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End of week #3

written Friday, 10/21/2005

How’s the weather?

Currently Hurricane Wilma is kicking around Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. New Orleans dodged a bullet this time. Lacking 175mph winds, the weather has been quite nice around here lately. Even though we’re not going to get hit by the latest hurricane, I still feel like I ought to be observing the news more carefully out of concern for those who are in Wilma’s path. I don’t know if some kind of hurricane suffrage solidarity obliges me to stay tuned to the death and destruction from all of this summer’s unprecedented storms, but my brain reached saturation sometime during the Hurricane Katrina aftermath. Is it just me? Did the rest of the country also pay as little mind to Hurricane Stan (October 1-5) as I did, even though it probably killed more victims than did Katrina when it slammed into Mexico and Central America? Would I have paid more attention if it had hit the United States? Honest answer: Probably not, as long as it didn’t disturb my schedule. Even with Florida sitting in the crosshairs of Wilma, I immediately returned to my own affairs once Greater New Orleans was in the clear. Actually, for the whole last month I haven’t given much attention to anything happening anywhere outside of a 15-mile radius. It’s not that I’m even feeling guilty over this self-absorption, but someday I do intend to rejoin the rest of the world. Meanwhile though, I stay preoccupied with my little spot in the “dysfunctional state” of Louisiana (per the words of former FEMA director Brown).

Mean Mr. White

This week Bonnabel’s assistant principal of curriculum stopped by to inform me that several unnamed students had complained about me: they weren’t “getting” my class, or were worried that they were failing, or some mumbo jumbo like that. Her discussion with me was a formality, and she downplayed the complaints. Several veteran teachers confirmed that this is not uncommon at all. I’m not concerned. I already knew that there are some students who resent the strictness of my rules, and also resent the fact that they’re actually expected to work. While I get accustomed to my new role as a teacher, there are many things I will learn to do more effectively with time. Nonetheless, with regards to whichever kids complained about me, I seriously doubt that I am the most significant problem in their lives.

I found out last week that one of my difficult students is tagged as “emotionally disturbed,” and I doubt she’s the only one. At least several others are also classified under various “special education” labels. A girl in my 9th grade homeroom class just returned from having a baby (I hadn’t even noticed she was pregnant). Another girl in one of my 9th grade algebra classes mentioned last week that she’s expecting. I’ve started hearing some stories of abuse and rape in some of my students’ histories. One of the alleged rape victims has a two-year old, and is quite moody and emotional. I think I was initially on her “like” list. Now that she’s in danger of failing my class, I think I’ve been reclassified to her “dislike” list. As a youngish male teacher with troubled girls in my classes, I’m not even sure which is the worse list to be on. I’m just following advisements of caution as best I can: Don’t ever be alone in my classroom with any student; Always stay in public view when speaking to any student individually; Don’t make physical contact with any student in any way (other than a handshake), etc.

The boys have their problems too, of course. I don’t know how much of it comes from problems at home, versus problems stemming just from being teenage boys. From some of them I see defiant behavior, disrespectful speech, and complete disengagement from the class. In summary, they’re buttheads, and they’re giving me plenty of practice in developing my discipline procedures. For the first two weeks I tried hallway conferences, after-class conferences, and deduction of points. This week I started trying lunch detentions, the glare followed by a long uncomfortable pause, and calls to home. I told four students on Monday and Tuesday that I would be calling home later in the week. The tone of my call, positive or negative, would be for them to choose through their actions. In general, the behavior of those students did improve slightly over the week. We’ll see if calls to parents prove to be a useful technique. This evening, out of six total parents I tried to reach, I only got through to two of them. They were supportive at least, and assured me that their children’s poor behavior in school was not acceptable to them. Some day I’ll hopefully get to a point where I can engage more kids in the lessons as a preventive measure, and avoid having to rely on punishments (I mean, “negative consequences”) so much.

To be fair, most of my students are well-behaved. As their personalities emerge, I’m realizing that a lot of them are fun to have in class. My journal entries tend to be just like my classroom, in that I spend more of my time addressing the buttheads than the good kids. I need to make myself focus more on the ones who make me glad to be to Bonnabel. I’m finally getting to a point where I see them using some skills that they definitely didn’t have three weeks ago (Manipulating fractions, and evaluating simple algebraic expressions and equations). It’s harder to tell what the good kids think of me. They usually sit stoically while I deal with the “cut ups.” I hope they realize that it’s their class too.