Wednesday, March 11, 1992

Into each life a little rain must fall. Well today we had a downpour. The day began poorly with a metal detector, purse search and frisking on the way into school. Everyone was hostile and irritated by it, and not ready to do anything for me. Apparently (rumor has it) a gun was seized. Do we need this? One of my first hour girls was talking about how her cousin carries his .38 while strolling through Crown Center. Nice to know that one can be shot over nothing very important. It was test day and we did the Chapter 3 & 4 test on Animal Farm. I don't know if the speed with which we are doing the book is the problem, but we seem to be testing a book no one has ever heard of.

Hour 1 stumbled and bumbled through it, with Karen using her usual profanity and annoyance and Dennis demonstrating why he has been suspended so often. Steven wanted to let me take his test home, and I will give him the chance to do what he thinks is best. Will he turn it in tomorrow? I'll be surprised if he does (though I saw him later and he assured me it would be done). There is a line between shirking responsibility and burying them with it, I'm not sure where it is but if they refuse to accept what they have to do as their responsibility how can they get anywhere? Anyway, they did poorly on the test, scores ranging from 7 to 19 out of 25. Hour 2 was much the same. Yesterday's clown patrol behaved in a way that demonstrated they had learned little from my calls to parents last night. All 3 were foolish, stupid and goofy and did very poorly on the test. The others did not do very well either. (It is odd that I gave the test to 3 kids who had not read any of the book and all 3 did relatively well on it.) Either they see me as a temporary intrusion on their well-prepared and organized path to mindless complacency (the people I work with were all clearly mediocre thinkers while probably being "good" students that I know this is not a recent development in the world but a long-standing and pervasive pall on the way we live), or they see me as an opponent to be defeated by organized apathy and convention-style anarchy. Both will work in this setting; neither will work in the real world of my classroom. Of course they will try different tactics on a new teacher, but this experience has been invaluable to me. I have seen the range of attitudes, from the "Fuck you" to the "Leave me alone" to the "You're not my teacher anyway" to the "Wake me up when it's over" that nothing will surprise me. Hour 2 is good practice for the real world.

Hour 3 was its usual diligent (but not brilliant) self, attacking the test with a thoroughness that is pleasant, though hardly inspiring. They plodded through relatively successfully, with only a little help required. Nothing special to report.

Hour 5 was my anguish. 3 kids refused to take it (the usual 3 troublemakers) and they managed to make the rest of the class irritated at them for their behavior and at me for putting up with it. I don't want to suspend people, for they learn nothing out of school, but they clearly have no reason to be here and they are, in a sense, challenging me to kick them out. "Oh yeah, well are you tough enough to suspend me." Those who took the test did fine, though they are clearly satisfied with "Good enough is good enough" and want to merely find answers in the book and repeat them to me. They have no critical thinking skills and are unable to answer "Why" questions. They say "I can't find this in the book" to which I reply "It isn't in the book, you have to figure out". They are quite disturbed with this response. They want data, things they can fill in the blank.

Hour 6, with Horace's return (I missed him but I didn't miss him) was also an adrenalin assault. We went to the library for the hunt today, and they hunted with vehemence and gusto. It was exciting for some of them to find things that the freshman had no idea were even there (though in fairness there were more of them). They were running and shouting and I was perpetually asking them to tone down and calm down and relax. But they DID the assignment, and in fact several stayed behind at the bell to see if they could locate a few more. I realize now though that I went about this in the wrong way. I need to teach specific resource skills and reference books first, and then turn them loose. I learned a good lesson, but I will go back and work on this, and test this, as it is one of those nagging skills that TAP tests will ask about. There is no reason that they should lose points on the easy stuff. Once again, I was amazed at their ignorance. Have they never been taught Index and Table of Contents? Hard to believe, but Mr. Blank told me of one of his students who today turned in a 1 1/2 page paper without a period. When questioned, she went back and placed them randomly throughout the paper. There is a lot of teaching to be done, and oh-so-little time to do it.

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