Monday, November 03, 2003

it's no degrassi jr. high

My immunology lecture (both session, to three separate science classes) today went off OK. At least, I think it did. At least the kid in the do-rag wasn't snoring too loudly.

The school was, no doubt, a tough inner city school. Metal detectors and bag x-ray machines by the door. Ten minutes after we got there, two girls got dragged out, handcuffed, kicking and screaming by the police. (I think they had gotten into a fight or something.) I saw one student walking down the hall just spit on the ground. Spitting! Indoors! Oh, my little Upper East Side High School sensibilities are in turmoil! I mean, not that Hunter schooled the most well-bred group of kids in Manhattan or anything, but at least we never had police roaming the hallways.

The two classes I taught were not really disruptive per se (except for the three boys in the back that kept insisting, loudly, that we turn on the air conditioning, all the while passing little notes back and forth--what the hell are you, a bunch of girls?), just generally disinterested. It was a skewed sample of the students in the school already, though: ninth and tenth grade remedial Biology students who had already failed the Biology Regent exam once. Everything was very PC, though. Don't call it "Remedial Bio," we were warned, call it "The Living Environment." Don't say it's "for kids who failed the Regents," say it's "Term 3," as in they already finished Terms 1 and 2, but need an additional semester.

So after all that, the Power Point slides, the stressing about the laptop and the working condition of the LCD projector I borrowed from the department, worrying about striking the right tone with the students, it probably works out that no one was really listening anyway. The first class I taught had maybe nine students in it, and at least four of them were sleeping. Not falling asleep, like I do in lectures sometimes, with the bob and weave--but actually full out head on the table, coat over their heads, drooling on the table asleep. Two of the others were slowly and pondorously applying lipgloss the entire 40 minutes. One kid actually seemed fairly interested, but...that's one kid.

Not that I haven't taught to tough classrooms before. I spent a summer teaching Health Ed to a group of high school drop-out pregnant teenagers living in a residential facility, who would literally only come to class if a nurse woke them up and physically dragged them downstairs. And then they would sleep the whole time. On the floor. There was no breakthrough, no Michelle-Pfeiffer-in-Dangerous-Minds moment of connecting, just a bunch of kids who really, really didn't want to be there. And that's fine, whatever. They have other things to worry about. All I'm saying is that it made it really difficult to feel like I was teaching them anything.

I could be Pollyanna-ish about this whole thing and say, "Yeah, but there's that one kid. And if I can move just that one kid..." Cue string orchestra, sweeping inspirational music. Well, instead, I say, good luck, you not-comotose boy in the second row. And for the rest of them, I say, it was a good lecture, sorry you missed it.

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