A Journal of The Plague Semester

This is the journal of my student teaching days at East High School, home of the Bears!, in Kansas City. Several pieces of information will be helpful here. But let me start with a disclaimer.

I have already received some negative response. The critic said he had attended an assembly with some of the shining stars strutting their accomplishments. Things are better than I think. Well, I was there every day for 10 weeks, and then every day for four years after that. And would be there still, if the district's Human Resources Department was competent. But I know that there are many good kids, and many with skills, and even sometimes those two things happen in the same person. But in four years teaching at a Kansas City school, I never heard of a student scoring above a 24 on the ACT, and most scored in the 16-18 range. You can slam standardized tests, though I won't. But they do show that the majority of students thinking about attending college are performing at less than the national average, and very few students at these schools even take the ACT. No, there is serious trouble in the district, and a few assemblies with achievers on parade does not alter that dismal fact. (Here's a more opinionated discussion of what needs to happen.)

There is no way I can summarize the Kansas City Magnet School program without writing a book. But the very short version is: in the 1980s, a desegregation lawsuit was settled by creating the magnet school program. People seem confused at precisely what these magnets were supposed to attract. What they were supposed to attract was suburban white kids. The best way to desegregate the schools was not to shuffle the limited number of white kids around, or to involuntarily bus suburban kids into the black schools. The secret would be to create such extraordinary schools that the suburban kids would voluntarily come, thereby reducing the black population by increasing the white population while simultaneously providing a superior education for all the kids. Unfortunately, it did not quite work as designed.

The administrators and program designers were given almost unlimited budgets to create schools based on different "themes". There was an engineering high school, performing arts high school, a pre-medical high school and many others. East was the agricultural/environmental high school. Many citizens thought this a poor choice for urban kids who knew nothing of farming; in many cases my students seemed to think food grew in cans. It was no more or less successful than other schools.

One of the aspects of teaching at a magnet school was that all classes were to be related to the theme. English was to be taught with an agricultural emphasis, though the ways in which this was to be done were always a little confusing. As a student teacher who knew nothing about teaching, I only hoped to survive.

Why did I choose to throw myself into such a notoriously hostile environment? I wanted to teach in the city. I had a touch of the literature evangelist. Though I knew the kids I would be seeing would have little interest in what I was offering, I was convinced that their hostility came from a lack of access to great literature. Once they saw the majesty and beauty of literature, they would be eager to experience it. The suburban kids, jaded and dull, looking only to get through and get on to the next obligatory step on their path, would be willing to perform like trained circus animals, but would never love literature. But the urban kids, lusting for something to add beauty and grace to their lives, would find an outlet in literature, as I had. I would be the Pied Piper of the city, piping my little followers to the great new world of language and the power it possessed. I chose the city so I could get experience in the neighborhood I hoped to teach in, and meet a principal who might be able to give me a job.

I was working while doing the student teaching, though I had saved my previous year's vacation and had to work only two to three evenings per week. I was working at AT&T; the semester started with me in a temporary computer console operator job, and that ended and I returned to the entry level job in the "tape pool". Tape pool is a place where I spent the evening walking around inserting and removing computer tapes that looked something like 8 tracks. It did not require much of me, and that is what I gave it. I was hoping against hope to get a teaching position and leave AT&T far far behind.

Student teaching lasted thirteen weeks. We were to spend one day a week observing for three weeks, then ten weeks of actual teaching. At the end of each day, we were to write our experiences, as well as prepare for another day of teaching. This journal is precisely as I wrote it. I have corrected the spelling and grammar, changed paragraphing and punctuation for clarity, but the content remains as it was. To preclude potential lawsuits, I have altered the names of the administrators, teachers and students.

Except one. Shaunda Scales, a charming and lovely girl I had in my sixth hour class, was murdered two or three years after I left. Her boyfriend, had apparently been violent toward her for some time. She died from a bullet fired in a jealous rage. I know not what became of the boyfriend; I know only that one of the most intelligent students I had died yet another gruesome and miserable death, another victim of the ignorance so painfully chronicled in this journal. She is not often mentioned in here, but she came and saw me regularly during her fourth hour when I had lunch and she had a teacher she hated. Sometimes with her friends, sometimes not, we discussed education and learning, and she helped me realize that not everything I did was a failure. A note from her closes this journal. She was a delightful young lady.

So, though dedication of a document like this seems somewhat weird, I dedicate this labor to Shaunda Scales, whom I certainly wish were here to grow into the wonderful woman I'm sure she could have become.

A few definitions that may be useful:

Directed Reading Thinking Activity: a reading strategy that emphasizes prediction. Students try to anticipate what will happen and then verify whether they were accurate or not.
Future Farmers of America
In School Suspension, the method schools use to remove troublemakers from class and yet not suspend them and have bad suspension rates. ISS is often a class where kids sit all day under the supervision of a stern disciplinarian who reads the newspaper. Students are supposed to complete work from their regular classrooms, but I rarely saw this. The kinds of pupils in ISS are not normally the ones who do work of any kind.
Know--Want to know--Learned: A teaching strategy utilizing prior knowledge of a subject and an assumption the students want to learn more about it.
The standardized test issued by the state of Missouri given to 9th and 11th grade students.
Observation Day:
Every student teacher has a college teacher come and observe them on a few occasions. I called it observation day in the journal, a fearful day as I could often not get the kids to do anything I wanted, with another adult there and the opportunity to humiliate me, I was terrified.
School Within A School: The group of students performing two years below grade level, not diagnosed with specific learning or behavior disabilities. These students are taught as a group. East's SWAS program only encompassed English and math; two groups that switched from one hour to the next.
Wednesday Night Seminar:
Student teachers gathered once a week by subject matter to discuss successes, examine failures, look for solutions to problems, and generally whine. I did most of my whining in this journal. I was in a group of about nine English teachers, but was the only one in an urban setting, and do not remember much of value coming from those meetings.


Navigational Note: On the bottom of each page is a series of links to the previous entry, this index, and the next entry.
Home Page  Complete Writing Directory
Contact: tdiguy at everestkc dot net