Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A poem called Naptime

in between the bells i rest my head on a stack of papers
i hear the chatter in the hallways as they bustle by
in fits of laughter,
screaming and giggling,
arguing about nothing
i hope i locked the door.
i shut my eyes
as i drift off the bell rings
here they come. take a deep breath. sigh. get ready.
forty-four minutes to go.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Parlez-vous français?

There was once a French teacher at my school. She wore a blonde bun every day held tight by a braid wrapped around it, always leaving two strands of golden hair, slightly greased, hanging down on each side of her face. She wore bright red lipstick and when she spoke her lips moved in  such a mesmerizing way I always felt like I was watching a claymation video on Nickelodeon. She smelled of stale coffee and vanilla. Her nails were filed to a point, often painted a nude-ish color. She was what Jerry Seinfeld would call a "close talker", often choosing the most inappropriate moments to share her disapproval of the new teacher contract. I would be standing at the front of the classroom trying to teach my lesson and she would approach me to tell me what really gets her goat. She often talked in circles, describing the new contract as a means of extortion. Always telling me how terrible "they" were treating untenured teachers, raving about the other UFT caucus, MORE. As much as I often agreed with her points, I just couldn't handle the moments and methods in which she chose to present them.

In her classes, she taught with a vast collection of worksheets. I had no idea just how many worksheets until she retired. As I left on the final day of school last June, she mentioned having some teaching resources she wanted to pass on to me. I said fine, she could leave them in my mailbox.

When I returned in August I found a stack of French worksheets placed on my desk. I assumed the custodians had found them when they were cleaning the room, leftover from the previous year's students. I tossed them in the trash along with the other random papers that had emerged over the summer.

The following week I began cleaning up my classroom. I decided to attack the back corner which was filled with boxes and crates of random books and supplies. I found a large black plastic bag in the corner that I didn't recognize. It was filled to the brim with French worksheets. Right away, I knew where it came from. I found myself completely perplexed as to why this woman would think that this bag filled with worksheets in a language I do not speak would be useful. This bag had no purpose for me, therefore it had to be disposed of immediately. I am very strong. I tried to lift the bag and couldn't so I slowly dragged it to the garbage cans. I still could not lift it so I taped a note that read, "TRASH" to the bag and left it next to the trash can. The bag sat on the floor by my desk for two days, before the custodian finally gave in and lifted the bag into his rolling trash can and took it away. I still wonder how this woman of such small stature was able to carry this burdensome bag down a flight of stairs and across the hallway into the back corner of my classroom.

A few days later, as I began going through folders from the previous year, I noticed that a stack of papers and folders had been knocked over. As I tidied up, I found papers that once again did not belong to me. More French worksheets!

The following day I decided to clean out a filing cabinet. When I went to open the drawer I saw it was already ajar. I tried to pull it open further but it was stuck. There was a blue folder crammed on top of my neatly organized files. "When did I put that there?" I thought as I struggled to remove the folder. I opened the folder. Unbelievable. More French worksheets.

As I opened the doors of a large wooden cabinet overflowing with books, I found a new yellow plastic bag sitting on one of the shelves. I peered inside and found it was filled with matching hard-cover urban books and a note addressed to me in green marker and her very distinct cursive handwriting. "For Jamie. Have a great year!" At least these books were written in English. I added them to the pile of books to send down to the book room. Maybe someone would use them. It was not going to be me.

At this point, my room was clean. I surmised I had found and rid myself of all the hidden gifts. I moved on to other things and forgot about the worksheets.

Last Friday, one of my special ed students decided she was going to sign herself out of school and enroll in a GED program. In order to do so, we needed to give her a copy of her IEP (Individualized Education Plan). As I dug into the IEP drawer for the first time all year, I realized there were some extra papers floating around inside. I pulled them out and with no more than a quick glance yelled, "MORE FRENCH WORKSHEETS!" I threw them on the ground, still pulling out more by the handful, as my colleague watched in a fit of laughter.

It's been six days since I have found a worksheet. Each day I return to school wondering if I got the last of the French worksheets or if they will forever haunt me. Who knew foreign languages could be so relentless?

Sunday, September 14, 2014


In grad school i learned something.
if a kids farts,
take the credit.
tell them, "oops. sorry. i had beans again."
i love seeing the look on their faces
as they burst into giggles and snickers,
wondering why i would tell such a lie.
my attempt to protect the offender from humiliation
always works.

Today i really farted.
and it really stunk.
in a calm panic
i walked up and down the room just tooting silently
and slowly they began to smell it

they covered their noses and tucked their faces under their black t-shirts,
yelling for mercy,
"ho shit!"
"Miss, open the door, please!"
"someone needs to see a doctor about that."
"dat shit stinks!"

i shrugged my shoulders
in what they perceived to be false embarrassment.
"oh sorry uh it was me."
and as usual they laugh.

but really guys, it was me.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The First Day

Today was officially the first day of school. My school, being the unique place it is, had students come in for about two hours to go over the class list and internship offerings. Tomorrow they come back in to self-register for classes and internships of their choosing, which is often the most stressful day of the year as kids line up at your desk begging you to let them in your class or internship, yelling and crying when they don't get what they want. And this goes on all day for three days.

Today I spent only two hours with my advisees and boy, do I need a drink!

This school year we have a new schedule. One of the many nuances of this new schedule is that students who have classes on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and internships on Tuesdays and Thursdays begin their day at 9:30am, forty-five minutes later than the old schedule. Friday… is extra special. They have the privilege of beginning their day at 11am. This new schedule was greeted with mixed emotions by staff and students. As we handed out the schedule, one student yelled, "YOU GUYS PUT ADVISORY SECOND PERIOD? GUESS I'M GONNA BE TAKING A LATE BREAKFAST THEN!"


To which I responded, "Well, since you normally don't show up to school until close to 11am, this actually works perfectly for you."

The room burst into fits of laughter and a simultaneous "OOOOOHH!"



Perhaps not the best move on my part, but luckily he only sulked briefly. Not to mention it felt so good to hit this smart aleck with a witty one-liner. As unnerving as it can be when a group of teenagers roars simultaneously, it was good to know they like my jokes.

When the  two hours of chaos and confusion ended, my coworker turned to me and said, "So, um, my group is pretty chill, huh?"

"You mean, unlike mine who are bouncing off the walls, constantly talking and yelling, unable to shut up?"

"Yeah," he laughed, "exactly."

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Ding Dong the Witch is...


Finally. We have a new superintendent. My principal announced the official news today. Cheers erupted. I looked two seats over at another un-tenured teacher, shooting him a knowing glance. We exchanged smiles, knowing what this meant for us. HOPE.

For the first time in our history (at least as far as I know), we have a superintendent specifically for transfer schools. According to those who know, she is someone who understands and values what teachers in my school do everyday. As a former transfer school principal, she can review our tenure portfolios, keeping in mind the population of students we work with: students on the verge of dropping out; students with a myriad of external issues negatively impacting their ability to be successful in school. Perhaps this superintendent will recognize the amount of social-emotional support we provide to our students who desperately need it and how integral it is to their development and success.

And so here we are—some of us five, six, seven years in—tenure once tucked away in a wild dream is now becoming a tangible reality.

Why does tenure matter? Because without tenure, it is much easier to get rid of teachers. As Paul Horton says on Diane Ravitch's blog, "The impact of the loss of tenure will demoralize teacher’s unions and allow school administrators to hire and fire at will. The immediate objective for education reformers is that a victory in the tenure fight will allow big city school districts to rif out senior teachers who are expensive and replace them with young, less costly teachers." Without tenure, administrators have the power to end a teacher's career, for any reason.

In my first two years of teaching I saw Peter Greene's arguments firsthand. “The lack of tenure, of due process, of any requirement that a school district only fire teachers for some actual legitimate reason– it interferes with teachers’ ability to do the job they were hired to do. It forces teachers to work under a chilling cloud where their best professional judgment, their desire to advocate for and help students, their ability to speak out and stand up are all smothered by people with the power to say, “Do as I tell you, or else.” It is not until you have tenure, that you can finally feel free to speak your mind, to advocate for students without fear of repercussions. Greene continues, “Tenure is not a crown and scepter for every teacher, to make them powerful and untouchable. Tenure is a bodyguard who stands at the classroom door and says, “You go ahead and teach, buddy. I’ll make sure nobody interrupts just to mess with you.”' I love the bodyguard metaphor. As a dues-paying member of the UFT, you hope your union rep can be your protector, but there's little the union can really do unless you have that security blanket known as tenure. I remember after meeting with an union representative about the harassment I was facing during my second year. I was told, "If you don't fight her, you might still have a job at the end of the year."

Diane Ravitch also includes on her blog a letter written by two teachers explaining not only the process but the importance of tenure. They write, “Without tenure, we could not stand up against the injustices we witness against children by districts that may temporarily have forgotten our reason for being here – our students and educational community. Without tenure, we could not stand up to our administrators/supervisors when something is wrong. Without tenure we could not stand up against harassment and workplace bullying. Without tenure, we could not stand up against racism, sexism, homophobia, bigotry and age discrimination." And here again, we inevitably describe much of what I faced during my second year of teaching: deciding whether or not to stand idly by as injustices were committed against my students, being bullied by my principal, being sexually harassed by an assistant principal and feeling unable to stop any of it.

Three years later, on June 20, 2014, the end of my fifth year of teaching, everyone in my corner, fingers crossed that I would finally get my tenure, I was called down to the principal's office. My union chapter leader was sitting by my side. They didn't have to say anything. The looks on their faces said it all. "I didn't get tenure, did I?"

My assistant principal expressed her frustration. "It's bureaucratic bullshit. The system is so messed up. No one deserves this more than you." Then she started crying.

As safe as I feel in my school, as much as I know I am valued as a "highly effective" teacher (with an arbitrary teacher score of 96/100 under our new rating system), baby still wants her security blanket. We all do.

Measures of Teacher
State MeasuresLocal Measures
0-60 points:
0-20 points:
0-20 points:
Highly Effective
HEDI Rating
Highly Effective
HEDI Rating
Highly Effective
HEDI Rating
Overall Rating
0-100 Points:
Highly Effective
HEDI Rating

Safety Net Result:N/A