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written Saturday, 8/26/2006
The grand opening of Lusher Charter School’s Fortier campus had already been postponed by six days. Any further delay would make us appear inept, and likely result in a redirection of resources to other schools that were still committed to opening before the end of August. Barring any failures to get clearance from the Health Department or Fire Marshall (which did almost happen), we were committed to the Monday, August 21 opening.
Last Friday, the faculty toured the Fortier building for the first time. For weeks we had been hearing about the millions of dollars pouring in through grants, private contributors, and our partnership with Tulane University. Nonetheless, we were warned not to expect pristine conditions. The 160,000 square foot school was built in the 1930s, and suffered about $5 million in Katrina damage in addition to many years of maintenance neglect.
Crews have been working to restore the building throughout the summer. As a testament to the sense of community that Lusher has established over the years, dozens of parent and student volunteers also helped with the cleaning and painting efforts. Even now though, many windows are still vandalized, busted, or unable to be closed. The wooden floors in numerous classrooms are deteriorated. There’s only one pair of usable student bathrooms in the entire building. Many of the enormous A/C units don’t work or (as in my room) sound like jet engines. The list of shortcomings goes on and on. I can only imagine how it must have been to work or study in this school before the Louisiana School Board shut down Fortier High following Katrina.
The renovation will continue during the school year. We faculty and students will try to appreciate how far it’s come along, and be proud of where the school is headed.
Saturday and Sunday were spent moving in. We’ve been forbidden from affixing decorations to the walls in any way, as we may never see them freshly painted again in our lifetimes! The middle school teachers tend to be more creative in making their classrooms look inviting, in spite of this restriction. Most of us on the high school side of the building seem rather content with the relative blandness of our classrooms. I’m counting on the tone I set for my classes to make the students feel welcome and comfortable, despite the bare walls.
Ready or not, students arrived Monday. With only a handful of Algebra 1 and Algebra 2 textbooks (no PreCalculus books) on hand, we were off and running. For the first day, I handled administrative matters, shared a bit about my background, and talked as if I had a clear vision of where each of my courses is headed. I requested their patience as we all settle into our new environment. Through appealing to the students, I was also urging myself to appreciate all the positive aspects of our new school rather than dwell on what’s lacking.
My classes range from 2 students to 22, with an average of 12. I can’t complain too much about that. I’m immediately pleased with the kids I’ll be teaching for the next 9+ months. As expected, the general teacher-student rapport is much more openly cordial than I experienced last year. Most Lusher kids haven’t developed that hardened shell that prevented so many of my Bonnabel and West Jeff students from demonstrating affection or appreciation for their teachers. I’ll still have to exercise my classroom management skills to keep some of them on task, but the interactions won’t feel quite so combative as they did last year.
The students’ math abilities are not particularly overwhelming. In preceding months, I had received the impression that I was likely to encounter little Einsteins who could easily upstage their teacher. Well, that’s not going to happen in my classroom! Certainly the average academic level is higher than that of my previous students, but I already see some prerequisite skills are lacking. For a school with such a heavy arts-based curriculum, I suppose it’s not surprising that the math competency is not a highlight. That’s okay – As long as they are willing participants in their own education, I look forward to teaching them whatever they need to learn.
A textbook shipment arrived Thursday. I’ll distribute books to students on Monday. Although I still haven’t received a teacher’s edition, I finally got to examine the PreCalculus book. I’m a little worried! The presentation of the material is very rigid and dry. A majority of the pictures are two-tone depictions of a graphing calculator screen. It’s going to be quite a challenge to make this class interesting while using this book.
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A year ago today, I completed my very first week of teaching. That evening I was winding down at a now-destroyed bar near Lake Pontchartrain with fellow TGNO teachers. I was barely aware that all the TVs around the bar were continuously displaying weather maps of some approaching storm named Katrina. Less than 24 hours later, I had packed up and endured the slow trek to Baton Rouge, before ultimately evacuating to Texas for several weeks.
Today I find myself tempted to predict how my second year of teaching might evolve. Ultimately though, I think the start of every school year will remind me that the course of the following 9 months may be completely unpredictable and out of my hands.