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written Saturday, 1/7/2006
New year’s eve
I entered 2005, slightly over a year ago, having just been rejected from Teach For America. My plan to launch a new career path looked doubtful, and I wasn’t sure how much longer I could suppress my apathy towards engineering.
The following year would bring some fantastic highs (bonding with new TGNO friends) and depressing lows (hmmm… guess). A newfound adventurous spirit had brought me out to New Orleans. Despite all the ups and downs, I must admit that any thirst for adventure has been quenched twofold. For the first time in years, I didn’t retire to bed by 10pm on New Year’s Eve. I had to stay up and watch 2005 drift into history.
Appropriately, I reunited with friends I met as a result of TGNO. I hadn’t seen Sunday in over four months, since she evacuated to Shreveport. She joined TGNO and worked her first (and only) week as a middle-school English teacher. Through Sunday, I also met Kelcy & Becky. All their futures in the area are uncertain, as employment options are still scarce. Nonetheless, I was thrilled to see them again.
We spent the evening in the French Quarter. The midnight fireworks were cancelled due to fog, but that didn’t put a damper on the festive mood. The reopened bars were experiencing brisk business, several bands played in the streets, and hopes were high that 2006 will be a little kinder to New Orleans. I volunteered to be the designated driver that evening, and some of the excesses I saw around me made me more than happy to stay dry. However, I thoroughly enjoyed myself without the aid of alcohol. It was encouraging to witness such good spirits returning to a devastated city. Obviously the struggles of recovery are far from over, but on this New Year’s Eve I was glad to be in New Orleans with friends.
I typically don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions. If I need to improve in some way, why wait until January 1 to start the process? However, this year the timing is such that I have made one resolution at this time:
I will stop referring to my students with derogatory language.
Friends, please help me stick to this promise!
I’ve never belittled a student directly or in the presence of other students. Those who know me realize that I’m just venting when I’ve referred to the “buttheads” and “heathens.” I recently spoke with the Bonnabel Math department head, who inherited my troublesome 3rd period class. She has 20+ years teaching experience, and doesn’t get flustered easily. A few weeks ago, though, my former students brought her to tears after tormenting her mercilessly in class. Now, aren’t we teachers entitled to blow off a little steam when talking of our most difficult students? I believe so.
Nonetheless, I’ve started to wonder whether speaking of my motivationally-challenged quasi-pupils with disrespectful terms might subconsciously influence how I truly think of them or treat them (Only truthful observations in that sentence). To be clear, I don’t feel wrong in honestly acknowledging the educational shortcomings of my apathetic, knowledge-deficient, sluggish pseudo-students. However, I would hate for any negativity to emerge, intentionally or unintentionally, in my classroom.
So, if you ever hear me again refer to one of my students as a “demonic fire-breathing soulless spawn of Satan,” please offer me a gentle reminder of this pledge. My lethargic, lackadaisical, listless learners deserve better than that. Thank you, friends.
First week back at West Jefferson
Anxiety over returning to my new school occupied my mind during the latter half of my vacation. There are still so many questions and problems that I feel need to be resolved in my classroom. Rules and procedures that I had developed at Bonnabel needed to be revised for my new West Jeff environment, and I found myself constantly worrying about my transition. In that sense, I was glad to return to work on January 2, to at least end the anticipation.
Before the holidays, the “new (mean) Mr. White” had already started to surface during my first week at West Jeff. I vowed to reduce incidences of yelling while starting the New Year. By Friday, I had done even better than that. I didn’t raise my voice even once during the whole week. Ahh, I’m so proud of myself! I’m learning to perfect the long pause and stern stare. Eventually, the more attentive students alert their misbehaving peers that I’m waiting for their attention. I’m learning what discipline techniques work best at this school, and am starting to use them. I’ve started issuing lunch detentions, and next week I intend to start making phone calls to parents. While maturing as a teacher, I aim to find more ways for rewarding positive behavior rather than just punishing poor behavior. For now though, I’m just trying to make progress in some way every week.
As I’m getting to know my students better, I am starting to like them even more. As I’m learning their names, I’m greeting them in the hallways and upon entering class. Most are responding in a friendly manner. I think they realize that even though I’m their teacher, they don’t have to view me as the enemy. I may not have many good students, but most of them really are good kids. Just like at Bonnabel, I can even see likeable qualities in the children who’ve caused me the most difficulty. It’s heartbreaking to see so many children demonstrate such lack of ambition and interest in furthering their own educations. Most disheartening are my Algebra 2 students. Unlike Geometry, students don’t have to take this class to graduate. It’s only required (I believe) if they want to receive a TOPS scholarship to college. So, why do so many of them bother taking this class if they’re only going to lay their heads down and refuse to do their homework? As a caring teacher, I want nothing more than to see them all succeed. However, I’ll be surprised if more than half of them pass when I issue quarter grades in a couple weeks.
I still have many questions concerning how I want to run my classroom. There’s still tremendous room for improvement. Nonetheless, I’m starting to settle in at West Jefferson. I’m optimistic that my comfort level will continue to grow, and eventually I’ll be able to relax more during my vacations.
Friday night, I hung around after school to catch the basketball game. West Jefferson was hosting my former school, Bonnabel. Three of the West Jeff varsity players are in one of my Algebra 2 classes. The star center, who already has been offered a scholarship to play college ball, has been granted his request to be transferred out of my class for the next grading period (I have the nerve to expect him to earn a passing grade). West Jefferson benefited from several talented players that we’ve inherited from unopened Orleans schools, and they dominated the game. I enjoyed the athleticism, as well as seeing a few former colleagues from Bonnabel.
I ran into DeeDee, Bonnabel’s volleyball coach. She informed me that my former student “Moody Girl” finally dropped out of school. With a toddler, and twins on the way, I was saddened but not surprised. DeeDee also mentioned that Moody Girl once claimed that I had said or done something “inappropriate” to her. This student’s emotional swings, dubious claims, and tendencies to get attached to certain teachers are well known amongst the Bonnabel faculty. In the same conversation, Moody Girl also apparently claimed that I, along with her favorite science teacher, was the only reason that she was staying in school at the time. DeeDee said she knew right away that the allegation was “bullsh—.” I have no way of knowing to whom else Moody Girl made these claims. In her troubled case, I’m not too concerned that anyone would believe her. Nonetheless, this information served as a reminder that teachers need to constantly watch their backs.
Earlier in the day, I had urged all of my West Jefferson students to take responsibility for their own learning. If they don’t understand the material, I encouraged them to see me at lunchtime for tutoring. Is it unwise for me to open my classroom door during my off time, for any troubled child to walk through? On this same day, I also kept three students in for lunch detentions. Am I making myself a target for a vindictive claim?
I’ve been reminded that a scandalous assertion by an insecure child is a headache that I don’t need. What a perilous tightrope teachers must walk in trying to serve our students to the best of our abilities.
The journey continues in 2006!
I've been negligent in taking photos of the good times since coming out here. Thankfully, TGNO friend Robert has been more responsible, and I just received these photos from him.