The copier really was the straw that broke the camel's back for me. I can perservere through a lot, but this was it!!! I think every teacher tries to convince themselves that they can deal with whatever comes their way, but there is always something that just pushes you over the edge. I'll give you an idea of what I have been dealing with since two Thursdays ago (the first official day of work for teachers) and then you will understand why I want to beat the copier like that scene from Office Space.
1. School supplies- I know a lot of other teacher bloggers have mentioned this, but New York City public school teachers have to buy ALL of the supplies for their classrooms. In fact, I haven't recieved ANYTHING this year from my school's fabled supply closet, not even a single pencil. This is a burden that we have taken on in recent years and has been softened by the sales at Staples. Each year, a text message circulates like a virus throughout the teacher network when Staples has its great sale, not the "Teacher Appreciation Day" ripoff, but the REAL sale. 1 cent folders, 8 cent glue. 99 cent Crayola markers, etc. Although I usually spend an average of $1200 throughout the year on my classroom, in past years, that initial stocking of materials usually ran me about $200, something I planned and saved for. This year, Staples didn't have it's REAL sale. It's really not their fault, they are a for-profit corporation. It is really not their job to subsidize public education, but for all of us teachers, we really took the hit this year. I have spent over $450 so far (and we've only been in school for a week!) of classroom supplies. People ask me, "Why do you do it?" "Why can't the children bring in the supplies?" It's hard to even begin to explain how hellish my job would be if the kids didn't have enough crayons (not just one box each), I'm talking an abundance of crayons to share at their tables, or how crappy their work would be without Ticonderoga pencils (Not staples brand, they sharpen all lopsided). Having enough creates an environment where children who go without on a daily basis can feel secure that they will have what they need to succeed. And OF COURSE I send a supplies list home and I would say HALF to THREE QUARTERS of my students bring in the supplies. I use them as replacements mid-year for when my original purchase runs out.
2. The Physical Condition of the Buiding and Classroom- We all know the look of those majestic old buildings in New York City that we can immediately identify as public schools. My school is one of those. Beautiful old architecture complete with gargoyles and those grand windows that we have to open with a stick from the top. I love my school building, but it has been so neglected over the years that it makes me sad to walk in the building in the morning. Sure there have been renovations in its near 100 year history, but each time, something is lost. Once colorful tiles have been replaced with grey ones. Walls have been touched up with a paint color that doesn't match the original, and furniture is splintering and worn. Not to mention how DIRTY, no FILTHY the schools are. Public school teachers go out of their way to mask all of this ugliness. They spend money on buying bright materials and paper to cover the bullentin boards (and walls), they cover worn tables with pretty fabric, they bring in plants...etc. I have personally spent $28 this year on fabric and I'll probably be dishing out another $100 soon to have my rug steam cleaned. I have spent an additional $30 on cleaning supplies. The janitors claim that they got a new steam cleaner this year and that they cleaned all of the classroom rugs (this is the main area where kids come to listen to lessons in the lower grades), but all of our rugs are still nasty. My rug is rainbow colored, but all the colors look brown. It makes me want to cry when I call the children to the rug and I see them sitting on filth. I asked the janitor about it really nicely (if you are not nice, you can forget about any sort of cleaning for the rest of the year) and he immediately became defensive saying that the rug had been steam cleaned and that the stains and dirt are permanent. When I returned to school this August, my rug was not only NOT steam cleaned, it was covered in dirt and dust and trash. I vacuumed it myself (as a sidenote, most teachers buy their own vacuum cleaners. I was lucky and didn't have to....so far) but that brown dirty hue makes my rainbow rug look tired and old. I can't fight anymore. I'm going to have it cleaned by an outside company becauseI can't bear to look at it. I feel like it will make the children sick. Also, despite all the effort IN the classroom, the rest of the building is treated like a garbage can. I would be FIRED if I had boxes strewn about in my classroom like they do in the hallways. I stopped to read some of the labels on the boxes. One had concrete in it... CONCRETE!!!!. It's such a double standard. We are held to such a high standard and everyone else (who doesn't have a room full of children) can leave stuff wherever they please. Also, the front entrance of the school...many parent's and children's first impression of the school is HORRIFIC. There is a bulletin board where someone ripped off a sign for the school. It's half ripped and gross. The school security desk now has a huge poster displaying firearms that are banned. HUGE PICTURES OF GUNS!!! This is an elementary school. Can't they get the Parent's Association or someone to make the entrance look inviting. Again, I would be FIRED if my bulletin board looked like that. There was also trash all over the floor in the entrance and grocery store fliers.
3. Class size- I am a pretty experienced teacher and I can handle most anything in terms of the children, but I have to say, this was one of my most stressful Septembers because I have a class size rounding 30. What happened to the whole small class size initiative? It's not that I can't control the children, that is not a problem, but what IS a huge problem is that it is just not fair to them. With that many bodies in the room (I still don't have enough good chairs or tables), there is no way I can really get to all of them and teach them the skills they so desperately need. My children came in this past week at all different levels and at all different states of "readiness" for school. Some came in with bright eyes and smiles, their hair neatly done, in uniform, clean, with a new bookbag, well fed, well rested, and ready to learn. Many others came in with a sad face (not the kind of sad face many little kids have on the first day of school when they cry because they miss their mom), no this is a deep sadness. Their eyes are unable to focus and I need to contantly remind them how their bodies should be turned, what to do with their hands, and where their eyes should be looking. Some are are not bathed and wear dirty clothes. They have dirt under their long fingernails. Bed bug bites are apparent on their arms and when they lift their pant legs to scratch. Several have fallen asleep mid morning because they aren't well rested. Others haven't had breakfast. Their parents didn't get them to school early enough to have the free breakfast in the cafeteria. Some kids forgot the alphabet over the summer, others forgot how to handle a book. I made up mixed level bins of all kinds of neat books. Picture books, simple reading books, non-fiction books so that everyone could at least read the pictures if not the words, but some kids stare at the ceiling during reading time. They might open a book like "Where the wild things are," or a non-fiction book about spaceships and they can't even seem to enjoy the pictures. When I read books aloud, some kids are not able to follow. With non-existent intervention services I am the only one who can make the difference for these children. It's a big job. At this point in the year, they are not independent enough for me to be able to pull a small group or even confer one-on-one. I need to do reading assessments right away so I can target them for small groups, but I haven't recieved the assessment packets. I will have to sacrifice ALL of my prep periods for the next month to pull them out to assess them.
4. The Heat- For those of you who live in New York City, you know that the past week has been hot and humid. Imagine being in a room with 30 other bodies where you can't open the door because of the noise to allow for air flow. It was so hot I could see the sweat trickling down their little faces and everything felt so sticky and gross. Even with the big windows open, almost no air entered the room for most of the day because I had to keep the shades pulled to block the blazing sun. The morning of the copier incident I got to school early at around 7:30 AM and I was already sweating. It just made things that much worse.
Finally, the COPIER- You can imagine, I've psyched myself up to manage and teach my incredibly large class. Although I've spent way too much, I feel confident that my classroom is stocked. Many children have brought in supplies which I have stored and organized (it's not like every parent sends their kid to school with a big bag holding all the supplies with their names clearly written on it), so I have had to label everthing myself as it comes in. Some kids will bring one notebook one day, another the next, all unlabeled. Parents will complain if their child is not using the exact notebook they brought in, so I am really careful to label all of their things. I have given each child a ziploc baggie to take home for their reading (some of which never came back which means another lost book and a replacement baggie). I wanted to send a homework folder for the weekend. (The folders cost $1 each at staples) The parents who have had siblings in my class in past years know that I always send homework notebook during the week a folder on the weekend. As a side note, the copier had not been working since before school even started. I copied all of my welcome letters and supplies lists at Staples for $20 our of my own pocket. I have also printed over 60 sheets at home and have already gone through an ink cartridge. On with the story...I went to the teachers copier a few days in advance to make copies, but there was a paper jam. I cleared the jam and proceded fearlessly. Another jam, finally, the copier had several error messages. "Okay" I thought, "It's still a couple days early, I'll leave them in the office for the school aides to copy even though they always come out too light for the kids to even read them or see what the pictures are supposed to be." So, I left them in the office and I waited and waited and waited. Finally, on Friday I asked someone in the office if it would be possible to make the copies on the office copier. Oh no, that copier (the really pretty new one that never seems to be in use) is for administrative purposes only. You might be thinking, big deal, why is she so upset about the copier, well it's not that, it's more the way I was treated...unprofessionally. I can't use the good copier. God forbid our children should be put first. If I were a principal, I would bend over backwards to make sure that the children get what they need. I wanted to explode. The copier has been an issue for 3 years and nobody thought to make sure it was up and running for the first week of school when we are REQUIRED to administer a writing assessment that REQUIRES 3 sheets per child (90 total in my case). It has to be copied because writing paper for little kids consists of two or three lines and a big square for the picture. I make it on my home computer. What do they expect, that we all do all of our copying for 8 cents a sheet at Staples? I can't go into more detail because I don't want to be easily recognized on this blog, but basically I was told that we shouldn't count on being able to make copies EVER. I went back to my classroom and cried, not so much about the copies, but about everything and how unfair it is for the children. I wanted to run out to Staples in that moment (it was early in the morning well before school would start) and just make the copies, but you get to the point where you think "How much of the burden can I shoulder?" As teachers, we just can't. It's too much. Yesterday, the copies were too much. I verbally apologized to the parents about it at dismissal and assured them that their children would have homework on Monday. I'm going to Staples today to make all the copies that I need for the week and if the school copier works on Monday, I'll copy the next week's homework. It's just not worth the stress. Some people say to me, "If they're not going to provide you with copies, then don't send the homework, don't send the letters home." That won't fix anything. The schools are the way they are and they won't change, but they will fire you if you don't do your job properly even against all odds. It's only going to reflect badly on the individual teacher, and most of all it's just not fair to the children and parents. Even though they are poor and disadvantaged, they deserve "A world class education" to quote Michelle Obama.