Monday, October 02, 2006

Today's Top Ten

Top Ten List for the Upside to Alternative Ed

10. I can do my assignments for college classes during study hall, and model life long learning.
9. "Can you help me?" When one of these guys says that, it's no small thing.
8. . Quibbling over points drives me insane!
7. When a student says "I need to go for a walk" I can say "OK, good idea."
6. When you truly respect these kids, they know it, and you have their respect for life. (Which comes in handy if you're broken down on the side of the road and one of them is walking by!)
5. Lot's of people do well with regular ed kids. Me, not so much.
4. I'm more a life coach than a high school teacher.
3. Conversations are based in real life. 'So you want to drop out? Then what?'
2. "I was going to go hunting today but I decided to come here instead."
1. I just get these kids. And I like being with them. Bonus!

Monday, September 25, 2006

I (And Bob Geldof and the Boomtown Rats) don't like Mondays.

So today was one of those days where flipping burgers sounds like an amazing job....

Although I haven't been sharing with you, my exponentially growing readership, the small success happening in my program, they have been happening. Students have been getting work done. Some very basic level learning is transpiring. We got a full sized refridgerator, allowing me to keep all our lunch leftovers for my homeless student. Said homeless student has not quit-- that in and of itself is cause for a party! But Mondays in my program-- it just sucks the life right out of you. Which is not a recommended way to start the week.

I started the day at the high school (we are about half a mile away from the school, in the basement of a social service agency) meeting with the school nurse about a new student. Turns out the medical issue is way more severe than I was originally lead to believe, and time was spent at a hospital treating symptoms. The important detail in all of this is the student knows how to treat the condition, and blatently chooses not to. Needless to say, I left that meeting in a bit of a panic about my ability to keep the ambulance away.

When I arrived, half an hour after the students, tensions were running high. I think there was a party this weekend, and something may have happened, or they were all still hungover and sleep deprived this morning. One got ticketed for public drunkeness for the second time in as many weeks. You get the general gist. Getting work out of them on a good day is hard work on the teaching staff: today, I looked to them like I was coming at them with bamboo shoots and pliers.

Lots of grumbling followed. I mean LOTS. "I hate this stupid place." "I'm quitting. I don't care anymore!" "I wanna go back to the high school and get out of this basement you've locked me in." (I have edited for language, this being a family blog.) I can handle all that. It's tiring, but expected. I mean, these kids hate school the way I hate raking leaves. When they started throwing peanuts at each other, however, I knew I was in over my head.

I was able to keep the 2 kids everyone else hates from getting beat on, and the 5 kids that hate the 2 from causing any physical damage. Emotional, well.... the ship has already sailed on that one. But it took a lot out of me. How do I change this pattern? What can I do to be proactive and create positive habits that lead to a Harry-Wong-would-be-proud Highly Effective Classroom? Sadly, I have no new tools in my box waiting to be tried out. This is what I got: I love these kids, and I truly want to see them get their acts together and graduate. Not much, is it, but I guess we'll have to figure out a way too make sure it's enough.

But first, I need a nap....

Sunday, September 03, 2006


Ahh, the first weekend of the school year. You could feel the collective relief in my home, from all four of us. My husband teaches middle school science, and our children are in third and first grades. We were all excited to not be tied to bedtime when making dinner, finishing a conversation, or choosing that after dinner beverage. And then-- pure Heaven-- to sleep on Saturday until we awoke... no alarms, no pressing place to be... yes, weekends are where it's at.

This week was also the first week of school for my nephew. He lives far, far away from us, so our only way to be a part of his life is to use modern technology. We called yesterday, and I asked him how the first week went. "It was pretty good, but we have some days off now. That's a good thing, because I sure could use a break!" It doesn't take long to learn about the wonder that we call The Weekend, does it? Five days of school and he's ready for some time away. Aren't we all, dear child, aren't we all! It takes a lot of energy to get through the mechanics of a school day, never mind the academics! Buses, rules, lunch money, desks and cubbies, pencil sharpeners, bathroom use protocols, new friends and teachers.... and that's in the first 15 minutes! I get overwhelmed by it all, and I've been attending school since 1975.

The weekend allows us all some much needed think time. It's a chance to take a little pause in pushing our brains to the edge, to let the week's information settle in and become a part of us. To think about what went right, and what went wrong, and how to make it all a little bit better in the coming week. It's a chance to be unscheduled for a few days, taking the moment as it comes. To cuddle on the couch as a family, staying up late watching a movie and eating from the communal bowl of popcorn. Yes, a break is a very good thing.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

growing pains

Yesterday was our first day of school. I have to tell you, I didn't have a good day. Why, you ask? Because I did to myself what I've been warning everyone else not to do to me: I didn't allow for growth. Let me back up and explain.

Last year, I accepted my position as Alternative Ed teacher. (It's a regular ed program that tries to catch the kids not attending school, not because they're not capable, but because home-life gets in the way. Regular truancy is a major indicator for us.) The program had run the same way for about 15 years, with 3 location changes. It was time for an update, and why not take advantage of new staff, right? So a committe of school administrators and the teaching staff (myself and 2 eddie techs) formed, met, plan, and were ready to go live this fall. All through the process I reiterated that change takes time, and we need to allow for growth and change. Exactally what I'd learned in "Dynamics of Change", a course I had to take for my Masters' degree. Perfect.

But on the first day of this new incarnation, I found myself disappointed with my plans. I wasn't tapping into any intelligences except linguistic. All the students wanted to know was "Which question is that? What do I write down?" I left school saddened and overwhelmed. How could I, one person, be responsible for 8 different classes with only 1 hour of prep time a week? I must be nuts for instigating this change.

After dinner, I tried to search online for curriculum. I'll fill you in on my woefully inadequate searching capabilites later, but suffice it to say after 45 minutes I was much worse off than when I'd started. Somehow, in something my husband said, it hit me what was really wrong: I was expecting myself to provide highly interactive and engaging courses for these kids who despise school and all it stands for. And I was expecting to do it for all 8 different classes. "Well," I thought, "Silly girl-- that's impossible!" It took some think time, and some random introspection, to land upon the problem-- and then the solution. I needed permission to just take a step towards improvement, like I'd been saying all year. This year we'll all do the same classes and add some hands on time. Next year, after another budget cycle allows us to get some resources, we'll take another big step. In 5 years, when I can finally re-teach a class, then I can be disappointed in book and lecture based teaching. Until then, go with what you got. And when you dont' got much, well, go with it anyway.

Monday, August 28, 2006

lesson 1

Ok, so it's not lesson 1. I lost count sometime back when I was learning to walk. But I digress, and I haven't even started. Today was our first district workshop day of the school year, and I got the idea to start a blog as a way to interact with my students and their parents by talking about thinking and learning outside the classroom. I put it on my mental 'to do' list, and moved on. Later in the evening, I got a little push by my bestfriend's former teaching partner. "It's easy" he said. "Email me if you want and show it off." My husband blogged last year, and my bestfriend is a technology guru, so I'm no stranger to the arena. And you know what? It was easy-- the hardest part was finding an address that wasn't already taken!

So my point? Sometimes all you need is a kind word from a collegue to step outside your comfort zone and try something new. Yes, it helped that I was familiar with the concept. But honestly, his "give it a try" was what I needed. Tied to it was the follow-through. Not only did he give me the push, but he also provided a community of connectedness. All learners do better when pushed-- ever so slightly-- to expand their horizons; when supported by others, said learners are even more willing to try.

I think it's going to be a good year.