Tag Archives: teaching

A Day at an Inner City Public School

15 May

Last Friday I found myself standing in the stall of the faculty bathroom of a local public school, wondering what would happen if I just didn’t go back to class to teach.

Happy Lollipop Tuesday y’all.

If you’re new ’round these parts and you don’t know that today is a semi-holiday (it’s okay, I didn’t get you anything either), mosey on  up to the “What’s Lollipop Tuesday?” tab at the top of the page.  You’ll hear all about my adventures in sucking at new things, and all about why I couldn’t just stay in the bathroom stall and wash myself in my own tears.

Now, back to my personal hell.

For this installment of Lollipop Tuesday, I signed up to be a volunteer teacher at a local school.  It’s a program that was offered through my workplace, where instead of going to the office for a day I head out to a school and teach a pre-set curriculum from a kit that is provided to me.  

All my colleagues chose to teach kindergarten.  I figured the older, the better the slot on my resume looked.  So I dove right in to the the highest grade available: 8th.

I don’t know why I did that.  That was stupid.  Because when I was knee deep in immigration in the 1800s and the California gold rush, my colleagues were across the hall drawing farm animals.  And I wanted so badly to be drawing pigs instead of talking about Abe Lincoln’s plans to get Americans to settle in the West.

As it turned out, farm animal art wasn’t in my kit.  Instead there were 6 lessons I was expected to cover throughout the course of the day.  Each was a combination of a lecture and an activity.  Except the lecture portion wasn’t an outline.  It was a summary of to-dos.  It said things like “Explain to them that the Gold Rush was…” and “Be sure to mention that….”  The margins were full of little bullet points to include if we could work them in and at the end were a bunch of additional activities.   The course book was a hot mess and if I could get my hands on the person who laid it out, I would have to resist doing very violent, unChristianly things to them.

After getting a few bullet points from the school coordinator, I went to meet my 8th grade class only to find that the first thirty minutes of the day are a mandatory reading period.   Except no one was reading.  I took a look around to find three boys playing  a game on the class computers, one girl bouncing a basketball at the front of the room, and two kids in the back on the cell phones beside the teacher, who was also on her cell phone. I started to morph into a very angry taxpayer when I was distracted by one of the boys rapping (which was the closest thing I’d seen to reading thus far given that it at least involved words).  

I started to wonder how I was going to get through the day if it was all going to look like the first half of Sister Act.  I tried not to panic and walked to the teacher’s lounge to make some copies and sit in the bathroom stall, giving myself a pep talk. I reminded myself that my colleague came to work hungover today.  I saw the yellow skin and her right arm cradling an electric blue Gatorade.  If she can teach kindergarten when she feels like a hell demon has possessed her insides, I can Whoopie Goldberg these 8th graders like a champ.

I went back to the class to hear the bell ring and watch them all leave.  Apparently, I was to follow them from class to class, but I didn’t have a schedule of where they were headed or how long I had with them in each room.  I tried to get a little context from the person who facilitated Rapper’s Delight Hour and she reluctantly told me the next location.  I packed up all the things I had spent the remedial period setting up, and hoped the next classroom had a bit more structure.

When I arrived, the teacher didn’t acknowledge me.  I stood at the front of the class holding my kit, trying to assess how I would hang my visuals, where I would put  my activity book, and how I would arrange the students most effectively.  He cleaned up after their remedial period, which actually seemed to involve use of their cerebrums.  When he was finished, he told the students to pay attention to me and handed over the floor.  Boom: go time.

I introduced myself and got down to business.  I put the key words on the board, breezed through a Jackie-style mini lecture on immigration on the 1800s and actually surprised myself with how well I was handling it all.  By the time the activity portion rolled around, I acquired what I referred to as the “Sleeper Table”, a table full of kids who pulled their heads inside their hoodies like turtles and hid from the knowledge I was bestowing upon them.  The teacher noticed and ignored them so I chalked it up to a regularity and decided to be thankful that they were all at least gathered in the same area of the room.

I had just finally summed up the Homestead Act and put them in a few scenarios to see how they would handle the decision to move out west when the bell rang.  It was mandatory art period – I had 40 minutes to myself.  I was also informed by the teacher of a career fair that was to take place at the end of the day, knocking a total of two more sessions off my lesson plan.  I cut the ‘transportation of the 1800s’ off the list.  I figured it was kind of common sense anyway.

That was, until after the mandatory art period when all the kids returned (I had packed up all my things and moved to a different room again).  When I was introducing the section on human, capital, and natural resources, one of the students asked if there were cars in the 1800s.  I used it as a teaching opportunity and threw in some of the pointers from the transportation lesson.  I asked them all to shout out what they thought were forms of transportation in the 1800s.  One student eagerly shouted “a windmill!!”

He was very disappointed when I told him you can’t ride a windmill.  In retrospect, I suppose that was closeminded of me.  You can certainly ride one; it just won’t get you very far.  I wrapped up my combination of transporation/business resources session and was glad I could fit them in together, else that poor boy would have gone into high school thinking he could hop on a windmill and ride it into the western sun.

I was changing lives.

By the final session, it was clear who my winners and losers were.  I had a very engaged section of kids on my left, a sleeper section on my right, and a girl right in the middle who flatly refused to do anything at all.  She had a posse.  And since that reminded me of the posses from my high school experience, just looking at her pissed me off.  At one point, she threw her pencil on the ground and told me to pick it up for her.

At the beginning of the day, I might have done it.  But by the end of the day, I told her she had two hands and that I’m sure she could manage it.  She copped an attitude and asked me if I was a mother.  I took it as a compliment.

By the final session, I was pretty exhausted.  Actually, I wanted to sprint out of there.  I spent my whole day guessing how much time I had left in my lessons because there was no schedule provided to me.  I didn’t know how many students would be in each class because though the bulk of the group remained the same, there were always a few faces added or subtracted and I had no idea where they came from or went to. I had packed up my things three different times and spread them out three different times, and had worked so hard to make the material interesting to a bunch of kids who would rather be on their phones or sleep than learn that I would have been just as happy to set myself on fire and run tearing out of the building.  I headed to what I thought was the last 15 minutes of the day and used the time to hand out the certificates, letters for parents, and complimentary DVDs.   But when the teacher handed them out to the class, they chucked the DVDs across the room like frisbees and instead of correcting the behavior the teacher decided to forgo handing them out.  She asked me if I had anything prepared for the final 35 minutes and I told her I was informed it was 15 and wanted to hand out the materials during that time.  She pushed me to wing it; I pushed her to shove it.  

I was really rather frustrated with the lack of information and I was so exhausted and over the day that I really just wanted to go have  a stiff drink.  Coincidentally, I found out later that around this time my hungover pig-drawing kindergarten colleague was depositing 32 ounces of regurgitated electric blue Gatorade into the faculty bathroom toilet.

Could have been worse, I suppose.

The whole experience really made me appreciate our teachers.  I  mean, I thought I appreciated them before but I didn’t truly have a concept until I stepped foot in the shoes of an inner-city school teacher who has to fit in several lessons in the course of a day despite system-wide mandatory periods designated for other things .  And all of it in an environment where not all teachers are still fighting the good fight.  Some are content to let kids rap and play basketball and sit on their cell phones when they should be learning – and there are teachers who have to try to maintain their attention in spite of that and get them to zero in on things as boring as the Gold Rush, The Homestead Act, and Immigration in the 1800s.  

In that environment, I might come in hungover as well.

So here’s to our underpaid, unrecognized, and overtired teachers.  If I were in your shoes on a regular basis, I’d probably be tossing up Gatorade in the faculty bathrooms.

Next time, I’ll take the farm animals. 

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