The Blackboard Jungle

days spent beating back the seeds of doubt

Friday, January 14, 2005

Just as I'm whining about the huge disruption encountering a student teacher causes a class, just as I'm finally easing out of the darkest days with my group of utterly lawless thirteen year olds, I find another student has been allocated.

I know full well I'm being unfair. They will have a teacher with far more time, resources, energy and commitment while they have him. Is it so unhelpful not to want to see them break a new teacher's will to live through pure misbehaviour, to be pained by the possibility of watching them break their own good habits, so recently and so dearly bought, or to feel threatened by the subsequent term which sees me break my spirit in trying to rein them back in once he's gone?

It is. And such cynicism doesn't become me. The boss decides to level with the student about the difficulties presented by the class, and give him one hour to observe and decide if this class are a challenge he's up to facing.

Today, Mister Cory came in to see how my beloved horrors deal with their first attempt at deducing meaning from Shakespeare's language.

During the lesson, we took twelve words out of context, and divided them into families: words that consider relationships (pronouns, to be specific); words with abbreviations, or that build a sentence (verbs); words that tell us motivation (largely words related to death and ambition).
We practised spelling, saying, reading, and making sentences from these disconnected words. Huseyin threw some pens, Tommy shouted out a few swear words, Sherry tried to truant, Lenny practised four different ways of secretly listening to his ipod. It was a far far more organised and well behaved lesson than usual.
At the end, we looked at the way Roman Polanski had depicted the three witches, and wondered if their powers (and thus their cursing Macbeth) might be as real as the bloodied finger they bury beneath the sands of time in the opening scene.

Mister Cory was impressed with their energy and interest. He could see that their ability was weak, and that they had developed strategies to avoid work, or at any cost, writing. I explained the reasoning behind some of the activities in the classroom:
  • Children who can barely write don't want to spoil a page by marking it in any way, as any mark done by them is of necessity spoiling. Therefore, it helps if you write the first line, 'spoil' the page for them.

  • Never to let them take books home. They disappear. Forever.

  • Always provide pens, but count them, as they will be thrown at someone if you turn away.

  • Be aware that interaction is loaded with meaning - 'I don't care!' is always, but always not what it seems. (Translation: It's a request. I want to care. I turned up to school today. I care a bit, but I can't do it on my own. Give me a reason to care.)

  • Focus on achieving the achievable, and avoid taking personally anything that, realistically, is not.
Mister Cory nods, grins, throws himself enthusiastically into talking animatedly with the children, nagging them gently to keep going, working on their level.
As far as being a sensitive, responsive guide, he's got the knack, I can see.

He returns to base, and boss, confidently asserts that he can cope with the challenges set by this class.
I think about John's first words as he entered the class.
"Are you a student teacher, sir? Is this your first day? Are you going to take the lesson in a few weeks, and then we can all muck about?"

Grit my teeth. Hope.