“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”
- Henry Ford
I was hesitant to write Monday’s post. But this blog is about honesty and since I was rethinking choices in my past, paralyzed in my present, and fearing the future, it was futile to pretend I wasn’t facing a crisis.
Yesterday morning, still feel the weight of my predicament; I sat at the computer willing the telephone to remain silent. The phone rang at 6:16am. When I hung up, I actually said, “Sh*t.” While I’ve dreaded calls, I don’t think I’ve ever uttered anything before.
One, I wasn’t up to it.
Two, because it was so late, the chance of adequate plans were slim to none.
Three, it was for middle school Math.
The job was for a challenging middle school, sprinkled in with ISP (Intensive Studies Program) students. These are failing schools, and the ISP is supposed to make them more attractive to parents and raise test scores*.
When I arrived at the classroom, I got pulled aside by the other Math teacher, who told me that the seventh-graders were taking the MCAS (state test to evaluate No Child Left Behind), so I’d have to use empty classrooms to teach the eighth-graders in the morning. Then I’d have a seventh (burned out from testing, I’m sure) and eighth-graders in the afternoon. She handed me the plans, which were so paltry that I was tempted to go home.
I had to find the proper workbooks and make copies. When I reached the photocopy room, a teacher told me that I couldn’t copy there because students with accommodations would be testing. Then I remembered to run back to class to get blank copy paper. Each teacher is given their paper for the year, so the copiers are always empty. Then I had to find a copier before class began to make 70 six-page packets. The office one was in use, so I went to the library.
While I know the sixth and seventh-grade classes pretty well, I’ve hardly ever taught the eighth-graders, and if I’m being honest here, that’s about as challenging as it gets. The first class, already giddy from being in a different room, sniffed me like I was fresh blood – and I was too raw to hide it. Worse, the teacher whose classroom it was, stayed in the room most of the time, which threw me off. About five boys wouldn’t do work, and I actually sent one of them to the office – only my third time in a year of subbing and over 100 sub gigs. I berated myself – I’m better than this.
Anyone who has followed my blog for a couple of months knows that I’m mathematically challenged. This means that I need to concentrate if I’m going to be of any help to anyone. As if the discipline problems weren’t enough, some of the packet was beyond them since they hadn’t learned how to solve these types of algebraic equations. (Don’t even ask about the alleged answer key.) No wonder some of them were acting out – they didn’t understand most of the packet. And I wasn’t the right person to get up and do an impromptu lesson.
Another issue was that MCAS was being given the next room over, so I feared raising my voice to get attention and redirect the class. These students are used to teachers increasing their volume to getting everyone paying attention again. I was barely commanding a sinking ship.
Second period was in another corridor. As soon as I walked in, the Spanish teacher called and asked me to check on her class next door because she couldn’t get there yet, so I left the students (who gleefully just found out they had a sub). When I returned and wrote the assignment on the board, I was met with confusion. That’s because I gave them the ISP assignment, but they were a mainstream class. The teacher had given me the wrong information. I quickly remedied it.
This was a better (if noisy) group, so I spent a lot of time helping the boisterous boys – especially since I had a real answer key for two of the pages (Thank you cheating student). Eighth-grade boys are often gangly – growing before the meat can catch up to the length. And the tall ones tease the shorter ones, since they all want to play basketball.
“I’m already 5’9”. When I hit 5’11”, I’m going to be fierce on the court!”
One white boy was too funny. “I’m the worst athlete. Even if I lived alone, I’d be the worst athlete in my house – even the dog would be better than me.”
“You’re not an athlete.”
“Yes, I am. Being an athlete and being good at sports isn’t the same thing.”
Pause. “Yeah, you’re right. But you can’t play basketball.”
A student arrived late, and I thought he had snuck in since he’d been in the previous class. Some of the boys shouted his name, which rhymed with the brother, so I thought it was the same name. It turns out that it was his twin in the last class. These two eighth-grade classes have three sets of IDENTICAL TWINS! What are the odds?
The seventh graders are supposed to be model ISP students, but a few boys are so obnoxious that it’s draining. I had to count to ten just to get one kid into the hallway - using my mom voice and counting quickly. When he realized that I meant business, boy did he scramble out of the room before I got to “1”. These students also kept picking on one boy, who kept instigating them. I warned all of them about the recent bullying/suicide case and possible anti-bullying law to be enacted in Massachusetts.
The last group was the best of the day, but their volume kept going up and a few of them kept using their pencils as drums. Shortly before the period was over, I let them play for me. I have to admit, they were pretty good.
Throughout this daunting day, I checked my blog. The outpouring of empathy, encouragement, and advice (as well as follower count) was humbling and uplifting. While our blogs are about us, the best ones speak to all of us – our triumphs, insecurities, failures. If a blog is only about self-promotion, rather than our journey through life, it won’t resonate with readers. Thank you followers, readers, and commenters. I hope something about my posts keeps you coming back.
More about this school and the ISP program: