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Adjusting to West Jefferson

written Saturday, 12/17/2005

First full week at West Jefferson High

Having just finished my first full week at West Jefferson, I’m optimistic that I’ll eventually like it there. However, I always take a while to get settled into new situations, and this is definitely new.

Predictably, getting to know the students is the biggest change. I’ve memorized about half of their names by now, and I expect that I’ll warm up to my new environment as I get to know them better. My schedule includes a homeroom, two Geometry classes, and three Algebra 2 classes. The rosters run from 22 to 34 students, although it’s rare that even 80% show up to some of the classes. I’ve never seen a dozen of the missing students. In other cases, they’ve shown up once or twice in the middle of the week. Typical explanations for absences include oversleeping, missing the bus, or nonchalant shrugs.

Student attitudes towards education seem to run the extremes more than I observed at Bonnabel. For every student that makes a rare and unimpressive appearance in my class, there’s another student who takes notes and asks questions. Those attentive students help reassure me that I’m not wasting my time in this new career endeavor. Perhaps the attitude extremes are due to teaching 10-12th graders at West Jefferson, versus all 9th graders at Bonnabel. Maybe the older students feel like their fates are already determined, so some continue to strive while others have already given up.

Oddly, my biggest behavior problems tend to be in the Algebra 2 classes. Algebra 2 comes after Geometry in the curriculum, and students are only required to take it if they plan to go to college. I thought I would be getting the smart and/or college-bound students in these classes, but in fact I’ve had to deal with a good share of disruptive knuckleheads. One possible explanation is that some children were not able to be scheduled into a Geometry class for whatever reason. They may have been put into an Algebra 2 class instead as a means to fulfill their high school math requirement. Similar to Bonnabel (and probably every other high school in the country), the main problem is the student who can’t or won’t control his or her big mouth. Talking or yelling out of turn, socializing with neighbors, and using inappropriate language are the most frequent behaviors that disrupt my classes.

Shades of Bonnabel’s old nice Mr. White still emerge. I try to praise their participation and good behavior, and I’ve tried to be more permissive on some issues. In the interest of “choosing my battles,” I’ve decided not to fight the students over gum, food, and drink. It would seem like a lonely struggle when most other teachers allow the students such concessions. Unfortunately though, the mean new Mr. White rears his ugly head more often than I’d like. Someday I’ll be a good enough teacher to command my students’ attention without resorting to yelling. Until then, raising my voice has been the only way I’ve found to alert them that they’ve crossed the line.

The transition to a new school has been stressful, but there are reasons to be optimistic. With the higher level subjects, I’m thankful that I don’t have to spend much time on basic math topics such as fractions and positive/negative numbers. I think I’ll enjoy working with this faculty and administration too. I’ve already been consulting my fellow math teachers for tips on settling into West Jefferson. Most of all, I keep reminding myself of the lessons I learned during my two months at Bonnabel. I need to trust that in spite of the daily battles, my students will appreciate me in the end. Growth and learning occur gradually in high school students, and I need to be patient with them. Furthermore, growth and learning occur gradually for me too. Be patient Mr. White, and try to enjoy the experience!

Winter Vacation

Our two-week winter vacation has just started! Tomorrow I return to California for the first time since coming out here more than six months ago in late May. I can’t wait to see my family and friends back home.

As an added bonus, I’m excited to reunite with several of my TGNO friends who are coming back to the area in the coming weeks. Robert (evacuated to Houston, TX) just returned for the reopening of Karr High School in Orleans Parish this week. He was rehired amongst a large pool of applicants for the few Orleans Schools that are reopening as charter schools. Leslie (evacuated to Tampa, FL area) originally taught at Belle Chase High in Plaquemines Parish. She hasn’t been able to resume a teaching job yet, but will be moving back nonetheless. She plans to work at Starbucks while awaiting an opening. Sunday (evacuated to Shreveport, LA) will return for a few months before moving on to Seattle… or Iowa… or Timbuktu. I can’t tell where she’s going, but I’ll enjoy the time that she’s here. I’m also not sure what Allison (evacuated to home in Wisconsin) plans to do when she returns in early January. Probably catering, waiting tables, or moonlighting as a bouncer on Bourbon Street. Regardless, I know she’ll bring her fun spirit with her.

Some photos

I finally took a photo with Nat & Joan, my local "family."
West Jefferson High School camus, front entrance.
West Jefferson High School camus, back courtyard.
My humble classroom, room 212.
Check out that ceiling!
Last night, I went back to Bonnabel to catch a basketball game.
The varsity Bonnabel Bruins trailed most of the game, but won the nailbiter on a 3-pointer with 1.7 seconds left.