boiling point

December 12, 2007

I teach a class once a week that I don’t give grades to. We just review for the Regents. They are unmotivated to do any work, and I don’t really blame them. It’s a little bit of a disaster. It doesn’t excuse straight-up fucking rudeness, though. Today they talked over me for twenty minutes, while I used all my good-teacher techniques and felt increasingly frustrated and helpless. I don’t yell, usually, and I don’t call students out individually, and I don’t like punishing.

And then I realized I hadn’t felt this shitty and out of control with a class since I was a student teacher, four years ago, and just started yelling. I yelled and I glared and I shouted them down and told them exactly what they were going to write down and how they were going to do it and if they didn’t like it they could go to the AP’s office and I woudn’t miss them a bit. Then I yelled about how the Regents are only a month away and that they were in the class because they hadn’t passed yet; if they wanted to roll their eyes at me and never think about global history again, all they had to do was PASS this time, and I was trying to give them the tools to do that.

Then I said something about how it was impossible to teach if I wanted them to succeed more than they did. Then I yelled a little more.

Okay, it wasn’t my finest moment. But every kid in the room got out a notebook and started writing down notes. And they shut up, and they started asking for help. I wouldn’t say it was a model lesson, by any means; it was about the opposite of that. But I didn’t leave crying or angry. Sometimes that’s a win.


At least they didn’t ask about Santa

December 11, 2007

“We’re going to be studying medieval times, class!”

“What’s that?”

“That’s… Okay, think about Kings and Queens and princesses and castles and knights.”


“Yes. Princesses are real. The daughter of a King is called a princess.”

“Miss! Are dragons real?”

“No. Dragons are made up.”

“Is Dracula real?”

“Well… There really was a guy named Vlad the Impaler and Transylvania is real, but vampires aren’t real.”

“Is Frankenstein real?”

“No. Frankenstein isn’t real.”

“What about the Mummy?”

“Does anyone have any serious questions?”

“Miss? How do you REMEMBER all this stuff?”


it’s not his fault

December 8, 2007

For the record, all the normal problems teaching children the difference between “succeed” and “secede” are multiplied times a thousand when the child in question is a native Bengali speaker.

“No, the DaVinci code isn’t real. That’s how they get you.”

December 7, 2007

I’m home sick. Well — I’m home almost sick. I’m home if-I-don’t-take-a-day-off-I’ll-get-incredibly-sick-and-die. And as always, I’m spending my day off grading, lesson planning, and waiting for someone to come fix something in my apartment. Being an adult sucks.

I got a great email from a student yesterday; we’ve been talking about the Roman and Byzantine empires in class, and he’s reading Dan Brown’s Demons and Angels (I think). He found a reference to Emperor Constantine and was so excited (because we talked about it! In class!) that he had to email me immediately.  It made him happy, because the things he learned were actually useful, and it made me happy, because the ancient history I was teaching turned out to be actually useful. Everyone wins! (Except Dan Brown, because those books are terrible and I just don’t have the heart to tell my students that when they’re excited about reading.)

for the record

December 4, 2007

As it turns out, 9th graders OVERWHELMINGLY believe that gladiator fights are totally okay and should be reinstated immediately. They are slightly less in favor of man vs. lion, but only because it’s “not a fair fight.”

and I hang out at, too

November 29, 2007

I am a word-nerd. The kids have learned this. It’s gotten to the point where I can say things like “If you don’t all be quiet, I won’t tell you where the word ‘assassin’ comes from!” and they will hush each other to listen. We spent a bunch of time last week on the -cides, suicide, fratricide, infanticide. They were fascinated. Today was ‘decimate ‘(which I compared to decimal and decade). Sure, some of the kids’ eyes glaze over, but more and more of them are coming over to the dark side. It’s never occurred to them before that words mean something and sometimes you can figure out what they mean by breaking them down! I’m here to help.

I might bump her to 65, though.

November 27, 2007

Grades go in Friday, which means students are panicking. I had a long conversation yesterday with a young lady who has been alternately napping/screaming through my class all year. Most of the other teachers really dislike her, but we get along fine, maybe because I am totally honest with her when she’s annoying, but work really hard not to be mean.

Her: “What can I do tonight to fix my grade? Can I go home and make up some missing homeworks?”

Me: “It’s not just about homeworks. It’s about participating the right way in class every day.”

Her: “Listen, if you want me to, I’ll take this textbook home and read the whole thing and write you a report for tomorrow. Will that get me to a 70?”

Me: “Your grade right now is a 40, so probably not. Plus, I don’t want a report. I want you to come in to class every day and participate and hand in the homework. Also, your project is two weeks late.”

Her: “Okay, so if I do the project and give it to you tomorrow and I go home and do extra credit can I get a 70?”

Me: “No. It’s about every day. You can definitely get a 70 for third marking period, but you’re going to have to bring your A-Game to class every day.”

Her: “So, what can I do tonight for extra credit?”

I feel her pain, and I hate failing kids who really want to try and do better. But I think it’s the wrong message to tell them they can make up for a whole marking period of shitty work in the last couple of days. Teaching! So unexpectedly full of moral dilemmas!