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written Saturday, 4/1/2006
Over the years, I have become vaguely aware that a certain subset of my gender apparently finds physical altercations between members of the “gentler” gender to be perversely titillating.
This week I had to help break up two more girl fights in the math hallway. Don’t worry – I found nothing stimulating or arousing about it. In fact, I’ve always found the occurrence of two girls screeching at each other with rabid intensity to be quite bothersome. It greatly disturbs my sense of order in the world when I see females acting more ignorant and violent than males. I don’t know what’s causing these confrontations, but the screaming, cursing, slapping, and hair-pulling is becoming a major headache on campus.
Thankfully, there has been at least one other teacher to help defuse both of the fights I witnessed this week. The first incident happened early in the week, when I heard two girls hurling threats at each other in the hallway. Another teacher and I each stepped between and held them back until administrators arrived to take over.
Apparently fights are breaking out quite frequently all over campus, almost exclusively amongst the “fairer sex.” On Friday morning, the principal and discipline dean both spoke on the intercom. They scolded and pleaded with the students to handle any differences maturely, reminding them of the suspensions, expulsions, and arrests that result from fighting in school.
Later that day, as students were in transition to their 5th period classes, a scuffle broke out in the doorway of the neighboring classroom. Fortunately most of my Algebra 2 class remained calmly seated when I ran over to assist. The science teacher who was substituting for this class briefly separated the girls after they exchanged a few slaps. I pushed one of them into the hallway, shut the door, and blocked it firmly from the outside. Another nearby teacher started to escort that girl to the discipline office, although she soon ran off. I walked back to my classroom and called for an administrator to come get the other girl who was still inside the neighboring room. Getting my students to focus on math after such commotion isn’t an easy task, but we proceeded to delve further into the fascinating world of logarithms.
Thursday was a half-day for students. The principal, Mr. Geer, held a faculty meeting immediately after lunch. I’ve known that teacher satisfaction had sunk quite a bit in recent years at West Jefferson. Mr. Geer’s speech hinted at the morale problem, and several other problems of which I was not even aware.
Lately, it’s been typical for anywhere from 15-20 teachers to call in “sick” on any given day, and many other schools are facing similar absence rates. The company that supplies substitute teachers can’t even come close to filling those slots, so those of us who are present end up having to sacrifice our planning periods to cover other classes. Apparently accusations against the administration for their handling of this issue have been circulating, as well as other complaints about how the school is run. The criticism I’ve heard most often is that the current administrators all arrived from elementary schools two or three years ago, and don’t know how to deal with high school issues.
In the same gruff former-Marine tone that he uses with the students, Mr. Geer scolded and pleaded with the teachers. He acknowledged that much of the staff may choose to attend the Job Transfer Fair in the summer, but appealed for us to stop fueling rumor mills and gripe sessions – especially in the presence of students.
I didn’t realize that out of 84 total public schools in Jefferson Parish, West Jefferson has the lowest test scores of all. I guess that explains the pressure that was put on us teachers to prepare students for the recent standardized tests. It also helps explain some of the academic shortcomings I’ve seen in my classroom.
Ultimately, I don’t have enough perspective to know who’s to blame for the educational, discipline, and general climate problems at West Jefferson. After the faculty meeting, I spoke with Mr. Howard, the Algebra 1/Geometry teacher across from me. He admitted that he was also largely clueless about the extent of West Jeff’s ills. He speculated that the math department tends to remain aloof about much of the strife. Good!
Prospect for next year
After the faculty meeting on Thursday, I stopped by Bonnabel to make sure the door is still open for me next year. It definitely is. Despite the half-day, Bonnabel’s administration compelled their faculty to stay until the end of the day to confirm report card grades. Numerous former colleagues offered very warm greetings and hopes that I’ll return next year. Acting on the $750,000 grant that BHS received last summer to develop career academies, teachers have been gauging student interest in future course offerings. The Flash animation course is definitely in the works for next year, and there are plenty of students who want to sign up for it. One of the computer technology teachers says if I don’t come back, then she will have to teach it, despite not knowing anything about 2D animation. She also mentioned that the course might include 3D animation, although she lacked further details. Even though I don’t claim any experience with 3D animation software, I was intrigued with the possibility. Again, no one else at Bonnabel is in any better position to teach it, and I’m confident that I could quickly pick up the skill well enough to teach an introductory course.
I know better than to assume that any career plans made out here are set in stone, but my visit reaffirmed my inclination to return to Bonnabel next year.
With the start of the 4th grading quarter, my class populations are still in flux. A number of students have dropped or stopped showing up by now, so thankfully my classes average barely 20 students.
However, I’ve received three new students in the last few weeks. One girl moved here from Texas (family works in construction), and is already bored by the painfully slow pace of my Algebra 2 class. The other two are former Orleans students who’ve just returned to southern Louisiana, and can’t even tell me what topics they were studying in the math classes they attended while away.
Three more students oddly reappeared this week after absences of 1-2 months. One had been injured in a boxing match, another blames home instability for her long break from school, and the third declines to explain where he’s been.
A handful of students have suddenly decided that it’s time to start working, after spending the previous 3+ months using my class for naptime. To pass a year-long course, students must achieve a D average for all four quarters, and they are not allowed to get an F in the fourth quarter. Somehow though, a lot of students seem to forget about the D average requirement. They think that three quarters of apathy can be made up in the last 2 months. I find it very difficult to refuse my help to any student who requests it, but I also find it hard not to resent these students. They rob their classmates of instruction time by asking basic questions that even my slowest awake students know. They had the opportunity to obtain the knowledge earlier in the year, and they chose not to learn. Part of me wishes they’d go back to sleep and accept that they’ve blown their opportunity to pass this year. Maybe they’ll muster up the motivation to retake the class next year and pay attention from the start.
Part of my job as a teacher is to be compassionate, helpful, and understanding. However, I think it is also my job to know when students need to learn hard lessons about their own responsibilities in achieving success.
Report cards issued
Report cards were handed out on Friday, although I had already let my students know their grades as early as a week prior. I was pleasantly surprised not to receive any significant protest from the 39 students who earned Fs. In fact, I held fairly meaningful (I hope) conversations with some of them about responsibility, challenges, consequences, and maturity. A few have a chance of passing for the year if they do well in the fourth quarter, while others will almost certainly need to retake the course. For these students, my goal of teaching them math now takes a back seat to my goal of teaching them lessons about life. I tell them about my own failures, academic and otherwise. The ones that I’ve been able to overcome left me feeling stronger while the ones I’ve never tackled still hurt. I tell them that it would be easy to blame mean Mr. White for their poor grades, but taking ownership of their failures gives them the power to fix the problem. I’m starting to see signs that most of my students know I’m on their side. Strangely, the ones that are getting the worst grades may realize this better than anyone else.
Recording my classes
For one of my TGNO/UNO assignments, I videotaped all my classes on Wednesday. I had been told that one way to gauge student respect for a teacher is to see how they behave on a day that is obviously important to that teacher. Accordingly, I was extremely encouraged by the excellent behavior demonstrated in almost all of my classes. Attention was high, and disruptions were almost non-existent. Only the last class of the day neglected to stay on task. They’re typically my rowdiest class, and I don’t think their inattentiveness indicated any disrespect towards me.
As I watched the tapes to select which one to use for my assignment, I was almost disappointed with the good results! It was somewhat boring to watch such a smoothly-run class. I had suggested to the other TGNO math teachers that we get together someday and watch each other’s tapes. Now I wonder if my tape will discredit my complaints about how unruly and unmotivated my students are.
Alas, I just can’t be satisfied.
Goodbye to Cranky
When I visited home back in December, I wondered if it might be the last time I would get to see that cantankerous feline Cranky. Unfortunately, it was. About 12 years ago, my mom seemed to gain a new favorite son when the “Fat Boy” entered our lives. He was already full-grown at the time, and went on to enjoy a good long life until his death on Monday.