Le sigh

May 31, 2007

“Hi, Jasmine. I was hoping you’d be in class today.”

“What, miss? I only missed two days this week.”

“You’ve missed twenty days this marking period.”


“So I don’t think you’re going to pass my class.”

“WHAT? Miss! Yo, I was in class on Monday! And I have a note! I was home ’cause I had a headache yesterday!”

“Right, but… You need to be in class. If you miss 20 days, you can’t just make that up.”

“Well, give me some extra credit, so I can make it up and pass.”

“I don’t give extra credit for missing classes. You need to do the work that’s due first.”

“But when I asked you Tuesday for the essay from three weeks ago, you didn’t have a copy!”

“Right. Because it was due three weeks ago.”

“Miss, you O.D. Forget this. Forget you. You can’t fail me. F*$# your stupid class!”

This conversation was brought to you by: All the inspirational reasons I get up in the morning! (Just kidding. Sigh. I wish I hadn’t had this conversation FOUR TIMES this week.) 


metaphors: strained

May 30, 2007

“Okay, who remembers the crusades?”

“Is that… There are Jewish people… And they go to Europe… And they fight some Christians… And the pope is there?… And it’s the Holy Land…? Because they wanted oil?”

“Oh, gosh. Sort of. Does anyone remember more than that? Anyone? …Let’s start again. See how this room has an air conditioner? It doesn’t work super well, but it works kind of alright. But Ms. D’s room across the hall has no air conditioner. It’s just luck that we have the AC and she doesn’t.

“Well, what would happen if the class next door decided that they wanted our air-conditioned room? They’d come in, and tell us it wasn’t fair that we got the air conditioning, so they wanted it. What would we do when they tried to kick us out?”

“Miss, we’d kick their asses. Yo, I’mm’a break someone’s jaw!”

“Right. And we’d fight for a while, and hopefully we’d win, and they’d have to go back to Ms. D’s room. Well, in this story the AC is the Holy Land, we’re the Muslims, and Ms. D’s class are the Catholics. I guess Ms. D is the Pope, telling them to try and kick us out.”

“Miss… Are you saying our AC is like… Jesus or something?”

“When it’s 86 degrees outside, absolutely.”

liar, liar

May 24, 2007

I’ve gotten three more new students in the last couple of weeks. One is a young man who clearly thinks I’m crazy, and I get the feeling he’s not much better with any other female teacher, although he’s never been disrespectful. The very first thing I noticed about his work was that any question I asked he’d answer with a quote directly from the book. I asked him to put it in his own words, and he’d look sort of blank and not really be able to. It’s only been a couple of weeks, so I didn’t push him too hard on it, but this week we had an essay due.

His was clearly cribbed. Every sentence was beautifully constructed, using pretty sophisticated language. I bet it’s harder in college, but in high school it’s easy to tell when someone’s cheated. I gave him a 1 (out of 5) because he didn’t answer the question the essay was asking, and wrote ‘Please put this in your own words’ at the top in big letters.

“Miss,” he said, frowning, after class. “I don’t know what you mean. This is is my own words.”

“Well, it sounds a lot like the review book, and I want to make sure you can write without that, because you won’t have one during the Regents.”

“Miss, I didn’t use a book! This is all me!”

I sighed. “What does ‘advent’ mean?” I asked.

He looked blank. “I don’t know.”

“Well, you used it twice in this essay. So what does ‘This was the advent of World War I’ mean?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know. But I didn’t cheat.”

“Fine,” I said. “I want it to sound like you wrote it, okay?”

He scowled. “I wrote it like I always write essays. This is what I always did at my old school!”

I bet he’s absolutely telling the truth, about that part at least. Other teachers — he’s an 11th grader — have ignored the fact that he has no idea what he’s talking about because he’s charming, participatory, and hands things in, and no one has ever called him on this nonsense before. It makes me ill. We have conversations all the time in class where I say “What is ‘fascism’?” and he raises his hand and says “I think that’s like, to me, that’s when you have stuff.” And I say “Well, not really,” and he says “Well, that’s what it is to me.” Someone has been encouraging this.
I only have 11 days left with him anyway, and he obviously doesn’t understand what I’m talking about. He rewrote the essay and gave it back to me — just copied from a different part of the review book. I’m asking him to do something he’s never been asked to do before, and he doesn’t see why it matters, since no one ever has before.

In case you were curious, that‘s how we fail our students.

nclb and basketball

May 23, 2007

Student-teacher basketball day! It is always — as my dad would say — a hoot and a half. Only three teachers actually participate, but the kids have such a good time, and it’s so rewarding to see them enjoying themselves. I thought the same thing this time last year; student D is super annoying, but it turns out he can dunk like *whoa* and it’s important to remember that he’s more than just the kid who doesn’t read well in my class. If only there were more chances (see also: why small schools are probably  not the Solution To All Our Woes In Education).

Speaking of which, the Secretary of Education was on the  Daily Show last night. She seemed nice. She talked a lot about how NCLB should be renewed and how if she could change anything it would be “low expectations.” Yes, apparently if we just DEMAND that students be able to read, and then test them, they will be able to read! The problem with the students I teach is that no one has ever held them to the standard of reading on grade level. On the one hand, we’re Not Leaving Them Behind, so we’d better not fail them. On the other hand, we can’t let them slide by until they can read. It all makes sense now! No wonder it’s been such a rousing success so far!

I’d like to think we were smarter when were kids, but… the evidence says no

May 22, 2007

We have tiiiiiiiiny little air conditioners for each room, which do absolutely no good except for whatever student is fast enough to grab it and point it at himself. You’d think that’d be a moot point, since it’s only 75 degrees outside, but no; they run into the room and turn it on. I tell them to turn it back off. “But it’s hotttttttt,” they whine. “That’s because you ran here to get to the AC first,” I reply, since I am utterly heartless, and it gets turned back off.

Of course, one period a day another teacher is in my room, and he lets them do whatever they want. Today my garbage had three empty cookie bags, two empty chip bags, and four soda bottles when I got back to the room. And to think, all this time I’ve been enforcing the “no food in class” rule. Silly me.

Just like always, they’d turned on the air conditioner. Unlike always, it was cool enough outside that other kids complained they didn’t want the window open for the exhaust. So the students spent the whole class with cold air blowing on one kid, and hot air blowing on everyone else from the exhaust fan that wasn’t propped up in the window like it’s supposed to be. And they wonder why I roll my eyes at them so much.

one of us is crazy

May 19, 2007

We were talking about White Man’s Burden and imperialism and historical racism, when one of the kids looked up and said “White man’s burden? Miss, is that why all our teachers are white?”

Ouch. And also, yes, sort of. The kids got into a huge debate about different kinds of people and who’s smarter and who has trouble in school (they have pretty intrinsically racist attitudes about themselves, which just kills me) when I cut them off. “I couldn’t do this job if I didn’t believe that every baby is born with the exact same ability to learn and succeed, guys. And some of them have parents who can’t help them in school, or parents who aren’t around to help, or were born with mental illnesses, but they all start off the same, and some just have better opportunities, but everyone can learn,” I insisted. I say this kind of thing to them a lot.

One boy, who is much better at conceptual history than the others, grinned. “You’re a real Enlightenment thinker, huh, Miss? ‘All babies are created equal,’ right?”

“Yes,” I said firmly. (I was just at a science conference where someone called Richard Dawkins an ‘unabashed child of the Enlightenment,’ and was flattered by the similarity.)

“And you really believe that, too. Wow,” he said, shaking his head at my folly, and the class began studying for the Regents again.

kills every time

May 17, 2007

If you ever need to kill ten minutes in a class, try this: tell the kids about Life Before Soap And Toilets. It is a never-fail charmer of a lesson, just ask them “So, what do you guys think people did before they had toilets that flush?” By the time you explain about dumping chamber-pots out the window on city streets, you will have the entire class eating out of your hand.

Not that I’ve ever taught that when I was bored by my real lesson. At all.