Saturday, October 6, 2007

Retro-Unfit Learning?

I had quite an active week subbing this last week. I worked 4 out of 5 days and the free day, Monday, I volunteered at my favorite Kindergarten class. By week's end I was really tired and it showed as I tried to manage a "Lang. Arts/Social Studies" post at a local Intermediate School. They were two groups of 30+ sixth graders in a school that responds to them like adolescent "Jr. Hi'ers" (so they act like it) and they are not using their "academic skills" at the 4th-5th grade level. It was very depressing to see what passes for "education" there nowdays.

I had avoided going to this school once before by declining a 1/2 class while the other half was on a field trip. Guess which half was staying behind. I'm not seeking those kind of challenges anymore. This was a Friday assignment and usually the kids are even higher on that day. Fortunately I got there early and talked with the teacher. He was making "lesson plans" on stickies. It wasn't going to be hard: the final weekly spelling test, a quiz on a chapter already read? and a drawing/labeling of ship from the story. Then we'd have some "fun free time"...yeah, right! There is always a few at this level that do their best to do as little as possible and annoy (one of the spelling words) everyone around them including me. They do this by arguing and contradicting almost everything that is suggested. "Do I have to do that?" (I just want to do the minimum) They say this in so many ways but first of all with their body language. It was as though they were performing an expected "role" for each other. Then there were attempted "kick me signs" and the throwing of trash bits and snatching books from each other. Oh, it is a challenge to just stay somewhat "civil" in combating all this so the majority can get their work done and actually be instructed on how to do it better.

Of course the condition of the room and the teacher's desks didn't help. They were a "big give away" as to what kind of room it was when I walked in. First of all, I unlocked and walked in the "back" door...which was a "no-no". "We don't use that door." Desks were blocking it in straight rows. The front "captain's" desk and big cushy leather chair were the teacher's mess...and I mean mess. Paper and debris all over it and not in real stacks either. Some piles were being corrected? and had a rock paper weight on it, on top of an overhead projector, on top of a chair. A box of colorer pencils were on the floor for the "art work" later. There was a thick layer of dust on the big TV and DVD player on a big viewing cart nearby. There were some faded posters around the walls of a motivational? nature and two bulletin boards in the back with "student work" (writings) from the recent past. The back desk was occupied with a new computer from which the teacher could access emails to 50% of the parents to warn them of grades coming home soon and assignments not turned in. He was unsuccessfully trying to see if he had had any responses from the 30 email he had sent the previous night. He didn't really apologize for the state of the room but simply said that they were, "overdue for a retro-fit" as many of the the old buildings were in this district. There was a small A/C unit in one of the windows. I had worked last week at a school that was going through the process (retro-fit)primarily for earthquake prep with fenced-off buildings, noise, const. mess and all classes in portables around the edge of the campus. He was looking forward to this and wasn't planning to do much until it happened.

This had to effect the student's? attitude toward learning and the importance of it and how it prepared them for the future job market. But when you are 12+ and "cool" you aren't looking that far ahead. You are asking if you can go to lunch early. Many didn't come with a pencil and just sat there proclaiming it. I guess they thought I was going to bring them one...wrong! Like they were doing me a favor to even try to do the assignment. So...once again...I had to get "grumpy" as I like to call it and raises my voice. I had worn my "Grumpy Dwarf Hat" just for this reminder. I told them it was to remind me not to get...G r u m p y. But good luck with that. What I did do was challenge the "civil members" of the two core classes that if they could think of the 7 names of the dwarves, I'd give them a "good report" big deal! Only one even tried at the end of the period. She got them all except "Dopey and Bashful".

The basic words for the weekly spelling test were on the "ou" "au" "oi" dipthongs. Is this 6th grade? We tried some "bee activity" by having each sequentially spell out a word one letter per person at a time. We almost went through the whole class before getting one right. They were just not used to paying attention to one thing that long. (the length of a spelled out word) Sad, I know. It is just not a "value" for them right why are we trying to do it? The story from their reading/SS book was about an old "square-rigger" ship and a girl trying to survive as a crew member on it...again, not much interest. Drawing a ship with labels did appeal to some, especially the boys. One girl stole a better sketch from my desk and was copying it...I let her, but said, "Next time, ask when you take something from the teacher's desk."

They perked up a bit when I offered to play my CD of Ben Harper, former English student of mine. They hadn't really heard of him. They liked the album cover picture of his group, "The Innocent Criminals" One class even got to use the 20 Q's globe and that fascinated many. It was able to guess their subjects (nouns) "A Pit Bull" and "A Motocross(motorcycle)" In lines going to and from the room, they are so busy dis-ing each other that they have to be stopped and yelled at (whistled at) by the yard proctors dressed in bright green vests. They are used to getting tough, and talking that way too.

What are they really learning from all this regimentation and institutionalization at such an early age? Might is right? Threat is supreme? Class behavior is to push the limit and do as little as possible under duress? Is there a better way to "retro-fit" these future citizens of our illustrious society? I think there is, but we don't have the money or the means to do it. They respond to individual attention and electronic/computer learning. We need to make more of this kind of learning of Lang. Arts (English) and Math, non-social for them and non-performing for others. The majority would respond and are, even now, trying to respond. But it is ruined by the few who want to have the negative attention which may be all they are used to from home. It is a sad, blue, dismal, unfit future I'm afraid. I loaned the teacher a copy of my "Readers' Theater" plays of the the ancient Greeks and Romans i.e. "Prometheus Bound" etc. and he was interested too. Maybe these "actor/acter-outers" could get into these ancient themes, their "choruses" and learn from a previous civilization what happens to "iconoclasts" "rebels" and "sociopaths" that we still seem to have with us. Can we learn from History? RRR

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