I might have mentioned that I am student teaching at CHS, a local high school in the albemarle county district just 8 minutes from my house. Well, in case I hadn’t mentioned it, that is what I am doing every wednesday and every friday at nine am. Last semester my partner and I taught cooperatively together, teaching Of Mice and Men to a class full of sleepy first period students. But we only did it four times, for a total of about six class room hours.
This semester is different. My partner is gone, I have to clock in over thirty hours of teaching, and now that I have switched to second period, the “applied class,” it seems a dark thunder cloud of animosity has situated itself over CHS. I have the same CI teacher, Michele Rzewnicki, who is fine, but the students have changed. And they aren’t monsters, no, but they are something close.
Today was the day in adolescent youth work that I like to call the “Putting Your Foot Down Day.” If anything is positive about this situation at all, it is that I am learning how to not be a pushover. My confidence is stronger than it used to be, because very likely if I had had this class last year, I would have been steamrolled by these kids. They say that when you are first in a situation with a group of students who don’t know you, they put out their “feelers” and they like to test you. Uh… yes. They certainly do.
It all starts to happen when Ms Rzewnicki leaves the room. The students watch her leave as she sips from her cup of coffee and holds up her fingers. “Be back in five” she says. Almost immediately, heads go down on desks. One girl actually fell asleep. But for others, it is time to attack the new guy. I start to explain my classroom management policy – because I actually have one now – that this class will be about respect. I will start by respecting them and treating them like adults. They will start by listening to me and trying to be engaged. If someone gives me disrespect, their name goes on the board. If the class doesn’t quiet and listen to other people (or me) when I ask them to, I add 30 seconds to the clock after the bell rings.
This did not go over well. Immediately, one guy tries to stand up to walk out of the class. I ask him where he’s going. Of course he’s going to the bathroom. I ask him if he needs a hall pass or something like that (b/c I really don’t know the policy.) He says no. But thankfully, another student pipes up and says “no thats not true, you do need one.” Then another tries to get up to get water. Another left something at the office. I can’t even keep them in their seats, no less foster a discussion about the relevance of Shakespeare.
I finally have to turn off the lights to get them to stop talking. By now, I have lost ground. They didn’t even bother to listen when I was talking to them about respect, so I realize that we are going to have to tackle that one again on another day. So I raise my voice.
** Now you might be saying: there must be another way to control these kids besides yelling at them. Yes. Its what the education school teaches us to do. You establish rapporteur with your students, you get to know them, you treat them like people, you give them material that relates to them, you make them interested in what you have to teach them, you bring it to their level, give social rewards, build them up with academic praise, make them afraid of letting you down, etc. and before you know it, you have a well behaved class.
The problem here is that these kids hate their teacher, they hate their school, and they most certainly don’t see any use for their education. If I had had them from the beginning of the year, it might have been within my grasps to turn them around and get them to care. But seeing as I only come twice a week and there is a slight racial barrier between us, it’s going to take God to turn this ship around.
After raising my voice and getting them to shut up because I am actually mad, we watch the interactive shakespeare dvd, with me operating it from the back of the classroom. Some of them quiet down. Some of them listen. Some of them answer the question when I ask them what Iambic Pentameter is. But the back row keeps talking, many have their heads down, and Dominic is still insisting he has the right to go to the bathroom.
So I turn the video off. I walk back up to the front. I explain to them that we will not conduct class if they are going to behave this way. This took some balls, to be honest. I was already significantly outnumbered and the momentum was against me. Tirese from the back says, “Mr. Jones, you be trippin dog, why you gotta turn off the movie?”
And Therin, also from the back, who had been quiet all period and had not said a word, looks up at me, makes eye contact and says: “You best search yourself, Mr. Jones.”
So I am not sure if anyone learned what the Elizabethan Period was, how many levels the Globe Theater had, or where Stratford upon Avon is in England. But I do know that apparently, I need to be searching myself right now.
Wow, this is going to be a huge challenge.