* Survival tip #12: Roaches, critics, and climbers, oh my!

When I started teaching the BED class described in a previous post, everything was pretty much a disaster.  There were many reasons for this.

First, I was sweating bullets in a humid southern state after moving from chilly San Francisco.  The school was not air conditioned.  When I turned on the rustic fans, they spewed roaches across the room.  Naturally, that drew the kids’ attention (and mine) to the fans, which had previously been unnoticed.  Who knew that fans could also be used to launch a variety of classroom objects?  The fans stayed off.  I sweated through my pants’ waistline AND through a leather belt every day.

Second, my adorable assistant was completely opposed to my methods of behavior “management.”  He had been hired by the previous teacher, who left after a being stabbed in the head with a felt-tipped pen.  The assistant and I got along well, but were working at cross purposes.  I sent a student to time-out and that kid ended up playing in the assistant’s lap.  In fact, every direction I gave to one particular student was countermanded by my assistant.  My behavior “management” got so shaky that the child’s family removed that student from my class at the recommendation of his therapist, who considered me a walking disaster.

Third, I had no materials in the class except for a couple of random “touchy feely” games.  Knowing that these kids had already played those games to no avail, I was left with nothing.  I had to bring my own notebook paper and pencils.  I created worksheets for the kids every night, right after I cried into a glass of wine.

Fourth, I became quickly ostracized by the school staff.  Those teachers who had previously befriended me now considered me a pariah.  As I was standing in the main lobby of the school, the guidance counselor said loudly to some nearby teachers, “She’s not going to make it!”  So much for confidence building.

I was not a novice teacher, but I sure felt like it.  My assistant I parted ways amicably after two weeks or so (he visited my class years later, telling me how he had nearly burned alive when the kids in his group home locked him in the time-out room).  I had trouble finding an assistant, duh, so I was granted a series of substitute assistants.  I think that was worse than being alone. That first month was dreadful enough, but for some reason I had invited the head of the Parks and Rec department to visit our class to demonstrate rock climbing.  Why, oh why?  I have no idea.  We ended up outside the room, watching this huge guy fasten himself into a harness for climbing up to the roof.  I’m sure that wasn’t MY idea.  The kids were mesmerized as he tightened and clipped the gear around his “privates.”  One kid dared the others to try it, so the poor man ended up sweating bullets himself as he grappled all these kids (who were laughing hysterically) into the oversized harness and then hoisted them into the air.  The kids went wilder than I could have imagined, swinging like Tarzan in the harness, tearing up the hill to watch from better angles, and using colorful language to describe this remarkable experience.  They all rotated through time-outs in a very short period of time.  I couldn’t decide if it was better for me to monitor the time-outs or have my substitute assistant do that.  Ultimately, it didn’t matter.  The man literally ran off, never looking backward.  The sub turned to me and said, “I don’t know how you do this.”