Last week, which I neglected to tell you much about, was my first two days back at Columbia. Yes, two days this year, just like last year, but with three first grade classes on Wednesday and three second grade classes on Thursday. Just like last year, six classes, but one less first grade and two additional second grade. The classes are large, 28 students each versus 17 in each room last year.
The first graders are a talkative bunch, which is pretty much always the case. The first grade teachers laughingly told me they wanted their students from last year back. Well, of course, they had them trained by the end of the year. Now, it’s starting all over, and really that’s the way it should be, but nothing has been normal since September 2019.
The second graders were overjoyed to see me, except for a few new students who had no idea who I was. It was odd to see their reaction, but then I realized that I was a stranger to them, and I was invading a space they had made their own in those first three weeks of school. We will see how it goes tomorrow with those classes. Today I am off to read Bootsie Barker Bites to the first graders. I’ve not read this book for two years because it really needs to be read in person, not through a computer screen.
While at Columbia last week, word came that the teacher’s union and Fresno Unified School District had come to an agreement and there would be no strike. A collective sigh of relief went through the campus, and later I learned, across the city.
Here is the agreement that teachers will vote on in a week or so:
If I was still employed by the district, I would certainly vote YES.
Literally…California history is first studied in 4th grade. It’s a state requirement. If you should move to California as an adult, and you want to be a teacher in the state, you will be required to take a class on California history. We think it’s that important around here.
Part of the state’s history is the missions. All 21 of them. Every 4th grader in the state is to study about the mission system and either write a report after visiting a mission (what my daughter did), or make a model of the one of the 21 missions. Some schools are fortunate enough to have field trips to the missions. The closest one to Fresno is San Juan Bautista, about 2 hours away. The inner city schools, like where I am chaplain, don’t have that luxury. Their experience with the missions comes from books and model-making.
Models of the missions requires a long list of supplies. Supplies that most inner city 4th graders cannot acquire on their own. Their parents are unable to get the supplies due to time, transportation, money. There are no craft stores, or hardware stores, or even Targets in the poor side of town. My friends, the retired teachers, are banding together to provide the supplies to one of the 4th grade classes at Columbia where I am school chaplain.
I thought the teacher was going to cry when I first approached him with the idea. Then I showed up at his classroom to get a list of the supplies. He introduced me to the class and had me tell my story as to why I am at Columbia. Some of these students (32 4th graders crammed into a small portable classroom) are the ones I’ve seen in the office for misbehaving in class. I’d misbehave, too, to get out that cramped room where most of the work is rote and worksheet-based. Some of them come to my after school craft days (which I am doing later this afternoon). Those students had seen me before. Most, however, did not know me. When I finally told them that we were going to provide the supplies for their missions, they cheered.
Suddenly the classroom was frenetic. Students were pulling their mission books out of their desk, telling me the mission they were making. They started shouting lists of materials they needed. Students were turning to pictures of missions in their books and putting them in front of me. I got a piece of paper and started writing.
We made plans for me to return next week with the supplies and then we would make a plan for checkpoints and see what else might be needed. I told them about the group of retired school teachers who want to help them. They asked if we could come see their missions when they are finished. Sure we can! The excitement in the room was thick. As I walked out the door, with the promise to be back next week, they applauded.
The skies are dark with clouds today. I awoke with a bad sinus headache so I know the barometer is shifting. Can we be hopeful for some precipitation on the first day of the new rainy season?
Even on a dark, cloudy day the place where I do my writing, reading, praying is warm and cheerful.
Soon I will leave this to drive across town to Columbia. I’m hoping that the office will be calm today. When I arrived yesterday I found a number of kids there, all in some sort of trouble. The office manager and receptionist both needed hugs. They bear the brunt of disruptive students.
When I went through on my way out yesterday, one second grader was still there, on the naughty bench. His teacher didn’t want him in class and had sent a packet of work for him to do which he did not understand.
I sat for awhile, attempting to help him. Common Core math is hard. All these boxes and groups of boxes. The receptionist was complaining about its usefulness, but as I told her, you have to jump through the hoops that the educational bureaucracy puts up. This is just the latest.
Twice now I have sat with boys who have gotten into trouble with the substitute teacher for their class. In both cases, the boy would tell me he didn’t like the substitute and the substitute was mean to him. In both cases, the substitute was male.
Although these boys aren’t first graders with whom I have been assigned to work, they are in the office, they are in trouble, and someone needs to take care of them until the overworked vice principal and/or principal can get to them. I don’t know the exact protocol for disciplining these troublemakers so I just sit and talk to them. It’s what I do best.
I ask questions: why are you here? what did the substitute say? what did you say? what should you have said? how can you fix this? In both cases the boys knew they were wrong and they had to apologize. I was able to return the second grader of a few weeks ago to the teacher and have him do that and go back to class. Yesterday, I had to leave the fourth grader in the office, working on a paper he pulled from his backpack, so that I could get to the lunch line with the first graders. But first I knocked on the principal’s door and explained the child’s situation. She was up to her eyebrows in reports that had to be completed but said she would talk with the fourth grader and that working on his paper was a good plan.
These boys, as is the case with most of the children in the school, are from fatherless homes. They have not bonded with men very well. Sometimes it’s their mom’s boyfriend who has mistreated them. Sometimes they just have no male role model and don’t know how to react to a stranger in their life except to be defensive. The boys have become comfortable with their classroom teacher. It’s a safe place to be each day. There is routine. Then a substitute teacher arrives. Someone they don’t know. Their equilibrium, which is shaky to begin with, really gets thrown off. They act out, testing the waters, to see just how far they can go. Just what they can get away with.
Do I have an answer to this problem? Not really. I explained to both of these boys, weeks apart, that they have to listen to and obey the substitute even though the routine and rules might be different from what they know. I explained how we have to work with people we may not like or agree with, but who have authority over us. The boys nod their head, they agree that they were wrong and that they need to apologize. But, and this is the big question, will they do differently when the next substitute teacher shows up?
There is so much going on around here this week that the writing, both this blog and my other pursuits, are being put on the back burner. So, what’s on the front burner? Food! I am cooking lots this week so as to share with some friends (carmel popcorn) and to provide some meals for a disabled friend who is waiting for a hip replacement and is unable to stand very long to prepare food.
On Tuesday Terry and I were up very early so as to go to a health assessment at 7 am. We had picked the earliest time available as we both had other things to do that day and we would be fasting for a blood test. This assessment is part of the health plan provided by that large school district for whom I worked all those years. Just as I retired, the district set up this benefit for employees to have their health assessed and to provide interventions like exercise classes and nutrition classes. It was not offered to retirees. I was bummed. Four years later, I receive a letter from the district telling me that they will extend this program to retirees and that I can start with the health assessment. The first appointments were this week so Terry and I signed up. We were also given $25 gift cards as an incentive to do so.
Of course, Terry flew through his assessment because he has no body fat and his weight and blood pressure are fabulous. I, on the other hand, took more time as my body mass is too much for my height and my blood pressure has recently been elevated. That had been noted when I was at the doctor’s office for my Achilles tendon problem. The doctor figured it was elevated due to the pain I had in the heel. Although not as high yesterday as a few weeks ago, it was still elevated–130/80. So, I got more of a lecture about diet and exercise (all things I know). There will be follow up sessions. I am looking forward to this program as I really am concerned about my health and well-being. What I don’t understand is this: Terry eats pretty much the same as I do only larger quantities and more meats and dairy. He does no exercise and sits almost all day whereas I have my exercise routine every morning and I spend more time up and moving.
This afternoon I am delivering school supplies to a teacher at that big inner city high school where I taught all those years. This will help her get some of her students supplied for back-to-school. I’m also delivering the carmel corn to a few teachers with whom I worked. I will drop off the meals (rigatoni, beerocks, peach pie) to my disabled friend. Thursday I will go downtown to the police department for training for the school chaplaincy position. Perhaps on Friday I can do more writing.
When I taught high school at the inner-city school, the mother of a former student would take photos for me for the yearbook. We created quite a bond, so much so, that after I left teaching, Delores and I remained friends. We enjoy one another’s company and we love to take pictures together. We occasionally do photo walks, attempting to discover off-the beaten-path places. Yesterday we had such a meet up, and in all places, the inner-city school where we first met. Definitely not off-the-beaten-path.
The inner-city high school has been undergoing major reconstruction for the past year. Two new gorgeous buildings have been built to replace two very ugly buildings from the 1970s. The new buildings will complement the old structure originally built in 1923 and now a historical landmark. The old ones did nothing to enhance the beauty of the old building but rather hid some of its majesty. You can get a feel of the new buildings here at the district’s flickr site:
The 70s buildings are gone, leaving the 1923 Admin Building. FUSD photo
Delores and I were able to wrangle our way into the new buildings as some of the teachers were there working on their classrooms. The builders are still there working, as you can see in these photos of the Senate Chambers. The Senate is the oldest school club west of the Mississippi, and perhaps in America now. It dates back to the 1890s. Girls were only allowed to join in the late 1970s. It will now have this beautiful room in which to hold its meetings. Many of Fresno’s most prominent citizens were members of this club when they were in high school.
The administration offices are on the ground floor of the south building:
The classrooms are upstairs in both buildings:
Notice the large windows? All the light? That is not what we have in the old classrooms that were constructed in the 1970s. Those classrooms are still there. Most of the classrooms in the two old buildings have NO WINDOWS at all. I foresee some major jealousy with those teachers in the old rooms. I know I would sure be envious of the teachers who got to move into the beautiful new rooms with all kinds of technology, light, and storage.
I chatted with the principal for awhile yesterday and he suggested I come back to teaching as he thinks things are changing for the better in education and going back to more the way I taught. Hah. Not happening. Although I could figure out no reason, I got extremely ill when I left the campus. I truly believe it was my body screaming, “don’t make me go back there.” It will be a beautiful campus, but there is so much more to teaching than beautiful buildings and facilities. I’m loving my life now too much to return to what was a very stress-filled life where I worked so hard each day. Just as those old buildings are gone, my old life is also.
And I’m not participating. I’m talking about back-to-school. Today is actually the first day of school for a neighboring school district just a few blocks to the west of me. The large urban school district for whom I taught all those years returns in another week and a half as does the state college here in town. Teachers every where are heading back to their offices and classrooms to prepare for the net onslaught.
Yesterday I had lunch with a young teacher whose friendship I made through her blog. We learned, over the years, that we had much in common. She had another life before becoming a teacher, similar to me; she is a fairly new teacher, just up the highway a piece, and somehow we discovered that she and my son-in-law had grown up together. She likes to write, and she likes to use technology in her classroom. Although young enough to be my daughter, we had a good time chatting about teaching, students, hair, and all the other stuff that makes up a life. She returns to school tomorrow. I hope she has a great year. She deserves it.
As do so many of my teacher friends who are working so hard to make this teaching thing a success for their students. They have started to prepare for those students even while the summer heat lingers and the days are still long. My old teaching buddy is coming by on Friday to get a brief lesson on PhotoShop as she will this year teach one period of multimedia, a class I taught the last two years of my career. It’s all about photography, document layout, web design, and video. Lots of equipment involved. More software than I care to remember. Juggling so many projects, students, and flash drives!
My last day in the multimedia classroom.
My Facebook friends, and others whom I know, and myself when I was teaching, all give the Friday rally call of TGIF. Thank God it’s Friday. Exhausted, ready for the weekend, seeking some time to ourselves. Except now, my husband and I wake up, and when we realize it’s Friday, it’s OMG, how did it get to be Friday ALREADY.
I think I’ve figured this out. When teaching, I was working so hard all week and each day was measured, but none of the time was my own. Now, every day is my own, and although I have worked all week, it’s been on activities that excite me.
I had one meeting this week, and I could hardly believe two hours flew by and I needed to get home so I could fix dinner. I spent hours doing research and making phone calls for the microfinance startup where I am working a couple of days a week yet I also had time to bake and cook. Terry and I took off on Wednesday and drove to Yosemite just to see God’s wonders in our own backyard.
Half Dome viewed from Taft Point
I edited photos and uploaded a batch to Flickr. And this morning we woke up and said, “Oh my gosh, it’s Friday. We only have two days left in Fresno to get a whole lot of work done. How did that happen?”
Today I am taking the chicken enchilada dish I prepared yesterday and heading back to the inner city high school for another birthday party for one of my teaching buddies. I know they will all be tired and ready for a weekend as this was an insane week for them what with grade distribution thrown in there on top of all the other work they have to do. I remember that week so well that it still makes me ache when I think about it. I, on the other hand, am well rested, and filled with ideas for the work I will do next week–writing a piece for the Laotian medical nonprofit for whom I volunteer, continuing my pursuit of an SMS provider for the microfinance startup, and talking with an organization for whom I may do some tutoring. OMG, Life is so exciting.
Just two years ago the district, with Quality Education Improvement Act (QEIA) funds, remodeled the bungalows and turned this eyesore into a beautiful spot on campus for just the freshmen. Those students who had come before were jealous of the nice rooms and extra attention the Class of 2012 was getting. The freshmen weren’t too sure they liked the extra attention.
It took lots of money to make this special set-up work. All the freshmen were kept in one area of the campus so those teachers who did not teach freshmen were dispersed to other whalls across campus. Teachers who taught freshmen classes moved to the south side as did the ninth grade vice principals and counselors. They had their own offices, along with support personnel.
For two years this worked pretty well. The freshmen were contained in one area, with the same rules in every class, high expectations and rewards for meeting them. There were special lunches, after school ice cream socials, and a veggie garden was planted. The teachers were pleased with the results they were seeing with these kids. Test scores even moved up a little.
Fast forward to 2010 when the economy has tanked, California has no budget, and the cutbacks to schools have been severe. The counselors and vice principals are being moved back to the main offices because the support staff has been removed. This year things will be different.
I won’t be at the inner city school to watch firsthand, but I have friends who are still in the trenches and they will keep me apprised. I will write some follow-up posts as I learn more. I still care deeply about this place.