2. Are you still teaching?
This last year was a lot easier than my first year in many ways. I knew ahead of time what to expect from my students, and I knew about how I would deal with poor behavior and inadequate work. The first thing I did was trash my school’s discipline plan. The administrators spent about $40,000 on this discipline “system,” and at first I embraced it willingly because I didn’t have yet have a system of my own.
First semester I taught two honors 9th classes and one general. My general class was not “inclusion,” but, within the first ten minutes of my first class with them, I realized they were very special. I printed out my roster and started showing other teachers. One by one, every single teacher who looked at my roster sighed, gasped, or started uttering quiet expletives. They confirmed my worst fears; my class was “packed.” Essentially, the counselors and administrators decided that instead of spreading the behavior problems around, they will put all the worst offenders into the same classroom.
There are some positives to that arrangement. For one, case workers and social workers can easily access their workload and have to keep up with fewer teachers. On the other hand, what the hell were they thinking putting all those kids into a room with a second-year teacher with no forewarning? I lasted three days before I took matters into my own hands.
I diligently followed the discipline plan, making marks each time a student broke the rules. Here’s where I got really dumb—once a student gets three Level 1 offenses, the next offense is a Level 2 and so on until the student reaches Level 5. Did I mention I can’t add? That I am an English teacher with only exactly one-half of a working , competent brain? That the working part of my brain is very, very easily distracted? I spent the entire period running around the classroom, marking on the stupid graph paper like a maniac, and trying to figure out when I could write up those crazy kids.
They threw paper, messed with the rad autistic boy-who-is-child-of-other-HS-teacher, touched each other inappropriately, mouthed off, fought, threatened me, and refused to work. That was in just three days. After struggling with my 4th period class the year before, I knew how to see a disaster coming. I decided that if the school is required to provide a special ed teacher if you have more than five or six special ed students in one class, then I was certainly due some other body to help me. I didn’t know where that body was gonna come from, but I knew I couldn’t do it alone.
The administrators gave me the nod and smile routine, but the head of the special ed department heard about my class and donated an inclusion teacher to my class. Apparently he wasn’t too needed in the PE class he was assigned to, so I lucked out.
And then we had a miracle.
We trashed the discipline plan, were on top of them every moment, used academic contracts with enforced after-school tutoring with in-school suspension as a consequence if they didn’t show up, and, well, just didn’t give up on them. I couldn’t do it alone, but together the special ed teacher and I totally rocked their worlds. We literally changed those kids.
The next semester I had many of the same kids in my general classes, and each of them were model students in those classes. Kids that didn’t have me 1st semester were all over the place, and my ex-con, regular parole officer meeting, cop-has-to-go-wake-up-every-morning, ghetto boys and girls sat quietly at their desks working hard for that well-earned B or high C.
We felt good about it together.
I’ll admit it. I really enjoy my honors classes. But that class was by far my best achievement. For real.
With that said, I am doing something a good bit different next year. But don't worry, I'm still gonna be teaching.
to be continued…