Tales from High School!

September 6, 2007 at 11:51 am 2 comments

Story #1: A Girl Named Ramona

There’s a girl in one of my classes – accelerated tenth grade English. Now, all the other tenth graders are working pretty hard to fit into a given mold. They’ve all selected their outfits and hairstyles from a narrow list of acceptable possibilites: fashionable, noncontroversial, invisible – the perfect look for your first year in high school. Then there’s “Ramona.” The first thing you notice about Ramona is that she’s – well, these days I’m not sure if goth and punk aren’t a bit the same thing, fashionwise, so, that. It’s done well, too. She’s not wearing cookie-cutter goth clothes, and it’s clear that she pays attention to her appearance and puts her own personality into them. Her hair is cut far shorter than any other girl’s, is bleached white, and has pink highlights that look like the remnants of a long-ago koolaid job. She’s got an impressive assortment of facial piercings for a 15-year-old, including one of those noserings that unfortunately remind me of a bull. It was pretty clear from the outset that Ramona was uncomfortable in the classroom and didn’t know, or didn’t care to know, her classmates.

My mentor teacher’s first assignment was an introductory letter from the students to herself. There were certain questions they were asked to address, and as they came in I had the opportunity to read them. I came across Ramona’s – the only one that was typed and properly formatted in her entire class. There I read an interesting story. Ramona, as it turns out, has been home-schooled her entire life. This was literally her second day in a “real” school… and she hated it. She was the first of her siblings (and she’s not the oldest) to go to public school, and while she expressed that she was game for the adventure, it was clear that she was wondering if she’d made a good decision.

So interesting to me that she’s a home-schooler. Most of them tend to be very conservative in their appearance and lifestyle, and when they’re not, they usually seem otherwise out-of-sync with other students. Ramona was out-of-sync with her class, but she was like a poster child for the fashionable goth movement, you know? She had the look down, and it was obviously not fabricated. Where in Idaho, as a home schooler, had Ramona found a venue for her creativity? I begin to wonder if there isn’t another group of homeschooling parents out there – goth parents who reject the mainstream education system and raise up little goth babies. (An interesting sidenote is that Idaho is one of the states that, to the best of my knowledge, does not keep any sort of official tabs on homeschooled kids.)

Anyway, as time has passed, I’ve noticed that Ramona is not integrating. She plainly thinks her peers, the books, and the classes are dumb and beneath her. They probably are. Will she finish the school year? Will her grades reflect her own intelligence, or her rejection of the coursework? And, most importantly – will anyone be able to reach out to her and show her that there is a place for her in a public high school, that it can be a venue for her expression, that she can take it by storm and tame it and hold it in the palm of her hand?

Story #2: A Teacher Named Shoulders

I ended up spending a class period with “Mr. Shoulders” and his regular senior English class. His kids were beginning a small-group research project on multiculturalism and he wanted an extra set of hands to help regulate computer usage and answer questions about the project. Mr. Shoulders is a nice young guy, and I was eager to see what a nonaccelerated class would be like.

The first thing I noticed when I walked into his classroom was that there were 38 students – a big class by most high school standards. The bell rang, and Mr. Shoulders finally walked in and sat at his desk. (No-No #1: Don’t teach from your desk.) His desk was located behind the class, and from behind their backs he gave them instructions for the day. (No-No #2: Don’t put your desk at the back of the classroom, particularly if you’re going to commit No-No #1.) Next, Shoulders arbitrarily assigned his class to three-person groups, and arbitrarily assigned them countries. He couldn’t read his own handwriting and didn’t even know the names of the students in his class, so he didn’t know where some of the kids were supposed to be. (No-Nos #3 & 4: Don’t be arbitrary, and for goodness sake, at least pretend to know their names.) He then released them to the computer lab, and we followed them there.

The class sat down and started working. I was surprised and gratified to see that they were very good about staying on-course, and that it only took getting within their line of sight to get them to close inappropriate windows. After a moment, Shoulders and I started chatting a bit while we waited for questions to pop up. I’m going to stop numbering the No-Nos here, because I think you’ll have fun filling them in yourself.

  • I learn that Shoulders is one of the football coaches. We briefly, and appropriately, I think, discuss football. Things like “good game last week” and “I should try to get to a game.”
  • Shoulders walks up to an ELL student and starts talking to him. The kid asks for clarification, and Shoulders repeats himself word-for-word. The kid is still confused, so Shoulders rewords it a bit. The kid says, “oh, okay.” Shoulders walks away but, while still within earshot, tells me that the kid doesn’t understand a word he says and is basically a waste of time.
  • Two kids are blankly staring at a really dense, wordy website – obviously tuned out and overwhelmed. After twenty minutes of Shoulders doing nothing about this, I finally go to them and quietly suggest another website that will give them a more accessible overview and jumping-off place. Within minutes, both are successfully and (I daresay) enthusiastically discovering information about Japan.
  • A few kids have decided that the best way to research the culture of the Sudan is to look at Google Image Search results for super models. I am the only person in the room to notice and address this misunderstanding.

And finally, for the coup de grace:

I am helping a student when another teacher comes in and starts talking intently with Mr. Shoulders. They’re huddled over a piece of paper and are both obviously concerned and trying to figure something out. I figure it’s a class schedule issue, or an IEP, or something. I’m asked a question that I can’t answer, so I go to ask Shoulders – and realize that the piece of paper they’re huddled over is, in fact, a football play. I ask my question, get an answer, and move on. After a moment, the other coach leaves and I figure, what the heck, they needed to discuss something real quick and were neither one busy, who am I to judge? I’m particularly pleased when I notice Shoulders finally sitting down and helping two of his students with their outline – it’s the first time I’ve seen him really teach all day.

Then I walk by and realize that he’s not helping two students with an outline – he’s teaching two players their new play.

For the rest of the class period. Twenty or more minutes.

I’m a big a fan of school extracurriculars and sports and whatnot as you’ll ever know, but seriously – THAT was out of line. I’m offended and amused at how blatant and remorseless and stereotypical it was.


Entry filed under: TALES FROM SCHOOL. Tags: .

Notes from my First Day Placements and Concerns: Blog as Self-Therapy

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Miss!  |  September 9, 2007 at 6:50 pm

    Ah, I just commented…but this is so very relateable.

    I student taught with Mr. Shoulders. He left me alone on my first day and the only reason he came back to the room the entire semester was to print out more sudoku puzzles.

  • 2. Exciting Stuff Afoot! « Full of Bees!  |  January 19, 2008 at 3:05 pm

    […] is some bad news, however. Remember Ramona? Well, having given it a semester, she’s decided that this whole “public school” […]


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The Bee’s Knees

This is the teaching journal of a student first-year second-year THIRD-YEAR (!!!) English teacher. I am writing this blog as a reflection for myself, a way to keep friends and family updated, and a sharing-ground between other educators online. I love comments!

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