Another day that makes me realize why I want to do this and also why so many people quit after a year or two. There is always the doubt that floats across my mind, can I really do this or are they beyond my power? I think I can, because I have good and bad days with every class, yet I know that there is something outside me that keeps the class as they are. I have control, but I am hardly the sufficient first cause to make them do what I want (which is of course what they need). Some days, some see it; some days others see it.
Hour 1 tried to get through Chapter 6 of Animal Farm. Karen read the first paragraph aloud, but Samantha was too busy doing her hair and adjusting the ring in her nose (ironic that we should be reading Orwell at a time when noserings are so popular, 20 years from now plastic surgery to fix extraneous bodily orifices is going to be immensely popular) to read and none of the boys could be bothered. Both Samantha and Robert were extremely rude, directly and obstinately, and I probably should have sent them out of the room. Their smug self-righteousness and their air of "they can do whatever they want" is beginning to get on my nerves. They are haughty without reason, vain without cause, smug without skills to support the smugness. Is it possible that they are just good kids waiting for release? Hard to imagine, despite what Joe Clark says.
Hour 2 was very small, only 7 kids there. I had a group of 4 sitting close to me and we had to wait through an interminable string of announcements (almost 9 minutes worth, WAAAAAYYYYYY too long!) and by then we had started talking about those who make it in life and those who don't. They were talking, and thinking, about responsibility, both theirs and the world s, and they it was nice to see some of the usual fools (Korrell and Stacy especially) doing some good analytic thinking. They did not blame, they thought. They explained how easy and gratifying the move away from the broken-up, junked-up ghetto full of no vision and no life (this was their own thinking, they recognized the futility of what they are seeing around them). So we never got to Orwell, but we did get something of value accomplished. It was neat to see, and then the 3 away from us paid no attention, refused to participate, and disclaimed any concept of responsibility to anything larger than themselves. Over 50%, but...
Hour 3 was even sleepier than usual. We tried to get another 2 paragraphs composed, but could not do it. They just cannot get the ideas to flow into a sequence. We should have a Flaubertian quality to our prose as a result of the time lavished on it, but it doesn't quite measure up to that standard. But they did work, and since Tyrone wasn't there today (and he usually adds a lot to the class) it went about as well as it could. Or so I think. But it isn't enough. I need more from them, and they clearly need more from me.
Hour 5 today had probably the best class we've had. We worked on the worksheet for Chapter 5 & 6 (concerned with the "whys" of the chapters) and we did it orally. Of course, they are driven by getting the right answer and filling in the blank correctly, but they actually began to see the novel as a series of connected characters and events. It was pleasant (and since Rodman promptly went to sleep there was no interference; Nigeria and Danika, of course, are not available) and there was some actual thinking going on. The thoughts were not on a brilliant level, but they did work toward the goals and attempt to discover some of the "whys" behind the events. I think I work better as a facilitator, and today, for almost the first time, there was something to facilitate. They looked for answers that were not immediately apparent, and they performed some quality looking.
Somehow, it seems that Hours 5 & 6 can never be good on the same day. Today proved that. I had wanted to introduce some ideas about the difference between speech and writing, and they began hyperactively and deteriorated from there. I did grades today, and if they get the grades I gave there are going to be some very surprised students. If I had them for the rest of the year, I could have some leverage. But I don't. They know I'm leaving, they know I am not their "real" teacher, and they know that I am not giving them their grades for the fourth quarter. They behaved for me as if I were an inept substitute (which I am, at this point). By the way, Mr. Blank was absent again! They talked and touched, fondled and fooled for the whole hour. I was glad to be done, for there was no way I could seem to bring them under control. They were directly disobedient (Stephanie doesn't realize the power she has by being the implementer of her cooperating teacher's discipline, it makes no difference who is there, they are graded by the same standards in the same way) and after a while of attempting to corral them towards my objective, I gave up. Not a good admission, but one I am forced to make, there is no way I can be perfect and today, 6th Hour, there was no way I could be even remotely fair. I was terrible, and so were they. So much for speech, we need to do something different and I'm not sure what. Somehow, when I sit down tomorrow to describe the day's chronicle of exaltation and despair, I will have done something with these kids. I hope it works, whatever it is.