Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Required: Evaluating Classroom Management

The biggest amendment to my management plan has been adding a “checks infinitum” and a “teacher’s discretion” clause to my consequences. Students were too quickly violating rules and, according to my plan, I’d have to send them to the office for too many violations. But I’m not the type of teacher who’s going to send a kid to the office for chewing gum and not raising his or her hand three times. However, I am the kind of teacher who’s going to make that kid write 200 + 200 + 200 + 200 words for breaking classroom rules that day: hence, checks infinitum. A check by his or her name for every violation of classroom rules; every check equals 200 words. This way, I can reserve detentions and ousting for the truly deserving disruptions: fights, cursing, insubordination, etc.

Consistency is the major thing to remember with any management plan: nail the good kids as quickly as you’d nail the troublemakers, the girls as quickly as the boys. Otherwise, students pick up on any (perceived) favoritism, and the teacher’ll be in for an un-fun afternoon.

Finding that balance between teaching a good lesson (universally enjoyable, engaging, group work, kinesthetic) and maintaining a classroom environment is exceedingly difficult in a classroom of kids working well below grade level. When students don’t have the academic skills necessary to work in groups, what is a teacher supposed to do? Give zeroes? Teach “sit still and shut up” behavior? B.F. Skinner the hell out of them?

If my philosophy has changed, it has been coming to terms with how unprepared I am to teach students so unprepared for success in the real world (let alone eleventh grade English). I still believe that all my students can learn; I’m just not sure that many of them know what this means. They say, “I want to succeed; I want the best.” And, then, in the same breath, complain about doing anything in class. Then again, they are kids…

Friday, August 19, 2005

and justice for all

“It’s getting better all the time.” Today was B-Day, and it was doable. Functional, even. Fun, even. Not that I’m taking it too far. I realize that there’s still hell to go through before I come out the other side… But consistency has been the lesson of the week: Punish the good kid who stands up to throw away a tissue as quickly as you’d punish the troublemaker who stands to start a fight. Otherwise, kids just see someone standing up, so they’ll join in. This is something I’m learning and working on – every hour, every day. Consistency.

Monday, August 15, 2005

the alpha female

Teaching B-Day has become about deciding just how much disrespect I’m going to take. Unfortunately, I’ve accepted some level of discourtesy – be it as a passing comment, a minor infraction of protocol, or some other bullshit. How this happened is beyond me, but I realize what I must do: Break the alpha female. Unfortunately, this class had two. One down; one to go! And then there’s R… What to do with this boy – and I use that term because he really is just an overgrown child. A mouth and an ego the size of Manhattan, but he’s scared so close to the surface, it’s almost painful to see. The 6’-something ball of fear and nerves. How to get close to him? How?

Sunday, August 14, 2005

weekend -- in the sand

I’m not the “weekend-loving” type, but, Man, did I need this weekend! Just kicking it around the house and out with some Teacher Corps friends. Just mellowing out. Missing Sarah like mad, and sort of nostalgic for the pens I’ve given away (lent) to my students – metaphoric I suppose: My passion passed on to them; my career for theirs? Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. There’s, after all, such a thing as help without too much sacrifice – without losing oneself in the process of helping another. But am I capable of such a feat? A half-hearted pledge? Not to draw unwarranted comparisons, but Sarah’s friend was killed in the Detroit church… Sometimes, we never finish even what we’re doing today.

I hate that “head-in-the-sand” mentality that infects people – probably everywhere, but definitely down here. People seem wholeheartedly content to consider themselves to be doing “just fine.” But they refuse, refuse, to consider the country or the world at large.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Five Bucks and a Circuit Breaker

I’ve been having mad problems getting a serviceman from my apartment complex to stop by my place to fix my refrigerator and stove/oven. Day in, day out, cold food, no food, dried food. Having taught most of my first week while living on vapors, and driving the Prism down to the wire, I put five bucks in the tank today and flipped the circuit in the breaker to make the stove/oven come on. Now, I’m enjoying a piping hot dinner. Oh boy, those kids better look out tomorrow! Here comes Mr. Khakipants better than ever!!

How cool are paperclips these days?! I never knew… All these wasted years…

Trying hard not to do anything too strenuous with my downtime…

In my head is this never-ending parade of “Mr. Pants, Mr. Pants! Mr. Pants! Mr. Pants!” I hear it, even though no one is saying it.

Add a child’s name to your extra-curricular club today, and he or she becomes the Poet Laureate of tomorrow…

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Done with One!

Well, technically, we won’t be done with our first week until tomorrow, but I am done with my first week of B Day! (Thanks G-d.) It’s just rough, teaching 3 different classes back-to-back-to-back. I think that’s it; I mean, I don’t need (or really want) a first period morning prep, and then the ninth graders are awesome, but then there’s lunch with Oral Communications. I mean, how am I supposed to reserve anything for those poor English III students? The literature is going to have to speak for itself.

Teaching fires me up, fills me with something – energizes me to keep pushing forward in life.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Break Me

The day from hell, of hell, in hell – all that and more. Fifth period (first of the day in our A/B block) prep, 6th period more IB. And then came 7th period Oral Communications I.

They try to draw you into conflict, to get you to stoop to their level, to push all your buttons simultaneously, to do everything imaginable (and much you’d never think up on your own) to irritate you and assert themselves. The attitude on these women! One girl actually snapped, “your beard is bugging me, it’s all like…” and she ranted on it for a minute. I looked at her, shrugged and said, “I’m sorry to hear that,” and then continued with the lesson.

Of course, I wanted to tell her what I really thought but chose, instead, to take “the high road” and avoid the unnecessary confrontation. Plus, how could I kick a girl out within the first 20 minutes of class? I don’t know her name or school procedures; neither do I want the administration thinking that I can’t handle my classroom. The battle now is for the rest of the class; as Ben says, “5 of them are going to listen, no matter what. 5 are going to act up no matter what. The other 15 are up for grabs by either side.”

They don’t listen, they don’t want to listen, they don’t know how to listen. They’re just waiting to speak – more appropriately: they’re just speaking, all at once, about nothing, very loudly. And, as soon as I gave them permission to speak (this being Oral Communications!), they silenced right up.

It’s sad to say this, but for at least an hour I wanted to give up. To pack up and leave town, to forget all about those fucking kids! To lead the life I was meant to live in higher education or some beat farmhouse with the woman of my dreams in a world full of knowledge, art, imagination, love, joy, and literature.

How great it would feel to exercise – to push my body even a little bit, even a tiny fraction as much as my nerves and patience have been tested.

Monday, August 08, 2005


Woah! Just like that, I’m back in high school again! As if I never left the atmosphere, the thinking, the essential juvenileness of the place. Here I am, forever in high school. How strange to think that the past seven years have led me back to a high school… On the other side of the desk, but nevertheless: High school is high school. And that’s a strange place to spend one’s time!

Already teachers are MIA – taking sick days and personal days before anything’s begun!

I realize that college professors are a fairly big preach-to-the-choir group of people. I mean, who are they really teaching, if not largely likeminded, upwardly mobile individuals? I’d prefer to be the Democrat in a red state, the white kid in the inner-city school, the guy who changes other people’s minds…

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

I Bite My Tongue (All Day Long)

Sarah leaves. More precisely, I drop her at the Red Roof Inn Room 214 where she greets her mother and step-father. They head, Michigan-bound, along the Natchez Trace. Love’ll be “staying” in Boston by mid August. Choking on 7am tears.

My morning spent cheering teacher standards, successes, and accountability at a Jackson Public School (JPS) Convocation at Jackson State University. I wonder what happens to “bad teachers” in a district with so many vacant positions and am thoroughly unimpressed by the crowd’s overwhelming sense of achievement: Why does everyone feel so successful in a district boasting some of the poorest performing high-school graduates in the country? For a split second, someone (among the myriad speakers) alludes to district “problems,” but the issue swiftly subsides to more praise and pro-teacher joy. I am grateful that Christ’s name isn’t invoked – though G-d and church certainly are…

Sitting on stuffy buses is not fun; meeting the faculty is. Thankfully, Dave shares his contraband PB&J! The morning balances out (Kay Francis Toliver is amazing! I so want her videos…), even if the day feels largely wasted: I should be setting up my classroom, writing lesson plans, and photocopying handouts.

At least there is a vegetarian option for lunch.

Then Dave and I examine our respective classrooms. I resolve to solve my 20-computers-in-the-classroom dilemma. (Imagine that! Here I am, teaching English in an underserved school district, and I have 20 [questionably functional] computers in my classroom – in my way! Needless to say, they were not in my “classroom plan” and cannot be relocated to another room. As such, I must adjust.) Stacking chairs, sliding desks, lifting computers begins today. Soon enough, I’ll rewire cords, untangle lines, and rearrange the room. I do believe it’ll work out fine! (Assuming I can scrounge up another seven desks to accommodate all my “expected” [term used loosely] students. I guess the number is a mere administrative “suggestion.”)

Then some thoroughly worthless afternoon discussion about state testing statistics (read: failures). Basically, the school did not do well (the vast majority of students were not proficient) and did not improve from the year before (in fact, did worse). Marvelous. If this news weren’t disheartening enough, we spend ninety minutes (conservative estimate) dissecting this “data,” manipulating this “data,” and reconfiguring this “data” – as if it were ever going to be anything but saddening. In the end, we choose to praise our history department and some minor biology gains, and to largely overlook the appalling incompetence of our English and Algebra students. The superintendent had challenged us to achieve a roughly 60% proficiency rating by last year – roughly 75% by this year. We are so far off the mark, that I have a better chance of winning back-to-back Olympic gold medals in figure-skating (or dwarf tossing, for that matter). Fairytales, really. I suppose the only thing to do is to pass the challenge off to the students – to get them caring about their test results, staying late, working extra hard, buddying up, and cracking the books. The problem: Why would they care? A “basic” score earns them a diploma, so why, then, care about “proficiency”? It offers them no (immediate) tangible reward.

Finally, a “Welcome Ninth Graders!” planning session and an opportunity to discuss TPR with the principal and her purse strings from the Mississippi Learning Institute.

Dave and I head out the front door, he smiles and chirps, “I hope every day we work for twelve hours.”