Monday, April 30, 2012

Falling Before the Finish Line

            “OK Guys. There’s only one quarter of school left, and I’ve come up with a plan to make sure you finish well.”

            I grandly displayed the new homework board.  It even had a new title.  Finish Well!  I broke all projects down into daily work.  I assigned nightly study sections for upcoming tests. Everyone would stop by the Finish Well board before going home to make sure they knew what they were to do that evening.  Operation Finish Well  began in late March after Spring Break.

            Now it is almost May and there are three weeks of school left.  Four of my students are failing one or more classes.  Most of them have two or three “D’s” keeping the “F’s” company.

            I planned for success!  I still look at the Finish Well board with pride.  It was a great idea, and it works if you use it.  What I didn’t plan on was Ramon lying for two weeks straight.  I didn’t plan on Taniqua being sick for a week and then her family taking a week vacation.  I didn’t plan on Josh’s best friend being in his randomly chosen study group in Math for all of April. Naomi wasn’t a surprise.  I didn’t plan on the incredibly warm weather in April.  It’s not the calendar that makes kids quit.  It’s 90 degree weather outside.

            But I’ve taught for 20 years.  I know things happen.  I was proactive.  I got the principal to approve extra tutoring funds.  I set up after-school sessions.  I contacted parents. What I didn’t plan on was being stood up.

            “I’m working late and don’t have anyone to give Ramon a ride home.”

            “Josh’s new soccer league started and he has practice every night.”

            Now we’re doing working lunches every day.  Every day.  That means I don’t get lunch every day.  Every day.

            So how do I feel about four of my students falling flat just before the finish line?  Frustrated!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Allergy Season

            “Mrs. Jones.  I didn’t want to come to school today, but my mom made me.”

            I looked up at Naomi’s swollen red eyes, red nose, and slack, open mouth. 

            “Are you sick?”

            “Yeah.  I have allergies.”

            Naomi shuffled over to her desk and collapsed.  She dropped her head down on the desktop with a “thunk”.  It must have shook some mucus loose because after only 15 seconds she got back up and walked over to the box of tissues on the corner of my desk.  I watched her take in a huge breath, blow a few brain cells loose, wipe her sore nose, and then throw the tissue away.  But oh no!  She wasn’t done yet.  She grabbed a second tissue and inhaled, this time filling all the way down to her toes.  Naomi blew for all she was worth, wiped again, and threw the tissue away.  She continued to stand by my desk giving me a sad, hang-dog look. 

            I decided a show of sympathy would only increase the behaviors and turned and put the class attendance in on the computer.  Naomi took in another deep breath, this time letting it out as a soft moaning sigh.  She cleared her throat with several low coughs, turned, and shuffled back to her desk. I watched her drop into her seat and let her head slump forward again.  “Thunk!”

            Oh yeah, we’ll get a lot done today. 

            Special Ed teachers report most of their student’s behaviors in percentages.  Today’s report for Naomi:  20% of the time on task, 80% of the time blowing her nose.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

News That Makes You Laugh

I don’t usually watch the news for a laugh, but the news this morning was funny.  One station ended their report with the video of “Snackman.”

            Snackman is the name that’s been given to the man who stepped into the middle of a fight on a New York subway.  He was casually munching away on Cheddar Cheese Pringles.  A woman was screaming at a man, he was yelling back at her, she was kicking out at him, he’s kicking back, and everyone around them is looking scared and uncomfortable.  In strolls Snackman eating his chips.  He doesn’t look at either of them – just nonchalantly keeps shoving potato chips into his mouth, and munching away.  Snackman’s presence had a disarming effect on the fight.  You can just see the anger totally de-escalate.  Munch, crunch, crunch. 

Come on!  This was New York City.  Either person could have pulled out a knife or gun.  But Snackman casually stands between them as though they are two four year olds in a slapping contest, and the fight goes away.

            The second program that made me laugh should have made me cry.  Dateline did a study of young children who had been taught by their parents to stay away from strangers.  The point of the study was to see if children could be enticed into a vehicle by something really exciting even though they have clearly been taught to stay away from strangers. 

            A young man drives up in an ice cream truck.  He tells the kids they can get in the truck and look around and he’ll give them free ice cream.  The children covered in the story were twins, a boy and a girl about 7 years old.  As their father watches the tapes in horror, the children climb into the truck, look around, and take the free ice cream the man offers them.  They were perfectly safe in the story because the man was an actor.  But had it been a real abductor, at any point the doors could have been closed. 

            The little girl is clearly more wary of the situation than the boy, but she still gets into the truck.  The point of the story was that even though children are clearly taught to stay away from strangers and not get in strange vehicles, it doesn’t take a whole lot of sparkle to get them to ignore what they have been taught.

            The part that made me laugh was after the stranger drove away.  The little girl is still very uncomfortable with what she and her brother did.

            “We shouldn’t have gotten in,” she tells her brother.  “You know – stranger danger.”

            Her brother stops licking his cone, looks back at her, holds his snack up, and says, “Ice Cream!”

            When you’re 7 years old, ice cream trumps danger every time.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Lost Year

“I need to be self-sufficient!” Naomi insisted as she covered up her blank paper. 

I wonder who told her that?  

All last semester Naomi had made the "self-sufficient" declaration whenever anyone tried to help her in math class.  My testing confirmed that she was three years below grade level.  So now we were sitting at the table in my room trying to catch up.

“There are eight ounces in a cup,” Naomi read.  “How many ounces are in a pint?” She looked at the bulletin board in front of her.  She looked over at the other wall.  She looked at the computers.  Then she lapsed into her “nothing” look. 

“Naomi, do you need help?” I asked.


“Let me know when you have your answer then.” 

She resumed staring around the room.  I knew she processed things much slower than most students, so it sometimes was a guessing game determining when her “thinking” stopped and her “blanking off” started.

“Naomi, why don’t you read the question again,” I gently asked.  After she read it again, I asked, “Do you remember how many cups are in a pint?”

I waited fifteen seconds.

“No,” Naomi finally answered.

“Look in your reference packet,” I instructed.  Naomi slowly turned the pages of the yellow packet I had put together for her.  She found the illustration showing the cups in the pints in the quarts in the gallon.  

Naomi stared at the illustration for another fifteen seconds.  “Two.”

“OK.  There’s two cups in a pint.  How many ounces are there in one cup?”

“I don’t know!” she snapped.

“They said in the problem Naomi.  Read the problem again to find how many ounces are in one cup.”

Naomi looked back at the workbook and read, “There are eight ounces in a cup.  How many ounces are in a pint?”

Fifteen more seconds passed, then “Eight.”  

“That's correct.  There’s eight ounces in one cup.  A pint has two cups in it.  So how many ounces are there in the pint that has two cups?”  I was doing my slow, articulated speech.  I waited, wondering if I should draw a picture. 

“Sixteen!” Naomi announced.

“You’re right.  There’s sixteen ounces in a pint because a pint has two cups, and each cup has eight ounces.  Eight and another eight make sixteen ounces in all.”

Naomi hunched over her paper as she wrote her answer.

“OK.  You’re ready for the next problem,” I continued.  “Now the next two problems are just calculations that I know you can do, so let me know when you have your answers.”  I watched to see how long it would take Naomi to look back at the workbook.  Instead of looking at the workbook, however, she stared at the bulletin board in front of her. 

After about a minute, Naomi turned to me and asked, “Do the other kids in my class know how to do this stuff?”

“Yes, they do Naomi,” I answered.  I don’t like to point out to Naomi that she is behind other kids her age, but she argues constantly about having to work on math in the Learning Center.  I felt no guilt answering her question truthfully.

“When did they learn all this?” Naomi asked.

“Well,” I hesitated, “They learned it before sixth grade.”

Naomi looked down at her workbook again.  She closed the cover and studied the front of it.  I didn’t see a blank look on her face this time.  She was thinking.  After about 30 seconds she said, “They learned this in fourth grade!”   One of the lessons in her math book had been about Roman numerals, and Naomi had just had her “Ah Ha” moment with the IV on the front cover.

“Yes, they probably did.”

Naomi pondered this for a minute, then slowly opened her workbook again and looked at the next problem.

As she resumed working, I heard her softly mutter, “I wonder what I was doing in fourth grade.”