Friday, November 6, 2015

Bad Teacher/Good Teacher

When it's summer, I am able to settle in and get a lot of deep planning done, weeks worth of lessons, and it is a good thing, because there isn't much spare time once that very first bell rings. We catapult into the year. How fast does an object hurled into the school year travel?

that gray round thing is me


d = 1/2at^2 + Vit  (I remember that from 10th grade physics with Mr. Owen. Just showing off, it's not relevant.) All I know is that I start to run out of my deep plans toward the end of October. Weekends begin to clog with paper, so deep planning, since I taught the same subjects last year, gets short shrift ("Shrift" means "confession," the kind Roman Catholics do. I learned that from Mrs. Gross in 9th grade as we read "Romeo & Juliet"--minimally relevant.). It's not good, but it's reality.

This morning snuck up on me and as I was posting the day's agenda on the whiteboard, I blanked. I vaguely remembered telling my English seminar class that "we will do That on Friday." What was That? I couldn't recall, so I threw together a clever little constructed response lesson about an e.e. cummings poem. (Mrs. Kirby taught us the poem in 11th grade. I didn't like her, but loved the poem; moderately relevant.)
"Loneliness" by e.e. cummings
Bell rings, kids sail in, some with their psych evaluations in hand, ready to turn in, triggering my memory--NOW I REMEMBER. OK, so I was SUPPOSED to go home Thursday night and figure out a way to coordinate their psychiatric evaluations of the confessor of Poe's Tell-Tale Heart. They were to be expert witnesses to the court, proving either that the accused was not guilty by reason of insanity, or that the accused knew exactly what he was doing when he killed his roommate with the creepy eye (Incidentally, Mrs. Kirby again. I really did not like her, probably because she did not like me.).

So 35 kids, 35 assignments completed (which is wonderful in and of itself). I wing it: "If you decided he's crazy, sit to my right. Sane, sit to my left." And because my God is merciful unto me, almost exactly half of them sit on either side of me! Unless you teach, you may not comprehend the amazingness of that moment. Remember, I did not have a back-up plan. OK, now what, Lord?

I sternly admonish them that we are no longer 8th graders, but a room full of experienced and respected doctors, presenting evidence as expert witnesses, and that we will address each other as such. In a flash of inspiration, I run to my closet and pull out the black choir robe I use for our history court simulations. The kids yell, "Hammer!" and I turn around and respond, "Gavel!" as I wield it. They cheer lustily.

Gavel is kind of like teachers in a nonteacher family
I invite them to share their reasoning with each other and we ping-pong back and forth. It. is. wonderful. They use textual support, from the obvious ("Normal people do not kill someone because of their weird eye") to the subtle ("The suspect never names the victim beyond 'the old man;' I think is a way for him to emotionally distance himself from the victim whom he claims to have loved").

I wait for them to flag, but the arms keep waving, decidedly un-doctorlike. One student forgets our name protocol and refers to something "C." said earlier. A chorus of "Who is 'C'?" erupts, and the student corrects himself, "I mean, Dr. S," and the class, appeased, lets him proceed.

I try to stop it to collect their papers but the hands are insistent and the reasons keep coming. "Tearing up floorboards and hiding the crime shows he has a clear understanding of consequences." "Well, what kind of person enjoys watching the terror of a person he supposedly loves? A crazy person!" I count to myself how many kids have voluntarily shared their text-based opinions: 28. THAT IS ANOTHER WONDER. I pause the flow to ask the perennially quietest people if they have anything to share, and they do, no stammering, no shrugging, no weak "I agree with Dr. S" comments--they each have something to add.

The bell rings, the kids want to know how I rule. I hem and haw, because honestly, both sides have done a magnificent job using the author's words to make their respective cases. I realllllly don't relish choosing a side. Suddenly, the normally diplomatic K. commands, "ADJUDICATE!" My jaw drops open.

Have you ever in your life heard a thirteen year old use that word? (First time for me. Never learned it in school.)

I smile...."On Monday." The class wails in mock anguish.

I am writing this so that I will remember what I'm supposed to do on Monday: must remember to adjudicate.


On my to-do list





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