Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Ten Goals for Spring Semester, 2008.

  1. Continue to foster relationships with my students that will put them on a better life course than when they first met me.
  2. Put RK (a student) on the path to getting into one of this country’s top colleges.
  3. Avoid my principal as much as possible, for the sake of my health and his.
  4. Place The Autobiography of Malcolm X in the hands of at least one student.
  5. Get my all of my college-bound students to lay out a plan for college admissions.
  6. See more of Mississippi before I leave.
  7. Get lost driving around the Delta.
  8. Drive down the Natchez Trace at least once more.
  9. Embarrass as many RHS baseball players as possible while announcing home games.
  10. Be more patient in the classroom with my students and with myself.

I have recently developed the habit of skimming the front page of cnn.com a couple of times every day. I do this not to get my news (I rely on other sources for numerous reasons), but rather to see what the good folks over in Ted Turner-land deem to be newsworthy. As those of you who know me can probably tell: I read it for the unintentional comedy. What percentage of front-page stories of America’s most watched news network will be about a celebrity’s new hairstyle (or a celebrity’s baby’s new hairstyle)? What vaguely attractive white woman is missing this week? What story has the Bush Administration’s press wing spoon fed Wolf Blitzer? What new negative adjectives can President Bush come up with to describe Iran?

I’ve also noticed that a good 97% of the stories dealing with education on cnn.com have one focus: teacher-student sexual relationships. Given the sensationalist leanings of the network, this is not surprising, but I fear that CNN is telling Billie Sue in Peoria that this trend of teachers preying on young men and women is the major problem with the American education system, as opposed to anything truly substantial like quality of instruction, student apathy, administrative idiocy, or parental involvement.

From speaking with peers in MTC, it seems that most teacher-student sexual relationships in Mississippi are found in the Delta. I have heard numerous stories and there’s always that hallmark tale (semi-legend?) about one high school basketball coach near Greenwood or Greenville, I forget which. It’s easy to see how these stories spread, regardless of their validity, not only because they are sensational but also because they are plausible. The stories of teachers hitting on students when I was attending high school would spread rapidly and die just as quickly, as most were seen as rumors so ridiculous that they merited no discussion or consideration (even by a bunch of teenagers). However, rumors down here seem to have more validity because the history of such things happening (see Michael Johnson’s In the Deep Heart’s Core). I have witnessed numerous interactions that could lead me to believe such stories.

A handful of young girls at my school call our assistant principal their “daddy.” When I threaten them with a visit to his office, they ask me to send them because they know he’ll make them do nothing and they can hang out in his office nearly all day while avoiding class. He basically has a harem of five or ten girls. I’ve never heard any rumors or seen anything inappropriate with my own eyes, but would not be surprised if I heard or saw something. I believe that the assistant principal is trying to be a caring father-figure to many of these girls, but it is easy to see him crossing over into another kinship cliché: the dirty uncle.

The young, attractive deputy sheriff assigned to RHS also shamelessly flirts with girls at the school. Numerous male students at the school have lamented this fact, usually suggesting the deputy is attracting attention they wish was directed toward them. Again, I’ve never heard rumors of anything specific, but I’d not be that surprised if I did. The deputy’s friendship with the assistant principal (the deputy is basically the assistant principal’s minion) adds to these speculations around the school.

At the same time, I can empathize with the deputy and the assistant principal if their hearts are truly in the right place. I have given my telephone number to many of my students and have had phone conversations with a number of them. The original intent of this was so that students had me to turn to if there was a crisis situation and so that they could ask pressing academic questions. Students call rarely; I’ve not really gotten any crisis calls and I have fielded numerous academic questions, but the most common call is “Hey Mr. E, how are you?” One of my favorite students always calls on holidays and if I miss a day of school to check up on me. I’ve been told by some older teachers that having such conversations may be a bad idea, it may open the door to allow people to think certain things, etc. I am probably ignorant, but this is something I almost totally ignore. If I cannot carry on a mentoring relationship with students as well as an academic relationship, (what I feel is) the most important part of my job dies. I didn’t become a teacher to douse my students with information about seemingly-arcane academic topics, I became a teacher to help change my students lives for the better, whatever route I must take.