Making Lemonade, Blog Posts, and Whatnot

I accidentally got up at 6am today instead of 7am, and did not realize it until I was fully dressed, ready to go to school. Super. So in the interest of being a good time manager, I bring to you, my monthly post.*

I was recently assigned a new school, which I will affectionately call Stepford Elementary School. Now, I am typically assigned to the schools no one wants, by request. If someone makes a face like they are smelling something bad when I say the school’s name, all the better. I like being at cocktail parties and saying, “I coaxed a child wielding a knife down from a flagpole today. (Sips cocktail) How was your day?” I enjoy working with high-needs populations because I feel like I can make a difference. I can see kids whose parents are well-intentioned, but overwhelmed, and can not take breaks from their 3 jobs to take their child to a counselor or learning specialist. Sure, there is a lot of “action” at these schools, but I have seen principals work tirelessly to make these schools better for the kids, and there are a lot of really innovative ideas and programs that inspire me on a daily basis.

So you can imagine my surprise as I walk up to Stepford Elementary and hear a parent out front say, “You know, Douglas, I just really didn’t like the colonial architecture so we didn’t buy the 4-bedroom.” Where am I? Is this the same town? I had never this high up the hills of my urban district before. I was not in Kansas anymore (read Kansas with a Latino accent, please).

I am greeted by the secretary and directed to a fancy schmancy sign-in computer that logs your time of entry and prints out your nametag all pretty for you. For a non-educator, that doesn’t sound fancy, but trust me, usually there are 47 binders for signing in and you can’t find the one you need or a pen. I’m taken to my office, and there is a computer, an Internet connection, AND! AND! an electrical outlet. At my other school, I engage in this long trip wire situation across the auditorium to plug in my little space heater. It keeps it warm, and it keeps the kids from sneaking up on me.

As I visit classes, I hear the following:

“That homework was the funnest EVER!”

“Yea! Long Division!”

“This bookmark I’m making is for my business, AJ’s Bookmarks. EVERYONE has a business these days. Check me out at my website.” (from the mouth of a 10 year old, mind you)

“The PTA raised 2 million dollars for that building.”

“We have an emergency. Clara in second grade wrote something offensive.” (I read this offensive thing. I think I was using the wrong lens to interpret it because I was impressed that a) she wrote it on PAPER, not on public property! And b) she used correct punctuation in replacing the “g” on $%@$ing with an apostrophe. Good for you, Clara!)

And most peculiar of all: No one locks anything. I asked for the key to my office and they looked at me funny. The teachers just LEAVE THEIR PURSES BY THEIR DESKS. Envelopes collecting money are left on the doors of the classroom. Kids are raising their hands and politely saying brilliant things and making connections like, “This reminds me of when I lived in China for the summer and saw a Bengal Tiger.” What is going on here?

I felt like a kid visiting her rich aunt and uncle for the first time. Ooh! They have a POOL! (They do, by the way, also have a pool. The school. Not my aunt and uncle.). How can this school be in the same public school district as the others where I work? I obviously knew that some schools’ PTAs make up for the lack of district funding and can deliver better services, and I knew there was a difference between private and public, and yes, I’ve read 8 hojillion articles on the disparity in education, but I had forgotten how stark the contrast is until I saw it again with my own two eyes.

Sigh. Now what? I guess I’m off to my other school now to try to help my students achieve the same high standards even thought they didn’t have equal developmental conditions and they certainly don’t have equal schools.

Bitter, Party of 1? You’re table is ready. Who me? I’ll have lemonade. I’m going to figure out a way to make it better. No hero complex here. But if I start playing “Gansta’s Paradise” on the way to school and start fancying myself a Michelle Pfeiffer who will use radical teaching methods such as “listening”, in an effort to save the poor children, do slap me.

*I don’t mean to have a monthly post! I have been going down a shame spiral for not posting. But remember how I said if you didn’t hear from me for a while, I was probably not unlike that kitten hanging from a branch?

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Comments on Making Lemonade, Blog Posts, and Whatnot

  1. Andrea says:

    Rebecca, I've just been introduced to your blog by a friend and absolutely love it! As a school psychologist in Oregon, I can relate to so many of your stories. Just wanted to let you know how much it adds to my day! Andrea

  2. Rebecca says:

    Thanks Andrea! So children pee on the play yard in Oregon too? 😉

  3. Andrea says:

    Last week we had a kid poop in the middle of the hallway on his way to the bathroom. A teacher stepped in it. When the director of the school heard about it, she said, "Oh, that's just Mikey. Usually it's just pee."

    Does that count?

  4. Jennifer says:

    I teach in a district like yours, too. Swanky school is about 4 miles from my house. It has an outdoor classroom (designed by a student's dad, for free), reading rocks, garden, weather station, stocked library, etc. My school is 8 miles the other direction — I have to beg to get a kid a backpack, our library sucks, and parental support, nada. However, I'd rather be at my Title I school than swank-a-rama school any day!

  5. Kirsten says:

    Thanks for continuing the blogging. Good luck.

  6. Sheila says:

    Yes, there is inequity in public education, and yes, parents do raise buckets of money for their child's school. Should such inequities be allowed? Shouldn't parents be allowed to contribute to their own child's school without being forced to redistribute the wealth to those in need elsewhere? This could be a heated political discussion… and no easy answers. But the inequities are real, and the kids who need the most often get the least.

  7. Sarah says:

    Hi Rebecca – This sounds like my situation this year! I work for Chicago public schools and a new magnet school was added to my schedule. It is a magical place where parents attend meetings, students want to learn, and IEPs are actually completed correctly. Its a whole three blocks from my "Kansas"

  8. Natalie says:

    I so appreciate your championing the "difficult" schools! I am currently in graduate classes, and during discussions some classmates related stories about difficult schools in the area and how it is easy to "jump ship" and go to a better school. I was like HELLO?, isn't that against everything we are learning about making a difference? What happens to the kids when we jump ship? I'm a firm believer that one person can make a difference in any school setting. Thanks!!

  9. Tim says:

    Rebecca,
    I eagerly await your posts; however, I like to think that many here appreciate how very busy you are doing important work with the kids. I feel fortunate and grateful simply that you are willing and able to share.

    So no more shame spirals. Not helpful. Okay?

    Watching for the next post . . . tick . . . tick . . . tick . . . (;

  10. Amy says:

    Hi Rebecca,
    Your blog is like a little piece of sanity on the web for this still-relatively-new (not yet tenured) school psychologist. Would you be able to provide any resources or the names of any books you have found particularly helpful for running social skills groups? The biggest issue for me in running these groups has been how to get these kids to want to use the skills, and teaching them without lecturing or "drill practicing"! So any tips you have would be helpful. Thanks!

  11. Rebecca says:

    @Tim: My DAD asked me if my blog was a monthly thing now. O the Shame!

    @Amy: I tend to shy away from prepackaged social skills group curriculum for that very reason–they aren't particularly motivating nor do they generalize well. I have, however enjoyed the book 104 Activities that Build by Allana Jones–fun games around cooperation, team-building, etc.

    I also made my own group structure around developing strengths if you haven't checked that out yet: http://studentsgrow.blogspot.com/2008/02/i-must-have-missed-that-day-in-grad.html

    Good luck! Groups are hard…but so valuable for kids.

  12. Anonymous says:

    I am a kent sate student commenting blogs on education for a professional experience dealing with education. I found this blog very interesting because In my class we have learned a lot about the imbalance in funding of schools. If we did not have teachers like you many of the children in the United States would never have a chance to learn. I went to one of those schools that had every teaching luxury in it such as good library's and computers and It should not just be certain schools that have those resources.

  13. These tips are really helpful.I came to know a lot of useful things from this post.Thanks a lot for sharing. Keep blogging. Looking forward to reading your next post.

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