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Many times I’m asked what it’s like to work in an urban school in an urban area. Knowing they are genuinely interested, I usually just laugh and tell them to come visit my my classroom. Knowing  the 99.9% of them won’t, I decided to give a real “no holds barred” look at what a day is like for me in the classroom.

This is how my day usually goes but some days are more eventful then other. During this ride you’ll see me get confronted by an irate parent, cursed out by a student, told that I’m the best by another and still make it to the end od the day. This day was recorded about a week ago in  a  Title 1 High school with the kids being between the ages of 14 to 18 years old in a major American city.

Here goes:

5:30-7:00 am– Wake up, work out, fix breakfast, shower and get dressed. Then, I get all of my kids up and get them dressed for school. My husband leaves for work and I have to take them to school.

7:00-8:00 am– Travel time to my kid’s school and work.

8:00am– I get to school right when the bell was about to ring. That day I was held up by two school buses, a policeman who had a speed trap set up and the usually traffic on a Monday morning in any metro area. As soon as I enter the building through our metal detectors, I’m greeted with a phone message from a parent noting me to call them about their child’s grade. That will have to wait, my class starts in 15 minutes.

8:05 I quickly set up my labtop and lay out the day’s assignments, then I station myself at the door to welcome students. As usual, I immeaditely notice there are kids without any supplies attempting to enter my class. I stop them and direct them to find a pen and paper from somewhere before coming into my class. The majority of them obey and come back with a more organized friend’s binder and pencil ready for the day. However, there are two who don’t return. I buzz the office and put them on the radar of our discipline staff.

8:15- I start the class with an activity we did not finish the day before, an analysis of test questions for the upcoming End of Course Test. While students work in pairs comparing answers and writing an explanation on why their answer is right (or wrong) my co-teacher and I circle the room to help the students.

8:30-I notice (out of the corner of my eye) that one of my usually disruptive students decides to throw a large piece of paper at a fellow student–across the room. I immeaditely use my teacher voice and demand that he get back to work and pick up the paper. He  states that he didn’t throw the paper and that’s he’s not getting it up. As a new teacher, I would have went back and forth with him, but with 12 years under my belt I make it never a point to argue with children. I simply ask the co-teacher to take him out of the room and speak to him outside of the room. As he gets up, he curses out both me and my co-teacher. Still unphased by the use of profanity, I radio for the disicpline person and continue to teach.

8:40- After the student has left the room, one of my more vocal student says, “He sure is dumb. Don’t he know you’ve got eyes behind your head?” I laugh and instruct the students to pay no attention to distractions.

9:15- Apparently when the student was met by the discipline person, he has not only cursed me out but has also cursed the Assistant Principal. He’s promptly suspended and his grandmother comes up to the school but instead of chastising him, she wants to speak with me . I ask the office to take a message, I’m teaching.

9:45-Classes transition to my 10th grade class. These students are working on completing their research paper so there’ s a lot of independent learning going on. As I’m working with a student, I hear one of my 10th graders attempting to take out his Iphone and listen to music. I quickly get up confiscate the phone and instruct him to get back working. This particular of student had me as a 9th grader, so instead of sulking (or cursing) he admits he’s wrong and gets back to work.

10:00-A student from the office comes and hands me a sheet of paper  and lets me know that she needs  a list of students who’ve been absent more than five times. (Duh, don’t we take attendance electronically? Why can’t they check themselves?) Instead of complaining, I take the paper and put it on my desk. I don’t have time to fill it out, I’m teaching.

10:15- I begin to have conferences with the students about their progress on their research paper. I meet with one student (who by the way has repeatdly asked me to let him come live with me) who has no grades. I inquire where’s his folder with all of his previous drafts, he replied that he got in a fight the night before in his neighborhood and  lost all of his school stuff.  I take him to the computer (I’ve saved all graded drafts online, luckily) and pull up his work. I instruct what he can do to possibly get a grade on the paper.

10:45- I catch two students attempting to cut and paste off the internet, so I have a impromptu lesson on how easy it is for me to find plagarism. Fifteen minutes later (and a lot of scared looks), the kids decided that was a dumb idea and they better just “do their work like I asked.”

11:15- Class is dismissed. A student stays behind to let me know that she didn’t appreciate me calling her parents about her grade. She’s really upset because prom is in a few weeks and she can’t go with a failing grade. I tell her I don’t appreciate her not doing her work and that the only way she’s going to get a passing grade is to complete the work with mastery. She rolls her eyes and leaves the room, I think I’ve proven my point.

11:15-11:45-  It’s lunchtime. Instead of eating, I decide to call back the grandparent who came earlier about her son who cursed me out. Basically, she called to tell me that I was picking on her grandson and that he’s an angel. I remind her that I’ve called her several times before about his grade and behavior so this should not be a surprise. She replies, “You don’t like my baby.” Then hangs up.

11:45- 12:15- Advisory. During this time we are supposed to go over a lesson on Habits of Mind but one of my student’s brother was murdered the week before so we took the time to comfort her. As I listen to her tell her story of her family’s grief, it reminds me of the many of my former students who have passed or who are in jail and that makes me sad. I also send her to the school counselor.

12:15- My other 10th grade class comes in and begins to work on their research paper. These students “looped” with me in ninth grade so they already know to come to class with materials and appopriate behavior. This doesn’t stop one of the students insisting on telling me why she doesn’t need to write a research paper. I hear her out then tell her this is a non negotiable. Finding me funny she laughs, but gets started on finishing her paper.

12:20- A  student who transferred in the middle of the year, comes up to my desk distraught over the possiblity of repeating this class for a third time. I spend the next 20 minutes writing out a plan for him to master the content, pass the class and be eligible to play sports the upcoming year. After the meeting he tells me that I’m “straight.” I take that as a compliment and go on to help a couple of other students.

12:45- I notice a group in the back that’s not working and instead they’re gossiping like teenagers do. I immeaditely split the table up which is met with a lot of grumbles. One of the young ladies decides that she’s not going to do any wrk for me now because I made her mad. “That’s fine,” I say and I promptly print her off a progress report (that she lost the previous week) so she can see what her decision will do to her grade.  She stares at it, rips it up then sits glaring at me  for the next 15 minutes. Finally at 1:00 she decides she’s going to “do her work” so she can leave my class. I think aloud, “That’s a wonderful choice-now you have 25 minutes to get the work complete that you originally  had 90 minutes to complete.”

1:00- One of my students has been struggling writing this paper for a long time. Each class period I check in with her and see what she’s having trouble with. I conference with her for about 15 minutes as I remind her  how to write intext citations. She finally gets it and is confident to help her equally struggling partner.

1:15- We get word from a student who is ironically not in their class that one of my  students is skipping in the gym. As I’m looking out the door for the Assistant Principal, I happen to see the student who then runs when he sees me. Instead of chasing him down (I’m sure the students would have enjoyed that) I simply text his father. We’ll play the waiting game.

1:47- I dismiss class but one of my students walks past me and tells me that this research paper is hard but thanks me for helping them through it. I remind him to do his homework.

1:50-  This is my planning period. Today I hope to call all parents in all my classes and update them with grades. Out of my 120 students I’d estimate about 40 numbers are no longer in service. I got hung up on and then a good majority of my parents promised they’d be at the school tomorrow to a.)confront their child b.) find out if there’s anything they can do to make sure their child passes.

2:30- On my way to leaving  the front office, (I don’t have a phone in my room) I see a parent of whose child I taught the previous year. She thanks me for my no nonesnse approach with her child.

2:35- 3:00 I spend the next twenty five minutes trying to work on my lesson for the next day.

3:05- The student who was skipping earlier has been accosted by his father and the Assistant Principal. We have an impromptu parent teacher meeting, where the father has some choice words for the young man and ends with the boy crying and vowing to never speak to me again because I got him in trouble.

3:20-4:30- This is the time for my weekly tutorial for my students.  Several students come in my room complaining about the bus driver because she doesn’t allow snacks on the bus and asking me to take them home. I tell them no and explain to them that maybe they should follow her demands so they have a ride home from school.

4:30-5:00- I copy the assignment for the following day with the copier breaking every 5 copies.

5:00- I go home ready to start the day over again the next day.




For fifteen years Franchesca taught English/Language Arts in two urban districts in Atlanta, Georgia,...

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  1. Well, Franchesca, I too work in a very large urban district. The “norm” is just not “the norm”. Your day is quite typical, but I am sure there are frequent days that you stand as I do just shaking your head wondering if this IS a parallel universe. I am sure you also put a number of hours in a home too, as most of us do. With all of the reform knee jerking going on I keep wondering why none of the powers that be take the time to shadow a teacher in an urban district. Nor do I believe they would last for more that a few hours. The nature of poverty wrecks havoc on our students. Their norm, their world view and their realities are very different from the smaller suburban school. I could talk for hours…but I wanted to say thanks and I hope that folks read your journey. Be well. UrbanAT, urban art educator and art therapist.

  2. I know this post is years old, but I enjoyed reading it. I came across this post while searching for online support on how to survive in an urban school (my 10 month in) as a teacher (Elementary). I can relate to students not returning to class. Mine will do that or throwing objects/flip desks and curse while bolting out. I’m at the school 10 hours each day so your day seems short (I do 8 hours of instruction at a failing school). Suspense and in-house suspension are banned so that we can instead “work with their emotions” (1 counselor for every 105 students). There are 3-6 fist fights or violent attacks on students or teachers per classroom, per day and evacuating the classroom is a norm. 4th graders have pushed the principal, threatened to kill us, say F* you N* to our faces, we’ve been kicked and bruised. They’ve destroyed our rooms and supplies we purchase with our own money. I can relate to you when parents are called in, we are often blamed for their kids’ temper. Recently one said she’d drop off her kids at home then come back to show us “who she really is,” and she did indeed come back with officers waiting for her. I’ve been accused by parents of giving their children high expectations when “they don’t even need math so leave him alone”. If we quit, who would want to replace us, who would attempt to teach (in between constant behavior management) those students who want to learn and have a chance . At the same time we are under so much pressure to increase standardized testing scores and constantly have people observing us a couple of times a week. The expectations do not match the reality of a school with out of control behaviors that aren’t allowed to have consequences and a population of students who do not care to learn and are there for free babysitting .

    1. dear jace – my name is michael. i am looking at teaching in an urban school. i just don’t know if it is the right decision. thank you for your hard work. michael

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