I can see you in the morning when you go to school

18 12 2012

Have I mentioned recently my. . . delight? satisfaction? relief—yes, let’s go with relief—that I live in New York City?

That’s because I don’t have to worry about my governor or mayor suggesting that teachers lock-and-load prior to entering the classroom.

Is it really any surprise that Texas Governor Rick Perry or Virginia Gov Bob McDonnell muses that the appropriate response to gun violence on school ground would be to increase the number of guns on those same school grounds?

Didn’t think so.

Cienna Madrid at The Stranger posted this response from a schoolteacher friend to similar musings:

Kids steal anything that isn’t nailed down in my classroom. In this school year alone, I’ve “lost”: 2 staplers, 12 whiteboard markers, 1 globe, 1 map, 1 copy of The Color Purple, 3 boxes of staples, countless pens and pencils, an apple, my deskplate, and a years’ supply of tacks. If I yawned long enough, these kids would pluck the fillings right out of my mouth and this guy thinks I should have a GUN in the CLASSROOM? Where the fuck would I securely keep a gun? Because I’m sure as shit not packing one on my person. and even if teachers are allowed to carry guns, then what? We’re all supposed to take marksmanship classes to learn how to shoot the damn things? How is this anything but a cheap way of turning teachers into unsworn police officers?

No. No. No. Teachers teach. Police officers police. And legislators are supposed to legislate. Maybe instead of trying to add to the burden of my jobs, legislators should take a crack at doing theirs.

I’m not worried about my students—who are not kids—stealing from me, but I”m right there on the whole “teachers teach” bit: that’s what we do, that’s the whole point of us.

Imma gonna go out on a limb here and speculate that those who want teachers to pack heat probably don’t, really, respect us.  As commenter Sly at Lawyers, Guns & Money pointed out,

According to conservative orthodoxy, I’m a parasite on the public’s dime who is only interested in indoctrinating the precious children of America into communism or atheism or whatever. I can’t be trusted to have any control over the curriculum I teach. I can’t be trusted to fairly and impartially evaluate my students, let alone my colleagues. I can’t be trusted to have collective bargaining rights. I can’t be trusted to have an objective view of governmental policy when it comes to my own profession.

But they’ll trust me to keep a gun in a room filled with children.

Allow me to add to the rant by noting that not only do they not respect teachers, they don’t respect what we do. Maybe they don’t respect us because they don’t respect teaching, maybe they don’t respect teaching because it’s performed by, y’know, teachers—but whatever the arrows of causality, they don’t bother to understand the first goddamned thing about teaching.

And what is that first goddamned thing? Teaching is work. It’s fucking hard work to try to do well and, on some days, just to not do it poorly.

I just finished the last session of a course which had kicked my ass all semester. It was the first time I taught this course, and as often happens with a new course, all of those things which seemed like good ideas while preparing the syllabus turn out to be bad or unworkable ideas as the semester progressed. About halfway through it became clear that things were falling apart, and about two-thirds of the way through I’d figured out how I could improve things for next semester, but in the meantime I had to try to salvage what I could so that the class wasn’t a complete waste of time.

Do you know what it’s like to know that you’re failing—that you’ve failed–but the best you can do is to try to prevent the failure from bursting into flames and immolating what few nuggets you did manage to pass along? Yeah, it sucks.

I’m actually pretty fortunate in that most of the time, I’m jazzed rather than drained by what happens in the classroom, but either way, it’s work. I think about and prepare and rethink and revise and prepare some more, all so that my students can get something out of the course, which in turn means that I can get something out of teaching them.

But hey, if what I do doesn’t matter, then all of that time spent pretending as if it does could better be spent at the firing range doing the real work of shredding paper targets or at SWAT camp learning how to somersault through a hail of bullets and turn up rightside firing at my attacker(s).

I’m a teacher, not a ninja, and that should be enough.


I’m free to do what I want any old time

8 12 2011

My students are failing.

My American government students, to be exact: first-semester, first-year, bright, inquisitive, charming, and failing.

A big piece of this is on them. I tell them what will be on the exam (“make sure you study all of the terms which are bolded in the text, and the context in which these terms are used”; “study Figure x.x, as I almost certainly will ask questions about it”), write out the main points on the board, pause often for questions, and still, they fail.

They fail, in other words, because they’re not studying.

But they also fail because I’m doing something wrong. When I taught large lecture courses I always prepared lectures and rarely strayed from the material. My notes were always outlines rather than fully-articulated texts, and I made time for questions and comments every class, so a certain amount of riffing always occurred, but boyo, I kept the trains running on time.

Once I moved to smaller classes, however, I realized this approach didn’t necessarily work; smaller classes, it seemed, demanded more interaction. So I started mixing up my prepped lectures with more open-ended sessions, giving more time over to the students and allowing for a more free-form approach to the material. I hated doing this, at first—when I lectured, I was in control, and independent of students who may not have given two hoots about the material—but over time I learned to ease up, let things happen.

This still works in my upper-division courses, but, man, it is not working for this intro class. I’m not exactly sure how I’ll change things up next semester, but it will clearly involve a tightening of  my requirements and a battening down of my presentations. I do think freedom has its place in the course, and will preserve as much of it as I can, but it’s clear that without more rigor, that free-thought is simply frittered away.

Dum-de-dum-dum DUM!

27 08 2011

I am an idiot.

No, not for riding to Brighton Beach with C. to check out the storm. It didn’t rain and then it rained a little and then a lot and then it stopped and, anyway, this is what we saw:

We did see some waves:

What, you couldn’t see it? Here, this might help:

Yep. That was it, as of 3:00 Saturday afternoon.

There were some number of us behind the yellow tape (keeping us off the boardwalk), and nobody seemed particularly panicked.

Or disappointed that there was nothing much to see. Yeah, C. and I wanted crashing waves and, y’know, something interesting, but we agreed that we had to look, and if nothing else, we got in a wee workout on our bike down.

This is where the I-am-an-idiot piece comes in:

Can I blame this on the storm?

Yes, I got a flat.

That’s not the idiot-making part, however. No, it was my EXPLICIT decision to bring NEITHER my patch kit NOR my pump on the ride.

Oh, hey, it’s just down to Brighton. Not that far. I just fixed a flat; what are the chances I’d get another? Anyway, it’s not like we’re going to the Rockaways.

Dumb dumb dumb.

C. was great. I checked with one SUV cab for a ride back home, but he declined. At her suggestion, we decided to walk while looking for another SUV cab, and ended up walking the whole way back.

It was raining, but not too hard and it wasn’t windy, so we just chatted. About her novel. About the point of education. About homeschooling. About whatever. It took awhile, but it didn’t feel like it took long at all.

I don’t know if I’d have bothered to go without C.’s enthusiastic decision to accompany me, and it would have been a fucking miserable walk back alone.

With her, it was all good.

(Okay, I got a coupla’ blisters, but, really, I can get those wearing the wrong shoes to my local take-out joint.)

Anyway, mindful of  how my disregard for the “better-safe-than-sorry” adage screwed me over, I decided to be proactive for the rest of the weekend:

Honestly, not really hungry for either (and the Oreos really do need to be frozen), but, again, “be prepared”. . . .

As for other essentials, well, I already had those:

Trickster agrees!