Saturday, February 23, 2013

# 44 What If God Were One of Us.

    This morning I look at my desk calendar and realize I have to take my class down to the auditorium for another assembly.  I don't really care about the subject content for this one; it's going to screw up my plans to do a quiz with the grade elevens. It seems there are too many days where the classroom learning process is shoved aside to accommodate the political desires of school management. Incessant interruptions are just another one of those frustrations you're not told about in teacher's College.

    Imagine you are doing something with purpose like say, walking to the bathroom. As you walk at a steady pace, a series of events take place which prevent you from reaching your destination in a timely fashion. Say, the doorbell buzzes, and you know it's the special delivery guy, then the phone rings, and then, and then - you get the point? The more hurdles thrown in your path, the more the frustration builds inside you. (In this example, that means both literally and figuratively.) Even when you do this routine several times, and manage to develop a sense of anticipation of a hurdle, it is still just that, a frustrating hurdle.

    Each high school course we teach is suppose to be mandated at 110 hours in length with very specific curriculum requirements. However, in spite of what is claimed by the various levels of management, many kids never complete the mandated hours. 

    I figure, the frustrating interruptions come in two categories, unavoidable and avoidable.  The unavoidable ones are usually unpredictable events like fire alarms, lock downs, illness', a death in a family etc.. These situations alone can mount up to a lot of lost class time. As an example, one year when we had 48 false fire alarms in one school year. Yes, that is 48! That particular year was crazy for trying to teach assigned courses. I remember the whole staff attended a meeting with the principal close to the end of the school year in an effort to get an update on the recurring problem. When a colleague complained that we had 48 unsanctioned fire alarms, the principal tried to spin the problem into "actually, I think it is only 38 fire alarms." 

   I clearly remember this event because, I thought even 38 is still a pretty high number of false alarms, and anyway, everyone knows the actual numbers were in the upper 40s not the 30s. Does he think we are stupid! Each time a false alarm is pulled, we have to stop teaching, lead the flock outside and stand in the cold or rain, while the fire chief clears us for reentry.  The worst part is trying to pick up the lesson once we all return to our rooms.

   Avoidable interruptions are the ones where teaching time is lost, and nobody but the teacher seems to care. Some of my personal favourites are parents who take their kids out of school for a week or two to capitalize on cheaper vacation rates, and then expect us to prepare individual tests and assignments for their kid. When this happens I always feel like I am working in a drive-thru donut shop.

    One time, I actually said to a parent, "You know, education is not a fast food joint where you can order up what you wants 24/7" So, she says, "Well, if you don't provide my son with the all the tests and assignments, then you aren't a very dedicated teacher." (Pack your bags for a guilt trip!) Finally, with calculated effort, I propose a compromise, "OK, tomorrow morning at 8:30 am, I will be in my class, and we will do that each morning until he is caught up?"  She agrees, but I never see the kid at 8:30 a.m., and I never hear from the mom again.  He ended up failing because he missed so much time, and never did make the effort to catch up.

   Kids make their own special contribution to the interruption club, but I have grown to be more tolerant of their ability to throw the momentum off, even though I shouldn't. Every time a student: arrives late, interrupts the class with a buzzing cell phone, or gets called down to the office; the learning process briefly stops for the whole class. I have been teaching more than one class during my career where the police have shown up at the door to do a drug search with sniffer dogs, or just to haul someone out for an arrest. After this kind of event, the rest of the class is, well, just not that exciting.

    I use to teach in a school where my classroom was across from a Math room. So, I'm in the middle of a lesson with my door open for ventilation. Suddenly, the police show up across the hall, call a student out, place him against the lockers for a body search, and then cuff him. Then, as it turns out, one of the ladies in my class is the girlfriend of the student being arrested. She jumps up, runs out of the room screaming and attacks the police. So, the police leave with two instead of one arrest. Of course, both, the Math and English classes are spilling out into the hall for a ringside view of the drama.  I know this is an extreme example of an interruption, but this one did happen.

   Personally, the really irritating avoidable interruptions are the phone calls from guidance, co-op, or administration in the middle of a lesson. It usually isn't that urgent, and shows a complete lack of respect for the learning process. Little interruptions like these can happen daily for a couple of weeks or longer.

   Probably the most frustrating aspect of teaching in the classroom is the lack of understanding coming from people outside of the classroom. Teaching is very connected to the idea of momentum, and to have so many attacks on this reality is frustrating to say the least. I would love to see, at least a reduction to the avoidable list, but I have lost hope of that ever happening. The unfortunate thing is, these frustrating interruptions can easily be reduced a little political will on the part of people sitting on the sidelines.