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

Thursday, October 9, 2014

And I'm the stable one

Sometimes life throws you a curve ball. My wife Karen's company is moving to Texas. We've known that for about a year, but today that eventuality became a little more real. Tonight, I came home to find Karen preparing me for "Open Enrollment," checking whether our doctors would be covered, because as of April, she will be out of a job. When we go to the final blowout holiday party in December, the mood at the Washington Hilton will be odd, to say the least. The last few holiday parties have taken up the entire ballroom at the Wardman Park Marriott, complete with "Casino Night," where I got to play blackjack with "free chips." This year's party will be the biggest yet.

Considering how turbulent my career change has been -- last year, after thinking I was in the clear, I received notice that my one year contract would not be renewed. It feels a little ironic to suddenly be the stable one.

Meanwhile, my classroom has had a few behavioral interventions courtesy of our designated 6th grade disciplinarian, Ms. Smith, and I finally moved our "Galaxy Expectations" out of the corner where I had hidden it, after about her third friendly suggestion. Truly, Ms. Smith's room design suggestions were on point, and I have used the LD friendly redesign as a documented intervention.

Soon, we will roll out an internal Intervention Database, which will provide us a common platform for sharing testing data, and our history of interventions. Meanwhile, in preparation for our go live date, I've created an Intervention Notebook, in which I have students sign up for Lunch Bunch and After School time. Our Intervention database will be the ultimate CYA tool. Every parental contact, every move I make to hold students accountable for their learning, will provide evidence that I have handled my responsibilities diligently.

Today, after Silent Sustained Reading (SSR), before passing out Progress Reports during our Enrichment and Remediation (ER) time, I shared with my class how much I enjoyed the opportunity to read, how I rarely get the chance. I shared a snippet from A Scientist at the Seashore in which the author marveled at the uniqueness of our situation is on Earth, as a planet with water, in a universe in which water is scarce. Then, I explained why I feel education is so important to me.

I described how, when I was 3, my mom had chased me around the house with Hop on Pop, and how she had done the same to my son Joe when he was 3. I shared how my grandfather, at age 17 had jumped ship in San Francisco Harbor and swam to shore across the shark infested waters of the Bay, and what happened to my mom when she was 7, how after Pearl Harbor, the men in black suits and fedoras knocked on her door in the middle of the night to take her father away, how her mother a few weeks later had loaded everything the family owned onto a pile and burned all their possessions, how in the desert camps my mom had read every book in the library because there was little else to do, how upon arriving to Japan, the family had endured a 3 day train ride, where the trains were so packed that the adults had to go to the bathroom in their pants, and the children were passed overhead, how when the family finally arrived at their destination, they were robbed of all their possessions, including their shoes, and how, with only a few years of formal education my mom earned a full scholarship to the University of Nebraska because she wanted to do from the moment she set foot in Japan was to find a way back to America.

I also shared my embarrassment of being led out of school in handcuffs and having to call home from the the police station, how at age 15, I made the decision that I was going to Georgetown University, and if I hadn't changed, I might have ended up dead or in jail, just like a few people I had known growing up. Then I passed out progress reports, which were mostly D's and F's, many below 50%, with lots of missing assignments. I projected a progress report with the name deleted, and substituted a fictitious child from my fictitious 4th grade class to explain how Johnny Smith had a D, but Johnny had been coming to make Quiz Corrections every day at lunch, which I had not yet entered, In one week, I told them, when I project Johnny's Progress Report again, that D will probably be a B. "Those who fail in my class," I concluded, "fail by choice. For those who choose to dig their own grave, and allow themselves to fail, I will be the first one to kick dirt on them, and I will put a tombstone overhead -- Here lies Johnny. He lived and then he died. For those who choose to come for help, I will reach down and be the first to pull them out. I will reach down and help raise up those who want to be raised up. Who wants to be raised up?" Every hand went up.

This week, as a matter of desperation, I've found creative ways for reaching the unreachable, bridged barriers of language and culture, used bribery, excitement, every trick of the trade. As a result, my room is starting to get packed during lunch and after school. Big Brian Hernandez, inspired by the nurturing, Paulina, who only showed up for 3 of my summer session classes, who I had warned that she better not miss school unless she was bleeding, barfing, or dying, found the inspiration to finish his Poster project which had been due the first week of school. Then, I cut the number of problems on two of his warmups, and helped him go from zeroes to 100's. From a 34 percent average, Brian raised his grade over 20 percentage points today-- still an F. Big Brian will continue coming.

I learned that Edwin, whom I had written up after one final straw -- I turned around to notice that his sweat pants were around his ankles, with the rest of the children giggling -- has an older sister. Marlena is a super responsible young lady. One day, I noticed Edwin talking to her in the lunchroom after school, and on a whim, stopped by to ask for her help on the way to a conference with Edwin's father. I've been bribing her with chocolates and jolly ranchers ever since, because she has agreed to help Edwin raise his grade from a 43% to at least a 75% by the end of the quarter.

Meanwhile, Dontae huffed and puffed after being sent from Dance Club to my room because he is on my D's and F's list, and gave up on his quiz corrections, so I promised to find a day next week when I can work 1:1, just with him.

Dawn continued to flit, and once again got nothing done.

Wednesday's Fraction/Decimal/Percent test prep session was a disaster, with Johnny behaving even more out of control than the protagonist in Joey Pigza Swallowed The Key, one day after I had run into him and his family in the parking lot at Giant, and I peered in for a glance at his mom, his grandma, and his three siblings, and falsely believed that our chance encounter would bear fruit in my classroom. On Wednesday, Johnny was subversively insulting big Al, and Big Brian, who would bellow loudly at every insult, every puckered kiss, every flicked bird, every adult humor comment about their miserable lives, always when I had my back turned, always too silently for me to hear. Always, I found myself reacting to the uproar that followed in Johnny wake. When Johnny snuck over to Jamie's desk and showed her the picture he had drawn of her -- all the kids at Jamie's table were complaining loudly -- finally, I had him. He begged me to not tell Mr. Farmer about it, "Mr. Farmer and me are tight," I replied. We talk about everything.

Yesterday, I woke up at 3:30 to write my Self Reflection, in preparation for my Yearly Goal, and was praying expectantly for an answer for how to make rational numbers relevant for my reluctant learners. Then the lightbulb went on. Suddenly, I thought of holding a race with wind-up toys, and I launched my lesson with a  wind-up toy race, which was hilarious, especially when the ladybug went in circles, and the dinosaur practically crawled. Billy Valenzuela was so excited when his caterpillar won. For the first time in awhile, Billy Valenzuela was on fire! He was getting it. The children all got the point that rational numbers include integers, but also contain fractions and decimals, which call between the hashmarks. It all made sense.