It’s nearly the end of October, and this year is so much better than the last in so many ways, and so challenging in so many new ones. I’m no longer a first year teacher, so I need to hold myself more accountable for the way that things go. And yet, things do go better than they did before – even if they remain far from perfect.
I teach ELA, Math, and Social Studies to 30 kids who spend 5 periods a day trapped in the same room with myself and Ms. Jimenez. Half of them have IEPs, some for cognitive disorders, but the vast majority for emotional disorders – a trend in the South Bronx. It’s a crazy thing, spending this many hours every day with the same kids – I see them as much as their own parents do. I get to do all of the things that I couldn’t do last year – have the time to teach them to read and write, get to know what they need academically and how they each learn and become engaged. It’s a gift. And when things go wrong, I have another teacher in the room with me at all times who I can share a look with or pass a note too – someone to keep me sane and keep me from feeling like it is just me and it is all my fault.
As ever, special education rooms are a dumping ground for behavioral problems, and we are no exception. There are chronic cutters – people who walk in and out when they feel like it, undeterred by the number of times in a single day that they are escorted to their destination by an administrator. There are those who are disrespectful, cursing, and making comments that are inappropriately sexual, or racist, or prejudiced in some creative way that I would never have considered before. There are the catty girls who gaggle through the room like they own the world, reminding me of how invincible I felt at 13, as they roll their eyes and suck their teeth and talk back with all of the attitude in the world until I pull out my phone and hit their parent’s speed-dial number.
Having them all day teaches me to forgive quickly, and to take things less personally. We are all in this together, stuck with each other, whether we like it or not. And we are not friends. We are not equals.
In this school, where the administration is fearful and cautious with the kids, granting them rights that they certainly are not ordained by our government, and the teachers operate with the general maturity level of a 9th grader- giving them just a SLIGHT air of superiority to dangle over the students, it can be hard to remember who is your peer and who is your charge. It is a blessing to have another teacher in the room to remind me of my age and position. So that when students tell me to ‘shut up’ because my ‘voice is mad annoying’ I remember that it’s not a friend of mine saying that to me, but an angry little child who doesn’t know how to express her feelings about the injustice of the hand that life has dealt her.
Then there are the good kids – the quiet ones without the sparkling personalities – though they are accepted by those whoa re popular – they carry their books for them – who sit in their correct seats and don’t cause trouble and work hard. Those are the ones who are forgotten. Those are the victims of the school system. More than ever I realize that the people who lose out are not the bad kids, who dominate 90% of my time, attention and energy. And not those who are loud and confident and cool – though they too suffer by holding themselves to an insultingly low standard that is set in this environment. But they too, get attention from adults who try to tame them, or channel their energies, and students who long for their approval. It is the nice quiet workers, who sit there plugging away at whatever work has been assigned, not having their questions asked or having teachers sit and ask if they need help. I ignore everyone to discipline one child, but rarely can I ignore those who act up to teach. That’s my biggest goal.