Friday, January 25, 2008

What the hell is a chongo, anyway?

So, the Lord works in mysterious ways... Although this has been, unquestionably, the most difficult season of my life, there are many things for which I am grateful. One is that, in the eighth grade my parents forced me to take Spanish instead of German. (Okay Mom, it's acknowledged, there is no need to bring this up the next time I call home.)

As you may or may not know, most of my students are Hispanic and many of them are bilingual or learning English. Additionally, a cursory knowledge of Spanish helps get "in" with a lot of other people at the school (who it helps to like me), like the custodians (who don't get as angry when my kids make ridiculous messes, projectile vomit all over the classroom-it's happened, or grind playdoh in the carpet), the lunch ladies (who let me pay them back when I don't have money) and the aides (who can help get me stuff). Additionally, it helps me clarify for my student who knows very little English. (And I know a lot of the curse words, so I know if they're potty mouths in Spanish- which they're surprisingly not, the F word is sufficient, I suppose).

I can say:
"No tocas otros ninos."- Don't touch other children.
"Manos a tu propia persona."- Keep your hands to yourself.
"Puedes ver tu mami despues de la escuela."- You can see your mommy after school.
"Sientese a la alfombra."- Sit on the carpet.
"No mientes a mi."- Do not lie to me.
"Ojos a mi."- Eyes on me.
"Que es el problema?"- What is the problem?
"Porque estas llorando?"- Why are you crying?
And other useful phrases.

But I'm learning Spanish like I never did when I minored in it in college. A lot of them speak in sort of Spanglish slang and there are things that they just don't have the English word for.

At the beginning of the year, it helped when they were constantly code switching between English and Spanish. I knew what Jos meant when he said, "Miss! Miss! No puedo tie mis zapatos." ("I can't tie my shoes.") and "He has mucha!" ("He has a lot!")

For example, they use the word "pica" for just about everything. Now, I knew what they meant when Mi brought lime potato chips and they kept telling me that they were very "pica" or spicy/tangy/flavorful. And I know that they use "pica" to refer to sharp things like staples and push pins. But when Mi told me that she had a "pica" on her foot, I had no idea what she meant. I still don't.

Oh and piojos. Let me tell you, on my next resume, I ought to put that I am expert in piojos. I can detect those little suckers like it's my job. At the beginning of the year, I had never even seen one before (my mother drove the fear in me from a young age), now I can spot them from a mile away. You see, piojos are lice (more specifically the eggs, but lice nonetheless). For example, today when I checked her hair, M informed me, "I don't got no piojos no more." Which wasn't exactly true. My classroom is a piojo infestation site. They are the reason why I NEVER wear my hair down. If I do, there are suddenly little hands wending their way in and let me tell you I will NOT get lice. I have way too much hair for that business.

And then there was the chongo. The chongo was probably my first introduction into this slang business. It took me forever to figure out what a chongo was. Probably close to a month and a half. And they talked about chongos all the time. Chongos were a huge source of conflict in the classroom. Someone was always taking someone else's chongo and then there was tattling and since I didn't know what it was, I couldn't really fix the problem other than to say, "Give back the chongo." And of course, the chongo culprit was invariably my token white child who clearly had no clue what a chongo was, either. It turns out that a chongo is a ponytail holder. It can refer to just about anything that goes in your hair, but specifically, it's what holds your "little colita."

Oh the new skills that I have acquired this year...

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Daily Review

While I cannot honestly confess complete and total happiness with my motley crew today, I must say that they were much improved from yesterday (although, while I hesitate to say it because believe me they'll prove me wrong, I'm not sure they could get much worse). As a case in point, as I picked them up from the cafeteria today, Jo informed me "We weren't acting no fools today." To which I responded, "Good, you better not have." Happily there was a green star to carry proudly back from lunch.

Now I am trying to balance these blogs with levity and seriousness, as well as the good, the bad and the ugly. So here are some high points.

T and I had two minor breakthrough moments today. During journals this morning, Jos threw a huge tantrum. If I remember correctly (this was the first of a few), it was because I told him not to stick his tongue out at T and that he would receive a consequence (code=time out from recess). In that moment, I called over T and said, "Do you like it when Jos acts like that?" Resounding and adamant no from T. "How does it make you feel?" "It hurts my ears." "Well, how do you think we feel when you act like that?" He thought about it for a minute and then, almost surprised, answered, "It hurts your ears?" I don't think it ever occurred to him that his fits were the least disruptive and, while he had one or two today, they were noticeably quieter.

Secondly, I try to bribe T with earning a prize at the end of the day. You may feel free to agree or disagree with said policy, but I also invite you to come and deal with him for the day. (The first and only time we had a sub, I wrote an apology letter beforehand.) This has varying levels of success and I do reward for "changed choices." I'm not going to punish for a terrible morning if it's gotten better and we've had a fantastic afternoon. The problem is, he seems to think that he deserves a prize regardless of his behavior. This often results in a showdown where he refuses to leave the classroom at the end of the day and I tell him "I'm more stubborn than you are and I am going to win, so if I were you, I'd stop now." (My mother, I'm sure, would be glad to confirm the reality of this statement.) Today, he certainly did not deserve any kind of reward. However, he wasn't horrendous and I think a lot of his problem comes from a lot of negativity (and excessive "whuppings") at home. So I told him, "I will give you the good stamp in your conduct folder, but you did not earn a prize today." As I braced myself for war, he simply responded "Because you have to be good all day," took his folder and sat down in his chair. I nearly had a heart attack in that moment. Success!

I'll take what I can get.

Highlights of the day:
1. During naptime, R, S and I played a counting/number recognition game involved a caterpillar and flowers. The following conversation evolved from that episode.
S: "Where's the caterpillar's other head?"
R: "That's not his head, that's his booty."
S: "Haha. Booty. Look at my booty."
R: "The teacher's got a booty."
2. To went home early because she pooped on herself and didn't tell me for what I now think may have been two hours. After she changed herself, one of the bathrooms was rendered unusable based on the odor.
3. Je has gotten smart enough to gauge my stress levels in the classroom and flashes me "I love you" in sign language (which we learned as an alternative to giving the finger) whenever he can tell I've just about had it.
4. N: "It's cold, I'm going to cover you up in my jacket."
5. We got to use the parachute that my mom sent for the first time today. They had the best time and we practiced listening and following directions. It also made the recess time outs ten times as effective and is now an excellent reward to work for as a class (or something to lose in the event of a day like yesterday).

Sad moment:
M: "This is a picture of my mommy crying because Joseph slapped her. But my mommy was good yesterday so him no whup her."

"If I rise on the wings of dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there Your hand will guide me, Your right hand will hold me fast." Psalm 139: 9-10

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

What ARE you thinking?

I don't want to become a crazy blogger, but this is a good way to communicate to a large number of people what is going on. :)

Today was Wild Wild Wednesday. I am really glad that Wednesdays are short days. :) The whole school is standardized testing except Pre-K and tensions are really high. I think that the kids are feeding off of those tensions and acting out as a result. They have simply been off the wall this week.

One of the expressions that I know I use frequently (because I hear the kids saying it to each other) is "What are you thinking?" Now, I find myself becoming increasingly ghetto fabulous (which I actually love), so I think it takes on a different flavor in person than online, but you'll just have to do your best to imagine. I can't even tell you the number of times I said that today. (Around 2:30 there was a complete coup d'etat, but everyone survived.)

As a case in point, I will use the letter we wrote as a class after lunch. It's easily the best story of the day and, while my kids gave the aides hell in the cafeteria, this letter gave them a good laugh.

Now, they haven't been great before lunch, but it hasn't been complete chaos either. There haven't been any outright tantrums and T and I have only had one fairly minor showdown (he didn't throw or kick any chairs and he only refused to sit with the class for five minutes, during which time I completely ignored him which made the fit no fun). This is reasonable. We've done better, but for a rainy day with high stress levels, this is manageable.

So, imagine my surprise when I come to pick them up from lunch and find out that they've earned a red star.

Pause and let me explain. Red is bad news bears. In my class, red equals consequence. In the cafeteria, the kids can earn green, yellow or red stars depending on their behavior. Green earns them rewards. I don't accept anything less than green. This does not mean we always get green. Jd may bite someone or T hits somebody and it's all downhill from there. But this is the first time in recent memory that we've earned a RED. This is bad.

Needless to say, I'm not happy. That's really quite a nice way of putting it, but I will not be resorting to the language that my students use so commonly (Can I tell you how we will never rhyme words with duck again?). There's some recess time or work station time to be lost now to be replaced by a worksheet or some other heinous task.

But then, oh but then, I find out what they did. I actually only find part out, they spilled their little guts later on, but we'll get to that. Mrs. Camarillo tells me that Jo was throwing food. Not only was he throwing food, but he was putting it in his mouth and spitting it at people. The rest of them spent their time screaming and yelling their way through lunch. Clearly, lunchtime was not the product of good choices.

So, they get in line while I yell at them and inform them that I had better not hear a single sound in the hallway. I tell them how ashamed and embarrassed I am and how they ought to feel about themselves. They try to blame the whole affair on Jo, but I let them know that screaming is similarly not tolerated. Knowing more about the situation now, this blaming business makes me even less pleased. Thus begins the silent march back to the classroom, which they did fairly well.

After sitting in the dark with their heads down for a few minutes after I give a lecture that includes several "What were you thinkings?" and "Where did that seem like a good ideas?," I inform them that we need to write an apology letter to the aides, which some of the well-behaved students will take to the cafeteria. As we write the letter, they begin to tell me an increasing number of their cafeteria indiscretions, many of which were contained in the letter. The letter, which they dictated (with some minor guidance from me) went as follows:

We are sorry for throwing food on the floor. Sorry for screaming and yelling in the cafeteria. Sorry for not listening to the ladies. To says, "Sorry for eating off of the floor." Sorry for not eating the food on our plate. Sorry for getting red. Sorry for making bad choices. Sorry for not getting green. We will get green tomorrow.
Love Ms. Stacy's class

I certainly hope they get green tomorrow. Eating off the floor, really?

Sigh. But I love them anyway. But I certainly didn't like them very much today.

The things that seem like a good idea in the heat of the moment.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

My Classroom Prayer List

Note: Names changed in article to protect my students' identities.

I often catch myself thinking different phrases throughout the day. It's frequently "I'm going to kill myself after school today." Not that I actually would, but in that moment the thought of coming back the next's nearly insurmountable.

Another one, especially when I'm at home, or even at school, is "Oh God, please bless my babies." I mean, on the one hand, I'm so glad that I'm not a 3:00 I am READY to give them back (I'm actually ready around 12:30, but HISD says that school ends at 3:o0). However, there are a couple of kids that I wish I could bring home with me. Not because they are oh-so-cute (even though they often, but not always, are), but because I am terrified of what happens to them at home.

Like O. In October, for 2-3 weeks, I had to literally carry her out of the school screaming "Don't make me go home! I want to stay with you!" At that point Alex was still trying to run away to go home. She's had lice 7 times this year...really bad. She almost never smiles. She is the saddest little heartbreaking thing.

Then there's M. Fortunately the social worker is involved now. I pray for that one so much and I hope you will too. I worry constantly about her and her brothers and sister. She's so cute and says some really funny, endearing things. Then she told me that her daddy was in jail because he and her mommy were "fighting" and her sister (who is 5) had to get the knife to help mommy get away. Then she told me that her stepdad broke her mommy's arm and hurt her brother (who coincidentally, or not, didn't come to school that same day). Today she said her mommy was "bad" and her stepdad had to "whup her." I am terrified of what will happen to those kids.

Please pray for my students. I don't know anyone else who needs it quite like they do. They are broken, battered little people and they're only four years old. They're so damaged. I have to be really careful to handle certain situations certain ways so my kids don't freak out or shut down. For some of them, I think that I'm the only one who tells them that I love them. They break my heart everyday. The violence they have seen, the terror they have experienced. No one should have to live that way and they are just children.

It's nothing short of tragic.