Clueless

Not me.  My principal.

I think one of the problems with administrators is that they need to spend more time with students in the classroom.  Not sitting in the back of the room, creating a list of all the things the teacher is doing wrong – actual teaching.  I like the idea of my principal teaching my famous last period class.  I suspect, however, there would be better behavior for the principal.  After all – it’s the principal.

I submitted THE LETTER on Monday to my superintendent, indicating my intent to retire as of June 30.  According to school policy, it is irrevocable.  This means the deed is done.  I am retiring.  I told the principal, and the principal said, “Congratulations.”  I finally did this because I had an AHA moment over the weekend.  I realized that I have been torturing myself, and everyone around me, for the entire year, with my sole tired topic of conversation – should I or shouldn’t I retire?  Every day of the year I have been taking my temperature on the topic, and I haven’t been able to decide.  Then I realized that if I stayed another year, I would torture myself next year on the same topic.  Sometimes you have to just tear off the bandaid, so I did.  And it only took me about seven months.

So I now have exactly fifty-three days left in the teaching profession, not that I am counting.  This does not count weekends, vacations and holidays.  We will have two extra days off over Memorial Day weekend, because we didn’t use any snow days, so the number is really fifty-one days, not that I’m counting.  I am planning on taking a personal day in May to visit the parents in Florida, so it is really fifty days, but, as I said, I’m not counting.

So I have exactly fifty days left after a thirty-six year career in the profession.  The principal knows this.  So what in the world would motivate the principal to drop in and observe my famous last period class today?

The not-so-smart Asian kid, Cam, was absent.  Fart Boy was present with his newest shadow aide, a very peculiar retired Lietuenant Colonel career army man, who, for some unknown reason, has decided it would be fun to spend his golden years with a flatulent middle school boy.  (I don’t know what happened to the ultra-cool H, who had been his aide all year.  He has suddenly disappeared.  Maybe the noxious fumes finally did him in.)  Boy from Russia was also in attendance.  With the absence of Cam, they were not as bad as they can be, but they were hardly model students.  The principal stayed for about half of the class period.

After school, I received a one sentence e-mail from the principal.  It read:  I have some suggestions for you regarding your classroom management.

Really?  I have been teaching for thirty-six years and have fifty days left.  Suddenly, the principal, who hasn’t taught a class in more than twenty years, who has never taught an “inclusion” class with students who have shadow aides, comes to visit the class from Hell, the class which I have bemoaning since September, the class of students which the principal said should never have been put together, and now has suggestions for classroom management?

As I said.  Clueless.

  • Day #144 (March 19) – 8.5 hours
  • Day #145 (March 20) – 8.5 hours
  • Day #146 (March 21) – 8 hours
  • Day #147 (March 22) – 10 hours
  • Day #148 (March 26) – 9 hours
  • Day #149 (March 27) – 9.5 hours
  • Day #150 (March 28) – 8 hours
  • Day #151 (March 29) – 9 hours
  • Day #152 (March 30) – 8 hours

Total Hours:  1079.5 +196 = 1275.5

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My Kidz Kan’t Spell

Generally speaking, students in my classes are considered the better students.  I frequently hear other teachers say, “You always have all the smart kids” but you can’t prove it by my seventh grade group this year.

I had two funny spelling incidents this past week.  The first occurred when my students were taking a standardized test.  I was not allowed to proctor the test, so a couple of my colleagues did me the favor.  They reported to me that a number of students had to ask how to spell my name.  I am operating under a pseudonym here, but let me just say that my real name is closer to SMITH than it is to WOJOHOWITZ.  Apparently the questions went something like this:  “Does Livia start with an L or a Z?” and “How many Vs are there in Livia?”  Even if my name were WOJOHOWITZ, these kids have had me as their teacher since September and my name is on their schedules and report cards.  They are scaring me.

The second amusing incident occurred when I discovered two anonymous post it notes in my mailbox.  I had no clue as to why they were there.  My immediate thought was that I had gone over the deep end in one of my classes the day before and did my usual schtick of holding my head in my hands and mumbling about retirement.  But, no, I hadn’t done that for at least a week or two.  So I took them with me into my famous seventh grade class, held them up, and asked the students what they were all about.  I was told that in Mr. Smith’s class, they were told they had to complete a Random Act of Kindness which consisted of putting an anonymous thank you note in your favorite teacher’s mailbox.  (If you are required to do this as part of a class, is it really random?  And what does it say that I only got two of them, when I have forty-five students?)  So… Fart Boy’s shadow aide (the man who follows him around and tries to control him) is a lovely young man who has a very difficult to pronounce Indian name.  The students love him because he has a very high cool quotient and they call him “H” because they can’t pronounce his name.  Immediately after I received the explanation of the not-so-random post it notes, one of the boys said, “I wanted to do one for you, H, but I didn’t know how to spell “H”.”

As I said, I’m scared.

  • Day #119 (February 27) – 8 hours
  • Day #120 (February 28) – 7.5 hours
  • Day #121 (February 29) – 9 hours
  • Day #122 (March 1) – 8 hours
  • Day #123 (March 2) – 7.5 hours
  • Day #124 (March 5) – 9.5 hours
  • Day #125 (March 6) – 7.5 hours
  • Day #126 (March 7) – 9 hours
  • Day #127 (March 8) – 9.5 hours
  • Day #128 (March 9) – 7.5 hours
  • Day #129 (March 12) – 9 hours
  • Day #130 (March 13) – 7.5 hours
  • Day #131 (March 14) – 9.5 hours
  • Day #132 (March 15) – 7.75 hours
  • Day #133 (March 16) – 7.5 hours

Total Hours:  1001 (plus the 196 travel hours)

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WARNING: Traveling With Students Can Be Dangerous To Your Retirement Plans

I just finished a week off from school, but it wasn’t exactly a vacation.  One of the great perks of my job is that twice a year I take groups of high school students on educational excursions all over the planet.  Teachers generally don’t make the kind of money necessary to see the world, but I have figured this one out:  I go for “free”, if one considers watching large numbers of high school students for nine days, 24/7, free.

This perk has enabled me to see Italy, Spain, France, Greece, Turkey, Morocco, Gibraltar and Peru.  I’ve been to places I never would have had the opportunity to see without my students.  I’ve climbed Machu Picchu, danced flamenco in a gypsy cave, been close enough to Michaelangelo’s David to touch him, and stood where Marie Antoinette was beheaded.  I rode a burro up the steps of Santorini and saw Saint Anthony’s tongue in a jar in Padua.  Please tell me.  Who lives better?

There is nothing quite like traveling with students to places they have never been and seeing the world through their eyes. As I stood on a floating island made of dried tortora reeds in the middle of Lake Titicaca, surrounded by the Uros Indians who lived there, a student said to me, “Who knew?”  Indeed.  I couldn’t have said it better myself.

So I just finished a week in Europe with 28 students and three other chaperones and I am totally exhausted.  I walked miles and miles every day, I operated on five hours sleep per night, and I corralled students into museums, parks, restaurants, buses and planes.  I did room checks and wake up calls.  I tiptoed through hotel hallways, just to be sure nobody was up to any monkey business at 1:00 a.m.  I counted to 28 about 28 times a day, just to be sure I hadn’t lost anyone.  I said ssshhhhhh so many times that I think my lips may be permanently stuck in the pursed position.  I held an air sickness bag while a student filled it to capacity.  In other words, I had a blast.

So I’m back to work tomorrow and feeling like a new person.  An exhausted new person, to be sure, but certainly not the person who composed the last post on this blog.  As the students thanked me and hugged me in the parking lot when I delivered them to their parents, I was over the moon.

Will this feeling last?  I am certainly hoping, but tomorrow I will see Fart Boy, Boy from Russia and Cam, the not-so-smart Asian Kid.

  • Day #105 (January 30) – 8.5 hours
  • Day #106 (January 31) – 7.5 hours
  • Day #107 (February 1) – 8.5 hours
  • Day #108 (February 2) – 7.5 hours
  • Day #109 (February 6) – 8.5 hours
  • Day #110 (February 7) – 7.5 hours
  • Day #111 (February 8) – 8.5 hours
  • Day #112 (February 9) – 12.5 hours
  • Day #113 (February 10) – 7.5 hours
  • Day #114 (February 13) – 9.5 hours
  • Day #115 (February 14) – 10.25 hours
  • Day #116 (February 15) – 8.5 hours
  • Day #117 (February 16) – 8.5 hours
  • Day #118 (February 17) – 9 hours

Total Hours:  876.75

(How do I count the 196 hours during my “vacation” with the students?  I am open to suggestions.)

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I’m 100% Positive – Maybe

I think I learned in high school that Hamlet said “To be, or not to be, that is the question…”  when contemplating suicide.

After a rough day in public education, I can relate to old Hamlet, but my soliloquy goes something like this:  “To go, or not to go, that is the question:  Whether ’tis better for the mind to suffer the flatulence and irritation of annoying Students, or to take your pension against a Sea of frustrations and by retiring, end them…”

This is, indeed, the winter of my discontent.  I have been torturing myself for quite some time now as to whether or not I should retire.  I keep searching for signs that will point me in the right direction, but just when I think I have, at last, found the definitive answer, the universe sends me a conflicting omen.

A little over a week ago on a Thursday evening, I had a meeting with students who are participating in a school trip I am organizing for one of the school vacations.  Each student was to bring at least one parent.  I’ve done this pre-trip meeting many times, and it usually goes well.  This particular meeting went exceptionally well.  Every student attended, most with both parents.  It was standing room only, and everyone applauded at the end of my speech about student behavior and my expectations.  (Really?  Who applauds when a teacher lays out a set of guidelines for behavior?)  Parents came up to me in droves after the meeting to tell me how wonderful I am to do provide this incredible educational opportunity for their children and how lucky the district is to have a teacher like me.  I was on Cloud Nine when I left and was thinking…“I am wonderful!  I am loved!  Teaching is the most wonderful profession on the planet.  I will never leave!  What could I have been thinking that I was actually considering retiring?”

The next day, reality hit hard.  All my classes and all the children in them must have conspired to convince me my teaching career needs to end.

Then, last weekend, I had an epiphany.  There is no right or wrong answer.  Whatever I choose will cause me both happiness and sadness.  I have been teaching for thirty-six years, which is 68% of my total life.  It is my identity.  It is what I have been for my entire adulthood.

So what was the epiphany?  That continuing to work is a failure of courage.  It is the path of least resistance.  Leaving the comfort of a thirty-six year routine is scary, but the time is here.

So I’ve made up my mind.  This is my final year in education.  Maybe.

  • Day #92 (January 9) – 7.5 hours
  • Day #93 (January 10) – 7.5 hours
  • Day #94 (January 12) – 12 hours
  • Day #95 (January 13) – 8 hours
  • Day #96 (January 17) – 9 hours
  • Day #97 (January 18) – 8.5 hours
  • Day #98 (January 19) – 11 hours
  • Day #99 (January 20) – 7.25 hours
  • Day #100 (January 23) – 9.5 hours
  • Day #101 (January 24) – 7.5 hours
  • Day #102 (January 25) – 8.5 hours
  • Day #103 (January 26) – 8.5 hours
  • Day #104 (January 27) – 7.5 hours

Total hours:  754.5

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Stupid Kids Like Me

Inasmuch as everyone is telling me I can’t retire, and I apparently don’t have enough of a spine to go ahead and do it anyway, I decided to see if I could start the new year with a more positive attitude.  I didn’t exactly make a resolution about school.  (I did, however, make the requisite resolutions about losing weight, exercising and being a better person.  So far – eight days into the new year – I’ve managed to stick to all of them, except, perhaps, the one about being a better person.  It’s not that I KNOW that I’ve been a bad person.  I just don’t feel like I’m going straight to heaven based on the last eight days, so I’m not sure.)

Anyway, I digress, which is so unusual for me.  I decided that I would start the new year using the following guidelines:  I will make a calendar for each of my classes, outlining the goals for the month.  These calendars are not for the students, they are for me.  They will help me stick to the plan, and assure that I will get through all the material.  I will plan every lesson to the nth degree, making sure that all the activities are engaging and maybe even (dare I say it?) FUN.  I will not make wise ass remarks to misbehaving students.  While I know that the students like my wise ass remarks, they do more to get students off track then to get students back on track.  Finally, I will not hold my head in my hands and think about crying when my seniors don’t stop talking when I am trying to teach or when Fart Boy does what Fart Boy does.

This worked so well on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.  My New Year’s Guidelines are clearly a miracle cure!  Perhaps I should publish them somewhere and they will save all teachers who are struggling.

On Friday, it all went to hell in a handbasket.  (What does that mean, anyway?  It’s something my mother always said, and I know the general idea is that it went horribly wrong.  But what is a handbasket and what does it mean that hell is in there?)  My seniors were incorrigible.  When I tried to get them to settle down, they virtually ignored me and kept talking to each other.  I made a couple of wise ass remarks, which didn’t work at all to rein them back in and I held my head in my hands and considered crying.

And if there is something worse than hell in a handbasket (hell in a footbasket?), my last period class went there.  I came up with what I thought was a brilliant idea for a group activity, but it apparently wasn’t.  One of the problems with the last period class is that there are too many problems.  There’s no way to create groups that separate all the problems.  You can’t put all the problems children in one group because that group will not get any work done.  You can’t put all the smart kids in one group because they will be done lightyears ahead of the other groups and have nothing to do for the rest of the period.  And you can’t put all the normal kids in one group because they will get stumped by something and there won’t be a smart kid to help them.  So every group needs one smart kid, one regular kid, and, sadly, two kids with problems.

Even Cam, the not-so-smart Asian kid saw the pattern to the group formation and realized that he was one of the problem kids in his group:  Ms. Livia, the way you set up those groups is  offensive to stupid kids like me.  Hey, wait a minute!  I’m offensive to stupid kids like me!

So much for my New Year’s Guidlines.  I think I will go home and sit on the couch and eat bonbons.

  • Day #88 (January 3) – 7.5 hours
  • Day #89 (January 4) – 8.5 hours
  • Day #90 (January 5) – 9 hours
  • Day #91 (January 6) – 8 hours

Total hours:  642.25

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‘Tis The Season

I had an experience outside of work that I just HAVE to write about, so even though it does not demonstrate how hard teachers work or that teaching is not a part-time job, I’m going to share.

Last Tuesday, on my way home from work, I stopped at a local store to pick up a Christmas present for my oldest son, Dave.  The store, and the adjoining parking lot, were packed.  I found a space which was a little narrow for my vehicle, but I park in a very narrow space every day at work, so I have become an expert at this task.  I squeezed in and headed into the store and started shopping.

About fifteen minutes into my expedition, I heard an announcement over the public address system:  Would the owner of a grey Honda, license plate number CAR555, please report to customer service? 

Uh oh.  This had not been a good car week.  Just three days earlier, I parked in a lot in New York City and my car came out with a new dent.  What now??

When I got to the Customer Service desk, they told me that the woman who was parked next to me could not get into her car because I had parked too closely.  Would I mind going out and moving my car?  No problem.

When I got to my space, the other car was already gone.  Did the woman get in through the sun roof?  Hmmm…  She did, however leave a lovely note on my windshield.

Riddle me this:  How does one get from bad parking to political party affiliation?  I can’t help but feel that, somehow, teachers are at fault.  There’s something radically wrong with the educational system in this country that a member of society doesn’t have the higher order thinking skills required to realize that bad parking is not connected to a particular political party.

Maybe she went to school in another country?  Yeah, that’s the ticket.

  • Day #84 (December 19) – 8.5 hours
  • Day #85 (December 20) – 7.5 hours
  • Day #86 (December 21) – 8.5 hours
  • Day #87 (December 22) – 8 hours

Total hours:  609.25

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Herding Cats

The gentleman who was The Big Cheese before I took the helm as Department Chair, did not retire from education.  He is still a teacher in my department, which is a little odd:  he was my “boss” for my first few years in this school, and now I am his.  He says he stepped down because he felt that he had accomplished as much as he could, and that it was time for someone with a new perspective, new energy and new ideas to take over.  For some reason I can’t discern, they picked me.  I’m still befuddled as to how they matched me to the job description.

It was good for me to have the previous chair at the desk right next to mine.  He served as my mentor and taught my all kinds of things I needed to know to keep from getting tarred and feathered or demoted within the first days of leadership:  he taught me how to maneuver around administrators and members of the Bored Of Education, he explained the complicated working of school budgets, teaching me what “encumbrance” means, and, most importantly, he demonstrated how to unjam the copy machine and how to reach the repairman quickly.

In a low voice, so that none of our colleagues could hear, he warned me that managing the teachers in our department was like “herding cats.”  I had never heard this expression before.  Who herds cats?  I found out very quickly what he meant.  Nobody herds cats.  It’s impossible.  I’ve yet to figure out how to get all 15 of my middle and high school teachers to do the things they are supposed to do.

I believe the reason why the ex-chair chose this animal analogy is because he is a confirmed bachelor who never had children of his own.  I would have compared managing teachers to parenting children.  There are many times, when having discussions with my teachers, I have that feeling of deja vu all over again.  I just know that I’ve had this conversation before.  Compare this discussion with my son to one I had with one of my teachers today:

Son:  The dog ate the whole box of chocolate chip cookies.  Now I don’t have anything for dessert.

Livia:  That’s what happens when you leave it open in the living room, where you are NOT supposed to be eating chocolate chip cookies, on the coffee table, which is at the exact right height for the dog to get at it.

Son:  But I thought that Sister was going to have some, so I left them there for her.

Livia:  That was your first mistake… you thought.  Don’t think.  Just do what you’ve been told to do, which is to not eat cookies in the living room and to put them away when you’re done.

Of course, as much as the dog liked the cookies, his digestive system did not.

Now consider this conversation which I had with Miss Jensen.  Miss Jensen teaches in room 200 during the fourth and sixth periods, and eats her lunch during the fifth period.  Halfway through fifth period she came to see me in a tizzy.

Miss Jensen:  The whiteboards in my classroom are covered with graffiti and pictures of penises.

Livia:  Is the plural of penis penises or penes?

Miss Jensen:  Does that really matter?  Some students went in the room when I went to get my lunch and drew and wrote all over the boards.

Livia:  Did you lock the door when you left?

Miss Jensen:  No.  But I just ran to get my lunch.  I thought the room would be okay because I was just gone for five minutes.

Livia:  That was your first mistake:  you thought.  Don’t think.  Just do what you have been told to do which is to lock the door when you leave the room and students won’t be able to get in and draw phalluses on the whiteboards.  Or is the plural of phallus phalli?

Herding cats.

  • Day #79 (December 12) – 8.75 hours
  • Day #80 (December 13) – 9.5 hours
  • Day #81 (December 14) – 9.5 hours
  • Day #82 (December 15) – 8 hours
  • Day #83 (December 16) – 8 hours

Total Hours:  577.25

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