return to “Big J in Greater New Orleans” index

previous entry .......... next entry

The Price of Tea in China*

written Sunday, 5/14/2006

*I couldn’t really think of a single dominant theme in this week’s entry.


Last Sunday I returned for the final day of the Jazz and Heritage Festival with Michelle, her college friend Donald, and neighbor Jake. Seeing a few gray clouds in the distance, we pondered whether to lug around umbrellas in addition to the lawn chairs we were bringing. We concluded that rain was unlikely, and decided to travel lightly. The taxi dropped us off, and before we even entered the fairgrounds, a sudden downpour completely drenched us in a matter of seconds. I could only laugh. Thankfully the sky cleared after a 10-15 minute soaking.

We staked out a spot at the crowded main stage, where the first act we saw was local favorite Irma Thomas. I was not familiar with any of her music, but I thoroughly enjoyed her soulful performance. Paul Simon followed, reminding me how much of his music I like even though I don’t own any of his albums. Fats Domino was scheduled to close the festivities that evening, but was rushed to the hospital for unannounced reasons. I was disappointed to miss seeing the 78-year-old New Orleans legend. Taking his place at the main stage was Lionel Richie, who put on a fantastic show. Even the younger people in the audience realized that he’s more than just the adoptive father of a trampy socialite. Thankfully, Lionel knew that the audience wanted to hear the older songs from his ‘70s and early ‘80s heyday. Most songs he performed came from the repertoire he built as the Commodores’ front man. After all, why would anyone want to listen to a Ballerina Girl or a Deep River Woman when you could get funky with a Brick House instead?


Auditors from the state wandered the halls of West Jefferson this week, observing each teacher’s classroom at least twice. Some teachers were observed up to four times in a single day. I was watched briefly only twice throughout the whole week (I don’t know whether or not to read any significance into the frequency of the visits). I overheard several students discussing how some teachers behaved differently during the audits, actively teaching more than usual. I’d be shocked if any of my students made such comments about me. I suspect the main gripe about my class is that I don’t stop teaching enough. That’s how it should be! They’ll get a break soon enough. I promised my students that after next week, I will finally lay down my chalk. We’ll then have 8 school days left, during which I’ll finalize grades, conduct a few fun activities, and play some games.

Senior Grades

On Tuesday, teachers had to submit grades for all the seniors, who finish the school year earlier than everyone else in Louisiana. At West Jefferson, seniors spent last week on a cruise and vacation to Disneyworld, and attended various offsite activities this week. Monday is their official last day of school, while the rest of the students stick around for almost three more weeks.

NW, the girl who wrote one of the letters that lifted my spirits last week, stopped by my classroom during my planning period on Wednesday. She had just returned from the class picnic. I asked her a bit about her future plans. She hopes to someday become an OBGYN, but first plans to take a break from school before attending community college. I warned her not to rest for too long, since I know from personal experience how complacent one can get with post-academia life.

NW needed a C in the fourth quarter to pass for the year, but her increased efforts in my class came a little too late. According to her scores, her last-quarter grade should have probably been an F. I bumped it up to a D instead. For the sake of my integrity, I generally don’t believe in giving students any grade that they didn’t earn, good or bad. However, the case of a student who is going to fail for the year is the only exception. Getting an F for the final (year’s) grade is discouraging enough. I hope that the forth-quarter D can at least offer a little hope that this difficult subject can be conquered someday.

I’m glad NW didn’t need my Algebra 2 course to graduate.

The All-District center of the basketball team also didn’t need Algebra 2 to graduate, but he needed to pass in order to go straight to the 4-year college that offered him a scholarship early in the school year. As I saw laziness getting the better of him at the start of the fourth quarter, I tried my best to motivate him to do better. He’s smart enough to get an A, but lacks the work ethic. “I just need to pass, that’s all,” he’d smugly tell me. However, several weeks ago the story changed. “I need a B to keep my scholarship,” he started telling me. For some reason though, I still didn’t see his level of effort increase consistently. Quite frustrated, I talked to his counselor. I learned that this was not a new development. The grade requirement has been known for some time now. The young man asked for “make-up” work while still failing to complete the work I assigned in class. I suspect that’s part of the game to which many student athletes have become accustomed: Complete a couple token “make-up” assignments that the teacher can use to justify a grade that wasn’t truly earned. Last week I told him that he would not be receiving a B on his report card. More likely, a C or D. Upon examining his grades a little more closely though, I couldn’t even give a C in good conscience. He asked what he could do to ensure a C, since a D “would look really bad.”

As much as we’ve been butting heads recently, I really like this kid. I admit that for a few days, I considered giving him a C in exchange for him listening to a lecture on how disappointed I was in him. I wavered throughout the days leading up to the deadline for submitting senior grades.

I want to believe that my integrity is strong enough to always do the “right thing.” Perhaps though, the letter I received from KW last week may have guided me in my final decision. I read it again, pausing at one particular sentence: “I also like the fact that you do not play that favoritism stuff with these football and basketball players.”

I hope my unmotivated basketball player gets to play in college next year. More specifically, I hope he understands that the world won’t always hand him a free pass. I hope he discovers the incentive to work towards his goals, and that he ultimately earns his success. He passed my class for the year, but this week I let him know that his fourth quarter grade will be the D that he deserves.


No, this section header does not refer to my students.

We’ve enjoyed some pleasant weather out here in the last couple months, but it’s starting to get humid. This week I got my first mosquito bites of the year. Apparently I’m not alone. Yesterday, the Times Picayune ran an article noting:

Now, with the warm, wet weather returning, floodwater and salt marsh mosquitoes are hatching in staggering numbers, according to officials with local mosquito control agencies…

…land that had been dry for months because of the drought – less than 11 inches of rain fell in the New Orleans area from October to mid-April – suddenly was inundated with water, providing the moisture needed to hatch the bugs' dormant eggs.

Also, in just over two weeks, hurricane season begins.

For some reason, I’m still making plans for working out here next year. If the past year’s taught me anything though, I’ve learned that things don’t always go according to plan.