The Rising Body Count November 14, 2010Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
Tags: Additional Students, Class Size Reduction, Education, Having students walk in two lines, Humor, Ideal Class Size, Saturday Night Armistice, Students lining up, Teaching
I’m afraid blogging has taken a back seat to crowd control. Yes, I started the year with eight additional students. Those eight extra students might as well be 20. Forget Octo-mom. I’m Octo-teacher!
I’m not alone in feeling overwhelmed by the sheer number of students. When two third grade classes got off the bus to go swimming, the kids just kept a comin’. It was like the clown car at the circus.
Reluctantly, I’ve switched to two lines. Some teachers do separate lines for boys and girls, but we know which line will always be ready to roll. I’ve tried to equal the odds – literally. Since all students have a class number based on their first name, the odds and evens have their own lines.
The first few weeks, I thought the odds were I was going to go insane just trying to maneuver my class from Point A to Point B. I’ve taken to walking backwards, my hands holding up one finger for the odds and two for the evens. It feels like I’m guiding a jumbo jet to the gate. I have to stand in the middle to keep the lines separate, as the children seem to be magnetically attracted to each other. Once they’ve passed and are standing in two orderly lines, I “take a walk down the aisle.” “Don’t spoil my wedding!” I say to the kids oozing into my space. My students have taken to humming the wedding march as I move between the lines. You gotta love third graders.
The extra kids mean two more tables of students sitting where I used to store supplies. The supplies now sit in bins in front of my desk. I covered them with pillows and allow those lucky few to “sit in the balcony,” as my entire class can no longer fit on the rug when I do the Word Knowledge lesson.
I began teaching in 1997, the year after class-size reduction went into effect in California. Though a little long in the tooth, I’ve never taught a class of 35 squirrelly first graders doing the potty dance. The teachers in 4th and 5th grade have dealt with larger numbers for years. In theory, the older kids are able to sit still longer. Hey, I said “in theory!” At least they’re no longer wetting their pants (in theory).
But I’ll tell you this. As hard as I try, there’s just no way I can give each one of those students the individual attention they need and deserve. More papers to copy, more papers to correct, more report cards to write, more parents to conference with. This is a case where more is less. Some of the best teachers I know are straining under the weight of additional students. It’s like being a waitress during rush hour when someone has called in sick. There’s no silver lining. And there’s no tips.
Today’s students are not the same students I went to school with in the suburban Midwest. These are kids who too often have received the short end of the stick before they ever set foot in school. We’ve got children in kindergarten who have IEPs (Individual Education Plans) due to severe emotional disturbance and a host of other disorders, some diagnosed, others not. Fractured families and families with both parents working just to make ends meet. I just conferenced with many of my parents and was amazed at how many are under incredible stress, but still confident that I will somehow work miracles with their child. Do they know something I don’t know? Oh yeah, I’m Octo-Teacher.
I came across a hilarious video from The Saturday Night Armistice out of the U.K. Enjoy.
C is for Chaos June 19, 2009Posted by alwaysjan in Politics.
Tags: California Budget Crisis, Class Size Reduction, Economy, Education, Politics, Ranting, Recession, RIFs, Teacher Layoffs, Teaching
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When I got up this morning (Ahhh, first day of summer vacation) my husband was reading the newspaper. “It seems like it’s on the verge of exploding,” he said. I thought he was talking about my school district. Turned out he was talking about Iran.
What a colossal mess the state of California has made. And who’s going to pick it up? Us. The people. And teachers, of course. We’re good at picking up messes (primarily messy parenting).
Friday, after teachers had packed up their classrooms for summer vacation, emails arrived from our union. The RIFs (Reduction in Force notices) keep a comin’. Bottom line: Thirty-four MORE elementary teachers in the district are to be RIF’d. Also included in the cuts are a smattering of English, History, and PE teachers at the high school level.
My district isn’t huge, so that’s a lotta people. People who have children. People who have rent and mortgages to pay. People who are still paying off their student loans so that they could become a teacher. An updated seniority list is to be released next Wednesday, so everyone’s on edge. It reminds me of the classic movie Lifeboat. Supplies are running low and everyone’s looking to see who’s going to be thrown overboard next. (What’s that scent you’re wearing? “Chum?”) The sharks are circling.
For the record, my job is not in jeopardy, but those of many of my colleagues and friends are. It’s not like the students are going anywhere. If anything, we’re starting to see a slow exodus of students arriving from private school whose parents can no longer foot that bill.
I always tell people that when it comes to school, I expect chaos, so I’m never disappointed. That said, I’m disappointed. In the state. In the city. In my district. I don’t have enough fingers to point.
We’re not the only district in trouble. The Los Angeles Times ran a story today about how teachers in that district have “accepted a new contract that includes no pay raise for last year, this year or next year, but will allow them to take formal contract grievances public.” According to the story, “more than 2,500 UTLA members could be laid off as of July 1.” Ouch!
Freezing salaries opens yet another can of worms. I start a master’s program (along with two other teachers, one who’s been RIF’d) next week. I’ve already paid $1400 for the first quarter’s tuition. I don’t mind telling you that I’m getting my master’s for the salary bump. If salaries are frozen, where does that leave teachers like me?
This is not a script with a happy ending – Not for those teachers laid off, or for those left to manage herds of children come September.
My son Taylor forwarded me the following email. Food for thought.
In a small town in the United States, the place looks almost totally deserted. It is tough times, everybody is in debt, and everybody lives on credit.
Suddenly, a rich tourist comes to town.
He enters the town’s only hotel, lays a 100 dollar bill on the reception counter as a deposit, and goes to inspect the rooms upstairs in order to pick one.
The hotel proprietor takes the 100 dollar bill and runs to pay his debt to the butcher.
The butcher takes the 100 dollar bill, and runs to pay his debt to the pig farmer.
The pig farmer runs to pay his debt to the supplier of his feed and fuel.
The supplier of feed and fuel takes the 100 dollar bill and runs to pay his debt to the town’s prostitute that in these hard times, gave her “services” on credit.
The hooker runs to the hotel, and pays off her debt with the 100 dollar bill to the hotel proprietor to pay for the rooms that she rented when she brought her clients there.
The hotel proprietor then lays the 100 dollar bill back on the counter so that the rich tourist will not suspect anything.
At that moment, the tourist comes down after inspecting the rooms, and takes back his 100 dollar bill, saying that he did not like any of the rooms, and leaves town.
No one earned anything. However, the whole town is now without debt, and looks to the future with a lot of optimism.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how the United States Government and the State of California are doing business today.
The Party’s Over June 13, 2009Posted by alwaysjan in Politics, Teaching.
Tags: Budget Cuts and Education, California Budget Crisis, California Teachers and Budget Crisis, Class Size Reduction, Classroom Management, Economy, Education, English Language Learners, First Grade, Humor, Ranting, Second Grade, Teaching, Third Grade
The notice was put in the teachers’ mailboxes today (Friday afternoon). The bottom line – Due to the state of California’s severe budget crisis, the gates of Hell have been thrown open. We’d already been told that class sizes in September were going from 20 to 22. But today we were informed that class sizes could go to 25, or as high as 31. Oh, and that there could be layoffs of teachers as late as August 15th. There was no Happy Hour today. The mood amongst teachers was bewildered, even somber.
My first year of teaching was in 1997, when the state had just reduced the class size in grades K-3 to 20 to 1. Oh, the stories the veteran teachers could tell – of teaching 35 of those wiggley, “I’ve got to go to the bathroom!” first graders. And they were still standing (the teachers that is). I’m afraid that 20 to 1 is all I’ve ever known. I did a stint of student teaching in the fourth grade where the class size is typically 30+, but those kids are big and can sit in a chair (okay, most of them). It took me three weeks just to memorize all of their names.
I’m not worried about my job. This is my fifth year with the district, but other colleagues, who are also my friends, aren’t so lucky. When the first round of RIFs (Reduction in Force notices) went out on March 15, teachers lower in seniority were put on notice. In years past, this was always a formality, and they were hired back come September, when the classes filled up. But these are strange times.
According to the local paper, 160 students at a local Christian school are leaving due to their parents’ own budget crises. I’m pretty sure those kids will be coming to a school near me, and it will have the word “public” in in. But, how this will sort itself out is anybody’s guess.
It didn’t help that the news came after a long day of trying to pack up the classroom while keeping the students busy engaged. I believe I am the only teacher in history to accomplish this without showing the students a movie. A group of boys constructed an Amazonian forest in a huge cardboard box, while another group of students was busy “stitching” on their burlap flags. Stitching is not to be confused with “sewing,” which is a girlie pursuit. I fashioned “needles” out of paperclips and the kids went to town and did a surprisingly good job. Only later another teacher informed me that there were in fact real big plastic needles the kids could have used. Oh. I’m big at reinventing the wheel,
I only mention this because none of these activities would be possible with 30 plus kids in the room. Someone literally might poke their neighbor’s eye out with that paperclip due to lack of elbow room. Come September, space in my classroom could be disappearing as rapidly as the rain forest in the Amazon.
This gives a whole new meaning to June Gloom in Southern California.
Photo credit: The Unruly Birthday Party by Jan Marshall.