Monday, February 02, 2009

Cautious Optimism and the Spectrum of Unconcern

I’m trying to remember how I felt after the first day of school at Cole Middle in Oakland. I guess the fact that it wasn’t memorable means it couldn’t have been too jarring. At the same time, it couldn’t have been all that easy; nothing ever was in Oakland Unified. I assume I glimpsed the writing on the wall. There must have been at least a whiff of doom. My stint at Cole was so short that things could not have boded well after the first day.


Today went relatively well, and I have a good sense that tomorrow should be okay. In fact, it seems like the rest of the week should be able to work itself out without too much trouble. Even with the other computer teacher lost and perhaps gone forever, things seemed strangely comfortable today.

It did not feel that way last night. At 11:30 p.m. I was freaking out about what I would be doing today and whether I could occupy a large class (class sizes are somewhere around 45 for the lower grades) for 50 minutes.

I attribute today’s success to “Not taking things so seriously.” There’s a strange Spectrum of Unconcern with poles at “Giving a damn” and “Couldn’t care less.” I’m not sure of the relative values of “Not taking things so seriously” and “taking it easy,” but I know they both are on the concern side of “Ehhh…” and certainly more so than “Surprise me,” I’d say. Click on the chart below to enlarge.

In any case, I think a lot of the stress in Oakland sprang from the fact that all teaching revolved around test scores, and I was very serious about teaching my sixth graders math. I felt like I owed the school that much.

But what I didn’t really consider at the time was how incongruous that attitude was compared to the state of the rest of the school. The school was in complete disarray, and in a way, it was unfair to expect the kids to treat my class with a relatively high level of seriousness when the administration couldn’t bother. I don’t mean to equate the situation here, but I think there was definitely a lesson to be learned from Oakland.

So I decided to just roll with the day. It took quite an effort to secure some markers for the day, and that’s a sign right there. If the school is going to make it difficult for me to write on a whiteboard, then I shouldn’t stress about creating the world’s greatest lesson plan. In fact, I don’t have a whiteboard; I ended up writing stuff out on butcher paper and hanging it over a pair of large speakers that are being stored in my classroom.

I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m shirking responsibility. I am still writing lesson plans, and I am taking a pedagogical approach to things, but I’m not going to get worked up.

Part of the problem in Oakland was that I had the kids for 3 hours at a time, and when things like this whiteboard issue would happen there, the price of not raising hell with the administration would be 30+ sixth graders raising hell with me for 3 hours. Here, most of my classes last 50 minutes. And I can take that.

Completely unrelated: The people at the market tried to sell me taro for $20 WST again. I’ve seen it priced there for $15, and I can’t help feeling like the reason I’m getting the price I get is because I look the way I do. Idunno. It could be the relative availability of taro at the market at any given point, but that would mean incredibly frequent price fluctuation.

Not cool. As Stringer Bell would say, “What you're thinking is that we have an inelastic product here. But what we have here is an elastic product.” So there.

So that's all I got. Picture of actual students below.

My first class this morning.


Barb Carusillo said...


Eric Carr said...

Nice work! How many computers do you have in the lab?

Barb Carusillo said...

Okay, I got it....Switzerland is neutral. Duh.

Anna said...

ive thought about that with the prices and id try to shop around in the markets at different stalls and it seems that everyone sells things at the same prices- people dont undercut to try to get more business. so im not sure...maybe there is a change in availability of taro in a day or quality...?