Keeping Score

With hurricane Harvey now hitting Texas, those of us in New Orleans have wary eyes pointed westward – and still, we keep on truckin’.  It’s what we have to do, in the classroom and out of it.  Looking back at this piece, all the apprehension of watching Isaac had to have an impact on our classroom chaos – though it didn’t abate much even after our return.

Keeping those in the Texas storm path in our thoughts and prayers while we watch for updates, and think about what could come our way – no matter how minimized or unlikely –  is still an uneasy balance of living, wondering, and hoping. But it is part of life here on the Gulf of Mexico. It is all about perspective.

From August 25, 2012

So as we warily watch the path of tropical storm Isaac as it sneaks into the Gulf of Mexico with a chance of veering toward New Orleans, let us take some time now to reflect on the classroom week that was in Mr. Lucker’s English class. Read this and you’ll see why it’s hard for me to get too worked-up about the possibility of the potential chaos of a possible evacuation.

We got this.

We finally got all of our computer snafus ironed out and student class schedules completed on Wednesday, leaving me and my co-teacher Ms. A with (as of Friday’s count) 97 students. This includes two sophomore English II classes and our end-of-the-day (eh!) Intermediate Composition class featuring deeeeeelightful-but-feral-freshman. The first two days with just them (see my previous post, ‘Annnnnnnd We’re Of’  https://poetluckerate.wordpress.com/2012/08/18/annnnnnnd-were-off-2012-13-edition/) were interesting. Not productive from a lesson standpoint, but interesting.

First, we need to teach these freshmen ‘high school’ before we can even get to the ‘composition’ aspect. (Sidebar to school administrators everywhere: don’t ever…EVER schedule a freshman comp class the last period of the day. High school freshmen are not nocturnal and classroom distribution of No-Doz is no-go, no-no.)

Now, let’s go right to the ol’ End of Week Three (EOW3) scorecard for Mr. Lucker’s classes, shall we?

Our number of confirmed cases of kids with probation officers now stands at five, though we suspect at least two others of having their own ‘behavior buddies’. (I have noticed, oddly, that P.O’s don’t show up on any teacher’s syllabus supply list. Huh. Go figure.) On the plus side, I did not have to sign any court excuses this week, though I did have four students return from I.S.S. (In School Suspension) in various stages of grumpiness but without recidivist incident.

One of our freshman comp students, Mr. Potty Mouth (MPM) from my previous post in this spot, has anger management (among other) issues. During a phone conversation with his counselor (not school counselor, but a therapist working with the family) the kid’s mom, who had apparently been listening to the conversation, began profanely yelling at her son as I was giving the counselor the details on his classroom misadventures.

That escapade was proof that, as the educational pros always tell us, ‘every child can learn’.

Also on the classroom management/student behavior front, one mother I spoke with understood her son’s non-compliance issues, and spent ten minutes tearfully explaining to me that it was ‘all her fault’ for the way she handled her divorce from the kid’s father. Seems her son had come home the other day angry that an in-class writing assignment focused on telling about himself, and he abhors talking about his past, which triggered his classroom defiance. Her story/excuse for him, anyway.

Aside from the fact that mom went into TMI-mode about a minute into the conversation, I appreciated the insight, but this could be a long semester for the kid, as the tenth-grade writing curriculum is heavily weighted toward self-discovery and making a personal connection with the texts.

Writing-as-therapy: worked for a teen-mom I had last year. This guy? We’ll see.

On the plus side, we ended the week on a high-note, parent wise: I finally touched base with a dad that I had been playing phone-tag with for three days. Turns out he is a police officer, and in his words: “Mr. Lucker, I. Don’t. Play.”

I believe that, based on the change in the kids behavior just from him knowing I had left his dad a voice mail. The dad’s parting, made-my-Friday words?  “Mr. Lucker, if he even looks at you funny…you call me right away.”

We got this.

On the health front, our number of teen parents remains equally balanced at one sixteen-year-old dad and one sixteen-year-old mom, though Ms. A had to escort one of our English II students to the health center for a pregnancy test to basically confirm the results of the DIY version –  and one of my homeroom juniors learned this week that he is going to be the father…of twins.  The numbers quoted above may change.

No, we will not be distributing bubble gum cigars at any time.

Ms. A and I actually got some bonafide teaching in this week – I think some of it may have even been effective. Knowledge retained to be applied? We’ll find out this coming week. We have developed a bit of a rhythm and work well together, so I hope we are able to stay partnered, though as an inclusion teacher, she may be moved to a class with a higher percentage of students needing accommodations.

Ours may not have the official labels, but there are a sizable number of them we are sure that qualify.

We leave you with this rather curious exchange from one of our lighter morning moments with our sophomores. While preparing to leave, some students were asking if they could approach a certain issue from a bit different perspective than what we had discussed in class. Impressed with their creative thinking and trying to be affirming, I responded, “That sounds great. I’m jiggy with it.”

This was greeted with four blank stares, as a kid at neighboring table pseudo-whispered to his table, “Mr. Lucker said ‘he’s jggy with it’…what’s that mean?!”

The other kids at his table shrug and shake their heads as the bell rings. I left it at that.

Sigh. Kids these days.

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Schoolyear Homestretch: They Know Not of What They Speak. Or Write.

The discussion in my predominately black, tenth-grade classroom was focused on racism.

We have been working our way through the book A Lesson Before Dying, a wonderful 1994 Pulitzer nominee about a rural Louisiana black man sentenced to death for a crime he didn’t commit. Set in 1947, the story pre-dates the Civil Rights days of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King (the only such benchmarks my students really know) by a decade, and chronicles the effort to see that the accused man dies with a sense of dignity.

Racism is a dominant theme of the story, and a concept that many of even my brightest students tend to incorrectly think is something in the past or, more sadly, not a huge part of their present.

During the discussion on where racism really ‘comes’ from, a black student stated firmly that racism is generally learned from one’s parents – ‘Even black racism.’ This idea was met with murmurs and nods of approval from those that are inclined to jump so forcefully into a discussion like that, but I wanted to point out that that might be a little over-simplified, noting that what parents think or believe doesn’t always transfer to a child and asking my students to think of things they disagree with their parents about. I told my students that I know of plenty of kids who aren’t racist even though their parents seem to be.

This idea was greeted with a few moments of silent indifference until one of the few white kids in the class chimed in proudly with an affirmation of my concept. “I’ve got proof of that, Mr. Lucker!” the kid said earnestly. “I’m supposed to be a fifth-generation KKK Klansman…

….but I’m NOT!”

“That’s…..good, Darren. Thank you for, umm…sharing that.”

The class stared at me, a few with quizzical looks that I can only assume were a reaction to whatever facial expression I had as I stared at Darren* for a moment. Aside from a few nods of agreement, nobody had a thing to say in response, and at first I was more surprised by the lack of reaction than I was the initial comment.

But I’m not. Just another day in the front of my classroom.

My students have a propensity for being obstinate – like most teenagers – but they will dig in their heels ferociously and adamantly defend their version when their take on a turn of phrase is challenged. Two examples from this year stand out.

The first was a sophomore who wrote about an essay commenting on her sister’s positive attitude, and the inspiration the sister provides her younger siblings, including Brenda, my student. She lauded, in worthy prose, her sister’s ‘self of steam.’

Even with provided context, I still had to read it a few times to understand what ‘self of steam’ meant for Brenda.

Discussing her paper with her, I was met with a puzzled look as I tried to explain that what she meant was her sister had a lot of ‘self-esteem’ – even going so far as to having her look up ‘esteem’ in the dictionary. Still, she contemplated, paused, looked at her paper and the dictionary, then looked up at me standing over her and said, distinctly, and with a definite correcting me tone of voice: ”Yeah, it’s her SELF. OF. STEAM, Mr. Lucker…how good she feels about herself.”

And the young woman’s ‘self of steam’ stayed that way in the final draft.

Maybe that’s what my students mean when they say, “Mr. Lucker…you’re blowin’ me!”

But I’m not.

The other top curious turn of phrase also came from a sophomore girl, who noted that when talking about literary point-of-view, it is not third-person-limited and third-person omniscient you need to understand, but rather ‘third- person limited and third person ammunition’ point-of-view.

She too, was left unswayed by logic, or the class handout on her desk we had been reviewing and discussing, or the textbook on her desk, all focusing on ‘third-person-omniscient’ narration.

Carlene was steadfast in explaining ‘third-person-ammunition’ point-of-view – which she actually did quite well.  If you overlook the fact that ‘omniscient’ and ‘ammunition’ are not synonymous. If you do that.

Even in New Orleans, I’m not sure ‘third-person-ammunition’ is a viable legal defense.

And finally…

I had a good chuckle to wrap up the last full week of the year with Ms. W, our school’s lead librarian. (The librarians love me because I bring all my classes there at the start of the semester to teach them about the library; apparently I’m the only English teacher who does that. Plus, I actually assign book reports – hence the initial library-orientation visit. They then know where to go to find the books for their book reports.)

Seems a student came into the library on Friday to return a book that he had checked out in October and found only now while cleaning out his locker. Aside from any pangs of guilt over depriving some other poor student of a book, the return of said tome also probably removed a financial hold from the kid’s record. Fortunately, the fines cease when the fine amount reaches the cost of the book; $16 in this case.

As Ms.W clicked away on the computer showing the book as returned and getting the kid’s holds removed, she said the running dialogue continued as follows:

“Well, at least I hope you enjoyed the book.”

“Eh. It was o.k. Mr. Lucker made us read a book.”

“But you liked it.”

“It was alright. Mr. Lucker made us read a book.”

All she could do relating the story to me was laugh about the kid’s ongoing ‘Mr. Lucker made us read a book.’ I shook my head and said ‘So, I suppose I should wear that as a badge of honor?

She continued laughing as she headed for the door, “Why not, Mr. Lucker? Why not?”

All this time I thought I was teaching English, not eastern philosophy. But I guess if the mantra “Mr. Lucker made us read a book” is the primary result of the year, maybe that will enhance someone’s self-of…Eh. You know what I mean.

Eh. You know what I mean.

Kids these days

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.

Lucker_Opening_Day_Pp SLIDE 1On 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; OOH ANOTHER PICTUREwhenever 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.

“Ummm…”

“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.”Some more things about me

“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.

DesktopwithFelixpicShe 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.

“E.T. phoooooooone hooooome….”

E.T.phonehomeYour word of the day, as it was for my two senior English classes on Friday, is

‘nomophobia.’

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.

Nomophobia became a ‘hot-button’ in my classroom as we dissected an article entitled Technology Addiction: Warning Signs of A Cellphone Addict that I had them analyzing…after we read it aloud in class.

That was fun. At least for me.

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.”

They laughed.

?????????????????????????????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.

ETphonehomeObservant 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.

Erudite

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:

conformity“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.

Dim bulbs

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.”

dobledipconeToday 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.”

prometheanboard“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.”

No doo-doo.

“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.

pboardlamp“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.

speechmegaphoneFourth 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!”

iphonepicThe 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!”

With no Promethean board, we're kickin' it old school in Mr. Lucker's class; flip charts, TVs.
With no Promethean board, we’re kickin’ it old school in Mr. Lucker’s class; flip charts, TVs.”Get off the f****** phone! This is  school!” (Glad to know I’m not the only one who noticed that.)

“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 flipcharts2credit, 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.

Lessons Learned in Mr. Lucker’s Class on the Last Day of School

Photo1792If 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”!?

Photo0407Mr. 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.

Class dismissed. Have a nice summer.

Homeroom Homeruns

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 actformscareer 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 cucumber Gatorade”!

“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.

limecucumbergatoradeTurns 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 pouredextended 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 – bugsandcarrotreminiscent 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’….”

testform“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.

testingpicI 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.

Just another start to the day in room 261.

January in toto; so far, so…good grief.

beadtreeJanuary 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 100_3860years 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 bookrunning 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”!

surprised-ladyI 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.

Who knew?

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-cartsomething 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”.

twilightcharactersBelalugosiThis 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*

100_2687 - Copy“Oy”. Concluded the young woman dryly, shaking her head.

Did I mention it is almost Mardi Gras break?

Nine down…

“Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like bananas.”
– Groucho Marx

Want to have some fun? Hang that quote in a high school English classroom and have students try to diagram it. I do.

Keeps me amused, anyway.

The past few weeks have been hectic, as we wind down the first nine weeks of the school year – a fall semester interrupted by an unexpected two-week break for the anticipation, arrival and aftermath of hurricane Isaac. We have had a lot of ground to cover, and even with an addition of a half-an-hour to the school day to make up the time, catching up hasn’t been accomplished.

But we keep plugging away. The quarter ended Friday, grades are due Wednesday and most of mine are already in, so for a change I am ahead of where I need to be. Now it’s revamping my approach for the second half of the semester, chucking what didn’t work, tweaking some other things, seeing what new wrinkles might fit. My biggest issue at this point is grading work that never gets turned in.

My gradebook looks like primer in binary code.

In one class, 19 of my 32 students are at an ‘F’ simply because of so many missing assignments. And it’s not just homework  I never see; most major classwork I have them turn in at the end of the period for review and safe keeping (book bags here are black holes – I swear there are seniors walking around campus somewhere with half a solar system hanging on their backs). At the end of class, I quickly count up what I have turned in, and the number of papers or handouts in my hand rarely matches the number of butts in classroom seats for that class. On more than one occasion I have been delightfully surprised that number of papers equaled or exceeded the number of students, only to realize later that someone has also, along with the day’s assignment, dropped one of the following into the white plastic turn-in bin:

• Older work totally unrelated to the day at hand (on the plus side, sometimes it’s from the same week we are currently in!)

Doodled-on scratch paper

• Their name and the day’s date (both things I am usually already aware of, thank you)

• An extra, blank handout of some sort (sometimes, even from my class)

• Homework or classwork from another class (Hey, Ms. B – if you wonder why some of your algebra students are failing, it’s because they leave their work in MY turn-in bin!)

Yes, numerous parents have been called. No, the behavior hasn’t changed much.

On the subject of parent calls, in my fifth year of teaching here in New Orleans, I can say this semester is the best I have had in terms of parents accepting/returning my calls, and of actually initiating contact with me. My phone call success rate is around fifty-percent; a far cry from the twenty-percent high-water mark I achieved in my last stop before my current school.

That being said, I do foresee a decline in those numbers, as my parental involvement/engagement is dwindling: more blocked calls and fewer returned messages tell the tale. My early semester ‘honeymoon period’ is over; I refer to this stage of the year as my ‘divorce period’. Usually I don’t start hitting that until closer to Thanksgiving.

On the plus side, I think we have stabilized things post-Isaac. There are still some kids (and families) who are suffering from the aftermath of that, and I also think that post-Isaac stress may account for some of my seeming parental indifference. If you are still dealing with flood repairs, insurance companies and FEMA, I might not be high on your ‘Hey, love to chat with you sometime’ list.

We just keep plugging away.

Another note on the plus side of the ledger: I was able to rid my problematic fifth period freshman composition class of some of the ne’er–do–well high school newcomers I inherited two days before Isaac scattered us. Three of the kids who are on probation and did nothing but disrupt class when they were actually in class were dispersed to three separate classes/teachers. While they are now someone else’s headaches, at least those teachers won’t be treated to the joys of two of the young men spending the day in class loudly discussing (so all their classmates could easily partake in the conversation and be awed) which one had the ‘cooler’ probation officer.

If they could have put half the effort into crafting and writing a rationale for anything we were doing in class to the discernment over the pros and cons of their respective P.O.’s, they could have been class stars.

We’re getting there with the freshman group, though I still have the boy who beeps instead of talks when he doesn’t like you, and the very sexualized young woman who calls everyone ‘Bayyyybee’ and during her last stay in ISS (in-school suspension) wrote me a signed note stating, “Mr. Lucker – I will not do any of your work while I am in in school. Sincerely,….’ and had the ISS teacher staple it to the work I had left for her to complete.

Hey, she made my life a bit easier: that’s one piece of a disciplinary/behavioral paper trail I won’t have to concoct from scratch.

We have a school psychologist who visits the school regularly, and the other day he asked if he could discuss a couple of students with me by doing an in-depth teacher-perspective behavioral analysis. As he was thumbing through his file to get the paper work, he said “I’ll do these two today, but I’ll also need to talk to you later about (girl noted above)”. He then paused, looked at me over his file folder. “And I also need to ask you about xxxxxxxxx. And also xxxxxxxx. And….” Pausing again, he thumbed through a few more papers, looked up again, then adding dryly, “Mr. Lucker, you have quite the collection here”.

Why, yes. Yes I do.

It’s not all pure insanity. Sometimes these crazy kids just say the darndest things. The other morning, just before homeroom, a gaggle of juniors was hanging out at the row of lockers across from my room. A young male was speaking, and a young woman said something she assumed he did not hear, causing her to repeat it, resulting in bewilderment by their friends courtesy of this exchange:

BOY: “I can hear you – I’m not death”.

GIRL: “What?”

BOY: “I said, I. Can. Hear. You!  I’m. NOT. DEATH”!

GIRL: “You mean ‘deaf’.

BOY: (very honestly puzzled) “Huh”?

It’s a different high school era, but the mantra still holds:

Just keep on truckin’…