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I started writing this blog in 2008, toward the end of my first year of teaching. These posts about my experiences as an NYC Department of Education teacher have been (and continue to be) assembled over a period of several years. They don't necessarily need to be read in chronological order, but my very first post, "Context" (March 2008) might be useful as an introduction into this lunacy. While most of my stories highlight the ridiculousness of being a public school teacher, I should note that I love my students and care deeply for them. So as you read, please keep in mind that I do in fact have a soul, as well as a heart; and that heart of mine brims with pride every time I think about my students' talents and breaks with pain every time another one gets screwed by the system.

June 2, 2012


Posting like I have Tourette Syndrome for three months in early 2011 and then not returning to squawk another insult in over one year --- well that's certainly not going to get me any true "followers." My dreams of this blog becoming a book have most likely been compromised. But fuck it, I'm not finished with my stories. Time to pick back up again....

April 13, 2011

I can't decide what's worse...

...spelling like a dip-shit, uneducated moron on purpose (see mii kidz spellin skillz from previous post) OR cursing like a perverted 9th grader who's trying to be really cool-- when you're 12 years old?

Regret #4:

Having been around my students only in the classroom setting, I had a very precious image of them in my mind. I believed that even the troublemaker dickheads who made me wish I carried a rifle more often than not, were, deep down at their core, kids who didn't really curse (except for calling me a bitch for not letting him go out to recess, ahem, Greg, sigh) or talk about anything particularly racy. While there were hints that this image I had developed in my mind was indeed a fantasy (Derik losing his temper and yelling "WHAT THE FUCK!?"), I didn't take any of it to heart.

Maybe I should have, because their damn quotes keep on popping up on my Facebook Feed like the damn Plague:

Not to mention, since when did 6th grade boys 'like' such perverted things:

My student, my student LIKES this shit?!?! 

Excuuuuseee me?!? That word?!?!?

 I do not want to know what comes after "Legs. Open..."

March 22, 2011

Y da hellz kant yuu spell bettah??? Dayyummm!

Regret #3:  Discovering the way my students write in real life

I don't read my Facebook News Feed thingy.  That's because 95% of the things that come through it are stupid shit my kids say. And the stupid shit my kids say is of no interest to me.  Unfortunately, the sheer volume of shit they post is so absurdly high that occasionally, my eyes (disobeying the strict directions of my brain) read a post or two.

And when that happens, it's like a stab to the teacher-heart.  Their spelling is just so damn atrocious!  There's no way it qualifies as English.
The spelling lessons, homework, tests, cutting up pieces of paper with similarly-sounding words on them and rearranging the pieces in different groups (yea, that's the 'creative, interactive' bullshit they make kids do to 'learn' these days)....  all those hours! All that work! For what?! Ahhhh a waste! A fucking waste!

To honor the mess my students have made with their written English skills, here is an abridged, not even close to fully inclusive, mini-lesson in decoding Self-proclaimed Badass Kids' Online Speak:

The letter q replaces the letter g
example: "lookinq cute" or "omq what's qood with the lipstick"

uu replaces ou
example: "i c yuu"

dh or d- replaces th
example: "I have more dhan yuu" or "dhat's how much i love yuu" or "have yuu seen dis"

mii replaces me
example: "talk to mii"

mahh replaced mad or my
example: "dhat's mahh funny!" or "yuu mahh best friend"

knoe replaces know
 example: "did yuu knoe it mahh birthday"

-variations of the include: dha, da
-variations of girl include: gurl, ghurl, ghurll 

It's truly a complex language that the street-savvy urban child has mastered by 5th grade and that the younger, urban toddler aspires to learn before his 10th birthday.

I, on the other hand, would be perfectly content to shoot their fingers straight off their hands and call it a day.

Here is the fruit of all my fucking troubles:


There is this one theory in the teaching world that kids' use of social media is helpful to their education.  Pundits (oh and you can guarantee these assholes haven't had any interaction with a public school kid in the last 20 years, or ever, for that matter) claim that all the brief writing kids do on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and while texting, is actually beneficial to them-- it improves their writing skills and makes them smarter or some shit like that.  However, after reading my kids' Facebook posts, I think we can all agree that:
1) this theory is WRONG
2) social media/texting is making my kids dumber (or at the very least encouraging bad habits that will inevitably transfer to their school work)
3) once these education experts see my evidence, they will undoubtedly agree with what I've said. (And make me queen of education theory.)

March 18, 2011

Facebooking with Students = Cringe

Oh there are so many more problems besides the ambiguity of 'pokes' when it comes to Facebooking with students.  Here's one of the tamer ones that mostly just makes me laugh but also makes me think: what the fuck are you doing?

Regret #2:  Seeing their Facebook 'names.'

There must be some unwritten rule I'm unaware of, amongst my kids, anyway. Apparently, its way cooler to make up weird-ass nicknames for yourself, instead of go by your real name. 

- Sweet, innocent, awesome Kaitlyn is now commonly referred to as  'ooBl0w Fishoo'. One can only surmise what that means. Can you imagine what I thought when double-o 'Blow Fish' messaged me the other day?

- Michael, a delightfully smart and witty kid with a blindingly bright future, has officially changed his last name to 'Bigg Boii Swaggs' (after all, if it's on Facebook, it's official right?) and previously: 'Dha Assassin'.  Surriously? Gang-member already? You're not even going to wait until high school?

- Peterson, a kid for whom I have the utmost respect as a talented, passionate, caring human being; but who unfortunately maintained an ultra-dork status in elementary school (he tried and tried to shake it but just couldn't) has chosen to add 'Cheese' as his middle name (you see why he couldn't shake the 'dork' title now).

- Mariel, clueless, adorable kid, prefers the nickname 'Princess Senarina.' Fine, it is what it is... but guess what her mother's name is? AfriKan PriNcess. And her listed skills? Knowledge of English and Pig LatinSwear to God. 


March 15, 2011

Advice on being Poked by Boys

I'd like you to take a moment to consider a make-believe scene.  It would hypothetically take place circa 2006, while I was still in college:

[Sitting in sweatpants at my desk in my room staring at my laptop, freaking out that I've been 'poked']
 Me: What does this mean?! OMG he totallly has a crush on me...right? Shit, what do I do? Do I poke back?  I don't want him to think I like him...!

[Roommates come running from their rooms to advise-- one of them wearing a dashing pink multi-purposed tennis/pajama skirt-- the two of them, each hovered over my right and left shoulders, staring at my computer screen, glaring at the 'Poke Back' button, sizing it up, thinking, playing out various scenarios, turning it over in their minds...]
Meredith: I would not poke him back but maybe you could write him a message saying something neutral in emotion [like hey, hows it going!]...but do it after 2 weeks so he knows you're not really into him. So he knows you think of him as a friend only, but that you don't hate him or anything like that either. If he keeps writing back, then ignore him, you don't want to give him the wrong idea. 
Charlotte: Yea, I definitely agree.

If you're on Facebook (and who isn't these days), you've undoubtedly been in this situation. 

Now, this exchange isn't completely fictional, and in fact, its mostly true.  However, it didn't involve 'Meredith' (or Charlotte) and it wasn't in college.

So then... who was it? And when?

My father. Yesterday.  After reading my last blog post about the dangers I encountered (and dodged, thank you) with the baffling "Poke" button on Facebook as it pertains to my students.  Of course, this "poke back" scenario happened months ago, and in writing the blog entry, I wasn't asking for advice; but as it is in a good father's blood to guide and advise their children, no matter our age-- my father thus played his part. To that end, he provided the below recommendations, next steps, and  prepped me for immediate execution. 

Here's my dad's original quote. All you have to do is substitute the word friend for student and paraphrase a tiny bit and it's eerily similar to Fake-College-Meredith's advice from above:

"If I were you, I would not poke him back, but, I would write him a note telling him something good [like, a good boring book, or short lecture on a boring subject].....but do it after 2 weeks so he knows he's not high on your priority.  So he knows you think of him as a student only, and you don't hate him or anything like that.  If he keeps writing back, then ignore him."

I have to say, it made me laugh, as I never knew my rather rigid, quite protective, Chinese father could come off sounding so much like a college-aged girl. 

Bravo dad, bravo.


March 9, 2011

Facebooking with Students = Confusion, Risk

Having accumulated almost 20 former students as confirmed Facebook 'friends' and having turned down countless other 'requests' by their siblings and by students I didn't actually have in class-- whose FB comments, pics, and every move still appear in my Feed for some unexplainable reason; I'm having a few regrets. Here's the first:   

Regret #1: Pokes
I've been on Facebook for over seven years now, and I have never ever understood the concept-- or more importantly, the implications-- of 'poking' someone. If they poke you, what does it mean? Is it a simple innocent, "hello! long time no see!" Or is it a shy man's version of putting yourself out there and declaring you have a crush? Is it a flirtatious action? Is the act of 'poking' some sort of sexual innuendo??? And furthermore... does it require a response? All these questions have gone unanswered in almost a decade of Facebook use; but frankly, it didn't bother me all that much.  In the past, when one of these illusive actions has been taken upon my profile, I'd figured whoever poked me (usually a boy) could interpret my decision to 'poke back' or not 'poke back' in whatever manner they wished. However! When I become aware that a former male student of mine as 'poked' me, I panic. SHIT.

My dilemma is such:
- If I don't 'poke back', I'm concerned the student (who was a huge trouble-maker and who deserved 176 punches in the face-- one for every day he was in school) will think I don't like him, when in reality, despite his supreme dickheadedness as a student, I really liked him as a kid/person.
- If I do 'poke back', since I myself don't know what 'poking' actually means and I certainly don't trust his understanding of what a 'poke' is, I'm concerned this student will think I like him-like him, or something twisted like that.

Unfortunately, I'd rather he thought I hated him than believed me to have some sick crush on him, so his 'poke' as yet remains, and will continue to be, ignored.

March 1, 2011

An Innocent Foray into Facebooking with Students- Rules of Engagement

While I was a teacher, I refused to 'accept' my students' attempt to 'friend' me on Facebook. It was weird/awkward/unsettling for me and so I did not consider it. I had no interest in:
a) reading their poorly-spelled, poorly-articulated thoughts
b) communicating with them after school (after all, I saw them all day, every day, helpmejesus)

However, now that I am 'retired' shall we say, from teaching-- I MISS my students! Tremendously!  Being their slave driver was no fun, but I LOVED all of them so much as hilarious little goofball kids.  I don't get to see them every day (in fact, I will most likely never see them ever again), and despite rational thought, this devastates me!  I desperately wish I could keep tabs on all of them, encourage them to get involved in school activities, show them unbridled support, make sure they're all still on the right (well, at least decent) track, and scold them into shape if they're not. To be honest, not seeing my kids every single day has been (yes, the best, but more importantly,) the hardest part of not being a teacher.
In my post-teaching career, I therefor view Facebook as a medium of communication between my former students and I.  They're on it all the time, so I figure I can chat with them online and ask them questions about school to confirm they're still alive and enrolled *fingers crossed.*  I've come to realize that Facebook may in fact provide the single most plausible opportunity to have a quasi-continuing impact on their lives, beyond just the year or two they spent in my classroom.

So, the day I ended my teaching career was the day I began accepting Facebook Friend requests from my students.

It was, however, important to set some ground rules for myself:

1) I will not 'friend' a student; they must come to me. 
Otherwise, that's like stalker-ish right?-- seeking out my students on the big ol' FB... creepy
2) I will not initiate a 'chat' with a student; they much chat with me.
While I'm desperate to keep tabs on them and make sure they haven't dropped out of school, gotten pregnant, or been shot-- I'm not willing to risk seeming, once again, creepy.
3) I will not accept any child as a 'friend' unless I actually had them formerly in class. 
That means no sisters of my students, no cousins or uncles of my students, no students who had another teacher but knew me....no. Only. my. students.
4) They must all be placed on my "Limited Profile" list.  
This assures that they have no access to the pictures I get tagged in (since, for the most part, I'm drunk), they have no access to the party pictures I get tagged in (since, for the most part, I'm drunk), and they have no access to the idiotic wall posts or videos.  They are, for all intents and purposes, closed off from my world-- strictly forbidden from receiving even a single glimmer of insight into my real life away from school. In effect, I hope for them to continue to view me as a vice-free leadership figure.  I know for a fact they think I'm a dork, and that's the way I want it to remain.

So what do they get to see? The books I like, as well as controlled, hand-picked pictures from my travels to the Middle East; both an attempt to pique their interest in something other than Justin Bieber, Soulja Boy, and overly-sexualized rated R movies/shows. (Ughh like that new MTV series, Skins-- what is that crap!? Get it away from my precious students' eyes!)

Now that the parameters have been successfully set, let the friend requests come.

November 24, 2010

A Case of the Holidays

So there's this unwritten universal law in the education system. It exists at every level, and welcomed or not, it permeates public school life now and forever more. Students know it, teachers abide by it, and there is just simply no way around it.

It's the Law of the Pre-Holiday Fever (PHF), sister phenomenon to Spring Fever.  We're all familiar with Spring Fever-- blossoming tulips, twittering birds, perfectly-tempered fresh air, and delightfully brilliant blue skies cause children to lose focus and 'forget' to do their homework. This particular slacker-phenomenon is only slightly concerning. Spring Fever produces an ever-so-gradual decline in student productivity that slowly wanes until the last day of school on June 28th.  So in all honesty, I'd feel bad defaming it, as it follows the natural ebb of the school year.  Pre-Holiday Fever, the monster locked in the basement; however, occurs suddenly, on multiple occasions, at several-month intervals, and coupled with actual holiday vacation, is quite damaging to a student's year-long learning curve.

What happens is this.  Vacation hypothetically starts on a Thursday.
This means students should technically be in attendance Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. 
This means students should technically be in attendance Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.
This means students should technically be in attendance Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. 

But, for whatever reason, one-third of your students don't show up any of those days.
The other one-third shows up any two out of three days.
And the other one-third shows up all three days.

That means, on any given day, it is likely that maximum 20 out of 30 students will come to school, and let's be clear, only 10 of those actually show up consistently each of those three days.  How am I supposed to teach anything meaningful?! That's problem number one.

Problem number two is that Monday morning, as these students wake up, get out of bed, yawn and stretch their legs, a light-bulb turns on in their heads and they remember that today is the first day of a very short week before a very long holiday.
They think to themselves, "awww shiiiit, I only gotta sit thru three days of skewl and Wednesday don't even count cuz its the day b4 the holiday, which means Tuesday ain't shit eitha' cuz its the day b4 Wednesday, which means I only gotta get thru 2day, Monday. Hellllzzz yeaa!!"
And then they get this crazed look in their eye because they realize that salvation is just around the corner.
And its with this crazed look that they come to school and terrorize their diligent teacher.

Problem number three is that this happens several times a year, particularly in the NYC public school district.  A nice four-day taste in November for Thanksgiving, ten vacation days one month later for Christmas, then another ten in February for "mid-winter recess" (wtf, I guess I shouldn't complain), and then one more week-long stint for Easter in April.  That's a lot of stoppage time, during which 85% of my students are doing absolutely nothing that even slightly resembles an educational activity. Translation: they come back dumber.

So, as a teacher, I naturally believed it my responsibility to keep my students on track. After all, I was the adult, I was the leader that they allegedly 'looked-up to,' and I was charged with motivating my students to learn.  So during each week of Pre-Holiday Fever, I fought back with all my voracity. I assigned homework as usual and punished students when it didn't get done.  I did not slow down the pace of my lessons and instead worked with students one-on-one during lunch if they were absent the day before.  I did not loosen my reigns, and I certainly did not joke.  I found it my duty to show and instill in my students the idea that school is school is school is school, and vacation is its own completely separate entity.
To me, vacation began at 3:28pm at dismissal on Wednesday, and not 1 minute earlier.  However, despite all my best efforts, their 'I-Don't-Give-Two-Shits' PHF Brainwash Mode was always too powerful for me to conquer, and although lessons and homework etc. were assigned and taught on schedule, my students's brains had been on Snooze since Friday of the previous week.  I was ultimately forced to re-teach the lessons that took place during the Pre-Holiday week once I had regained a full class of 30 upon return from vacation.

Now, this PHF was quite a frustrating phenomenon to me.  I was frustrated that it was a lose/lose situation-- if I taught lessons as planned, they were lost on deaf ears and had to be re-taught later.  But if I buckled and allowed my students some down-time as they desired, they conspicuously won the battle for classroom domination. And I was frustrated that my kids were immature (Uuughhh, why can't you just grow uuup?!), and that they could not swallow their excitement for just a couple of days, suck it up, and be productive like all good little students should.

But today as I walked home from my corporate job at 6:15pm after being the dead-last person in an office of hundreds of people, I realized something horrifying.   Adults are no different! It is the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, and in an office where the average departure time is is 6:30pm and most people on my team stay until at least 7:00pm, by 5:30, almost everyone had already left.   A quarter of my office has been 'working from home' or has taken off all week, and tomorrow, I concretely know of only four people other than myself who will be in the office.  My guess is we'll all be out by 4:30pm.

Students are forced to go to school on these pre-holiday days by their parents.  They obviously don't want to, but they have no choice-- so they show up, brain already on Stand-by.  Adults don't have to do anything, really. We're adults, we make our own decisions.  So most of us, instead of going through the motions like school children, don't even bother showing up at all, and if we do show up, we feel entitled to leave early.  After all, its the holidays and we have other obligations, right? Everyone (including our bosses and our bosses' bosses and our clients, and our clients' clients) sighs and loosens their belts in preparation for the holidays-- we don't have teachers to hold us accountable.

I'm certainly not arguing against an adult taking a Pre-Holiday breather. I'm just saying, either my students were simply expressing their natural anticipation as apparently all humans do; or we grown-ups haven't really...grown up.  Either way, I realize now that maybe I should have sucked it up and let my kids be kids after all (or at least I should have considered it).

November 4, 2010

Kids Say the Darndest Things

Remember that show? Hosted by Bill Cosby in the late 90's or something...


My first year of teaching, I was thin.  It was caused accidentally by a mix of stress and not enough hours in the day to squeeze in my meals.  My second year of teaching, I was (apparently).... not thin. This was news to me, delivered, free of charge (except at the expense of my ego), by Kassandra.
Thank you, child.

Adults never tell you if you've gained weight.  Kids on the other hand, have no qualms about it.  As we were dismissing from school one day that second year, Kassandra comes up to me and gives me a hug.  She squeezes me (looking back on it, I wonder if that was the catalyst), looks up and asks,
"Ms. Mystery, you pregnant?"

Flabbergasted, I respond.  "What? No! What makes you think I'm pregnant, Geez Laweeezzz woman!'

Kassandra: "You look bigger than last year, like your stomach and stuff."

Holding back a tear and a fist (not sure which would have come first) I reply,
"Oh, it is probably just this baggy sweater that I'm wearing..."
I'm just trying to redeem myself here! Save my dignity from an untimely death! But no! She just won't quit!

Kassandra: "No, I don't think so, you're definitely fatter, I noticed it before too."

WHAT?! Really?!? Shot through the heart! This is just not fair, damn it--  so what if I snarfle a 99cent, packaged cinnamon roll from the bodega across the street every other day. So what if I raid my fridge immediately upon entering my apartment and consume food straight through the evening until I get into bed at 11pm? So what?!  Just because she's a kid, all of a sudden its OK to say things like that? All of a sudden, an insult becomes a 'darned thing?' She shmutzes BBQ chips all over her face for breakfast in our school cafeteria, chug-a-lugs high-fructose corn syrup for lunch, and vacuums down pastelitos (like beef patties with dough) for dinner.  Not to mention, her stomach-- yes her fat stomach-- hangs over her pants, giving her a gigantic Dunkin Donuts muffin top at all times, aannd her plumbers butt comes to visit the entire class at least four times a day when she bends over to pick up the pencil she dropped.
Allll that and then has the audacity to tell me I'm FAT! (Pregnant, whatever, same thing). That is NOT how shit works around here!

Kids do say the Darndest things, don't they? Asshole.

October 27, 2010

Chapter 6: The Final Pencil Battle

6.  Let's Play: Inexperienced Teacher at Wit's End
(this particular event took place my first year) 

It begins with dear old Jafario, an apathetic space cadet with a sweet, roly poly face and a tummy to match. I had been having issues with the kid all year. Nothing crazy, just the kinds of issues that begin innocently enough, but then slowly begin to accumulate. The kind that, as a first year teacher, you don't even realize are issues until the situation is way too ripe (rotten?) to salvage. The kind that get under your skin and stay there, eating away at you, like scabies. They fester and simmer and lie in wait, until soon enough, you realize... you want to gut the little Satan mini-me like a tuna fish.

Jafario's most bothersome issue was in fact, 'bothering'. Simply put, he could not and would not leave anyone alone. It wasn't loud obnoxious bothering; it was what you could say, bein' all up in other people's bizness. Constantly touching other students' things, asking to borrow sharpeners, erasers, passing mindless notes, playing with his tenth tech deck* (I had already confiscated the other nine....)

Not surprisingly, all the hapless fidgeting landed Jafario at a table all by himself.  His desk was separated from everyone else's so he couldn't bother them. Obviously, this only worked in theory, so after a couple weeks of that, I separated Jafario even further from the rest of his classmates-- I gave him an island. On the carpet way in the back right corner of the room. Everyone else got to sit with four people to a table, facing the front of the room, backs turned; Jafario on the other hand, had to stare at their backs and manually lift and move his desk off the carpet island each time I brought the class over to sit on the rug. For him, it was like moving to Siberia. And that's where Jafario was. Siberia. Side note to all you do-gooder teachers out there who are no doubt mumbling, "that's bad teaching, you're humiliating the child and you're isolating him from his peers and from learning!" I say: 1) Oh just wait, it gets worse and 2) Fuck You. You would have run away from my school with your head on fire.
But I digress.

So there's Jafario, living in Siberia, unable to talk to anyone and thus also unable to ask for a pencil...obviously this child has none of his own. So not only is he sitting alone in Siberia, he's sitting there twiddling his thumbs, brain off--which is a separate, absolutely maddening issue all on it's own. (Note: my biggest pet peeve as a teacher is students who keep their brains on SLEEP mode and put no more effort into schoolwork than is required to breathe...)
At this point in the year I had been practicing pencil strategy #1, so I just kept giving Jafario pencils. It got to the point where he would lose his pencil during a lesson: he would have it at the beginning of math, but by the end, come time for independent work, it would magically (or perhaps coincidentally?) vanish. Where did it go? I never could figure it out. Did he eat it? Did he shove it up his ass? I am forever baffled.

So at some point, I got so fed up with this shitstain child (thank you Chelsea Handler), that I did something totally lunatic.

I got some Velcro and three long pieces of string. I put one piece of Velcro on the top right corner of his desk. I put another piece on the top left corner. I then put another sliver on each side of his desk. Then I got four freshly sharpened pencils and put the matching Velcro pieces on the pencils and soundly attached all four pencils to his desk. But what was the string for, you ask. Well my mission did not stop there. I tied one of the long strings to a pencil (we are up to five now) and taped the string to his desk, right by one of his Velcro pencils. The last piece of shorter string was tied...to a pencil... and then...uhhh.... to his wrist (this particular pencil was not sharp, I promise...although a small part of me wish it had been...razor sharp...).

Corporal punishment? Poss. But let me tell you, with seven...SIX pencils all at his immediate disposal, it was only a matter of a few days before they were all either lost or chewed up. Someone needs to invent a word for 'punishment to teacher caused my disobedient, sadistic children'.

Pros: Quite an amusing experiment at the expense of an extremely annoying bowling ball of a child.
Cons: Requires amounts of Velcro and string that I, as only one individual, cannot realistically supply.
Failed: What else can I possibly do?!? What Else?!


* It's easier to explain a tech deck through a picture, rather than words:
Tech deck, a.k.a. annoying mini skateboard.
The inventor should be fined and spanked.

October 19, 2010

Pencils. Simple concept, right?


"Ms. Mystery, I can't find my pencil!"
"Ms. Mystery, she stole my pencil!"
"Ms. Mystery, I don't have a pencil!"
"Ms. Mystery, can I go sharpen my pencil?"
"Ms. Mystery, do you have an extra pencil?"

No pencil this, no pencil that, nopencilnopencilnopencilnopencil...AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

Let me tell you, I have tried every possible variation of classroom pencil management ever created by man. Its a perpetual daily war and-- while I might win a daily battle or two-- I ALWAYS lose the war.

Please see below a list and brief summary of several of my tested (and failed) pencil management strategies:

1. Let's Play: Nice Teacher- an infinite supply of pencils at students' disposal.
Self explanatory- they ask, I give, period.
Pros: They always have pencils!
Cons: They never bring their own, they rely on me, and my students treat them like shit (i.e. chew on them, pick them apart, shred them, step on them, throw them away, break them in half, cut the wood part so all that's left is the lead inside, pull off the eraser...)because they know that no matter what, another one will magically appear.
Failed: Too many trees sacrificed.

2. Let's Play: Egalitarian Teacher- trade a pencil for a ticket.
In this version, I use my classroom reward tickets (which are given out for good behavior, then 'cashed in' at the end of the month for a small prize) as trading pawns for pencils. If a student is in need of a pencil, they must sacrifice an earned ticket, and I will supply the perpetrator with a 'loaner' pencil. If the student returns the 'loaner' at the end of the day, their ticket is returned to them.
Pros: It worked well with responsible students. They used this system as it was supposed to be, a borrow-loan-return system.
Cons: The other 27 students in my class 'borrowed' pencils without ever returning them, thus losing all their tickets and consequently disqualifying them from a monthly prize. Now my entire classroom management system was at risk of utter collapse.
Failed: Too many trees sacrificed, risk of anarchy too high.

3. Let's Play: Community Sharing- ask your neighbor first.
If a student does not have a pencil, they are required to ask the students sitting at their table. If at that point, there is still no extra pencil to be spared, only then is the student allowed to ask me for a pencil.
Pros: The intervals between each, "Ms. Mystery, I don't have a pencil" are increased by about 4 minutes.
Cons: The once-silent intervals between each, "Ms. Mystery, do you have a pencil?" has now evolved in to a constant stream of whipsers:
"Yo, Cruz, you got a pencil?" --"No."
"Oh Ok. Yo, Braiden, you got a pencil?" --"No."
"Oh, ok. Yo, Paula, you got a pencil?" --"You can have this one."
"Thanks. You got a sharpener?" --"No, Jamal does."
"Yo, Jamal, can I use your sharpener?" --"I don't have it, Mildred took it."
"Oh, yo, Mildred, gimme that sharpener when you're done."
(Sharpener thrown across room--> sharpener confiscated--> requisite, "Ms. Mystery, do you have a pencil?")
Failed: Self explanatory.

4. Let's Play: Ostracize the Pencil-less Student- make student write in big fat ugly red (or brown, because honestly, no one I've ever met likes brown, especiallly not a child) marker.
This pencil management method requires setting groundwork first. On the very first day of school, as the teacher explains policies, rules, procedures, etc, Pencil Policy is always a topic of interest for students and teacher alike. In this scenario, the teacher (me) explains that the pencil policy will be one in which students who do not have a pencil MUST use a despicable red (or brown) marker. I proceed to make a ridiculously grotesque scene of how much of a loserrrr a child would be if required to use a red(brown) marker. I demonstrate its ugliness, I act out a scene with a volunteer, making fun of the student and encouraging others to make fun of the student with the red marker as well. I explain how hideous their Best Work Portfolio will look with ugly fat brown marker writing in it. I remind them that it is my policy to make students redo ugly work....
After this groundwork is set, I continue to make a big scene any time a pencil-less student is in need of a fat ugly red marker.
Pros: Highly effective during the first month of school when a)students still have the pencils they bought at the Staples Back-to-School Sale and b)students still want to make a good impression on me.
Cons: As the year progresses and kids become apathetic, they begin to see writing with brown (or red) markers as inexplicably pleasurable. In fact, it becomes 'cool.' Students even go so far as to pull out a marker from their desk before considering using a pencil.
Failed: 5th grade papers begin to look like kindergarten drawings

5. Let's Play: Mean Teacher- I have no pencils to give you, no exceptions.
Like Strategy #1, this is self-explanatory- don't say a word to me about pencils because you sure as hell aren't getting one (or any writing utensil) from me. Period.
Pros: Students learn to be slightly more responsible for their own pencils, as they begin to understand that if they run out of pencils, they are screwed. They don't annoy me, and they don't disrupt class to ask to borrow a pencil from their peers either, because no one is willing to part with this hot commodity and risk losing it forever.
Cons: The jackasses of the class never have pencils and never care. They just sit there. Really frustrating to look at. I usually bend and begrudgingly give them something (anything) to write with, while scolding them. I can't standdd it when a student is sitting there doing nothing when they should be doing something. It's maybe one of the most aggravating things to witness as a teacher. Furthermore, the semi-jackasses start bringing in pens instead, claiming they don't have a pencil. Also frustrating, as they always screw up and can never erase. Results in extremely ugly work or extremely late work due to tons of rewrites.
Failed: Jackasses and semi-jackasses win this one.

and Strategy #6.... the most creative, most lunatic strategy I have ever tried...happened only once, used with only one particular student...only in my first year...possibly because it was so scandalous I refused resurrect it in the future...will be continued in my next post....

March 11, 2010

A Small Part of Me Dies almost Every Single Day

It's Thursday afternoon, and I have a headache. Report cards were due yesterday, my student teacher wants me to find a student to take care of her caged pet bunnies, and my gym's been unexpectedly closed for the third day in a row. In an hour, I have to go to 'happy'hour with people I don't want to talk to.

What's the real problem here? The real problem is simple: I bust my balls to prepare my kids for the test they must pass in order to move to 6th grade, I stress myself out because I'm thinking of all the things my kids need to know and don't, I can't sleep at night because I'm trying to come up with better lessons to teach; and on a scale of 1-10, their average measurement of motivation and interest in test-prep (my school's been in a state of martial law- test prep from 8:30am - 3:30pm, one multiple choice question after another, after another, after another, after another...its never-ending, really) would be a big fat 0. I certainly don't blame them for it, but it just does not make my task any easier. 

Yesterday afternoon I made an announcement to my class. I told them, "I guarantee you that tomorrow morning, I'll be checking your writing homework. And if you don't have it completed, I guarantee you that I will give you detention during recess to do it." One would think that my kids would be motivated to complete their homework, since I gave them a direct warning of the guaranteed consequences to come. One would assume that maybe only a couple of the more asinine students would neglect to fulfill the task for various reasons. But today, after I had checked every student's writing notebook, exactly HALF of my class had not completed the assignment.

Becky claimed she did 'do' the writing homework. What she really 'did' was she rewrote, word for word, three paragraphs from the story about which they were supposed to write a personal opinion/reflection piece.

Tanaya claimed her Nanna made her erase it all. Yesterday, she claimed her Nanna ripped the pages out. Tomorrow, she'll probably claim her Nanna ate her homework.

Another student later complained of not being able to finish his math homework because he didn't 'get' it. The homework assignment had been to list the factors of certain numbers. We had spent two full weeks on this topic in late September- early October, and then another three days reviewing it earlier this week. Everyone else's in-class work showed me they thought it was easy-peasy. It's odd he couldn't get it- I had noticed him writing uncharacteristically furiously in his math notebook during math class this Tuesday- Oh wait, that's right, he was shading in bubble letters that spelled his name instead of doing the practice problems. Hmmmm Jitobi, I wonder WHY you didn't 'get' it?

September 13, 2009

Teach an HIV Unit? Shiiiit.

They have all the teachers packets. Thick ones; equipped with 7 lesson plans, worksheets, and supplementary teacher information. Our job: teach 5th graders about The Dreaded HIV.

As I perused the lessons one evening, I noticed two frightening things:
1) I was supposed to teach 10-12 year-olds facts and concepts about HIV that I myself didn't understand. Vocab words like "antibodies" and "antigens" and "T-cells" and how all these interact. Considering my student's had trouble with the word "pole" not too long ago, I was a little concerned.

2) The 5th lesson required me to explain to my children.... how one could contract HIV
sex.... SHIT!)

Both were problems. The first, I overcame with relative ease, thanks to my roommate's extremely creative mind. It involved a classroom conversation that likened the President of the United States, his bullet proof vest, his body guards, and assassins to our body, T-Cells, antibodies, and antigens, respectively. To this discussion, I added a drawing of the battle that ensues between these organisms, and my students even acted out the scene on the carpet. It was a huge success.

However, the second of these issues was something that, as a 23 year old, made me very nervous to address with my students. I decided very quickly that I would try to put off this topic as long as possible and avoid it as much as possible. So, after stretching the 4 early lessons into 8, I unwillingly approached my dreaded next lesson, the lesson about contracting HIV:

Me: Soooooo... children.... HIV.... uh.... how.. uh... how do you think you get it? Any ideas? (I'll let them bring it up; I don't want to have to say The Word.)
Yarella: My mom has HIV!
Me: Oooookkk then...let's save that information for lunch time (so I can ask you a million questions and then lead you to the nurse).
Peterson: Don't you get it like a cold? Like, maybe it just goes through the air...you know, germs.
Me: Great guess, but no. It doesn't actually spread by air or by any normal everyday contact. You can't actually get it from someone's germs, like you would with a cold.

Paula: So like, can you get it from drinking out of the same cup?
Me: No, again, you can't get it from someone's germs.
Paula: So like, can you get it from using the same spoon?
Me: What do you think?
Paul: No?
Me: No.
Paula: But like, what about if someone sneezes on you?
Me: Nope, those are germs, and germs don't count.
Paula: But like, what about if they cough on you?
Me: I'm not answering that. SOMEONE ELSE give me a suggestion.

Cruz: Maybe from blood? Like if your blood touches their blood? Like if you have a cut.
Me: YES! Good job! Any other ideas guys?
Dezireh: Needles? Like in movies? All those druggies?
Me: Yes, you're right. Whatever movies those are, you probably shouldn't be watching them. But we can talk about that later. There's one more way you can contract HIV, and its a very serious way. Any ideas?
(giggling, whispers, furtive glances)

Braiden (laughing): You know uh, uh, how can I say it, uh, well uh, you know Ms. Mystery....
(No Braiden, why don't you tell me. My heart's beating really fast right now, I'm preparing for my class to erupt into madness as that teensey 3-letter word is about to be uttered...)
Braiden: Uh, well, uh, you know, uhhh you can get it by uh having.. uh... how can I say.. .uh... 'personal interactions!'

giggling, snickering)

Me (in my head):
BRILLIANT!!!! Everyone knows what he means but no one has actually said the word, GENIUS!
Me (out loud): Ha (choke) ha, yes, you're right. Very good. Does anyone have any questions?

27 hands shoot up in the air.

Me: Great, ask your parents. Get out your math books!

September 9, 2009

The First Day of School, Unique from All Others

Let me tell you a little secret: it's nothing like the movies.
"What?" you say , "you mean they're worse than what I see in the movies?"
No, my friend. They're better.
(Gasp: but that's impossible!)
And then you would be right.

Let me explain. The first day of the year is, ironically, the best day of the year. This day, and ONLY on this day, they are better than what you see in the movies. The little devils in disguise arrive at 8:30 on the dot (not 8:45, or 9:20, which is more customary throughout the rest of the year), all sprightly and on their best behavior. They say "excuse me please" rather than the more typical, (add head, hand, and eye rolling,)"excuuuuse you." They say please, they say thank you, they wait their turn in line. There are no fights. Far from it, there is indeed civility and respect.
And for the first and last time in a while, all eyes look at me for the entire day.

When the 4th grade teachers looked at my class list before the start of school, I heard a lot of, "Oh man, you have Justin? Oh shit, and Andy?! You know they can't be in the same room together."
"Oh no way, you're stuck with Alice too? That sucks. Especially since you also have Nealen."
"Oh God, not DeVon. He's awful. And Ovil too? You're screwed."

What's most fascinating about this particular First Day of School 2009 are the following:

1) Justin and Andy, the two evil children plaguing teachers for years, causing veteran teachers to meltdown, bringing razor blades to school, fighting, touching their wee-wees (list goes on), were the two most cooperative and helpful people in the classroom today.

How long will that last? I'm taking wagers, starting at two days. Anyone else?

2) Ovil can't read. Or write. Period.
Wait, I chose to teach 5th grade right? You know, the grade where kids read books like The Chronicles of Narnia, or Number the Stars. The grade where kids can read and follow directions by themselves without asking a million questions. The grade where you can be sarcastic and they actually get the joke. But teaching a kid short and long vowel sounds? REALLY? SERIOUSLY? Is this some kind of sick joke? I mean, the kid couldn't complete any of the handouts! He couldn't complete the All About Me Survey. He couldn't complete the 10 Positive Character Traits worksheet. He couldn't write an acrostic poem using his name. And that's all 5th grade is! Handouts, handouts, and more handouts! How will he do his homework? He can't even fill out his nightly reading log because ... he CAN'T READ! How many pages read? NONE!
Maybe I'll stick him in a 1st grade class for a day. Or the rest of the year. He's small... they'd never know...

Day 1 is over, the best has passed. And now I descend into the hellish abyss that is the school year.

May 8, 2008

In the beginning there was Mildred

I first realized Mildred couldn't subtract in early October. Mildred, a very fat, big, saggy-boobed 4th grader with brown teeth and gnarly cornrows couldn't subtract 4-1.

Ok, that was a problem. So I spent some time tutoring her one-to-one:
Me: "Mildred, count backwards from 5 for me."
Her: 5....6....
Me: No, no... BACKwards...
Her: 5....6....
Me: Ok, let's try this: count up to 5 for me
Her: 1,2,3,4,5
Me: AWESOME! Now, what was the number you said righhttt before "5"?
Her: ...6...?
Me: Shit.

Me: (I draw a number line that has 1 thru 5 on it.) Mildred, write a number for me that's bigger than 5.
Mildred draws the number 5.... BIGGER.
Me: Shit, you're right, I was unclear.. write a number that's GREATER than 5.
Mildred gives up, confused.
Me: Jesus Christ.

Now I hand her 5 starburst and I give myself 23.
Me: Mildred, count all of these...
(She does this successfully)
Me: Now, be careful... who has more... me or you?
Mildred: It's the same.

Me: ok let's try that again.... Now, pretend that you're STARVING! And all you want to do is stuff your face with as much food as possible. Would you rather take the 5 starburst, or would you rather take allll 23?
Mildred: Well, I think its the same.
Me: Wait, you're saying you would take either, they're the same to you?
Mildred: Yea.

That was when I realized she needed to be in special ed class. FAST.

April 3, 2008

Boys are stalkers

We started a new reading unit today: Social Issues. So, in preparation for the unit, we sat down in an oblong square-type awkward formation on the rug to have a class discussion about one social issue in particular. Gender.

First, I asked my students to reflect on what it means to them to be a boy, what it means to be a girl, how they perceive boys, and how they perceive girls. After they were writing furiously for 20 minutes, they discussed their opinions in their groups and then we finally moved to the rug for the big kahuna discussion. The whole purpose of this was for my kids to understand that as they read social issues books, they need to consider a) how they feel about the issue, b) how the issue is often portrayed in the world (aka, the media, in their communities, in books), and c) how the author has chosen to portray the issue.

So, Deezireh, as usual, with her cocky little attitude (although, really Deezireh, when you're 12, and you've failed 4th grade twice now, and this is your third time here, do you really think you need to have an attitude?) starts off the conversation, "I think boys are stalkers."
"Deezireh, what do you mean by this?"
"Well, you know, like, when you be walkin' down the street, they be lookin' at you, all like, heeey, and then they be following you and they be whistlin' and stuff.... and they like, you know, they give you them looks, like 'how youuu doin gurrrl, you fiiine.'"
"I see... I mean, I'm just curious, where are you getting this from? Because, I don't see any of the boys in this class doing that..?"
"My father. He does it all the time."
Others chime in, "yea yea"

The rest of the classroom discussion goes similarly. NOT A SINGLE child mentioned what I was expecting.. you know, the generic, "Girls like to shop and boys like to play sports." Instead, all of the comments I got were adult observations, habits they've noticed from their parents: nagging, getting drunk, dancing up on each other, clubbing and coming home late, being called 'hoes'......the list goes on.

Should I have known better?

This is 4th grade!!!! Where did their innocence go?!?

March 27, 2008

Lost it. Sorry? Nope.

whisper whisper whisper... hush...papers ruffling...eyes darting back and forth... murmurs...

"Oh, she's scary.." said Deezireh.
"Yea she was pissed!" Peterson's eyes got real wide.

That's what my kids were saying 5 hours later.

At 9:45 in the morning however, the room was dead silent, as a wrathful, visceral, scathing verbal deluge of outrage spewed from deep in my gut to the guilty ears of two of my children.

Paula and Ilieh had been arguing back and forth about who had raised their hand first for approximately 10 minutes. They bickered like an old married couple, unabashedly, obliviously, and uncontrollably, as the class just sat back and watched in horror. The other 25 kids in the class knew exactly what was about to happen, and they were sure as hell gonna stay out of it. They had all just learned the word "fester." They could see it in my eyes, and in the way my hands started to clench real tight on the books I was holding, and in the way my veins started to become more conspicuous on my forehead; they knew something inhuman was festering inside of me, as I watched and waited for Paula and Ilieh to recognize the gross selfishness of their behavior.

Like a clap of thunder so startling that they both jumped out of their seats, I threw my books on the floor as hard as I could, and emitted fury like a pit bull in a dogfight. My teeth were bared, I was angry as hell, and Paula and Ilieh looked like two deer caught in headlights. I'm not sure I actually said anything coherent, it was mostly just animalistic noises. Nevertheless, it had the desired effect. After that, it took me 20 minutes of absolute silence so that I could calm my voice down enough to speak at a measured, moderated, tone.

They've been angels ever since.

March 25, 2008

Ghetto Pillsbury Dough Boy

DeJuan is my favorite kid in class. By far. He has so many nicknames I need to keep lists of them. My three favorites: Pip-squeak, Oompa-Loompa, and Pillsbury Dough Boy.

He has the roundest, cutest chipmunk cheeks in the universe. From time to time, I swear chestnut crumbs fall from his mouth onto his desk. His lips are the color of a cherry coral, and his short little body is identical to that of the Pillsbury Dough Boy. He has grimy, fat, little fingers-- you know-- the kind you imagine Gretel had when the witch finally decided she was plump enough to eat; and when I poked him square in the belly-button today, a sound reminiscent of my dog's squeaky toy was emitted from his cute little, baby-tooth-smiling mouth.

On several occasions, I find myself having ridiculous urges to eat him or to pick him up and swing him around my body in a graceful spin move as if I was Brian Boitano and he was my Christie Yamaguchi. Other times, I hold the top of his head in my palm (he's right at elbow height, its perfect) and refuse to let go. On more than one occasion, I've found it eerily enjoyable to stick my pencil up his nose and in his ears. And when he gets really upset about something, he bows his head so low that he can't walk straight without running into something. He has the most endearing pout I have ever seen, and I can only be mad at him for about the 3 seconds that I'm yelling, and in the snap of your fingers, my anger turns into laughter, as I look at his puppy-dog eyes, chipmunk cheeks, and fat bottom lip.
Whenever this happens, (and believe me, my anger gives way to a disturbing, eerie kind of cackling laughter more than it should), my class looks utterly perplexed. I revel in their confusion, milk their perception of me as a lunatic who's about to go off the deep end at any minute, and continue on my merry way.

He called her a Jerk.

THIS IS FUCKING HARASSMENT WOMAN! I yell into my phone as I listen to yet another 2-minute long voice message from Ms. Sherry Annette Fern:

"Hi Ms. Mystery, time now, 4:56. Ms. Mystery, Roberto called Mildred a jerk today. And another boy made fun of her breasts because they're big....Mildred! Who was that boy?!....You have to tell me. Think carefully. I need a name!... Anywho... these kids, they come to school to learn, not to be teased. She just can't help that they're so big. She's a big girl. But that's no reason to be called a jerk. Ms. Mystery, you better set this right, before I come over there and fix it myself. Tell them to stop picking on Mildred. She ain't done nothing wrong. And I told her not to curse back, but if they be cursing at her, well then I told her to curse right back. Just as long as you don't catch her. 'Do it when Ms. Mystery's not listening,' I tell her. Anywho, I'll know you'll make it .... beeeep."

The voice mail machine cuts her off. Shockingly, she doesn't call back to finish her message. Most times she leaves voice messages so long that she has to leave her messages in thirds. Apparently, 2 minutes isn't enough time before the beep, so she averages about 6 minutes per each entire message, from beginning to end (not counting pause time in between dials).

After quickly thanking the heavens above for the brevity of her message, the anger hits me:
FUCK! They're in 4th grade! NO SHIT your 9-year old daughter's gonna be picked on when she's lugging around sagging Double Ds down to her knees that you can see through the mesh shirt in which you dressed her this morning!

And let's be honest lady, when was the last time the word, "jerk" hurt anybody's feelings...ever?


Ms. Mystery, what's a pole?

Holly: Ms. Mystery, what's a "pole?"


But on the surface, my face is stoic and calm. My demeanor is motherly and forgiving.
"Oh, pole, of course. You know... think of a basketball hoop. You've got the hoop/net part, and then you have that big long thing that sticks out of the ground that its attached to. That big long thing... that's a pole."
"Ohhhhh so like a stick?" Holly says. Roberto just looks at me, wide-eyed with utter fascination.
"Uh, yea, sure. Why not."

Some teachers say there's no such thing as a stupid question. I say bullshit.

March 24, 2008


One of the vocab words today was "context." I defined it as: the surrounding or related information that helps you understand something; the background information. I inadvertently find out four hours later that my kids don't know what "background" means.
Fucking great.

This is the first time I'm writing in this blog, so I figured I'd give you a little bit of a... context... to what you're reading, so that it alll makes sense from here-on in.

I just graduated from college last May 2007. Now, I'm living and working in NYC, the city that never sleeps. Most of my friends are in law or investment banking.  However, instead of following my peers into the corporate world, I joined Teach for America. Why? I don't know. Kids make me feel awkward.  But I did it. And here I am, working as a full-time 4th grade teacher in Harlem at a high-needs public school.
Experience working with kids? None.
Experience in education? None.
'Loves kids?' Certainly not. 
Knowledge of the Lattice method of multiplication? You're guess is as good as mine.
Unrelenting passion to 'close the achievement gap?' Maybe a little?

An interesting ride? Most definitely.