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written Sunday, 5/20/2007
Message to the Kiddies
Hey you lousy kids, don’t you have something better to do than stalk your teachers over the Internet?
I apologize to my regular viewers – all three or four of you. That previous section was directed towards those no-good, slack-jawed chuckleheads who pretended to be my “students” over the past school year. Alas, this predicament is my own fault I suppose. Throughout the year I’ve mentioned to some of my classes that I write about them on my website. I’ve taunted them, asserting that they would never find my site since it is not cataloged with Google or any other search engines.
In a recent goodbye card to a couple students (more on that later) I provided the web address. I originally intended for the card to be signed only by faculty. However, I eventually let students sign it, knowing that some of those nosy MoFos would see the address and invade my personal space.
So be it. This web “journal” is the first diary I’ve ever written, and I’m not ashamed of who I am in all my strengths and weaknesses. In a math classroom my strengths are showcased, but I don’t feel the need to hide my flaws. Browse away curious kiddies with nothing better to do.
Last year I posted some photos of my West Jeff scholars catching up on sleep in my classroom. In my last entry, I profiled some of my Lusher superstars catching some shuteye. Continuing what is perhaps a new tradition, here are some more of the students who motivate me daily to keep pursuing the noble mission of educating today’s youth:
At the end of my last entry, I bemoaned my habitual tendency to forego social outings in favor of solitary diversions such as Flash cartooning. I had just spent the entire first weekend of Jazzfest finishing up an animation.
Well thankfully I have no pending computer projects, and I spent the following Saturday and Sunday at the closing weekend of Jazzfest. Some people complain that too much jazz has been lost from Jazzfest, but one can’t deny that there’s plenty of big- and small-name variety. With TGNO friend Casey and his wife Briana, I saw local acts Henry Gray & the Cats (blues), Cowboy Mouth (rock), and Galactic (funk). We also enjoyed the Gangbe Brass Band of Benin West Africa, and at my guilty insistence, John Mayer (pop/rock). The next day I returned with TGNO friend Michelle and her Cajun neighbor Jake, who I had joined at Jazzfest 2006. We saw one of my recent favorites, Eric Lindell (blues/rock). We then planted ourselves at the main stage and listened to Steely Dan (rock with ‘70s heyday), thereby staking out a spot for the next act: hometown hero Harry Connick Jr. (big band/jazz).
What a great weekend. Almost every time I pry myself out of my apartment and spend time with friends, I realize that’s something I should be doing more often.
How disappointed I was to discover that student exchange programs require us to return the same students we borrow from other countries. Doesn’t the word “exchange” imply that we get to negotiate a permanent trade?
We had to return two wonderful kids to Ukraine a couple weeks ago. Dasha and Anya didn’t know each other in their home country. They befriended one another and dozens more during the past school year at Lusher. They lived with different host families, but seemed to adapt to American life in New Orleans very quickly. Despite distinct Russian accents, both speak and write English with better grammar and clarity than many local kids. Both girls were fantastic students and altogether delightful young people.
Dasha was in my 7th period Algebra 2 class. Her host parents noted early in the year that she probably belonged in a PreCalculus class. After giving her a broad content test, I concurred, but it was not practical to rearrange her schedule without disrupting her other elective courses. I didn’t initially like the idea of having her physically remain in the Algebra 2 class while doing the work for PreCalculus. I thought it would be unfair to her to not benefit from my instruction, but she quickly proved to be an extremely bright and self-motivated math student. On occasion she would patiently wait for me to have a moment to come offer some individual help, but most of the time she learned from the book on her own. Her cheerful personality, perpetual smile, and excellent work ethic won over many students and teachers alike.
Anya was in my 8th period Algebra 2 class. She probably could have also switched to the PreCalculus content, but chose not to. Sitting in the center of the small class of 11 students, Anya was a big part of that family. Bright as she was, she typically finished the homework in class. She exhibited a goofy playfulness that could be a little distracting. This made her a frequent victim of the spray-water-bottle that had become my favorite classroom management tool. In the end though, I want to believe that even the biggest math-haters on my roster have had some fun in my class. Anya definitely helped create a fun classroom environment.
Several months ago Dasha and Anya were disappointed to find that they would be returning to Ukraine before the Junior prom. I spontaneously suggested that we might have a special goodbye party for them. It then dawned on me that someone would actually need to make that happen. At a faculty meeting I suggested the idea as the year’s end drew near. Teachers and administration were all supportive, and history teacher Ms. Waddell was particularly instrumental in helping with the plans.
We held the surprise party in the library during the final period on Wednesday May 9. As coordinated with the host parents, this would be the last school day for Dasha and Anya. We managed to distribute the word to all the other students, and a few of them stepped up to help with decorating, food, and drinks. That morning I thought the surprise had been leaked when Anya dropped off some cupcakes in my classroom before school. I assumed they were meant for the party, but realized that she was still unaware of our plans when she showed up at lunchtime to retrieve the goodies. She intended to share them with friends during lunch, but I had already delivered them to the library. I claimed to have eaten all the cupcakes, “and they were delicious!” She initially didn’t believe me, but I insisted. Anya became rather upset with me.
“What the hell, Mr. White!” she exclaimed with her thick accent. “You are the strangest teacher I have ever met!”
A less strange teacher may have simply allowed her to storm out the room empty-handed on her way to the cafeteria. However, I couldn’t resist. I strolled over to the library, grabbed one of the cupcakes, and headed down to the cafeteria myself. I proceeded to walk up to the table where Anya was sitting with friends and taunt her by eating the frosted dessert.
As eighth period began, an announcement was made over the PA system for participating students and teachers to go to the library for the “special event.” Seeing Dasha and Anya enter the library, it was apparent that they were indeed surprised. Cakes, brownies, soda, and cupcakes were served. Silver fleur de lis necklaces and Lusher sweaters were presented to the guests of honor. Kids who had not yet signed the goodbye cards in my classroom wrote down their fond wishes. Students hugged, laughed, and danced the “electric slide” in a fitting farewell celebration for the girls.
Although they were juniors here, Dasha and Anya will both go on to college back in Ukraine, where high school apparently lasts only three years. I’m sure they’ll both move on to great things in life. I hope their time and the people they met here in New Orleans have provided them with some wonderful memories, just as they have provided for us.
I’ve never been to a prom before. Once I got out of school, I found it reasonable to assume I never would attend one, much less be put in charge of organizing one of these ostentatiously sappy events. Yet perhaps as part of a newbie teacher hazing, I got suckered in to the role of prom coordinator several months ago.
I suppose teaching high school math has already provided me some experience in the art of stubborn-mule-dragging. However, it’s an even greater challenge to coerce teenagers to voluntarily take an active role in putting together a prom when there’s no individual incentive at stake such as a grade. In our small junior class of 42 or so, a half-dozen students showed some good intentions to help. Thankfully, a small handful actually followed through. We selected and ordered a prom theme kit, hired a DJ and photographer, and assembled the smaller pieces of the prom kit in my classroom. I recruited a boy in my PreCalculus class to help me transport the materials over to the location of the prom the day before. A girl in my Algebra 2 class and her parents proved instrumental in completing the assembly of the prom kit on the afternoon of the event.
This girl is one of the shyest students I’ve ever had. Neither I nor other teachers I’ve talked to feel like we’ve gotten to know her very well, and math is her weakest subject. Nonetheless, I recognize definite kindness, talent, and intelligence in her that she doesn’t seem quite willing to share freely with peers and adults around her.
She’s never once asked for help in my class although she’s struggled with the material. When I’ve offered assistance, she rarely looks up to respond. If she says anything, it’s often in a voice too soft for me to hear.
She reminds me of how I was in school. Too afraid to assert myself or let others hear my voice. It took my 9th grade Spanish teacher, Mr. Stride, to help me recognize this as a weakness that needed to be tackled. A former military man, Mr. Stride would force me to look him straight in the eye and feign confidence when addressing him. He frequently held me after class to give me “be a man” lectures that a father might typically deliver to his son. I didn’t fully appreciate Mr. Stride’s impact on me until long after high school when I finally started really contemplating the advice he had given me years earlier. I’m thankful for his life lessons, and I only regret that I hadn’t learned them as a child. I’ve grown tremendously in recent years, but that childhood shyness is still an uncomfortable part of who I am today. I’m starting to wish I had taken a similar approach to this one student throughout the year (although I would’ve needed to tweak the “be a man” speech).
I’ve tried to locate Mr. Stride and thank him just like I did with my geometry teacher Mr. Halliday last summer. I’ve been unsuccessful thus far.
So back to the junior prom: I had 3 colleagues, 3 parents, and this one student come out Saturday afternoon to help me get everything ready for the big night. The many hands made quick work, and I was proud of how well everything turned out.
With such a small junior class, about 30 Lusher students plus another 8 or so from other schools showed up. Those who attended appeared to have a good time. I had become quite disgruntled with prom matters lately, but on that evening I gained hope that a bigger class and lessons learned from this year will allow us to put on even better events in future years.
Throughout the evening I noticed the girl who had helped make the prom possible sitting by herself much of the time. I would have surely done the same had I had attended any of my high school dances. One of the other teachers mentioned that he had heard her talk and gotten to know her as much during the prom preparation as he had all year long in class. She’s a great young person, and I hope she comes out of her shell before she ends up looking back regretfully on the introvertedness of her younger years.
Classes for next year
Next year Lusher High School will grow. We’ll pick up more than a hundred additional students and graduate our first senior class. The staff will also need to grow, and our math department of two is expected to double.
I’m tentatively scheduled to teach five Algebra 2 classes and one AP Calculus class. Since I’ll no longer have PreCalculus, this means a great majority of my students will be new to me. I have mixed feelings. There are some who I’ll greatly miss seeing in my room every day. There are others who I’ll enjoy greeting in the hallways but won’t especially miss seeing on my class roster. There are many of this year’s Geometry students who I’ll be excited to have in my next Algebra 2 classes. There are a few others who I know will be a challenge to teach. I guess that’s just how teaching goes.
TGNO friend Sunday will join the Lusher staff, although it still hasn’t been determined whether she’ll teach English in the Middle School or High School. If she becomes part of the high school team, another Math vs. English feud may just erupt next year.
This is my last web journal entry of the 2006-2007 school year! Next Saturday, May 26, will be the 2-year anniversary of my move to Louisiana. On that day I will head back home to the Bay Area for a week as Mom recovers from her eye surgery. By the time I return, the 2007 hurricane season will have officially begun. For as long as I live in the Gulf Coast I’ll be keenly aware that any summer plans are subject to severe disruption. In coming months, hopefully we won’t have to hear much about Andrea, Barry, Chantal, Dean, Erin, Felix, Gabrielle,…
I’m looking forward to broadening my skills with the Greater New Orleans Writing Project in June. I still need to write my AP Calculus syllabus within the coming week, and register for an AP workshop to help me prepare for that class. I mentioned in a recent entry that I had finally started to like this profession a little bit. Last year I said I had learned to love those bonehead kids who aggravated and frustrated me at school every day, almost as if I still needed to convince myself of this claim. As this year comes to a close, I don’t feel like I need to convince myself any more. I definitely do love these kids, no matter how much some of them disappoint me with their apathy and refusal to live up to their potential. My perspective still needs to evolve. Hopefully over the summer, while thinking of how I can be a better teacher, I’ll stop taking their shortcomings so personally.
Still with me?
Hey kiddies, are you still snooping? For goodness sake, go outside and get some exercise. Get a job. Read a book. Do something useful with your life.
I leave you with this:
I’ve worked at three schools in my brief teaching career. The new Lusher High School is far from perfect. Some of you whine about what’s lacking on a daily basis. I can honestly tell you that this is the first school at which I feel all the faculty really loves you, and truly wants the best for you. I wish our students had a broader perspective of how many kids in this country endure each school day with unqualified, bitter teachers who only show up to collect a measly paycheck. I saw shades of it for myself last year, and it goes on in hundreds of classrooms throughout the city every day.
Despite how I may joke in class, the teacher’s purpose is not to “make your life miserable.”
Whether you like all your teachers or not, the Lusher staff cares deeply about trying to broaden and enrich your lives. Whether you like your school or not, you’re at a pivotal time in your lives in deciding what roads you want to travel.
Enjoy your summer, and I’ll see you next school year when the rest of the staff and I will continue trying to help you open more doors for yourselves. Nothing pleases us more than seeing you grow and succeed.