The principal of a central-east middle school where I substitute taught Monday explained to the class that good folks like me who would rather share time teaching three days a month instead of selling French fries 26 days a month for the same hourly wage equivalent are NOT substitute teachers. We are “guest teachers.” Her presence in my class Monday sustained my faith in “the system.”
Earlier in the morning as the halls resumed normal quiet mode after a tornado drill (I’m not kidding) I saw a mouse cross from one room, sashay across the hall into another room. I pointed it out to another teacher I was talking with. “Is that a Mouse?” I said. “Yes,” she said. They they eat the rattlesnake eggs. Easier to work without the pesky snakes. Forget the mouse.
In the run of guest teaching I have savored after a loooooong stretch of doing hardly any over December, January and February, the good times have been frequent. A few weeks ago I read aloud to high school students who were too shy or contrary to read with me calling the shots. When I did, a student proclaimed “I want you to narrate my life!” And he volunteered to read next.
Monday, in the presence of the visiting principal, I understood that my expectations of middle school students are a lot lower than school administrators who possess the power to “lower the boom.” Two students were suspended for the rest of the week because of student misconduct, a/k/a demonstrating disrespect for the guest teacher. Students respect a higher standard when a teacher or administrator has the capacity to enforce it.
When the fine teacher — Mrs. M. (not her real name) — returned sooner than expected to her class, the subject changed from history to language arts, a seventh grade class who were a delightful upgrade from the earlier three hours of hot and cold running disarray. I had told her about Vachel Lindsay when I arrived, gave her my Vachel Pages card for my Vachel web site, and was invited (following my offer) to talk to the students about poetry. And I did. No one complained about delaying their planned reading for an impromptu poetry presentation. As she sat at her desk on the side and I talked from the front of the room, I could see they were “mine” as soon as I asked if anyone in class likes to read poetry.
Ten hands ent up. “Does anyone like to WRITE poetry?” Ten and a few more hands went up. I explained how, before I got into Vachel, I wanted to tell them how much fun it is not only to write poetry, but to memorize poetry as well. You can be tone deaf and be a great poetry reciter. You can amaze your parents and engage your friends as long as you remember NOT to share poetry the way you’ve seen poetry read from a piece of paper by typical grownups: with all the intonation and expression of a dead bluegill washed up on the sand at Lake Springfield. Pronouncing the words cleanly and pro-per-ly is not enough. Reciters/readers must do more than that. I demonstrated what I meant to smiles and nodding heads. Then I told them about Vachel, where his house is, why they should visit with their parents and get involved with poetry. Then I recited three Vachel poems: The Turtle, The Broncho That Would Not be Broken of Dancing, and Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight in Springfield, Illinois. Between poems recited I explained how those poems were inspired, told them they can be inspired any time any day by anything that touches them: a friend who slips in a mud puddle on the way home from school and wals the rest of the way wtih soggy pants, a terrirfic Thanksgiving dinner . . . anything. Finally I said I would be happy to come back and talk to them ore about poetry if they would buy me lunch in their cafeteria. Everyone smiled and applauded politely. I could not have been carried out of the room on a sedan chair by four brawny chair bearers and departed with any more profound sense of triumph and satisfaction than I did Monday about 11:40 am.
I have not had lunch in a school cafeteria since last October. I can’t afford it. No dollars for that. Home by noon, I had four pieces of bread and butter, a glass of iced tea and a cup of Swiss Miss mocha instant coffee for desert. Dinner was a little more tempting but not much. I’ll spare you.
Today I had a terrific day at a magnet middle school and for the first time, “team taught” (the term works for me) with another guest teacher, a terrific woman of the feminine persuasion I hope to tell you more about in the future. Here I will call her Miss L. (not her real name). I had arrived, been assigned to help out in the library, helping students prepare special projects about life in Rome, for three hours and then was directed to help a language arts teacher I will call Mrs. Q. (not her real name).
Students were reading aloud their just-typed book reports into computers. I escorted three- and four-student teams to a quiet, vacant “studio” where they recorded their typed up and printed reports. Before they recorded, I made sure they didn’t read their reports the way some adults read poetry, and actually encouraged a few students to re-record their reading. They didn’t mind. They were attentive, happy to learn, and most of them knew how to do it anyway. This was great fun, and I believe a few learned something.
Then the school principal came into the “studio” and said she wanted me to head to Room 125 at 12:30 “to co-teach.”
“Excellent,” I said, “I LOVE to teach coes.”
And so I did. Miss L. had had a hard time during the early part of the day. Administrators decided two guest teachers would be better than one, and I totally agreed. While Miss L. was attracting their attention, I could pick their pockets and steal their lunch money. Everybody’s happy. <— just kidding.
Students asked me why there were two teachers. I explained they were such an incredible class, they deserved one more than the usual ONE guest teacher, and during the hour, we would accomplish more than we would in a one-teacher class. For some NUTTY reason there was not a scrap of chalk on the blackboard tray and not a marker for no blank white slate for writing down our guest teacher names. This was odd, ill-conceived and a significant impediment to the process.
The experience, for an hour, was enjoyable for me because it allowed me to help focus the students on material assigned. Miss L. had wisely separated problem students early into the hour. I explained to the students Miss L. was the brains, and I was the muscle. Things proceeded fortissimo but moderato for the entire hour.. There was more general disarray to the students than I would have liked to see, but there was no more than I had witnessed in Mrs. Q’s language arts class.. An assistant principal told me all the teachers are are dealing with students more excited by having “spring break” n e x t . . . . . . . w e e k . . . . . than they are about learning. They think they can coast this week. My presence augmenting Miss L’s probably didn’t make things much queter, but I truly believe that because I was there, no classroom furniture was broken beyond repair.
They like me at Jefferson Davis Magnet School (not its real name). The office director said so. She appreciates my willingness to be flexible and do darn near anything but clean the shower rooms next to the gymn. There is a certain joy of life with middle school students. They can be pushy sometimes, but their smiles come easily. There are MAJOR CULTURAL ISSUES which should be addressed at middle school, which are not being addressed, and which will not be shared here at Honey & Quinine. Most of the students, from every neighborhood in this city, want to learn. Wanting to learn is the best gift any student can give a teacher, and that is a true fact.
Live long . . . . . . . and proper.
Read Full Post »