There have been a lot of kids over the past 30-some years.  A lot.  Some remember you. Some you remember. Some fondly.  Some not.

This one was special.  He was a person with high-functioning autism.  In trouble.  A lot.  Somehow he glommed onto me.  They kept him in French because he, somehow, behaved for me.  Not that he learned any French.  I was his ‘hot pass’ person.  He moved on.  Dropped out of high school.  Lots of trouble.  But he still kept coming back and visiting.  I knew his grandma, his mom, his little brother.  He kept getting taller and getting more tattoos.  Tried this and that.  Finally got a GED.

Well, Friday was my last day teaching.  I   was faking it for the kids.  I didn’t want to go through any explanations or good-byes.  So I was standing in the hallway, watching the kids and there he was.  Tall and tattooed.  He has a wife, a child, a job.

I wonder what the kids thought, seeing me hugging this grown-up kid.  On my worst day, my last day, there was grace and redemption, if I can use those terms.  No matter how much I felt I was quitting, giving up, a failure…there he was, letting me know that my being there for him all those years ago had made a difference.

We can’t save them all.  We can’t help them all.  But there are some you remember. And some that remember you..

Why we do it


When Amber (name changed) was in 6th grade I hardly ever heard her speak.  Her head was usually down, face hidden behind a curtain of hair.  She whispered when called on, and didn’t seem to get procedures like daily journal work.  Her grades weren’t good. I greeted her by name every day.

Amber stayed in French in 7th grade.  She said hello to me occasionally.  Never volunteered. She turned in work occasionally.  She was never a behavior problem, so unfortunately she was often ignored.  She started occasionally coming to a club I sponsor, and I saw her talk with friends.

This year I could hear her when I called on her, and her work improved.  One afternoon she stayed after school for help on the same evening that I was helping some other students write their skit for the state French contest.  Another student  invited her to join the skit.  She said okay!  She stayed after school every day and laughed and goofed off with the other two kids coming to contest.  They battled with fake baguettes and learned their very silly lines.

Today was the contest.  Their little skit won!  As Amber left the contest her head was up, her eyes were sparkling…she wasn’t the same little girl I met two year ago.

So that’s why we do it.

How many people can you fit in a phone booth?

First round of Big Standardized Test is over.  We did it in two days.  Two days of long testing sessions, morning and afternoon. My small group of extra time students frustrated. When you don’t understand what you read, it’s hard to write an essay.  Then they get extra time.  They could have used five minutes extra…not 27.  Sit silently for a half an hour. Nope, can’t draw. Nope, can’t read.  If they have nothing to do, maybe they will write more and better.  Don’t think so. So I walked around and shushed them and recited poetry in my head.

Okay, testing over, and I walk my testing group to lunch.  Eat lunch.  My 7th grade class appears — not at their usual time due to the  odd testing schedule.  After class I walk them to lunch.  The entire 7th grade is being walked to lunch at the same time by their exploratory teachers.  The entire 8th grade is in lunch, waiting to be picked up by their exploratory teachers.  It’s crowded.  “Move to the right!  Move to the right!”  We just might be able to move and then — half of the 6th graders are moving from the gym through the cafeteria back to their classrooms.  The other half is moving down the same hallway toward the gym. Yes, that’s right.  All 800 students and all of their teachers are trying to occupy the same space at the same time.  Eight hundred awkward early adolescents. If someone had yelled ‘fire’ we would have had a tragedy.

But the kids were  great.  Gym teachers with loud, boomy voices took over.  “Move right.”  “Back to the gym.”  “Back to class, 6th grade.”  Slowly the eighth graders moved north, the seventh graders south.  The halls cleared and the 6th graders moved.  Pushing stopped.  They waited until it was clear to move.  They didn’t yell or climb over one another.

Even after being stressed out with almost three hours in testing rooms and more to come, even with the whole day turned inside out, the kids were great.  So that’s my good thing.  Well, it’s always the good thing.  The kids are great.


ten good things…well not quite

It was a very very long week.  No prep two days in a row.  First have to give practice exam to a group of kiddos with IEPs.  During Exploratory Arts planning period, because, you know, they can’t miss one of their real classes.  Next day, world’s longest meeting to explain how to proctor the Big Standardized Test next week.  We all can recite the standard instructions, but we all have questions, because we get to proctor the exam for those kids with accomadations:  read aloud, scribe, extra time.  What exactly can we read?  Can a kid dictating his answers for a scribe be in the same room?  Little time for those questions because we have to go over the important stuff: Tape attendance to the outside of the door. No electronics in the room.  Number 2 pencil.  Once again I get to do my magic trick:  read the math problems out loud to a student without looking at the test.  Oh, and an extra early meeting horizontal articulation meeting.

I better stop before I get more edupressed.  Ten good things:

1. Couldn’t take my kiddos to the 6th grade Band and Orchestra recital because so many parents showed up during the school day to hear their children.  No, it is a good thing when so many parents show up and the children shine.

2. Reading Pirates français des Caraibes with my 8th graders and they’re finally into it.  “Did that just say Antoine had another finacée back in Spain? He’s a cheater!  Nobody in this book tells the truth.” They commented in English, but oh well, it’s been like pulling teeth to get them involved in the story and they finally are.  Now they are excited about deciding who our heroine should pick and are willing to write in French about it.

3. Reading Agents Secrets  with my 7th graders and I managed to get one of my boys to hide in the storage area, dress up in an ugly wig and a hideous dress and pop out as the ‘princesse’.  Huge surprise, huge laughter–then everyone wanted to be someone in the story and act out the chapter.  They then happily storyboarded the chapter with their best stick art.

4. With Band and Orchestra rehearsing and preparing for their recital, one of my classes was very small, so we just played games.  It was great watching kids be kids and negotiate rules.  Best part:  One of them said, “Hey, it’s almost time to go.  Let’s get the chairs back and straightened up.”  Win.

5. Wednesday. It was practice test day, so no prep, but meatball subs almost made up for it. Almost,  but I’ll count it anyway.

6. I’m not an exerciser, but I joined a group of teachers working out after school on Friday.  I can’t keep up, I’m totally out of shape, but there’s finally a feeling of community developing around something positive instead of commiserating.

7.  The kids I’ll have for Big Standardized Test worked their hearts out on the practice test last week.  I’m proud of them and sad that they have to test for hours and hours.

8. The best:  I started practicing for the State French Competition, and the four kids that stayed after school to get started made my week.  They want to write a skit, memorize poems and play French music so they and will stay late to practice and give up a Saturday to compete.  Four out of 170 or so kids, but it was a real pleasure to hang out with them. Reminded me how much fun middle school kids can be.

There.  I wanted ten.  I thought of eight.  But eight good things are eight good things.  Maybe next week, in spite of the Big Standardized Test, there’ll be ten. Or eight.  Eight is enough.



Lame Duck

Well, I did it.  I pulled the plug.  I took my retirement papers downtown, got them notarized and everything.  It’s official.  I am a lame duck teacher.

I’m contemplating now how I’m going to use my lame-duckness.  I am immune. It’s like getting teacher of the year, only better.  I’m burnt out, but if I re-ignite and burst into flames at school, well, I have 7 million sick days because being sick is too much work.  If my primary and secondary measures are not up to par, you can’t put me on an improvement plan.   Friends, I’m out of the running for the ‘merit pay’.  Are my missing work packets incorrectly stapled? Sorry, my bad.  Am I sending too many kids to the office? Writing too many referrals so I look incompetent? Don’t care. No more carrots and sticks for me.  I’m a lame duck.

So what do I do with this awesome power?  Become that teacher with the laminated lesson plans and the worksheet packets? Mouth off at meetings? Commit professional suicide because I’m leaving anyway?

Probably not.  I’ll keep on keeping on. I am a professional.  I will stay professional.  I may be a lame duck, but my ducklings still need me, so, like Dorie, I’ll just keep swimming.


It’s our circus

Facebook shared with us what purports to be a Polish proverb:  Not my circus.  Not my monkeys.

I’m trying to take it to heart, but I’m torn.  I’m trying to be silent in the endless meetings and professional development.  I sat in the last one and practiced writing not my circus, not my monkeys in my best cursive. Boxed it in.  Bubble letters.  I felt like a student again, except I wasn’t trying out my name and his name.  I was trying to not to hear anything.

Yet I have my circus and my monkeys. I have my classroom, my circus, filled with my monkeys.  What goes right is on me.  What goes wrong is on me.  I have the utter idiocy going on in the Indiana Statehouse: schools that accept vouchers not having to take the same ridiculous standardized tests as public schools.  Governor not understanding that if you double the amount of questions on a test, and make them harder, it stands to reason that the test will take longer.  I write letters and e-mails, I share information, and I get really depressed.

Our education system is not broken.  Not yet.  They’re sure trying.  Almost 12 hours of testing this spring.  Teachers spending hours filling out forms and collecting data to prove they’re teaching instead of teaching.

Some of what goes on at school, yes, not my circus, not my monkeys.  But educating our children? The monkeys are running our circus.  It’s time to take it back.  #IStandwithRitz


I understand that for most people, Monday is the worst day of the week and Friday is the best.  Personally, I hate Tuesdays. Tuesdays and Thursdays.  They start early with a faculty meeting or a committee meeting or some such meeting. Then duty…supervising kids as they come in.  Then team meeting.  Twice a week, team meeting.  Basically two solid hours of pointless, pointless meetings–then about one half hour to run copies, prepare props, grade papers, call parents,read emails,  try to talk to counselor about depressed kid, un-jam the copier, prepare required extra copies of the work with the correct cover sheet for that evening, and oops, kids in three minutes…do I have time to go to the bathroom?  Then it’s kids all day. Walk them to lunch, eat lunch while organizing a new stack of papers, pick up a new group from lunch, pick up the next group from lunch, change everything out between classes because it’s a different grade level and whoa, day’s over.  Organize, straighten, paper clip, call parents, log misbehavior…and it’s an hour after school is out and did I ever have time to use the restroom?

Ah, but Wednesday.  Wednesday we invite kids to come in an hour early for help.  We get to help kids.  It’s so awesome, so rare. I get to help kids!  It used to be any morning, but now we have meetings, so it’s Wednesday.  Duty, then PLC, but when you’re your own PLC partner, it’s not that onerous.  And then there’s time.  Time to plan!  Time to think.  Time to breathe and use the restroom and do all the other things I have to do on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but the extra minutes make all the difference in the day.  And then, after I walk them to lunch, I get a good lunch. We make lunch for each other on Wednesdays.  I never know what it’ll be, but it’s so good. Hot, home-made food, soup or pulled pork.  Salad and chips.  Home-made desserts.  I live for Wednesdays.  I think we all do.  I feel more like a person on Wednesdays.  Less like a data machine. More like a teacher.

Remember when every day was Wednesday? When it was a surprise to get a paycheck because the job was so satisfying, like a hot meal with a home-made dessert?  When there was time for the kids? Remember?

I live for Wednesday.

Whack a mole

Teaching middle school = playing whack a mole

Eighth grade is actually beginner level:  They’ve been with me for three years and it’s a slow game.  “Bonjour!  Scarlet, passez les livres, s’il vous plaît. Take your hands out of her hair, Egbert. Ouvrez les livres …”  Not too bad. They pop up one at a time and stay down for a while.

Seventh grade gets a little more exciting.  “Yesterday, we…sit down, Lancelot. Stop coloring on Clarence’s arm, Celestine, Okay, so let’s look at number seven.  Yes, Penelope, we did have homework….”  The moles pop up in bunches and are more persistent.

Sixth grade is expert level. “Bonjo…what is it, Caltrops? Okay, give him back his pencil.  Yes, I mean it.  So get a pencil from the pencil cup. So, Bon…Luigi, sit in your chair..Melisande, help Luigi back into his chair.  Alors, Bonjour, take out…Why are you standing at my elbow, Cardamon?  Oh, I see, you got your jacket caught in your braces.  Ladies and gentlemen, stop laughing, it could happen to anyone.  Get a nurse pass, Cardamon.  No, I won’t give you scissors so you can blindly cut your jacket out of your teeth.  Go on.  Yes you have to go.  So, where were we? We don’t hit.  Okay, we don’t act like we’re hitting.  I don’t care if he hit you first.” Pop pop pop poppity poppity poppity…A virtuoso on the drums would have a hard time whacking all the moles.

All the moles are whacked, a second’s silence and there’s a PA announcement about a cancelled practice.  35 hands waving frantically: Can I use the phone?

Whack a mole.  A game you can’t win.  Besides, the only prize is that you get to do it again tomorrow.

(and if you didn’t notice, all the names and many genders have been changed, but all this really happened today)


I was going to be Edra.

Edra taught Spanish forever.  Or maybe longer.  She’s still coming to conferences, and we’re all happy to see her.  “How old is, she anyway?” someone will say as she walks away.  90? 100?  Well, that was going to be me.  I was going to teach and teach and teach.  I loved it.  In fact, I was going to do her one better.  I planned to fall over, happy, right there in the classroom one day in, oh, 2050.

Ain’t happenin’.  Ask any teacher.  The young ones are looking around for a new career.  Older teachers like me are counting our pennies, figuring that if we keep the car longer and give up the newspaper, we may just be able to retire.

I may still fall over in the classroom.  Any day now. There are no more Edras.



Climate check

Climate at school. Bad.  Worse than ever.  I hope it’s not just me.  Or maybe I hope it is.

Meetings, pointless meetings.  Constant new initiatives. It’ll just take five more minutes.  Data data data.  Now we walk the kids in lines to and from lunch.  Now we assign same-day detentions for missing work.  Missing work to be provided by teacher to appropriate folder.  With correct cover sheet.  Upload your resources.  Upload work samples.  Reflect on your unit before you teach it.  Fit your objectives into the right boxes.  Call parents.  Survey:  Are you using your website?  Is your student work up-to-date?  Is there too much paper on your wall?  Use the common language.  New acronyms. Electronic copy only please.  No, half the computers on the cart no longer connect.  Autonomy and initiative not required, just data. I don’t even teach a tested subject.  Thanks for your opinion.  We’re ignoring it, but we knew we were supposed to ask.

Poor kids.  I don’t have the time or the energy to paste on the smile or the pleasant attitude.  I just do exactly what I’m told to do when I’m told to do it and if I get time to plan or grade or actually teach, well, that’s what nights and weekends are for.

Long range forecast:  No improvement in sight.  Storms ahead. Hope we all survive.

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