davidd (davidd) wrote,

Third Grade: The First Three Weeks


So, what's it like finally having "my own classroom?" I don't know, because it's not "my" classroom. I'm basically a long-term sub for a teacher who is out during second semester on medical leave. She's a very nice woman, she's been very helpful, she even did the end-of-semester report cards for me, and came in to help with standardized testing, and has dropped in a few times for other things... WHY IS SHE ON LEAVE? She has told me that I can change the desk arrangement if I want, and use any of the supplies... but the room is full of her stuff, and I'm only there as a temp, so I can't really make any major changes. Not that there's a lot I would change, but... whatever. The room is okay, the teacher is nice... but it's not my classroom.

The other 3rd grade teachers at XYZ [name changed to protect... me] Elementary are really nice and extremely helpful, as are all the office staff and support staff. They have made me feel welcome and are making a lot of effort to help me fit in and learn to work effectively with the students.

That's the good part.

What's it like working with the students? IT'S THE WORST OF BOTH WORLDS -- Elementary and Secondary!

What do I mean by "secondary?" Isn't this an elementary school? Yes it is, but the students rotate classes according to subjects AND according to ability level, much like in high school. Instead of learning the names and the backgrounds of my 27 students, I have to learn the names and backgrounds of three classes of students! The school where I did my student teaching was easy with fifty. Now I have to learn the names, and idiosyncrasies, of eighty students!

I have my "homeroom" class. Then we "switch" for Language Arts. The language arts class is mixed, with some students from each of the three classes. Then we switch for math, which is all my homeroom students again... EXCEPT: starting second semester, we will be grouping the math students according to ability level, so I will have a math class composed of students from three separate classes... a different mix than I have for language arts. We switch back to homeroom for recess and lunch, then we switch again after lunch, when the entire homeroom class rotates out for either science or social studies. I get one of the other classes for writing while my class is at science or social studies. On Fridays all three classes are supposed to have PE outdoors with some volunteer military guys... who have not yet shown up since I've been there. I tried taking my class out for PE on one of the Fridays... it was borderline chaos. Actually, I think we can dispense with the word "borderline."

Chaos... chaos and blood. That's what third grade is all about, at least at this school. One of the teachers had a substitute one day last week. The sub was a 25-year veteran retired teacher from the Leeward side, mostly Waipahu. She said afterward that this was the worst group of students she has ever dealt with at any grade level, ever! Also last week, one of the 3rd grade teachers told me that during first quarter she almost had a nervous breakdown trying to deal with these kids.

What's so bad about these kids? Nothing out of the ordinary, I suppose... as long as RACISM isn't an issue for you. "I'm not gonna read no Spanish story," a boy told me my first week. The story in our reading book had some Spanish character names in it. "It's written in English," I told him. "Read it or get a zero." On another day, several of the students got into a verbal altercation based on calling each other derogatory ethnic slurs. And I know this is "politically incorrect" to mention, but it always seems to be the black kids from the mainland who are involved in these things... and not on the "receiving end." It was a black kid from a military family who didn't want to read the "Spanish story," and some black kids, along with a bunch of others (including white kids from the mainland), were involved in the name-calling.

I suppose it depends on your tolerance level and personal point of view as to what's worse, racial slurs, profanity, or flat-out sexually derogatory remarks. I phoned the parent of the "Spanish story" boy a few days later when, ironically, other students were acting resistant to reading out loud and he said to them, "just read the f***ing story!"

They like the "f-word," these kids. I"ve sent a few of them to the office for it. Like that does any good. The school doesn't have a counselor or a vice-principal, and the principal is very busy, so there aren't a lot of people who can deal with them. The kids go to the office crying, they come back sniffling, and the next day they're back at it. I keep thinking back to the pre-hire interview, when the principal asked me what I would need in the way of support from administration. Now I think I would say, "some soap to wash out their mouths, and maybe some duct tape to strap 'em to their chairs."

On Monday as we were getting lined up to leave at the end of the school day I noticed one of the desks was missing a chair. "Where's the chair for that desk?" I asked. "I think she shoved it up her butt," laughed one of the boys. "Or else she took it home and is sitting on it humping herself."

Eight years old, these kids. Seven, a few of them. Kinda makes me wonder what's going on in their homes.

What other precious things have my little darlings said to each other? How about, "I have a gun in my backpack and I"m gonna kill you!" That one warranted a class lecture and I haven't heard it since.

One of the other 3rd grade classes got busted at lunch this week for "pantsing" each other in the cafeteria. On another day, several 3rd graders were involved in a food fight. Fortunately the teachers don't have to do lunchroom duty, there are cafeteria staff people who deal with that.

I was warned that some of the students might try to run away. I haven't had any "runners" yet. I'm not that lucky. I wish some of them would run away. I have a couple who keep climbing up the bookshelves. I mean, you can pull them down, you can lecture them, you can hold them in for recess -- which doesn't work at all, many of the kids WANT to stay in at recess, and I want them to go outside and burn off some of their excess enthusiasm -- but nothing seems to faze them. They crave the attention.

They fight, too. As they were coming back from recess a few days ago one of them came running into the classroom. "There's a fight outside!" I went out expecting to see the usual gang of fighting idiots, Kobe, Jalen, Jacob, and K-nard (yes, some moron actually named their poor kid K-nard). But no, it was two girls. Their friends were holding them back, the tears were streaming, and the other 3rd-grade kids were standing in a circle yelling, "cat fight, cat fight!"

How did I resolve the "cat fight?" Unfortunately I couldn't bring to mind any of the valuable and effective techniques I learned in my classroom management seminar at the University of Phoenix... so I took the two kids and banged their heads together.

Seriously, that's what I did. I asked them what happened, I got the usual "she said this," "well she said that" blah blah blah. I told them that I didn't know what to do about it, so I was just going to bang their heads together until they stopped fighting. Then I took them and (very slowly and gently) bumped their foreheads together. As they started to giggle I said, "no smiling. No laughing. You hate each other, remember? You're not friends anymore. I don't want to see any smiling from either of you for the rest of the day. Remember, you're very angry. Now go inside and don't even look at each other." They were back to their usual annoying chatterbox selves within minutes.

Several kids cry every day. Usually, (and this is kind of weird to me, but I have to remember that despite their "colorful" vocabularies, they're still only seven or eight years old) it's because somebody makes fun of them or makes fun of their name. One of the semi-tough kids (and often a troublemaker himself) was in tears last week. "They're making fun of my name. They're calling me 'Jacob-rhymes-with-make-up.'" I considered this for a moment, then said calmly, "well, it kind of does, doesn't it. Go sit down, Jacob-rhymes-with-make-up." He looked at me in stunned confusion, slowly returned to his seat, and that was the end of it. Except that now I call him "Make-up" sometimes, too, because it's funny!

One of the sweetest and smartest little girls came to me crying on Monday. "Those boys called me a fat pig," she said. This girl might be the skinniest kid in the class. "So," I said, looking her over carefully, "are you really fat?" "No." "And does your nose turn up at the end?" "No." "Then I guess you're not fat, and you're not a pig. Obviously those boys don't know what they're talking about. But they were very rude, and I'm going to have a discussion with them." She seemed content, and I had a discussion with the boys, consisting of "don't even think about saying anything like that to her again... ever!" with what I hoped was a tone of awe-inspiring menace. They're kind of beginning to learn what things REALLY irritate me.

Since gynecological issues seem to be an ever-present topic of discussion wherever teachers gather... one of the benefits (?) of working with women of child-bearing age, I guess... it may be of general interest to share the following: I learned from the other teachers yesterday that one of the EIGHT-YEAR-OLD THIRD GRADERS is already having her monthly cycle, and that I should watch out for the other kids teasing her with, "when are you going to have a baby?"

Today was the last day of school before winter break. I wasn't planning a party; nor were the other 3rd-grade teachers, so it's not that I'm anti-holiday... altho' we have a student who, for religious reasons, is forbidden from participating in holiday activities. If we have any kind of holiday activity I'm supposed to send him down to the special ed room. I was told this by the kid's special ed tutor; she explained this to me with a totally straight face while sporting a Santa Claus hat, a holly wreath necklace, and a snowman pin on her red sweater. Later I checked out the special ed room: it looks like the North-freakin' Pole, with giant snowflakes on every window, festive garlands, and a huge flocked Christmas tree with lights. I'm supposed to send the no-holiday kid down to sit with Mrs. Claus in Santa's workshop if we have a holiday activity. Okaaayyyy....

But that's not what I was getting at. This party... half the class brought treats and snacks and all kinds of pure sugar and deep fried grease to share with each other, so we obviously ended up having a party. One boy asked if we could put on a CD he brought, a "Songs for Children" CD. I let him play it, and the kids got excited and they all started dancing. "Cool," I thought, "this'll keep 'em busy for a while." A "while" lasted, I swear I am not exaggerating, less than sixty seconds.

"K-nard is bleeding!" a half- dozen voices shrieked above the music. Honestly, they were dancing on a carpet, how could a kid be bleeding? "Why is he bleeding," I asked, rushing over. "'Cuz Kobe stepped on his head."

You know how some people commit suicide by putting their heads on railroad tracks? I dunno what this kid was thinking, but apparently he decided to LAY DOWN underneath the dancing feet of twenty sugared-up eight-year-olds. I found him laying on the carpet twitching and sobbing. I could see his hand was covered with blood. He was crying, so I knew he was still alive. "Get up, K-nard," I told him, and lifted him. He had blood over his eye, and blood on his nose, and blood coming out of his mouth. The bloody mouth was quite the sight, since K-nard has two shiny silver eye teeth. He looked like a short, pudgy Terminator-Dracula. The Draculator, maybe.

It turns out K-Draculator merely had a tiny cut on the inside of his lip, which bled profusely but briefly... just enough to turn his hands and face into a Carrie-esque gore-fest. I took him out to the sink to get cleaned up, and thus ended our brief dance. K-nard and company were back to snarfing candy within minutes, and then we got the room cleaned up, sort of, and I got rid of them for the day. Actually, FOR THREE WEEKS! Have I yet expressed how YAY-worthy I consider this? Very YAY-worthy, that's how YAY-worthy!

Dealing with these kids is exhausting. One positive aspect of working at this school... I don't have to stay until 4pm or 5pm or almost-6pm like I did every day during my student teaching. I'm outta there at 3pm every day (the students leave at 2pm). Sometimes a tad earlier. I am so tired when I get home I usually take a nap. The departing teacher had some lesson materials ready for me for the first week or so, which helped. My initial plan was to try to put together a brief outline for the week in advance, but it's been hard trying to get used to the weird "switching" schedule and juggling all the different combinations of students, and sorting out who uses folders, or composition books, or 3-ring binders, or textbooks, or worksheets, or practice books (we do use the same Daybook text my student teaching class used, altho' for a different grade level... so it's something familiar, and I have embraced it eagerly)... and I have ended up basically sketching out my daily plan every morning before class starts. Nobody comes into the classroom before the second morning bell rings. Especially not these little monsters, they'd tear the place apart.

There is no way it would be possible to type up full-blown unit plans and actually implement them at this point. The stuff we had to do for our UOP classes was ridiculously idealized. This school wants us to cover the "benchmarks" from the HDOE website in the order they're presented on the website. Unfortunately the HDOE order doesn't follow that of our texts, so we're supposed to... yeah, well, whatever, we're supposed to do lots of stuff. What we're gonna do is memorize our times tables and learn to do story problems... and learn how to use a separate "bubble sheet" for the answers. These kids don't know how to use an answer sheet. At all. There's no way they're gonna perform well on the HSA test when they can't even deal with the test format. In fact, so far this year the kids haven't been taking tests or quizzes in class other than the quarterly state assessments. That's gonna change. Now I know why students at my student-teaching-assignment school score better -- they get lots of test practice with multiple-choice answer sheets. That's what I'm gonna try with these guys.

Oh, and dig this: year-end state HSA testing is in March, about eight weeks after school starts up again in January. Yup. Year-end testing in March! We have about 7-1/2 weeks to cover... ALL THE BENCHMARKS FOR THE SECOND HALF OF THE SCHOOL YEAR! "They're expecting to see a big jump in test scores this year," say the other teachers, "but it ain't gonna happen. Not with these kids." If even the long-term teachers are saying this, what chance do I have? I'm afraid I'm not going to make a particularly strong impression at Pearl City Elementary School.

Seven weeks to cover a half-year of material, to turn the demonic hell-babies into erudite scholars, and to do it as a SUBSTITUTE TEACHER at SUBSTITUTE TEACHER PAY!

I don't understand how, but some of my "colleagues" from my university classes were hired before they officially finished the program. The XYZ Elementary principal says she wants to get me into a contract as soon as she can, but she says she can't do it until the personnel office has received and processed our graduation documents. Until then, I'm just a substitute on a day-to-day basis. I don't even have a key to "my" room, I have to sign out for a sub key each day. Some of the others with whom I graduated are dealing with this, too. We have been told that we cannot be "hired" until our documentation is complete. How can some people be working, especially at the elementary level, as contracted teachers when they're not "program complete" and they're not even licensed as substitute teachers? The whole process seems so arbitrary.

Am I horrified yet? Am I wondering whether I really want to do this? Oh, don't worry, there are positives, too. Like sweet little Katie, for example. She sits in front, she's quiet, intelligent, attentive, helpful, and she likes to draw. She writes cute little essays like this:

"I like to draw. I really like to draw flames. I'm good at drawing things on fire. I like to draw pictures of houses on fire, and of people having heart attacks while they watch their houses burn."

Winter break! Twenty days off! What was that the other 3rd-grade teachers said to me today? Oh, yeah: "Please, please tell us you're coming back!"

Yes, I'm going back... but not one day before I have to!

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