Shakespeare: tragedy, comedy…and this.

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 in reading plays 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 week by having my students rewrite one of their daily start-of-class journal entries into a Shakespearean epic – and the efforts are, frequently, epic in nature. The rewrite comes from a prompt I use where I have students 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 is 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, and 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 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.

Advertisements

In mid-season form

I stayed late at school today, and had a chance for a little fun, on the eve of our school’s first football game of the year, tomorrow night.

I had dropped something off in the office, and was walking down a nearly deserted hallway – maybe seven, eight, kids milling around, here and there – a few football players, a cheerleader, others that I did not recognize.  As I approached, a kid I do not know as a student, but just from being around, walks to the middle of the hallway, facing me, and gets into a defensive-back stance: hunched over, hands out, flexing, as if to ‘chuck’ a receiver coming off the line. “Come on, Mr. Lucker. Show me.”

I reciprocate, mirroring the kid’s pose – except I have my clipboard in my left hand.

“No, Mr. Lucker! I’M the defensive back, YOU are the receiver – you got to line-up like a receiver. See? Offset from me, like this.” The kid shifts his feet and body to his right, gestures with his left hand. “See? Now my outside shoulder is lined up with your inside shoulder!”

I drop into my best Randy Moss impression; leaning slightly forward at the waist, up on RMOSSthe ball of my right foot which is pushed back a bit, left foot ready to push off. I am glancing slightly to the left, making eye-contact with my imaginary quarterback. My arms dangle at my sides, my fingers are twitching waiting for the make-believe snap of the ball.

“Ohhh” I say, casually, “you mean like this.”

“That’s it, Mr. Lucker! You know how it is! You done this before! Now — ”

He never finishes.

I bolt down the hallway: my arms pumping, my feet flying; I am yelling. “I beat him off the ball! I beat him off the ball!” Fifty, sixty,  feet down the hall, I stop and look over my shoulder. The kid is still mostly hunched over at the waist, looking back over his shoulder at me, incredulous.

“Man, Mr. Lucker…!”

His voice trails off, he is smiling, shaking his head. The other kids are laughing, as I thrust both arms skyward, still holding my clipboard. “I beat him off the ball!  I beat him off the ball!”  Arms still raised in triumph, I turn the corner to head down the next hallway, the kids behind me all still laughing.

A little bit of guile, I can always make ‘em smile.

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.

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.

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.

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’…

Keeping Score

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: 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.

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

Ms. A and I actually got some bona-fide 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 SPED students.

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

Annnnnnnd, we’re off… (2012-13 Edition)

“The first quality that is needed is audacity”.
Winston Churchill

The first full week of school is in the bag. Seven days of fun including the previous Thursday and Friday, and I have already amassed a fairly impressive collection of firsts for the year from my freshmen, sophomores and juniors.

To wit:

Friday provided me my first “excused-from-class-for-a-court-appearance” slip to sign and my first knowledge that one of my students has a P.O. to report to. Also my second, as a mom I spoke with confirmed that her son, as he stated in class, is on probation.

Thursday was my first “I don’t like you!” exclamation, though if you count the mumbled versions of that opinion, the kid who yelled it at me was probably only about number nine on that list.

Expectations aren’t always expected (or appreciated) by my students.

This week also provided me with a personal first: two classes at the same time. A fluctuating enrollment plus a computer system failure that has bollixed up our scheduling system has me losing my fifth period English II class, and gaining an Intermediate Composition class. The change was supposed to come next Monday, but instead, the system dumped my English II students out, gave us (I have an inclusion teacher in my classroom this year) the Comp kids. At least, in the computer system.

Only the English II kids weren’t reassigned yet, so we got them all from Wednesday on; 43 kids and two teachers Wednesday, down to 38 total bodies Thursday, back to 41 Friday. (Keep in mind it’s August, in New Orleans, in a forty-plus year old building with A.C. of the same vintage, last class of the day. Glad Friday was a cloudy afternoon with less sun beating down on our side of the building.)

Thursday (day six of school, and this is a new personal record, I believe) also marked the first ejection of the year from my classroom. It was that kid’s second day in my classroom. On the plus side, he is the early and clear front-runner for this year’s Excessive Use of Profanity in Casual Conversation award. Kid didn’t blurt our anything in anger, just kept upping the ante with more profane comments, questions and requests.

It was his final ‘request’ that got him tossed: “Hey, ****sucker, come here.”

I was able to use the kid to send a message, though.

Ignoring his highly inappropriate request as semi-noted above, I kept speaking with the student I was talking with at the time, not acknowledging Mr. Potty Mouth (MPM) in any way. I then walked back toward my desk, pushed the call button to the office and asked for someone to remove a kid from class.  Those (the other 37 and my co-teacher, Ms. A) farther back in the room that didn’t hear MPM’s ‘request’  looked at me quizzically as they didn’t know what was going on up front, and I was not angry nor in confrontation mode. The Comp kids up front (MPM’s group) saw and heard it all.

Yeah, we got your ‘come here,’ kid.

When one of our disciplinarians, Ms. R, arrived at the door, I greeted her warmly, summoned MPM to join us, adding a slighty exaggerated, curled-finger ‘Come here, punk’ gesture. While he meekly protested, I informed her that her ears might get singed as MPM had quite the profane vocabulary. She smiled, nodded, said, “Oh, that will not be a problem with us, Mr. Lucker.” as she firmly told him to button and tuck in his shirt as she led him down the hall.  With that I closed the door, glared silently for just a moment at the class, smiled. I then went over to someone who had previously raised their hand to answer their question. Rest of the day was relatively uneventful. Message delivered; we don’t play.

Which leads to my hands-down winner in the Strangest Student Conversation of the Week category.  Thursday morning, I was standing at the front of my junior homeroom class, leaning on a table, chatting with a student and waiting for the announcements to come on. My arms were folded across my chest, and as it was early in the day, I was pretty fresh and at ease, coffee in travel mug at hand. Then came this exchange:

Girl #1: “Mr. Lucker…why you so calm?”

Me: (Puzzled, raising eyebrows, Groucho-style and glancing around with cartoonish suspicion) “Is there an earthquake? Is the building on fire? Something else going on I should know about? Any reason…I shouldn’t be calm?”  Amused, I cocked an eye and looked at her. She frowned.

Girl #2: (An English student of mine last year) “He is always like that! He will bitch at you, but he hardly even raises his voice! It’s weird!”

I could not keep from smiling, and I shrugged my shoulders. “I don’t know what to tell you.”

Girl #1: “You upset, you yelling, but you calm. That’s creepy.”

Girl #2: “Oh, it truly is!”

Girl #1: “Well, I don’t like that! That’s…weird!”

Me: “What can I tell you? Sorry, ladies.” I had to turn away and shuffle some papers to keep a straight face. ‘Calm yelling.’  It is, apparently, what I am noted for.

And, we’re off.

Taking Note

I read with some interest the story of the fifth grade kid who missed school the other day and had a note from President Obama excusing him. At least three publications I have seen have labeled the kid’s note a ‘presidential pardon’ – wholly inaccurate as a pardon is forgiveness from a crime or misdeed. But I’m nit-picking.

No matter. The note is quite the heirloom; I hope he gets it back from his teacher.

I got to thinking about the notes I received this past year in my New Orleans high school classroom; there were no notes from the president, nor anyone else of any prominence. I did not get any notes signed ‘Epstein’s Mother’ – in large part because I had no kids named ‘Epstein’ – although I did get one from a mom who signed the note ‘Christina’s* mom’ but with her full name and phone number underneath.

In our school, the notes need to be processed through the office; they are the ones who do the actual record keeping, though the students do need to show the excuses to their teachers. We, in turn, are to sign them so the kid can return them to the office, and we make any record keeping such as gradebook/assignment adjustments accordingly.

Of course I saw the usual doctors and dentist notes – including specialties ranging from optometrists to OB/GYNs and dermatologists. The notes from pediatricians that listed not my student’s name, but rather the name of the student’s child always gave me pause, as did the couple that I received from psychiatrist’s offices.

The court notices were the most sobering.

Not unusual to see the notices from district court that the kid in my charge had a court appearance – I’ve seen plenty of those over my four years here. What did surprise me a lot this year were the kids who were handing me these notices. Kids that I wasn’t having disciplinary issues with. Kids that didn’t strike me as ‘troublemakers.’ Kids that I now had at least an inkling about some of where their classroom distractedness and academic issues may be stemming from.

The kids that were definitely uncomfortable with handing me their court papers to initial. The kids that weren’t. The kids that, almost gleefully, made a production out of bringing me their court papers: waving them at me, singing about their court appearances, showing them off with pride to classmates. Bragging about them.

Sometimes, when the student would show their court papers to somebody on their way back to their seat just after I had signed them, I felt, for just the briefest of moments, like some sort of rock star who had just leaned over the front of the stage and autographed an 8-by-10 glossy for a diehard fan.

Yeah, sometimes, they are that excited to show them off.

The incident in Minneapolis the other day wasn’t the first time President Obama has done that; he did something similar for a young girl a year or so ago. He writes his notes on nice paper, with a White House letterhead embossed at the top. The notes I get are usually crumpled and tattered; the ones from the court are usually pink or yellow, oftentimes part of some triplicate form set up. They have stamped signatures stating ‘Clerk of Court’ next to a signature.

They only tell me a small part of the story, but they frequently give me at least some partial answers.

A note from the president excusing a kid from class? Can’t say I’ve had the pleasure. I also can’t say it would be the strangest note a kid ever handed me.

My diagnosis? ‘George Washington Syndrome.’ (Or: Cherry tree? Whats a cherry tree?)

“What this night really needs is a couple of good lies to be told.”
– Me, speaking to two teaching colleagues, 7:00 P.M. 03/26/12

We had parent-teacher conferences at school last Monday night, and six of mine showed up out of roughly 75 students. Not a great ratio, but better than many of my colleagues. Of the six, they all had legitimate concerns and none was disputing my interpretations of what was ailing their kids in my class. Only one of the six protested that her kid was doing ‘okay’ in her other classes, but also acknowledged that her daughter doesn’t like to do a lot of writing, so English is always a struggle.

I wasn’t getting ‘beat up’ by parents as can frequently happen in such situations. My guests were all rational and seemed to want to work together.

My only issue with my well-meaning parental visitors was that almost all of them shared personal information about their kids and/or family situations that, while helpful in explaining some things, also went wayyyyy over the line into TMI mode. As is frequently the case here in New Orleans, some folks have boundary issues. (This is not confined to parent teacher night: in making phone calls home just this week, I have learned way more than I ever should have about three family situations – information that had I ever ventured to ask about would probably get me fired.)

As usual, the biggest head scratchers came from the students themselves. Two of the parents who showed up in my class had their respective child in tow…both of whom surprised me with their lack of guile.

To wit:

Student #1:
Male. 11th grader.
Bright kid, a year from graduation. Spends most of English class joking with his girlfriend. When he writes, he writes well. Periodically participates in class discussions, knows the material yet usually bombs any quizzes. usually not a huge discipline issue for me.

Explained situation to mom (left out the girlfriend part, opting for the more generic and also true, ‘talks and messes around’ a lot). Mom looks at kid, asks, “Is that true?”

“Well, yeah.” Mom sits dumbfounded, looking at kid. I am watching from across the table. Mom says, “So, what Mr. Lucker is telling me is true. And you admit it.”

“Well, yeah.” kid says with a shrug

“May I ask why?” responds mom evenly.

“I don’t know.”

“You know all this stuff, right? You’ve never had problems with English before. What is the problem here?”

“I just don’t feel like doing it.” says kid, with a matter of fact shrug.

“You don’t feel like it? We all have things we ‘don’t feel like doing’ sometimes. You think your dad and me don’t feel that about our jobs ? But we do it because we have to. Your job is to be a student, even when you don’t feel like it.”

“This stuff doesn’t interest me.”

“But you need this to get through to your senior year. You know that.”

“Yeah, but it aint interesting. Nothing here is interesting.”

Mom proceeds to read kid the riot act on why he is in school, what he should be doing, why it escapes her how he can be doing the wrong thing and admits it, what privileges he is about to lose, etc. She then looks at me and shakes her head. “Mr. Lucker. I don’t know what to tell you outside of he will be doing better and if he doesn’t, you call me. “

“Yes, ma’am.” We say our goodbyes, she looks at her kid incredulously as they walk off down the hallway.

Along with that kid, and the parents who apparently confuse me with Dr. Phil, the pièce de résistance of the night was this kid:

Male. 10th grader.
Bright kid, has a history of good test scores. Spends most of English class talking or just staring into space. When he writes, he writes well. Rarely writes, and when he does, he frequently stops in mid-sentence, leaving thoughts unfinished. Embellishes every handout or paper that comes his way with names of his favorite basketball teams and drawings of their logos.

First part of our discussion concerned his behaviors as noted above. Kid did not disagree with my assessment, agreed that it was fairly accurate. Also shrugged when asked ‘why’ by mom. Mom was perplexed; kid is very bright, mom is a degreed professional, very involved, truly seems to ‘get it.’ Then came this exchange.

“Mr. Lucker, how did Oscar* do on his tests?”

“Poorly. Another big thing that cost him, grade wise, was not getting in his second book report. It was worth two test grades.” Which prompted her to turn and look at her son.

“You love to read. Why didn’t you turn in your book report?”

“Because I didn’t finish the book from the first book report.” I had forgotten that fact.

“True. He didn’t get that one turned in, either.” I remembered.

“Why didn’t you get that one turned in?”

“Mom, the book is 516 pages long. I couldn’t finish it.”

“Why” I asked, unable to hold back my curiosity, having required a simple, 200 page novel for said book report, “did you pick a 516 page book for your book report?”

“It was the only book in the library that looked interesting.”

“The only one in our school library that looked interesting?”

“Yes sir.”

“Was it a Harry Potter book?” I asked, puzzled, never having seen the kid with such a huge tome in his possession, and having not seen that many books of that size in our library – except for HP.

“No. It’s called ‘Caged’.”

“Wait a minute;  that the book that’s been sitting on your dresser for a month?” asked mom.

“It hasn’t been there a month.”

“Well, it was a two-week project, due two weeks ago…so a month sounds about right.” I interjected, in reference to book report two – book report one was a month before that.

“No, I got it for the first book report. And it’s overdue at the library. I owe money on that one, so I couldn’t get a second book.”

Mom looks on, dumbfounded, as I remind Oscar and explained to mom that anyone who didn’t have library privileges for whatever reason could always get a book from my classroom library, pointing to my large, very visible, lime-green bookshelf. Mom’s eyes narrowed.

“Why in heaven’s name would you pick a book that big and then miss two book reports?” She asked. Quite logically, I thought.

“I couldn’t finish it, mom. It’s 516 pages long!”

Mom looks at me, mouth agape.

“I don’t know what I can tell you, ma’am. Like I said, he could’ve gotten a book from me at any time…”

“But I already had a book, Mr. Lucker.”

“But you didn’t read it!” reminded his mother firmly, through clenched teeth.

Because it was 516 pages long – I keep telling you that!” said Oscar, plaintively.

After a few seconds of strange silence, mom wraps up our session with a handshake. “Thank you for your time, Mr. Lucker. I don’t know what to tell you.” With that, mother and son walk out the door and down the hallway – silently.

Life proving once again that truth is stranger than fiction, as I wrapped up for the night I couldn’t help but wonder: as a writer and a teacher, do I in good conscience need to spend more time with my students focusing on the art of creative story telling?

Oh yeah – that whole truth-is-stranger thing.