Sunday, September 26, 2010

Speed Demon

More thoughts on how teachers spend their time:

I started grading projects at 11:30am this morning and finally finished the grading portion at 5pm (plus about another hour of entering grades, sorting papers, creating and emailing lists of kids who need to revise, and all that other business mess). I'd say that I took about a total of 45 minutes in that time for little breaks--checking email, texting, refilling my coffee, using the bathroom due to coffee refills. So that comes out to 330 minus 45 minutes of grading for 105 projects. Amazingly that divides into an average of 2.71 minutes per project. If I add the other 60 minutes of business, that means I spent an average of 3.28 minutes per student today.

In some ways I am proud of this; I expected it would probably take me about 5 minutes per project, which comes out to 8.75 hours. On the other hand, I did not finish early enough to take advantage of today's 90-degree weather so the day was already a wash in terms of my emotional health. On the other hand (yes, I have 3 hands), my kids spent about a week working on these projects (at least 5 hours of time per kid, I reckon). And in return I spent between 2.71 and 3.28 minutes thinking about each of them. There some sort of proportional reasoning lesson in there.

I don't know what to make of this data. What I do know is that I have about 2 more hours worth of work tonight before I'm ready for tomorrow.

Dinner Guest

Every fall, teachers at our school hold individual meetings with our mentees and their parents to talk about strengths and weaknesses, set goals, and talk about the important things that will happen in the upcoming year. This year I offered to meet with families at their homes instead of at school. Most families still wanted to come to school, but a few took me up on the home visit offer.

When I was in STEP, we were supposed to do a home visit for our adolescent development case study student, but I never did because I was too nervous. This year was the first time I've been to a kid's house--consider me a home visit convert now. I have been having SO much fun when I go over to kids' homes. The first home I went to was the least eventful, but the girl's dad--who I'd never met and who probably wouldn't have come to a meeting at school--sat in the background and listened. The next one was awesome because M. showed me his room that he'd tricked out with all his cool electronics and computer programming skills. I think at first he was weirded out to have a teacher in his room (who wouldn't be?) but then just ended up proud to show off his stuff.

Last week I had dinner with two families. The first one was really fun because N. has five younger siblings, four of whom had dinner with us. It was amazing to see a "cool" 15-year old boy talking baby-talk to his 2-year old sister so she'd eat her dinner. The best, though, was Wednesday night's dinner at E.'s house. E. is generally very quiet and shy in her classes, even though she is probably one of the most brilliant students we have. At home she was a completely different person, taking charge of her brother and his friends and ordering them around the kitchen. She loves to bake, so she bake me an apple pie--and put me to work chopping apples, rolling dough, etc. After dinner while we were waiting for the pie to cool, she showed me how to play the piano, another one of her hobbies. I feel like I learned so much more about these kids and their families that I ever expected.

On one hand, I really want to push for all of my meetings next year to happen at home. On the other hand, I am worn out beyond belief. Most of the days this week I got home around 8:30 or 9pm after working straight from 7:30am. That's just too long of a day to have on a regular basis, even when it's for something so positive. I have been thinking a lot about what it would look like for a school to provide sufficient support and resources to all kids while also offering teachers sustainable working conditions. My school for sure doesn't fit that and I can't think of any school that does. This shouldn't be the trade-off we have to deal with. But more thoughts on this later.

Friday, September 17, 2010


This is how one of my advisees approached me in the hall on Thursday:

E: "Ms. L., I'm just so fabulous I don't even know what to do with myself!"
Me: "Um... I don't really know how to respond to that."
E: "I guess you're just so blinded by my fabulousness."
And then she walked away.

At least they don't have self-esteem issues like normal teenagers?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Mike Birbiglia

Over the weekend I picked up some CDs from the library and have been listening to them on the way to and from work. I just finished Mike Birbiglia's stand-up comedy show "My Secret Public Journal." You may already be familiar with Birbigs from his semi-regular/every-once-in-awhile appearances on This American Life, where I would dare to say that he is equally as funny as David Sedaris. I know that's a bold statement, but I stand by it.

I have been listening to this CD by myself, looking like an idiot because I'm cracking up in my car when clearly I am not in conversation with anyone but myself. While I'm perfectly happy looking like an idiot (thank god or I would have a rough life), there are all these really good lines from Birbiglia's stand-up routine that I keep wanting to use but can't because I don't know anyone who's listened to it also. The real point of this post is that you should run out and listen to this CD or at least YouTube some clips so that when I want to say, "I know... I'm in the future also" or "Like fun you will!" someone else will know what I'm talking about and I will look slightly less like an idiot.

Monday, September 13, 2010

When is Enough Enough?

L. is one of my dear, sweet, wonderful mentees. He is very smart and doesn't have much trouble understanding the content in class. He's very curious about how things works and loves anything mechanical. However, L. has a long history (his 9th grade year felt like an eternity) of not producing ANYTHING. At the end of the semester last year, he was literally still doing assignments from the first day. He went weeks, maybe months, without turning in a single English homework. In the first 4 days of classes this year, he was already missing 10+ assignments. Today in Spanish class, the entire class cheered because he had his homework packet out; even though it was blank, just not losing it was a major accomplishment.

As his mentor, I have taken an unofficial oath that I will love and support him and do whatever it takes to get him to eventually get him into college. When I say whatever it takes, I mean pretty much everything. Our school already has a lot of support structures set up--office hours, after school homework jail for kids missing assignments, month long extra classes at the end of each semester when kids can make up work, etc. Last year as L.'s teachers, we had MANY parent meetings, made him stay after school on Fridays, and even pulled him out of his elective class so he could spend time making up academic work. I remember him running away from me and trying to hide under a table because I was trying to walk him to office hours. At any other school, there's not even a remote chance he would've made it to 10th grade.

This year is not going much better, but I finally found something that sort of works: during his study hall period, which coincides with my prep time, I have been pulling him out of study hall, taking him to an empty room and sitting next to him to keep him focused. He doesn't really need much help; like I said, he's very smart. Rather, he needs someone to be there to remind him every 5 minutes that he needs to get back to work. He also needs someone who will put up with his constant whining about how boring everything is, how much he hates it, and how much he doesn't want to stay after school that day. I spend this time telling him trying not to roll my eyes and then organizing his backpack so he'll quit losing papers.

Like I said, this only sort of works. He's gotten a lot of work done with me, but he hasn't actually turned most of it into his teachers. He keeps telling me he forgot, which I completely believe. I am trying to teach him responsibility, so I have walked him over to his teachers on multiple occasions. Here is an exchange from last week:

Me: "Let's go, you need to show Ms. R. that you finished this."
L.[imagine a very whiny voice]: "I don't want to."
Me: "Come with me. Let's go find Ms. R., I think she's in her office."
L.: "Awww, I'm too lazy."
Me: "Too bad, let's go."
---We walk over to Ms. R.'s office. She is sitting inside and we can see her through the window.----
Me: "L., tap on the window so she knows you're here."
[L. leans against the wall, hiding from the window. I tap on the window for him.]
Me: "Ms. R., L. has something he'd like to show you."
Ms. R: "What is it, L."
[Saying nothing, L. hands her a crumpled paper]
Me: "What do you want to ask her?"
L.: "Here's my assignment."
Me: "What do you need her to do for you? What do you need to ask her?"
[L. looks away from us. There is a long pause while I gesture at him to talk to his teacher]
Ms. R.: "Would you like me to sign this off for you?"
L.: "Yes."
[L. gets the signature to show it's complete, and then mopes away]

I am at a loss about what to do with this kid. What else should I do? What else can do? I'm already giving up a full prep period every day, and it's only having a marginal effect. I can only spend so much time walking him from class to class finding teachers and coaching him (unsuccessfully) on how to interact with them. If I keep organizing his binders, it's hard to say whether he will ever follow suit, but he definitely won't follow suit if I don't do it. I am in constant communication with all of his teachers--mostly because about half of them come to me everyday to tell me what he DIDN'T do in class. I've talked to his parents, in person and on the phone, already at least three times this year. I do love and support L., both because it is my job and because he's generally a sweet, funny kid, but he's driving me out of my mind.

Where do I draw the line? When is it sink or swim time? I'm always been uncomfortable with the idea that some kids "need" to fail because what does that even mean? He has already experienced so much failure in the past year with every test he's gotten back, every time he's chastised for not having his homework, every Tuesday and Thursday when he has to go to homework jail, every time skips out of office hours when he knows he shouldn't. Would the massive failure of repeating a grade be the thing to teach him the responsibility he so severely lacks? At this point I have no idea. But I do know that unless someone comes up with some brilliant plan, it's going to be a very, very long year.