Thursday, March 25, 2010

thursdays

thursdays have the power to either kick my butt or make me feel like i've done great work.

today, my rear end is tired.

after 7:30am reading club, the writing celebration, a paperwork fiasco, a spontaneous IEP meeting that had to be thrown together and held immediately, *yes, spontaneous. IEP meeting. which we managed to pull off- only briefly stopping for... wait for it...*, the tornado drill, crying kindergartners, and after school practice with the jump rope team i am whipped.

now, i just need to muster the energy for the kindergarten trip to the zoo tomorrow.

i heart writing



Today was my absolute favorite school holiday- I Heart Writing. A few years ago my school decided to dedicate one day to a writing celebration. Everyone has something to share, whether it is a published piece, a folder full of their writing, or a class-produced story. Every child is given an "I Heart Writing" button to wear and we all proudly puff up our chests and share our writing.

Over the years I've noticed that the first grade gets more exciting about this than any other grade. The teachers have their own matching I Heart Writing shirts, the first graders come more dressed up, and the first grade classrooms are elaborately decorated to celebrate the day. Maybe it's something about the nature of first grade- the kids are really, truly more independent than they have been in the past, and for the first time are really producing meaningful writing other people can read.

My amazing first grade co-teacher created the most magical environment this morning. A short table become a stage with a music stand as a podium. She created the red-carpet experience by rolling red bulletin board paper across the door frame, and covered the room with hearts, streamers, and signs.

The kids started arriving this morning with a reverent excitement. Many of the girls showed off their dresses, skirts, or pink tights. One of my friends came in his dress pants, a fancy shirt, and a leather jacket. He was incredibly handsome, and he knew it. Later I asked him if it it was his mother's idea to dress up for the day. "Nope," he said, "It was mine. I wanted to be handsome."
I died.
A few minutes later another girl arrived, in a long white skirt with a shiny white top, along with silver shoes that matched her silver nail polish. A stylish white hat sat on top of her head like a crown, but her smile out shone her clothes. She was beautiful, this was her day, and she was ready.

The children shared their published pieces one by one, carefully stepping up onto the stage to read to the audience. Some demanded applause, "Ok, you can clap now!", some were shy, some proudly showed off each picture they'd drawn, and drew the audience's attention to particular details in the picture just in case we'd missed it. Most bowed multiple times from the stage, fully getting into the spirit of the event.
Our star though was our friend who showed up in white. I've never seen a first grader with such stage presence. She proudly stood up on the stage, thanked her parents and the other visitors for coming. She thanked our principal and blew kisses to the teachers. All with the calm, determined and respectful voice of a true star. Before she began she explained that her inspiration for her story was to show that any problem can be solved, just like it is in her book.
I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes. She hasn't had any easy life- none of our kids have. But it's that kind of confidence and pose that will carry her far in life, and will carry that message to the rest of us.

The morning was truly magical. The kids knew they were stars and accepted that responsibility. They complemented one another on their clothing, their writing, and for sitting quietly in the audience. Even when I saw them at the end of the day the story teller was still wishing me a "Happy I Heart Writing Day!"

I love that our school created a holiday that essential celebrates not just hard work, but each child's own written story- sending the message that each child not just has a story to tell, but that each story is also important and worthy of celebration.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

facilitated communication, good intentions, and alternative realities

A month or so ago I heard a few stories on facilitated communication-
"a technique by which intermediaries aid weak or injured people by moving their hands on keyboards or screens" (Scott Hensley, NPR)

One of the stories discussed a man in a coma writing a book through facilitated communication. Another story dealt with children with autism who accused their parents of sexual abuse through facilitated communication. The family was torn apart and the autistic children were taken away from their parents until the case when to court. (I can't imagine anything more detrimental to children with autism)

In court, both incidents were ruled to be false by a simple test. The person was asked a simple question with their facilitator out of the room. The facilitator then came back into the room to help the patient answer. Although they had previously answered similar questions correctly (when the facilitator was allowed to remain in the room for the question), their responses when the facilitator did not hear the question were only gibberish.

What upsets me the most about these stories (beyond the autistic children being torn unnecessarily from their families) is that I am sure their facilitators were horrified to realize it had been them, not their patients, providing the answers. I am sure they meant well, and may not have even believed the outcome of the court tests. I am sure they did not intentionally move their patients hand to write answers. Most likely they had no idea they were doing it.

Which means it was all subconscious, and any of us could do it.

Well-meaning assistants, wanting to help who they were working with as much as possible, ended up creating their own reality.

When do we do that ourselves as teachers? When do we perceive a situation in a way that makes us only see what we want to see? Even when we are trying our hardest to be open and un-biased?

Part of my job is helping teachers bring up children to Child Study, where we look at the child's academic process, behavior, and response to intervention in order to determine whether or not we should proceed with special education testing (if the parent consents, of course). But how much of the time do we come with an objective in mind, that might not fit the reality of the child? Do we, subconsciously, place that child inside a label because we've only seen characteristics our subconsciousness is focusing on more than others?

What facilitated communication shows us, I think, is that human nature leads us to make assumptions subconsciously that prevent us from fully seeing reality. Knowing this, how do we make sure we're not falling into the trap of the well-meaning facilitator, subconsciously leading children to respond only how we think they should?

Monday, March 22, 2010

*sneeze*

I just sneezed in front of a group of kindergarten students who don't have a firm grasp of English.
So, instead of just saying, "Wow, Mrs. Lipstick, you sneezed" they said,

"Wow, Mrs. Lipstick- ah, ah, ah, CHOOOO!! You! Achoo! Like this, ACH-HOOO!"

There is nothing like having your sneeze re-created for you on a Monday morning.

stupid pollen.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

them city kids

Yesterday was our annual day-long jump rope adventure where we travel almost 2 hours through the country side, into another state, to spend the day with other jump rope teams from all over the country.

On the drive out there the head coach and I slowly breathed the country air and shared how we felt the stress of the suburbs falling away as the caravan of cars wound its way through the green fields where houses sat far apart from one another. We commented on how nice it was for people to have land, something nobody really has where we live.

As we arrived at the clinic and unloaded all of our jumpers I overheard some of the kids talking. With the disdain of a 4th grader trying out snobbery to see how it fit, one said, "There were seriously small houses so far apart with all that land. Like people have all that land but can't buy a big house. Crazy."

I couldn't keep myself from jumping in and telling them that was actually how I grew up, and what I thought was crazy was all those houses right next door to each other where our school is. The other grown ups laughed at this, and jumped in to try to explain to the girls that some people value having space more than a house, but I could tell the girls weren't buying it. They were seeing me in a new light, just as I was seeing them.

I must admit, even though I've lived in this area for almost 8 years now I still can't get use to the lack of green space, and the houses so close together that free-standing houses could actually run the homemade can-telephones across each yard. I'd never thought of anyone feeling the opposite about it- thinking people were crazy to have small houses far apart when they had the land to have a bigger house. But I suppose, if this is where you've grown up, that would be your perspective.

One girl though, looked at me with big eyes. "Did you get to play on all your land?" she almost whispered.
I whispered back, "Oh yes, all the time. We built forts, played soccer & baseball, and climbed trees"
she nodded, wistfully.
I just didn't mention that since our house was so far away from anyone else we didn't actually play these games with any friends...

Friday, March 19, 2010

Friday, lovely Friday

I'd just returned from an errand with one of my first graders when the Intern* sent another student over to me. "I'm not sure the right way to handle this" she said.

The student looked up at me with his big tattle-tale eyes (if you teach you know EXACTLY the eyes I'm talking about- the deep concern for somebody else's business) and said, "A. said a bad word!"

Ok, in first grade bad words can range from anything as innocent as butt, dumb, stupid, fart or hell, or can be of the fun 4 letter variety. I smiled at our tattle tale and said, "Really? Whisper in my ear what he said." (I've learned that it's ok to do this because 9 times out of 10 the teller whispers "booger".)

This time the tattle tale's eyes got even bigger. "It's the F word" he whispered, not about to say it himself.

The intern and I looked at each other. A. is typically an angel. He gets along with everyone, he always does what's asked of him, he never shows frustration, and never even tattles on other kids. However, he does have a serious speech impediment, which makes it difficult to understand a word he says. Clearly, the intern and I decided in the non-verbal conversation exchanged through glances, the tattle-tale had just misheard A. It's happened before with other kids.

So, we sent the tattle tale away and called A over to figure out if he really lost it and cursed at his friends, or if he was really just trying to say "truck".

"I didn't say anything bad!" A. exclaimed as he came over toward us.
"All I said was F***"

Nope, there was no question- the tattler had heard correctly. F***

18 first grade heads snapped up from writing workshop and stared at us. The intern opened a nearby closet where she could stick her head so no one could see her laughing and I hauled A into the hallway, with a paper covering my mouth so he couldn't see me laughing.

"I just said F***!" he repeated, loudly. I slammed the door to the classroom, hoping none of our curious friends heard the word, yet again.

"But A, why would you say that?" I asked, honestly confused.

"Because I was singing my song. You know, F***, F***, Dragon-Ball Z, F***, F***, F***"

I silently sent a thankful prayer that no one is in the hallway right now to hear this beautiful, rhythmic verse.

"Where did you hear that?" I asked, still confused why F*** and Dragon-Ball Z are in the same sentence.

"From my Dragon-Ball Z video game" A. answered, clearly confused on why I'm confused.

"Is it... a song about frogs?" I asked

"No, it's about f***"

deep breath

I quietly explained to A that although I understood that he didn't mean to say a bad word, it sounded just like a very, very bad word we don't say in school, so let's not sing that song anymore.

His eyes filled with tears as he nodded his head, not even about to argue with me. I sent him to get water and to take a deep breath so he wouldn't get too upset.

F*** I wondered, what on earth could he think he was singing? He has a fairly severe auditory processing disorder, which means who knows what the song actually was saying.

When I re-entered the classroom everyone was quietly writing away on their instructions- how to draw a car, how to make hot chocolate, and how to make an ice cream cone.

I bent over one child diligently working and asked, "Wow, you're really working hard. What are you writing about?"

She beamed up at me, and proudly exclaimed, "How to make a baby!"

After our previous incident I wasn't taking any chances. Who knows, maybe the F*** conversation became her muse and she decided to write about it.

"Hmmmm.... let's have our writers' conference in the hall today, ok?" I asked, as if it was completely normal to conference in the hallway.

Once we were away from prying ears I finally asked, "Ok, so, tell me, what's the first step?" bracing myself to quickly cut her off and say, "Ok, you know what, we're not going to write about that in first grade."

"Oh, you know, draw a big circle for the head"

Draw a baby. Draw a baby.

Teaching point during the conference: Writing clear titles.

A quick google search of Dragon-Ball Z lyrics showed that most of their songs are in Japanese, so who knows what our friend was hearing anyway. One song has 1 English line that says something like "Fight, Fair Fight" or something like that. Maybe...

I will say, the speech pathologist was ridiculously excited to hear this story, as she has been working very hard getting him to clearly produce the /f/ sound. Let me tell you, she has successfully done her job.

**Oh Friday, how I love you**

*Student teachers at my school are called interns.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

hanging on to moments by a thread

Ironic that my last post was titled "I love my job". Today was one of those days that just makes me question why I'm here- what am I doing? Why am I working so hard for kids that aren't mine? Perhaps the time change has left me with less sleep, and ala less energy, but today I felt done. An incident happened earlier this week that just left me frustrated and lost. Why again, do I put in the extra hours?

But then, there are those overheard conversations that might not make it all worth it, but at least keep me smiling while I work.

Overheard in the library during a 5th grade class:

5th grader: Dude, you have to come over and check out the smoke machine for the party!

me and the librarian (simultaneously) SMOKE MACHINE?!? What party are you having that you need a smoke machine?

5th grade boy: Just a party. With a smoke machine.

Us: What party are you possibly having that you needed to buy a smoke machine for??

5th grade boy: No, it's not like that. I already have the smoke machine. My dad's a DJ. You have to pay for the party- $5 for boys, girls get in free. For high schoolers. We have flyers.

Us: Why are YOU going to a party for high schoolers??

Him: because I'M the DJ.

Me: You're the DJ. So, like, can we hire you for weddings and stuff?

Him, very serious: No, I'm not a professional.

** ** **
My Story Teller at the end of the day:

OH! Mrs. Lipstick- did you hear the news? We're going on a trip! A field trip! Will you come with us?

Me: Of course, I'd love to come with you!

Story teller- Wonderful! And you'll wear your other glasses. The ones with the dark inside. The ones you wore in kindergarten on our field trip.

Me: My sun glasses?

Story Teller: Oh! Your sun glasses! I love your sun glasses. I love field trips, AND your sun glasses.

*** *** ***
Morning Reading Club:
3rd grade boy: Man, tomorrow's Friday. I hate Friday.

Me: Why? who hates Fridays?

Him: Because it's the last day of school and I can't come to school on the weekend.

*that was heart warming, except when we remember what's happening at his home, and just why he loves school so much...

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

I love my job


Some holidays can only be celebrated with the full amount of intended excitement in a kindergarten classroom. Valentines days, birthdays, and St. Patricks day are all included in this list.

One of my kindergarten classes has been preparing for St. Patricks day all week, and so needless to say I am very excited for tomorrow. Today, though, they blessed me with birthday love by covering my desk with streamers and a whole class made sign. (ignore my messy desk in the picture- I hadn't been at it much during the day, so a mess quickly formed)

I think kindergartners appreciate birthdays more than anyone else on the planet, whether it is their own birthday, or someone else's. My favorite moments of today were a friend leading me up to the sign they'd written to point out the "B" he'd given me- the B in birthday had been his contribution to the interactive writing lesson. Best gift ever.

Another favorite moment when I had popped into my room to put some things at my desk (didn't even sit down) and immediately heard a steady, monotone voice behind me making a noise similar to the happy birthday song. I turned around and one of my friends with a speech impediment was standing directly behind me, rocking back and forth, looking up at the ceiling with his hands in his pockets, while singing his heart out with the Happy Birthday song- of course, with his speech, it was difficult to hear the words so it could have been a monologue about something else, but I think I caught onto the tune after a bit.

If they made today seem like magic because it was my birthday, I can only imagine the magic and excitement that will come when the leprechauns visit tomorrow...

*sigh* I do love my job.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

the best plans...

I know I have a problem with trying to do too much at once. I've had this bad habit my whole life, and as much as I think I break myself from it, when I'm not looking it sneaks back into my life and pretty much interferes with everything I try to do, leaving me utterly exhausted and defeated.

Which is how I ended up in a hole-in-the-wall diner last night trying to keep myself from falling asleep on the largest chocolate milk shake you've ever seen, on a Friday night at 9 o'clock.

On Thursday I accompanied my jump rope team on one of our whirl-wind tours of the Northern Virginia area. On the bus, perhaps because I was being forced to sit and do nothing but think, it occurred to me that Friday night was Dance Night at our school- my favorite school holiday- but we hadn't thought about how Amazing, my kindergarten student in a wheel chair would participate in the event. Dance Night takes place at the nearby high school because it provides more space. The only hitch to this was that my Amazing's power wheel chair stays at our school- there is no good way to transport it ourselves. Amazing is an awesome dancer in her power chair- she moves the chair to the right and the left, back and forth, in time with the music, following the steps of the group dances the kindergartners have been learning in PE for the past month. She rocks out in her chair. We just need to be able to get the chair to the performance so she can dance with her friends, like every other kindergarten student out there.

By the time the bus pulled into school I was on a mission- we were going to make this happen.

I sprinted to my computer and started sending emails with my ideas- emails to her parents, my partner-in-crime, and other members of our team that work with her. My original idea was that we'd walk the chair over to the high school and walk it back.

Something you should know about me: my original ideas are not usually thought through very well. I can be very creative, and I don't like hearing the words "it wont work" or "there is nothing we can do". I like to make things happen. I don't, however, always use logic. Mr. Lipstick knows this. He's the logical one, who grounds me and makes sure we don't end up in another country without lodging. He's probably the reason I'm still alive.

My partner-in-crime looked at my skeptically since the weather was calling for a ridiculous amount of rain, but in the spirit of making this work she was totally prepared to walk the chair to and from the high school with me. Now, while this is a short walk, it's not the safest. There is gang activity in the neighborhood, and just a few weeks ago a high schooler was stabbed in our neighborhood.

Yeah. So. I'd just suggested to a parent that we'd walk their very expensive wheel chair through a not so great neighborhood in the pitch black.
Yeah.
Thank goodness my principal replied to my email with "REALLY!!!!"
Yeah. I think she meant ????? She might think I'm crazy too.

But, the rest of the team, composed of the Occupational Therapist and the Physical Therapist got into the spirit of "we're getting Amazing Friend to Dance Night no matter what".
Emails shot back and forth last night- could we get a bus to transport the chair?
No, wait- a taxi! A taxi with a lift! Those exist! We're on.

So, I spent Friday morning running around, confirming with the various members of the team that we could pull this off. I chatted with my principal to let her know that my partner-in-crime an I were not out of our minds and we would not be walking the wheel chair in the dark, nor were we suggesting that the parents do that for their 5 year old child. The Occupational Therapist secured a taxi, AND called back later in the day to confirm that the taxi would be there. I confirmed with the parent that our plan would work, and confirmed with the custodians that they'd work with us on giving us access to our rooms after school hours.

We were set. Emails flew back and forth with words like "Success!" and "We're on!" and "Bingo!"

Of course, there were other fires to put out yesterday afternoon. I may have had to break into a locked filing cabinet because the owner of the filing cabinet was out unexpectedly, and papers inside the cabinet needed to go home with a child. Some filing cabinets open when you kick them really, really hard. Some don't. My toes hurt. And I don't have the paperwork.

Another fire involved taking a kiddo to the office after he smeared his feces on the wall of the class bathroom and then blamed it on another student. I mean, it's one thing if you're so confused that you smear your feces on the wall, but to do it and then leave the bathroom, get the attention of a teacher and say, "look what B did..." ????
yeah.

And it goes on and on....

The day ended, and my partner-in-crime and I went out with other teachers for light snacks (really, that was all since we had to be back at the school in a few hours for Dance Night) and we boasted of how we were so excited to have pulled this off.

Yes, we celebrated too early. Counted our chickens before they hatched.

We sprinted back to the school to meet the Occupational Therapist, the parents, Amazing Friend, and the taxi.

Except the taxi didn't come.

We waited, with what use to be a very excited five year old in her power-wheel chair, by the doors of the school, as though we could wish the taxi to us. The father and I keep our faces pressed against the glass of the front doors, not wanting to turn around to see the crest-fallen face of Amazing.

We called the taxi company. They said "It's coming"

We called back in 15 minutes. They said "It's coming"

Partner-in-Crime drove over to the high school and asked them to hold the kindergarten dances- getting them to promise they wouldn't start without us. Now we just needed to get there. 200 kindergarten and first graders and their families were waiting on us.

Sadly, we accepted the reality of the situation and ditched the power chair and decided to bring Amazing there in the small stroller her family uses sometimes.

Now, while we were waiting for the taxi another family appeared at the doors of our school. They were confused about where to go, thinking that Dance Night was suppose to occur at the elementary school. Luckily or not, I'd recently met this family at one of those meetings where we bring the parent into a room with a school psychologist, a social worker, a special education teachers, a principal, the student's teacher, and a guidance counselor, to share with the parent that we don't feel their child is typically developing and it may be time to think about administering educational tests to see if their child qualifies for special education.

So, yes, this father knows me. And I don't think he likes me very much. It's not me, it's what I had to say. (not that I was rude or blunt, but hearing that the school has concerns about your child is hard, no matter how anyone says it).

For the life of me I couldn't explain how to get to the high school using words- maybe it was the language barrier, or maybe it was my utter exhaustion, but the father kept looking at me like I was crazy, until he finally said, "I'll follow you."

We all caravaned over to the high school, the lost family whose not thrilled to see me, and Amazing's family, who at this point is holding their tongues from saying "I told you so" because they were skeptical about getting their daughter's hopes up in the first place.

We arrived just as my jump rope team is finishing up their routines- but with enough time to get my two kindergarten friends onto the dance floor to do their stuff.

I pushed Amazing's stroller as best I could- trying my best to blend into the background to let the show be about her- not me, or even us. The idea about her participating was to let her be independent, just like every other kindergarten student out on the floor without an adult.

Trying to push a stroller 4 beats to the right and then 4 beats to the left isn't the easiest, fyi. Those suckers don't have a good turning radius, nor do they react quickly to the moving back and forth in a horizontal line.

This did put me on the floor to help with my other special friends, including the one whose family I'd caravaned with to the high school with. These friends don't always follow oral directions in a classroom with only 20 people. Now, here we are in the gym, with hundreds of loud children and adults. I did a lot of reminding, restating, and reinforcing of these little ones, who, if left to their own devices, would have happily sat in the middle of the gym floor watching their peers dance around them.

I think Amazing had a good time. She got to be on the dance floor with the other kindergartners, she participated, she did the hand motions and sung along. It didn't let her be independent like I'd hoped. She didn't have the freedom to zip around and see her friends without an adult beside her. I can't help being bitterly disappointed. All that planning and she still ended up being the cute, helpless one in the stroller, instead of the bright, independent girl she is.

When it was over the Occupational Therapist, my partner-in-crime, and I all sat wearily down on the bleachers, wondering what we could have done better. We got her there, and I suppose that was one victory, but next year, next year we're going to do it right. We're getting the power wheel chair there- we're going to start planning ahead of time- next year she will be able to be independent.

Before they left the family I'd just recently met at the special education meeting sent their child over to give me a hug. If nothing else, at least I forged a sort of partnership with them. And perhaps they observed support their child required on the gym floor...

Mr. Lipstick surprised me by showing up. Although he was 5 minutes late and didn't get to watch my stroller dancing, I've never been so glad to see him in my life. When it was all over he asked if I wanted to go for a drink.

Somehow, a drink turned into a large, delicious chocolate milk-shake. Because there are some days that you need something stronger than wine.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

so much for zen...

A few months ago they started offering yoga after school for an extremely reasonable fee. Every Wednesday a yoga instructor attempts to turn one of our "learning cottages" aka trailers into a relaxing, peaceful environment where we can spend an hour stretching out all the tension that's built up over the past week.
I'd never really done yoga before, but after enough well-meaning lectures from my aide about how I need to learn to meditate and stretch to get rid of my tension headaches (she's from China) I thought it wouldn't be a bad idea.

It's become a beautiful mid-week ritual where I leave the trailer feeling uplifted and relaxed, knowing I can handle the rest of the week. Of course, since this class started in the winter, and the playground beside the trailer has been covered in snow for most of that time, we've always had the last few moments of class to relax in peaceful silence.

Today, however, the playground was full of the children from after school care. Children who had not been outside on a playground in 3 months. Children who have been couped up inside taking test after test. Children who need to run, scream, and play.

Sadly screaming children on a playground do not aid any teacher's attempts at de-stressing, especially when the teachers are able to identify certain screams and know exactly who is most likely trying to walk up the slide, whose throwing mulch, and whose not using the swings appropriately.

We tried really hard to lay silently during our relaxation period, but based on the rustling sounds echoing around the trailer I wasn't the only teacher thinking about each individual child whose voice carried into our room.

Let's just hope that the children's need for play was more beneficial than the teachers' need for zen.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

those pesky decoding skills...

Today in one of my guided reading books I did a book introduction for a story where a family goes on a picnic and their dog chases a squirrel and gets lost (Pickles Gets Lost for those of you who may also follow the Pickles/Gaby/Rosie and Bella dog series).
For the first time all year one of my young readers seemed engaged and excited about the book. She began reading with expression and kept stopping to comment on the happenings of the story.
Wow, I couldn't help but think, she's really becoming quite a reader.

I was listening to another child in the group when I heard her gasp with horror. I looked up to see her staring at me, with hurt, accusing eyes.
"He died?" she sputtered. "Pickles... died?"

I immediately grabbed her book. I've read the book with many, many groups before and I knew for a fact that Pickles the dog did not die. He didn't. He just didn't. But this little ones eyes were so hurt and confused that who knew what was happening in her small copy. Maybe...

I scanned the page looking for the offensive line. Seeing nothing that indicated the dog passing away I asked her to read the page.
"Pickles" called Mom and Dad" she read, 'But Pickles died never come back"

Ah yes- and there is my teaching point- readers have to read through the word- and read the whole word- or they might change the meaning of the story.
The actual text read "But Pickles did not come back".

After a prompt to read the whole word she finished the book, and we immediately played games with our high frequency words to make sure we got the words did and not in our long term memory...

Saturday, March 6, 2010

success

This week I sat down with one of my kindergarten friends and presented her with index cards- each containing one letter in her name. As I showed her each card she correctly identified each letter. I cheered, we hugged, we high-fived, we read the letters again. We did a dance. We went off to tell everyone we met that she'd read each letter correctly. She read them to the principal with a huge, proud smile on her face.

We've been working on these 9 letters since the beginning of August. Every morning we'd sit down and I'd show her the same index cards. For awhile she could only identify the first letter in her name. The rest of the letters all seemed to be the same to her- she didn't seem to understand that each letter had a different name.

So we worked on sorting letters by their differences- letters with curves, letters without curves, letters with sticks, letters with curves and sticks. We needed her brain to start recognizing the small differences in each letter. We used think blocks and the patterns of thinking to identify what is a particular letter, and what letters are not that letter.

For awhile we worked on the difference between c and e- because in reality, c and e are exactly the same except for that little line in the middle of the e. And if you're brain hasn't learned to notice that difference then c and e identical.

We learned c and e, and moved on to differentiating between r, h, and n. Again, letters that can look similar unless your brain is trained to identify them by their differences.

We played feed the mouse- where we put the letters out in front of her and give her a stuffed animal mouse (I have the stuffed animal of "If you give a mouse a cookie") and say, "The mouse wants to eat the letter r" and she has to found the letter r and feed it to the mouse. After she's gone through all the letters we switch- she tells me what the mouse wants to eat. The game requires her to be able to listen to the letter name and select the matching written letter, and also look at the written letter and say it's correct name.

We went bowling in the hallway (my new favorite game). We placed the letters we were working on against the wall on one side of the hallway. I'd say which letter she should hit and she'd throw a small ball toward that letter, trying to hit it. Then she'd tell me which letter I was suppose to hit. Again, making her listen to the letter name and then identify it's matching written letter, and making her see the written letter and then name it, working on both her receptive and expressive skills.

We wrote the letters in glitter glue so when she said "r" when showed an h I could say, "trace it" and she would run her finger along the raised glitter h so her brain would start to recognize it's long, high back and identify what was different between the r and the h.

We did direct instruction methods, such as giving her just one letter and saying, "This is an h. Point to the h. Good! What letter is that? right, H. " and then add another letter and repeat the process, but the second time ask her to alternate between identifying between the h and the r, both expressively and receptively.

My goals with all this were to put those specific letters into her long-term memory since her working memory is so limited. It was also to train her brain to identify specific parts of letters through sorting, and tracing so that she can generalize that skill to other letters- hopefully making it faster to learn different letters.

We were letter detectives- we'd walk the halls with a dry erase board and a marker, searching for the letter we were studying and writing it down on her paper. Training her brain to identify the letter in different fonts and locations- helping her realize that writing is everywhere- these letters are in other words other than her name.

Almost every single morning from August until early March we played this games and went over her letters. I have the data- it's put into graphs, showing my shifts in instruction so I could track what worked, and what didn't, and her slow but steady process until the only letter she had left to learn was i.

My partner-in-crime and I went to her house, bringing letters she could practice with. Realizing there were no toys in her house- educational or otherwise, we sent home an alphabet puzzle so at home in front of the large tv she could continue to work on sorting her letters and matching them based on shapes (puzzles are so important for cognitive development!)

Not to mention she's been a part of her fabulous kindergarten class where they do work with letters every day. She's immersed in literacy in school- she is getting a wonderful kindergarten experience daily, in a classroom with a fairly low teacher/student ratio.

Needless to say, the first day she read all 9 of those letters correctly I almost fell over from happiness. We'd just finished a marathon- we'd earned what we'd worked so hard to achieve.

But at the same time, looking back over my graphs and all we've done, over such a long period of time, I'm a bit discouraged. Not at her, or how we're learning these letters, or the situation itself- but at the education system. I have the graphs and data to back up all I've done. But if you told me about another student who took 7 months to learn the letters in her name I would cringe inside- that's pretty unacceptable in the broader field of education. If I was receiving merit pay for my work with her I wouldn't get it- 7 months? Really? I don't know what else I could have done to speed up the process.
We went to her house.
We worked one on one every day.
I altered instruction specifically to meet her needs.
What needed to happen was to put those letters in her long term memory. And we did that, without failing, without giving up. And those last letters she learned came faster than the first ones. We've moved on to other letters now, and at this point those are coming faster as well. Her brain has been trained to sort letters and identify their specific features.

But my work with her would not get me merit pay. If I needed to hand in the data and explain the slow progress to an administrator, would I be fired if I worked at that Rhode Island school? What politician can praise the work of a teacher that takes 7 months to teach a child 9 letters?

Knowing this I've been racking my brain- what could have sped up this process? What more should I have done? Could I have done? What could have been improved?

I don't know. I honestly don't.

And other than my thoughts on merit pay, and education policy, and wondering if results like this mean the president thinks I should be fired, I don't think I should do anything different. She learned those 9 letters. And now she's going to learn more. I'm going to keep modifying my instruction to meet her needs daily, and she's going to keep working hard, and step by step we are going to make progress. We'll get there. We'll learn to put those letters together to make words- we'll learn to read. We'll learn to read well. No matter how long it takes.

And in the end, no matter what politicians think about how education should work- or what policies might be put into place regarding merit pay or incentive plans or something like it- in the end no one can take those letters away from her.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

NY, NY- part 4

When we last saw our naive protagonist she was slowly coming to her senses after jumping off a slowly moving train because it was headed in the wrong direction.
Much like her NY job search.

... ...

I excitedly went to Borders and found the perfect Eric Carle book to use in my lesson to teach to the head start children in Queens. I woke up early, made sure I was professional enough for a panel interview, but realistic enough to teach a group of head start children. I got in the car to begin my two hour commute into the city from Delaware. And then, right before getting to the Princeton train station I was hit from behind- throwing my car into the one in front of me. The car that hit me left us at the side of the road, while I pulled over along with a very unhappy woman who did NOT care that I was on my way to a job interview in Queens.
I waited and waited for us to call our insurance companies, take pictures, etc. all while desperately trying to call the school to let them know I would be late.

I finally got to the school (after taking a taxi which let me out no where near the school because he wasn't interested in actually finding the address of where I'd sent him- it was Queens after all) and immediately fell in love with the students, enjoyed meeting the parents, and felt energized after speaking with the staff. Sadly, the salary they were willing to pay me would buy me a cardboard box, (only slightly smaller than the actual apartments we were looking at).
The school said they had some other interviews to do but that they'd be in touch.

During this time, my parents, who hadn't been thrilled about the whole moving to New York thing in the first place, were quietly holding their tongues and not saying "I told you so". (To this date I have never heard them say "I told you so" about the whole experience. Although, in retelling some of the stories there has been lots of laughter). My parents were, however, quietly sending my resume to every school in the DC area. It was almost mid-August, when schools were beginning to desperately fill positions, and I so, when I wasn't looking at apartments, wandering the streets of the Bronx looking for schools, navigating my way through the bureaucracy of the NY Board of Ed, I was doing phone interviews with schools in the DC area.

I remember sitting on a rock in Central Park, desperately trying to focus on answering questions about my classroom management philosophy while watching mothers herd their squealing children on a near by playground.

And so, eventually, I gave it up. I let the Board of Ed know I was tired of the run around. I let my future roommate know that I wasn't actually moving to NY after all. I packed up my things from Delaware and drove home, relieved to have the NY craziness behind me. I had a week of interviews lined up for schools in the DC area and had to throw myself into that if I had any hope of actually having a job for that school year.

In a span of 3 weeks I'd jumped off a moving train, gotten into a car accident, learned to navigate the subway system like a pro, toured schools in every borough, gained the proper sense of respect for the NY realty market, and discovered what is fully wrong with the public school system- not the schools or the teachers, but the bureaucracy. With that disillusionment I headed back to VA, declaring defeat.


Sadly, a week after I'd accepted a job at a school in the DC area the Head Start school offered me the job. I still wonder what would have happened if I'd taken it...

I ended up at a school that was NOT the think-tank, although it was only 5 minutes down the road. It was the opposite of the think-tank in almost ever way, and between suffering through the weeks and driving three hours every weekend to take care of a sick college friend who was in and out of the hospital, I was suffering through that first year out of college. I slept on an air mattress until Christmas that year, which didn't help my mood or adjustment. Needless to say I started studying for the L-SAT. Those first 3-4 months of teaching can be a painful learning curve.

Finally, though, life started to come together. My class began to gel, I finally bought a real bed, & started to feel more confident in the 'not-think-tank' atmosphere. January settled in and I knew I could make it to the end of the year. It wasn't NY. I wasn't living the dream in NY, cramming 2 people into a one bedroom apartment. I wasn't teaching in the Bronx. It wasn't where I'd dreamed I'd end up. But I was teaching. I was teaching children who just came into the country, who lived in one bedroom apartments with multiple families. Who loved coming to school. And in truth, I was loving teaching, despite everything else.

And right when I'd put NY behind me I received a letter from NY City Public Schools. A letter which contained my W2.

THEY WERE NOT ORGANIZED ENOUGH TO GET ME A POSITION, BUT THEY WERE ORGANIZED ENOUGH TO SEND ME A W2- TO VIRGINIA- CLAIMING THEY PAID ME ME FOR A JOB I NEVER DID???

I don't even want to tell you the nightmare I had to go through to get them to cancel the W2.

"Hi, I recently received a W2 from you, however, I don't work for NY City Public Schools"

"That's not what our records say"

"Yes, well, regardless, I am in VA. I work in VA. I live in VA. I do not work in NYC."

"But our computer states..."

I was just glad to finally hear they were actually using computers instead of the boxes they'd relied on only months before.

And so, 8 years after signing the early hire contract, yet never actually working in NY City- I've received a check from them, along with the letter stating that I'd never reported to work.

It's like the adventure that never ends.


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

NY, NY- part 3

Yesterday's post may have been a little long- perhaps I should have broken it into smaller pieces. But if you only scanned it during your planning time here's the important parts:

1) The school system managed to lose the box that contained my contract, and the contracts of about 100 other teachers who had been given early hire contracts.
2) While trying fix this and find us positions they sent us to schools all over the city, however, when we arrived at these schools they did not actually have openings. Nor did they have any interest in interviewing us. In some cases the Board of Ed hadn't even told them to expect a visitor.
3) The NY Board of Ed is a scary, disorganized bureaucracy where teachers get yelled at for mistakes they did not make (which I observed time and time again in my hours of sitting and waiting)
4) While I started off the process excited and naively sure I could handle all of it, I was slowly starting to lose all hope.

** ** **


That afternoon, exhausted from my long commute, navigating my way to schools only to hear they were not hiring, and then hearing that I'd get a job, just not in September, I hopped on the commuter train back to New Jersey. I was talking on the phone to a good friend, who had accepted a job at a Montessori school in our college town. A job I'd originally been offered, but had turned down to move to New York. I was really regretting that move.

Relieved to be talking to a familiar, friendly voice I heard myself say, "I don't know, maybe I should just give it all up and move back to Virginia. Maybe I'm not cut out to be in New York City." As the words passed over my lips I immediately regretted them. I could see passengers on the train turn and look at me with sympathetic, yet curious pity. I tried to ignore them in order to give full details in the saga of the day as the train slowly pulled away from the station. I stayed on the phone as I handed my ticket to the conductor, who looked at my ticket and said, "Miss, you're on the wrong train"

No, I wasn't. I'd been taking this train every day for 2 weeks. I wasn't wrong.

"You're going the wrong way" he explained in an exasperated, New York way, and pointed to the map. "This train is an express into New York- the next stop isn't for 30 minutes"
I could feel the tears start to run. How had I possibly been on the wrong train? The wrong train that would take me 30 minutes away from my destination before I could get off and correct my mistake.
The conductor moved on, not really caring about my plight. I stared into the air, telling myself not to cry, I would survive. Suddenly I heard a voice in front of me,

"Jump!" a man directed, looking at me. "They haven't shut the doors yet. Jump!"
I looked at him as though he was crazy, but the other passengers on the train also looked up and agreed,
"Sweetheart, just jump!" they chimed in.
I looked around the train at the car of people who'd already shot me looks of pity when I'd wondered if I should just move back to Virginia. Now they all looked at me with hope, as though telling me to jump off a moving train was their good Samaritan duty of the day.

I had no choice. I gathered my things, and stood at the door of the train. We'd left the station, but it was going slowly...
"You'd better hurry or they're going to speed up" the man who'd originally come up with this brilliant plan announced.
And so I did.
I jumped off a moving train.
A slow moving train, but a moving train none-the-less.

I stood in the gravel wondering what I was thinking. I now had a hike back to the station, which I suppose was better than an hour of riding a train out and back.

What was I thinking about moving to New York? I felt like I couldn't give up just then- I'd given the city too much time, too much energy, and too much effort to back down now. So New York City Public Schools was making it difficult for me to get a job- there were other schools in NY, and other options. Why limit myself? That night I went home and started to send out my resume to jobs posting on craigslist and other message boards. The next day, during my daily adventures in the city, I got a call from a Head Start school in Queens, requesting an interview for the following day.

Take that! I wanted to yell. I was totally back in the game. I was going to an interview that had an actual opening. An interview where I'd not just speak to a busy teacher, but to a panel of parents, teachers, and the principal. AND, I'd get to teach a lesson to the children.

Teaching- what had originally inspired this whole fiasco to begin with. I was totally back in the game.

*** to be continued***

bad teacher

This morning I allowed my 3rd grade readers to re watch some of their readers theater we'd video taped and put on our website. Excited to see themselves on film they began laughing hysterically.

I, of course, have a head cold which is causing me to be grouchy and irritable.

Have you ever been irritable while listening to 9 and 10 year olds laugh hysterically? Like fingernails on a chalk board.

And so I launched into a lecture "If your teacher hears you laughing like this she will not let you come back to read with me in the morning! You need to calm your body down and stop laughing, or no more reading!"

I delivered this evil lecture in the hallway, where at least 4 other teachers heard me, and in turn, burst out laughing.

I was telling children they couldn't read if they laughed.

I am the most evil teacher ever.

I need a nap.

~~ ~~ ~~
On the other hand, I just overheard my partner-in-crime reading The Cat in the Hat. Fabulous friend screeched with horror at everything the Cat did wrong, yelling exactly what he should have done "turn off that water!" and announced "Bad Cat!"
I love fabulous friend.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

NY, NY- part 2

So yes, when we left off yesterday I had just graduated from college and was dreaming of how I'd run off to teach in the most underprivileged schools in New York City. Naively dreaming, but dreaming none the lesson.

At some point during the summer I realized that I needed more information than simply a one-page contract promising me a position in the schools, and since I wasn't getting any answers from anyone through email or phone I decided to go up to New York and see what I could figure out for myself.

I crashed at a friend's place in Delaware and drove to Princeton, NJ every morning to catch the train into the city. I've blocked out any memory about exactly how long that commute actually took each morning, but it wasn't pleasant. I literally spent hours either in a car, train, or subway.

Not that I actually knew where I was going, because, I may have been on the New York subway ONCE before I decided to navigate it myself. Are you cringing for me at this moment?

Being from the DC area I was very accustom to navigating the metro using the color system- it's either a red, yellow, green, or blue line. And as long as you know what color you are on, and what direction you are going you are usually good to go. Not so in New York. Which would be ok except they make the maps in color. So it looks like you want the green line- but you can wait and wait for a green train to come, and all that will blow past you is a train with a number.

And then there are the express trains. I've still not actually learned how to determine if a train is an express train or not. I'd be so thankful to figure out exactly what number train I wanted that I'd pop into a car only to find that the train was racing by the exact stop I wanted, OR, was going to take an hour to get to where I wanted to go in the Bronx because I hadn't gotten on an Express train.

I was late to every single job interview I went on in NY.

The first school I went to look at was in the Bronx, so I started my day off in Delaware, made it all the way to New York City, found my train- realized it wasn't an express train- got off, went back to where I could get on an express train- rode the train to the stop in my nice white, interview pants and my neatly pressed interview shirt- I might as well have had a bow in my hair. I climbed the stairs into the Bronx air only to realize that I had no idea how to actually find the school from the subway stop. None.
I contemplated doing my DC "not a tourist" move of just walking around the block quickly as though I know exactly where I am going just to get my bearings, but alas, I realized that every single person on the street had stopped what they were doing and was staring at me.
Yes, I was the little lost white girl in the Bronx. Not knowing what else to do I looked around the street and chose the largest of all the men staring at me. I walked straight up to me, ignored the snickers of anyone else, and asked where the school was. He gave me the most welcoming smile and said in the loudest voice (for everyone who was staring) "That's my old school! You just go to the end of the block, turn right, go two more blocks, and you can't miss it!"
As I thanked him and left I could feel all eyes from the street following me and my naive innocence all the way to PS.

The school itself was great, although I was shocked to learn that everything was dictated by the administration- everything was uniform, from what went on the bulletin boards to what centers children did on which days in the individual classes. Each student's work on the bulletin board had a sticky note containing the corresponding standard for that task. But hey, I wanted to teach in NY public schools, and well, if that's what they wanted that's what I'd do.

Except that the school wasn't actually hiring.

They'd sent me to the Bronx to interview with a school that didn't actually need to fill any positions. I didn't even see the principal that day, but instead took up some poor teacher's time during her planning period. I'm sure she wanted to kill me.

But it was only day 1 and I was sure it was just some simple mistake. I enjoyed my tour, walked back down the sidewalk past all the men, waved at the man who had originally helped me, and boarded the train back to the city. I was suppose to meet with my future roommate and the realtor showing us rental properties at a coffee shop near Times Square. Of course, when I got off the train it was pouring down rain- and I didn't have an umbrella. But I did have white pants.
And so, I walked through Times Square, in the middle of July, when it is packed full of tourists, with completely see-through, soaking wet, white pants.

And yet I still wasn't discouraged.

Eventually I dried out and the realtor began showing us apartments.

Have you ever looked at apartments in New York City? Apartments you can afford on a teacher and a social worker's salary? Because if you have, you know what I'm talking about and you don't want to re-live the memory. But if you haven't, well, you can't even imagine.

The first place we saw was a 6 floor walk-up. Which was fine, we were buff. Except that the living room of the one bedroom apartment was about 4 feet by 4 feet- (and we'd need to put some one's bed in the living room since there were 2 of us) and the bed room was actually even smaller. There was no room for a bed, or for a person to actually sleep laying down. The bathroom was in the hallway of the building. Our realtor actually yelled at the super "You call this a F-ing one bedroom" and walked down the stairs, with us, trailing behind her, thankful that she was as horrified as we were.

So if that was bad, it had to get better, right?
The other apartments we looked at over the course of 2 weeks did actually have room for a bed in the bedroom. Not much else, but there was room for that. We quickly learned that we would not be able to afford any apartment that had a full-size fridge, or a full-size cooking range. We stood in apartment after apartment asking where we were suppose to put our ice cream since none of the fridges had a freezer. Our realtor explained that we'd need to eat it all in one sitting, but since we'd be so stressed with our jobs we'd want to do that anyway, and since we'd have to walk up all those stairs it wouldn't cause us to gain any weight.

But wasn't that what your first year out of college was suppose to be? Living on a shoe string, making do with what you could afford? It'd be an adventure. Even our future of sleeping standing up while eating full containers of ice cream couldn't depress us. We were ready for this.

Meanwhile I made it down to the New York Board of Education in Brooklyn. I quickly learned that all that is wrong with education lays in the depth of the Brooklyn Department of Ed.

My first visit there, when I could still be horrified with such things, I waited in line behind all the other seasons teachers who were attempting to renew their licenses. The lines could last for hours, and most of the time we were waiting in line to wait in yet another line. On this first visit I fiddled with my paperwork as I listened to the man in front of me get reamed out by the man behind the desk for being a day late on his paperwork. No matter how hard he tried to explain that he was a day late because he hadn't received his paperwork in the mail from the board of ed until yesterday, at which point he came down immediately to turn in this needed paperwork, the man behind the desk didn't care. He continuously yelled "Get a new job! I don't care if you've taught for 10 years! You're late! You're expired! Go get a new job!"

Looking back I can't help but hope that man did go and get a new job- one where he was respected and thanked for his work instead of screamed at in the midst of a bureaucratic mess.

I spent a lot of time at the Board of Ed in the next 2 weeks- sometimes being yelled at for things I didn't understand that I'd done, or hadn't done, or would do, or wouldn't do, and some times meeting with very nice, helpful educators who wanted to make sure I got a teaching position in the schools. These people continued to send me out to individual schools for interviews with principals, or to job fairs around the city. However, they never seemed to communicate with the actual schools about whether or not they had openings. Because by the time I'd navigate my way through the subway, march myself down the streets (desperately trying not to look like a tourist as I wound my way through Harlem) I'd learn from the school that they were not hiring, and were not sure why the Board of Ed was still sending them people. At times I would not be the only person in line to interview- others who had also found their way down to the school offices only to be told that they school wasn't interviewing that day.
Once I did arrive at a school that was actually trying to fill a position- except that the position they were trying to fill was 8th grade and I was only certified to teach K-6.

I also attended job fairs along with other people who had also been offered early hire positions with the school system. We would stand in the narrow, un-air-conditioned high school hallways desperately hoping to talk with a principal or two that was actually hiring.
Most of the principals did not show up, and the ones that did only stayed for an hour or so- although the lines to interview with them were longer than that. As we waited I chatted with the others in line- some were veteran teachers who had spent years in other school systems. I could understand giving a brand new teacher the run -around, but successful teachers? Teachers who would enter a classroom knowing what to expect? They should have been fast tracked to positions. As we stood there waiting, with sweat dripping down our faces, they lamented that they were giving up on the public schools and trying for private because, as they put it "this is ridiculous"

I later learned from one of the more helpful people at the Board of Ed that the city had made a few mistakes. First of all they'd hired too many people on early contracts. They had thought more teachers were going to retire than they did.
Second of all, they'd moved to a new office and had lost a box of our contracts. About 100 of us- the "out of staters"- had contracts sitting in a box somewhere in a New York City office building, but there was otherwise no record of us on file. They did have our emails so they could tell us that yes, they still knew they had a legal obligation to offer us a job, and they planned to fulfill that obligation.

I was one of the few "out of staters" who was able to make it into NY to attempt to navigate my way through the process. Some were waiting in Europe to hear when to report, and were getting more and more frustrated. Many, like me, had stopped looking for other jobs after being offered the contract and with the new school year looming we all felt doomed.

At one point when I was meeting with someone they gestured to a large stack of boxes sitting in the hallway. "We think your information is in one of those boxes" she explained. "But we don't have time to look for it now"
"But don't worry, even if you don't have a job when school starts, you'll are guaranteed a job and a paycheck from New York City Schools. We'll find something for you, even if you don't start with the rest of the schools"

It was about then that I started to worry.

to be continued....

Monday, March 1, 2010

pass the tissues

Cannot actually eat and breath at the same time.

Little friends, which one of you gave me this cold? Next kiddo I find not catching his or her sneeze in their elbow is spending some time in the thinking spot until they can show me the exact way to sneeze.

And don't even think about putting that finger in your nose and then wiping it on the table.

NY, NY- part 1

Over the weekend I saw my parents, who brought me a stack of my mail that had managed to find it's way their house although I haven't lived there in years. In it were multiple letters from the New York Teacher's Retirement Fund. One of these letters announced that it was canceling my membership, as it had recently learned I had not reported for work. Another letter, dated after the one rightly accusing me of not teaching in New York, was a check.

I do not teach in New York.

I have never taught in New York.

So yes, they are right, I never showed up for work there. This is true.
I am a little nervous about getting an official letter that states, very officially, that I didn't do something. But seeing that I was never expected to show up to work in New York, I feel a little better. It's kind of like being told that you never showed up to play the cello with the National Symphony when you once, 8 years ago, mentioned to a friend that it would be a cool thing to do, if you ever learned how to play the cello.

So, while I can kind of make sense of getting a letter stating that I never worked in New York, I'm still a bit confused on why they are giving me money. Why would a school district that needs all the money it can get give money to someone, who, according to their records, never worked there.

If someone wants to ask what is wrong with public schools today, perhaps they can find the answer not in what is happening inside the schools, but instead in the fact they are paying people for not going to work.

These letters however, lead me back to 8 years ago, when I was finishing my last year in college. I'm not sure I can sum up the saga all in one post, but I will attempt to at least begin paint the picture of the chaos.

** ** ** **
My friends and I attended a job fair in January or February at a nearby college, hoping to get a head-start on job applications. While waiting for my interview time slot for one school district I ended up chatting with the pleasant people at the New York City Schools booth. They seemed nice and offered to interview me right then and there while I was waiting for my next interview.
And low and behold, after chatting for a bit they whipped out a contract and offered me a job. I was perfect, they told me, especially with my background in working with children in poverty. (How rural poverty was the same as urban poverty was not a question any of us brought up.) And the beautiful thing was, they explained, if I signed this contract it meant they would have a position for me, no question, but if I found another job I could back out at any time, no problem.
Why wouldn't I sign it? In 20 minutes I would go from being a nervous college senior to being a college senior with a guaranteed future. I would cross the line and become one of "them"- those who knew where they would be in 6 months.
It sounded perfect, so I signed, and spent the next few months on the high of knowing what I'd be doing the following year.

Grant it, all I'd signed was a piece of paper. I had no contact information for anyone in the department of education, no promise of what sort of position I would have, no salary designation, and no promise of when they'd call me to explain when they'd want me in New York. All I knew was I'd been hired to teach in what they called "The Chancellor's District", which they explained to me was a collection of the city's most struggling schools.

Yes, 8 years later I realize how dumb I was. But back then I was thrilled. I would be teaching, and not just teaching- I'd be in New York City. I'd be living the dream- taking the challenge. Really living.

I finished my senior year, secured a roommate to live with in whatever one bedroom apartment we could find in New York, and left school, excited for what was to come. What college senior doesn't want to move to New York City? It was the height of Sex in the City- We all knew that New York was where we were meant to go.

At some point during the summer I received a group email to the other out-of-state candidates who had been offered an early contract for the Chancellor's District. The email did not make much sense, and did not offer any of our questions other than giving us the security in knowing we were not alone- there were others out there who also did not know the answers. So, if there was a group of us, all guaranteed jobs with NYCPS, someone would remember to tell us where to go, right?

The email did let us know when there would be job fairs, but it also stated that since it knew we were all traveling from far away it would be alright if we did not make it to a job fair, we would still be guaranteed a job.

I, however, was so excited to get to NY that I was determined to make the job fairs. I started contacting anyone connected with the Board of Education whose information was on the email. They needed to know I was ready- they could put me in the game- the sooner the better. Looking back I imagine myself like a sad little puppy, desperate to get out and play, but once out only knows how to run in circles.

Because that's what happened- I started my long summer of running in circles...


To be continued...

A think tank focused on creative solutions for future problem solvers -tree