Friday, December 18, 2009

And You Wondered What's Wrong with America's Public Schools (Part 3)

Part 2 is here.

I hung up my coat in the Biology room, started to take Homeroom roll, then, oh, crap! in walked the ingenuous Miss Birdsong*, the substitute's substitute. So the ground is lost. I see.

But at least I could save the kids' chance to actually do some thinking during this interim period! I finished taking roll, then went over the research paper handouts with her. Nod, nod, nod from Miss Birdson. And, Miss Birdsong, here's the computer time schedule I've booked for all today's Biology classes. Nod, nod, nod.

Just then, Mrs. Berlin* over the intercom began to lead the school in the Pledge of Allegiance. No way I was going to go on talking during the Pledge; it would set a bad example. I raised my eyes to the flag and saw--

The back of Mr. Chummy*, the Principal, saying the Pledge. What the hell? Did he think I would refuse to leave and come up to throw me out? He approached and said, "You'll be taking Mrs. Evans* classes today. Miss Birdsong will teach Biology." Then he left, as the 1st period students were coming in. Seeing me with my bags and coat ready to leave, one of the kids took in the situation and made loud salaams to his version of the Deity: "You're not in here today? Oh, thank God! Thank God!!"

"Never mind," I told them all. "Your papers are still due on Monday. Miss Birdsong has all the information and will help you with them. See you around!"

As I walked downstairs, I thought, "Mrs. Evans, Mrs. Evans . . . oh, damn and blast [yes, my friends, the preacher cusses. Within good taste and reason]! That's the Choral Music teacher!"

You'd think I'd enjoy that, wouldn't you? But I've subbed for Mrs. Evans' classes before and it was the absolute worst. Combine someone like me who loves music, with a bunch of students who don't give two hoots for it and don't even want to be in there at all, with a big room with risers perfect for running amok in, with a regular teacher who thinks entertainment films and kindergarten-level busywork are enough to keep the kiddies pacified all the long day, and you have the cacophonous full score for Variations on a Disaster. Adventures in substitute teaching? More like adventures in babysitting!

And meanwhile, upstairs in the Biology classroom? I saw some of those kids last period, but didn't ask them what had gone on. Maybe I didn't want to swear in front of them. But I did ask a couple students from the one section of Human Anatomy that I'd also inherited from Ms. Haluska, whether Miss Birdsong had gone on with the Muscle Groups overheads I'd begun teaching yesterday.

"Oh, no," both of them said. "We just worked on our question packets. She didn't teach us anything, she sat back there at the teacher's desk the whole time."

"She didn't teach at all?"


("Good grief!") muttered under my breath.

Now, I have to be fair. These Anatomy students did have those packets to complete for Monday. And maybe Miss Birdsong wanted to look over the Muscle Groups material just in case things are still weird on Monday and she has to come in then, too. Maybe. But if these kids were being honest and she really "sat back there the whole time" and she didn't walk around keeping a close eye on things, that doesn't lend any strength to this possibility. And it gives me very little hope that the Biology students did any research whatsoever on the computers today. Played online games the whole time, more like it.

I was hoping I'd get less fed up as the day went on. But between the chaos of that Chorus room (complete with kids running and tackling one another, kids tipping over their chairs, and near-universal lack of attention), hearing the frustrations of other teachers vented from time to time during the day, and thinking about the chance those sophomores were being cheated out of, by the time I left this afternoon I was beating my dashboard in barely-suppressed rage.

(To be continued)

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