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Week nine: reporting from the trenches

Sure, I’ve heard it before: teachers in urban schools have it rough. They deal with so many more obstacles to overcome to effectively teach because students are facing a lot of issues outside the classroom. I don’t know what it is with my students, but their classroom behavior is unbelievable. No idea if it is because school is the place for them to let lose and not think about issues at home or that they’ve always been students who misbehave. I also attribute this issue to the inconsistency of behavior management they have with their teachers: a laid back teacher who doesn’t yell in the morning and then a stern teacher in the afternoon.

Anyways, on Monday my math teacher had to leave the classroom second period to meet with the principal and the family of one of my students. Another teacher came in to watch over the class. My teacher told me that if he wasn’t back by third period another teacher would come in and take over. I knew that wasn’t going to happen.

Third period is meeting time with my team. But, because we are always prepared for the unexpected at Markham, I stayed with my class until I thought another teacher would be sent over.

Boy was I wrong. No teachers were sent over and my students literally were acting like animals in a zoo. They were jumping on desks, raiding the teacher’s desk, running full force around the classroom, fighting each other, screaming at each other, hitting each other with the broom, running inside and outside of the two doors and jumping all over me.

I have to admit, I thought it was pretty funny at first. My students crack me up. When one student yelled at the class, “SHUT THE HELL UP!!!” I nearly died. Her response? “You know you wanted to say that, but you can’t.”


After there was no way to settle them down and listen to me even after I screamed at the top of my lungs, I called for World War III backup. My boss and two of my other teammates rushed over, screamed at the kids and finally got them to be quiet. Once two of my girl students saw me in near tears, they calmed down and realized what they had done to me. With an apologetic face on they asked, “Ms. Liz… Are you okay?”

My boss gave them the whole “respect” talk and that they need to treat me like they would treat a teacher (which is questionable; they definitely walk all over some teachers). I asked one of my girl students why they wouldn’t listen to me but the moment Chariya, Charlotte and Damien came in, they listened to them. She said it is because, “I’m like their friend and they like hanging out with me.”

Well, that means I dug myself in a while that will be hard to climb out of.

We’re supposed to create a stern, yet playful relationship with our students. A relationship where they are scared of us, but love us at the same time. I’m not too good at that 1) because I’m a caring individual (I give too much to please others) 2) because the students know I’m sarcastic 3) I joke around with the students a little too much. The relationships I’ve built with my students work, however, because they love doing work with me and will actually focus when I tutor them. I didn’t have to focus that much on behavior management in the beginning of the year because my English teacher puts them in place.

After I told her about what happened that morning, she was appalled and also gave them the “respect” talk (the whole “people don’t have to teach here, but we come because we care about you all receiving the best education you can, but you’re damn right other schools aren’t like this” talk). The students were really timid for the rest of the day and the students that usually sit next to me during class were too scared to.

“I don’t think you understand how much more this morning made me appreciate urban teachers. You need more credit for the work you do…” I told my English teacher after the shenanigans.

“I joke and say the classroom is like the trenches. Consider this your first year working in them.” she responded.

What did I learn from this experience?

I do not want to be a teacher.
I do not want kids (which has been a rule of mine for a long while).
I need to start tallying Markham girl breakdowns (I think we’re up to around 8 so far this year).
I would not survive a day at war (hence the sarcasm here…)

Even a day after this mess, my students were happy to see me the next day (even the boy who slammed the door in my face the day before and ignored me all day… my middle school emotional roller coaster). I always come back down to earth even after the toughest of days and love my students more and more no matter how much they stress me out.

Aside from Halloween, we celebrated Dia de Los Muertos. Many of my students who have families from Mexico celebrate this holiday by decorating a shrine of the loved one they lost with marigold flowers, creating a cross outside the door of the house in marigold flowers, sharing memories and eating the loved one’s favorite food.


Boo! Happy Halloween from Jigsaw.

This holiday is especially important to one of my girls who lost her mother last March. We didn’t get why she was so clingy to me until we found out that she lost her mother last year. She took a picture of her mother’s shrine and showed it to everyone in the class. She was opening to sharing memories and family traditions with the whole class, which is awesome because apparently last year she wouldn’t do any work in school because of the death.

The students had to write a short story about someone they know who has passed away and what they will do to honor them. I let my little buddy use my iPad to type up her story and I scanned a picture of her and her mom for her so she could always look at it hanging on the classroom wall.

“My mom’s personality was nice, helpful, generous and a wonderful mother. Another characteristic was that she was hardworking to feed us. My mom used to tell me, “Do you want to be unsuccessful in your life or do you want to succeed in your life?” I will honor her by succeeding in school like she told me to.”

She’s one of my focus list kids. Although she’s already a good student, pushing her to the next level means even more to me because she’s doing it to honor her mother.

Another one of my students has been dealing with extreme mental health issues that I can’t write about, but good lord, I’m not a psychologist! Schools like this need a psychologist and a psychiatrist at their beckoned call (in a fantasy world). In my perfect world, there would be three City Years in every classroom, a school nurse that’s on site every day and a school psychologist and psychiatrist. If only.

I’m starting to buckle down and work on intervention plans for my students. Today I plan on making folders for every single student in my class with lists of words they keep spelling wrong, verb tenses, homophones, etc. that are specific to each student. I will keep updating these folders as time goes on and make the students use them as a reference guide to not make the same mistakes. Hopefully I can administer a spelling test every week with words I list in my students individualized folders. They better use them or else they’re getting the silent treatment.

Here’s my joy of the week: one of my students who hasn’t seen his mom since he immigrated from the Philippines when he was five. He calls all of the CY girls his mom. I’m his second mom. Chariya is his first (although he changes the ordering of his mothers quite frequently). On Thursday, he left all of us little notes in our mailboxes. Awwww, my heart melts.


Here’s a photo of our set up at open house on Tuesday night. Potential corps members for next year came to the office and learned more about what CY does. I got to talk a few college seniors!


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