Thursday, June 26, 2008

Yesterday I attended the first Michigan Joint Education Conference. The conference itself was good. The presenters had useful, interesting, relevant information to share and I brought back much I can take to my classroom and implement this fall. The exhibitors were all there, with tons of freebies and information. The box lunch was pretty typical.

What struck me most about the experience though was the location. Holt High School opened its doors to the groups sponsoring the event. Never before has the divide between the have's and have not's in education been so apparent to me. A map of the facility (complex seems a more appropriate word!) gives little evidence of the lush atmosphere of this building. From the widescreen TV's mounted on the wall along the cafeteria/commons area, to the SmartBoards in each classroom, no detail was ignored when this building was built. It is simply amazing. Wide halls with beautiful lockers siding the carpeted floors, which are set up in small nook-like areas, surround courtyards full of perennials lining stone paths winding by picnic tables. Bathrooms are small, but spaced frequently. Everything is new and clean and shiny though the building has been there for several years.

Sitting in the classrooms for sessions, I was first struck by how much storage space was there for supplies. The window wall had counter height cupboards, with others above beside the huge windows, most of which looked over the courtyards areas. Another closet area was in front, with some other area in the corner. Each room's SmartBoard was projected onto by the ceiling projector. On the teacher desk's were document readers and a desktop computer and a phone that looked more complex than my laptop.

My own classroom is tiny in comparison to these rooms, and since I teach in the middle school, my room is nearly twice the size of most of our high school classrooms, which were built a century ago. Instead of listening to the presenters, I find myself configuring my classes in here, moving desks around into communities of learners, instead of locked into the one possible configuration that supports the needs in my own room. I fantasize about the huge whiteboards, the birds at the feeder I would hang outside those windows, the hummingbirds darting to sip nectar from their feeders.

This building is set in what no doubt was a farm field, now devastated by urban sprawl, evident by the beautiful subdivisions of homes surrounding the old one room brick schoolhouse on the corner, a reminder of days forgotten.

On the way out of the building, I noticed a room marked "Staff Lounge" and could not resist popping my head in. TWO new refrigerators, TWO new microwaves, TWO complete ranges, an entire wall of cupboards with counter space for many to work, lots of tables beckoned me in. Three custodial staff sat there on break, eager to talk and brag about their building. They told me another lounge was upstairs, and that this building houses 1700 students grades 10-12, with the 9th graders (900 of them) housed across the road in their own building.

My own school seems dingy and dirty and just simply poor in comparison, like we are the wicked step-children banished to the old, leftover, used up education.

I know that education is more than a building. I know that kids learn from teachers who care, not because a room is shiny and new. But how would my students feel if they can see this building and compare it to our small, crowded, old digs?

Why is it acceptable for some districts to have it all while others are struggling to keep their doors open? Why is it acceptable for my students to learn while a bucket collects the water dripping from the leak in the roof while Holt students watch big screens as they eat lunch? Does it bother anyone besides ME?

Thursday, June 05, 2008

The last day, the last day, the last day.. how many ways can that echo in my head?

One young lady gave me the sweetest card with a heartfelt note written inside. The one line that will echo always in my head: "You blow me away with how much you care, and respect the students." You always wonder, as a teacher, how you come across to your students. Do they KNOW you care? Do they KNOW you only demand the best because you see the potential in them? Do they KNOW you love them even when they are acting like hooligans and you want to throttle them? Her words make me think that maybe, just maybe, yes, they do KNOW.

Also echoing in my head are the words from my own mouth at one of the terrors I had this year. Pat was always into something he ought not have been, never quite on task, a dirty, unkept boy, that I just never really liked, though I tried hard to mask those feelings. As we left the auditorium walking through the high school halls, I had warned them to be quiet, walk softly, make not even a whisper so we did not disturb any of the high school classes taking exams. They were doing so well, or so I thought, until Pat reached over and nipple pinched another boy. I was furious, furious beyond what the situation and action dictated so I marched him into the cafeteria, our destination, and pointed him to the wall in a chair where I told him he would remain the next 2 and half hours left in our half day schedule. No hint of kindness or compassion in my voice. Just anger, disgust and intolerance. Pat sat. Not a word. He watched the activity the others were doing with silent resignation. The hour passed. My conscience tugged at my mind. Finally, I walked over and started to speak. Pat immediately perked up, before I could speak, apologizing for his actions, telling me he was sorry and he understood why I was angry. He took the wind out of my righteous sails as I told him what I had come to say, he could participate in the next activity after all. He actually acted as if he didnt think he deserved that honor, so I tried to explain how I was simply out of patience and had overreacted. He was wonderful in the gym the rest of the day, shooting baskets, smiling, laughing... as my angry words echoed in my head.

"He called my mom a slut," echoes in my head also. Poor Bry. Dustin throwing those hateful words at her must have been like a slap in the face. No consequences to pass out at school, I still made a phone call to his mother to tell her of his words. She promised to ground him indefinitely. I hope she follows through. The hatefulness of intentionally trying to hurt another is beyond me. The cruelness echoes in my head.

The sharp resounding bark of my dog at near midnight last night echoes in my head as well. I had stayed up to nearly 11, way past my usual bedtime on a school night to see the Wings win the Stanley Cup and was not really quite asleep. Scout burst out of her bed cursing dog barks at the window, piercing the night, making my heart leap into my throat wondering was it just a racoon that had startled her or was it something more serious.

I flicked on the outside light to see toilet paper streaming from everything in my front yard. I bit shaken, I grabbed my robe and slippers and led Scout, still growling, to the front door. We went out onto the step and surveyed the scene. Toilet paper on everything from the mailbox by the road, to the split rail fence, the pear trees, the shrubs, the bird feeder, and everything in between. My car was painted with white letters: HAHA & Happy Last Day of School & We luv u & U R a awesome teacher.

And suddenly, echoing in my head were Ian's words of several days this week: "Have you ever pranked anyone?" "what's the best prank anyone's done to you?" "do you get mad when people do pranks?" and the last odd question from him, just this morning, "what kind of car do you drive to school every day?" Then I started laughing, realizing this kid has NO future as a criminal. Scout and I went back to bed, she still shaken, sleeping on top of me the rest of the night.

When I saw Ian in the hal this morning, I laughed and pointed my finger at him, saying "you got me!"

Ian, being not the career criminal type, answers, "What? I didnt do anything? I didn't even have a ride to your house!"

His buddy gave him away with the laughter to THAT response!

More echoes are there as well, but for now.... those are keeping the tears and laughter flowing.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Wow.. it really is almost over. Two more half days with the kids and the 07/08 year is gone. It feels like it is ending too soon, like I am not quite ready to let them go. I know I feel this way every year, but as much as I have been gone lately with my husband's surgeries, it is like a disconnect. There is much I wanted to enjoy and share with these kids that just never happened.

Class evals were yesterday and I am always so humbled by the responses, the positive thoughts and comments they have to say. The best one this year was "Mrs. George is a joy to have in class". That is my favorite report card comment about my great students, and one of my young characters wrote that on his paper. How cool... I had more kids than ever write their names on them too. In some ways, I prefer anonymity, I encourage them NOT to write names, but I love it that they are comfortable enough to say whatever to me and sign their name to their thoughts.

Planning for algebra continues to stress me out. I already have a dad wanting his daughter put in there who is not ready. I talked to her at great lengths about why algebra is not the best placement for her, but she is convinced she can do it. I truly hope I am wrong and she zooms through with flying colors next year. I love her to death and she is one of my "favorites" but i have watched her work her butt off this year trying to maintain an A in my class because that is the home expectation. I just don't see that happening next year. She is not ready for the major abstract shift of algebra. But dad and she are determined.... I have no choice.

fun stuff the next 2 half days with awards, watching NUMB3RS, kickball, Survivor challenge, etc... and then, it will be over and I will cry, again....