Lest anyone get the idea I have all the answers or even the right questions, I present today's seventh period class, a fairly complete disaster for your amusement and edification.
I was trying to teach a lesson ostensibly about a poem, but really about compassion and how we recover from the fight that broke out a few days ago after school. It was the same lesson that went perfectly fifth period. That should have given me pause, lightning not striking the same place twice, but I thought I had planned well enough to weather most anything.
They came in riled up. The class is mostly seniors with a handful of eighth- through eleventh-graders. Several are challenging and I don't have enough desks so kids sit on the heater and at the back table. It's not ideal. Within the first minute I knew they were going to be difficult. This is how it goes sometimes.
I reeled in some of them, but not many, not enough. Four were glued to phones. I mentioned that it would be good to put phones away. No dice. Two of them were messaging each other and dissolving into giggles. Within five minutes I asked one to leave, but knew it wouldn't really help. I was losing them. They were pretty much gone.
I went through the lesson from fifth period, but it was no good. Our special ed teacher took two tough kids to a reading test. A senior came in from who knows where. Each interruption derailed us. Mostly I tried to keep people from talking about other things, arguing, and swearing.
Pressing on, we read the poem and tried to discuss it, but I kept interrupting: "please put the phones aside," "don't touch her," "please watch your language," "yes, you can go to the bathroom," "come back together, folks," and a half dozen other ineffective things. I set up the writing prompt and asked, "are we ready to write?" A guy on the heater asked, "about what?!" I explained again just in time for a senior to ask, "what are we supposed to write about?" Before I could answer, a younger kid asked, "can we write about anything?" I pointed to the prompt on the board. Perhaps I should have texted this shit to them.
Some of us wrote. Two never started. One stopped after two sentences. "I'm done." No, I explained. We write for the whole time (nine minutes today). I had explained this before we began. It has been S.O.P. since September. We write to get from the first idea into the second and third, to see where our pens and minds take us. "But I'm done," the kid said. I may have sighed. I kept my pen moving on the page, hoping it would be enough to keep some of them writing.
Some did. Some listened to the poem and thought about it. Some even got the idea about compassion and empathy. But that's not what I took away from class. I was angry, frustrated, and wishing most of them would skip class from now on or maybe transfer. I didn't and don't hate them, but I didn't much like them today.
Am I allowed to say this?
I'm not a teacher who loves his students. When the school year is over, I move on. Their lives are up to them, not me. I'm happy if I see some of them (especially if I can remember their names). I shrug when the news says they've been arrested, arraigned, or sentenced, Oh well, I say. Who's next?
I'll have to try and teach that group of students again and again this month and next. Who knows how it will go? It doesn't have as much to do with my preparation as some believe. I was prepared today, just not for them as they were. Success in schools is a lot about their moods (and mine), the weather, and luck. A crowded classroom often tumbles into chaos and disappointment. Today was chaotic. It was disappointing as hell and pissed me right off.
I blame them. So there.
To paraphrase Art Buchwald, I gave them a perfect lesson, and they screwed it up. Schools would work just great if not for the damn kids. That's the only real school reform to consider. I'm in favor of it. Today, I am. Tomorrow, I might feel otherwise. For now, I'm pouring a glass of bourbon, adding one ice cube, and going outside with the dog to watch the sun set.