Saturday, November 25, 2006

I really thought my posting of two weeks ago (re: discipline) fulfilled a requirement for class, but I have just today discovered that it (probably) did not. To be honest: I am completely and utterly confused as to the blog assignment details to this point. I really have no idea what I am supposed to write here, so I guess I'll tell a classroom management experience I had, and perhaps that will illuminate a bit of what I've been experiencing over the past few weeks.

I suppose that everyone must envision himself in a possible job before he decides to pursue that career. As such, my mind's eye has always focused on what it would be like to be a teacher. Lying in bed at night, I would dream up the lesson plans, teaching materials, and overall goals I would try to use as a teacher. More than considering them, I would see them run in my head like a movie. They were dreams, not unlike how I would act out sinking the final, curling putt to win the Masters when I was in middle school (and, I must be honest, long after that). Much of what I saw on that imagined film was truly the result of an innocent fantasy; I had no idea. However, a small number have come to fruition.

One of those imaginings that has come to pass is my policy regarding cheating. Due to a number of experiences in high school (the president of our National Honor Society was also the school's most notorious plagiarist), I always promised myself that I would become a fascist when dealing with students I caught cheating. I give out zeros on the assignment, and then send them up to the office, where they are traditionally given at least two days of detention. I like to think that I've done pretty well so far, and I am happy to say that I think there is (comparatively) little cheating in my class.

This policy, however, was tested last week when I sat down to grade the students' "poetry projects." To me, the project was easy, although it did contain a number of steps. I gave the students nearly two weeks to accomplish it, including two full class days during which they could work on the project and pick my brain for assistance. Not surprisingly, the students complained about having such a large assignment and convinced me to count it as 1.5 test grades (as opposed to the one test grade I had originally intended). The goal of the project was to get the students to do independent research on a poem (they had 4 from which to choose) and poet. It was my hope that they would get the opportunity to interpret a poem for themselves (an activity we had done countless times in class) so that they could feel that singular joy that comes from understanding a piece of literature.

Though I was disappointed in the number of pathetically unfinished projects I received, I was delighted to see the number of excellent projects that were turned in to me. I gave out a large number of grades above 90, and a very large number of grades above 85.

(As an aside, any student who thinks their teachers are out to give him a bad grade is out of his mind. Grading my student's essays and tests is like a participator sport for me. I cringe when a student forgets a simple grammatical rule and my blood starts pumping when a student earns a high score on an exam, particularly a student who has traditionally not done well in my class. When grading anything, good or bad, I talk to the paper as if it was a talisman representing the student: "Tameka! You know better than that!"; "Hell yea, Jeremy"; etc. Just a note.)

So, I grade one project by a certain student who probably has a 67 in my class. Not good, not bad. I give her a 75. I get up, slurp a drink of water from the bubbler down the hall, and return to my desk. Pick up another paper. Oh, I just graded this one, didn't I? No- wait. This is a different name. BUT IT'S THE EXACT SAME FREAKING PAPER. THE BLOODY FONT AND PARAGRAPH BREAKS ARE IDENTICAL. I throw it across the room, cursing. Give both students zeros, and resolve to talk to them the next morning.

I arrive home and think it might be a good idea to call the two girls' parents, to let them know their little angels have been coping from each other. The mother of Girl A, a student who has always been kind to me despite her poor grades in my class, is shocked (as was I, when first realizing that it was this student who cheated). To make a long story short, Girl A ends up calling me at home and crying to me on the phone: "Mr. E, I am so sorry... I didn't cheat!" I want to believe her, but can't.

Girl B is more interesting. To be frank: she drives me nuts. She's lazy, conniving, and generally unkind to both her classmates and me. She's also extremely funny (though I am usually laughing at, and not with, her) and always participates in my class. About a month before the cheating incident, she had had a bad week, which resulted in a suspension (though from another teacher, not me). She received a detention from me the same week, as well as a pair of calls home. Since then, she'd been great. Her grade had leaped from a 67 to an 82, she had been much better behaved in class, and she actually seemed to (!) enjoy my class, of not me. I was very proud of her turnaround, and had actually begun to look forward to having her in class.

Then this, the cheating incident. Needless to say, her mother was not surprised. When I talked to Girl B in class the next day, she immediately returned to her old tricks. "OnGawd, Mr. E! You're always after me!" Every excuse and denial in the book was given; I won't extended an already long post by listing them here. The resolution? Both girls were sent to the vice principal and (I believe) given three day's detention. Because the project was so large, I told them I'd give them an opportunity to re-do it. Both girls received entirely new poems (and, of course, different poems) and are to pass it into me this coming Monday.

This all happened on the Thursday and Friday before Thanksgiving. Will Girl B return to her old ways of terrorizing me in class? Will Girl A clam-up and return to the shell she had begun to slowly vacate over the course of the last month? Only time will tell. However, as far as a disciplinary moment, I think all went well because I was prepared to confront the girls and they received the punishment they both deserved and expected. I just hope that such an incident does not change the way they approach my class.

Some random notes while I am here:
1. Mom's pumpkin pie never tasted better than it did on Thursday.
2. There is no greater feeling than that of being on a college campus in New England during autumn. Intellectualism, beauty, crispness, vigor. Makes me want to sport a tweed jacket, light a pipe, and quote Byron.
3. Oasis is a terribly underrated band.
4. John McCain will defeat Mitt Romney for the 2008 Republican Presidential Nomination by a slim margin. I have no idea who the Democratic nominee will be, but I strongly urge everyone reading this to vote for Joe Biden.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

I sit here, in my parents' basement, relaxing during Thanksgiving break. Well, I guess that's a lie. I'm not really relaxing, I'm kinda just marinating, waiting for school to start back up. It's weird to see your home (including the house, and the town, and the state, and the region) as a temporary destination instead of someplace I belong. I did not even feel this way when I was in college and came home for short vacations and major holidays.

Returned to the high school I attended (CCHS) today, namely to visit a few teachers but also out of sheer curiosity as to how the students compared to my current little angels. Of course, the most apparent difference is in discipline; for the brief time I was at CCHS I saw no major issues. Or minor issues. Damnit, the kids didn't even speak out of turn during the class I attended. Now, of course I didn't expect anything to happen, especially since I attended a Catholic school, but I was really hoping for something to occur. I was sitting at the back of the classroom, and for a few moments I indulged my fantasies by silently plotting how I could get the kids to revolt and force my old history teacher to deal with an insurrection. Alas, such thoughts remained fantasies.

Perhaps it was their strict adherence to the school's uniform policy, but the students at CCHS seemed older, more mature, and better prepared for class. In short, I was jealous, not so much for myself but for my own students. If they had caring parents, if they had stable families, if they had a reason to believe a good education could lead to a more successful life. If my students posessed these and a hundered other
advantages enjoyed by the students I saw today, perhaps my students would walk with the same confidence and swagger that I see amongst the kids who currently attend my high school alma-mater.

Also went down to Harvard to do some research. While sitting in the Law Library, I realized my students would never have the opportunity to see the inside of this building or, I guess more accurately, be involved with such a respected, powerful institution (education or otherwise). These were, quite literally, halls of power through which my students will never stride. I had no feelings about this realization, it was just something that came to my mind.

I do not expect my students to attend Harvard, or Stanford, or Oxford, or any other similar institution. Heck, even if one of my students was able to get into an Ivy, I am not sure I would want him or her to attend that school. It's a completely different world; they're not ready for it and the world would eat them up a la last night's leftovers. My hope for my best students is that they graduate and are able to attend a regional school: Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Tulane, Memphis, LSU, Alabama, Auburn, etc. I think it would be great for them to get outside of the state of Mississippi and the South in general, but I am not sure if college would be the optimum time. I love my students too much; for the most part they are good, sweet kids who are - for lack of a better word - very simple. Though the circumstances of their lives may become extremely complex, particularly at home, my students have a very simple understanding of the world beyond Hinds County, Mississippi. The vast, vast majority (maybe all) of them would not be able to handle attending an internationally-renowned university in their current intellectual, social, and cultural state. They'd be devoured. The community must first take baby steps. A grandfather goes to Ole Miss and becomes a small-scale entrepreneur. The son attends Vanderbilt and becomes a lawyer. Assuming a solid intellectual and cultural nurturing from his father and grandfather, the grandson would then be ready to tackle the cream of the crop.

Yes, I realize I sound like a modern-day version of Booker T. Washington. I realize that my opinions rest on a graduated solution to an injustice. I could be wrong; in fact, I am sure many will tell me that I am. But, sitting in the reading room at Harvard was a shocking wakeup call that reminded me of just how much my community (and perhaps the majority of Mississippi) has to grow before it can send its most prepared sons into the halls of power.

An aside: I finally laid eyes on my diploma upon arriving home for Thanksgiving. It's a small piece of paper, which is a bit disappointing. However: it is also written completely in Latin, a fact which got me unnecessarily excited.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

I was getting into "mean Mr. E" mode to begin discussing my classroom management, but I then read this and became so excited at the possibilities that I turned into "crazy, giddy Mr. E" instead. To wit: Schilling claims he is retiring after this year and the Sox need another stud to back up Beckett. Daisuke Matsuzaka could be that man. (As an aside: Beckett will be in the running for the AL Cy Young at the end of the 2007 season. You heard it here first)

Anyway, back to the business at hand. I believe that my classroom management has gotten worse over the past couple of weeks. It is almost as if the students have decided that they should give me another test, just to see if I would actually stick with my discipline plan. Really? Do we have to do this again?

What is especially disturbing is the fact that I have experienced the most discipline problems in classes that were previously calm and completely organized. A student who was poorly behaved during the first two weeks of school, and then who turned around, decided to once again challenge me this week and received to detentions.

Two weeks ago, the school put a new discipline policy into action, one that changed not really was to be punished, but rather howthe school would punish those indiscretions. This made it difficult to enforce every rule in one class for two weeks, but I like to think that I did the best I could. I resolved to always enforce my consequences in my fifth and sixth periods. Doing such in 5th period was relatively easy; I think they are my favorite class. 5th period always completes require assignments, hardly ever actus out, and when a student in that class does get in trouble, it is always for something that is somewhat funny, not something that was done with the intent of hurting either me or a classmate. 6th period was a little more difficult; they remain, despite improvements, my most difficult class (where both discipline and academics are concerned). There are a few success stories in this class; specificallyl, one girl who never paid attention has come around in the past three weeks and seems to actually like me now (she even started shaking my hand when she enters my room, somthing she had always refused to do before this turnaround). However, the other students - 5 or 6 of them in particular - are not doing so well. They fail to listen to me, fail to complete thier homework, and show me very little respect. It was my hope that the new school discipline policy would help me deal with these students. Unfortunately, I am not sure it has fulfilled this hope.

When they originally heard about the new discipline policy (on a Friday), my students openly debated revolt. The terms "alternative school," "fascism," and "prison system" were thrown around liberally by the students of RHS. "I'm totally transferring," said at least one young girl. On Monday, however, such brash comments had subsided. I believe that my classroom management has been somewhat underminded, rather than helped, by the new, mandatory discipline plan. Students see the new plan, and immediately think, "how can I test this? What are the limits?" I hope, though I am not sure, that I have responded to these challenges with consistency and fairness.