Monday, November 21, 2005

when I say 'peace' yall say 'games'

So, today's the day of hanging out with the rest of the americorpse at the settlement house and talking about how things are going, how they've been, how they should be. I realize one of the problems of my blog is the lack of posting about a huge chunk of my job: PEACE GAMES.

While the first two hours of everyday at school is spent with those adorable kindygarteners, the rest is largely spent in the PG curriculum. Every class shy of junior high is given 45 minutes a week of two americorps volunteers trying to make a coherent and maybe exciting class of a program meant to teach 'social and emotional understanding'.

So what exactly does that mean?

Sadly, we're all still figuring out a program that simply broken down goes like this:
k-2nd grade= love yourself, your family and your classmates
3-4th= we're all unique and our differences are cool + stand up to bullies
5-6th= conflict resolution? cultural pride? community issues? organizing your community against racism?

Everything up to fourth grade is relatively smooth. Well, relatively is relative. The kids are still young enough to be excited that someone new comes by and talks about something totally separate from everything else they do. Classroom management is an issue in every grade (read: keeping the kids quiet and focused and not trashing the place), but nowhere as near an issue as it is with the older kids.

The fifth and sixth grades are falling apart. Both have lost teachers since the beginning of the year. After every "yeah, sounds good" teacher toured the sixth grade never to return (including a man trained for special ed) the teacherless class was dissolved into overloaded others. A teacher was found to fill the gap in fifth grade about two or three weeks ago. I ran into her in the hallway.

"So, you're taking over for ms.__? That's really great, how's it going?"

"Um, well I only committed to be here till winter break.... it's okay, but I know I'd have it easier anywhere else I went..." She's young and friendly. I couldn't wait till I had peace games with a real teacher, rather than the sub for a sub reception we got the first two weeks.

I ran into her again a couple of days later. Someone ganked some cash from her purse while it was hanging on the back of her chair. She complained to (or in front of, or within earshot) the father of a student and he responded angrily. "why didn't you put it somewhere safe?!?"

Last friday, peace games in the class broke into the recess period the school doesn't schedule. It was better than the previous weeks and the sub was happy that the kids were burning off that energy. She drew cartoons while we played rhythmic handslap games.

So far, the two biggest problems are keeping peace games clearly attached to some sort of education and dealing with cps teachers who are horribly burnt out. They scream untill they are horse, flip the lights on and off (which only makes freaking out more exciting), and (in the case of one teacher) blow a fucking steel whistle.

Whistleblower at one point called the peace games teachers in her room and explained that, "These kids need to be yelled at. It's the only thing they understand. It's the only thing that worked." Not only are we spending a huge amount of time talking about productive ways of communicating, but anyone who spent longer than twelve seconds in her room could tell you that not only does it not work, but creates chaos which is not seen in other classrooms. Her fifth graders scream incessently. They never ever listen to each other, or her. If not screaming in their chairs they stand up to dance and knock over chairs. Every several minutes she'll blow the whistle and scream. Her students respond with absolute silence they fill with eye rolls, desk drawings and the classic under-the-table kick.

When you were in fifth grade was there a popular thing to yell that is dirty, but not? My class did. We moaned "oh roger". This class yells "Tuna". I'm almost positive it means "pussy".

This last week was relatively successful. We told whistleblower that we were gonna make the class quiet for a sort of meditation excercise. After being pretty snide about it to both my coteacher and boss during the day ("another interruption" she sighed as she opened the door for my boss taking boombox census), she greeted us with an out of character smile. She screamed at the class for a second ("rarrr. Treat peace games with respect.") and said she would be working on something just outside. I believe this was all passive aggression. She skipped out as we flipped off the lights, put on some soothing spanish guitar music and told the kids to put their heads down. "You have no need to talk right now".

It went okay. We approached the six minute mark before the noise level was enough to end the quiet time. An impressive first time as far as I'm concerned.

The whistle wasn't blown untill the very end of class. We'll be doing quiet time again as it seems the only beginning to discussing communication- the creation of a first moment of quiet on friday at 1:50pm.

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