24 September 2006

Friday's Four

1. Four Score and many months ago…

I arrived at work on Friday to find a modest spread of bagels and juice in the main office, courtesy of Mr. Principal, who handed me an envelope with our school’s ELA scores. We made modest but respectable gains in sixth, seventh and eighth grade, but didn’t do so well in fifth. Regardless, he was pleased and so was I.

Of course, the fact remains that it’s September and these tests were taken in January. Does the data even mean anything at this point? It’s old news. I think my students have even given up on the idea of ever getting their individual scores. Of course, I am still really, really curious to see how they individually, but we still don’t have that information. I just get really aggravated when I remember how the Region breathed down our necks to get the tests scored in a timely way, which we did, and it still feels like it was for nothing. How do you convince a kid that a state exam means something when it takes eight months to get the results back?

2. An extra $10k for what?

I have a student, S., who came to our school last year as a sixth grader. He’s a new arrival and did not attend school in his native country. Currently he knows a small handful of words in English, including “mother fucker”, which he’s hurled at classmates on the playground who probably deserved to be on the receiving end of the sentiment. Last year he was picked on a lot; this year has been better but he still doesn’t interact with the other kids, which doesn’t help his language skills.

I have a master’s in literacy, with coursework on working with English language learners, but none of it ever addressed helping a child who was at the very beginning of learning English. And obviously, he should get ESL. So on Friday, I went to see the ESL teacher, who is also the lead literacy teacher. I wanted to find out her schedule for working with S. She informed me that she was not working with S. because another teacher was supposed to work with him as part of a class of 20. She explained that this teacher was using ESL strategies even though the students are not English language learners. And I understand that those students could probably benefit from ELL strategies. But S. needs a smaller group than that. He can’t read in English at all, can’t write sentences, has very limited vocabulary, even though Lead Teacher told me that he knows English. I don’t consider 100 or so words “knowing English.”

Since I also have a class of 20, I can give S. a good amount of one-on-one time. But it’s not enough and I am not ESL licensed. I’m just annoyed because I know more about how the ELA classes have been scheduled than she does, and I’m annoyed because a new teacher is also supposed to be doing small group ESL instruction, but isn’t working with S. either. And this new teacher was caught twice last year without lesson plans, so I don’t know how much faith I have in this person anyway. Our math lead teacher is really on the ball, very visible, always meeting with teachers when not teaching, in the halls in the morning and after lunch to help move the kids along, and in a nutshell, earning that $10k, in my opinion. But I never see our lead teacher. She hasn’t been to my room and I think what bothers me the most was that she seemed completely unconcerned about this child who already has so much catching up to do.

3. Don’t try a career as an inspirational speaker

A couple teachers and I were in the AP’s office after lunch when a parent came in (there aren’t many places for us to work and her office is pretty big). The child in question is in trouble often. I had a couple run-ins with him myself last year, even though he wasn’t one of my students. He prefers the hallway to the classroom.

I didn’t know the details of the current offense. And since Ms. AP was taking care of something else, the mother chose to lecture her kid while they waited for her. It was the usual bluster that comes from disgruntled parents, with a side of, “THESE TEACHERS still get paid if you fail. THESE TEACHERS don’t care if you pass. THESE TEACHERS don’t care about you.”

My guess is that this wasn’t the first time the kid heard this speech. And somehow, I don’t think it was or will be a success. And as offended as I was, (one of my colleagues left the room, he was so disgusted) I wasn’t surprised. A kid who’s told that the adults in his school don’t care about him won’t be inspired to work. And a parent who won’t take responsibility for her kid and his bad behavior will always be disappointed.

4. Friday Afternoons

I cringed when I got my program a few weeks ago and saw that I had my homeroom on Fridays for seventh and eight period. Last year, since I was the coach, I didn’t have a full teaching load and on Fridays my class met in the morning. Teaching Friday afternoons has always been the bane of my existence. It seemed that I used to always leave with a pounding headache. So this year, I decided that I wasn’t going to teach, at least not eighth period. I do a lesson during seventh, which ends just as the kids are starting to get really antsy. Then I put on a CD (something mellow, of course) and they do their independent reading for the last period. It’s been a nice, quiet way to end the week and I otherwise have trouble fitting in the silent reading time. Next week I want to try to bring them cookies or some other snack.

And of course, getting to leave headache-free is a big plus.


NYC Educator said...

ESL and literacy are really distinct, in my opinion. Most of my strategies assume knowledge of reading in another language, and that those skills will eventually show up in English. I don't know about you, but I have state-supported classes that are supposed to be capped at 25, one of which already has 34.

I identified two illiterate students in my classes a few years back. One was in ESL 1, failing, but got a promotion to ESL 2 after cursing out the level one teacher. After failing my level 2 class, he was promoted to level three, since the administration didn't think repeating the class would do any good.

There's no mechanism I know of to provide the intensive remediation such kids need. I'm told by an administrator I trust that no such program exists in NYC.

Chaz said...

Ms. M:

The parent is only buying into the Kleinberg program of blaming the teacher.
If only the teachers in your school would see that it cannot be the parents fault?

Until the Kleinberg administration and the papers that buy into their education program face reality, nothing will change. Just blame the teachers.