THESIS FOR THOUGHT

It’s now been a full week since I started my long-term sub position and things are going really well. As I mentioned earlier, I go to work around noon and do most of my prep before 5th hour starts. I teach 5th & 6th hour, grade all the work from the day, and walk out the door by 3:30.

Since the students are working on research papers, I’m not spending a lot of time lecturing. Most of the students work independently and are turning in work at every stage of this lengthy research assignment. I enjoy not being worried about classroom management because that allows me to focus on the individual needs of each student. In the past week, most of my time has been devoted to working with students 1-on-1 and giving each kid direct advice on his or her work.

I think the biggest difference between the students I currently work with, and the students I used to work with in Detroit is that more of these students are self-motivated and have a better understanding of how to manage time. Most of these students also have better writing skills. However, nobody’s perfect, as the following examples prove. These are actual thesis statements that I came across when the students wrote their outlines last week:

1) “The JFK assassination changed the life of the American people themselves, and the country itself, in more than one way.”

(I myself was deeply impacted by JFK’s selflessness to America.)

2) “The Apollo moon landing were an inspirational happening that pushed American achievements beyond what we thought could be achieved.”

(You’re right, I WERE inspired by this event.)

3) “Y2K is an underrated attack on America, that started an epidemic.”

(Ahhh yes, who can forget the tragic Y2K attacks on America? The attacks were so very underrated because nobody panicked. We, as a strong nation, banded together to fight off our attackers – those cursed machines!)

Of course, there are some students who goof off. And, of course there are students who miss deadlines. But I’m dealing with a lot less goofy behavior and fewer late assignments and I feel like I’m not as overwhelmed.

In the past week, I’ve also connected with certain students to the point where they feel comfortable enough to initiate small talk (“Hey Mr. S, did you see the Spartans last night?”), or tell a joke (“What do you call a mermaid’s underwear? Algebra! Get it? Alge-bra!”), or tell me about their hobbies and interests.

For example, a girl named “Elaine” – a self-described nerd – is a Jeopardy! fanatic. Elaine explained to me that a week’s worth of shows are taped in a single afternoon so contestants are required to bring multiple changes of clothes in order to give the home viewer the impression that each show is occurring on a different day. “However,” Elaine added, “sometimes a lazy guy will wear the same shirt and just change his tie or throw a vest on for each episode.” I found this tidbit of information particularly hilarious.

The students also ask me a lot of questions about my old job and what it was like to work in Detroit. Last Thursday, while I was taking attendance, a student named Jack (who is clearly the class clown of 6th hour) asked me, “What’s the worst fight you saw at your old school?” The question made the room go silent.

“It’s a long story, so I’ll tell it in the last 15 minutes of class if you’re still interested.” I said.

“Just tell us now, because I’m not going to get anything done anyway,” Jack quipped.

“How about this – Jack, if you don’t do your work, I won’t tell the story.”

This made the class laugh and it also put pressure on Jack to get his work done (which he did with no problems). Toward the end of the hour I told the class a story about “the worst fight I ever saw” which was probably my worst day at my old job.

Here’s the shortest version I can tell: In September of 2007, which was my first year as a teacher, the school district that I worked in was in some serious financial trouble. In order to get some quick revenue, the superintendent and the administration of the district decided to let a charter school from the east side of Detroit rent space in our high school. At the time, there was a wing of the high school with about 10 classrooms that were completely vacant.

The principal of this charter school claimed that their program already had teachers and security guards and only needed building space. There was no announcement made to the students. In fact, the teachers in my district were told about this on a Friday and then the charter school kids showed up Monday morning.

On Monday, there was a small fight between some kids from my school and kids from this charter program. The fight had a ripple-effect through the building and as the week progressed, tensions increased between the two groups of students.

To further complicate matters, the principal of this charter school embezzled the payroll funds from the charter school’s accounts and then left the state. As a result, teachers and security guards who worked for this charter school stopped coming to work because they didn’t get paid. The teachers in my building tried to cover a few classrooms, but scores of students from this charter school were left unsupervised…and you can imagine the result.

Everything came to a head in the second week when someone phoned in a phony bomb threat to the school. As per the district’s guidelines, the entire school was evacuated. As the two schools walked out of the building, a massive brawl erupted. Fifty or sixty students were fighting outside the school. The local police was overwhelmed and after about 15 minutes, the riot police showed up and launched tear gas at the students.

To be clear, not everybody was fighting. A sizable number of students stayed away from the action. After the riot police showed up, things were mostly under control. I kept most of my freshmen students (who looked at this crazy scene with confusion and amazement) well away from the mayhem.

As I told the story, 6th hour was completely silent. I have no idea what their take on this story was. My take? I think the events that I described to this class were so far outside their scope of experience that they didn’t know how to respond.

I also felt conflicted after telling my students about this particular event. By telling this story, did I perpetuate some of the stereotypes that my students have about the Detroit area? Do my current students understand the socio-economic issues that my former students dealt with? Furthermore, why did my students want to hear a “fight” story? Would they have sat through a story about how my old school was able to raise its ACT scores?

I’m eager to see what other questions these students will ask me as time progresses.

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