with her mother and aunt entered the playground. They scouted the scene. They saw their prey. They sent the student after it. The next thing I knew, I was in the middle of a fight between two girls--and a mother and an aunt. The first time the aunt pushed me out of the way, I thought it an accident. The second time, I knew it was on purpose. It took three men to break up the fight--and one security guard to get the adults out of the way.

"Let them fight," the mother yelled, and she made room for one of her sons to start kicking. Where is it stated we should allow students to fight?

I'm wondering why the police weren't called.

That was only fight number one.

Life lesson 1: Even though I walk four miles a day to work, I was out of breath from helping out. Walking is not enough.

Life lesson 2: Those of you who are prolife--this mother had her daughter too soon. Her daughter is already costing us and society money. I need prolife people to put their money where their idealism is--if you want us to end abortions, then start supporting these individuals who have babies and no clue. Support them with money and your actual physical attention. In the above case, both mother and child need help. The daughter was not aborted. Your support now--your visits, your field trips, your counsel, your etc. can make the difference. It's easy to say you're prolife. Don't just say no to abortion. Say yes to making sure the new born baby is well taken care of--and I don't mean just through the cute years. I mean through the age of eighteen. Then tell me your prolife.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

He's baaaack!

When I last went into this site, I wrote how great it is to be a teacher. I must have jinxed myself.

For over a week one of my students was away on some kind of recreational trip. Not one time did I hear a curse word. Nor did I have to tell someone to please sit down six times. Nor did I have to insist--and I'm using this word instead of the word I want to use--that someone be quiet so others can actually learn.

I didn't write anything yesterday because yesterday was just a bad day all around. The students from the above paragraphs came back on Monday, actually behaved himself almost decently, but yesterday before 9:15 he had already walked out of the classroom and went to the office.

He entered the room, walked up and down the ailes three times, came to me and said he had a broken leg, and when I told him I would get someone to take him downstairs (though, I said, I don't believe you would be walking as well as you are walking if your leg was really broken), and he walked back to his seat. Not a minute later, he just plain as day walked out of the class. If you have been reading this blog, you know I have a rule about walking out of the class. So now the April field trip is cancelled.

Ten minutes later one of my girl students informed me that she was absent yesterday, so there was no way she was making up her work. She almost walked out, but another colleague pulled her aside and settled her down.

Forty minutes later another student walked out because he did not do any work and I told him I would have to give him a zero. He cursed. Got mad. Reminded me of someone who runs a stop sign, causes an accident, and then starts ylling at the other driver.

And I didn't even tell you about the fight on the playground. A seventh grader walked up to one of my sixth graders, said hi to her, and then began to beat her up, scratching and pulling her hair. The entire attack surprised my student so much, she had time only to cover her face with her hands. It took three teachers to pull the seventh grader away.

So much for good days, huh?

Monday, April 24, 2006

A New Day

Everything is going unbelievably. We're studying poetry out of Poetry, the April translation issue. I'm amazingly pleased at how well my sixth and seventh grade students are responding to it.

Today they read "The Fall of Jericho" by Henri Volohonsky and wrote their opinions on how the wall came down. When they compared their ideas with the translater's commentary, the Bible's version and the poet, these were magnificent papers.

Everything went so well today I cannot complain about anything.

This is the kind of day when you know choosing the avocation of teacher is the only choice.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Report Card Pick-Up

Sometimes teachers get so busy during the day, they don't have time to do things they want later on. Just too tired. Wednesday was our district's parent conference day--we call it Report Card Pick-Up. I had a fairly good turnout. All of my parents, but four, showed up to get their child's report card.

It went smoothly, too. Not a single problem.

Some parents came in on Thursday, too, and again not a problem.

Everything since the ISAT is going too smoothly. Shouldn't complain. Should be glad. This has been an exceptionally great week of instruction and grantwriting.

Thursday, April 20, 2006


Before spring vacation three bad things happened. Bad things always seem to happen in threes.

The wallet of the eighth grade teacher was stolen out of her large handbag. It contained almost two hundred dollars she had collected for the eighth grade graduation. She had the bag snug beneath the large table where she keeps her important things--gradebook, etc--and her for-teacher-use-only computer. According to her, no one but members of her class would even know she had her wallet in her big bag.

Though she has a few suspects--students from her own class--she has not been able to find the wallet or the money.

The next day the second grade teacher parked her car in front of the school. We all recognize her car. It's the one with the broken side mirror when the police came fifteen police cars strong to break up a large fight between parents and their basketball playing children and the children of the other team. Their coach, an off duty police officer, was so intimidated, he actually pulled out his gun. (But that's another story for another time.) She parked her car at 7:30 AM. Went back to it because she forgot something five minutes later. It was gone. Stolen from in front of the school.

No suspects in this one. The car has not been recovered.

Incident three: A teacher who left this school to work in the board offices recently came back, went into her old classroom, and took out a carload of science material. My science material. I stored it there the year before when another teacher had that room. Who knew?

Will we get the items back? I doubt it.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Back From Spring Break

Here's my impressions on the first Chicago Teacher's Union meeeting I have ever attended. I have been a union member forever, but never a delegate. Below is the report I issued to the professional staff at my school:

Union Delegate Meeting—April 5, 2006 Report by Michael Brownstein

We listened to a cheerleader from the AFT of New Orleans tell us how great our union is.

We listened to Stewart tell us how much she hates violence in the school. “The board moves bad principals from place to place. The board makes no arrangements for children who need alternative learning sites. The board pretends there are no assaults because teachers are given incident reports instead of assault reports.” She was very mad about what is going on at Kennedy High School and this has ramifications for us. Remember when we were a receiving school? We received the worst from a number of schools and I remember that being a very bad year. An argument for not closing a school can be made by what is happening at Kennedy—every problem, according to Stewart, is coming from displaced students who were displaced because their schools were closed.

We went over the contract we plan to bring before the board.


These are proposals we are making to the board for next school year. These have not been passed by anyone yet. These will be negotiated by the union and the board for the 06-07 school year.

Don’t get too excited.

Gym teachers would get 2000 dollars to spend on supplies.

We would receive five self-directed preps a week. Going to grade level meetings would not count as a prep. Librarians, art, music, gym and other prep classes would be considered teachers. (I don’t know what they were considered before.)

Teachers would be allowed to write up the suspension notices and meet with the principal to enforce specific punishments. No longer would we have to write it up and wait to see what happens—we can help make the punishment happen in conjunction with the administration.

All classes would have lower class sizes.

A full day kindergarten teacher would have 20 students.

Article 33-17 was added. This offers five + five opportunities to teachers for retirement.

A full-time counselor would be assigned to every school for every 350 students. An ESP would be assigned to them for 50% of the time.

No quorum. Only 229 members present. We stopped on page 7 of the contract..

Thursday, April 06, 2006

When I catch my breath

When I catch my breath, I'll give you my impressions on my first union meeting I attended as a delegate, I'll tell you about the theft of a teacher's wallet and the theft of a teacher's car, and I'll tell you about other things.

But first I have to catch my breath.

The Day Before Spring Vacatiion

What do I have to do today:

finish my report cards and pass out my grades to the other teachers so they can do their report cards, too

hand-in my monthly attendance summary for March

solve my new truant problem

student of the month breakfast (my students has just begun to take intellectual risks so I feel I MUST honor her)

three grant proposals my principal wants me to do by this evening (and I may post them for all of you who want to know how to write grants)--Chicago Community Trust Office of Math and Science Middle School Grant, Project NOAH/The Reading Ark, and Good Foods with the Chicago Lincoln Park Zoo

write up the notes for distribution on the Chicago Teacher Union meeting I attended for the first time last night (more on this later)

type up the best poems from my class (two of my students are now published in Illogical Muse)

coordinate the After School All Stars

act as the crossing guard at 4:45

call Scholastic and find out about all of the problems with my classroom magazine orders

copy everything needed for the great research project

somewhere in there I promise you I will teach

somewhere in there I promise you I will find time for myself

and I'll be on the radio tonight with Gary Goldblatt--WZRD--around 8:00

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Tuesday, everything was peaceful. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe everything will work out even though we have finished the high stakes testing.

We were offered recess if our classes did well in line coming into the school, going to lunch, etc.

Our line wasn't behaving on the way into school. No recess.

Yet there were no problems the entire day.

Perhaps it was because two of my students published their first poems in a literary magazine, ILLOGICAL MUSE. Perhaps it was because two of my students won third place in the city science fair and came home with a dozen awards each--including money. Perhaps it was the giant research project we will begin today.

I go to my first union meeting tonight. I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

I did not come to school yesterday. Took care of the incidents in Missouri instead. The police are on it, the block is quiet, letters written to stop the craziness are being distributed, and most of all, people in the neighborhood have decided to stand up and call the authorities.

Came to school early to clean up. My desk is a mess. The tables--we don't have desks--are a mess. Only the floor is not a mess. Could not find any of the work I left behind for the substitute.

No one has told me anything negative about the class yet. I'm waiting.

Guess I'll have to come back and update this blog later in the afternoon.