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Still Here

written Monday, 11/06/2006

Hey cool, my web site is back up again. I guess unreliable service is the tradeoff for selecting a web host whose free features seem too good to be true. Let’s see how long the site stays up this time.

I’ve been too overwhelmed with work to add anything to this site anyway. Teaching at Lusher is interesting. There are so many aspects to this year’s situation that are a huge improvement over last year. I live in New Orleans’ Uptown district instead of the bland suburbs of Kenner (Much cooler). I can bike or walk to school, instead of commuting 20 miles along congested I-10. Although I had no complaints about colleagues at my schools last year, I really enjoy the faculty and staff at Lusher. I’ve got a year’s teaching experience under my belt. I still love my apartment. I haven’t been burglarized this year – at least, not yet. With less than a month left of hurricane season, all has been peaceful in terms of weather. I’ve still got some great friends out here. And not least of all, I genuinely like my students on a personal level.

I should probably remind myself more often of all the things for which I should be thankful. Ironically though, I think all these good things raised my expectations for this year too high, and now I spend too much time wondering why things aren’t better. Last year stunk, but I had been forewarned that the first year of teaching is supposed to stink. Then, with Katrina, I knew things would be extra tough. At least each miserable part of the adventure gave me another story to tell. This year, though, expectations were so much higher. I don’t want any more crazy adventures – I just want to settle into a satisfying career.

School is simply exhausting. The Algebra 1A class is my biggest source of frustration. Again, I like the students personally, but I can’t figure out how to reach them academically. Even the ones who try hard seem unable to grasp the most basic concepts. In Algebra 2 and PreCalculus, there are far too many students who should have never been passed on from their previous math class. Now they’re drowning in my class, either unwilling or unable to extract any bit of useful information from my lectures. I’ve found moderate success tutoring them individually before or after school. However, with a third of my students receiving Ds or Fs in the first quarter (which ended a couple weeks ago), I don’t have time to give each of them the attention it would take to bring them up to speed.

Last year, I felt bad that so many students didn’t pass my class, but most didn’t seem to care. Their apparent lack of interest made it easier for me to get over the poor grades. This year, many of the poorest students seem to be distressed by their lack of success in my classes. Lusher strives to be a school of “high academic achievement,” but one can’t deny that a high percentage of students have horrendous prerequisite skills. Part of the “high achievement” culture seems to suggest that an F grade for a student indicates a failure on the part of the teacher. I’ve asked numerous other teachers about their first quarter grade distributions, and none come close to having assigned as many Ds and Fs as I did.

To be clear, the administration has been very supportive to me. They’ve expressed concern over the poor grades in my classes, but seem satisfied that I’ve done as much as I could to support the students (conferred with students individually, offered tutoring, called parents, etc.). Even though I believe my students ought to shoulder most of the responsibility for their learning, the small part of the burden that falls on me piles up when so many of them fall short.

I need to remember that almost a third of the students got As from me, and I’m proud of them. I don’t know what else to do for the ones at the other end of the spread.

On the surface, this year looks like a huge improvement over last year. This was supposed to be a year of refining the rough edges in my teaching skills. The vast difference between my expectations and reality has been discouraging, though.

In my nine-year mechanical engineering career, I only missed two days due to sickness. I never felt the need to take a “mental health” day. Even throughout all the craziness of last year, I had perfect attendance in my first year of teaching. Today, two and a half months into the school year, I’m spending a Monday at home. I’ve left my students in the hands of a substitute. At least Lusher allows 10 annual “personal days” without requiring any pretense of being sick. I’m a little humbled to have gotten overwhelmed so soon in the year, but taking this day off is necessary.

I still think there’s potential for me to settle into a satisfying teaching career, although it’s not quite happening yet. Next year’s lookin’ good.

I’ll pledge to focus more on more positive things in my next entry. Maybe I’ll write about the impressive arts program at Lusher, and some of my cool students. Hopefully I’ll get to that sometime before the end of the year! Right now though, I’ve got papers to grade.