Monday, January 19, 2009

My War Stories

So all the trash talking about the KIPP AMP unionizing on has got me thinking that it's time for me to start sharing some war stories from my five years teaching in one of the poorest neighborhoods of New York City.

These "war stories" are not about children, or about families; they are about the adults I shared breathing space with. Some of these were heroes - 30 years+ in the classroom, dealing with constant change, and providing structure, order and inspiration for their young charges. Everything I needed to learn, I learned from Mr. G's kindergarten! (And from Mrs. C-R's second grade.)

But there was the Other Kind. Those who played the Morlocks to the Eloi I admired were the embittered folks who had long given up on (or who never believed in, as some were very young like me) the notion that our students, our school, could achieve at high levels like the kids in Scarsdale.

Here are the three war stories that I posted on this week:

1) In my first three years, I taught science in a large elementary school. The professional development expert sent by the district provided me with the only preservice orientation I received by handing me a copy of Stella Luna and saying, “This is a good story about bats. It’s science. The kids will like it,” and, “Just make sure that no one gets hurt, the kids are ready for their teacher when she comes back at the end of your lesson, and if you can weave a little science in there once in a while, that’s great.”

2) One of the teachers with whom I shared an office with that year spent the year waiting to hear back from a suburban school district on whether she yet had enough experience to transfer to that higher-paying, “easier” job. She asked me, “Where do you want to teach?” When I answered, still incredulous, “Here,” she laughed and said, “You’ll learn.”

3) In my second year, when I taught third grade, the Academic Intervention Support teacher gave me a piece of unsolicited advice. “The way you teach, you should be in Long Island. The kids there can learn! They just can’t learn here.” Mind you, this is the woman who had been sent by the principal/Targeted Assistance Plan Consolidated Application to my classroom at the start of the year to ask for the five students who were struggling the most in reading so she could help them move up. She spent the year yelling at them for forty-five minutes a day. Why not? 'They can’t learn anyway,' I’m sure she reasoned.

There's a lot more I have to say about this AIS teacher, who, by the way, once committed the indiscretion of driving over a parent's foot in the school parking lot on her way out - three minutes before dismissal.

Is anyone else getting the picture that this person should have been fired long before I even got there? Does anyone else agree that the UFT, for all the good it has done for teachers over the years, probably played some role in continuing the pumping of federal dollars toward this detestable practice?


  1. Nice prep! I have heard of such things.

    I'd be interested in the PDs you have been (and are) offered as well. Is this any better or helpful?

    What about clerical staff (form filing, copying, student grade and evaluation data processing)?

    How about custodial services? I know of one teacher who took along a dozen donuts to the custodial office along with her request to get her classroom air conditioner serviced (repaired so it would work) after requesting through sending forms for almost two months.

    Cheers! Schooldays

  2. Aside from the fact that the prevailing term among the faculty for Professional Development days was "Professional Retardation," I'll soon be posting a memory about a PD day episode in which our principal proposed to the faculty to have our teacher evaluations truncated with a special, "Internal PASS Review," ostensibly based on the NY state PASS review system.

    I'm trying to find your blog - if you are reading this, where is it?