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.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

News and More News

This is how to start the day on your return to school: Realize suddenly the news you have been hearing about—a man shot in a drive-by—is the close uncle of one of your students.

How does she get up in the morning to come to school?

He is in critical condition—very iffy.

She is worried sick.

Then we have the parent who explains her child away by not saying anything at all. She doesn’t ask why her child cursed. She doesn’t want to know why she was in the wrong room. She’s not even curious about the threats she made. She just nods her head mutely when she is told how her daughter knocked everything off the teacher’s table and ran from the room. She just stands there at the front counter and doesn’t say anything at all.

I am at a loss. What do you say to help her out?


I don’t know.

And then the fight next door: Mr. Brownstein, come quick. We need your help.

Desks strewn every which way. Children out of their seats. The room in disarray. Security called. I’m first, and it’s an easy fight to stop. Just a few verbal directions, the light touch of restraint and security is there, and both boys are going to the office.

I have seen teachers cry more than a few times.

It is getting harder.

But there is good. My sixth graders began their second day of the study of trigonometry. They are sixth and seventh graders. They are engaged. They are struggling. They are taking risks. They are trying to figure out how to find the sine of angle A.

I’m proud of them.

That is how the day ended.


Friday, May 26, 2006

Positive Coaching Alliance

Dear Positive Coaching Alliance and Nike/Go,

Just so you know: I hate professional development. Much of it is just old things with a new name. A lot of it is presented by boring speakers and people who insomniacs should hire so they can get a good night’s rest. Even the exciting research we need to know if we are to become better educators is presented in such a way you have to bring personal business with you just to get through the hours and hours of—well, you get the point.

Not so with the Positive Coaching Alliance sponsored by Nike/Go. I was asked to coordinate the After School All Stars and one of the programs I was asked to go to was a Nike/Go professional development. I signed up, but I did not want to go.

Let me tell you—I usually look at the clock every thirty seconds (time moves that slow in professional development land), but I did not turn around once to see the time at the Nike/Go presentation. In fact, when the presenter said it’s time and she’s sorry she went over by a little bit, I thought: What? Time? No, I need more. I want more.

So I was very excited when I was given the chance to invite the Positive Coaching Alliance to my school. NIKE/GO had given the Chicago Public Schools a grant and I applied and the next thing I knew, we were going to be offered professional development for a segment of our professional community.

OK. OK. So you think all they wanted to talk about was sports and coaching. Sure they did. But that wasn’t all. The three individuals who came to my school for the two workshops (Molly Hellerman, Brendan Eitz, and Joe Terrasi) offered viable alternatives to a lot of the problems any urban school has. Fights on the playground. Cursing in the halls. They gave us actual how-to examples to change the climate of the school. Issues in the lunchroom. Conflict after school. They offered us so much—well, you get the point.

Mike Steele from the Chicago office set this up. I want to thank him.

Because of this program, here is how my life as a teacher will change next year:

My classroom will use the Notre Dame motivational method: I will have a sign affixed permanently to my door. It will say: “Today we will take another risk in learning because we are brilliant.” As the children come into the class, they will high five it—just like the college players at Notre Dame.

My classroom letter to all of the parents will also be placed on index cards. If you have been reading this blog, you know by now I still go out and help in the playground. I will take from my larger letter and develop a card for any and all adults who come onto the playground for whatever reason so they will have an understanding of what we at my school expect. I will also make sure this card is distributed to adults before all of our games. No more crazy soccer mom’s for me.

I will use the ELM model: effort, learning and rebounding from mistakes.

I will fill my student’s emotional tank.

I will teach my students to honor the classroom and become the best they can be through mastery, risk taking and fair play.

When a child makes a mistake and he/she is embarrassed, I will make the flushing down the toilet gesture to let them know it's OK to make a mistake. We've flushed it down the toilet. Now let's move on. Making mistakes is one of the ways we learn.

I will offer the following criticism when I have to correct misbehavior: “This is not how we do things at this school. How should we correct this problem?”

I have sat through two professional developments offered by the Professional Coaching Alliance. They are not just for sports and coaches. They are for all of us in education. What they share is valuable for every teacher who wants to develop a classroom of learners, a community of thinkers, a foundation of positive self-esteem and character development, and a solid core of individuals who value education.

Thank you.

Michael H. Brownstein

Thursday, May 25, 2006


I woke before the alarm clock, was out of the door five minutes early, the weather was perfect—the perfect sky, the perfect breeze, the perfect temperature—and one of my former colleagues drove up to me one mile into my walk and offered me door to door service to my school. How cool is that!

I wrote some, revised some, answered correspondence, and prepared my classroom for the lessons of the day. These included a show and tell of African artifacts, some dating back hundreds of years, some recently purchased. I practiced the scary story I was going to tell—a story that actually happened to me many years ago and I prepared for the third day of the scary story/science fiction week. Then I went outside even though I didn’t have to and I walked around the playground. Everything was quiet. The too-good-to-be-true kind of quiet. And it stayed quiet. Yeah!

My classroom came in quietly too. Even Cursing Boy from my horrible, horrible, terrible day. And he apologized. And I told him I accepted his apology and I said, “When I need to learn new curse words, I’ll use you for my consultant.” He laughed and worked all day and did not even speak out of turn. Not once. I told my class my scary story and asked for persuasive essays on if they thought the story was true or not. I received great responses. Then we read a portion of Ray Bradbury’s speculative science fiction—and again the class did great. Great answers. Great responses. I pulled out my African artifacts and you could hear a pin drop. Another great activity. When we switched classes, the next room did just as well. Whoopee!

After lunch I introduced to my room the first concepts of trigonometry. They paid attention. They took notes. They tried hard to understand. And when the principal came on the intercom to invite my class to the tech fair, I was giving final directions. They were engaged. They were excited. I was excited. They were catching on. Super doopper!

The tech fair went well. We came back upstairs. We got ready to go home—but my day wasn’t over yet because now it was time for the second round in the teacher/student basketball game. Remember: We lost the first time. So I suited up and went into the gym and the students started yelling: “Brownstein! Brownstein! Brownstein!” They clapped and applauded and chanted my name over a dozen times. So I got into the game—and guess what?—I passed better, did not miss anything thrown to me at all, even dribbled the ball twice, took a number of passes, and attempted one shot. Well, at least it hit the outer rim. I even got one rebound. And here’s the best part of all: We were down by twelve when I got into the game and when I came off the court, we were down by two. Unbelievable!

We won the game and now there will be one more. "Michael," one of the teachers asked, "will you be playing again?" It’s a two out of three series. Of course, I'll be playing again. Maybe this time I’ll make a basket—but I still wish the teachers would challenge the students to field hockey. Now that’s a game I can play.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


I forgot to set the alarm clock, but that’s not that big a deal. The sun hits my window at just that correct angle and it makes eye contact with my brain. I never stay in bed when I wake. I always get up and do all the things anyone who teaches school has to do—shave, wash up, etc. OK.

So far so good.

The weather report could not have been better. When I walk outside at 5:45 AM, the sun is already rising, the sky is already blue, and I feel good with the world.

I always come to school an hour to an hour and a half before it starts. I like the quiet. I like the peace. I like the solitude.

For the next hour or so, I write a poem, revise another, print some material and prepare my classroom for both reading and science class. During science, we are going to cut open a full grown pig's stomach. I purchased a few at the butchers and they have been in my freezer waiting for this big day. I lay out the stomachs on the back science table, prepare my desk for the morning’s school business, and eat some breakfast. (I never eat at home. I walk four miles to school each morning and it doesn’t quite work out if I eat before I walk.)

I go outside to assist on the playground at 8:30. I don’t have to go outside, but I do. It’s quiet, two men--a teacher's aide and a janitor--are standing near the fence away from the children, a pick-up basketball game is going on, children are all over the playground equipment, but there—over by the wooden playground equipment—something is getting ready to happen.

Sometimes you can just smell it.

I walk over there. One adult is standing behind the equipment, but she cannot see this. Two boys, not very big, but big for second and third grade, are getting ready to tussle. They make all of the appropriate motions, their chests and heads play the part of the nonverbal communication. Nothing has to be said. Suddenly students from all over are running because they know.

I break it up. It’s not hard because even though they are very large for their age (they are already five feet tall), they are still primary grade students. One of them runs in the other direction. I don’t know who started it and I don’t care—I take the one who has started many playground fights. He’s not happy, but I can talk to him. When I tell him to smile, he changes from an angry child to an ordinary child. (I wonder why he doesn’t smile more often—but then I know too much about his family’s background.)

We are walking towards the school when the other boy runs up on him, hauls back with all of his might, and it’s only because I move the boy I am restraining to the side, that the punch doesn’t cause serious damage. I realize immediately that I will have to stop this other child—and I do.

I grab him by the arm and he fights me. He actually fights me. But that’s OK. This is part of my life. This is part of my job. I know for sure when I have him restrained, he will calm down, probably start to cry, and then we can find out what is really going on.

This does not happen.

He starts cursing me and hitting me—one time to the chest, a second time, a third—and he’s cursing and threatening to bring everyone of his relatives on me. He yells out to everybody on the playground that I’m dead meat. His mama's going to kill me. His father is going to slice me up. He himself is going to knock the color right off my skin. He must use the N word twenty times. He threatens and threatens and then he hauls back to swing and he hits me again and again and again. I don’t hit him back. I don’t even knock him down. I don’t say a word. I just hold onto his arm and walk him into the school where he continues to yell and threaten and curse and the front office calls the police on him.

Here’s the interesting part. When the police arrive, he swings on the woman police officer. She can’t lose it either, but she can take him into a private office and give him a talking to.

I go back to the playground.

It’s like nothing has happened.

The boy’s grandfather comes, I receive a police report, and then I go to my class. It’s nice in my class. Quiet. My students are ready to study. I feel good. OK, not perfect, but good. One glitch doesn’t destroy a day.

An hour and a half later I have a girl from another room in my class because she walked out of her room and they put her in my room. One of my students who talks up a storm and does not do all of his work—and I give him a zero for one part—decides a zero gives him the license to curse me and the class out. Another student who does little to no work who decides to grab his paper-his-mother-has-to-sign out of my hand to toss in the garbage can. I have a classroom of children who think this is the funniest thing they ever saw.

I begin to reprimand my class—I begin to lose it. I start thinking about the class rules, how I consider the class family--and the principal walks in.

My day is me on a mountain skiing downhill, losing control, going downhill way too fast and then a child cuts in my way and I can't remember how to stop or turn.

During recess, one of the girls placed with me from another room trips on the asphalt, comes down hard and doesn’t get up. Oh, she does eventually, but not before she scares the hell out of me. An eighth grader sneaks out of his room and comes out to play. I have to send someone in to get him off the playground.

Then we’re back in the room. I have the seventh graders and we’re getting ready to cut open the full grown pig’s stomach. A fight breaks out in another class. Both end up in my room. The teacher down the hall sends a note to me asking for help. Three students will not stay in the room. The substitute next door complains about students throwing things at her. "Hey," she says, "I'm a sub. I'm supposed to take abuse." Another child in need of discipline is sent to my room.

Then I get my break. My preparation period. I pass out progress reports. I take the intermediate science genius group from other classrooms and we do a chemistry experiment. The first part works; the second is a great failure. I pass out field trip permission slips when my class comes back to me right before dismissal. I have been told not to give a slip to one of my girls. I don’t. Next thing you know my students is climbing the stairs to curse the teacher out. I’m sure that will change the teacher’s mind.

And now the principal wants to meet with me. It’s important. Can you come see me before you leave?

I can’t leave. I have to vent. I have to get all of this out of my system. I have to—you get the point.

I have to go home because this is a horrible, horrible, terrible day.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Dissecting a Pig's Stomach

My class and I explored the texture and inside and out of a pig stomach today. I asked the class to divide themselves into eight groups of four. Then I passed out safety razors and a few forceps, paper towels and sections of two pig stomachs.

Of course, there were a lot of anguished noises of disgust. A lot of grosses and eeews, but in the end every table had their section of the pig laid out on the paper towel in front of them and fairly soon—even though there was noise—everyone was hard at work.

There were rules. How to handle the safety razor (but we did this rule many times before). No talking at all when the teacher is giving directions. Handle the skin carefully. If you don’t want to participate, you don’t have to, but it would be nice if you would still watch.

And it went well. The students entered into the stomach, checked out the lining, studied the texture and strength of the stomach and generally enjoyed themselves.

I plan to do it again tomorrow with my seventh grade class.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Experiencia and Exchange City: A Great Field Trip

We had one of the all time greatest field trips in the entire Chicagoland—perhaps Illinois—world.

We went to this new place called Experiencia. We brought with us over eighty fifth and sixth grade students, joined twenty-four students from the Revere School and, with the help of both my school and Revere’s parents, volunteers, and faculty helped the students run a place called Exchange City.

What a blast! Watching children at the computer creating a newspaper, creating web designs, and producing digital and video was one of the greatest experiences of my teaching life. The sign shop was a hustle of hard workers, the nature shop was an industrious factory of creativity and innovation, the snack factory was fantastic, and the bank was just perfect. Everything was run by the students.

I mean everything. Oh, the adults assisted. But really, everything was run by the students.

The popcorn from the snack factory tasted great, the way the Revere students and my students cooperated was equally fantastic, and the entire experience was, well, experiencia!

On the way home, one of my mathematically disabled students said, “Hey, I learned how to make a paycheck.” Then he went on and on about how great it was to run a business. Everyone around him added their own two cents. Every statement was positive.

Even the students we thought would embarrass us got into their roles and enjoyed themselves shopping, creating, and discovering the world of economics.

OK, so what’s the catch?

We had to go through professional development, teach our students an in-depth lesson on economics, we had a great lunch, great materials, and so, I guess the answer to “What’s the catch?” is there was no catch. This is win win. All of the adults—even the parent volunteers—were trained with excellent professional development. Need I say more?

I’ve so excited that even a day later I have to let all of the teachers out there who want a fantastic experience for their students to receive the following contact information. Contact Experiencia through their webpage: http://www.experiencia-world.com/ and you can contact them at elaine.mondschein@experiencia-world.com. Let me know about your fantastic experiencia trip when you arrive back to school.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Field Hockey and Me

OK, so I’m not a big basketball player. Or fan, for that matter. (See my blog, Basketball Fundraiser, May 15, 2006.) But I’m fairly decent in field hockey. So I picked a few girls from my room to play a few boys from my room and we went at it.

I have to admit I lost weight and sweated way too much and needed a long shower when I got home. We whipped the boys, of course, 5 to 1. I got all of the goals but one. I tried a few times to pass to one of my students so they could get a shot off, but you never saw so many clumsy students. They would miss the puck, hit it the wrong way, knock it way out of the way—well, you get the point.

That was yesterday. Today we challenged the 8th graders to a game. Once again we whipped them every which way but down. I guess one of my students decided I needed a break—and I was breathing heavy and I was sweating and—well you get the point. He came into the game and took over and I went to the classroom to organize things for tomorrow.

But before I left, I did play twenty-five minutes, and I did score three of the five goals and when I left, the score was 5 to 1.

So you might say I don’t have a clue about basketball. But no one can say this old man can’t still take on the young and best in field hockey.

The Ruby Payne Hidden Rules for Inner City Students

More and more I see a value in professional development. For example, the studies of Ruby Payne have been very instrumental in my teaching over the past few years. I notice it again and again—the noise level when the children come together, the need to solve conflict with action and not words, and parents who make our job so much harder because they themselves are trapped in the matrix Ruby Payne developed.

Below is a summation of some of the rules for children of the inner cities who grow up under the influence and (what I feel) the negative impact of poverty. Remember my school is 98% eligible for the federal free lunch program. We also serve them breakfast and for a large portion of the year, dinner too. Because most teachers are middle class with middle class values, they do not share the same matrix as listed below. This causes conflict and problems. I feel it’s very important we inner city teachers take note of the rules below so we can get a better understanding of the culture of our students.

Hidden Rules

Generational Poverty

The driving forces for decision making are survival, relationships, and entertainment.
.People are possessions. It is worse to steal someone’s
girlfriend than a thing. A relationship is valued over achievement. That is why you
must defend your child no matter what he or she has done.
Too much education is feared because the individual might leave.

Physical fighting is how conflict is resolved. If you only know casual register, you do not have the words to negotiate a resolution. Respect is accorded to those who can physically defend themselves.

Food is valued for its quantity.

You laugh when you are disciplined; it is a way to save face.

Your mother is the most important person in your life. An insult against your mother is unforgivable.

The noise level is higher, non-verbal information is more important than the verbal, emotions are openly displayed, and the value of your personality to the group is your
ability to entertain.

Destiny and fate govern. The notion of having choices is foreign. Discipline is about
penance and forgiveness, not change.

Tools are often not available. Therefore, the concept of repair and fixing may not be present.

(Please remember that these hidden rules are patterns that one sees in the collective group.)

Note: Material on this page is from the work of Ruby Payne. All items are
generalizations, based on large populations. As such, we should remember that individuals within each group may have different experiences and values.

Now when one of the parents--and this really happened--tells me she told her thirteen year old son (has been telling him since he was five years old) that it doesn't matter if it's a girl or boy, if they hit him, he should pick up whatever is handy (even if it's a brick or broken bottle), and hit them back. Now I know his father is in prison--first for battery, then for attempted murder, and now for felony drug posession. I know his mother is struggling financially. I made other excuses for him, but with the help of Ruby Payne's hidden rules, I'm now able to understand his mother's behavior a lot better. And his. And I have been able to make life changes in both of them.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Basketball Fundraiser

The eighth graders challenged members of the school’s faculty to a basketball game in order to raise money to bring down the cost of the eighth grade trip. I was asked to play, and I know I’m probably the worst basketball player in the city, and much to my amazement I said I would, but there would be one condition.

“Only one?” they asked.

“My classes cannot get more than three zeroes for the entire week.”

It seemed a simple enough request, and it worked, until the day of the big game. Now you need to know that I don’t own a pair of basketball shorts, my gym shoes are tore up and raggedy, and I don’t even know if I have a pair of white socks anywhere. So I went out and bought some new gym shoes—twenty-four dollars. I haven’t paid that much for shoes in ten or fifteen years. I dug through my drawers and found one pair of sort of white stockings. One of the school volunteers told me he would lend me some basketball shorts. Team shirts would be provided.

The morning of the game, my classes had to present their research project. This was six weeks of work. Not one day. Not two weeks. Six weeks. And though most of the students tried, nine students didn’t do anything at all. Nine zeroes. Yay! I didn’t have to play. And I’d get my twenty-four dollars back cause I didn’t really have any need for those new gym shoes.

It didn’t happen. Eighth grade girls came into my classroom after they heard and talked to every one of the students who did nothing. OK. I let them in. And it worked. An hour later, each of them made a presentation. Not much of a presentation, but a presentation that earns twenty points out of a possible three-hundred is no longer a zero. I had to play.

So here I am, 3:15, in the bathroom changing into basketball shorts so big I have to pull the drawstring with all of my might, pulling up my sort of white stockings (we’ll call them off white), putting on my new gym shoes, and the red shirt they gave me.

I walk into the gym, the edges of the basketball shorts tickling my knees (how do you get used to that?) and the students start applauding. I would smile if I didn’t feel so out of place. Everywhere people are warming up. I try to figure out where I can hide.

After all, I knew I had to be the worst basketball player in the city. Probably in the state.

The game starts and I’m a starter. The ball is passed to me. I take a shot. I miss. Not an air ball. It at least hits the backboard. I pass once, take a pass and pass again. That’s enough. With my help the other team is winning. Not by a little either. The score is eleven to four.

I have to tell you I pretend to play in every quarter. At least my son will be proud. “Every quarter?” he will ask. “”And you weren’t tired?” How would I be? I only ran back and forth a few times, the other players quickly knew not to pass to me (one open pass bounced off my knees into an eighth grader’s hands and he easily scored), and I couldn’t even contain my own students (even though I towered over them).

No matter. It was fun. We lost by six—73-67, but the school raised some money and I humiliated myself in front of everyone.

OK. Here’s the deal. No zeroes for the rest of the month and I’ll eat an earthworm sandwich. But there’s a catch. I’m not letting the eighth grade girls in to convince everyone to do their work.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Why Teachers Fail

Why do teachers fail? Interesting question. Do they lack the skills to teach, to communicate, to be the constant actor on the stage entertaining for five to six hours? Perhaps they do not have the knowledge to teach what they teach? Perhaps they think teaching is just a paycheck?

I don't know. There are times when my students try me to the point of--well, I don't know. I guess some days teaching school is like getting hit by someone who runs a stop sign and then jumps out of their car hysterical because you were in the way.

I do have an idea though. The community can be a negative influence. So can the parents.

Case in point:

I was put in charge of keeping order during my school's annual field day activity. The local alderman for once helped out and the streets surrounding the school were closed. A corporation came through with a giant enclosed jumping ride. Someone else showed up with a train. The teachers and staff had so many good ideas, every child was busy.

Except for two.

Once again, their teacher had some kind of an emergency and was supposed to show up at 9:30. The teacher aide watching the class could not control these two boys. Two cousins. Both fourth graders. They ran from the room and tore up and down the hallway yelling and whooping it up. I thought they thought they were at a rodeo.

I stopped them. Contained them. Held onto them until I found out their teacher was not going to show. A substitute took the room. No way these two boys were going to be put back in that class.

Just so you know: On any average week, I end up with at least three students from other clasrooms because their teacher needs a timeout.

So they remained with me, begging to go on the rides, particpate in the carnival activities, and visit the African-American cowboy who was demonstrating his skills in the gym.

Then I saw the bigger one's mother.

"What did they do?" she demanded. She wasn't angry. Really, she wasn't. She was more disappointed.

I told her how they disrupted the school running up and down the halls yelling and screaming.

"What are you going to do with them?" she asked.

"They'll stay with me. Unless you want to watch them."

"Sure," she replied.

"But I need your assistance," I told her.

She asked me what she could do to help. I told her I would rather they do not get to go on the two rides. I thought that was an apt punishment for disrupting the school. She readily agreed.

You know how the story ends. She brought them closer and closer to the best ride. Each time I saw her moving them--pass the ring toss, pass the three legged race, pass the pop corn machine--I reminded her of the punishment we agreed on.

"Don't worry. I only want them to see what they missed."

The next time I near the jumping machine guess what? Oh, you already did.

You're right. They're in the jumping machine having a blast. And this wasn't their first time either. Her being a parent seemed to get her extra privileges. This was their third time.

She's on the school's Local School Council as a parent representative.

It's no wonder we have problems.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Chicago Teacher's Union Notes--May Meeting

Union Delegate Meeting—May 3rd
Michael H. Brownstein

Proposed changes for our new contract, but don’t hold your breath.
Article 9-3.1 ESPs
In my last report, I wrote about how the union did not let the ESPs speak. At this meeting they were offered time. They asked for a substantial pay raise for all ESPs who either passed the test or earned sixty hours of college credit. The union voted to add to the proposed contract that these individuals be automatically moved to grade five on the pay scale.

Furthermore, the union agreed to place in the new contract that every school would get two clerks for all of the paperwork.

36-9.1—ESPs who work in an NCLB job title with sixty or more college credit hours shall receive a $1000 bonus.

Other actions taken:
23A-3.2—teachers let go by the principal will receive insurance benefits until 9/01 and they will not have a break in service towards tenure if they obtain another position by 11/01.
Budgetary reasons are not a valid reason for letting a teacher go. If a teacher is let go because the principal states it’s a budgetary matter, this may be grievable.

45-7—The union voted to create a new committee to revise the discipline code for professional staff.

The union is going to try to get the board to agree to give each art teacher a $2500 line budget for art supplies and an additional $500 for textbooks. The union will also ask for a pay raise for all coaches.

The union is going to try to cap the number of nonunion schools (charter schools) to thirty. This is going to be hard because state statue has precedence over the contract.

Marilyn Stewart rambled about from item to item (incoherently, it seemed to me) in her President’s Report, but two things stood out: charter schools are really nonunion schools and should be perceived as so and we deserve a substantial pay raise, but nowhere did she offer solutions for rebuttals to the Boards claim that it is broke. She did explain in our packets were petitions and sign up sheets to protest the closing of schools. (See me if you want one.)

Lastly, a proposal was offered that actually disturbed me. One delegate got up and spoke with great passion about “white flight and the rights of whites”, and though I got up to make a rebuttal to his (to me) blatant racist attack, no one in the House of Delegates seemed to care. His proposal failed—and I must admit I used my hurricane holler to vote it down.

Enabling the Wrong

My family and I live part time in a house in Jefferson City, MO. We were looking for a way for my oldest son to go to college and live away from home. It turned out to be in the only bad neighborhood in the entire town. Prostitutes. Drug dealers. Crazy people.

I have lived my entire life in Chicago and I have worked in neighborhoods so dangerous even the rats are scared to go outside, but I saw my first gun used in violence in Jefferson City. We found three discarded guns in our yard--all used in one crime or another.

As a school teacher, long ago I realized the problems of my students were sometimes so great, I would have to be a Samson to help them out. Many times I tried. There were times I succeeded; there were times I did not.

In Jeff City, the family next door is out of control. They party late into the night, no one goes to school, and the violence and fighting is just too much. The police have a file a half inch thick, every neighbor and then some signed a petition against the noise and violence our neighbors bring to the block, and Section 8 sent a letter ordering the family to get it together. None of this matters. They are still out of control.

The landlord feels sorry for the family. They pay the utilities and they extended the lease. Meanwhile watching them is better than television. Non stop fights. Arguments over nothing. Drug sales as cars line up to park in front of the house. A constant stream of men and boys because the teenage girls are totally available. And tore up. And probably diseased.

The other day some boys ran out of the house. One of them said he was calling 911. Obviously someone was ill in the house. A fire engine and police car responded. The mother, Shelly, came to the porch and refused to let them in. The last three times the landlord came over, she refused to let them in either.

Meanwhile twenty people now live in that house, mostly teenage girls (including a few confirmed runaways and nothing anyone does about it gets these girls any kind of help), a few throwaway boys and others gang bang wannabees. (If you're going to be a GD, at least know what it means. Ganster Disciple? Sorry. Do some research on your own.)

The landlord is losing money every month feeling sorry for this family. "I don't want my daughter to run away again," Shelly tells someone on her porch. So instead she allows her to get high, have sex, etc. "It's better if she does these things under my roof. At least I can watch her."

And what will be the result of her being evicted? The block will be safer, that is for sure, and quieter. It will be cleaner and healthier, too. But what of her and her family? Oh, they will lose their Section 8. But maybe they will also get the help they so badly need.

I strongly believe a house full of drugs and sex and a nine year old girl needs the services of Children and Family Services. I made the call. I received a call back. The case was sent to the police. Still nothing happens.

If Shelly and her family are evicted, and they no longer receive Section 8 money, they will get the help they need.

How do I know this?

I forced this issue with one of my students. She needed help and it wasn't forthcoming. Her parents and I were both enabling her behavior. When finally the authorities were brought in, she received the help she needed.

Compassion is not a bad thing, but like everything else, too much can lead to dangerous consequences.

Friday, May 05, 2006

After A Bad Day

Thursday was much better. I actually felt like a teacher again. Not a disciplinarian. Not a tyrant. Not a--well, you get the point. For the most part, both of my classes were on task and settled back into the routine of learning. I got these great graphic novels from Jim Laake (and I'm trying to get one of my grantors to fund the purchase of class sets for my entire room). The class seemed to like them except for my new student who didn't even give it a try. But this child is brilliant. When he tells me what's bothering him, he'll come around. (My seventh grade class read individual books for almost fifty minutes in silence--that's how engaged they were.) I went to my new student's house yesterday, and he changed a bit, but he didn't do any work and at the end of the day when he wasn't picked for free gym (a reward for students who get it together during the week), he decided to walk out. So I went to his house again.

Let's see what changes.

We started our black walnut experiment. We finished our Poetry Month with fantastic essays and poems. We finished our owl pellet study. We got deeper into our research on Africa history from 900AD to 1500AD. At the end of the day I had a large group stay after school to work on it some more.

Maybe I'm jinxing myself, but everything is starting to flow perfectly again. Teachers even came to support me for my statements at the meeting and the administration is now starting to lean towards my side. I'm not for retention. I've even written about it. But enough is enough. I feel the culture of the school is at risk. I want it to be known I feel seventh graders should be allowed to fail if all other efforts to help them do not work. And I've offered this student numerous alternatives and assistance to make sure she passes.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

I'm Back

OK, so I took two days off because I had urgent family business in another state. Shoot me. It's Thursday, and I meant to come back to this teacher's log yesterday, but I couldn't. I needed a night to reconsider.

Here is how yesterday went: The children came in with too much noise. It was hard to settle them down. I gave them their weekly essay--which was already assigned on Friday and in my lesson plans for the substitute--but only two students completed it. So we started again.

One seventh grade girl complained she was absent for all of poetry month so she could not do the assignment. "I don't even know what poetry month is?" she complained.

I found the book we used, showed it to her, and proved to her she only missed four days in the entire month. It didn't matter. She couldn't stop disturbing her table with her nonstop talking. I guess a D to an A+ writer in the third quarter is not enough incentive to do better.

Then the brothers started up. The troublesome part of this is one of them was my first pick for student of the month. "I thought you wanted to be student of the month?" I asked.

His response was hysterical laughter. From that moment on, he did not want to do any school work let alone sit in his seat. I have a conference with his mother planned for later this morning.

Then there's my new student. He likes to curse the girls out, hit them and chase them, but not in the way we know sixth and seventh graders play these games. He's serious.

"No girl's going to hit me and get away with it," he said. "If they hit me, I have to hurt them."

Where did he learn this?

So I went to his house and met his family. I showed them his lack of work and talked about his cursing and his negative treatment to the girls in the classroom. The response: big smiles and some laughter and the usual refrain: We'll take care of it.

OK, so now I know.

The teacher's in-service in the afternoon was a disaster. I don't even want to discuss it here or someplace else. My wife told me it's because I'm the only male teacher in a school of women. That's not exactly true. The gym teacher is a male, too, but he is only a day to day sub and he wasn't at the meeting. She thinks their pettiness is getting to me. It probably is.

Then I went to the teacher union meeting. Another joke. I'll let you know more on that later.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Taking Care of Life

I haven't posted anything about teaching in a few days. I had to take care of other things. Sometimes we need a break to solve life's conflicts and all of its disorderly conduct. Came back to my classroom after a two day absence and the room is still here. Someone tried to tamper with the computer, someone did mess up my table in front of the room, someone must have done something else, too, but it's not quite eight o'clock here so I don't know all of the details.

I have quite a bit to do today. I don't even know where to start.

Tonight is my second union meeting.

I'll touch base later.