Wednesday, September 12, 2007

My first class ever, and the misapplication of the term "racist."

Today I did not encounter any tow trucks, so that right there made today a better day than yesterday.

I already taught my first class today. Shule is a jump-right-in kind of gal, and when she asked me if I felt like getting up in front of her fourth period class, who was I to say no? But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The day began as usual with ESOL, which is becoming my favorite class already. Maybe it's too early for my kids to be rowdy, but generally first period is calm and productive. I'm a little biased anyway, since I find ESL is a really interesting and growing field of education. This class has students from all grades (9-12 here, which is unusual for Utah), and the freshman tend to be very overwhelmed with the prospect of writing an entire letter. It's not that the English is difficult, although it is an ever-present concern and challenge. These kids aren't used to anyone asking them to do anything incredibly difficult. Yesterday I reviewed, corrected, and commented on all their letters. Some were remarkably good. Others struggled to get anything down on paper. I wrote on many of these letters that they were missing conclusion paragraphs. After brainstorming out loud with some of my froshies, I then turned the task over to them.

Four kids, independent of each other, listened to my huge long explanation of conclusion paragraphs and my suggestions for improvement, then turned to their keyboards and asked, "Sooo... What do I write?" I learned a valuable lesson today: Sometimes you have to walk away, or your kids will finagle a way for you to do the work for them. So I did a lot of walking away today.

Second period brought Shule and me out to Containment. Something about that room... It reeks to high heaven. It smells like stale incense mixed with moldy crackers or something. Now, the kids might just stink, especially since they are not allowed to leave the portable except for lunch. That's a lot of teenage boy smell floating around in a small space. There are also a number of large bluish black stains on the carpet. What they are, I don't care to find out, but they are highly suspect. Regardless of the stench, Shule's lesson went really well, and it was on that lesson I would model my own lesson in fourth period. I worry about some of the kids in Containment. Two of them fell asleep every few minutes, sitting straight up in their seats. Now, that makes me wonder what is going on outside of school with these kids. They might just be staying up late, but my mind goes to all the wild possibilities that might keep teenage boys awake in bed, including family troubles, sleeping disorders, or fear. I hope they're okay. Some of the aids were getting cranky that the two boys wouldn't keep alert, but I know that it's not always a respect issue. Then again, sometimes it is. I guess I'll never know.

Containment also afforded what I hope does not become a recurring experience in my early teaching years. One of the students, a very handsome (minus the barbed wire earrings) and well-built junior, was cracking some very friendly jokes with Shule at the start of class that I thought were exceptionally clever and good-natured, both qualities I wasn't expecting from him. Well, I was all smiles and appreciative laughter, but I definitely encouraged something that I shouldn't have. The rest of the class, I felt his eyes glued to me. I tried very hard to avoid his gaze. Admittedly, it got him really involved in the lesson, because he wanted me to look at him and smile or something, I don't know. We were warned about this at the start of the internship, that our male students might find something very exciting about "mature" older women who also happen to have access to grades. I will, of course, deflect any advances he may make in the future. I will not be an accessory to grade tampering!

Third period was kind of a wreck. Every teacher has an SEOP group third period, a group of students he/she sticks with for all four years. Shule's kids are juniors, and no one seems to take SEOP too seriously. Shule and my challenge is to come up with an activity to get them thinking about the reality and possibility of graduation. We're fine-tuning a collage project, with a written assignment of a letter to themselves for graduation day. We'll see how that goes down. These kids are hard to engage. The funniest part of the day happened here though. One of the kids, a redhead, had his pants ripped by another student today, and the FACS teacher offered to sew them up for him. Meanwhile the kid sat, humiliated, in gym shorts about two sizes too small for him. Another student, a girl with horribly dyed black hair, kept whiny to Shule about wanting to go to her locker, an activity clearly restricted to passing time. After this girl had a minor tantrum, Shule let the redhead go get his shorts so as to better cover himself and end his misery. Well, that just sent the whiny girl off the edge. Her next declaration went something like this:

"Shule, you let Redhead leave the class! You hate me, don't you? You're so racist!" Now, Shule is Latina, and the other two kids are Anglo. That is about the only place race factors in. If the girl with the awful black hair had said "sexist" instead of "racist," she might have had a better case, somehow suggesting that Shule hates her own gender, and therefore let the boy leave and not the girl. So a better case by just by a little bit. But even that is confounded by Shule's being a fairly empowered woman. So, I have no response to dyed-hair girl. Ah, kids...

Finally, fourth period. What a dream! It is amazing the adrenalin rush I got as soon as I stood up. I had about five minutes to draft out my version of Shule's lesson, but surprisingly everything went off without a hitch. I got these kids thinking, helping me. The only thing that slowed me down was not knowing names. But it's only my second day, so I won't be too hard on myself. I felt like I neglected about a half of the class because I didn't have time to get names. These kids are bullet trains; if you don't keep up with them, they derail in an instant, and then the whole class is a waste and impossible to reclaim. So even without getting to every student, I still communicated what I needed to. Shule's comments: very natural in front of the class, said "thank you" and built good rapport with students that way, called on one kid for not taking notes, didn't let kids shout out answers, steered tangents back to lesson material well... Yay! I get warm-fuzzies knowing that the lesson felt as good on the receiving end as I felt giving it.

After I taught, Shule and I debriefed and planned for tomorrow, and then I headed outside to my car. I opened my door, sat down, and started shaking. I didn't realize how exhausted I was. I put every ounce of my emotional and mental energy into that class period. Once I was off-duty, my body was ready to collapse. I don't know how to best deal with that. I'm sure it'll be an evolving experience. I teach again tomorrow, so hopefully I'll get used to this demand on my system to perform.

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