Thursday, September 13, 2007

Add it up

Today was my first grumpy day of the school year.

Arrived at work to find new rosters in my mailbox. "We're adding 10-15 students to both your second and fourth period classes!" the rosters taunted.

Great. I now have 167 students, divided by five classes, averaging out to 33 students per class. I was bummed. I put so much effort into setting a tone and getting students on track in the first week that any addition or subtraction is unwelcome. Classes were running smoothly. Too smoothly. Damn.

I've got a student teacher working with me for half the day, and she got to hear me bitching about all this. She tried to put a positive spin on the situation. "Now you can do those ice-breaker activities the other teachers were talking about at that meeting yesterday," she said.

OK, I thought. I can look on the positive side of things. But first let me see who rolls in through that door. I didn't get to meet the new kids in second period, because they got their programs after that class in division. Then, fourth period. It started OK. Three or four new students walked in, quietly took seats, and didn't even have to be told to start on the bellringer. I took a deep breath, hoping it was all going to be OK. Then, a pounding on the door, and eight or nine very loud, very obnoxious guys made their entrance.

"No!" I screamed. "Get back in the hallway!" I looked back at my class. "Be back in a flash."

I walked out of the room to confront my newest challenge. "You guys are late," I said, sternly. One started talking, and I interrupted. "Fine, I understand. You just found out today. You got lost. Fine. You can come in. Quietly. We're working in there."

They plopped down all over the place. Weren't about to do anything. So I had to give my don't-mess-with-me speech.

"As everyone can see, we have some new students. Fine. Everyone is welcome in this classroom. Just keep this in mind: You guys are juniors. Some are seniors. You should all know
by now what it takes to do well in school. Look around you. Seventy-five percent of the people in this room, hopefully more, are here to learn, have goals to go to college or get a good job after high school. And no matter what it is you want to do, my job is to make sure everyone improves their reading, writing, speaking, and thinking skills. Everyone. Got it?"

I realized these guys were coming from one particular classroom, from a teacher that I'll call Mr. Oh-No. I don't have the vocabulary or ability to describe just how shitty of a teacher this man is. Students do nothing in his room, unless if you count throwing things at him, telling him to "shut the fuck up," ignoring him, coming in at whatever time they want, and still getting an A. Some students actually love that kind of teacher. So I had to add:

"You know my name. Please do not ever confuse it with Mr. Oh-No, or anyone else. We learn in here. If that's what you want, you've come to the right place."

I looked over at my student teacher. "You mind grabbing all the new students and catching them up on expectations and what they need in class tomorrow? Everyone else and I will review yesterday's quiz."

The class split up. I'm lucky because I actually have a classroom large enough to accommodate 40 students. But I don't even want to get into how our contract caps our class size at 28.

I looked at my kids. "OK, let's look at those quizzes."

"Mr. P, I loved the way this class was. Why did they have to add all these guys?" one girl asked.

"I don't know," I said.

"You jinxed us," another girl said. "Just yesterday you said how happy you were that this class was nice and small."

I looked at everyone. They looked miserable. "How do you think I feel?" I said, looking just as miserable. "I don't want to deal with this stuff either. I mean, I hope things don't change, because I loved this class just the way it was, too. You've all been awesome so far."

We reviewed, and I overheard my student teacher getting good and stern with the new kids. Whip 'em into shape, I silently hoped.

That done, I passed around some books. "We're going to read a play together as a class today," I said. "And then in the next few days, you are all going to get into groups and perform one of the other plays. So this is practice, OK?"

I didn't have enough copies. So, some desks were moved for sharing. We all turned to the first play, "A Slander" by Anton Chekhov. "OK, who wants to be the main character?"

One of the new kids raised his hand. The ringleader. The loudest one of them all. Great, I thought, he just wants to screw around. "This character has the most reading. You cool with that?" I asked. He said he was.

We assigned the other parts, and another boy took the role of the main character's wife. This can be a huge disaster, I thought. But then something happened. They started reading. And they did a great job. No, a fantastic job. The lead character read loudly and clearly, he was cracking up, as was everyone else, and kids were calling out "oh no" and "that idiot" and things like that at the right parts. When the wife's turn came, the boy read it with a hilarious old lady voice, and everyone absolutely loved it. I thought there would be cheering when they finished. There wasn't, but everyone was laughing and talking about the main character, about how he's the one that slandered himself.

I revealed five questions they had to answer about the play, and no one complained; everyone started writing. Then the bell rang, and I heard one of my original kids from the class say, "This is my only class that doesn't drag."

They left, and my next big class came to take up the seats. I was tired. A girl walked in and said, "You're sweating." Yeah, I thought, I just dodged a bullet. Tomorrow I get to see if we can perform similar magic with all the new kids in second period.


Anonymous said...

Now that is how to do it. Sometimes you give a kid a mile, and they take an inch.

The Mom said...

I know you make magic - I've heard the kids, time and time again. But how tiring for the rest of us, trying to do the same!

Anonymous said...

WEll, wow!Second period was the best though!!!!!!!!!xD
Nancy P.