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Tag Archives: alternative high school

Be a teacher and change lives: the only reason worth doing it, including summers off

Mainly I’m a volunteer, supported by tech dollars. So many teachers are, is my guess, especially in science and technology, where getting a better paying job is pretty easy. It would be an interesting study, to see how teachers’ families make it, and how many family members are really supported these days on teachers’ pay. I brought home less than $900 last month–thought there must be some mistake, until I realized I had to take two sick days. Good medical insurance, though, for the whole family, for a few hundred dollars less, too.

Still, I love my job, and am thankful that my husband had parents who both made a huge impact as teachers, and so his heart is in this endeavor too, despite the long hours beyond the four and a half per day in my contract. As if a half an hour before and a half after could be enough for any sort of decent planning, even if I wasn’t in my first year on the job.

My husband’s dad grew up in a logging town, learned everything mechanical, worked as a machinist until he was injured, then got a teaching credential. He had the tough kids in the shop and on the football field, and related to them, being a dyslexic, having moved out of home at sixteen, encouraged to do so by his dad, who had a new, young wife only a few years older than the stepson. Was insecure around the other teachers, got teased even as an adult at not being able to spell words correctly on the blackboard. He had a temper too, but a soft heart for the boys he taught, and he taught them well. Died early, probably from shop fumes plus a botched esophagus operation, and decades later his widow still hears from students whose lives he helped set on a firm foundation, both as a teacher and as a man with an open door policy toward his sons’ friends at home.

My husband’s mother went back to school and then work at Head Start, on her husband’s insistence, in case anything happened to him and he couldn’t work. Proved to be a good move, as a few years later he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, and it was a long haul through which his wife cared for him, and had that other space in which to succeed and have a change of scene, as well as be in community. She came to be an administrator, not the usual kind, but a person known for always believing that the caregivers in the child development centers did their best work when believed in and supported rather than checked up on and scolded.

I’m putting away that thought that it takes more now than caring for kids and an interest in helping them learn, more than a desire to make a living sharing what you know while learning more than you could possibly guess about yourself, the subject, the clients, the community, the meaning of existence, more than all that to choose teaching as a profession. Now it’s also about finding something that will pay the bills, keeping up with the rate of inflation, procreation, and non working vacation. And the strain of being so many new things to those kids, doing the impossible or letting it go a little every day.

There seems to be a growing correlation between the growth of a populace poorly educated, easily swayed voters and that failure to fund and design education, and otherwise inspire and support new generations of teachers. Serves us right, I guess, though I don’t know if I’m ready to turn the show over to either the mob, the moneyed, or the intellectual elite just yet.

I’m reading Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed–a nice, slick library copy, and got so fired up I ordered my own copy, all the way from Georgia to my local independednt bookstore, who hadn’t had a copy in the store in the thirty years it has existed.

I feel it–tha tacit go ahead from my fellow workers at the school to make a difference in any way I can, and there’s this articulation in Friere of what I’m hoping to do in some or other semblance. Yes, even as a science teacher. I’ve only read the preface and a few paragraphs of the introduction, and already I have enough burning inside to start working on communicating that choice all these young people have to be a Subject working to transform this world, rather than a victim. First awareness, then criticism, then action. I guess there will have to be a continual influx of hope and idealism, too, cause when life gets ’em down, there’s the why not just smoke some weed and make out some more in the car with the dark windows method, feelin’ good for this moment seems like a good compromise to stressing out or acting out. Been shut down a few times already for getting on my high horse about the evils of weed. My humbler approach will me a mere appeal to come to class mentally alert at least, for the advantage conferred on efforts to learn enough to graduate.

Yesterday we were chatting in my last period class–a remarkable atmosphere there, with some truly cool and very positive people whose attitudes spread to almost everybody when there’s a group project or discussion or tough assignment to do, even though it’s my largest class at eighteen when full. Anyway, the point was to fill in the newer students on the story of how there had been a new science teacher before me who had had to leave…

“Not ‘had‘ to leave, chose to leave,” said one, that hurt still showing.

“It was hard on everyone,” I said, “and I came in new, and the students were like, ‘Oh you, you’re just the new teacher–whatever..’ with this sour attitude.”

“They were sulking, and wouldn’t give you a chance,” said the same student who had spoken before. She hasn’t any patience for anyone’s bad attitude, doesn’t yet see that a lack of empathy can be a problem, too. Though she’s always had my back, for some reason of her own. “Did you know when we found out your name, we FaceBooked you?”

“Yeah, the principal mentioned it. You didn’t Google me, too, did you? What comes up there might have been keeping me from getting a job at all.” Collective gab for the smart phones, eyes lit up in anticipation. “It’s not what you think…” Not a conviction or former career as a stripper or anything,really. But they were hooked.

“There’s a whole article here!” said Mister positive, and he quoted the title.

“Yeah, that’s me.” He starts reading.

“This is awesome!” They perceived the ant-establishment stance, were feeling the support I was trying to give in that letter to the editor, that opposition to the way “socioeconomically disadvantaged” students are forced through loopholes that only cut them down and make them less likely to succeed. And I was starting to think, what was I thinking, mentioning that? Asked them to keep it quiet, at least until I get a permanent job, and the word was, “Sure thing,” so I’m hoping. Still, that search result hasn’t barred me any way from this position sticking up for kids who got diverted here from the mainstream, so be it as it may, whether forgotten or not.

 

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Tikkun olam

Here I am, still losing my religion. I had a flicker of hope, though, that it might be in order to find to again, and a feeling that a this point at least it’s not about any leap of faith or girding up of loins, but a kind of waiting, watching, and calling up of the bare bones essential truth of what I still believe.

I’m among believers at my work place–maybe about half, I’m guessing, though there’s not much mention of that, as per the Separation. Anyway, their best way of bearing witness is in the love they bear toward the least of these. I’ve come around to that after all, Dad.

A few days ago I had the privilege of witnessing something beautiful–a brief interaction between one of my students from last quarter, one of a set of twins that are carrying the weight of virtual homelessness, and the counselor. The girl finishes school each day wondering how she’ll get a drive to the place where her nearest relative is crashing, how may people she’ll have to call, whether she has a friend in the world. Also wondering how her court case will shake out, whether there will be jail time for her soon.

She was heading out of the office, and the counselor reached out with her name and a few words–I could tell it was just another part of a long effort in the same direction, to once again offer good wishes and a tone of real compassion, in case she could believe it this time. Her usually frowning countenance heard it, and also from the principal, who was there too seeing her off, and she kind of softened, took it in, as she turned to head out the door.

I notice a lot of that sort of thing around here, and it’s softening me, too. Staff catching up on news of this or that former student, whether happy in a good job or showing up on the jail report again. Talk of former students who can hardly wait until they’re twenty-one, or five years out of school, to be Facebook friends with the teachers who had their back when times were rough.

Now that I feel accepted by the students and no longer viewed with suspicion, as possibly one who might not “get” them, or might abandon them as some felt the previous teacher did, there’s more of an opening for me to give off that kind of warmth too. I don’t want to take that for granted, or offer anything that isn’t genuine. I’ve made lots of mistakes already from ignorance and lack of experience, or from wearing a mask to hide my own insecurity. Here’s to being a channel of the divine peace.

 

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Tough to do a species distribution analysis or salinity profile, or even compose a few watery lyrics, when you’re kicking and pushing that water

First week of school at my new job as a science teacher at the alternative high school–four days and a teacher field trip on the professional development day. Hoping I can capture some of the essence without the scrawled notes from the many moments I took time to process during the four days with the students. The summary sentences I have used to answer the question, “How’s the new job?” include, “It’s all I had expected and more,” and “They are teaching me a lot.”

I have met and got impressions of my forty-or-so students, my dozen colleagues, my classroom space and the campus. First the macro focus, the course adjustment knob in play on my scope–what my students look like, general tendencies, noticeable edges, bright colors in terms of personality, behavior, knowing I’m going to have to gloss over details for now. Getting a read on their feelings about the change to a new teacher, how they interact with one another and with other staff, what they expect and want, the routine they’re used to. Which are the ones who have the most difficulty with the change? Learning their names using my seating sketch, a glance at ages–fourteen through eighteen, notes on the chart–IEPs, medical conditions, learning disabilities, without seeing the details (without wanting to, yet, as I form my own impressions), knowing nothing about the reasons that got them there.

My first impressions of staff is pretty much all positive, insofar as they like each other, care intensely about the students, are comfortable with being themselves, and have been welcoming and supportive to me. A variety of personalities, no brand new teachers, most have a good deal of life experience. A principal who doesn’t try to carry an aura of authority or professionalism about him like cheap cologne. I’m humbled at the trust they’ve all placed in me, the newcomer (even if maybe they had little choice), aware that it must be tough to be in that space of wondering what will happen in my classroom in the first days–will I say and do dumb things, lose my balance, need too much support that should go to the students, get off on the wrong foot?

I like my classroom, have decided I even like that I share it with several other teachers; I can come and go while other classes are going on, work away at my desk or set up activities in the back, meanwhile getting impressions of some of the students while they interact with other teachers. No sense of isolation in my personal domain that way–just a desk, a few cabinets and bulletin boards in a shared space. Portable floors easy on the feet, windows let in light on the west side, heat cranks out and no one needs a blanket like in the social studies room. I get a laptop for my own use, there’s a shared one that projects onto the screen, a document camera, enough white board space. I found the extra school supplies, files of previous assignments, student notebook bins. No lab facilities, exactly, but enough microscopes for all and a cabinet of supplies, plus colleagues at the school next door happy to lend things when needed. Haven’t figured out the class management software yet, but I set up a training for Monday, so I should be able to post a few numbers by Tuesday when I’m supposed to.

One thing is, there won’t be any surprised once the teacher evaluation comes around, for anyone. Everything is reported back and forth by the students themselves–a good number of whom don’t hold back at all when they feel something, worry about something, have a problem with someone, or an opinion one way or the other. The news travels as they pop out to the bathroom, which is in the main office a few portables down, to one another and the staff they trust.

How did I begin? I over planned, picking activities that didn’t depend on a set of previous knowledge and which fitted into the field of topics, had some hands-on, opportunity for question and answer, discussion, and group work. I was continuing with biology for most, but soon found out that about a third of the students had just started the class. Environmental science was a fresh start with students who up until then had been taking chemistry.

I made the first day introduction short, just greeted the students, told them I was glad to be there, a bit about myself, and acknowledged that this was weird for them, getting a teacher change like this. A bit about my expectations: the same as with the previous teacher, that they’d come prepared to work, be good to one another, and keep lines of communication open. I had them write their names on index cards with any information they’d like to or felt they needed to share with me about themselves. And so we began.

The microscope intro went okay, then the practice focusing, making wet mount slides, and drawing. The lesson was pretty dependent on me talking and them attending and participating, though, and I soon found that they were used to, and wanted to return to, a routine where I gave them a written assignment and they went ahead and did it on their on or in their groups. I was told that worked better for them, they were used to it, and that their previous teacher had done that and they’d all got A’s.

The second day I decided on instinct to read out a few pages I’d scrawled, just thoughts bubbling up early in the morning about teaching them about cells, how the traditional was was to draw from a diagram and label all the parts, then look at real cells in which none of those things could be reliably drawn and identified save the cell membrane and cytoplasm. How I didn’t want them to be turned off because real life wasn’t so photogenic and standard. Gave them an analogy–what if, when I was in teacher training, I was told that here is a diagram of a student (I showed them, a sketch), label all the parts: alert brain eager to learn, healthy body with the usual number of hands, feet, and senses, all ready to do what was required, tummy full of a nourishing breakfast…they got the point. There’s variety, exceptions, no real average. Several students in one class said that forcefully about themselves–that they were not like the students at the “regular” schools, and that what worked there did not work here. So forcefully that I had to let go of my intended point for a while just to listen–One said I should teach concepts step by step, another giving the big picture first. Some said I was going too fast, that it was stressing them out (lots of anxiety issues), and several said (or showed) they were bored because I was going too slow. In another class I was told that they preferred to be given their paperwork or instructions and left to do it with the teacher taking only a consulting role.

“So, I hear you,” I said, repeating back what I heard, “and do you see that what different people are asking for is mutually exclusive?” Yes, they admitted. “Just be Ms. ____ (former teacher), and it will be okay,” blurted one girl. To which I replied, should I ask you to be someone you aren’t? They weren’t really giving me orders, but I appreciated the perspectives, and I said I would bear them in mind and try to find ways for everyone to succeed, and hoped they could be patient when these things couldn’t be at the same time. Even though I could not, as they requested, give all tests as open notes as their last teacher.

While this was going on, a student slipped out to tell folks at the office that things were getting intense, and in sidled the counselor to hear the last part of the conversation. Which was fine, as I felt he’d get a pretty good sense of how I’d be handling such things. Talking afterward, he was good with it all, but said that he’d slipped in because the informant had said people were shouting at each other. Not compared to some days at my house, but there was high energy, and intensity (I was on high adrenaline, but mostly to zip my lips and listen, without taking anything personally). There were a few students who were stressed. I told them the next day that I’d felt the conversation had been valuable, and that I hope they felt heard. They had.

Of course–there are always sensitive, caring souls, several students came up to me afterward, one to offer a “collective apology,” another to assure me this wasn’t about me but they were just having a hard time with the change, because their old teacher had been a favorite. (The principal assured me later that they had given her heck!) I reassured them that I definitely didn’t take anything personally, and was glad to hear them out.

At the end of the week, i was still thinking, “I get to do his for money?” Sort of kidding, as I wouldn’t want to be undervalued that way, but I felt that I was going to really grow as a teacher, which I had wanted in my job, and be very useful, at this place. My main goals: at the end of the year, for each student to be able to say, “I learned a lot,” and “She liked me.” Which fit very well indeed into the ethos of the school.

 

 

 

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Wow!

A cool position just came up–alternative high school science, a little over half time. Same position that was up at the end of the school year, so apparently their person didn’t work out. I applied, and the principal emailed me the next morning inviting me in for a “very informal” chat. All thoughts of being on someone’s black list slipped away–things are moving again! I called the teacher who had worked there a few years ago, who is also a professional reference, and it turned out she had been trying to call me. She’d got a phone call by that principal, who asked for her opinion, and told him she had no idea why I hadn’t been hired yet, and he should hire me in a heartbeat. You know that expression, “to be humbled”–seems not quite the right one, but you know that flood of thankfulness, of being appreciated, seen as capable and even more. Makes one, yes, feel humbled, not puffed up. I thought, okay, who are you comparing me to, anyway, to see me as such a good candidate? But please keep it up, while I compare myself to the greats, the teachers of the year (whether recognized or not), the ideal in all of the above. Sort of frees one up to aim that high, with some wind beneath one’s wings.

I didn’t prepare. I thought about it, but felt that this was what I wanted to do, and I know why. Don’t need to rehearse, don’t need to do anything but review the names of folks I might meet, think of some questions, and dress for success. So I watched “Much Ado About Nothing” and went to bed.

The meeting was mainly to hear about the school’s philosophy, mission, program, aspirations, and plans. So exciting–they’ve built a community there which is so welcoming and supportive that students want to go there, unlike in the past when the alternative school was considered a sign of student failure or last resort. The team is solid, relatively new but experienced, and transitioning between not having much in the way of lab resources or science curriculum to building a state of the art new facility with a focus on project based learning. There will be a rooftop garden and greenhouses, an aerospace technology workshop, facilities for all the agencies that help support youth at risk, their own gym and theatre. They’ve checked out other project based high schools all over, attended trainings as a staff, and now other local high schools have come to them to find out more about the cool stuff they’re doing. All because these special students didn’t accept, or weren’t able to succeed in, school as usual. They should all personally be told, “Thank you for helping us grow.”

After talking to my biology teacher friend about how shallow and rapid (sounds like a pulse when you have a virus) was her curriculum, I was wondering what i might be getting into in applying to teach high school science. But at this school, the normal is slow, deep, hands on, and creative, which really sounds like my style. They’re even willing to morph the current chemistry into environmental science if the teacher is stronger in that area.

When I got home I told my daughter all about it, and she said she’d known all along that I’d find that kind of job opportunity, and wasn’t worried at all when I didn’t get the other one. So a few more days, an official interview, and I’ll know. Meanwhile, I’ll be re-reading my biology and environmental science texts, and expediting the house projects in anticipation of not having much spare time for that sort of thing.

 
 

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College and career ready, flexible time line

I heard a student debate this week on CBC The Current on whether high school should be optional. The pro side argued that teens should be free at the age of fourteen or so to consider many options besides or in addition to formal schooling, including internships, work, volunteering, travel, or personal scholarship. The con side argued that most teens are not wise enough at that age to make decisions that could “close doors on their future” and thus limit them in their further learning and career options. The pro side thought they were mature enough, and also that parents and mentors would still be able to help with these decisions anyway.

I listened for the reasoning behind the assumption that all the speakers seemed to be making, without ever stating it, that because public schooling is free only up to one’s senior year, one has to cram in all the learning one can before then or it will be too late. They treated this limitation as if it were similar to human developmental stages such as attachment, or learning to crawl and walk, the appropriate phases for which really are fleeting, making remediation, or filling in the gaps, difficult.

I agree that there are developmental stages of learning in the early years, but the teen years are something else entirely. The teen is not in general a person that benefits from being constantly under authority (and authority they may see as not merited), subjected to seven plus hours of sitting, listening, reading and writing. Neither is it developmentally appropriate to require them to yield the management of their intellectual lives to–I was going to say teachers, but it’s not teachers who are running this show. Nor school administrators, nor school boards, nor legislatures, nor governors…who is it, anyway? Who are the people or entities that hold that vision of what kids need to learn? So far, when I trace the money and influence, it seems to have a good deal to do with economic competitiveness, social stability (which feeds economic competitiveness), and military strength (derived from economic competitiveness).

I was chatting with my daughter last night about ways to teach, convictions and passion that teachers carry and whether they can live by their principles within the system. She has an English teacher she respects, but she said sometimes he’ll say, “I think this is dumb that I’m supposed to teach this, but I’m supposed to, so I’ll do it anyway.” What does that say to students? Not that I think teachers should keep their views to themselves, or ignore policies and guidelines they are expected to follow, but maybe–I’m saying this as one who doesn’t yet have a contract job yet, mind you, but I need to preach to myself and see if I can keep up my courage to stand when the time comes–maybe he should have entered into a dialogue of a sort about how to reconcile, or overcome, these conflicts between conscience and convention or policy. What’s the process, and don’t we want to model that? Like, how do we recognize what’s worth standing up for, and how do we not be a whiner but instead be a courageous and loving voice, a patient and tireless advocate, for better and better principles? How do we model the strength to go against our own preferences at times instead of treating those too as if they are principles? I suppose one just gets tired, and the only relief is a bit of camaraderie with the students because of being fellow slaves to the system.

Yesterday I taught high schoolers about the effects of algal blooms fed by nutrient runoff, and some were with me, some were just not bothering to try. I feel I’m pretty engaging, and good at making it not intimidating to participate in a question and answer session or discussion. I use my seating charts, call on random students, give them more than one chance, and let them think about what I’m asking. But there were some students who just were tuned out, and though they’d pay attention for the few seconds I called on them, they’d drift off right after and forget what we were talking about. I was going around in circles just getting them to recall that plants produce oxygen when they are growing and decomposers use oxygen. Basic sixth grade science, but it just seemed beyond them, because they didn’t want to learn it, or remember it. In this situation a teacher can choose to, A) say,  “Oh, and this will be on the test tomorrow,” and keep going; or B) say “This will be on the final exam. Those willing to actively participate, please come to this side of the room and gather around,” and continue, while the other half does quiet work of their own choice or goes to the library or home.

As I circulated later while they worked on algae bloom flow charts, I felt prompted by one table of students to explain that some teachers are extremely strict and mandate all the rules and give lots of tests and grades are everything. Others teach without requiring anyone to tow any line as long as they are no causing trouble, take it or leave it, because they believe that only the students can choose whether to work hard or not, and only the students will take the consequences of their choices in the long run. I’m somewhere in the middle, I said, because I really want you to learn this and have a clearer understanding than students why it is important, and will build in incentives as I can, but realize that there’s a time to let someone choose to fail if that’s the way they roll. I’m here to encourage, do my best to teach well, and leave the rest to students. If I am tempted to try rescue, it’s because someone is trying hard and struggling, not because they have no will to succeed.

What I’d like to extend that to, or wonder if I could, is to have a series or gradation of conversations with students about their choices in learning. First,  as some students take on the challenge of personal scholarship, basically I just say, “Go girl!” *(or guy), and just sort of facilitate and cheer them on, give them their head, so to speak, and maybe do grades either differently or not at all. In the other polar situation, with students who are choosing not to make an effort, would come a  conversation first to determine if there were hurdles they were facing with which they needed a hand, or, if they really didn’t care and didn’t want to be there, that they be allowed, even required, to leave. I would let them know that I felt it was not my role to decide for them,and it was time to talk with them and parents privately about a better plan for their time.

I think sometimes the problem isn’t really the student him- or herself, but this complex interaction in which they have been largely disempowered about making any meaningful choices about their education, an/or have no mentors helping them see the value of school learning and hard work.

Getting back to the alternative high school where I subbed a few weeks ago (and signed up again this week even though it meant working more days than I had planned): the freedom was good for those students. Okay, so some chose not to show up at all. And I say, so be it, and let’s get to a place where most of these so-called dropouts become liftoffs, not just (as it seems they are generally now regarded) pregnant teens, drug dealers, low wage workers, and welfare recipients. If they find they are floundering, they can come by for support and mentoring, to discuss their choices and make a plan. Not because their options are dwindling as they near and pass the ripe old age of eighteen, but because that’s what a public system should do for its people. Public school. Public library. Resource-rich, staffed by qualified professionals and caring volunteers, free, and optional. And when learning with older peers seems to be more appropriate, and it’s become relevant to pick up Algebra II or English 99, students can attend community colleges, and take these high school equivalent courses for free.

 

 

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Frank and Ernest and their friends up North

I subbed for the first time at an Options high school this week. Where students who weren’t getting a proper education in the regular system go, you know, and get more support in smaller classes. And where they get more direction to go into into manual arts and blue collar jobs, I gathered from the textbooks on the shelves there. I’m starting to think it would be better to encourage them to consider becoming teachers. Why not, since even my son, who was interested in teaching, and would be good at it, has decided to go for a better paying job in technology.

The Options zone was an arrangement of four portable classrooms called North, with mellow, understanding teachers, a few I.A.A.’s, and an acting principal. There was no lesson plan on the desk, so I got the scoop from the teacher next door, who told me that today was basically a study hall day, with students doing whatever assignments they had to work on.

Five students filtered in, and when I had told them my name and jotted theirs down, they got settled down to work, and I realized i wouldn’t have much to do and wished I’d brought my copy of The Boys in the Boat. Now and then I’d check in with one or the other, but no one really needed anything. So I sat at the desk did some writing and planning.

After a while I got to talking to the two girls in the front. One asked me how I got into subbing, and then what I expected Options students to be like. Had I been scared? I said, I’m always a little scared, no matter where I go to sub, because I never really know whether I can do a good job, and what might come up. But I like that, I added—keeps me on my toes, and things usually go pretty well anyway. She offered that some subs came with an attitude, as if they know the students already, as if they were troublemakers because of being in the Options program. I said, yes, I believe it, I’d seen that kind of prejudice and disrespect, and it’s sad.

I asked her how it made her feel to be treated that way, and she said she felt like being bad on purpose. Mm-hmm, I said, and then the teacher can feel justified, right? She totally got that, of course. So I invited her, and her friend also in the conversation, and I suppose a few of the guys who could hear from where they sat (one in particular, a tall, athletic black boy with a bit of his face peeking out of his hoodie as he glanced up now and then), to consider how worth it it could be for them (and me) to rise above and be a free agent, and act out of choice rather than auto-response. Told her what I’d learned long ago (not so as I remember to apply it much) from Eric Berne’s transaction analysis, how if we can have the self awareness to act from our true mature self, even if someone is expecting less, it can change the dynamic. I said but I’m preaching too much, and she said, I like it. She had to go, but if we’d had the chance to talk longer, I suppose we would have to come to the problem of the prejudiced teacher thinking that the good response was somehow due to her skills and showing who’s boss, rather than the maturity of the student in the face of disrespect.

I went back to writing in my notebook, and after a while the other girl asked what I was writing. I told her this and that–notes, thoughts, two-minute timed pieces for my class, ideas for books and articles, research on writing markets, and so on. She wanted to know more, so I found one piece that made a little sense, on how Annie Dillard’s writing affected me. She was so interested and appreciative. Told me I should write a whole book of things like that. Maybe I will, I said, once I figure out what’s people might like to read. I mentioned my blog, and she wanted to know how blogs worked, so I explained. We chatted on, about our families, and I could see her parents and step parents and step sibs were lucky to have her in the family, and told her so.

On the way out she said she’d recommend me to sub again. And I felt that flood of thankfulness, of privilege, of blessing that keeps me going, that would almost make whether I get paid for this job seem irrelevant. Not that I’m desperate to be liked, because I now have a confidence of my own that I at least can do a decent job. But it’s a blessing be invited into someone’s domain, out of good will.

Since the lunch room was across campus and there was a microwave in the building, I cooked up my rice and chicken there, found a copy of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Ernest tucked behind a row of Math with Business Applications and enjoyed a quiet read.

One thing that struck me about Options, or at least the way it was organized there, was the freedom that these students enjoyed, to come or not come to class, to come late, to decide on what they’d accomplish and when. No hall passes or tardy slips. There was a sense of final preparations for their life outside school, an acknowledgement of their impending (or newly begun) adulthood. Even with a sub in the room, these five students were responsible and respectful, and did their work.

The afternoon class was completely different. I took over from a young male teacher in “North North” supervising two big guys whom he had allowed (or not interfered with their decision) to watch internet flicks. I asked one student his name, which he gave as Josh, and put his headphones back on, continuing to blurt out song lyrics now and then, complete with expletives. The other teacher said, funny, he introduced himself to the other sub as Josh, too. I asked his real name, in case I needed it.

I couldn’t help but be surprised at what I felt were the low expectations there. The teacher seemed too intimidated to expect much. Maybe it was just because of early release and schedule changes. I knew nothing about these two man-sized guys except that I would be alone for the next hour with them, and that, as the teacher had explained, usually subs were not expected to do much teaching. I said maybe next time, since they’ll be used to me. Otherwise it’s hard to stay awake, right?

I read a bit, looked around the space, logged on to school district websites and picked up a few sub jobs. I went over and congratulated “Josh” for successfully pulling the wool over my eyes. He was the first, I said, because he didn’t give himself away as most did by pausing before giving the false name, and then looking for a reaction. He made an acknowledgement sound. I asked why he hadn’t given his real name, and he said because most people automatically shortened it to nicknames he didn’t like. Said he’d just not answer them. I said I didn’t blame him–names are important, and I think people should try use the ones they are given by the owner.

The taller guy was roaming around bored, but the bell rang and the two went to get their drives home. As I locked up and walked across the parking lot to the library to put in my final hour of duty in which I had no defined purpose, I daydreamed about what I could bring to a place such as the one I’d visited this day. Would I be able to set up some cool science labs? Model writing for the love of it? Lead a reading of The Importance of Being Ernest? Inspire some kids who found they weren’t served by the system to become educators themselves?

 

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