Waiting for Superman: A Day in the Life of a Teacher
Waiting for superman, who never shows
A loud, electronic tone assaults my skull. The signal releases students throughout the building, twenty of them heading directly for my class. I look up from my email program and mutter something unrecognizable by civilized society. I still have two parental contacts to make, one 504 observation form to complete and my wife wants to know what we should eat for dinner tonight. I’ve just spend an hour working on curriculum, tweaking lesson plans, making copies, creating PowerPoints and grading papers. Thus ends my first period conference.
The warning bell tolls three times, notifying students that they have one full minute before the actual tardy bell rings. Slowly, students trickle into the classroom, individually or in small cliques. Each group brings their own unique sights and sounds. Athletes are talking about their brutal first period workout, gamers are all abuzz about the newest Call of Duty game, some students are swapping answers to their math homework, and smaller groups are talking about movies and music. Some students bring in Starbucks coffee or breakfast tacos, the odor of which elicits certain responses from various students. As each group enters, the noise level eventually reaches cacophonic proportions. "Quiet, please!" I yell out. My own cobwebs have yet to be shaken out of my tired head.
The tardy bell rings and three late students run into the classroom while the majority of the students stand around the room, mingling and continuing to talk about everything and anything that has nothing to do with education. I overhear the following:
"This fat chick fell down in my bathroom. She wore this ugly mini skirt with a really tight tube top. She was so gross." "Who invited her?" "I don’t know. I think she just showed up."
"Dude, I was so drunk last night."
"Did you see the fight?" "Who fought?" "I don’t know, I just saw these two chicks get into it!" "Yeah, it was pretty epic."
I log on to the computerized roll system and mark five students absent. Two of them were marked absent by two other teachers, one was tardy to first period and another has already been marked absent sixth period. It’s second period right now, and I’m a little perplexed about it, but it’s not my problem.
BING!!! Another electronic tone sounds, this one different from the tardy bell or the warning bell, and the announcements come on over the loudspeaker. "Good morning. Please rise for the pledge of allegiance." I stand and face the flag. Most of my students grudgingly follow suit. One student puts his right hand on his heart, says the pledge loudly while swinging a half-filled bottle of Dr. Pepper in his left hand. He notices another student who refuses to say the pledge and asks him without any concept of irony, "Why don’t you say the pledge, dude? Show some freaking respect, man." Before he receives an answer, another pledge is performed, this time for the great state of Texas. Again, students find no irony in pledging their allegiance to two different flags. We are told we have a moment of silence. Everyone starts talking. "Come on guys, moment of silence," I protest. They quiet down to a dull roar. Finally, the student announcer says, "There will be a student council meeting today at 3:30, directly after school, in Mr. Roberts room. SAT practice tests are available at the counselor’s office. Come and get yours before we run out. Tonight’s basketball game is against the Roosevelt Roughriders and we are dressing up in our best cowboy outfits to ‘round up the Roughriders.’ Join us at the game and cheer us on to victory." The electric buzz that accompanies the announcements clicks off, signaling the end of the announcements.
"Alright guys," I announce. "Let’s get started by conjugating the two verbs on the board. We are going to use these verbs when we learn how to talk about our own free time activities, so they are quite important," My explanation has an important pedagogical strategy. Students will be more apt to learn a foreign language if they can personalize it and recognize how they can use it in real life situations. My top students have their verb sheets out already and are conjugating the verb to the best of their abilities. They rarely make mistakes.
Robert walks in late. He goes directly up to his best friend and starts to tell him about his day so far. Before I can talk to the slackers in class to get out their conjugation sheets, I go back to the computer and mark him tardy, noticing that he was the student already marked late to first period. Looking over at him, I loudly state, "Robert. Get your verb sheet out and start conjugating the verbs on the board!" He sits down and complies with my request. I take account of the other students who have yet to get their sheets out and repeat my instructions.
BING!!! "Excuse this interruption," blurts the loudspeaker. "This is Mr. Wimpleton. Any student who is not compliant with the dress code at tonight’s game will be asked to leave the facilities. Thank you."
A din erupts as students angrily rebuff the news that for an after school basketball game they still have to follow the dress code. They look to me for guidance. I just want them to conjugate those verbs so we can move on. Trying to get on their good side, I tell them, "Society is always pressuring you, aren’t they? I personally hate the dress code." My plan fails as their protestations against this seemingly unjust affront simply increase. I cut them off with, "Alright, alright. We are not going to solve this problem now. Let’s just get back to work."
I go to my computer and log out of my attendance program and open a PowerPoint on verb conjugations. Teachers are constantly told that students nowadays love PowerPoint presentations, as they are more visual and high tech learners. I remember back to when I learned how to conjugate verbs and simply memorized the damn chart in a few days. I press the button on my overhead projector, which eventually lights up and projects my PowerPoint on my Smartboard. As soon as I get to slide number one, Suzie walks in and sits down. I go back to my computer, log back in, unmark her absent and mark her tardy. I notice it’s her fourth tardy this semester so I write out a detention slip. She signs it, rolls her eyes and looks at me like I’m the devil himself.
I get back to the PowerPoint. "I suggest you take notes on how to conjugate verbs. This will come in handy over the course of the years you take German." Three students get out paper and pencil. Making an example out of Robert, I ask, "Robert, why won’t you take notes?"
"Pshhh," he responds, "I can remember this. This is easy." Robert one, teacher zero.
I start my lesson, explaining with the PowerPoint’s help, how to find the root of the verb, to remove the ending and to add the appropriate new ending. While finishing the singular pronouns, I notice Frank texting. I call him over and tell him, "Give me your phone." "Aww come on, Mr. M., I was just checking the time." Although I already knew how this was going to play out, I tell him, "I have a perfectly functioning clock on the wall." "I can’t read that," he reminds me. Several student nod their head, reminding me once again that this generation does not know how to read analog clocks. "I’m sorry, Frank, but the school has a strict no cell phone policy, and you have to give it to me." "Nope," he states defiantly. "Okay, but I’ll have to send you to the office," I warn him. "Fine," he retorts. "See you later then. Report directly to the office," I say. We both go our separate ways, he to the office and me to the computer. I log back into my attendance computer and write a referral, adding it to his record.
By now the class has calmed down and is generally quiet. I start on the plural pronouns. "The plural pronouns are generally..." I’m interrupted by Axel mumbling, "Eww, I just threw up in my mouth." He chugs the rest of his soda. Distracted, I overhear, "Hey, did that fat chick throw up?" "No, she was pretty drunk though. She went upstairs into my bathroom and fell into the tub. It took three of us to pick her up and get her out of my house." The laughter lasts for two minutes.
I finish my PowerPoint and have the students retrieve their workbooks. Four students do not know where their workbooks are. A plethora of excuses assails my ears; "I left mine in my locker, can I go get it?" "I think it’s at home, but it might be in my car." "I left mine in my truck and now it’s ruined ‘cause it got rained on." "The janitor threw mine away." The last one is a new one, and I fall for the shiny lure." "What do you mean the janitor threw it away?" I finally have the full, undivided attention of EVERYONE. "No, really, Mr. M. If we leave our stuff in the band hall, the janitor will throw it out." I foolishly respond, "Why would you leave your stuff in the band hall and not in your locker?" I have now swallowed the complete bait; hook, line and sinker. Not answering my question directly and stalling for time, they respond with, "Why can’t we?" and "The band director lets us." Being a teacher, I recognize this moment as being the perfect time to teach a little responsibility, so I respond with, "Obviously it would have been more responsible to take your things with you and hold on to them. You need to study your German and your book and workbook combined with your notes (like the ones you should have taken with the PowerPoint) are good tools to help you learn German." David, one of my more needy students yells out, "I took notes Mr. M. Seeeeeeeeeeeee?" I flash him a quick thumbs up.
"Let’s get back to our workbooks," I demand. "Page forty-six, number three. Tom, we have to find the verb in the sentence and conjugate it. Can you read the sentence for me and then tell me what the verb is?" I ask. "What’s a verb?" he asks honestly. Trying not to condemn the entire educational system, I sip my coffee and explain that the verb is an action word. "Duh!"he responds embarrassed and tells me that the verb is "das Auto." I remind the class that all nouns in German are capitalized all the time regardless of where they are in the sentence, and since Auto is capitalized, it absolutely can not be the verb. "Please read the entire sentence first, then tell me the verb," I ask. "Der Mann hat das Auto," he reads. Then he blurts out, "Der Mann is the verb!" Slightly louder, I remind him that only nouns are capitalized throughout German sentences. "HAT!!!" yells Tom, proud of himself and looking like he was just awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. "Good job," I say. We somehow get through the remaining four sentences without me losing any more of my quickly thinning hair.
"BING!!!" The intercom comes to life. "Please excuse this interruption, but please release all cheerleaders to the gym for a special presentation. They need to be fitted for new uniforms. Thank you."
Immediately, Karen asks, "Yo, Mr. M?"
"Why do the cheerleaders get new outfits but the band doesn’t?"
"Cause nobody cares about the band and the cheerleaders need all the help they can get. Now can we please get back to work? Turn to page 125 in your textbooks."
Before the books come out, Mark comes up to me and quietly asks, "Can I go to the nurse?" "What’s wrong?" I ask. No teacher should ever ask that question, but our nurse has been complaining that she’s been swamped with ridiculous complaints. "My toe’s infected and it’s bleeding." I write him a pass as quickly as possible to remove him from my classroom. I don’t want any blood on my floor. Mark leaves and I notice a small spot of blood under his desk. I sigh loudly. I open my classroom door and spot our hallway janitor. I am lucky to have found her so quickly. According to the OSHA regulations for blood borne pathogens, only qualified personnel are allowed to clean up blood. As I prop open the door to my room, she tells me she’ll return promptly to clean up the mess.
"Let’s go guys. Page 125," I plead. They get their books out. Slowly. Finally, I say, "Alright, you will notice here that..." Noisily, her keys jangling from her belt loop, the janitor enters my room with a rag and a squirt bottle filled with some kind of some orange solution. She sprays the solution on the blood and wipes it clean. No work can be completed as she does this because every student is watching her wipe up the blood. It takes all of twenty seconds.
"Hey Mr. M?"
"How do you say page 125 in German?"
"Do you spell that V U E N F?"
"No. F. U. Umlaut, N. F."
As I spell the word fünf again, for what seems to be the umteenth time this semester, I blurt out, "F. U...." However, before I can say "umlaut," the principal strolls by the classroom. Wide eyed and thinking I had just accosted some poor student, he scowls. He slowly turns his hand upside down and clenches them into a fist. He takes his one, long skinny pointer finger and repeatedly bends it in a slow, methodical "come here" motion. Before he can say a word, I am fumbling over my own words, explaining why F. U. was just loudly and perfectly pronounced in my classroom, and how it reverberated all the way down the hall. All I can imagine is coming home and explaining to my wife how I no longer have a job and how the local newspaper will have the following headline sprawled out across the front page: "LOCAL TEACHER FIRED FOR CURSING AT STUDENT."
He allows me to retreat back into my room, where chaos now reigns. Students are packing up their bags and throwing candy wrappers and their notes on conjugating verbs on the floor. I’m too tired to fight. They have won the day. The bell rings, mercifully ending this round. They leave like they might actually enjoy their next class. A couple of students stay to talk. "Hey Mr. M?" "Yeah?" I say without emotion. "Why do you put up with this?" they inquire. "Put up with what?" I ask. "This! Public school!" "Well," I try to explain to them, "education is important. Everybody wants to learn something, and I just have to find out what that is. Educated students are graduated into society and become, hopefully, happy contributors to our society. And a better society makes life better for me!" They stare back at me without emotion, turn, and slink out of the room.
They’ve won this round. But I’ll be back. "Tomorrow it’s my turn!" I tell myself.
The warning bell signals that my next class is about to start. Coincidently, it is also a reminder that I have to get to the bathroom and back in less than a minute. I’m regretting that extra cup of coffee this morning. Worst of all, I still have two parents to contact, a 504 observation form to fill out, and I have no clue what to make for dinner tonight.