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Wednesday, December 31, 2008


I was going through some old documents on my laptop and lo and behold, I saved 45 pages worth of the blog I originally kept on MySpace when I was teaching at the DarkSide. So for the next few posts, you get to read my original rants! Cut and pasted for your reading pleasure!

Ok so, Senor Dog is lying on the floor in time-out after trying to bite the new principal's shoe. The kid's flapping around on the floor, screaming like a banshee; so what does the principal do, in his nice yellow dress shirt and pressed gray slacks? He lies down on the floor with him and starts flapping and screaming. If I had only had my phone on me you would all be witnessing it on streaming video right now.

Not ten minutes later, Senor Dog is again pitching a royal fit, trying to kick me out in the lobby where everyone who comes through the door can see the show. The principal comes up the stairs just as one of the supervisors is attempting to settle the kid down and get him back to time-out. The moment the principal steps in, Senor Dog starts grabbing at his knees trying to bite him. They finally get him to his feet and start to escort him down the hall when he reaches out and gets a good solid handful of the principal's precious cargo (if you know what I mean). So what do I do to help the situation? My usual. I point and laugh, then comment that I'm sure this kid is last on the list of people the principal wants grabbing him down under.

After lunch Senor Dog announced that he needed to go to the bathroom, but it's always a fight to get him to wash his hands. This time he came out with his hands behind his back, which of course tells me right away that he didn't wash them even though he's telling me, yes he did. I send him back in and I hear running water and copious amounts of splashing. I remind him quickly that he just needs to wash his hands, not take a bath. Finally after 5 more minutes of splashing, Senor Dog comes out dripping wet. Paper towels-ever heard of em? He goes back in to get paper towels but theres a fairly lengthy pause. Another student comes up behind me and looks into the bathroom. "Pull!" he says. Apparently Senor Dog had no idea how to work the paper towel dispenser. Who knew?

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Can't sleep...

I can't sleep right now so I'm online, talking to people about this blog, my work, and of course the DarkSide. I used to come home with a different story everyday when I worked there but now that I've been away from it for three years, I'm starting to get this horrible feeling like I'm starting to forget some of them. So tonight at 12:41 am, I'm flipping through my good-bye book that the kids signed for me, reliving some of the small moments that I'm always so afraid to forget.

Chris's page in my good bye book has a picture on it. I'll give you three guesses what it is and the first two don't count. On the next page, one of my girls writes, "I'll always miss you and you'll always be my mom."

Another girl, Shawntelle writes, "I will miss you and I hope that you miss me too." I never really had much contact with her or much of a bond so really all I can remember is one of the other girls picking on Shawntelle after gym class, saying she smelled like a "hot whopper". Still not sure what that meant.

Mike reminds me of the ups and downs of having been their teacher and cautions me to look both ways when crossing the road. Carlos says, "Stay strong and remember you have made a change in my life."

And finally, tonight I found something that one of my boys must have slipped into my book without me noticing. It's a card addressed to "The Best Teacher in the World". It's from Isaiah and it says, "Thank you for talking to me when I was having very rough times. But this is the roughest time of them all. I will miss you. This is a heartbreaker. Please don't forget me."

Well, guys, while I don't expect that any of you will ever stumble upon this blog I'll still take a moment to say that I have not forgotten and will never forget any of you. In the past three years I haven't had a job that has touched me the way my time at the DarkSide did. I haven't met kids like any of you ever again and I don't expect to. I was lucky to have had my time with you all and I am a better person for having worked with you all. It was never easy, but it was the time of my life. Thank you all for letting me be "The Best Teacher in the World" for you!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Boot to the Head

I have a migraine this morning and yes, this reminds me of a story. I had one student, Ethan, who had been diagnosed very early on with bipolar, ADHD, Obsessive Compulsive, and a whole host of other maladies. His bipolar was so severe that he was actually diagnosed as a toddler when his mother first noticed his horrible rage blackouts and mood swings that were worse than a pregnant woman on crack. In spite of all this Ethan was one of my favorite kids because he was smart, he worked hard, and when he did flip out, you knew it wasn't personal.

One afternoon however, Ethan was rather angry with me, though I can't honestly remember why. It had been a long day and I was really glad to see him go back down to the unit. I was leaving early-ish that day to get to class as I had just started my Masters, so I got all my stuff together, threw, on my coat, and was just locking my door when A SNEAKER hit me across the face. Let me tell you how much fun it is to actually FEEL your nose shatter... And as I'm about to reach up to see if my nicely broken nose is bleeding, I catch a fist across the side of the head and that's it...I'm out. Literally. I blacked out.

Apparently one of the staff members in the unit thought it would be hilarious to leave Ethan behind. They realized he was in a lousy mood and figured it'd be more fun to let the school staff deal with him because they felt we always got off easy by sending them down to the unit where they acted out all night. So Ethan came back up to the school all by himself which was a big no no, wandered upstairs, saw me leaving for the day, and decided that it was all my fault he was in a lousy mood. He picked up a track sneaker (not just a regular old sneaker mind you, a track sneaker which is ten times heavier) and jumped me from behind with it.

When I came to a minute or so later, two of the male staff had ahold of Ethan and they were asking me what I wanted them to do with him.

"What the hell do you think I want you to do? Haul him to time out!" No, I'm sorry. I want you to make sure he's comfortable, maybe get him a cup of coffee. He just knocked me out for the love of God!

I stood up best I could and weaved down the hall after them like a drunken dock worker, following them to time out. Ethan had started to struggle so a third staff member, Brian, was now with us. I came around the corner into time out and leaned against the wall to keep from falling over when Ethan started to scream at me.

"You need to go to the nurse! Get the fuck out of here! I broke your nose! I hurt you! You can't stay here! I hate you! You need to go get ice! Get out, get out, get out! Go away! You have to leave!"

Oh really kid... "Listen, Ethan, one thing you should know by now: if you start with me, you're going to finish with me. In other words, I'm not going anywhere until you're ready to process with me. Got it?"

Of course that just pissed him off more. He started yelling and screaming, completely unintelligible gibberish. He just wanted me gone but I wasn't going to give him the satisfaction even though I could feel myself literally drifting back and forth on the edge of consciousness. I stayed with him in time out for an hour and a half while he screamed and bared his teeth. Finally he started to process through but that was when I just couldn't take it anymore. I sat down on floor with my head between my legs, begging one of my staffers, Dan, to just please drive me to the hospital for pain killers.

When I got to the emergency room, the nurse asked me what happened, eyeing Dan warily, like I was a victim of domestic abuse. I laughed and said, "No it wasn't him. Actually, I got knocked out by a 13 year old."

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Little Reminiscing

I went to visit at the Dark Side again, just because I promised the kids I would come by before Christmas and I always keep my promises to them. I figure there are enough people in their lives who break promises on a regular basis that I don't need to be yet another one.

Of course Nick's initial reaction when I showed up was, once again, "Oh God. It's her again." These kids try so damned hard to act like they don't care that I'm there but in reality, I could see the smile starting while Nick pretended to be ignoring me. His mom and two brothers were visiting, doing the whole Christmas present thing, and I noticed that he was showing his younger brother how to work a Rubix Cube.

"So Nick. Do you remember the time you tried to solve one of those in the classroom?"

"I did?"

"Yeah you did. You solved it by smashing it to pieces and throwing it in the trash can."

"Oh yeah! I remember that!"


An hour later, Nick and I walked down to the basement to see one of my former TA's who is now an outreach worker (so damned proud of her). Nick leans against a doorway and says, "Do you remember the time I threw Mike across the room and he landed in a cabinet?"

"Yeah I remember that."


Ten minutes later, sitting in the lunch room, Nick puts down his fork and says, "Hey do you remember the time I went on the run for three days and then just randomly showed back up in Science class, all dirty and shit?"

"Yeah. I remember that."


"Hey, do you remember the time the Department of Education was here and we were making up all kinds of different names for them like the Department of Assholes and the Department of Dirty Hippies?"

"Yeah Nick. I remember that."

"Yeah. I remember you had to shut the door because we all got a little inappropriate but you were laughing too hard to yell at us."

"Yeah. I remember that."


And his parting shot today? "Yeah? I got enough game to bag you!"

Story of my life kid.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Angry Inch

The next afternoon Christopher was pitching a fit the size of Canada for reasons unknown to most of the adults within a 30 mile radius (which was how far afield his screaming could be heard). He was standing in the middle of the classroom turning beet red and bellowing so hard he was spitting all over my desk, because of course I was the source of his discontent as it was in my job description to deny the children of all their worldly wants and desires just to make them miserable.

Unfortunately, the longer I sat there trying to decifer Christopher's ranting, the more incensed he became. Occasionally I could make out the words "bus" and "Senor Dog" but otherwise I was feeling a lot like a Deaf kid at a Journey concert. I just wasn't getting it. I stood up to come around the desk and try to talk him off his imaginary ledge but I'm guessing that was the wrong move because that was when he took a swing at me. Not that I was overly worried since he was a good two feet shorter than myself, but that meant that since he had ramped it up a notch, I would have to make sure there were other adults in the room just in case he got really out of control. One of the new girls, Brenda, was very sweet and always eager to help out in a crisis. The problem was, she was fresh off the boat from some country that caused her to speak in a very heavily accented form of broken English that often pissed the kids off even more because they couldn't understand her. Sure enough, the moment she entered the fray, Christopher lost it. He wheeled on her and, because she was exactly the same height, he caught her square across the bridge of her nose, then ran out of the classroom like his ass was on fire.

I stopped for a split second to make sure that Brenda wasn't bleeding. She muttered something that sounded like "I'm okay" but between the accent and the hands over her face I was really just taking a wild guess. I bolted down the hall to find that two male staffers had managed to corral Christopher into time out. He was backed against the wall and he had his thumbs hooked into the elastic waist band of his gym shorts and was sticking his tongue out at Brian and Dan. This could only mean one thing with Christopher: it was NAKED TIME.

"I'm gonna do it! I'm gonna strip!" He yelled, dancing around like Pinnocchio on acid. "And then I'm gonna pee on the floor!"

Christopher was our resident stripper. The moment he got into time out was the moment we all got to see the free show. It was his way of getting a reaction out of a good number of staff members, though with the rest of us it had just become his perverted version of a game.

Brian leaned a bulky shoulder on the wall of time out and shook his head. "Chris, we don't want you to strip. Come on buddy, keep your clothes on. There's a lady here."

Chris giggled. "Woo hoo! A lady! I'm gonna get even nakeder now!"

I raised my eyebrows at Brian. Nakeder. Nice.

"C'mon Chris. Keep your pants on. Brian smirked at Chris as he continued to wiggle his butt and tug on his shorts. "Nobody wants to see your angry inch."

"I'm gonna do it! I'm pulling my pants down! I'm gonna do it! And YOU CAN'T STOP ME!"

Brian sighed. Chris getting naked never ended well. It's quite difficult to wrestle with a sweaty, naked child who wants to kick you in the unmentionables. "Fine. Go ahead. But if you're going to get naked..."

Oh no.... where was Brian going with this? What the hell was he planning? I stared in horror as Brian's hands went to his own belt.

"If you're gonna get naked, so am I!" And with that, he started to undo his belt.

Christopher's jaw dropped and he screamed bloody murder, turning to face the wall. "No! No! Don't do it! No! I'll be good! I'll never strip again!"

I leaned over and banged my head against the cinderblock wall. Who would have guessed that threatening nudity would calm a kid down...

Later that day, in order to earn back some positive points, Christopher had to write an apology to Brenda for hitting her. He wrote:

Dear Brenda,
I'm sorry I hit you.
Senor Dog

Friday, December 19, 2008

Senor Dog

For some unknown reason, the DarkSide decided at some point to take in a child with Aspberger's. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this particular developmental disorder, it is part of what's referred to as a spectrum disorder, meaning it affects different individuals in different ways. A child with Aspberger's is generally very intelligent, speaks well (and is effusively chatty), can perform tasks of daily living (bathing, teeth brushing, getting dressed), and looks very much like a typical kid. Where the disorder comes in is when the child is presented with certain social situations. Kids with Aspberger's are not big on other people. They have difficulty making eye contact, picking up on social cues, and making friends. They tend to like to play alone, even if there are other kids playing near them with the same toys (we call this parallel play). They also engage in self stimulatory behaviors. Now I know that sounds dirty and the dirty actions count too, but typically this means they like to watch wheels go around incessantly or they hand flap. They also become easily obsessed with certain things.

This particular little guy that we took on was only 10 but he was placed in my classroom with my 14- year-olds because I was the only teacher who had experience with Autism Spectrum Disorders. The older boys immediately divided themselves into two factions: they either thought Christopher was cute, or they hated him because he was irritating. Chris was small, chubby, and had large floppy ears. He was loud, bubbly, and very unaware of personal space. He was however, also incredibly entertaining.

Chris had a thing for busses. He wanted to be a bus driver when he grew up and he knew everything there was to know about the Peter Pan busses downtown. To blow off steam, he would go out in the hall and "drive" his route. He would pretend to be driving a bus, calling out stops at each classroom door, yelling for other students to hurry up and get on before he left without them.

Unfortunately Chris had a great deal of difficulty keeping up with the other students in the room since they were four years older. Even though I had developed a substantially separate curriculum for Chris including a token board and a point sheet that had smile faces instead of points, occasionally Chris just wanted to take a stab at what the other boys were doing. One day we were reading and discussing fables and what it meant to have a story with a moral. I tried to tie it into the social skills the kids were working on and asked them to choose two animals who would teach each other a lesson related to a particular social skill. This was a pretty tough assignment for Chris but he seemed to be making his best effort, writing as if his life depended on it. I then asked the kids to get up and share their fables with the class, which a few kids did very well on. Then came Christopher...

"Once upon a time there was a dog. No, a cat. And a cow. No, a pig. The pig was out walking one day and..."

And suddenly we couldn't understand what the hell he was saying. He was standing in front of my desk with one pudgy little finger pointing up to the ceiling, spouting gibberish interspersed with the words dog and pig. Finally I just couldn't take it anymore and I stopped him.

"Christopher, what language are you speaking?"

He looked thoughtful for a moment. "It's Chinese."

"Did you write it in Chinese?"

He nodded. "See?"

I took one look at his paper and collapsed laughing. The whole time he had been scribbling away at his desk, he had been writing in squares and triangles. While I tried to compose myself, Christopher decided to continue reading his story in Chinese.

He rambled on for a while longer until he stood up very straight, took a deep breath, and yelled, "And the pig said, 'Si Senor Dog!' THE END!"

Christopher was so proud of himself for having completed the assignment that I had no choice but to give him a big fat A for effort. I also made him a name tag that said, "Hello My Name is Senor Dog" and forced him to wear it everyday for the next two weeks.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

"Has anyone seen my stapler?"

For anyone who has seen Office Space this little anecdote will be a lot funnier than for those who have no idea who Milton is because I had one student who reminded me so much of that particular character that it was almost scary.

I had two boys named Matt in my class- the first Matt is the one who was dumb enough to poke Nick in the "Shut the Fuck Up Ice Cream" story. The other Matt we shall hereby refer to as Matt F.

Matt F. was very tall, very skinny, and very unhygienic. He always had bed head, just like Nick, only Matt's was held in place by weeks of grease and oil. His face was prone to major bouts of acne and he rarely brushed his teeth. His glasses were broken and sat cockeyed on his face and when he walked he was undeniably pigeon-toed. That being said, Matt was also a genius with computers. He was a master at taking computers apart and putting them back together correctly and could, nine times out of ten, get the junk machines that were lying around in the maintenance closets to run again. However, because this is the DarkSide and these kids aren't here because they won the Nobel Peace Prize, Matt was also very good at taking computers apart in order to steal various pieces which he tended to squirrel away in whatever sweatshirt he happened to be wearing that day. It took me a while to catch on to this but once I did...well it didn't really make a difference. If I took a part away from him, he would just manage to gank another one from some other poor, unsuspecting teacher. It turned out he had unscrewed the front plate on the heater in his room so that he could hide everything inside. He had then taken a stolen CD burner and somehow (don't ask me how) hotwired it in order to burn CDs to a flash drive. I would sometimes tease him and call him MacGyver as I felt certain he could make a bomb out of a ballpoint pen, a paperclip, and a stick of gum.

The thing that got me about Matt wasn't the stealing or the masterminding of a superior computer generated race of robots in his bedroom. Rather it was his propensity to sit in the back of the room muttering to himself, occasionally having mild arguments. He would start out mumbling quietly, then after a few minutes would get louder, but only when he said certain words like "fire" and "explosion". This, folks, is why I say he reminds me of Milton who sits in his cubicle all day talking about burning the building down but no one really pays attention to what he's saying because he just looks like a crazy old guy who talks to himself. Anyone remember how that movie ends? That's right. Milton burns down the whole kit and kaboodle.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Return to the Dark Side

Since our school is being used an emergency shelter for those who still do not have power, I have the luxury of a four day weekend. And since I had an extra day to myself, I decided to run over to the Dark Side and visit. I only have a few moments, but here's a quick synopsis:

Me: (to my friend Dave who still works there) I can't believe how big some of these kids have gotten, or that they're still here!

Dave: I know. It's amazing. Oh, and here are a few them now!

Nick: OH SHIT!! It's her!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

If any of you happened to miss me the last couple of days, the following photo explains why I was not able to regale you with my typical tales:

Ice Storm

This is what my neighborhood looked like after the massive ice storm that swept through the east coast. Note the ice casings on the power lines. You know what that means? That means no power. At 1 am on Friday I was dragged out of a sound sleep by the beeping of my microwave which only happens when there's a power surge. I got out of bed and went into the kitchen where I started wondering if I had wandered into a rave the way the lights were flashing until finally my house was pitch black. Of course I have never in my life been through an ice storm that was bad enough to kick out the power so I simply went back to sleep, still praying for a snow day from school. I woke up again to my phone ringing at 5 am when the principal called to tell me that there also was a supreme lack of power in the Middle School also, so I did indeed get my snow day. However, it was about this time that I realized it was starting to get awful chilly in my apartment because guess what? No electricity also equals no heat. Being the lazy S.O.B. that I am though, I threw on a sweatshirt and went back to sleep.

Of course by 8:30 when I woke up again, I realized that I had been curled in the fetal position because the temperature had dropped from a balmy 40 something degrees to what I believe most people refer to as "Holy Mother of Penguin Habitat" cold. Yet I still decided to wait it out, assuming my power would be back on by the end of the day, so I got up and started cleaning. It was then that I realized I couldn't make a cup of tea because my stove is electric. I also realized that I had nothing to eat. Everything in the house required cooking of some kind. Then I noticed the one thing that made me decide to get the hell out of Dodge: my cat was shivering.

In five seconds flat I managed to pack everything I thought I would need, shoved my cat in his carrier, and ran outside to dislodge the frozen trees from my equally frozen car. I knew it was going to be a long haul to get to Western Mass but when I turned on NPR radio, I realized it was going to be worse than I expected. Most of the roads I would normally take to get to my parents' house had been closed and National Grid (yes, I hate them even more now) was predicting that the over 290,000 customers without power in Central Mass may not have it restored until Monday night at the very earliest. Monday night? Monday night could lead to me eating my cat raw while warming myself by a fire burning in one of my pasta pans.

Needless to say I made it to Western Mass after a mere two and a half hours on the road, most of which was spent on the back roads of my town, navigating down wires and decimated trees. It was a relief to walk into a house and actually want to take my coat off!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

"I Teach the Future Leaders...and Future Criminals...of the World"

Sorry for the brief hiatus. Things at the current job have been mildly stressful, though not in the way one would expect Special Education to be stressful. In the space of five months I have had 5 new Special Ed referrals which means loads of testing, loads of meetings, and writing Individualized Education Plans from scratch; plus a few triennial re-evals, which means loads of testing, loads of meetings, and revising IEPs. Not to mention all the paperwork I'm normally responsible for such as modifying work and staying after with my kids to help with their homework. So needless to say I've gotten very little done in any other aspect of my life. My sink is a giant mountain of dirty dishes, there's cat food and toys everywhere, and I haven't put my laundry away in almost two weeks. I'm eating Ramen noodles for dinner while the cat stares at me like I've grown another head.

I got an email the other day from one of my former co-workers who is actually still at the DarkSide which now makes him the most senior member of the staff. It's an amazing accomplishment really when you think about the statistics. When I first started there, I was told that the average length of stay for a teacher was 7 months though one guy had left on his second day. He went out for a cigarette at lunch and just never came back.

Though none of this really surprises me. When you work in a residential it feels much like working on an alien planet. None of the normal rules apply anymore and you find yourself, more often than not, reinventing the wheel. Unfortunately, it seems that many public school teachers feel that teaching in a residential doesn't count as "real" teaching, which also does not surprise me since I find that most people in the field don't truly understand what goes on in a residential besides of course all the crazy behavior and chaotic destruction.

Within the first few months of my being at the DarkSide, the education director decided to accept a job elsewhere. She was quickly followed by just about every one of her friends who had been hired through the beauty of nepotism. That left us without an Ed. Director, a shift supervisor, a staff supervisor, a few residence directors, and various other random individuals. Shortly thereafter, the vice principal suffered a nervous breakdown. Then mere weeks later the Vice President of the entire shebang ditched out. Where did that leave us? Well, I'll tell you. It left us holding the bag with no administration whatsoever. We were missing at least 6 teachers in order to consider ourselves a full staff and we suddenly had zero funding.

Here I was, a fairly seasoned teacher, up to my ass in crazy, ready to pull my hair out because... well because the place was falling apart. My classroom had 9 boys in it, and each of those 9 boys were on a different intellectual level. I had some who, at the age of 14, still couldn't even read and write their own name; but on the other side of the coin I had Nick who could do advanced trig and quote every major 20th Century author. Every afternoon when I sat down to plan for the next day, I found myself writing 9 separate lesson plans, including Social Skills and occasionally phys ed on the days when the gym teacher wasn't available. I was also trying to navigate through textbooks that were printed in 1963. It's difficult to teach history and geography when the books and maps still list the USSR as a major super power. On top of that, we didn't even have the minimum budget for buying normal everyday supplies. I found myself showing up at Target with a tax exempt number in one hand and a letter in the other, begging them to donate supplies to my classroom. I started begging my friends who were teaching in public schools to lend me their text books to photocopy. I would go to Barnes and Noble with my mom and write down lesson ideas from the books I couldn't afford.

Essentially I was learning how to not only be a more effective teacher by differentiating my instruction for all these different levels in one room, but I was learning how to be an effective teacher of Social Skills, an effective interim counselor for the times when the kids were in crisis and their counselors weren't available, and becoming skilled at physically managing behavior. Oh, and I was trying not to get killed. Everyday was a new adventure. Take for instance the day I was walking up from the basement when one of my TAs came running to find me because one of the girls had gone face first through a plate glass window. Or the time I was on vacation in NY and I got a call that one of the students had carjacked a staff member at knife point, only to be caught by the cops at the bottom of the hill because he realized he had never learned how to drive.

And somehow, I can honestly say I miss that world. I miss the day to day fight to feed these kids intellectually and emotionally. And though this post is obviously devoid of the normal level of humor, I just had to get all that out since I've been mulling over a lot of this lately as I wonder where in the hell I want my career to go in the next few years. So thanks for reading, thanks to those of you who comment occasionally, and please... comment more. I love hearing from all of you, friend and foe alike.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Gift of Intolerance: Part II

The story doesn't stop there.

Nick actually managed to tag Ethan at least twice with the chair leg before one of my Teaching Assistants realized what was happening and went to grab him. I was out the door like a shot and running down the hall after him because at this point, Nick was heading for the girls' classroom and the emergency exit.

I could just barely see him rounding the corner into the girls' classroom and I ran a little faster, knowing that if he made it out the back door I'd be chasing him down the hill and out onto the main road that ran behind our campus. I busted through the door and found that Nick had slowed down a little, trying hard to navigate the cluster of desks that had been thrown into disarray. I took a chance and flying Superman tackled him to the ground, trying to put him into some sort of restraint. Unfortunately, the floors of our school happened to be concrete slabs, thinly disguised with indoor/outdoor carpeting and I slammed my knee on the floor with a sickening thud. Thankfully Nick stopped struggling when he was realized he was outnumbered by staff and I could feel one of my TAs carefully lifting me up and carrying me to the nurse's office.

The next day I came back to work with my knee in a brace and a headache the size of a small third world country. Nick came into class and sat down quietly, barely even looking at me, while the rest of the kids trailed in behind him. Except for Ethan. Ten minutes into homeroom, Ethan was still nowhere to be seen.

"Anyone know where Ethan is?" I asked, from my comfortable, seated position behind my desk from whence I would be overseeing my kingdom for the next two weeks. My TAs shook their heads, looking from one to the other with worried expressions on their faces. Great, they had lost a kid. "GO LOOK FOR HIM DAMNIT!" They dispersed, looking mildly frightened, while I quietly banged my head on my desk. Moments later the door to my classroom burst open and Ethan came flying in. Nick was already out of his seat, prepared for the incoming attack. Thankfully Ethan didn't get a chance to get within arm's reach of Nick, as two of my TAs managed to grab him and put him down on the floor while a third TA wrestled his fingers open.

It turned out that Ethan had a thumbtack in each of his greasy little paws. While my TAs held him down he frothed at the mouth and screamed, "I'm going to dig out your JUGULAR! I'll do it! I'll kill you!"

Of course, I felt I had to take the opportunity to turn this into what we call a "teachable moment" and point out the obvious while Ethan screamed and wriggled on the floor. "Do you know how long it would take you to, and I quote, dig out someone's jugular... with A THUMBTACK?"


"Get him to timeout," I said, shaking my head. Kill somebody with a thumbtack. What is wrong with these children?

Later while filling out the incident report, I sat in my room mumbling to myself. "How did you positively correct the target behavior... How did I positively correct the target behavior? I positively corrected HIS FACE into the CARPET!" ARGH!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Paste's Continued Rules of Professionalism

Also known as, "Don't ask- don't tell."

One morning Nick walked into the classroom wearing his trademark gray hoodie over a white t-shirt, baggy jeans, and dirty white sneakers. However, this particular morning, he had topped his outfit with a major case of bed head, purple Mardi Gras beads, and a pair of chemistry goggles. He also happened to be carrying the leg of a chair with him.

Now, I pride myself on my instincts and this particular morning, my gut was telling me I really didn't want to know. I started to ask who in the hell had let him out of the unit looking like that, but I stopped myself and went about the morning routine as if nothing was different.

Next to enter my room was Ethan, an adolescent boy who had openly admitted to me that he was having some major gender conflicts. This was the day he chose to turn up wearing a skirt, a jeweled tanktop, and pink barrettes in his spiky blonde hair. Again, I chose not to ask. To each his own.

Remember, however, that Nick was not exactly a tolerant individual. He had a lot of difficulty accepting other people's quirks and oddities and Ethan was one of those kids that just regularly pushed all of Nick's buttons without even realizing it.

Both the boys sit down and class commences while I'm still wondering why in the hell Nick is sitting at his desk with the wooden chair leg in his lap, the chemistry goggles now pushed up on his head so he can read, causing his hair to stick up even more wildly than it was before. Finally I couldn't take it anymore.

"Nick, why in the hell do you have the leg of a chair with you? And who let you out of the unit looking like the Unabomber on acid?"

"No one. I just walked up here like this." Then he looks down at the giant blunt object in his hand. "And this is a child beating stick. Want to try it Miss Kate?"

I slapped myself in the forehead. I left myself wide open for that one. As usual. "No thanks Nick. I'm good."

He shrugs. "Ok, well I'm going to go beat the gay out of Ethan real quick. I'll be right back."

"Ok Nick, no probl.... Wait, what did you just say? COME BACK HERE!!!!!"

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Importance of Professionalism

This is the year I'm finally going to apply for my professional licensure and I was leafing through the requirements, one of which is hours spent in a mentoring and induction program. Even though I've been teaching for a number of years, believe it or not this is the first year that I've actually had a mentor. See, when I started at the DarkSide, there was no one there that could possibly count as a mentor and their version of induction was more like "trial by fire". Eventually the tables were turned and I became a mentor of sorts by default because I, after being there for a full year, had become the senior staffer.

As for an induction program, well I felt I was fully inducted the first day after orientation when I spent two hours in the employee parking lot restraining a kid who was trying to escape from the campus in order to firebomb the mall.

The other requirement for gaining professional licensure is professional development which of course was not exactly available at a residential where it was eventually discovered that the place was dead broke, mostly because the higher ups were embezzling money like it was going out of style. However, I always believed I knew the meaning of being a true professional.

Nick, the child of the window chucking fame, was indeed brilliant but he was also supremely intolerant and had a hair trigger temper. Unfortunately he was stuck in a classroom with quite a few socially awkward, rather deviant personalities.

One afternoon Nick was standing a few feet away from my desk, staring off into space when his reverie was interrupted by Matt, one of the aforementioned socially awkward members of our little family. Matt had a bad habit of talking in what he called his "retard" voice in a vain attempt to entertain the other boys while completely ignoring his classmates' personal bubbles.

Matt had approached Nick and was poking him in the arm, asking repeatedly, "What's your favorite flavor of ice cream?" in a nasally, Steve Urkel type voice. Now, I can see the aggravation creeping into Nick's face as it turns crimson, his skin reddening deeper with each successive poke of Matt's pudgy little finger. I know for a fact that this is not going to end well but being the consummate professional that I am, I kick my feet up on my desk and just watch Nick's fuse burn down to the quick. I was well rewarded for that decision because not five seconds later Nick grabs Matt by the shoulders, shakes him twice, and yells,

"What's my favorite flavor of ice cream? My favorite flavor of ice cream is SHUT THE FUCK UP!"

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Windows Lock for a Reason...

One of the biggest challenges in Special Education is teaching to multiple ability levels in one classroom. What makes that even harder is when you get kids who you know have the ability but somehow lack the interest.

Nick was one of those kids. In looking at his file I learned that he had a near genius IQ and a vocabulary that could rival the selection in the Compact Oxford English Dictionary. Of course Nick was obviously in residential treatment for a reason.

He always took the seat by the window and he typically pulled his hood over his head and slept for most of my class. Once I got used to him and his behaviors, I started getting a little more "in your face" with him. I'd start moving around the room while reading and pull his hood off his head as I walked by. On my next trip around the room I'd poke him in the shoulder hard enough to jerk him awake. Finally I began making him take his sweatshirt off before he even came in the room, a rule he fought me on tooth and nail but of course, I was the one who doled out the points at the end of the class so he had no choice but to concede.

Continuing to take the seat by the window, Nick decided if he was going to be awake during class, he was going to be the center of attention. I passed out the grammar text books that even I detested and asked the boys to open up. I started reading as I walked back up the aisles toward the board when I heard an enormous thump from the corner of the room, though when I turned around I couldn't see anything amiss. Then I realized Nick no longer had a book on his desk.

"Nick, where praytell did your book go?"

"Nowhere." He grinned and looked up at the ceiling, pretending to whistle. "I don't know what you're talking about Miss Kate."

Ok. What the hell was this kid up to? I had heard a thump so the book had to go somewh.... Oh shit. I ran over to the window next to which he was sitting and looked down to see his textbook- spread out on the hood of the principal's red Lincoln Navigator!!! Along with his pencil, a milk crate, and a pile of yellow lined paper.

"Nick! For the love of Christ! That's THE PRINCIPAL'S CAR!"

"Yeah, I know."

Over the weekend the principal sent the janitors to put locks on the windows so that they could only open four or five inches, figuring that would cure the throwing of items onto the principal's car. However, Nick was not to be thwarted. Ten minutes into class I look up from the textbook to see that Nick has cut a face-shaped hole in the newly installed screen and he has turned his head sideways, jammed it under the window, and is spitting on the Lincoln.

A few months after I left the DarkSide I went back to visit. As I was walking down the hall I could see Nick coming at me in the other direction, hooded sweatshirt in his hand. I waved, he waved. I said hello, he yelled, "Miss Kate! What the FUCK are you doing here?"

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Do Not Stick Head in Oven

Pursuant to my promise of retelling some of my best tales from the Dark Side, I decided to share this little tale with you.

Early on in my tenure as the 7th Grade English teacher, the Department of Education began visiting the school on a regular basis since we were becoming a prime example of what not to do in a residential. Basically we were screwing up left and right- not aligning with the Massachusetts Curriculm Frameworks, not having text books that were produced in this decade, not having paper. At this point, I was still new to the place and I still believed that I could teach these kids something important. I love to read and I love literature. My apartment is literally being held up by books. I knew that these kids deserved the opportunity to be introduced to some of my own personal favorites.

One afternoon I took all of the spelling workbooks that still used "colour" and piled them on top of the 3rd grade grammar books in the back cabinet and locked it. Then I pulled out my Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry and started photocopying selections. Four hours later I had a pile of poems and my plan book was loaded for bear.

The next morning I came in a little early and chose a quote from a favorite author to write on the board (sorry to say I can't remember which I chose) and set a packet of poetry on each desk. I went downstairs to pick up my boys who were sticky with syrup from breakfast and led them up to the classroom. One or two of them sat down and leafed through the packet, then looked at me like I had flipped my lid. A few didn't even glance at it before they settled in for their morning nap. I did not, however, get discouraged. These kids were going to get a little poetry in 'em if it killed me.

I told them to open their packets to Sylvia Plath's poem Elm. I read them the poem, trying my best to imitate Sylvia's voice which I had heard so many times on the tapes that one of my college professors had given me. Of course I kept my eyes on the paper in my hand because there was no way I wanted to look up to see my kids rolling their eyes at me or using their packets to roll joints, so I just kept reading. When I was done with the poem, I took a chance on looking up. As expected, a couple of the packets were on the floor, already forgotten. But a couple of them were still on desks, clasped in clammy, syrupy hands. And one of my students, Ryan, looked up and asked me, "Why is her poetry so...dark?"

I started telling them about Sylvia and what an emotionally tortured individual she was and how she used her poetry as an outlet for her pain.

Then Ryan asked, "Is she still alive?"

"No. Sadly she killed herself when she was still fairly young."

"Oh." Ryan thought about that for a minute. "How'd she do it?"

Left myself wide open for that question. "She stuck her head in the oven."

And the moment I said that, the entire class was suddenly not only conscious, but they were riveted. Every kid had his hand in the air, hoping I'd let his question be next. Of course raising your hand and actually waiting to be called on are two very different things so one of my students stands up and yells, "How the fuck did that work? What, did she heat up her head until she died?"

I was mentally banging my head against a wall. I should have known this was going to be a disaster the moment I opened my mouth. I explained that no, she did not indeed broil herself to death, that ovens used to be gas so if you turned it on and stuck your head in it, the fumes would eventually kill you.

Ryan continued to look pensive. "I'm going to try that when I get back to the unit tonight."

"NO!" I yelled. "Ryan you can't do that. First of all it's stupid. Second of all...the ovens in the unit are electric. It won't work. Rule number one when reading Sylvia Plath- do not try this at home. Do not stick your head in the oven!"

Ryan gets up, grabs a white board marker, marches up to the board and writes, "Rule #1- Do Not Stick Head in Oven. Love Miss Kate".

Guess what was still on my board the next morning when the Department of Education came to observe me?

Monday, December 1, 2008

Manic Monday? Doesn't even cover it...

This morning I got up, 15 minutes later than I should have mind you, and got on the road. I swung through the Dunkin Donuts drive through where, mercifully, all of the employees actually spoke English, and got my cinnamon coffee with half a pound of sugar. Pulling back onto Route 140 for the next five day leg of my trip to work, I kept having to slam on my brakes for all these crazy drivers who see a little bit of rain and completely panic. I tend to drive to work on autopilot since it's a 45 minute commute, but this morning I got treated to one hell of an eyeopener. I got to see a car on fire! As did everyone else who was jammed onto Route 2, rubbernecking and making it damned near impossible for me to keep my head from exploding. Kind of like the car that was in flames on the side of the highway.

Now for the real story. Everyone dreads their high school reunion, correct? Yes. And for the last ten years I have looked forward to mine much the same way I look forward to my annual checkup at the gynecologist. It took much arm twisting and prodding to actually convince me to go, as well as a solid plan for bailing should the reunion turn out to be an epic failure.

I met up with some friends I literally haven't seen for ten years, though after Saturday I can't for the life of me figure out why I was dumb enough to stop hanging out with these people because really, why stop spending time with people who actually laugh at your jokes as opposed to asking you whether or not you took your medication every time you say something snarky? We headed to the reunion as a group because as we all know there's safety in numbers. Paid our $15 at the door, and quickly hauled back as many drinks as we could. (Yes I believed I needed to be drunk to handle this particular experience.)

Anyway, the long and short of it is... The popular girls are all married and fat, the nice girls are married and skinny, and the guys we all thought were just so totally hot... YIKES. Ok boys. Lay off the beer because a few extra pounds, put on just about EVERYWHERE? Not hot. In any way, shape, or form.

However, a few guys... YUM. And that's all I have to say. You know who you are. And yes, raincheck on making out behind the building.