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written Saturday, 9/29/2007
Okay, actually I’m not as tired as I initially worried I might be. After several weeks of avoiding food and drink during the daytimes, I’m getting somewhat accustomed to the self-depravation. I’ll probably keep it up for a couple more weeks. My clothes are starting to feel quite loose, but I still feel healthy.
People keep asking me why I’m doing this.
‘Cuz I’m so frikkin’ fat.
Last year the three-month stretch starting the school year steered me to antidepressants. Participating in the launch of a new middle/high school site in the first full post-Katrina school year proved too stressful for me. Except for Labor Day, there’s no break until Thanksgiving. This year I ditched the happy pills with hopes that I’d feel a little more settled and confident in this teacher role.
Well, we’re halfway to Thanksgiving in this school year. Unfortunately I still haven’t escaped the feeling of constantly playing catch-up during late nights and weekends. Some aspects of this year are definitely better than last year. Most notably, I’ve pretty much overcome the nervousness I felt during my first two years when standing alone in front of a classroom of students. On the other hand, the flood of paperwork at Lusher continues to pile up and the high school side is still struggling to define it’s identity. Finding the right blend of academic rigor, arts, athletics, and fun is extremely challenging. A couple middle school teachers have mentioned to me that things are significantly more stable on their side of the building this year, but we on the high school side still appear to be constantly scrambling.
Shoot, I wish we had more stability as a high school. Within my own classroom I wish I could confidently believe that I’m doing what’s best for my students while still maintaining some semblance of sanity. In the bigger picture, I still anxiously crave some clear direction in life. For all the small triumphs I savor in seeing students succeed, this profession leaves a lot to be desired if I’m going to remain in the classroom.
I remember all those kids I encountered in college who seemed so focused in pursuing a specific life goal. I was jealous of them back then for knowing what they wanted to do. I’m still jealous. I’m still not sure where I’m headed. I wonder how many of those confident, focused kids are satisfied with the way things are unfolding in their lives.
I suppose apprehensively forging a new path in life is better than sitting still and waiting for some kind of divine intervention.
I remember from my college years that feeling of being petrified from an overwhelming lack of direction. Even after finally stumbling into the M.E. major, I had difficulty envisioning how my class load could lead me to a satisfying future. In the end, family expectations of academic success served as a barely-adequate source of motivation to trudge through college.
Perhaps then, I should be more understanding when it comes to those students of mine who find it to be too much trouble to lift their heads off the desk. Or bring a pencil to class. Or raise a hand to ask a question when they don’t understand something. Or complete their homework. Or start their homework. Even when I give them 20 minutes of class time to begin.
Each of my students has his or her own unique story. In an ideal world I would have time to listen to all 111 of those stories with inviting and sympathetic ears. I honestly enjoy each and every one of my students on a personal level and would love to know more about them. In terms of academic work ethic though, many of them just plain suck.
Public education often feels more like a cattle-herding process in which a one-size-fits-all approach serves few students well. Despite all sorts of great theories abound regarding “differentiated instruction” and tending to “children’s individual needs,” the secret to reaching each one of 25 students in a classroom eludes me.
And I should count myself lucky, being at a “good” school and having less than forty kids per class.
Maybe it’s misdirected anger, but the apathy demonstrated by too many of my students pisses me off. I spend so much energy trying to encourage and motivate with what appears to be little lasting effect. At 2:30am Friday morning, I had an epiphany.
My students may generally be sorted into three different categories:
Too many students fall into the last category.
Throughout the day Friday, I shared my thoughts and the accompanying diagram on my Smart Board during my Algebra 2 classes. I announced that we would finish up Chapter 2 (functions, equations, and graphs) that day. Monday we’ll jump into Chapter 5 (quadratic equations and functions). The high-skill students will finally be challenged. The determined low-skill students will still strive to keep up, and I’ll keep doing all I can to ensure they will. The lackluster low-skill students will need to decide immediately whether they will finally jump aboard, or be left behind.
Finally, just over a week ago I became officially certified to teach in Louisiana. I completed coursework towards certification in the spring. But wait, the fun’s not over.
Thanks to No Child Left Behind (I believe), I’m still required to complete the Louisiana Teacher Assistance and Assessment Program, or LaTAAP. All teachers new to Louisiana must go through this program whose stated purpose is “the improvement of teaching and learning.” If all the bullcaca paperwork and assignments added half as much to my teaching effectiveness as they add to my level of disgust, perhaps I wouldn’t be so jaded. At least I should be done by the end of this school year.
Meanwhile, I’m taking two three-hour classes at UNO each week: Effective Parenting and Child Behavior, and Special Topics in Mathematics Instruction. At this rate I should be able to earn a Master’s Degree in about a year. They’re both quite interesting, and part of me looks forward to attending each class session. On the other hand though, the time commitment is stretching me thin and undoubtedly contributes to my irritation level with Lusher duties.
Each week at Lusher I’m supposed to send home reports to parents of all my students who are on academic or behavioral probation and fill out Special Ed reports for a couple students. So far I haven’t written any of them. I also didn’t give out any progress reports as required several weeks ago, although our online grade books make it possible for parents to see their children’s grades at any time in the quarter.
I find myself angered by the demands for my time and my inability to meet them. Combating emotion with reason doesn’t always work, but during calmer moments I force myself to discover many reasons to be thankful – or at least acknowledge that things could be much worse.
There are two months left in the Atlantic hurricane season. There have been 13 named storms so far, and none have even threatened New Orleans. Phew.
Two years ago I learned to truly appreciate all that I have: health, shelter, food, family, friends, a reasonable mind, material goods. At the time I thought that lesson of gratitude would endure for the rest of my life, yet I’m already starting to take these things for granted again while letting life’s challenges constantly irritate me.
Even in a tame storm season I receive reminders of how trivial some of my problems seem. Yesterday, standing right outside my apartment I saw flames shooting into the air amongst billowing smoke. Just four blocks away, a huge 5-alarm fire was devastating two buildings. Today, Nat and Joan attended a funeral of a family member in her early-forties who died from cancer. All over the city and the country and the world, other people’s struggles make mine look trifling. Yeah, I know I need to stop griping.
Indeed, I have so much to be thankful for.
I recently received my school photo. Once again I look damn fine.
Some say I should lose the ‘fro and go back to the bald head and goatee. I concede that’s a more flattering style, yet I’m still stunned by how unbelievably gorgeous I look in this photo. Even a big bush of nappy hair can’t suppress my hotness. Seriously lovely ladies, y’all are missing out on a scintillating slice of manly perfection.
Last weekend our Greater New Orleans Writing Project class held a brief reunion to make posters for an “October Showcase” event (more on that some other time). Over the summer several of the women in the group only added fuel to the towering inferno that is my ego. Or were they just mocking me? Come to think of it, they tended to snicker derisively when calling me “J-Romeo,” and one of them repeatedly referred to me as “LOOOOOOSER.”
Well, in any case I enjoyed seeing all those who showed up. After our meeting a couple of the women extended an open invitation to join them as they took their children to the Audubon Zoo (girls at 8, 6, and 4 years, and a boy at 2 months). Despite an abundance of Lusher and UNO tasks awaiting me at home, I decided to tag along. The zoo is only a couple miles from my current apartment, yet I’ve never visited in over a year of living Uptown.
For most of my adult life I’d never felt particularly drawn to small children or infants. I don’t know how to deal with little kids’ demands and fragilities. That’s why I teach high school. Contorted, cockeyed, and catawampus as adolescents may be, I can relate more easily to them. I gotta admit though, I had a blast at the zoo with my GNOWP friends and their cute little kiddies. The compact size of youngsters makes them so much fun: picking them up, tossing them in the air and (hopefully) catching them, rolling them up and putting them in my pocket, bouncing them and twirling them on my finger like a basketball,…
Last weekend I didn’t even come close to finishing all the things I “had to” complete, yet somehow I still have a job. In retrospect, passing time at the zoo with friends and their adorable young ‘uns was the best way for me to spend the day.
For me, college was followed by a few years of dazed contentedness. Now I want more. I want a career that’s truly fulfilling, I want rewarding personal relationships, and I want enough money to allow me to pursue whatever life path I choose. Yes, if there’s anything that Louisiana public schoolteachers are known for, it’s our greedy ways.
Exactly what form my quest for personal fulfillment will take is yet to be determined. For whatever goodness I’ve encountered thus far, I think it’s time to explore some new directions with an open mind. For the most part I don’t believe I’ve lead a terribly wayward or sinful life, but some major life changes may still be in order. I’ll start by trying to be more thankful for what I already have. I need to “zoom out” and determine what’s really important in the grand scheme of things. A year from now I hope to be a different and better person.
Hey baby, I wish I was your derivative, ‘cuz then I’d lie tangent to your curves.
No I'm not being obtuse, it’s just that you're acute girl. In fact, you must be the square root of 2, because I feel irrational when I’m around you.
See what you’re missing, ladies?