Hidden Objects and the Teaching Game

So much has happened…but I am moving pass all that.  A troubled student lied about something I said in an open classroom, and the powers-that-be believed her.   She turned a well-meaning admonishment about attitude and altitude into a dirty joke–and they believed her.  Four students were interviewed and none recalled the alleged remark–and still they believed her.  The administrators at my old school never even bothered to ask me about it, despite seven years of unblemished, stellar service.  So I moved on, but not before reflecting on the meaning of it all:

In my down time, I sometimes like to play the games my laptop provided me.  My favorites are hidden object games.  I avoid the dialog-heavy adventures targeted for preteens.  I never actually purchase a game, so I am granted only sixty minutes of demo time to explore.  I gravitate towards more sophisticated puzzles where tiny clues and obscure items are expertly tucked in a chaotic scene.  I tell myself it improves both my patience and eyesight.

As I concentrate my vision on some jumbled haystack searching for a needle, I recall the feelings I had during my last year with the District’s public schools.  As I mentioned in an earlier blog, I received a “minimally effective” rating at the end of the 2010-11 school year, despite doubling the AP English passing rate for my school.  My debate team successfully defended their city championship against higher ranked public and private schools–and still the newly-hired administrator found my effort lacking.  I knew then my stay at DCPS would be short-lived.  Impact was being used, at least at my old school, as a weapon to bludgeon those who, for whatever reason, did not fit a certain profile.  Or to lavishly reward others who did–regardless of the actual results on national assessments like AP exams and SAT’s.

I was one of the older teachers, a kiss of death it seemed.  Students flocked to my classroom during their lunch breaks–another practice frowned upon.  Each day, high fives and enthusiastic exhortations greeted me as I threaded my way through the rush of students in the hallways making their way to classes.  The bond forged between my students and me was real and enduring.  Many wrote me letters in the final days, letters I shared with my new administration.  Some still call with updates about their collegiate careers.  Whenever I encounter a former student at the Safeway or 7-11, there are hugs all around.  Still, as much as I miss those exchanges, I do not mourn the loss of confusion and quick judgement that permeates too much of DCPS these days.

I know hidden objects and obstacles are part of the teaching game.  This year, as I faced a new band of students in a private school, I briefly considered all the things that could go wrong.  Were the administrators really as helpful as they seemed?  Would colleagues welcome me, or assume the professional aloofness I had come to expect?  Now that teachers wore a shirt and tie, instead of the blue jeans and flip flops too pervasive at my old haunt, would my teaching style have to change?  Could I continue to build the casual rapport I found so essential for learning, or would I have to become more formal and removed?

At my new school, parents pay money to lift their children to new heights.  I vividly recall the sacrifices my mother made to send my siblings and I to private schools.  Often, neighbors and friends chided her on the choices she made.  We were one of the only families on the block without a car.   Tuition came first.  I asked my mother once–a single parent not by choice–why she continued to struggle to send us to schools she couldn’t afford.  She turned to me and said, “You let me worry about that.  Education is everything.  I want my sons to have everything.”

As I told the parents on “Back to School” night, I intend to honor my mother’s commitment.  I see her face in the faces of the parents I meet.  I see me in my students, and the laughter comes easily.  Already, we are learning so much, and I am pleased with the range of abilities I encounter.  According to my principal, I have been deemed “cool” by a number of students–high praise I am told.

I have missed the classroom–hidden objects and all.  I look forward to a year of growth for .them and for me.  Thus far, I have enjoyed the clever repartee I share with other teachers, especially those in my department.  There is a noticeable lack of tension in the building, not just with students, but with teachers as well.  The heavy security apparatus is gone, and students seem to respond to the implicit trust permeating the hallways.  At my old school, an operations director would rush to the teacher  sign-in sheet and circle anyone who was not in the building by 8:05.  Two arrivals at 8:06 resulted in the loss of twenty points on Impact scores.  At my new stomping ground, there are no circles, and everyone arrives early or on time.  Traditions I cherished in my high school are in full force, including study hall, senior privileges, student governance, and school jackets come wintertime.  Gone are all those silly morning meetings we teachers were forced to attend, or risk losing another twenty points on Impact.

The year is still young, and I am sure practices will arise that annoy me.  Some students will be harder to reach than others.  A few parents will shift the entire educational weight on me.  These things are inevitable.  But Friday, as I sat in the bleachers surrounding the football field and cheered students frolicking at the annual Labor Day weekend bar-b-que, I made a note to praise God again and thank Him for understanding the change I needed even as I questioned His wisdom and cradled my doubts.



About Mark E.P. Roberts

teachermandc is Mark E.P. Roberts, a middle-aged, high school English teacher entering his ninth year of instructing young minds. This blog is an attempt to capture the challenge of teaching and the essence of learning. At a time when DC has become the epicenter of educational theory, this blog will keep its preferred focus on students in an somewhat typical DC high school. I have taught in both public and private schools. To date, 95% of my students are of color. All names have been changed, and complaints about in-house politics will be avoided. Hope you enjoy.
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