Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Not All Change Is Progressive

One of the most legendary teachers at Punahou, and one I had the privilege of taking a class from was Mr. Jerry Devlin. A legend even amongst legends, who taught Plato's: The Republic, still to this day one of the best classes I've ever taken. If I had to describe what he looked like, I would say he was the 60 year old love child of Sean Connery (circa The Rock) and Mr. Magoo. Aside from being one of the most versatile teachers around (he had taught biology, anthropology, political theory, and philosophy during his time at Punahou), he had a favorite saying, "Not All Change Is Progressive". This was usually in reference to our grades, which was troubling. But he was right. Boy he was right.

I thought yesterday was the worst day of this job so far. But as scientist, I should be wary of using superlatives, like "oh, see this atom, that's the smallest we could ever divide matter", or "see this 100 kiloton fission bomb, that's probably the biggest bomb people will ever make." Today was worse.

The day began wonderfully with me almost slicing off my finger in the paper cutter. But that's what fingernails are for. Nature's little finger armor. But that was nothing compared to the little episode that was waiting for me.

I've told you all about E----, right? The genius boy with behavior problems that necessitates him having a personal aide? Yeah, that kid. Now, the teachers have been warned about his behavior (which includes holding year-long grudges and taking revenge against teachers he doesn't like...more on this later). So far, he has been fine, if not a little eager and in need of attention. But today he threw his first tantrum, broke some of my Petri dishes. He had to be taken outside. People were called and kids were distracted. Try getting kids to do anything as a screaming classmate is dragged right outside the door. It sounded violent, from my perspective, as in it sounded like E---- was hitting his aide. Poor guy. And I think he was new to the job, because when E---- started having is episode, the aide asked me what to do. Me? Me, who has no training as a teacher and is still a student himself? I need to be paid more.

Then I met with the older kids, who are usually fine. They're usually sharp and well behaved. They listen, do their work, and even joke around with me a bit. But I think their hormones decided to kick in today. Issues were had. One of the kids was going around and flicking off all the other kids, whom he claimed had made him flick them off. I gave him the lecture about "would you jump off a building if someone told you?" He started crying, and ran into the bathroom. The other girls who were flicked off started crying because they didn't think he was punished enough, or something. Other things happened, to numerous to name here.

But I have learned one thing. Kids bounce back and recover really quickly. They could be sworn enemies in the morning, but by lunch they're the best friends in the world again. If they come to me crying during recess, they're fine, laughing and running around (no running in class) by the next class session. I've pretty much learned to ignore their complaints, since experience has told me they usually work themselves out in the end.

There was a lot of yelling and disciplining today. The C group was absolutely wretched. Kids who never gave me problems refused to listen, and the usual problem kids became even worse. I tried to do a second forensics unit with them, giving them 4 white powders to look at: flour, sugar, salt, and baking soda. I drew a simple 4x3 grid on the board and told them to copy it into their journals. Half an hour later, only about half of them had sat down and stopped talking long enough to copy the chart down. Stern talking ensued and I started handing out the powders. No matter how many times I tell them "don't eat this. Do not put this in your mouth. Are you going to eat this? No. You, tell me, are you going to eat this? The answer I'm looking for is 'no'. You are not going to eat this. It will kill you", without fail one kid has to eat some. I told them to make observations about the powder. Apparently, for little kids, looking and observing involves touching and throwing. I tried as best I could to keep them under control. I tried as best as I could to keep order. But I reached a point where I could not take it anymore. I took away all the materials, told them to sit at one of the desks, put their forehead against the table, and be quiet for 10 minutes. They could only muster around 2 minutes, but that was enough for me to write something on the board. They're supposed to keep a journal so parents can know what their kids are learning in this program. This is what I told them to write in their journals:
For you visually impaired folks, the board says "I could not finish the experiment in Science today because the class was too noisy. Tomorrow, I will ____." Where the fill-in-the-blank is what they will do tomorrow to be less disruptive. The day was shot for this class, and I feel horrible about making the few good students go through this (since that was always me). But I was losing my mind and didn't see any other viable alternative.

But hope springs anew, as I'm told. The B groups were absolutely delightful. They were quite, well behaved. They were bright, answering my questions about chromatography. They even remembered about polarity's effect on travel distances on the chromatography strip. An absolute joy. They lined up on their own when I set up the microscope to look at the various powders (flour's really interesting to look at, if you ever get the chance). They even policed each other, to make sure it wasn't too noisy, that people weren't making a mess, and that people were staying on task and finishing their journals. They were so good I felt obliged to give them all erasers as prizes. They were so good, I even had a chance to take pictures:

*edit* The cute little girl smiling at the camera *edit* is M-------, a hilarious little Vietnamese kid. When I have the kids sit on the floor, a lot of them have the bad habit of sitting really really close. Like, inappropriately close. She always pipes up and tells them, "Scoot back people! Give the man some room!" She's quickly becoming one of my favorites.

Up until this class, I was honestly on the verge of breaking down. I started understanding on a very profound level why people do things like drink, or smoke. But this class made things better, if only a little bit. Tomorrow will be an ordeal, I'm telling myself now. I've come to accept that this job will never get easy, and will drain my last ounce of patience. I've accepted that the main point of this job is to realize the hell teachers everywhere go through for an entire school year.

On some level, I think the kids are especially bad because they realize it's summer. The initial excitement of the novelty of this program has worn off, and they've come to realize what a bum deal it is that they have to be in school during the summer. That they have to learn and use their brains. I don't know. Too tired to care. Too physically exhausted to contemplate (didn't sit down all day. No time). But the show must go on, as I'm told.

Here's my shirt-pocket from today:
The final inventory stands at: Two ball point pens, a Sharpie, two Dry-erase pens, a Ziploc bag of flour, a plastic spoon, three Starlight mints, $0.63 in spare change, 9 chopsticks with string and tape (I was going to do recrystallization of Borax [sodium borate hydrate], but the E---- episode sort of derailed the whole class, and we had to cut it short).

I've begun to learn on a very real level one thing that I've always known in passing. They say all the money in the world doesn't mean a thing if you never spend a penny of it. Sure, the pay for this job is nowhere near minimum wage, and I'm making a decent amount. But I have absolutely no time to enjoy any of it. Weekdays are shot due to cranking out lesson plans, testing out the experiments, and trying not to pass out from the dehydration and heat exhaustion. Weekends are a motley mix of cleaning and more lesson planning. I had always intended to get paid for my summer jobs, figuring I need to begin supporting myself as much as I can. But I'm learning that the money is not worth it if you're killing yourself in the process. I think I need to find one of these unpaid internships in an exotic far off land next summer. Something where the minimum age of the people I have to interact with are in the double digits, and I don't have to worry about pee-pee accidents and snack times.

I would hope that tomorrow, things will go differently, but I've learned my lesson. Thank you Mr. Devlin, for teaching me a valuable lesson. There is no such thing as rock bottom. You should see some of the drills they have these days. They can bust through granite like no body's business. Instead, I hope for the strength to see this job through to the end, strangling the smallest number of kids along the way. I figure as long as I keep it in the single digits, no one will mind.

1 comment:

  1. Mr. Sakimoto, sounds like you've had a tough day but handled it well. It's amazing how many things can happen in one day, but don't forget why you're teaching little kid's science: to make sure that they learn that learning is fun and important and that school is not just about pleasing teachers or parents...it's for themselves. Good luck with tomorrow.