Saturday, August 19, 2006

I'd have to say my first day of school was relatively smooth, despite my dread that I would fumble my words, drop my lunch in my lap, or fail some other random test administered by my peers, the administration, or my students. All in all, I was deathly afraid of belying my age, inexperience, and fright. It felt like a first date.

Though I was supposed to review the student handbook, I spent all my class time going over my own classroom rules. The kids were quiet, but I think their silence was less of a result of respectfulness and more a consequence of first day jitters. I enjoyed seeing the shock on my students' faces when I explained my second consequence: copying an entire page from the dictionary. Upon hearing this, one of my students raised her hand and asked, "even the pictures on the page?" I thought in my head, "wow, that would be a ton of work," and immediately told the class, "yes, even the pictures on the page," as if I'd planned it that way all along.

It was funny how easily I could predict future problem areas in regards to both students and classes. From the first moments of the class, I saw that 6th period was going to provide a disciplinary challenge. In addition, I was able to recognize which students would be at the heart of that problem. I am sorry to say, three weeks into the school year, how correct I was about 6th period and certain students.

I can't really remember much about the rest of my first day, but I do remember being exhausted at the end, though not feeling tired during the day itself (as a result of nervous energy). My first day notwithstanding, I do have a complete lack of energy at the end of the day (including my last two periods of the day). In addition to being on my feet all day, I have usually arrived at school a half hour before whichever time is required, and I almost always stay at least two hours after the final bell has rung. Not that this schedule is uncommon for a teacher; on the contrary, I would say that the vast majority of my peers (especially the younger members of my school's staff) log far longer hours than what is required by the district. Rather, I record this schedule as an explanation for my exhaustion. My two roommates (also teachers) are also sapped of energy when they arrive home at the end of the schoolday. We sit in our living room, watching SportsCenter and trading war stories over our quickly-prepared dinners (usually Abner's for Tex, value-brand HotPockets for 'Bama, and hot dogs and beans for myself). What is most disappointing about this routine is that I have found no time to read for pleasure. My lack of energy in the evening is such that I can never lift myself from the couch and stop watching crap on TV or surfing the internet; what little energy I do have left is devoted to lesson planning for the next day.

For some reason this lifestyle - or way of eating, more specifically - makes me think of my grandmother's kitchen: small, cramped, a bit dingy, the floor covered in linoleum made to resemble bright yellow cobblestones. It was in that kitchen that I first tasted many traditional "American" foods, or, at least, it is where I first remember tasting them. Steak and cheese subs from this place called Nick's, circus peanuts, white chocolate, hamburger helper, tuna fish subs with pickles and tomatos, chocolate eclairs, and bacon and eggs (where the eggs were cooked in the bacon fat). Most of the food seemed to come from a can or a box; most meals were simple, fast, easy to make. Totally unlike the home I grew up in, which always had delishious 10-step dishes, fresh fruits and vegetables, and exotic concauctions. With what I am eating these days, I feel as if I am living in my grandmother's kitchen.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

It is now Saturday afternoon, and I have been teaching for two weeks. I hope that "my first two weeks as a teacher" is enough to excuse my lack of posting over the past month. Over the next few days, I hope to make up for my electronic absence by posting a number of installments that describe my first days and weeks as a high school English teacher.

On the Thursday before the Monday classes began, we had "Meet the Teachers" afternoon at my high school. From 1 in the afternoon to 6:00 in the evening, I remained in my classroom while parent after parent streamed in, wanting to meet the new teacher from Boston (a few parents tried their hand at what they perceived as a "Boston accent" - I didn't have the heart to tell them they sounded more like retarded seagulls and less like Murph from Revere). About 2/3rds of the parents brought their children - my students - with them, so I had the opportunity to meet about 30 of my kids. On a couple of occasions, students entered my classroom sans parents. Nearly all the parents seemed cordial and supportive, and the questions they asked were pointed and pertinent.

For the large part, the students seemed very respectful and attentive. Though much of this respect and attention may have been largely a result of the fact that their parents were standing not five feet from them, my students still seemed genuinely excited for the upcoming school year. Of those I met on Thursday, the students I liked the best were those who exhibited a bit of personality and were willing to playfully "challenge" either me or their parents. It's wonderful to see their brains working hard to develop a witty retort or intelligent comment.

I met a number of parents and students who would be new to my school, as they had made the decision to transfer from one of the local private (read: white) academies to their public high school. The parents - and, surprisingly, some of my students - were very forthcoming about the academic deficiencies of their previous schools. One student readily admitted that she had not covered any grammar or vocabulary in her freshman English class at some local academy.

The willingness of those parents to remove their children from the private (white) academies and place them in the local public school is heartening; it points to two positive developments. First, the public schools in my district - in particular, my high school - are improving enough to make them a viable option for parents who were previously skittish about entrusting their children to our care. Second, it perhaps hints at a revolution in the thinking of this new generation of Mississippi parents; does the willingness of those parents to send their white sons and daughters to school with black children mean that they are finally either a) valuing issues of education over issues of race, or b) race is dying as an issue altogether? I don't know the answer, but it is nice that the evidence allows for the formation of such a hypothesis.

One of the parents who visited my classroom is deaf. To see daughter (who will be in my Accelerated English II class) lovingly translate for mother was a heartening experience, particularly when those of us in the Corps are continually reminded of this area's broken familial bonds.

I realize that my visitors on that Thursday probably represented the best of my community, as they are the parents who are taking an active interest in the education of their children. However, that caveat did not damper my excitement for the first day of classes and the entire school year.