The Wizard’s Ratio of Radical Non-Resistance

Dear Readers,

This will be the first post from me, Wizard.  I have been wearing my Sensei mask a lot recently, but there are some problems (soon to be told) which Sensei is just plain stumped on.  So I decided today to look at the same issues from the perspective of the Wizard and see what else shook loose.  What follows is a stylized internal dialogue I hosted today between two very different parts of myself

SENSEI’S PROBLEM:  In my current job, my 7th grade students are responding wonderfully to both reward and discipline, but my 8th grade students pretend I don’t even exist.  I spend most of my time in my 8th grade class periods just shouting for quiet.  I can’t even get them to a place of learning.  They hate the novel we are working through, 85% of them are failing the class, and they seem almost unionized in their resistance of authority.  They don’t want, much less seek the rewards I offer, and they could care less about the discipline.

SENSEI’S DESIRED RESULT:  The result I desire is to have the students learn the material, do well on examination, be prepared for the communication challenges life will throw at them (particularly formal or academic challenges), and that they will rekindle their own belief in themselves that they are capable of succeeding in school.

SENSEI’S OUTWARD OBSERVATIONS:  I notice that the class responds almost instantly to any “down time”.  When I give them busy work, I can get them to quiet down (though often not to work), but if there is any discussion or transition time the class dynamic slips almost immediately to a “lunch room” vibe with heavy social conversations and non-school related activities like giving each other “pen tattoos”.  Students feel they have freedom to shout out answers, to move about the room as they please, and to ignore specific simple instructions like “get out your books and turn to page 72”.  Often, when disciplined, the students response is to smile and act very happy about being called down.  They don’t seem to want to make fun of me, so much as they want me to join them as a peer.  I feel constantly as though they want me to just “hang out”, or “be cool”.  They are somewhat engaged with the material.  There are three groups of four students each, which form the social skeleton of the classroom, and these three groups are consistently disruptive.  There are many “on the fence” students who will participate if in a strong structured activity, but who will also fall into the “lunch room” moments just as easily.  There are also about seven students who are display anxiety at this non-productive behavior, who are uncomfortable displeasing authority or are very interested in learning.  These students often attempt to shush the class or otherwise self-police their peers.

SENSEI’S INWARD OBSERVATIONS:  I notice that when the classes noise level rises I feel itchy inside.  For some reason, volume level with this particular group of students, causes irritation and anxiety for me.  I am sensitive to infractions, and often focus on the trouble makers over the ones who are doing as asked.  I feel like I am on the defensive, and while I do not show outward anger, their mockery of my discipline (high fiving when they get a violation, cheering when they have to stay after class) really gets me pretty heated inside.   Continue reading

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Sensei and The Terrible Curse of Lowered Expectations

Dear Readers,

Sensei here.  Today was an interesting day.  I guess I should start with some confessions really.  So, yes, I may have just a little bit of hero complex going on about these middle school students I am teaching for the next three weeks.  And yes, I have this crackpot idea in my head that, someday, just one or two (or you know, as many as say half), might look back and see their brief time with me as the most influential academic experience of their lives.  And you got me!  Alright!  I spent the first 20 minutes along in the room whistling Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture visa vi “Dead Poets Society”.  However, I didn’t realize that my private little quest would stir the waters quite as deeply as it did today.

For those of you who don’t know, I am currently on an indefinite substitute teaching assignment as an middle school language arts teacher.  I walked into this job, not knowing what it would bring, but it turns out the former teacher literally walked out on the job and left nothing: no plans, no grades, no records of any sort.  I got a half-full box of broken pencils, a single overhead marker with no accompanying eraser, and 60 hormonal cranky middle schoolers.

Some people might have thought, “Pfft.  Not my problem.  I’ll babysit for a few weeks and call it done”.  Some people might have just requested a different assignment.  But is that what Sensei does?  Hell no!  Sensei stays up till 4 AM the night after the first class reading two novels and making lesson plans.  He researches classroom management strategies, creates handout and log sheets, he schedules conferences with the curriculum team, meetings with the principal, and hits the classroom that second day like the German Blitzkrieg hits Poland.

The children are at once awed and terrified.  The classroom functions so well, teachers from all of the surrounding rooms comment that they haven’t been able to teach that easily this entire semester because the kids in my class are finally at volume levels not measured in decibels.  I’m flying high.  The kids love me, they are asking questions, learning all about the basics of argumentation (in a single day!) and the trouble makers do nothing but stare sullen and defeated from their newly assigned seats.

Day Three hits.  Today.  And I’m putting up homework, bellwork, and definitions on the board for the lessons, when I hear a key in my classroom door and turn to find the Principal and two Vice-Principals flanking her.  I am sufficiently surprised.  She is a smallish woman but has an angry pent-up ferocity in her which gives her an eerie quality about the eyes like a college campus squirrel inching closer to your french fries.  I approach, confused, and wary. Continue reading

Sensei Meets a Bully

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Credit to ArcanePrayer on Deviantart for this great image. Visit them at: http://arcaneprayer.deviantart.com/

Dear Readers,

I wanted to share with you an experience I had awhile ago as a substitute teacher.  The names have been changed, and the events slightly altered, but this is a more or less true story.  I’m still not sure if I did right or wrong, but when I think about it, I do feel some pride in my actions.  I’ll leave it to you to judge ultimately though

Sincerely,

Sensei

March 8, 2012

She wasn’t what you would call “after school special” material.  She had bedraggled blonde hair, tired from an endless parade of crimping, styling, and bleaching. Throw in a dash of Texas heat and humidity exhaustion and you could imagine that if she did not look like she did today, she might have been quite beautiful.  She was slender, but wouldn’t be by the time she was thirty, and everything she wore was High School Musical pink.

I must admit, her voice was hardly distinguishable from the dull drone of High School post-test release filling the portable building classroom I was banished to.  I might not have even noticed her at all, if she hadn’t said something I did notice: the name of my niece.

It is a strange feeling when you hear something familiar and intimate like the name of a loved one in a place you have no connection to.  So needless to say, I could hear nothing at all save her nasal vocal excretions.

“THAT girl was such a bitch.  I went to the office every day because of her, but it was worth it just to see her ugly face when she cried.  Can you believe she keeps trying out for Cheer?  That cow will never be one of us.”

A murmur of laughter and nervous acceptance went up from the students closest to her, who I noticed were lounged around her like she was a particularly peppy cousin of Jabba the Hutt.  I also noticed an Indian student two rows over slowly lower his eyes and turn away, as if the conversation were stinging him.

A new name, call her “Ginnie”, was introduced via interjection of Pinkie’s shorter, fatter, browner friend.

“That girl?”, Pinkie began, “Did you see what she posted on Facebook?  I mean, how dare that bitch keep trying to come into our locker room, after she got kicked out for being such a skank with her boyfriend?  And you know, even if you think that, you don’t put that up on Facebook, with Cheer in the name.  Then we all look like bitchy elementary school students and everyone knows we aren’t like that.  I’m glad I told Coach about her and that fag she’s blowing.”

The smiles on the faces of her friends look like slowly cracking mirrors.  I catch the eyes of one of the boys sitting near her, and he shakes his head twice, silently begging me not to help.  The farthest rows of students have turned slowly away, bodies sideways in desks, eyes averted as the ranting kicks into high gear.  With each proposed name, Pinkie launches into a torrent of vitriol, laced with a enough obscenity to kick her off daytime television.   The students who are clearly not her in-group look like mice trapped in a glass cage with a snake, hopelessly waiting until it is their turn to be devoured, and trying not to react to the hapless carnage visited on others like them. Continue reading