My first semester as a teacher – part 4

… continued from here ….

One of the things I learned about early was my power to kick students out of class.  I was amazed, no one would have done this on a regular basis in British Columbia, you’d make the kids stand outside the classroom.  Not here though, I had this god power that could make a kid disappear, at least for 20 minutes while he was processed in the Dean’s office, and more than likely, sent back to the purgatory that was my classroom.  I abused this power at least once a day that first semester, although there were times when it was warranted.

The first time I had a fight in my classroom, it erupted without warning.  I was shocked.  Two girls were suddenly shouting at each other about something and their classmates held them apart while they verbally sparred.  I ran to the door and yelled for security, as per my training during the summer.  I remembered well the warnings not to get between the combatants because you never knew if one of them was going to draw a knife.  Within seconds of the call for security, two security guards and one of the Assistant Principals ran into the room.  The Assistant Principal was not a large woman but she carried herself with amazing confidence and when she entered the room, some of the children shyed away from her.  The first thing she did was to place her body between the two girls, but she made sure never touched either of them with her hands.  The two girls tried their best to get past her, reaching their arms around this tiny woman, but she stubbornly kept them apart until the security guards managed to get them under control and out of my room.  I stood their in stunned silence, having never experienced such hatred come out of such young people before.

That year fights were commonplace in my room.  By the end of the year I felt a bit more confident and began to get a feeling for when it would be safe for me to intervene while I waited for security and when I should stay the hell away from the fighters.  I knew already that most of my students were pussycats in wolves’ clothing but a small number were predators in training.

I also remember the first time I connected with my students really deeply.  I was attempting to teach the students how to solve quadratic equations.  After unsuccessfully attempting to show them how to factor, and then failing to show them how to solve by graphing, I decided to go for 0 for 3 and teach them the quadratic formula.  I wrote down the formula and remembered the advice of the cool Assistant Principal from the summer, "Make it memorable."  I told the students that using the formula was pretty easy, and they mostly ignored me.  I then said that the hard part was remembering the formula itself and I was going to show them a trick.  As I started to sing the quadratic formula song, the students started to quiet down.  By the end of the song, they were hooting and hollering and begging me to sing it again.  I sang it 4 more times, and by the 4th time, 3 of the students joined in and most of them were keeping time to the music.

Now I can’t saw that the tune was very good, but I’m pretty sure it was the first time most of the kids had ever seen a teacher act a bit silly.  They were impressed.  So impressed that every single class for the next three weeks, the three brave students would enter class singing the song.  I’m in contact with some of my students from this year and they tell me they still remember the song.  It might be the only thing they remember from that entire year.  Not surprisingly, it was one of the few topics where most of the students were able to use the formula, as I made promises to sing it again after every time the class finished 3 or 4 exercises.

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