Friday, December 18, 2009

And You Wondered What's Wrong with America's Public Schools (Part 1)

Durdy werdz, durdy werdz, durdy werdz!!!

As I mentioned last post, I probably should have been consistently recording my Adventures in Substitute Teaching. It sure would save work and verbiage now.

First, some background:

1st of December, I got called in to sub in the junior high Science classes at the Castellcoch* Junior/Senior High School. Seems the regular teacher had been kicked upstairs to become the school's principal. I saw the first day that he hadn't left them at all enough to do, so I added to it and yes, the kids did the work. When it became obvious I'd be there until a new permanent Science teacher was hired, I asked the embryo principal to give me some real work for the kids to take on. He did, and with the help of the other junior high Science teacher, we proceeded, even though I have no Science background.

We didn't get on as quickly as I hoped, though, because the classes were thoroughly undisciplined. I soon discovered it was not just Let's Be Rude to the Sub behavior. No. The kids would say, "But Mr. Chummy* always lets us . . . ("eat in class, play our iPods in class, take any seat we want, finish tests the next day if we don't happen to get finished today, use each other's notes and talk out loud during tests"-- you fill in the blank). And when I'd ask him about this, more often than not, they were telling the truth!

Too bad. Mr. Chummy wasn't their teacher any more and their new teacher-to-come wouldn't be interested in that kind of thinking. So we soldiered on, and after the untangling of some bureaucratic red tape and nine class days that seemed like half a year, the new junior high Science teacher came on board.

Ms. Haluska* is not new to Castellcoch School. She'd been teaching high school Biology and had her own reasons for wanting a transfer to the junior high. Finally approved by the school board, she started this past Tuesday.

Oh, good, thought I last Monday night. I will have a well-deserved rest. But I got called to come in anyway, because Ms. Haluska had a doctor's appointment Tuesday afternoon. Oh, all right. I'd come in in the morning to do coverage then take the 7th graders again after she left. And wouldn't it be a hoot to see their faces!

So what happened Tuesday morning? School office tells me I'm to go upstairs and take Ms. Haluska's former Biology classes! Hey, I can fake it with junior high Science, but I've done no Biology since my own high school days!

Worse, Ms. Haluska had thought her replacement would also be on board last Tuesday, and hadn't left all that much material, to give the new teacher a clear field.

But I got on the phone to Ms. H. and between us we arranged that the kids would watch a film depicting the problems with the toxic waste at Love Canal back in 1978, then write a summary of what they'd seen. For credit. That took us through a couple of days.

And having watched the film, I got an Idea. On Wednesday, I decided it'd be good for these sophomores to do a little (2 pages handwritten) research paper on the effect of the environmental chemical of their choice on human health. For a lot more credit. I ran it by Ms. Haluska and she agreed it was just what those students needed to do. And me, I don't know a lot of the details about Biology, but as an Oxford grad, I certainly can teach kids how to do research.

So I typed up and ran off an assignment sheet and gave it to the kids at the beginning of their classes yesterday. There was some threeping and wailing, but once the kids got into the computer lab (I'd also managed to arrange that), most of them actually started to work!! Woot!

Final period yesterday, one young person protested that "We don't know how to dooooo this!" I told me what he needed to do was on the assignment sheet, and I'd help him once that class could get into the computer lab today. But I got to thinking: Maybe they don't know how to write a research paper. So I went home, and on my own time, I composed a sample outline, with examples so outrageous there's no way they could copy them and get away with it.

(To be continued)

No comments: