The School Day, Part III: Second Period

I double-check my white board to make sure everything is in place in case I get observed. I scramble to get attendance clipboards ready and race down to gather my handouts.

The bell rings to signal the end of first period on my way back to class and students explode out of the doors. The hallway is filled with teenagers, most of whom just mentally awoke about fifteen minutes ago.

"Tuck your shirt in. Take that hat off. No food in the hallway. Let's get that shirt tucked in. You want to look like you're a professional. That's how you'll get a job one day. Hey - c'mon. No hats; you know the rules. What do you mean you don't know what I'm talking about? How long have you been a student here? Whoa, whoa, whoa, where's your uniform? You can't be wearing that. You need to go down to the office and have a talk to them."

(I'm not following them down the hallway today. I have to get second period started. Plus, if a kid refuses to tuck his shirt in, what recourse do I really have? Just not worth it; not today.)

I make it to my door to find three of my students lined up and ready to enter.

"Don't worry everyone! I'm here!"

I hold up the key to the door.

"You all know what this is, don't you? It's the key to your education!"

They all sigh and grown.

"Ugh, I was hoping we were going to have a sub today."

"Haha, yeah right. Why would I let you off so easily. You know how I am"

"Yea.....we know....."

I prop open the door and tell the kids to stay outside the room until I'm ready for them to enter. I hold my "Do Now" handouts in my left hand and shake their hands with my right hand.

"Good morning! Here's your do now. Get started. Remember, if you're standing up or talking when the bell rings, that means you're tardy."

"Good morning! Here's your do now. Get started. Remember, if you're standing up or talking when the bell rings, that means you're tardy."

"Good morning! Here's your do now. Get started. Remember, if you're standing up or talking when the bell rings, that means you're tardy."

I stand in front of the door to block Kia's entrance. She hates shaking my hand and has a lot of trouble communicating.

"Hi, Kia!"

*No eye-contact from her*

"How are you?"

Kia looks down and says nothing, and it's not because she doesn't know how. She can be very playful at times, and we generally have a pretty good relationship. She was born to a drug addict and has to take care of her cousins on a regular basis though, so she has a real tough time sitting still.

"Well that's okay. I'm doing well myself. Here's your do now. Get started and don't be tardy!"

The bell rings and I close the door so that I'm immediately alerted to anyone who comes in late. I look at my class that should have twenty-two students. It only has eleven.

"Where is everyone today? Who would want to miss out on this valuable learning experience? I can't even imagine... Alright, well let's get started on our do nows."

I begin taking attendance while four or five of my students actually begin doing what I asked them to. I go around to the rest and ask them to get started. I stand next to them until they begin, but inevitably have to move to another group of students who are talking about the soccer match on television last night. I go and get them on track, but lose the concentration of another group.

"Mr. RE, did you see the game? Awwwwww, it was so good. It was Gucci."

"Naw, man. It was Icy. Soooo icy."

Before I have time to respond, five students out of dress code walk in late like it was no big deal.

"Whoa, hold on. Before you sit down..."

"Nuh uh. We weren't late!"

The whole class starts laughing.

(Good lord. Here we go.)

"Come speak with me in the hallway please so everyone else can finish their do now."

(How many of them will actually finish their do now? Probably about three. The rest will wait for me to go over it and then throw it away. Not a huge surprise that I'm only passing four people in this class right now. And do the admins help when I send them e-mails alerting them to my high failure rates? They say they'll meet with me and never follow up. But I will be marked down on my IMPACT evaluation for this. Guaranteed.)

After about thirty seconds of defiance, I finally get the tardy students in the hallway.

"We weren't late!!!!"

I point to the sign I have posted on my door that clearly states that all students must be sitting in their seats and working on their do now when the bell rings to be considered on time.

"I'm not going to argue with you. I just need to do what I'm asking right now. Take off the jackets; take off the hats; sign the tardy log when you go in the classroom; and begin working on the do now."

I can hear the students inside my classroom getting louder, and this raises my stress level significantly.

(I know I'm doing a poor job right now trying to manage this mess, but I'm surely not getting any feedback or support on how to do a better job of it. What can one adult do in the face of sixteen teenagers who know exactly how the system around here works? They can't be kicked out of class. I can't reach most of their parents. And they won't suspend anyone because that counts against attendance rates. Whatever. I'm not giving up on my expectations. Is that the right thing to do? I have no idea...)

"You can't make me do that. I'll just leave."

"You'll just leave? Where will you go?"

"I'm goin' to Giant. I'm hungry"

She walks down the hallway and down the stairs.

(Unfortunately, she's right. I can't make her do anything. I could call security, but I won't be able to reach them. I could write her up, but we don't have discipline deans since one quit and the other was fired. I could try to reach my grade-level administrator, but odds are it'd be a waste of time (since I can rarely find her), time that could be better used attending to the needs of the students that are actually in my class interested in learning. The best I can do is make a note of it and mention it to my grade-level administrator later.)

After a few more minutes of discussion, I finally get the other four students to do what I want. We head back in the classroom and find every single student talking about anything but school.

(We can never start our day when the bell rings. It never really begins until the last tardy student has entered the door. Until then, I'm constantly starting and stopping. I'll put the tardy students' names on the board and ask them to stay with me after school. I'll call their parents. I'll tell them that an accumulation of tardies will hurt their grade. But none of that matters to them. I'll be pressured by the administration to pass them regardless of their tardies and absences, even though lowering students' grades because of tardies and absences is THEIR policy.)

"Alright. Raise your hand if you remember what we talked about yesterday. Good. A few of you remember. Ricardo, could I have your attention please. Kia, I need to see your face; please pick your head up. Thank you."

I take the class through my Cornell Notes on Gandhi's Salt March. I give them three questions on the Salt March, and I answer each one of them while they listen. I don't let them write anything down until I'm done talking. Then I have them discuss what I just said and see if they can come to a conclusion among their groups of three or four as to what the best answer to the question is.

(Poor Bonita. She always ends up working with two partners who are total duds and end up copying right off of her. The girl's amazing though. She deserves a better educational environment.)

I end up having to group my students in such a fashion that there's only ever one motivated student in each group. I don't do it by ability level because in this environment motivation seems to have a much stronger effect on how much a group achieves.

(Should I just cut my losses and put all of the highly motivated students in the same group? They would be so much happier and more productive. The duds would get nothing out of it, but who can be blamed for that? Is the attempt to save all of my students really just leading to the unintended sacrifice of my most motivated? They already attend school in DCPS. How much harder am I going to make it on them? Ughhhh, I have no idea....)

"Ricardo. I need you to work with your group."

Ricardo ignores me and continues to talk about soccer. As I move closer to his table, he switches to Spanish.

"Ricardo. Ricardo. Ricardo. Excuse me."

(Typical Ricardo. Not a malicious kid. Really intelligent, but caught up in gang life and trying to be cool for his family and friends. Hasn't passed a class in a long time. He has twenty absences and the same number of tardies in my class. This is one kid who I will not be giving into the administration on. Despite his intelligence, he will not be passing this class.)

"Oh right. Sorry, Mr. RE."

(Sweet, I bought twenty seconds of his focus. As soon as I turn my back, it's gone.)

I turn my back and find five other kids who lost focus as soon as I focused on Ricardo. Over to them now.

We work on some other activities and the period winds down. I have my students fill out an exit slip to see if they accomplished the objective for the day. As students begin to turn in the exit slip, I notice that I still have about three minutes left in class.

(No way are they lining up at the door in my room.)

"Wait, hold on, everyone. I need you to hear some very important announcements. Put your stuff down; have a seat; we're not finished yet. I still have three minutes left. You all know that I make the most of every second I have with you."

(What announcements can I make? Ah, I can remind them about their homework. What else? Oh right, they won't be in my class for the next two days for DC-BAS. No problem there. These kids don't need more instructional time. Take all you need, DC-BAS. I'm sure your worthless data will be so much more useful than the knowledge I could impart to them in three hours.)

I make my announcements and the bell rings. I shake the kids hands on the way out the door and tell them to have a good day while they hand me their exit slips.

(Did I do a good job today? No. That was pretty worthless. Typical of my second period where I'm often much more of a prison guard than a teacher.)

I grab my stuff, lock the door, and head to the computer lab for third period.


  1. I'm getting to the point where I put the motivated ones into 1 or 2 groups and the rest just aren't going to get it. I've found that very occasionally, one of the students in the dud group will ask to move and start doing something.

  2. Anon 5:44

    It seems like you are giving up on the "duds" (which by the way is very offensive to refer to any student as a dud). I think you shouldn't teach at an inner city school if you are no longer trying to motivate them. Move to the suburbs and teach there if you want every kid to be motivated. Either teach in the city and do your best to motivate the "duds" and don't whine about it, or go teach in suburbs.

  3. Anon at 5.44 .

    While I think dud is a poor choice .. the teacher was not unmotivated. Nice try...
    Try mrteachbad blog.. if dud makes you quirms, teachbad will make you scream

  4. "unmotivated" seem to be an acceptable euphemism for "dud" but they mean the same thing and everybody knows it.

    The time will come when "unmotivated" will be just as pejorative as "dud" and the educational establishment will come up with a new word. What will it be? "Unreached," perhaps. Something to blame the teacher, I'm pretty sure.

    I support using descriptive language that connotes the possibility for change. I'm also in favor of teachers talking frankly and informally among themselves without being chastised by the word police.

  5. Get over it, please. Let's be honest for once Anon 5:44, using politically correct language doesn't mean anything. I can speak using the correct language and be a crap teacher and treat my students like garbage. It's pretty clear the Reflective Educator cares about students and the truth about what really goes on inside DCPS.

  6. you mean anon 7:28

  7. This is Anon 7:28 again,

    This has nothing to do with political correctness. Thinking of your students as duds does nothing to help the situation in the classroom. Thinking positively does. If I went to work everyday and thought of half of my kids as duds, that would suck. You have to get past that.

    Realize that the duds don't see tangible benefits of succeeding in high or middle school. The people they look up to in their neighborhoods often are people who didn't succeed at all in high school.

    You have to get past the fact that these kids don't show up motivated to be successful. Stop thinking of them as duds, and start thinking of them as people who need to be challenged somehow.

    It's not easy. In fact it may be the hardest job out there. No one said it was easy, that the administrators are the least bit competent, or that the standards are attainable. But the reality of having to do something for the duds exists. Either do your best to get through to the duds every single day, or go teach in the suburbs.

  8. Using the word "dud" does not necessarily mean that you think the students are hopeless. Agree with all you say, but using that word does not necessarily imply that the teacher thinks the students are "duds" as YOU choose to use and define the word, hence the reference to political correctness. I think you have to give the writer a lot more credit than that.

  9. sorry anon 7:28 - it still sounds like an argument over a word.

    Also, it would be nice if you stopped telling people you disagree with to go teach in the suburbs

  10. Everyone refers to teaching in the suburbs like it's a bad thing. I teach in a low income Montgomery County HS. Teachers everywhere have challenges. While I don't neccessarily have the same challenges as DCPS teachers (no IMPACT eval and a contract thanks to our very strong union), I still struggle. Every teacher has difficult students (or duds if you will!) and every teacher has students who deserve better. Why are we attacking each other!

  11. I'm the first Anon. Dud was a bad choice of words and I should not have used it. Sadly, we are blurring the message due to my unfortunate choice of words to describe unmotivated students.

    I work my tail off to try to get through to these kids and get them to do basic work. I am ridiculously positive in the classroom. However, when every day for 5 months I see the same kids doing the same things (doing no work, not bringing pencils or pens, coming two thirds of the way through class, refusing to make any effort at all) then yes, I think at some point you have to cut your losses and work with the kids who will try.

    No one wants to say this, but it is a form of triage. I've spent 5 minutes with a student, trying to get him to do the least bit of work. He finally just turned to me and said "I'm not going to do any work, why don't you go help someone who wants help". 1 teacher, 29 students with 10-12 students who want help, yeah, I'm going to help the students who want it.

    I'm always encouraging students to try, even those that honestly have no chance of passing at this point, but when I have to make a decision about where to put my energy, it's going to be with those who want help

  12. Anon at 544 and 1157: I also used the term in the post, so it's not all on you. I appreciate your explanation in your second comment but really don't think it should be necessary. Those of us who are committed to this work and deal with the kinds of things we deal with on a day-to-day basis should be able to share stories and ideas with each other without being worried about the kind of criticism we see here. I understand why someone on the outside might see the term as offensive, but it's not meant to be. We care about all of our kids, regardless of their dudness, dudability, or dudatutde. Unfortunately, it's a fact of life that there will be unmotivated kids in our classrooms. We may want the best for them, but no matter how hard we try, there will always be students who need so much more in their lives than a caring teacher (especially when you only see a kid for fifty minutes five times a week).

    I also agree with Nicole. While teaching in the inner-city poses significant challenges, many "suburban" schools pose different challenges that may be just as significant. I recently heard on CBC radio that familes with incomes of more than $150k per year often deal with higher rates of drug abuse than those living in urban ghettos. Also, dealing with uppity parents who think that teaching isn't a true profession - no way in hell...

    By the way, my favorite politically correct term for a dud: reluctant learner.

  13. Thanks RE.

    Perhaps there are some who don't know that "go teach in the suburbs" is a favorite line of Chancellor Rhee directed at teachers who complain about the challenges of urban teaching. My feeling is it's meant to deflect the failings of the system (not the kids) and try to shame teachers into taking all the responsibility for matters way beyond their control but within hers.

    I'd guess the person who made that remark is either a teacher who bought that idea or someone in the administration who's here to reinforce it.

  14. What makes me laugh the most, is that the Chancellor and the poster who referenced working in the suburbs never think that the teachers come from the same environment as the kids. Why is this? Because none of the new recruits, or few of them do. So "Anon - suburbs", I know exactly who these kids are because I come from a similar environment, except I don't have to preach the text book response, I've lived it and I don't buy it. Don't come into my environment and try and tell me that I don't care about my kids, you weren't there; living in DC when everyone thought DC was a war zone, when it was the murder capital of the country, when the police would not come out to your neighborhood when you called them. This whole rhetoric makes me so angry, we believed when nobody else did, when there wasn't a job attached, when there wasn't a thriving downtown and a hippie vibe to the city. Don't tell me I don't care - you wrote my neighborhood off as the ghetto for a long time!!!

  15. Part III is as true as Part I and II. What bothered me the most is when this would happen in my classroom i would try to come up with a new strategy, change seats,.. a number of different things, which included asked our administrators for feedback. Because as we know when your IMPACT evaluator comes into a situation like this your going to get burned. And even in the IMPACT evaluation, still yearning for some sort of suggestion or anything. But no, like spend 45minutes of your hour long IMPACT follow up reminding you to use World History For Us All. And not even mention the observed lesson and whether or not it seemed like the students were learning.

    I realize that the administrators dont have all the answers. And I dont think that they should either. But as our leaders, and especially when they are "acting" as our department chair, i expect them to at least provide something when asked every now and again. Especially if a new teacher, or a teacher that truly just wants to become better to improve student learning. It would be in their interest, the school's and the students interest to support the teachers. But at that school, the admin is too busy i guess. Doing what, i dont know.

    Can't wait to read school day part IV.

  16. They have nothing to say cos they know it a load of crap that' why - IMPACT I mean. Sure there are good parts but overall, this say the objective 3 times, stand on your head and sing a song business is amateurish and does very little to assess the quality of teaching and learning going on in DCPS. Me again from the HOOD. You wouldn't teach this way in your neighborhood so why subject my kids to this crap, and experimentation while dismantling public education. You say you care, use rhetoric that is designed to say all the right things, but I can see through you - as can the kids. It's all one big game and the kids are the losers.

  17. Just got an IMPACT score of 2.22, really sucks. All this hard work and stress and thought I put in amounts to basically crap. Damn.

  18. Hang in there Anon at 1041. Try not to measure your success as a teacher strictly by what your administrators say. IMPACT has a lot of holes. Easier said than done, though.


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