A calling ...

"We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims."

"Make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone."

- Buckminster Fuller

Friday, February 28, 2014

Update to Stepping up to the Plate

Poetic License: Stepping up to the Plate by Joseph Kurland, age 13...

Yesterday was tough. Working with Kendall has become like being subjected to Kendall's claws screeching across the chalkboard for every scratchy broken record, life draining, infernal moment he infects the room with his fire starting, burn baby, burn baby, fire-starting grin, while tied to the mast of a creaky, storm-tossed ship, amidst claps of thunder and zaps of lightening, to the drip, drip, drip of Chinese water torture, to a chorus of 6th grade chortles, giggles, and gasps.

With 9 weeks to go until state testing, nobody in the room can learn anything except how to defy, disrupt, and disengage from learning while Kendall poisons the fishbowl in which everyone must swim. I stagger out of 4th period every even day feeling totally off kilter and utterly drained of every drop of blood. Trying to direct teach a single simple concept in Kendall's class feels like being forced to lug around a 10 ton weight across a pit of tar, then up a slippery mountain slope, only to have the load crash down the mountain, destroying everything in its way.

Kendall's daily disruption has gone viral. After lunch yesterday, while leaving the teacher's louge, I noticed three or more of Kendall's followers duck walking behind their ring leader, on the way to the toilet instead of to class. Gangster style, I turned the mob around, set the timer for 20 minutes, and got everybody started on their warm-up, so that I could show them how to use the formula for Circumference. By the time I headed home yesterday after 10:15 p.m., I had nothing left, though I knew I had two IEP's scheduled, one of which I had not written and would not finish until 10 minutes before the meeting, sub plans to finish, and the gift of an Administrative Day given to me and my little friend Ali by Dr. P so that Ali could put a dent into his Portfolio Assessment before I present his binder to Dr. P on Wednesday, before our locality's auditors come to scrutinize Ali's binder on Thursday. I worked with Ali after school, we made a little progress, the late bus came, and I started cleaning up my room.

When I dropped home for dinner before returning to clean my classroom, I received some unexpectedly positive news: Joe, my son, the kid who could not hit a baseball for his first two seasons, who started playing baseball when he was 12, will be a starting pitcher, outfielder, and utility infielder this year for his JV high school baseball team. Immediately, the storm clouds seemed to clear, and I was feeling invigorated.

Later that night, I returned to finish preparing my room and started on my sub plans. I left for home finally around 10:30 pm and bought some gas. When I finally dragged home around 10:45 I took Mabel on a long walk, set a series of alarms to go off starting at 2 am, hoping to wake up and finish my sub plans and finish Ali's IEP. I eventually woke up in a panic at 5 am, having slept through several alarms, and finished my sub plans before leaving for work at 6:45am. I finally started on Ali's sub plans when I arrived at 7 am. I knew Ms. England had promised to teach my class during 1st period, but I had to prepare for the possibility that things might go as planned, so I wrote full lesson plans.

Ms. England, thankfully, took the lesson in a different direction, and read aloud Sir Circumference to build background knowledge, rather simply discussing student generated examples of circles then teaching the formula. Great decision!

Ms. Quintanelli, my Instructional Coach, located a conference room in which to set up, wrote my schedule on the white board, and I pulled Ali during 1st and 3rd period to work on his portfolio. Ever the optimist, I had Ali finish the most difficult task first, which took at least an hour longer than I had anticipated. While he was working on portfolio tasks, I was working on his IEP, and finished literally 10 minutes before the meeting. Since Ali speaks some unusual Ethiopian dialect, and since today was the deadline for completing Ali's annual IEP so that he would be given the accommodation to assemble a portfolio alternative assessment, with the approval of my Department Chair, Ms. Baine, Ali translated his IEP meeting for his mother. Desperate times, desperate measures!

After the meeting, Ali and I went back to the conference room to keep working on his binder. At 12 pm, I sent Ali to science so that I could conduct another IEP meeting. After school, we were back at it again until a little after 5 pm. There's a misconception that portfolio assessment is somehow easier or less rigorous than a multiple choice test. This afternoon, Ali, a child with a severe discrepancy between his ability to decode and his ability to comprehend big ideas, who has difficulty constructing a paragraph, described the Battle of Lexington and Concord like a movie, play by play, just the way Joe Sherman, the best History teacher I have ever witnessed work, taught it, with far more supporting details including the actors, what they did, and their motivations, at a higher level that was needed to meet the minimum standard. Rather than stopping Ali, I made the conscious decision to allow Ali do his thing and process the content like a movie, simply because it seemed the appropriate thing to do in the situation. While at times making progress today felt like sucking an ocean of knowledge through a straw, today felt right.

I don't remember falling asleep with all my clothes on, but I was awakened by Joe's howls of gamer rage, so I invoked the "one and done rule," only managing to pry him away from that horrible Xbox with threats of pulling the plug on it forever, so that he can go to baseball practice at 7 am tomorrow morning and I can sleep in peace.

Tomorrow, haircuts, Jim's funeral, papers to grade, and a party to attend. Have no idea how I will get it all done.