Wednesday, September 30, 2015

I Can See You!

My ISS room is actually a portable.  And my portable is not, obviously, attached to The Building.  It's next to it, in the back, but not attached.  And this summer while working in there getting my room set up, I realized that the door did not have a peephole.  There are also no windows on the front of the portable.

What this meant was that there was absolutely no way to tell who was standing on my doorstep, knocking on my door.

I mentioned this to The Enforcer in July and he kind of shrugged me off.

"We've never had a peephole in the door.  Mrs. Angel never asked for one."

"It's a security issue," I told him.  "Anyone can drive back here, bypass the front office check in, and land on my doorstep and I have no idea who it is."

He thought about that for a second, "Jeez, you're right.  I never thought of that."

Oh. Dear. Lord.

Maybe I'm paranoid (I grew up in The Big City) but jeepers, in this day and age, not having some sort of security measure out there as simple as a peephole is just insane.

So I put in a work order for a peephole at the end of July.

I followed up in the middle of August.  Again in September.  And again a week ago.


Then last week Mrs. Sparrow brings a kid down to me and knocks on my door.

"You don't have any way to see who is out here, do you?" she says in surprise.

"Nope, I don't.  I requested a peephole in July, but as you can see..."

"Oh that's insane," she says.  "I'll expedite this.  That's just a horrible safety issue."

Today, September 30th.  Two and a half months after I requested the peephole.  Eight weeks into the school year....I finally get my peephole.

The district maintenance guy asked where I wanted it.  I pointed to a level that would work well for me.

It was installed in five minutes.

Freaking amazing.

When The Grown Ups Don't Act Like Grown Ups

Maybe it's because I come from a corporate environment where I worked for 15 years before deciding to teach.  Or maybe it's because I'm pretty obsessively organized.  Or maybe it's because I have high standards for myself (and others).  Regardless, I've come to the realization that it's not the kids who are going to drive me crazy in this's the teachers.

So today one of my 6th graders, who just spent three days with me in ISS and was released yesterday, shows up at my door.

"Miss Skinny said I need to get my work for her," she mumbles.

"The work you did in ISS?" I ask her, because with these kids you never know.  Homework?  Late work?  Work that has been stuck in the depths of a binder since fourth grade?

"Hum...I think so," she responds.  I tell her to go back to class and tell Miss Skinny that all her work has been completed and sent back to her.  And, in order for her to get back into The Building, I have to send one of my "trustworthy" (this is ISS after all) students with the swipe card to let her in.  (I don't have an aide in there all the time.)

She shows up a few minutes later, and we repeat the same scenario.  Miss Skinny wants the work that 6th grader did in ISS.  I again tell the kid to go back to class, I will email Miss Skinny and let her know that the work has been completed and turned in. I again have to have a student leave with the swipe card to let the 6th grader back into the building.

At this point, I'm annoyed.  I have kids in there that need my help doing math and social studies, and I'm having to answer the door - twice - for a kid, when all the teacher should have done was call or email.

So I pull the sixth grader's file, pull out the science assignment sheet, and see that she had simply wrote "do attached" on the assignment sheet.  This is something they have been told specifically NOT to do because if the assignments are are not listed, the kids realize they can tear off and lose some of the "attached", because there is no way to account for it.  When a teacher does this, either myself or my aide end up having to go through the assignments and itemize them on the sheet so we know what the kid is responsible for.  Miss Skinny did not do this.

I write Miss Skinny an email explaining what she had written, listing what she had sent, and informing her, nicely (I really was nice...truly) that each item had been checked off and initialed and was all put in her mailbox yesterday afternoon.

Her response?

"Oh.  I haven't checked my mailbox yet today."

You. Have. Got. To. Be. Freaking. Kidding. Me.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Making a Grand Entrance

The other day I had a pretty full house of customers in our Happy Little Portable.  We ranged from six to a grand total of 15, but seemed to hover pretty steady around ten.  That's a lot of high maintenance kids in one place.

On Wednesday we had what was probably the most dramatic entrance yet to our Happy Little Portable.  I was sitting at my desk, helping one of my kids with some assignment, when I could hear someone stomp up our ramp and then a key turn in my lock (my door is always locked).  The door opened and standing there was Officer Awesome our SRO (Sheriff Reserve Officer) holding open the door for one of the maddest little seventh graders I'd ever laid eyes on.

Temper Boy had been with us before and for the most part is a halfway decent kid, but oh gosh, don't irritate him  because he absolutely loses his mind and will pitch a fit and shut down.  It's like flipping a switch.  Apparently he'd been horrible for a substitute teacher, was escorted to The Principal's office, and she assigned him three days with me.  He. Was. Not. Happy.  The fact that he was actually escorted by Officer Awesome tells you something.  Most kids get out to our Happy Little Portable on their own.

First off, he flung a handful of little teeny tiny pieces of paper into our trashcan by the door.  I found out later that he had apparently torn his write-up into a bunch of little teeny tiny pieces and had scattered them from the building, along the sidewalk, and up the ramp to our Happy Little Portable.  It was as if he'd left a trail of breadcrumbs along the trail so he could find his way back upon his escape.  

Temper Boy then stomped to one of the empty cubicles and SLAMMED his backpack onto the floor.

I looked at Officer Awesome and he simply rolled his eyes at me.  I rolled mine back.  

At this point the dozen kids in there were Stone Cold Silent.  Because this was truly the most dramatic entrance they'd ever seen.  They all stopped working and all heads were turned to Temper Boy.

Temper Boy took his chair, which was on top of the desk in his cubicle, and SLAMMED it down on the floor, plopped into it and crossed his arms and glared at us.

I looked at Officer Awesome, who was still rolling his eyes at me and said, "I don't know about you, but I could do without the chair throwing."  He nodded.

"I DID NOT THROW MY CHAIR!!!!" screamed Temper Boy.

"Yeah, whatever," I said.  "You know the drill, empty out your backpack.  If you have a cell phone turn it off and put it in the backpack so I can hang it in the closet."
"YOU ARE NOT TAKING MY BACKPACK!!!!"  screamed Temper Boy.

"Fine.  Knock yourself out," I said.  "You are more then welcome to leave your backpack and all your belongings in the middle of the floor so anyone can reach in there and take what they want, rather than have it placed in a secure area.  Your choice."  I might add I was using a very calm voice and was speaking in a normal volume.   

Temper Boy kicked his backpack and glared at no one in particular.

The other kids were still silent and staring at Temper Boy.  Then all of a sudden one of the 8th graders said, almost under his breath but it was so quiet that we could all hear him, "Jeez, it's not THAT bad in here," 

I almost died.  I wanted to laugh so badly that it was all I could do to tell the kids the show was over and get back to work..  Which they did because, quite honestly, they were a little bit afraid of Temper boy.  They ignored him.  I ignored him.  He sat there glaring for twenty minutes until our timer went off for our restroom break where we headed into The Building.  The other kids lined up at the door, waiting to go out.  Temper Boy did not move. 

I went over to him and laid it out in pretty simple terms.  "Look these kids have been waiting for about an hour and a half to go to the bathroom, walk around a bit and get a drink.  If you refuse to go, I have to stay in here with you and that means they don't get to go because there's no grown up to keep an eye on them.  And they will all HATE you forever."

That did it.  With a huge, dramatic sigh, he decided to join the line and head on in.  And down the ramp we went, walking through the fluttering pieces of his write up blowing across the ramp and sidewalk.

And Just What the Heck is ISS Anyway?

I'm really grateful for the following comment from Lisa in Germany (Oh my gosh!)

"Dear Mrs Bluebird,

maybe this is only interesting to me because I'm not from the US, but how does your ISS system work? Who sends students for what and for how long and what do they have to do to go back? Is there a protocol for repeating offenders?"

Suffice it to say, how ISS works in my building may not be the same as any other building in my district, my state or even within the entire United it's just one example.  But I'l try to explain our system at The School.

About 5-6 years ago, we partnered with Vanderbilt University and devised something called School Wide Positive Behavior Support (SWPBS) which is a system that encourages kids to do the right thing.  We had a lot of kids out of class because they were being suspended, and a lot of disruptive kids who made it nearly impossible to teach.  We have a pretty challenging population.  In any case, we pitched our old system of discipline referrals and implemented SWPBS.  The cool thing was that it was developed specifically for our building and our population so it's tailor made.  And it has really worked.

Kids start every nine week grading period with a clean slate.  We have a behavior matrix that tells kids how to be Respectful, Responsible, and Engaged in all the areas of school - the bus, the hallway, the cafeteria, the gym, and especially in the classroom.  Every year we teach the system to the kids, and we review it again every January.  Kids who do the right thing get rewarded with a school currency which they can use in the school store, or put into a drawing for a price.  (We've given away donated tickets to paintball as well as an NFL game so far this year).  They also get a reward party at the end of the grading period.

As for the kids who don't behave.  The teacher can issue a Classroom Intervention Referral for behaviors that are unacceptable.  This also involves contact with a parent (that can be the challenging part since we get so many disconnected or bad phone numbers.)  A copy of the CIR goes to Guidance, is input into a database system and every evening we get a report on how many CIR's a kid has earned in this grading period.  If a kid does something and it will be his/her fourth CIR, that gets bumped up to Administrative Discipline Referral.  And that means it goes to an Administrator.  The Administrator calls the kid in for a session and they have the option (within guidelines from the School Board and District Code of Conduct) to hand out the consequences.  It can be a counseling and warning session, a day or two of after school detention, or In School Suspension (which is me), or even suspension.  Parent contact occurs in all these situations.  (Or attempted parent contact.  See my comment about bad phone numbers above.)

If a kid ends up in ISS with me, the stay can be anywhere from one to four days (or longer, we've just haven't had anyone past four days this year.)  Most kids seem to land in my room for 2-3 days. ISS is, for some of them, the best study hall they'll ever have because it gives them a chance to get caught up on work (most kids in ISS also have academic issues) in a quiet place with help (from me or my aide).  In order to get released they need to complete all their assignments and behave.  It's actually pretty simple.

I have had my share of repeat offenders and some of them are about to find themselves in something we call BSA, or Behavior Support Academy.  Coach Math handles this unit and whereas I'm sort of the School Momma type, he's the stern, disapproving School Dad type.  It's a totally different experience.  It's our version of alternative school; the kids wear a uniform of white shirt and tan pants, are isolated from the student population, do chores and cleanup around school (weed the flower beds, sweep the cafeteria, package and distribute donations for our food program, and more).  They also get a counseling session every afternoon after lunch. (My kids eat lunch with this group and also get in on the counseling if the numbers aren't too big - the idea is to stop the behaviors that get them in ISS and BSA.)   Kids are assigned to BSA for a 30 day period of time.  Once they complete that time, they do an exit session, and then are released back to their regular classes under a 25 point contract.  If they screw up and earn 25 discipline points, the next step is Alternative School run by the district downtown.  

So that's where it stands at The School.  

Saturday, September 12, 2015

How We Do Things

So one of you asked for pictures of my room and what my schedule is.  I'm going to pass on pictures because Our Portable is due to be painted sometime in October when a local church group shows up (I used a Go Fund Me project to get money for the paint).  I'll post pictures when it's all done.  But basically it's an old portable.  I've been at The School for 14 years and it's been there as long as I have been.

As for our schedule.  Here is what a typical day looks like.

I usually go into the building and pick up any work in the ISS basket up in the front office at 6:45 because buses start unloading at 6:55 (yes, really).  Kids get off the bus, swing by and pick up their breakfast if they want it, and then come out to Our Portable.  They empty their backpacks (I label them and hang them in a closet), eat their breakfast and read or work on class work.  After announcements and the Pledge of Allegiance at 7:20, we basically work on work that has been sent out by their teachers.

Often in the morning is when I am getting new kids processed in, or logging in assignments so it can be a bit busy.  Our first break is at 8:45 when we go into the building to the 8th grade hallway and use the restrooms and water fountains.  If I have a low number of kids, we'll walk to the front office and see if there's any more work in the basket, and then head out (I like to get the kids walking as it gives them, and me, a break).  I sometimes swing by the library and have them check out a book.  After that, back to Our Portable.

My aide usually arrives at 9:30 am and this is technically when I have planning.  Basically that means I head back into the building, check the basket, check my mail, and do any printing and copying I may need to do.  I also have an 8th grade student aide who comes in and uses ISS as a study hall but also runs errands if needed.

Our second bathroom break is at 10:45.   At 11:30 another aide shows up and takes my kids and the in-house alternative school kids (we call that BSA for Behavior Support Academy) and I have lunch from 11:30 to noon.  I usually go back in the building for my lunch (I pack) and eat with a few other related arts teachers, check the box, check my mail, etc.  After lunch the kids usually go and have an hour counseling session with one of the guidance counselors (about good decisions, bad decisions, choices, etc.)  I'm not with them at this time but back in Our Portable doing paperwork.  Mainly checking to see if kids who are scheduled to be released have all their assignments completed to my satisfaction and perhaps getting paperwork on new kids who will be showing up the following day.

The kids usually get back around 1:00, my aide returns from her lunch duty, and we have another bathroom break at 1:30.  By 1:50, we start releasing kids who will be leaving us and they head back into the building to their homerooms.  The ones who are remaining continue to work, or we may have a One Minute Math drill or play with math flashcards (I'm all about improving their multiplication skills because they are dreadful).  By 2:00 we start handing out backpacks and packing up for the day, clean the room, and listen to announcements.  Bus riders are usually dismissed around 2:10, walkers and parent pick up walk with me to the front office for release around 2:30.

And that's it!

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Maintenance, We Have a Problem, Part Two

In case you didn't read about it, I have a wasp problem around my portable.

My portable, which has been there since I first showed up at The School 14 years ago and I suspect was there long before then, has a wooden ramp that takes you up to the front door.  We do have a back door, with steps, but it's pretty much for emergencies only.

And under my nice wooden ramp you will find wasp nests.  So, every single time you walk on the ramp, the vibrations aggravate the wasps who then fly up to mess with whomever is walking up to my room.

This is not good.

I put in formal work requests beginning in late July, and another a few weeks ago, and then another last week.

Nothing much happened.  Occasionally a custodian would come out, spray at a wasp or two, and that was it.  It really didn't do much except aggravate the wasps even more.  It was only a matter of time before someone, hopefully not me, got stung.

Well that happened yesterday.  I had two girls get stung walking up the ramp.  One got stung twice.  And of course, what ensues was near hysteria on the part of my kids.  (Yesterday was busy, we had eight customers.)  They absolutely refused to walk down that ramp.  No way, no how.  They were not going near any stinging insect.

Part of me doesn't blame them.  The other part of me, however, is constantly amazed at how freaked out kids, especially some of these boys, are over bugs.  Honestly, the squealing, squirming and hysterical flapping does not help, but they can't seem to get over that.  I'd hate to take most of these kids on a camping trip.  Proof, once again, that kids don't spend enough time outside, dealing with nature.

But I digress.

In any case, Coach Cool, who is the guy who does most of the discipline issues (and is a good friend from way back) was walking down the hall when I brought the kids in for a restroom break (after much hysterics about walking down the ramp.)  I basically unloaded on him about the stings and trips to the nurse, and how it needed to be taken care of NOW before someone with allergies got bit.

Five minutes later, the Lead Custodian is out there SATURATING the ramp with spray and informing me that yes, he'd crawled under the ramp and spotted the nests (FINALLY!) and he informed the Central Office Bug Get Rid of Guy (we have a guy who does nothing but kill bugs throughout the district...really) that he needed to get out here NOW and get rid of these wasps.

So today...was better.  Only a few.  Not near the cloud of wasps we used to get.  But we'll see.  I want to make sure none of them show up.