Mississippi Teacher Corps

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Not my most dignified moment as a public figure

I missed three consecutive days of school. These were the three days before spring break, and two of them were nine weeks testing days. I would feel really awful about missing those days, if I hadn't had a darn good reason for not coming in to school. I can laugh about this story now that a few weeks have passed, and maybe someone else reading this blog can do the same.

The Tuesday before break, we had the writing state test. Read: four hours of sitting in a classroom without moving, one hour of which was actually used for test taking. After my students finished the exam, and I had sent their exams out of the room, and all the other students in the rest of the school had finished, we still had to wait in the classroom for over an hour. It was lunch time, and my students started getting really irritated that I wouldn't take them to lunch. I explained that it wasn't my choice and we had to wait until the school called us to lunch, but they would not accept this explanation. They claimed that the rest of the seventh grade was in the cafeteria (they weren't, as they were all stuck in their respective classrooms), and that I would make them starve to death. Mind you, I was ravenous myself, and even had my lunch in a bag in the room, but thought that it would be really cruel to eat it in front of a bunch of hungry kids, so I suffered along with them.

We were finally dismissed to 4th period, more than an hour after we were supposed to eat lunch, and still not allowed to go. I was literally light-headed and dizzy, and had no energy to quiet down my students as I attempted to teach. My stomach hurt from being so hungry, and I was relieved when we were finally called to lunch.

For the next few periods, my stomach didn't feel quite right, and my energy levels had not recovered from having to wait to eat. I was dragging my feet through my classes, just trying to make it til the end of the day. After school, I still wasn't feeling very well. I spent some time working with students who had come to see me after school, then headed over to the high school, where the baseball team that a friend of mine coaches was playing against my district's high school team. After the first inning, my stomach felt pretty upset, so I decided to go for a quick run around town to maybe calm it down.

I enjoyed the run, since I must have heard at least a dozen of my students call my name out as I passed their stomping grounds. At one point on the run, I had to duck into the grocery store and ask to use the bathroom (usually for employees only) because I suddenly had to go. So, I thought that my stomach must have been upset all along just because I had to use the bathroom. I ran around for a bit longer, but still didn't feel quite right. As I ran through a neighborhood near the store, Keldrick, a student who was in my class for the first few weeks of school before being promoted to the eighth grade, called after me to ask if he could run with me. "Yeah, hurry up!" I yelled as I continued toward the school. To my surprise, a minute or two later, he caught up to me, huffing and puffing and complaining that his abs really hurt. I started walking with him and told him that he should go watch the baseball game with me, so we started walking toward the high school and chatting.

As we were walking through a field, my body suddenly gave me a sign that it couldn't keep it together any more. I broke off the conversation I was having with Keldrick to inform him, "Keldrick, I'm really sorry, but I don't feel right and I need to get sick. Walk away from me for a minute because you don't want to see this." I then proceeded to keel over in the field and vomit as Keldrick looked on. After I'd stopped, he asked me if I was OK, and I apologized to him again. The kid was nice enough to say, "It's OK, Ms. Long Skirt Blue Jacket, I've seen someone get sick before." I explained that I was probably sick just because my eating schedule had been thrown off by state testing. We walked over to the gas station near the baseball field so that I could buy myself a bottle of water, then watched some of the baseball game. After a few innings, Keldrick asked, "So, do you feel like giving me a ride home?" He lives only a few blocks from the school, but it was after dark in an unsafe neighborhood, so I agreed (even though I could technically get in trouble for that kind of thing). As we were walking to my car, I started shivering from feeling sick, and Keldrick offered me his sweatshirt. This kid gets serious props for how he handled this bizarre situation.

I drove Keldrick to his house, and stopped my car just in front of it. He asked me if I wanted to come in and meet his grandmother. In response, I opened my car door, leaned out of it, and vomited into the street as my seatbelt kept me from falling out of the car. Keldrick's sister, who is also a student at my school, came out of the house. As I wretched, I heard him saying to her, "It's Ms. Long Skirt Blue Jacket. She's sick!" They both stood there watching, asking if I was all right, and I couldn't respond as I was still throwing up. When I stopped, I apologized to him for throwing up in front of him yet again, then drove back to the baseball game. I wasn't feeling well enough to make the 30 minute drive home. At the end of the baseball game, I found my friend who coached the visiting team and told him about my stomach problems. He very kindly offered to drive me home in my car, which ended up being a good thing because I threw up again in the Walmart parking lot as he went in to buy some toilet paper for me (I was out and had been planning to pick some up at the end of the school day), and one more time on the way home. Once home, I continued to get sick. The next day, I was so worn out that I tried to take a shower and ended up lying down in the bathtub because it was too draining to stand up for five minutes. It took me three days and two doctor's visits to feel healthy again.

Oddly enough, Keldrick seems to have decided that I'm the coolest teacher in the school since this incident, and has come by to hang out with me, give me hugs, etc. How many teachers can claim that they've earned cool points by vomiting in front of a student?

Now playing: Wallflowers- Three Marlenas

One of my favorite personalities at school

Every school has at least one crazy teacher. The craziest teacher at my school, Ms. Bloomfield, is so off her rocker that she probably wouldn't be able to keep her job in a more functional school district. At the beginning of the year, I didn't like her very much because I couldn't get beyond the fact that she's, simply put, just insane. Over the months, as I've gotten to know her better, I've liked her more and more. She might be my favorite teacher at our school. I saw fit to honor her with a blog entry about some of my favorite Ms. Bloomfield moments.

One realizes Ms. Bloomfield is out in left field just by taking a quick glance at her. She looks to be about 60, is one of the few white teachers at my school, and has long gray hair. She's tall and somewhat husky, and I would describe her walk as a very fast waddle. I'm not sure how much of her strange walk has to do with the very high-heeled shoes she wears, or the fact that she seems to be bow-legged, or the fact that she's always rushing somewhere. Teachers at our school aren't supposed to wear anything sleeveless, but she's usually wearing a tank top or a sleeveless and shapeless long dress, even in the winter time, and is always fanning herself furiously. The other day, her arms were covered in bright blue and yellow Sponge Bob band-aids, apparently to cover where her cat had scratched her. She has early morning cafeteria duty, and she and I are usually amongst the first people in the building. When I see her in the morning, she is usually bent forward, furiously grabbing at her hair and trying to put it up, and has occasionally complained to me that her own hair is giving her a rash. She'll always stop fiddling with her hair to greet me as I come in, giving me a big grin and making sure to ask how I'm doing. It makes coming into school a much more pleasant experience.

The first clear memory I have of Ms. Bloomfield is the day that my entire school district had professoinal development, and all teachers were supposed to get on computers and use SPMS to create tests. Of course, this was a really stupid idea, since the system runs like molasses when so many people try to use it at once. I was working in the classroom of another science teacher in my school so that I could receive help in using the system. Ms. Bloomfield teaches across the hall from this teacher, and suddenly stormed into the room, complaining and swearing about the stupidity of our assignment. After ranting for a while, she made a comment about how her medicine was not working properly that day (apparently, she is bipolar and takes four different medications to help stabilize her). She showed up several more times during the day to do more of the same, including banging her fist on the computer and flipping the bird at the monitor. This was all before I had really gotten to know her, so I just sat there thinking to myself, "What is this crazy woman's deal?" The next day, she came to me and apologized, saying that she hoped I wasn't offended by her behavior, that her medicine wasn't working, and that she wanted to make sure that I understood that she was mad about the computers and the administration, not at me. I thought that was really nice. I think that part of why I like Ms. Bloomfield so much is because she expresses the frustrations that all of us have with the school in a blunt way.

Shortly after this incident, I asked the other science teacher what Ms. Bloomfield's deal was. This teacher proceded to tell me the story of what Ms. Bloomfield did for another teacher who was retiring from the school at the end of last year. Ms. Bloomfield went into this teacher's room during class and handed her a going-away gift in a bag, which the other teacher almost opened in front of the class, but decided that that might not be a safe idea. That was a lucky decision, because it turns out that Ms. Bloomfield had included the following in the bag: a large t-shirt with a picture of cats on it, a box of condoms, and a tube of KY jelly. No humorous note included. Wow.

One day, I was sitting with my students in the cafeteria during lunch and heard Ms. Bloomfield, who was walking behind me, call my name excitedly several times. When I turned around, she pulled out a banana, pointed it at me as though she were sniping me with a gun, yelled, "ba-NANA!" and waited long enough to see me start laughing, then waddled away with several more bananas held behind her back.

Several days ago, I was talking to Ms. Bloomfield in the morning as we clocked in, and happened to mention to her that I was placed on a plan for improvement because I forgot to clock out at the end of the school day on multiple occasions (and yes, I would have been suspended for a day if I'd forgotten again). As it turns out, Ms. Bloomfield was placed on the same plan for improvement, and we discussed how ridiculous it was that putting in lots of extra hours after school earned us this punishment. Ms. Bloomfield went into one of her short rants, "They see my punch in at the beginning of the day. They see my punch the next morning. What the F did they think I did, sleep at the school all night?"

Sometimes, I wonder if I would end up as crazy as Ms. Bloomfield if I stayed at the school for as long as she's been there.

Now playing: Van Halen- Jump

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Thoughts about my physical surroundings and vandalism

Last weekend, I took one of my friends who had never seen my school on a walking tour around the grounds, and showing the area to him made me reflect on how I perceive my physical school building. Just across the street from my school is the district's high school. The high school building is typical of a Delta school: yellowish brick, one story high, old. It is ugly, and could stand a renovation, but is functional. Go around to the back of my school building and you will see streets lined with shotgun houses, some of them dilapidated. If you leave though the side entrance, you will see a small driveway, and just beyond it, an empty, littered field, covered in dead grass, that still bears the sign for the factory that used to operate there. On the other side of the school, you will find the track and the football field that we share with the high school. The facility could use a renovation. Venture a half mile from the school grounds, and depending which way you go, you will either end up in one of the worst neighborhoods in town, by the factories and manufacturing plants, or on the stretch of highway that passes the local adult store. By no means is it an attractive landscape. Yet, my school itself is beautiful. Of all the schools in the district, including the elementary school located on the white side of town, my school has been renovated most recently. It is a modern brick building with columns by the entrance, a main hallway with many large windows, and a circular section with skylites that houses the library. Just outside the cafeteria is an outdoor patio with a few tables and chairs. Incidentally, as far as I can tell, the only time the patio gets any use is when students are waiting for their buses; I never see anyone eating lunch out there, and when I asked my assistant principal if I could take my lunch period class to the patio tables, he denied permission. It is a mere fluke that my school building is the most attractive in the district, but I like the idea that my school stands as a beautiful facility in a bleak landscape.

The part that kills me is that every day, I come in to school to witness students tearing up their beautiful new school. I teach in a classroom where the lab tables are positioned in such a way that the desks must be sloppily crammed around them. There is no neat way to position students in rows, and it is very difficult for me to have any sort of enforcable seating chart (I tried for several months to make students sit in assigned seats and eventually concluded that it was a losing battle that was not worth my energy). I also cannot move around the room or see what is happening in my room very well. When I moved into my classroom at the beginning of the year, I found the computers at each lab table in horrible states of vandalism. Additionally, gum, candy wrappers, crumbs, and empty bags of chips had been stuffed into the recesses in each desk where the computers are placed. It is virtually impossible to clean out these recesses, unless I wanted to spend several hours going around with a suction vacuum cleaner. Once the school year started, I witnessed this destruction continue under my own nose. Keys have been ripped off computers, wires have been torn apart, jacks have been pulled out of the tables, and all sorts of distugsting garbage from junk food has been stashed in the recesses. I no longer have a single functioning computer in my room. No matter how attentively I watch my students, or how much I walk around the room when I am speaking, there is absolutely no way that I can see what is happening behind the lab stations, and my classes are large enough that I must seat at least some students at the lab stations. Students litter the floor with paper, and have somehow managed to rip apart the plastic seats of almost every chair in the room. I have found all sorts of nasty and vulgar things written about me in textbooks, on desks, and elsewhere in the classroom. Someone has even thought to write insults on the piece of glass that covers my name sign next to the entrance to my classroom.

For some time, I thought that such vandalism occured in my room because of my inability to manage my class more effectively, or because of the poor design of the room itself, or some combination of the two. I no longer believe this, because I have seen signs of it elsewhere in the school. Students have pulled the balls out of the mice (mouses?) in the library computer lab. Sometimes, when I take my classes for their bathroom breaks, the boys walk out of the bathroom grimacing and tell me that they can't use it because someone has peed on the walls or floor and they are just too grossed out. The smell reaches me as I stand out in the hall, and I don't know what to tell my students who need to use the bathroom other than that I'm sorry that their peers have no respect for the facility. Recently, another teacher on my hall told me that she has neat rows of desks where she can easily observe the students, and will make them erase anything that she catches them writing on the desks, but still stays after school every day to wipe the grafitti off the desks. Students come from the dilapidated surroundings of the school and enter the beautiful school building only to tear it apart.

I spoke to two of my friends who teach at the high school in the town where I live, and they both said that their school does not have vandalism problems. We concluded that it must be a middle school phenomenon.

It goes without saying that I care about my students and want them to have the best resources available. Yet, I often become enraged with the gross lack of appreciation they show for the nice things that my school has. Their abuse of property has disgusted me to the point where when it came time to spend my EEF money, I chose to spend it on a printer for my own use (since the school provided most classrooms with a printer, but for unknown reasons, did not equip my room with one) rather than manipulatives or lab supplies for the class. I know that some of my students would respect and greatly appreciate updated lab equipment or other supplies, and it makes me sad that they do not have these things, but I cannot stand the idea of buying supplies for class use with the knowledge that these supplies will be thrown around, banged around, torn apart, and stashed into hiding places. I wish that I could somehow teach my students to appreciate what the school physically offers, but this seems like a value that I cannot instill in the 50 minutes I see them per day. So, besides hoping that my students start acting mature enough sometime soon to respect property, I have no solution for what to do about the destruction my school endures each day.

Now playing: Mr. Big- Be with You