Tuesday, December 05, 2006

You know you've been at school too much when...

You know you've been at school too much when...
...you walk into rooms expecting a sensor to turn on the lights for you.
...the only contents of the freezer in the science closet at school is your 2 days worth of frozen meals.
...you see stars in the sky on your way to school and on your way home.
...your ipod shuffle needs to be recharged every night (and you can only play it after school).
...you talk to the night custodians more than your friends.
...cleaning out the rabbit's litter box is more appealing than doing more school work once you get home.
...parents of students comment on how fast and late into the evening they are getting email replys from you.
...suddenly you realize time has past because when the sensor doesn't see you and turns the lights off, the room becomes pitch black in the absence of natural light.
...you see your students as you leave because they have come back to school to play sports in the evening.
...the custodians comment on you "leaving early" when you leave an hour after the students do and you are still one of the last to leave in the pod.
...soap operas have ended for the day in the teacher's room.
...you fill your electric tea pot twice in one day.
...students ask you how long you will be after school and your response is "you can stay until 3:30 and I'll be here forever."
...you spin around in your chair at home expecting snacks to be behind you.
...you find notes confiscated from students in your pocket on the weekends.
...you don't notice that your school keys are still around you neck when you go out for dinner.
...you call your students by your little brother's name when agitated with them.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Good Day, Bad Day, and Quotes

So Friday was an AWFUL day, but then again the whole school had an awful day. The kids were just insane and rude. The quote on Friday that made my made my day...bouncy ball having lunch in my room, turns to me and says "You're really fair Mrs. Greene." I said, "Thanks, I try really hard." That made the whole day better...even though today he was bouncy pens off the ceiling...sigh.

Today and Monday were great. My classes all took a turn for the better. Today's quotes: "You're such a cool teacher" and "This is rated 5-star hard, Mrs. Greene!"

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Fighting and Banging My Head Against the Wall

Everyday I am exhausted by endless resistance. Every new idea, every different approach, and especially every time I tell them to go use what we've been studying. "I can't do it!" "I don't get it!" "I don't want to do this!" My students fight me almost everyday. Even the things that I thought they would embrace and enjoy they fight! Some examples...

Dentention: I asked a kid "What do you want me to do when you act up? You know what you are doing, so how can I help you stay on track? What should I do when you act out?" The kid had no idea and was really frustrated that I kept asking him. I know he has heard that question very little, but I thought he would have welcomed another approach.

Outside Data Collection: Our tree project is made for elementary and middle schools but is through Harvard Forest, part of Harvard University. So one kid decided that since it came from Harvard it was too hard and meant I was trying to make them do college work. This is what he told his mother, and his mother came to me confused. That one makes me laugh, but it is frustrating.

But there is a light at the end of the tunnel and an occasional time when I am not giving myself migraines.

The kid from the detention came to me the next day and had a suggestion for a good consequence and way to go about it. It took him time for it to sink in I guess. Slowly students are getting used to thinking about things on their own and developing critical thinking skills. I told them today that the process of learning is more important than the answer they get. I said education is about developing those skills of how to problem solve even more than learning the content. I think they started to get it.

Today I saw glimpses of my classroom becoming a learning community. Students were helping each other and enjoying the process more than they have in the past. I think things are beginning to click.

Sometimes I think I need to get used to the resistance and not wear myself out by fighting back. But I think the tension and pushing them to do new things may be necessary for them to make the jump in the end. So I guess I need to fight back and keep pushing them every day, but try not to get frustrated and feel overwhelmed by the lack of progress. Consistent work should lead to success; as I teach more I hope I will be able to trust our process of forming that learning community. I only hope that I am right in that it is possible with any class, any year. With tweaking.

Sunday, August 27, 2006


So tomorrow is my first day...without students. The students come Wednesday. I feel like I have so many things flying through my head. So many things to pack in my car to take to school. Wednesday I take my first step, and knowing me, I want it to be perfect. I want to start every management practice I have found works on the first day. I don't want to go back and try to change something that I should have done from the beginning, but remembering everything I want to start doing is making my head swim. Some things I do know are: I am going to create class rules with the students, my desks will be in a circle or at least a U shape on the first day, and I am almost done with a website for my class. I have not started writing a parent letter yet...I am doing everything but this right now. But I've got time. Two days until students are coming and I am sitting here looking at the list of names and finding a creative way to assign them seats (and they will have to guess the pattern).

This is the homework box I made today. The front is part of a skateboard (of course). I tried to use the style of a Madison, WI spraypaint artist. Can you see the planets? My other recent project is on Broken Glass.

Monday, July 24, 2006

3 Months Later

I have often planned on blogging over the last three months, but it just hasn't happened. But I did finish my year well, took 7 of my kids backpacking, and am now working at an adventure camp and lifeguarding. So much work leaves me little time to blog even though there is so much to say. But tonight I am finally sitting down and writing due to an interesting conversation I had today.

Shortly after I started my shift lifeguarding this evening a kid came in and sat next to the lifeguard station. He knew the lifeguard leaving so I introduced myself. Turns out he is going into 10th grade and is friends with kids I know. We ended up talking for my entire shift. First about him...he is an amateur boxer and hopes to be pro. Then about random things like flying. Then he asked my what got me into teaching. He said he always likes to ask teachers that because it is such a hard job. This launched into a huge conversation about education. We both agreed that teachers who only give boring lectures are awful. He told me what he likes and dislikes about school. I talked about Great Falls, etc. Then he asked me if I saw myself teaching for the rest of my life. I said no and talked about maybe a PhD and starting my school. He was curious about the school, so I told him all about my idea for the Genesis school. He thought it was amazing and told me I shouldn't wait but do it as soon as possible. It was really fun to get a students' feedback on the idea and hear that another person thinks it could be successful. He ended up helping me put chlorine in the pool, put chairs away, and fill the mop bucket. He said three things that were really uplifting. "Maybe you were just born to do something different and be different," "Don't wait, start that school as soon as possible," and as he left, "You really should pursue your ideas of doing things differently." It was so encouraging and made me smile. Maybe the rest of the world is crazy and the rest of us make real sense. Either way I still feel hope.

Another tidbit...my backpacking trip with my CSL students was great. It was really challenging sometimes but these two quotes made it worth it to me.

A: "So is this trip kind of like a graduation present for us?"
Me: "Yeah, that was kind of what I was thinking but I'm not sure that everyone sees it that way. Are you having fun?"
A: "Yeah, it's really cool."
This was so neat and showed me that she was reflecting on why on earth I wanted to spend three days with them in the middle of nowhere. I was encouraged to see someone thinking on that level.

"So, Ms. Greene, how do you think this weekend went?" I could tell from this that she wanted to know if they were indeed hopeless and if they had run me down and I regretted it. I said I thought it was great and I wanted them to be satisfied and celebrate their accomplishments more instead of being so negative. They want to believe that everyone has given up on them because being loved means opening up and connecting with someone. I was glad they gave me a chance to respond clearly to this idea and reinforce how much I care about them.

I miss my students so much and think about them often. One member of my CSL group sometimes gave me trouble in my classroom and yet got straight A's (despite many things stacked against her). We had fun together but I had no idea what this meant to her until the last day when she stood in front of me staring up at me tears running down her face because she did not want to say goodbye. She must have hugged me 10 times before she left. She is amazing and I hope she continues to be who she can be not what her circumstances want to say she is. One of the 7th grade teachers commented to me how amazing this was because she was resistant to school in 7th grade but then didn't want to leave at the end of 8th grade. I will never forget my first students.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

PURE Irony

Something occurred to be out of nowhere today that made me laugh and shake my head.

When I did TeenPact (conservative Christian week-long camp at the state house in Boston) learning about the government, how to make a law, etc. our assignment before we went was to create a bill proposal for anything we wanted to change in the state. Mine was on having bilingual education for all children from grade 1 on, because children learn languages faster than teenagers and way faster than adults so then our entire population would be bilingual. Other students' proposals included making all traffic lights with sensors, funding home schooling, increasing/decreasing traffic speeds, various changes to education, etc. Our first day at the capitol we had to read our proposals and answer questions. One of the leaders asked each of us how our bill would be funded. Almost every student said "With Taxes."

This is where the irony and the element of childish wonder comes in. Every student wanted to change their state for the better...with taxes. We all believed it was possible and that (goshdarnit!) we would find that money somehow. But conservative Christians don't like taxes. But we didn't know better...we hadn't been brainwashed to think that the government was trying to take over all our freedoms (like some of those families think). I wonder if the leaders of our program cringed at the thought of all those taxes...or if they knew there is no hope for those bills anyway. All we wanted to do was make our state a better place, but now I'm sure all those students would write very different bills now that they have been steeped in Republican knowledge and wisdom. I'm sure none of them would increase taxes...if they want to be elected to an office as a Republican.

I feel like the children are right. This state could be a better place. I only wish those strongwilled students I knew then were not who they are now: conservative Republicans who would rather move to Montana than send their kids to public schools. Where does that childish sense of "we can do it" go anyway?

Friday, March 24, 2006

Eyeliner Girls

Written 28 February 2006

I have a belief that the eyeliner girls (those girls who wear too much eyeliner and have experienced more crap than any person should have to handle) are able to go to college and be so much, but when I think of my college experience I wonder if there is a place for those who have been homeless, done drugs, been on probation, etc. Part of it is: Is there hope? Part is: Is there space for them in whatever transformed state they become? Part is: What type of transformation can be expected or is possible? Part is: Would they ever feel comfortable as their new self (or just them) in the world of the accomplished? Would they feel like they betrayed something in their past?

There is nothing wrong with being a hairdresser and tech school graduate, but there are not enough jobs for them all to be hairdressers and they all have so much potential to things they don't even consider within their grasp. I feel like the eyeliner girls so not actually think they have a choice, there are many roads available, and so they are selling themselves short by not acknowledging their self worth and their potential. But then I wonder what it would actually look like for the eyeliner girls to go to college and become the physicists, engineers, authors, architects, teachers, and accountants I know they could be and think they should be.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006


This conversation made me so happy.

I hear one of my fav students shouting in the hall.
Me: (Kid's Name!),what are you doing?
She has a silly excuse. We chat a little.
Me: Where are you supposed to be?
C: In the computer lab... So what do you do in the teachers' room anyway?
Me: I do my homework.
C: Can you get me a soda?
The only soda machine is in the teachers' room.
Me: No.
C: Come on!
Me: Go to the computer lab...
She heads to the computer lab.
C: Will you get me a soda later?
Me: No.
C: Please????
Me: Maybe if you get an A like you deserve. You can do the work, I know you can! You do A work.
C: I tried. But I'm doing better. I have a C.
Me: I know. And you did a great job on your molecule poster. It was awsome!
She doesn't want to go into the computer lab, but comes bounding back over to me in the hall.
C: Did you really like it? It was good, wasn't it?
Me: Yeah, it was great! And it was your own work too. I could tell.
C: Yeah, it was! I didn't cheat!
She is all smiley and bubbly.
Me: No you didn't and it came out really well!
C: Thanks.
Me: Ok, now go to class.
C: Okay...
She relunctantly goes.

It was so great to see her so happy about her own work. She was so happy. It warmed my heart. I wish she would get A's because I know she can. I need to tell her that more often.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Paper for Tomorrow: Values and Reactions to Student Behavior

A paper I wrote for class tomorrow...sensored for the web.

I always have the voice of the masses in my head when dealing with teenagers. They tell me that teenagers are annoying and difficult, some are beyond hope, some cannot be tolerated, some will never succeed, and some are less than desirable. Even worse is when students believe these voices themselves and then these messages come from their mouths. “I can’t get good grades. I’ve tried doing all my homework and being good in class but it doesn’t help. I just can’t do this.” Sometimes when dealing with difficult students I consider the rationalizations for the boxes many people put youth in. Often I think maybe this student is impossible or can never be coaxed to care, but I hope to never adopt that idea.

My goal is to always see teenagers as humans who are learning and often trapped in unfortunate circumstances. I believe that the unfortunate circumstances that many are in will mold them to be what they do not want to be, even if they are never aware of this contradiction and process. So when a student is acting out in class my first instinct may be frustration and punishment, but I know that the classroom and that student will benefit more from the question one-on-one “What do you think is causing this issue?”

That has worked some, but right now I have one student that is not responding to this in a manner than makes my life easier. His case is something deeper and probably has to do with the fact that he has a nearly perfect older brother. I talked to him after school the other day, but no improvement yet.

Students who are quiet scare me, not with a real fear, but because they are easy to forget about and often are the result of deep insecurities and sometimes secrets. I have two students like this who also have pretty major cognitive disabilities and so teachers don’t bother most of the time. I don’t agree with that, but I find it hard to reach all the students in my classes.

I have some to a recent conclusion that I like the “bad” kids more than the “good” kids. This is partly because I don’t think the “bad” kids are really all that bad; it is a figment of teachers’ imaginations and the response of tough kids to not being liked by teachers. I like the “bad” kids because they have energy, they speak up, they rebel, they are responsive to teachers who care about them, they like to be involved, and they like to have fun. I have found that the “good” kids are a little too sure of themselves and self-righteous at times. The “good” kids can also be mean to less fortunate kids and less likely to actually participate in discussions or come up with interesting questions.

I value motivation, energy, aliveness, humor, engagement, inquiry, questioning, and seeing students believe in themselves, especially when they have not before. I think most of my students can see that I believe we need to work together to make class successful and I need their input to make it happen. I have a relationship with some kids and even when I kick them out of class they still know I care about them. But I still don’t feel like I have reached them all and some I don’t quite know what to do with.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Making Sense

I had the nice experience of working after school with a girl in my class that is pretty learning disabled. She is sweet and is not a behavior issue at all. Working one-on-one with her was great. I think she really started to understand the concepts of weight and mass more. I think she also appreciated the attention since I think she gets little at home. She is so quiet I confess I also lose her in class without realizing it.

Upon reflection I started wondering if it would be possible to get her to stay after more often and give her the extra help she needs. I had a moment of excitement at the thought of her actually passing science! Then reality hit me. Who cares if she passes even the next two term of science. She still failed the first two and will still fail everything else and still most likely be put into life skills next year in the high school and still not go to college and still not get a job and still be on disability most likely and still not live a "normal life." Her skills are limited and that will always affect her. So what's the point of her passing or spending time after school? I truly believe that the system has set her up to fail and that if she had been loved, nurtured, assisted, and given a enriching environment she would not have such a harsh future ahead of her. But the problem is systemic, so there is little I can do. There is a saying around my school that in middle school we hold a lot of kids together and provide the support they need to deal with their s***** lives, but when they go to the high school they fall apart. Why be a part of the cycle that sets them up to fail in high school where there is less support and nurturing?

Then another thought hit me. It sounds cliche, but the time I spend with her will impact her for life and nurture her emotionally, which could help her in the long run even if she falls between the cracks in high school. This sounds like the natural philanthropic conclusion, but it makes sense in her bleak future.

Unfortunately I often have these "epiphanies" but lack the energy to follow through with them. Especially being in grad school. Any yet this is what teaching is about for me...being different and valuing the small things that give me and my students hope for the future.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Interests and The Here And Now

So I was thinking more about this vague thing I call my future plans and research interests. I want to pursue a PhD and so I was doing more research into schools, which turned out to be great because it got me thinking more about what I am interested in on a larger scale (larger than surviving the next time C+I decide to start a mutiny). Every time my ideas get a little clearer and a little more focused I get more excited, because most of the time my ideas are a swarm of buzzing words and phrases or sometimes only an array of feelings and emotions from experiences. So this is what I came up with.

I am interested in developing and researching how schools can be learning communities that lead to greater moral, social, and emotional development in teens (evident by a sense of purpose, responsibility, motivation, compassion) through teacher-student mentor relationships, service learning, experiential learning, community, internships, longer school days, technology, equity education, social justice, exploration, student interests, unique opportunities, student involvement, and so much more. I don't want to construct a model. I think there are too many models that go in and out of style. It is more of a philosophy, an ideal, a vision that many models or schools can fit into and embrace. It is an idea that I want to research. I want to research schools that do these kinds of things and see success or not, models that emphasize this development, geographical areas that have particular trends, etc. I believe there is a trend between the type of development I am talking about and the type of structures, policies, and activities that I listed above.

Most often my ideas are vague, hazy things floating in front of me but not tangible. Every time I put my finger on specific actions or beliefs I get excited. I had an interesting experience before vacation when I sat down with a boy that has been driving me nuts in class. The meeting had been put off for a long time so there was a lot I had to talk about, including swearing, walking away from me when I was talking to him, calling me names, yelling out answers in class, and other disruptive behavior. I wish I could remember everything I said. The words came without me really thinking about what my approach was. I asked him a lot of questions, like "What did you say to me in class today" "Why do you have this detention" "What would be a better way of handling that situation." I explained to him why I did things I did along the way. I tried to show him why the things he was doing were not helping him succeed. He told me some helpful things, like he has a temper problem and he walks away because he is mad. I asked him to tell me if he wants to talk about something later and then follow through too. Then I asked him if he had any ideas to help his behavior in class. He asked me to remind him to think before he speaks when he comes in the classroom. I also showed him a card I made that says "Focus" that will be his reminder and warning before he is sent out of class. It was a really good meeting. I haven't had to use the card yet.

An interventionist sat in on the meeting and he made an interesting comment to me afterwards. He said "That meeting was good. He he is the type of kid that if you show him respect he will show you respect."

This whole experience was so interesting for me because I didn't go in there with a specific plan, but the philosophies that are rooted in me and that I have a hard time pulling out really just controlled what I said and how I structured our conversation. Something inside me clicked and told me not to talk, but to ask him questions, make him take responsibility for this problem and the solutions. I am glad I have internalized this idea. And I know where it came from...Four Rivers most recently, but also my own parents. Seeds of Solidarity and People's Market play into a lot of how I think. And of course, my own educational experience. Glen and youth group are a huge influence. So were the reading I did in Citizen Scholars courses. It's all coming together in the realm of teaching (and, wow, I've been writing for 40 minutes).