Category Archives: teacher fail!

A fight

I heard the yelling as I walked out of the copy room.

I saw the pushing a few steps later.

I yelled one girl’s name. “No! Stop!” She didn’t hear me yell her name.

I don’t know which one lunged first, but by the time I got there, they were both on the ground.

Everything happened so fast.

They both had long hair, which worked equally as a disadvantage for each girl but an advantage for the other one.

Two other teachers were there as well. We all tried to pull them apart.

They were so close to the stairs; I worried that they would tumble over.

Our SRO and VP came up. I’ve never heard an officer announce himself like that in real life. “Stop! Police!”

One girl’s boyfriend was recording it. “Put that away!” I shouted, putting my fresh copies in front of the camera. “You should be ashamed of yourself. You should be helping her stop this.”

One of them lost a shoe, her cell phone, and a clump of hair.

A clump of hair the size of a bald spot.

One girl was arrested. One girl was suspended.

Then I had to walk to class, stand tall in my cheetah print heels…and teach.

But first I took a few deep breaths in the hallway and cried a few tears and willed my hands to stop shaking.

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Revisionist History

I had students do a mini research project on race in America today…and it brought me to this conversation with a student.

Me: What was the most interesting article you read?
Boy 1: Um…Well, this one was about these statues…
Me: Oh good! That’s a great topic for our discussion tomorrow. What did you think about it?
Boy 1: Well, I don’t really get it.
Me: Which part didn’t you get?
Boy 1: I don’t know what this means. [points to the paper]
Me: Confederate?
Boy 1: Yeah. I don’t know what that is.
Me: When we talk about the Confederacy, we’re talking about a historic region of the United States.
Boy 1: OK…
Me: Do you have any idea what region that would be?
Boy 1: Pittsburgh?
Boy 2: Naw dog! Baltimore! [in his semi-defense, we read an article about Baltimore last week]
Me: Nooooo…The Confederacy came about during a major military conflict…
Boy 1: The Great Depression?
Me: No. A major military conflict.
Boy 1: Like a war?
Me: Yes. What was the name of that war?
[Boy 1’s eyes grow wide; he sits with his mouth open.]
[Girl leans over and whispers Civil War.]
Boy 1: Oh, yeah, the Civil War.
Me: Yes, ohmygosh, the Civil War. And the Confederacy was one half of that conflict. Do you remember what two sides fought in the Civil War?
Boy 1: [hesitantly] Yeeeesss…
Me: So which side was the Confederacy? Remember, you’ve already suggested a couple of northern cities and I said no.
Boy 1: The…North…?
Me: No!
Boy 1: So….the…South…?
Me: Yes! The Civil War was fought between the northern states, the Union, and the southern states, or the Confederacy. And what were they fighting about?
Boy 1: Ssssssss….
Me: Yes! Say that word!
Boy 1: Slavery?
Me: Yes! The Civil War was fought over the issue of slavery. The northern states wanted to end it, but the southern states didn’t. Bonus question: Who was president during the Civil War?
Boy 2: [quickly and proud of himself] George Washington!
Boy 1: [immediately after, snapping his fingers] JFK!
Me: Oh! My! God! I’m going to have a seizure over here!
Boy 2: Hey, these are hard questions! How are we supposed to know this? Man, this is English class, not history!
Me: These aren’t “history” questions! These are common knowledge questions! You guys! Who was president during the Civil War?
Boy 2: [overhears another boy say the answer, but clearly only hears part of it] Abraham! It was Abraham! Abraham was president during the Civil War!
Me: That’s only his first name. What was Abraham’s last name? [the boys blink at me] You guys! Come on!
Boy 3: Abraham Lincoln.
Boys 1 & 2: Yeah! Abraham Lincoln! I’ve heard of him!
Me: [putting my head down on the desk] I’m dying inside. You know that, right? [looking at them again] Do you both have Ms. W for history right now? [they nod] I’m totally going to tell her about this.
Boy 1: Yeah, that’s probably a good idea. She should have a warning so she doesn’t die a little too.

Risky Business

My students engage in risky behaviors all the time.

They drink and do drugs. They throw huge, multi-day long parties or “camping trips” as minors. And then they talk about it all at school like it’s no big deal.

They have unprotected sex. And show up pregnant or talking about pregnant girl friends, or they brag about their sex-capades and “smashing” like it’s no big deal.

They go skydiving, cliff jumping, and off-trail mountain biking in forbidden areas.

They tie skateboards to the back of pick-up trucks, light things on fire, pierce and tattoo themselves in the kitchen, and post naked pictures on the internet.

They stay up all night for multiple nights in a row and fuel their tired hours during the day with multiple giant cans of energy drinks.

And yet…

They do not risk speaking in class. They do not answer questions aloud. They do not let anyone else see that they are trying. They would much rather respond with a quiet shake of the head and “I don’t know” than venture a guess, even if it’s something that I literally just gave them the answer to or if I know they wrote about on an assignment the day before.

Why do they do this? Why are they so comfortable doing damage to their bodies, but so uncomfortable answering a direct question?

I get it. I mean, I sort of get it. I get that they don’t want to be seen as dumb and I get that they’ve learned how to fail because teachers (and parents and siblings and society at large) have made them feel like failures and their backgrounds are not set up to provide them with the information they need to feel comfortable answering questions and so on. But good golly. The kid who pierced her own tongue when she was bored one weekend – a thought that sends shivers down my fear-of-face-paralysis spine – won’t tell me one damn thing she remembers from any part of the novel we’ve spent ten days on in class.

We talk a lot about the differences between the kids who “can’t do” and the kids that “won’t do” in terms of turning in work, but I think we need to change the timbre of that conversation. My kids will turn in work, mostly, but they won’t do other, simple things required of a student. My kids won’t venture. They won’t try. And that’s something I don’t know what to do with.

Slightly Awkward

Well, the other day I referred to a new kid as “she” and was corrected. “He” is the preferred pronoun. I even checked our grade book and the student is listed as a male. I should have noticed that one when I was making my new class list. Dang it. It doesn’t seem to have bothered the student any, but I’ve been kicking myself because in times when I’m uncertain I always always make sure to keep things genderless. I doubted my use of the female pronoun, but it came out anyway. Oy. Moving on.

Yesterday, I had this conversation with a student:

Girl: Ms. H! Guess what! I’m a lady now!
Me: You’re a lady now?
Girl: Yup. Officially. It’s real. I’m a lady.
Me: A lady, huh? That’s…big.
Girl: Yeah. It was great. My dad made a big deal of it and got me all kinds of presents.
Me: That’s cool! Sometimes dads are weird about that kind of stuff.
Girl: My dad used to be, but I have an older sister, so I think that makes it easier for him that I’m growing up and stuff.
Me: Wow. Well, thank goodness for older sisters.
Girl: Seriously! Yeah, this was my favorite birthday ever.
Me: Oh! That’s right! It was your sixteenth birthday over spring break! Oh my gosh, I thought you were talking about getting your period!
Girl [laughing]: Oh gosh! No! That happened years ago and my dad wasn’t ready for it even though I have an older sister! Thanks for being so supportive, though!

A Dream Deferred

I gave my students a writing prompt the other day that, let’s be honest, I was really proud of. It pulled together two great days of learning with a poem and asked for analysis and synthesis of information. Plus, I’ve been working with them all quarter on how to properly respond to literature. Now, this writing prompt could easily have been an essay prompt, but I only gave them about fifteen minutes to write in class. I wanted them to be thorough, but I didn’t need them going crazy with seven pages and footnotes and proper headers and all that. As if. Three minutes later, every single student had turned in their response. Baffled, I cautioned them, “You guys, you still have eleven minutes until the bell rings! Are you sure you wrote everything you needed to write about the poem?” I even went to individual students. “You already turned your paper in? Did you give me an A+ response?” I went so far as to tell them, “If you didn’t directly quote the poem, at least one source from yesterday and one source from today, don’t bother turning in your paper. You are NOT DONE.” No one retrieved their papers from the basket. No one.

Well, I read their responses today. First, though, the prompt:

What dream is Langston Hughes talking about in his poem “Harlem”? Was he right about the outcome of the dream? Use evidence from class – both yesterday and today – to support your answer.

Here are some of the responses that kids told me to my face they were sure were good and would receive an A+:

  • He’s dreaming about being equal and free. Yes he was cause it eventually happened cause MLK and Lil Rock 9.
  • I think he is talking about the end of segregation and the hatred between races. He was wrong about what would happen, the dream came true and all races were able to integrate and have the chance for a better tomorrow, that they will get along and not complain. Sources of thought: Real reasons the US became less racist toward Asian Americans [that’s an actual title of an article we read the day before]
  • His dream is to have racism come to end. He’s asking if this sore topic, that americans refused to talk about and resolve, will ever be rendered
  • A dream that’s deferred doesn’t go away, it just waits until the right time. Like Abolishing slavery and all racist laws, if you’re patient it’ll come true. but you still have to fight for what’s right, and it certainly wont easy.
  • the MLK Jr. Dream and if it will ever happen.

Obviously, this is an assignment I’m going to have to revisit on Monday.

 

I give up.

I put effort into my planning. I pride myself on being intentional. I care about the material and about the learners I share the material with. I make every day a little bit different – new types of assignments, new types of questioning, new types of assessments. I create reasons for students to get up in the middle of class, to talk to partners or small groups. I ask questions with the expectation that they will create dialogue, dissent. I show up with my game face on every single class period, ready to engage and be engaged.

“This is dumb.”

I’ve tried a contemporary context for learning. I’ve tried a historical context. I’ve given them feminist lenses, existentialist lenses, critical lenses, and reader-response lenses.

“This is dumb.”

“What the fuck do we have to do this for?”

I present articles, sermons, notes, poems, songs, paintings, novels, novel excerpts, editorials, videos, cartoons, comics, nursery rhymes, short stories, vlogs, blogs, and advertisements.

“This is dumb.”

“What the fuck do we have to do this for?”

“I’m never going to need to know this.”

I stand at the door and greet them every day. I ask them about their weekends, their families, their jobs, their new hair cuts. I crack jokes in class. I draw on the board, then make fun of my clearly amazing art skills (which resemble kindergarten-style drawings). I ask them for recommendations on books, music, apps, movies, and TV shows.

“This is dumb.”

“What the fuck do we have to do this for?”

“I’m never going to need to know this.”

“This is fucking boring.”

You know what? You get out of it what you put in to it. Does it suck? Yeah, I bet it does. I bet it sucks an awful lot to get up every day and come here where you basically allow yourself to be babysat by college-trained professionals – experts in our fields – while you spend the whole day sifting through playlists for the right song for six hours a day. I think it would be really, really difficult to spend the entire day trying with every cell in my body to ignore the world around me and refuse to make connections between Life and History and Art. It probably is fucking boring scrolling through the same bullshit feed all day long, through the sewage posted by your contemporaries – other people who are likewise wasting their days refusing to try. You’re right. It’s shitty, but you’re right.

And you know what? Not only does it make my job harder, but it makes it harder to want to do my job. If what I present is going to be “dumb” and “boring” anyway, why should I try to make it anything else? I give up. Silent reading and worksheets for everybody.

It’s your problem.

I have a girl in one of my classes who is pregnant. She also has little – very little, by my understanding – siblings at home. She also has a mom who works and no other adult in the house. And so, as is too, too common with kids in less-than-awesome situations, she’s called on to babysit her siblings while her mother works, even if that means she has to miss school to do it. Add this to times that she misses school for doctor appointments, and you have a young lady with already too many absences in the fourth week of school.

I talked to her last week about it and she said, “Well, I talked to my counselor about it and they said that if I miss more than five classes and I’m still passing, I’ll be OK, but if I miss more than eight classes they’ll drop me. And I just think that’s too bad,  you know? I mean, I do the work, but if they want to drop me, that’s their problem.”

And I said, “No, honey, that’s your problem. It’s not a matter of them wanting to drop you, it’s a matter of you needing to be in school in order to pass classes and graduate and the fact that the state requires students to attend a certain number of hours. You need to do that. Your baby girl needs you to do that.”

“Yeah,” she said. “I mean, I am doing the work, even if I’m not here. But if they want to drop me, that’s their problem.”

*sigh*

Sometimes, there’s no getting through to people, you know?

Anyway, today I’m talking to my class about these short essays they’ve been working on and we traded them for peer review. Mama raises her hand and asks what I’m talking about. As it turns out, she was absent the last two days when everyone else was typing and didn’t check on line for the work. So today, while everyone else is two steps ahead of her, she’s finally writing her essay.

I am sorry for her, really I am. I’m sorry that she’s stressed about school and that she’s pregnant before even turning 18 and that she has life stuff at home that she has to take care of and I’m sorry for my role in this situation. I know that she is in a position to be mad at a lot of people that aren’t her and I know that she feels targeted and like no one is giving her a chance or a break and that things are harder than they should be. And to a degree, she’s right.But she’s also wrong, in that she made the choices that got her here and her mother made choices before her that got her here and those choices – all of them – are things I can’t change and can’t fix and can’t do anything about.

In the end, she will likely be dropped from at least my class – maybe more. And since the baby is coming at the end of next quarter, my guess is that means she won’t return to school next quarter…or probably the quarter after that. Maybe we’ll see her fourth quarter? Maybe she’ll come back next year?

These are the things I wish I could fix, could have some power to change.

America, the home of the Holocaust.

I asked students – eleventh graders – to make a list of the biggest, most impactful historical American events, people, or places. I’m expecting the Civil War, the Revolutionary War, the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Rosa Parks, MLK Jr., Jackie Robinson, Elvis Presley, Henry Ford and the advent of assembly lines, Detroit, Motown, westward expansion, fast food industry, Brown vs. Board, Roe v. Wade, Loving vs. Virginia, Christopher Columbus, slavery, feminism, Ms. magazine, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, the Chrysler building, the Sears tower, Mt. Rushmore, Mt. Saint Helens, the Grand Canyon, Theodore Roosevelt creating the National Parks system, the New Deal, NASA and the first man to walk on the moon, the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Special Olympics, Barack Obama becoming the first Black president…

Nope.

One kid said “feminism stuff.” One kid mentioned Rosa Parks.

The rest of them? Literally the rest of them said either WWII or, more specifically, the Holocaust.

The only people listed (with the exception of the aforementioned Rosa Parks) – I shit you not – were Anne Frank, Albert Einstein, and Adolf Hitler. All of them German.

I leave you with this final thought: ??????????

Hot Mama

Girl: I love babies. I can’t wait to be a mom.
Me: Wait. Wait ten more years. It’s a big deal and nothing to rush in to.
Girl: Ten years?!? No way. I wanna be the hot mom, not the wrinkly old hag.
Me: I was 27 when I had my first baby.
Girl: But you’re pretty. I will age. And not gracefully.
Me: I don’t think that’s a solid reason to have babies when you’re still a baby. Trust me; it’s hard to be the child of a child.
Girl: Oh I know. My mom was 16 when she had me. But I’ll be 18 in a couple of weeks. That’s a lot better!

Anyone? Anyone?

My English students started working on their final presentations today, so it was a quiet and relatively productive day. At the end of the period, they saved their work and put their Chromebooks away and we still had, like three minutes left in the period. So I had this conversation by myself in front of the room, directed at the teenage faces in front of me:

Hey, so, does anyone have any plans for the summer? … Anything you’re planning? … Anything at all? … Trips? … Things you want to learn? Like, you’re going to pick up another language or solve a Rubik’s cube?… Is anyone going camping? … Does anyone have a job? … That you’ll be working at this summer? … Because you’ll have free time? … Do you have to take summer school? … Are you going to spend a lot of time at the pool – or even just your back yard? … No? No one? Really? OK, maybe you’ll all just be spending the entire summer on your phones. Maybe that’s the real answer here. You’re right, I should just stop talking. I mean, why engage in human interaction when you can look at your phone? I probably have a text to check too. Thanks for the tip. I’ll go check that. Oh, thank god, there’s the bell.

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