Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Sad Truth

My students are getting screwed. And it's sad.

Throughout my short time with Teach for America, I have began to understand a little thing called the achievement gap. It states that there is a definite gap between the generally white, middle- and upper-class students and their peers who are generally black or hispanic and live in lower-income areas. They do attach a racial sticker to it.

In my class, however, it has nothing to do with race, it has to do with money. VGM is white and cannot spell "teacher"; PW is black and doesn't understand what a noun is; and BF is Mexican and cannot physically write down the exact words that are coming out of her mouth when writing an essay. Yet all of them are poor and go to a poor school in a poor area.

I bring this up because today in church, a six-year-old brought up the heartbreaking reality that life sucks for my kids. We were waiting to begin, so I asked him how his week went and what he learned in school. He said that science was fun, but it's not the kind of science that interests him; he prefers the pre-historic era (and yes, a six-year-old said that exact phrase). He then proceeded to tell me about his favorite sea monsters using the actual scientific names of the animals, names I had never heard.

An excerpt of our conversation:

Me: "Did they ever come on land to fight the T-Rex?"

CS: "No, they can't come onto land. The only species of sea monster that can come on land is the dacheosaur."

Me: "Oh, wow, I didn't know that. Where did you learn that?"

CS: "I read it in a book this week. I can read better than a 10th grader, my dad said so. He teaches 10th grade and he says that I can read better than most of them."

My immediate thought was that his dad was just giving him confidence and sugaring him up. I then realized that three of my 8th graders (13-14 years old) read on a kindergarten level.

It's pretty f-ed up that this kid, a six-year-old, is reading 300-page books and enjoying it and understanding it while my students struggle through a simple 5-page short story. It's not a racial issue, it's a money issue. It's also a culture issue, but that discussion would take years to understand and properly communicate. In any way, though, these kids are still getting screwed and an entire society needs to change in order to effect the type of change that these kids need in order to be something in life.

It just sucks.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Just a little leverage...

The 7th grade Boys Honors class is wreaking havoc on all those who enter the halls of our school...or at least their three teachers. Two have been pushed past their limits and the other has that crazy look in her eye that she might just come in swingin' one day.

So I got to thinking, what could I do to help them out. I offered my room as a refuge from the typhoon. I offered to come sit in on the room and scare the boys into behaving. But then I realized that five of the boys, three of them among the worst little demons, want to be on the soccer team that I coach. Voila. Leverage.

We scrimmage every Friday to get ready for tryouts in February, so yesterday I had Ms. H come out and point out the spawns of Beelzebub. The conversation went something like this:

Me: You guys know why you're standing here and nobody else is?

M: No.

Ms. H: It's because you can't behave in my class and now you have to pay for it.

Me: So, you are going to go to the field and you are going to watch the rest of the boys have fun.

L: Can't I just go home then?

Me: No, you told your parents that you were going to be playing soccer until 4. I wouldn't want you to be a liar in addition to a terror in the classroom.

M: Why can't I play?

Me: What did I tell you at the beginning of the year? What are the requirements for this team?

M: To have a 75% in every class.

Me: And?

M: Have our teachers say we're the best behaved in class.

Me: Exactly. So, I have to go to my room for a bit, but when I come down, all three of you better be sitting on those bleachers if you want to have a frozen chance in hell of making the team. Is that clear?

M, L, A: Yes, sir.

Well, an hour passed, I went downstairs and only M was there. How far the two have fallen. Kaboom. He shouldn't act up in class again.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Car wrecks, f-words and a lil' bit of scrutiny

This morning started lousy.

1. I had to shave. I hate shaving. I really hate shaving.

2. I was running late and that stresses me out.

3. And then, I got soaking wet. I was getting on the freeway onramp when I saw two smoking cars rolling to a stop, one in the shoulder and the other on the hill next to the freeway. Of course, nobody stops but instead do EVERYTHING possible to avoid the cars and get on the freeway. I pull over and see a young guy helping a woman into his car, she was in obvious shock.

The kid totally wanted to be a superhero.

He told me he was a nurse.

Neat. I don't care.

The other guy who was actually involved in the accident called 9-11, requested an ambulance and came over to help. Nurseboy, three minutes after the fact, decides he's going to call 9-11, ignoring all our claims that we had already, in fact, called the police. He tells the operator her pulse and heart rate.

Neat. He doesn't care.

Then it began to rain. The only day I forget a jacket, I am on the side of the freeway and it is raining.

Once I got to school, I had to rush to make copies, dry off and get my room ready for the day. Everything's going great until we get ready to go to lunch.

I line my kids up and then hear some kind of rumble down the hall and I see a young man, about 5'11 coming right at me. He blows past another teacher and comes straight my way. I tell him to stop, to which he responds, "Get the f*** out of my way. This is bulls***, get out my f***in' way."

I finally, after him running into me multiple times, wrap my arms around him and drag him into the stairwell. He immediately calms down, apologizes and tells me the story. Of course it was a terrible story, he had no reason to react in such a way, but at least he was cordial about it.

And then the executive director of Teach for America came into my classroom and observed me. Wonderful.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Why wait until after school?

Well, for the third time I called a parent DURING class to get the attention of the student and correct the behavior immediately, and might I say, the third time is definitely the charm.

As we were walking back from lunch, the students are supposed to be silent in the hall. In the stairwell, I hear somebody make a wookiee sound that would impress even Chewbacca himself. I stop the whole class, fight myself to not laugh, then ask who did it. Nobody responds. The class begins to all speak at once. Long story short: nobody fessed up, so the whole class suffered. After a very effective lecture, I send them up the stairs. Then, I hear someone shout. I look back over the balcony of the stairs and 12 kids are pointing at one boy whom I will call "C".

I call him up to the top of the stairs, tell him to stand right next to me, and he responds in a smart alec way. Out comes my phone and I call his dad. The conversation is as follows:

Me: Hi, Mr. H, this is Mr. Lowe, C's English teacher. We're standing in the stairwell and the rest of your son's class is silent, but he decided it was a good idea to shout something out when I told him repeatedly to be silent. I just thought you should know.

Mr. H: Would you like me to talk to him?

Me: That would be nice.

I then hand C the phone and he has a conversation with his father in front of every single student in the class. He hands the phone back.

Me: Yes?

Mr. H: He should be just fine now. I don't know what's gotten into him, another teacher called earlier this week. I don't know if it's his hair or what, but he's gonna get a whoopin' tonight...and then he'll get a haircut. I sure wish y'all could whoop them still, put them right in shape. But you don't worry, Mr. Lowe, he'll get his butt whooped and then he'll get his hair cut. Thank you for calling.

Me: No, thank you, sir. Have a nice day.

So, the things I learned today:
1. Either my students are lying or there are wookiees roaming our halls.
2. The length of one's hair is directly proportionate to their misbehavior.
3. A quick call to a parent DURING class does wonders.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

How is that relevant?

Yesterday, we were going over persuasive devices (bandwagon, testimonial, etc.) and I tried to give them a story about snob appeal that would make sense to them because the Gucci and BMW references were totally over their heads. Suffice it to say, they got off track pretty easily. Here's how it went down:

Me: For example, I drive a Toyota, which is a great car, but it wasn't very expensive. It's definitely not a Mercedes, though. An example of snob appeal would be Mercedes telling me in a commercial that unless I drive a Mercedes, I'm not cool like those who do.

QT: Do you watch TV?

Me: Yes, why?

QT: Have you ever seen that one commercial?

Me: Which commercial?

QT: You know, the one where they say "Show me the Carfax"?

Me: Q, is this relevant at all?

She gives me a completely confused look as though my question was the dumbest thing she had heard all day.

QT: Of course. So you know when that fox shows up?

Me: Yes...

QT: I liked that part, it's funny.

...and there went three minutes of my class...gone...forever...

I should give points for creativity

My students know that they are not allowed to pass notes in my class. I take them, I read them after class and, if it happens often enough, I will read them in front of the entire class. Two students, knowing I would see, take and read their note, decided to kiss up to me in a very creative way. The note is verbatim:

DS: Hey gurl! Mr. Lowe stress'd!

HP: hey. and yeah he is!

DS: ima check on hym, he maah fav. teacher and I want em 2 b happi!

HP: Yea he is cool tho, it's a relief cumn 2 him at the end of the day every day!

DS: he da best! tha best teacher I eva had!

Well played, ladies, very well played. It kinda worked.

Friday, October 8, 2010

A free flow of information...

I remember middle school very well. I remember the awkward moments. I remember not knowing who I was or who my friends were. I remember it being, well, awkward. Yet in all my awkwardness, I never shared many of my feelings because I didn't know that there was any need to share them. And if I were to share them, I sure as hell wouldn't share them with a teacher, especially intimate or personal feelings. Prior to teaching, I thought everyone felt the same way as I did.

And then I met my students.

My school is run like a well-oiled machine; the students are very aware of the rules and, for the most part, respect them, and our test scores show it. In the hallway, students are not permitted to talk and they must walk in a straight line together to their destination. One day, two of my girls kept giggling and talking - mind you, these girls NEVER make a sound, so it threw me off a bit. Finally, after a third warning, I pulled one of the girls out of the line and made her stand next to me as we walked. The other girl raised her hand and said she needed to speak with me when we got to the cafeteria. I pulled her aside and the following occurred:

Me: "Scarlet (name has been changed), what's up?"

Scarlet: "Mr. Lowe, I really didn't mean to talk in the hall, but it is so cold in your classroom that it is making my nipples hard. The other kids are laughing at me because of it. What do I do?"

Immediately, my thought is - and this technique has been fully proven by millions upon millions of people - to say, "Well, just rub them and they'll soften up." However, I saw the pending lawsuits and loss of job and income from a mile away, so I refrained and came up with another idea.

Me: "Well, what if you just crossed your arms and leaned back a little bit to make it look like you just don't care? Kinda like this. You think that would work?"

Scarlet: "Yeah! Okay, Mr. Lowe, I'm gonna do that. Thanks for the help."

And, thus, my first cannonball into male teacher-female student relations.

And thus it begins...

My name is Trent Lowe and I am a teacher. This blog will serve as an observation deck of sorts into the public school system in Memphis, Tennessee. I teach 8th grade English Language Arts, mainly girls - 53 total - with a valiant bunch of boys - only 12 in all. There are funny times and there are sad times. There are times when my girls are laughing so hard I have to close my door and there are times when they are crying so much that I have to stop class to have a heart-to-heart talk.

There have been times when I've wanted to just throw in the towel and pursue other ambitions, but then there is one moment that puts it all into perspective and I realize how much I love these kids and how much I want to help them help themselves.

So, welcome to Mr. Lowe's classroom.