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Little Heathens

written Saturday, 11/05/2005

Just one child…

When I decided to venture into the rugged terrain of public education, I fearlessly chose to serve one of the most economically and educationally depressed regions of the country. I boldly proclaimed that if I could inspire just one child, and provide an uplifting influence in his of her life, it would make all my sacrifices and tireless efforts worthwhile.

Ha! What a load of crapola! For the record, I’ve never made any claims quite that idealistic. I don’t know exactly what the magic number is, but reaching just one out of my sixty students is definitely not good enough. Any of them would tell you that a 1/60 success rate isn’t even ten percent… or it might not even be quite five percent… or wait Mr. White, do you have to carry the two or move the decimal point over again… or is that a mixed percentage or improper numerator?

On second thought, please don’t ask my students to convert that success rate into a percentage.

So am I really reaching these kids? Are my efforts worthwhile? This week had me doubting. Last week I stated that right here is where I belong at this point in my life. This week had me wondering. Seriously, this week sucked. After bragging that I haven’t been sick for over two and a half years, my immune system finally crumbled under the brutal attack of the five-dozen germ factories who populate my class rosters. Last week I also vowed not to use my journal writings for venting. I’ll try not to whine too much, but shoot, I’ve been sick all week, and those little heathens showed me no compassion.

Sick and Tired

I’ve heard that new teachers should expect bouts of sickness scattered throughout their first year of service. A bug was clearly going around last week at Bonnabel, so I suppose I should have been more careful. I hadn’t yet gotten into a frequent hand-washing and Germ-X-squirting routine, and by Saturday I started paying the price. I developed a cold (?), with sore throat, coughing, sneezing, and feeling dog-tired. By Monday it was in full swing, and I held out some hope that any decent human beings (even teenagers) would demonstrate sympathy for another who is suffering. No such luck. The buttheads were probably no more buttheadish than usual, but they seemed even worse from my weakened perspective. Every day I went home and napped for two hours before preparing for the next day. The material we’re covering right now is a review of stuff they really should have learned back in third grade: graphing integers on a number line, adding and subtracting integers, multiplying and dividing integers. Some of the kids remember it, and are therefore bored with the rehash, but a lot of the kids still get confused by negative numbers. Unfortunately I don’t feel well suited to teach topics that are so elementary. I don’t even remember what it’s like to not know this stuff, and I don’t know how to enlighten a teenager who still doesn’t get it. For several days I woke up with the uneasy feeling of not knowing exactly what I was going to do during each 90-minute period. I frequently found myself “winging it” in front of the class. Sick, tired, and unprepared, I dragged through the whole school week. By the time Friday mercifully arrived, I was fed up with my especially-retarded third period class. At least half the class was clearly not willing to learning anything new. With sympathy for the few who were receptive to learning, I put down my chalk about 10 minutes early and let the rest of them act like buffoons. My allotment of patience and caring had run out for the week.

Layoffs Loom

Not helping matters is the job stability rollercoaster. We made it through October, and rumors had just started to circulate that the parish would not let go any of its public schoolteachers. I was finally beginning to consider picking up some furniture for my apartment and starting a gym membership (alas, I’m getting so soft). Then on Thursday an article in the Times-Picayune renewed fears that our jobs are on thin ice. The article starts:

Finances uncertain, parish officials say

Faced with a potential $60 million deficit from its once-flush coffers, the Jefferson Parish public school system will begin warning its roughly 7,000 employees this week of possible layoffs stemming from Hurricane Katrina's damage to the parish's economy.

The Jefferson Parish School Board approved the move Wednesday, setting the stage for a fiscally turbulent few months as the system contends with uncertain enrollment and a crippling shortfall of tax revenue.

"I think we all need to pray a lot -- and shop in Jefferson Parish," Board President Ray St. Pierre said.

While the number of positions that might be eliminated is unknown, Jefferson Federation of Teachers President Joe Potts said any cuts probably will hinge on two factors: seniority and certification, meaning the newest hires and uncertified personnel might find themselves first on the chopping block.

Seniority and certification. Both of those factors put me right among the “first on the chopping block.” I’m as new to Jefferson Parish as they come. Furthermore, my Practitioner License deems me as “highly qualified.” This means I’m not considered uncertified, but I’m not certified either.

My attitude was already sour from being sick. When I heard this latest news, I admit that there was a small voice in my head that blurted out “Good, go ahead and fire me.” Quitting in my first year has never been an option, but I wasn’t heartbroken at the prospect of this job being snatched away from me. More than anything, I just wish for the uncertainty to end. As the threat of hurricane season starts to wane, the threat of job loss still keeps things very unsettled for many of us around here.

Done whining for now

Okay, I’ve slept away much of this Saturday, and I think I’ll be rid of my cold by tomorrow or Monday. Just as important, the foul attitude that came with the cold will hopefully pass as well. As I write, I’m no longer upset with those little heathens. I still don’t love teaching, but I never expected to love it quite so soon. I knew the first year would be a rough transition period. I definitely do want to keep this job and find out if it could turn into something rewarding. Let’s see if I get that opportunity.