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written Friday, 6/2/2006

Na na na na, hey hey hey,…


And good riddance to the 2005-06 school year in the Gulf Coast!

Thursday June 1 marked the last day for students in Jefferson Parish. Today, June 2, the teachers wrapped up paperwork and various other housecleaning activities.

I had long envisioned that the year’s end would bring masses of students and teachers together, gleefully counting down the minutes and seconds in unison. “5! 4! 3! 2! 1!” The final dismissal bell would be welcomed with exuberant cheers, hugs, and tearful goodbyes.

Instead, at West Jefferson at least, the finalities were more subdued. Last week, many students gradually stopped showing up to school. Almost all teachers had already wrapped up their grading. Since the school board cancelled final exams this year due to Katrina, there was little academic incentive for kids to attend anymore. Each day fewer and fewer students appeared in class. My standard “See you tomorrow” at the end of a class period would turn out to be my last words to most of them.

On Thursday, I saw maybe a quarter of my students. The relaxed classroom atmosphere masked a quiet anxiety. This incredible year was finally drawing to a close. The dismissal bell rang. I shook a few hands and gave a few hugs, and escorted the kids out to the school buses.

There was no gleeful countdown. The conclusion of the 2005-06 school year felt more like an exhausted sigh rather than a raucous celebration.

I saw more giddiness on Friday (today) than Thursday. In the absence of students, we teachers cheerfully cleaned out our classrooms, turned in grade books, inventoried textbooks, and said goodbye to one another. This year, more than most, many teachers won’t return to West Jefferson. Between involuntary cuts, retirements, and voluntary transfers, I’d guess that about a quarter of the approximately 100 teachers won’t come back. Incidentally, I also found out that Bonnabel had to cut 10 teachers, effectively ensuring that I wouldn’t have been able to return there either.

So it goes in the lives of teachers today in greater New Orleans.


I missed my opportunity to photograph many of my students who stopped showing up. For some reason, my Geometry students appeared in decent numbers this week while my Algebra 2 classes were almost completely bare. Here are some photos from the past week.

Photos from graduation. In last photo: Mr. Kennedy (Humanities), Ms. Varisco (Asst. Principal), Mr. Bone (Science), Ms. Kramer (Alg 2). We hadn’t seen Ms. Kramer for a couple months due to illness.

Mr. Howard (Alg 1 + Geom). Across the hall from me, and always helpful. Ms. Guidroz (Geom, Math Dept. Head), Mr. Fradella (Alg 1 + Business Math) Mr. Falcon (Alg 2, Advanced Math) – next door, former Navy pilot Mr. Stanton (Alg 1 + Geometry) – former Architect
Ms. Guillory (Algebra 1 + Geometry) – next door Mr. Klundt (Advanced Math, Physics) – former Petroleum Engineer Ms. Smith (Administrative Assistant) – Always takes good care of the staff Ms. Alice (Administrative Support) – Also took good care of us
Mr. Jagade (Science) – my carpool partner also ousted fromBonnabel Coach Sanders – a couple inches taller than I, and always flirtin’ with the ladies Mr. Genovese (English) – had his students write letters to their favorite teachers Just another bald teacher.
My 2nd period Geometry class Smiles in a math class? That’s not allowed. More rare smiles. Not a great picture, but kinda funny
Caught! This boy was finishing his crocheting project in the final days. A bunch of posers A couple more posers Connect 4 at lunchtime. Only one of these boys is in my class.
Only a few students remain in the final days of 7th period Geometry. That’s right kiddies, don’t even think about smiling. One of my quietest yet sweetest students displays the ‘07 class cup. One of my Algebra 2 students at the bus stop. He may decide to be an engineer some day.

Looking ahead to next school year

At Lusher next year, the high school math department will consist of just Bonnie (my TGNO cohort leader) and myself. Bonnie will teach all the Geometry classes. Whereas my Geometry students at West Jefferson were all 10-12th graders, the Geometry classes at Lusher will hold almost exclusively 9th graders. I’ll be teaching the 10th and 11th graders in Algebra 2 and whatever class comes after that (probably called Advanced Math or Pre-Calculus). Lusher High School won’t have a 12th grade class until the following year.

Since the Lusher High School is not yet completely established, some of the Lusher Middle School students are transferring to Benjamin Franklin High School. Franklin is a charter school on the University of New Orleans campus, and it’s the most revered public school in the area.

As Lusher High tries to build on the excellent reputation of the middle school, our classes are projected to be very small. Next year, at the 10th and 11th grade levels, I’m told to expect 10-20 students per class. With such small class sizes, I should easily be able to experiment with different teaching strategies and activities. Sweet!

Almost two decades later

Today I finally contacted my Geometry teacher, Mr. Halliday! Now living in Texas, his name and city of residence showed up on a web site for a Bridge league. I then looked up his number on a telephone directory site, and finally reached him this afternoon.

How cool to talk to Mr. Halliday for the first time since I graduated from Lynbrook in 1991 (which was three years after I completed his class). He remembered me as one of his best students. Not many teachers can say that about me. I proudly told him about my new career path, which I largely credit to him.

After several decades in teaching – 27 at Lynbroook alone – Mr. Halliday is enjoying retirement with his wife. Bridge tournaments, racquetball, and a recent trip to China keep him busy. I can only hope that if I spend the rest of my working days in this profession, I’ll have enough energy leftover to be so active.

Stay away Alberto, Beryl, Chris, Debby,…

With the arrival of June 1, a school year ended and the Atlantic hurricane season began. For the next 6 months, these are the 2006 storm names that we don’t want to hear: Alberto, Beryl, Chris, Debby, Ernesto, Florence, Gordon, Helene, Isaac, Joyce, Kirk, Leslie, Michael, Nadine, Oscar, Patty, Rafael, Sandy, Tony, Valerie and William.

Hasta whenever

Throughout the summer, I’ll eagerly anticipate the next school year while continuing to reflect on the last one. A year ago I started a new career in an unfamiliar part of the country. I expected some interesting experiences, but I had no idea!

Packed into the past 12 months are a wealth of challenges and lessons that I wouldn’t trade for anything. As much as I value the experiences, I hope many of them are only once-in-a-lifetime occurrences. Maneuvering through all the highs and lows, twists and turns, and successes and failures hasn’t always been enjoyable. However, I finally feel like I’m living!

I’m sure the adventure will continue throughout the summer.

Next week I’ll search for a new apartment in New Orleans’ Uptown region. This will put me closer to my future job. The neighborhood should also prove more interesting than my current Kenner residence. The following week, I’ll teach a two-week remedial class at West Jefferson for kids who need to retake the Graduate Exit Exam. After that, I’ll attend a four-day “Structures for Cooperative Learning” workshop. Then in July, I’ll visit my friends and family in California before returning to start the next school year. Along the way, I may stop for a day or two in Texas to visit Mr. Halliday. Of course, while in Louisiana I’ll continue to visit Nat and Joan regularly. Nat’s condition has improved, and he’s back home from the hospital now.

Silly me, here I go making plans again. Shouldn’t the past year have cured me of the foolish notion that I have any clue how the future will unfold out here?

I intend to take a vacation from updating this journal. Hopefully my next entry will be written two months from now, and my first words will be “Everything’s going exactly according to plan.” If it doesn’t work out that way though, I’ll probably have some good stories to tell.