Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Week That Was

Week 1—check. Whew2! (Math joke.) More happened than I'll ever have time to tell, but touch on the high points:
  • Teaching is exhausting.
  • I love it.
  • Middle schoolers are extremely hilarious and extremely insane, with so many different nuances of insane: 5th-grader insane, 6th-grader insane, emotional-7th-grade-girl insane. (I've discovered that I need to keep a box of tissues in my classroom.)
  • Monday and Tuesday were a blur: (Approximately) a bijillion kids came and went from my classroom. I said a bunch of things in some semi-planned order, some of them relating to math.
  • Wednesday, I was just starting to think "I'm getting the hang of this," when my 6th-graders hopped on the Fast Train to Hell in a Handbasket. I managed to divert course, and we pulled up just this side Heck in a Handcart, but I had peered over the Brink and seen the Abyss. I decided I never wanted to go there.
  • Wednesday night I got some notions.
  • Thursday, I started The New Regime. The New Regime consisted of several key changes:
    • I instituted a theater-in-the-round seating arrangement:

      a rectangle of desks, with one missing from the corner, all facing towards my desk and wheelie-chair in the center. This arrangement has several advantages:
      1. The students are arranged linearly, only capable of directly interacting with the student immediately to the left or right, avoiding complex networks of interaction that can quickly grow tangled (as I saw the day before).
      2. I have immediate access to every student, whisking my Chair of Wisdom and Instruction over to their desk to provide guidance or a dash of proximity control.
      3. I can see and everyone, all the time. And they can see me see them.
      4. It can do fun things like People Math (patent pending), treating the students like a human numberline.
      5. On my desk in the center, I have immediate access to my lesson plan, any materials needed, and coffee-sweet-coffee! (I once made a point to the sixth-graders that I could sit there and drink coffee there in front of them but they lost 10 Thunderbucks if they did the same, because I was the Teacher. They vigorously protested (though before this point, they had never objected to my coffee.) "That's not fair, Mr. Olivia!" I pretended to sheepishly acquiesce, "Okay. If it really bothers you...," sadly shuffling my feet to put it away. They called me back. "Naw, Mr. Olive-ear, We just playin' with you. You can have your coffee. You're the teacher." "Ohhh...kay, thank you."
    • I instructed them to place their Timecards (their weekly points and demerits tally they carry with them) on the desk, facing me. This allowed me to instantly deduct points without interrupting my conversation (though usually the threat of deductions sufficed).
    • I created and instructed them in a set of hand signals. They are as follows:
      1. Points warning: I flash a hand (or two, or ten) at them, showing the number of "Thunderbucks" (our mascot is the Thunderbird) I will deduct if they don't quit acting up. (I got the idea from James Brown who, so I was told, would flash a signal at his band members when they frakked up, letting them know how much of their pay he was docking) It's delightfully effective.
      2. Volume control: I raise or lower my hands indicating where I want the class volume to be. If I gesture emphatically down with my palms, it means, Silence.
      3. Answer-in-Unison/Raise-Your-Hand: While asking a question, I either gesture my right hand around in a circle, meaning, "Everybody answer," or I hold it raised, meaning, "This is a raise-your-hand question."
  • I invented a game called Bing! (at five-thirty Thursday morning as I sat on my balcony in the dark drinking cold-coffee-brewed-the-night-before, thinking, "What the hell am I going to do with these kids today?") It's loosely modeled on the drinking game Bizz Buzz (which I recently learned from another teacher friend). Each student was assigned a number, one through twenty-whatever, around the room. In the first round of Bing!, I instructed the students to go around counting off their numbers, exept all the evens had so say "Bing!" instead of their number. "One." "Bing!" "Three." "Bing!" "Five." "Bing...!" Good fun. In subsequent rounds, only odds Bing!-ed then multiples of three, multiples of seven, primes, etc.
  • The students love to be assigned tasks—they fight permission to erase the whiteboard or pick up papers. (I've developed a new technique to avoid arguments over who gets picked, The Chair of Chance. I sit in my wheelie chair, pointing my arm straight out, and spin. When the stops, whoever I'm pointing at, or closest to, is chosen. And if necessary, I can game the system with a subtle toe-drag to deliberately pick who I want while maintaining the appearance of randomness.)
  • I received a couple of lovely and delightful gifts for the classroom. Thank you, kind donors. (You know who you are.)
  • Many middle schoolers lack adequate verbal filters. I've been asked the following questions this week:
    • "You been outside? because you look kind of hot. You sweatin'."
    • "Why you sweat so much?"
    • "Mr. Oli-vee-er, you grease your hair?"
  • And one final note: Did you ever wonder what teachers do when the kids aren't around? Now I know the trade secrets. They do this:

    Taken some point last Sunday, after we'd just moved around several dozen extremely heavy work tables in preparation for the first day. (Favorite detail: the bicycle helmet.)
    Long entry. Tired. Onward and upward.


  1. Lots of creativity and fun goin' on, how lucky those kids are!
    Hope your energy holds up.
    Go N'awlins schools!

  2. Keep on pushin', the future of the city is there. I am exhausted just reading this entry.

  3. You da MAN, Olive-ear. An inspiration to all teachers, even the ones whose students will be yours in a decade.

  4. you rule the school!

    i loved reading this. i'm considering a career shift into education and it's good to hear about it from the front lines.

  5. Anonymous5:59 PM

    Wow! A Panopticon!

  6. A Panopticon, indeed. I'm so happy to have a name for it now, particularly one that sounds so menacing..

  7. Keep it shakin'! And yes, love the no sensor, especially since the kids are so earnest. One time, I had the kids undivided attention during a lesson. mean, they were RIVETED. I was feeling it, embellishing, inserting as many points as possible while I had the chance. I was feeling really good; I was riding high.
    A good chunck later, this student in the front row says, Mz. Nikki...when you talk you got this, this thing that dangles from the roof of your mouth to your tongue...

    All said by him with total, honest and pure amazement. That was what they were looking at. Coffee Tongue.

    And that was a horror for me since one of my biggest pet peeves is that NPR woman Diane Mack or whatever her name is(who should be called Diane Smack 'cause she needs a drink of water so you hear the news not her clicking dry know who I mean!)

    Moral: drink lots of water and swallow a lot. Make sure your nose is clean, etc.

  8. You're catching on quickly! Crowd control! Crowd control! Crowd control!

    Oh, I wish I worked at your school! You all are fun!