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Entry date: 11-11-2022 - Tales of Charter Teaching part 2 - Letters to My Friends

Dear Friends,


Add the month and the day and you get 22. I like numbers like that. Happy Veteran’s Day, too.


Technically, I am not a veteran. I’m okay with that. It’s like the Army and I were never friends and that’s fine. In their eyes I didn’t exist, and, in my eyes, I had a very interesting 7 weeks in Georgia. The preceding months were kinda crazy, too, but you know that if you’re keeping up.


Yesterday I was talking about my experience in the charter school world and I’m going to continue that story today. As you may imagine, it is not easy being a new teacher at a school when the year has already begun. When I started at my new campus in August of 2019, school had been in session for three weeks. This also means that the students had a substitute for Tech that whole time, so they treated me the way a substitute is treated.


That first day, I let the students teach me. What else could I do? I had nothing prepared, so I asked them to tell me about technology. They were like, “What the fuck? Let us get on our chrome books and shut the fuck up, white dude.” The race thing was real.


I was no stranger to Title I schools. These are the kids who often don’t have two nickels to rub together. The neighborhood around the school was a tad rough and many of the students were just waiting to get old enough to join a gang. They were also used to teachers being around for a short time and then vanishing. It was a tough school.


The substitutes that preceded me took the easy way out and put the kids on computers for the fifty minutes they were in Tech and let them play one of the many learning games that exist out there for free. Some of these are pretty good, but this was not my idea of teaching technology.


I had initially been excited about the idea that there was no set curriculum. The other tech teacher was a nice Russian dude and to be honest, I couldn’t understand a word he said. I don’t think the kids could, either, but he was so kind that they gave him a pass. They didn’t know me yet, so I got no pass.


I wanted to know what the kids wanted to learn about so I could keep them engaged. I had started my graduate schoolwork and I was learning about what motivates children to learn. Everything I was reading talked about how kids need to have a say in their curriculum to be fully engaged and it should be tailored to their interests whenever possible.


As I was pressed into duty on the first day with no plan, I just had them tell me what they wanted to learn, and I wrote it on the board. At the end of the class, I took a picture of the board and I figured that would help me design the first quarter plan of attack. Boy, was I dumb.


My first mistake was thinking that the younger grades, who were pretty well behaved from the get-go, would have any clue what autonomy was or understand that I wanted to give them a say. I probably should have learned that the teachers who stayed in the room were rolling their eyes because they knew I was about to be eaten alive.


I forgot to mention that I didn’t have a classroom of my own. I pushed into classrooms and was given a cart of full of chrome books to use that were the dregs of the school. Luckily, some of my classes had their own chrome books, but many did not. My chrome books were missing keys and cameras and just about anything else that could be destroyed or taken off and the wheels on the cart were like those of a grocery store cart that you want to avoid. I was not going to sneak up on anyone in the halls, that’s for sure.


So, I would roam from class to class and teach my 29 sections Monday through Thursday. It was nice to have Fridays as my prep day, yes, but those first four days wiped me out. During the first week, I learned that my students wanted to learn about hacking and catfishing (at least grades 4-6 wanted those things to be taught). I did not want to teach those things at all, so I threw them a curve.


During the second week, when they wanted to get on the chrome books, I told them, “We have a lot to learn before we get on the computers, so we might not even use them again until the second quarter.”


This was not well received by the older kids. I wanted them to learn to think critically about technology and discover some of the history of technology in their world. I figured I would start at the beginning and talk about Tech like a historian. I wanted to get classroom discussion going and for students to ask questions.


I also learned that no one gave a fuck what I was teaching.


Seriously.


I had to go and introduce myself to the principal during my second or third week at the school. I had figured she would come around and observe me teaching that first week or want to talk about what I was doing or what I could offer, but that never happened. Even at the first professional development (PD) meeting, I barely got introduced as the new guy.


I quickly realized that the staff had developed a huge callous when it came to new people. If I had been one of the vets, I would have probably gotten a poll going to see how long I was going to last. When the next year started, for example, another teacher and I had a bet to see how long the new principal would last and I won. My kids got some Reese’s out of that one.


For much of the 2019/2020 school year, at least until the pandemic began, I was just the new Tech guy. A professional babysitter, really, who was trying to teach kids things they didn’t give two shits about learning. Things like critical thinking and asking, “Why?”


See you tomorrow.



Typical classroom. Stolen from the internet. My classrooms kind of looked like this sometimes during that first year.

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