Current/Recent Reading List

30 September 2006

Brain Drain

Today was our school's turn to compete on Brain Game , the academic quiz show tournament for freshmen and sophomores put on by our local CBS affiliate in Raleigh, WRAL. It was also my first time as the solo "coach", though I've been a sort of co-coach the last two years. If this were college football, I'd already be on the hot seat - we came in third out of three, with a whoppin' -20 in point totals. Ah, well.

My three starters, plus an alternate, were all doing this for the first time, so perhaps they will fare better in the spring after this experience, as did last year's squad. They actually answered more questions correctly than our team last fall, but they also missed more questions, for which they were penalized. But even though they felt slightly humiliated, I think everyone had a great time.

Some more than others, however. You see, one of the teams had these two guys as coaches who saw themselves as Coaches, capital "C". Let's just say that the cup of testosterone overflowethed. Nice guys, but insanely intense about this stuff. After we met they asked how often we practiced, and I truthfully told them that we had not really practiced at all (my team members are all in band, or cheerleading, or volleyball, or two out of the three, so I'm lucky to get them, period). Well, they informed me, they practiced at least twice a week, and traveled throughout the year, from their home near Charlotte, to different competitions. That's great guys, really. Did I mention mention hog-farming is the top industry in our county?

Before we started, they kept calling huddles to discuss strategy, and in between segments they would storm up to the podium and speak with their kids. Pep talks, or halftime adjustments? You make the call. As they sat directly on my my left, I could see via peripheral vision that both of them were wildly fist-pumping after each right answer their kids got. And things really reached critical mass when one of them stormed the judges table during a time-out to successfully get points deducted from another team.

No matter. Their kids, and my kids, got squashed by that other team, a trio of private school preps from Rocky Mount. Their coach was laid back as could be, but the kids themselves were hyper-achiever types, and one of their girls, who annoyed the snot out of my team, was named (I'll alter it slightly) Emma V. That is her first name: Emma V. One assumes she goes on to have a middle and last name; then again, why would you need them when you are the stylish, the fashionable, the brilliant Emma V ? Oh, and my wife was totally irritated with the moms from this team, because she said they would do those prim little mom claps, and pat each other rapidly on the knee, whenever one of their children got an answer.

What's the lesson here, students? There are two: 1) There is no better way to salvage something from a last place, negative point loss than to viciously mock the two teams (and their entourages) that beat you , and 2) I'll take my salt-of-the-earth crowd over the fist-pumpers and knee-patters any day.

So nyyyahhh.

27 September 2006

The Writing Life

Possibly this is an English teacher's dream, the fact that our county has decided to emphasize writing more than anything else this year. Yesterday we had a two-hour workshop designed to make non-English teachers feel better about incorporating more writing into their classrooms (before you get your panties in a wad, that's non-English teachers, not non-English-speaking teachers - think math, or science. The main motivation for this is that our 10th grade writing scores, right in line with those from the rest of the state, were AWFUL. I believe only 50% of the state passed the test last year.

Tomorrow, I (poor soul), will travel across the county to meet with another high school teacher so we can, ostensibly, develop a follow-up workshop. I quite literally have no idea what we are supposed to be developing, or how we are going to do it, and I'm not looking forward to it. So what's new?

Anyway, after discussing some of the workshop tidbits with my kids, I got the usual lazy-people questions: "Why do we even have to learn to write?" "What if we aren't going to do anything that involves writing a story (all compositions, fiction or non-fiction, beyond a paragraph equates to a "story" for my kids. Not an essay - a story). Blah, blah, blah.

Since I've been on the "end of western civilization" kick this week, I started wondering today if it ever occured to me, or my school peers, to question why we need to learn how to write well. I just don't remember ever having such thoughts. We might have complained about the assignments themselves (I know we did), but never about the underlying assumption that writing was important.

Sigh. I promise something cheerier by the weekend.

25 September 2006

The Aftermath

First, let me rejoice about three things. I have twenty kids signed up to go see the NC Shakespeare Festival perform "The Taming of the Shrew". The Wolfpack won in the most dramatic, emotionally appealing way possible on Saturday (the brief father/son story: dad was a stand-out QB at State in the 70's, and now he's on the radio calling his own son's first game as State's starter - gotta love this ). And, finally, the Oxford American Southern Music issue arrived (a month late, guys).

As for the aftermath of our teacher-quitting episode on Friday, it is varied. A few horse-rears were, of course, thrilled to hear the news. But I spoke with four students who were genuinely upset about the whole mess, and were alternately mad at the teacher for giving in and leaving, and at the students who refused to shut up or behave for her. One girl made a fair point that, since 6th Grade, "perserverance" has been a character word for her class one month out of each year. "I don't want to enter college not knowing how to do a research paper," she said. A couple of others said that, while they didn't think she was the most personable teacher, they thought she was good at what she did, and they were learning. Maybe the toughest thing to hear, from one of my yearbook editors, was this: "I've been in a class (Spanish) where the teacher retired and they couldn't find a replacement for a whole semester. We learned nothing with the sub in there - it was awful. I don't want to go through that again."

Meanwhile, the other two teachers in my department are, like me, fighting mad. One of them, Ms. X, said she's tempted to give up her planning period just so she could take over that class and "taste a little blood." I would say, "Amen, sister!", but the problem with Ms. X is that she always wants to "taste blood", and due to this most of the kids can't stand her. If she took that class, all they would do is fight the rest of the year.

My colleagues also would like to seize this opportunity to let the principal know a few other things that were bothering the now departed teacher, and that bother them as well: we don't have as many English teachers as the other high schools in the county, our classroom computers are slow and outdated, some classes have 30 or more in them, etc. When this talk started at an impromptu dept. meeting today, I began feeling antsy, though I didn't disagree in principle. I apologize for the stereotyping, but my experience as the only male in a dept. of women is that meetings turn into, to use the polite term, griping sessions. I hate those, especially when Ms. X is involved. Not that male teachers don't gripe to each other, but it is just in a totally different way and takes half the time.

One more thing, relating to NCLB and the professional educator protection rackets that make sure hiring outside of the usual avenues is difficult. Over the summer, administration found a candidate for the English position who had a communications degree and was commuting to Raleigh. She had community ties, was young, and apparently really wanted to make the switch to teaching. Administration thought she was a perfect fit, and she was going to take the necessary classes to be certified in the usual five-year grace period (basically how I did it). The problem? Nowadays, if you have another available teacher who is already "highly certified", he/she has to get the first offer. The school board turned down the first pick, so this is how we ended up with our retiree teacher - and she was good, no doubt. But maybe this other woman, in the long run, would have been a better solution for our kids, and our department. Obviously administration thought so, but an inflexible system, unable to account for nuances, dictated something else.

23 September 2006

Road to Societal Suicide, Next Exit (3 Miles)

A former student who transferred to a bigger school in the next county dropped by for a visit yesterday, her school system having the day off. She mentioned that it is easier to feel lost in the bigger school and she felt sad coming back to see her friends, but that one of the advantages of the larger school is the lack of interpersonal drama. Her point was that since you don’t know your classmates or teachers nearly as well, you don’t have the small town gossiping and scheming. Nor the provincialism, I gather.

Ah, the provincial. Like that student, I love it and hate it. I don’t hold it in disdain, like the cognoscenti do, but I’m not going to pass over its rotten spots with sentiment either. People in general can be vicious, and charming small-town types are not exempt.

Witness yesterday, when I found out about 15 minutes before school was over that our newest English teacher was taking her toys, and books and furniture, and going home for good. She was already retired, you see, but in our state you can start pulling retirement benefits and go back to work for a regular salary as well, when a teaching slot desperately needs filling. Having taught for thirty years, mostly at a rival high school, she thought last year was going to be it when her part time position was dissolved. But when a last minute need arose at our school, she was approached about the position and accepted it.

Quite unbeknownst to me, her senior classes had been giving her absolute hell, perhaps because she was a stranger, or perhaps because the teacher’s name that showed up on their schedules this summer was the one they got mentally prepared for. In any case, it seems these future guardians of our civilization started rebelling against her en masse, and she had been in tears every day this week. They fought her on tardies, they fought her on schoolwork, they fought her by not shutting up, and then fought her by talking back to her as if she were their shop girl. Sure they got written up, and were forced to apologize, but eventually they wore her down, one month into the school year. She told me they would actually get just as much out of a sub for the rest of the year, since they had made up their minds about her.

And the thing is, she was a good teacher – the type I aspire to be one day. So, allow me to vent, oh, just a little. I totally understand why she decided to give it up. I really do. But I hate the fact that these kids, a few of whom are real assholes, got the satisfaction of driving her off. Exactly who the hell do they think they are? And how can anyone deal with them now that they are no doubt drunk with power? Some of them didn’t intend this, I’m sure, but the thing about these kids, even though they often can’t stand each other, is that their solidarity is strong. Even those who don’t go with the crowd won’t oppose it.

I really want to know what Principal Goldberg is thinking. He’s accomplished and impressive, but he’s young and has never administrated a high school. Yesterday, when I left, he had a bit of the deer-in-headlights look. I believe he will respond and get a grip on these kids, I really do. But it needs to happen now.

The whole episode also makes me reflect on whether I would ever get pushed by certain kids to the point of no return, as it were. Of course, I’m still relatively young and hot-blooded compared to someone with thirty years in; I’m also a typical man when it comes to matters of pride. But trying to put all emotion aside, I’ll be damned if I ever give some 17-year old punk or punkette the satisfaction of determining my retirement. They’d have to forcibly remove me from the classroom before I let them defeat me. If I’m blessed to be here and am still blogging in twenty-five years, you can hold me to that.

In a sense, though, this is a sign of a society defeating itself. Teachers shouldn't have to be reliant on their own iron wills in order to survive at what they love doing. We have to be mentally strong, but we're not supposed to be soldiers, for God's sake. I'm not going to hearken back to a particular hallowed time period, but dammit, I know it wasn't always this way.

20 September 2006

Sweat Shop

I had a scheduled observation with the assistant principal today, and it seemed to go well - she said she enjoyed it a lot, and it really was a good class today. In fact, I've never had an observation that didn't go well. But this doesn't seem to matter to my junky Neural Response System. Thus, I didn't sleep well last night. Thus, I was sweating the whole time she was in there observing today. Sweating like an A.C.C. football coach at a Monday morning press conference (only readers from Miami, Chapel Hill, Raleigh, Charlottesville, and College Park may get that feeble attempt at humor).

I've actually told myself before, in the abstract, "Hey! The observation is for my benefit - to help me improve! I welcome such opportunities to show what I can do with a class, and to learn from constructive criticism! I spit in the face of danger!"

Hah! What a joke. Who in their right minds likes being observed by a superior while they are on the job? Fine, there are a few annoying super-achievers out there, but they're freaks. Real folks (as they say in these parts) don't like being watched, and don't like being evaluated in person. It's unnatural, and... well, dammit, it makes me sweat.

Nice of my kids to point out to me, with the Asst. Principal in the room, that I needed to wipe my brow. Who couldn't love such angels?

18 September 2006

Parents vs. Immovable Bureaucratic Objects

It is Parent-Teacher Organization Meeting Night here at school, which makes for one long, but usually productive day. There is much less productivity once the meeting commences, however, since the teachers (who are required to come, after all) usually outnumber the parents. Sad, but true.

The opposite is usually the case in close-by Wake County, where an old fashioned Battle Royal continues over the issue of forcing year-round calendars on certain elementary and middle schools. I have a paper-thin grasp of this controversy, so perhaps Raleigh readers like Eric or Jimmy can fill us in on details. Forcing changes on the unwilling does seem plain wrong, especially when different kids in the same household might have differing school schedules. But hey, we all know they pay the bureaucrats the big bucks for this kind of thinking, so it must be right, right?


16 September 2006

SchoolMaster P Winning Early Skirmishes; number of casualties uncertain

After declaring war on belligerent forces from the Honors Class Liberation Front (HCLF), Gen. SchoolMaster P appears to have emerged victorious from a series of early flank skirmishes with the enemy. SMP's precision air strikes have been particularly effective, as he made contact with 11 concerned parents over the course of the week. Many of these contacts were made during a series of clandestine Friday afternoon attacks. "Our belief is that these attacks, made just as the kids believed they had a pleasant weekend approaching, caught them all the more off guard," an SMP spokesman said.

Earlier in the day SMP had a face-to-face meeting with the Assistant Principal of War, who agreed with him that no more whining about work, kindergarten-type disruptions, excessive talking, or sleeping should be tolerated. In a joint statement, the two declared that unless the HCLF ceases all aggressive behavior, SMP will be forced to order ground forces and heavy artillery into action.

Other good news for SchoolMaster P has included the winning over of many neutral members of the class, who increasingly have come to believe that throwing their lots in with the enemy is a path to destruction. One anonymous neutral stated, "Last year SchoolMasterP seemed more interested in patient diplomacy. This year it seems he just wants to kick people's asses."

Gen. P's spokesman, however, cautioned against too much optimism. "We are still in the very early stages of this conflict. There are some particularly tough battles ahead of us, we are sure. We'll have a more complete picture after we've gotten through problem-solution essays, Oedipus Rex, and Pride and Prejudice," he said.

14 September 2006

The Homework Wars?

An opinion piece about a recent study on homework has been making the rounds in our school district this week. The only meaningful thing I can offer to this debate is what my keen teacherly common sense tells me about homework.

For starters, I have no expertise in elementary education, but would imagine that massive homework at that age would be out of order. I got by just fine without lugging home books and papers until middle school, best I can recall.

From there on, I would see myself as a middle grounder on this issue. We have kids coming to us from middle school who seem to think the word "homework" actually is code for "go home and play with six-foot cobras." Their aversion to the idea of it is bothersome, and smacks of spoiling. On the other hand, most high schools in the state now are on a block schedule system, meaning four classes a day for 90 minutes each. Each class only lasts for a semester, much like in college. I simply don't find the need to lay on massive homework after we've worked hard for that length of time. My general and CP level kids rarely get assignments beyond "study for tomorrow's test or quiz", while my honor's kids usually get something every night, generally in the way of reading.

I will also add that you have much more control over the whole cheatin' thang when you have the kids right in front of you. It is particularly beautiful when I give in-class writing assignments, because I can watch the usual band of cheaters and homework hustlers squirm, knowing that sneaking glances at someone's essay is pointless. Generally they just give up and do nothing, which makes for one easy paper to grade.


Along the lines of cheating, here was a nice nugget from yesterday. A student I've previously designated as Mr. Romeo is flunking badly. He has tested well in his life, which is why he has been considered an honors talent. But he's a total lazy ass, and only signed up for this year's honors class because his (now ex-) girlfriend also did.

Another student, the most curmudgeonly little almost-goth you would ever want to meet, always lets me know at the end of class who or what has annoyed her that day, even if it is just me. Yesterday, she told me Mr. Romeo offered her a dollar if she would let him cheat off her vocabulary worksheets. A whole dollar!

Don't empty the bank account there, Romeo.

12 September 2006

Sometimes I Feel... I've been tiiiiiii-ed (pause) to the whippin' post!

All apologies to the Allman Brothers, or to the undercompensated blues musician who may have written that song.

Into the third week of my fifth year of teaching, you would think (I would have thought) that things would be nice and settled down, and my comfort level would be at an all-time high. Certainly I'm much better at planning classes and at managing them than ever before. I demand respect better than before, though I'm still working on being the good kind of "mean". I tell myself things ought to be clicking on all cylinders by now.

But the truth is I'm still a little antsy, and I'm still feeling butterflies about situations that haven't bothered me so much the last couple of years. Today I had to give (yet another) talk to my honors class about expectations, and about the poor grades I was seeing so far. And I was just plain nervous - even though I know these kids. I've never been one to relish a confrontation until I get good and mad, and frankly, there wasn't one today - no one argued with me, perhaps because I called some parents yesterday. What was I fearful of? I'll have to ponder it.

Everything just feels a little weird this week, that's all I know, and it doesn't help that we've had meeting upon meeting for the last several days, that I'm being drafted to help lead some kind of in-house writing workshop for all the high schools, that I have to schedule an observation for next week, or that I'm trying to get this year's Shakespeare Club events planned and off the ground before schedules fill up for all the kids.

By the way, here is one of those sweet intangibles of teaching: you call a mom or dad to let them know Johnny is being an ass in class and flunking after two weeks, and the response you get is, "I really appreciate you letting me know. Rest assured, this will be addressed tonight." And it's said in that tone that, back in the day, you thought meant instant death when you heard it from your parents. Yes, this still happens, believe it or not.

That is sweet.

11 September 2006


Five years ago, I could not find an emotion other than rage. It built up steadily throughout the day and on into the night, and I assumed everyone else felt exactly the same. Perhaps I was naïve, but certainly millions of people shared that single emotion with me, at least for one day.

The following morning, driving into work at about 7:15, I turned at an intersection about a mile from my office in Raleigh. The streets were mostly still empty, which was not unusual, though perhaps they were a little emptier than normal. On the corner, as I turned left, I spotted a makeshift American flag display. The flag was attached to a little hand-painted sign that read “God Bless America”. It looked like something children might have concocted at the last minute for a 4th of July parade. But I got the feeling an adult made it and put it out sometime in the dark of night, just trying to get something out there to show support and help with morale when it was most needed.

For about five minutes, after I passed that display, I sat in my car and wept like a baby.

My son was 13 days old on 9/11/01. This evening he had questions, and we tried to explain, in the most cautious (but truest) way we could, what all this was about.

Also tonight, watching the retrospectives, I got emotional – for the first time in a couple of years on this anniversary, actually. Everything from that day, and that week, really came back to me for a while. I wish there had never been reason for such feelings, but thank God I can still find them.

08 September 2006

Let's Do Lunch

Every teacher at our school has full lunchroom duty for a week at a time, every five or six weeks. I actually enjoy this time, because it’s fun to just socialize with the kids and loosen up a bit. What was impressive from this past week was that Principal Goldberg was in the lunch room every day, doing nothing but sitting and talking to kids. In just two short weeks, I’m getting the feeling that he’s going to be the best principal I’ve worked under so far. He did, by the way, acknowledge that he wants to be superintendent one day; yet, I’m not finding him scary. Ain’t pleasant surprises grand?

He’s also, according to teeny-boppers ages 14-17, cute, hot, fine, and hunky. One little girl who so obviously has a crush on the principal, and whose life is apparently an open book, told him all the girls thought he was hot, but they also heard (disappointingly) that his wife was hot. She also told us that her mom used to do crack, and that she wished America would adopt the Saudi methods of criminal punishment. All righty, then.

Then there is this snippet from a conversation with a former student who, as a sophomore, knew she was engaged (yikes!) but kept asking me to pronounce that word for her. “You know, that word for when you’re gettin’ married to somebody.” “You mean fiance?” “Yeah, that’s it. But he can’t drive right now because they took his license after he got a DUI.”) Anyway, from this week:

Me: Hey, A-----. How’s it going?

A----: Fine.

Me: When is your English class, this semester or next?

A: Now, but this is only the second day I’ve been in there.

Me: You’ve been sick?

A: Yeah.

Me: What, some kind of stomach thing?

A: I’m pregnant.

Me: A-----! How far along are you?

A: 8-10 weeks.

Me: Well, how are you going to manage?

A: We’re getting married next weekend. My mama’s gonna home school me until she moves to New York next year. Then I’ll probably have to come back here to finish up, or something.

It was only 18 years ago, but somehow I don’t imagine this conversation took place at my high school during my tenure there. Ever.

06 September 2006

The Thing What Lurks

I’m not going to steal the brilliant,lovely one’s thunder on blogging about the whole “in-law all up in the house” deal we’ve had going for the last 12 days. I’m sure her good word is coming, and soon. The short explanation is that due to a Byzantine phase-in period for kindergarteners in our county, we’ve needed full-time, and free, child-care for the past couple of weeks. Finally we are at the end of that difficult period, and mom-in-law has safely returned home (love you, mom-in-law. I swear.).

But I can’t let this pass without mention of that thing. What thing, you ask? Oh, come on – you know it. It’s that thing what lurks between mothers and daughters. It’s the thing that causes wives to gently, but rapidly, close the door and demand - in barely contained whisper voice – that you let her vent NOW!, no matter that you are deeply concentrating on your favorite, all-important, sports blogs. It’s the thing that causes those brief, but harrowing mom/daughter flare-ups in the kitchen – the ones that make you wonder what hell-beast would soon spring up through the floorboards if things went much further. It’s the thing that makes a man happy to take his son to the park on Labor Day morning and ride bikes in 85 degree heat, then come home and gleefully mow the yard as the thermometer inches to 90. Balmy, balmy 90.

Are you feeling me? Yeah, I thought so. If only someone could tell me exactly what that thing is.

05 September 2006

Notes from a rough day

You're almost 17, a pretty girl with a great smile. You're not brilliant, not in the in-crowd, but popular across a wide range of students. You're known as a benign partier, very energetic, most always happy. Perhaps your judgment in friends isn't the best, but it's not like you are hanging with gang-bangers. You're taking Early Childhood Development classes which might lead to a worthwhile career, and you are a co-captain of the color guard. You've got a younger sister, a freshman, who looks to you to help her out and guide her along in her first year of high school. As with most fairly well-adjusted high school seniors, the world and the future look as fresh and shiny as a perfectly ripe apple.

It's a typical Friday night, and you and your girlfriends, out later than most parents might be happy with, stop in for a drink at a service station at 1:00 am. You've all annoyed the clerk for some reason - perhaps for being too loud, and certainly for loitering. Your mouthy friend has a lot to say to the clerk, and vice-versa. Out in the parking lot you all continue to stand around and talk, and a few boys you know drive up to join in. Suddenly, a man who knows the clerk - maybe a boyfriend - appears and lets you know he's not happy. Many words are exchanged, and maybe your instincts tell you that this isn't really the best place to be, or the best argument to have. Your mouthy friend can't seem to let it go, however.

And then, within seconds, all that life is- a universal drama- is concentrated on this little section of ashphalt in the middle of small town North Carolina. The man, you see, has a gun, and it looks like he's aiming it at your friend, who won't shut up. You're sure he's aiming at her in fact, but when he pulls the trigger, the bullet strikes you, right in the neck. All your friends' tears, and all their love poured out for you as they see you lying there, won't bring you back. Never - not once - did you think it would go like this.

Left behind you are your mother, father, an older brother, and that younger sister who won't have your guidance anymore.


There were over 1200 that came to the visitation - more than twice the population of the school on a given day. I was not sure what to do, since I never taught the girl, or had any meaningful dealings with her. I ended up not going, and I'm still not sure if that was the right decision. Strangely (vainly?), part of me is jealous that I can't fully participate in the grief that so many others feel. Not to the extent they can.

It's impossible not to be affected, however. Nothing can compare to the unified grief of a small community.

The students, for the most part, were quite composed today. Classes still went on, and work still got done. Some of the girl's friends made their own t-shirts with messages on them, and other kids had R.I.P messages written on their hands or arms. One car had "In Loving Memory of..." painted on all its windows.

In the media center, a table was set up for memorabilia - mainly pictures students brought in. I was struck mostly by her smile.

This was also the area where the school counselor team was set up. Forgive me for being rude and negative - I know they are good people - but they just seemed like a sort of Counselor Venus Fly-Trap, waiting to immediately pull in any student that stepped toe in there. I'm aware, it wasn't really like that for them. But I just find the existence of such a "team" creepy.

One of my students, a very emotional girl on a good day, must have known the deceased fairly well. When we had a moment of silence during 2nd period, I heard sobbing, and saw it was her. I persuaded her to walk out in the hall with me, but once we were out there, she made it clear that she didn't want to talk to "those people." Instead, she went in the bathroom with another friend from my class.

At the end of the day, as I was looking at the table, another girl, one I didn't know but vaguely recognized, walked up as well. She just started talking, telling me that she thought she was o.k., but almost lost it a couple of times that day. She also told me that her grandfather had a heart attack on Saturday, and that she was just starting to get to know him after not knowing him for years. Not sure exactly what to say, I just kept the talk up for a few minutes, and told her to hang in there. Tomorrow I need to find out her name.

I promise lighter fare tomorrow. Thanks for staying with me.

03 September 2006

Sad News

We received a voice mail from my school's call-out system this evening, from the principal. He was making sure we were aware that one of our students, a senior, was "tragically killed" over the weekend. I never taught this girl or knew her at all, but did know who she was. She just helped me out as an office assistant on Thursday, I believe.

I don't live in the community I teach in, so I was probably one of the last faculty members to hear. From the message, I assumed it was a car accident, but I could find nothing related to an accident on the internet. Then about an hour ago, as I watched the local 11:00 news, the hair raised on my spine when they gave a report about a 16-yr. old girl killed in a shooting altercation outside a gas station, in a town about ten minutes from my school's area. No name has been released, but I'm sure this must be the same girl. Unbelievable, and unbelievably pointless.

Please pray for her, her family, and all those affected. I'll update when I know more.

01 September 2006

Squire, bring me my battle gear. Now!!

You may have gotten the mistaken impression that I know what I'm doing in the classroom. I may have gotten that mistaken impression from time to time as well. But the kiddies, they can humble me real quick-like. I done got played the other day by my honors class.

So, break out the Clausewitz, the Caesar, and the Sun Tzu. Now it's on.

You see, I taught 98% of these kids, in this exact same grouping, last year as freshmen. I loved them, loved them, loved them, but at times they made me want to go Bobby Knight on them. They were whiny, spoiled, immature. And, well, did I mention whiny? But they blew the roof off their End of Course Tests, and all was well that ended well. I would later see them in the spring semester, and they would say, "Oh, Mr. P., I hope I have you for English every year!", or "Mr. P., you have to be our teacher next year!" They participated in Shakespeare Club, they came by for visits, they begged to get into yearbook class, and they came to get me so they could show me their cool world history projects. We're pretty much talking Kumbaya stuff here, folks. Well, they got their collective wish, and I believe most of them certainly were excited that we would reunite this fall

Up until yesterday, they had been fabulous for me over the first week. They were more attentive and less talkative, and I was pretty much prepared and on top of my game. But on Thursday, after reviewing some of what was likely to be on the Les Mis test (now put off 'til Tuesday due to Tropical Storm Ernesto), I found myself in that terrible no-man's land where, with 20 minutes left in class, I didn't really want to start something too involved, though I had something planned. They certainly weren't in the mood to switch gears, so they pleaded and pleaded that we not move on to writing. I feigned resistance, but they smelled blood. "I know, Mr. P. Let's do a review game, like we do in Biology!" Said game involved everyone standing, and having to remain standing, until correctly answering a question.

So I, being weak, fell for it. The problem with these impromptu "games" is that about half the class will be willing to participate, and the other half won't and will be acting on different agendas. Before I knew it, kids were using their standing positions as excuses to sneak a couple of desks over to their friends, and then most weren't listening, or caring, and things got a little too noisy, and some kid tried to pull out a Coke bottle. And right as I started to correct everyone's behavior, I saw the assistant principal in the hall walk by, do a double-take, peek her head in the room, and then continue her stroll. Yes, of course it would happen that way.

The assistant principal thing is really no big deal, but what really pisses me off is that I gave in, and got burned, if just in my own mind. And I can't even offer a lame excuse, like, "I didn't have a good feel for these kids yet."

So, let the wars begin. There will be no more breathing space, no more unstructured activities. Any games will be played under dictatorial rules, and any free time over 2-3 minutes will be filled by me blathering on about something. I'm sure the old whining will soon commence.

I already have gotten some measure of revenge. I'm counting nine 0's and two 60's among the grades on their first written assignment for homework. Can't wait for Tuesday.