Tuesday, March 21, 2017

So You Think You're Stressed?

There are times, truly, where I learn way too much about my kids.

That may seem odd, seeing as I have many of these kids for just a few days at a time, but I almost feel like a bartender...I'm there, it's a quiet environment, it's a perfect place to spill your guts.  A lot of times, it's a good thing.  I can do some counseling, we can talk about why the kids keeps making bad choices, and talk about goals.  Other times, I'd rather not know what they're telling me.

So this week I had a return visitor, except this was his first time this year.  He'd rocked 8th grade after falling apart - he ended up in alternative school - in seventh grade.  Grades were excellent, he was in advanced classes, he'd grown up.  It was nice to see that Brainy Boy was doing well.

Except maybe he'd grown up a bit too much.

It was after lunch and I was going through some of the work that the kids were turning in.  I check it to see if it's complete, spot check for accuracy, and either check it off and put it in the basket to return to the teachers, or give it back to be completed/redone.

One of my kids was not completing his work.  He kept turning in assignments that were either incomplete with blank pages, or completely wrong.  Everything he turned in had to go back to be redone.  So he was stomping, and fussing, and basically having a whining fit and the other kids were getting annoyed.

"Oh get over yourself", said Brainy Boy.  "You think your life is so tough."

"Oh but it isssss!" whined The Whiner  "This stuff is soooo hard!"

"You don't know what stress is," says Brainy Boy.  "Seventh grade work is not stressful."

"You don't understannnnndddd,' whines The Whiner.  "It's haaaard."

At this point, Brainy Boy dropped his bomb.  "Oh stop freaking whining.  You don't know stress.  You want to know what's stressful?  You want to know the kind of stress I've been going through?  I'm in 8th grade and I just got my girlfriend pregnant!  Now that's stress!"

Well then.

You could have heard a pin drop in that room.  (I might add it was all boys that day which may have been why he felt comfortable enough to say what he said.)

Whiney Boy's jaw dropped for a moment, he sucked air, then it his mouth closed, he went back to his seat and we didn't hear a word from him the rest of the day.

Algebra Kid, Brainy Boy's best bud and partner in crime (they had done something in their Algebra class to end up with me), gave him a sympathetic look.

"Man, you really didn't need to tell everyone that," he said.  "But you do have a point."

"Yeah, I know," said Brainy Boy.  "But damn, his whining just pissed me off."

And with that, they went back to their graphing calculators and worked on their Algebra.



Tuesday, March 14, 2017

When You Just Don't Want to Get Out of the Car

Since January I've seen a lot of sixth graders start to morph into seventh graders.  In other words, perfectly good kids I've never seen before got hit by the hormone hammer and start showing up in my room, and showing up a lot.

Brat Boy is one of them.  Kid never crossed my radar until January and then it was like he was in my room every single week.  It wasn't for the same thing either.  One week it was disrespect.  Another week it was disruption.  And even another was for physical aggression.  In other words he was a hot mess.  But, from what his teachers told me, he was a bit of a spoiled brat.  Mom excused his behavior and pretty much let him run the household.  Dad, on the other hand, wasn't buying it.  And, you guessed it, Dad and Mom are divorced (or divorcing...I never could get a straight answer on that), so Brat Boy lives with mom - and gets his way in everything - but it takes Dad to straighten him out.

This is not a good combination.  Usually when kids have a total reversal of behavior we know something is going on at home, and often it's issues with the parents.  Whatever the reason, he was having a pretty serious meltdown as we headed towards Spring.  I never really had an issue with him - he seemed to like the quiet and would do his work and not cause any trouble for the most part. But the fact that he kept turning up in my room was not a good sign.

So, yet again, he was scheduled to be in my room for a few days, which wasn't much of a surprise.  And I marked him absent because he didn't show up.  Not unusual with the illnesses we've had racing through the schools this year.  But then I got a phone call from the attendance secretary.

"Hi I wanted you to know that Brat Boy is here, but he's not getting out of the car," she said.

"What do you mean he's not getting out of the car?" I asked.

"Well his mom brought him to school and he's refusing to get out of the car.  He actually did this yesterday too, but Coach Cool was able to talk him into getting out and coming to school," she said.

"You're kidding, right?" I said.

"Nope, this is becoming a regular routine with him,"  she said.

Oh my.  One of the funniest stories my mom ever told me about going to school - in a one room school house on the Kansas plains, no less - was about a kid who crawled up in the back window of his mom's car and refused to get out.  That image has stuck with her for over 70 years!  And now it was happening again in our front parking lot!

About an hour later I got another phone call from the front office.  "Brat Boy is going to spend ISS up here in the front office," she said.  "They're afraid that he might make a break for it if he's out in your portable."

"Good thinking," I said - which was true.  Finally - finally! - someone realized that putting kids who threaten to run away out in a portable was not smart.  Since we actually walk outside several times a day to go in for bathroom breaks and lunch, it wouldn't be that difficult to make a run for it.  And I'm not chasing anyone down.

"I'll send his work up front then," I said, and then emailed his teachers letting them know what was up.

From what I was told, this has become nearly a regular routine with Brat Boy.  He does not want to be at school.  What he does want (and oftentimes gets if you look at the attendance report) is to stay home and play video games.  Several times he was able to be talked out of the car by Coach Cool, but apparently this incident was different.  Coach Cool was getting nowhere. Mom was getting nowhere.  So, they  ended up calling in Dad.

And Dad came.  And within two minutes, Brat Boy was out of the car and in the office.

Amazing what Brat Boy could do when properly  motivated.


Sunday, March 05, 2017

There are days...

...I would really rather be home with my cats.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Communication Quandry

The other day I got a phone call from one of the administrators about a kid she was going to put in my room for the following day.  As usual she told me his name, and for how many days she wanted him to stay in ISS.  Then she paused.

"I think you need to know that he doesn't speak English," she said.

Oh. Really.

"He doesn't?" I ask.  "Where is he from?"

"He's from the Dominican Republic.  He speaks Spanish.  The Aide, Mrs. Multi-Lingual, is going to come out with him, sort of get him started and then he should be good the rest of the day," she said.

"Just curious," I said, "but what did he do to get out here?"

"Oh, he cursed out his ESL teacher in Spanish.  Apparently he didn't like his assignment and got a bit irate."

Oh this is just wonderful.

I grew up in Los Angeles, took Spanish in middle and high school, and at one time did okay with it.  But that was a long time ago, and I wasn't going to get very far with what remained of my Spanish skills.  And this kid apparently has quite the colorful vocabulary.

So I asked my husband to tell me all the Spanish curse words he knew and that he thought an 8th grade boy would use if he got mad at me.  Because my husband spent part of his youth (about five years) living in Lima, Peru and is still pretty darn fluent.  He comes in handy at times.

I was ready to go the next morning.

Curse Boy arrived, as promised, with Mrs. Multi-Lingual who translated and got him started after I did my new kid orientation.  He spends a lot of his time working on Rosetta stone on a laptop (which he brought with him) and he has a Kindle that he uses to translate, so aside from a math assignment and some science, he pretty much sat and did his computer work.

At one point he came up to me, handed me the Kindle and I could read "I need glue and scissors," that he had written in Spanish and it translated it into English for my benefit.

Okay, that was pretty cool.

During the afternoon he walked up, handed me the Kindle and I read, "I am finished with my work."

Okay, I thought...the kid isn't a whiz bang with English at this point, but he seems to get numbers.  So I got him on Reflex Math and he happily spent the last hour doing math fluency games.

He was the model student.  Didn't make a peep.  Stayed in his seat and did his work.

I'd take him back anytime.  As long as he has the Kindle. Or I can get my husband to follow me to work one day!


Saturday, February 11, 2017

Hack. Cough. Blech.

So it appears that just about our entire state has the flu, strep, cold, or a stomach virus.  You know those flu maps they do on The Weather Channel?  Well, we're right smack in the middle of it.

And if that doesn't tell you something, the fact that 15 districts around us were closed part of last week due to illness should.

Notice I said "districts around us"?  We aren't closed.

That's not to say we haven't been hit and hit hard.  Although my building hasn't been hit hard with student absences, we have had a lot of faculty and staff down for the count.  From teachers, to bus drivers, to administrators, to guidance, we're hacking and coughing, and generally dropping like flies.  I was sick last week myself, but not bad enough to take a day off.  And since we're pretty much short of substitute teachers, even if I did take off, they'd most likely just shut down ISS and let the kids serve the time when I return.  It's that bad.

Some of the other buildings not only have a lot of sick staff, but the kids are out too.  Classes with ten kids are being supervised by custodians and cafeteria workers because there's no one left.  Buses are being driven by mechanics and anyone they can find.  We've had trouble with all our buses even showing up to pick up kids in the afternoon because they're so short drivers.

But we are still open.  Why?  Because we haven't - district-wide - hit the magic number of 17% absent.  Some schools may have 30% while others have 5%.  Whatever.  It's not working out to be 17% throughout the entire district.

So we are open.  Without subs.  Without bus drivers.

And we are all praying for a snow day. Or two.  Or three.

But instead it's so warm my damn tulips are already popping up.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

When They Have All Lost Their Minds, Or Why I Hate Collaborative Planning

Our District believes in collaboration.  It believes in collaboration so much, in fact, that it sets aside money to pay for substitute teachers so that teachers can have an entire day to plan together.  What this means is that each subject area - math, science, reading language arts, and social studies - gets a day to plan while someone else watches their kids.

It also means that the kids lose their ever loving minds and I get really, really busy.  Because, for whatever reason, middle schoolers cannot handle being with a substitute teacher.  It's the time that even the good kids act stupid and the trouble makers make even more trouble.  What makes it worse is that we have a pretty serious shortage of good, quality substitute teachers who can handle middle school kids.  Heck, we can't find permanent teachers to fill open positions (anyone want to teach 7th grade science?  Anyone?).  All the good subs are offered full-time positions, which leaves, for the most part a rather inept pool of people without the skills they need to survive these kids.  We do have some exceptions, like Mr. Brown, the most amazing sub ever who is retired military And Who Takes No Crap From Anyone.  The kids fear him, but they also respect him, and he's a dream.  Teachers fight over who gets him.  This guy is like the most popular girl in school, and is booked months out.  But he's a rare exception.

What this means is that I can tell, by looking at how many subs are in the building, that my room will start filling up and filling up fast.  This week was a record for us in Our Happy Little Portable.  Monday we had a whopping three (yay!), Tuesday went to 13, then Wednesday, and Thursday we had 16, then Friday we had 10.  I pretty much  max out at 16 because I run out of seats to put kids, so 16 is the most I can take.

My ideal number is 6-8 kids.  That way I can get to know them, work with them, and help them.  The sort of things I like to do.  Anything over that and I feel like all I do is process incoming work (four subjects times the number of kids) and outgoing work, and hopefully making sure they behave.  In other words, I have to turn into a paper-processing bitch.

This week was something else.

We got banned from the 8th grade hallway bathrooms due to vandalism.  It appears that one of the kids I had for two days (we're pretty sure we know who it is) was jumping up and damaging the ceiling tiles in the bathroom.  So now, we have to walk to the other side of the building and use the ones by the cafeteria, which is not very fun when it's cold and rainy out as it's a much longer walk.

Two of the kids got suspended because they lied and said they were bus riders (I have no way of knowing who is and who isn't outside of asking) and then went in the building and were roaming the halls and got busted.

Another kid got an extra day for having a laser pointer.

A sixth grader scraped paint off his cubicle and will be coming in tomorrow during his PE and Computer class to sand and paint, as per his mother's request.  As she said, "Make him work, and make him work hard."

A girl got removed and suspended because she didn't like the fact that she had to sit in her seat and be quiet, and began banging on her desk with her fists and screaming, "I wanna call my Momma!  I wanna call my Momma!"  She's gone for a few days.

And another kid, who got suspended the last time he was out with me for slapping a kid across the face as we came back from the restroom, managed to shove and push a kid THREE TIMES HIS SIZE, and got removed and suspended, when we only had an hour left in the day.  Of course, again, this was on the way back from the rest rooms, and he picked on a kid who was big, but too darn nice to retaliate.

I was ready for the weekend.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Minion Goes on the Run

Life has been interesting with The Minion.  

He is still coming to my room 1st period to do his work (when I can get him to do it), he's irritable, grumpy, and gets suspended now and then for stealing  and for skipping class.  When I try to get him to work, and he's not in the mood, he growls at me.  He also has reverted back to some really bad habits he had when he's younger (let's just say he has bathroom issues).  We thought he had finally grown out of some of that but alas, no.  His classmates hate him because he's weird and he smells and truly, he's not very nice. At all. (It's really sad.)

So last week, when the Bottomless Pit was sent inside to get some work, he came back and reported that "that little weird kid from first period is wandering around outside."  Uh-oh.  That's not good.  Just then the aide that comes and watches my kids for about 30 minutes so I can go use the restroom, make copies, and get a break came in and informed me that she'd seen The Minion when she came out and sent him back into the building.  (I'm in a portable in the parking lot - to get to my room, you have to leave the building and walk out there.)

Since I was going in on my break anyway, I went on in to guidance and reported this to guidance.  We did some detective work, looked at some of the video (we have cameras all over the place). And discovered that The Minion had left his 3rd period class, gone out the door he usually goes out to come to my portable, and just kept walking.  He most likely would have kept walking if The Bottomless Pit and my aide hadn't caught him.  He's figured out that no adult supervises his walk out to my room so he took advantage of it. So, I ended up writing a referral for him for being out of area, and left it with the Guidance Goddess.

Half an hour later I get a call from Coach Cool.  "Is the Minion out there with you?" he asked.

"Oh heck no, he hates me, I'm the last person he would be with," I informed him.

"Well if you see him, let me know," he said.

What ensued next was an hour of admin sending out emails telling everyone to be on the lookout for this kid, and me getting asked about a dozen times if I'd seen him.  The local authorities got involved and the search for this kid was on.  About that time, our SRO showed up at his house and asked mom if she'd seen him and she calmly responded that he was home.

What?  She didn't think it even remotely weird that her kid showed up at home in the middle of the day?  And didn't think to call?

Apparently once the aide had sent him back into the building, he went to the nurse and then left the nurse and went out the exit near her.  And started walking home.  In the middle of the street.  A former student of mine (nicest kid and nicest family ever) was driving to the high school and spotted The Minion in the middle of the street, recognized him from church and, as he told his mom, "got a bad feeling about it", and turned around, picked him up and took him home.  He was worried he'd be hit by a car, or picked up by a predator, or something.

So the Minion was safe, which was good.  However, he's also in a world of trouble.  Mom was told to bring him to school the following day and stay for a meeting.  She didn't.  She put him on the bus and sent him on his way.  She didn't get off the hook that easily as he ended up getting suspended for a few days and she had to come get him anyway.

Not sure what the ultimate decision is going to be regarding The Minion, but I doubt I'll see much of him in the future.  For one, most kids that leave school end up going to alternative school and assigned a boatload of points because it's such a dangerous thing to do.  Secondly, I think everyone has decided that it's probably not a good idea to have a kid with a history of leaving and wandering around coming out to my portable every day where he has two opportunities to bolt.

We shall see.