Guess who's coming to class?

So it's about 20 minutes into my 2nd period class, that moment when I'm trying to get everyone started on their computer projects, answer questions, and magically re-teach an entire lesson in mere minutes to all the students who stayed home the day before because they were "sick."

The door opens and in walks one of the counselors with a big smile and a tall rather striking girl at her side, dressed in dark blue pants with a white polo shirt - tucked in! Very unusual.

"This is New Student X," says the counselor. "She's from Sierra Leone and just arrived in the United States. She's a CELDT Level 1 (meaning she speaks little or no English). Everything here is very new to her. She's never used a computer before. Have a good day!"

Now I swear, this is the not the script of a satire on the ridiculousness of the public school system. This is real life - my job - unfolding before me with absolutely no preparation.

On the bright side, this is my smallest class - only 27 other students besides New Student X. Of course, at least a third of them are at that very moment demanding my attention - the three who had been absent, the three who didn't listen when I gave directions and the three who are always ready to take advantage of those moments when I'm distracted by little the arrival of a student who only speaks Gola. (Look it up: it's one of 24 languages spoken in Sierra Leone.)

The class is two days into a biography project using an application called ComicLife. New Student X has no clue that moving the small mound of plastic (aka: the mouse) makes things happen on the TV (aka: computer screen). She is completely unfamiliar with a keyboard, as well as the letters printed on the keys. And since she speaks very little English, I can't exactly explain these things to her.

Needless to say, it was an interesting morning. And I have no doubt that the rest of the year will continue to present plenty of challenges for both me and New Student X.

But we both have something to look forward to. In May she will get to spend two weeks doing the standardized tests for California (CSTs). They will all be in English. And they will assume a high level of prior knowledge about things that a girl only a few weeks out of Africa will have no clue about. Fabulous.

Hey, let's "unschool"!

Oh, now I get it! All these parents who I thought were uninvolved (perhaps even incompetent) are actually just toying around with the "unschooling" concept! They don't make their kids come to school when they don't want to, don't make them do their homework, don't care if their class work is missing, and set no limits, expectations or consequences at home. It's all perfectly clear to me now.

"Hot for Teacher"

Raising the bar

Please welcome....

One of our counselors sent out an email today to let us know that a new student will be starting with us tomorrow. She is transferring over from another middle school that is nearby but not in our district. She said, "I think it is important that you are aware of her behavior issues" and then went on to give a partial list from the girl's discipline record at the other school.

chewing gum/eating candy; not following directions
excessive talking
repeated disruptions in class (OFTEN) resulting in repeated suspensions
suspended for cursing (OFTEN)
skipping detention
arguing/yelling at teachers and admin.
threw a textbook across the room
refusing to sit in assigned seat
off task; giggling
threatened to slash teacher's tires
chasing student with a ruler
dress code violations (wearing hood when not supposed to)
PE non-suits
hit another student in the back
refused to change seats
called teacher a bitch
texting with cell phone in class; caught emailing in class
destruction of school property (wrote on classroom door)
gave teacher the finger
stole a stack of "front of the line" passes
kicked boy in private area *he had to be wheelchaired to nurse's office)
chased and pushed boy to the ground
punched girl in the back when girl said, "You lost.." (the tetherball)
stole student's wallet and money
stole student's lunch

I bet you the staff members at her old school are doing the happy dance and popping open a few bottles of champagne.

Stripper pole in her bedroom?

Why . . . why in heaven's name does a 13 year-old need to have fingernails like this? Do her parents have her in some early-admission stripper training program? (And yes, these nails do offer a marvelous accent to her typical wardrobe.)

And more importantly, how the hell am I supposed to teach her keyboarding? You should have seen her today trying to type with these ghastly things!

Test tube babies, Pt. 1

I've said for a long time that this job would be much easier without the parents. Like if all our students just sprung from test tubes . . . what a relief! How that would simplify things!

In my years of teaching, there have been many parents I liked very much. They were supportive, approachable, reasonable people who wanted the best for their children and were willing to do the hard work required to make that happen. There have been other parents whom I tolerated. Mildly annoying, they most often said all the right things but rarely "walked the walk." And then there are the parents who make my blood pressure skyrocket.

Here is a recent example from an email I received:

Hi Ms. Teacher,

Hello, my name is Mr. Presumptuous and I am The Golden Boy's uncle. Today, him and I were discussing his grades in the class, and I noticed an assignment I had qualms about. The "Rules Quiz" given on 2/11, TGB received a grade of "D" and I was about to chastise him, but I thought about the merits of a "Rules Quiz," and his mother and I both agree we do not know if we agree with giving an assessment on the rules. Grading should be about academic work and effort, and although rules are important, I do not feel it should be in a place where it should be assessed. I hold TGB to a high standard when it comes to academics, and even the "B" in his class is not acceptable to me, he knows he needs to get an "A"/ try his hardest. Would it be possible for TGB to complete another assignment instead of this "Rules Quiz" or strike it from it grades all together? His mother and I continuously push him to succeed in school, so if you would like to speak to me personally feel free to give me a call anytime with questions, comments, or just checking in on TGB's performance.

My first thought was, are you freaking kidding me? What one earth makes you think you have the right to tell me what I can or can't teach, can or can't assess? When you have a degree in education, a credential, a masters and 18 years experience in the classroom, THEN we'll sit down and do some lesson planning together!

For the record, we had spent the first day of the new semester - all new students - going over classroom procedures and rules. The students took notes while I modeled on the overhead (note-taking skills, anyone?). They were told there would be a test on the information so they should study their notes. My purpose in giving a test was partly to make sure they knew the rules (I get so tired of the "But I didn't know!" excuse) and to give them yet another opportunity to improve their studying and test-taking skills. There were 15 true/false and multiple choice questions - many of which had silly, ridiculous answer choices, to bring some levity to the event. And there was a bonus question: What is the name of Ms. Teacher's guinea pig?

After taking several hours to cool off, here is what I wrote back to Mr. Presumptuous:

Dear Mr. Presumptuous,
Thank you for contacting me with your concern. While I have not met you before, I have met TGB's mom when he was in my class last year, and I know that she definitely "runs a tight ship" and keeps high standards for TGB. I really appreciate that involvement, and it clearly shows in
TGB's work and behavior.

As I'm sure you are aware, classroom management has to be in place before learning can even begin. We spent the first day of class going over rules and procedures. The students took notes while I modeled on the overhead. I subsequently gave the quiz that you wrote to me about. I believe that it is important for students to be aware of rules and procedures in order for my classes to run as smoothly as possible. In addition, I try to incorporate basic academic skills into my classes whenever possible. Note-taking, studying and test-taking are just some of those skills. I am sorry if you and his mother disagree, but ultimately it is up to me to design the course of instruction in my classes. (No, I didn't put the bold in my actual email.)

There will be three more grades added before I submit report card grades next week - an Excel project, an Excel skills assessment and a typing progress grade. If you would like something he can work on at home, and you have a computer with Internet connection, TGB can work on his
typing lessons. The program we use is web-based so anything he does at home will show up here at school. The website address is
Ms. Teacher

I hate having to swallow my indignation and make nice. I know it's not politically correct to even think this; schools are supposed to welcome parents with open arms and make them feel that they are a valued part of the team. And lord knows I do my best. The problem is when they are not a part of the team, but rather acting as the birth-appointed attorneys for their offspring, doing everything in their power to work against the school. (See "Seriously?")

It makes me want to "go Judge Judy on them." (A teacher friend and I came up with this phrase while watching an episode one evening. We loved how she called people on their s--t and didn't even bother to try to sound nice while doing it.) I swear that holding this inside is taking years off my life.