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Posted by on in General

fresh start

The side door to the administration building swung open. I could not see this from my little office within, but I certainly heard the shouting of the eighth grader whose angry hand had nearly wrenched it from its hinges. "I hate her! I hate her! I can't stand this place! I hate this school!"

The lobby was filled with parents, most of whom had just returned from a field trip to the zoo with their first graders. The weary moms and dads were now seeking a cool, yet temporary, respite from the Arizona heat before heading home for a few silent hours sans children. Each looked to the door and then to me anticipating how this situation might play out. I was already on my feet having just excused myself from a phone call with another child's parent.

Freddy reached the front desk as I reached my door. He flung his referral at the secretary and continued to scream. "I didn't do nothing! I hate that teacher! I hate this school."

Ever-calm Valerie, spoke quietly in an attempt to calm the boy down. "Okay, Freddy. You are in the office now. I know you are angry, but please don't take it out on me. Why don't you have a seat at the front table and cool down for a minute?"

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Posted by on in General

                                                                                                                                                                                                  b2ap3_thumbnail_Antonio-letter-2.jpg

There is an old saying among teachers that the students we teach are only in our classrooms a year but in our hearts forever. I've learned over and over again the truth in that adage.

"Rico" was a cute little boy in kindergarten during my last stint as an assistant principal. He always made it a point to run up and give me a hug throughout his early years. He became a fifth grader the year following my retirement and my return to the classroom at the same school. I was fortunate to have him as one of my students for that year. He was taller, yet that innocent little boy remained. A witty child, yet sensitive and compassionate, he overflowed with joy. And yes, he still gave me a hug every day.

At the end of his sixth-grade year, I announced to the school that I would be leaving due to staff reductions. Rico was not happy at all with this news, and he let me know his feelings several times during the last month of the school year. One day during the last few weeks, while I stood at my spot for afternoon duty, Rico stopped and tried to persuade me to stay.

"I don't really want to leave, Rico," I sighed.

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Posted by on in General

school door

The new school year was in full swing with the first month nearly history when the new kid arrived. The smiling spiky-haired eleven-year-old bounced from class to class easily making friends with all he encountered. He was quickly absorbed into the close-knit sixth grade class.

Happily, he bounced throughout the day…everyday.   His reading teacher stopped him on the sidewalk one afternoon before he entered her class. “César,” she inquired, “Why are you always smiling?” He looked at her and grinned. “I’m just blessed,” he innocently responded, and then with an extra surge of energy, he joined his friends inside.

I make it a point to be a fairly visible administrator on campus everyday and to get to know all of the kids at my school. With over a thousand in attendance, I am lucky to know a first name or a last name (rarely both!) and a little something about each student. I involve myself in hundreds of conversations daily and really try to connect with all of "my kids." Sometimes I call them to my office just to check on them. Sometimes they pop in just to say hello or to ask for help with something that is bothering them. Most of the time all of these very important exchanges occur somewhere along the sidewalk leading to class.

César's bubbly personality and constant good cheer had won me over as he introduced himself his first day at school. I was intrigued by his simple comment to his teacher. Sixth grade boys rarely are that insightful, rarely willing to speak from the heart. I had the secretary call for him to come to my office.

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Posted by on in General

b2ap3_thumbnail_Apples-2.jpg

Mrs. O’Reilly opened her teacher manual to the next lesson in the approved sequence. It was time to confront multiplication of proper fractions.  Before the kids left for home the day before, she had informed them that they would each need to bring an apple to class. “Hands-on, real-life application of mathematical processes,” she announced, reading precisely from her script.

Her overzealous fifth graders and their parents now arrived in their family sports cars and luxury sedans. Mothers and fathers walked their progeny to the classroom and offered to stay to help with the class project. Each student clung to his or her own magnificent beribboned basket filled with a dozen large red apples each. Clearly students and parents had communicated through social media the night before and had attempted to outdo their peers in presentation. Mrs. O’Reilly beamed and provided abundant effective praise. They sliced and diced fruit all morning and, before the end of the day, whipped up enough apple muffins for every child and his parent to eat on the way to the parking lot.

A mile away, Mrs. Jones opened her own teacher manual to the same lesson. After all, it was the fourth Tuesday in January, and she had to adhere to the pacing calendar, just like every other fifth grade teacher in the state. Wearily, she welcomed her fifth graders to class as well.   Half of the children arrived late with excuses from their parents: “It’s all my fault…” “We couldn’t decide how to do Amelia’s hair today…” “I was watching Fox News and just lost track of the time…” One-fourth of the children brought other excuses: “My child really doesn’t like apples…” “Please excuse my son from math – we don’t believe in playing with food…” “I forgot what you wanted – will oranges work?”

It was a good thing that Mrs. Jones was a proactive teacher and planned ahead. She had visited the neighborhood grocery store the night before and spent twelve dollars of her own money on thirty-four apples. These were stacked in an empty cardboard box that the bagger had pulled from the back of the store. To be politically correct, she had used a piece of duct tape to cover the word “Budweiser” on the side of the box. The apples were chopped and otherwise manipulated during the morning lesson. Most of the class met the standard for the day and were awarded with their very own paper cup filled with juicy slices of the fruit to eat during snack time. Most of these were dumped into the garbage can at the back of the room as the kids opted instead for their Hot Cheetos and Oreos.

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Posted by on in General

pill

"Mr. President, the pilot has announced he will be landing the plane in Dallas in ten minutes."

"You know, I don't have a good feeling about this. Tell the pilot to turn the plane around and head back to Washington. Okay?"

Such was a typical exchange between me and Luke, an eighth-grade special needs student. He usually provided the set up leaving me to improvise some witty response. Genuinely entertained and fully understanding my comeback, he did what any junior high student would do: he grinned, he groaned and he walked back to his seat.

Luke was a member of the developmental education class which consisted of several wonderful teenagers with intellectual disabilities. He was autistic and academically delayed, and his inability to fully socialize with others had greatly interfered with his learning over the years. He was intensely aware of his personal space and was fairly choosy as to who could be in it.

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