Statistics and crime map…
Jun 14 Published in Remembrance, Reflections by Purple
This is, finally, the conclusion, of my journal from my 2001-2002 school year. Please read the previous posts to give this entry context. I’m glad that I have a detailed record of one teaching year, although it was a challenge to document it. Teaching high school English engulfs a person!
June 5, 2002 - Winding Down
Chad’s mom sent me an e-mail to thank me for my updates on his progress. “It meant a lot to me to get e-mails from you. I knew if there was a problem you would let me know.”
I had the unenviable task of writing back to say that although Chad had done great for the quarter, a B, he had not written his essay for the final exam. Since he passed both quarters, he would pass the class, but as I told his mom, “. . . an F on the final will lower his overall grade. I think he should make writing that essay a priority between now and Friday.” I tried to end my message on an upbeat note.
Chad was only one of several students who mystifyingly and infuriatingly didn’t produce an essay. Lupe didn’t write one and her final would decide whether she received a B or a C. She received a C. Worse yet, Gustavo, whose final made the difference between passing and failing, didn’t produce an essay. Ditto for Raymond. All in all, Becky, Xochitl, Roberto, Gustavo, and Raymond failed second semester.
During the finals period today, they took the other half of their exam—150 Scantron questions. Although many students said goodbye and a few wrote messages on the board, there were no teary farewells. Partly because it’s not the last day of school, partly because they were not my favorite class, after all.
They are not the same class with which I started. I knew in the first two weeks that Mark was a pivotal student, and when I lost him at the semester, it was like I lost Roberto, too. Roberto knew and admired Mark from football, and Mark’s efforts in class kept Roberto connected to class. While Chad was a pleasant addition to class, he has a quiet nature. His energy could not replace Mark’s. Mark’s presence may also have been what held Amanda’s snottiness at bay for the first semester.
Even though Pedro and Deborah had friends in the class, they never felt fully incorporated into sixth period. Pedro and Popo were friends from soccer and distracted each other. Both of them did better without the other.
Sheridan, who could have been a leader, projected an attitude that the class was beneath her, which it probably was. As she indicated in her final essay, “the class was mostly review” to her. Accelerated English next year should be a lesson in humility.
I’ve recommended Elizabeth for Accelerated, too. Her reading posttest showed her above grade level. Her essay was “Becoming Responsible, Concentrated, And Organized.” No mere rehashing of similes or irony for this one. “Even though I had hard times during the year, what I learned in English class by myself and by Ms. Hansen’s help, helped me in other subjects and my personal life.”
Then there are students like Rosa, who I didn’t like much at the beginning, but of whom I grew fond. “Ms. Hansen’s class seemed to be the hardest class out of all my classes this year. Even thought it was hard I had fun.”
Other students like Gustavo discovered the temptation of cutting. He had eight absences this quarter and not all of them were excused.
The class, fortunately, had a solid core, students like Diana, Adriana, Evelia, and Mindy, who were consistently hard working and enjoyable.
Thursday, June 6th
The irate dad of my fourth period student called the student’s counselor who passed along this message to me:
I just received a call from Mr. H and he seemed very content with how you have worked with the students and increased access to computers. He commends you for your efforts. Now, have a nice summer and finish your next book.
I should be a big enough person to accept this pallid excuse for an apology. Instead, I’m a deeply flawed human being. Mr. H is a drip. An asshole is much too useful to be applied to the likes of him. I couldn’t care less what he thinks of “my efforts.” He can take a flying f***. I’ve never understood exactly what that means, but I like its alliterative quality.
I take some grim satisfaction that Mr. H can’t speak to me. I like to fantasize that he’s had an epiphany, that he’s discovered that everyone holds me in the highest esteem, that I’m worshipped like a goddess, and he’s stuck, feeling like someone who’s shat on the Buddha, with no way to apologize, no way to unload his embarrassment.
In reality, he probably decided his political angle of computer access was more work than he wished to pursue, especially since his precious son earned a B in the class.
All things considered, it’s been a regular year. My first year I was hired on Friday to start teaching on Monday. I still lived in San Francisco and had to work the weekend. I drove to Santa Cruz Sunday night and started teaching on Monday. My third year I had a schizophrenic student in my classroom who once put on a dance routine for the class that included humping the floor. My fourth year I taught in a warehouse while the Main Building was remodeled. The furnace for the entire building was located over my classroom, which had no ceiling. Whenever the heater kicked in, two or three times on a winter afternoon, it sounded like a jet plane taking off. Still, that was the first room I ever had that was my own. Two years later, the earthquake destroyed the newly remodeled Main Building, displacing half the school again. The next year, during winter break, my father was killed in an accident. While I was at his funeral, my aunt collapsed and died on the floor. When I got home, my cat had been run over. The next year, after several years of a valiant fight, my sister succumbed to breast cancer. Then there was the year of my divorce and the year I moved in with new husband and the many years of remodeling that followed that.
On a personal level, the year was probably no harder than others. It’s the brave, new world that my students and I inhabit that seems different. It’s no more dangerous, certainly, than it was September 10th as the plot to bomb us coalesced. But our consciousness has been altered. Fear makes us old.
I was fearless as a youth. At age twenty I drove halfway across the United States and threw my sleeping bag in the ditch beside the road. Now, when I have less to fear of predators, I’m much more frightened by them. Now when my bones won’t tolerate sleeping on the ground, I see the stupidity of my ways. But what adventures I would have missed if I’d had my old age caution back then!
The idea is to have knowledge without fear, to be mindful, not fearful and cruel. Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” It’s not what we know, but what we can create and shape with that knowledge that counts.
I hope all my students know that similes and clauses are a means, not an end. I want them to have choices, so that Melissa can be a receptionist if that is what she wants, (Lord only knows, we need a friendly smile to greet us), but also so Amanda can be a lawyer or Raymond can become a business administrator. But I hope they understand that this is a means, too.
Our “enduring understanding” for our Career Choices unit was, “What does it mean to be successful?” The students considered two pages of famous quotations about success.
“I strongly agree with Ben Sweetland’s quote, ‘Success is a journey, not a destination,” wrote Mindy. “In other words Sweetland is saying when you finally reach your goal in life don’t stop just because you got there, keep going and try making yourself better . . . .”