Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Day #21

Gotta be careful sometimes when I play-act a loose-cannon rage to quell a rowdy class. Sometimes play-acting rage can result in real rage if the initial blow-up doesn't cool things off.

Today in last period we had a great day until near the end when I blasted them with a faux display after they went all chaotic. I kicked a desk and a young man who got in my face found himself with his arm twisted behind his back face down on a desk. "Yo, that some police shit," another boy said, and I released his classmate. I don't intend any "police shit," of course, but have to consider such appearances at all times, given that I am a white man in a room full of African American students. But young men who "get up in my grill" are going to find I don't flinch. They beat a teacher in the head with desks and chairs a couple years back at my school. Nobody is going to feel confident coming at me.

I told them I was tired of the noise and the disrespect. The boy who'd been face down a moment before said "We tired of you!" and I sent him to the office and my fake anger became real anger. "His head gettin' real red," a girl said. "SHUT YOUR MOUTHS," I screeched.

Kids actually jumped.

"I can teach anywhere I choose," I told them quietly and calmly. "I can teach in Baltimore County, Howard County, or Montgomery County, where the kids sit quietly in their chairs and do their work and colleges fight over them. But I came here to teach you. You can take advantage of that or not. The next person who breathes without my permission will stay with me until 4pm today." Then we finished our lesson in relative peace and quiet.

Strangely, no one had detention today in my classes, but I had 10 kids in my room after school, asking if they could help clean up, wash the boards, or use my computers. They stayed until 4. I helped them with homework, we exchanged stories, we listened to Lil Wayne and Gucci Mane and Rihanna. I was at work from 7am-5pm, and I am bone tired.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Day #20

Day started with a fight in my first period class. A tall tough gal and a short wimpy boy started wrasslin' near my LCD projector. I howled at them to stop, they pushed back and forth, then the boy was holding lamely onto her hairweave as she popped him repeatedly in the eye and nose. She ended up with a tangled wig and he had a bloody face. He still tried to claim victory, but nobody was buying it.

Called beaucoup parents today. Tired of the shenanigans in 2nd period. They broke my little hourglass timer with their foolishness. The sand and broken glass made the floor extra slippery, and one little girl immediately ran over, picked up a shard, and started carving something onto her wrist. I called her mother for the 8th day in a row and asked if there was something we could do about her impossible behavior. "Get my boyfriend to stop selling her medicine," the woman said.

I just want to teach, but I have to be a cop, a nurse, a parent, a counselor, a negotiator, and a frazzled old man all at once.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Day #19

First real in-class fight today. Eddie Munster, about 4 feet tall and 11 years old, versus Henry, about 6 feet tall and 14 years old. Henry kept bugging him by kicking his chair, trying to agitate Eddie, who said three times "I'm a bang you if you don't stop!" I moved Henry's desk about three feet back personally and gave him the pinch of death until he fell on the floor. "Henry, don't play with him," I warned. Next thing I knew Henry was kicking the chair again, Eddie Munster was up, and then Eddie Munster was flying through the air, hitting his head on a desk and falling down. His glasses went flying too. I grabbed Henry and wrapped him up and frog-marched him to the door. Eddie came running up behind me, jumped, and tried to punch Henry on the side of the head, but I deflected him with The Noisemaker.

I flung Henry out in the hallway and pulled the door closed, then took Eddie by the shoulder and walked him over to the intercom where I called for support. The police came and took both of them away.

Eddie came back to class later with a nice goose egg on the back of his head. I sent him right to the nurse, which they should have done from the office.

Lots of banging on things, lots of whistling, lots of shouting today. Three day weekends always fire the kids up, and they forget how to sit still and learn. Can't really shout, unfortunately, because though I am feeling much better I still have a raspy cough and sore throat.

Back to it tomorrow.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Day #18

No kids tomorrow for professional development, thank God. That is the only reason I am thankful about a professional development: no kids. Otherwise they tend to be beyond useless, and in fact they're more often than not odious and tiresome and they actually sap professional curiosity and desire to achieve out of my soul.

I think, in fact that I will use sick time tomorrow. I've been laboring under some miserable virus for three days, which clouds my head and weakens my voice and makes me exhausted all the time, with occasional chills and sweats to boot. And today was Back to School Night, and I was at school and on the run for 13 hours straight. I'd hoped to get planning and grading and cleaning done in my room before and during the festivities, but the administrators scripted us into going to a large assembly and thence to small break-out sessions with our kids and parents according to grade level. I much prefer the Back to School Nights where we gather for ten minutes and rush off to our rooms to wait for parents to come to us for sit-down meetings with my electronic gradebook and printer. Between parents I can get work done and listen to music. As it was I got nothing done, but nonetheless this evening was valuable. We had maybe a bit more than 50 parents there, which is I believe the largest turnout I've seen for an in-school event.

I had a couple rough patches this week, but overall felt that the chaotic outbursts were rupturing rather successful teaching, whereas last week I felt that occasional outbursts of teaching were rupturing the rather successful chaos.

That's my story and I'm sticking too it. Off to bed.

UPDATE: I was going to link to my Donor's Choose project to solicit funds again when I found out that it had been fully funded today with an extremely generous donation. I am giddy with delight [and Nyquil]. I am also humbled and profoundly appreciative. I can't wait to take the Thank You pictures and write the Thank You notes with the kids again.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Day #17

[I took this video during the typically hellish last-period class. I was reading the first Bluford book to them, Lost and Found Chapter 6, and they were dead silent for 23 consecutive minutes! At 2:35 the bell rang and they were asking if they could stay and read chapter 7. "it's gettin' good!" they pleaded. Chapter 7 tomorrow, my pretties. If you earn it again. I uploaded this only because no one is identifiable in the dark with their heads in books and from behind.]

Today I walked in at 7am to find a special ed meeting form on my desk. "This needs to be filled out and returned to my mailbox by 8am," it said. I filled it out and put it in the special ed office mail box. At 1pm a special ed officer came into my room and told me I did the form incorrectly. "You need to sign off on the form as a team following a detailed meeting," he scolded. My first response was to consider frontin' like one of my ED students: "You best not be rollin' up in my grill like that, muthafucka!" I restrained this impulse and simply laughed. "I got this form at 7am. Teachers aren't even scheduled to arrive until 7:35. Kids arrive at 7:40 for homeroom. You needed the form by 8:00. When exactly was I supposed to have a team meeting? You want a team meeting, you give me a week's notice." He started unloading a bunch of procedural and legal requirements on me and I said "I understand these requirements. But you got the form to me late, it's on you. Don't blame the teachers." Then I mentioned the legal requirement that each class with more than 20% IEP students is supposed to have a special educator in the room at all times, and how I was teaching two classes with 30% IEP students with no help whatsoever. Suddenly the special ed officer was less keen to continue berating me.

The kids were a mess today, but only for about 1/3rd of the class time. This is a substantial improvement over last week. I'm pleased to do less shouting because I am sick as a dog, and feel like I might be getting worse. Tomorrow is back-to-school night, too, so I'll be in the building for 13 hours! Friday is a PD day, and I mayy use sick time because the kids are off.

I got a notice that the few remaining quiet and sharp kids in my classes are being transferred to the IBO program on the first floor. Mr. Buzz, the IBO language arts teacher, was just teasing me yesterday about getting all my good kids. "Ima leave you the bottom of the barrell, G! Sorry 'bout that." Jocularity!

And speaking of humor, a student took it upon herself to add a couple items to the dry-erase board where I keep reminders to myself. Because I got a good laugh out of it, I didn't crank on her too hard when I caught her in the act.

Please consider donating to my class room library project. Gracias!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Day #16

"You can't handle sixth graders," Q-tip says to the social studies teacher. "You should maybe teach third grade. Or second!" This, from one of the better-behaved young ladies in the school, a true brainiac. She's developing a smart mouth and an attitude worthy of the March already.

Right now the entire sixth grade team is struggling to "handle" the sixth graders. The classes are too big, there are exactly ZERO one-on-one special educators in the building (and we need at least 12 of them for the three classes I teach, according to the IEPs). Today a new student transferred in. The first page of her IEP has a warning in large bold caps: "This student will disrupt class. She is a constant distraction to her classmates and her teachers. She needs one-on-one attention." She is the sixth such student in my second period class--out of 22. I have no one-on-ones, I have no special educator, and I have no co-teacher that period. It is a constant war to keep the class from total chaos when there are six students who climb on chairs and who throw tantrums for no apparent reason.

Last period I have 30 students, with a further five behavioral/learning disabled IEP students. Until this week they gave me a co-teacher and a special educator, but now I have lost them. The co-teacher has been pulled to teach in the Library last period (I don't understand why the librarian can't teach Library class?). Also, the special educator has been told she needs to service two other full-size classes last period, on top of mine. So she is my room about 15 out of the 90 minutes. Meanwhile I have her kids shouting "I need help!" every two seconds while I'm trying to teach the class. I can't read directly to these kids, or do their other accommodations, without five heads and all hands on deck. So they derail the entire lesson, through no fault of their own. We're talking severely emtionally disturbed children, some of whom have a propensity to violence, defiance, and self-mutilation.

But somehow I am regarded as relatively "on top" of behavior management. I find this ridiculous. I'd hate to see what's going on in other rooms if mine is any kind of model. The gym teacher hit my cell ten minutes into my planning period; I had to go and remove Mohair from the gym because he was out of control. The gym teacher is a long-time vet of the DC school system, a guy who has been an assistant football coach at several colleges and universities. And Mohair is 4 feet tall. But I have seen his handiwork when he is having a bad day-and he's only one in that crew. I took Mohair back to my room and spent my planning time showing him how to use the Internet. The gym teacher owes me.

I will build alliances one by one if necessary. I get more kids on my side, they will help keep their classmates in line.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Saturday's Gig

A jig set, featuring "The Lilting Banshee," "The Connaught Man's Rambles," and "The Kesh." I love how terrified I look, carefully watching the sheet music and counting reps.

One of our newer covers. I stomped my tuner pedal by accident, so no guitar sound is coming through the PA. Doesn't really matter!

Day #15

Had detention for 8 kids today in my room, down from 38 on Friday. The country music is having an effect. Friday we listened to Merle Haggard and Hank Williams Sr. A couple kids on the way to detention today said "I'ma do the right thing 'cuz I ain't hearing that mess again!"

Today at detention I started with the Sugar Hill Gang and MJ. The kids got all excited, but I switched "Billie Jean" over to Steve Earle and the Del McCroury Band. There was a lot of grimacing.

Tomorrow at detention I might ease up on the country and play some gamelon, or maybe some Chinese opera?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Day #14

A hard day today, fearsome indeed, perhaps the hardest I've had outside the first few days at the March after I got transferred in. I was due after a couple relatively smooth days. It happens when you get cocky.

I have a darling young man in my home room and first period who told me "you a fucking bitch," and who then told me "you ain't my momma, and the principal ain't my momma, and I ain't gotta do nothing y'all say." Then his sister came to detention and took him out, saying "he ain't gotta stay in your detention. You ain't his momma." And his momma also told the principal that we ain't his mamma.

Of course, according to the law, we are his momma when he is in school custody.At least according to that Teachers and the Law book I read.

Of course he is only one of a dozen darlings with the same attitude and the same kind of parental support for his attitude. Some of the long-time teachers call it "that street attitude." His mother got shot in the leg a couple years back when two neighborhood corner boys started throwing down on the street. One chased the other into her house, where a gun discharged, hitting her as she was feeding dinner to her babies. Who am I to judge a woman trying to raise children in that environment?

Mr. A, the new science teacher, uses such realities as a weapon. He's much colder than I, more steely. He taught at the Doug for four years, after all. If he pushed or pinched a kid and they complained he used to say "I can do anything I damn well please to control you, because your parents don't give a damn about you." The kids would protest that of course their parent or guardian loved them, and Mr. A would respond: "I know your parents don't care about you because you go to the Doug. That's all the evidence I need. If they loved you, they would find a way to get you out of here." He has started using that line at the March only 3 weeks in.

As hard as today was, I kept fighting. I held my second period class 45 minutes into their gym period. I wasn't letting them go until they let me finish my lesson. I cleared it with the administrators and the phys ed teacher ahead of time. The kids were warned, they acted out, and five minutes before class was over they blew up. We were two minutes away from ending class, too. I waited 35 minutes until they finally quieted down to finish reading two paragraphs of text, and then I gave them a 10-minute dressing down. After school we kept 36 sixth graders for detention in my room. They wrote letters of apology to the entire sixth grade team for a variety of atrocities.

Sometimes I wonder if I'm wasting my time.

[if you'd like to help fund a classroom library for my kids: click!]

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Day #13

In lieu of an actual post, please accept this brief glimpse of the neighborhood around The March. I thought I'd taken better video, but was not recording when I thought I was, and vice-versa. One has to be careful with a camera in certain parts of town, after all. Let's just say I have a nice extended clip of my upholstery. I wish I could show the video I took in class today of Raptor and Jeremiah stabbing each other with pencils. They call it "stingin'." I first encountered this game at The Book 3 years back. Also, I had a student wrap a shirt sleeve around his classmate's neck and tie a knot in it. I just happened to see the boy turn bright red and "fall out" in time.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Day #12

I have some sixth graders who look like they're 20 something. One girl is taller than I am, and is fully developed at age 11. Aside from her continuous silliness and the drawings of hearts and butterflies, she could be 25. I have a couple young men who are either my height or taller. One is a moose, with thick shoulders and big fists. According to the gym teacher he weighs in at 170, and he's not chubby.

I weighed 140 pounds in 7th grade, and I was big at that age. They used to have me wrestle the fat kids in gym class because they were the only ones at my weight level. 170 at age 11 is ridiculous. And he's very defiant to boot, often trying to get in my face or bump me with his shoulder. That's fine. I still top him by 20 lbs, and my workout regime is a bit more strenuous than his.

I called a parent today because her daughter is very clingy and helpless in class, and while her mobility is OK I noticed occasional hitches in her gait and uncontrollable spasms from time to time. I was concerned. Her mother said "Yeah, she's a bit funny since she got hit by the bus last year." I asked if she'd had neurological testing. "My daughter is FINE. You leave her be!" Sure, I'll leave her be.

Mohair fashioned himself a straight jacket out of his windbreaker. He lay on the floor and rolled around gibbering as I lectured on test-taking skills. I took an HD video, and wish I could post it, but I lack the requisite permissions. Maybe when I get a few minutes free I'll edit the movie in Adobe Premier Elements so you can't see his face, and post it.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


I'm terribly sad to finish this book because now there are no more novels about Cugel written by his creator Jack Vance.* I adore Cugel and his conflict with Iucounu the Laughing Magician was a source of great and continual amusement over the past couple weeks. In each chapter Vance creates a wholly realized new culture and Cugel has to quickly adapt, or face the music. He often does both.

*There are novels featuring Cugel written by others, apparently.

Day #11

I got some kids who are batshit insane*, who have never been tested. One little guy bursts into tears at wholly inappropriate times and laughs hysterically whenever somebody says something sad. He runs around the room and around and around and can't stop talking. I called his mom today for the fifth time in two weeks and she said "I want him tested for psychological problems." I was just prepping to suggest this and to be denied; the fact that she wants testing is amazing. Most of the parents in the City I've dealt with don't want it. They think it's a stigma of some sort. But this kid needs services, and he is ruining the chances for other kids to learn, through no fault of his own.

Last period was a constant war and I even gave them a test and they still couldn't focus and be quiet. I had to leave at 15 minutes before dismissal for a doctor's appt, and I couldn't even get out of the room. I packed up while they were working on the test, the other two adults in the room were clued in that I was bailing at 2:20, and I was going to just play it cool and sneak out, but got swarmed by kids with questions and demands. I got out finally 7 minutes before dismissal, and was 10 minutes late for my check-up.

A rough day, topped off by a prostate exam. Woot!

*Yes, it "takes one to know one"

Monday, September 14, 2009

Day #10

I really haven't the slightest idea what I'm doing. Yeah, I've taken the classes and watched other teachers, but there are things which don't gel for me yet. I mean, I understand most of my responsibilities, but I don't get how to do them without working 24/7. Differentiation of lesson and product, arts integration, re-teaching, tutoring, assisting those with learning disabilities--I truly feel I can't do it all. Some teachers can. I have my strengths, but I have a long way to go.

Sometimes I observe myself and feel a strange sort of disconnect. I have developed a persona in front of the class which is completely not who I am: fierce, quick to anger, all about the rules, heavy on the guilt, full of lectures about responsibility. This is totally not the persona I've crafted over 40 years, which-- according to the Buddha--is also not who I am.

I want to film myself teaching to see how it looks. I know the kids think I'm a character. I get out The Noisemaker and everyone says "He got that stick! SHHH before he bangs on sumthin'!" or "He gettin' mad. His face is purple!" All my little contrivances, all my rages and screaming fits, are nothing but histrionics. I hate the way we run our schools, the discipline and order I find objectionable and actually contrary to the way kids learn. But chaos is certainly no help either. Order first, then build trust and we can cut loose a bit? Like I said, I haven't the slightest.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A little help...

If you click this link and vote for the YWCA (no registration required) they could win a $100,000 grant for programs which fight racism and empower women. I can vouch for these programs because my awesome sister runs/designs/implements/fights for many of them.

Voting ends today, and you can only vote once. Thanks!

The Other Joe Wilson

There's talk in Congress about censuring Representative Joe Wilson of SC for shouting "You lie!" at President Obama during the President's address to Congress. He shouldn't be censured. It's his right to shout, it's his right to be rude, it's his right to be wrong about the facts.

As far as I'm concerned this is just another instance which proves how much bigger the Republicans' cojones are. Democrats sat through years of Bush twaddle without ever shouting "You lie!," when levels of executive branch mendacity achieved new heights. See what politeness and civility hath wrought? Because so few elected Democratic representatives would challenge the obvious bullshit pouring out of the White House post-9/11 we ended up in a proto-fascist America where torture is OK and you can disappear human beings without charges, where the government can listen to your phone calls and read your emails with no legal basis, and where we have more socialism for the rich and free market doctrine for the rest of us. Aside from the Code Pink gals and a few million people raising hell in the streets, there wasn't anyone to stand up and say "You lie!"

Joe Wilson is wrong, he's a jerk, and he's likely racist. But he has cojones to stand up and scream out when what his funders pay him to believe is challenged by authority. Joe Wilson speaks corporate propaganda truths to government power, but at least he said what he was paid to think is true by the insurance lobby. Democrats in the minorty coughed politely into their lapels, refused at times to applaud, and feared giving offense. And now that they have overwhelming majorities in Congress they still can't get things done.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Donors Choose

I am trying to get more books for my class room library via Donors Choose. Please don't fault me for the clunky language in my appeals essay: someboday at Donors Choose apparently tried to "fix" it, and now it is less clear.* But what remains clear is my kids need more books to borrow and read in class, and you can help me get them more engaging titles to choose from by clicking here and throwing some bucks their way.

Thanks for the help!

*An example of their 'editing': I wrote "The kids are curious, and given support and supplies they can improve." They changed it to: "The kids are curious and were given support and supplies so they can improve." WTF? They also changed the title, "Get My Students to Reading Level" (which in teacher parlance means the grade level at which they are supposed to read)to "Get My Students to A Reading Level," which sounds like any old reading level would do. Goof balls!

Day #9

So I'm crusing along. First period smooth as silk, second period a bit hectic at first but I rein them in by threatening to give them homework on the weekend. Typically I don't, but at the beginning of class I said "every time you get on my nerves today I'ma write some letters on the board under the Homework sign. If I get the complete sentence finished you will have homework this weekend. A LOT of homework." The interrupted me and I wrote "Write 3." They interrupted me again, and I wrote "pages." Then the self-policing started, the students shushing each other, saying "Shut up!" when others talked or goofed off. I wrote "about how disap." Panic! Gasps! And absolute quiet for ten minutes. Another little outburst, and I wrote "pointed I am in this." And that's as far as we got. The funny thing was, the kids doing the shushing, the kids freaking out most, were the ones who never do their homework anyhow. I don't get why they were so worried about me assigning homework over the weekend. Kids are weird.

Last period was a hard slog for 20 minutes. The same trick worked on them, however, and they were angels for the next hour, taking turns reading, paying attention as I showed them a brief constructed response on the LCD projector, and finally doing their own work individually. Noodles asked if she could erase my board for me, and I said yes. 20 seconds later I heard a loud noise and the entire chalkboard had fallen off the wall. I leapt up and caught it just as it started to tilt out toward several students. Poor Noodles got her wrist bent but she seemed OK. We sent her to the nurse and I filled out an incident report, just in case. I would like to find the dumb ass who attached a heavy slate chalkboard to the wall with glue!

Once the board fell, the students were "off the wall" as well. I couldn't get them back. Thankfully it was near the end of the class anyway.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Day #8

The entire sixth grade blew up so badly today at lunch that the administrators gave them all detention. Ten minutes in the Big Cheese got on the horn and said "Stop holding these children. You need to meet with me about detention policy!" Uh, 10 minutes is too long for detention? How are we ever going to control kids whose parents are unreachable without the threat of keeping them until 4pm? Sounds bogus to me. I fully intend to keep doing detention. If the Big Cheese don't like it, I'll go over her head.

Had a young tough steal stuff out my desk drawer today. He thought I didn't see him, but I grabbed his ear and hauled him out in the hallway. "Don't f*** with me, Geronimo," I whispered in his ear. "I will pull your ear off your skull." I've had him for detention five times in 9 days. The only reason I didn't have him for detention the other four days was because other teachers got to him first.

First period I have my homeroom for Language Arts. They're darlings. Everyone compliments me on their behavior. We had a surprise visit from home office today and everyone was on point as I taught complete subjects and predicates. I was quite pleased with myself. This lasted until half-way through second period when the shit hit the fan, and that class went suddenly off the rails. There are three kids in there who are supposed to each have a one-on-one assistant in order to be in an inclusive classroom setting, and I don't have any help that period. So when Mohawk and Bob and Tre go ape-shit separately or concurrently, the entire class gets derailed. Today it was concurrent. Mohawk started saying "fuck" over and over, then he kicked his desk and told me to shut up. I gave him the Pinch of Death until he promised to stay after class and help me clean up. Meanwhile Tre was climbing up on the desk where our PCs are-by the time I grabbed him and hauled his ass back to his chair, Bob was in my desk and throwing markers on the floor. This spectacle freed up the entire class to run amok. At this point the Big Cheese, intending to thank me for my good show in front of the home office inspectors, walked in to find a zoo. She saw all the names on my phone call and detention lists, and then began calling parents with her own cell phone. Nice!

But last period? Smooth, for the first time. I have 37 kids in there, 7 with IEPs. But at least that period I have a special educator and a co-teacher who handles half the disciplinary duties. Mr. E, the math teacher next to me, is pretty vocal about the fact that our classes keep getting more students while the female teachers are getting less. There are sixth grade teachers with less than 20, while Mr. E and I are carrying 30 and 35+. Mr. E always bemoans the dominance of women in the field. I don't object to women in charge; most of my bosses have been women. Nor do I care about taking on a few extra hoodlums in a school where attacks on faculty are rather common. I can fend for myself better than others. But I see his point. My last period class has more than twice as many as the other female language art teacher's, and she's a veteran whereas I'm a rookie.

Whatever. I need to get on a system of rewards soon, so not all my classroom management stems from prohibitions and punishments. In the City we go hard first, then get softer. Never start nice.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Day #7

No quarter today. 2nd period class acted up so bad I went ballistic and gave the entire group detention. I told Mr. E, the math teacher, to hold them after school for me and I would come to collect my pound of flesh.

Last period class was just as bad. I gave the entire group detention. I started with 20 minutes, and a rash of kids complained and rained abuse on my head. "You don't like 20 minutes?" I asked. "You're right, 20 isn't good." I changed the 2 to a 3 on the board, to more complaints. "What? You're not happy with 30?" I changed the 3 to a 4. Decidedly less abuse and complaints, but still a couple kids whining. I changed the 0 to a 5. Then it started. Kids shushing each other, saying "he ain't playin'!" It got quiet, I was able to teach my lesson, and I changed the 45 to 30, then to 25, when they got noisy again and that's the amount of detention most of them got.

After school it was a bit awkward to manage the two classrooms full of detainees. I had to straddle the doorways, which are fortunately only a couple feet apart, and let kids go one by one (some kids always do the right thing, so I let them go when I give the "whole class" detention). Kids who complained got chores: putting up chairs, picking up papers, washing the boards.

I can't teach if the classroom isn't orderly and quiet and if the students are distracted by chaos. I will master the chaos. Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Day #6

Wow, coming back from a 3-day weekend after one week of school is like starting from scratch. All those rules and procedures? Gone and forgotten! Class is time to talk, start fights, and run amok.

Oh, no no no, my little darlings. Just you wait until I recover from tomorrow's hangover.

Monday, September 07, 2009


I enjoyed Eyes of the Overworld as much as I enjoyed The Dying Earth. And the addition of Cugel as main character only amplified my enjoyment, because rarely have I encountered a more hateful and self-centered rogue. What he does to Slye is unforgiveable in the extreme, his treatment of Derwe is loathesome and despicable, his egomaniacal misuse of Lodermulch and the Gilfigite Pilgrims surely will land him in a personally reserved chamber of Hell!

But Cugel is so persistent and diligent a betraying bastard that he entertains no end. Great stuff.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Day #5

A long, hard slog of a day. Constantly asking for quiet, putting names on the board, etc. Kids out of seats, restless, whining, talking. I broke each one about half-way through, but it was exhausting work, emotionally draining, and the kids will be nuts again after the 3-day weekend.

1st period was pretty smooth today. 2nd period took a half-hour to rein in. One young lady told me "get outta my face" and once I made an example of her the entire class shut up and got on task. Last period was a trainwreck for 40 minutes before I got them in line, and I have a co-teacher and a special ed assistant that period. The co-teacher has been teaching for 30 years and she takes notes on what I'm doing because she likes the way I manage the classroom. I'm like "you call this managing a classroom?" and she's like "yeah. In B'more this is as close as it gets!" I typically have he sit with students and assist as they do their class work, or simply patrol as another set of eyes, because her content knowledge is pretty bad. But she is pretty good with discipline one-on-one. The special ed assistant was hired and shipped in from Manila. We have a couple dozen of them at the March. They are excellent educators, but the kids give them a tremendous raft of shit. She's going to have a hard time with the 6 IEPs in my class. A very defiant, very mobile group!

As I was lining up the last period class one of my students tried to sneak out. I reached around behind me without looking, intending to snag him by the hoody, and I felt something soft and smooth. I turned to look and there was the 6th grade administrator with my hand on her boob! D'oh. I was mortified and apologized but she didn't even really seem to register what was happening in the crush of 6th grade bodies.

I should spend some time planning this weekend, but I'm so pooped I doubt that will happen.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Day #4

Yesterday was all unicorns and butterflies; today, landmines and barbed wire.

Some of the no-shows from earlier this week arrived today at last. I want them to return to the pit of eldritch horror from whence they shambled. Whew! Back in my first months at the Book I had a young goblin named Montrice who could not stay in his seat for two minutes. Poor soul had no control over himself, making it hard ethically to discipline him, but he derailed class every day and made it more difficult to keep the other, barely restrained lunatics in line.

Suddenly my 2nd and 3rd period classes each have three or four Montrices, totally incapable of staying in their seats, let alone still and quiet during instruction or class work. When you have 31 kids in a room with 3 who are completely unreasonable and uncontrollable then the other 28 kids get up to mischief while you chase the 3 around. Some of these kids must have IEPs which I've not seen; it is obvious they are emotionally disturbed and/or hyperactive/ADHD.

So I called 16 parents today, and had detention with 8 students. I made them write letters to President Obama explaining how they behaved. Princess with a P wrote: "I cusst. I was rute in ckiss to the 2eacher. I dixrespect." I feel behind the 8 ball today. How am I going to get Princess with a P to grade level? How am I going to keep all the kids who have great paragraphing/sentence-level skills from slipping while I work with the strugglers? Argh! I need about 3 more of me in the class room.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Day #3

My kids were on point today all day. I had a couple moments where I had to break out the Teacher Voice and write some names on the Verbal Warning list, but for the most part everyone was on task and in their seats and doing their work. Even the knuckleheads did their work. This is likely due to the fact I broke out a seating chart after watching who sat with whom the first two days; some teachers swear by the first-day seating chart, but I like to know who the cliques are and who are the best pals before I give them seats. I'm not going to get too excited after a single really smooth day. Sometimes a seating chart lasts just a day or two before the kids get comfortable with their new potential partners in crime.

The CEO of the City schools dropped in on a surprise inspection. The chair of my department rushed up to my door third period and poked her head in to say "Alonso is in the building." This is how they warn teachers whose classes run amok to get shit together. Alonso has been known to shit-can staff on the spot if things are too chaotic. But after the chair whispered to me about Alonso she looked around at all the students working diligently and quietly on their autobiographies and I said "bring him on in!"

Of course he never made it to my room.

I started class with a roll of TP. I went around asking kids to take as much as they needed. Some took one sheet, some took a few sheets, a few took more than twenty. They got all antsy and aggravated because I wouldn't tell them what it was for. "I don't know," I said. "What do you usually use it for? Take as much as you think you'll need." One of my mouthiest chuckleheads took 31 sheets, and bragged about his gigantic dookies.

After I passed out the TP I said "Now count how many sheets you have, write that number on your warm-up paper, and circle it." Then we went around the room and each student had to tell something about his or herself for each sheet of TP. I forget from whom I stole this idea, but it worked really well. Some kids with 28 or 29 sheets were trying to hide their TP in pockets, in desks, or in bookbags, but I already had the numbers written down!

I have all their names down now, and many of the kids are dropping by my room after school to talk. They give me intricate hand-shakes and ask me about my wife and house. I'm getting to know them. We're almost ready for teaching.

A few 8th graders who wore me out last year came back today to give hugs and thank me. I find this hilarious. Buggin' Out came in, told me he tested out of 9th grade and into 11th, and said "I know I acted a donkey in your room all year, but you were the only one who thought it was because I was really smart." It's true. I suspected all along that Buggin' Out was an advanced kid, acting out from boredom. I had two of them in the same room, in fact. He came in, gave me a hug in front of my last period class, and then packed my shoes. "I see you still wearin' them clown boots," he said.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009


Earlier this summer I saw a NYTimes profile of Jack Vance which aroused my interest. I'd never read him during the hey-day of my sci-fi geekdom, and then Steven Hart, who rarely steers one wrong, wrote his own appreciation post, and I ordered the Dying Earth novels via

The Dying Earth is a stunner, one of the most curiously inventive fantasies I've read. I don't know how to categorize it because it's not really a novel and it's not really sci-fi, and it's not exactly fantasy either. But Vance's prose is superior to almost every other sci-fi/fantasy writer; not once did I have to wince at a clunky or pedestrian passage in this charming little book, and if you enjoy imaginative and well-wrought prose but maybe not so much the fantasy, I would nonetheless recommend you read this book. It gave me chills, heebie-jeebies, and tingly pleasures. There is a remarkable torrent of imaginative and provocative ideation here.

Once upon a time I took a graduate lit class helmed by Phil Stevick at Temple U. If memory serves, it was titled "The Modern Short Story," and the texts were concentrated amongst magical realists writing in short forms. It was my intro to Borges, Calvino, Fuentes, et al. That class blew the top of my head clean off, and Vance could have been on that syllabus, as stylistically and imaginatively he is their equal.

Day #2

Had to call houses today already. Called up Gramma Mamie and she said "Oh, Lord, Mr. G. Montrell graduated 8th grade last year. Why you still callin' me?"

"Sorry Mamie I have his little brother this year."

"What'd he do?"

Two more of the parents I had to call today know me well from older siblings last year acting out. Some things never change.

A bit hectic today. Two of my classes required The Noisemaker and the whistle already. Even at Booker T. I had a two-week honeymoon period with the sixth graders before the buffoonery started.

During 2nd period I was reprimanding a young man for talking out of turn when the principal walked in. She sat down to observe and the young man started talking again. I said "Tyrese you are talking again" and wrote his name on the board and he kept talking. The Head Cheese jumped all over his shit, and then he talked AGAIN. Dag, even the Head Cheese gets ignored up in this joint!

Despite the aggravation, I'm learning a lot about the kids and their crazy amazing brains. Ideas are perculating, and I hope I get to do some actual teaching this year. Funny to hear a couple of the kids singing Ellen Cherry's "We Are Baltimore" song. While they were singing it another said "yo! that's the song!" Awesome.