[Editor's note: Yo Mista is the pseudonym of a fourth-year teacher in a high school in Queens.]
Every once in a while a teacher has a day that makes him think: this is why the city loses new teachers. I recently experienced one of those days.
After circling the neighborhood to find a parking spot within six blocks of my school I hurried in to the building and bumped in to my assistant principal. “I have a student I need you to work with: 19 years old, six credits, not attending any of his classes. He’s becoming a problem for the deans, roaming the halls and disrupting classes.” She gave his name and asked, “Do you know him?”
“No, I don’t,” I said.
“Well,” she said, “we need to transition him out, maybe VESID, Co-Op Tech, I don’t know, something.”
In addition to teaching three classes a day I agreed to the often torturous responsibility of serving as the Transition Coordinator for the more than 300 students receiving special education services in my school. Transition is supposed to be a service to assist students with disabilities in their transition out of high school and into college, the workforce or vocational training.
I had high hopes of changing lives when I took the job, and I looked forward to helping kids get into a position to have successful and rewarding lives after high school. Mostly I still do, but I learned quickly that administrators often have a very different idea of transition services. They seem to see it as a vehicle to move troubled kids off their rosters and attendance reports and out of their suspension room. This frustrates me to no end. But I swallowed my frustration and said, “I’ll find the student and have a talk with him.”
For weeks this is the only type of contact I’ve had with my AP and this latest encounter really set me off. My blood was boiling but I kept a lid on it. I had to get to class.
The “classroom” that I teach in is actually the corner of the lunchroom with two thin, poorly constructed walls separating it from the throngs of boisterous and hungry students packed in next door. On this day I had what I believed to be a well-planned lesson and I was pretty pumped to teach it. It was all on PowerPoint, I’m differentiating, moving up Bloom’s Taxonomy, there was a literacy component, there was even math in there. It was one of those lessons that makes a young teacher think to himself, “Man, I hope my AP comes by today.”
I got into the classroom, rearranged the mess of desks, set up the projector and stood at the door to greet my students. As I started the lesson — “Okay guys, eyes and ears up here” — a teacher opened the door and cut me off.
“Good morning. Sorry, we just need to pass through,” he said. This teacher has a class in the converted room next to me and he frequently decides to use my “classroom” as a shortcut rather than walk the extra distance to his own classroom door.
“Sure,” I said, as he was already halfway through the room. “Come on guys, hurry,” he said to the pack of students trailing behind him. I watched and waited while my students seized the opportunity to become distracted and disengaged. As the last few stragglers passed through I turned to face the front of the room when I heard a loud crash, followed by a loud gasp, followed by a chorus of “Oh, s#!%!”
I whipped my head around to see pieces of my school-issued projector flying through the air in every direction.
In a matter of seconds every conceivable reactionary thought and emotion coursed through my body. First I was angry, angry that I couldn’t teach my lesson the way I wanted to, angry at the student who accidentally kicked the cord and knocked it over, angry at the teacher who uses my classroom as a hallway, angry at the administrators for sticking me in such a crappy classroom and angry at myself for not being more careful with this expensive equipment. My anger quickly changed to fear. “I’m screwed,” I thought to myself as I collected the pieces from the floor. “My AP is going to be pissed.”
The excitement of the flying projector held the attention of the students for about three seconds before they realized that the lines of defense had been breached and the moment to attack had arrived. “Yo mista, what are you gonna do? You can’t teach today, we don’t have to do nothing now right?” I could feel the giddy energy in the room. My fear turned to panic as I realized I would now have to improvise my great lesson.
I remembered my motivation, my hook to begin the lesson, or as the educrats like to call it, the “anticipatory set.” I needed the projector and no longer had it. Being that it was a history class I asked the students to immediately become historians and write a primary source account of the destruction of my projector. We then went around the room and each student read their short account. They quickly began to see that their descriptions were not at all the same and they each said something a little different depending on their perspective in the room. It served as a nice segue into the lesson and by then I had my laptop open and notes ready to continue.
I worked it out and I managed to salvage the rest of the lesson, but I still had to deal with my AP and figure out how to replace the projector. Little did I know that by the end of the day a busted projector would be the least of my worries.
To be continued…