Readers have requested a follow-up post to the previous article: "Ready to be an English Teacher?" Here you have it! I hope this post satisfies my readers :)
On the first full day of school I wasn’t scared because I had a secret weapon. I had a classroom management strategy which I had shared with no one in my undergrad classes or student teaching, but I was certain it would work. I had spent many hours of my childhood reading the Little House On The Prairie series, so I had gorged myself on the teaching examples provided by Ms. Beadle and
Mrs. Laura Ingalls Wilder.
I knew that teachers had to be kind and caring. I knew that heavy-handed punishments like public shaming and expulsion were largely ineffective. My strategy: copy the dictionary. Yes, for any minor infraction I would spare the student a write-up or a trip to the principal’s office. For this, the student would be grateful, right? I would hand them a dictionary and ask that they simply begin with “A” and work from there.
The teacher schedule started at 7:15 in the morning. I prudently arrived along with the janitor at 6:30am. He clicked the lights on behind me as I found the way to my double-wide wooden doors. When I turned on my light, 13 student desks blinked back at me, startled. So, the desks that Mr. Fann promised had materialized. Some of the classes on my roster boasted 43 student names. I was curious about how that would work, but what I didn’t know was that the attendance rate was 67%. That statistic was going to work in my favor in this case.
Mrs. Greenwald was a round, short woman who taught in a classroom three doors down from mine. When she arrived with her, appropriately, green coat and her giant teacher-tote-bag slung over her shoulder, she introduced herself and asked if I had brought a bottle of Advil. I made a mental note: get giant teacher-tote-bag. I told her I was sorry, but I didn’t bring Advil. She said, “Not for me, sweetie. For you.” I mentally jotted: Advil.
My ninth grade students slunk through the door, nervous, in their new sneakers and white shirts with the store-bought creases still on them. They didn’t speak to each other; they weren’t friends. They came from different middle-level schools and were out of their element. What I came to realize later was that this sense of misfit-ism and transiency would only break in very small pockets. The majority of students at this school, while traversing through grades 9-12, would show up, leave, move, move back, leave again, and would only interact socially out of necessity.
I started to call roll. I mispronounced every single name on the list: “Rock-ia?”
“Miss! It’s Rah-KI-A!"
I provided the students with a grammar sheet and I called on a student, “Tyeesha, can you read number one, please?”
“Nope. I ain’t doin’ that.”
“Tyeesha, I’ve asked you to read number one and I’m expecting that you do it. I’m hoping we can all work together in this room, and part of the work of the room is reading. You should do your part, then others will do their part.”
“Miss! Don't talk to me like you know me. You ain’t know me!” She cocked her head to the far right and her eyes rolled up to the ceiling. She pursed her lips.
My mouth opened a little, in shock. It was not the sort of come-back I understood. I walked over to the wooden wardrobe and pulled out a thick dictionary. Time for the secret weapon of course. “Well, Tyeesha, since you’ve decided to deny my request, I’m going to have to ask you to start copying this dictionary.” I set the dictionary on her desk. I opened the cover and leafed through the first few pages to the letter A.
She needed a piece of paper.
Then she needed a pencil.
I walked back to the front of the classroom and just as I turned to resume teaching, I heard the dictionary sail through the air and slide along the gravelly hardwood floor coming to a halt near my shoes.