So, remember a couple of weeks ago when I said I was applying for a teaching job? That wasn’t quite true, at least in the strictest sense of the word “teaching.” It was a job, in a school, that would involve occasionally interfacing with kids but which seemed, from the description, to actually mostly involve backing up teachers and being a resource for them rather than a job where I was in front of a classroom all day. I messed around with my work schedule a bit this week after getting a couple of emails from the HR director, who indicated there would be an informational meeting at the school that it might be useful to come to.
(I’m leaving out a lot of details, obviously; this program involves a pretty substantial infusion of money and is a new thing for the school to the point where renovations are happening in the building right now for it, so the idea that they’d invite people who are applying for the job to this informational meeting makes more sense than you might think– the building staff was also invited.)
So. Yeah. I went to the meeting. There were maybe a dozen staff members present and at least three people who were there because they were applying for the same job I was– me and two others, in other words.
The lack of buy-in from the staff was a physical force in the room, and the sinking feeling that started moments after the presentation began never really got any better.
I happened, after the meeting was over, to walk out of the building with one of the other two applicants.
“Was that job what you thought it was when you applied?” I asked.
“Not even a little bit,” she said. And she didn’t say “You can have it,” but it was pretty damn clear she didn’t want it any longer.
They are actually looking for two people to fill this job, who will both be in the new facility at all times. Along with sixty kids.
Sixty. At once.
Three blocks a day, of– lemme say it again– sixty kids. Seventh and eighth graders. In a program that, in my professional opinion, is a massive waste of time and resources if they’re going to treat it as a class that you get a grade for. In a nicely renovated, brand-new space featuring two load-bearing walls in the middle of the Goddamn room that cannot be moved and guarantee that there will be no place where a single teacher can stand and see all of his or her students.
Today was a Tuesday, in case you were wondering. I don’t know what it is about Tuesdays. But today was definitely a Tuesday. I think I need a T-shirt or something.
At any rate, on the way home from work the following two songs flashed into my head. I still have every syllable of both songs memorized. I probably haven’t listened to the Kool Moe Dee song in the larger part of a decade. It’s really weird how the music that you were listening to when you were in middle school and high school sticks with you forever.
Or maybe it’s not, I dunno. It’s not like I’m not still listening to the same stuff. 🙂 At any rate, enjoy some old-school hiphop while I go to bed early and try to recharge enough to make it through Wednesday.
I do a little activity with the kids at the beginning of the year where I ask them to tell me ten facts about themselves. I just rediscovered the pile of papers and I thought I’d share a few of them.
Someone did not get the message that the facts were supposed to be true, perhaps. I’m translating this as “My brain is a ruler, I play two guitars, and my cat has three ears.” One of them maybe, all three? Somebody missed the memo.
Hmm. I’ve been pondering this for a couple of days and don’t know what a “nethfil” is.
A surprising number of them wanted me to know their favorite superheroes; they’ve got me figured out already:
Crossing my fingers that #9 here is just an omitted plural and not a favorite food or something:
And this one gave me a favorite villain. I also like #4, which thus far I find to be accurate. She’s been trying to get me to call her “Bacon” instead of her actual name.
And I will be the last:
I strongly enjoy colorful language:
Because “blue” is too generic:
Some of them are impressively talented:
And some of them have crazy people as parents. There’s no way this one can see over the steering wheel:
Some of them are sad and/or scary:
This could be an abusive parent or it could be a haunted house. The question is which I’d actually prefer. The haunted house, right? It’s the haunted house.
Do the math. Mom got pregnant in middle school, apparently. Mental note to keep a close eye on this one.
“You’re teaching an all-girls’ class? I’m not sure I feel like that’s right.”
I heard that for the first time… wow, was it four years ago? Probably. My homeroom was all girls, and my afternoon class was a mixed group. I did not reply the number of girls in my classroom doesn’t actually make me more likely to be a sex criminal, ma’am, which was probably the right answer– I am either too much of a degenerate to teach middle school students or I am not, and the composition of my classes doesn’t actually have much of an effect on that– but I don’t remember what I actually said to that mom. Probably something along the lines of We’ll be fine, and then an abrupt ending of the conversation, because I don’t really like wasting my time with people who blithely suggest that I might be a sex offender as if that’s an okay thing to say to someone.
Hi. I’m Luther Siler. And this year, I’m only teaching girls. Roughly sixty of them, as it currently appears, although with transfers in and transfers out I’ll probably have had seventy to eighty different girls in my room by the end of the school year. Fifth grade, math and science, meaning that the majority of them will be 10- and 11-year-olds.
I’m a proponent of single-sex education, although probably not for the reasons that you think. I’ve found most of the Mars vs. Venus, boys-and-girls-learn-differently brain science stuff to be bunk. Are there better ways to educate a group of boys and better ways to educate a group of girls? Yeah. But you’re identifying a trend, there, and single-sex education is not any more one-size-fits-all than anything else in education is. I’d have been completely miserable as a boy in an all-boys’ class. And I hate teaching all-boys’ classes. I get along with girls better. I get along with women better than men, too, and all my closest friends have always been women. So, yeah. I’m a straight cis dude, external genitalia to prove it, and your daughter will learn from me better than your son will, because that’s how I’m wired.
She will not learn from my genitalia. Those will not be involved. Just so I’m clear. The learning will mostly be from, like, talking and gestures and stuff like that, like normal teaching.
Teaching girls at the middle school level puts me in an interesting position. Fifth and sixth grade is typically where girls start disengaging from subjects like math and science, because those subjects are perceived (and, too often, presented) as being For the Boys. Nobody ever hears about a Boy Scientist, because the boy part is assumed. Girl Scientist is practically a job description. And fifth grade is when puberty starts hitting, and suddenly the world doesn’t make any sense anymore anyway. It’s a hell of a transition year. Social drama starts ramping up something fierce. They start fighting over boys– boys who, at that age, generally can’t be bothered to give a damn about the girls fighting over them. And navigating friendships is the scariest and most complicated thing imaginable.
My job, as their teacher, is to help them work their way through all of that. My job, as their male teacher.
Don’t worry. I’m actually pretty good at it! But it’s complicated. Because here’s the thing: my main job isn’t actually math or science. My main job is confidence. My most important job is that these sixty or seventy young girls walk out of my classroom feeling like they are unstoppable. What does that mean? It means teaching as a feminist. It means being a white cis het guy and creating a comfortable and safe multicultural feminist space for my students to learn in anyway.
And it frequently means having to hide that I’m doing it, which is part of what brought me to this topic today. I teach, again, math and science to fifth grade girls. I have discovered a fascinating thing over my years as an educator: if I say the word feminist in class, whatever I’m trying to do is instantly derailed. The girls often don’t like the label, even though they’ll agree that any individual tenet of feminism that I might name is a true and/or correct thing. Then they go home and tell their parents about it and all the sudden I’ve got to have a conversation with the principal. So I’ve got to be sneaky about it. At ten, I’m not sure they really need to have conversations about intersectionality in math class anyway, y’know? But subtlety works. I try and use the word she whenever I’m talking about a mathematician or a scientist. I use pictures like this one rather than a typical white guy in a lab coat. And I try to teach them, as much as I can, to stand up for each other rather than tear each other down. That’s teaching feminism, even if I don’t call it that.
Should I, though? Should I make a point of naming feminism in my classroom? I don’t know. It does run the risk, of course, of pissing off parents– either because they have a poor opinion of feminism or the somewhat more personally acceptable feeling that maybe their kid’s math teacher should be focusing on math and not politics. And they are, again, eleven. I don’t know that they need the word so long as they’re getting the concept.
Then again, I don’t have the kind of principal who is going to get mad at me because I call myself a feminist in class and some yahoo has an issue with it, so maybe I do need the word. I don’t know. That might be a question for smarter people to answer for me.
Quick note: I’ll be at school all day, so if I don’t respond to comments until, say, early evening, please don’t take it personally. Phone reception in my building is terrible.
If I were a dog, I would deserve a firm smack on the nose, perhaps with some sort of rolled-up magazine or newspaper, for writing this post. Then again, if a dog actually wrote a blog post, perhaps that would be cause for celebration and not censure. Maybe this metaphor doesn’t quite work. I don’t know.
I spent about an hour this afternoon sitting in my new classroom, just sort of staring at everything. Have some pictures. Ignore the clutter and the untidiness; there were parties yesterday and the janitors haven’t gotten everywhere yet (and the teacher did a terrible job of getting the kids to straighten the room.)
As you can see, the room is cavernous. It’s set up as a science classroom; there’s storage underneath the countertop all the way around. That thing in the back is a vent hood. I can burn shit in there if I want to.
There’s room for, like, a million kids in here, and tons of table space too. There’s 30 student desks, plus three round tables, four computer stations that are probably going away, two rectangular tables, a couple of bar stools for the counter space, and a couple of desk areas built in under the windows. The versatility for seating arrangements is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Both of my previous classrooms could fit inside this one at the same time.
Lots of board space, too. The whiteboard is electronic, and there’s some chalkboard to either side of it, plus a fair amount of bulletin board space, especially if I get rid of the computer stations, which I’m planning to do.
God help me, I sat in this classroom today and for a couple of minutes I was actually looking forward to this fall. I cannot do this. I cannot allow myself this luxury when I don’t think I’m going to be getting paid for the entire school year.
This year was rough. I have no reason to think next year was better, as the two cardinal rules of teaching in Indiana are that nothing ever gets better and everything always gets worse. And “worse” next year is going to be unprecedentedly worse if I can’t get out this summer.