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written Saturday, 5/6/2006

Terminological Inexactitude

Remember all that stuff that I wrote last week?

Well, forget it. Apparently I’m full of hooey (hot air, hogwash, horsefeathers).

First of all, in my defense, I think there is some merit to the idea of developing interesting lessons inspired by my super-stupendous a/c vent flap. On further thought, though, I wonder if perhaps the prospect of this concept yielding vast monetary riches may be a wee bit unlikely. Sorry mom, I hope you didn’t get your hopes up. It’s all a bunch of bunk (babble, bull, baloney, balderdash).

Last week I spent some time writing about my student EW, and expressed admiration for his willingness to keep showing up for tutoring even though there’s no chance of him passing my class this year. Well, he didn’t even show up at school all week. Of course extended absences aren’t unprecedented for this boy, so I don’t automatically assume that I was completely off-base about him. On the other hand, could it be just one more sign that I’m totally full of crapola (craziness, crock, claptrap)?

I also claimed that the vibe of my workweek seems to alternate regularly between good and bad cycles. This week was scheduled to be a bad one. Furthermore, I said that multiple small factors always seem to determine the mood. Well, what a load of poppycock, tommyrot, gibberish, gobbledygook, rubbish, flimflam,…

In the words of my students

Despite my projections of last week’s entry, this was a surprisingly positive week, and I can definitely trace the good feelings back to a specific, unexpected source.

Mr. Genovese is an English teacher at West Jefferson. He’s a soft-spoken white man, perhaps in his forties, with a shiny bald head. We speak occasionally in the lounge before school, and this week I found out about an assignment that he gives to his classes. At the beginning of every year, each of his students writes a letter to a favorite teacher from the previous year. The students are instructed to format their letters with an introduction, topic sentences, supporting statements, and all that other good stuff that I’d remember if I were an English teacher. Recently, it turns out, Mr. Genovese decided to give the assignment to his senior students as the end of this school year draws near.

I didn’t yet know any of this as I walked through the teachers’ lounge after lunch on Monday. I glanced over to see a paper in my mailbox. I was puzzled as I approached. It was clearly a personal letter, yet it lacked the angry scrawl of a death threat. Why else would anyone at school take the time for a page-long handwritten communication to me? Oh crap, I thought, when I saw the signature of one of my Algebra 2 students at the bottom of the page. NW (girl) has never been a behavior problem, but she’s struggled with academics and motivation in my class. I had to wonder, is this a long sob story begging me for a passing grade, now that she’s a senior preparing to graduate? I did notice that her absences and class-time naps have decreased in the last quarter or so, and her participation level has improved. Still, she’s hardly ever passed a test in my class, and I don’t intend to give any pity grades.

With an apprehensive sigh, I directed my eyes to the top of the page and started to read.
The first letter that brightened my week

The first sentence blew me away: “Mr. White you are my favorite teacher this year.” She went on to admit that she hadn’t accepted my help earlier in the year and that she needed to “get back on track.” NW noted my frequent acknowledgement that most students will never use Algebra 2 in real life, yet she still managed to develop some motivation in the fourth quarter. (My claim has always been that the real value of the class is in learning how to think in a logical, sequential manner – a point that I will reiterate at least once more before the year is over). Due to increased participation, I think NW will squeak by with a D this quarter. Unfortunately, that probably will not be enough to earn her a passing grade for the whole year. To know for sure, I still need to get her first quarter grade from her previous teacher. At least, as she notes, she doesn’t need this course to graduate.

NW used to tell me that she doesn’t plan to go to college. If it’s truly important to her now, I hope she achieves that goal. She may have to encounter the Algebra 2 content again, perhaps in junior college. I hope she gained something from my class that will help motivate her to a successful future.

Some might speculate that the intent of NW’s letter was to coax me for a grade that she didn’t truly earn. As cynical as I am at times, I believe her sentiment was sincere. I think she appreciated what I try to do for her, and all my students. Rather than overanalyze NW’s motives, I decided to just let the gratitude expressed in her letter brighten up my day and my week.
The second letter that let me know I’m doing something right

Tuesday morning I was in the middle of teaching a class when another letter was delivered to my room. This one was written by a student who, despite a less-than-perfect attendance record, will definitely pass Algebra 2. KW (girl) is one of a few students who has been able to consistently succeed in my class, yet I was still surprised by her opening sentence: “I’ve really enjoyed your class.” I was thrilled to read some of the things she liked most. She complimented the way I take time with my students, carefully explain the material, refuse to play favoritism with the athletes, and encourage students to ask for help. These are exactly the things I’ve been trying to achieve with my students. KW’s words were the kind of praise and thanks that I’ve dreamed of receiving ever since I became a teacher. Getting it in the form of a letter makes it especially gratifying. KW is a bright girl, and I’m confident that she can go on to achieve great things in life.

I thanked Mr. Genovese for having his students write those letters. I only have 16 seniors on my rosters, and I’m so glad that some of them were in his class.

The Top 100

This week I received Newsweek’s issue ranking the top 100 public high schools in the country. I excitedly flipped to the article and scanned the list, but my giddiness quickly turned to bitter disappointment. Somehow the editors, in their haste to publish this weekly rag, neglectfully omitted West Jefferson from their hoity-toity list. It took all my strength to suppress my shock and outrage.

The “public schools are ranked according to a ratio… that is the number of Advanced Placement and/or International Baccalaureate tests taken by all students at a school in 2005 divided by the number of graduating seniors.” I perused the extended list of the top 1,200 schools, available on the Internet. The only Louisiana school appearing in the extended list is LSU Laboratory, in Baton Rouge, ranking at #205. Read that again: Only one school in Louisiana from a list of the nation’s top 1,200 public high schools.

So why give West Jefferson the snub, Newsweek? Could it be because out of the 84 public schools in Jefferson Parish, West Jeff is the only one who’s going to be audited by the state this year?

Auditors are coming in next week to scrutinize how things are run at our fine school, all the way from the administration down to the classrooms. The common belief is that the low standardized testing scores are responsible for our being selected. Apparently all teachers will have at least two of their classes officially observed. I’m more curious than concerned about the whole process.

Should be interesting.

Howdy Strangers

During our last meeting for the “Introduction to the Computer in Content Areas” class at UNO, Dr. Talmadge (better known as Andy) brought up an interesting sidenote when discussing his recent trip to New York. He was attending a conference, participating in talks about the (mis)classification of Pluto as a planet, alternate approaches to teaching calculus that omit the concept of limits, and other lofty topics that drive party chicks wild. Anyway, a colleague of his mentioned that he had been reading my website. I was perplexed, since I’ve never bothered to have this site cataloged with any search engines (Google, Yahoo, etc.). How’d he stumble across this site?

It turns out that he was checking out Andy’s UNO faculty web site, which includes a page for the Computer Content class, which links to a web page that I made as an assignment in the class, which is the only page in existence that links to this very web site.

What an unlikely route for someone to follow! I feel like I ought to award a prize to anyone who would intentionally navigate such an obscure path to this recessed corner of the World Wide Web. Andy also spent some time reading my entries.

I was flattered that someone other than friends and family would take the time to read this stuff. Welcome strangers.


This is the second (and last) weekend of the famous New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, a.k.a. Jazzfest. A few days ago, another teacher at West Jefferson kindly gave me a couple free tickets that she wasn’t able to use. Michelle & I went Friday after school. I didn’t recognize any of the names on the lineup except country singer Keith Urban (No thanks). We had a good time, spending most of the afternoon watching local New Orleans musicians. The Wimberly Family put on a lively show in the Gospel Tent, and a quintet led by Roland Guerin put on an entertaining show in the Jazz Tent.

We’ll return for a full day on Sunday with some of Michelle’s neighbors and friends. I look forward to enjoying more lesser-known performers who are unique to New Orleans. In addition, some big-name highlights should include Paul Simon, and Fats Domino, who still resides in the Lower 9th Ward.

Here’s a random picture…

…that doesn’t fit into any context of this journal entry, but I felt like posting anyway. A couple weeks ago Robert attended the Karr High School senior prom with Michelle. They went to a bar afterwards with Leslie, who’s also still teaching at Karr despite several incidents that nearly drove her to quit. Hopefully sometime over the summer, the remaining members in our old TGNO group of friends can get together for some reunions.
Leslie and Michelle, all dolled up and gettin’ ready to make a move on those two fellas in the background