Lesson Plans The Secrets and Mysteries of Hawaii
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Sometimes I had to stop girls from grooming themselves or each other. A few brave souls tried to keep up with instruction. A particularly good history teacher once told me that she interrupted a conversation between two girls, asking them to pay attention to the lesson.
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She told me that the best school she ever worked at was in Texas, where her principal managed not only to suspend the most disruptive students for long periods, he also made sure they were not admitted during that time to any other school in the district. It worked; they got good results. The appropriate paperwork being filed, the most outrageously disruptive students went for a day or two to a room with other serious offenders.
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The anti-discrimination laws under which we worked took all power away from the teachers and put it in the hands of the students. Throughout Washington Irving there was an ethos of hostile resistance. Those who wanted to learn were prevented from doing so. No homework was done. This did not appear to be an idle threat. Too many students told their teachers the same thing. There were certainly precious few books being brought home. I tried everything imaginable to overcome student resistance.
Nothing worked. At one point I rearranged the seating to enable the students who wanted to engage to come to the front of the classroom. The principal was informed and I was reprimanded. Aside from imposing order, the only thing I succeeded at was getting the students to stand silently during the Pledge of Allegiance and mumble a few songs in French. But it was a constant struggle as I tried to balance going through the motions of teaching with keeping them quiet.
The abuse from students never let up. We were trained to absorb it. There was a long process to go through each time. The student had a parent or other representative to state their case at the eventual hearing and I had my union rep. I lost every case. Actually, the girls were meaner than the boys. The latter did not engage at all.
They simply ignored me. The girls on the other hand could be malicious. I was often reported to the principal for one transgression or another, like taking a sheet of paper from a student. The administration was consistently on the side of the student. The teacher was the fall guy, every time.
The abuse ranged from insults to outright violence, although I myself was never physically attacked. Stories abounded, however, of hard substances like bottles of water being thrown at us, teachers getting smacked on the head from behind, pushed in stairwells, and having doors slammed in our faces. The language students used was consistently obscene. Sometimes you just have had enough. Stop that! You say it all the time. Come on, tell the truth.
No one seemed to report it. I put it down to basic human decency. Of course my teaching method had to be largely scrapped. But they had a certain begrudging respect for me, I think because I told them the truth. Education is your only way out. Aside from the history teacher from Texas, other Washington Irving educators stood out as extraordinary, and this in an unimaginably bad learning environment.
One was a cheerful Lebanese math teacher who had been felled as a child by polio. Although he could only walk on crutches, he kept those kids in line! His secret? A lovely way about him and complete but polite disdain for his students.
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Where he came from, students were not allowed to act that way. Another was a German teacher, the wife of a Lutheran minister. Her imposing presence—she fit the valkyrie stereotype—kept those mouths closed. You could hear a pin drop in her unusually tidy classroom, and she managed to teach some German to the few hardy souls who wanted to learn it.
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The most impressive of all was a handsome black American from Minnesota. He towered over us all, both physically and what the French call morally. He exuded an aura that inspired something like awe in his colleagues and students.
I think he taught social studies. He was the only teacher who got away with blacking out his classroom door window, which added to his mystique. He engaged his students by concentrating their efforts on putting together a fashion show at the end of each school year. They designed and produced the outfits they strutted proudly on the makeshift catwalk, looking as elegant and confident as any supermodel.
To tumultuous applause. They deserved it. Although the school was always on the verge of hysteria and violence, it had all the trappings of the typical American high school. There were class trips and talent shows, rings and year books—even caps and gowns and graduation. High school diplomas were among the trappings, handed out to countless 12th graders with, from my observation, a 7th grade education. The elementary schools had a better record. But everyone knew that once the kids hit puberty, it became virtually impossible under the laws in force to teach those who were steeped in ghetto and gangster culture, and those—the majority—who were bullied into succumbing to it.
Students came to school for their social life.
The system had to be resisted. It opens minds and doors. It all fell on deaf ears. Astonishingly, they believed that they would do just fine and have great futures once they got to college! The darkened auditorium was packed with excited students, jittery guidance counselors, teachers, and guards.
Music blasted from the loudspeakers, ear-splitting noise heightened the frenzy.