A Day in the Life at a Last Chance School

If you have read my blog about last chance schools for special education students you will know that I mentioned I would speak of my experience teaching at one. What was a typical day like teaching gang members and kids who really didn’t seem to care if they ever got an education or not? Let me journey down memory lane and share my experience.

I remember stepping into the school for the first time. I was fresh out of college and just starting work on my master’s degree. I had graduated with a B.A. in Elementary Education and minor in Learning Disabilities. Imagine my surprise when I got a call from this last chance school asking me for an interview. The problems were: I never applied for a job there and I didn’t have any experience teaching students with behavior problems. Regardless, I went for the interview, was hired and so it all began!

I ended up loving teaching those students so much I went back and got my teaching endorsement in behavior disorders so I could continue teaching there. It pretty much shocked my entire family to have me teaching at a school for pretty bad kids, but I loved it.

Our typical day would start with the students being let off the bus. All of our students were bussed in, our school wasn’t in the inner-city part of the city, but in a nice, quiet residential community across the river from the “bad areas” of town. You can imagine the neighbor’s lovely expressions when they saw our students get off the busses; it was always funny to me.

The students would be brought in by our intervention staff, many of them were searched regularly for weapons and drugs. After the initial searches, students were brought to the classrooms where teachers handed out breakfast. One important part of our school was to make sure ALL of our students were served breakfast. It helps to learn on a full stomach rather than an empty one and behaviors are somewhat improved when you aren’t starving.

After breakfast, I would fill out the students point sheets. Typically I had eight students in my classroom. My kids were usually 7th, 8th and 9th graders. I did have some 6th graders at times. The point sheets were used throughout the day to monitor behaviors. It was based on the Boys Town behavior plans, which basically we rewarded appropriate behaviors with points and when students were inappropriate, we took points away using a teaching interaction, or a TI as we called them.

Teaching interactions were quick discussions about behaviors. Let’s say a student was interrupting me when I was teaching a lesson. I, or my teaching associate, would walk up to the student at his desk and quietly explain that they student was getting a teaching interaction. We would explain why and ask the student what he or she needed to do to change their behaviors and why it was inappropriate. If the student responded respectfully and appropriately, the teaching interaction stopped there. If the student argued, swore, or refuse to speak or was rude, the teaching interaction continued and the student would lose more points. After a specific number of teaching interactions and point loss for one specific behavior, the student was then removed from the classroom and sent to the intervention room.

In the intervention room the student was given consequences for his classroom behavior. Usually the student must sit quietly in a chair for a length of time and then was given a sheet to copy that stated what he or she did wrong and why it was wrong. After that was complete, the intervention staff worked on an apology and the student was brought back to class to apologize for his behaviors. The student was then allowed in class and learning went on.

The students added their points from their point sheets at the end of the day and used them for banking. Every student had a bank account in which points were added in daily. The school had a school store full of awesome rewards for students. Students could purchase something from the store with the points they earned daily, or they could save for something big.

The school did movies every month that you could buy with points; they had large school gatherings for student verses staff athletic events they could purchase with points, or even a large once a month staff cooked lunch that they could purchase with points. The point of the points, so to speak, was to motivate students to do well in class, earn more points and be able to participate in some fun activities. If you didn’t do well, you lost points and weren’t able to participate.

What types of things did I teach and what did my students learn while in this unique school? You may remember that I mentioned we had no curriculum. That is true, the only curriculum we truly had was social studies books. Everything else the teachers made up or checked out from the district’s media center in another building. Read on Monday to find out what exactly I taught and how I did it. Did the kids actually learn? Or were behaviors the focus more than academics? Find out on Monday!