A Teacher's Perspective: Inside the Public Schools

For months, I have been looking for an opportunity to share what physically and mentally goes on inside a classroom. This may be the place. I won't (at least I'll try) get into a lot of philosophy, just the day to day stuff or, as they say in sports,"keeping it between the lines." I'll have to give some of my background and since I'm almost at the end of my career, I will bring you up to speed as to where I've been and the things that went on at those schools. This will be an ongoing process so get ready to ride with "Teacher Man! I will try to let you in on some of the things that really go on in the Public Schools, Monday through Friday, bell to bell! I will share a little bit about my training and I'll try to bring you along using my ears and eyes. Hopefully, you can feel, see and hear what I feel, see and hear because I will give it to you like/as it happens. And trust me, I need this discussion as much as anyone!

Coming to Memphis, Tennessee, in the early nineties, I had an opportunity to get certified in a program called 'Project Teach!" It was a collaborative program involving Memphis State( at that time!), LeMoyne-Owen College and Shelby State Community College. It gave a few minority students with bachelor degrees an opportunity to get certified in elementary education. I jumped at the opportunity since working for temp services throughout this city was not what I considered my cup of tea. I also felt I could really give back to the students. I knew it was a great opportunity. Not that it meant anything but my father was an educator and so was my mother. So I thought I could do this. I was nearly 40 at the time and I had never given any real thought about making teaching a career. I had taught several months with an emergency credential in South Central Los Angeles and I thought it couldn't be any worse than that. And at least with this program I could get some valuable and necessary training to really help kids learn and be successful. So I took advantage of the opportunity.

My brief experience in Los Angeles was at Bethune Junior High on 78th and Broadway. It was in the middle of a strong Crip gang presence and there was beginning to be an East Los Angeles' hispanic growth spurt with gang issues too. Most of my students were Hispanic and Black. Many of the Hispanic students couldn't speak English well or at least they played like it. Many were new arrivals to the US and the LA community and, by law, all children have the right to attend public schools in America. I was teaching Algebra and was sharing a room with a white guy. I had scored high on the CBEST teaching aptitude test in all areas and particularly math so since they needed math teachers, I got hired. You see I had received a strong math training while in the public schools of East St. Louis so I knew I could do this. I didn't have any classroom management skills but thought I could handle the students since I was raised in East St. Louis and had survived the military. I had never had any education courses so I wasn't prepared for what I was about to deal with. It was a trip! Students wouldn't listen!! They would throw erasers!! Uniforms were whatever! At that time most students wore their colors.

One incident I remember was with Javier, a Latino kid. I spotted him tagging a wall and I shouted "stop"! He bolted and my instinct told me to go after him. He jumped the fence and boy was I embarassed. I thought I was doing what teachers are supposed to do. Right! I was told by a more experienced teacher to never chase after a student. That was that! They brought him back into the school and, subsequently, back into the room. Before the semester was over, I think he quit coming. Another memorable situation happened one day with a young Black student. He was really a good guy if/when he came to school but one day he dropped some weed after showing me a bankroll of money. He was affiliated with the Crips but that didn't bother me. Most were affiliated with some organization. When he dropped the money and the weed, he quickly picked it up and ran. Again, I ran after him but this time I stopped at the office. He left the building and eventually returned. I don't think much happened to him in terms of consequences. We laughed as a matter of fact about the money and the drug situation. He quit coming to class too, I think!

I lasted at Bethune until that Spring. It was daily chaos and confusion for me. They had several dances. The students got a snack break about 10:00am in the yard which was surrounded by fence. It reminded me of a penitentiary yard. Snacks were given and the students had an oppportunity to socialize and plan! The Principal was a Black lady (cute) and seemed rather under the radar. I dealt with her a few times because I had taken a lot of days off! (smile) I enjoyed teaching but the rigors day-to-day were rough. One day the white guy I was sharing a room with got pissed at me for some reason. I told him the room was the kids, not ours. It lead to more stress. He was very territorial while I was just there trying to help the students learn some algebra. Anyway, by the Spring I had found a job in the defense industry. I'll stop here for now. Next, we'll head to Memphis!(smile) Boy do I have stories to tell about this experience.

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You got that right Al! Love that! ROTFLMBAO!
I was surprised he even bothered......... Considering the dismssive response i gave to him. But I guess he felt a need to 'CYA".
The summer of 2010 is ending! Where did it go? The students and the teachers have had had an opportunity to reflect and rest! I know I have! With that said, next week is the beginning of another year in the Memphis City School System as a public school teacher. I am trying to enter this season with a new set of lenses. I know the students will be excited and hyped, so I have to prepare myself to give them my all and my best. Each year I start off with a great attitude and high level of committment. I hope to use this discussion as a tool/diary/mirror to see just how focused and committed I stay. Last year, this was an great tool for me. It started as an experiment and ended up giving me an opportunity to share some of the data, my feelings, thoughts and judgments relating to daily incidents and situations that I experience in the classroom. Since there were so many responses to the last edition, I am going to try it again from day/week one. Last year I was at three schools in less than 3 months. I was surplused from one for reasons still questionable. Then I went to another where after registration the numbers fell and since I wasn't the senior teacher in my area, I was again surplused. Finally I landed at a school where the students would brag about running teachers off. I hung for the remainder of the year and fortunately, now I am the senior teacher in my area. (smile) I will attempt to stay truthful and candid, so don't cringe. I will share the positive and the negative. Let's get ready to rumble!!!(smile)

Let me start by saying that there is a three day professional development going on at Bellevue Baptist Church in Bartlett. It isn't mandatory (I may not attend)! My question is, "Why is it in Bartlett? We had to register online and print tickets for the various sessions. I thought that was an interesting use of technology. I get that! I did that once getting tickets for a concert and for Magic Mountain. If we attend the sessions we will be able to take a couple days off the first week of school. On the second hand, I just may attend even though it is hard getting the energy after being off for two months. Back in the day when I was a student (eons ago) we went back to school after Labor Day. From my previous experiences in Memphis City Schools (almost 20 years), many students will come back after Labor Day anyway. Again, I will remain optimistic and open-minded! Hope it is a productive year for most! Also, keeping one's sanity and peace of mind is key for a teacher. I couldn't do it without a sense of calm. Thanks to this forum, I get relief! My truth!
I attended the "Practitioners' Summit" at Bellevue Baptist Church and I am glad I did. Bellevue Baptist is a huge facility and the turnout was tremendous, 3000 or more teachers daily. I hav e driven by the church many many times and had never been inside or near. It is a fabulous facility! It is evidently more than a place of worship. It is a well run business! It has three floors of classrooms and a huge sanctuary. They transported us from the parking lot with trans like at Disneyworld or Six Flags. After speaking with several of the members who acted as guides I had to compliment them. Also I would like to give the planners of the event their props. I was very impressed.

I was able to attend about 15 sessions in the three days that were very helpful. It prepared me for the upcoming year, gave me so much valuable information and material to use for my students and my classroom. The people at Bellevue Baptist were quite hospitable and helpful. I am so glad I attended. I must admit at first I wasn't going to attend but at the last minute decided to go. My department received curriculum and textbook resources on flash drives. This will save me hours of work. I also attended several technical sessions that will assist me in management of my material and classes. There were several cross curriculum sessions that gave me ideas on managing the urban classroom more effectively.

The summit was well worth my attendance because by attending I also earned two days off this week. With temperatures exceeding 100 degrees it definitely was a great decision to attend. A positive attitude, great preparation and taking care of myself physically, mentally and spiritually will, I'm sure, be keys if I am to have a successful and stress free year. Registration was last night and it appeared to be a success, even if the cafeteria where the registration was held wasn't air conditioned. Dedication allowed us to work 9 hours in 100 degree plus heat to register for this school year. I hope the parents and students work with us this year so that everyone benefits and succeeds!
Well! Well! It's been a few weeks since my last post. The students and teachers are back. Registration appears to be over although students in Memphis move around so much. I am still getting and losing students. Let me bring you up to date. My first weeks have been busy, busy, busy. We have had faculty meetings every week to go over the mandates by the board and administration. Same old bureacuratic stuff! Nothing really new. They are emphasizing "Learning by Design" as the format that they want teachers to use for instruction. They are really into teachers using this model and reminding us to post the curriculum on the board and on the desk in case we have visitors.

We have received our allotment to get our supplies. That was good. This year I am in one classroom. That is good. I had to request extra chairs because several of my classes had more students than chairs. That was/could be a problem. I have 30 plus students in a couple of my classes and that becomes a bit challenging when you don't have enough desks. I do have plenty of textbooks this year. Each student has his/her own along with a workbook. Everything seems to be going well as it relates to material. The "Learning by Design" model isn't going well for me because a lot of students still don't seem to be interested in learning. They are more interested in their cell phones, ipods and mp3 players. It becomes a daily battle so I guess the metal detectors don't work. Deja vu!!!

I have only had a couple of situations to get out of hand when I challenge students about their technology. One student got in my face but I handled it the best way I knew how. I got in his. I guess I could have been soft and wrote him up. For what? Anyway, I asked him to leave the class and we exchanged a few words. I guess I could have been quiet. I did share with him that "I am not the one!" After about a week, his mother and grandmother came to school requesting a conference with me. An adminsitrator was present so I complied. He repeated what I said but failed to mention what he did or said. I understood! I admitted I am only human to his grandmother and mother but shared with them and the administration that I will not be threatened or intimidated by any young man in my class. They understood! After the conference the administrator complimented me on how I responded to the situation. I told the young man that I am not the enemy. As a amtter of fact I told him "I love him!" We hugged, I shook his hand and said I wanted him to succeed. His mother seemed genuine but the grandmother seemed real protective and suspicious of me. I understand. He hasn't been to my class more than three times since that incident. But, he hadn't come to class more than three times before the incident. (smile)

I had another situation like this but I handled it on the "Sonic" restaurant lot with he and his mother. The student told me I was "full of shit!" because I wouldn't allow him to make up work that he had missed per his excuse. I just needed some administrative clarity as to why he hasn't been to class this year. I heard he had been in the hospital but I wasn't sure. Last year the same thing happenened with the very same student. I passed him because I worked with him. Anyway, I was hoping this year would be different. Apparently, it isn't! That evening after the incident I just happened to see him walking with his mother and sister. I told her that he hadn't come to class at all this year and wanted me to work with him. She was defensive but I told her I will work with him but I am not going to be cursed by a young man. Not this year!! I made sure his mother heard me and I am sure he did too. He came to class the next day. We'll see how many times he come this year. Last year he never came. I still worked with him! I am sure I will this year too!

Yesterday, I was so glad the week was over. On leaving te building, I must have noticed 6 police cars with sirens flashing and two fire trucks. There were also several MCS security cars. I hear there were several fights in the area. I hope no one was hurt but I did see EMT. These are the same students that we teach daily! They have so much anger in them! It is so sad! I see/feel it daily! Often the teacher is the convenient recipient of this anger. It is scary for some. I am not sure what can be done because this behavior is disruptive and not conducive to learning. It is really spillng over into our schools and classrooms. To be continued!!
Oh my, has it been awhile! I have lots to share but I have been so exhausted. I hope to bring you up to date over the Thanksgiving holiday, maybe Christmas. I have been observed 8 times by administrators to see if my protocol is on the board, to see if my instruction is in order, to see if the kids are on task. I guess!! (smile) Meantime, I have been threatened by a couple students, one a so-called gangter. I have done the security piece again this year. I have worked the concession stand at two football games. I have met with a couple parents, called a few! It's been so very hectic this year! On the upside, the "Think Show" turned out pretty good for me today even though the librarian felt one of my kids' projects was too adult. She featured exotic drinks! Personally, I thought it was great! It was just a project on France, a place known for adult things! Gee!! Are we that unrealistic?
Craig, I hear something major is about to break about your boss at the BOE.
MAJOR, as in, "I won't be surprised!" I know one thing for certain Dr. Money sure knows how to screw up teachers' and students' lives with all that unrealistic BS! The security BS is a joke and he has unrealistic academic expectations for a community like Memphis. These kids need real world skills! They aren't getting it academically. It's a joke! I don't care how hard a teacher tries! With books or without books, most of these young folks don't want this stuff we are trying to cram down their throats. Can you blame them?
I just read the "Commercial Appeal" article on that consultant from Florida. It appears to be a slap in the face/insult to the intelligence of the Florida and the Memphis citizens. Sure looks like the FBI is watching. With all that Bill Gates' money in the picture they better! (smile)


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