Teacher Appreciation Week – Personal Journey Four


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2012-01-09 22.16.38

Me in my first classroom – Bishop McNamara High School, Fall 1992

During this Teacher Appreciation Week 2016, I intend to share a memories of my years in teaching – some I’ve posted in years past and some new ones – if only to recall the moments that stand out and the moments that have somehow inspired me to press on.

“Hey, Jonesy”

As I look back over the years, there are a number of people who I’ve liked, but I’ve thought have not, necessarily, been good for the students to good for the schools in which I’ve worked. As I look through that catalogue in mind, one individual in particular stands out. For our purposes here, let’s call him Frank.

Frank was one of those over-sized personalities, those people who everyone knows and everyone talks about before they come into a room. “Did you hear what Frank said?” “Oh, man, that Frank. He’s unreal.” “Frank did what!?!”

Frank was also a legend in the city. He’d taught at more than a handful of schools before he came to our context. He had coached – successfully – at another handful. Sometimes he did both at the same school. That’s what we had hired him to do: teach PE and coach football.

I didn’t know him. I really didn’t even know him by reputation, but the more veteran teachers in the building were buzzing as soon as he was hired. I don’t know that the buzz was good.

Let’s start at the end: Frank lasted two years before he was asked to move on. With extreme prejudice. He would move on to other schools, other coaching jobs and other contexts which, I suspect, ended just like ours did.

Some highlights of Frank:

  • He seemed to live out of his car or he was squatting in the PE Office. At no time was this more evident than when he came past the office I shared with my good friend Dr. Fighting Irish attired in a bathroom, hair wet, wearing no shoes and said “Hey, one of you guys go down and check to make sure I’m not supposed to be somewhere right now, will ya? I just got out of the shower.”
  • We had two older veterans on staff who, for the record, looked nothing alike. They may have shared some basic characteristics. Frank may have confused them because they’d been at the school for a very long time. They had history and they were well respected. Frank couldn’t be bothered to differentiate between them. He referred to them both as “Jonesy.”
  • On a day when we had invited over 20 guest speakers to the school to discuss the upcoming presidential election, Frank found himself in the midst of all the arrivals. Standing on a walkway above the main entrance of the building, one of the young, female teachers – dressed very professionally and nicely for the occasion and greeting the visitors – caught Frank’s eye. “Looking mighty hot, today, baby.” He yelled at her.
  • Frank would also often ask his PE students to run errands for him. Like buy him some McDonalds  or go to the bank. In his car. They were freshmen.

So, Frank didn’t last long, but he was a big galoot who was very hard to dislike, though, let the record reflect he never called me “baby” or “Jonesy.”

He was one of those guys that I liked, but whose very presence made my job harder to do.

There have been more than a few of them, I am sorry to say.

I hope I’m not that guy for someone else…

Under Pressure

I was highly influenced by the first set of Parent/Teacher/Student Conferences I ever had to moderate. As I mentioned in an earlier post, my first Conferences were something of a train wreck in that a parent punched a kid during a meeting and I didn’t respond well and I never had conferences go that poorly again. Some of the reason for that might be due to the fact that I tend to soft-sell my comments with parents during Conferences.

I don’t know if the soft-sell serves my students or their parents entirely well, but, beyond the first Conferences experience, there is another factor in play: I am not the numbers guy. I am not the guy who can quote the exact percentages my students carry, nor I am the guy who is so confident in the careful manner in which I approach my grades that I have absolute certainty in them.

What I mean is, while I am sure my students get the grades they earn, I do tend to err on their side, especially if they are close to the next letter grade (a 78% looks a lot like an 80% to me come grade time if the young person has applied her or himself). Additionally, I don’t have fool proof methods for assessing writing and I spend a lot of time assessing writing.

It’s with this background and these predilections in mind that I approach conferences.

My code word for a C student is “potential” as in “your son/daughter really has a lot of potential” and “I am confident that, when you work to your potential, we’ll see this grade come up.”

I was completely ready to employ the “Potential Stratagem” in a conference with a student we’ll call Sean. Sean was a bit of an ass-hat; a joker who wasn’t terrible but wasn’t great and who attention-seeking antics never rose to the level of being more than a nuisance, and an easily handled one at that. His C was the result of a lack of caring on his part… he could have done better, he just didn’t want to.

Flanked by his mother on his left and his father on his right, I noticed immediately as the conference began that this Sean presented differently than the one I normally saw. Sheepish and reserved, the ass-hattery replaced by apprehension, Sean slunked into the chair between his folks looking stricken.

“Sean has a C. What’s going on?” Dad said.

This was in my wheelhouse.  “He’s got plenty of potential to do better.”

Mom pushed her chair closer to Sean. “Did you hear that?” She said. Sean shrunk further into his seat.

“Yes,” I said, sensing impending embarrassment but unable to do much about it, “Sean can do well if he applies himself a bit more.”

Dad moved closer now, too. I think the entire family was touching at the shoulders. Sean’s were all but quivering.

And his right nostril began to bleed.

“Ah, yeah,” I said, “Sean can really improve. Easily. He just needs to…”

It didn’t really matter what he needed to do, his parents were now at 45 degree angles to him on either side, bearing down on him like hyenas after prey.

And his left nostril began to bleed.

That’s the day I learned, first hand, that blood pressure is real.

Parent pressure, too.

Clotheslined

Spirit Week and Homecoming – traditionally these are very big deals in high schools. The idea that alumni come back on campus, wearing their letter jackets and singing the school song is very appealing in its 1950s like simplicity. Having just attended my school’s graduation last night, I can attest that the girls were already talking about how they would return to our school. For me as a teacher and administrator, that’s a nice thing to hear. Some of the girls we graduated will come to Homecoming. I hope a lot do.

I was thinking about Homecoming last night and remembering an incident in particular.

When I was in an all boys Catholic school, we used to play a flag football game at halftime of the Homecoming Football Game. It was faculty vs. seniors and, for the first couple of years we did it, an awful lot of fun. As I recall it, the faculty – with superior teamwork and smarts illustrating the fact that the mental overcomes the physical every time – won those first few contests.

I was Student Council Moderator and tried to get our principal to play in the game. The first two years, he demurred, but he did take the field the third year. It was very cool. The students booed, of course, not because the principal was unpopular – he wasn’t – but because that’s just kid programming.

I’ll say it was a close game, not because I remember that, but because it makes a better story. Our principal got open on a fly pattern behind the defense and was racing down the sideline for a sure touchdown – victory for the faculty assured – when a senior stepped off the sideline and clotheslined him. Hard.

The stadium dropped to dead silence in about 1 second.

And the Senior/Faculty Flag Football Game was pronounced dead soon there after.

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Filed under Education, Education Blog, Ignatian Education, Jesuit Education, Teacher, Teacher, Teacher Blog, Teaching, Teaching Blog

One response to “Teacher Appreciation Week – Personal Journey Four

  1. Pingback: Teacher Appreciation Week – Personal Journey Five | And There Came a Day...

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