For those of you who have followed our saga as teachers the past eight-plus years, and for those who have read my book (‘Do You Know What it Means, to Teach new Orleans?’ http://lrd.to/do-you-know-what-it-means ) know that we have our share of offbeat stories to tell. Classroom stories and oddities galore, to be sure, but also parent stories.
The latest will be hard to top, and will definitely make it prominently into book two.
The other night I called a parent to discuss their child’s rather odd classroom behavior, and I got a recoding stating, ‘this customer’s phone is not currently set up to take incoming calls’ – inexplicable to me, when it is the phone you put down as the contact for your kid’s school, but not unusual in my parent-interaction experience here.
Being incommunicado is, apparently, a common thing.
As that was the only number I had for this student, I hung up set the phone down, and went back to my laptop for the number for the next kid on my list. Almost immediately, my phone buzzed, as I had a text; the number was the one I had just called, and the terse message I saw caused me to catch my breath:
‘My momma was killed today’.
I had no idea how to reply. I have dealt with an inordinate amount of death with my students during my eight years in New Orleans classrooms – and with the number of students I know who have died as victims of violence keeping an even ratio with my years of experience – I have sadly become a bit jaded hearing such news. But this was new, this was different: a text message, in response to a call from me. And all the message said was: ‘My momma was killed today.’
Sitting there, mulling over how to respond, I quickly clicked onto a couple of newspaper and TV station sites to check the latest local crime news – nothing posted there that seemed to fit this situation. After a minute, I decided on, and typed, a very simple response:
‘I am so sorry.’
Within moments of clicking send, I got an odd (seemed to me) response: ‘Who you looking for?’ I quickly typed out the name of the woman I was trying to contact, mentioned the school, and finished it up with ‘But it can wait’ – figuring the woman had enough going on without having to deal with the triviality of her daughter being a classroom problem. I put my phone down, and went back to my laptop to get another number, when my phone suddenly rang. It was the woman I had just texted.
“Hello, Mr. Lucker?” she sounded cheerful. “This is xxxxx’s mother, I saw you called and you got my message. I use that when I get calls from numbers I don’t know, so I don’t have to deal with people. What can I do for you?”
Her ‘I use it when…’ combined with the rapidity that she responded to my initial message led me to believe that she has this as a ‘canned comment’ in her phone – and her matter-of-fact nature leads me to believe she uses it more than occasionally.
I explained to her why I was calling, what her daughter was doing. She was attentive, seemed concerned, stated that her daughter’s cellphone use and texting in class had been a problem previously, and that she would certainly talk with her daughter to see that it didn’t happen again.
You just never know how my students are going to react.
The new semester began this past week, and I have two completely new sets of senior English students to deal with and hybrid speech class of holdovers and newcomers. I like the freshness of two new classes – especially since this is the final semester for my seniors. It should be interesting.
Sure is starting out that way.
Two week one incidents at relatively opposite ends of the spectrum stand out to me in large part because I believe they both stem (at least in part) from a picture of my grandson.
On the first day of any new class I show a PowerPoint presentation that outlines my classroom policies and procedures; it also has some personal info about me, contact information and a few stray tidbits of stray oddities or bits of humor, just to keep my students attention.
This year’s version features a couple of pictures of my grandson Felix, who turned two in November. The first shot is on the first slide: a close up of Felix waving WITH HIS LEFT HAND and the title WELCOME TO MR.LUCKER’S CLASS!
Felix makes it all seem quite inviting.
There are a couple of other Felix shots scattered through the twenty-one slide blockbuster, including a simply gratuitous slide labeled ‘OOOH – ANOTHER PICTURE OF MY GRANDSON!’ Not that I am showing any grandfatherly overkill here, but I also used the ‘welcoming wave’ shot as the desktop wallpaper on my laptop; whenever I am hooked up to my Promethean board (all the time during the school day) and I have nothing else feeding, there is Felix waving at everyone.
The reaction to the PowerPoint was predictable: ‘awws’ and ‘ohhhh, what a cute baby’ predominate, along with the also predictable, “Mr. Lucker, that your baby?” Which then prompts the brief, personal background segment of our introduction, teacher-to-new class.
One young woman was not so charitably inclined toward my little presentation.
Upon running through my list of family notables, I simply note that I have three kids, “ages twenty-nine, eighteen and almost fifteen” which prompted a rather forceful “Why there so much time between them?” from the girl. A bit taken aback, I replied that my daughter is from my first marriage, the boy from my second.
“You should have stopped.” Her tone showed annoyance.
“You shouldn’t have done that. You should have stopped after the first one.”
“Okay…” Even some of the other kids were looking at her in bewilderment. I had obviously struck some visceral chord in the young woman, but I just kept on with the presentation, answering the mostly innocuous questions the kids had about me, asking some of my own about them.
The girl remained silent the rest of the class.
As for the other females, a number of them were quite animated upon leaving at the end of the period; two informed me point-blank (and with some pride) that they had babies, another mentioned her baby sister, a couple of more added random comments about liking babies, and wanting one of their own…someday.
That was all on Monday.
On hall duty outside of my classroom on Thursday, one of my new students approached me, smiled and directly but politely asked, “Mr. Lucker, do you have one of those little refrigerators, like a dorm-room size one?”
“No I’m sorry, I don’t.”
“Oh. Do you know of any teachers up here on this floor that do?”
“I’m not sure, but I’ll ask around. You need it to keep your breast milk in?” (I knew she had been using restroom breaks to pump.)
“Yeah, it only keeps for an hour or so at room temperature, so I am looking for a place to keep it til I go home.”
“Let me ask around a bit. I’ll see what I can find out.”
“Thanks, Mr. Lucker.”
We put this one directly into the ever-bulging ‘conversations-I-never-dreamed-I’d-have-until-I-have-them’ file.
She has refrigerator options in another building across our rather expansive campus, but we are working on getting something squared away in our building to save some time and minimize being out of class. She is genial and greets me warmly every day, a do a number of the other young women in the class. The other group of seniors I have is pretty much the same, though without the extremes in reaction – though one young woman in that class told me she had a baby, and another has mentioned her baby in conversation about other, un-child related topics.
I attribute my new semester’s surprisingly open and free-flowing dialogue with my female students to those pictures of Felix, and I figure I have maybe another year or two of classroom mileage out of his cherubic countenance and bonding with my teen moms and assorted others.
A picture is worth a thousand words – or, sometimes, just a few well placed, well-chosen ones.
Your word of the day, as it was for my two senior English classes on Friday, is
Nomophobia is the fear of not having mobile phone connectivity. Though I am no clinician or diagnostician, I am a high school English teacher. My students are indeed afflicted with nomophobia; you would think, sans their phones, they are lost in space, and hurtling away from earth to be lost forever.
Many of them need twelve steps far more than they need six bars.
My second period class got the point; there was lots of nervous laughter and a good deal of acquiescence to the logic. There was one tense moment as a student’s phone gave a loud message ‘ding’ during our discussion. I simply looked at the class, smiled and said “I.Ron.EEEE.”
My third period seniors, however, chaffed at the notion of any sort of ‘addictive traits’ to wit: “That’s bull***! Just because I got all the stuff on that list don’t mean I’m ‘addicted’ to my cellphone! F*** that!” I smiled, tried to contain a chuckle. “Sure thing. What.ever.you.say.”
They did not laugh.
Three hours of classroom fun was only the icing on the cake; the entertainment started before school, as I was copying the article. Chatting with a couple of colleagues who were waiting to use one of the copiers, I made note of the article and wondered aloud what the response would be. The title intrigued a few of my fellow educators, so I gave them each a copy, which they accepted with a series of smiles and chuckles.
One of our math teachers, Mr. Mac, a guy roughly my age, about split a gut laughing. “Oh, man, they are gonna be all over you for this!” Two of my twenty something colleagues read it a bit more intently, laughed nervously. “This is….interesting” said one social studies teacher quite tentatively…as she fidgeted and fondled her iPhone. She laughed awkwardly, blushed a bit, “Ummmm, yeah. Interesting.” The other, a math teacher, read the article, pursed his lips, frowned. He held his iPhone and said nothing.
Observant old-pro types that we are, Mr. Mac and I laughed heartily. One might even say that my laugh was more of a cackle.
‘Nomophobia.’ In Mr. Lucker’s classroom, this is not an alien concept.
A rip-roaring morning start to a pretty good all-around day in room 261
Start of second period, first class of the day. Bell has rung, my senior English students are working on their daily ‘Do Now’ journal. The lights are off (as usual) so they can see the on-screen writing prompt. I am standing behind my desk reviewing the roll. A student who I don’t know very well (but I do know he is a guitar player in a band) a kid who is generally pretty quiet stands up, grabs his notebook from the basket on the stool up front, heads back to his seat. As he walks past my desk, he instigates the following exchange:
“Mr. Lucker, we should have ‘nap day’ today.”
“Nap day? Hmmmm…I don’t think so.”
“No, really, Mr. Lucker – we should. Really. It’s a perfect day for nap day.”
“No, Andrew*, I don’t think we will be doing that.”
“Awww, c’mon, Mr. Lucker” he pleads, jovially sincere. “….you gotta give it a chance!”
I respond the only logical way I can to his word choice – by singing. “Soooooo all you are sayyyy-ying…..is give naps a channnnce….”
The kid stops, wide-eyed and staring at me. His mouth hangs open. He awkwardly chuckles in disbelief.
“Naa,” I add dryly, and in normal speaking voice, “I don’t think so.”
I turn my attention to my monitor, scroll aimlessly through the document on my computer screen as Andrew* returns to his desk, sits. He is staring at me and slowly shaking his head, as I pretend not to notice.
Hey, it’s not often that one of my classroom straight lines gets closed out (and grasped) with punchline intact.
Regular visitors to this spot have likely heard me state that, in my life as a New Orleans high school teacher I encounter “More flavors of stupid than Baskin-Robbins has ice cream.”
Today was a double-dip.
The fun stated near the end of my third-period senior English class. At my classroom door was a guy from our district’s I.T. department – a welcome sight as the bulb in my interactive white board went out a week ago Tuesday, reducing the nifty technology to nothing more than a very pricey easel, festooned as it currently is, with masking-tape mounted chart paper. I opened the door, he introduced himself, and stepped over to my Promethean board, where the following conversation took place, while my getting-ready-to-depart seniors looked on…many with their typical and all-to-familiar, ‘What the _____?’ expression.
“So, can you turn on the Promethean board for me?”
“I can, but it only stays on for two seconds – just long enough to flash the ‘replace bulb’ message.”
“O.K. But its policy…I need to check it out to see if that’s really the problem.” He was looking upward at the ceiling-mounted projector, which made it very hard to miss the bright orange ‘Replace bulb’ light that has been glowing in the corner of the projector unit for a week-and-a-half. I clicked the remote, the projector turned on, then immediately shut off. He continued staring up. “Let me see” he said. I handed him the remote.
Three more times he turned it on, and it clicked right off. Click, click. Click, click. Click, click.
“Yep, it’s a bulb issue.”
“I’m sorry. I know this seems dumb, but it’s the department policy that we come out and check it before we just replace the bulb. There are only six of us doing this, and with having to make two trips each time, we are stretched really thin these days. And I’m pretty sure we are completely out of this model.”
Two trips? I stared at him silently, my hope that he at least had a bulb in his vehicle now about as bright as my Promethean projector.
“I understand they only keep about a half-dozen bulbs on hand” I noted casually, both of us still looking at the projector.
“Sounds about right. Plus, the district is thinking of bidding this work out so a third-party can take care of all these units. They don’t want a lot of stock on hand if that contract gets signed.”
Now I know from my years in the business world you don’t want a lot of stock just sitting around collecting dust, and at $150 – $275 a pop, these bulbs aren’t cheap, but for the largest school district in the state, with projectors in virtually every classroom…
We looked at each other. The I.T. guy shrugged.
“Soooooo….any idea, guestimate of any kind on when I MIGHT get a new bulb?”
“Nah. I wouldn’t even guess.” He shrugged again. Scribbling something on his clipboard, he bid me a ‘nice day’ and headed out the door. I turned to face a group of quizzical looking seniors.
I smiled at them. “He needed to make sure it was a bulb issue.”
The bell rang, my seniors left – some shaking their heads.
Fourth period is my speech class – my last of the day. A mixed bag of mostly underclassmen, they are starting to come together as a cohesive group, and there are a couple of kids who will get up at every opportunity to speak, and are good at it. The other kids enjoy them.
I do have one knucklehead in the group; a kid who insists on texting all through class. Two phone conversations with his mom have failed to curb his phone use, and I had submitted a written referral for shenanigans the two previous days.
Late in the class period, kids were getting up and doing impromptu speeches. Mr.Texter one-upped himself; he was on his phone, carrying on a conversation with someone. As usual, names are pseudonyms.
“Daniel. Please get off the phone.”
“Please get out of my face.” He continued talking.
“Daniel. Please get off the phone.”
“I told you! Get out of my face!”
The rest of the class is watching, expecting me to go off on the kid. Instead, I walk back to his table, sit down directly in front of him. He continues talking. I fold my hands, check the clock. Then I rap my knuckles on the desk next to him. knockknockknock “Hello? Anybody home?” I intone sweetly. “Hello?” No response.
“I told you, please get out of my face so I can finish my call.”
“Can I please say hello to whomever it is you’re talking to?” Daniel sighs, rolls his eyes. Putting the phone on speaker, he holds it in front of me, saying “Hold on, Mia, my teacher wants to talk to you.” While rolling his eyes. The rest of the class is completely quiet – no small feat.
“Hi, Mia?” I ask sweetly. “Did you know that Daniel is getting into a whooooolllle lot of trouble talking to you, because he is in the middle of class?” I hear female giggling from the phone.
“Can you just leave me alone now?”
I nod, get up quietly, walk to the front of the room. A girl in the class decides she has had enough. “Will you get off that f****** phone! This is school!”
“Will you get out of my face?” Daniel is addressing the young woman, which prompts a number of other classmates to begin yelling at him. “Get off the phone!” “Man, you are an ignorant child!” “Get off the phone so we can hear people talking!” And more, um choice comments.
Daniel seems taken slightly aback. “Man! Why are you all bucking me? This is a private call! Everybody get out of my face!”
(Memo to Daniel: the privacy issue went out the window a while ago.)
I push the call button to the office and ask for a dean or disciplinarian to come to my room. Then I tell the class to calm down, and not to engage Daniel. To their credit, they tone it down, but between the classmates yelling at him to get off the phone, and the others, in disbelief, saying “Man I can’t believe this!” and “I have never heard of anything like this” It’s pretty obvious that Daniel has lost any support he might have had at one time. Undeterred, he tells Mia, “The whole class is bucking at me! They just need to go one with their thing and let me finish my call!”
Ms. R, one of our disciplinarians arrives at my door. I open it, greet her warmly, adding cheerfully, “It’ll be just a minute, Ms. R. he has to finish his call.”
Yes, he is still talking to Mia. Ms. R, hands on hips, eyebrows cocked precipitously, “Daniel, get off of that phone and get out here!” She looks at me, I can only shake my head. “Unbelievable” is all she can muster as Daniel adds the coup-de-gras to the escapade: “Well, I gotta go. Looks like they’re ‘sending me somewhere.” Punctuated, of course, with another eye roll.
He joins Ms. R in the hallway for, what I found out later from Ms. R, was an interesting walk to discipline. Seems Daniel was a bit put out that we ‘interrupted’ his phone call.
As they left and I closed the door, the class erupted in a release of tension. I told them to settle down, and again to their credit, they quickly did. I turned to Michael, who had been standing at the classroom podium this whole time and told him he could start his impromptu speech whenever he was ready. “O.K., Mr. Lucker” he said with a nervous laugh, shaking his head and smiling. The last ten minutes of class went very smoothly, and they were off to lunch, shaking their heads, muttering ‘wow’ and telling me to have a nice afternoon.
Both my third period seniors and my fourth period speech kids all had stories to tell today. I just hope my second period seniors don’t catch wind of it and start to feel left out.
If you are a high school sophomore, soon-to-be-a-but-probably-not-yet junior, and you bring a water gun (‘squirt gun’ in Mr. Lucker’s youthful vernacular) into Mr. Lucker’s classroom on the last day of class, and Mr. Lucker watches you (pseudo surreptitiously) fill said squirt-gun from a water bottle, he will wait until you have jussssst about finished reloading before he confiscates the squirt gun by asking you for it.
Then, just so you understand where Mr. Lucker is coming from, once you sit down, he will silently empty said confiscated water gun by watering the potted plant sitting on his desk while you glare at him, he looks back at you, and everyone else is watching for your reaction.
Ostensibly, the squirt gun (sans water, of course) could be returned to you during the customary last-day teacher escort to the busses .
Unless, of course, you pout about it, asking Mr. Lucker repeatedly when you will get your water gun back, and when told that he is under no obligation at all to return said squirt gun to your possession, you walk out of his classroom and stomp around the hallway in a snit, complaining over and over “You got my water gun! When am I gonna get it back”!?
Mr. Lucker will then return to his desk and finish emptying the water gun into his plant dirt.
At this point you, and the rest of the class, understand that Mr. Lucker doesn’t abide last day shenanigans. Even in the last period on the last day. Especially the last period on the last day.
We recently had an extended homeroom (two hours with fifteen juniors I usually only see twenty minutes a day) while we coded in bubbles on ACT test forms for testing later this month. (Not as easy as you might think: between college locales to send scores to and a career interest survey plus all the general I.D. and contact info, there is a lot of #2 pencil action to work through in those ten pages).
One of the young women in the class brought in a bottle of Gatorade – not an uncommon occurrence. She was the first student there, and we were chatting as I walked to the hallway to monitor hall activity when I heard her make a choking sound, followed quickly by an emphatic, “Ewww! Grrrrrrosssss”!
“You okay”? I inquired, moderately concerned and turning around.
“Aggh! It’s this Gatorade! Mr. Lucker, don’t ever buy cucumberGatorade”!
“Cucumber. Cucumber. Gatorade”? I thought she was joking or had misread the label
“Yeah! I thought it is a cool color, I thought it would taste good – it DOESN’T”! She held up in disgust for me to see.
Turns out the product is actually Gatorade’s new ‘lime-cucumber’ flavor. Not one I would have plucked off the shelf, but okay.
As a few other students filtered in, they saw the girl sitting at her desk, still muttering ‘yuck’ and wiping her lips vigorously with a napkin.
“What’s with you”? Asked one.
“This Gatorade is nasty. Its cucumber”!
“Let me try it”!
This is not an uncommon thing at school; students frequently share beverages, but being aware of the germ potential, their lips never touch the bottle – they simply raise the bottle high and pour. Their accuracy in hitting open mouths and nothing else is remarkable. If only their concentration skills extended to academics.
The first boy to take a gulp shrugged and said, “It tastes stupid”. He offered it to another young man, who looked at the flavor and declined, asking (logically, I thought) “Who wants to drink cucumbers”? The girls filtering in and offered a taste all declined, most scrunching up their noses and/or shaking their heads. Finally the bottle was passed to one of our football players who asked for it with a brusque, “Let me try that”!
Matt* poured a big swig down from a range of about six inches above his mouth, then went about smacking his lips repeatedly – reminiscent of Bugs Bunny rapidly chewing a carrot before asking “What’s up, Doc”? He swallowed, then thought for minute.
“Tastes like salad” was his matter-of-fact reply, adding hopefully, “Can I finish it”?
“Salad? Ewww! That’s disgusting”! Exclaimed a just arriving young woman to multiple murmurs of agreement.
I just shook my head and turned my focus to the crowded hallway.
The morning continued uneventfully bubbling in wide-ranging info on our ACT forms until we reached the section that asked for college locales to have test scores sent to. This required going to the separate instruction booklet they had been given and navigating a lengthy, small-font list of college and university codes. It was a bit confusing. I assisted those that needed it and returned to the front of the room for the next stage of our step-by-step, by-the-book process.
“Okay, now take a look at box ‘R’ on your forms”. I started to run through the instructions when one of the kids stated “Mr. Lucker, how you know all these forms and stuff”?
“It helps that I have a junior in my own home, so I’m getting proficient in all this ACT and college stuff. Now, in box ‘R’….”
“You have kids”?
“Three of them. Now the first thing in box ‘R’…” I was holding my copy of the form up to show them
“You got three kids”? Said one with surprise.
“Yes. Now, in box ‘R’…”
“You got a wife”?
“I do. Now…”
“I knew that he had a wife ‘cause I had his class last year. But I didn’t know you had three kids, Mr. Lucker”! Responded one girl, who indeed, was a student of mine last year.
Deep breath. “Okay. I have a wife, three kids, two boys and a girl, one grandson, two dogs – one big, one small…the goldfish died. I’m five-five, wear a size nine shoe and my blood type is O-positive. Can we finish this thing”? I was still holding the form in the air. There was a moment of silence as the class, staring at me, digested my statistics.
“Your fish died”? asked one girl with noticeable sadness in her voice.
I sighed. “Years ago. Can we finish this thing”? I waved the ACT form as a flag of surrender. Or ‘charge!’ – I’m not sure.
Their heads bobbed back down toward their desks and we finished box ‘R’ (and the rest of the form) without difficulty or detour.
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”!
I stared at the kid. “Sorry, was it a bit much for you”?
“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*
“Oy”. Concluded the young woman dryly, shaking her head.
I read with some interest the story of the fifth grade kid who missed school the other day and had a note from President Obama excusing him. At least three publications I have seen have labeled the kid’s note a ‘presidential pardon’ – wholly inaccurate as a pardon is forgiveness from a crime or misdeed. But I’m nit-picking.
No matter. The note is quite the heirloom; I hope he gets it back from his teacher.
I got to thinking about the notes I received this past year in my New Orleans high school classroom; there were no notes from the president, nor anyone else of any prominence. I did not get any notes signed ‘Epstein’s Mother’ – in large part because I had no kids named ‘Epstein’ – although I did get one from a mom who signed the note ‘Christina’s* mom’ but with her full name and phone number underneath.
In our school, the notes need to be processed through the office; they are the ones who do the actual record keeping, though the students do need to show the excuses to their teachers. We, in turn, are to sign them so the kid can return them to the office, and we make any record keeping such as gradebook/assignment adjustments accordingly.
Of course I saw the usual doctors and dentist notes – including specialties ranging from optometrists to OB/GYNs and dermatologists. The notes from pediatricians that listed not my student’s name, but rather the name of the student’s child always gave me pause, as did the couple that I received from psychiatrist’s offices.
The court notices were the most sobering.
Not unusual to see the notices from district court that the kid in my charge had a court appearance – I’ve seen plenty of those over my four years here. What did surprise me a lot this year were the kids who were handing me these notices. Kids that I wasn’t having disciplinary issues with. Kids that didn’t strike me as ‘troublemakers.’ Kids that I now had at least an inkling about some of where their classroom distractedness and academic issues may be stemming from.
The kids that were definitely uncomfortable with handing me their court papers to initial. The kids that weren’t. The kids that, almost gleefully, made a production out of bringing me their court papers: waving them at me, singing about their court appearances, showing them off with pride to classmates. Bragging about them.
Sometimes, when the student would show their court papers to somebody on their way back to their seat just after I had signed them, I felt, for just the briefest of moments, like some sort of rock star who had just leaned over the front of the stage and autographed an 8-by-10 glossy for a diehard fan.
Yeah, sometimes, they are that excited to show them off.
The incident in Minneapolis the other day wasn’t the first time President Obama has done that; he did something similar for a young girl a year or so ago. He writes his notes on nice paper, with a White House letterhead embossed at the top. The notes I get are usually crumpled and tattered; the ones from the court are usually pink or yellow, oftentimes part of some triplicate form set up. They have stamped signatures stating ‘Clerk of Court’ next to a signature.
They only tell me a small part of the story, but they frequently give me at least some partial answers.
A note from the president excusing a kid from class? Can’t say I’ve had the pleasure. I also can’t say it would be the strangest note a kid ever handed me.
What I reported back on February third was:
• 5 kids in/out of in-school suspension
• 1 young man earning 5 days out of school suspension
• 1 young woman transferring to alternative school. Hopefully.
• 6 teen moms/dads with baby and/or baby’s father/mother issues
• 12 sleepers; kids who fall asleep often enough in class that I have to wake them up (I am something of a human alarm clock some days, and my general admonition to awakened students, “If you want to take a nap, get a room at the Days Inn” is not well received.)
• 5 kids who are on daily check in/check out point-system behavioral plans that require daily updates of their written goals. (One girl earned only half of her available points on the one specific goal of ‘refraining from using profanity in classroom: sailors don’t blush in her presence, they check their thesauruses.)
In the five-plus weeks since then, I can report that the one young woman did transfer to an alternative school, and that while my half-dozen teen moms/dads still have teen mom/dad issues of varying degrees, the two that seemed the most frazzled by those issues have calmed considerably. I can also report that while most of my sleepers still try to sleep, I have refined my ‘wake up’ process to a quick rap of my clipboard on their desk (as close to their ear as possible) as I pass by with minimal interruption to class proceedings. I was down to two check-in/check-out students, but have now moved back up to four who are all on two-week stretches of CICO. (Love those ubiquitous acronyms!)
Oh, and Ms. Potty-mouth got herself expelled for a variety of transgression in and out of my classroom.
Along with two other kids from the same class period.
Oddly, none of the three expelled students had any particular negative interaction with one another, and simply found themselves on their own separate yet parallel paths to departure. Were I a math teacher, I would probably turn that experience into a word problem of some sort: “If three students each depart the classroom by expulsion over a six-day stretch…”
You will probably not be surprised to learn that that particular class period is running much more smoothly than it was a month ago. It aint the autobahn yet, but we’re calling AAA much less frequently.
In talking the numbers game with a fellow teacher at my school, I told her my favorite story of student departures from a classroom of mine. It came from the year I was a sub, and was at an inner-city New Orleans high school I had been at numerous times. This blog note from January, 2010:
“I was standing with another student in the doorway of a classroom of full of ninth graders, discussing that student’s behavior (which was worth bringing him to the doorway to discuss, but wasn’t anything that would have gotten him sent to the office or any such thing – an important note) when one of the school’s assistant principals walked by, and said “Everything O.K., Mr. Lucker?” To which I replied, “Nothing we can’t handle. We have it worked out.” when the student interrupted with his own, somewhat contradictory answer to the A.P’s inquiry: “This man is tryin’ to tell me things!”
The AP stopped, and the following ensued:
AP: (calmly) “Son, Mr. Lucker is your teacher…he is supposed to tell you things.”
STUDENT: “Uh, uhh! He can’t tell me nothing! He aint my teacher…Ms. Russells’ my teacher!”
AP: (more calmly) “Son, please come here.” (Finger motions kid across hall to where he is standing)
STUDENT 2: (Yelling from inside classroom) “You can’t get on him for sayin’ that – he’s right, this man aint our teacher! He can’t tell us nothin’!”
AP: (motions STUDENT 2 into hallway) “Son, come out here please.”
STUDENT 3: “Man, you can’t say nothing about that to them!”
AP: (less calmly) “Boy! Get out here!” (Finger motions student 3 to hallway)
STUDENT 4 (girl) “Oh, mister! You’re wrong for calling them out there. They didn’t do nothing! And Mr. Lucker ain’t our teacher!”
AP: (less calmly but still retaining his cool) “Young lady, please step out here.”
At this point, the assistant principal has four students along the wall across from my classroom, and a security guard at the far end of the hall comes down to investigate. He and I are standing in the doorway as the AP is telling these kids why they should be listening to me, when, out of our peripheral vision, we both see an English textbook go whizzing through the air.
The security guard immediately points at a young man, and says “Grab your things! You are going home!” To which the kid loudly protests: “Why am I going home? I wasn’t throwing that book at him (pointing at me) I was throwing it at HER!” as he points to a girl sitting in the corner, who sits shrugging her shoulders.
As the kid gathers up his belongings, the security guard shakes his head, looks at me, and says “Sometimes they just don’t know when not to say anything”.
Five students gone in one fell, 90 second swoop, and I hadn’t said a word. It is, to date, a personal record. The rest of the class ran pretty smoothly.”
What I didn’t say at the time was that in the aftermath of all that, some other staff at the school was marveling at my ability to clear a classroom of five trouble makers in one fell swoop, especially as a sub, and all I could do was humbly ascribe the events to self-directed learning I had very little to do with.
Fast forward two years, I am back in my own classroom, first year at my school, and I have developed a bit of a reputation for not accepting the status quo with some students.
One day a member of the counseling team stopped me as I was leaving campus to talk about the expulsions, marveling at the way I was able to rid my classroom of two very problematic students (This was a day before the third student got herself booted) and I could again take no real credit for the events, just benefit from them, which is what I told her.
She laughed heartily at my taking advantage of the right place/right time attitude and we went our respective ways, her congratulating me on my ‘getting them gone’ over her shoulder as she went to her car and I went to mine.
I related both stories to my colleague who quietly made this observation: “It’s all because you actually try to engage them in something constructive. A lot of teachers just ignore them until they go too far, then they just kick them out of class. You’re just doing your job.”
We just keep on truckin’. Or teachin’. Or something.