Bird on a Bare Branch

Attempting to fling a frail song in my little corner of the world

Almost at the End of My Rope January 26, 2011

Filed under: Teaching — Jen @ 4:11 am

I had a meltdown today.  A gasping -for-breath, can’t-get-my-words out, trying-not-to-flat-out-sob, meltdown.  Yes, in school.  At the end of a team planning meeting in which we found out that we’ve been loaded down with more unnecessary, unrealistic work.  I was angry.  I tried not to complain, but I was so mad.  In my head, I was screaming, “You want us to do what?! When the hell are we supposed to do it?? At the end of the meeting, some of us did complain, and then I made a comment about how stressed out I was.  Then I said I’ve been crying a lot lately, and that’s when the tears started.  Then everyone tried to comfort me, which made it worse.  Because I’m not the only one stressed out.  We all are.  We all feel exactly the same way.  I lost it at school.  Others lose it in the car or making dinner or taking a shower or simply waking up in the morning.  We are all completely and utterly overwhelmed.

The worst part is, it’s only the beginning.  Everything everyone says is that it only gets worse from here on out.  “Oh you think you’re stressed out now?  Just wait.”

You’re right.  At the end of the day I got a notice that my observation window opens up next week.  That means my supervisor could walk into my room at any time in the next two weeks for my formal forty-five minute evaluation.

Good-bye weekend camping trip.  Hello week two of no social interactions.


Beaten Down January 23, 2011

Filed under: Teaching — Jen @ 8:01 pm

Thursday was the worst day in my teaching career (that I remember).  It was the culmination of a week of last minute and unrealistic requests placed on my team.  I went to bed at midnight each night because of the extra work we were expected to have completed for a last minute meeting on Thursday afternoon.

My kids have been bullying each other recently.

Report cards were going home on Thursday.  My principal wanted me to adjust my grades.

Recent test data has come back in reading, math, and writing.  Guess whose class is at or near the bottom in every subject?

What I feel every moment of every day when I see how awful my students treat each other, when I see how much they don’t care about school, when I have test data hanging over my head like a big threat, is what an awful teacher I am.  If I were a good teacher, my kids would like school, they’d want to work for me, I’d be able to model respect and they’d want to follow, I’d be able to get them to improve their scores.

On Thursday the language arts specialist came into my room to see how I’m doing literature circles.  I had never heard of literature circles before this school.  I’ve never seen one facilitated.  The specialist doesn’t like to model because she wants me to find my own style.  So I try to do what she tells me.  I try to envision in my mind what she expects me to do.  I try it and fail.  She literally asked me to step out of my teacher seat so that she could take over.  What do my students see?  Ms. Hubers can’t teach.  How do I feel?  I can’t teach.

Then two of my girls got into a fight.  They exchanged words because one girl bumped into the other girl’s desk.  Then they started pushing.

My report cards and report card comments were not in my mailbox during planning.  They were not there during lunch.  I started to panic – how would I get them in their envelopes and passed back by the end of the day?

As I brought my students back from lunch, a student was playing around at the back of the line.  I had already gotten on her several times for playing around in line (and in class and at lunch).  As I turned to lead the class into the room, she yelled, “Racist!”  I whipped around and said, “What did you just call me?”  She said in surprise, “What?  I didn’t say anything.”  That set the rest of the class off:  “What?!”  “Are you kidding?”  “Seriously?”  “You liar!”  I called her out of line and got in her face:  “Tell me to my face why you would call me such an ugly thing.”  She looked me right in the eye and said, “What?  I didn’t say anything.  I said, “macist”.  I don’t even know what that word mean.”  The class would not calm down, and I was so angry I couldn’t even think straight enough about how to best deal with her.  I sent her to my partner teacher because I needed the time out from her.

Just before my meeting, I went to the work room to see if my report cards were there yet.  Nothing.  I saw the AP, and she said she was waiting for my comments.  I told her I gave them to her.  She said she was waiting on the two that she put in my box that morning to correct.  It was two typos I needed to fix.  There was no note on there saying she needed them back.  Every other school I’ve been in would trust me as a professional to fix the typos and send home the corrected copies.  She told me to bring the corrections to her then she could make copies of everything and give me my set to send home.  My meeting was starting in a minute, and dismissal was in an hour.

I walked into my room and started crying.  I feel beaten down.  Again and again and again.  With every interaction with a specialist or administration.  With every team meeting.  With every spreadsheet of test data.  With every lesson I try to teach.  With every piece of positive feedback I don’t hear.  With every piece of negative feedback I do.  I have never heard positive feedback given to anyone in the building.  Ever.  The only encouragement I’ve received is from the behavior interventionist, who has observed my room because the AP is concerned about my classroom management.  She told me I’m doing everything I’m supposed to be doing.  We just need to figure out what will connect with these kids.

I’m sitting in a coffee shop to finish all the work I need to do for the week.  The work that will not be good enough for those above me.  The work that I did for hours on a Saturday night instead of hanging out with friends.  The work that I’m doing all day today instead of having lunch with friends or going to a prayer meeting this afternoon.  The grading and the lesson planning that nags me and taunts me and whispers over and over about how awful I am at this job.


I Live in the Country of Texas in Asia January 16, 2011

Filed under: Teaching — Jen @ 7:27 pm

Social Studies comes at the end of the day.  Often we only have twenty minutes for it.  It is not a priority because students will not take a standardized test on it.  So it gets pushed aside.  I still try to fit it in because I personally think it’s important, whether the school system does or not.

For the past few weeks we’ve been studying colonies in Texas and now are starting to move into the Texas Revolution.  I always do a quick recap at the beginning of each lesson:  “Who are the colonists in Texas?  Where did they come from?”  Correct response:  Anglo settlers came from the United States, and Mexican settlers came from Mexico.  But just like in Sunday School when kids always think the correct answer is “Jesus”, for some reason my students think the correct answer to every question is “Spain”.  How they got Spain stuck in their heads is beyond me.  So during every single recap, I show them on our world map how Anglos came from the United States, and Mexicans came from Mexico.  Every. Single. Time.  I always explain that Spain is another country and show them where it is and how the explorers have already come from there.  No more Spain.  Stop talking about Spain.

It dawned on me the other day as I was pointing out Mexico and Texas and the United States on the map for the 349th time that they probably didn’t even have a concept of the US being a separate country from Spain and from Mexico.  I pointed to our US map on the wall and asked, “Why do we have this map on the wall?”  One answer:  “So if we want to go somewhere we know where to go.”  Another answer:  “Because if we like a place then we know what it looks like.”

I grabbed some post-its and slapped one down on each desk.  I said, “Put your name on the top and number it one to five.  We’re having a quiz with five questions.  Don’t worry, it’ll be really quick, and it won’t be graded.  You don’t need to write complete sentences, just your answer.”  I continued, “Number one:   Where are you from?  Number two:  What city do you live in?  Number three:  What state do you live in?  Number four:  What country do you live in?  Number five:  What continent do you live on?”  You would have thought I was quizzing them on calculus with all the moaning and frustration about how difficult these questions were.  “Ms. Hubers, these questions are so hard.  How can we answer them?”

One of my smarter kids very confidently wrote down a response for city and state.  But when I asked about country, his face scrunched up, thinking, thinking.  He put his hand up and said, “But we can’t answer this question.  How can we answer this?  There’s no country inside Texas.”

In the end, not a single student got all the answers right.  Many of them knew Houston for city and Texas for state.  Very few knew the US for country, and not a single person knew about North America.  The top five most “creative” responses for continent were:  South America, Asia, Coastal Plains, Global Warming, and Earth.

If my students leave my class with anything at the end of this year, I am determined that it will be that they know where they live – city, state, country, and continent.