Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Who knew a bunch of middle school teachers, paras, and office staff could be such a good time when they don't have any students to worry about? Turns out we can be a heck of a lot of fun when we're not trying to act like responsible adults. And bowling, of course, brings out everyone's best side. The holiday party after school today included several hours of bowling, trash-talking, stuffing ourselves with Mexican food, exchanging white elephant gifts scavenged from our classrooms, and singing terrible karaoke. I won a bowling-pin-shaped water bottle for winning the bowling-through-someone-else's-legs contest and a Rishel Rangler jacket for being a member of the night's worst bowling team. If only our students could see us like this...they might lose all respect for us. Or they might actually start to see us as real people and respect us all the more.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Sage advice

Looking back in my journal, I came across a little snippet of conversation that I had written down from two weeks ago in school:

(I walk into the all-boys' math class and run into another teacher standing at the door.)
Teacher: Are you helping out in this class?
Erin: Yeah, it's my first day for this one.
Teacher: Do you drink?
Erin: (looks puzzled)
Teacher: I recommend you start.

Monday, December 8, 2008

All in a day’s work

I’ve been working as a para at Rishel Middle School for just over a month now—although it seems like much longer—and it deserves a little more coverage than the first-week impressions I’ve given so far.

So, what exactly do I do? I’m still trying to figure that one out myself. My schedule inevitably changes every time I think I have it worked out, but here’s a rundown of a day that goes precisely as scheduled...although I don’t think I’ve had a single one of those yet.

6:50 Bike three minutes to school, carry bicycle up the stairs and into a classroom, chat with the office staff, clock in.

7:00 Door duty. Stand at the main entrance and tell students they have to walk around the school and come in through the cafeteria, to which they unfailingly whine and complain.

7:25 Learning Families. (Homeroom, essentially.) Abby and I were recently adopted by an existing one.

7:52 This is where it gets interesting. I go to a double-period math class and am still being tossed around doing odd jobs the other period since the girl I had been interpreting for had her schedule changed.

10:04 Lunch. Slightly preposterous, ¿no?

10:45 More excitement. Depending on the day, I have two lunch/recess duties or none. I co-teach a double-period language arts class for ELLs (English language learners) and help out in social studies, more math, and orchestra.

2:30 Clock out, retrieve the bicycle, and head either to English tutoring or home, exhausted.

Writing it down, it doesn’t sound like it should take all that much energy, but you’d be surprised. It’s all the little things. Trying to persuade defiant students to pick up a pencil. Confiscating dozens of worksheets-turned-paper-airplanes. Escorting severely disruptive students to the office. Preventing out-of-control orchestra kids from stomping their violins to pieces. Seriously, it’s happened.

And then there are the redeeming moments, too. Persuading seventh-grade boys that they could have bigger dreams than working at 7-11 and answering their questions about college. Stopping and talking to four of my students walking down the street on my way to the library. Learning a new Vietnamese phrase every day during lunch. Teaching sixth-grade girls to throw a football at recess. Spending a solid class period on solving proportions with a group of students, inventing our own ratio problems about how many of them will drive Porches compared to Ferraris, and watching every single one of them finally get it: "Hey Miss, this stuff in the book is easy!" "I’m gonna take this home and do more of them!" And I remember exactly why I come back every day for more.