Friday, July 25, 2008

Fear of Rejection

Below is the trancript of a note I found today in the library. It is written on a mint green index card. There is no way to know exactly when one girl stops writing and the other starts, so I will simply transcribe what is on the card, true to the girls' punctuation, spelling, etc.

U shuld not have 2 say that I sed it...Heez gunna stop talkin 2 me fine then I tell him that I was just kidding! Do you feel much better !? no dont tell him tat....Jus tell em 2 not stop talkin 2 me lyk utha guys okay I will -----> So u n yvette tell Daniel that jus becauze I like him to no stop talkin to me MAN ULISES DOESN'T STOP SHARING dumb of Jimmy N.

So, my best guess at interpreting this is that Girl A likes a boy and maybe she actually said so to her friends, which is pretty much the kiss of death in middle school. Girl B and Yvette told the boy what Girl A said. For some reason Girl A often finds herself in these situations; her honestly about her affection towards boys does not appeal to them. Are they too shy? Do they dislike her? Whatever it is, she can't take the rejection this time. Girl B doesn't seem to concerned about all of this, if you ask me. Some friend.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Student Homepage dot com

During nutrition and lunch (nutrition being a morning snack break), the library gets crazy. I should probably put a stop to it, to tell the truth. It's so crowded in here that I cannot control what's going on. Things go missing, it's hard to get kids to leave at the bell, the checkout line stretches for miles. It's been suggested that I should begin to treat library like a night club. X number of people allowed, you come in when someone comes out, red ropes, all of that. That's the most reasonable thing to do, but I just can't bring myself to limit access to the library, especially for those kids who see it as a refuge.

Anyway, today there was a very sweet, shy, timid, space cadet of a girl sitting at a computer with her hand raised. That's my first clue that she doesn't know what's going on. Her hand is raised during nutrition? How the heck am I going to see that? Well, I did, and she asked her question.

"How do I get to the student homepage?"

Oh boy. The what? "Do you mean the library's homepage on our school's website?" I ask gently.

"The what?" she says.

"The school's website. Perhaps that's what you're looking for. Go ahead and open up Internet Explorer and I'll show you."

She stares blankly at the desktop. I point to the icon. She double-clicks.

"Is this what you meant?" I ask, as the school's page opens.

"The other day, I was here, and I went to this place. I typed something in at the top. But I don't remember. I think it was 'homepage'."

I sigh inside. I close my eyes to gather my patience and love for children. I point out the school's computer use rules taped to the monitor (school website and assignments only). I tell her that I'm not aware of a website called "Homepage", but perhaps she could show me sometime. The entire interaction takes less than five minutes but feels like a lifetime. All the while, hordes of students are spilling though the entrance, through the exit, through the skylight it seems, all with questions like these. I need coffee.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Bad Decision Making

At the end of lunch yesterday, I hear a ruckus in the stairwell that leads to the library exit. This happens a lot; kids hang out there and must be kicked out so they're not late for class. So I went to do the kicking out. On the landing between floors, I saw Noe (the lisping boy who believes we are made of dirt) being shoved around by a surly group of at least five. I made my presence known, they fled, I followed. Outside, the harassment continued. Noe's collar was tugged, he was elbowed, he almost lost his balance. At first I assumed that this was your average bullying, that these were your average bullies, and that I would need to make an average intervention. Noe is, after all, a kid that most people would not be surprised to see bullied. I am sorry to say that anyone is bullied, but it is a solid fact of middle-school life.
I intervened to find a complicated story that took some time to unweave. It goes something like this. Boy 1 (let's call him Miguel) brought twenty dollars to school. Why, no one knows. That's a lot of candy, even in today's market. After PE, he put his things in his locker and went to take a shower (again, why? Ew, those showers cannot be nice), but he left his locker open. This is his second Bad Decision by my count. The money fell out, or so we think. To think otherwise is to assume Noe is devious and criminal, which I choose not to think. Noe walks by Miguel's locker and picks up the money, keeps it. Bad Decision three. Someone sees this happen and at lunch in the library, Miguel's gaggle of followers attempts to retrieve the money through the art of intimidation. Noe sticks to his story, claiming finders keepers.
Enter Boy 3 (let's call him Juan). Noe tells us that Juan reached into his pocket and took the money back. Juan says no. Juan says he did, but then he put it back. Juan says Noe is a liar. Juan says he took the money and gave it to someone else. Juan says a lot of things.
Suddenly, Miguel's gaggle is suspicious, but no longer of Noe. Now they are looking to Juan and saying things like, "Man, where's the money?", "Man, you better tell where the money is!", and "Man, you spent it, didn't you?". Juan stammers. Noe looks hopeful. Miguel just hangs his head in total disappointment.
Noe is redeemed, Juan confesses, they all go to the dean to record statements. You see, Juan only has seven dollars in his pocket. He must have treated all his buddies to snacks at lunch, because that money is gone.
You would think that all of this would cause some lasting tension among this group of boys. Maybe Miguel would hold a grudge against Juan for lying. Or Noe would be angry with the rest of them. Twenty minutes later, I see Noe, Juan, and Miguel crossing campus together, returning from the dean's office. I say, "Is everything ok with you boys?" Smiling and laughing, practically linking arms and skipping, they tell me yes. Miguel says, "He'll bring me twenty dollars tomorrow and that'll be the end of it". All is forgiven. Perhaps the final Bad Decision, at least on Miguel's part.

Thursday, July 17, 2008


A sixth grade girl just asked in all seriousness, "What city are we in?"
That is all I have to say about that.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The First Few Weeks

Well, so much for writing every day. These last few weeks have been some of the most hectic I've seen at this school. Hectic in a good way, because our school seems to be breeding nerds, which means that the library (their kingdom) is getting more play than ever before. This is wonderful of course, but exhausting. How and why is this school breeding nerds, you ask? I don't know for sure, but I suspect a few specific changes over the last couple of years are at the heart of this transformation. One is that we are now heavily recruiting students in gifted programs at their elementary schools, and our gifted program is growing in size and prowess. Another is that we have full blown electives now, so drama kids, art kids,and tech kids have a place to thrive. The third is that were are pushing reading pretty hard, the staff is visibly reading, and books are now a little more cool than they were. The nerds are establishing their space, their superiority, and their right to exist. More and more of them are maintaining their nerd personas all the way through 8th grade, or if they shed the nerd skin, they only do so in favor of becoming intellectually cool, meaning they wear black, listen to rock 'n roll, smear on eyeliner, and talk of living downtown, or in Hollywood, or somewhere that is not here.

It's the 6th graders who are really funny though. One recently came to me and said "Ms. Murphy, I would like to discuss with you the possibility of starting a Young Authors club". He has since returned several times, once to show me a book he has written (incomprehensible), and another time to write out plans for the establishment of this club. Another boy recently told his teacher that evolution has been disproven, and that there are those who now believe that we are all made of dirt. Two others orbit me like satellites or moons during lunchtime. I could hold my arms out straight and smack either one of them in the head at any time. Yet another recently passed me a note during a busy time. He was recommending that I post a sign on the door of the library about the rules for borrowing chess boards.

I am so pleased that these little smarty-pants kids are here. I am worn out by them, by their questions, their ideas, their need for my attention and perhaps my approval. The line to check out books exceeds thirty people most days during lunch, and stays that long even though we are checking out books at a rate I find astounding. I have to turn them away at the bell for class. They look so sad that they aren't going to get to take their dinosaur, solar system, baseball, dragon, horse, puppy, ghost, and UFO books with them. It's all I can do not to laugh.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

the Writer Lady's challenge

I've been absent from my blog for too, too long, but today I received a little kick in the rump from one of my favorite YA writers, who is encouraging the readers of her blog to write for 15 minutes a day about anything at all. I'm going to give it a shot, although I have a feeling that on a few days I'll be my usual slacker self, sorry to say.

Today was the first day of the official '08-'09 school year. Students on the year-round calendar hear in Los Angeles had one day off (yesterday) between x grade and y grade. Elementary school Friday, middle school today. Not much in terms of a transition period. I needed way more than a full summer to get used to the idea of going to 9th grade, and the poor, withering, blubbering, teary-eyed, terrified freshman out there on LA's B-track got a whole three days.

Other fun and funny things that happen on the first day of school in LA -
1. The computer system responsible for maintaing class rosters doesn't work. It's too much, I can hardly stand it. Teachers were not given accurate lists of the students that should appear in each class period, nor could they use the computer system to take attendance for the kids who did miraculously show up. I can only imaging how many 6th graders wanted to cry today, how many teachers are counting the minutes until their first cocktail (teachers are huge drinkers, you know), and how many parents will be shocked and awed by the stories of wonder that their kids bring home this evening.
2. Countless students were put on tracks without their parents knowing before today which track that would be. If you aren't familiar with this system, we have A, B, and C tracks (each about 900 kids), and they are staggered to accommodate overcrowding. So today, B and C tracks begin. C track will be in school for the next 4 months. B track will be in school for 2 months, have a two month break, and come back for 2 more months to complete their first semester before christmans (the worst one by far). A track is on vacation until B track goes off, at which time A track will be here for 4 months straight until Christmas. Sooooooo, today lots of kids showed up for the first day of school only to be told that they have been placed on A track and should come back at the end of August. Really cool for a kid, but maybe not so cool for a parent.

The library isn't open today or tomorrow or the next day, largely because the school district won't be updating out computer records for a while, so we can't check out books to kids yet. So I have been hauling books today, shifting them two cases to the right to make space on the shelves. I bought $200,000 in books in the last two years and I am running out of SPACE! It's a daily struggle to find room to squeeze in all of these new novels.

Ok, that was just 13 minutes, but I've now been interrupted by two history teachers and an english teacher. One history teacher wants to give me hundreds of tattered books he found in a cabinet (NO!), the other is ready and waiting to laminate, the other needs help with his web page. Gotta go, gotta go.