Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Two Face

The past two days have been unusually challenging for me.

The majority of my school's students have been rude, disruptive and careless. I'm really feeling stretched right now given all the other shit going on.

Here's the thing: I have all my lessons up online. I e-mail my students with reminders, send them review packets, make myself available by cell, text and e-mail. I even pack myself a sandwich everyday because kids feel my classroom is a "safe space" during lunch and use the classroom to socialize, study or just do homework. I can't say no to that... I also keep a spreadsheet which I update daily with all my students' grades to track trends in performance. I spend hours on each lesson and presentation to make sure it's clear for visual and auditory learners. I throw in real-life examples for those who need to be able to relate in order to understand.

So why the fuck isn't everyone acing this shit???

If I'm doing everything I can to ensure my students can meet me halfway on this so-called "bridge of knowledge," then the rest is all up to the student. Especially if they applied into this transfer high school, they should know better. So if that is indeed the case, then am I allowed to be a complete dick to those who aren't pulling their weight and making really shitty excuses? Can I disconnect myself from those who don't want to help themselves and focus on the group of kids who do? I really, really wanted to today.

My 1st period has been getting emptier and emptier over time: Attendance continues to be an issue, even though it's Personal Wealth Management. A course I designed to teach high school students the basics about economics, personal banking, credit cards, investments and taxes. This is real world stuff that most people don't learn until they're on their own and usually by making a lot of mistakes. Sound cool? You can't just get into this class - I make potential students fill out an application. I only want the students who actually care to learn money management as I don't want to deal with nonsense while teaching something I really enjoy. Over time however, my class roster of 20 has shrunk to 4-5 regulars, and 3-4 maybes. The rest pop in and out once a week or so, usually 30-40 minutes late. The period is 54 minutes long! Upon coming late, these hard workers usually ask questions such as the following:
"Yo Mista, what am I missing?.. When's the test?"
Check your e-mail asshole. I know you have internet, you just added me on Facebook last night.

Moving on: My 2nd period Algebra class, which is usually my brightest, is starting to annoy me. Kiddos are talking over me, putting their head down to nap, and doing really stupid shit like trying to cut school an hour before they normally would've gotten out anyway (And only to get caught - this makes me laugh and feel sad at the same time). I'm not sure what to do with this group... I went off on them a little today and that forced them to do their work, but only temporarily. More and more, I'm starting to realize why some of these kids ended up in a transfer high school in the first place - they really lack discipline. Next year, the damn student recruiting better be more selective. I didn't sign up to teach at a school for emotionally disturbed students (there really are other places for kids with special needs like this). This isn't one of them - you need to be slightly self-motivated.

My 3rd period has literally been coming to class stoned. No seriously, yesterday it smelled like someone was actually growing weed in my classroom (note: I'm still looking for it, I know it's here somewhere). I felt stoned watching them act stoned as we tried to wrap our heads around factoring quadratics. Then this gem of a question:
"Yo Mista, I hear like, when you like, smoke weed and shit, you do like, better on tests and shit. Is that true? And uh...when's the test again?"
I'm worried about this bunch...

7th period is just a fucking mess. I am at the point where I could give two shits about any one of them (except a select few, who have to bear with me around the jackasses). To be fair, there are some in this class (3 to be exact) that have changed (somewhat) and take each lesson seriously. It's just hard to concentrate when you have boneheads arguing about how they really aren't gay. Every other word I hear in this class is "pause" (FYI: "Pause" follows a statement that is taken out of context, usually in reference to something that sounds "homosexual"). I nearly gave up on them yesterday. And today, I did. I just handed them their assessment after 20 minutes of anarchy and surprise, surprise: Most failed. This is the same group who ask to borrow a sheet of paper to take notes, take really shitty notes, then as they walk out of my classroom, crumple up their notes and try to make a basket in the garbage bin. Unbelievable...

I should have expected things to get sour quick - especially at a first year school. A part of me wants to detach myself from those who don't really want to be here. I think subconsciously I already have. I really want to say, "Listen you spoiled brat, there are kids in other parts of the world who rob bookstores just to read and learn to get the fuck out of the situation they're in. They ditch school to visit tutors who can teach them better because their school and teachers are terrible. And yet, you still whine even when we make all of our lessons available online, give up our lunch periods and stay after school for you?"

I can't count the number of times they tell me they're going to come during lunch or after school when I'm doing my walk around while they take an assessment.
"Yo Mista, Imma come up for lunch, yeah? I really don't get this."
"Sure you can come - you know I'll be here," I say.
What am I really thinking though? Probably this: "No, actually, you may not come. You may come up with a better way to prevent me from noticing that you weren't doing shit during the independent work time."

I feel so two-faced today. My job is to convince students they can all succeed and to help them get there. I see the potential; I want to help channel this into a positive future. But on days like this, I wonder if everyone is capable of change. I'm not so sure anymore. There are circumstances where victims will always remain victims. I've seen enough Law & Order: SVU to be empathetic. But this empathy leads me to question whether some of my kids will ever change. Has the system permanently scarred them?

And what about me? How many more days can I keep pouring energy into those who don't want it?

On Wall Street, I never felt this emotionally drained and physically exhausted. But for some reason, I still look forward to waking up at the butt crack of dawn tomorrow...


Anonymous said...

Yo Mista!

I can only offer a hint of hope, but that is certainly more than what is our alloted amount on any other given day.
I struggle too with much of what you said, and it is baffling how little of a damn these kids can give. But one of my failings as a new teacher, namely my inability to decide what to do and how and when to do it, has proven somewhat helpful. As I am trying different things I end up stumbling upon something that works. Along the way I keep addressing their reality: bad grades and test scores = no college; no college = you may as well drop out now and take your chances of being part of the 20% who do not go to jail. Along those lines and some other side streets I keep trying to reveal to them the reality of the difficulties they are facing and will continue to face unless they decide to change. As I do this I keep trying ne techniques, new ways of teaching, settingup the class... even chair arrangements!
If children are mostly products of their environment, which they are, and if we are not so fortuante as to have the 1.5 percent who in spite of all adversity manage to surpass their reality, then we must appreciate their innability to fullfil so quickly and readily our desires for their self-realization. I too come apart at the seams when I encounter ignorance and poor choices, especially from those who do not come from poor or uneducated families, but when the moment passes and I allow myself to reflect I always manage to remember just how strongly we are effected, particularly as youngsters, by the world around us, and that no teacher, no matter how good, can change that in the course of months... but that does not mean that we can't change it at all!

keep it up man, they are lucky to have someone who cares this much!


Mr. and Miss When you are really a teacher, you don't have a last name. said...

The changes you make are not going to be visible, or "rewarding" as those assholes always say when you tell them your profession. ("A teacher? In a city school? Are they big? Are there metal detectors? Wow! You are BRAVE Must be...Rewarding!")

But they happen so frequently like blinks of an eye, there are so many that you will never even be made aware of, and even when you ARE made aware of them, which you will be-(two years down the road, "Mista, you changed me, you was the first teacher that ever made me understand I was good at math, now I have a full scholarship to university of Greatness and am about to take over the world...")-even then, it wont be Phil Collins' You'll Be In My Heart playing in the background of your world as you lay smiling in your bed sipping tea because you've reached that place of Good Person. Your mortgage will still be late, your hands covered in marker, your daytime minutes gone from phone calls home, and your cabinets full of bread crumbs peanut butter and a very old egg-drop soup in the fridge.

Because in reality, you are a catalyst of change, not an observer of it.

The fact is, you do it because you see it as a challenge worth taking on. You see that there is more for them than this and you wake up every morning-even though you promised yourself the night before that you were DEFINiTELY going to call out sick because FUCK this shit you have some bad tv to watch- and you get to work early because this is what you do and this is the gift you were given.
Even though your knowledge is one island and those students are across a body of water, an elaborate archipelago because they themselves are each
islands of their own, you have been blessed with the gift of understanding your capability in becoming the bridge in whatever shape/form it may take. This blessing is a burden, but the vision is there. It's something you see- and unless you begin to develop nearsightedness of the soul- the vision ain't going NOWHERE. So you won't ever settle for what they try to convince you is the "best" of their "worst" because they are capable of much more, they have feet and they will walk across that bridge and the day you stop expecting them to, is the day they may actually have taken the first step.

So keep doing what you are doing. By that I mean getting up every morning, getting frustrated and getting better, getting pissed, enjoying second-hand high from that marijawanna, and WRITING ABOUT IT. Chronicling this journey that is giving you a better education than any ivy league Dr. Dr. Dr. Professor man education could provide you with. And keep laughing. Laugh with them, because they are really cool and really funny. Enjoy them, in between daydreams of corporally punishing them with the yardstick.
Most of all, Keep writing. Please?

Maera said...

How about you walk into class one day and ask them what they want, how they want to learn, if they want to learn, what they think of your efforts and assignments, if they can come up with some real life examples from their own lives, etc?

How about spending a few minutes at the beginning of every class to find out what is going on in their lives and using those stories to segue into the lesson?

And how about just being completely honest with them? Is a teacher's job really to "convince students they can all succeed and to help them get there?" What is their definition of success and is their definition different from your definition? If so, maybe that's why they're not completely following you. What do they think is a teacher's role?

According to this post, you're doing a lot to push them to do the assignments, to learn the material, to pass tests, but are you doing enough to learn how to really teach/reach them?

Mr. and Miss When you are really a teacher, you don't have a last name. said...

I say you invite Maera in as a guest to do her thing.

Maera said...

Great idea.

Forgot to add: please see Exhibit A: "Freedom Writers."


Anonymous said...

Did it ever occur to you some kids are just stupid?

nh said...


i second what Mr. and Mrs. said! as much as i hate to say these things, what you are saying is through a super super privaleged perspective. the LAST thing these kids need is what you are suggesting. they have gotten by (VERY poorly) as far as they are because of bad training and often a lack of direction from their teachers. they need structure. not to say it cant be fun and engaging. but structure, direction, and focus. thats key.

ultimately i think that YM is trying to say is that despite trying all sorts of tactics, he cannot get them to focus or work hard. partly because of years of mis-training, partly because of lack of understanding of what they can get through graduating high school and college, and partly (this is the big one) because of intense teenage hormones. its not easy to break years and years worth of terrible learning habits, esp when their focus is on if shes going to pick “yes,” “no” or “maybe” to their note.

take him up on his offer. go in and do what you are suggesting, and see the chaos that insues. or read "Teacher Man" by Frank McCourt and see how he dealt with this same issue. The biggest mistake we can make is to assume kids are stupid enough to fall for the touchy feely stuff. they will eat you up. they'll talk about anything AT ALL to get out of working and thats a fail on your role as a teacher at this stage. you need to remember - the only way to break the cycle for these kids is through college, and in a transfer high-school you need to get down to business pretty immediately. for many, this is pretty much their last chance.

asilaykilling said...

Bro i think what you are doing about all the extra time to take care of them and provide them with all the stuff they need to make the most out of your class is great, it really upsets me that most of these kids arent making good use of this
at leyden most of my teachers dont even accept late work and if they do they take off alot of credit and most are all busy after school and refuse to spend time at lunch with you. I think you should become alot more strict with these kids, they may not enjoy it but it will set them straight. Threaten to call home or to privately conference with their parents. It's what Leyden teachers do all the time.

Mr. and Miss When you are really a teacher, you don't have a last name. said...

maera, what is your profession?

Anonymous said...

Well, I cant offer any advice.

Mostly because I am student of yours.

Um...I didn't even know you felt like this at all. It was the shock of a lifetime to see that teachers actually have opinions about there students!

I do applaud you, however. Because everything I have read only proves to me even further that you actually care.

How many teachers can genuinely say that? Not any of the ones I have had, that's for sure.

I can only imagine, the frustration, perhaps all your efforts seem futile because alot of the kids are not taking it serious. And I dont exclude myself from that list.

In fact I cant really say anything. I dont have that right. But I assure you that our lack of effort has nothing to do with your teaching skills.

Actually mister...you are a really great teacher.

And the favorite of many (I might add)

Every one in that school never understood math until you thought it to them. And I don't think you understand the magnitude of relief that has had on some of

To be able to understand math this year, like I cant even describe it. I find myself using formulas to calculate how much money Im gonna need to go to a certain country! I calculate interest rates for my mom. I sound like a little genius in my house.

Which is beyond incredible, because last year I did not show up to my algebra class. Literally.

Okay to be honest, when I was reading your blog, I kind of got scared. I was thinking

"OMG hes gonna stop caring and hes gonna turn into all the other teachers. And its all our fault!!"

The worst thing that would happen is for you to stop caring out of disappointment. Because even when you are not realizing it, alot of students are going to be so greatful. Alot of students are ALREADY greatful.


Focus on those who are already willing to learn, and always be open to those who dont know it yet.

Yo Mista! said...

Thanks for your comments!

@ Maera: See comment above from Anonymous :)

@ AsILayKilling: Thanks for the tips, I'll what I can do.

@ Anonymous #2: Thank you! Don't worry, I won't change (unless it's for the better - for you guys).

You do have to understand though, that my life can be frustrating because you are all my responsibility, and I take teaching very seriously (because I care).

When one of you doesn't show up to school, gives up on themselves, etc: I cannot help but get frustrated. As a teacher, I am and should obviously be concerned. As a person who has grown up under some of the same circumstances as my students, I am disappointed. I think to myself, "If I could do it, and I had no one, then these kids could definitely do it." So come to school everyday. Learn stuff you think is not important (even if it's just for the sake of getting out to do something you really want to do). Work your butt off and please, aim high. More importantly, be a leader: When you come everyday and cancel plans to do your homework, essays, etc. it sends a message to everyone else: I grew up, isn't time you did?

Anonymous said...

I came across your blog entirely randomly, and as fellow TFA 1st year in Chicago, I can say what you've described is a very very very accurate description of what I go through as well. Even down to the description of your 7th period.

Keep at it brother

Mista said...

Thanks dude. You too.

Maera said...

It seems the other readers misread the tone of my first post. I wasn't saying to have a Mr. Rogers session in class discussing feelings and choices. I was saying something to try is to pose straightforward questions to your students: Why are you here, kid, if you don't want to learn? What's going on in your life that you can't do the work?

Again, another thing to try is to be completely straightforward with them: Yes, you can come to the lunch session, but do you not understand the material because you haven't looked at the material or because you really don't get it?

Anyway, we all know inner-city high school kids deal with a lot of jaded teachers and administrators who have gone through so many years of what you're going through that they lose hope. They turn into number-hungry droids who want nothing more than to fulfill quotas and the educational system becomes yet another institution that has failed them. This is why college doesn't make sense to them: why go through another four years of a system that has failed them for the past 14 or 15 years?

The questions I posed dealt with the non-droid, human side of teaching - real, sometimes brutally frank, conversation.

In any case, the comment above by your student shows that you obviously are doing the right thing and have become an inspiration to the ones you have reached. Keep up the good work! I'm really glad to read you enjoy it so much, because at the break of dawn, that's what it's all about.

P.S. Thanks for sharing these tales! They're quite a good read.

Mr. and Miss When you are really a teacher, you don't have a last name. said...

I understand now. Maera is a motivational speaker.

Mista said...

@ Maera:

Thanks again for your comment.

As a brand new transfer high school (with a staff so dedicated, it's unreal) we pose these questions almost everyday (one-on-one, phone calls home, conferences, etc). It's second nature. Our students need to develop a relationship with us first, before they can trust us with learning.

The questions you posed in your comments (which may seem innovative depending on where you went to HS), are quite the norm at an inner-city transfer high school. We are very well aware of the situations these students have been in and/or are going through. Most of us have been there. We all have reminders up which translate to "Remember why you're here" in some way, shape or form.

Unfortunately, there is a disconnect between "wanting to change" and actually changing. Most students do not know the sheer amount of effort that it takes.

Also, our student population have issues that are not restricted to just lack of motivation. They have deep-seated emotional problems as well as problems with authority. These (and more) issues combine together to form a very special need, which ultimately can't be solved by simply asking them, "Why are you here?" everyday. It's a tough crowd.

Again, thanks for your encouragement, and thanks for your continued readership!

Mr. and Miss When you are really a teacher, you don't have a last name. said...

Yo, Mista. Well said.

Keeping it One Hundred, for real.

whattaynoob said...

Yo Mista!

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Anonymous said...

As a young teacher in a low income Chicago area school, let me just say I face a lot of what you do. It is the most exhausting job there is, and unfortunately one of the most under-appreciated (by students and the general public); this fact is indisputable in the face of the education financial crisis our country is facing. Where are our priorities America?? But I digress...

I just chuckled when you said you didn't sign up to teach emotionally disturbed students. News flash; almost all of the students in schools like ours are emotionally disturbed. I don't know how much you get into their lives and background...but once you do...wow....

It's amazing these some of these kids are still alive. The things they go through shock, awe, and amaze me. Things that most people would not be able to handle, hence why they flip out and decide to shit on the only people that care about them (us).

It sucks, but we just have to keep chugging away at it; once you make those breakthroughs it's amazing. Like tears-in-your-eyes-a-moment-you'll-never-forget amazing :)