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.

Ya buy ’em books…

An elementary school I drive by daily is emblazoned with signs announcing their ongoing book fair, and I will admit to a bit of nostalgia.  An only child, books were my constant companions, and book fair time at Horace Mann Elementary in Minneapolis meant my usually-not-overly-indulgent parents were willing to drop a few bucks at my behest.

Good stuff, Maynard.

I tried to indulge my own kids to an extent every time a bookfair rolled around, but those were different affairs – much more than books available for purchase.  Now, as a New Orleans teacher for the past nine years, I have encountered even more of the whole Scholastic book-selling-cases-on-wheels operation. A few years back, I was working at a K-12 charter school.  One afternoon, the delivered carts and cases full of books and related paraphernalia was pretty well in place in our school library, and I got to browse a bit. Many of the young adult titles and series looked familiar, and it was nice to see that many of the various series I remember from their younger days are still around, with new some titles in the series, to boot. (The gang from Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type are still going hilariously strong – bless ‘em.) There was also an admirable selection of classics.

As I roamed our makeshift Barnes and Ignoble, one of the selections on the ‘Adult Bestsellers and Cookbooks’ table caught my eye. It was a cookbook entitled “9 x 13:  The Perfect-Fit Dish – More than 180 family favorites to fit America’s most popular pan.” For the record, had I been asked ‘name America’s favorite pan’ I would have answered, “Sauce”.

Only in America: a cookbook predicated on a specific size of pan.

Sorry, but I couldn’t see this in the same vein as crock-pot cookery, or Dutch oven cooking like we did in Boy Scout days. This is something else entirely. The phrase ‘lame gimmick’ came to mind.

The blurbs on the back cover of the book are intended to be, one supposes, enlightening. To wit:

“A 9×13 pan can do everything from roasting a chicken to baking brownies!”

Really?

But there was more…

“Feast on comfort foods you grew up with, including Beef Stroganoff Casserole and Tuna Noodle Casserole.”

Sure, let’s recycle the gastronomic 1950’s – only in the correct sized pan! Let’s also salvage the word ‘casserole’ from the culinary dust heap. (Personal, two-part aside: 1. I hail from the Midwest, where the term ‘hot dish’ reins supreme over ‘casserole.’ 2. I know of very few people who would make a hot dish in a 9 x 13 pan.  That is what ‘casserole’ dishes are for, Chucklebunnies.)

So continueth the back cover hype:

“Revel in new flavor twists such as Cajun Mac and Cheese and Chocolate Chipotle Brownies.”

Chipotle brownies? Last guy I knew who put spicy herbs in brownies ended up getting two years probation.

But there was additional hype – and we haven’t even left the cover of the book yet:

“Dig into potluck pleasers such as Smokin’ Tetrazzini and Herbed Chicken and Orzo.”

‘Smokin’ Tetrazzini’ falls somewhere between ‘Cajun blackened’ and ‘left under the broiler too long’ while Chicken and Orzo is shorthand for ‘chicken-and-schizophrenic-starch.’  Is it pasta? is it rice? Is it crawling around your plate?

Then there are the recipes – no! Wait! The cookbook opens with a helpful ‘Pan Comparison’ page in which they compare 9×13 pans, covering various and sundry pluses and minuses.

‘Glass or Stoneware’ 9x13s have more pluses than ‘Metal’ 9x13s – but also more minuses; ‘breakable, cannot withstand sudden temperature change’ among them. (Pyrex or Corning Ware anybody?) Chief plusses include ‘Clear glass makes it easy to monitor browning’ and ‘Shows off beauty of gelatin or layered salads’ (except for stoneware, I guess) and then my personal favorite glass-or-stoneware ‘plus’:

“Some pans come with lids.”

Golly, what will they think of next? And why haven’t those pesky metal 9×13 manufacturers gotten on this ‘lid’ bandwagon? They don’t have it listed as a metal ‘plus,’ so one wonders.

And we can’t forget our third category of 9×13 pan, the ever popular…

plastic?

Plastic pans? Containers, maybe. Vessel, receptacle, canister, holder are all reasonable possibilities. But plastic pans? As we like to say in our household, “I don’t think so, Tim.”

The authors state that while plastic 9x13s are ‘good for no-bake recipes, refrigerator salads and freezer desserts’ they do allow in the minus column that they ‘may not be used for baking.’

That’s news you can really use, though there is not a word said about lids and plastic nine-by-thirteens. The authors need a Tupperware intervention, stat!

A bargain at $16.99, even without reading the actual recipes.

Just out of curiosity, I wondered what the book sold for elsewhere, and clicked over to Amazon, where I found not only the edition of the cookbook that we will be selling, but also this rather curious entry:

9 X 13: The Perfect-Fit Dish (In Memoriam Volume III Exclusive Edition) In memoriam?
Volume III?
That is a lot of commemorating.

I kid you not -new and used editions available…but that’s all on-line. Curiously, no mention of just who is being commemorated via cake pan.

Though $16.99 for a 9×13 pan cookbook seems pennywise, but pan foolish.

Hey, it’s all for books for the kids, right?

“Texting, one, two…really?”

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 100_6230posted 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.

I thanked her for her time, and that was that.

Two weeks, in the books

A full ten days of the school year have now concluded. Having been hired to come in for second semester last year, this is my first full year at my current high school; it has been an interesting perspective of getting new information along with new-new teachers and staff, but with the IMG_20160801_094409advantage of having already spent half a year here learning on the fly.
So far, so usual. I give you…my new crop high school students.

From the Ralph-Malph-“I-still-got-it!’ department:

It took less than an hour into day one of the new school year to make a mark.

Three of my homeroom seniors were having a light-hearted dispute. A young man said, in mock-whiny tone, “Mr. Lucker – can you please tell this girl to give me my juice back.” The young woman next to him held up a small bottle of apple juice. As I walked over, another young woman chimed in that “I gave him the money for that juice!” I approached, sized up the situation, said to the girl holding the juice, “Miss, are you bullying this young man by taking his juice and not giving it back?” They all immediately picked up on my tone. “No, I’m not bullying him…I’m just not giving him the juice.”

“So…you are telling me that you took this young man’s juice that this other girl paid for?”

All three nodded in solemn agreement.

“Well, this is easy. I have some little cups over at my desk. We can just split up the juice three ways…”MM_Product_Share_1200x630_AppleJuice_10flozBottle

“Ohhhhhhh, no!” exclaimed the financier of this escapade, snatching the bottle of juice from her surprised friend and walking way, noting “There is not enough juice in this bottle for all THAT!”

Solomonesque, I was.

No matter what grade level I am teaching, I like to start off using a set of writing prompts that I can use to explain a deeper thought process than what they normal employ. One of my favorites is this:

‘If you were a school supply of some sort what would you be? A ring binder or folder – a keeper of interesting information? Would you be loose leaf paper that new ideas can be created on? Maybe you are an eraser that fixes problems. Would you be a highlighter or a pen or…? Think about what kind of person you are and then describe yourself as a school supply.’

For the most part, my sophomores basically regurgitated the suggested angles, with a few noteworthy twists. To wit:

“If I were a school supply of some sort I think I would be a highlighter. I feel like highlighters are a little too much because you can simply underline. I feel like a person that does too much when I could just say things as they are. They just make things prettier and that’s how I am.”

“I would be a pen. I can relate to being a pen because a pen is just in its shell and then it pops IMG_20160806_115901up to write.”

“I would not want to be a highlighter because they do the most moving.”

“I would like to be an eraser but not to fix errors. Just to make everything very neat.”

“I would be a notebook. People could write notes in me and important information. You will come back and look over what you wrote in me. I am used as a vital resource in everyday school life.”

Well, honestly I don’t like the idea of being a school supply…because basically you get used up and thrown away.”

We have potential here.

Week two found us settling into routines, and my senior homeroom getting to know me a bit better, purely by osmosis. One morning, as I was signing something for a student while another kid asked me a question. The acoustics in my room are pretty good, amplifying nicely, and when I answered the question, I apparently came across a bit differently. (Full disclosure: I began my career as a radio announcer, but these kids know nothing of my previous life.)

“Mr. Lucker, You know what you sound like? You sound like the guy on ‘Price is Right’ who tells about the prizes.” Without even lifting my head up from what I was signing, I simply replied (with earned authority) ‘Youuuuu have just won a trip. TO. The. Baaaaaa-HAMAS!” A brief moment of stunned silence was quickly followed by puzzled excitement

“Wow!”

“See?! I told you!”

lets-make-a-deal-doors“Mr. Lucker – that was awesome!”

“You the dude who tells what prize is behind what door, aint you?!”

“Tell me I won a car!”

“Ummmm….o.k….” The bell was just beginning to chime, “You have just won. A. BRAND! NEW! CARRRR!!!”

Laughing, the seniors spilled into the hall, wishing me a good day, saying goodbye. A potise-and-ralphfootball player was just shaking his head as he left, but I could hear him as he went down the hallway, repeating over-and-over to the confused looks of other students and of staff: “You. Have. Won.  A BRAND! NEW! CAR!”

Yeah.

I still got it.

Shakespeare: tragedy, comedy…and whatever it is my students do with it

william-shakespeareWhile getting my sophomore English classes ready to tackle Julius Caesar, we spend time wrapping up our unit on poetry with some Shakespearean sonnets, and then dive into a two-day crash-course in Elizabethan English, in part using a series of Elizabethan-to-Contemporary English ‘cheat sheets’. It makes for a nice segue from unit to unit and I have discovered that a few days focused on learning the language is worth the effort from a comprehension standpoint.

Some classes really get into it, some don’t – but there is one particular phrase that we always have some issues with: ho.

From one of our Elizabethan-to-Contemporary English glossaries:
ho—hey (roughly equivalent). “Lucius, ho!” [Brutus calling his servant]

There is, of course, some tittering the first couple of times this is said, but it is a very common phrase in Shakespearean language, and very soon the snickering becomes a natural, more comfortable, street-inflected ‘Hoe’ as opposed to the Elizabethan ‘Ho’!

juliuscaesar1953“Lucius, ho!”
“Lucius! Hoe! Come hither”!

The distinction is not very subtle, and adds a whole different layer of linguistic oddity to my sojourn through the Bard, as there is a vast difference between summoning someone and calling someone…

something like that.

Thou hast noooooo idea.

I always end our pre-Caesar or Macbeth week by having my students rewrite one of their daily start-of-class journal entries into a Shakespearean epic. The prompt I use is imagining or remembering a weekend outing with a friend, including a lot of dialogue. After the writing, we then share some of the results out loud – usually to a mixture of laughter and bewilderment, whether they read what they have written or have me do it.

Here are some of my favorite dagger-stabs at Shakespearean ignominy and glory – verbatim from student papers.


“I stood wall-eyed, “Whence did thee get that zany idea” I said, lapsed. “Thou art mad” I informed him. He discourses. “Thou shouldntst hark. I woo her”. I cursed him. I shook my head. “What are thee going to dost? Thee have a foe”’.

Heavy, he said “I know, come hither. Thou art verily something”. Balked and mated, he didn’t have the addiction of discourses words such as these”.

I am quite sure of that, actually. I think.

edwinbooth“Today, Friday the 13, my friends and I heard tidings that we had to go appoint to the mall for some hours”.

“My best friend hark me Friday, doth thee went to hie eat out”.
“Perchance, an I doth not have anything to doth”.

For which we can all be grateful, I suppose.

This next one from a kid who rarely writes more than a sentence or two…again verbatim:

“It’s Friday e’en, methinks perchance I should call my friend to see an thee wants to skate. Methinks also about thee girlfriend.  An thee hie hither, thee nots going to have a ride back home. I should privy the mom for a ride back home, but that’s too much. Adieu that idea, so thee calls my friend to come over. Soft, I left thee board in thee mom’s car”.

Hopefully, she’ll find it and give it back to the kid.

Some stray entries from our you-have-to-admire-the-honesty (HATH) department:

HATH #1 “Oft my morrow I am alone and maybe retired because I am an introvert. But were to I discourse and visit with my friends, we off hie to World Market and Barnes and Noble”.

HATH #2 “Today I shall couch. I fancy some chicken for today. Perchance even some tacos. Were I for my dad wrought me the money. I don’t want to woo a job with my friend”.

HATH #3 “Twas a quaint morrow and methinks of a cunning idea. The idea was to mate with a friend”.

The writer of HATH #3 and I had to have a little, um, sidebar conversation.

Moving on, as many of my New Orleans students and colleagues frequently say: “We were conversating”:

We couldn’t think of anything to do. So finally something came to me.

Hitting a bowling strikeCarla: Natalie, I thought of something
Natalie: Aye
Carla: Hark, the bowling alley.
Natalie: Perchance.
Carla: Okay because I couldn’t think of anything.

 Later that e’en we got dressed and my mom brought us.

Natalie: I bet I can rap a strike before thee
Carla: Methinks not.

Hair is always a popular topic with my students. ‘Going Shakespeare’ changes that not.

hair“It’s like this every Saturday night. Addiction hath I curl my hair. We go out after about two hours of unpregnant babbling”.

“This Friday I’m going to doth my best friend hair
It’s going to take all day but I don’t care
Thee will hie to the movies
whence everything is groovy”.

 

Stupendous efforts, all. But nobody else went quite in this direction:

One young woman, a recent transfer into my class and a very good, prolific writer, allowed me to read her lengthy and detailed entry, which centered on her mother, who suffered from a long-term illness,  giving her and her friends money to drive to a neighboring community to run an errand.

“Speaketh to Mary, Liz, Kenny and Jame” I told her as we got onto the bus. Charlene nodded, pulling out her cellphone and texting all the names listed. I called mother telling her we’ll clean the home, also that we made plans for the morrow. Mother insisted we’d deliver money to Sir Bradley for some of his homemade brownies”.

She went on, making good use of ‘forsooth’ and ‘hither’ among others in describing their nervousness in being followed (innocently and coincidentally, it seems) by a police officer as they returned home with the purchased baked goods from a neighboring suburb.

I read the entire piece, looked at the girl, asked if the story was true. She nodded. “Really? YC&Cfiberonebrowniiesou drove that far for brownies? Those kind of brownies”?

“You knew what I meant”?

“I grew up in the sixties and seventies. I know exactly what kind of brownies you meant.”

“Cool”.

Verily. Shakespeare with my students always is.

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.

Week #1

It’s time to play first week Jeopardy! The category is ‘Mr. Lucker’s Speech class’ for $400.

“An old form of texting, it’s nonverbal and they are using symbols to communicate.”

anoldformoftexting

“What are…’hieroglyphics and cave paintings’.”

“You are correct!”

If I were Alex Trebec that’s how it would’ve gone down. I had my speech students working in their pods (small groups) covering the different aspects of communications as noted in the first chapter of our text. Each group had a different segment of the chapter to report back to the full group with, and the four fine folks at pod six came up with the above; ‘an old form  of texting.’

Though, alas, not in the form of a question.

As they had not presented verbally, I didn’t notice the explanation until I was posting the visuals each pod had produced.

This was certainly a step up, intellectually, from day one.  When asked why they were taking speech class, one student’s tospeakgoodererresponse was delivered without irony or humorous inflection: “To speak gooderer.” On the other end of the spectrum was pod six, which came up with ‘Integrating the proper tone, grammar and vernacular to the given social or non social occasion’.

Sure.

The year got off to a nominally screwed up start a week ago Friday, with two of our new, first year teachers having to sit out the first day because their paperwork had not cleared at the district office. They were both with us all week at professional development, got their rooms set up, were rarin’ to go…but were not allowed to do so, necessitating subs on the first day. Both had been hired in July, per an email we had received informing us and asking that they be welcomed, so not exactly a last-minute situation. Just a dumb situation.

At the end of the day, one of the two newbies, a young woman we’ll call Ms. Z, was in her room next door to mine setting up. As I was about to ask her what was going on, one of our old-line French teachers, Ms. B, walked up with the same question – as Ms. Z wasn’t supposed to be there. Seems Ms. Z had gotten a call from the district office just after lunch informing her that her paperwork had indeed cleared, she was officially and legally employed, and she could go in and set up to prepare for Monday.

Oh, they also told her that they had not yet had a chance to call her school, so her principal “might be a little surprised to see you.” Ya think? When I related this anecdote to the principal the following Monday morning, she confirmed the somewhat Byzantine chain-of-communication within the district offices.

IonescoplaysAs Ms. Z was relating the story of her welcome-to-teaching and district bureaucracy, Ms. B the French teacher (a twenty-plus year vet) just shook her head, and turned to walk away. “Mr. Lucker” she said with a sigh, “Sometimes I feel like I’m living in an Ionesco play!” I laughed heartily which caused her to comment over her shoulder, “I knew an English teacher would laugh at that.”

She was not being ironic.

This past Monday, day two, provided me with the honor of breaking up the first fight of the year. On the grounds, during lunch. I wasn’t even technically on lunch duty any more but was simply walking back to my classroom to eat when I was frantically summoned by another teacher – a petite young woman who solemnly stated “I don’t do fights” as I waded into the crowd to find two young women tussling on the ground, punches flying. I stepped between them, gently hip checked one to the side to separate them, then grabbed an arm of each, holding them at bay from one another. With the help of other staff members, we eventually got them to the discipline office. Both ended up with suspensions, one made be expelled. All for fighting over…

…a third young woman.

First time for everything.

Aside from that, it was a fairly uneventful week on my end of things. My wife and two sons also had their first weeks go fairly smoothly at their respective schools – no small feat with one son beginning his senior year, the other his freshman year. I did get some student-teacher feedback during one of our nightly ‘good thing/not so good thing’ dinner time check-ins.

In regaling my family with tales of getting to know my two classes of seniors, I related how I had already had to give both daysinngroups my sleeping-in-class speech. “You want to sleep in this class? Don’t. You want to sleep, get a room at the Days Inn. Does this look like a Days Inn to you guys? Do you see ugly drapes and stiff carpeting?”

This caused eldest son Will to comment ruefully, “Oh no…you’re one of those! The creepy teacher with the random stories that are supposed to have a meaning but just sound…weird and creepy.”

Annnnd, we’re off.