Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Staying Edgy

Getting to work early one morning, I spied a "Soccer" mask sitting on a chair by my desk The same soccer mask pictured here, although that is not me in the picture. Another teacher had brought it in. Halloween was a couple weeks off. I decided to try on the mask. With no one else there, I put it on and walked around the office for a few minutes before it became uncomfortable. I took the mask off and put it away. About a minute later one of my students came in.

"What were you doing?" he asked, his voice accusing. He seemed uneasy.


"I saw you. I saw you walking around with a mask on. I could see you from outside. Why were you doing that?"

I shrugged.

"There was no one else here," he pressed. "You had no reason to put it on. Why? Why did you do that?"

I felt he was near becoming hysterical. I shrugged and went back to sorting through the papers on the desk. The moral here for teachers, is always keep your students off guard. Just a little. Especially in alternative education.

Sometimes, the edginess comes with a little assistance.

I remember in the middle of an American History lesson this one student declared that he was leaving school to go to McDonalds. I smiled and told him no, attempting to redirect class back to the lesson. He proclaimed that as he was eighteen, he could do what he wished. I again smiled and told him that if he left the school without permission, which would be a violation of the handbook rules, that he would not be allowed to come back for the rest of the day. He could wait for lunch and then go.

"I'm going to McDonalds," he said, standing. "And I'm coming back. And there's nothing you can do about it."

Ah, the sweet smell of oppositional defiant disorder.

He left and returned about thirty minutes later with a McDonalds in hand. Striding into my classroom, interrupting yet another lesson, he sat and started to enjoy his meal. The other students looked at me, eager to see my response.

I told the student to leave the school. He refused. I explained that he should leave voluntarily, before more dire consequences followed.

"What are you gonna do? Throw me out? Call the police? What are they gonna do? Throw me out over a McDonalds? What an ass."

The kids looked at me, then at him, then at me. He grinned triumphantly, sucking on a shake, eyes gleaming. I nodded and pulled out the cell phone. Within ten minutes the police chief walked into the building. This was my first time meeting him. I was almost embarassed. Almost.

"What's the problem?" he asked me.

"I went to McDonalds," the student said before I could speak. "I'm eighteen and I went to McDonalds."

"Did he tell you that if you went you couldn't come back?" asked the chief.


"So, you were told you weren't allowed to return to school?"

"I'm eighteen. He can't tell me what I can and cannot do."

The last we saw of him that day was through the classroom window. He was being helped into the rear of a police car. Hey, he was eighteen.

I remember hearing one kid whisper to another: "He called the cops over a McDonalds?"

Another student responded: "He told him he was gonna do it. The idiot should have left. He had a chance. He got what he deserved."

"But McDonalds?"



Lucas Pederson said...

Great stuff! Your writing is full of wit and a flow I have yet to grasp. I can see why you are a teacher.

SQT said...

Oh man. I remember those kinds of days. Of course I usually dealt with 5th graders, so I haven't had the "I'm 18" issue. But they sure like to see what they can get away with don't they.

I substituted for a couple years while getting my credential, and if that doesn't put a bullseye on your forehead nothing will. I survived, barely.

deslily said...

Today's teacher have to be a lot stronger then days of old. If that were me as teacher "today" I'd expect my tires to be slit when I went to go home.

Pretty sad.

mist1 said...

I have used that "I'm 18" line before. No one believes it anymore.

Anonymous said...

That part of teaching I don't miss. The teacher was being tested, and he passed.

Sheila said...

That mask is really really creepy.

molly said...

Hahaha, great story.

Yessss, Cheap Thrills is an AMAZING cover (and album), as is Disraeli Gears (one of my favorite albums of all time) The 60s produced so many great covers and music.

Christina Rundle said...

That is really funny. I could almost see it happening. I would not want to be a teacher out here, though I don't think I want to be a teacher period, but I can't give up going to Japan and teaching seems like the best choice to get there.

Charles Gramlich said...

The kid left you no choice. In college, unfortunately, the students tend to feel they can come in anytime they want after class has started. I usually just embarrass them, although sometimes it's hard to do.

Me said...

Yes, you are brilliant! Happy Holidays!

SQT said...


Teaching in Japan is totally different than here. Teachers there are treated with great respect. The profession is very respected as well and they are paid what teachers should be paid everywhere. I doubt you would have much trouble with students over there.

Stewart Sternberg said...

I will probably switch to teaching at the college level at some point Charles. We'll see. Although I am ready for some sort of radical final career change. I could be...a lumberjack.

Teaching is difficult, and regardless of what you hear, at least in my humble opinion, not a respected profession in the United States.

I am not sure when things went bad. I am not sure they were ever good. I love watching TV and listening to media and politicians discussing the abomination that is NCLB.

"Accountability. Accountability."

What the hell does that mean? When they start having a standard, nationalized curriculum, holding all students (private, charter, and homeschool as well) to that standard, as well as nationalized testing, then come talk to me.

And when they start holding parents accountable, then we can see change.

I won't get political here, but the breakdown in education can be tied to two things, in my opinion: 1)changes in the nuclear family and 2)increase in youth interaction with the media.

Charles Gramlich bemoaned our fate as writers in a country where we compete with XBOX and all manner of media. I bemoan our fate as educators and learners as well.

So how do we fix it?
1) National curriculum
2) College accessibility for everyone
3) Increase in skill trades trainingt
4) For parents receiving welfare, tie welfare to school performance. Investment in student performance is the best chance you have of getting people off welfare in the future. Also, tying it to economic penalty is the best way to ensure parent involvement.

Before anyone besmirches me for that last one, beware: I am a lefty, so you might be challenging one of your own.

There is one other way to improve education: Get me out of it. If everyone in this country pitched in one dollar, I could retire.

Helen said...

Some people in my year at school are stupid like that, walking out of lessons, or not attending them altogether. Sometimes, when there are people who are hardly ever in school because they can't be bothered to attend, I feel sorry for them. They are throwing away their lives without realising it.

Clifford said...

My god, Stewart, why were you walking around with that mask on? Huh? Tell me, damn it! I need to know!

Heh heh...great stuff! Used to teach 6th grade...and I remember a couple of mini-versions of that McDonald's run-in! Bring back paddling and America will be beautiful once again! heh he

SQT said...

This isn't a popular opinion, but a big problem I noticed when teaching was the lack of parents at home due to both parents being in the work place. I had always thought I would work after having kids, but teaching changed my mind on that real quick.

Seeing what growing up in daycare does to a kid made me rethink my whole opinion on the subject. I saw too many parents working too many hours who didn't have a clue about what their kids were up to. And heaven forbid you try to tell them, they don't want to hear it.

There were more good parents than bad, but unfortunately there are more than few neglected kids in each classroom. I got so sick of parents throwing money at their kids but never spending any time with them. TV and video games become the kids main companions.

No wonder high school dropout rates are at an all time high.

Stewart Sternberg said...

Education is a complicated issue...it is something that everyone feels competent to give discourse on, because everyone has been to school for at least a little while.

Erika said...

haha awesome

SQT said...

Is that your tactful way of saying some of us don't know what we're talking about Stewart?

Stewart Sternberg said...

Never SQT. Never.

I think it was more my thinking out loud about how the national dialogue on education is developed today.

Hey, SQT, I've never been accused of being tactful.

Thanks Erika.

JR's Thumbprints said...

Sounds like my type of environment; except I have more back-up and no fast-food restaurants to contend with.

Ormondroyd's Encyclopedia Esoterica said...

Hey, you did what you had to do; oppositional students try to pull everyone around them into their drama, and in the process stop us from teaching the subject at hand. Their dynamic also reminds me of a borderline personality disorder in the making, but that's way beyond my pay grade.

After the coup, when I'm commissioner of culture (guillotines on Madison Avenue!), and you're commissioner of education, I'm going to back every one of your recommendations, as follows:
1) National curriculum (with the "Cultural Literacy" checklist as a place to start, even in elementary)
2) College accessibility for everyone (maybe on a more European model), with
3) Increase in skill trades training (manufacturing apprenticeships as an alternative to higher ed, again on the European model)
4) Economic penalty to ensure parent involvement
...and as long as we're dreaming, I'm going to add:
5) Professionalize teaching by subject area, fire 80% of existing staff, especially administrators (and me a rabid leftie union guy)
6) Eliminate "Education" as a college major; no more teaching certificates for second raters--that 80% I was talking about. "Education" as a major only at graduate school level for research and such; no more circle-jerk "teacher training" (hah!)
7) National system of school inspectors like they have in Japan and Ireland; local principals abuse evaluations, punishing squeaky wheels and rewarding teachers with connections, regardless of their competence.
8) Raise pay in keeping with the increased expectations. They'll always be able to get good Humanities teachers for peanuts, but what math, science or engineering grad worth their salt would want to submit themselves to current public school conditions? The science/mathematically inclined women that entered teaching because there was nowhere else for them to go in the early 1960s are retiring and are NOT being replaced.
9) Eliminate sports until academic results improve.
10) Buy me a drink, now; all this might be just pissing into the wind without a major cultural shift in America.
Sorry for the rant!

Stewart Sternberg said...

Michael, you have hit upon one of my favorite topics in education: CULTURAL LITERACY. I have a lot to say on it, but will wait until another post when I can devote the necessary space to it.

For people who may not understand the concept, it is critical to teaching concept in context. It gives students a framework upon which to hang knowledge. One way I've taught this in the past is to show an episode of the Simpsons and then break down all the cultural references in the cartoon. The students start to understand that there is a subtext present and that there is so much they may be missing..in so many areas of learning.

One of my kids point out "Scary Movie" and all its references, which sparked a great comment about comedy and that it's not enough to reference something..it has to be part of a greater context or a twist to make it funny. Just recognizing that someone is making a nod of the head to The Exorcist might be good for a chuckle, but the question is where does the filmmaker go from there? To what end? Just a cheap joke? Too many cheap jokes leaves one with empty feelings.