There Will Be Rum

Today was a pisser.  No, really.

Yesterday, I received a new student.  Well, new to me.  He came from the class next door where for the first 10 days of school, he wreaked havoc, screaming “No!” at his teacher and often running out of the room and rampaging around campus.

It was decided by the powers that be, in their infinite wisdom, that it was the combination of an inexperienced teacher and other strong personalities in the class that made it wise to move him to a new classroom.  When the AP told me about it the day before the move, she admitted to me that he’d run away from her office before she’d sent him home for the day.  I said that I didn’t know what I could for him do if administration clearly couldn’t control him either.

But Little Hellraiser E1’d in my room yesterday.  It wasn’t exactly smooth but it was tolerable.  Fast-forward to today.  He started out fine, adhering to our ‘First Things First’ tasks, completing his Morning Work and even reading for a few minutes.

But it was during my iii block about 15 minutes into the instructional day that he began to go downhill.  The schedule is so tight and I was trying to get the iii lesson done but I had to keep stopping to redirect my new friend.  I finally had him sit beside me while I finished the lesson.

Following iii, we began our Morning Meeting.  When he refused to join the rest of the class on the carpet, I chose to continue with what we were doing and put him on ‘Ignore’ as he roamed around the room.  That’s when the shit hit the fan.  As we continued to ignore him, he began to escalate his behavior, eventually scooting a 6′ tall rack of journals toward the center of the room and pushing it over onto the carpet, causing kids to scramble out of the way.

Before we could do anything else, he’d grabbed a chair, carried it toward a cluster of kids cowering by the wall, and proceeded to throw the chair at the kids.  (All of this I have on video on my phone.)  I pushed the call button and told them a student was throwing chairs while I had the kids line up at the door.  We then went out onto the sidewalk and waited for the BIC to come.

While we were outside the room, he absolutely trashed my classroom.  Mind you, he wasn’t screaming, he wasn’t angry, he was simply destroying everything in sight.  When the BIC arrived, he and the AP had the kid clean up his mess while I took the rest of the class to the playground.  The photos are from after it was ‘cleaned up’.

Little Hellraiser was apparently sent home for the rest of the day.  According to the Principal, whom I saw later, he won’t be back tomorrow, either.  I’ll be honest with you.  I don’t want him back in my room.  The truth is, he poses a danger to other students, both physically and academically.  I can’t do my job properly if I’m constantly worried he’s going to hurt someone.

And another fact:  I am a highly qualified professional educator.  I’m hell at teaching kids to read and to write and to perform first grade mathematical functions.  I am NOT a psychiatric nurse.  I am NOT a social worker.  I am NOT trained in dealing with mentally disturbed children.  And it’s not what I want to do with my life.  I can go through the union to refuse to have the kid in my class.  I’m hoping it doesn’t come to that.

wpid-20150902_165350-1.jpgThis is happening tonight.

I’m not Miss Beadle.

Presenting…

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The new bunch at the OK Corral.  As usual, we’ve started our new year with a unit called All About Me.  Today we created self-portraits.  They’re pretty good likenesses, actually.

Ours is an ELL cluster and Mrs. R. is becoming well-versed with using Google Translator to create homework instructions and the like in Spanish and Creole.

Next week, we’ll read the story, The Colors of Us by Karen Katz.  For obvious reasons.  Our colors are beautiful.

Science Kid

I’ve written about several of my first graders in previous posts.  You’ve met Precious Precocious and Kid Danger.  Now allow me to introduce you to my friend, Science Kid.  He’s bright and very interested in science.  Earlier in the year we were discussing sequencing as an inquiry skill.  The illustration used in our science book was of the butterfly life cycle.  Science Kid pops out with, “That’s a chrysalis.”  Indeed.

Something else that you should know about Science Kid is that he has ADHD.  On the very first day of school, mom practically threw him in my door.  “He should be on meds and he isn’t today,” she informed me before fleeing the scene.  Nice!  And believe me, you can tell the difference between a day when he has his medication and a day when he doesn’t.

Still, I don’t like to have preconceived notions about kids.  I’d rather go along and see what happens.  And what I saw was a kid who, while constantly in motion, appeared to me to try hard to do the right thing, and who also was apparently listening even when it seemed that he was not.

It was interesting as our class moved throughout the school to lunch and Fine Arts classes.  I kept getting the same reaction.  “Oh!  You’ve got Science Kid.  Wow!”  But truthfully, he seemed okay to me.

I realize that I’m more patient that some.  While other teachers might be calling home every day, I get that he needs to move, and so as long as he’s paying attention, I’m alright with him digging through the supplies and fidgeting with the edge of the carpet.

On the other hand, I’m not patient with oppositional/defiant behavior.  Suddenly, this is what we seem to be getting.  And again, I get that there are certain traits I can expect from ADHD, difficulty with transitions for example.  Today, he absolutely refused to stop working on an ancillary project that he can finish tomorrow.  When I insisted that he stop and leave it for another time, he set about trying to break a pen from the supply basket.  That’s not okay with me.  My patience is beginning to wear thin.

I try to temper my response to his behavior with the understanding that as unpleasant as he can sometimes be on the outside, it’s probably much worse on the inside to be Science Kid.

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So I’ve Noticed

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Kids are all different.  Some are sweet, some are smart, some are cute, some are adventurous.

I’m a fan of curious kids, those who genuinely want to know more.  About everything.  Often they are not the most well-behaved.  But that’s okay.

I’ve had kids who were too good for their own good.  Do you know the ones I mean?  I’ve found myself silently urging them to bust out and do something outrageous, just for kicks. It’s alright.  The world doesn’t end if you get into a little trouble now and then.

Then there are the un-lovely kids.  The ones who fight you every step of the way.  The ones who seem to believe their mission in life to to make your life miserable.  The ones you really don’t like, and you count the days until they’re someone else’s problem.

And they are the ones who need the most love.

There’s always a reason for the way they are.  I want to be the kind of teacher who keeps that in mind.  I don’t always succeed.  But hopefully, I win more than I lose.  It’s good to know that every day is a brand new chance.

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Well THAT Was Not Fun

This week, for the first time in my career, I had to file a report to the Department of Children and Families.  Teachers are required by law to report any suspected abuse and it’s a felony if you don’t.  Knowing that doesn’t make it any easier.

One day this week, one of my friends seemed a little down.  When I asked him about it, he teared up a little and wouldn’t tell me what was wrong.  I asked him all the things I could think of: Do you feel sick?  Did someone hurt your feelings?  Did you get in trouble on the bus?  Finally, I asked if he just wanted to keep it to himself, and he nodded the affirmative.  I told him to make sure to come and talk to me if he changed his mind.

The following day, he still seemed out of sorts and at one point he just started crying.  I pulled him aside and told him that the previous day I had been worried, but now I was very, very worried.  I gave him a piece of drawing paper and asked him to draw about why he was so unhappy.  It didn’t take him long to draw seven figures, all with huge upside-down smiles.

“Are you in this picture?” I asked.  He pointed to the largest figure.  “That’s a pretty sad face,” I observed.  “Why are you so sad?”

“I broke an expensive toy,” he began.  “My mom held me while my dad whooped me with a tree branch.”

I took a deep breath.  “Who are all these other people?” I asked.  He pointed out a grandpa, two grandmas, an uncle, and three siblings.  “Did anyone say anything to dad when this happened?” I wondered.  He shook his head, no.

“Do you have any ‘owies’ from when dad whooped you?” I asked him. He pointed to his chest.

I took him to the school nurse who took a peek and didn’t see anything.  She spoke privately with me.  It seems that this type of punishment is not uncommon with our Haitian families.  For them it’s culturally acceptable.

For me, it is not culturally acceptable.  I went to the DCF website and followed the instructions, filling out the questionnaire, inputting the necessary information.  The following day, my friend was called to the office.  “He’s not going home,” the secretary said.

With Enthusiastic Intern in her third week of doing 100% of the instruction, I was able to walk my friend to the office myself.  Inside, I saw the social worker and a huge sheriff’s deputy.  I had to leave my poor friend and go back.  He returned about twenty minutes later.  I did not ask him about what happened.

That same day I had a previously scheduled parent conference with my friend’s parent and to be very honest, I was a little nervous about it.  Even though I’m supposed to be anonymous, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out who made the report.  A very pregnant mom and mom’s female friend showed up for the meeting.  Mom was in good spirits and no mention of the report was made.  I guess the investigators hadn’t questioned them yet.  Maybe they won’t at all.  What do I know?

I have online access to the report and to the updated status of the case.  The determination status is currently listed as “screen in.”  I have no idea what that means.

But believe me, I’m keeping an eye on my friend.  I will absolutely make more reports if necessary.  I hope it won’t be.  He’s a good kid and he deserves better.  They all do.

Just When You Get Everything Running Like a Well-Oiled Machine

I got a new student about a week ago.  Getting a new kid just when you have everything up and running is hard.  He doesn’t have a Homework Folder, a Homework Journal, a Monday Journal, a Poetry Journal, a Writing Workshop Folder, a Book Baggie.  He doesn’t understand how we do homework in our class.  To which literacy center team am I going to assign him?  And you know he has no idea how to do our centers.  What is his ‘just right’ reading level?  It’s always a pain.

Enhancing the situation, our new friend is clearly accustomed to being coddled and spoiled.  He spent his first fifteen minutes in our classroom wailing like a banshee.  I’m not a callous hard-ass.  I get that it’s scary to be the new kid in a new place.  It’s not uncommon for kids to take a little time to warm up.  But wailing takes it to a whole new level.

After he calmed down, for his next magical trick he began to accuse other kids of being mean to him.  Trouble is, he hadn’t been there long enough to choose kids who belong to the “Most Likely To Pick on Somebody” club so he fingered some long shots.

My personal favorite moment of his very first day was when he waved his paper at me during Writing Workshop.

“What’s wrong?” I asked Pampered & Spoiled.

“I scribbled on my paper,” he replied.

“Well, I guess your new piece has scribble on it,” I calmly commented.

He proceeded to come over to my small group table and whine about the scribble.  That he’d put on his page.

wpid-20141013_093734.jpgDon’t you just love the $1 bins in the front of Target?  I always find treasures there.  There might be stickers, pencils, puzzles, little toys for the Treasure Box…all kinds of things.  Once a few years ago, I found this sign.  No whining.  It pretty much says it all.

I said to the petit prince, “I don’t know where you were, but you’re in real school now.  Do you see that sign?”

If one can whine while one nods, young sir did so.

“It says ‘No Whining’,” I informed him.  “You are in an official ‘no whining’ zone.  If you want to whine, you have to go somewhere else.  That sign says so.”

Sir Pampered & Spoiled regarded me solemnly.

I sent him back to his seat with one parting thought: “I don’t make the law.  I just enforce it.”

It Makes You Think

Yes.  I admit it.  I’m a big cheeseball.

Today we had a Professional Development presentation about inclusion in the general education classroom.  It was actually Part II of a two part training.  At the end of the session, the presenter played this video.  I think everyone in the room found it moving and thought-provoking.

Now I’m passing it along to you.  No, I’m not kissing up.  Promise.

Oh, Precious Precocious

So the school psychologist came and took Precious Precocious today for testing.  She’s being evaluated for giftedness.  It wouldn’t surprise me at all if she scores highly.  She’s extremely bright and articulate.  In first grade now, she already reads beyond the second grade level.

I have mixed feelings about the whole ‘gifted’ thing.  Back in the day, I had to be talked into having my son tested.  It took his teachers years to convince me to have him assessed, and I only agreed because I thought it might afford him some opportunities he might otherwise miss.  I’ve known way too many parents who see their gifted children as status symbols, somehow a reflection on their stellar parenting skills.  I’ve also seen kids in “gifted programs” get completely stressed out because they simply wind up doing way more homework than other kids.

I think a gifted program should offer advanced kids interesting hand-on types of activities.  They should go lots of places and do interesting projects that don’t involve writing stupid papers and filling out higher-level work packets.

If Precious Precocious is found to meet the criteria of ‘gifted’ her parents will have some decisions to make.  Our school doesn’t have a program, so she’d have to switch to a new school if they want her to be in a gifted class.  They could let her stay for the rest of this year and move her next year.  Or they could just keep her where she is for the rest of elementary school.

And so it was with a little sadness that I watched Precious Precocious leave my room this morning.  When she returned, she said that she’d had a good time, and she’d been rewarded with a tiny pink notebook for her efforts.

At dismissal this afternoon, she asked me one of those ‘out of the blue’ questions.  “How old are you, Mrs. R.?”

I gave my stock answer.  “I’m 117.”

“Nuh-unh!” she unsurprisingly retorted.

“Don’t I look 117?” I asked, waiting for her logical reasoning.

“Yes,” she answered.

So, I’m gonna miss Precious Precocious.

More About Mountain Math

I have written recently about a new program we’ve been informed that we have to incorporate into our first grade math curriculum called Mountain Math. Some have asked about what it is and truthfully, I’ve been hard pressed to explain. Initially what I understood about Mountain Math is that someone tossed me a large packet of card stock, rather resembling 9×12 construction paper, and told me, “We’re doing this now.  Laminate and cut it out.”  And said packet was grotesquely sparse in terms of directions.  I’m a reasonably intelligent instructional warrior.  I’m hell at reading and following instructions.  Alas, there were few.

Mountain MathMy knowledge grew to understand that it’s a system of twenty-four math concepts.  One way to utilize the material is to set up a twenty-four section bulletin board to display the concepts all at once, the idea being that after you use the specific problems, you replace them with new ones.

Well that ain’t happening, I said to myself.  A twenty-four section bulletin board?  With my literacy word wall, math word wall, science word wall, social studies word wall, anchor charts, procedural charts, oh, and alphabet and number line, my walls are pretty much used up.

Some other grade levels were militant about getting this crap up asap, before they even knew how to use it, which I thought was pretty dumb.  Just because someone says you have to do something, it doesn’t mean that you do.  So, investigating the wee instructions, I discovered that there were options to creating a huge bulletin board that looks like Walt Disney threw up.  You can also display a few of the twenty-four concepts at a time on a pocket chart, which I thought was much more feasible.  I have space for one more pocket chart.  Also, a sweet colleague from fifth grade shared a YouTube video from Teacher Tipster which was a HUGE help.  God bless Teacher Tipster!

Don’t get me wrong.  It’s not that I hate the program.  It’s probably going to be useful, once I understand the most efficient way to utilize it.  It’s that I hate being told by people who have no idea what I already do that I have to do something different.  Can I get an amen?