Sunday, March 1, 2009

Where is the VISION?

I haven't posted in a couple of weeks because I went on vacation to a fabulously faraway place where I got to practice my second language and enjoy the pace of a different culture with different priorities. In my travels, I ended up at an art museum. At this art museum, scattered across many galleries, they were showing vintage film footage of different kinds. They had old movies, performances, and documentaries, all without sound. I found myself seated for over an hour watching film footage from a school in the 1950s. I watched as the children began their day and filed into the classrooms with their teachers. They did reading, writing, and math. It all looked so similar to what we do each day. Then the children went out for recess in a simple yard, much like what we have in the NYC public schools. Some played ball, others were play-fighting, again, much like our children.

When it was time to go inside, that's when the similarities stopped. The children lined up to wash their hands. A teacher supervised as they scrubbed with soap and water. Then, the smaller children began setting the tables in the cafeteria. They spread clean table cloths on each table and meticulously placed each fork, spoon, knife, napkin, plate, cup, etc. The older children were in the kitchen cooking. One older boy was slicing fresh bread and plating it for a middle child to take to the tables. The older kids brought the hot food out. When everything was ready, the children took their seats in multi-aged "family" (that's what the subtitles called them) groups of 4 or 5 children. The little ones sat quietly as the older children served each portion equally. Nobody ate until everyone was served. Even the teacher presided over a "family." She looked so joyful as she sat conversing with her little group and eating fresh homemade food.

All I could think was "WOW!!!!" Think about the responsibility and real-life skills these children were learning through this process of setting up a meal and eating together. I can't help but think about my students and how they NEVER have a family meal at their homes in this way. I think about our 5th graders who act out all the time to the point where the police are called to the school. What if they were in charge or serving lunch to my first graders and engaging them in conversation and being role models for them? I bet their attitudes would change. In the video, it seemed like lunchtime was one of the best times of the day for everyone, including the teacher. For us in the NYC public schools, it is a time of total utter chaos for the school aides, and complete disengagement for the teachers as soon as we drop of the children. The cafeteria is a free-for-all with frozen reheated food served on Styrofoam trays, dirty hands fresh from the playground, no manners at all, no appreciation for the food or company, and older kids bullying the younger ones. How far have we really come in the last 60 years? It makes me sad.

I can't change the system myself. We need a VISION from the janitor to the chancellor, everyone needs to be on board with the highest standards for everything they do. If I were an administrator, I wouldn't let anyone set foot in my building who did not share this vision. It is just unthinkable all of the things we have to deal with on a daily basis. Let me list the things that happened this week that undermine everything teachers, students, parents, etc. are trying to accomplish.

1. On Monday (first day back from vacation), I had planned to have a relaxing day and enjoy the students. At 1:45 in the middle of my math lesson, a school aide came into the room. Can I help you? I asked. No response. She just pointed to a list. What do you need? I asked again. Vision, she responded. Okay, but what do you mean? I asked. At this point, I had to get up from my chair, and leave the kids on the rug. The school aide could not express that my children needed to go get their vision and hearing checked. I was speaking to her in her native language too. After about five minutes of me asking what she meant, asking her if she needed the yellow forms for vision and hearing, or if she had a list of kids she needed, she just kept pointing to the paper with the number 203 on it. I asked, do you need room 203 or class 203? No response. I ended up having to call the office. The AP confirmed that my class needed to go get their vision and hearing checked that very minute. I was mad. I had to stop my math lesson and take my class to another room to do this. By 2:20, I told the vision and hearing people that I needed to take my class back to the room to explain the homework and pack up. A woman proceeded to YELL at me in front of the children about how dismissal wasn't until 2:40, so she was keeping them until then and that this class is MANDATED and blah blah blah. I had to defend myself and say, "Well, then you will need to go pack them up and dismiss them yourself because I am finished at 2:40." It was not pretty. I tried to keep my cool. I ended up taking the first six kids who were finished back with me to the classroom and we packed up everyone's homework and laid their stuff out on the tables. The school aide brought the rest of them back at 2:45 and I dismissed them late.
  • I ask: Why couldn't administration have told me that my class was getting their vision and hearing checked so I could have brought them there packed up with all of their stuff, taken out the yellow cards, and canceled my math lesson and math homework?
  • Why do we have a school aide who cannot express the most basic information? (I have another story about her for later).
2. On Tuesday, I was told that I had to go to a full day PD on Wednesday. I did not have enough time to again, change the math homework (which is dependent on the delivery of a math lesson, not from a sub), or tell the parents. I really like to keep my parents informed. Then I had to make a sub plan as well. I was mad because I had already wasted the afternoon on Monday and already had a full day PD planned for Friday. This was too much!!!

3. On Wednesday, I learned that our children's school photos had been taken by a company that was running a scam. All of our parents' money was taken (we're talking about thousands of dollars), and apparently my school has no legal recourse (according to the lovely DOE lawyers). They parents have to sue since they were the ones who were wronged. I want to call 7 on your side or something. This is UNACCEPTABLE. If I were the principal, I would be sending someone to JAIL!!!

4. On Thursday, during my math lesson again, I get a phone call. It is the school aide from the vision and hearing story. She wants to take her granddaughter home (who is in my class). Okay, I say, Is there some sort of an emergency? I have a vested interest in keeping this girl in school and with the structure. "No," she responds, "I have to leave." "Okay" I say, "I'll pack her up and you can come get her." "No, send her down." She says. "Send her down where?" I ask. No response. "What room are you in?" I inquire again. "She knows," she says. Then I said "Well, I don't know, and I'm not sending her. You need to come upstairs, sign her out in the office, and come get her." "What time is it?" She asks. ARE YOU KIDDING ME???? I'm thinking. I politely reply "It's 2:00." "What time is dismissal?" she asks. now I'm getting annoyed. DON'T YOU WORK HERE???? I'm thinking. Then I had to get a little bit rude, "Look, I said, I'm in the middle of a math lesson, I will get her packed up and ready for you when you come upstairs to get her," and I hung up the phone. Of course, she never came upstairs. I ended up dropping the girl off in the late box after extended day because no one came to get her. Side note: My room is on the 2nd floor.

Etc. Do you see what I mean? There is just no VISION. I think this is pretty typical of all schools. They can restructure and charter all they want, but when it comes down to it, we need a VISION and we cannot afford to settle for anything less than the BEST at all levels.

ps. I had a great week with my students. They are learning so much and I'm so proud of them!


Sarah said...

Wow. That is crazy that the aide cannot communicate a simple set of instructions!!

not another arrogant American said...

I am with you 100%. And that vision should begin with the earliest ages and be progressive in expectation up through the grades. School should be a progression in responsibility and accountability for the student. It is a life lesson.