Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Every man has three faces...
One he shows the world.
One he shows his family.
And one only he himself knows.
As a teacher I have many different faces, persona's I adopt to cajole and persuade, educate and sway, discipline or embarrass. Persona's are my instruments, my tools, mechanisms of behavioral engineering. Each persona is tailor made for a specific job, a character invented to create a desired reaction.
Sometimes I am the Joker, the comedian, part stand up humorist, part clown. The joker is used to bring levity, to make light of a bad situation or to deflect potential embarrassment.
"Mr. Leiken," one of the girls flirts, eyes fluttering, "have I told you I love you?"
The class leans in, tongues lapping.
Out pops the Joker.
"I know," I respond cooly, checking my nails. "No need to state the obvious."
The class laughs, the situation is defused. I love the joker.
Other times I'm the Performer. Unlike the joker, he's mostly flash, eager to make an impact and put on a show. I pull out a banana, peeling off strips as I eat it. I explain that in the old days hogs traditionally cleaned the streets, eating all the refuse dropped by people.
I toss bits of banana peel down the central aisle of the classroom.
The class gasps. A second later they start giggling.
I ask rhetorically would would happen if no one picked the bananas up?
"The hogs won't eat them!" someone shouts. "People would slip on them!"
"So how would you solve the problem?" I ask.
The class debates this, finally one brave soul calls out, "Have people throw them in trash cans?"
I nod, picking up a waste basket as I toss in the banana peels. "Correct. The banana was the reason we have laws against littering, and public trash cans."
The class applauds. Ta da! The performer takes a bow.
Other times I am the Fixer, solving the unsolvable with workable solutions. He is a faciliator, a negotiater, resolving conflicts through the art of diplomacy and mediation. The Fixer is calm, cool, and manipulative; the proverbial velvet glove surrounding a fist of steel.
Failing a class? Being bullied? Need to change an elective?
The fixer takes care of it. He doesn't take no, he just finds a new solution.
Occassionally I am the Tyrant. The tyrant can't be bargained with. He can't be reasoned with. He doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And he absolutely will not stop, ever, until he has removed or disciplined his target. The tyrant is a robot dictator, a cold emotionless being with chilly eyes and an icy demeanor.
I don't like him much. The tyrant is a bit of a prick.
At least once a day, I'm the Coach. The coach is part counselor, part motivational speaker, all cheerleader. The coach never gives up, he constantly encourages and pushes his students to succeed. The coach is optimistic, upbeat, and relentlessly positive.
It's not a role I'm used to playing.
"Mister Leiken, I failed English and Math last semester!"
"But you passed Health and P.E! That's a 50% improvement!"
"But I'm not going to graduate on time!"
"That's what summer school is for!"
"But I don't know how to do my multiplication tables."
I pause. I got nothing. I duck the complaint. When you can't massage the truth, you ignore it completely.
"Try harder!" I grin. "You can do it!"
Rarely, I'm the Critic. The critic is the fault finder, the muck racker, the smug narrator that writes the blogs you are reading now. He used to appear often, but he gets in so much trouble that in recent years his cries have been largely silenced. The critic speaks only in truth, and there is nothing more poisonous than truth in the LAUSD school system.
The critic is a mean SOB. He's the one that makes kids cry.
Truth tends to do that.
Finally, I am the Father. He crosses the line between teacher and parent, possesses unshakable integrity, is eternally patient and just. The father promotes all that is good in others, he protects his charges and provides the emotional safety net the students desperately crave.
I have never adopted the personality of the father.
It's a persona that's been projected upon me.
It doesn't matter. Because the Father is the Joker, the Performer, the Fixer, the Tyrant, the Coach and the Critic. The father encompasses them all. Sometimes you choose your faces, but sometimes the faces are chosen for you.
So it goes.
Sunday, October 18, 2009
Friday, October 16, 2009
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
Taught in 9th and 10th grade, science classes are packed with fresh faced freshman and moronic sophmores. Biology is full of unresponsive, immature students conditioned like Pavlovian dogs by years of learned helplessness.
Earth science, a relic of the eighties, has been cut - it no longer fulfills the A-G college core requirements, so our school doesn't offer it.
Who needs to look at rock samples anyway?
Six of my special ed students have been programmed into a biology class full of unruly freshman.
We test the classes reading level: it comes back an average of 3.5. Somewhere between third and fourth grade.
My kids fit right in. I'm scheduled to be in Biology every day.This is going to suck.
From the start the students can barely remain seated, their heads dart around the room, diverted by the smallest sound. Many stare ahead into space, dead to the world, unwilling to even crack open their books. Other kids hit each other, punching each other in the shoulder or back of the head, throwing pieces of paper as they duck tossed pens and pencils.
Half the class isn't even willing to bring a book.
"I'm sorry, I forgot it."
"I left it in my friend's locker."
"I left it here. It was right here."
"It's heavy, why do I have to carry it?"
"I didn't think we would need it today."
I smile and shake my head. "I'm sorry ladies and gentleman, no excuses."
I make them write letters home and have the letters signed by their parents about why they couldn't bring their books to school. If they forget the book a second time, I call home. Hope no one forged a signature....
Although there are two of us in the room, myself and a seasoned science teacher, we are outnumbered 22 to 1. I must use every trick I've ever used to maintain control and to teach this class. My voice oscillates like a roller coaster, my face becomes a canvas of emotion - I'm a marine in Afghanistan surrounded by a sea of potential terrorists.
The first experiment involves jello:
1. Pour 5 tablespoons of jello, mix into a beaker of water.
2. Pour 2 tea spoons of 8 different concentrates (orange juice, kiwi, lemonade, ect) into 8 differerent vials.
3. Mix 10 ml of jello mix into the 8 different vials.
4. Observe. Hypothesize which substances will mix and dissolve best into the jello mix. Write observations down.
This simple experiment falls apart from the moment the students are handed the jello. "Mister, how much do we put in again? He spashed me with water! How long are we suppossed to mix it? How much do we put in again? What spoon should we use? I'm confused mister, where does the jello go?"
One group doesn't even correctly perform the first step - they pour 10 tablespoons of jello into the beaker. I know this because after a few minutes they haven't made jello mix...
....they've made jello.
"Mister, how come it won't pour into the test tube?"
"Because you've made jello."
"What, but how are we supposed to do this?"
"You can't, you made jello."
"What about if we pour more water in, will that mix it up?"
"Dilute it? No, it's too late." I shake my head. "You've failed the experiment."
"But we just started!"
"You didn't follow instructions. Clean up. It's over."
The students stare at me in sullen silence. One of them pours more water into the beaker in an attempt to dilute the jello.
This turns the jello into wet jello. It's glued to the sides of both the beaker and the test tubes. It's going to be a bitch to clean it out.
One of them looks at the jello longingly. "Can I eat it?" he asks.
"No. Clean it up." I stare at the clock longingly.
Sixty days and fifteen minutes until the end of the semester. In prison this would be considered short time.
But there is no such thing as short time with an unruly class of barely literate students.