An Italian-American living la dolce vita in the Deep South

An Italian-American living la dolce vita in the Deep South

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

How I Survived the Boy With the Golden Teeth (and other tales of a first year teacher)

So, there I was a first year teacher, excited and full of plans … and I didn’t have a classroom. I was what they termed a “floating teacher”, which basically meant I used classrooms that were empty for an hour because it was the teacher’s planning period. It was a lousy situation. Not only did I have to change classes with the rest of the students, but I had to lug all my books, supplies, and teaching aids through the crowded hallways. I did have a desk and a small filing cabinet, but they were nestled in the corner of the faculty lounge.
It was an inner city school with some very rough students … students like S. Washington and K. Weed, both of whom spent a good portion of their high school career suspended, or in detention.  S. Washington was a black student with two gold front teeth, and on each tooth was engraved a Playboy bunny (no, I am not kidding). K. Weed was a white student, tall and skinny, who got into more fights than anyone in the entire school. Needless to say, both S. Washington and K. Weed had reputations, and for some reason I got stuck with them both. They weren’t in any of my classes, but they were assigned to my homeroom/study hall. Every day for forty minutes those two boys made my life a living hell. Eventually I had it. I may have been the new teacher, but I marched into the principal’s office and demanded he get those two out of my study hall or else; he must have realized I meant business because the very next day he reassigned them to a study hall with a ROTC instructor.
But oh, the stories I could tell about that first year.
There was the girl in my literature class who seemed attentive and seemed to be taking notes, but I eventually discovered she was really watching soap operas from a tiny portable television she kept hidden in her oversized purse which she kept perched on top of her desk. I mean, really?
Then there was the student who loitered outside my classroom for five minutes talking with friends and then, two minutes after the tardy bell rang, asked if she could go to the bathroom. When she was told to wait until the end of class, she got up and walked out. Just like that. The next day at a parent conference, during which her Mom yelled at the principal about her daughter’s so-called “bladder condition”, her detention was inexplicably revoked.
Of course, not all students were problems. Some were just annoying, like the senior who was smitten with me and drew hearts all over his test papers. I sometimes joke about having been asked to the prom during my first year teaching and, well, this was the boy. He was harmless enough, and mostly I ignored him, but he was so open about his crush that it was getting embarrassing. Things improved slightly when I got married that December after which he just sat around moping and writing poetry.  
But within all the drama of teaching in an inner city school, there were also some incredible moments.
In my junior literature class I taught a unit on Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. I had found a box of battered paperback copies of the play, and every day I lugged that box to class so everyone would have a copy and we could read it aloud. As a teacher, there is nothing more gratifying that seeing your students excited about something, and these students were excited. We had some wonderful discussions, and for the first time the students in that class interacted, discussed, and voiced an opinion. Remember my soap opera student? She was in this class and she loved The Crucible.
Perhaps some of my favorite moments occurred with the fifteen students in my Spanish III class. The highlight of the year was a county-wide foreign language competition featuring skits, songs, and poetry performed in the different foreign languages. My students decided to do a spoof on Gilligan’s Island, and they worked hard writing the script in Spanish, designing the props, and translating and choreographing the opening theme song. Added to their work load was the fact that our school was hosting the competition, and they spent many afternoons helping us prepare. As it turned out, my students came in first place, and I was so proud of them. The next Monday, as I was working at my desk in the faculty lounge, they announced our win over the intercom and all the teachers in the lounge began clapping.
That first year was all about extremes: highs and lows, with very little in-between. It was not an easy year – and believe me, tears were shed – but in the end I learned a lot about myself, from both my successes and from my failures.

Sometimes I wish I could go back and do it over again … but without S. Washington and K. Weed.

Let’s leave them with the ROTC instructor, shall we?

1 comment:

tiziana said...

CHE BELLO QUESTO BLOG!! Hai mai pensato, adesso che i ragazzi sono grandi, di tornare a fare l'insegnante? Per me saresti bravissima.