the twit


    love at the periphery

    so, i left jim hill at 6pm yesterday for the nth time.

    (n.b. a response to the claim that teachers have "great hourly wages": "Most teachers work far beyond the hours stipulated in their contracts. A 2001 NEA study, "Status of American Public Schoolteachers," found that teachers worked an average ten extra hours per week" (Daniel Moulthroup, Ninive Calegari, and Dave Eggers in Teachers Have it Easy: The Big Sacrifices and Small Salaries of America's Teachers))

    school ends at 3:30 pm. as yesterday was B day (we are on AB block scheduling), i had fourth block off - meaning that my day ended at 1:45 (provided they rang the bell on time, which i do not remember). as i was pretty sick yesterday (which is why i'm home today resting, blowing my nose, and writing a blog or two), my main objective for the time period beginning at 1:45ish was to prepare my room for the next day's sub. this - of course - was not achieved until about 5:45, after which i was able to exit the building, go grocery shopping with margaret, and collapse while reading the new issue of mathematics teacher (wherein i realized that i'm in a tragic way fortunate to come up against the generally low level of content knowledge that i find in my students, and the mechanical and rudimentary expectations of my curriculum. because, if faced with a rigorous/inspiring curriculum and flexibility for differentiated instruction [two things i hope to nevertheless develop over time], i'd be pretty overwhelmed intellectually. take this reluctance and multiply it by a couple hundred thousand people and a few generations, focus it on areas of economic and social difficulty, and you'll see a public service that fails the public.)

    ever since i've broken through the barrier of constantly feeling overstressed, underachieving, and nearly suffocating as a teacher, i've worked a few down-time activities into my planning period:

    (1) read pitchfork (
    (2) read the new york times (with an eye out for articles that may be of interest to the civil rights/civil liberties club. today's: "Smithsonian Picks Notable Spot for its Museum of Black History" by Lynette Clemetson, "Trial Opens in Challenge to Law Over Teenage Sex," by Jodi Rudoren, "Children, Media, and Sex: A Big Book of Blank Pages," by Jane Brody, and - sadly - this just in: "Coretta Scot King, 78, Widow of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Dies.")
    (3) read today's wikipedia featured article (today's is about the song "Dixie." go rebels.)

    after i get through this - which usually takes about a 1/2 hour - i start going through:

    (1) the things i need to do in order to teach the next day
    (2) grading
    (3) odds and ends

    (lets be honest, (3) usually comes before (2))

    at ole miss this past summer, i remember someone talking about making goals as a first year teacher. someone (i think it was joe sweeney) was determined to teach every day. someone else (?) was determined to some to school every day. my goal - and i've been unwavering in it - is to make sure that every morning i walk into my classroom i have an explicit plan of action for all of my classes that day (this is slightly but substantively different from having written a bunch of "lesson plans." those are just cover sheets at best) . i refuse to wing it. i refuse to have 25 kids wander into a classroom and not have a road map on how i'm going to keep them occuppied for an hour and a half. clearly, i often have to deviate from what i've prepared. however, i'm furious in making sure that there's always some structure to fall back on, and all the physical necessities to enact it. handouts, notes, problems, activities, whatever.


    so yesterday, (as i segue into a blurred present tense) i'm wandering around my room trying to decide whether or not my 2nd A-day (henceforth 2A) class needs some extra practice on systems of equations even though they just took a test on it and only 1/3 of the class was able to finish it so i need to give the rest of them time to finish it but why should i give extra practice i'm not sure they're going to do it anyway because (a) this class pretty much doesn't turn in homework (b) anything can happen with a sub, and (c) what they really need is a collaborative learning excercise where the kids who were able to finish the test explain some problems to small groups of everyone else, so i'll just photocopy the sudoku i was going to give 4A for all of my classes (god knows what i could have pulled together for 3A), and see if i can also get them to write about my special nutrition prompts for our Do Now (aka bell work, first work, warm-up, etc.): "Is there a need for nutrition awareness or action on campus?," "Are there any sections of the student population who have special nutrition needs?," "Are there any nutrition issues with our cafeteria options?," but i won't be able to be there to give them my spiel about meeting the outreach coordinator at the rainbow grocery co-op and how we're excited to collaborate in any nutrition issues that students see at jim hill (e.g. obesity, basic nutritional knowlege, nutrition for atheletes, nutrition for expectant mothers, issues with government lunch, etc.), so i go back to my computer and see if i can pull up a good times article or something, and i find a good one and highlight some sections i'll photocopy

    and the bell rings.

    so i have to wait to get the photocopies done because jake and i have a discussion group on night to lead, and josh is going to come by to get workout instructions because i can't run with him because i'm sick, and then there's belinda who needs to take a test she missed (which i forgot about), so i get her the test and there's josh who's telling me that there's a mandatory band meeting - so he leaves - and april shows up to tell me she's not coming to the discussion group because of the band meeting, which she says will last until 4:30 - so she leaves - and the new kid who wants to run shows up (they usually don't follow up on this, so i'm excited), but i need josh to take him out for a run because i'm sick, so i walk with april to the band room and ask josh how long he thinks he'll be there and that he should check for me in either my room or jake's. so i walk back to my room to tell the new kid (i end up forgetting his name a million times) to sit tight, and i notice that belinda has her cell phone out which means she may be using it as a calculator but i need to check on jake and the dicussion group so i tell her i'll be back and go upstairs and jake is tired and there's a handful of the usuals hanging around in his room but only one has read the book and jake is on oprah's website looking up the prompt and he looks tired so i tell him to send the kids down to my room if he wants and i go back downstairs and keep an eye on belinda and make small talk with the new kid and look at the new york times article i need to photocopy before i leave.

    eventually, jake comes downstairs with the kids and there's another one who's read the book and i toss a few copies to them and we start talking about "why elie weisel's book night is relevant today?," and they start talking about hurricane katrina so it's clear that my meditation on the difference between "how" and "why" won't work, and jake and i start talking about whether or not the holocaust could happen again and start talking about rwanda and darfur and trying to put a death toll of 6 million jews into context (5000 jim hills dead.... 30 jacksons.... 2 mississippis dead dead dead) and jake asks them which scenes from the book leave the strongest impression on them and one girl mentions the old lady who goes crazy and sees fire everywhere so we talk about prophecy for a bit and another girl talks about the hanging of the young boy and so i get an alley-oup to slam dunk the kids into my riff about how wiesel - a jew - brings us to calvalry and there's jesus hung with two others and he/we has/have to suffer because his soul is innocent and young and it's more difficult to watch him die than an grown man who has sinned and "my god, my god, why have you forsaken me," and they're all naked and shaven and numbered and neitzche and jake is furiously on the internet pulling up some halocaust pictures and look at his ribs these are the strong ones remember and those are shoes "why didn't they pair them up" a student asks "why would they" another says and they decide to end for the day and josh shows up and is ready to run.

    josh is frustrated because the new kid is there and i think he's a little possessive of my help which is understandable because he's never had anyone to run with before, but on our 54-minute run last friday we had talked about teaching other jim hill kids what it means to run and how josh needs to be a leader so i gave him my watch and let him take the new kid out for a three-mile run while i grab my times article and some photocopier paper and head down to the copy room, but there's renee and she's crying because someone took her place on the sextet (a singing group) because she missed the audition because she had to go to mandatory tutorial (she's pretty much the best student i have), so i'm hugging her and telling her it's ok because the other girl is a senior and renee is a sophmore and she had two more years to be an awesome singer and anyway we can just have more time to do number theory after school, so then renee feels better and her mom is here to pick her up and renee always wants me to say hi to her mom so i do and on the way we start talking about night because renee is reading it too but couldn't come today because (a) mandatory tutorial and (b) that sextet thing, and she didn't pick up on the calvalry scene either so i scold her playfully because her mom has christian memorabilia all over her car and becuase renee is brilliant, and i exchange some small talk with her mom and i head back into the building i with my times article and i see lacee (who's my other really smart kid) who is going to be induced to labor on wednesday and i'm not coming in tomorrow so i wish her the best and by the way how long do you get for maternity leave? six weeks? but she's only planning on taking four and i ask her if she wants any extra work and she does she tells me about her psat scores where she got 98 and 99th percentile in writing and english but 79th in math so can i give her any more test prep stuff because i lent her the ACT book after she took the PSAT's and she thinks they helped, so i say sure and i realize that i have whole tests ready to photocopy and i ask her if she has a minute for me to run off some stuff so we go back to my room and i put the times article on my desk and start going through my SAT/ACT books and grabbing some more paper and i ask her how she feels about having the baby is she excited and she tells me she's scared and we start walking to the copy room and i ask her why and she's afraid of the pain and she doesn't want an epideral because she doesn't like needles and it goes in her spine and she doesn't want to be paralyzed so she'll just take some tylenol, at which point i tell her that my mom's a nurse and she's been delivering babies all her life and that i don't know much about epiderals but i don't think tylenol will cut it so would she be ok if i called my mom and let lacee ask her a few questions, so lacee says sure and i call my mom and put lacee on the phone and they start talking and one door to the teacher's area is locked, and so is the other, but the third is open so we go in and lacee's talking to my mom about what week she's in and how much the baby weighs and what an IV is and how an epideral works and that stuff and i start photocopying the ACT tests i already have and then some SAT ones and then another teacher comes in the copy room and it's clear that he needs to make some copies so i can't go through my other SAT book which has like six more tests so i prepare the five for her that i already have and as we leave the copy room i notice that i have the times article with me but the other teacher's job is already printing and it looks big so hopefully they won't lock this last door anytime soon.

    we pass the front door and lacee's mom is waiting outside so we go back to my room and lacee finishes talking to my mom and i give her the tests and tell her to send me any that she's finished and i'll correct them and send them back, and good luck and i hope she brings the baby in sometime so i can see him, and i hope my mom was helpful and you can always call and ask her questions, and josh is back from the run with the new kid and they're stretching while josh teases lacee as she leaves and it seems the new kid did the whole three miles with josh which is pretty impressive given that he hasn't run at all in a long time and that most kids who show up to run barely make it through the first ten minutes with me and josh, so i start talking to him about what we'll need to do if he wants to train with me and then he leaves after a lot of "yes sir"s which always make me uncomfortable and josh's mom shows up and chats for a bit and gets josh, so then i finally walk down to the copy machine with the nutrition article and make enough copies for the kids tomorrow, and leave instructions on my board and some class rosters, and i lock up all the stuff i don't want people getting into then turn off the light and call my mom back to thank her as i walk to my car, and then i call margaret who's been waiting to go to the grocery store and now wants to make some pasta which i think is a great idea as i get into my car and turn on some tom waits which i've been listening to a lot recently.


    new rain

    driving home from oxford tonight - shifting from tom waits to dave van ronk to dr. dre to kanye - i was fixed to the lingering issues of today's classes. ari, sarah, jake and i crammed fits of tired argument in between our respective debt to slumber or the highway. plenty of frustration, conflict, and sadness - at least on my part.

    but this is how it's supposed to be, or at least how i'd always choose to have it. worried about the things we'd seen today. fixed to them, and there endless surface. thinking about our children. more importantly, not obsessed with the captive's urge to drink away whatever it was i'd just been subject to for six hours (this was last semester's theme); rather obsessed to keep pressing in my affinity to previous engagement.


    notes on jake's assertion that our level of training at the teacher corps is somehow sufficient for what we need to do in the classroom (i.e. giving us a lesson plan model as something to fall back on, and turning us loose to figure it out on our own) - and that the more pressing issue is to keep on getting competent people into these school buildings, people you can trust to take care of themselves:

    - whatever level of success i've developed in the classroom, i can easily numerate stresses and hurdles that could have easily been dealt with through reflection, information, or simulation during the months previous (e.g. gradekeeping and the corollary secretarial work; comprehensive knowledge, engagement, and analysis with both the high school curriculum of my subject area and rigorous engagment with common teaching practices used to employ this curriculum). this would have enabled me to (a) pear down predictable and managable stresses, easing assimilation to the classroom environment and boosting my proficiency level once things started to click, (b) given me a head start on figuring things out on my own, seeing that my desires for self improvement are nearly identical now to what i had worried they would be, and i barely have time or energy to do serious development in these areas on my own right now.

    - our preparation is akin to telling a trial lawyer that there is something called an "argument," that he or she must have, that this argument must have "points," and these points must have "supporting evidence," that supporting evidence has certain definable qualities, and that there is a formal order to actualizing this argument in a court room. then, assuming that since this young, excited person must have some detached knowledge of what it means to be a lawyer (and basing one's theory of teaching on half-ass meta-reflection on how one was himself teached is just as credible as claiming that we know how to be lawyers because we've seen them on tv), sending him/her into the fray, with the head-patting assurance that it'll be difficult in the beginning, but he/she will adjust.

    - regardless of the sufficiency of the aforemention training, and extending the undoubtedly soon-to-be flattened lawyer comparison: there is no Lexis-Nexus for teachers, no OED, no Wikipedia. there is no autonomous hub of fluent and necessary industry information and data. almost across the board, even if we do figure out how to survive in a classroom, we have little breathing room - outside of whatever contract-locked materials or industry trend program we're tied to - to self-improve. to figure things out.


    starting soon, i will try and profile some of my kids. but i'll probably continue to do whatever it is i do when i intend to talk about my classroom, and end up talking about my classes.