RealJobs: Austin Naughton

Austin Naughton’s work day on Thursday, February 11, 2010.

The Thursday before a 3-day weekend almost feels like Friday, doesn’t it?  I opted to “sleep-in” today and wasn’t at my computer until about 5 a.m.  I worked on an I.E.P. (an Individualized Education Program is the legal document specifying services for a student eligible for Special Education).  I drove to school because I had a 7:45 meeting and I feared that if I biked, I would be running late.  When I bike, I need to get changed at school, lock the bike in the my classroom, and job up to the main office to sign-in.

The meeting with 2 colleagues was quick and I joined the first period Algebra class in time to chat with the teacher about going to the textbook room.  Since we have students who had different teachers last semester, some of whom were using different textbooks, we needed to go exchange books.  This can be a tedious process if there are numerous classes trying to do this at the same time!  I think I’m being diplomatic with that last line.   To be fair, it is easier to have a full-time textbook room clerk who deals with these matters than it was for me to be in charge of distributing/collecting textbooks to/from students at previous schools where I have worked.

While the rest of the class went to the textbook room (with the teacher, his student teacher, and the assistant), I sent an older student to show a 9th grader where to learn about getting access to his locker, and I took 2 other students to the Special Education Office.  There, we continued the conversation about their “need” to find other schools.  They have both been attending school without making much progress in terms of earning credits toward graduation, so I have been working with them and their families to find smaller schools that might be better-suited to their learning needs.  The advantage of working in such a large district as LAUSD (the 2nd largest in the USA, after New York City) is that there are many options for all sorts of learners.  One of the students is getting ready to check-out of Fairfax High School and the other one still needs to make a decision.  It’s been a long process!

For 2nd period, I was a bit nervous when I saw the disruptive student from Tuesday’s class hanging out in front of the class.  We politely ignored each other as I entered the room and he waited outside until a few minutes after the tardy bell rang.  I braced myself for a potentially disastrous period and, I’m happy to report, it did not come.  To the contrary, he participated quite nicely and we ended up interacting positively.  He was back to the “old ways” that I had first experienced with him.  I hope it endures the rest of the semester!  Another student needed numerous reminders to NOT keep his head on his desk.  The majority of the class was engaged in the tasks assigned by the teacher and this is a big relief given some of the challenges we had experienced with them last semester.

During the nutrition break, I met briefly with the school psychologist and reviewed the grades of some students we share.  I set-up the classroom for 3rd period and received an apology from a student who had been a challenge the day before.  As a class, we had a rocky start to the 15-minute Sustained Silent Reading period.  Fortunately, the reading session gave me time to “cool down” and I started third period with an “apology” for having been cranky with them.  I think that we educators need to role model the art of apologizing to these teenagers so that they can see adults trying to treat them with compassion.  Mind you, I try to use this strategy only occasionally so that it does not appear “fake.”  Teens are pretty good at spotting fraud!

For my period 3 class, I had two groups working on Algebra, two other groups working on Geometry, and various other individuals working on other subjects.  A clerk came into the room to give me some paper-work and he received a less-than-pleasant welcome from me because I was so busy.  (Yes, I apologized to him later, too!)  Two other teachers phoned to check-in about students and I tried to get off the phone quickly because I did not want to lose “control” of the class.  I phoned with both of them this evening to let them know that I was not being intentionally curt with them, but that I was trying to focus on the students in front of me.  Attempting to tutor 25 students simultaneously is quite a challenge.  The Adult Assistant working with me is helpful, but admits that he is not very good at math, so that leaves me to leap among the various groups while he helps with “crowd control.”

Fortunately, our period 4 academic support class is calmer than the previous one.  Today’s group featured 15 students — there personalities, as a whole, are much more manageable than the previous class’ 20 students’ personalities.  Some people say that class sizes make big differences in schools.  In my opinion, size of the class is less important than is class composition.  Working with 30 compliant students is less challenging than working with 5 difficult students.  For those of you that might doubt this, come on over and see for yourself J

At lunch, we had our monthly union meeting.  Our UTLA chapter chair presented about various topics and we colleagues asked questions/offered feedback.  It is probably an understatement to say this:  “We are in challenging economic times!”  From the perspective of a relatively new educator (I’ve only been in my school district for 4 years, so I assume that I’ll be among the first to be displaced or “let go” if the crisis deepens).  The union provides information about how educators can learn about the RIF (Reduction in Force) process at this link:  http://www.utla.net/rifs Since I am a Special Educator, I probably have more “job security” than is the case with other types of teachers.  It was a lucky career move for me to transition from being a Social Studies teacher-in-training to pursuing a credential in Special Education!  (Thanks to BC’s 5th Year Program through the School of Education and great counselors/advisors there!)

Period 5:  This class is titled “Occupational Training Workshop” and the title is a bit misleading.  It would be better labeled, “Life After High School — What Comes Next?”  My co-teacher did a nice job of reviewing the syllabus with the students.  It was a bit daunting for some of them to contemplate all of the expectations that come with being a college student.  Fairfax High School has about 2,200 students and we were telling them about universities of more than 30,000 students.  Imagine the confusion when I tried to explain that I went to Boston College, but it’s a university!  We were joined by an ASL Interpreter who helped our Hard of Hearing students.  I would love to learn Sign Language some day as our school has a program for students who are Deaf/Hard of Hearing.  Our class composition includes 6 students who happen to be Hard of Hearing.  This challenges us teachers to be more “visual” and clear with our language.  The therapist who works with our D/HH students also stopped by and participated in the class, briefly.  Two of my other students also stopped by to get scheduling support.  A big part of the Special Education teacher’s role is to be a case manager, so our “teaching” is highly individualized, at times.

Period 6:  I met with 2 students at the Special Education Office.  One was there to follow-up about her visit to another school tomorrow.  The other walked with me to visit possible elective classes:  Play Production and Drafting.  After the visits, we went to meet with his Guidance Counselor.  I then checked-in with another Counselor about a student’s paperwork.  In the hallway, a student had me chat with her (23-year-old) boyfriend because he did not get his diploma and said that he wants to.  I will try to connect him with a program that might work with older students.  I then spoke (separately) with two of my assistant principals with regard to classroom options.  When I returned to my classroom a few minutes later, about 5 or 6 desks were missing.  I guess a colleague needed them for his or her classroom?  I wonder if they will be replaced before my classes tomorrow!

After-school:  My classroom was the meeting place for about 18 colleagues who gathered to discuss plans for selecting “alternate bell schedules.”  This advisory committee has been meeting for over a year and it’s quite the bureaucratic experience!   After the meeting, I went to visit another classroom to look for a student’s missing binder.  I left school around 4:45 and made several phone calls to colleagues to discuss some plans being made for the students we share.  I have also been exchanging email messages with a student teacher who comes to my class to do observations for his graduate studies.  He will be coming back tomorrow, so I was giving him advice about which class(es) to observe.  It is now nearing 9:30 and I’m quite weary, so I will send this along.  I want to wake up early so that I can be extra-ready for my final day of the work week!

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