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School Supplies – The Cupboard is Bare September 19, 2010

Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
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I wanted to write a post about the first week of school but couldn’t find a picture of a person being hit over the head with a frying pan. But I did find the illustration above of Mother Hubbard and her ever hopeful dog checking the cupboard  - only to find it bare.  I guess that would make me ol’ Mother in the pointy hat, which is about how I felt last Friday afternoon after four straight days with my new third graders.

Last year we had no school supplies (e.g. pencils, paper, Crayons, glue, journals) because the orders were LOST. But supplies eventually did trickle in. This year no one has even offered an excuse for the lack of supplies save the economy. You have to understand. Good teachers don’t get mad. Okay, they do, but then they go to Target and buy whatever supplies they need with their own money. It’s usually on a credit card cause we received our last check in July and won’t see the next one ’til October. What’s wrong with this picture?

There are a few teachers who’ve I swear have been stockpiling supplies since 1999 in anticipation of the chaos the millenium might bring. They’re set. The rest of us are scrambling to “make do,” which I’m beginning to think should be an educational standard children are tested on, as it’s a valuable life skill.

On the first day back, our PTA (which is filled with dedicated and passionate parents) gave each teacher a $20 Target gift card. You’d have thought people won the lottery. We teachers are a humble lot. A $5 gift card to Starbucks makes us tear up. There was a drag race to Target as soon as our staff development let out. Unfortunately our district started so late this year that the Back-to-School section had been replaced with Halloween merchandise. All the  good stuff was gone. Dang!

This had to be the craziest first week of school I can remember. It didn’t help that two of our six third grade teachers were let go due to budget cuts. Or that because of five furlough days, we had four full days with new students instead of the usual two on Week 1. We were told there would be higher class sizes, but it was anticipated that some of those on the roster would be “no shows.” Last year student numbers crept from 20 to 24. This year they’re capped at 28. I had 32 on my roster, but only 29 showed. In the classroom next door to me 35 children filled the room making it impossible to move about the room.

Not only did I not have supplies, I didn’t have an extra eight desks and chairs! The day before school started our hard-working custodians dragged in a motley assortment of desks and chairs, some obviously from the 60s. Some were too big, some were too small, and none were just right.

I’d put in an order for my peeling wall to be repaired last June. I’m sure it’s lead-based paint, but I arrived back at school just in time to meet the painter who said he’d be back “later” to fix it. He was last seen running from the school. None of my computers had internet, so I had to summon my inner New Yorker to “persuade” ITS to send over a technician – now!  A technician did arrive and fixed the computers. I did not show my fangs. In fact, I went out of my way to be nice to him. Now I had computers, but still no journals or pencils.

I allow my students two pencils a month and one Kleenex a day (okay, if your snot is cascading onto the floor, I’ll give you two).  I told my students there were virtually no supplies, but tried to keep the mood positive. Let’s pretend we’re camping!  You know there are schools in sub-Saharan Africa that have dirt floors? Children write their math problems with sticks in the dirt. Does anyone have a stick?  My goal was not to burden the children with adult problems. “Pay no attention to that man standing behind the curtain!”

I sent home a letter to parents and thank goodness rolls of paper towels, glue sticks, and some stickers arrived. I even received a $20 gift card to Office Depot. I actually now have a red dry erase marker! As teachers we’re so used to making do with so little, that the smallest gesture of kindness puts us on top of the world. I’m of the opinion that during the BP oil spill, if they’d offered free food, teachers would have flooded in from all over the nation and capped that d^mn well! We’re doers, but we get tired of having to “make do.”

This is the first time I’ve ever written a post that has the tag “Rant” on it, as I don’t like to  to go THERE. I finally broke down and bought pencils and had some additional ones donated. My parents are not rich, but like all parents, they want the best for their children. I remain an optimist and choose to believe that my supply ship will come in. If necessary, I’m willing to battle Somali pirates with my yardstick to make this a reality.

Finally, on a more positive note. Although it’s only been four days, I think I have the makings of a great class!

C is for Chaos June 19, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Politics.
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grafitti

The writing is on the wall, but can you read it?

 

 

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, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Politics, Teaching.
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4 comments

 

donkey2

 

 

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.

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