Monday, January 28, 2008
posted by Q6 at 7:03 AM
Apparently, I'm quite the idiot. Seriously: my IQ is published somewhere as being "zero." I didn't get the memo, but I'm allegedly known among the students for being quite a stupid person.

All week long, students in both the intermediate and high school grades have been sent to my office for all kinds of things. Theft. Cheating. Ditching class (while remaining on campus). Threatening other people. And in each case, after I review the details of each offense, I asked a simple question: "Did you think we weren't going to care, or did you not think you'd get caught?" Each of them replied that they didn't think they'd get caught.

Many of our teachers have been doing this job for as long as I've been attending school. I've been doing this job for about as long as the 10th graders have been alive. Six-plus years of college training in education, over a decade of experience (some of it here in silver-spoonland, some of it in the 'hood), and I'm the one who's going to be outsmarted by underage Paris-Hilton-lookalikes and goth-wannabes? I don't think so.

There are many subjects we don't teach in the curriculum proper. These things get learned in social situations and, at times, in my office. While I will always think of myself as a teacher, I know that I'm not on the front lines. But if you'll allow me the metaphor, I do teach. My office is my classroom. The student handbook is my text. My subject is "Behavior"--and some of these kids are majoring in it.

Although it's a blog for another time, I've a theory that students in my demographic--already teenagers who feel invincible, with affluent status added on--are in need of a HUGE humbling experience. These kids need to learn not only that they are fallible, but that there is a certain nobility in embracing that fallibility. Rarely do any of them admit to a moment of stupidity. For the most part, they spew desperate justifications or try to minimize the offense (lest we forget that every bully, every crminal, and every school shooter starts somewhere, so I must maintain Mad-Eye Moody's doctrine of "constant vigilance"). And many of them, sadly, wait outside my office feeling untouchable.

Roll the dice again, kiddo. Your Cloak of Invulnerability just ain't that strong.
Saturday, January 26, 2008
posted by Q6 at 4:50 PM

There are social boundaries that you just don't cross. Today we have laws and rights that get in the way of this philosophy, but in the days of yore if a person was wronged in some way he was entitled to satisfaction--in the form of compensation or, in many cases, revenge (even to the point of violent beating or death, and even for what would be consider "minor" offenses today).

My iPod got ripped off today. I was at work for the SAT test, and I'd been listening to it in my office while I prepped the test. I left my office around 7:10, got the proctors briefed, got the students to their testing rooms, and went back to my office to find the dock sitting there, empty.

That's right--my 30-gig-bundle-of-80s-goodness wasn't swiped from a bag in a public place or carelessly left in a classroom or anything, it was docked on my desk in the administration building. (The building was unlocked, for the test staff needs to get in and don't have keys, but that's not my point.) What bothers me most is a toss up: (a) I'll never find the thief, and (b) there are unwritten social mores that dictate things you just don't do. It could have been any of the 250 registered examinees, but it was more likely one of the 25 students there for Saturday detention (some of whom were placed there by my hand).

My hope is that I find out who did it at some point. I've already purchased a replacement iPod, and I have all the music in iTunes, so compensation isn't really my goal. My hope is that I can, through very calm, reserved, Godfather-like behavior make the kid look over his/her shoulder in unbridled fear for the next several months. Seriously, I'd do nothing at all. No detention, no suspension, just quiet demeanor and passive looks that suggest "It's coming, just wait."

Is it proper for someone in my position to intimidate a kid? Perhaps not; but it's not like I can challenge the little shit to a duel or anything.

Thursday, January 24, 2008
posted by Q6 at 6:53 PM
Our latest problem is a shortage of paper--more specifically, we're going through the stuff like it grows on trees. Yuk-yuk.

Seriously, they bring us a pallet of paper every month and a half or so, and unlike previous years, we're running out before the new shipment arrives. The tech/administration has now changed the copier settings so that instead of department passwords, we're using individual ones in order to track who is using the most. It hasn't really changed anything; moreover, it really hasn't told us much.

Then IT sent out an e-mail about some new software they're testing. What bothers me is that it was sent out in an e-mail wrongly titled, "Save Toner and Paper." This software is designed to track computer printing (who's printing what, to where, how often, etc.). What's my problem with this? Simple: nothing in this software is designed to save toner or paper--it's merely there to tell us where the waste is occuring. We're supposed to use that information to put the smackdown on violators and, to be honest, we suck at that. (The whole thing reminds me of an attendance discussion I had with a teacher last Spring. I asked teachers to do more at the classroom level to reduce tardies, and one teacher gave me a five minute explanation of how she keeps a tardy book, makes the kids sign it, and knows exactly who to write up and when. "Yes," I told her, "you have a fine system for tracking tardies, but I asked what you're doing to reduce them--this system doesn't do that.")

What's my solution? Simple: find me software that allows teachers to print or copy up to a certain point, then cuts them off COMPLETELY from anything that excretes paper. Nothing inspires conservation more than desperation. The people on this campus--the ones who have so much technology and training that paper should be obsolete by now, anyway--might not appreciate the value of free paper until it's gone . . . not until it's limited, not until it's rationed, and not until it's at a price . . . until it's GONE.
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
posted by Q6 at 9:01 PM
Our campus is having one of those theme-related weeks, where emphasis is placed on a specific topic--but I'll get to that in a minute.

Today I suspended two tenth graders for being stupid (there's no Education Code section for that, so I had to call it something else). Our bell system is more of a computer-generated tone, and it's one that students have taken to recording on their cell phones. Every so often, a student will try to get a class dismissed early by playing the ringtone and hoping to dupe the teacher. Several have tried, but none have succeeded . . . until today. Some teacher fell for it, and let the class out sixty seconds early.

I could fill an airplane hangar with the problems here: they got out sixty seconds early, but not to lunch or break--they got dismissed early between back-to-back classes; the tone sounds differently coming from a floor level phone than it does from, say, the speaker ten feet up the wall on the other side of the room; when a student protests a suspension claiming that it was "only sixty seconds," they don't anticipate the response from me being, "I agree--not a long time to wait until the actual bell, is it?"; the cell phone in question wasn't supposed to be on in the first place, was it?; and if you don't want people to know it was you, why play the tone several more times outside the classroom in front of an off-duty teacher?

Alicia* gets the tone on her phone, then gives it to Arnold*, who plays it. Alicia gets caught, and doesn't want to give names, but as the word "suspension" escapes my lips she starts to recite what seems like the phone book. I suspend her anyway and her father picks her up (all the while asking me if the suspension will keep her from getting into college--I don't think he heard my answer over the rolling of my eyes). I get Arnold into my office, and he immediately cops to the whole thing. His argument is that the class really doesn't like the teacher; he's the one who got suspended, so I guess he showed her. (That also took me back to Alicia's dad: colleges, which are now looking at things like discipline records in the aftermath of Virginia Tech, might have a problem with the suspension if I labeled it as "teacher harassment.") The whole thing was really stupid, and I wondered how we might be able to prevent such problems in the future, and then it came to me:

We must teach every student to play chess.

I'm serious, and I even explained this to Arnold and his mom: if he had been trained at some point to think just a few moves into the future I wouldn't have had to suspend anyone today. If the kids today didn't ignore linear time--if they understood that there is also a future and a past, not just the here and now--they might avoid things like this. If they were trained in the strategies of chess, they might think five or ten moves into the game and stay out of trouble--or better yet, do something productive, or effective, or creative. Maybe we can eliminate this kind of behavior . . .

. . . from Honors students . . .

. . . during Integrity Week.
Monday, January 14, 2008
posted by Q6 at 8:51 PM
We returned from Winter Break on January 7th, and since that time one of two things has happened: either I returned refreshed, focused, and with a renewed clarity of mind, or everyone got REALLY stupid in two weeks' time.

I've become numb to being the answer-man at my campus, and although I occasionally lament this role, I don't really have a problem with it. I don't, that is, until it becomes my primary job responsibility. Every question I've been presented with lately fits three criteria: it comes from someone who has no earthly business asking me a question, it relates to an issue I have almost no connection to, and it could easily be answered by the resident of any small ant farm. Part of me wants to look at people and say, "I don't know." It's not an answer I often give, but it fits an if-you-can't-beat-them-join-them mentality that I've lately been drawn to. I feel like that last character in "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," where I feel compelled to act like one of the pod people to make my day less nutty. Just one more reason I love working here . . .

. . . he said, sarcastically.

*The River-Phoenix-as-Indiana-Jones line seems fitting not only because the next movie comes out this year, but also because it's genuinely how I feel.
Monday, January 07, 2008
posted by Q6 at 9:37 PM
If you read this blog with any regularity then it's no surprise to you that I'm becoming increasingly frustrated with my job. We just came off of the best two-week Winter Break I've had in my life (largely due to my fiancee and kids), and I returned to work today with all the excitement of a child on his way to the dentist.

I'm all for efficiency and doing a good job, but there came a point about a month and a half ago where I peaked, and now everything seems to be catching up to me. I'm becoming . . . bored, I think. Today I had a hard time finding enough to do, and those things I had didn't carry with them any urgency or meaning. For a long while, we were getting this school back on focus, and that was great; now, we're more or less there, and the machine just has to run for a while before there's more for me to fix.

A lot of this is my perspective at work, so I accept full responsibility for the mood I'm in. I put myself in such a bad mood that I think I hurt someone's feelings on the phone earlier tonight, and I know I'll be kicking myself for a while about it.

I gotta find a way out of this funk . . .