The Good, The Bad, The Ugly. (Whistle to yourself while reading)

I almost feel like I am graduating from high school this year.

After a year of subbing in the public high schools of New Orleans, I am now able to experience the end of the school year…and (I sincerely hope) the end of my sub adventure. Not that it hasn’t been educational, exasperating and entertaining (often within a span of a minute or less) but it certainly has not been financially profitable – far from it. But the experience I have gained and the network I have built will hopefully serve me well in the weeks and months ahead as I find a permanent high school teaching home.

As the year winds to a close, I can honestly say there is a part of me that is sad to see it end. (Yeah, that strikes me as odd, too). As one does at the end of the year, let me reflect on some of the more…ummmm…..unique occurrences of this past year.

One of the high schools I have been at regularly has a group of classes of 8-point-5ers – eighth graders who didn’t pass their LEAP exam to truly make it to high school, but are too old to be held in middle school; they are using a remediation curriculum for all classes as they attempt to pass the LEAP and officially become ninth graders. As 8.5ers, they stay together as a group throughout the class day, moving from class to class within a cadre of teachers, instead of all having individual schedules like the other students, and they also have 2 or 3 AmeriCorps volunteers who stay with each group throughout the day. (those young people deserve a medal along with their stipends).

Most of the 8.5ers there don’t like me much – in part because a few of them were 8th graders of mine last year, and have led the annoyance campaign against me. Still, there are some neat kids in the group and I enjoy teaching there.

In a cadre setting like this, you can have some more intensive teamwork between teachers. One in particular that I have worked with is a young math teacher we’ll call ‘Ms. B’; she has great rapport with the kids, and they like and respect her. When subbing for the English teacher in her cadre, I end up sending the kids right to her class, where they frequently spend the first ten minutes of class railing about me, and the various injustices I inflict upon them – like executing the regular teacher’s lesson plan. This had become good fodder for Ms.B and I during lunch and planning periods.

One day she was laughing as she came up to me in the hall as I was heading to lunch. She asked me if I knew a particular kid (we’ll call him ‘James’) I said I did. She asked if he was a problem in my class. I told her he never did a lick of work for me, but that he was not a discipline problem; he was pretty much just there, not doing anything – good or bad. “Why are you asking about James”?
“Well, as usual, they came in all complaining about you making them do work, yadda-yadda” said Ms. B, trying to stifle laughter, “And then, all of a sudden, there is yelling in the back of the room, and I have to step in to break it up before it gets out of hand. Turns out they were arguing about some insult one of them made about you. James took offense, and said, ‘you can’t say that stuff about Mr. Lucker’. So, apparently, they don’t like you, but even they have some limits on what can or can’t be said about you”.
“That” I said, shaking my head, ” is weird”.
“Yeah” said Ms. B. with a chuckle “but its petty funny”.

Go figure.

At another school, at the start of the day I was being walked to class by the assistant principal, who was going to unlock the room I was subbing in. As we rounded the corner, we encountered a group of students, who had no qualms (even with the A.P. right there) about profanely voicing their displeasure at my being their sub…again. The A.P., an African–American woman of about 55 or so, just stopped right there in the hall and said, straight-faced, “Mr Lucker, I don’t know what it is you’re doing…but please keep doing it”.

So I do.

One of the most frequent and frustrating situations I have encountered this year has been the inability of high schoolers to tell time. The scenario plays out on a weekly basis, no matter where I am.
“Mr. Lucker…what time it is”?
“You mean, ‘what time IS IT”? (English teacher obligation, repeating the question properly)
Blank stare from student. “Mr. Lucker – what time it is”?
“The clock is right up there”. I point to said wall-mounted time piece.
Blank stare, blinking of eyes in puzzlement, a shrug of resignation, a glance at me. Usually, before I can say or do anything else, another student has either clicked a mouse on an in-room computer to glance at the digital clock, or someone has grabbed their cell phone and done the same, then announced to one and all what time it is.

One the couple of occasions where I have been able to engage the student on telling time for themselves, they either guess wildly, or shrug their shoulders. Twice I tried to do the ‘big hand/little hand’ routine, only to realize that trying to get a high school student who can’t tell time to learn it now would probably just cause both of us more aggravation than it would be worth. So I just sigh painfully, and tell them what time it is.

See? I can take a licking, and keep on ticking.

And as the year winds down, the hiring activity for next year ratchets up, so it’s time to make this crazy year pay off for the long term. This past weekend was a major charter school job fair; some 50-plus schools, over 500 teachers. These kinds of events are my kind of gig, and with the knowledge I have garnered from teaching in over 60 classrooms in 21 different schools in three different districts, plus a couple of independent charters, I felt pretty comfortable and things went just about as planned until I got to a table for a favorite high school that I have subbed at numerous times.

The table was staffed by the principal (who had earlier in the day waved hello to me from across the room) and one of the board members of her chartering organization. I don’t know him very well, though he had sat in and observed during one of my visits. I waited patiently in line, walked up when it was my turn, greeted them both, and gave them copies of my resume.

And then the principal started making my elevator speech (sort of)  to the board member.

She told him that I subbed there quite often, and would’ve been there more often, but, “Mr. Lucker is in very high demand; we have to plan in advance, and there are times we just couldn’t get him…” and she added some more stuff about my being an English teacher, but teaching other things, etc. He listened to her intently (as did I – figured I might learn something) and then the board member looks at me and says, “So, Mr. Lucker – tell me one thing; why is it you think you are in such high demand”?

That was a nice setup that I think I handled pretty well, but it was something of an odd experience, to have someone else doing my spiel about…me. We’ll see what happens with that one. I’m…hopeful…that the principal doesn’t want a 10% agent’s cut.

The other really good chat I had there was with a school that is looking for a teacher to teach English and….yearbook. Hmmm. That has potential, and as I spoke with some other English teachers who had also spoken with the school, but wanted no part of the whole yearbook thing, I am also hopeful about that one. We’ll see.

The talk about teaching yearbook also reminded me of another head shaker I encountered this year. One school’s yearbook has all the typical stuff, including a page at the back listing prices of certain things for the students to fill in. Future reference point stuff; “When we graduated in 2010, a gallon of gas cost ______, a gallon of milk cost ________, a movie ticket was __________ and so on; a list of two dozen items in a single column in the middle of the page. Nothing toooooooo unusal, until the last entries on the list:

‘Bootleg Nike shoes’ and ‘Bootleg DVDs’.

Sigh. Keeping it real, I guess.

And so it goes…

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