Thursday, March 06, 2008

Day 119

What a fucked-up week. Monday was horrible, Tuesday went well, Wednesday was miserable, and today I had a great time.

Strangely, the students were incorrigible and terrible but I took it in stride, handled my business, and had fun. The student who had a knife on Monday flipped her lid today, splashing fingernail polish on her classmates, scrawling "Fuck this school" on her desk in red enamel, ripping her folder of classwork into tiny shreds and flinging this confetti into the air. I approached her during this outburst, asked her to stop, then asked if I could help her, and when I got no response I asked Lukie if I should call the school police. She approached the student, had a brief interaction, and then called the office to ask for assistance in escorting the student out. By this time the student had left the classroom and taken her act into the hallway. Her mother was in the hall while this transpired, and rumor has it she has been removed from the school for her behavior.

This precipitated a blow-up in the classroom, which I handled by erupting myself. "I left a job teaching college for THIS?" I screamed. "You're crazy!" a smart-alec replied, and I went off on a drill sargeant lecture. I don't know where it came from. "Maybe I am crazy! Or maybe YOU ARE. Most of you are failing this class, and most of you are going to repeat 8th grade or go to high school and drop out next year. Why? Because you don't give a damn. If you decide to act like children, I will be more than happy to treat you like children, but my hope is you will act like adults because I'd really like to treat you the same way I treated my students in college. I know how smart you are and what you can do when you give a damn. This behavior STOPS NOW or you will dread having to deal with me for the rest of this year." I learned this shaming technique from Lukie, who is able to do it without shouting. She can turn a classroom of tough teens into guilty self-reflective young adults with only a disappointed look and a speech about what she does for them every day.

There was silence after I finished my rant. Kids were looking down sheepishly. Right in front of me a young man started goofing off to test me and I kicked the base of his chair and got right in his face. "I AM NOT PLAYING" I hissed, hands splayed on his desk. He apologized, and said "My bad." "I know it's your bad," I said, and after glaring at every student in the room continued my lesson without further ado.

I hate having to do this. I hate teacher tone. I admire kids who rebel and misbehave. I used to be one of those, and was regarded as a trouble-maker; this reputation kept me from getting into GT classes. But I've reached the point where I know my laid-back, buddy persona is a fucking joke. I'm The Man when I need to be from here on out.*

The second class tried to play games too, and I was having none of it. I lectured them as soon as the whining started: "I don't care who likes whom, or who has candy, or if you would rather be riding your dirt bike around Dru Hill Park. I care about idioms and characterization, and all your drama is stopping us from getting the work done. The work is why we are all here. The chit-chat stops now!" There was grumbling, eye-rolling, and a bit of surprise at my outburst, but they did their work.

Then I had to walk two miles to fetch my car from the tire shop. I'd already walked three-quarters of a mile to work today. Fortunately it was a nice day, and only a couple people gave me shit outside the projects at North Ave.

*That said, I know the kids are going to challenge me again and again to make sure I'm serious, and that I'll have to modify my tone and approach continuously. They have years of experience at driving teachers batty; I am still new at behavior management.

1 comment:

Watch 'n Wait said...

I just read along on your experiences teaching those kids and have come to believe that you are probably one of the best things in their lives cause you care about them.