Growing Pains

The school I work at is currently in its 3rd year of one “new” program, and probably year 5 or 6 of the “other program.”  Needless to say, in the past 7 years, this school has been ground zero for loads of change.

The Short History of  School in Flux

I’m guessing eight years ago, the district identified that it needed to close one of its middle schools on the “south side”.  Through a lot of meetings and marketing, the school site I am currently at was closed and its students were dispersed to other middle schools — good ones, I’m guessing.

Then a year or two later, the grand plan was to combine two elementary schools, one high functioning and the other low, and place them at the previous middle school site.  A very cumbersome, complicated and ridiculous name was born as well as a new school.  Before the culture was even set (but not before affluent flight went into overdrive, spreading our elementary families to “better” schools), the district eyed it for an expansion to 8th grade, creating the district’s second K-8 program. Unlike the other program, however, ours would not really have any kind of specific magnet pull or overarching theme.

Currently we are a K-8 program with a declining enrollment, recently plunged into program improvement, and trying to promote the middle school program without district assistance.  Adding insult to injury, most the major players who put this into action have now retired leaving it to the wolves or whatever we can make of it without having any additional manpower, district office protection or additional program income.

Which Brings Us To

Our current growing pains…  I will be the first to admit that my weekly worship at “St. Jerome’s” is one in which I am continually reminded that I MUST be a better person.  Idioms and stereotypes like “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” are constant reminders for me.  That said, I’m still attending services for a reason.  I am not there yet.

I am amazingly bothered by my new colleagues in a way that I wasn’t with the addition of the 7th grade team.  The teachers who comprise the 7th grade team hold teaching philosophies that are much closer to mine.  We met regularly and discussed what we felt the culture would be.  We supported each other.  We, to my mind, created an environment where the students KNEW we KNEW.  All the students were ours, we didn’t differentiate.  Students were reprimanded by whomever felt they violated a standard.  We didn’t “tattle” on each other, we assigned consequences directly to the students.  It was lovely.  It was short-lived.

Charting the Uncharted

This year, however, has been more challenging. Due to a new “schedule” which has separated the middle school students into three different breaks and lunches and a grade level collaboration focused primarily on the elementary needs, we rarely see each other.  We don’t share breaks, lunches or even grade level collaborations.  Therefore, we are not A team of middle school teachers.  We are, at best, 3.5 teams of middle school teachers.  Needless to say, we don’t work collaboratively outside of our immediate teams, and, honestly, sometimes not even then.  As such, we are not a middle school in the same sense as the teachers indoors are an elementary school.  We are a set of disconnected classrooms with students who don’t interact and the teachers who teach them.

My 7th and 8th grade colleagues don’t know my students.  I barely know my 6th grade partner’s students.  I don’t really see them.  I have no connection with them outside of detention.  I rarely see my former students.  I miss them.  When I do see them, it’s when I need to be on with my class.  I’m preoccupied and no longer part of their lives.  Needless to say, that sucks.

It’s almost worse with the 8th grade students.  My former students rarely address me or my colleagues.  Perhaps it’s growing up, but they lack the sweetness and caring they once had.  They are snottier, ruder, less inclined to follow instructions.  I don’t know why, but I suspect that isolation has eroded our relationships.  We don’t have that easy banter.  Well, that’s not entirely true, there’s always Chris S.

Could There Be Something More?

Which, of course, leads to the question of: “Is there something more happening?” Sigh.  I believe, to some extent, that the answer is yes.  One of my former students, an 8th grader, came to me and admitted that they name call “the other class”.  They call them slackers and losers.  They consider themselves the “honor” class — the gifted class.  They feel superior and act like it, especially when it comes to showing respect to adults.  It makes me want to drop kick them.  The other class, the “losers”, are somewhat inclined to act that way, but pull it back in.  They KNOW it’s not OK.  They are angry.  They feel cheated.

Sigh.  They both know that something is up.  In fact, the same student told me how lucky her class was to have “the good teacher.”  That made my blood boil.  How rude is that?  Now do I think this teacher is TELLING them this — maybe, but I would hope not.  However, he’d be a damned fool not to know what’s happening, which makes me wonder about him.  Is he just that young, naive, and stupid not to know what’s going on outside of his classroom?  I’m worried about what else I don’t know since I don’t have contact with the students.

Needless to say, I wasn’t nice about addressing this with the student.  I pointed out that having 10 fewer students, who generally were not behavior problems (not that he’ll admit), and who have higher test scores is a GIFT.  Why would you “gift” the “good” teacher?  I say this from experience, smart and motivated kids are EASY to teach.  There’s no great work that goes into that.  Moving up the incredibly behind, unmotivated, and the learning disabled takes a great deal of skill and talent.  Mind you, that teacher bought her class by bragging that this is what she does well.  Still, a larger class of needy students isn’t easy.  It makes me wonder if this “wonder boy” actually believes his own press.  Given the small smirks he gives me (because he’s smarter), makes me inclined to believe he does think he’s better.  Plus, he’s Teach for America so he’s handpicked to raised the “poor, poor students” up.  This is his missionary project.  We should be thankful.  Wait, of course we’re thankful he’s saving the students from us.

My Resentment and Wrapping It Up

Which brings me to my resentment.  Two years ago when I had these students, I tried like hell to PUSH THEM FORWARD.  I was met with loads of resentment and parent complaints.  I gave too much homework.  I expected too much.  No, parents weren’t gong to make sure the students turned in work.  An essay a week was unreasonable.  Why did I want monthly book reports?  Notes?  You would think I’d asked for a first born when I asked them to take notes.  It was heart-breaking.  I was everything that was wrong. I was constantly being taken to task for what I wanted done.  I was teaching “like they were in college.” and it was BAD.

Now, no joke, they have a Stanford-educated young MAN who is asking some of the same stuff, but now the parents are happy.  One parents is even making her child (FINALLY) complete and turn in all work EVEN IF IT’S NOT GOING TO BE GRADED.  This is the same parent who skipped our conference and told me she had no intention of making sure her child did her work.  Another parent has offered $500 for whatever the teacher wants.  I never got that, nor did my 6th grade teaching partner, nor did my 7th grade colleagues.  Thanks.

I know I need to be accepting of this young man.  He’s 22, thinks his fecal matter doesn’t stink, has a sense of entitlement, is disrespectful, and is able to “save the world” while being paid, getting a teaching credential, and probably being made permanent regardless.  I do know that young people are ignorant.  Hell, I was.  However, I would assume that the gifted Stanford students would have bypassed that (being gifted and all).

Problem is, I don’t want to.  I want to sit him down, rip him a new one, and ask him to REALLY look at what his job is.  We talk about teachers “in the classroom” but there is no room in an educational system for people who do not fully participate.  If he were in a “REAL” job, it would be expected that he would a) READ and ANSWER email; b) collaborate with others in his department; c) learn the company culture; d) do all jobs assigned to him REGARDLESS of how he felt about them; e) respect his colleagues’ experience and work to learn from them; e) share his knowledge; and f) add value to the company.  Since he has failed to do any of this, I feel he should get that talk.  Education can’t afford this.  What happens in two years if he opts not to stay?  Our program has to find a new teacher and our program is not improved for having had him. We will be starting new, if we’re lucky.  If not it will be just another failed program.

Thanks District Office!


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