A Hundred or So Ways to Get an Ulcer...Year Two
Tuesday, April 27, 2004
  "The mouth of a fool is never closed-- The mouth of genius knows when to shut the hell up."

-Mr. ___________

I put this quote on the board today before the students had entered. After the bell rang, I stood by the quote, arms folded, nodding my head at the chaos before me.

I assumed that the students would get the joke eventually. I waited, and waited. I remained juxtaposed to my quote, waiting some signs of intelligent life amidst the cloud of profanity and gang sloganeering that I call me 7th period class.

Eventually, one bright girl pointed at the quote and said,

"DAMN, Mr. _________ is trying to treat us!"

To which I replied, "I'm not trying anything...I DID just treat you! TREATED!!!!!!!!"

The single most annoying thing about teaching here is the ignorance. By that, I mean the fact that students completely ignore the teachers quite often. I know that all systems have this problem, but here the students will continue to talk, yell, and fight one foot away from your face as you tell them to stop. I have many students who have yet to once look me in the eye.

I know that this complaint may make me sound like a "whiny teenager" to some people, but I challenge these people to show me one whiny teenager who could handle my job.  
Friday, April 23, 2004
  Eight parents came to see me for parent conferences. I have close to 120 students. Of these students, I would estimate that half are failing. Only one of the parents in attendance had a student who was failing.

Chicago's bi-annual Report Card Pick-Up Day is nothing like the parent/teacher conferences I had been accustomed to in my suburban high schools. RCPUD falls between first and second quarter and then again between third and fourth. It is a way for parents to talk to teachers and see how things are going before semester's end. Mid-semester there is still a lot that can be done.

Last semester, they set up a system where the students' "advisory" teacher (similar to homeroom) would hold onto the report cards and the parents had to go to the individual rooms to pick them up. This required parents to walk the halls and made it less of a hassle to visit their child's classroom teachers.

This semester, the parents were greeted at the door with a report card. If the parents chose to leave right then and there, they could. Parents were not required to see any one teacher, not even the advisory teacher. Many parents made that choice.

Being on the third floor made matters worse. Many of the first floor teachers told me that they overheard parents say things like "Your English teacher is all the way up there, let's just go home."

I also had to compete with impatience. There was a period at the day's end when I was speaking with some parents and I saw two sets of parents outside my door. They decided to leave because they did not want to wait the five minutes to talk to me. This was extremely disappointing in that one of students out there with his mother was the student I previously referred to as "RL". I left several phone messages for his mother in the past and wanted urgently to speak with her.

As far as the conferences themselves, no real ground was broken. Either the students were already doing well, or the parents did not wish to stick around long enough to devise a plan for their child.

I had one parent in particular who was at her wit's end with her son. He is a very friendly boy who does absolutely no work. He is a star athlete, and a failing student. He is bright and an excellent reader, but also lazy and disruptive (don't try to look up the word 'lazy' in your education textbooks--I've consulted them and you won't find it). Last semester, she scolded me for not keeping her abreast of his problems. Since then, I have been talking to his other teachers, e-mailing the mother once a week and calling home every once in a while. I have been trying hard to keep this boy on task. This time she apologized to me and told me that she appreciated all of the work I've done with him. I told her not to thank me because I just want what is best for my students. She then confessed to me that she wanted to get rid of him because he treats her like garbage. She then thanked me for me time and walked out.

As she walked out, I told her that I would have a word with him when he returns to school. I often describe how I feel more like a youth counselor than a teacher. I think I just stepped into the shoes of a family counselor as well.

Let's see how it goes.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004
  Parent-teacher conferences tomorrow.
Massive Headache tonight. 
Monday, April 19, 2004
  Many a loyal fan of this site have expressed great disdain over my lack of updating. I apologize for not leaving a "Be Back in One Week" sign at my counter. I have been on a much-anticipated and richly-deserved Spring Break.

As far as the situation with the girl I call "Beneatha", things have been better. She was a little reluctant to talk to me after the incident, but I had a little chat with her and although we did not come to an agreement as to what is entailed in proper behavior, she did agree to come to class with a better attitude. Today, I treated her like any other student. I made a point of saying hi to her in the hallway and ask her how her break was, even though I was across the hallway. I think the gesture proved fruitful in that she came to class and did all of her work. She was even somewhat sweet. She ignored the students she does not get along with and quietly did her work, asking me questions as she went along. She failed last quarter. I will make it a point to sit on her to keep up the good work for the rest of the semester. It will be great to see her promoted to the next grade.

My university instructed me to never talk to other teachers about students. They said that we should be able to form our own opinions and open discourse with other teachers is counterproductive. Although I do believe that students can be completely different in different settings. I wholeheartedly disagree with the idea of cutting off negative communication.

According to the education "experts" at the university, if you are in the teacher's lounge and a teacher speaks negatively about a student, you should walk out.

If I'm nothing else on this site, I am frank. My frankness forces me to post my reaction to this advice. This advice, given by academics who have never stepped foot in a high-school classroom is


The average teacher leaves the profession within the first five years. I believe that a teacher who does not have an arena to bitch will barely break his or her first year.

Bitching is first and foremost a catharsis. Just hearing yourself talk about the problem makes it much easier to deal with. Having other people in your situation to bitch to makes it that much more productive. Once you realize that all teachers have the same problems, it makes you feel as though you are at least not fucking up royally. You are doing your best with what you've got.

Secondly, it can be productive. Open discussions about problem students can be the best thing a teacher can have. I remember one student I had who flat-out told me she hated me at the beginning of the year. She refused to do any work. When you have kids like this, you don't aways know if the kids can do the work or not. It's not clear as to whether or not the kid is resenting your push to make them work, or is does the kid have behavior problems for other reasons.

I called the mom and spoke to her. Of course, every mother says that her kid is smart. This was of no help. Eventually, I got all the tips I needed from other teacher who have had her. Appearantly, she likes to test people in her life. I kept on top and made sure she worked up to her potential.

As of this quarter, she still maintains that she hates me, but she has improved her writing and his getting a B in my class. Had I not had open dialogue about her, I may have had the opportunity to tap into her potential.

My advice to future educators: Bitch til your heats content! Don't take it out on your kids, and don't take it out on yourself. The world may lose a great teacher that way. 
  Sorry about leaving everyone hanging. It was my spring break last week and I didn't think much about school. This week, the saga will continue. 
Wednesday, April 07, 2004
  I was out yesterday. Today I checked the system and Beneatha had not been suspended. She is in school today. Eighth hour should be interesting. Details shall follow. 
Monday, April 05, 2004
  Rock the Bells

"It'd definitely going to be one of those days."

The sub across the hall made this prediction shortly after the misfiring of the first period dismissal bell, twenty minutes before the end of the period. At many schools, a misfired bell early in the period means that the students will sit and wait until the end of the period to leave.

Not at my school.

Students bolted out the door before the piercing sound could finish resonating. Their Pavolovian response superceded common sense, and the instruction of the instructor. They respond to the simplest of stimuli.

A voice over the intercom informs students that they are expected to go back to their classes. Work is to continue in the rooms. Just as the classses settle, the bell misfires once again. A number of my children argue that I must let them go, because the bell is law. Of course what do I know? I am merely an actual person.

I literally had to hold our door closed to prevent my lost lambs from wandering from the pasture.

When they finally got the bell right, I was more than willing to let them leave.

The day continued on as usual until my final class of the day.

They began with their normal shenanigans. Throwing papers, being loud. Many refused to do any of the assigned work. Early in the class, I sent out two students for throwing papers. Usually when I send students to the discipline office, the rest of the class falls in line for the remainder of the period.

This was until I heard a student talk about "beating that white boys ass."

This came from a girl who has a history of fighting in the school. She actually holds the record for most fights in my class while I taught a lesson: 2. She was referring to a Chinese boy in my class, who holds the record for best GPA in the school. He is an immigrant who immigrated just a year ago, knowing no English.

He forced himself to be proficient enough to be a top student. He is a hard-working, honest, caring young man. He has the right to come to school everyday and not feel threatened.

Like I said, she had a history of violence in the school. There was one occasion last semester where she actually threw a book at the same "white boy" she was harrassing.

I tried to diffuse the situation right away. I got quite good at this.

"White boy? What white boy? There isn't a white boy in this class."

"Him, he over there."

"Chen? He's not white, he's Asian."

"That's the same thing. And if he don't stop lookin' ova here, he gun get his ass beat!"

There was no way in hell I was going to allow anyone to feel threatened in my classroom. I sent for security to take her out. She refused to leave. When the security guard (who is also an off-duty cop) physically removed her, she began swinging at him. She went from what would probably be a slap on the wrist to something that may have gotten her arrested.

Shortly after this, Chen asked me if I sent her out because of him. I told him no at first, out loud, so the whole class could hear. I made up some other reason. I didn't want retaliation against him. No one likes a rat, especially one who is a different color. He has few allies at the school, and I did not want to see him get hurt.

Later in the period, a friend of the girl told me that she was the reason all of this happened. She said that she was chucking pennies at Chen and the other girl, Beneatha, was mad that Chen was looking back at her. I told her that I would have to write her up to.

I went down to the discipline office after school to see the outcome and the administrator in charge said he did not see her down there. Evidentally, she was arrested. She allowed herself to catch a case all because some boy was looking at her because her friend was chucking pennies at him.

I really wish I could understand the root of this irrational behavior. If I could, I would be able to teach them more effectively. Unfortuntally, at this point, all I can do it try to understand and make sure that none of them kill each other on my watch....

And maybe on accident, I can improve their reading and writing. Maybe even have a little fun. 
Thursday, April 01, 2004

I had never been a big April Fool's kind of guy. I have always been a proponent of pranks and practical jokes, but I had never felt that said mischief should be relegated to one spring day.

I decided to break untradition today and play a joke on my 8th block class. Unfortunately, the real fool was me.

We teachers are expected to begin every block with a "bell ringer". This is a short assignment, written on the board that students are to begin working on as soon as they sit at their desks. It is a way to (attempt) to get the students focused from the beginning of class.

In lieu of today's 'ringer, I inscribed on the board,

"Final Exam Today--200 points."

Hilarious, eh? They will be squirming in their seats. I had never announced a test and they were totally unprepared. They are going to freak out!

Once I corralled the remains of the herd into my classroom after the tardy bell, I announced the test.

I had twenty-five faces staring blankly at me.

"Gimme a pen!"
"Is this going to take all period?"
"I didn't study. Fuckit!"

They honestly did not care. A 200 point test could make or break a grade. Students will low scores as it was could fail. This could be detrimental the passing the course, to going on to the next class. For my seniors, this could cost them graduation.

I scrambled to add more details to freak them out. I told them it will cover everything we learned. I went on and on and on until finally,

"There will be 150 questions. Many are essays."

"Aww man!"
"You never told us about no test!"
"What the fuck?!"

As soon as the students knew how much work they were going to have to put into their guesses, they cared.

The future........fuckit! But we don't want to fill in ABACADABA times enough times to fill out 150 blanks. That's a lot of pencil-pushing.

I decided to let them in on the joke and we started our project for the day.

I guess I was the real fool for thinking that I could motivate them enough to care. 
A glimpse into the mind of a Chicago inner-city high school teacher. Email: ChicagoTeacher@hotmail.com

11/01/2003 - 12/01/2003 / 12/01/2003 - 01/01/2004 / 01/01/2004 - 02/01/2004 / 02/01/2004 - 03/01/2004 / 03/01/2004 - 04/01/2004 / 04/01/2004 - 05/01/2004 / 05/01/2004 - 06/01/2004 / 06/01/2004 - 07/01/2004 / 08/01/2004 - 09/01/2004 / 09/01/2004 - 10/01/2004 /

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