As any math teacher will tell you, there are very few “normal” days, so I’ll just pick a day. I rolled a die and came up with a five, so I’ll write about last Friday.
6:08 AM Alarm goes off. It beeps exactly once before my wife elbows me and hisses, “get it!”. Our eight-week-old baby just finished feeding at 5:30, and my dear little wife is not about to sacrifice a sleeping baby so a husband can snooze.
6:45 AM I’m fed, dressed, and packed. My wife packed my lunch the night before (and she has packed 98% of my lunches to date. Sorry, fellas; I got the best wife.), so I grab it from the fridge, kiss my two girls on their sleeping heads, and I’m off.
7:12 AM My drive to work is 36 minutes door-to-door, so I have time to listen to NPR, Sigur Rōs, or stand-up comedy (which I usually save for the drive home).
7:30 AM It’s the Friday before Thanksgiving. I graded all of yesterday’s tests, and the only two items on our class agenda are Notebook Check and Test Corrections. I take the rubrics off my printer and head down to P-13 to borrow the paper-trimmer from Hodge.
NON-TEACHER NOTE: Students won’t see my class for nine days. If I assign homework, it won’t get done. So I have to pick something that can be started in class, completed over the break if the students are really motivated, and optional. Enter the Test Corrections.
7:52 AM With 20 minutes before students arrive, I organize my desk. If my desk is unorganized, I feel like my life is unorganized. I stack papers, file them, and start a Break To-Do List. It quickly grows to 12 items.
8:01 AM I have a small guitar amp and an iPod connector. On test days, the day before break, or other exciting days, I play tunes outside my portable. Because the math teachers are all in a row, I play Eye of the Tiger or The Final Countdown on days that we test. It helps take the edge off and, frankly, it’s friggin’ fun to dance and rap wearing my test day shirt.
8:10 AM The bell rings and I step outside to shake the hands of students as Flobots’ “Handlebars” bumps through 15 watts as bleary-eyed students amble toward the gray doors of our classrooms. My phone rings and four 8th graders yell anxiously, “Can I get it?” I nod to the closest one and keep shaking hands and rapping.
Look at me, look at me;
just called to say that it’s good to be
alive in such a small world.
All curled up with a book to read.
I ask the phone student to have Mr. Garrett call back later. Maybe he wants to borrow the video camera again.
I can show you how to doe-see-doe,
I can show you how to scratch a record.
I can take apart a remote control,
and I can almost put it back together.
8:20 AM The announcements are over and I turn my “Fill out your planner and start the warm-up” music back on. Consistent procedures breed good behavior, and the first 20 minutes of my class are the same every day.
I announce as they work, “Get moving, we have the 7th graders coming today.” The class moans.
I stand up straight with a huge smile. “Let’s try that again, but with a positive attitude: The seventh graders are coming today!” About twelve students cheer and the rest grumble quietly. My class culture is happy, you unenthusiastic turds. Get used to it.
8:23 AM The timer beeps and students begin presenting the warm-up to the class. My computer is still updating.
8:26 AM Time for “Good Things”, where students share “good things” that are going on in their lives. Any good thing will do, but eventually, everyone must share something. In the interest of time (hat tip to Tim Bedley) , I have them share good things with each other first, then pick three names to share with the class.
8:27 AM We finish Good Things just as Jenna’s class walks up my ramp. Her 7th grade GATE class has been working with my 8th grade iPad Algebra class to team up on the Stock Market Game.
“Wow, Netflix stock seems to be doing well. What else is a business that is on the rise right now?”
“Ouch, McDonald’s is down a whole dollar from last week. Do you want to trade for something else?”
“Who else wants a hint? (a few hands wave) Okay, what big products are being released this week? How might those companies’ stocks reflect that?”
A few students blurt out, “Twilight!” or “Black Ops II!” before their group shushes them. It is a nationwide contest, after all. One of my groups is ranked 18 out of 50,000.
9:07 AM After the 7th graders leave, and we move on to Notebook Check. It’s the usual “swap with a partner” and “make sure you grade fairly”, except I gave them a rubric so they can’t mess it up. The rest of the period is spent on test corrections.
9:43 AM Bell rings and I bid them a 9-day farewell. Then I pump up the jams and get ready for period 2.
10:30 AM The next period goes way smoother. It turns out that 90 minutes is plenty of time to run through our usual classroom routine and still do two other things.
10:40 AM In the downtime between passing in the notebook checks and passing out tests, one student stands up behind me. Troy is usually running his mouth, and most often about nothing. Here are a few gems:
- Mr. Vaudrey, being a Siamese twin would be great. You could punch somebody coming at you from the side.
- Mr. Vaudrey, I had a game this weekend. The coach said that I could play for the high school if I get my grades up.
- Mr. Vaudrey, rainbow monkeys are like bootleg CareBears.
This time, however, he’s sticking out his chest and walking towards Lars, who is sitting. Troy is clearly upset, spouting aggressive (but not foul) nonsense:
“You think you so bad, talking crap about me? You think I can’t hear you? I know what you said! You got a problem with me? Do something, then!”
I know that Troy won’t actually fight Lars, so I calmly direct Troy outside. I have a volunteer collect the rubrics while I ask Lars what happened. He admits that he asked Troy to quit talking so much and Troy got upset.
One of the things I love about my job is helping adolescents see how their actions define them and helping them see their actions through the eyes of other students. When it works, it’s awesome.
Vaudrey: Well, then why isn’t Lars outside, too, if he was saying those things?
Troy: Ohh… cuz he didn’t stand up and get aggressive.
11:23 AM The class ends and I have lunch. I pass the time planning my week off and add more items to my To-Do list. It grows to 20 items.
12:03 PM Algebra Concepts. I’ve written about this class before: about the behavior issues, the challenges, and the draining effect it has on me. I have 90 minutes of semi-structured class time, so if this is to go well, I need to be all business and crack down early. So I do.
12:20 PM This is going pretty well! Erica–the RSP teacher–points out that: next time, we should just have them grade their own notebooks instead of swapping with someone across the class.
I don’t care that much. If they cheat, BFD. They stole one percentage point on their grade.
1:09 PM They finished the notebook check and going over the answers to the test. Here are some highlights from the period so far:
- Andrew continues to have impulse control and is on the verge of pissing off Ryan so much that he’ll throw a punch. I have Andrew pull a desk outside.
- James (much like Lars) knows that he can say quiet things to antagonize Sandra until she gets loud. I have the exact same conversation with Sandra outside that I had with Troy earlier that day, with one difference:
Vaudrey: Why are you outside, but James isn’t?
Sandra: Cuz he be saying stuff about me and I’m not just gonna sit there and take it.
Vaudrey: I believe you, but why are you outside and he’s not? Am I picking on you?
Vaudrey: Am I racist?
Vaudrey: Then what is it?
- Mia and Sandra want to work on their project together, so I let Sandra change seats to be closer to Mia. Val, a boy sitting nearby, isn’t happy about it.
Sandra: Can I work with Mia? We’re partners on this project.
Vaudrey: Yes, go ahead.
Val: Aw, man. Do I have to stay here? Now, I have to listen to BOTH of ‘em.
Vaudrey: Turn around so you don’t have to see them.
Sandra: I know he not talkin’ to me like that.
Mia: If he say somethin’ to me, I’m finna slap him. That’s just how it is.
Vaudrey: That’s not okay, but it’s your choice.
1:20 PM Andrew has been working outside for about ten minutes when he pops his head in and cries, “Mr. Vaudrey! There’s some graffiti out here! It wasn’t me!”
I stroll outside, re-direct Andrew to sit, and follow his finger, “Look!”. On nameplate for my class it says, P-08 Wheelchair Accessible. Below that, in pencil, somebody wrote, fuck you mr vaudrey along with an arrow pointing to my name that says bitch!.
“It wasn’t me, I swear!” Andrew looks terrified, so I assure him that I recognize his innocence. I return inside to ponder and I mention to Erica what I just noticed.
“Really?!” Her eyes get wide, partly because she didn’t think I would quote it while standing near students. I have no qualms about repeating their foul words in class, partly because I like how silly they sound when I repeat exactly what they say. “Do you know who it was?” she asks.
“Meh. I have a theory (Sandra is the only one who’s been outside for discipline this period), but it doesn’t matter. It’s more that I’m sad for them; that they have such anger in their heart.”
I say this loud enough for several students nearby to hear. One of them is Ryan. Remember him? The one who screamed, “I hate you!” a month ago? He was sitting nearby for my exchange with Erica.
Ryan stood up and walked directly outside. Andrew was very quick to volunteer his authority on the issue. “See, Ryan? It’s right there. I didn’t write it, though. I just found it.”
Ryan, without a word, begins furiously erasing.
“Ryan,” I say gently. “You don’t have to do that.” He continues erasing until the words are gone, then until the smudges are gone, then until my nameplate is good as new.
“Thank you, Ryan.” I say softly. Without a word, he returns to his seat with Erica just as the clean-up song plays over my sound system. The class runs through the 11-times-table and the bell rings.
1:54 PM I call a students’ mom to see when she will come retrieve his iPad (which was confiscated as he played games in class). Turns out, she’s coming for a conference.
2:40 PM Conferences for middle-school boys are pretty similar. They go in this order:
- Explain in detail each assignment the boy hasn’t done.
- Explain in detail an example of his bad behavior.
- Pause for the parent to explain how important it is for the boy to do well in school
- Make a plan of action with some consequence.
3:10 PM I excuse myself to go unlock the iPad cart for students after PE. As I leave, the team begins to discuss the idea of this student’s removal from the iPad class if he can’t pull his grades up.
3:18 PM All the iPads are gone and students are fleeing the campus for the Thanksgiving break.
4:10 PM I arrive home to a squirming baby and a wife who is happy to hand her off for a few minutes. We forage from the fridge, and bounce the baby. After watching three episodes of Boy Meets World and talking about our respective days, we put the baby down for the night.
7:47 PM The wife and I play Tetris. It’s been five years of marriage and 8 years of dating, and we still play Tetris together. The main difference is that now we have to whisper trash talk so we won’t wake the baby.
8:12 PM Baby wakes up again. Wife feeds baby.
11:11 PM Baby is back in bed. Along with us.