Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Why the 4th graders were weird.

From an email to my mom, who is a veteran teacher and will understand. All names have been changed because it seemed like a good idea.

First, the teacher was highly disorganized and I couldn't find anything on her super-messy desk. She also left the wrong spelling worksheet, which sent the children into an absolute tizzy. In general, the "cherubs" (as they say at this school) were acting like 1st graders rather than 4th: tattling, crying, pretending to feel sick for attention, refusing to get off the floor, etc etc. A girl named Marina cried because she misbehaved at SPED pull-out and did not get a candy cane. It took half an hour to do a 26-word spelling pretest, because the class Would Not Settle Down. (The teacher had alotted 15 minutes.) Two girls were loud, hyperactive, whiny, and bossy, but more-or-less normal, if infuriating. (At one point, talking to bossy-loud-talkin' back-ADHD-whiner Sabrina, I clasped my hands firmly behind my back to make sure I would not hit her in my impatience.) Two boys were very loud clearly had ADHD, too. But again, these were the normal ones.

Then there were the weirdos. Terron smelled like he was wearing a dirty diaper. He was slightly cross-eyed, cried because a girl was "mean" to him, and was obsessed with getting the rock candy another teacher had apparently promised him at some point. He kept coming up to me and saying, without context, "Rock candy. Rock candy." I tried to cover my nose discreetly and avoid gagging. Then there was Visal, recently from Cambodia, who kept saying he saw "ghosts" and "floating eyeballs" in the room. Naturally, it was distracting for everyone. He was a spooky little kid with lots of dandruff. I pretended to kick the ghosts out of the room, but that was not enough. When the SPED teacher came in for him, I pulled her aside and asked about the "ghosts." She said he is in counseling, and no one knows for sure whether it's just a cultural thing (apparently Cambodians are into ghosts) or a mental illness. She told me he pulls the ghosts routine with new people, and he also likes to tell people about all the horrible things he went through in Cambodia, but no one knows whether he's lying or not. Then she said he's a really manipulative kid and it can be best to ignore him. So, I started to ignore him, and then I would see his facial expression get really angry, like a dark cloud was passing over. Made me think it was mostly manipulation. I asked the SPED teacher to check in again if she had a chance, to make sure we were all still alive in the afternoon.

But the strangest of all was Berdine. She had a total, utter, crying meltdown in math. Would not lift her head off the desk. I gave her 20 minutes, then asked her to do some work. No response. Next thing I know, she's in the corner below the coat hooks, pressing her head against the wall and crying. I told her I was out of patience and she had to cry at the tables in the hallway. When lunchtime rolled around, I was damned if Berdine was going to keep me from having a few minutes to eat and pee. I asked her to go into the cafeteria. She refused and refused. Finally, I walked her up to the vice-principal, who was busy with a gaggle of 8th-grade girls and simply shook his head "no" through the office door. Praise St. Anthony, the guidance counselor (Cara) was right across the hall with her door open. She took Berdine off my tired hands. When I finished lunch, Cara found me and said (I quote), "I will be a monkey's uncle if that girl is not autistic." Cara has sent her for screening, but nothing came of it, so she was looking up the file. Cara reassured me that I hadn't done anything wrong. Berdine is now, as of yesterday, allowed to eat lunch quietly with another teacher, so she doesn't have to cope with all the noise and chaos of the cafeteria; hopefully that will prevent breakdowns in the class before lunch.

Berdine was at the nurse, but (lucky me!) would soon return to class. Berdine cried the rest of the day and said her "body hurt all over." I took the kids out to recess to make them run off some insane energy before they had afternoon specials. Berdine stuck by me, sniffling and whining and--YES!--she flapped her arms at one point.

Finally, I was relieved because the bus kids--including Sabrina, her hyper sidekick Mariah, smelly Terron, ghost whisperer Visal, and especially nuclear Berdine--would not return to the classroom after specials.

But then, during my free period, the nurse called me because apparently a teacher (not me) allowed Berdine to use the classroom phone to call home. I got an earful about how Berdine's aunt called the nurse back and said that Berdine is "a drama queen," and only the nurse can let kids call home, and the nurse had NOT let Berdine call home, etc. I explained that it didn't happen in my class and I was just the sub, anyway. The nurse said she was going to speak to the principal and the whole team of teachers. I repeated that it wasn't me. The nurse said, "I know! Thanks for your time." She was just venting. I did not need her venting at that point.

THEN, the Spanish teacher calls to say that Berdine is returning to my room! Because she called her dad and her dad said her mom would pick her up! And ADHD Mariah also came back because she did not hear the direction (stated at least 3x) that bus kids should bring all their things and would not return to class. Then Berdine spent the rest of the afternoon sniffling and worried that her mom would not pick her up. At one point, she picked up the phone without my permission and was about to dial her dad! I reprimanded her very firmly for that--had crazy teacher eyes. Then I was stuck with Berdine because the afterschool teacher who monitors the pick-up kids was absent and no sub had been called in. Finally, I found a salaried teacher who was supervising the afterschool kids until someone else showed up, and dumped Berdine on her. Then I hightailed it out of there.

Toughest $100 I've made lately. On the other hand, some of the class, esp. the Cambodian girls, a boy named Darion, and Arrek, a rotund, half-Vietnemese kid who gave me a restaurant tip, were exceptionally good. The Cambodian girls all made pop-up cards for me in their free time. I wanted to adopt little Alida, but I think her family is probably very attached to her.


PS Sorry that was really long!
PPS I forgot to tell you! The principal's house burnt down over the weekend, killing her 3 dogs. So, no principal.


Bill Stankus said...

So, you're saying the future is safe and the next generation will be taking society to new heights?

Restaurant tips are always welcome, especially from kids. Never know when you may get an urge for the equivalent of Chunky Cheese or Burger King.

That floating eyeball thing would have me keeping my back to a wall and knowing where the exit is at all times.

$100. is waaaay not enough ... a minimum of tripling it seems reasonable.

kStyle said...

Bill: safe and new heights--YES!

Arrek tipped me off on a good pho restaurant when he heard me discussing Vietnamese hot sauce with the Cambodian girls. You have no idea how happy this made me. Pho is the best edible thing in the whole wide world, next to bread and my grandma's soup. The whole day might have been worth it if this pho lives up to Arrek's promises.

Floating eyeballs were definitely creepy.

Oh yes, triple the pay, please! Or, pay me in pho. Mmmm, soup with lots of nooooooooooooodles.

Narya said...

This is kinda scary. Serioiusly--that's a pile of wacko kids you have there, and there doesn't seem to be much happening to ameliorate any of the issues. I think of my own 4th-grade experience, and this is another planet.

kStyle said...

Narya: YES! Another planet! Exactly! The guidance counselor is doing what she can.

Larry Jones said...

My complete sympathy! Something must be terribly wrong. I know it's been a very long time since I was in fourth grade, but it's hard to believe things have deteriorated this far. If your experience is typical, we should start a "Manhattan Project" to correct this ASAP.

Larry Jones said...

Do you mean the guidance counselor is trying to get to another planet? Can't say I blame her...

kStyle said...

Larry: Thanks for your sympathy!

I should stress that this school is in an economically depressed inner-city, and full of the children of immigrants from impoverished and/or war-torn nations. That is to say, it's a school trying to help kids from the worst of circumstances, and these kids are the products of the worst of circumstances. I can process this only because of two days' recuperation.

Ah, Larry, perhaps I should bring some Tang and space ice cream in for the guidance counselor...