Sunday, January 19, 2014

Felonious Assault


 
If it appears that I'm attempting to scrape the rust off my writing skills, your observations would be correct.
 
The fact of the matter is that I've been buried - both literally and figuratively - by a sheer mass of teenaged humanity this school year.
 
To wit:
>41 newspaper students, in one class.
>35 yearbook students, in one class.
>42 Journalism 1 students - that would be the Intro to Journalism class, most of them freshmen - in one class.
>60 AP English Language & Composition students, in two classes.
 
When I started teaching 19+ years ago, the load for high school English teachers in my district was capped at 125 students in five classes, or 25 per class. There remains a caveat, though, for those of us who teach electives. No cap exists for electives classes, and guess what?
 
AP English is considered an elective.
 
I suppose it would be belaboring the obvious to mention that all of my classes involve writing - copious amounts of it. So, past administrations - and I'd like to think it was because of respect for me and my abilities - would divide those humongous classes into two. In other words, at least take the freshmen and split them into a class of 21 each. But with lean budgets and increasingly myopic admin staff, that's a no-can-do these days.
 
The AP kids handle the crowded conditions well - even though it takes their teacher up to two weeks, sometimes, to return essays. The newspaper and yearbook students are old hands, with multiple years of experience on publication staffs under their belts. Plus, they move in and out throughout the lunch period, going out for interviews, photos, or just to chat with friends.
 
The freshmen - all 42 of them - are stuck in a usually stuffy and sweltering classroom, trying to learn a new writing style in conditions more fitting to crowd-surfing. The good news, however, is that they're new to high school, and my class isn't the only one in the building bulging at the seams. The J1ers, God bless 'em, are content to listen to me, especially when they're allowed out of the room at the end of my lecture to - what else? - interview, take photos, or just to - dare I say it? - chat with friends.
 
Yes, I've been treating the froshies like veterans this year, giving them a slight taste of what life will be like next year when they join either the newspaper or the yearbook staff and have more responsibility for getting the heck out of Room 215 in pursuit of the news. I just can't justify keeping all these kids cooped up for 90 minutes, when I know that many of them will learn just as quickly when they get out and about.
 
They've practiced interviewing one another. They've practiced editing one another's stories, alert to errors in ethics or judgment. They've huddled with me in individual writing conferences, as I try to shore up both their confidence and their skills.
 
But there've been some bumps along the way. The snap above captures part of a story that I graded last week. The assignment was to interview me, as a practice exercise before going out and interviewing the teeming masses in the cafeteria. The cherub in question found a solid focus for his story - yes, I was bullied in my younger years because of a childhood stutter. Some of his facts, however, were a tad askew.
 
Yes, I did break a young man's nose twice, over the course of four years, or so. I'm not proud of this, but he did hector me mercilessly, and I didn't know how to use my words. I resorted to violence, in an era when schools didn't have counselors and psychologists or even teachers who were trained in conflict resolution. And, as my student's story noted, I had a heck of a left jab, learned from my uncle, who boxed in the Navy during WWII.
 
Contrary to what my little froshie wrote, though, I never - ever - threatened the life of the boy who bullied me. I don't really remember being angry enough to put my nemesis out of his misery - permanently, at any rate. But I have considered almost equally harsh punishments for the administrative idiots who have tried to turn Room 215 into a holding pen rather than a sanctuary of learning.
 
Out of the mouths of babes, huh?
 

 

2 comments:

Christy said...

Ay yi yi. That sucks tremendously about the class sizes. If it makes you feel any better about the grading though, I just finished grading an essay my US History students turned in on November 15. Best of luck, especially with those freshmen.

Tara R. said...

I can't imagine having 42 freshmen in one room, let alone being in charge of all the little dear. The patience of a saint!

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