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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The School Day, Part VI: Fourth Period

I begin arranging my room for fourth period, going over how I will improve on my lesson plan from second period in my head. Second period ALWAYS gets the short end of the world history stick. I mess up with them every day; they get their class cut for DC-BAS testing, advisory, and assemblies; they're a much lower achieving class, despite the fact that there are twelve fewer students in their than in fourth. Fourth period almost always has the benefit of my new-and-improved lesson plan that I can create after seeing the pitfalls of the original in second period.

As I pick up trash off the desks and organize myself for the last ninety minutes of the day, students begin knocking on the door. I keep it closed and locked until I'm ready to stand next to it with their Do Nows ready. I discovered a while ago that making contact with each student as they enter the room and providing individual instructions before the bell rings will always help class get started as close to the ringing of the bell as possible. So when the kids come in without me having the opportunity to greet them and tell them what to do, I rush to close the door and keep them out until I'm ready.

Finally the bell rings, I open the door, and the kids are lined up waiting to shake my hand and enter. They only line up because they know I won't let them in the room until they each greet me individually. If I hadn't forced them to do it every day all year long, I'm sure they'd all rush in at the same time.

"Good afternoon. Here's your Do Now; get started before the bell rings."

"Good afternoon. Here's your Do Now; get started before the bell rings."

"Good afternoon. Here's your Do Now; get started before the bell rings."

"30 seconds until the bell rings! Make sure your sitting down and quietly working!"

"You guys have like five seconds left! If you're not sitting and working, you're tardy!"

The bell rings and my class is quietly sitting and working.

(I love fourth period. They can be so cooperative, and they've generally come to like me, even if they hate the material sometimes and think that most things that happen in history are "racist.")

I take attendance and move around to monitor their responses. On the screen is a picture of Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first prime minister. The kids are writing down who they think he is and predicting what important things they might learn about him today.

"Alright. Tell me what you wrote," I say holding my hand up to indicate that only people I call on should talk.

"He looks like a mobster."

"That's racist."

"Why do we always have to predict. You always make us tell you who these people are. Isn't it your job to tell us who they are? Why do we always do this?"

That last comment comes from Marie-Elise, my Congolese student who spent a lot of time in schools in France. She never wants me to do anything but lecture. She's a smart and responsible kid, but hates to do anything but listen and memorize.

*The door opens and in comes Star.*

(Oh Jesus. Here we go. When's the last time Star was here? God, it's been at least four weeks. And she's already out of uniform and has a hat on.)

I stop the discussion and move the class on to the next activity while I take Star in the hallway and argue with her over dress code. After about three minutes I get her to take her hat off and get her uniform shirt out of her backpack and put it on. I give her the materials for the day and ask her to do her best even though she's missed so many days. I sit her next to some students I hope she'll have a hard time disturbing, but with Star, that's not really ever a possibility.

I get started with my Gandhi's Salt March Cornell notes when the phone rings.

"Hello, is this Mr. RE?"

"Hi Ms. Hernandez, how can I help you?"

"You have an IEP meeting with the mother of Emilio Gonzalez in ten minutes. I'm sending a sub to your room right now."

"No, no, you must be mistaken. That meeting was yesterday, but the mother never showed up. I gave up almost my entire planning period for it."

"Right, but the mother....."

"Jesus - Star! Put your shirt back on and get off the desk! Have a seat like a normal person."

"Right, but the mother rescheduled for today. She's waiting for you down here now."

(Perfect. I have less than ten minutes to come up with a workable sub plan while I'm in the middle of giving Cornell notes that REQUIRE me to be here.)

Back to the students.

"Okay guys, let's breeze through the rest of these Cornell notes. I have a sub coming. I have to be at a meeting apparently."

"Yay!!!!!!!"

(Sigh)

I get through the Cornell notes almost positive that nobody took all the much information from them given the haste with which I had to get through them. I grab my book and make up a reading exercise for the kids to do while I'm gone. None of this is what I'd hoped for. This lesson is shot.

When I get down to the IEP meeting I find Emilio's mother, a translator, and the special education teacher. I explain that Emilio rarely shows up to school and rarely does any work when he does come. For the most part he's just a major disruption to the rest of the class. The school has been threatening to kick him out since last year, but they never do. I don't think they can. They have nowhere else to send him. So he comes when he wants and sucks learning opportunities away from the other kids when he is there. All the while our administrators lecture us about striving to close the achievement gap for every student. Well sure, I'd love to do that with a million hours in the day. When you work with only twenty-four, the rational person learns to concentrate their energy where it makes the most difference and cut their loses. Sounds bad to people on the outside, but most teachers with more than a few years experience will tell you the same thing.

The IEP meetings goes exactly the same as every other meeting we've had about Emilio. Every teacher says he's capable but not responsible. He's probably also on drugs. I try my best to withhold passing judgement on the mother, who seems completely uninvolved and often unwilling to communicate even with a translator. I don't know what this family has been through or how long they've been in the country, but I can tell they're not in a particularly healthy situation right now.

After forty minutes of listening to other teachers say exactly the same thing as they've said three times before and the special education person declaring that we'd made real progress, I return to my room to find Star throwing a tennis ball in the hallway, the rest of the class up and walking around the room socializing like it was a party, and the sub reading a newspaper at my desk. He smiles when I come back and walks out the door.

(Holy Christ. Is this for real? Yes. Yes it is. Stop being so surprised when things like this happen.)

I take five minutes to put the class back in the order I left it and ask them to fill out the exit slip. I'm not really sure why. I know they didn't accomplish the objective for the day. I wasn't here to complete the lesson plan with them. I guess it's because I don't have anything else for them to do and this will keep them orderly until the bell rings. I can hear my administrators' voices telling me how I've failed every one of these students, and how their futures will be bleak because of this failure. Or is that my voice?

The bell rings and I wish everyone a good day. I collect their exit slips and wonder whether I should reteach this tomorrow or just move ahead to keep up with pacing. I'd love to teach everything to mastery, but if I did that, I'd still be on the first unit.

My room is empty for a moment before the wave of after-school kids crashes through the door, and it's full again, mostly with students who just need to use the computers. They turn their music up and begin gossiping about their day. I tell them to turn the music off so I can think and ask my African village to calm down.

My African village is a group of seven girls from Francophone West Africa who like to congregate in the corner of my room. They can get incredibly loud and can seriously sound like an entire village. I remind them about every two minutes to quiet down before I inevitably ask those students who aren't working to leave.

I begin tutoring students, which really means that I'm giving them work that they missed due to absences. Rarely do I get to sit down with a student and really explain something to them. Nobody is ever interested in that. They just want to know what worksheet they have to fill out to get a good grade. I try to make my activities as dependent on thinking skills as possible so that filling out that worksheet means they have to really understand the concepts, but I think it rarely works.

I let students know that I have to leave early today to attend a staff meeting. They all groan. So do I. Staff meetings are never useful.

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