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written Friday, 4/14/2006
I love teaching.
Arriving at school each day to see my children’s bright, curious faces, so eager to absorb the enriching wisdom of the day’s lesson is worth far more than any monetary compensation. After all, I believe the children are our future. I strive to teach them well and let them lead the way.
I still feel the need to occasionally remind myself of the rosy career outlook that all aspiring teachers would love to achieve, and a few actually do achieve (somewhere, somehow, someway).
I may never attain the degree of delusional optimism that comprises my dream classroom. However, as long as I believe that it’s possible to grow further in a positive direction, I maintain hope that a fulfilling career could conceivably exist for me in education.
As much as I complain about my first year of teaching, that belief and hope aren’t dead yet.
With conflicting relief and sadness, I finished last week’s entry with the observation that “eight short weeks from now will most likely mark the last time that I will ever see any of [my West Jefferson students] again.” In each one of my classes, there are students who I will definitely remember with much fondness.
2nd period Geometry
CD (boy) & EJ (girl) returned from their evacuation, and came to West Jefferson a few weeks after I arrived in December. I didn’t notice them much at first. In fact, when they started showing up together for lunchtime tutoring, it took me a few days to recognize that EJ was even one of my students. The tutoring premise wore off quickly, and now they just hang out in my room before school and during lunch with three or four of their friends. Students are barred from the hallways at those times, but as long as this group can sneak up to my classroom undetected, I don’t turn them away. They’re unspectacular students who talk about unspectacular teenage topics (TV, pop entertainers, gossip), yet they’re now two of my favorite kids. They exemplify to me what the teacher-student relationship ought to be. They may not love the subject that I teach, but they know I care about them and they treat me respectfully. Next year they plan to return to the private Catholic school they attended before the hurricanes.
HW (boy) also plans to return to his Catholic school when it reopens next year. He’s been quite a poor student, and he barely scraped by with a D last quarter. His mom was one of the three parents who showed up at the recent parent conference day. She’s quite angry with him, since he’s typically gotten Bs in math. It seems he’s been quite upset about being at West Jefferson, and his academics have suffered accordingly. Nonetheless, he’s always been one of my most polite kids. Every day he greets me with “Good morning, Mr. White,” and he’s the rare student who accepts complete responsibility for his poor grades in my class. I’m frustrated that I haven’t been able to motivate him to do better, but I’m still glad to have him in my class.
3rd period Algebra 2
Throughout the year, 3rd period has been my most apathetic class. DP and JH (girls) reassure me that I’m not completely wasting my time with them. Several months ago, I mistakenly insisted that DP take a test only a day or two after she returned from evacuation and entered my class. I had not yet learned all my students’ faces, and she was quite angry with me then. She quickly forgave my mistake when I later told her the test grade wouldn’t count, and has since been my only consistent A student in that class. When I had students fold and decorate pieces for a “geometric origami model” (see photos in 3/4/06 entry), DP wrote comments on her pieces, such as “Mr. White is a fun, smart teacher.” As insecure as I sometimes feel about my effectiveness as a teacher, I greatly appreciated the compliments.
I initially had to pester JH to stay on task and put away her cell phone. She has a giggly, playful personality, and has trouble staying focused. However, she’s learned to adapt to the way I run my class, and has developed into one of my better students.
KW (boy) and I butted heads quite a bit when I first came to West Jefferson. He was constantly disruptive, and prone to angry outbursts. I talked to his parents, held him for multiple lunch detentions, and even had him suspended once or twice. Over the months though, we’ve come to a pretty good understanding. The message I repeat to him over and over is, “The way you approach people is as important, or maybe even more important, than what you have to say.” He seems to be listening. Math is not his best subject. He gets frustrated easily, but he’s proven to be one of my most persistent students. I still have to remind KW to stop talking out of turn, but he accepts my reprimands much better now. We greet each other in the hallways regularly, and I see little evidence of the anger that he used to display in my class.
4th period Algebra 2
SD (girl) is a popular cheerleader and soccer player, yet exhibits a rare studiousness and humility. She’s another reminder that my lectures aren’t being completely ignored. In fact, she’s one of the few students who makes me feel guilty that the slow pace of my class is not challenging her more. BL (boy) sits quietly in the back of the room. He writes very messily and often appears not to be paying attention, yet consistently scores well on my quizzes and assignments. Looking back at his grades from earlier in the year, I was surprised to see that he was getting Ds in math before he entered my class. With such a high failure rate in my classes, I’m always encouraged to find a student who’s actually finding better success with me than with his or her previous teacher. At the parent conference, BL’s mom mentioned that he wants to get into aerospace engineering. He’s certainly bright enough to achieve that goal. I’ll just have to start pestering him more about his messy handwriting.
5th period Algebra 2
KP (girl) has a reserved personality, yet is not afraid to ask questions. I was surprised to learn that she comes from Orleans Parish schools. I’m not sure if she attended public or private schools though (huge difference!) Regardless, she’s one of my brightest students. JW (girl) is a solid B math student. She says math is her favorite subject, even though I can see that it doesn’t always come easily for her. She works hard for her grades, and consistently pays attention. While almost everyone else is anxious to be excused for lunch near the end of the period, both KP and JW are willing to stay a few minutes after class in order to make sure they understand how to do a problem. Just that simple demonstration of interest in their educations can be enough to make my day.
SP (boy) is a lanky, personable basketball player who’s the same height as me (Not the same one I’ve written about before). He greets me with a smile and the two-finger peace sign upon entering class each day. He’s susceptible to falling asleep while sitting completely upright, and he struggles to maintain focus. He’s a consistent C math student who probably doesn’t care much for the subject, but seems to understand that his general education is important. Although I’ve frequently had to remind him to get back on task, he’s quick to apologize for his lapses and get back to work. SP is not the best student, but I enjoy having him in class.
7th period Geometry
This is my rowdiest class – most likely since it’s at the end of the day. I generally like the students, although they frustrate me with their inattentiveness.
JC (boy) is a C math student who greets me with a handshake upon entering class. I don’t know how he feels about math in general, but he tries hard to understand the material and asks a lot of good questions. Once in a while I catch him off task, usually writing “I love Leslie” over and over on a piece of paper as if he were completing punish work. I can’t help but laugh and wonder whether this Leslie is aware of his affections – he won’t tell me. JC made a point of assuring me that my attempts to prepare my classes for the recent standardized tests paid off, for him at least. With complete earnestness, he mentioned how he kept asking himself throughout the tests, “What would Mr. White do?” Only my concern about appearing pompous kept me from buying him a W.W.J.D. bracelet and telling him that the J is for “Jerome.” JC has got to be one of the nicest kids I’ve met this year.
Of the half-dozen kids who offer me a handshake on a daily basis, MR (boy) is the only one who does so at both the beginning and end of each class. He was added to my roster in January, at the start of the third quarter. A new student represents an unknown variable being thrown into my class, and I consciously try to hide my angst whenever one enters my room for the first time. It’s still happening in this absurd year – I’ve gotten 6 new students in the last three weeks. Thankfully, MR has turned out to be a real asset to my 7th period. Some of the students on that roster seem unwilling or unable to learn from my lectures. MR is bright and attentive, and frequently helps out his slower classmates while I’m busy assisting other students. He does so with no hint of showboating or “sucking up to the teacher.” While I would like to get better at fostering cooperative learning in my classrooms, a few students like MR are already helping to create such an environment.
Something to remember
In the middle of a typical stressful day, I might claim to have three or four total students who I’m pleased to see every day. However, when I really stop to think about it, I have at least that many in each one of my five classes. They represent a good mix of boys and girls. They’re black, white, and Hispanic. They’re from Jefferson, Orleans, and elsewhere. They’re temporary Catholic school transplants and public school originals. They include A students, F students, and all grades in between.
Who knows… next week something may happen to frustrate me and compel me to vent about how awful this job is in my next entry. When June 2 finally comes around though, I suspect and I hope that the good memories of my favorite students will prove to be more enduring than all the other mess that has cluttered this year.