Sunday, October 25, 2009

she's got a gripe

It's rant time.

For one thing, I still don't have internet access in my classroom. All the cool web-based lessons I used last year - poof! Gone. I keep hearing that a wi-fi hookup is coming, but I've given up hoping and waiting. It'll never happen. Sure, there are plenty of other paths to literacy, methods of instruction that don't require electricity, much less a computer. But what about the "new literacies?" Those podcasts, wikis, blogs, video technologies, gaming software, technologies that establish communities on the web, and search engines are a huge part of the changing landscape of reading and reading instruction. If we are expected to prepare our students as readers, writers and thinkers, we need to include in our instruction the kind of information that they will be accessing at home and in the workplace. No internet = no brainer = no wonder there's such a growing gap between the what students do in school and what they do at home. This has to be addressed. YES, EVEN IN THE CLINK.

The other half of my bitch session has to do with other unenlightened colleagues who think that if you only see one or two students at a time, you've really got it easy. There's one co-worker in particular that comes to mind here. She has a tendency to imply this sort of thing when in conversation with me. It's getting to be pretty irksome. Title I reading is a pull-out, intensive, individualized method of reading instruction that offers, as a perk, a shitload of paperwork for progress monitoring and tracking. It isn't the regular classroom; it's not supposed to be.

Okay, enough for now. I won't get into the cleanliness issues I face in my new classroom (remember, it's a third shift hangout for staff who "need" to watch TV to stay awake). I won't mention how I come in each morning to find food containers, greasy handprints and God knows how many strains of viruses on my desk. Oh, and the adjacent bathroom? Oh golly, I won't go into how it has paper towels littered all over the floor...ramen noodles clogging the sink...pee splattered all over the toilet seat. Nah. I'll keep those juicy tidbits to myself.

Wait...what's that sound? It's Gloria Gaynor's voice, loud and clear. I hear ya, Glo!And I'll do more than survive.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

modern love

A quick post, on this beautiful Sunday of Columbus Day weekend. I wanted to share a link to my brother in law's essay that was published in today's New York Times. He writes about my nephew, Michael, and the unique beauty and challenge that comes with raising him. It's lovely. In a modern sort of way.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

hot child in the city

The kids in my program have access to a great horticulture class in which they learn the basics of gardening and composting. One day each week, the kids travel by van to the greenhouse on the other side of the city and tend their plants, get their hands dirty and, I'm guessing, resist the temptation to assault each other with shovels and spades. Last week I became the lucky recipient of some of the fruits of their labor. "Miss, would you like some peppers to take home?" Umm...would I? I like peppers, especially those toward the really mild end of the heat spectrum. I remember eating a whole jalapeno as a teenager on a dare. I thought the resulting inferno in my mouth would never go out. Ever since then, I've been sort of timid when it comes to anything beyond the blissfully sweet bell pepper. Okay, maybe straight up chickenshit is more appropriate a description than "timid." But when a smiling, wide-eyed Josef offered me two tiny red peppers that he had cultivated and produced with obvious pride, how could I refuse?

Tonight I learned about the potency of Josef's classwork. I made a pot of chili for dinner, and I thought I'd play it safe and add roughly an eighth, maybe less, of one of the peppers to my recipe. Just to be sure I didn't set my family's mouths on fire, I decreased by half the amount of chili powder the recipe called for. This'll be fine, I thought. After carefully mincing the miniscule amount of pepper and adding it to the pot, along with the sauteeing garlic, onions and ground beef, I had the weird sensation of sunburn on the fingers on my left hand. It smelled really good, though, so I continued adding chopped tomatoes, green bell pepper, tomato puree, and a little cilantro. It seemed a little wanting for liquid, so I poured about half of the beer I was drinking into the pot, gave it a stir, covered it and let it simmer for about half an hour.

The final product? Let's call it "well beyond warm." We each ended up giving our bowls very generous dollops of plain yogurt, plus lots of shredded cheddar cheese. It was still hot, but not inedible. The fact that my little guy ate two big bowls of the stuff is enough proof that I didn't use too much of the mysterious pepper. But my hand still feels sunburned, even after washing several times.

I think I'll save a pint of my chili to bring in for Josef on Tuesday, just to show him I appreciated his thoughtfulness. After all, it's the little things we do that mean a lot.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

graduation day

A kid in my program graduated today. In this program, "graduation" refers to the day when a kid leaves the group home and goes out into the real world, whether it's back to his home, a foster home or an independent living situation. In the case of today's graduate, Nico, he went to a foster home in a town about 45 minutes away, where he'll live, attend high school and, hopefully, graduate and go on to college. I have to admit that most of the time, when a kid is discharged from the system, I think the chances are likely that he'll get out, do something dumb, get recommitted and end up back in the same or a similar program. It happens all the time, and although I hate my pessimistic outlook, that's just the reality here. If you looked at Nico's case history and track record, you'd peg him as the next poster child for recidivism, too.

My money's on Nico.

Now, I did not inherit the gambling gene in my family, and I've been advised that if I am ever in a betting situation, to always bet with my head, not over it. I've only been working in this program for five or six weeks. I counted the number of class periods I've had with Nico (nine). Knowing what I know about the likelihood of kids in the system getting out and continuing to steadily screw up their lives, I should know better. Especially after today's graduation ceremony, where Nico's biological mom and dad showed up in what had to be a combination of drunk and high (but hey, at least they showed up), it's so clear this kid comes from such a fucked up background. How do you shake that, at age 17, and transcend it?

I remember the first day I had Nico in class. I gave him a basic diagnostic fluency screening, having him read a hundred-or-so-word passage out loud while I timed him. I practically dropped the stopwatch on the floor as he began to read. Even though the passage was just some sterile excerpt from an assessment book, Nico's voice had feeling, expression, warmth, and flow. Not the monotone staccato I typically hear from my students the first (and second, and third) time I do a fluency screen. Nico was polite, cooperative, and willing to make eye contact. And I could pretty much tell he wasn't just selling me a ticket.

What I've come to realize is that Nico is done selling tickets (among other things). By all accounts, he is poised and ready to use his natural skills and abilities to move forward with his education and his life. At the graduation ceremony, everyone - staff, clinicians, caseworkers, teachers, and residents - spoke so warmly and supportively on Nico's behalf. Even his foster dad, who blessedly seemed a full 180 degrees from Nico's mom and dad, said positive words of encouragement. Everyone expressed sincere well wishes for Nico, and I believe that he will truly be missed by all.

I know I'm really going to miss this kid. Not just because he was willing to do what I asked of him in reading workshop. Not because he was a beacon of light in what can be such a raw and rough environment. Nico definitely had a sort of positive osmotic effect on the other residents. He brought the whole program up a couple of notches and, just by being there, made my job a lot easier. But it's funny: I've never felt more strong a desire to never want to see someone again.