Sunday, November 28, 2010
Donnie was one of those students that you don’t ever have to meet, you just know his name. He would run the halls ever single day, high out of his mind on PCP, waltzing in and out of classrooms. No one could catch him, he was so incredibly fast.
I met Donnie because my aide would lend him money every now and again (another common practice in my school, teachers giving money to students). He was a nice kid, but he had crazy, big eyes that looked as though they were staring into an abyss of nothingness. It wasn’t creepy, so much as sad and lonely.
Donnie was much more amusing on drugs than off of them. One day I was standing in the hallway, when Donnie came barreling through the doors of the stairwell. He was running fast, as usual, but on this particular day the water fountain was an obstacle in his path. That was not a problem for Donnie as he jumped clear over the water fountain that was at least four feet from the ground. He landed on his feet in a crouched position, got back up and kept running.
My jaw must have dropped to the ground. How in God’s name could this kid have cleared a water fountain without falling and breaking his ankle? Honest to goodness, he jumped clear over the fountain and just kept running. It was quite a spectacular thing to witness. The kid was high strung to say the least.
I remember when Donnie had to stop doing drugs. It was either that or go back to jail because he was violating his probation by using drugs. Off drugs, Donnie was calm, he went to class, and he didn’t roam the hallways like the Roadrunner trying to get away from a stick of dynamite.
What was the appeal of PCP for Donnie? Did he feel on top of the world? Did it erase memories of past trauma? It was sad that he didn’t get drug treatment because the kid was clearly addicted to the stuff. Instead, he’ll probably continue to land himself in jail for violating probation because he has no treatment for his drug addiction.
I often think that in 20 years, I’m going to see a crazy homeless man wearing tin foil on his head and 5 jackets muttering something about the moon and the end of the world. I’ll give this man a dollar because I feel sorry for him, not because he asked. As I hand him the money, I’ll look into his eyes and staring back at me will be Donnie’s hollow eyes, as lonely and forgotten as they were always meant to be. Some of these kids just never had a fighting chance.
Thursday, November 25, 2010
In any event, Happy Thanksgiving. I was getting very nostalgic on the way home from work yesterday. This has been happening to me since I started teaching (never before). So, I called a few parents of former students to wish them happy holidays.
I first called Amy’s mother. She was so thrilled to hear from me. Amy is now toilet-trained! I was so excited to hear this. Of course, she was never toileted when I was teaching her, but it was nice to hear her progress. Her mother is trying to get her into a different school, which is her perpetual losing battle.
I then called Austin’s mother, who is doing well. She is renting her house out and getting her finances in order. Austin has applied for college and he’s getting his full tuition paid. This almost had me in tears. It was so great hearing that he was going to college. I told her we should get together after the New Year.
I heard from Jimmy’s mother on Sunday. She invited me to Thanksgiving dinner, which was so sweet. I had to decline, as I am going home to Delaware for the holiday. Jimmy is worse than ever, but she was calling just to talk, not necessarily about him. She’s going to be celebrating her 52nd birthday on Monday.
I tried calling Martin, one of my constantly truant students last year. He would show up to school, come to my class, stay for lunch, and leave. Because he lived close to my husband’s job, I would stop by his house on occasion to check up on him. His phone must be out of minutes because I got one of those recordings on the first ring. I hope he’s well.
I also ran into two former students coming out of work this past week. It’s always nice to see faces from my former school. With these kids, you never know if they are going to make it to see adulthood or even to 17. They live in a world that no one should have to, especially not a child.
There really is a lot to be grateful for this Thanksgiving. I have a wonderful husband and family. I am now working at a job that I enjoy, which is a wonderful switch from working in the DC Public Schools. I am especially thankful for my students, some of which have changed my life, some of which drove me crazy. Looking back, I see now that I will always be a part of them and they a part of me. I guess teaching is important, more so than I give myself credit for…Happy holidays!
Friday, October 22, 2010
To borrow from the Beatles, “I read the news today, oh boy.” I must say; I wasn’t too surprised. What with Fenty’s loss in the primary and your sad, little talk with Vince Gray, I suppose the writing was spray painted in bold, fluorescent lettering on the walls.
Oh, there’s just so much I want to say in this farewell piece, where to begin? Let’s start with one that’s close to my heart – special education.
Well, that’s how my letter started, but the hateful words didn’t pour onto the page the way I had thought they would. It’s as if I’ve been so detached and removed from the school system that my anger and bitterness have melted away (almost).
I was thinking how incredibly different my life is today. Well, different from the nightmare that was every day DCPS. These days, I come to work and I’m not about to vomit. I wait for my students and they are mostly respectful, compliant, and complete their work. If there’s a problem, my program director helps me solve it. It’s a far cry from the loneliness that was my first two years teaching in the DC Public School system.
I felt bad the other day on the elevator when I saw some poor public school teacher step in. I knew she was a teacher by her badge. I also knew by the wrinkled expression that she wore and couldn’t remove. She looked tired. It’s only October, Christ.
Back to my life being different…I went back to the gym this week and was running to some of my favorite tunes that I used to run to last school year. Running was always great for me on my really bad days. I would imagine someone’s face under my feet as I ran and it would make me run harder and harder until I would have a cramp in my side.
One song was particularly poignant during those runs – It was Michael and Janet Jackson’s “Scream.” This song talks about how much they are under pressure and I remember that song would always be the height of my run. I would run the fastest I could and would think about running on the face of whoever has displeased me the most that day. I would also cry during this song, feeling overwhelmed, like I might explode from stress.
I ran to that same song the other day and realized halfway through that I wasn’t crying. I wasn’t crying because I wasn’t under an insane amount of pressure. Before, I was stressed out to the max and drinking myself into oblivion. That realization this week made me almost shed tears of happiness.
So, dear neglected readers, you must be thinking…Has she made her peace? Is she beginning to romanticize that horrible experience as a public school teacher? I would say, no, but I am trying to be more objective in my posts. This may be part of the reason why my posts have been less bitter and more reflective. But stay tuned, the best is yet to come, and I will surely be writing more in November when things start to slow down at my new job. Thanks for supporting me!
Saturday, October 9, 2010
I loved Fate though. I can’t explain it. Anyone that unstable deserves a fan club and I was her #1. She would come into class cursing and saying some of the worst things known to mankind to which I would reply, “Hi Fate, so nice to see you today.”
She was fashionable and always wore the best clothes. Her hair was always kept short because her mother hated long hair. I’d always imagine her mother holding her down to cut her hair. I feel like her mother knew that her hair couldn’t get too long. It was like a Samson thing. Her hair was her strength; the longer it was the worst she’d be.
Fate had several older brothers, all of whom she would beat up on a regular occasion. The students said the reason Fate could box was because of the fights with her brothers, all of them. Oh, did I mention her front teeth? From some fight, Fate had lost part of her front tooth and when she smiled she’d look absolutely crazy.
I’d take her home some days because she lived right near my husband’s work. One day while driving Fate home, she had asked me about the Gorillaz because their CD was playing in my car. Fate had asked about the characters and why they had cartoons on their album cover.
It was quite a fascinating conversation trying to explain how each member of the band represents themselves with a cartoon. Fate was astonished. She thought it was genius for a band to do something like this. I marveled at her awestruck look.
Some days, I think back to Fate and her wicked smile or her horrible meltdowns. She was a true artist, one who will continue to be held down and oppressed by her neighborhood, her life. Her creativity will be meted out by the horribleness that is her existence. Her artwork was fantastic and edgy, but she’ll probably never see past her front porch.
It was students like Fate that made me realize how poverty can oppress people forever. Had Fate been born to a middle class or even working class family, her creativity and artistic tendencies would have been encouraged. She would have been pushed to pursue her creative endeavors and make something of her life. Instead, she’ll continue to rot away in Southeast DC with no hope. Students like Fate make me appreciate where I came from. I was lucky to make something of myself; Fate won’t have that chance.
Thursday, October 7, 2010
When I heard the news, I was very sad. I felt like once again, I had failed. Is there just no way to help these kids? Is there no bringing them out of poverty and helping them attain some kind of goal, even if it’s only gainful employment doing something menial.
I always thought that the high school I worked for last year was a complete and utter joke. We were a special education school (no “regular” kids went to our school) and yet our kids were on block scheduling. Our school could have offered a trade or given the students some real skills, instead we decided to hand away diplomas that meant nothing. Please bear with my tangential writing tonight.
Block scheduling is a way for kids to earn high school credits quickly. For our school, it meant that they could earn double the high school credits given in a normal school year. So, in approximately 18 weeks a student could earn a full high school credit. It would be as though they had gone to school for the entire year.
There are many problems with block scheduling for special needs students. In a traditional high school, the students may be able to keep up with the work and actually understand and grasp the content of the material in 18 weeks. What happened in our school was, essentially we were graduating kids who couldn’t read.
Now this looks great to the powers that run the DC Public School District. Someone who works for the central office might look at the high school and remark: “Look at this special education school, they’re graduating kids! It’s a miracle. Call the presses, call Rhee! We’re revolutionizing education.” It’s a goddamn hoax and it’s all a sham.
I’m all over the place tonight. I’m sorry, I’m aware of this. Maybe it’s Jimmy or maybe it’s just the realization that I’m not superwoman, and I can’t fix every problem that each of my students has. Sometimes, I think that I just need to work harder and then things would be different. I guess you can only lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink it.
Saturday, October 2, 2010
I just despise people who keep losing bumper stickers on their cars. Granted, Fenty only lost about two weeks ago in primary elections, but still. A bumper sticker that says “Re-elect Rhee” should be immediately removed for not only shame, but pure stupidity. Rhee isn’t supposed to be a politician. Of course she is and I suppose no one can escape politics here.
It did warm my heart when I read in the Express that Rhee was “…near tears” after her meeting with Vincent Gray, democratic nominee for the District. The thought of anyone bringing her to tears got me giddy. It was as though someone was finally able to tear down her sociopathic façade. Poor Rhee, her life’s work down the drain because of Fenty’s arrogance. Hahahaha.
Anyway, no more politics, let’s get down to business. I actually will tell you a tale about yesterday, in my new, wonderfully run small, private school for emotionally disturbed students from DCPS. We were all at lunch enjoying the Dominoes that they had delivered for the students and the staff. This is truly a great place to work.
Well, one of our favorite students, Mark, was standing up and being loud, trying to engage the teacher in conversation, as usual. He loves the attention he gets from us. But I have to hand it to the kid, he’s pretty damn funny. Anyway, one of the teachers said to him, “Man, don’t come back with that Mr. Rogers sweater on Monday.” To which Mark replies, “It’s sexy, man. I’m bringing sexy back.”
Everyone laughs at this comment. This kid is amazing. He’s quoting Justin Timberlake right after he tells us he’s going to come in on Monday with a black eye because he has to fight a group of kids that have been harassing him. Mark, where are your homies? Apparently, he rides solo, looking out for only himself. This kid is one of kind.
I look at my life today and can’t imagine that there was ever a time when I hated my job. It’s just that when you work somewhere that’s sane, it makes such a difference. Yesterday, my boss came in because we were making so much noise playing a Jeopardy review game. I didn’t get nervous at all.
Why? Because he knows I’m doing a good job. He knows that because he sees the kids engaged. He doesn’t need DCPS’s Teaching and Learning Framework to tell him that I’m a good teacher. He knows because he sees me staying late after school and coming in early in the mornings and he actually notices these things.
Our executive director makes fun of me all of the time. She says that my husband is going to divorce me because I work too much. I scoff at this remark, but it feels good to be appreciated. It’s something that I missed the two years that I taught in DC. Is this my life’s calling, teaching, that is? Probably not. In fact, some days, I’m super bummed that I’m just a teacher. But then again, with memories like Mark bringing sexy back, I don’t know. Maybe this is what I’m supposed to be doing after all.
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
“That’s dead” become one of my favorite phrases the students would say. It is used as a retort for a statement that the student thinks is absolutely impossible. It goes something like this:
“Man, you don’t even want me to come over there with my mans Jimmy. We press those niggas’ asses all night.” – Student A
“That’s dead.” – Student B
Now, that would be followed up with Student A “stamping” that this is truth. Usually, you stamp on someone who has died, such as a friend who has been shot. If you are really serious, you’ll stamp on your grandmother. And so, the conversation would continue with Student A stating:
“On my mans, Juju, I stamp that s***.” If this were a more serious conversation, Student A might stamp on someone in the neighborhood who died and was a little more famous than the aforementioned Juju. Student A might go so far as stamping on a dead relative.
Now, these are serious conversations that these students are having. They go from talking about what they did the night before to talking about dead people. I can’t think of anything more morose to discuss on a sunny Wednesday afternoon. But apparently they are ready to dredge up the past in order to look as though they are just honest characters.
I mentioned “pressed” above. I should have explained that one. Getting “pressed out” or getting you’re “a** pressed” means that someone has fought you and clearly if you were “pressed out” that meant you lost. “Pressed out” should not be confused with “pressed,” which I suppose would be the second definition in our urban dictionary.
“Pressed” means someone wants something from you and they want you to do it quickly or they want it done now. Let’s say, I’m in the classroom and I’m lecturing on resumes (I was a career teacher, I did this frequently) and a student pulls out his cell phone and starts texting. I’ll say something like, “Timmy, put that phone away.” Now, assume that Timmy does not comply with said request and I once again redirect him, Timmy might say something like, “Man, she be pressed.” Meaning that I can’t wait for him to finish his texting conversation. I want the phone to be in his pocket NOW.
“You just got me go.” That was another frequent expression said exasperatingly in my classroom. When I first heard the phrase, it confused the hell out of me. Could you say that again, “Did I get your goad?” “Nah, Ms. So-and-So, you just got me go.” It means that you got under somebody’s skin and made them angry. It usually happened when I told them what assignments had to be completed.
Another phrase to express disgust would go something like, “You’re blowing me, Ms. Teacher Lady.” Ah, this phrase was the crudest of all because I know what that phrase means in a sexual connotation. The students never meant it in this way at all. “Man, you're blowing me.” This was simply a shortened version of, what I’m sure used to be, “You’re blowing my mind.” I can’t handle what you’re saying because it is too much for my brain.
If a student was about to have a meltdown, I would usually hear the phrase, “I’m about to kirk off.” You can also "kirk out." Either preposition is acceptable. Or perhaps the students wanted to discuss someone who got restrained earlier in the day, one might say something like, “Suzy was kirking off at lunch and they restrained her a**.” I always wondered why they hadn’t come up with a slang word for when they were restrained. I guess it’s bad enough getting tackled to the ground by adults who have no clue what they are doing, maybe they didn’t want to make up a slang word. That might cheapen the event.
Oh, and let me not forget the world-famous “clappers.” No, this is not an STD, it’s what butt cheeks do when a woman walks. Well, mostly women with big butts. Their butt cheeks, well, they clap together when they take steps or generally move around. So, a girl might be said to “have the clappers.” Or a student might say, “Boy, she like to use them clappers.” It was sometimes said to me and it always made me want to hit the kid in the face. “Ms. So-and-So has them clappers. Mmm.” So, disturbing on so many levels. I’ve nearly slapped students for this disrespectful statement.
I must say, being in an inner city high school was not only like teaching, but learning a new language. Sometimes, the kids would think it was funny when I didn’t know what they were saying. They thought they were so smart for using their language, but it’s easy to learn a language when you are fully immersed in it. And I was and continue to be, for longer than I ever intended.
Sunday, September 26, 2010
Yesterday, I get a call from Jimmy. He needs his phone turned back on. Essentially, he needs $30 bucks from me. This is my part time son. He was one of my favorite students from last year. The kid just rents a space in my heart. I’m scared he’s going to get shot. He has a big mouth and nothing to back it up with. I tell him he has to have his mother call me back. I have to at least make sure he’s going to school and doing the right thing before I hand him over $30 bucks.
When school started for this current year, Jimmy needed shoes and asked if I could buy them. I said yes. Yes, because this was like my child and yes because I’d hoped it would be motivation for doing well in school for a couple of weeks. We’d met over in the Northeast side of town to go shoe shopping.
Before he had arrived, I was asking the lady at foot locker for the new Jordans or whatever the hell they are called. I told her one of my “kids” would be here soon and that I was trying to get him new shoes for school. The lady must have thought my “kid” was switched at birth when Jimmy bounded through the door. Jimmy is a black kid, of course, but not what you’d call “light-skinned.” He’s black as the night is long. There’s no possible way that if I birthed him, he could be called my own. I felt sorry for her confusion and almost that I needed to explain.
Anyway, we bought a different pair of shoes because Jim has really small feet. Not abnormally small, but smaller than your average male. So, he picked a different brand of Jordans. He loved the new shoes and put them on as soon as we got in the car. I took him to Union Station so he could ride the Metro home. I give him money for this as well.
My husband thinks I’m a fool for doing these things. He doesn’t understand I suppose. These kids get in your heart and become like one of your own. We don’t have kids right now, so I suppose my biological clock dictated that I needed to adopt juvenile delinquents for the time being.
In any event, Jimmy would be the last kid anyone would adopt. He’s high-strung and has ADHD. He can’t sit still for more than 5 minutes at a time. I’m really working on having him communicate better with people instead of flying off the handle about things (“kirking out” as the kids call it). I was the only teacher last year who could deal with him. When the new semester started in January and he no longer had me, he came to me and said “Things haven’t been right since I left your class.” Those words broke my heart.
I’m very close to Jimmy’s mother as well. We talk regularly about her, the other children she has (all older than Jimmy) and her new grand child. She’s doing the best she can, but she’s at her wit’s end. Once she told me that when she hears gun shots at night, she prays to God that it’s not Jimmy dying. Tears were welling in my eyes as she said these words.
I try to stay in Jimmy’s life to be a stable adult for him and a good role model. The kid is like a 6-year-old who woke up one day in a teenager’s body. He can’t handle it. He doesn’t know how to navigate life or any of the things that happen to him.
He used to have a reason to come to school. It was me because I cared for him so much. I worry now because the teachers who work at this school might allow Jimmy to fall through the cracks. This was something I refused to let happen. I couldn’t have him dying. He was my son after all. No mother wants to bury their child.
Sunday, September 12, 2010
I’ve decided to move on from autism and write about my year at one of the worst schools in the district. It was the school I worked for. Remember Dangerous Minds? Well, I wanted to be that teacher. I had always wanted to work with troubled teens in some capacity. I was a troubled teen myself, and knew that I could relate to kids who had emotional issues. It was what I wanted to do from the beginning of this stupid fellowship, but was too scared. Well, it was time; if I could deal with autism I could deal with emotionally disturbed teenagers.
I had my interview and my new principal was enthusiastic and liked my energy. I knew I had the job; I had to keep bugging him to confirm. People don’t transfer to this school. This school was like a jail sentence for both the students and the teachers. It was a bleak school that warehoused special education kids who brought down test scores and attendance ratings.
I was excited for the new challenge and also for students who would talk to me, instead of echoing me. These kids were the worst of the worst. They were criminals and head cases. Some came from inpatient facilities. They were generally unstable children. But I loved them. They put life back into me, as the school system was sucking it out of me.
Taxpayers, be appalled. Some of the things I unveil about this school will make your head spin. It’ll be like the Exorcist. Except it’s not a movie. It’s real life. I couldn’t believe the things that went on in my school. Like that article said: a student was taken advantage of by a teacher the year before.
That was my student (I’ll call her A.) and she was no liar. She was pregnant that first semester that I taught her. She was still in contact with this teacher. She was being manipulated by him. A young girl, with low self-esteem, loved the attention this older man gave her. It made her feel better about herself, like all was not shitty in the world around her.
A. lost her baby within a month of having her. She was so emotionally unstable and she was living in a house without water. I felt so bad for her. School was clearly not a priority. I stopped seeing her some time around Christmas. Her baby went to a behavior technician in my school. I have no idea if A. has custody of her baby now or not.
Her case broke my heart. I didn’t know how I could teach a student, who had sex with a teacher in the very room I occupied that year. She was a strong girl. I would never have had the guts to carry that baby and bring her into existence. Honestly, she probably shouldn’t have, but she’s braver than me.
There’s nothing good that comes of this story about my former job. I ultimately quit because I was tired of the abusive practices and procedures that happened. I’ll chronicle them for you and I hope that you will be as outraged as I was. Or at least as amused…Keep reading, I’m just getting to the juicy stuff.
Saturday, September 4, 2010
It goes without saying that there is always tension between special educators and general education teachers. It’s because we special educators know that we are better because we teach the worst possible kids. But general educators think that they are superior because they educate the future or some bullshit. It’s bullshit because teachers, who are out to get other teachers fired, are not good teachers. They are petty bitches who made me want to cry all of the time.
So, you might be wondering why I would even devote an entry to these horrible people, who call themselves teachers. It’s because it was a contributing factor in my misery. My soul-wrenching depression as a first year teacher. You must understand every facet of it.
There was Ms. El. She wore braces and was surprisingly nice when I first met her. I didn’t realize that she would turn into the bane of my existence. She was young like me, or so I thought. Black women (god, I hate them for it) look so young. I’ve seen 55 year-old black women look like they are not a day over 30. It’s ridiculous. We white people get wrinkles and whatnot, but not the lovely black woman. She stays young and wrinkle free. Bitch.
Anyway, Ms. El was not my age. She was, big surprise, a single mother in her mid-30s. WTF? God, please send me back as an ageless black woman. That’s all I want. No more wrinkle cream and eye makeup. Anyway, I hated her. She even walked with a nasty attitude. Her sole mission it seemed was to make my job miserable and run to the principal with my incompetence.
Ah, but it was she that was completely incompetent (even more than me as a first year media studies major with no formal education in how to teach). I remember one day I walked by her room as I was taking kids to the bathroom. I saw one of her students, Jay, standing outside of the door. “Jay, what’s wrong, baby? Why are you standing outside of the classroom facing the wall?” He looked at me with big puppy eyes and said: “Ms. El told me I had to stand here until I can sit in my seat and do my work.”
What? What the hell? This is not 1974 where we send special education kids to the basement or put them in closets. This is 2008, and Jay is special ed, but he doesn’t deserve this. He has ADHD; I’ve noticed his symptoms during lunch duty and on the playground. But he doesn’t deserve to be sent outside of class to stare at the walls. He has accommodations; he has needs that have to be taken care of by the classroom teacher.
But she doesn’t. Toward the end the of year, Jay starts coming to my classroom during naptime. I really like him. I actually wish I could have a classroom full of kids like him, instead of the 7 demons I’ve been charged with. But he doesn’t belong with the autists; he belongs in the 2nd grade. It was truly a sad sight.
There was another teacher who was out to get me. She was butt buddies with Ms. El. Her name was Ms. Tee. She was a miserable thorn in my side as well. I don’t know what I did to these women to make them hate me. It might have been that I was white and they were black. But I was fat and they were skinny with kids and wrinkle-free. There was nothing to hate about me. I had the worst class in the school, come on. Being jealous of me was just something I couldn’t comprehend.
Ms. Tee liked to make me look like a fool. One day, I sent a kid to the bathroom and well, I forgot about him. It was Mikey. Mikey was an easy kid to forget about because he was so annoying. Once he was gone from the room, he was gone from my mind. Well, anyway, he didn’t come back from this trip to the bathroom and Ms. Tee finds him. Now, instead of taking him back to my room, she takes him to the principal’s office.
Come on now. There was no reason for that; she could have easily taken him back to my room. But no, she had to tattle on me. She was like a little child telling to her parents that her sister stole her lollypop or something. It was awful. My principal reprimanded me in the harshest of ways. Please, I am not a terrorist for god’s sake. There were days when I wanted to scream, “Ms. Tee, you teach these awful, no good autistic children. Try it, let’s see if you can manage for one day.”
It was always that mindset that gave me the ultimate superiority over everyone, my principal included. I was the one teaching the worst class in the school. It was me who came in day after day to slave away with those children. In my mind, I was the best employee in that school. Well, maybe not the best, but at the very least, the most delusional.
Thursday, September 2, 2010
You must be wondering by now, who the hell cares about the achievement gap? Go back home! Save yourself from this wretched place. Save your sanity! This teaching, it was like a drug. The more I took, the more I wanted and I just couldn’t kick the habit. They should have rehab for Type A personality types who decide to teach in the ghetto. I’m serious. Or at least a support group.
My fiancé hated coming to happy hours with me during those two years teaching in DC. He said all my teacher friends did was bitch. I guess that was our support group. Those happy hours where we all drowned ourselves in cheap beer and food that was on special. “Do you have a teacher discount?” This became a favorite phrase of ours, as we were poor as hell. If you added all of the hours I worked and divided them by my pay, I think I made about $3.00 an hour. I should have gone into day labor at that point, if I had any sense at all. Obviously, as you can see, I do not.
In warfare, there’s usually a plan of attack, you see, this is why working in the so-called trenches was so hard for me. I had no commanding officer. I suppose that should have been my role, but if you counted my aides as my soldiers, you might as well have been counting severely disabled and cognitively impaired persons as a part of my squad. I always said that all I ever needed in my classroom were clones of me. Like that Michael Keaton movie, “Duplicity.” I would have more of myself to get the work done that needed to be completed. Needless to say, there was no plan of attack. I was winging it every single day.
You don’t usually get clones of yourself in the public sector. This is because anyone with a pulse can get a job and pretty much keep it until they die. Actually, I think if they die, they probably still get paid. I never could understand why I didn’t get to choose the people who worked in my classroom. It’s as though I was charged with the task of being a boss, but I didn’t get to choose my minions.
This is what is wrong with public education. The bureaucracy. What sense does it make to let a principal make the hiring decisions for a classroom teacher? No sense at all. More likely than not, that principal has been out of the classroom for years and can’t remember all of the nuances of the day-to-day classroom operations. Or, in my case, she might have never taught special education, particularly, kids with a diagnosis of the autism spectrum disorder. In any event, it was ludicrous.
So, if teaching can be likened to war, you soldiers should count your blessing for the VA hospitals. At least the government pretends to care about you when you get back from fighting. What does the government do for teachers? Oh, they pay them over the summer. I love when I hear people say things like, “It must be great to have the summers off.” No, it’s not great to have the summers off. I can barely pay my bills as is. I had to take a summer job after my first year teaching because I was so broke from living in the city. But what kind of services did I get for my PTSD that I acquired for working in the DC Public School System? That would be absolutely nothing.
You know, our dear chancellor, Michelle Rhee, hates veteran teachers. She doesn’t say that, but you can feel it in the way she talks. She’d love nothing more than to bring in folks like me every year (the Teach for America type, the DC Teaching Fellows type), teach for awhile, and then move on. Her model is unsustainable. She’s a moron if you ask me. In any case, I brought up the veteran teachers because I’ve seen some really great ones. Teachers who have taught in the DC Public Schools for most of their lives. They dedicate themselves to a system that doesn’t give two shits about their wellbeing. And they keep coming back, year after year, to educate.
Why do they do it? I couldn’t tell you. After two years of an abusive system, I threw in the towel and decided to teach in a not-for-profit school. I commend veteran teachers much in the same way I commend veteran soldiers. I honestly don’t know how they do it, but I admire that they keep doing it. Someone has to uphold and maintain a system when it’s crumbling and it’s those teachers. I believe those are the ones who “do it for the kids.” I salute you, good fighters! God speed and God bless.
**If I seem a little all over the place in this entry, it's because I'm a little nervous. My wedding is today. I know, most girls would be applying their makeup and showering like 6 times. Me, I blog.
Monday, August 30, 2010
Misha is tall and skinny as a rail. She comes from an interesting family. The youngest of five girls, Misha is the apple of her father’s eye. Her older sisters are much, much older. One has a kid that’s near Misha’s age. I can’t quite understand her family. Her father is always going to court, but he’s also always here in an instant when there’s something wrong with Misha. I’ve never met Misha’s mother. But I know she exists because I’ve talked to her on the phone.
Misha cried all of the time, but it wasn’t an annoying cry like Mikey. She cried silently and stoically. Sometimes, I didn’t even know she was crying; I’d look over at her and she’d have tears streaming down her face. Usually, it was for a cut she had gotten three days ago. Misha felt pain like none other. I felt sorry for her; I can’t imagine what it will be like when she gets her period. She’ll probably have to lie in bed for days and be drugged with Midol.
It’s hard to say that Misha was a touching child. She really wasn’t; you might forget about her because she was so quiet. And she stayed that way all year. Unlike Roberto, who turned into an unbearable child, Misha actually matured quite well that year. There were days when she took on the mother role so believably. Like the day she smacked Amy on the hand because she was so out of control. We all looked at Misha, silently, and then we corrected her. But how could we correct someone who wasn’t really doing anything wrong? She just knew how to be a mom.
Around the classroom, Misha was always willing to help. She’d hand out napkins or tie someone’s shoe. She was sometimes better than the aides I had. I really enjoyed having her around, if it was only for the extra help. I’m not quite sure was Misha had learned that year. There were some days when I’d think she’d made progress and other days where I believe she had regressed. She was a tricky child when it came to learning how to read or calculate numbers.
Did she touch my life you’d ask? I’m supposed to say yes, right? Maybe, in her own special way, but honestly I was having trouble remembering her name for this post. I’m glad I wrote about her, because I might have forgotten about her forever. Just another student whose face would be nameless. That would have been sad or tragic or something, so I’m glad I wrote about her before she was completely obliterated from my memory bank.
Saturday, August 28, 2010
The “Fix your face” phrase was used most on Mikey. Mikey, poor thing, was also a brat (apparently this is a thing with autistic kids), but he was cute. In fact, when my fiancé came in to meet my class, he thought Mikey was the cutest of all. I thought he was the most annoying of all. He had autism with a combination of ADHD. It was the most irritating of all possibilities; his cuteness eluded me. It didn’t matter how cute he was because every day after nap time, he would cry. And cry, and cry, and cry, until at last he’d have to be taken out of the room by one of my aides.
I guess she threatened him or something because usually when he came back he was just sobbing. I never asked what she did; I just always thanked my lucky stars when she came back with him that he was quiet. I suppose I ran my classroom like the military, “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” I can’t say that was the right thing to do, but it was the thing that kept the peace among us.
Mikey’s mother was a very nice woman. She was a little younger than me and that meant she would have been 24 years old. A single parent, she worked a full time job trying desperately to support Mikey and herself. Her phone was frequently disconnected and they moved a lot. They’re situation was classic poverty unstableness. It made me very sad because she was so close to my age. Even though I was not pregnant nor had a child, I knew that even without Mikey, she would never have the same opportunities as me and the only thing that separated her from me was race and socio-economic status.
I could and probably should take this opportunity to get on the soap box about the achievement gap and how urban education is actually a civil rights issue that is keeping minorities oppressed. But I won’t, I’m trying to keep this blog about my experiences and what happened to me. There have been plenty of books and articles written about the achievement gap, if you care to read those. I will say this; I got into this profession to help close that gap. After seeing the problems in DCPS, it made me realize that the National Guard couldn’t help this school system.
But I tried. Each day I tried to help these kids in the classroom as best I could. I guess it’s good that my program picked Type A personalities. You know the kind, those who are willing to ruin their health, relationships, and everything for the sake of their careers. And that’s exactly what I did for two solid years. I put my career above all things, and everything else suffered. There must be balance in life, if it is to be enjoyed. Uggh, that sounded like the Dalai Lama or something. I’ll stop, I’m sorry.
Back to Mikey. The amazing thing about Mikey is that he wasn’t all that autistic. I mean he liked to line up crayons, sort things, and do a whole lot of puzzles (but so did my fiancé, so he tells me, and he turned out reasonably fine). Mikey talked with a bit of a speech impediment, but he talked a lot, which is a good thing. I wanted him to join a regular kindergarten class, but was having so many fights with the administration about Abeba that I didn’t have the energy left in me. So, Mikey continued in my class and his mother seemed to be okay with that; even though I suggested Mikey going into a regular classroom.
Anyway, it’s hard to see any progress in a child when you work with them day after day and toil long hours with them. You think you are a failure (and you are). You think that you’ve made no difference in a child’s life and you’d be better off if that bus hit you (please, God, I’m waiting). It was Mikey who made me realize that maybe I wasn’t such an awful, terrible, no good, very bad failure. Just a failure.
I had my annual review with principal. It was the end of the year and I was praying to God or someone more and more frequently, just giving thanks and showing my gratitude. Anyway, I was showing my principal Mikey’s work in reading and writing. At the beginning of the year he could only write the letter A and he couldn’t read at all. By the end of the year, he was writing most of the alphabet and reading about 7 or 8 basic words. I was astonished; my principal was too. I couldn’t believe it; I had made progress with a kid.
Okay, so I might not have closed the achievement gap, but screw you DC Teaching Fellows. How was that ever going to be possible with my room full of autists (my fiance’s affectionate term for them)? I was proud because I did the best I could and did make some progress with each of my students.
No, I wasn’t Hilary effing Swank in Freedom Writers, but I was me, and I never quit. That’s not really the lesson though; never give up. I should have given up, when my life was going to hell in a hand basket and everything around me was hopeless. It’s when I think back to that day during my evaluation that I realize that I was just a failure, not a miserable, wretched one. And that was okay by me.
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
I know that’s mean. I don’t want Raji dead. I do, however, want him in a facility that can meet his needs. We can’t meet those needs; but my special education coordinator, who lies about everything, keeps trying to convince his attorney that this is an appropriate placement, and it’s not. He needs intensive behavioral therapy; he’s very low functioning.
He does get a new placement. Can you guess when? Yup, for the next school year. So, I have Raji terrorizing my class every day for 180 days. And I think he was there for the full 180 days because his parents would send him with a fever, they’d send him puking… Shit, they might have sent him to school if he was dead.
I had to call child protective services on his parents. It is not legal to send your kid to school in a dirty diaper every day. That’s just not allowed. That’s called neglect. They also wouldn’t pick him up if the school called home sick. So, it’s my job as a teacher to report abuse or neglect of a child. Well, Raji’s being neglected and I don’t want to lose my job if there’s real abuse happening at home.
I call Child and Family Services and report the incident and they call Raji’s parents. His parents are devastated. They are really nice people, but they have too many kids. Raji requires a lot of attention and they have four other children, one of which is special ed as well (not as bad as Raji though). After the bout with social services, they invite me over to show me that Raji isn’t being abused or neglected, but also to let me know that he isn’t as bad as I say he is at school.
My fiancé and I attend this birthday party for Raji. His dad was so excited because they got him a big trampoline (very therapeutic for kids with autism, something about the bounce). They invite the whole damn family over and then some. These people are African and there are many of them. They all have a bunch of kids. Anyway, we’re there at this party, on a Saturday, for a student I can barely stand five days a week. Why do I insist on torturing myself?
Well, the party isn’t that bad and Raji is his usual self – ornery, into everything, and totally ignoring me. There was one weird thing that did happen and made me wonder about parents today. The kids at the party were shaking up sodas and then opening them and letting the sodas squirt into the air. They did this repeatedly (must have wasted like 25 sodas) and no one said a word. It was the oddest thing. If I had done that when I was little, I would’ve gotten my ass beat. Parents are so different these days.
In any event, Raji also grew on me. He was never my baby like Amy, but he was just so adorable that you couldn’t be mad at him when he was eating his poo or digging through the trash. He has a special place in my heart. I do wish he could’ve spoken sometimes though. I’d just love to know what the hell was going through his brain. When I die, I want to spend the entire 08-09 school as Raji, I’d like to know how he sees things. I know how I saw him, as a terror at first, but then as a unique 7-year-old boy, who would impress upon me the value of patience and tolerance.
Monday, August 23, 2010
Morning meeting time. This is when we all go through our routine of what the date is, what day of the week it is, what the weather’s like outside, etc. We are getting into this routine, slowly, but surely and determinedly. “Roberto, come find what day it is.” “Roberto, come find what day it is.” Seriously, kid, come on. “What day is it?” To which he responds you guessed it, “What day is it?”
What am I going to do with this child? When he’s not repeating everything I say, he’s pissing his pants because that’s better than interacting with me to ask to use the bathroom. Come on with all the piss and poop already. Oh, did I mention the scripting?
Scripting is what autistic children do when they’ve seen a television show or played a video game and I guess they like it. I don’t actually know what the reasoning is behind this. They memorize all of the lines in a certain show or game and then they repeat them, ad nauseam. It’s weird is the only way to describe it and Roberto does it with so many things.
So, Roberto never, ever, has conversations with me. He’s like Amy, except she sometimes will come out of her autistic world to ask for something. Not Roberto. So, we start him on a program based on B.F. Skinner’s, a behaviorist, work. It essentially forces children to talk. So, I withhold food from him and force him to ask for it. I must look like a real mother Theresa, right?
Let me tally all I do in a given day: Change diapers, clean up piss and poop, sweat profusely while fighting children, force children to interact with me, make children vomit, compel children to eat food, put up with parents’ complaints that I’m incompetent, the list goes on an on and it’s really beginning to exhaust my core being.
I want to say that Roberto got better, but he got so much worse as the year went on. It all happened when his mother started working and was with him less. He started to act like an obstinate little brat. This just has to be a thing with autistic children. I’m at the brat maximum in my class.
Well, Roberto picks up on all the behaviors in the classroom. He has the strength of an ox and now I also fight him to use the bathroom or to eat certain foods. He refuses to eat certain foods and will start crying and he makes his body so stiff when he’s angry. It’s positively frightening. He’s spitting like Julio now. WTF is going on? This kid used to be so good. Why is this happening to me, god hates me I swear it.
It’s called regression - when an autistic child goes from being at a certain level to a lower functioning level. It makes me feel worse than I usually do about my teaching abilities. See because I still believe I’m going to have Raji talk and Amy using the toilet and Abeba will be eating foods. Julio will get an exorcism. But I won’t because I’m not a miracle worker and I have no idea how to teach autistic children. And Roberto certainly wasn’t going to get worse, worse than he was before. But he did.
I tried working with Roberto’s mother at home, but it was pointless. She was working long hours to support the family and was exhausted when she got home. She let the computer babysit him, and I couldn’t blame the poor woman. Shit, she already had this child to deal with. We continued to work with him throughout the year, but he never returned to his baseline behavior. It was quite sad.
On a more positive note, I want to let my followers (one of which I don’t know! OMG, it’s branching out, my blog is reaching more people!) and readers know that I just found a journal from this time period that will help me remember things. I have, as of late, gone by memories that have been mostly smothered and erased by my brain. So, this should help. I also will try to post more regularly. I know my readers want more and I will give them what they want. Stories of the inner city school teacher who fights daily to keep her dignity, her composure, but most of all, her sanity.
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
She’s so smart though. She’s reading on a 3rd grade level and she’s 5. Her math isn’t as good, but we’re working on it. It’s because her mother always read to her and I guess forgot to teach her math skills. She’s picking up on addition and subtraction very quickly. Rain man is a good description for her ability to understand reading and math so well.
Lunch is always a fight. I fight little kids for a living, have I mentioned that yet? You might have already picked up on it. I’m a champion boxer in the ultimate featherweight class for fighting little children. Abeba, you will eat the school lunch. I don’t care if you are going to make yourself gag and throw up because of the food. It’s that, or it’s nothing. I tell her mother to stop sending her lunch. She’s going to learn to eat all foods.
Well, it’s not going so well. Abeba’s winning these fights because no one wants to get puked on. So, she starves and we don’t give her the afternoon snack that everyone else gets. Oh well. I’ve never been good at tolerating bratty behavior, even from disabled children.
Mother doesn’t like that Abeba’s hungry every day when she comes home. So, she caves and starts sending her lunch. I swear to God, if her mother didn’t check on her every day at lunch, I would have thrown out the food. I’m not joking. Abeba will not starve. She’s already overweight and thanks to my bout of not feeding her lunch, she actually starts losing weight.
Because Abeba’s so smart, and so capable, I have to fight for her to get out of my classroom. I actually don’t want to lose Abeba, she’s the closest to normalcy I have. But my classroom is a madhouse. Her mother’s freaking out because she’s starting to pick up on the behaviors of the others (cursing, spitting, fighting, etc.). I’m freaking out because I know with the assistance of an aide, she can make it in a normal classroom.
Let me back up. So, in DC Public Schools, special education is like a black hole that sucks in children and keeps them forever. They never, ever get out. Well, people like me who advocate for inclusion at all costs, hate that the school system does this. But special ed kids are money and principals are greedy. Also, the “normal” teachers don’t like the sped kids. They’re bad and a lot of trouble and a lot of work.
But Ms. Sunshine is different. She’s young like me and she likes Abeba. So, after coaxing my principal and at the approval of the IEP team (special ed coordinator, mom, Ms. Sunshine, me, principal, and the speech language pathologist), she starts normal kindergarten. Only 20 minutes at first, but it’s a victory.
By the end of the year, I fight to get Abeba into a regular first grade classroom all day with the assistance of a dedicated aide. Well, it happens. Something actually goes right for once.
Abeba was actually one of my big victories. What a shitty job where that’s the greatest thing you do in a year. But that’s not the point I suppose. I championed for her rights and now she’s with the other kids where she belongs. Now, she won’t be stuck in the sped system forever. Now, she has the same opportunities as her non-disabled peers. Well, I suppose I haven’t saved the world, but I did save a little girl. I guess that’s going to have to be good enough.
Sunday, August 15, 2010
After time stops slowing down due to shock, we both grab a poopy hand and escort the child to the bathroom. Now, I know this kid has autism, but seriously, this is too much for my already overwhelmed self. Poop is the very reason why I’ll probably never have kids. It’s totally gross and I don’t even like thinking about it.
So, we get the disgusting, poopy kid cleaned up. That part doesn’t really need to be described. Have you ever changed a poopy diaper? That’s what it’s like. And if you haven’t, then you are a lucky individual and you wouldn’t want to read about it anyway (besides I go into more detail below about how to change the most completely disgusting diaper known to mankind).
I want to cry; I want to scream; I want to quit this god-forsaken job. Who has to deal with this kind of stuff at their jobs? Certainly not my friends who aren’t teachers, and definitely not anyone in my family. Why can’t I quit? WHY?
I have another poop story for you. I need to get these out of the way because I need to completely repress them after posting this. The aide that takes care of Amy is out one day, in fact, two aides are out today. That leaves me with 2 aides. One for Raji because he always needs one and one for Julio, who also always needs one. That leaves me with the other five students and Amy definitely needs an aide all to herself.
Well, right now, she stinks. She stinks horribly. She stinks like shit. Oh god, no, please not me again. Why can’t I morph into another human being? Why can’t I instantly and temporarily be afflicted with anosmia or possibly even the inability to create new memories?
This shit changing is not as easy with only one person. I have to do this because both aides have now taken turns changing her diarrhea diapers, and it’s my turn now. Fair is fair and right is right. So now, it’s my turn.
I take her to the stall and of course she’s fighting me because Amy always fights us to use the bathroom. I’m pushing and shoving her in the stall. I put on the latex gloves and pull her pants down. I take off her diaper and shit falls everywhere. All over her, all over me, all over the floor, and all over her clothes. Really, on me? Poop is on my pants. This is a little much to bear.
I first remove the diaper from in between her legs and take that to the trash. Amy is now dancing in the mirror, laughing, giggling, and covered in shit and now the bathroom sink is also covered in her foul excrement. She’s babbling something to herself. She is clearly pleased with ruining my day. I wish she wasn’t so cute because I may have murdered her and lost my job and gone to jail for many, many years. I just want to leave her like this. I want to run out of the building and never, ever come back. This is not in my job description. I’m pretty sure it’s not.
Next, I use about 58 diapers wipes to wipe her ass, her legs, and her shoes. I don’t even bother cleaning up her clothes. The child is walking back to the classroom in a clean diaper sans clothes. I next clean the poop off of myself. Amy has a change of clothes, but guess who doesn’t? This stupid girl, I should have predicted this would happen and have a back up at all times.
Lastly, I clean up the floor and the sink, de-poopifying them both. Amy is still perfectly content jabbering in the mirror. She clearly speaks a language I don’t understand. The whole clean up scene takes about forty minutes. Yes, for forty whole minutes I smelled shit. It was so gross.
I still don’t quit. I really can’t figure out why I devoted my life to this classroom full of children who apparently live on another planet and abide by their own weird rules. All I can say is that I couldn’t quit. Even on the worst days, and those two days described above are two of the worst days I had teaching a class full of autistic children.
Alright, well, I’m back to enjoying my weekend. I hope you enjoyed my crappy memories. I will try to refrain from anymore shit stories because really those are the best two and the others have already been suppressed.
Friday, August 13, 2010
I got called into the office by my principal one day. “One of your colleagues has said that you smell of alcohol.” I want to slap the woman in the face. I know my job is hard, but I am not a derelict. I do have some moral standards. I might drink from the minute I get home until the minute I go to bed, but I would never drink on the job.
She smells my breath. I swear to her that the only thing in the water bottle I carry around is water (and allow her to smell it and my breath). “It’s from the night before, get a better mouthwash.” And that’s the only time I’m ever called in about my drinking problem. Man, I would have loved to have gone to rehab.
Rehab would have been better than the hell that was my classroom. By November, I was ready to murder children and put a bullet in my brain. My life was in shambles. My relationship a wreck. I was hanging on by not even a thread. The adults, who were allegedly my “aides,” were no better than the children. By November, there were three of them. Three women. It was terrible.
There was the young one; she was younger than me. I never felt bad about telling her what to do. It’s easy to tell somebody what to do when they are younger than you and have even less experience than you. In my case, I had one month more experience and felt justified in giving her the many tasks that the other aides refused to do.
There was the dedicated aide, who was awful. She had come from a school where aides read magazines and babysat children. She didn’t understand that I was in the business of educating children, even her child that she was “dedicated” to, who couldn’t speak. I didn’t care about the fact that Riji couldn’t speak. He was going to learn something. Even if it was only to tell us that he needed to use the bathroom in sign language.
And then there was the mother hen. She was a mother hen because she was the eldest of us all. Formerly, she had been a teacher with the DC Public School system, but through some series of events had lost her teaching license. She was the hardest one to boss around or give directions to. It was because she would always do it, but mostly because I felt like I was bossing my grandmother around, and that just made me feel bad.
So, those were my three. Up until January, that is, when I got a fourth aide who was a god send. He was actually the dedicated aide for a kid I’ll call Julio. Julio was the most vile, despicable child on the face of the universe.
“He’s got such pretty eyes, and such a cute face,” says one of my aides. I look at Julio again, and see nothing but Satan. Satan took form as a human on earth and his name is Julio. Julio is worse than Amy. If you can imagine. This is a child who, on my birthday (yes, I was stupid enough to work with these children on my birthday), spit directly in my face. My face. He spit in my face. I’m sorry it’s still hard to believe that happened to me, let alone on my birthday.
Julio kicked, he punched, he spit on people (usually in their faces, but mostly wherever his awful mouth decided to aim), and he licked people compulsively. Oh, did I mention his mouth? “Shut the fuck up.” Those eff bombs were dropped frequently and with ease. It’s like he had Tourette's syndrome or something. Except it wasn’t like Tourette's syndrome, because people with that just say curse words at any given time. Julio knew when to say “Oh, shit.” It was when an adult was giving him a directive to do something he didn’t want to do.
It was near Halloween when we went to the pumpkin patch. I know… What were we (the three autism teachers in the school including myself) thinking when we decided to take not only my 7, but the entire autism cluster at my school to a pumpkin patch? I think in total it was about 18 kids with autism.
That was the day Julio decided to act the worst he’s ever acted. He was throwing hay at random kids and spitting in their faces. When it was time to go home, he did his usual “Catch me if you can” routine. Well, when we (and by we, I mean two adults for one little seven-year-old) caught him, he kicked, he bit, he punched, he spat, and he cursed.
He had to be restrained by one of the aides who held his arms one under the other and had her legs wrapped around him. It’s called a therapeutic restraint. She was licensed in it. He was not injured, not like some of the kids I’ve seen get restrained at the high school I worked in this past year, but I’ll get to that.
So, I hated Julio and never saw his alleged “cuteness.” He also never grew on me like Amy did. In fact, he never grew on me at all. There were never moments when I saw him as a child. Mostly, I saw him as the devil, an evil beast who most be blotted out. But I did try to teach him, in the way only an evil demon can learn. He was good with math. That’s about all I can say about him that’s good. Moral lessons are not the theme of this blog and there definitely isn’t one for Julio.
Thursday, August 12, 2010
She's so intense and she brings her mother along with her. The grandmother is even more intense. A veteran teacher in Prince George's county public schools. This woman knows a good teacher. She knows that I'm not going to be good enough for Amy, and she's right. "Are you trained in ABA?" To which I reply, "What does ABA stand for again?" They looked pissed, actually more than pissed. They look like the second they leave this parent/teacher conference they are going to call their attorney. And of course, that’s exactly what they do.
I worked for attorneys during undergrad to help pay for my degree. They used to scare me because well, they passed the bar and went to law school. Attorneys stopped scaring me after I had worked for them for almost 5 years off and on at different firms. With all their quirks, they just started seeming like normal people, and normal people don't scare me. They just get on my nerves. So, until I started teaching special education students, frightening attorneys were no longer a phobia of mine.
Well, that's until Amy's attorney started harassing my special education coordinator about my credentials. Let me first explain to you what a special education coordinator is. It's a person who is in charge of scheduling meetings, sending out the appropriate letters to parents about meetings, scheduling testing for students, filing appropriate documents, and the list goes on but would bore you so I’ll stop. My special education coordinator did none of those things. She left that all to the special education teachers. What she did do was lie like a snake at meetings about the services the students were not receiving. And to defend teachers with no credentials, like me. She could’ve been an ally, if I didn’t hate her so much.
Speaking of integrity, you should know I try not to lie at all costs, especially when it comes to the kids. When a parent would ask if a student was receiving occupational therapy, and said occupational therapist had quit two months ago, I couldn't lie about that. It's on the Individualized Education Program (IEP from now on). That's a legal document. I don't like to lie, and I really don't like to lie when it comes to the law.
So, back to the conference with Amy's mom. Who the hell was I fooling? The mom knew, the grandmother knew, and I knew. They could see right through my politeness and pantsuit. They were going to be problems. Their precious Amy was going to be an even bigger problem.
And this is how Amy and I met. On the first day of school, I was supposed to have two aides assisting in the day-to-day operations of an autism classroom. I had none. No one. Well, when Amy's mom came and saw that I had no one, she decided to stay all day and help out. She judged my every move. Everything I planned turned to, well, there's no nice way of putting this: It turned to shit. I had no idea what to do with the kids. I floundered my way through everything that day. Of course, driving home I was in tears and was ready to quit.
Amy wasn't potty trained. She was a brat on all fronts. A mean little six-year-old child, who didn't have any manners and always tried to take off her clothes (she was a stripper in the making). She had little panda ears, and I'm not referring to her ears, I'm referring to the two little bun pigtails she wore at the top of her head. The head that was never brushed or washed. It made her look like a panda bear. It was quite endearing in its own way. Now, I never said it, but one of my aides later on would describe Amy's hair as "nappy." It was really bad.
I learned quickly that with Amy it was going to be a battle of the wills. She vs. me. The panda bear versus the inept special education teacher. Well, Amy, I'm not going down without a fight. And that's exactly what happened every single day from the cafeteria to the classroom, Amy and I would fight. It'd be 8:45 in morning and there we'd be fighting against each other to get to the classroom. I'd pull, she'd pull back. I pushed, she pushed back. Some days I tried picking her up, but that always ended in her kicking and eventually wiggling out. She was a willful child; I'll give her that.
I hated those mornings. By “those” I mean the 180 mornings that I fought with Amy. Well, at the very least 90. I would dread mornings with Amy, get physically ill thinking about fighting her all the way to the classroom. Some days I would call out sick, just because the mere thought of fighting her was too much to bear, or should I say panda bear.
Some mornings, there'd be Ms. Sunshine and her perfect class of kindergarteners all in a line, and there would be me and Amy tussling around. Me, sweating up a storm; Amy, kicking, punching, screaming, and crying. You would think I was beating the child. It was embarrassing to say the least. That's when I would get another look of condescension. "Oh, you poor thing, you don't know how to control your students." Yeah, sure, you try controlling this thing. This Amy monster panda bear thing. Just try, I give you five minutes and you'll be screaming for your precious general education students. Your so-called "normal" kids. Uggh.
So, that's how our tumultuous relationship started. Amy ended up being my very special, my very favorite student that year. But it took awhile to know and understand her. She had to get used to me, had to trust me. I would also have to trust her and believe that in some strange way she would change my life.
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Says my gynecologist after she has done the deed. In my other life, I will be anything but a teacher. In my next life, I will hopefully be a dog, like a great yellow lab that I know who eats until she bursts. That’s what I’m coming back as. No more saving the world crap. That’s clearly going to be this life and this life only.
Alright, so today I need to tell you what this blog isn’t. This isn’t going to be the kind of blog that tries to find any moral lesson. I had this discussion with a friend today and those are the worst kind of blogs. The ones where people have terrible stuff happen to them and try to “find the bright side in it.” That’s not me. I couldn’t find the bright side of a light bulb. But I will try to be as funny and entertaining as possible in my antics.
So, this blog is shaping up to be the account of a former DC Public School teacher. I can’t tell you about my new job because I haven’t started it yet. Also, it’s too small and I will have to be much more ambiguous. It seems like a great place and I’m so excited to start it at the end of the month.
Here we go. I was desperate to find a job after college and the economy was starting to tighten up. I was a media studies major, people; there aren’t many jobs for us. So, a friend was finishing up her commitment with Teach for
These are the facts: I would get a subsidized master’s degree and I had to commit to two years of teaching in a high needs school. Well, I just didn’t know how “high needs” the DC Public School System was going to be. As it turns out, very high. That summer following undergrad, I was to attend a 5-week crash course on teaching, go to two master’s classes, and teach summer school with a veteran teacher. Okay, I can be a little bit of an overachiever. When it comes to personality types, I’m like a type AAA.
That summer I was so idealistic, it didn’t even matter that I was doing so much. I was going to close the achievement gap. I was going to be Michele Pfeiffer in Dangerous Minds or Hilary Swank in Freedom Writers. Except I wasn’t going to be any of those things because I started in elementary education thinking (very wrongly) that it would be easier than teaching high school gang members. I’m a wimp. Well, turns out that it’s much harder to teach little kids than big kids and I did eventually end up in a Dangerous Minds-like situation. Again, you’ll hear about that as well.
My first teaching job ever was in a classroom with autistic children. Now, I had heard of autism, but I had no clue exactly how it manifested itself in a child. Well, as it turns out, it manifests itself in about a million different ways. I suppose that’s why it’s a “spectrum disorder.” Autistic children do a lot of things, some of which I can’t even remember from that first summer as an assistant teacher.
What I do remember from when we got switched from primary autism (which is grades K-2 in DCPS) to intermediate autism (grades 3-5), is when Artie (names are changed to protect the innocent special education students of course) came up and grabbed my boob the first day we were transferred. Boy, that shocked me. Artie would scream at the top of his lungs “Goodbye for now,” as he ran out the door. He did that at least 16 times in any given day. He was an interesting kid, to say the very least.
There was Larry, who was just so sweet, but could barely talk or write. I still see him every so often because he lives in my neighborhood. Such a nice kid, I always hated seeing him get frustrated. You just wanted him to be able to do the things that you could do because you knew he wanted to.
I don’t remember many of the other kids. There were 10 of them and they were a handful, but not as much of a handful as the ones I was about to get assigned to for an entire school year. One of my fellow fellows (redundant, sorry) took that class for her fall assignment. She quit by December, poor thing, and this was a girl who knew about autism. She had worked with autistic kids before and she quit.
Now, imagine how bad it was for me, little old me from
That question will unfold over the course of this blog. Or until I get bored of writing, but I learned today that I have two followers and now just like Julie Powell (Julie & Julia), I have readers. Readers who need me or at least my self-centered brain is telling me need me. So, I dedicate this blog to my readers, but then I dedicate it to my students. Those special students who have so touched my heart that it’s bringing water to my eyes. I hate to see me go, but I love to watch me leave DCPS. Forever.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
I should back up. Those of you reading are going to think that I'm bitter and jaded and like 55. I'm not. I'm 26 and I've just finished my first two years as a special education teacher in the District of Columbia's Public School System. I taught elementary kids my first year and high school teenagers my second year (in one of the worst schools, but I'll get to that later). The reason why I allow myself to be so jaded is because I was a fan of Rhee when I got here. I believed in her changes and what she did, but I truly see now that she is off her rocker and truly only out to make a name for herself.
That being said, I can say with experience that DC students have never been first on Rhee's agenda. She came here with all of her slogans and her mantras such as "It's all about the kids" or "I do this for the kids" and now people eat those words up like candy. They think she actually cares. Ms. Rhee, I hate to break it to you, but you are a liar. A cheat. No better than any other politician in this town, but I commend you on fooling everyone, even me (before that is).
Oh, this was about Ms. Erhgood's article. I'm sorry. You see finally writing about all of this is stirring up so many feelings about a system I've come to love/hate, well, mostly hate. Okay, so my favorite line in her article is "The WTU has found many allies in the media." This made me want to laugh until I had tears streaming down my face. WTU has allies in the media? WHAAT? If there's anyone with so-called allies in the media, it's Rhee herself. She was featured on the cover of Time. The Post (which is where Ms. Erhgood's article appeared) loves her. Scratch that, adores her. I've never seen such a media whore. I read about her at least once a week in the local papers. For god's sake, the woman had a PBS documentary devoted to her. Allies in the media. Whatever.
Another favorite line of mine was: "Recently, the school system fired ineffective teachers and gave minimally effective teachers notice that they need to seek additional support and training, which the school system is eager to provide, in order to improve within one year." The part I would like to emphasize is "eager to provide." Well, Ms. Erhgood, when I had IMPACT training, my trainers were pretty specific about the help we would not be receiving when they said, "If you are struggling in any of the areas of IMPACT, it is up to you to improve that." Maybe, she knows more than me, who was trained for 4 days in IMPACT. You know the whole 4 days I received to learn a brand new system with 9 different components in the Teaching and Learning Framework alone. Oh, Ms. Erhgood must have been reading one of our manuals, where it claims that teachers will "receive support to increase their effectiveness." Well, the only support I received was on our mandated professional development days (by the way, I think it was at least three that were taken away from us due to the snowstorm).
So, I can see how people who do not work at the school-level would support IMPACT, would embrace it. Because well, it seems like it's a good thing. More Rhee propaganda that is being spread by her "allies in the media." But I thank you Ms. Erhgood, it's because of you that I now have a blog.
I think that's enough for today, folks. I'm wondering if anyone is even going to read my rants.