Tuesday, March 6, 2007

A Series of Unfortunate Events # 3 “A Double Entendre Gaffe”

We are reading Romeo & Juliet in freshman English. As I was casting the play today, I was calling out for parts: “Who will read the quick-witted Mercutio?" "How about the hotheaded Tybalt?” “Now, I need a Peter; it’s a small part; you just come in and out.” My freshman tried to be merciful. As soon I was aware of what I said, I threw up my hands and hung my head. After the laughter, and believe me, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been, we acted out two scenes without incident.

The mishap reminded me of the time I tried to tell the story of the Trojan Horse to a group of seniors who had somehow missed the tale earlier in their education. At every turn, it seemed, I made the worst possible double entendre that one could think of related to a Trojan condom. Nevertheless, I muddled through. The class regained its composure. I had Troy in ruins when I made this last gaffe, “So to put this thing in a nutshell. . .”

I suppose we have all had those moments. Were your students merciful or unrelenting ?

Sunday, February 25, 2007

A Series of Unfortunate Events: Post #2 “It brings out all the freaks.”

This is the second in a series of stories about my students. Of course, I’ve changed the names.

And this came after a unit on irony:

Stephanie, a pretty fourteen-year-old freshman, had just finished writing a paragraph for my class in the computer lab. These are the formulaic paragraphs that we all learned to write early on—the topic sentence, the three supporting sentences and those mechanical transitions—before we ourselves transitioned to more fluent prose. At any rate, when Stephanie went to the printer to retrieve her document, she found instead another student’s paragraph. Before I go on, I should tell you that Stephanie is at best a poor writer, and oftener than not, her work is incoherent. Stephanie picked up the paper she thought was hers and read. She read it again and began to giggle.

“Hey, Mr. Eggleston,” she called, “You gotta come read this paragraph. It’s so stupid! It don’t make no sense.”

I walked over and looked at the paragraph. It belonged to Brent, an unobtrusive, bespectacled boy who was not in the lab at the time. I was surprised to see that Stephanie had found one incoherent sentence on her own, but she was really taken by another line in particular. The paragraph was about a favorite holiday. Brent had chosen Halloween, and one of his supporting sentences offered this reason for his affection: “It brings out all the freaks.” Stephanie repeated it over and over convulsing with laughter each time.

Apparently the paragraph registered with her. She repeated the story in algebra, her next class, mocking the paragraph and berating its author to her friend Amy. Amy grew silent at the mention of Brent’s name. “Um. . . Stephanie. . . you know Brent is sitting right behind you?”

The next day the computer lab was booked by another class, and my class found itself typing away on a new paragraph in the library. At the end of the period I asked students to print their paragraphs and turn them in. Stephanie rushed over to me with an urgent question.

“Mr. Eggleston, I accidentally selected the wrong printer and printed my paragraph out on the computer lab printer. Can I go get it?”

“No, don’t bother,” I said. “Just print out another one here.”

“But I want to go get that one, before someone else sees it and makes fun of it.”

“That’s kind of ironic; don’t you think?”

“Yeah, but it's worse ‘cause that kid heard me making fun of him in algebra. I didn’t know that was him, and he sits right behind me! But it’s okay ‘cause I played it off. I was like, ‘I knew you was sitting there. I was just givin’ you a hard time. I thought it was really a good paragraph.’ Anyways, can I please go get my paragraph?”

And a quiet, unobtrusive voice replied, “You do know that I sit right behind you in this class too?”

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

UPDATE: Abused Student Transfers

As one might suspect, the student involved in the last post has decided to transfer out of his high school. Doubtlessly, the brutal reporting made it difficult to continue, but this story also raises an interesting point. What should teachers do to quell the incessant, voyeuristic classroom chatter that inevitably follows scandal:

A student who allegedly had sexual relations with a Martinsville High School teacher is being transferred to the school district’s alternative school, MHS Principal Don Alkire said Tuesday. Alkire said the decision to transfer was made by the student’s family.

“I’ve talked with the mother, and the student obviously is feeling uncomfortable and embarrassed,” he said. “We are going to have the student, for the rest of the year, enrolled in our alternative school, so he can get caught back up with his studies.”

Other than transferring the student, however, Alkire said the atmosphere at the high school was “business as usual,” with students and teachers trying to make up for time lost to snow days and delays last week. Lori Lund, director of guidance at MHS, said Friday she hasn’t seen any extra traffic in the guidance office. “One teacher came to me today, her first period class was talking a lot about it,” she said. “She just said it isn’t appropriate to be talking about it in class right now, that we need to focus on the subject matter. She asked me if there was anything else she should’ve done, and I said she did exactly what she should have done.”

Lund said there had not been any meetings with teachers or students to talk about the alleged sexual misconduct.

John Seryak, a board member of the non-profit awareness group Stop Educator Sexual Abuse, Misconduct and Exploitation, said quietly moving beyond reports of sexual misconduct is a common reaction for schools - but one that can prevent a dialogue of prevention, he said. “I’d certainly rather air out our dirty linen to protect kids than hide everything and not do a good job of figuring out how to have a better system and culture in the school district,” he said


When a similar crime took place at our school there was a grim faculty meeting. Teachers were warned that it would be an act of insubordination to discuss any aspect of the case anywhere on school grounds. This included private conversations in the teachers' lounge or elsewhere. Classroom discussions were out of the question.

History Is Elementary: The Education Carnival: Edition 107

The Carnival is up at : History Is Elementary: The Education Carnival: Edition 107

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Another female teacher charged with seducing a boy, but does this reporting go too far?

It seem as though we are experiencing a bizarre national wave of female teachers seducing their young male students. The latest occurred right here in our Hoosier state, and while the basic storyline of this case may sound familiar, must we know all the details? Consider this reporting from the the online version of Morgan County's Reporter-Times:

Martinsville High School English teacher Cynthia Marie Rynard has been charged with child seduction for allegedly having oral sex with a student. Rynard, 32, turned herself in Wednesday night at the Morgan County Jail. She's being held on no bond prior to her initial court hearing. According to a probable cause affidavit filed by Martinsville Police Department patrolman Rob Townsend, the alleged contact occurred in the Morgan Monroe Forest. . .

On Nov. 15, [the male student]met Rynard, he said, at a business on Southview Drive. She picked him up in her van and they drove out into the southern part of the county. The boy said they parked and talked. They began kissing but it was awkward in the front seat of her van so they moved into the back. At one point, the boy said Rynard pulled his pants down and performed oral sex on him. The boy said he did not ejaculate and that Rynard quit because she had to get back to school.

What public interest does it serve to know whether the sex act was completed? Are we not routinely spared gory details when local reporters cover traffic fatalities? Did it occur to no one that the boy's classmates and mother would surely read this report? To the paper's credit, the objectionable sentence did not appear in the print version of the story. To see the whole story, click here.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

A Series of Unfortunate Events: Post #1 “institutionalized”

I’ll initiate this blog with a series of classroom antics, which beyond their basic humor underscore some truly problematic issues.

Larry is a fourteen-year old redneck. He looks redneck, talks redneck, and raises all the classroom hell you might expect from a redneck. Naturally, he has a terrible reputation among teachers, which is reinforced by what I would mildly call anger control issues. For most of the year he has been one referral away from expulsion, and for most of the year he has failed every single subject. Yet for some reason he has taken a shine to me. Though he rarely works in my class, he is almost never disruptive. I enjoy our small talk, our banter, and our mock bickering in the hallways. I don’t dread him as other teachers do, so I was surprised and definitely amused when this happened:

Larry came into class during passing period, meandered aimlessly about the room and sat down in his seat in the front row a good three minutes before the tardy bell. As the passing period came to a close, four of my students were lingering in the hallway.

“You are going to late,” I cautioned.

“I’m going to get my coat!” said one.
“Yea, me too. It’s always cold in your room!” said another.

All four rushed in seconds after the bell. Larry looked blankly ahead.

“You are all late,” I said.

“No,” they protested, “You said we could get our coats!”

“I said no such thing, and I’m writing you all up.” At this, Larry bolted out of his seat.

“You can’t write me up! I’m not signing any damn detention form! This is crap!” Larry screamed as he stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind him.

There was a moment of stunned silence. “Larry wasn’t late,” I said emotionlessly. Then the tardy students erupted into laughter.

Soon the students were busily working away, and I stole away to find what had become of Larry. As it turns out, Larry had walked himself down to the office where he quietly and resolutely awaited the dean. “You know I wasn’t talking to you; you weren’t late,” I said. “Why don’t you come back to class now?”

When I saw that Larry had gone directly to the office I was reminded of the character Brooks in The Shawshank Redemption. He is the one that Red (Morgan Freeman) characterizes as “institutionalized.” I thought of how many of our chronically misbehaved students have themselves become institutionalized, how familiar they are with Friday night schools, out-of-school suspensions(OSS), and the expulsion process itself. These punishments hold no fear, and are frequently welcomed. I have often been told by students that they enjoy the OSS. It is located on another campus where there are only two rules: (1) Absolute silence (2) No sleeping. They are gone for days at time, and return even more lost, more hopeless (if that is possible). However, these students do develop a peculiar skill, one that they frequently use in my classroom. They can sit perfectly still, perfectly quiet, and perfectly disengaged from any meaningful activity, until, of course, a teacher tries to write them up.

How to Define a Rural School

Defining a rural school is a lot more complicated than what I would have thought. If you would like to see how it is done, you can click here, but I would rather apply Justice Stewart’s famous “I know it when I see it” definition. These are a few reasons that I believe that I teach in a rural district:

1. For many years we had a “Drive Your Tractor to School Day.” This practice was quietly discontinued because it turned out that teenagers were no more responsible with combines than they were with convertibles.

2. Once in a faculty meeting the principal suggested that all teachers should begin to incorporate English and math lessons into their daily teaching to help out with the state test. The Ag teacher complained, “If I have to teach English, then the English teacher should have to teach a little Ag!” As chair of the English department, I stood up to say that was just fine with me. The next day during first period the office secretary rang my room to tell me that I had a visitor waiting for me outside of my door and could I please open it and let him in. When I opened the door I was greeted by a large, black bull and the school’s camera crew. “Could you please teach a short lesson on this animal?” They asked. “Sure,” I said, “This is a bull, just like the lesson I will now give.” The students erupted with laughter, but they weren’t laughing at my wordplay. All of the students knew they were looking at a steer.

3. When I teach 19th century literature I never have to explain what is meant by sorrel or bay.

4. Once during the course of reading a short story I asked some overly eager freshmen, “How many of you have ever. . .?” Before I could finish the question nearly everyone’s hand went up. Then I finished: “. . . had to pull a leach off of yourself after swimming?” To my astonishment, only about three or four hands went down. I spent the next ten minutes going around the room listening to leach stories.

5. Like the “This is my rifle! This is my gun!” military mantra, my students are genuinely insulted when soil is erroneously referred to as “dirt.”