New paint

There are a million things I should be doing, but some kind of homeroom assembly means I got a surprise break in the middle of my morning. Instead of being productive I am listening to music in an empty classroom with the lights off, watching the trees shaking off their last leaves outside.

This morning felt charmed. I got up early (thank you, time change), showered, ate breakfast and drank coffee at the kitchen table instead of just en route to work (though to be fair, I still had my mug of coffee in the car as well.) The drive to work was unbelievably lovely. It had something to do with the mist billowing over the road, causing some serious accidents on 275, but I took a different route and watched the mist and the trees and something about the new slants of light at that time of morning. Everything was blue and silver with cars reduced to red and white fireflies, sharing the same trajectory to and from Detroit.

All of this is welcome because I have had a very rough few weeks, and I need everything I can get to use this new quarter as a fresh start.

Last week I said goodbye to my quarter 1 classes with mixed emotions. I will miss my “Advanced Spanish” class of ten 6th grade boys. There was nothing advanced about this class – this grade level group has been challenging ever since I started at this school, when they were in 4th grade. Some very volatile personalities, very low achievement in core subjects, and an unusually generous dose of adolescent drama all combined into numerous fights, tragic attempts at reading and writing, genuinely hostile yo-momma exchanges, a few Spanish folders ripped in two, a destroyed homeroom, and one expulsion. But this group of 10 boys wanted Advanced Spanish, and so we advanced. They were excited to learn, inquisitive, creative, entirely kinesthetic, refreshingly silly, and an oasis in my day. Within a few weeks they were pronouncing classmates’ names in Spanish in the hallways, and coming up with Spanish puns. I will miss them.

My 7th and 8th grade group this new quarter are going to be challenging. I have a lot of 8th graders, many of whom I know from their 6th grade year – my first year at the school – when the inadequacies of my fumbling lessons were only surpassed by their outrageous behavior. Not a stellar introduction, to say the least. Now I am a 3rd year teacher, not a 1st year teacher, and I can feel them testing the waters. I feel like this first week is when everything hangs in the balance. I have to figure out how to put up strict boundaries but still open doors of compassion. I have to be organized and consistent and yet I am determined to surprise certain students into enjoying themselves. I have to keep them engaged but still learning. I have to work with a variety of grade levels and language levels and learning styles. I have a few very advanced students in this class, and a few very academically low students who have trouble focusing. Every day in class I feel as though I have a million sticky notes stuck to my brain. Ask D. more advanced questions. Give a class job to P. Remind A. about her planner. Watch B. for signs that he is getting upset & send him on an errand.

Teaching means having a thousand points of connection with the hundreds of small humans who come through my room each day. Every day in hindsight I worry about those connections – whether they were positive enough, whether they conveyed care or harshness, whether I brushed off a kid who actually needed me. It is exhausting. Sometimes I daydream about my days working in a coffeeshop. Punch buttons, pull shots, count change, sweep floors, smile, small talk, remember drink orders and even names, go home. I dreamed about work sometimes but not like I do now. I had a dream last night about how to teach fraction addition to my 6th grade tutoring students.

Please put everything up except for your planners and a pencil.
Ms. K, can I brush my hair?
Of course, but since you have nothing out on your desk except for your planners, this might be tricky. If you would like to brush your hair with your planner, go ahead. I won’t judge you.
Huh?
(From a classmate.) She means put away your brush. Ms. Kennedy thinks she funny.

Usually (and by usually I mean last year) I begin new classes by having kids bring home a responsibility contract for parents to sign, after we have gone over the rules and I have sufficiently Laid Down The Law. This time I put all my rules in Spanish and put them on a paper for the kids, and on slides with picture hints. I told them that the best way to learn a language is to be thrown into it, but that I would throw them some rafts. I read the rules in Spanish, pointed out cognates, gesticulated a bit, and even my antsy students were surprisingly engaged in trying to translate the rules. I think they were impressed with themselves for being able to understand so much Spanish.

Dear Ms. K, I want to learn how you say gum in spanish and stuff and put on hip hop music or rap and r&B. Please do not play Spanish. Play hip hop music. Thank you. I am 12 years old and my favorite color is pink. And I have a little sister.

I asked them to write me a letter (in English.) I asked for input on what they wanted to learn in Spanish, what helps them to learn, tips for being a good teacher for them, commentary on the seating arrangements, interesting facts about them, etc. I am trying to find those points of connection, and connect early.

Im a b-ball player play for yrz yo cant really a me boy they call me lil de. from the mile of Detroit. R.S. is my friend and i will talk to him in class alot but im going try to not talk alot.

This from the 8th grader who was absent yesterday for our first day, but whose name on the roster made his classmates groan and put their heads on their desk. Who is known for wandering from his seat and wandering the school halls on a daily basis. Who brought both a digital camera and an electronic “gaydar” into my room during the two days he was in my class last year. Students like this, writing letters like this, make my head hurt and my heart ache, and perhaps are the reason why I am a teacher.

My reprieve is over. I apologize for any incoherence you may find here. You should be used to it by now.

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One Response to New paint

  1. chelsea says:

    is it in appropriate to say “i love you” and that you inspire me, every time you make a blog post? cuz its true.

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