So, I thought I’d post a little progress report of sorts on my first day of February break. We’re three weeks into the new semester, and quite a lot has happened in that short time.
For starters, my juniors and seniors read Native Son. Well… most of them read it. Okay… HALF. The other half of the class was regularly kicked out of the room to read in the principal’s office (I’ve got to talk to her about that; I’m going to do it as a regular thing and I want to make sure she’s on board).
The thing is, I KNOW when you’ve not done the reading, Kids. There are details in this story – details that stand out in obvious ways – that I expect you to be able to tell me when I ask. When I go to student A and ask him what happened in the section we read and he says “Bigger got caught,” and I say “Yes, but HOW did he get caught?” and boy replies that he doesn’t remember, I call bullshit. One doesn’t quickly forget that Bigger was fire hosed off the top of a water tower on the roof of an apartment building in the middle of the night during a blizzard. Get your book and go find Ms. Director.
The kids who did read really kicked it. In fact, the first day I sent half the class out of the room, the students who remained had the kind of conversation I used to have in my college classes when I was a student. Everyone was participating, they questioned each other, they made connections and extended their thinking beyond the book, and I had to do little else but sit back and watch them rock. When it was all over, one student came to me to ask if I could do that again. “Do what again?” I asked. “Kick those kids out.” No, Sweet; the idea is to bring them along with us…
In that class of 15, 8 students are failing. One of them has been suspended for the rest of the year, though, so that brings me to 7. Three of them are going down in spectacular fashion, though; two kids have 12.5 averages, one’s got a 7.5, and one delightful young man (who did this with me last term and swore that this semester would be different) has a straight 0. Yep, that’s right; Boyfriend has turned in exactly no work. Awesome.
On the other end of the spectrum, though, I’ve got some kids who are actually competing for the highest grades in the class. Two of them are dating (it’s pretty funny to watch them in the class – they never sit together and they consistently push each other to more and more complex thinking. He’s FAR more concerned about the numbers than she is, but it’s pretty clear that she’s not going to just “let him win.”) and two more girls are giving them a run for their money. Together, the top six kids in the class are pushing ME to make the course rigorous and high-energy, and I’m loving every second of it.
My grammar class is really the same sort of story on another level. About half the class are bombing while the other half are doing fairly well (with one girl blowing everyone else away. There was really no need for her to be in the class, but there was nothing else offered that period that she could take, so I got her). I’ve got a couple of wise-ass kids, one or two chatty ones, and two that just don’t give a shit. My big concern in this class, though, is a boy I’ll call Mac.
Mac is a GOOD kid; he was in one of my courses last term and it was patently clear to me that he really has it in him to do well. The problem is that he can THINK, but he can’t really WRITE (and I mean that; his writing resembles that of a second-grader). He’s in the group of kids who are failing, and he’s trying SO hard to grasp the basics of grammar – he really is – but the wise-ass, chatty, and just-don’t-give-a-shit kids are a distraction that’s making it hard for him to focus.
I made the announcement yesterday – our last class before break – that the atmosphere of the class is going to change when we get back. I invited them to revisit the syllabus and the expectations set forth within and I told them, on no uncertain terms, that I WOULD kick them out of class for being disruptive or disrespectful. I’m pretty sure that most of them don’t buy that, but the kids who’ve had me before know I’m not bluffing. If you’re not here to learn and to take advantage of what your school and your teachers have to offer you, then you have no business being here and I WILL throw you out. Go dick around somewhere else; we’re trying to get something done here, and we have no time to entertain your dumbassery. (I should note here that I didn’t actually use those words, but that was absolutely my message.)
Let’s see how many I have to toss before they figure out I’m not kidding.
All in all, though, I’m absolutely DELIGHTED by how the semester is going. I’ve got a lot of really great kids (the truth is that they’re ALL great kids, it’s just that some of them don’t know it yet), I’m doing a lot of good work, and I’m having a blast.