Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Soapbox

I was really looking forward to my second year of teaching. I stayed at the same school, my grade level team is the same, and we really got our stuff together at the end of last school year, so I knew we would work even better together this year. My incoming churn had already spent a year at the school, so I figured discipline wouldn't be the problem that it was last year.

One thing was changing, and it was major: our amazing principal, Dr. Roar, was leaving. He was being forcibly promoted - at least that's what he told us (he swore he didn't want to leave our school).

A few tidbits about Dr. Roar. When I had my phone interview, we played phone tag, and on his voicemail message, he roared. Literally - full throated, loud, powerful. Our mascot is a bobcat. I didn't meet him in person until I had already moved to Charleston. I've always been lucky enough to have great supervisors and strong relationships with them. Dr. Roar is truly the most charismatic person I've ever met in my life. He opens his mouth, the birds, bees, and churn fall silent, and are captivated by whatever he says (or roars). He looks like the guy from The Green Mile, so he's physically intimidating. But in a teddy-bear kind of way. He retired as an army colonel, so he's got discipline down pat.

Our kids would see him striding toward our trailers and cower. They were terrified of him. But despite his larger than life presence, he truly has the biggest heart. He regularly paid thousands of dollars to feed his staff on work days. He took money from his own pocket to create field day for the kids (think DJ and bouncy games). He sponsored pizza parties. He threw an elaborate Christmas party, and had us over to his home several times for gatherings.

Clearly, Dr. Roar's shoes would be impossible to fill. But I'd heard good things about the incoming principal. Shrubby, the new guy, had worked as an AP and a teacher at my school before moving on to be a principal elsewhere. So he knew the demographic, the strong community ties the students have, the mixed bag of staff he'd be getting.

But nothing is like I expected. Shrubby gave all of his power to our middle school AP (I'll call her the Nazi), who is the number one persona non grata at the school (every teacher had fingers crossed that she'd be gone before this school year started). She's a micro manager, she doesn't care about the kids, and she constantly undermines her teachers.

Shrubby is nothing more than a slick salesman type figurehead who wants to be in the "boys" club (male chauvinism is alive and well in South Carolina). He literally will not great his female employees, but makes a point to shake the hands of his male coaches on a daily basis.

I didn't have a functioning county-issued computer in my classroom for the first 3 weeks of school. If I didn't have a laptop, I would literally not have been able to teach (SMARTboard didn't work either). My phone, to this day (we're only 2 weeks away from the end of the first quarter), does not work. Shrubby merely shrugged off my problems, telling me there's nothing he can do.

The Nazi is just as bad, if not worse. She undermines us and constantly tells Shrubby how terrible her middle school team is (primarily because for all of us except for 3 teachers, last year was our first year teaching).

It's really frustrating because the middle school program really has the potential to turn this school around. We're a rural, poor school. Our demographic is primarily African-American, with a smattering of Hispanic students and a few White kids. They all get free or reduced lunch. They have crappy test scores, they can barely write, and they are far behind their grade levels.

The middle school teachers really believe in our kids (mostly). I can't begin to express how proud I am of my girls from last year. My favorite part of my day is seeing them in the high school. Are they all getting straight A's? No. But if they remember some literary terms, and plot elements, and occasionally where to put the period, I'm happy. There's no rebuilding Rome in a year.

We had students at our school who barely passed the 7th grade that were promoted to the 9th grade based on their age. Kids who failed the 8th grade were promoted to the 9th grade. Not only is this a COMPLETE disservice to the kids, it has to be completely demoralizing to sit in an algebra class with zero knowledge of pre-algebra. I commiserate - I took pre-algebra and barely made it through algebra. Most high school drop-outs in this demographic drop out in the 9th grade. I wonder why.

Okay, I really didn't mean for this post to be this long. It's really frustrating to be in this type of environment every day where the administration is only emphasizing data and test scores but won't help you address the kids' basic needs so that they can start to work on their upper level thinking skills.


Thursday, September 23, 2010


Surprise! I'm still around, believe it or not. It's been a loooong time since I've posted, and I'm blaming Charleston for that. And my new friends. They're all younger than me, so I've been reliving my party heyday for the past year. It's been crazy, but I've had a great time! So, a quick recap:

Spring Break:

My 3 closest friends from Charleston and I went on a spring break adventure last spring. We drove to VA and spent a night with my wonderful friend, then headed to Washington, DC for a few days, eventually winding up in NYC before heading back south. We mostly had a great time, but there was some "friend" drama. One of my Charleston friends (let's call her Sci-fi) managed to offend the rest of us by day two of the trip. Not good. Apparently we had all been gradually getting annoyed with her, and the build-up came to fruition after spending every waking moment together. It culminated in a screaming match in an NYC subway station at 3:00 AM. Pretty awful. I feel bad for Sci-fi because I know she felt ganged-up on, but I also felt bad for us, who were being insulted and belittled regularly (Sci-fi is the type who, when teased, will come back with the meanest thing she can think of rather than something equivalent).

This pic of us is more recent than spring break (only a week or two old).

The Move:

My sister wound up moving back to Pittsburgh mid-May, which was not the plan. She was working a low-paying retail job that stunk, she never had money to spend, she got bored listening to my friends and me talk about school constantly (who can blame her!), Sci-fi was mean to her, and then her car broke down. So I was roommate-less two months early. I was really sad that she had to leave, particularly against her will, and I really miss her.
Summer School:
I taught summer school to the churn for 3 weeks (four days a week) in June. It was HELL. I had 5 7th grade students for 2 hours, followed by 4 8th grade students for 2 hours. None of the 8th graders had actually failed English - they just were thrown in my class to have somewhere to go. How do you motivate a 13 year old on a beautiful summer morning when they know that it doesn't matter if they fail your class? I surely couldn't figure it out!

The Big 3-0:
Yup, I turned 30 at the end of August. It was kind of a let-down, to be honest. I don't ever make a big deal out of my birthday - normally I'm good with dinner and a night on the town. But I really wanted to have a big bash for my 30th. Except that no one (except my amazing sister) came. I have friends who make a big deal out of their birthdays every year, and I guess I had hoped that they would reciprocate for my 30th, but...oh well. I always have a great time at their bashes, so I guess that's the important thing! My sister did an AWESOME job, decorating my apartment for me while I was at school, secretly buying a cake to come out for dessert at the restaurant, paying for way too much...and getting me a fabulous wine fridge :) My 3 closest Charleston friends (yes, including Sci-fi, mostly) were also great. I guess I should have stopped thinking about a big celebration after my 21st!

School Year #2:
I'm back at the same school, in the same grade, with the same colleagues, which is mostly great. I really, really, REALLY miss my girls from last year, which shocked me. I couldn't believe how happy and proud I was to see them in their 9th grade uniforms, calling to me across the parking lot or running over to hug me. My new crop of girls just isn't the same (yet). I'm trying very hard not to hold it against them that they're not my girls from last year, but they're also visiting their 7th grade teachers every opportunity that they get, so I guess we're even! I think we have a more cohesive team in the 8th grade, which means that we're meaner, and who would like that? But it's not all bad - there are a few girls that I can already tell are going to make my year. Plus I'm teaching an Honors class this year, which I love!

There's a lot of school and school district and budget drama that's been keeping me stressed out, but I think that's pretty much the same everywhere.
Until next time, enjoy this lovely picture of the 8th grade "hallway!"