Thursday April 9, 1992

Well, this chronicle is coming to a close, after over 50 entries describing the good, the bad and the ugly of public school. I have forgotten to mention that for the entire week there has been no PA or bell system. What a pleasure. Or at least partial pleasure, it seems that every silver lining has a gray and foreboding cloud attached to it when it comes to school. The nice part is no irritating announcements, no interruptions, no foolish and irrelevant cliches mouthed over high school sound systems for the billionth time. We have had quiet. We also have had to rely on clocks to dismiss students, which means that they leave and come in over a 10 minute period. We also had an attempt to introduce a whistle system , which succeeded in being several minutes off the real time and confusing the situation even more. There was no coherence, and we had students meandering around for much of the day. Like everything at East, it seems as if it could have worked, but, implemented by confused people and followed by unmotivated sheep, it made little sense and did not accomplish any objectives. Teachers could have done it more easily and more quietly on their own, if one person had gone around and synchronized all the clocks (remember, daylight savings time began this weekend and all the clocks were inaccurately reset).

Hours 1 & 2 finished the dreaded MMAT today, and once again I am glad that English was not the last part. They finished part 1 in anywhere from 15-25 minutes (a few actually did it and completed it in a reasonable time) and part 2 even faster. There was little effort to manage them other than "Please guys, some people are still working on the test" which was about as effective as the other well-intentioned pleas offered by their harried teachers this semester. They are incapable of thinking of someone else's desires it seems, the world clearly does rise and set in their back yard.

Hour 3 was talkative and loquacious. Even Mark had something to say. They expressed their unhappiness with what I wanted to do and began talking about a variety of topics, using their dissatisfaction with the school as a springboard. It has amazed me since I was in high school that people are willing to sit there and let others do all the talking; passively listening to what someone has to say that may or may not be important to them but is clearly not their own. I suppose that getting through is their objective, and both Coryanna and Mark are so pitiful in their skills (Coryanna gave me a report and I could not figure out what she was saying, not just confused but absolutely baffled by her combination of cryptic syntax and idiosyncratic spelling) that just getting away with it is sufficient ("If I keep my mouth shut no one will notice my inadequacies").

Anyway, we went on to talk about language and how we come to any agreement on language and vocabulary. They are incredibly ignorant of the rest of the world, combining all the vision of the classic ugly American ("I wouldn't want to go anywhere where they don't speak English, how could you communicate?") and Monty Python's classic lecture on the willful foolishness of foreigners who speak some bloody odd language and chose to remain obstinate by calling a knife something other than what it is, a knife! They talked about Shakespeare and why he had to write in such a stupid language that you need a bunch of notes to understand it. It is impossible to read anything, because it is so much work! Every other word you have to look down and try to figure out what he is saying. Why did he do that????? Why indeed. I tried to explain Shakespeare's coining of new phrases and his innumerable contributions to contemporary English, wishing I had a copy of Robert McNeil's autobiography and his splendid discourse on Hamlet. If I ever get to teach it, I will. So although they learned very little today, I learned quite a bit.

Hour 5 had the opportunity to complete the worksheet on Animal Farm. I say the opportunity, because they chose not to utilize it. They fooled, Rodman shooting spitballs until I removed his straw from his mouth (drawing disgusting remarks from the rest of the class), Joseph staring the stare of the dead (I cannot understand how these kids function of the edge of sleep, give them 5 minutes and they can go right out:, Monica with a million reasons why she had to be going, and Dawan, here for 3 consecutive days, also shooting spitballs, throwing paper at Saundra (which she returned), walking around, complaining that he hadn't read it (not surprising, since he hasn't been there at all in March), Nigeria, managing to waste the entire hour without performing a single academic task and the rest giggling, laughing and talking. Dawan received a conference card. I was reluctant, and warned him, but he just would not get it together. He had his pants down nice and low, showing his cheeks in all their glory, and he shuffled off to the office, an old pro at being tossed out.

After he was gone, I told Saundra that she would collect the paper on the floor and she refused. I told her that no one would leave the class until the paper was picked up, and she finally, after 3 minutes of goading, did remove it from the floor. She left the room and promptly dropped it on the floor in the hall. I could have grabbed her and attempted to force her to do it, but I decided rather than risk violence I would just write a conference card and drop it on Mr. Wiggins' desk. I did, and I hope she recognizes what she has done. Her victory was rather small and insignificant, though she may not think so, and although I have no real power I can at least let her know that she can carry victory only so far.

Hour 6 had a quiz prepared, though they were not prepared to take it. It was a joke. I thought it was relatively simple, giving terms, definitions and examples and asking them to match all 3, but they could not do it in any way. They gave up almost immediately and moaned and whined about how it was too hard (of course with all the attendance problems we have had, both authorized and unauthorized, I was a bit unfair in expecting some of them to do this. Clearly, I need to have longer units that have more paper they can use to study from. They cannot learn from the board but must have a copy to collect since they may not have been here when I wrote it. So we went over the test orally (and they busily filled in the correct answers on the assumption, I suppose, that I was going to count this as work completed), and Horace answered more questions than anyone. Those who didn't answer disappointed me. College, which seemed fancifully easy to me, will really jolt them for they will be responsible for their own learning in a big way. I hope the surprise is not too catastrophic.

The other part of the test was on Bierce, and although we discussed each of those points, they were unprepared again. I guess they just never thought I would actually ask them these questions, and I suppose that, once again, I did not have a clear enough plan to make sure all the info was transmitted to all the students. The test was not hard but they did very poorly, and I was saddened that their slovenly ideas were written in such sloppy sentences. There is a lot of teaching that they still need, and they need a teacher there regularly to do it.

Mr. Blank was absent again today. Eight or ten times since I've been there. They have enough problems, they at least need a consistent teacher.

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