Thursday, February 21, 2008

These Four Walls

I'm probably not breaking any news to the folks who read this space with anything approaching regularity when I say I've been a little, uh, restless of late. Like, for a year. Such restlessness isn't going anywhere, and the continued deterioration of working conditions and corresponding rise in negativity both on-site and across the District as a whole is a big, fat, Roger Clemons steroid injection into my restlessness. (For the record, watching kids get arrested for no good reason while being denied equitable benefits and access to the same COLA teachers across the 408 got 10 months ago are not vitamins. Not at all.)

The storm clouds gather on the horizon, but inside the four walls of room D2, things haven't been this good in a long time.

This job is fun. Twelve- and thirteen-year-olds are legitimately insane in any number of hormonely unbalanced ways and that's fun. The kids are nuts, I've got a 13-year-old sensibility lurking just under the surface, we hang out for three hours a day, so let's go. Let's paint the boat. I didn't connect with last year's kids like this, and maybe not the year before either. But we're humming right now, this well-oiled teaching and learning machine, the vibe is strong, and we're making hay while the sun shines.

An incomplete list of recent developments that are driving the fun:

■ The basketball team somehow made the decision that it would be wrong, just wrong, for any of them to pass any of me in any part of the school without doing that mid-air-shoulder-bump-celebratory-greeting thing. We must not pass each other, ever, without doing this. It does not matter that I outweigh some of them by like, oh, 150 lbs or so, or that the entire backcourt seems to travel together, necessitating either a series of mid-air collisions one after the other, or my shoulder connecting with like five teenage shoulders all kind of at once. I have been late to 5th period twice because of this.

A. is back. My catch-phrase appropriating, turn-around kid, he's changed schedules after a series of disasters with other teachers, and is back again as an 8th grader. The less said about any of this the better, but his GPA in 4Q last year was 1.8, 1Q this year was 1.3, and last quarter the kid busts his ass and makes Honor Roll with a 3.3. He's playing soccer, MASTERing skills like a champ, and tutoring his classmates in the finer points of the counter-argument. We've turned a corner.

C. is back, too. This is the kid who hid in the mud at last year's graduation, and the first half of 8th grade has been similarily filthy and wasteful. I'm bringing him back, and he's gonna follow A.'s path. This kid's getting on the Honor Roll for 3Q. He is. He can't even see the corner yet, but we're going to get there, and we're going to turn it.

■ The other C. Class champion for the past tense irregular verb battles, this girl, armed with barely a year of English immersion is simply destroying everything I put in front of her. From no English to HP C in ten months. She's going to test proficient this spring, a neon bright reminder that ELLs will achieve at the highest levels over remarkably short time periods when we triangulate Newcomer centers, first-language literacy, and achievement-based scheduling.

V. and K. wander in one day, looking all adult and complaining about the International Baccalaureate program in exactly the same ways kids have complained about the International Baccalaureate program for generations. I taught these girls in my first year, drove em over to magnet school meeting and helped them with IB applications, and now they're in my doorway, talking about colleges accepted to, scholarships earned, and extended essay topics (The effects of global warming on migratory patterns among North American birds; The nature of visual propaganda in Maoist China). They did it. They made the achievement gap a little less wide.

■ Kids starting picking at each other a little, and I break out the family speech: We're family, and we need to act like a family, looking out for each other, helping each other out, getting each other's back. We don't pull each other back into the bucket, we lift each other up. "We aren't your family," says the kid in the back. Of course you are. My family lives in Florida, Minnesota, and Maryland. I see them once a year. I see you almost every day, for three hours, sometimes more, and I think about you a lot. You're my family. "So you're my tío?" Of course. And the new kid's eyes get wide when after a few days, one kid after another, all those resitant kids, are putting hands up, saying, "Tío [TMAO]?" What's up, sobrina?

■ Learning is happening. A lot of it. Check out the essays. Check out the attendance for 7th period reading program. The fluency gains, the book reports, the shout-out loud enthusiasm for The House on Mango Street. For reals.


Blogger H. said...

Do we get to see before/after samples of flatbook essays here?

2:24 PM  
Anonymous Benjamin Baxter said...

I remember The House on Mango Street. That book, along with Johnny Tremain and Beloved, was the only book I outright hated being forced to read.

... that wasn't nearly as positive as I intended it.

5:38 PM  
Blogger Jenny said...

I love The House on Mango Street! Don't let anyone knock it.

Are you sure family is really the goal here? You must have a wonderful family to aim for that. For many of my students family is not something they are looking for more of. Sad, but true.

Your love of middle school students amazes me. I teach 5th grade and I refuse to go older. They turn into crazy beings through middle school. I have huge amounts of respect for you and I'm grateful for teachers like you.

5:50 PM  
Blogger TMAO said...

Hi Jenny,

Family is not the goal. The achievement that leads to educational equity is the goal. Family is how I think we can best conceptualize this kind of bizarre process of going to a building every day among strangers and submitting to authority that derives its authority from no agency with any connection to anything your average kid understands or believes in. Family takes us to achievement, because there is an understanding of family that exists as an archtype beyond any personal experience.

Benji, Mango Street rocks. Pick it up again.

6:03 PM  
Blogger TMAO said...


I can work on that one.

6:11 PM  
Blogger Jenny said...

Do your students truly see the ideal of family to associate with it so positively in your classroom? If so, I find that heartening. Given the home lives of many students in schools like yours (and mine)I find it gives me hope to believe that they can still see family as something to desire.

And, I don't want this to sound as though I don't realize that many of our students have fabulous families. They do. I just wish they all did.

6:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like your comment on newcomer centers and am pleased to hear that C is doing so well. :)

7:45 AM  
Blogger TMAO said...

Jenny: Family makes sense round these parts, even in those spots where familial interactions have been rough. Family might be one of those universal conditions everyone understands, like a smile. I don't know.

Anon: You get em to first, I'll push em over to third, and we'll cross our fingers there's someone to take em home, right?

3:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

LOL!!!!! Perhaps I am not so anonymous!!! I've seen your kids hit homeruns. It's comforting to know that they have a great coach! It's all about the team!

6:58 PM  

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