Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Semester Review

Reflection on the past semester is daunting. We’re not just talking about a career change, but a change in job, city, state, friends, coffee shops, roads, running trails…As things in the classroom have taken their time falling into pace and place, so too has just about every other aspect of my life. I find that at any moment a reflection on my work is more broadly a reflection on the coherence of my days both in and away from school. How was second block? Did I hold the handstand at yoga class? How was the cafeteria? It was great not to eat PBJ again. I painted. Carlos smiled and said, "Hola" in the hall - he does use his brain! I am growing happier, more rooted in Jackson, which I think roots me in my classroom as well. My kids utter Spanish; they couldn't three or four months ago. I'm ready for Winter Break, but I don't regret my day job at all. And hell, when all is said and done, I haven't been eaten alive yet.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

From June to December

It’s sort of funny to read my summer blogs and realize how nervous/excited I was about teaching, how I dissected my video performance, the general fluttering of butterflies in my tummy. It appears that I had built the profession up in my mind as some great, frightening, highly complicated performance in front of an implacable audience that was surely going to devour me with their razor sharp teeth. This is all funny to me now because, four and a half months later, teaching Spanish One is my daily routine. Although the lessons and assignments change from day to day in content and design, and although someone is always dropping a surprise at my feet, there is a strange sense now of consistency, normalness, and comfort. Perhaps part of what I failed to recognize this summer was how much I would come to find my kids to be just that: kids - funny, unpredictable, sometimes mean, sometimes compassionate, and almost always pretty damned smart when you least expect it.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Success Story

Success happened unexpectedly this month. Since day two of school – day one with B day – my seventh block has proven an unforgiving challenge. Mid October, nothing had changed. I left for two days on a trip to Amherst to speak on an education panel and to tailgate at the homecoming game that Saturday. For two days my classroom was in the hands of an unknown substitute. When I returned the following Monday I discovered that the only problem had by the sub was with seventh block. The whole class had been loud, disrespectful, and manipulative. I punished them that Monday with a loss of bathroom privileges and a two hundred point (test points) disciplinary essay. They were livid, complained endlessly, and claimed that they were the victims of an evil, student-blood sucking sub. I just shook my head at them. But after Monday, a small, quiet change took effect. Seventh block was playing it safe; they were monitoring each other, and attempting to win my approval. That Friday I gave them their first good behavior points of the year. They cheered for themselves and their accomplishment.

Things are still pretty decent. Although, last week I had to go home sick, leaving them in the unsuspecting hands of Mr. O-someone-or-other. While at home on the couch I received a text message from another teacher who informed me that during lunch Regina Bass had poured a Mountain Dew over Karrington William’s head. Karrington had retaliated by knocking Regina over, removing a high heeled shoe, and pummeling Regina in the head with the heel. Karrington is perhaps 98 pounds and talks in mouse squeaks. She is very paranoid about other people talking about her or injuring her reputation. Regina is another petite and very mouthy girl. They are suspended from school for 9 days. Seventh block just got even better.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Nine Weeks In

My nine weeks test failed a number of my students at the term. Yet, for many, the extra credit portion provided a more fruitful creative avenue. The extra credit assignment on the back of the test was to a.) draw a flattering picture of Ms. DeGraaf, or b.) write a poem/song/rap about how awesome Spanish 1 is. Scores were based on the students’ ability to brown nose. Some highlights are posted below:

Spanish is like the sun
Coming out on a sunny day.
It is like those days you
Wake up happy for no reason.
It’s the feeling you have
Of learning and knowing
Something new. Its
Fun and exciting just like
My Spanish teacher.
- Cecilia

!Spanish is easy
Spanish is off the heezy
Spanish is the subject
I choose for sheezy!
- Jeronimo

Me and Spanish
By: Ignacio
Spanish is my life
I wish it could be my wife
I think about it all the time
I just wish it was mine
I would do anything to keep it
I should give it a kiss
No one loves Spanish more than me
Cuz Spanish is my baby.

Beautiful Eyes
Your eyes is like
Gowing diamond
In shinning skys
Your eyes are wonderful
Seeing master
Pieces that are beautiful
To attract anyone.

Your eyes being so
Beautiful make students
Realize what school is
Really for an
- Fernando

Spanish Class Rap
Spanish class is great.
We learn at a fast rate.
Ms. DeGraaf so cool.
She’ll make you never skip school
Como te llamas
Me llamo Deonte
You see what she don
I can speak it all day
We listen then we say
The words that she may
Now my story’s getting short
So I have to abort
Just listen to what she say
You’ll make it that way.
- Rafael

Spanish Spanish learn bout Spanish
Talking in Spanish maybe I’m
Hispanic. Your gonna learn Spanish
Hola your gonna want ta
Be Spanish adios. Profesora
DeGraaf is a cool teacher
She makes me learn all this
Stuff from flash card
Game I’m learn this stuff
Even though I had three years
Before hey I’m just lucky
To remember this stuff
Ah ha say uno dos
Tres I know how to count and my
Ah be say in Spanish
- Teresa Sly

Spanish Harmony
Ay papi, do you hear that sound
Ay mamasita, looks what’s going around
It’s the word or have you not heard
Spanish class is so good it’s got that harmony
The harmony that can’t amount to no money
The rock of that double ele makes you move
While the jazz of enye makes you groove
Español has never felt so good now
Let’s move and groove to the Spanish Harmony.
- Conchita Marzo

I can’t draw and I’m not creative so I will just say that you look like the Terminator III chick. Her name is Kristina Loken or something like that.
- Pablo Savell

Eyes Wide Shut

I wrote this last week, but it has taken until today to post. Lo siento mucho.

Teaching pace is picking up. It’s possible we will learn some Spanish in Spanish One. Encouragingly, it’s October.

The interesting events of the past week have had a more social than academic slant. Thursday I was invited to dine with a group of teachers from Wingfield, all older than me, most significantly older. We went to an old hotel on Capital Street, and started with some drinks (I routinely drink Bud Light now when I go out. As the water of the South, it is cheap and always where you want to be.). The conversation veered immediately toward bitching as it always does, and I laughed good naturedly; I don’t wish to contribute more than necessary to the negativity, but I also hope to establish as many allies at school as possible. Aside from being older, this group of teachers is also all white. That might not be strange if all of the teachers at Wingfield were white, but I would guess that roughly only a third identify as Caucasian. Despite my immediate suspicion of the racial breakdown, or lack thereof, I tried to remain optimistic, or perhaps just plain naïve, to the situation. Then a fellow teacher, a younger (early thirties?) white woman, originally from Mississippi, commented, “I feel so bad for the few white kids at school because they’re forced to associate with only black kids. There’s no one for them to be close to or to date…” Her voice trailed off with her saddened gaze, while I stared at her, shocked, mouth momentarily agape. Fortunately, there were no other such blatantly racist comments, and I did flirt with the old men enough to get my dinner paid for.

The second eye-opener also took place on Thursday, during fourth period when I confiscated a note, the highlight of which read, “I got that good dick yesterday morning and evening I me feeling real good.” That student has now transferred to a job program in Batesville. Her friend, who confesses to “be doing 69 downlow” on JD still tries to avoid looking me in the eye every other day in 4th period.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Inductive? Deductive? Just give me the answer.

I am fortunate to be a Spanish teacher. I can honestly say that today I did my first official deductive Spanish lesson, a grammar lecture, first of the year. Throughout the day the room was silent except for the scribbling of notes. My students were quiet, and seemed comfortable, as if they were more accustomed to this rigid, structured inundation of meaningless grammatical terms. For today, it wasn’t a bad change of pace. In fact I am happy to show them how Spanish can be a completely different than the way we learn most days, when I talk and jump around and point and have them do the same in order to come to some sort of conclusion as to what means what.

Surprisingly I have discovered inductive lessons tend to frustrate my students, to loose their attention. They want the straight, neat and tidy answers: x=y, a+b=c. Filling in blanks, using individual logic skills, reaching an independent conclusion apparently requires too much energy and leaves too much room for error. I’m not certain why they still get worked up when I don’t give them the answer right away in deductive form since eventually I always do give them the correct information. Needless to say, their hesitancy only indicates to me that the box continuously be pushed.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

en la aula

Classroom management. (I scoff with good-natured(?) sarcasm.) My classroom management plan (Inward chuckle. Does that exist?)… After three weeks as a teacher I am not sure what it is that I do each day or that my students interpret as my exact actions/reactions. There are so many of them. So many individuals constituting the chaotic mobs of 25 to 30 affectionately termed “classes.” These are my kids. My kids for the year, the complexities of each individual, and the strange interconnectedness found between each of them within the individual class periods creates social and academic settings seemingly, at least at this point, beyond the observation and analysis of one person, especially not the one person who is gifted the responsibility of instruction.

What I think I may know /What I have experienced exhaustedly and concluded at this juncture: It seems absolutely true that the general success of managing a classroom lies in keeping them busy. The busier they are, the less I have to employ the consequence list, which equates to fewer circular arguments, fewer students sent out of the classroom demanding my attention and taking me away from the others, fewer write ups, fewer detentions, fewer spaces for disciplinary equivocation on my part.

I’ve got the clean, well-lit, orderly room. I think this serves to maintain my own sanity more than anything. Rules, expectations, consequences, and rewards are on the wall. There are posters and such to keep visual capacities stimulated. I dance around the room like a wing-flapping chicken, spouting Spanish. Seems like a recipe for success. Unfortunately there is the whole bit about employing that series of consequences, which requires me to discipline actions I don’t really find deserving of discipline so that said actions don’t escalate into unacceptable behavior. When I fail to do so, even when I don’t, the misbehavers and their efforts become a distracting, threatening vacuum that sucks in my energy and attention, and pulls me away from instruction.

Perhaps the biggest contributor to my poor management abilities is instruction. It is so much easier to ignore smaller infractions, to cast a menacing glare at the guilty and move on with the lesson. I hate losing my place, backtracking, punishing those who are paying attention. Soon, before I can comprehend what’s taken place, I realize I don’t have enough glares, that I am incapable of glowering at seven individuals strategically distributed (gracias a la profesora, to minimize chatter) around the room. Slowly growing irate at my own stupidity, I search out a lamb to sacrifice before the mass. Of course, I am immediately morally conflicted: Should I discipline them for my own shortcomings? Should these students pay yet again at the hands of arbitrary power? It’s not their fault they have an inexperienced, untrained teacher with no pacing guide, text book, or required curriculum who is not trained in the art of military discipline tactics. (It’s not their fault their school is an oversized, under-funded federal daycare system. Yeah kids, let’s learn! Let’s have a meaningful experience! Let’s all play into a system run by leaders who would rather let a hurricane wash you into the gulf than figure out how to deal with generational poverty! With an education the sky’s the limit!)

Friday, August 26, 2005

Rapid Transformations

I’m giving detention now. Moments ago, a couple of minutes before “Marcos” Smith entered my classroom to serve his Friday afternoon half-hour punishment for breaking Rule #1, I witnessed my first fight. It took place just beyond my portable, on the other side of the chain link fence. I had returned to my room after the pep rally, which had demanded frightening maneuvers through the vocal battling of students screaming ’08 and ’07, fresh out of the first pep rally of the year. As I entered my darkened room I heard a louder than usual commotion outside my windows by the buses. There was a gang of wiry boys, shirts off, half strutting, half marching, focused that appeared to be heading purposefully toward some immediate objective. They made a show of their chests and what height they had - performers in front of my windows and before the loaded buses, packed full with a perfectly bored and captive audience. None of them was one of my students, to my relief, as the gang became a crowd around the eye of the fight.

The “pep” assembly beforehand had been frightening in and of itself. We – the teachers and administrators - were fortunate nothing broke out in the small dilapidated gymnasium that was forced to hold at least three times the number of bodies appropriate for the space. I had had a brief, throat-choking notion when momentarily gripped by claustrophobia that had anyone wanted, a violent riot of angry, or even just exuberant, youth could have erupted unstoppably within seconds. Not everyone would have wanted that - certainly not Marcos Smith, or my goofy but well-intentioned football boys – but as is the case with mobs, they all would have participated, joining in with the beating, smashing mallets of the drummers, the clashing fists of the cymbalists, the bleating cries of tubas, the grinding hips of the cheerleaders, and the indecipherable hollers of screaming students. There was a dangerous sense of excitement given the extreme adrenaline, noise, and prospective bodily conflict hovering in everyone’s pre-football game subconscious. Any notion of the prospective injury, destruction, pain, or damage absolutely inconsequential.

Now it’s quiet outside. No irreparable damage done, my room once again in its usual vibration to the air conditioner. There was a tenth grader beside me at the assembly who persistently and repeatedly stepped over the blue line – an illegal assembly action - right next to me. His movement was deliberate. He appeared to want conflict with authority. I had never seen him before. His eyes were narrow, chin cocked upward; he was angry and could have cared less about the assembly or the “fun” on the gym floor before him. His expression and proximity to me made my heart rate quicken, the whole gym grew smaller, and I felt afraid at Wingfield for the first time this year.

The students bolted before the assembly officially ended, before the football players were sent off with climactic fanfare. The tenth grader who attempted to intimidate me led them out with that shoulder-shifting, menacing, out-of-my-fucking-way strut with which the gang of boys outside my window headed into the fist-throwing crowd.