Grunts have a way of getting to the nitty-gritty that the faraway generals (armchair or not) don’t. In this case, the grunt is a chemistry teacher at a Midwestern high school. He’s following in the footsteps of his mother, a retired Albuquerque teacher.

He asked that identifying information be removed. I agreed to do this, as there’s no telling the ramifications of truth-telling should the local generals get wind of it.

So, with that out of the way, here’s a brief report from the education wars. There’s nothing earth shattering, no seismic activity of note, just a few days of journal entries in the life of a young teacher:

(September) Truly this experience is about the students, and my students are amazing. I’ve got students from Bosnia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Darfur, Somalia, from my neighborhood, and from the neighborhood of the school.

About the 2nd week of class there was an epidemic of “this is too much work” and I got asked by at least one student in every class if I was the only chemistry teacher (in hopes that they’d be able to switch out of my class). Fortunately, I am the only chemistry teacher, so it was an easy answer, and fortunately, we’re past the growing pains and I’m continuing to work them rigorously without complaint.

One of my favorite whines from early on was, “UGH, everything in here is so organized.” The growth/progress has been astounding; if only they could have seen themselves a mere 5 weeks ago!

As amazing as the students have been, the administration has been completely irrational and outrageous. Truly, our students are being left behind not because of any lack of will, but because of a lack of good teaching and district leadership. For example, on Monday, students arrived and received completely new schedules, including new courses and new teachers.

As a teacher who taught 5 periods of chemistry, I’m now teaching 5 periods of chemistry, and a 6th period of Earth Science. I also have new students in each of my chemistry courses who will be starting their years with me already behind.

During passing period one day, my vice principal pulled me and my student, Harold, (not his real name) aside to say:
“Harold is in the 99%.”
“Oh, that’s great! Good job Harold.”
“I mean the 99% for failing. He’s got straight F’s. He’s our Afghani refugee. Our first one, making a real name for himself.”

Caught a student with a knife on Friday. It was concealed in a pen. Another student pulled off the cap, revealing a really nasty blade. As I took it away, she said, “Don’t take that, it’s my fucking shank!”

I called security and she said that she had no idea it was a knife and that her friend gave it to her a few years ago . . . The worst part is that 10 minutes later she was back in my classroom (to the applause of other students, who were saying that what I did was a “bitch move”). She was saying that she had pretended to cry and there would be no punishment.

Oh the irony . . . I couldn’t believe it! Fourth period today (my tough class, but I’ve been growing on them!): One of the management policies I’ve been working on is if a student is disruptive, I will ask him/her to step outside and have a conference with me. If it is a frequent misbehavior, oftentimes I’ll have him/her sign the referral that I was going to submit, and say, “Ok, fair warning.” However, often the student won’t step out in the hall. This time, the student put on headphones to ignore me . . . a violation of our beloved electronic devices rule #9 🙂 Because the student was completely non-compliant and disruptive, I decided she needed to leave. On the referral I put that she refused to step in the hall, and had an electronic device. (Big mistake).

A few minutes after the student left, five safety officers were in my room with the principal. He said, “All right, I’m going to be straight with you. Anyone who puts their cell phone out on the table will have their parents come pick it up. No questions asked. If you don’t put your cell phone out, and we find it when we are searching you, it’s going to be a 10-day suspension, and I’m keeping your cell phone.” In the end he got 20 cell phones in a 22 person class. (The only school supply kids bring!!).

Kids, of course blamed it on me and after the 15 minute commercial break, I had completely lost control. Investment went WAY down, obviously, because kids who responsibly keep their cell phones in the upright and locked position got them taken away. To me, it’s almost a human rights issue!