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I am a high school English teacher in an urban high school in Oklahoma City. I am a member of the American Federation of Teachers, Local 2309. I am a Democrat, a union activist and a worker for social justice. I also am a Christian (Congregationalist). I play chess and coach our school chess team.

Monday, March 05, 2012

When Bad Things Happen to (Pretty) Good Teachers


Today was one of "those days" at school.

On Friday, my principal, Ms. Johnson, informed me that a couple of consultants would be in the building on Monday and Tuesday to visit our classes.  They would be specifically looking at our classwork "engagement strategies"--those things we do in our lessons that get the students involved in learning and excited about their education. Not the sort of image that many of our adolescent learners have about their days in the classroom.

Actually, I have been trying to up my game about my teaching techniques and engagement is one of the areas I am trying to explore.  So, most of the day Sunday I was hunched over my school laptop trying to come up with some engaging lessons for my juniors and seniors.  I should say I was hunched over my school laptop and my home desk computer because, unfortunately, I left the power cord for my laptop at the school and the power ran down half-way through the process.  I don't know if this caused the later problems, but it should have been an omen.

After working from mid-morning to late at night, I had two pretty good lessons, I thought.  The junior would be analyzing Langston Hughes poem, "Mother to Son". (Well, son, I'll tell you:/
Life for me ain't been no crystal stair.)

Specifically, they would be looking at the extended metaphor of the "crystal stair" in the poem. I had a pre-assessment using the Smartboard, a Power Point presentation, and a handout that would help the students take really good notes.


I wanted to give the seniors an introduction to the British Romantic movement starting with William Blake and William Wordsworth. I had a Power Point for them, a note-taking guide, even a YouTube hip hop version of Wordsworth poem "Daffodils".


All set for the big day on Monday.

I managed to get through the first hurdle: beating everyone else to the one functioning copy machine we still have in our building.

When I got to the classroom, I set up the now re-charged laptop and fired it up to get things ready.

That's when the trouble started.  Nothing worked. My Smartboard wasn't talking to my laptop, no matter how much I rebooted, pleaded, swore, or threatened violence.  My laptop itself seemed to have trouble getting on with the program that I had loaded from my home computer to my flash drive. Finally, it's screen went blank except for the message that somehow, my operating system was nowhere to be found. I rebooted and got the same message. My great plans were no more!

I went screaming, inwardly at least, to Ms. Jaramillo (Ms. J), the high school assistant principal. There in her office was one of the consultants. I explained my problem to both of them and charged back to my classroom trying to figure out what the heck to do.

Sure enough, as soon as I started teaching Ms. J and the consultant came to my room.  I used the note-taking guide and the poem for my lesson.  My presentation was rather "old school", using the white board in place of the Power Point.  I got through best I could. About half-way through they got up and left. The consultant, a very nice guy, said that we would consult on what he observed tomorrow.

I had turned the computer off at the beginning of class. At the end, I walked over to my now dead machine and turned it on one more time.  It worked fine. The Smart Board picked up up the image from my lesson like no problem ever existed. 

There are those times when you don't know whether to cry, laugh, scream, throw things, throw up your hands and give up, give up your hands and throw up, or just follow the advice in "Mother to Son":

So boy, don’t you turn back.

Don’t you set down on the steps

’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.

Don’t you fall now—

For I’se still goin’, honey,

I’se still climbin’,

And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
--Langston Hughes

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