Tag Archives: middle school

The Blog That Was A Decade In The Making! Part Two

21 Sep

September 21, 2011

Part One appeared in this blog last week and can be found by clicking HERE.


I had started my teaching career in September and by January it was clear that I wasn’t going to be long in my position. I was either going to be fired or I’d quit.

The students were out of control and the Principal was encouraging it. I was brand new to teaching and I wasn’t yet any good at classroom management. Lesson planning and marking tests is only part of being a teacher, and I tend to think that it isn’t the most important part. Classroom management is, and the only way to get good at it is by experience. And I was having a trial by fire.

The main thing any new teacher needs is support. I had so little support that when the school year began I did not even have a classroom. The school was tiny, grades six through eight, and only four classes of each grade. That’s a very nice amount of students but not in that building. We were a new and experimental school and we were in a converted apartment building that was far too small even for our little populace.

We had no supplies. While other schools had giant bookrooms (the high school I later taught in for nearly a decade had six, and that was just for the English department) we had a cabinet. One cabinet that held every book, piece of tape, and eraser for the entire school. I never had a full set of books.

I taught five periods a day, and six on Wednesdays, for a total of 26 periods each week. I taught those classes in eight different rooms. I had no home base. I had to carry all of my belongings with me from room to room. Anything I could not carry I stored in the teachers room. The room schedule was a problem for everyone but no one had as many rooms as I did. I taught classes in other teacher’s rooms where they would not let me erase their boards so I had to tape poster paper to the walls. I taught humanities in a science room where the kids played with the sinks and threw water at each other.

And for the first week I taught three periods in the cafeteria.

It was so bad that I had to change rooms in the middle of a double period class and walk the students to another floor.

By December I was given a room that I was in almost full time and the Principal told me “I did it to make it easy on you.” I replied back “no you didn’t, you did it to try to keep the kids out of the halls.” By then everyone knew I was on my way out. And not by choice. Besides getting yelled at every other day I was always getting written up for ridiculous and unfounded charges. I was the only teacher who got written up for failing to control students at dismissal.

Each teacher had to walk his or her homeroom class out of the building and one day I was written up because my students ran out of the building, an alleged security violation (it was not) that every student in every class committed.

I was written up for failing to keep accurate attendance records. Anyone who worked with me later on will be shocked because one thing I was known for was keeping meticulous records. Back at the start of my career I was always fighting over this.

NYC schools keep attendance on bubble sheets. If a student is absent the proper circle gets filled in, if present, no mark. The forms were delivered to the schools blank and the roster printed at the individual schools. My school always printed them badly. The names never lined up with the proper bubbles. I’d try to use a ruler to line them up but most of the time the names were printed on a slant. Try as I might, I’d often mark an absent student present and a present student absent. No matter how many times I showed the skewed sheets the Principal always said that no one else had a problem. And I knew it was a lie.

The most obvious thing she did to tell me it was time to go was assigning me a mentor. On the face of it that sounds very positive but it wasn’t. Three times a week she’d sit in the back of my class and when it was over she’d offer me advice. Invariably, her advice was that “the students are animals. You should leave.” But that wasn’t the worst, it was offensive. I was told “why do you want to be in the classroom? There are plenty of jobs for teachers in the Board of Education offices.” (We were still a Board, not a Department back then.) So not only was I being told to get out, I was being told to get out of teaching. I have no idea what the mentor thought of me or the situation. Even though I knew that everything I told her went right back to the Principal I told her everything in hopes that I could get some real advice. I never did.

But she did write me a nice letter of recommendation that I never used. I still have it.

By February I could not stand going to work in the morning and was throwing as little of myself into the job as I could. While I may have been the most miserable teacher I was not the worst. In the weeks between September and December six teachers had left the school, a huge percentage of our tiny staff of twenty-four. That does not include the teacher who was pushed down the stairs. While the other six left on their own, he, despite being a victim, was somehow blackmailed by the Principal to not make a report and he was the only person, student or teacher, to be investigated in the incident. He left in January, escorted out by security.

My biggest blow came when my friend Catherine, who had a far, far easier time than I did (she had the highest level students) could not take it anymore and quit right at the start of the new year. She left teaching all together.

One day at the start of February I could not stand the thought of going to work to the point that I was physically shaking. I called out of work that day. I had been calling out a lot by then and it got to the point that the secretary didn’t even ask me why anymore.

I got in my car and drove to every high school in Brooklyn handing in resumes. I started at the farthest one and circled back in. I didn’t have much of a resume. In some schools no one would see me and I’d have to leave my resume with a security guard. In other schools I, having no appointment, would have to wait for an hour before I was given a quick and painful interview. The only school I skipped was South Shore, which everyone in the school system knew was a violent pit but somehow the press never bothered them like they did the school I ended up in. (Years later when I was in a postion to know certain things I found out crimes that happened in South Shore that should have have shut it down.)

The cliché goes that you always find the thing you are looking for in the last place you look. And that is true because after you find it you stop searching, so of course it was the last place. But this was literally true in this casebecause I was hired on the last school on my list. And better yet, it was a mere five minutes from my house.

I got there at 3:30, after most kids had left but while the staff was still there. I didn’t know it but they had a vacancy in the English department that they had been unable to fill and were desperate for a teacher.

The right place at the right time.

The Assistant Principal of the English Department, a woman who over the years I would come to admire and respect as the best boss I ever had, not only interviewed me but gave me a quick test. I passed with flying colors, and I do mean “flying” because she grabbed me by the arm, ran with me down the hall and down a staircase, her other arm waving, all the way to the Principal’s office.

“I found a teacher! I found a teacher!” She was screaming with joy.

Anyone else might take that as a warning but it was music to my ears.

The Assistant Principal looked up from his paperwork, asked, “does he have a file number?” I said that I did, he said OK, and that was that.

But I couldn’t start right away. I had to inform my (now) old school and give the school system time to do the paperwork.

I told my old Principal that I was leaving and she didn’t bother to hide her happiness. She already had my replacement lined up. I told some of the teachers but not many. I never really fit in with them and kept to myself a lot. And I never, ever, told the students.

I had six days left in my time at the middle school and little by little, day by day, my belongings were going home with me. Once I got a room I had filled it but now it was emptying out and by the time I left it was empty. On my last day I walked out with only my near-empty school bag. Despite seeing things disappear daily, the students never put two and two together. On the fourth day one of the students told me that another teacher said I was leaving. I lied. I said I wasn’t going anywhere.

On the fifth day somehow word got out and I was asked by a dozen kids if I was leaving. It was the end of the day, right before I walked them out for dismissal, and I said no. I wasn’t going to give them the satisfaction. They wanted nothing more than to see the last of me. I was the guy who yelled at them all the time.

Believe me, I didn’t like yelling. I am not a yeller. I tried everything to motivate and get through to them but it all just caused chaos and I ended up yelling. I learned from it though, and in my later career I can only recall one or two times when I yelled. By then I knew far more effective- and scary- things to do to students.

On my last day the cat came out of the bag when in the morning another teacher, one of the few I got along with, came to my room during class. She had a going away present. (The teacher’s standard present- a Cross pen and pencil set.) I did not want it. I refused it. It was just so hypocritical, a present from the teachers that didn’t help me, from the school that forced me out, a symbol of the misery I experienced on a daily basis, but I took it for one reason only, because the teacher said she thought I deserved it. I didn’t but I took it out of regard for her.

The rest of the day was a chaotic mess. The same teacher, when she was free, took over my classes just to give me a break for once. And she had the kids make me going away cards, cards which I actually kept for a while. They ended up with me in my new school, in the back of my file cabinet, and I tossed them out about a year later.

At the end of the day before dismissal the kids were being especially wild and as a going away present I, for the only time in my teaching career, told my students just what I thought of them. I won’t go into it but I did tell one student that I’d see him in a few years when he was picking up my garbage.

Not my finest hour.

And then I walked them out of the building, kept walking, and I was gone.


Part One appeared in this blog last week and can be found by clicking HERE.



The Blog That Was A Decade In The Making! Part One

14 Sep

September 14, 2011

Actually it was more than a decade, but why screw up a good title?

Allow me to begin with a short disclaimer. The story you are about to read is true; only the names have been changed to protect the idiots. The location is Brooklyn New York, this is my life, and everything that I am about to write is true. It all happened. All I have done is change some names and places.

I began teaching in a very small but very high-profile middle school in Bay Ridge. It was an experimental school of expeditionary learning. In theory, that means a lot of hands on learning, field trips, and learning through experience. At least that’s how it was explained to me. In my short time there I saw none of that.

I was fresh out of college and looking for a job. I wanted to teach high school on the theory that I was not interested in and would be bored with teaching anything geared to younger students. The irony is that when I got to teach in a high school I almost exclusively taught students who read on a fifth grade level, had to be motivated as if they were on a third grade level, and acted as it they were kindergarteners.

The middle school job would be a feather in my cap if I got it. Although it was not a high school, it was a plum job because the district superintendent had taken a special interest in it and it was a showcase school. But even better, I had an in. I was recommended by someone very close to the Principal. The only hitch was that, this being a “crown jewel,” I had to be interviewed by the District Superintendent. Had I known then what I know now I never would have gone.

I was nervous but I was prepared for the interview, or so I thought. One of the first questions was “Where do you see yourself in five years?” and I had no answer. Remember, I was fresh out of college and this was my first interview. My answer was something like “I hope to be teaching to the best of my ability.” It was not a good answer. I later found out that he was looking for a leader and hoped to hear “I want to be a Principal.” That is an awful way to hire a teacher. A Principal is chiefly an administrator. Who would want to hire a teacher whose stated goal is to not teach in a few years? At any rate, I must have been good in most other respects because I got the job.

And that’s when it went bad.

By total coincidence one of the other brand new teachers in the school was someone who I remembered from when we attended junior high school together. I hadn’t seen her in years but I became fast friends with Elaine and we both became fast friends with another new teacher, Catherine. We got along together but not so much the other teachers. The first week before school began was taken up not by preparing for the school year but by team-building. Weird events like building a tower of Legos, picking team names, trivia games about each other’s life, that’s how we spent the first week. Of course, I screwed it up on the very first day.

Before we went home we stood in a circle and did the “handshake or hug” exercise. The person on your right would turn to you and ask “handshake or hug?” and after you performed whichever you picked you turned to the next person, etc etc, until it was back to the person who started. The whole time I was waiting for it go get around to me I was gauging the rest of the group. It was split about 45% hugging to 55% handshakes but those who hugged all seemed to be the chief people in the school. Luckily, or so I thought, I was standing next to Elaine and when she asked “handshake or hug?” I said “hug” and we gave each other a warm, friendly embrace. Remember, we knew each other. I thought it showed me to be friendly.

I found out that it showed me to be wrong for the school because I had, somehow, overstepped some weird boundary that I had no way of knowing existed. It had nothing to do sexual harassment (especially since Elaine hugged me many more times in the school) but because somehow the major clique had come to the conclusion that their response would be “handshake” and anyone not shaking hands would not fit in. So on my first day I was judged not worthy of the clique.

I also screwed up the next day when I gave the opinion that homework was due the day it was due.

The school was only two years old and before school began it was decided that we needed a school-wide policy and regulations. The question was asked when homework was due. Was it due the next day, or was it OK for a student to hand it in a few days later? And how many days was OK? And how many days would make it late? And should an absence be an excuse for lateness? And so and on and on. My answer was that homework was due the next day and late any time after that. I was looked at as if I dropped my pants and soiled the floor.

In the end we did not agree on a policy.

My experience went from bad to worse to worse. As a rookie teacher I was given the worst class, the most unruly and disruptive group of low performing students and no matter what they did in any other teacher’s class it was my fault. For example, on Monday I did not have them until the last three periods of the day, but if they misbehaved during period one I was blamed since I was their main teacher. I had them for Humanities, a double period class, and Writing. No matter that I pointed out that I had not seen them all weekend, let alone at all that day, so it could not possibly have anything to do with me. But the answer was that they had me more than any other teacher so it was my fault. The Principal was in my room a dozen times a week to yell at me (in front of the kids) and coddle the students. They had a conduct sheet, a form where every teacher grades them for each class and it goes from teacher to teacher daily. When I got them for period 7, the comments looked like this:

Period 1- D Loud and noisy.
Period 2- F Threw books.
Period 3- C+ Principal had to be called.
Period 4- (Lunch) D Fighting.
Period 5- B took too long to quiet down
Period 6- C- Loud

So what was I to do? By the time they got to me they were a lost cause. If I had not had Elaine and Catherine with me I would have gone insane.

Despite later working in a school the newspapers called Horror High, this was the only place where I had a battery thrown at me.

In the years since I have come to realize that the real tragedy of that class is that many of them belonged in special education classes but since the Principal’s main concern was with school’s image we had no special ed classes. Most of them never had an evaluation. Those kids were cheated out of a proper education. There was one student who clearly needed counseling. She had a strong need for attention and acted like every student’s mother. If one of the kids during class had a sneeze she’d jump from her desk and ask if he was sick. If anything came up with one student she was out of her desk and helping, especially during a test. I’d ask her to sit down and she’d get righteously angry and indignant with me. “But she needs me!” I heard over and over again. The kids just liked the attention, but even more they liked the disruption, so they always seemed to need her.

On day the student walked into my classroom in tears and announced to the class that she was moving away and this was the last time they’d see her. Everyone ran over to her for hugs and good byes. She wasn’t moving. I knew it for a fact. This was a plea for attention. Of course she was in class the next day.

And a week later she walked into my classroom in tears and announced to the class that she was moving away and this was the last time they’d see her.

And the next day she did it in another class. And while her teachers all complained, not a word was said to the student and she never did see a counselor. But I got yelled at because my class was noisy. Remember, I was a rookie.

There was also the one student who no one dared to discipline because his father was a big name in local politics. In all of his classes he sat in the back with his friend and played Pokemon.

The Principal was of the opinion that in a special school like hers with a hands-on District Supervisor she had to look good, so to do that she always sided with the students in any dispute. That kept them happy and kept complaints down. But it made the teachers easy targets. One of her rules was that a teacher was to never tell a student to shut up. That’s not a bad rule though in my high school years I broke it all the time, but by that point in the future I was nearly running the place. (And I knew the right way to do it.) But back here it was an issue. If a student didn’t like a teacher, he’d go the Principal and outright lie and say that Mr. So and So told him to shut up. Then the teacher was in deep trouble because no matter how much you denied it, the student was right.

And I soon learned to never send a disruptive student to the Principal’s office because that was a reward. The student would get milk and cookies there.

Another way of making the school look good was a policy of making it nearly impossible to fail a student. 65 was the passing grade but we were told that if a student’s average came out to 60 we should round up to 65, effectively lowering the passing grade five points. We also had to, three weeks in advance, fill out a form and give a copy to the Principal, stating our intention to fail the student. It needed every single test and quiz grade, every homework, everything the student ever did. The Principal had to approve it. It almost never was. Only students who never showed up or had an obscenely low average failed, and then we could only give 55 as a failing grade. So if their average was 25 we bumped them up 30 points so they didn’t look so bad.

I was teaching a class about Thomas Jefferson when a student asked if we could meet him. Remember, this is a seventh grader, about 13 years old. After a shocked pause, I said “No, he lived 200 years ago. He died a long time ago.” After a few seconds in which I could actually see the gears turning in her head, she said “ohh” and it dawned on her, but not for long since I got a similar question from her the next day. Her average was about 47 and I somehow managed to fail her only because the office had screwed up and lost the form I filled out. They were all set to change my failing grade to a passing on the basis that I never did the paperwork when I showed them my copy of the form. Their disappointment at having to fail her was obvious.

The kids were out of control in every class and failing most of them but since I had them the bulk of the time (for Humanities, Writing, and for a few of them, home room) it was all my fault. One of the worst things they did was push a teacher down the stairs. It happened outside my room while they were waiting for class to begin. However, they had ten minutes before it started and never should have been there to begin with. They were only there because their previous teacher couldn’t take them another second and dismissed them early. This happened all the time because there were no clocks installed in the building. The school was a converted apartment building and the teachers had to bring in their own clocks, and of course none of them were in sync. Want to get rid of a lousy class? Set your clock a few minutes ahead and let them out. It happened all the time.

So I was in my room getting things set up when I heard the mob outside but it was early and I had no intention of letting them in yet when I heard the computer teacher screaming at one of them, (and in fact he was cursing) and it was getting very bad. I ran out of the room intending to save the teacher’s job because he was way over the line but I got there too late. I was just in time to see him flying down the stairs. He was pushed by a student. I called security, got the kids into my room, and they were rioting. The Principal came and instead of screaming at them, told them how wrong the computer teacher was for cursing. Never mind that they were acting like cannibals and pushed a teacher down the stairs. And after she yelled at them, she yelled at me. Why? Because it happened near my room.

The teacher who caused it all by letting them roam the building by kicking them out ten minutes early? Not a word was said to her.

The writing was on the wall. I was going to be forced out or fired.

I beat them by getting a job in another school first.



Part Two can be found by clicking on this link.

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