Sunday, March 21, 2010

The School Day, Part IV: Third Period

With my computer bag over my shoulder, I lock the door to my classroom and begin to head down the hallway. I hear a voice yelling for me from behind.

"Wait, wait, Mr. RE. Can you hold on to my textbook?"

I turn around to remind Pamela that I don't hold onto textbooks for students.

"Sorry, Pamela, I can't be responsible for your textbook. You have to be."

"But it's so heavy and I don't have time to go to my locker."

(UGH....the amount of time I spend dealing with millions of minute teenager problems on a daily basis. When you look at it in terms of hours, I bet I earn at least a quarter of my salary trying to help students make better decisions about how to manage their habits and avoiding doing things for students that they should be doing themselves.)

"But I saw all the other textbooks that you keep in your cabinet. Just put mine in there with them."

"Sorry, Pamela, those textbooks aren't checked out to anyone, AND if I let you put yours in there with them, then I'd have to let everyone do that, AND then I'd have to spend ten minutes at the beginning of every period giving textbooks out (I sometimes do that anyway), AND then you'd never learn to bring your stuff to class, AND I don't have time to be talking to you right now because I've got to get to the computer lab at least two minutes before the bell rings, otherwise my seniors will never start class on time."

I can tell her eyes glazed over about halfway through the phrase, "Sorry, Pamela," so I'm not surprised by what comes next.

"Oh my god, Mr RE; that's so unfair. Remember when you let everyone keep their books in the room at the beginning of the year."

"I do remember that, and I also remember when ten of those people had their books stolen and then blamed me for not watching them every second they were in my room, and told me they would never pay for that stupid book anyway. I have too many other things to do to keep an eye out for everyone's books as well. It has to be your responsibility. Look, if you really want to continue this discussion, I'd be happy to do it at 3:30pm. Have a good day!"

"Ugh, this is so unfair."

She stomps away.

I push my way through the bottleneck of teenagers and security guards hanging out in front of our grade-level administrator's door. It's closed, locked, and the office is empty. Outside her door the security guards rough-house with the black students. The Latinos hang out in a different corner of the hallway. My tendency to be anal about dress code and behavior shoots my stress levels through the roof. I want to take every one of these students aside and get them in to shape, because every one of them is violating school rules in some way. Not all of the rules are rules I agree with, but if you're going to say something is a rule, then you better enforce it. Otherwise the kids learn quickly that the school is full of paper tigers (a favorite phrase of a former principal of mine). But I don't have time to deal with these kids right now (even though I'd be happy to) nor would it be practical to tell the kid the security guard is hanging out with that she's out of dress code when security has said nothing.

I get to the computer lab to find my entire class standing outside in the hallway.

(Locked again.)

The school's building manager can't seem to work out a plan so that either I can get a key to get into the room for my third period class (since we're required to be in there every day) or make sure someone else opens it. This happens about twice a week. My students aren't surprised. I send my grade-level administrator a text asking for a key and walk across the hall to the library to use the phone to call the building manager.

"Hi Ms. Librarian."

"Hi Mr. RE. Need the phone again?"

(Ahhhhh, I love Ms. Librarian. She's a person, a real person. She smiles; she knows my name; she's always happy to see me; and she knows how to work with kids. She also thinks that what happens at this school is a form of mind control. She's a thought criminal. Just like me!)

After leaving a message with Mr. Building Administrator, I wait in the hallway with my students to be let into the computer lab. Half of them ask to go work in another room with another teacher or go down to the front office to run some errands for their upcoming senior portfolio presentations. When I first got to this school, I would have said no and stood by it. I thought class time was inestimably valuable and that no student should ever leave without a really good reason. But I realized that wasn't quite the case here after having my third period switched on me four times in as many weeks; having my second period consistently cut for poorly planned assemblies, DC-BAS, and advisory (none of which actually add anything valuable to the students' educations); and waiting an average of thirty minutes to begin my third period whenever the door is locked. So I let pretty much any of my students go wherever they need to go to do whatever they need to do. They know as well as I do that we'll probably be waiting in the hallway for a while.

Some of my Latina students begin laughing and looking in my direction. I walk over and ask what's so funny.

"How old are you, Mr. RE."

"I'm sixty-two." (I'm twenty-six.)

"Whatever. Do you have a girlfriend?

(Oh Jesus - this is what I need today.)

"Nope. I'm married with 10 kids." (I'm not married and I definitely don't have kids.)

"Sheila saw you eating at that new Asian place on 14th with a Hispanic girl."

"Crazy, huh? Teachers also go places and eat food with other people."

When I was in Seattle, I actually heard a student who saw me at Safeway whisper to his girlfriend, "He has a life." I was shocked. Going to Safeway means you have a life. Now I go to Giant.

Finally Mr. Building Administrator brings the key. I look at the clock. Twenty-two minutes gone. Oh well. They'll just have to get their work done at home.

We go into the lab and everyone takes a seat.

"Anyone have any questions?"


"Okay, get to work."

I don't do any teaching in the class because it's just one massive project the kids are supposed to complete and then present on at the end of the semester. They have the guidelines and now all they do is work. I began by trying mini-lessons, but quickly realized that I had no idea what this class was about or how I was supposed to teach it. After asking around, I found out that nobody else did either. The administration just gives the section to whatever teacher is available during that particular advisory, so nobody ends up getting to teach it over and over again so that it's actually good. This news on top of having my third period changed so often led me to give up on trying to make this an excellent class. I'm definitely not doing anything stellar here. I watch the kids work, make sure they don't break too many computers, and then go to lunch. All in all, it actually ends up being pretty relaxing. Gives me time to talk to the kids one on one.

"Mr. RE, my computer doesn't have a mouse."

"Sorry about that. Try the library."

One of the administrators walks in and frowns at me like she's expecting me to be doing something interactive with the kids. She walks around and looks at the kids' computer screens. It looks like, if she had the chance, she would take me out in the hall and yell at me for being the sole cause of the achievement gap in the United States. As one my colleagues put it, I must have "I love the achievement gap" tattooed across my forehead to be getting looks like that. She would tell me to find a new job, that I don't have any enthusiasm for this one. She would berate me for not caring about the kids. She'd get so angry, she might even show me how to do it and take the class over herse......... no - she wouldn't do that.

Of course, this is from a person who did TFA and then ran off to a fancy admin prep to make 20k more than I do even though I (with my whole 3.5 years teaching) have more experience in a high school classroom than she does - oh wait, that's all the administrators I work closely with.

She walks out the door and the bell rings a few minutes later.

"Have a good day everyone. Don't forget to e-mail me your proposals."

Finally, lunch!

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