Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Second Chances

“Think of how hard it is to change yourself and you’ll understand what little chance you have in trying to change others.”

- Jacob M. Braude

In the spring, New England rain is incessant. Since it was a warm winter, we had much more rain than snow, so I’m sick of rain at this point. I was glad to be off yesterday because it poured all day and it had been many days since I had time off to write. I was productive – even virtually dusting off an old manuscript – The Disappearances, which I wrote last winter. Right after I completed it, I got the idea for Aura, so I abandoned this manuscript after a few changes and never looked back… until now.

But today wouldn’t be an editing day because I was called for a Special Ed. job at the behavioral high school. Truth be told, I forgot there was a behavioral high school. This is a place for second chances, for students who would otherwise drop out or get expelled. A couple of years ago, I interviewed there for a Social Studies job, but (obviously) didn’t get it. In fact, that Social Studies position had opened every year for the first four years – not a good sign.

Classes are small so that the teens get more one-on-one attention. Some just stay for a semester, but others remain for all four years. Another sub told me it was “hard” to work there. I’d soon find out if it were true.

The last time I was called for Special Ed in the regular high school, I foolishly thought it would be for support, but I was actually in charge of teaching Math*, which was a DISASTER. This time I hoped it would be for support, but couldn’t be sure. I decided to get to the school to get my bearings and find out my fate.

I arrived early and said the absent teacher’s name. “She doesn’t work here,” the secretary replied. Oh no – I had driven to the old behavioral high school location, which is now the freshman high school. I had forgotten that it moved and, even worse, didn’t remember where it had moved. (So much for being early.) After receiving vague directions from the secretary, battling with my GPS (and losing), and calling my husband for directions, I found the school. Did I mention it was raining? It’s still raining.

Believe it or not, I made it with a minute to spare. Turns out that I would be support. Apparently, there are a lot of absences at this school and as the morning wore on it became clear that most of the students the absent teacher worked with weren’t showing up.

But I did have some students to assist in the writing classroom because other kids who had study period came in too. First, I worked with a student who had to answer questions on adaptation, layers of soil, and carbon dating. The only two Science classes I took in college were about geology and evolution, so I actually knew something. Another student needed help with vocabulary – synonyms and antonyms. Then a student was writing an e-mail to set up an interview, so I helped her.

The students did quiet work with support, which probably kept them from acting out. Dealing with the students one on one in a casual setting, they were nice to me and the other teachers, and teachers treated the students with respect.

What separates a behavioral school from a traditional school, you ask? Here are a few perks to being a bad kid:

  1. You can wear a hat
  2. You can listen to your music player with little chiding
  3. You can visit another class with alleged or real permission
  4. You can check a text and take an occasional call
  5. You can show up over an hour after school begins

“I couldn’t get up. I was up until two in the morning,” one young man explained.

Things overheard:

“I have a kid because I used to be a bad girl.”

“My mom was in my face when I got up this morning. She says I give her a hard time. She doesn’t know how much I put her on a pedestal. My friends? They smoke and drink right in their houses. My mother’s pedestal is higher than their mother’s pedestals.” Then she asked, “Can I use the loo?”

Later, this same student looked up information about her possible career choice on the Internet as part of her assignment.

“Pediatricians make dirt! I can’t live on that.”

“How much do they make?” I asked.

“Dirt,” she replied.

“What’s ‘dirt’?”

“$185 thousand.”

I laughed. “That’s not dirt.”

“How much is it? What can I buy?”

“You can buy a BMW,” the teacher chimed in.

“And afford to live in Harvard Square,” I added.

I think her career choice was back as an option. She looked up neurosurgeon, and although the salary was impressive (not dirt), she didn’t want to get in trouble if she made a mistake drilling into people’s brains.

Near the end of the period a young man sauntered in.

“Where are you coming from?” the teacher asked.

“Art. I just took a test.”

“How did you do?”

“I didn’t take it.”

“You didn’t take the test. Why didn’t you take it?”

“I didn’t feel like it.”

“But you’ll fail if you don’t take it.”

He shrugged his shoulders.

A former student came in and I could tell that he gave these teachers a harder time than he had when he’d been in the fifth-grade. It made me wonder about the success of the school. I’d heard that the drop out rate was lower, but did that translate to them being able to better cope in the real world once they left the school? I’d like to spend more time at the school to find out.

* I’m pathetic when it comes to math and this post proves it:



  1. Wow! Good for you for making it to school on time! I could get lost in a paper bag so when you were talking about being lost, I could really relate. Your post on the special high school is so interesting. I would really like to know more about what goes on there too! I hope you get called back. At least you know where it is now.

  2. It sounds like you had quite a day! I'm glad I'm on the west coast right now and am missing all the rain. The quote you chose really resonated with me today -- thank you :)

  3. This is the kind of school I'm working in now. I have the same kind of students in my class. I wonder too sometimes the long term effect of this school--does it help?

    On the bright side, they have had 16 graduates from their program--students who probably wouldn't have had a chance at a real high school diploma otherwise.

    There's hope for second chances :)

  4. Oh wow, another great quote at the top of your page! That one is priceless!

  5. Tiffany, if I go there again, we'll have to compare notes. Congratulations again on your extended term sub position.

    Karen G, I'm glad you like the quote.

  6. Wow! What a group you had! Sorry about the school mix-up -- I would have panicked if I'd gotten lost, in the rain... you're stronger than I am!

    (Sorry, I must have missed this post when I commented on your other one earlier, unless it just didn't show up for me)

  7. Wow, I'd hate to teach at that school. I have no patience for that sort of bad attitude. I have no idea how those kids are going to compete with people in the real world.

    And I'm sick of the rain as well. blah...

  8. Hey, is it still raining? You poor thing.

    I feel for these kids, but when I work with disrespectful youth, I lose my patience very quickly. I'm glad you can handle it all though! They need people like you.

    And I'd love to see their drop out rate versus the other schools right along side the employment after high school rate. That would be very interesting...

  9. Excellent quote, Theresa, you would kind of wonder what other option there is for those kids.

  10. Hi

    It's a very laid back approach but I guess the aim of this particular school is to keep the children attending and going to school rather than not - so I guess this approach works. I hope so anyway!

    I'm a bit concerned that one of the kids thought in terms of pay for a career choice - as in what can I buy with that amount of money! LOL!

    Why are there so many teachers not turning up though? I think that the small classes and one to one teaching probably works to everyone's advantage?

    It's been raining here too non-stop!

    But so glad you got your old ms out to re-do!! Well done you! I love the title "The Disappearances" - very intriguing!

    Maths and me are not friends at all.

    Take care

  11. VKT and Kathleen, your comments disappeared and came back again! Perhaps my blog is haunted.

    VKT, at least I know that I'm not alone in getting lost.

    Now that you, other readers, and I wonder more about the school, I'll probably be called there all of the time.

    Kathleen, I'm glad the quote resonated with you. While I don't think we should give up on others, it puts our impact in perspective.

  12. Shelley, believe me, I panic!

    I must've posted this around the time you commented on the other post.

    Aubrie, since these kids live in my community anyway, giving them a second chance will (hopefully) make the city a better place.

    Thursday is supposed to be sunny. We're almost there!

  13. Jackee, I shouldn't complain about the rain after most of the country has been slammed with snow, but I keep doing it anyway.

    If/when I get called back there, I'm going to ask more questions.

    Brigid, it was nice to see these students in non-combative relationships with adults, but I wondered how they'd do in college or at a regular job, which requires rules and self-discipline. Hopefully they're getting those skills.

    Old Kitty, I told that girl to be more concerned with doing the job day in and day out rather than pay.

    Just this one teacher called in sick, as far as I know. It was the students that had attendance issues.

    You've had all this rain too? It's dreary.

    I'm glad you like the title of my WIP. As far as writing, I think I'm good at titles and dialogue. It's everything else that needs work!

  14. I am back trying to comment because something strange just happenned. I was commenting and my computer told me it was shutting down. Don't know what happenned.
    Sounds like you had an interesting day. These kinds of schools are good for kids who do need a second chance. It would be interesting to go back to the school to see what they really are doing for these kids. It does take so many factors for children to be successful, this is only the beginning.
    Thanks for sharing.

  15. Thanks for the comment, Choices. Seeing that former student made me root for and worry about him at the same time. I wonder what he'll wind up doing.

  16. I loved the pedestal quote and I'm glad that your college science classes came in handy! I hope the rain stopped by you. I think we are finally done.

  17. Julie, I'm glad my college classes came in handy too. My husband is a scientist, so he makes fun of my inadequate scientific knowledge.

    Now it's drizzling and they're promising a stop to it later today. I hope so because I have to switch schools and run errands later.

  18. Loved the quote Theresa. I would be interested to know what type of pedestal that young girl envisioned her mother on? Sounds like tough work in this particular school, but I would imagine the rewards are great, when you do actually get through to a student.

    Congratulations on returning to your manuscript.

    Hope it dries up soon!

  19. Ann, I don't know what pedestal this girl's mother was on. This student needed a lot of attention in school, so I'm sure she's the same at home.

    It's good to be digging into a project again.

  20. Those quotes are priceless! And is it bad that I'm kinda jealous that you get to be around teens? Such great fodder for books!

    Good luck with your writing projects!

    Oh, and I love that quote at the top of this post. Beyond true.

  21. Elana, listening to how teens talk and interact is one of the perks of substitute teaching. Right now I'm with a group of ninth-graders and now I remember why I thought boys were so immature when I was their age.

    Everyone loves the quote - I wish I'd made it up.

  22. WOW. This post reads like good YA. I love the peek into your world. Thank you!

  23. I have found that the ONLY way to keep troublesome kids quiet is working alone and on independent assignment work! Seriously. That's sad. I love doing fun things with my kids but generally, they always ruin it by arguing, comlaining, or just being uncooperative. So much for letting the good times roll!

  24. T. Anne, thanks for the compliment. I hope my manuscripts start reading like good YA too!

    Glauren5, it's good to know they're handling the students the best way to avoid behavior problems. I'm with you - it's much more fun to teach in a more active way.