Sunday, October 07, 2007

Finally, I blog a little about the new job

I have my second high-school teaching job now. I have moved from one of the most affluent public schools I have ever seen to a school that actually has some poverty associated with it. It's not like I'm in the South Bronx or that Jonathan Kozol will visit, but about a third of my kids are on federal free or reduced lunch (compared to exactly one student in my 8-year career at the old place). So things are different.

I'm honestly glad I moved. Swankette said the other day that she thinks I have regained my passion for teaching. That's not really accurate--I was passionate every second at the old place. However, I think I had started to coast. I had a good reputation, knew pretty well every problem that would arise and how to counteract the problems, and things were going well. But now, I'm having to strengthen teaching muscles that I've been able to ignore for 8 years.

Every teacher should either change schools or change assignments every 8 years.

Anyhow, I don't like blogging about work that much, at least not in a way that might make my school, myself, or my students anything other than anonymous. I've always said I would quit blogging the second that students found this place, and that holds true still. To be honest, I'm amazed I've made it the three-plus years that I have.

But the difference between schools is so on my mind that I think I'll relax that restriction for a little while. Writing helps me clarify what's in my mind, and I'm trying to sort through a lot of job-related stuff right now.

There are so many differences that I won't be able to address them all in one post. I think I'll create a new category called Old Job/New Job that deals with differences I notice along the way.

For now, here are two observations:

First of all, the kids have some differences. I firmly believe that all kids are basically the same, but it's still a different culture. At the old place, the kids basically viewed the teacher as either someone actually there to help or--rarely, but noticeably--as "The Help," kind of like their gardener or something.

At the new place--and it could be because I'm a new face that they're testing--the default position of the students is that the student-teacher relationship will be adversarial. That's troubling. I've tossed kids out of class and into the hallway about 5 times in the first month, and have had two referrals to administration (more than in my last 3 years at the old place). And in each case, I feel like I gave the kids countless opportunities not to go that they passed up on. I hate tossing problems up the chain of command--I feel like I should be able to take care of everything in my classroom. But each of these kids absolutely, positively tossed themselves out of my room by ignoring countless civil warnings. I didn't lose my temper in either instance--but kids did, and when they couldn't calm down, well, we had ourselves an ejection and a referral.

Even in the minor day-to-day stuff, it's a different world. There's more whining and more backtalk. It's improving, I think because they've learned in this first month that I'm impervious to whining and backtalk. But it does make for a new, different kind of challenge.

Second--well, I don't want to be reductive and pass this off to a socioeconomic difference, but I honestly couldn't imagine this happening at the old place.

I called home to discuss a kid who's failing the other day. The conversation went thusly:

PERSON: Hello?
ME: Hello. Lavinia Parent please.
PERSON: (protracted pause)...Hold on...
ME: Hello, Ms. Parent, this is Mr. RefPoet, Gertrude's teacher. How are you doing today?
NEW PERSON: (hangs up on me)

Wow. Now, at the old place, there was a fair amount of parental guff. For the most part, parents at the old place HATED to be told their kid was going to do anything less than attend an Ivy League school or a service academy. Over the years, I'd picked up skills for handling those interactions.

But no way would ANY of them ever have hung up on me without talking to me. They may have fought with me, and one hung up on me after I wouldn't back off of penalizing her son for plagiarism, but never this.

Assuming that this was actually the mom (and I think it was, although I'll do more investigation by talking to Gertrude on Monday), I'm trying to imagine what might be in her mind when she decides to hang up. Gertrude has failed a lot of classes these past few years (in fact, a disturbingly-high percentage of the student body has, but we'll cover that later). Maybe Mom feels like she doesn't want to go through that at all.

Maybe, in short, her default position is that the relationship between parent and teacher is adversarial.

I guess if, every time you talk to a teacher, they tell you your kid is failing, it would be easy to see me as the enemy. That's too bad, because I really do think we can help her daughter out if we teamed up.


Paula said...

Why, oh why, can't we just nudge parents into the center of "uninvolved" and "overinvolved"? Thanks for the comment over at my place. I take it hard every time I lose a kid, but this has really taken me down. I feel complicit somehow.

TeacherRefPoet said...


Luke was lucky to have you as a teacher (as all of us were).

What do you mean by complicit?