I have never had to file a grievance with the union, but now, I'm at the end of my rope. I always saw this process as something that people do when they want to complain or get a U rating which some of them probably deserved, others maybe not etc. I think grievances are widely overused, and I never really thought I would have to file one. I thought if I worked hard, acted professionally, cared about my students, and was dedicated to my job, that this would never come up, that I would be respected by my school's administration. Why does administration think that they can consistently and systematically do things that go against our contract? Tomorrow, for the first time in my career, I am going to file a grievance for something that is so STUPID, unnecessary, and just plain underhanded. It actually makes me feel disgusted that I work at a school where this kind of stuff flies. I think our administration thinks that we are all idiots who have no idea how things SHOULD work. Unfortunately, I cannot disclose what has taken place but I am seriously rethinking whether or not I should come back in the Fall.
I "tentatively" got first grade once again. I guess I'm happy about it. It was my first choice after all, but it means another year at my school. I'm still going to pack up the room as if I'm moving grades because you never know...
I already know that tomorrow is going to be insane with gossip about the impending publication of next year's organization sheet. There is bound to be scandal. Perhaps the principal will not post it, and everyone will be up in arms about how that goes against our contract. Perhaps there will be no changes at all and people will wonder if the principal will change it last minute. Our principal last year posted a different organization sheet on the last day of school at about 4 PM after people who it affected had already left for the summer. Maybe there will be drastic changes and tears amongst the staff. Excessing and switching of classrooms and grades (oh my!).
While I am fairly certain I will be staying in first grade for next year, part of me is secretly hoping that I will somehow get totally screwed by the organization sheet (not excessed, but something else). This way, I would have a good excuse for finally leaving my school. I know that sounds awful. I don't know how to explain it. I really love my school, but it has been so hard lately to work there. I always wonder if other schools are better.
It's no secret that I have been down at work lately. I think that part of it is that I take things so personally and internalize the suffering of my students when in reality, I can't change their home lives and I can't make up for years of neglect and abuse. Two things happened this week that almost brought me to tears. They may seem ordinary to you, but they are so representative of the suffering of our city's children.
1. One of my students, Marisol, a girl of indigenous Mexican descent brought a book to school to share with the class. Sometimes when we are lined up for dismissal I let the kids quickly share something and since this book was so beautiful, I let her share it. The book was called "Pancakes For Supper," and had beautiful illustrations and interesting characters. I asked her why she brought it in and she said because it was special, her Pre-K teacher had given it to her. Indeed, inside was a message from her Pre-K teacher. It said something like "To Marisol on your birthday, may you always enjoy reading, love Ms. ___". Then I asked her (a level I reader), to tell us the title. She looked at me with a puzzled look and said "I never read that part before." Something about the inscription and the fact that this child had never really read the title before made me want to cry. Her Pre-K teacher had put so much love into this gift and this child treasured it, but didn't understand what it was really for. Although she could read the title, she never did, it was as if she didn't even know how to interact with this book. I wished I could sit down with her and read it with her and let her point to the pictures and make comments like little kids do, but I couldn't, I had a whole class standing there with their bookbags on ready to leave. I can read them stories, but I can't make up for the fact that their parents can't or don't read to them.
2. In my classroom, we have been talking about endangered species of animals. This conversation started with a study of animal diversity in the rain forest habitat. We spent about three weeks reading different books about the rain forest and making a web of life project. We also talked about rain forest destruction and how that affects the animals. This led us to explore other habitats like the arctic, the desert, the mountains, etc. We made a chart of different habitats and started listing endangered animals from each. Then we perused our available books for researching endangered species and my class voted on an animal they want to research as our shared writing. They chose the giant panda. Today, we got our our chart where we had collected key words and written facts about the giant panda on post-its, a project we have been working on for little over a week. I also got out the chart with the endangered animals from different habitats. I asked the students to talk with their partners (as they do EVERY TIME we get out the chart) about what is an endangered animal, what does that mean? As I made my way around the rug listening in, I found partnerships who had no idea what it meant. What was so telling though and the reason why I'm even writing this is because I had a visitor in my class, a student from our gifted and talented program was with us because his teacher was absent and they broke up the class. While some of my students had no idea what we were talking about after so much scaffolding visual support, even rainforest audio, and charts and everything I can pull out of my bag of tricks, all they could muster as a definition of an endangered animal was, "animal is extinct." Great, they acquired a vocabulary word, but had no idea how to even use it. I prompted the child who said this with "the giant panda is extinct like the dinosaurs?" to which he replied "Yes." Other kids said "NOOO!" so I called on someone else to add an idea. "The can make extinct like the dinosaurs because they dying," said this child. Okay, I thought, now we're at least getting somewhere. Then I saw Max, the G&T visitor who didn't even have the months of read aloud, shared reading, shared writing, etc. on the topic had his hand up, so I called on him. He said something like this: "Well, endangered means that animals have low numbers like the Cheetah. There are 15,000 or so cheetah's left and they are dying out because they are being poached by hunters who want to sell their hides." My mouth gaped open, not because I thought what he said was revolutionary, but the ease in which it rolled off his tongue and the quickness of recall he showed was nothing like anything I EVER see in my classroom and it made me sad. This child is not a genius nor would I even say gifted or talented. Yes, he tested into the program, but in talking to him and observing him throughout the day, he just seems like a normal kid whose parents engage him in conversation and encourage him to be curious about the world. He reminds me of my cousins' children. Anyway it made me sad, and made me reflect on my teaching.
I've pretty much concluded that I spend almost the entire morning convincing my students that they are not the scum of the earth and that they are valid human beings with ideas and that they don't have to be mean to each other, that kindness is possible. I even have to trick them into forcing a smile upon entry to my room. They think that because they move their mouth that they are greeting me with a smile, but with some of them it is so fake, and so devastating. After I convince them that they are not scum, we can learn a little bit, not a lot because their minds are spinning and their bodies are in constant repetitive motion. They are more enthralled with the laces of their shoes and pieces of paper that have fallen out of kids' word study notebooks than the topic at hand. It doesn't really matter what the topic is, many of them are not "with us" in conversation. I have students that despite excellent attendance have retained very little over this entire academic year. Some students have not gone up even one reading level. During my extended day group, I had to repeatedly remind them (I can't believe I had to do this at THIS POINT IN THE YEAR) where their eyes should go when they read. They always have their eyes on me, looking like scared puppies for my approval, but I want their eyes on the words actually looking at the sounds and trying to make meaning.
The truth of the matter is I don't know how to make them want to learn. I try my best to make our work as engaging as possible, and I get validation that what I am doing is interesting and working from many children, but not all of them and not as a whole. In prepping them for our upcoming trip to the Museum of Natural History, I told them that I don't want to hear empty comments like "AHHHH T-Rex," or "Whoa!" like I always do. I want to hear questions and curiosities about the world like "Why are the dinosaurs extinct?" or "How does a blue whale grow to be so big." When I said this, their interest peaked for a second and then they went back to head bobbing and playing with laces.
So, let me summarize the past month for everyone. Where to start? Okay, I guess I'll start with being verbally attacked by one of my students' mothers because another school employee (mom's friend) had hit her child and left a mark during school hours while she was on the clock. Natural, you might think, for a mother to be upset that a school employee had assaulted her child. Well, she was not mad about the fact that her friend hit her child, but rather that the school took issue with it. She brought the New York State penal code with her to the school after the principal called her and proceeded yell at us about how you indeed can slap your child with an open hand. Long story short, it was a truly irrational conversation that ended with her asking what the school was going to do to make sure her friend was not in the presence of her daughter because her friend would do it again, it was her "instinct." This, of course, to save her friend from being fired, not to protect her daughter.
What else? Well, the big swine flu cover-up was a big item of gossip among teachers. You see, other schools are actually concerned about swine flu. I know that other teachers have posted about their union reps and APs calling sick children to see what their symptoms are, etc. Well, at my school, no one has been calling or even cares. Teachers have been worried for some time because we have many students sick with "the flu." I know I have sent home a few with fevers and have heard of siblings who are sick, and then there was the rumor that one of our children had a confirmed case of H1N1. NO ACTION WAS TAKEN, and no one was informed, so I figured it was just a rumor, the kid probably had something else. Now it comes out that it was true. We had a confirmed case of H1N1 at our school two weeks ago and no one was informed. As for the other sick kids, a parent of a child with the flu told me that at the hospital, they weren't testing them anymore, just assuming that any child with the flu did have H1N1 and prescribing Tamilflu. At our staff meeting, teachers were up in arms about this. The principal told us "you GUYS need to calm down....etc." talking to us like we were overreacting. It makes me sick! I'm not so worried for myself personally because I am young, healthy, and do not have other medical conditions, but what about the pregnant teachers and the ones who DO have underlying medical conditions. What about our children with severe asthma and other serious medical conditions? Don't their parents have a right to know that this was going around? Everyone should have at least known that H1N1 was running rampant in our school so we could all make an INFORMED decision about whether or not to come to school.
You might think that this is enough for a 3 week update, but there is more. Two of my students' moms got into a physical fight this week as well and the police were summoned to the school. Luckily it happened in the PA room and I didn't witness it, but I am really disgusted by how and why it happened. Apparently one of my students' moms, a Mexican woman from a small town in rural Mexico insulted one of my indigenous Mexican moms from an even more remote area of Mexico calling her a "pig." The indigenous mom, who has always been so involved and helpful at school apparently pushed the other mom, etc. etc. How do we expect our children to get along with each other if this is how their parents behave?
15 days left. I'm emotionally drained and ready for the year to end.