January is a good time to be a teacher in New Orleans; you have the first half of the year behind you, you are (hopefully) refreshed from your two-week hiatus, and you have a Monday holiday the second week back. Add in a week-long Mardi Gras break for early February (this year, anyway) and spring semester tends to zip right along.
It has been a busy start to the year – I can tell, because the pile of scraps of paper with various notes and jottings on them that come out of my pockets at the end of the day and get put on my nightstand are at March height already.
That, and I realized haven’t posted anything on my blog since January sixth. Twenty-days is my longest post-less stretch in the three years of writing this blog. Guess I need to start wading through the scrap pile.
So, meanwhile, back at the (classroom) ranch…
The return to the classroom following Christmas break gave me three fresh sophomore English classes to wrangle. This is notable on a few fronts: it’s the first semester of my career that I have had just one class prep (subject to teach) and it is also the first semester of my teaching career where everything I am teaching I have taught before. Those two occurrences greatly streamline my lesson planning, as I am mostly modifying what I did last semester, tweaking a few things, adding some others, changing dates on them before turning them in. For me, this is almost teacher heaven: one prep, same material, mostly put together.
I’ll enjoy this for a while. Good thing I’m not a fatalist.
As always, each class has its own personality, and one of my new ones has a unique persona: they are very quiet. They don’t chat with each other much, and they don’t engage in classroom discussions at all. They refuse to read anything aloud in group settings. The discipline issues are few and minor, and for the most part, they do their work.
They are actually sort of boring, and that makes them one of my tougher classes of late: it is really hard when you can’t find something to engage the group with. Even objecting to what we are doing would be welcome, but they didn’t even do much of that. They would just plod through whatever I threw at them, until I blindly stumbled across their trigger point.
They love sarcasm.
Part of my class structure involves is posting and having my students copy down a daily agenda, so they always have at their disposal a running record of what we are doing/supposed to be doing. To that end, as they are high school students, I usually don’t answer the question “What page are we on”? because, as I have told them repeatedly, between the agenda and just having a general sense of what we are doing at their age, they should be able to look at their agenda and/or the index of a textbook to discern what page we are on.
About a week ago, I was transitioning from one activity to another, which required them to use a text we don’t normally use. A number of kids quickly, lazily (in my view, which they disagree with) mumbled “What page we on”? My response was a less-than- laconic, “Look at your agenda, look it up in the book”. I paused briefly, sighed. “I know, I know, mean old Mr. Lucker is making his high school students work at something! Look something up! Figure out where we are! Having you do it for yourselves makes you guys think that I’m the lazy one, but oh well”!
A brief moment of complete silence was followed by a lone student sitting right in front of where I was standing. he looked up at me with wondrous eyes and said, “Man, that was sarcasm. Good sarcasm. That was very cool”!
“No, man! That was heavy sarcasm. It was great”!
Murmurs of approval rippled through the class along with the sound of books being opened and pages being turned. The jump in the energy level was palpable.
Since that day, the group has been more engaged (they still won’t read aloud) but their interactions with me and each other are more frequent, and they almost egg me on to say something sarcastic, which I generally try to avoid, so I have opted for comments more irreverent and esoteric on matters obscure and routine. They lap it up.
What was my most boring class period of the day is now one of my more enjoyably challenging, as I let the story or activity we are working with go in more…obtuse directions. My other classes remain blissfully surly and teenagerishly indifferent, but more engaged verbally.
Whatever works, I guess.
My classroom is a technological and amenity amalgam: the glaring, overhead fluorescent lights only slightly younger than the forty-something building, one switch controlling all lights. There is a chipped in spots, green chalkboard stretching along almost the entire the back wall, and a single, square window that provides a modicum of natural light.
At the front of the room, I have a Promethean board: a dandy, state-of-the-art, interactive white board I run through my laptop. Flanking my Promethean are two pseudo-whiteboards of the dry-erase variety; ‘pseudo’ because what they are in actuality are horizontally mounted, 4-by-8 sheets of white, laminated, hardboard panel board that go for about fifteen-bucks a sheet at Home Depot. They are a great, temporary and cheap fix over an actual porcelain finish, dry-erase board that has been damaged. ‘Temporary’ meaning that since this is not the product’s intended purpose, the lamination begins to wear off and then they become hard to erase completely.
They are a very commonplace make-do in the thirty-plus schools I have been in since coming to New Orleans four years ago.
Whenever I am using my Promethean board, I need to kill the lights as the fluorescent glare makes it impossible to view anywhere past the first table. My classes always begin with a writing prompt on-screen for our daily ‘Do Now’ journal writing, followed by posting my agenda for copying, so it is common to spend the first fifteen minutes of class time on the dark. I usually try to warn students when I make the transition; “Lights coming on” occasionally featuring the add-on, “…trying not to kill any vampires”.
This phrase came about a year or two back, at the height of the Twlight series craze, when all-things-vampire were de rigueur with the teenage crowd. The phrase used to get the immediate attention of the girls in the room; these days, not so much, though I still use it from time to time.
The other day, transitioning from Do Now and agenda time, I walked to the light switch, announcing “Lights coming up”! To which a young man sitting in the table by the door added seamlessly, “…hope we don’t kill no vampires”! before adding a resolute aside to his astonished table-mates, “Mr. Lucker wants to keep vampires in his class safe”!
One of the girls at his table groaned audibly, turning to me and mock-whining “Mr. Lucker! Marcos* is stealing your lines…and using them”! I stopped and looked at her, trying to keep a straight face.
“Well, if he is going to steal material…he might as well steal from the best, don’t you agree”? Said I.
“Right on”! Exclaimed Marcos*
Did I mention it is almost Mardi Gras break?