with love and squalor

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Oct 05 2011

just… wow.

i just got home from probably the worst day i’ve had so far as a teach for america teacher, which is weird, because the first half of the day was AWESOME (we know P!  we love the P song!  we can say /p/ and no one mixes it up! we love our literacy alphabet song! we love our new iPad! we love literacy! we’re learning to read!) but the second half was just atrocious.  and it was all because of one little friend who just couldn’t keep it together.

i’ve mentioned him before on this blog.  little z, bless his heart.  he’s actually had a pretty good week.  yesterday and the day before i got to tell his mom, for the first time, that he had great behavior, got to go to centers (and even got to pick first and go to computer one day).  today, i’m not sure what was going on, but it was the worst behavior i’ve ever seen in my LIFE, at least from a child under my own watch.  stomping, kicking/punching the walls, refusing to sit in time out, throwing rocks, throwing backpacks and jackets, turning over chairs, climbing a fence and almost falling, biting me while i tried to hold him in my lap and calm him down and actually HITTING ME IN THE FACE, and so on and so forth until i just about had a melt down myself.  the really weird part was that he wasn’t even in trouble.  usually, his behavior gets out of control only after he’s been disciplined for some inappropriate behavior.  but today, we were all kind in trouble for misbehaving at lunch and failing to create and execute an adequate line in the hallway.  including z, we were all putting our heads down for 3 minutes of recess for wasting my para’s time in the hallway right outside the office.  not really a big deal, and when i take minutes away at the beginning of recess i usually add them at the end, which they don’t notice/care about, just to make sure they’ve gotten good psychomotor and gross motor for the day.  anyway, z wasn’t in any particular trouble but something really set him off.  usually, once he’s had his tantrum, we can usually come back from it together (with him doing his time out, explaining to me why he was in time out, apologizing for his behavior, us hugging, and him being permitted to go to whatever activity he’s missing) but today we would go through his process, he’d apologize, and then go back to whatever horrible thing he was doing, or something worse.

but it got really out of control after school, which was when his physical abuse of me started.  this is new from him.  i haven’t had a child do this yet, and while it doesn’t really “hurt” since he’s 4 (except the biting.  that does hurt.) it’s pretty psychologically traumatizing.  i tried everything i could think of with him today.  ignoring him, positive behavior narration of other students, showing him something on my ipad/distracting him, asking him what was wrong, taking him on a walk, sending him to a buddy teacher, telling him he was hurting my feelings… eventually, i yelled in his face.  no, i screamed in his face.  like, a REAL scream.  this is when he started “crying” (fake, but loud) hysterically.  i screamed, “I’M GLAD YOU’RE CRYING! I WOULD BE CRYING TOO! ALL DAY YOU’VE BEEN LIKE THIS!”  should i be ashamed of myself?  i don’t know.  i guess i should be.  that’s prob not “transformative teaching” but i’d pay money to see the people from the behavior management cycle videos we watched at institute come deal with this child.  every adult within hearing distance tried to help restrain him–the K teachers, paras, the other pre-k teacher, a couple of parents, the office staff, etc.  i almost went to go get one of the police officer, but then i remembered how horrified i was when i heard a parent threaten to call the police on her 4-year-0ld student.

his mother was 45 minutes late picking him and his (K) sister up today, and i stayed with him the whole time so i could give her a report on his behavior.  i am an honest person, and i told her the truth.  unlike usual, i didn’t sugarcoat it by telling her how smart and brilliant and good at listening he is (he is, which is probably the saddest part of this child’s situation).  i just told her it was the worst behavior i had ever seen, that i spent my entire day focusing on him at the detriment of his classmates, that it wasn’t normal behavior and that i was sorry to say it to her but that he was out of control and that every adult who crossed his path today would attest to it.  i also told her he was no longer welcome on the field trip to the pumpkin patch that’s coming up unless she could come with him because his tantrums are so extreme.  i had tears in my eyes while i talked to her and she looked just as sad and frustrated as i am.  it’s so sad, because for the past two days when he’s been so good, i’ve complimented his behavior and he’s asked, “will you tell my mommy i’m being good?”  i know he cares.  at least, on some days, he cares.  but today… wow.  just, wow.

i am reluctant using this blog as a place to vent, but i know other teachers who have children similar to Z will understand.  as i said to the K teacher (also a CM and my friend) after school, when he finally left, this is not the meaningful career i’d envisioned for myself.  restraining one child from physically attacking me and being subject to his vitriol and, excuse me, bull shit, all day long, is not my idea of a productive way to spend my time.

4 Responses

  1. William

    You’re absolutely correct that what you experienced is bullshit.

    I taught in Kansas City for two years through TFA, and I experienced many situations that were as bad or even worse (I taught 6-8th grade). Sadly, this is rather common for corps members unless they’re placed in a charter school that rightly has the ability to kick out such students.

    I like much about TFA, but besides its horrible view on education reform, I firmly disagree with its idea that education problems in urban communities are the result of problems with human capital. Simply put, teachers are not the reason why some students cannot act like human beings. Many of these students come from ridiculously backwards environments and show up to school unwilling/unable to behave, uninterested in education, and with other mindsets that will probably keep them in the same social position in which their families currently find themselves.

  2. knowsthedeal

    I am sure the author of this blog appreciates your input, but I have to weigh in here and let you know that you are entirely naive about TFA and its ability or desire to perform any of the actions you correctly list as appropriate to take in circumstances such as these.
    There are extremely limited resources in schools like this, and applying for help and support is at best a sham and at worst a sick joke. None will come your way, least of all from TFA. Your own school staff might have some advice (but that’s not at all a given; lots of principals have simply checked out and teachers burned out), but that’s all it will be; they will not be able to provide you with, say, a trained evaluator who could see this child is a danger to himself and others and be willing to actually follow through to see that he gets the support and help he so obviously desperately needs. You’d be put on a list to nowhere. You are on your own, especially in early education, as it is fairly new to TFA, and they haven’t developed a model for it yet. They want you to apply their model for middle schoolers and high school students to 4 year olds. They don’t seem to understand why it um, doesn’t work. So if you are seriously considering joining TFA, assuming they anoint you, and you are expecting some kind of reasonable support system and backup from them, I strongly advise you to read every blog you can get your hands on written by people with real world classroom teaching experience connected to TFA. Good luck to you. You will need more of it than you can, or will, believe, until you’re in it up to your eyeballs and it’s too late. -An interested bystander

  3. Hello, I am interested in applying to TFA and out of curiosity I came across your blog. I am currently studying to be a bilingual education teacher and I am in a course over children with exceptionalities (special education/disabilities). Little Zs behavior may or may not be a result of a disability. The range of disabilities goes beyond those that are clearly identifiable. Unfortunately, many students go throughout their education without ever being assessed for a disability which may be the cause of their inappropriate behavior. It is important that you get the support you need in dealing with little Z, because it seems to be really obstructing your ability to teach your class. Some more information from NICHCY: Referral is the beginning of the special education process. At the time of referral, the school district must notify the parents in writing about the process it will follow to determine whether a child has a disability and needs special education services. If a child is suspected to have special needs because of a disability, he or she may be referred to the school to be considered for special education and related services. This referral may be made by parents, teachers, doctors, a community agency, an individual, a group, or an organization that may have worked with the student or school. Referral may also be the result of district-wide testing or screening. Steps in the referral process include the following:At the time of referral, the school district must notify the parents in writing about the process it will follow to determine whether a student has a disability and needs special education services.
    Information gathered during the referral process is used to determine whether the school will test a student to determine if he/she has a disability and needs special education.
    If the school decides to test the child, the school is to notify the parents in writing about the assessment process and get written consent from the parent before the assessment begins.
    If the school decides not to test the child for special education eligibility, the school must notify the parents about this decision. Parents may challenge the school district’s refusal to assess the child.

    I hope you find this information helpful.

    • aea107

      I believe that his behavior is definitely the result of an emotional disturbance or disability. He is very academically gifted (but not so much so that I believe his bad behavior results from boredom, because his fine motor and other skills still need development). Everything you said sounds smart and correct to me; however, as another poster said, there is not a lot of support at the school. I have begun documenting all of Z’s behaviors (even small ones, like smacking himself or covering his ears during carpet time) because I am going to present it to the school social worker soon. I am just information-gathering as much as possible, but my school staff is pretty preoccupied with the middle schoolers at the moment and unfortunately pre-k is the first grade to get the shaft (ask any pre-k teacher… or k if there is no pre-k) and since i’m not going to press charges against a 4-year-old there isn’t much recourse being offered or suggested to me currently.

      i appreciate your comment. i am trying to get him referred to get him the help he needs. his parents are aware of the situation and agree he needs to be evaluated. you seem very knowledgeable about special education and the correct channels and processes. things look a little different in baltimore city (and i’m sure in other tfa regions) due to obvious, varied factors. you seem like a good fit for TFA but if i were you i wouldn’t go into my placement school expecting ANY of the things you listed above to be in place. i’ve never even met my school’s social worker.

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