The first post in my promised year-in-review series.
I suppose this is true for all jobs, but in teaching I know it to be true: Monday morning can make or break an entire week. Sometimes you can get a vibe as soon as you get in the car. On some Monday mornings, I can sail down the road effortlessly and hear “Regulate” by Nate Dogg and Warren G on XM’s ’90s station and just know deep down that the week is off to a good start. Or I can oversleep, hit a giant traffic jam and hear Nickelback, and know that the week might end up sucking.
Monday morning is usually eventful once I get to school as well. The kids haven’t seen each other in a couple of days, students and teachers alike are scrambling to get things ready for the week, and it tends to be rather bustling. Oddly enough, two of my most memorable moments at school this year occurred before first period began on Monday mornings. One event was probably one of the worst things I’ve personally experienced as a teacher; the other was one of the most rewarding.
I’ll start with the worst of times; in addition to my typical desire to get unpleasantness out of the way, it happened first chronologically. One Monday morning in March, as I was in my classroom arranging stuff for the day’s class, my colleague across the hall came in and said in a rather alarmed tone, “Alex, I think there’s something going on in the boys’ bathroom. I think you should go check it out.” Just the way I wanted to start the week.
By the time I got up there, “something” had actually moved out of the restroom and into the school’s common area. One student was doubled over, clutching his shoulder; another student was bent over taunting him, about what I couldn’t hear. Other students were milling about with that Oh man oh man oh man there’s about to be a fight! air about them.
I got between the two students at the center of the whole deal and addressed the apparently injured student first. “You okay?” I asked.
“Yeah, I’m fine, just hurt my shoulder yesterday,” he replied. I didn’t buy it for a second, but diffusing any potential bad business was my first priority at this point.
“All right,” I told him, “just go get your stuff, 1st period’s about to start.” I then turned to the other student, whose behavior had been pretty bad for awhile, resulting in several short-term suspensions. “I don’t know what this was about, but just go to class.”
This student had other ideas. “Man, fuck that, I ain’t fuckin’ goin’ to class,” he said as he turned to walk away.
Oh hell no. “WHAT?!” I called after him, my voice probably tinged with an incredulous laugh.
At this point, the situation devolved into the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever been part of as a teacher. The student turned back around, got directly in my face, and started yelling. “‘What?’ You gonna say ‘What?’ to me?” he screamed. “I don’t like you. I will mash you, bro.”
I knew how Nate Dogg and Warren G would deal with this – sixteen in the clip and one in the hole and what-not. But in spite of wishing very badly that I knew kung fu at that moment, I did my best to remain calm since there were witnesses. “You don’t have to like me, but you do have to go to class,” I told him with a laugh, trying anything I could to calm him down. It didn’t work; he just kept getting more and more pissed off and agitated. About that time, Eric (my boss) came into the gallery and essentially dragged the student away.
That little incident, combined with numerous other transgressions, resulted in that student eventually withdrawing from RTHS. I informed my colleagues that they were welcome, and that they should consider a donation to the Raptors athletic department in lieu of flowers.
…and the Good…
Students like the aforementioned ne’er-do-well tend to dominate a teacher’s mind when thinking about school, but it’s important to point out that most of RTHS’s student body is outstanding. For every problem child in our classes, we have probably 10 students who are respectful, funny, smart, and focused, and make teaching so fun and rewarding.
Attrition is part of any high school class from the first day of 9th grade to the end of 12th. Some students get attritioned (attritted? attrished? REMOVED.) by administraton (see the previous segment of this post), but other students move, or fail a bunch of classes and opt for a fresh start, or simply decide they want a different kind of school.
Over the course of the spring semester we found out about several students who wouldn’t be returning next year. And while most of these students had no tears shed on their behalf when they walked out the door for the last time, a couple of them were serious bummers because they were such cool people and great students – their families were moving. But it goes without saying that we as a faculty really wanted to hold on to all of our top talent.
So imagine my horror when another teacher informs me that two of our brightest, sweetest girls – one of whom, a brilliant student named Hope, I taught – were considering attending a new charter school in Raleigh that was going to be more convenient to their homes in Wake County. That same week, Hope came to me to ask about next year.
“Mr. Drake, what are the chances of me having you as a teacher next year?”
“Are you planning on taking AP Government?” I asked her, knowing the answer full well. The girl had a 99 average in Honors World Civ.
“Yes, of course.”
“Then the chance of having me is 100 percent. Don’t leave.” She looked surprised that I knew her little secret, awkwardly laughed, and walked off.
The faculty engaged in a will-they-or-won’t-they about these two for a couple of weeks. The teachers gently worked their powers of persuasion over both of them, selling them on our superior academics and opportunities in RTP that we offered. I didn’t take part in that beyond my one comment to Hope, figuring that they were gonna do what they were gonna do whether I put the screws to them or not.
Then, one Monday morning in April, as I was rushing to the office to make a copy before students got to class, Hope approached me as she was coming in the front door. “Mr. Drake!” she called out. “I just wanted to let you know that I’m not changing schools next year.” This is how to start a week off right! “That’s great to hear!” I told her.
But she wasn’t done. “I know that this school can do a lot for me, and knowing that I’ll have you for AP Government was a big plus for coming back.” I’ve seldom been more flattered in my career as a teacher. I didn’t really care why Hope was coming back to RTHS as long as she was coming back, but to have played some small part in her decision made me very, very happy.
They say that one of the big pluses of being a teacher is that every day is different. These two Monday mornings, illustrating two very different sides of the education profession, demonstrated that to me in a strikingly clear way. There are awful days and great days. Days that make you wonder what you were thinking getting into this gig, and days when you couldn’t imagine doing anything else. It keeps you on your toes, and it makes going to work every day quite an exciting proposition.
I just hope that the music I hear on the way to work is good.