Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Life In A School.

Try as I might, I never seem to get to work early, but at least I'm not late...not this year anyway. Each morning, I fly through the office doors a little before eight am, weave my way through parents, kids, and other bustling apparitions.

My mailbox is full of stuff, much of it junk, but I grab it and zip down the hall to my classroom. Bus duty starts at eight, I fumble with keys so new, they've not worn enough to slip in easily. The door opens, I dump my gear, (a laptop case, my daughter's afterschool cheer gear, and a Walmart bag with a peanut butter sandwich, yogurt, and a banana) atop my desk and dash to the restroom. That will be my last chance at a restroom break...or any break until lunch three and half hours from now.

The bathroom door slams as I trot out to the bus unloading zone with about 20 seconds to spare. I have the easiest duty spot on campus. Bus duty starts at eight...99% of the buses have unloaded their kids by 7:45 am and they have wandered off to their designated morning waiting areas. The only kids in the bus area are the kids, aides, and teachers of the most severely handicapped kids we educate. Wheelchair bound, Down Syndrome, feeding tubes...these are our most needy children. They are also to a one, our sweetest. I get hugs and high five's and we stand around for a few minutes until the first bell of the day signals the whirlwind has begun.

My first two classes are Marine Science Honors classes with kids from grades ten through twelve. They pour in, I greet each one at the door and remind them of the "bellringer"... a short assignment that they begin immediately as they enter each day. The tardy bell chimes, my door shuts, and I take the helm. While they work on their bell ringer, I look around and take roll silently. A few minutes later, we are discussing the bell ringer (today's was about seafloor topography) and then it's time for a PowerPoint on ice age sealevel changes and hydrothermal vents.

They gasp a little when a graphic of Florida 20,000 years ago pops up on the screen. It's enormous with another 100+ mile between the Gulf coast they know and the Gulf coast of ice age Florida. We discuss this "MegaFlorida" and I can tell that most of them have never considered that their state could have ever looked any different than it does now.

They gasp loudly when the next graphic shows Florida if the Eastern Antarctic ice sheet should completely melt. Florida is gone...almost the entire state is a blue swath of ocean.

"When will that be?" they ask.

We discuss global warming...factually. I explain the basic premise and express a variety of possible reasons. I pride myself on sharing all views on controversial issues and consciously keeping my feelings out of it. It's not my role to be a preacher nor a lobbyist with this captive audience of young minds...I never forget that. If I do my job, curiosity will do the rest.

Too soon, the class is over. "This class always goes so fast" is one of the best compliments a teacher can get. It means they were engaged and interested...not clockwatching. Out they go. I go too as I need to be standing outside my door as the next crop comes in.

He is there. An 8th grader, with no Dad, being raised by his grandparents. We bonded last year when he was a 7th grader...over fish, salamanders, crawfish, and anything else you can dipnet from a pond. The constant influx of wet critters in my class lit a spark in him and he became an aquarium fanatic. Every day he's at my door between classes. We talk about the bluegills in his tank, the salamander he gave me in May, and lately, his new Betta fish. He's excited because he has a female now and wants to know about breeding Bettas.

At the last second he dashes off to his class, just beating the tardy bell.

At third period, the first of two 7th grade Life Science classes come in.

After the 7th graders finish their bellringer, we return to my PowerPoint presentation on the 5 Characteristics of Living Things. I've worked my nature photos into this presentation and a large spider fills the screen with this caption, " What are some ways this spider responds to her environment?"

As expected, hands go up. I call on a rapidly waving hand. "How do you know it's a SHE?"
Good! They are thinking about more than my question. We talk about spider size and how and why it relates to the sex of the spider.
Hands are sprouting like radish seeds now, everywhere and I try to give everybody a chance, hoping to still manage to get back to discussing the 5 characteristics, but it's plain to see this is going to be a spider lesson. There are "One time I..." spider tales, spider questions, spider misconceptions, and a general amazement/interest level that flows through webs, web designs, the wonder of silk, etc. In no time, the lunch bell catches us by surprise and they gather their backpacks and flow out the door.

I walk "Mr. Last To Pack Up Every Day And Still Wants To Talk", gently out the door. I now have 23 minutes for lunch.
First things first, I hit the bathroom and wash off a few dozen high 5's and handshakes. Quiet time at my desk. In 19 years of teaching, I've never eaten in the cafeteria or the teacher's lounge. One's too noisy and the other too negative. You can guess which is which.

The bell rings...too soon, but I'm ready and the process repeats, although differently each time, for two more class periods.

At 1:30 pm, I am done with students for the day. The last period is my planning. My new computer sits glaring at me with the blue screen of death (FATAL ERROR!). It worked all of 3 days before locking up. Luckily, my three year old Dell still works, but the school wide network can't seem to find my IP address and it is a stand alone for now...at least I can type with it. The conservative school board is so afraid that someone may see something naughty on the internet that they have mandated a filtering program that allows no changes to a computer and blocks a wide variety of web sites...including my own and any other known blog site. All blogspot domains are verboten.

Only one person in the whole school has the password to get around this digital fortress and make any changes...even to the point of loading a printer driver so you can print.(You can imagine how busy this poor lady is) It is a clunky, paranoid, stupid system. We teachers deal with it and work for change, but so far...

At 2:30 the day ends as it began... with a bell. Time for me to be at afternoon bus duty, which is more interesting than the morning as every bus-riding kid (that's most of them) pours out to the waiting rumbling buses. In ten minutes, they are loaded and rolling off campus.

We teachers take a breath and get a moment to talk with another adult, but there's meetings to attend and lessons to make ready for tomorrow.

The salaried day ends at 3:30pm. I lock my door at 4:30 and walk out to the Jeep with Jr. and Emma in tow. In the parking lot, there are still teacher cars sitting. Not mine. Not today.

I need to get home, feed dogs, chickens, baby turtles, and these kids. I can feel the pace of the day slowing, my mind begins to switch gears. I think I'll make chicken marsala and a salad for supper tonight...did we buy chicken thighs? The ride home is quiet as both kids drop off to nap after a busy day. As I get to my winding sandy driveway, the deer cross on their way to the pond, and three old dogs begin to howl as they recognize the sound of the Jeep.

In a few minutes, I'm in the kitchen chopping chicken and mushrooms. Mrs. FC is on her way home, the kids are homeworking or chillin'. It was a good day. Maybe I'll tweak that Marine Science PowerPoint after supper...maybe I'll just blog till bedtime.

Life in a school...


Mrs. S said...

You, my friend, are amazing. I always managed to get along with most of my teachers as individuals if not as members of the faculty, but I can't help but feel that I'd have had more respect for them as teachers if they'd been more like you.

Keep up the good work.

Abandoned in Pasadena said...

This was so interesting...I've never heard a teacher's side of the school day.

You teach a wonderful subject...one that peaks interest in all of us.

Hal at Ranch Ramblins said...

Excellent account of an excellent day in the life of ProfFC. Sounds like you were ready to be back in the classroom, and I'm sure all the students benefit from your sage presence.

Deb said...

The world needs more teachers like you. Ones that stay away from the negativity and politics of the teachers' lounge, but instead focus on what matters--the students. That school is lucky to have you there. And, the blogosphere is lucky that you take the time to post about teaching, and the rest of your life!

Rurality said...

Very interesting! I wonder if you see a lot of kids like that 8th grader nowdays.

Beaut of a fish pic too. :)

TUFFENUF said...

My son (11th grade) is taking marine science this year in school. I asked him tonight how it was going and he only told me that "it's a science credit". So I didn't know much about it until I read your post! I can only hope his teacher is even half as interesting as you are!

Wayne said...

A vastly entertaining description of the first day for all of us who had the view as someone like one of your charges. And for all of us whether or not we do or don't do this amazingly exhausting sort of thing on a day-to-day basis (and usually night-to-night too!).

I agree with Deb - it's a lovely post and generous of you to write it.

threecollie said...

FC, I just wish they could bottle the way you teach and hand it out all over the country. We parents get to know which teachers inspire their kids like you, even if we never meet them, just from the way the kids talk at home. The engaging teachers, who put aside their opinions and help kids think in new ways just shine. There is a whole family of them at our school, father and sons, and it has been a joy to watch our three go through their classes over the years. "Mr. T, said this, Mr. T said that," I have heard over and over. I lose track of which Mr. T teaches which year of history, but Mr. T Sr taught all the Mr. T juniors well. They have created a trio of history buffs in our family who allunderstand the past a better more than I do.
I wonder how many budding scientists you have sent into the world over your years of teaching. Perhaps they will be the people who will save us from the devils we create.
Thanks for a great post.

Thunder Dave said...

I think one of the best high school classes I ever took was an elective: Anthropology. It was taught by a teacher that I think was pretty much like you are! (that's a compliment by the way!)

Oh you also reminded me, (note to self: by land in Georgia, it will be beach front when the polar ice caps melt) ;-)

roger said...

thanks for letting us in on your day fc. you and wayne are inspiring examples of teachers who go don't stop learning. your curiousity and thirst for knowledge is as valuable to your students, maybe more so, than the content of your classes.

robin andrea said...

What an amazing day, FC. Your students are so fortunate to have such a smart and thoughtful teacher. You show respect and care for their young minds, and by doing so, you teach them so much more than what's on the lesson plan for the day. I'm so glad you wrote all of this down. Your day is more full than I could have ever imagined. You, Mr. Teacher, rock.

Anonymous said...

I'm so happy for the 8th grader to have found you. I decided quite awhile ago that my next life I'm coming back as one of your kids (when should we tell Mrs. FC?). My first time around, being raised by wolves, has not worked out all that well. Oh, it's not horrible, no serial crime sprees or anything, but not enough of the self-esteem required to make the differences I would have liked. Am so grateful that you are in the lives of so many students, making the differences that you do.

Ava said...

What a great insight into your day! Very busy!

Floridacracker said...

Head swollen...comments too kind...must do something stupid...need reality check...where's Mrs. FC?

Mrs. S,
It's the hardest job I've ever done and I've worked as farm hand,construction laborer,surveyor,law enforcement...
most interesting too.

I think my subject has the edge in the interest factor. That makes my part a little easier.

Thanks, I know my bank account was ready for me to be back at work!...and yes, I love it.

Thanks. Funny, but even as the staff changes over the years, the teacher's lounges remain gripey. I think (to be fair) it's because it's the only time they get to talk to each other. Our day is spent with kids.

Very perceptive. There is some terrible parenting going on. Too much me,me,me on the part of the "parents". Lucky for that kid, his grandparents stepped in...some don't.
The fish are mangrove snappers and I took that down at Homosassa Springs.

Don't worry, it's the teen way to not act excited about class stuff. Coolness and all of that.

Exhausting...yep, you pegged it. I'm sitting in a coffee shop right now. :)

Wow that is a great story. We have a mom, daughter team at our school and the fact is my Katie is looking hard at a career in ED. It could happen here...

Up by Wayne is probably high enough.

glad you came along for the ride. i appreciate the kind words.

Thanks! Hear that everybody? I rock! Where are the groupies? Where is my stretch limo?? ;)

Wolves eh? Well they must have taught you how to swing a pen, cause that was a neat comment.
Now about this immaculate conception you are planning....

Floridacracker said...

I wasn't kidding when I called it a whirlwind. The day flies by because you are so active and involved.

Hurricane Teen said...

Boy, how I'd like to have you as a teacher and I would be "the last person to pack up and who still wants to talk" if that were the case...Now I understand a little better about my teachers' days. Good luck this year, cause it definitely is a whirlwind.

OldHorsetailSnake said...

You are an absolute marvel, FC. Congratulations to you, and your kids.

Laura said...

arrgh. I think Blogger lost my earlier comment.
You sound like the ideal teacher, highly motivated and able to capture the kids attention as well. I know of a lot of adults who would enjoy taking a class in some of the things you described today.

I wouldn't mind reading a post on the global warming issue and how it would affect Florida. Or any of the other topics you mentioned here.
What a great post!

Floridacracker said...

Hurricane Teen,
It's a whirlwind for the students too!

Public servant at your service sire. Thanks for the kind words.

Just a do nothing, stupid government teacher as Neal Boortz would say...he tickles me so.

Thinking about your suggestion.

rick said...

I have only thanked one teacher for being one of a few whom I will never forget.Here name Mrs Gibson from SJRCC.Saw here at Sonny's last year I walked over and said hello and that I remembered her and that I looked forward to her class everyday.As I thanked here her husband cut in with a tear in his eye and thanked me for telling here that.She had recently retired and they even told me where they lived in Palatka and for me to come and visit sometime.I am sure you recieve well deserved thanks too.

Anonymous said...

What I wouldn't have done to take a class like marine science when I was in HS, not offered in northern NY in the 60s! Probably not now either.

My youngest is about to start her freshman year of High School, I hope she has a teacher like you somewhere along the line. I know from experience that others of your kind had a profound and lifelong impact on my two older daughters, one chose to be a teacher of children, the other instructs bank employees to use advanced financial software.
Caroline in South Dakota

Floridacracker said...

I looooooved Mrs. Gibson! She was a wonder. One of those I will never forget also. She used to call me Terry by mistake, because he too had her at SJRCC a few years before I got there.

Welcome to Pure Florida! Thanks so much for the kind words. I hope your freshman has a great high school experience.