Thursday, October 11, 2007

I don't know exactly how we got on the topic (which probably says something about how I run my class), but about a week ago one of my classes began discussing their families' specific financial situations. Actually, now that I think about it, it probably stemmed from the discussion we were having on how difficult it was for some immigrants to make a living with employments in urban factories.

Either way, I was shocked when the kids started rattling off how much their parents pay for certain monthly costs such as utilities, insurance, and rent. "Well my momma gotta pay all this. She got a car note, insurance, telephone, tv, cell phone, internet, rent, then she gotta feed me and my brothers and sisters... That's why she got three jobs." A few moments later, they started tallying: "well that car note gotta be about 200 a month, then you got rent at about 600, and insurance on top o' that..."

Since moving down here I've become aware of what parents have to do financially to keep their families afloat. I know about the loan sharks and credit officers and bill collectors. I realize that the majority of my kids have parents who are working long, hard hours, many times at more than one job. I realize how hard it is for many of these families.

What I did not realize is the degree to which my students are aware of their families' own financial situations. Perhaps it was because of my class (upper middle) or my ignorance (extensive), but I never knew what my parents were paying each month, and I never really had an idea how much money my father brought home each month. In fact, the thought never really crossed my mind; I knew we were about as wealthy as all my friends' families, perhaps a little wealthier when I got to high school. We weren't vacationing in Tahiti, but we were certainly living very comfortably.

Alternatively, most of my students, particularly the poorer ones, seem to know everything about their families' finances are concerned. What I began to wonder about this is how that knowledge transfers into an understanding of basic necessities and a measure of the value of money and hard work. Though they recognize where the money comes from, they don't seem to 'value' money that much (admittedly, does any teenager?) in the sense that they have no problem making frivolous purchases or dismissing a possible cost by claiming, "oh, my momma's gonna pay for that." I don't really know what this means, but I am fascinated by the disconnect, which I think I would see more in the rich kids I grew up with rather than my students.

Sunday, October 07, 2007


Ben Guest, MTC program director, has always claimed that October is the toughest month for first-year teachers. I seemed to have a pretty good October last year and came to find that January and February were my most difficult months. I hope all the first years can make it through October without incident this year, and enjoy a much better winter than I did.

There are certainly major differences in the way a teacher is treated around their school if they already have a year under their belt. My fellow teachers have not altered the way they treat me, thought I would not really know because I have stayed happily ignorant of the RHS gossip-mill. I have been traditionally regarded with inactive disinterest from my peers; they seem to have realized, perhaps even before I did, that I was not going to be in teaching or in Mississippi for the long run. At the same time they also recognize that I do my job, stay out of the gossip, and do my best to help my fellow teachers.

My administration, particularly my assistant principal, have seemed to become increasingly wary of my 'shenanigans' this year and my lackadaisical attitude toward fulfilling requirements I deem unnecessary to being a good teacher. My attitude has always been and will remain that if an administrator at any level wants to check up on how I am teaching, they are welcome to walk in my room at any time. Heck, I'll set-up a la-z-boy for them so they can camp out and watch me teach all day, week, month, year. Just don't assume you know what's going on my classroom because I have failed to put a "Depth of Knowledge" level on my lesson plan.

My assistant principal has a special relationship with many of the students at our school because he seems to like to play "good cop" with them a bit and - I suspect - probably empathizing with students whom I send to him a bit more than I'd like. This is causing some discipline problems for me because I have had a number of students - mostly young ladies - say to me, "I don't care what you say, I'm going to Mr. X______ and he'll let me do what I want." Beautiful.

The new principal at RHS seems to be an amalgamation of all the awful things I hear about Jackson Public Schools and principals in the Delta. Two months into school, he didn't know my name, continually interrupts my class with inane announcements, and seems to come from the "Nell" school of English grammar. He adds an "s" - both in speech and in print - to the name of the school's lone assistant principal. He seems to have no problem using the same tone of voice with me that he uses with the students. Worst of all, he seems obsessed with fulfilling the acronym-laced requirements of district central office without any concern for how the will or will not help students. Just the other day, he pulled me away from an extra help session I was running for students to watch a sales presentation on SmartBoards, a purchasing decision that had already been made and was/would have been made without my input (I don't care that it was done without my input, it's not my realm or responsibility. What I was annoyed at was that I had to sit through a meeting that didn't concern me when I could have been with my kids). I then vaguely butted heads with him during the meeting because I could not hide my indignation at being pulled away from helping my students for no good reason.

I am getting to an increasingly comfortable position, though, in which I really have stopped worrying about what my administration tells me and have begun focusing on the kids. Knowing that I will not be at my school next year and will probably never return to public education at the secondary level allows me to enjoy a level of freedom and a blissful disregard for the desires of my superiors. All I worry about is doing the best for my kids, and trying to understand them as well as I can. This is probably not what the folks at central office, or Teacher Corps, or the DoE want to hear, but at this point I couldn't care less. The vast majority of my students trust me, know I am there to help them in any way I can, and seem to be learning something about life, if not about history and English. As long as I keep focused on that, I can keep my head above water and respect the job I've done with these students, with these kids.