Monday, April 15, 2013

Apologies Required

My third grade class is not allowed back into my art room until every one of them has given me a handwritten apology note.  I spent much of Friday, April 5th, calling student homes to request that parents discuss proper classroom behavior with their child/children.  I really shouldn't have to explain that art class is not recess time.  In my calls, I explained that proper art room behavior involves all the same rules as in their regular class and includes staying in their seats unless directed otherwise, listening actively(not talking while the teacher talks), Respecting selves, others, teacher and the art materials, being kind and doing their best work.

I am part time, so I only see this class once every 2 weeks.  It is a class of 32 + 4 when the special education students arrive.  Anyone who says that it does not matter how many are in a class, that a good teacher will be able to succeed with them no matter the size is just WRONG.  The third graders arrived Friday morning at 11am and sat where ever they wanted even after I greeted them in the hallway and told them to go to their assigned seats.  I pulled out my seating chart, started calling names and putting children in their assigned seats.  This took 15 minutes because the class was so loud that most had to be called 3 or 4 times before they heard me.  At least at this point in the year I know how to pronounce their names.  When I didn't know the difference between LatAsha and Latasha it was even more rough.  Yes, I tried to quiet them while I was getting them to go to their assigned seats. I tried everything I know how, to no avail. 

So, they were finally all sitting and I began my lesson.  I was able to get their attention and it was silent for a half second.  I jumped on that time and began speaking in an average volume level.  Within my first 4 words, several students had turned away and started talking to others.  There was no single specific child to address about the behavior.  I tried raising my voice.  They became quiet for another second.  I started again.  Stopped.  Silence.  Started.  Stopped.  Silence.  I tried to be animated to get help.  I tried to talk help.  I tried blowing my help.  It went on like this for a bit until I finally lowered my voice and quietly said, I am not being allowed to teach.  I referenced the time wasted already, 30 minutes of our 60 minute class was already gone.  I explained that I was going to give the directions and demonstrate for those paying attention.  Anyone not paying attention?  Well, too bad for them, because I would not go over the directions again.  Directions were written on the board, the step by step artwork process was in visual form on the bulletin board and they would have to reference those things or ask someone who was listening.  I gave my demo and directions, passed out the paper and materials and let what happened happen.  It was basically awful.  Only 5 or 6 out of 36 actually knew what to do.  I could not help those students much because I was trying hard to keep 2 students from fighting.  One girl with very low self esteem really needed my attention, but I couldn't take time for her.  At one point I turned to see a student chasing another around the tables.  I somehow managed to get them into their seats without any injuries or major spills.

They had a total of 15 minutes to work before I called for clean up.  CLEAN UP TIME...another nightmare.  They will not stop once they have materials in their hands.  Ok, I exaggerate.  One table did clean up quickly.  They heard me say, "First table cleaned up to my expectation gets a reward".  The yellow table was on top of things.  It seems they had miraculously paid attention each time I had covered the cleanup expectations in the past.  They had their table completely cleared with all things correctly organized in the center table bin within 3 minutes and they each received a pencil from The Art Institute of Chicago.  Bribery...yes!  One of the few ways to get cooperation with my kids.  The rest of the class?????  I had to literally pull brushes and pencils out of hands, grab paintings out from under them and try to not freak out as they yelled at me for doing these things.  As I lined up each table group to exit my classroom, I seriously heard kids ask me, "Where is my special pencil?".  To which I replied, "Ask the yellow table what they did to get the pencils.".

When their teacher arrived I announced to him that I would be calling the guardian of every single child and would not allow them back into my room without a written apology note from each student.  He agreed, and understood.  I was nearly brought to tears and still feel like a failure.  The parent support has been wonderful.  I've had students come apologize in person and a few have brought me their written apology notes.  There are still a handful of parents with whom I need to connect before this Friday and there is a very flat folder waiting to be filled with apology notes.  If the folder remains thin, Friday's 3rd grade class may be the best group of 6 students I have ever had in my classroom.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Yellow + Red = Orange

I wrote this lesson when I was student teaching 13 years ago.  It is still a great one that the Kindergarten students love and almost always feel successful after completing.

Teaching little ones who have no understanding of boundaries is a challenge.  Someone in my art teacher circle recently compared teaching Kindergarteners to herding true.  My kids in the city seem to have even less understanding of boundaries and have a really hard time stopping once they have a material in their hand.  I will tell them 10 times to make only one brown circle in the center of their paper and fill it in with oil pastel, then hold their up in the air and wait for the next step.  If I do not get that oil pastel out of their hand or off their table as soon as they finish I find they have drawn all over their paper(usually beautiful brown preschematic families, floating little circles with sticks coming out of them).  And I fully admit to scolding kids for grabbing the oil pastel from their peers and drawing on their neighbors paper, the table, the stool, the wall, themselves.  I have one little boy who cannot stop gluing everything.  If there is an unattended glue bottle anywhere visable in my classroom he will find it.  He will pick paper out of the trash and put glue on it.  He has glued book pages together on my bookshelf.  I opened a cabinet this morning I and grumbled his name under my breath as I realized the handle was coated in dried glue. (Yes, I have spoken with his parent). 

Back to the point...I demonstrate making a big dot at the center of the 12 x 12 paper for the flower center, then I show the students how to dip their brush into the yellow paint first, then dip just a little of the red on the tip and then pull the brush on the paper from the center dot out to the paper edge, repeating with each flower petal.  They seriously get so excited that the yellow and red make orange.  I never tire of the awe students have when they see the artistic magic happen.

I give each child a 12 x 12 white paper and a brown or black oil pastel and instruct to make the circle.  Then I collect the oil pastels as quickly as I can possibly move.  Because I have no sink in my classroom this year, I use small paper plates for each child instead of my washable and reusable styrofoam trays.   Brushes and plates with red and yellow paint splotches are distributed, then I pretty much just watch the magic and try to keep kids from painting anything but their paper.

I think I will do an entire post on the management and the clean up process when there is no sink, so for now I will just say that the kids (who are trained well enough) place their paintings on my long window sill because I have no drying rack, then we clean up.  Day 2 of this lesson involves cutting stems and leaves without the use of a pencil and gluing it all down without glue oozing everywhere.  I was really happy with the process and product of this lesson and my administration and faculty/staff loved the bright spring color in the hallway during this dreary winter/spring in Chicago.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Turned Around

Thursday, March 28th, just after the first bell, my principal called all faculty to the computer lab for an unscheduled meeting.  We had all been waiting for this day but thought it would be after Spring break.  The decision of what would happen to our school and to us was about to be announced.

The principal started out by saying that no matter what he was about to tell us or what we hear from anyone; the community, cps, the union, the media, he knew that we were all valuable to the education of these children and that we are a strong family.  Then he took a deep breath and said with tears in his eyes (this is a proud marine), "I don't know how to say this, so I will just read the letter from Barbara Byrd-Bennett.  Then he read the letter that states that our school is going to be turned around through the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL) and that we are all being displaced/replaced at the end of the school year.

As what he had just read started to penetrate my head, my heart sank.  We had all seriously thought we would be safe.  He had led us to believe we were all safe because Barbara Byrd-Bennett had led him to believe we were safe.  Since he took over the school 2 years ago the school statistics have made the highest improvement of all elementary schools in the city.  The population of the school has doubled in 2 years and the Chicago Housing Authority is building housing 2 blocks away that will feed to our school in the next 2 years.

The others in the room started to ask questions.  Two of our teachers are new this year from the displaced teacher pool after their schools were turned around previously and I have been through the application and interview process with AUSL.  We 3 know what no one else in the room knows.  We know that we will forever have a stigma attached to our names because our school is being turned around.  We know that we will have to swallow whatever pride we might have and re-apply for our own jobs, hope we are asked to an awkward (group of 30-40 applicants) interview, hope that the 2 interviewers take notice of us as individuals and ask us to continue in the process, make it through 2 more interviews and then if hired, go through training on how to educate urban children successfully...haha.  We know that 3 of our teachers who are only a few years from retirement will probably not see a happy end to their almost 40 year teaching careers.

My principal, the community, parents, students and our faculty/staff are fighting this decision.  It is not a done deal until the final school board hearing at the end of May.  If this does happen, as a part time teacher, I will be on my own with no union support or extended assistance from the school district.  I will lose my tenure if I am not rehired in the district within one year of my hire date.

All I keep thinking is that it took me 12 years of teaching, 8 schools and 8 principals, some mediocre and a couple truly evil, to finally find one who is amazing to work with.  He is a true leader and a cheerleader for us all and I have the utmost respect for him.  The sadness that comes over me when I think of losing this principal and my school family is overwhelming.  For today, our first day back after Spring Break, I am going to teach as best I know how and give my students the best of myself, because no matter what Mayor Emmanuel and the Chicago Board of Education thinks of the kids/people of North Lawndale, they deserve the best of me and the best of every other adult who loves them.