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Connecting amidst chaos : a teacher’s first year Andersen, Andrea S. 1999

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C O N N E C T I N G A M I D S T C H A O S : A T E A C H E R ' S FIRST Y E A R by A N D R E A S. A N D E R S E N B.Mus. , The University of British Columbia, 1993 B .Ed . , The University of British Columbia, 1994 A THESIS S U B M I T T E D IN P A R T I A L F U L F I L L M E N T OF T H E R E Q U I R E M E N T S F O R T H E D E G R E E OF M A S T E R ' OF A R T S in T H E F A C U L T Y OF G R A D U A T E S T U D I E S Center for the Study of Curriculum and Instruction We accept this thesis as conforming to the required standard T H E U N I V E R S I T Y O F I B R T T I S H C O L U M B I A A p r i l 1999 ©Andrea S. Andersen, 1999 In presenting this thesis in partial fulfilment of the requirements for an advanced degree at the University of British Columbia, I agree that the Library shall make it freely available for reference and study. 1 further agree that permission for extensive copying of this thesis for scholarly purposes may be granted by the head of my department or by his or her representatives. It is understood that copying or publication of this thesis for financial gain shall not be allowed without my written permission. ;&QpartmcnP=ef (jcrxtzr £or~ Q^L^rr^ c^Jj^^ The University of British Columbia Vancouver, Canada DE-6 (2/88) A B S T R A C T Representing the experiences of a first year teacher has been a focus for many other academic studies in the field of education. Using the novel as an alternative form of representation of research in this area is new. Connecting Amidst Chaos: A Teacher's First Year is a novel based on experiences of first year teachers. In the prologue, a discussion o f the novel as academic writing occurs. The reflections allow the author to address the themes present in the work, as well as the restrictions the format placed on the writing of the thesis. Lives are made up of stories and this thesis is a look into the life of a first year teacher. Emma's story illustrates the complex nature of the profession and the many connection which must be made in order to be successful in the field. A combination o f theory, teaching practices, and professional dialogue targets an audience which may include pre-service teachers, practicing teachers and university professors. The stories, characters and relationships which are developed may broaden that audience base. This is a teaching novel. It was written with the purpose of providing a pre-service teacher with an introduction to the profession. This thesis w i l l acquaint students with a basic foundation of educational terminology, an overview of important authors in the field, as well as a look at the experiences which they may encounter during their first year of teaching. ii TABLE OF CONTENTS Abstract i i Prologue v Reflections xiv Acknowledgments xv i i i Chapter 1 •••1 Chapter 2 17 Chapter 3 32 Chapter 4 40 Chapter 5 51 Chapter 6 62 Chapter 7 ...81 Chapter 8 95 Chapter 9 108 Chapter 10 117 Chapter 11 -..134 Chapter 12 150 Chapter 13 , 160 Chapter 14 171 Chapter 15 185 Chapter 16 198 iii TABLE OF CONTENTS Chapter 17 211 Chapter 18 231 Chapter 19 247 Chapter 20 259 Chapter 21 273 Chapter 22 288 Chapter 23 300 Chapter 24 310 Chapter 25 330 Bibliography 342 iv Prologue Any story told twice is fiction -Grace Paley in Goldberg There has been a shift in educational research practice and knowledge representation in the recent past from a traditional approach focusing on experimental procedures and statistical analysis of data to narrative forms of representation. Moving towards narrative is a shift from attempting to represent the truth about the nature of teaching to an understanding of the complex interaction of community, personal thought and feelings, practical arguments and the structure of the environment. One of the primary functions of a researcher - is to represent understanding. Robinson and Hawpe (1986) state that "narrative thinking - storying- is a successful method of organizing perception, thought, memory and action" (p. 123). Few researchers would argue with this claim. However, many raise concerns about generalizability, ethical issues and validity. Generalizabilty of data collected and represented in narrative research is of great concern to academics. Those engaging with narrative inquiry readily agree that this format could not be used alone to make any statement which could be generalized to a larger population. However, this does not devalue the data or the research. Grand statements of truth is not the purpose; rather, "the vital educational function of narrative as a discourse (is that) of self knowledge and moral improvement" (McEwan, 1997, p.86). Researchers choosing to represent their knowledge in a narrative form are seeking a broader definition of generalizability. Rather than looking to a final paper to speak for a larger population, they are looking for a final product which w i l l speak to a larger population. Other serious concerns which have been raised focus on the ethical issues, primarily in the area of collaborative narrative inquiry. The focus on the vulnerability of the teacher has been an issue raised by Ne l Noddings and Madeleine Grumet. Grumet's concern (1987) is that: If telling a story requires giving oneself away, then we are obligated to devise a method of receiving stories that mediates the space between the self that tells, the self that told and the self that listens: a method that returns a story to the teller that • is both hers and not hers, that contains herself in good company (p.323). It is this issue of 'good company' which is of concern to researchers. In order to find an emotional space where a teacher feels comfortable enough to disclose vital, even embarrassing information, requires that a relationship be established based on trust. However, once that relationship is created, the teacher may gain a false sense of confidentiality. If the researcher abides by the tenets of collaborative narrative research and shares the transcripts and reports with the teacher, the researcher may find the teacher has difficulty dealing with having their words, stories and emotions laid Out in black and white for the world to see. This leads to the problem of the teacher's desire to edit his or her statements. Does the researcher have the right to say no to the teacher i f he or she vi feels that the researcher misquotes or misinterpreted a statement? Making ethical and moral compromise is often portrayed as natural or common. Kimmel (1989) maintains that trade-offs are necessary in research, and by doing good research one always acts a little unethically. Punch (1994), quoting Gans, makes the statement that ' i f a researcher is completely honest with people about his activities, they w i l l try to hide actions and attitudes they consider undesirable and so w i l l be dishonest. Consequently, the researcher must be dishonest to get honest data (p.91).' (Renate, Shultz et al., p.475) This, in turn, leads to the question of validity. In traditional empirical research it is easy to point to precise areas in the methodology which are weak and may affect the validity o f the study and its conclusions. Narrative inquiry adds an entirely new dimension in the concern for validity. " A s many on both sides of the argument have noted, stories don't seem to lead to warrants in the conventional sense that we have come to associate with 'science.' They lead, rather to insight and interpretation within a multiplicity of renderings and meaning" (Doyle, 1997, p. 95). A n d these interpretations begin from the first moment of an experience and as time passes and the story is retold, the interpretation may change. This creates difficulty in terms of the validity of the 'true' events. Another issue is the fact that prior experiences and personality have an impact on the interpretation and recounting of a particular event. Narrative inquiry has taken a number of forms including autobiographies and case studies. The goal is that an authentic experience can be replicated for others to use for discussion or reflection. John Halliday defines authenticity, "as that which is achieved when people take hold of the direction of their own lives without the direction being vii determined for them by external factors" (p. 598). Halliday's concerns around the issue of achieving authenticity in practice and in the teacher's voice is the fact that once a teacher's actions are held up against an accepted norm, either by a researcher or through self-reflection, the authentic experience is lost. The most recent movement in qualitative, ethnographic research has involved questions and debates around the use of fiction, specifically the novel, as a form of representation of research. The novel as a method of representing field research has been at the center of debate since the early 1990s. The question about whether or not a novel should be accepted as a scholarly work first surfaced during a presidential address at the 1993 A E R A Conference. Ell iot Eisner was calling for the acceptance of the novel for a Ph.D. dissertation when Howard Gardner (Saks, 1996) took exception to this idea. I don't understand how a novel can possibly ever be accepted as research. Essentially in a novel you can say what you want, and you are judged by how effectively you say it without any particular regard to the truth value. A n d it seems to me the essence of research is effort, however stumbling, to find out as carefully as you can what's happening and then report it accurately. Why would you possibly [make that sort of effort] in a novel where you can't really tell whether its accurate or not? (p.403) This discussion about truth continued in a session in 1996 where Eisner, Gardner, Cizek, Gough, Til lman, Wasley and Stotsky were panel members discussing: Should a Novel Count A s A Dissertation In Education? The idea of what counts as truth when dealing with human experience is a controversial issue. There are those that say all facts are fiction because they are constructed and relayed by humans and therefore all knowledge viii in some sense is fiction. To say there is no truth in a novel because the author creates characters and experiences based on a compilation of people and their lived experiences is, I believe, false. Ethnographic research and qualitative studies have long been accepted as factual accounts. Yet these experiences have been mediated and interpreted by a researcher. The story is constructed through his or her lens of observation and experience in a research setting (Geertz, 1988. Riffaterre, 1990). Researcher attempts to completely eliminate a bias is futile. Perhaps this is why postmodernists interested in ethnography are looking for alternative ways to represent their knowledge. In both content and style, they seek to produce texts which are more attuned to the postmodern movement, more sensitive to the cultural forms which both express and inform is, more alert to the social psychological dispositions it may encourage, more modest about truth and authority claims, more critically self reflexive with regard to subjectivity, and more self-conscious about linguistic and narrative strategies. (Kiesinger,p.206) I must agree with Donmoyer (in Saks) when he states, "The structure of a work of art - a novel - can disclose what facts can not reveal. Some things can only be known by feel, by innuendo, by implication, by mood. Good novels traffic in such features" (p.413). Christine Elizabeth Kiesinger uses poetry and prose to compose evocative narratives. In her work she attempts to present the data and stories collected from subjects in a way that is coherent and placed within a formal structure which gives the stories a sense of direction and cohesion. In order to do this Kiesinger (1998) referred to her work Portrait of An Anorexic Life where she had to "address questions like: What characters would I develop in L i z ' s story? What scenes, episodes and dialogue would I attempt to ix reconstruct? Y o u see, these questions refer back to the story itself, its form and the goals I hoped to achieve by telling it a certain way" (p. 132). Her concern is that transcripts don't offer "coherent and meaningful stories" (p. 137) and like a great writer should, it is her job to take these fragments and recreate a story which makes sense. "To do this, I often collapsed events, often invented, embellished or downplayed actual dialogue or conversations" (p. 133). This may cause the traditional researchers to cringe; but for those who believe in the alternative form they understand how it can transform data into viv id accounts o f a lived experience which portrays how a teacher understands his or her role and profession. "The goals of evocative narratives are expressive rather than representational, the communicative significance of this research reporting lies in its potential to move readers into the world of others, allowing readers to experience these worlds in emotional, even bodily ways" (p. 129). If we wish to know schools better and understand teachers' lives better, then perhaps a novel based on field notes and interviews wi l l allow readers to 'feel' the life o f a teacher. In daily life we never understand each other, neither complete clairvoyance nor complete confessional exists. We know each other approximately, by external signs, and these serve well enough as a basis for society and even for intimacy. But people in a novel can be understood completely by the reader, i f the novelist wishes; their inner as well as their outer life can be exposed. A n d this is why they often seem more definite than characters in history, or even our own friends; we have been told all about them that can be told; even i f they are imperfect or unreal they do not contain any secrets, whereas our friends do and must, mutual secrecy being one of the conditions of life upon this globe. ( E . M . Forster in Hodgins, 1993, p.99) Kiesinger states that, "evocative narratives raise many significant issues and questions when used as a form of research reporting. When done well, they read much like good fiction, replete with plot lines, well developed characters, v iv id scenes, engaging dialogue and thick description. Although the fiction-like qualities o f evocative narratives make them interesting, engaging and accessible to a variety of audiences, the fact that they are so suggestive often makes readers uncomfortable and at times concerned about their validity"(p.l29). Gardner (Saks, 1996) in disputing the validity of the novel as research stated, "the crucial thing is that [a dissertation] is supposed to be a contribution to a structure of knowledge. It's a building block. A n d many building blocks have come before; the most you can hope as a member of the scholarly community is that you add an additional block or two to that edifice" (p.410). I agree with Gardner and contend that a novel can be one of these building blocks. It may be fictional, but the novel is simply a tool to organize the story into something that is meaningful for a reader. A false dichotomy has been established between fact and fiction. The opposite o f fact is not fiction. The opposite to fact would be a falsehood or a lie. A n d the opposite of fiction would be actuality. "No text is free of self-conscious construction; no text can act like a mirror to the actual" (Banks, 1998, p. 13). I propose to accept this reality and represent my research of first year teachers in a novel format based upon Kiesinger's concept of the evocative narrative. It is my goal to create a novel about a first year teacher's experience which w i l l be a compilation of the lived experiences which I have encountered through my own practice and informal interviews xi with student teachers and with beginning teachers. One university in the United States (Hoftra) accepted a novel as a doctoral dissertation in education in 1994. Rishma Dunlop at the University of British Columbia is currently working on a novel for her Ph.D. The precedent has been set and the debate continues. I believe Eisner's summation of research (Saks, 1996) matches my own understanding. " M y . conception of research is to enlarge human understanding. I do not define research as a species of science. I define science as a species o f research. A n d there are many ways to research, of which science is one" (p.409). This undertaking w i l l be a challenge. Not only wi l l writing be a challenge but the defense of the way I have chosen to represent my understanding of the first year teaching experience w i l l be an additional burden to undertake. But I am wil l ing to face these obstacles. I believe the possibilities for the novel as a learning tool are exciting. Faculties o f Education could use it as summer reading material to introduce the students to terminology and theories present in the field of education. Or perhaps prepare the student teachers for their first practicum experiences. I hope others w i l l read my novel and once finished have a better understanding of what a beginning teacher's experience includes. However, I hope the format w i l l allow the reader to explore the story and the characters more so than in traditional case studies. It is my desire that this novel w i l l have more honesty and emotional interaction that the traditional case study. B y writing the novel using the third person point of view with access to the protagonist's thoughts xii and feelings, I hope the reader w i l l be able to understand the reasons why she reacts to situations which arise, as well as have the opportunity to connect with her as she deals with internal struggles and self doubt. The discussions between the characters w i l l have room for the reader to enter and to take on the role o f an observer and perhaps take parts of the debate away and continue it with others or within himself or herself. I wish to provoke the reader to interact with the ideas presented in the work. Through this connection perhaps understanding and further learning wi l l occur. Fiction can be a powerful influence. Kiesinger states that "evocative narratives are interesting in this way. They put the spotlight on life's messes, complications, ambiguities and dilemmas. They don't give us all the answers, but rather leave us with a whole lot of questions - questions about ourselves, our lives, other people and other lives" (p. 134). I hope this novel would help students entering faculties of education understand the complex nature of teaching and perhaps start their careers off asking themselves important questions about educational issues which focus on teaching and learning. I would also like this narrative to reveal aspects of teaching which were perhaps previously unnoticed: It is the function of art to reorganize experience so it is perceived freshly. A t the very least, the painting, the poem, or the play cleanses a familiar scene washing away the fi lm of habit and dust collected over time so that it can be seen anew. Madeleine Grumet (in Dunlop, 1998, p.81) xiii Reflections A s my work on this novel comes to an end, I reflect on the level o f success I achieved. It was a risk to use the novel format to represent the knowledge I have gained through my work during my masters program, my work as a practicing teacher, and a teacher educator. I am convinced this was the form of representation which gave me the most freedom to explore my area of interest while creating an interesting and illustrative picture of the political, social and psychological aspects of teaching. From the outset I described this project as an attempt to represent an authentic teaching experience. I wanted the reader to gain a sense of the struggles and joys a beginning teacher and her colleagues face in the day to day routines as well as the extraordinary experiences which occur. I believe Emma's story was able to fulfill these expectations. The character Emma is a compilation of many teachers I have come to know over the years. Her experiences are those of friends, students, colleagues and my own. Although every teacher has a different first year experience I have found some commonalties in the stories told. A n d I have made an attempt to include these in Emma's story. The first year of teaching is a difficult and trying time. Often students enter the Faculty of Education with little or no experience in the classroom. During their practicum they are provided with an extended support system which is invaluable during this time o f growth. xiv Unfortunately this system is often taken away too soon and most teachers face their first year alone and isolated. Although some school or districts attempt to provide mentor partners or teams, without the appropriate resource supports, these result in what Hargreaves calls 'contrived collegiality' (1992). I believe this novel provides the reader with a fairly accurate picture of aspects of this situation as well as giving a sense of how Emma feels during this period while demonstrating the coping strategies beginning teachers draw upon. It is not my intent that Emma's methods of dealing with particular situations be emulated. This is not a technocratic manual for beginning teachers to use as a guide. Rather the intent is that this be a catalyst for reflection and discussion. The purpose of creating the mentor team with differing teaching styles was so the reader would be able to see the wide variety of interpretation of theory and practice which is present in the educational field. A s John Halliday states, "there is no theory neutral observational language just different perspectives from which to interpret the same practice" (1998, p 599). The juxtaposition of theory and practice in this novel was the driving force behind the creation of this work. I wanted to use the accessibility of the novel format to introduce students interested in education to the theories, ideas, beliefs and terminology surrounding the field of education. Too often these concepts are presented in a textbook which segregates it from practice. M y desire is to aid students in their attempts to XV connect theory to practice by placing them together in a school context. This was one of the difficulties I faced while writing this thesis. I was straddling two genres - the novel and the textbook. This format allowed me to present the theories, use the mentor group as an opportunity to argue the finer points of those theories and then use Emma to illustrate the theory/action tensions. M y greatest fear is that beginning teachers w i l l see Emma's actions as the right actions. This is not the intention. One of the themes in this book is that there is not one right answer but many potential answers depending upon the particular context. The first year for any teacher is full of trials and tribulations. For every scene represented in this thesis there were three or four which were left out. A s an author, I needed to create a structure which would effectively convey the first year experience in a logical and focused way. I made the decision early on to concentrate on a limited number of students so the reader could come to know these characters intimately while watching their relationship with Emma grow. Many high school teachers see two hundred students a day. O f course they w i l l not develop close relationships with all o f these students, but some form of affinity w i l l be established. I had to eliminate this aspect from the novel for the sake of coherence. If a reader is introduced to too many characters, the reader w i l l become confused and the result w i l l be boredom. Another constraint of the novel was the time frame. This story takes place over a ten month period so I was forced to highlight the key periods of an educator's year - start up, reporting periods, holidays and end of the xvi year. There are so many aspects of daily life in a school which are fascinating but for the sake of brevity I forced myself to focus on these times. The purpose of this thesis was not only to contribute an original and thoughtful work to the field of teacher education, but a document that w i l l be practical and useful for students and teachers. Therefore, during the writing I was always conscious of my audience. I felt that this audience would be looking for an interesting and realistic character facing problems which were equally interesting and realistic. They would want to be able to read the novel without being confronted by excessive educational jargon whose meaning might remain illusive to them. A n d they would want a story which would engage their imagination and their emotions. A n d most of all they would be looking for a book which is not too long. xvii ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Gifts which are given are cherished forever. Time, Support, Praise, Words full of honesty, and love. Thank you to my committee members for all of their hard work: Dr. Tony Clarke, Dr. Gaalen Erikson, and Dr. Carl Leggo. To those who share their thoughts and time: Dr.Charles Ungerleider, Rishma Dunlop, Dr. Linda Darling, Dr. Ardra Cole, Dr. David Coulter, and my colleagues. To those who love me unconditionally: my students, my parents and my husband, Michael. xviii CHAPTER 1 "I 'm falling!" Emma heard the sound of her own voice being ripped from her throat. Fear gripped her as she came to the realization that she couldn't stop. The seemingly endless cavern in which Emma was descending was narrow. Reaching out, her fingertips could almost touch the calcium covered walls which were bathed in an iridescent blue glow. Even though the fall felt fast, Emma could clearly make out the details of the rough walls. A s she attempted to save herself by grabbing hold of one of the rocks which jutted out from the wall , the chasm widened and ledges began to appear. It was now impossible to stop herself. Slowly Emma came to the realization that children inhabited the rock outcrops. These were not the cherub like babies one sees on commercials and greeting cards - these kids were disheveled, dirty and dangerous. Their flailing arms and outstretched hands created an ever changing maze through which Emma attempted to navigate. Her free fall seemed to slow just enough to allow her to maneuver in such a manner which allowed her to avoid contact. Looking down, Emma made eye contact with one young girl. A visual carbon copy of the rest, Emma should have not reacted any differently but something inside her stirred. A s she neared, the waif reached out, pleading with her eyes for Emma to save her. Emma matched the child's gesture of need. Their finger tips almost touched when their trance like state was broken by a sound which could only be likened to that of the sound of a siren. It was the children. Hundreds of them squealing - the reverberation against the 1 cavern walls was overwhelming. Emma clasped her hands over her ears in hopes of blocking the noise. Gravity tore Emma away and her tailspin continued. The children no longer made any attempt to grab Emma, instead they stood with their mouths opened wide; freeing their voices. The sound which emanated from the children made Emma's sense of panic increase, but they would not stop until they had been heard. Emma bolted upright; drenched in sweat and disoriented. Almost immediately she realized the alarm continued to send off its morning war cry. Pouncing on the annoying black box, silence filled the room. The only sound left was the beating of her heart in her ears. The final remnants of a nightmare. The images and sounds of the intense dream were fading. She tried to grasp at the few fragments which remained; in hopes that she could reconstruct the events which lead to such an abrupt awaking. Emma lay for a minute or two before giving up; it was gone. Emma threw off her covers and made her way through the maze of boxes which littered the floor. She had hoped to have gotten farther in her unpacking but these cardboard critters seemed to be mating when she wasn't looking. Every time she managed to unpack one box there seemed to be twice as many waiting patiently for her attention. However, they would have to wait for another day. Today was Emma's first day of school. She had many first days of school but this time she would be the one in front. It was odd - al l those years as a student and not once did she think that the teacher was nervous on the first day. 2 The thought of standing in front of a classroom full of teenagers was as unnerving as it was exciting. It would not be the first time Emma had taken on the role of a teacher but it would be the first time without an excuse for mistakes. When she was a classroom aid she could refer to the teacher i f there were any questions or concerns. During her practicum experiences while at University she could fall back on inexperience i f she made a mistake. N o w she was a licensed teacher and she was expected to perform as well as any other teacher in the system. Emma felt a mixture of anxiety and exhilaration thinking about what her first days at Bridgeview Secondary would bring. School had been in session for over three weeks, therefore she had missed the opportunity to start right from the beginning. The interview with M r . McCleary, the principal, had happened the week before. It was one o f Emma's better interviews. This particular administrator made her feel very comfortable from the start. They sat in an area which was set up like a l iving room in his office; no desk between them just a coffee table, a couch and a couple of chairs. He asked the typical interview questions. Emma had been through enough interviews that her answers to the questions about her ideas on teaching, learning and students came rather easily. Almost like a well rehearsed speech; but not so rigid that it seemed fake.' She felt good because the interview started off as she expected. Near the end he asked Emma to tell him some stories about her experiences in the classroom. "Emma, i f I were a visitor in your class, tell me what I would see," he said. He had moved forward and looked directly into Emma's eyes. 3 Emma felt a little uneasy. She had not faced this situation in any other interview and was not exactly sure of what he was looking for. So she launched into a detailed description of the kind of class room she visualized. "Wel l , i f a visitor came into my room he or she would see children working together at tables involved in creating their own learning opportunities. It would also be obvious that my role in the class room was one of facilitator rather than the one who holds the knowledge." "Emma," M r . McCleary interrupted. He looked as i f he were searching for a way to rephrase the question so he could get the information he was seeking. "I would like you to tell me about a time when you felt like you really connected with a group of students or a particular chi ld." "Oh, okay." Emma paused racking her brain for a particular moment in her work with students which stood out; any moment. " W e l l , during my practicum I worked in the learning assistance center during my preparation period. The teacher was overwhelmed by the number of students who had been referred to her, so I was quickly given a number of students with whom to work." Emma looked at the principal to see i f she was answering his question. A s he looked directly into her eyes, Emma felt encouraged and continued. "The students which I was assigned were also students in my math class. I believe it was in that room where I really came to the understanding o f how difficult math is for some people. I always enjoyed math, obviously or else I wouldn't teach it. But because I liked it and was successful in math I was always streamed with those who were also good at math. Throughout university I thought those who did not do well in math 4 were just not trying hard enough. It wasn't until I began working with Chris in the learning assistance center that I saw how difficult math is for some students." "Chris and I worked together for ten weeks during my practicum. The time we had together to work one on one was as valuable for me as it was for him. I was able to understand how he saw the world of numbers and calculations. It allowed me to figure out how best to teach him. After those ten weeks I knew how to approach a new problem or topic. A n d not only did Chris benefit but other students in my regular class who didn't have the opportunity to work in the learning center were catching on more quickly." Emma stopped, feeling like she was rambling, and looked into the principal's eyes. M r . McCleary sat back and returned her gaze and nodded reassuringly. After a few moments he spoke again, "Emma, the position which we are trying to f i l l is a mix of math and English - from grade eight to grade twelve. It's a challenging load but the district only notified us a few days ago that we would be able to hire another teacher. It is not quite full time but with this load it is probably good that you have an extra class off to prepare. I w i l l make my decision on Friday and I w i l l contact you one way or the other." He did call, as he promised, on Friday. He called to tell Emma that she had the job i f she wanted it. Emma attempted to control her excitement as she accepted the offer. The student loans had piled up, she had just moved into an apartment twenty minutes from Bridgeview so she could be a teacher on call in both Huntington and Clearbrook and now that this position came through. Emma wouldn't have to worry about anything except 5 making it through her first year of teaching. Emma moved quickly through her morning routine and found herself in her car with a muffin and coffee fifteen minutes ahead of schedule. She had a meeting with M r . McCleary and the head of the English department at 7:30 that morning. Traffic moved smoothly through the downtown area and soon Emma found herself in the suburb of Huntington. It was early and the sleepy town was just coming to life. Once Emma left the main road towards the school, the streets wound their way around average sized and large houses with manicured lawns. The only movement was the odd person climbing into their car dressed in a suit and carrying a briefcase. Realizing that she would be early, Emma slowed her pace in order to gain a sense o f the neighborhood which surrounded the school grounds. The houses which were situated close to the secondary school were well maintained older houses - suitable for families with young children- large back yards and a feeling of safety. Emma thought it must be a nice place to raise children. There were parks and large fields for kids to congregate and play. It did not have the closed in feeling of her new neighborhood which was made up of mostly high rises and townhouses. This area had a feeling of space. Pulling up to the school Emma noticed there were only a few cars in the staff lot. There was still an hour and a half before classes started so this didn't surprise her. Walking up to the front entrance of the school, fear gripped her. ' A m I ready to do this?' she thought to herself. Emma took her first few tentative steps towards the front door. Checking the 6 placement of her hair clip she began to assure herself that everything would be okay. ' Y o u look fine,' she told herself as she closed the door gently behind her. Catching a glimpse of herself in the floor to ceiling windows in the foyer, she was pleased by her reflection. A t twenty-four she still looked as i f she could be one of the high school students. B y pulling her long auburn hair up and wearing a suit, Emma hoped that the students might be fooled into thinking that she was really older. Noticing one strand of hair which had dislodged itself from her clip she pulled the wispy curl back and forced it into its position. She wasn't beautiful; actually she was rather plain looking. A s a child she hated how she looked but her father always promised her that she had a look which she had to grow into. He was right. The freckles of her youth had faded leaving a pale complexion accented by her bright green eyes; which sparkled with curiosity. The rest of her features which once she felt were nondescript could now be described as delicate in nature; creating a face which could be considered to be ethereal. "Quite the impressive array of items, hey?" A voice came from behind startling Emma. "Excuse me?" Emma asked while turning around to see the principal. "This is the students' store. The brainchild of our business ed. department - student run and student owned. Right now they are just finishing up their 'Back to School' sale." Emma turned to look at the display for the first time; too embarrassed to admit she was 7 checking herself out and not the students' merchandise. "Yes, very impressive." "You're early. Bonnie hasn't arrived yet. Let's head into my office." Emma followed. The main foyer of the school was very large with high ceilings. There were display cases around the perimeter and five large plexi glass blocks which were spaced evenly around the floor. Each case and block was dedicated to one school group. It was here where they could show what they have done recently or advertise upcoming events. Most of the cases were full of items. Emma was impressed by the students' artwork which was displayed in a few of the cubes. " M r . McCleary, you have some very talented art students." "Please call me Gord. Yes, we have a strong Fine and Performing Arts department," he said over his shoulder as they entered the office. "Emma, this is Ann . If you have any questions about paperwork or how to do anything she is the one to see." A n n rose from her desk at reception and shook Emma's hand. "Welcome. The first thing you wi l l need is a pin number for the photocopy machine and a quick lesson on how to use it. It can be an awful beast." "That's okay, Ann . I took care of that Friday after school. Emma needed to come in this weekend to prepare so I dealt with that. The number is on my desk." "Great. Wel l i f there is anything else... your attendance folder is in your box along with a 8 set of instructions," she said as she returned to her desk. A s soon as she sat down the phone rang. Gord motioned Emma towards a chair in his office. This time he took a seat behind the desk. They had just begun to exchange pleasantries when a woman came rushing in. "See I 'm not late. I have one minute to spare," she said slightly out of breath. In one motion she put the box she was carrying down and slid into the seat next to Emma. "Hel lo," the petite woman said. "Gord brought me up to date on your load and schedule. English and math... a rare mix. But a good one. The lack of marking in math wi l l balance out the overload in English. So you are teaching English eight and English twelve. A good opportunity to see what is expected of our students for graduation and see how important it is that they get a good foundation right from the beginning. I left curriculum guides with Gord last week. I assumed you got them. I have more information about the expectations of students in English classes. This was developed by the department as a whole about two years ago." The woman dove into her box searching for the expectations. Her energy level was extremely high and this brought back some of Emma's nervousness again. Gord and Emma exchanged glances. "Gord, you gave Emma those curric. guides, didn't you?" This direct question caught Gord off-guard and made him sit up a little straighten "Yes, Bonnie. Emma received them on Friday. Emma, this is . . . " 9 Bonnie interrupted him after she got the information she was after. Running her fingers through her short blond hair she returned her attention to Emma. "Good. Emma, here's the expectation sheet. Pretty straight forward: attendance, homework, late assignment policy, etc., etc. The students have already been given this information. The teacher that they had before handed it out. But it wouldn't hurt them to go over it again. This also lets them know that you know. A n y questions?" Emma was quickly scanning the sheet which Bonnie had thrust into her hands. "No ... I don't think so," Emma stammered. "Bonnie, give her a minute to catch up. She's only had three days to prepare. The purpose of this meeting was to introduce the two of you so Emma would have at least one name and one face to connect with. So, Emma this is Bonnie. She is our department head for English. She has a great deal of enthusiasm and contributes a great deal to our staff." Gord paused as the two women shook hands. Gord fixed his gaze upon Emma, "Also , I had talked about the possibility of placing you with a mentor group - a support system for your first year. A n d Bonnie would be part of this system. Y o u don't have to decide right now. I know you are trying to get organized, but perhaps this is the best time to have people you can turn to." Emma thought to herself. 'I need some time and space so I can get organized. But how would it look i f I didn't do it?' 10 "Good," Bonnie said. Cutting Gord off once again. "We could meet today after school. I ' l l see i f the other group members are available." Bonnie paused, realizing she was railroading Emma, "If you are?" "Sure. When and where?" Emma said trying to sound enthusiastic. "3:15 in my room - 200 - upstairs." "Great. Emma, is there anything else we can help you with on your first day?" Gord asked. "No ... I don't think so. I plan to spend the majority of the time today getting to know the students and setting up my classroom." "Okay. I should warn you though. Your English and math nine classes have had a substitute for the first three weeks, but your math ten basic is a class created by pulling kids out of other teachers' courses. Some of them may not be too happy about it." A serious expression replaced Gord's previously playful look. "I 'm wil l ing to come into that class and explain the situation i f you'd l ike?" "No, I think I can deal with it." "Could I give you my first piece of advice," Bonnie interjected. "It might be a good idea 11 to have Gord explain. I t ' l l take the heat off you so you can start fresh once he leaves. A n d I imagine you w i l l have a few kids in there who might cause some problems." "I have to agree with Bonnie. They are all good kids - they just need some help finding a place to belong. They feel like school is a burden and many o f them feel like they are too 'dumb' to do math." "Okay. I have that class today i n . . . " Emma fumbled to open her organizer, " in period two." " I ' l l be there," Gord said as he stood up. "Thank you, Bonnie, for coming in early. Emma, i f you need anything please come and see me." Bonnie and Emma followed his lead as they stood and collected their belongings. " I ' l l walk you to your room," Bonnie offered. "Okay. Thanks, Gord . I appreciate the opportunity," Emma said. "I think you should wait until the first day is over before you decide what kind of 'opportunity' Gord has given you," Bonnie said with a laugh and punctuated her statement with a wink. "Now, Bonnie, don't scare her," Gord replied in the same joking manner. 12 Bonnie didn't need to scare her; she was already frightened. Bonnie and Emma left the front office and entered the main foyer. What was once a silent and calm area, which lay as a testament to the hard work of the staff and students, was now packed with kids. The noise level was so great that Bonnie and Emma were forced to yell at one another in order to be heard. "Would you like a cup of coffee before heading to your room?" Bonnie asked. "No thanks. I think I should get ready to face the masses," Emma said motioning to the students mil l ing around. Bonnie forged a path through the crowd. Emma was almost knocked over by a student's back pack as he turned to punch a friend in the arm. He was completely oblivious to the fact that he almost took out a teacher. Once they made their way out of the main foyer the crowds thinned and the two women were able to walk down the hallway side by side. "So this is your first year." Bonnie didn't have to scream anymore. As they moved away from the center of the school the noise level decreased. "You're in room 113. Good room. Tucked in a corner. Outside door. Important in the summer when it's hot. Only problem is kids hanging outside during their spares. Y o u may find you have to monitor the area pretty closely so kids don't make it their permanent hang out." 13 "Hey, Mrs . Douglas!" A young girl left a group of students to jo in Bonnie and Emma as they walked down the hall. "I wanted to talk to you about an alternate assignment." " A n d good morning to you, Tanya. How was your weekend?" "Oh, sorry. Good morning, Mrs . Douglas. So how about my alternate assignment?" "Why don't you come and see me in about ten minutes in my classroom and then we can discuss it?" "Okay. Thanks." The student stopped and turned around to rejoin her friends at the end of the hall. "Good kid. Very creative. Always wants to change the assignment I give." " A n d you are okay with that?" Emma asked while digging for her keys. "Sure. Especially for a k id like Tanya. She ends up doing twice the work and really puts her heart and soul into it." Emma found her keys and opened the door. Without the glare of the flourescent lights the room was bathed in an iridescent blue glow from the morning sun which shone through one window. The autumn light reflected off the light blue paint on the walls and 14 the bright blue corrugated paper with which Emma had covered the bulletin boards this past weekend. Emma flipped on the lights and all that she had accomplished this weekend was illuminated. "How much time did you spend here this weekend?" Bonnie was obviously impressed with Emma's redecorating. "Wel l , I was lucky. The first basket ball tournament of the year was played here this weekend. So I was able to start at 8:00am and they didn't kick me out until 11:00pm on both Saturday and Sunday. M i n d you, I am still recovering from the diet of chips, pop and hot dogs from the concession." "Wel l , it looks good." Bonnie was over on the far side of the room lifting the bulletin boards which doubled as window shutters. With the natural light streaming in from the bank of windows which covered the one wall , the artificial light wasn't even necessary. "It's good to see that you have a reminder board for assignments, homework and tests. It really helps the kids." She paused, " A n d it comes in handy when the students say that they didn't know. Y o u can always point to the board." "Yeah, my sponsor teacher used it all the time last year. One more thing that they don't teach you in the education program." " W e l l they can't teach you everything. There are just some things you have to learn 15 through experience." Bonnie had returned to the desk where she had placed her box. "Wel l , I should go. Tanya w i l l be awaiting my arrival. Need anything else?" "No. Thanks, Bonnie." " I ' l l leave you to it then. I 'm usually in the staffroom at lunch. So, i f you'd like to join us and share the experiences o f your first morning, please come down. Otherwise, I w i l l see you at 3:15 in room 200." "Okay. Thanks again." A n d with that Bonnie exited the room leaving Emma to admire the results of her hard work over the weekend. The bulletin boards were full of posters-both Math and English content. The room looked bright and cheerful. Her desk was at the front facing the thirty student desks in five neat rows. Once she had placed her purse in the top drawer of the filing cabinet, opened her day book and placed her briefcase by her feet under the desk she was all set. N o w all she needed to complete the picture of the perfect classroom were the students. 16 CHAPTER 2 The bell rang. The first group of students entered, finding Emma still seated behind her desk. The four girls who entered the room were talking and laughing. Ending their conversation abruptly, they stood just inside the door; waiting with a look of expectation. Emma returned their silent gaze. "Are you our new teacher?" one of the girls asked. "Yes, yes I am," Emma finally answered. " M y name is M s . Moran." "Where should we sit?" the smallest girl of the group asked. She had a soft spoken voice which accentuated her tiny stature. "Any where. I haven't created a seating plan, yet," Emma directed. The girls crossed the room and took the front four desks in the corner. It was as i f they were setting up for a four square game out on the playground. They immediately began to whisper very quietly; afraid to disturb the silence. Emma watched the girls thoughtfully. It was their first year of high school - so many expectations and fears. Emma felt an instant connection with these girls; kindred spirits of a sort. She began to question herself: Should I go over and talk to them? What would I say? Before Emma could make a decision the next group arrived. 17 Three boys pushed and shoved each other through the doorway; speaking loudly. "Hel lo ," the tallest boy said, once he realized he was in the company of an adult. "Good morning," Emma said stiffly. "Please sit where ever you would l ike." Emma couldn't control the tell-tale signs of irritation in her voice. 'Remember, they're just kids,' she told herself, 'They're excited about meeting the new teacher. It's okay i f they are a bit rowdy.' These reminders seemed to calm Emma somewhat. The boys headed to the back of the room and took seats along the back row. Quickly, the room began to f i l l up with students. The final bell rang and the students in their desks stopped talking instantly. Twenty-eight expectant grade eights sat up straight and Emma stood at the front of the classroom; even the three boys in the back sat silently. N o w Emma's mental picture was complete. This is what she expected teaching would be like. The stage was set and the players were in position. N o w it was her chance to inspire her students; to change their lives. "Good morning. M y name is Ms . Moran." The students continued to stare back without response; the silence was deafening. "Welcome to your new English class. This is my first day of high school. Wel l my first day as a teacher. I w i l l be your English eight teacher for the remainder of the year and I am really looking forward to a great year. Would everyone please take out your binders and look at your course outline that was given to you on the first day?" Once Emma had asked the students to open their binders, 18 the last part of her instructions was lost in the white noise created by shuffling papers. "What are we supposed to be looking at?" a voice yelled from the back. "Your course outline; English eight," Emma repeated. "Please raise your hand i f you have a question. It w i l l make it a lot easier for all of us. Is everybody ready?" Most of the students nodded; acknowledging her question. "Okay, this is the general course outline which all English eight teachers must follow. I w i l l be using this as a guideline. We w i l l finish up with the writing assignment which you were working on and then move into the short story unit. But before we do that I would like to get to know you. Y o u have an advantage over me because you know each other. Y o u know each other's names and you have had the opportunity to work together over the past three weeks.. However, I do not know you or your names, yet. So today I would like to take time to learn more about you and give you the opportunity to get to know me. Therefore, the first thing I would like you to -do is this." Emma paused. 'Give instructions first and then action command,' the voice of her sponsor teacher popped into her head. "The first thing we w i l l do is fill out an information sheet. I would like some very basic information to help me get to know what you like so I can make this class as enjoyable as possible. So as I hand these student info sheets, could you please take out a pen or pencil?" That command set the students into a flurry of activity. However, it did not take long for the students to settle down and silence once again filled the room as the students began to write. Emma wandered among the rows checking the students' progress. Noticing a student's raised hand, she approached the small girl whom she met earlier. Noting the name at the top of her page as she approached, she said, "Yes, Carol?" 19 "When you say, 'What do you write?' do you mean stories?" "Yes, stories could be one form of writing. Some people like to write in a diary or write letters to a friend." "Okay. I get it." Carol returned to her task. The boys in the back had finished and were starting to fidget and chat. Emma approached them. "Are we finished?" "Yes ," they answered in a chorus. "Okay." Looking at their completed worksheets for their names. "Dan, Mark and Jamie, would you please each take a piece of paper out and put your name on the top for our next activity?" The boys pulled out their binders and proceeded to do as they were asked. A s the students completed the inventory they followed the boys' lead. "If everyone could finish up I would like to go on. If you have not answered all of the questions keep your paper and I w i l l give you a few minutes at the end of the class today." The students complied with Emma's request. A l l except Carol who continued to madly write. A s Emma spoke she moved closer to Carol; but she was so involved with what she was writing that she didn't notice Emma approach. Finally, when Emma placed 20 her hand on Carol's desk she stopped writing and started listening. "So, Mrs . Davis, your substitute teacher, filled me in on what you have been doing in this class during the last three weeks. I understand you've been doing some creative writing exercises while focusing on sentence structure and grammar." The students groaned at the mention of grammar. Ignoring the audible moans, she continued, "I would really like to get to know you and I would like to start by learning your names. I would like to go around the room and ask you to tell me your name and one word that describes you. What kind of word describes a person?" A few students raised their hands tentatively. Emma called on Carol, " A n adjective?" she said meekly. "Yes, an adjective. So please state your name and an adjective which describes you. I ' l l start. M y name is M s . Moran and I am friendly." Emma noticed that Mark was rolling his eyes. But once she made eye contact he immediately cast his eyes down to the top of his desk. Emma looked down at the girl she was standing next to, "Amy, would you continue?" The activity moved at a very quick pace and Emma was able to gather a great deal of information from this very simple game; which students were bold; which were shy; which were serious, which students were quick to take the easy way out by simply repeating the answer of the previous student. Emma's suspicions about Mark were confirmed during this activity. When it was his turn, he took the opportunity to make it known that he was not going to make her first year easy. 21 " M y name is Mark and I rule," he yelled; standing up and striking a prize fighter pose. The rest of the class burst out in laughter and Dan and Jamie cheered the loudest. Emma dealt with the outburst in a calm manner, "Thank you, Mark, I ' l l keep that in mind." The calm tone of her voice settled the class almost immediately. He sat down and the activity continued with out direction from Emma. She felt as i f she had won something; although she wasn't quite sure what ' i t ' was. The remainder of that class went smoothly. Emma spent a great deal of time going over the course outline. She wanted to ensure the students were clear about what to expect over the next nine months. During her speech, she covered what she would teach them, how they would be assessed and evaluated and how they would be given grades. She wanted them to leave with a clear understanding of what she would be marking for . grades and what activities she would be using to assess their level of understanding. When she asked i f there were any questions the only response she received was a yawn from Mark. She made it clear that they would be expected to work hard and hand in quality work i f they wanted to receive a good mark. "Now before you leave I would like you to complete your student information sheet. A t the bottom I would like you to put the name of one person with whom you would like to sit. Next time we have a class together there w i l l be a seating plan which you w i l l be required to follow." "But I've already handed in my paper," one student yelled. 22 Emma realized that about half of the class had already handed in their sheets. "Okay, I w i l l call out your name and you can come and get your sheet back. Emma was upset with herself that she didn't think of this sooner. She had this activity marked on her lesson plan. 'Why didn't I think of this before I collected the papers,' she scolded herself. "Once you have finished your work you can hand it in and quietly chat with a friend." Five minutes remained in the period and within the first minute the class had submitted their sheets and the noise level had begun to rise. Emma wasn't sure what she should do. There was only a few minutes left but the noise level was steadily growing. She quickly went over her options; she could ask them to sit quietly until the bell rang or she could talk at them about the class. Finally, she decided to simply ask them to lower their voices. "Class, could I have your attention please," Emma yelled over the students' voices. She received little response. "Excuse me!" she screamed. The class fell silent. Twenty eight pairs of eyes stared at Emma, surprised by the power of her voice. A t the same moment she yelled, the bell rang. Emma was just as surprised by the sound of her own voice as she was by the unexpected bell. She didn't know what to say. "See everyone tomorrow," Emma stammered. Her final statement set the students into motion. They grabbed their books and their backpacks and headed out the door. Only Carol said goodbye as she passed Emma. Perhaps Emma's first class was not perfect, but she felt as i f she had held it together. She only wished she had not finished early which forced her to leave a poor final impression 23 with her students. 'Next time wi l l be different,' Emma promised herself. The room was empty and Emma reveled in the silence. However, this was only a momentary reprieve. Within seconds students began to saunter into the class. Math ten Basic. The students which entered were bigger and obviously had more self-confidence. Each student walked in, sized up Emma and walked past her and took a seat without even waiting for instructions. This intimidated Emma. She poured her nervous energy into cleaning the black boards of the material from the last class and put up the new information. The room filled from the back to the front. The quiet trepidation of the grade eight students was gone and was replaced by loud self-assured voices of the grade ten class. The second bell had rung and a few students rushed through the door and took the few remaining seats on the far side. It was an odd sight; the back of the class was full and the first two rows lay completely empty except for three girls in the corner closest to the door. The bell did not disrupt the students' socializing. Only the three girls at the front noticed Emma waiting for silence. Emma waited and waited. The students continued to ignore her. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Emma raised her voice, "Excuse me!" The students froze. A l l eyes were fixed on Emma. "Thank you. Could you all please sit facing forward?" There were moans as the students readjusted themselves in their desks, but they did as they were asked. A l l except one boy at the side of the class who ran in when the last bell rang. Emma made eye contact with the boy. "Please face forward." 24 "I can't," he said sharply. "Please face forward," Emma stated firmly. "I can't," the boy returned matching her tone. "Listen, I have asked everyone else to face forward so I would like you to jo in us." Emma said in a very stern voice which began to give the other students a hint that she was getting impatient. * "I can't, the desk is too small. I can't fit my legs underneath," he replied, equally frustrated. " W e l l , why don't you move up." Emma's voice softened with the realization that the boy had a legitimate excuse. "These desks are larger than that one." "I wanna stay back here. I 'm fine." "He won't go, miss." The girl sitting next to the boy chimed in. She was a heavy set girl with curly black hair and black, almond shaped eyes. Emma was surprised by the intensity of her stare. Emma was intimidated by the girl. Even though she was not verbally challenging Emma, the message was clear that this girl would be a leader in this class. 25 " W e l l . . . " Emma became very aware of the fact that the other students were watching this exchange. "Okay, it's fine for today. Next day we w i l l have a seating plan," Emma turned back to the boy, "and I w i l l make sure you have a big desk, um. . . , what's your name?" "Brad." "Brad, I w i l l make sure you have a comfortable place to sit." This gesture did not seem to endear Brad to Emma. He glared back at her waiting for the next opportunity to answer back. " A n d what is your name?" Emma asked the girl, in an attempt to diffuse the situation. "Sheerez," she answered sharply. Although Emma knew two students' names, she was sure she had not made any new friends. Before Emma had the opportunity to say anything else Gord entered. "Good. Good to see everything is running smoothly," Gord said as he moved to stand next to Emma. Emma was relieved that Gord had arrived at the point that he did. A few minutes earlier and he would have seen total chaos. "Welcome, M r . McCleary." 26 Gord turned his attention to the class. "Good morning. This w i l l be your new Math 10 room and M s . Moran w i l l be your new teacher. From the very beginning we talked about how some students would be moved from the Math classes to create a new class and you were the students which allowed the switch to occur without disruption to the rest of your schedule. Y o u are very lucky. This is the smallest class, only twenty-two of you, so you w i l l get plenty of personal attention. Any questions?" The students' response was a blank stare back. "Okay, then, let's work together to make this the best learning experience possible. I expect you w i l l treat her with the respect that she deserves." On that note Gord turned on his heels and headed out the door with a final goodbye over his shoulder. He shut the door behind him and once again Emma stood alone at the front of the class. The silence only lasted for a moment. "Why did we have to move? I liked M r . Karr," one girl whined from the back. "Hey, I had Mrs . Coates. She's the best and now I 'm here," one boy announced from the side while moving to sit on the top of the desk. "I don't know why you guys are whining. I had M r . Jones. Anything has gotta be better 27 than that guy," another replied. Within seconds the room had erupted with noise. Students were yelling across the room. Some were sitting on top of their desks; others were completely out of their desks wandering from group to group. Even the three girls at the front had formed a huddle. "Excuse me!" The students stopped, startled by the piercing scream. "Sit down, N O W ! " Emma commanded. Slowly the students responded. Emma could hear a few students mutter something under their breath, but she couldn't make any of it out clearly. Once all of the students were back in their desks she began. " I understand it is difficult to change classes once you have become familiar with a situation. It w i l l take us a few weeks to get used to one another, but eventually we w i l l and this anxiety you are feeling w i l l disappear. I would like to make this a positive experience for you and maybe even an enjoyable one." "Yeah, right," said Brad. "Yeah right, Brad. Math can be a challenge, but that is what makes it fun," Emma replied. "I hate math and I can't do it," Brad stated. 28 "Yeah, Math sucks," Sheerez agreed. This was met with a chorus of 'yeah's' and 'no kidding's ' . Emma tried to pull them back quickly so she would not have to yell again. " W e l l , you w i l l have the opportunity to tell me exactly what you think of math." With this news the students began to listen. "I have a sheet which I would like each of you to fi l l out. It is very simple, just answer the questions." Emma circled around the room placing a questionnaire on each student's desk making eye contact at the same time. Some students returned her look with one of disdain, but the majority showed only signs of indifference. However, there were a precious few who exhibited a genuine look of kindness. The students finished their questionnaires quickly and began to chat. Emma began to hand out the course outline and expectations quickly so the students would stay busy and not start talking. She noted as she picked up the questionnaires that besides the personal information, telephone number, address, parents' names, the sheets would not prove very useful. Most of the students answered the questions in a similar fashion. Question 1: What did you enjoy about your previous math classes? Answer: Nothing. Question 2 : What, did you not enjoy about your previous math classes? Answer: A l l of it. Question 3 : What do you find most difficult about math? Answer: Everything. Question 4 : What areas do you excel in math? Answer: None. 29 Emma realized that this was going to a very long year. Emma sat in her desk staring straight ahead. The once neat orderly room lay in front of her in a state o f disarray. When the bell rang, ten minutes ago, the students dashed out of the room so quickly that Emma didn't even have a chance to say good bye. Desks that were once neatly aligned were now randomly scattered through out the room. Students' hand written notes lay on the ground crumpled amongst the course outlines which Emma had so carefully prepared and photocopied on blue paper; for quick reference. Emma sat in her desk and took in the sight which lay before her. Too emotionally drained to clean up the room at this time, she just wanted a bit o f time to process what had occurred. She couldn't understand why things started out so well , then disintegrated so quickly into chaos. Both classes received basically the same lesson - introduction, questionnaire, course outline, and the setting of expectations - but they reacted so differently. Granted, the grade eights were not as excited about what Emma had to say but at least they listened and showed her some respect. The grade tens were awful; responding out of turn, talking back or even worse not talking when Emma asked a direct question. Nothing had gone the way she had planned. The English class followed her directions and quickly came to order when she called for it. Not the math class. Every time Emma stopped speaking, the students took that as 30 their cue to start talking. It would quickly get out of control; forcing Emma to raise her voice. Her constant yelling was growing tiresome and by the end o f the class the students were beginning to ignore her. She was going to have to rethink her strategies. Emma glanced at her watch - fifteen minutes until the bell would signal the end of the lunch period. She would need that time to straighten up and prepare for her English 12 class. There wouldn't be enough time to get down to the staff room; this thought pleased her. She couldn't bear the thought of having to answer Bonnie's questions about the first day. What was she supposed to say? "I am a complete failure. I can't even get the kids to sit in their desks. H o w w i l l I ever be able to get them to do any work?" Emma forced herself to put those thoughts in the back of her mind. She needed to prepare for the next period. A s she began to straighten up the desks she picked up the pieces of paper. She was hoping she could salvage most of the course outlines so she could hand them out once again. Unfortunately, those which had not been doodled on, had been stepped on. She picked up a total of ten outlines which had been carelessly discarded. Emma knew she had to regain control of her emotions before her next period started. She ferociously attacked the black boards. Looking at the clean board she carefully put up the new information for the next class. Once this was completed she felt better. A n y remnants of the previous class had either been swept away or put in the trash. Emma was prepared to meet her grade twelves. This time she was not going to allow them to run over her. She was mentally prepared to play hard ball from the very beginning. 31 Chapter 3 The bell rang. Emma was ready and waiting stationed at the door. A few minutes passed before the first student arrived. When the first girl arrived Emma greeted her with a smile and a barrage of instructions. "Welcome to English twelve. M y name is M s . Moran. Have a seat anywhere. Take out your binder and prepare for an assignment." She spoke so quickly that the student looked like she had been sprayed with ammunition from a machine gun. Shell shocked, the student moved towards a desk and did exactly as she was told. This scene continued at the door as students entered in groups or alone. Her patter became faster and faster as the students rushed in to beat the bell. B y the time the bell did ring Emma's mouth was dry. The twenty seven students waited patiently in their desks with their books open ready to write. There was no talking; no students were out of their desks; therefore, no need for Emma to yell. 'Okay, ' she thought, 'I have them exactly where I want them. N o w I need to set up expectations.' Her lesson plan called for introductions and a get-to-know-you game but she feared that might give the class the opportunity to get out of control; so she jumped down to the middle of her plan. "Good afternoon. This is English twelve and I w i l l be your teacher for the remainder of the year. Mrs . Davis explained to me the assignments that you have already completed and has given me all the marks. We w i l l pick up from where she left off and complete 32 the unit on grammar. We w i l l then continue and look at a play called Death of a Salesman." Wi th that information the students began to take notes. They wrote furiously as Emma outlined the year. They continued writing as she explained her expectations and her policies on late assignments and absences. When she finally felt she had covered everything in great detail, she asked i f there were any questions. After a few minutes of silence one student in the middle of the room put up his hand. "How w i l l you mark us?" Emma thought quickly; she hadn't planned exactly how she would assess the students. For her English eight class she used the marking system she had developed during her practicum. She had never dealt with a grade twelve course and wasn't satisfied that she could simply transfer her mark break down from the junior grades. Actually, she was just happy that she had found time this past weekend to complete a year overview. "Wel l , you w i l l be given essay assignments, quizzes and tests. A s well , we w i l l be doing a research project and other small assignments." "I mean," the same student said, "how much wi l l each assignment be worth?" "Oh, I haven't really mapped that out yet. The course is worth sixty percent and the final is worth forty percent." Again the students began to take notes on the information Emma was providing. She 33 realized these kids were taking her seriously. They wanted to learn. This thought excited her. " I w i l l have a mark breakdown for you next class." The students nodded in agreement. "Any other questions?" Another girl raised her hand, "Do you allow rewrites or do you have bonus assignments for extra marks?" Emma was stunned. What a difference.from the last class. She couldn't believe the eagerness of this group. "Sure, I could design bonus assignments. I have to check with my department head about rewrites. But I w i l l get back to you on that. Anything else?" The class was silent once again. Some students were stretching and trying to relax their cramped hands from writing. The rest sat waiting patiently for the next set of instructions. "Okay, then I would like to get to know you a bit better so could you please f i l l out this information sheet." Emma passed out the questionnaire and quickly went over each question. B y the time she reached the final question all of the students were madly writing. A s she circulated she saw the students were taking this very seriously. They filled up all of the lines provided and some even moved to the back of the page i f they needed more room. This should provide more insight than the Math ten group. She was looking forward to reading the students' responses; especially the questions about how she can make English a positive experience. Emma's desire to make this class the best 34 possible experience for this group of students was strong. This particular question may help her do this for them. . Completing the information sheet took longer than she expected. Emma had hoped to have time to do a name game but all she could do was call roll and try to match a name to a face. She decided that she would create a seating plan which she would require the students to follow; to allow her to learn names. But once she felt secure she would allow them to sit where ever they would like. To end the class she stood at the front and said, "I am really looking forward to working with all of you. This is going to be a great year. Thank you." A n d with that the bell rang and the students picked up their books and headed out the door. They left the room exactly as they had entered. Their desks in neat rows, no garbage on the floor and a teacher as fresh as when the day started. Emma sat down at her desk and took a few minutes to enjoy the memories of the last class. It was so much easier; the kids were well behaved, they listened, they asked questions, and they took notes. None of the other classes took notes when they talked about the important items. Oh well , Emma didn't have time to analyze the day. This was her prep. She had a mil l ion things to do before she met with Bonnie and the others. She had to photocopy questionnaires for her other English eight class, go over what the math nine classes had already accomplished during the school year and submit her attendance reports. She also needed to find out the policy about assigning text books; the math class 35 had them but she would like to assign short story anthologies to her grade eights. Her sponsor teacher had a great system. Every student filled out a lost book form with all of the information when he or she received a book. She would collect the forms. A t the end of the year when a student handed in a book he or she received his or her lost book form to tear up. If a book wasn't received she would simply staple it to the report card and the student couldn't register until the fine was paid. Emma wasn't sure about the policy in this school, but she could check with the secretary, Ann . After an hour and twenty minutes had passed, Emma had only managed to accomplish two things; submit attendance and photocopy the questionnaire. After waiting in line for the copier in the staff room for over twenty minutes she attempted to copy her sheet. Only one copy came out before lights began flashing and a message came on the screen: 'Out of Copy Flu id . ' Emma scanned the area but there wasn't anything that looked like copy fluid to be found so she picked up her things and headed to the office where there was another copier. To her great delight and surprise there wasn't a line. Emma set up her page, punched in her number and pushed start. She was greeted with a horrific grinding noise which caused both her and the copy machine to shudder. Lights began to flash and a message came up on the screen, 'Please Remove Jammed Paper.' Emma's frustration level was rising. Who leaves a jammed copier. She fell to her knees and opened the large doors. The maze inside was overwhelming. Where did she start? On the side panel there was a 36 display that looked like the maze she faced with blinking lights. She did her best to follow the schematic. Wherever there was a blinking light there was a piece of paper. After removing all of the jammed bits and pieces Emma closed the doors. She re-entered her number, set her piece of paper in the bin and pushed start. Once again, the machine made a great deal of noise and another message flashed on the screen: ' Please Wait. Copier is Recovering." Emma sat down on the ledge near by and put her face in her hands. That is what I needed today in math ten when ever she felt like she was going to have a breakdown; a big sign that would pop up: ' Please wait, Teacher is recovering!!' Finally the green light came on. Emma pushed start and the machine began to spit out her copies. She collected the result of her hard labor and turned to leave the room. A s she moved to leave, Emma bumped into another person, "Oh, I 'm sorry," he said. Emma thought she was alone. She hoped he didn't see her fight with the copier. Emma looked to see a man who was over a half foot taller than she was at her full five and a half foot height. He had to be in his early thirties. His blonde hair was short and framed his handsome face. Emma looked up and saw a genuine concern in his eyes. "I 'm sorry," he said again. "I hope I didn't scare you." 37 "Not scare; startle maybe." "I 'm Duncan. I don't think we've met. I teach music." " H i . . . Emma. I just started today." "Oh, math and English. Gord said he had filled that position. H o w ' d it go?" "Fine," she tried to feign enthusiasm. "Good kids and good classes." " W e l l I know it can get tough. If the honeymoon ends, give me a call. I've only been in the trenches for a couple of years myself - so I remember what it was l ike." "Thanks. I might take you up on that offer." Emma reorganized her load and headed back to her room. After winning the battle with the photocopier she only had five minutes left before the end of a period. She rushed down the hall and made it back to her room before the bell let loose the masses. Safely in her room Emma arranged the piles of material she would need for tomorrow. 'Once that was completed she found a pen and a pad of paper and headed to her meeting with her mentor group. -As she ascended the stairs she began to think about the questions they would ask her: "How was your first day? H o w were the kids? How did your basic math class go?" Emma couldn't think of the best way to answer these questions. She didn't want to start off complaining, but she didn't want to lie either. She decided the best thing to do would be to highlight the positive and allude 38 to the challenges. She knew this group was set up to help her but she didn't want to seem completely incompetent. Emma found herself at the top of the stairs. Students littered the hallways. Some getting the last few items out of their lockers. A few sat on the ground in groups discussing a group project. One or two teachers were locking up their classrooms, briefcases in hand, coats on. Emma thought to herself, ' H o w can they be leaving already? I 'm going to be here until midnight just to get ready for tomorrow.' Emma turned and found herself in front of the door which opened into Room 200. She knocked timidly and heard Bonnie's voice boom, "Come in, it 's open." 39 C h a p t e r 4 Emma opened the door and entered Bonnie's world. H o w different it was from her own. There were no desks in neat rows, no posters in symmetrical patterns covering the bulletin boards. She had posters but they were high above on the walls; the bulletin board space was reserved for students' work. There were displays which were titled 'Who am I?,' 'What's happening?,' 'Together we can make a difference,' and 'Our Community.' Each section was a mass of color. Even though different students contributed pieces which varied greatly, it all seemed to fit together somehow. "Have a seat anywhere," Bonnie directed Emma. Then she turned back to the group of students with whom she was working. The room was full of tables. Once again, they were arranged in no particular pattern but the combination worked in a way which gave the impression of order. Emma placed her binder on one of the tables in the middle of the room and continued her survey of the classroom's layout. Along the back of the room there was a massive floor to ceiling bookshelf. It was full of books, folders and plants. The room had a very pleasant and warm feeling about it. Just as Bonnie finished with the students and said her good-byes, the other two members of the group entered the room. Two men joined Emma at the table; one was older with graying hair and the other, Emma thought, was about her age. "Hello, you must be Emma," the older of the two said as he took a spot across the table. 40 "I 'm Jim. This is Cam. We w i l l be part of your team this year." "Hel lo," Emma replied shaking each of their hands in turn. " I ' l l be with you in one moment. I need to jot down a quick note or I ' l l forget," Bonnie called from her desk. "So how was your first day?" Cam asked the question that Emma dreaded. She flinched as i f she had been elbowed unexpectedly. "That good, huh?" Emma's face must have betrayed her aversion to answering that particular question. " N o , " Emma said with a nervous laugh. "I mean, it went well . M y grade eight English class was very receptive and my grade twelves seem to be extremely motivated. O f course there w i l l be some challenges which I w i l l face." "Motivated grade twelves. I thought that was an oxymoron. A t least I never thought I would hear motivated and grade twelve in the same sentence so early in the year. The seniors usually don't kick into high gear until May when finals are around the corner." J im laughed. "Oh, don't listen to Jim. He's just old and jaded," Bonnie said as she joined the group. " D i d Gord come and speak to your math ten group?" 41 "Yes, he talked to them." Emma hoped that would satisfy their questions about math ten and that would be the last mention of that class. It was; Bonnie moved on. " I think the first thing we should do is introduce ourselves. I ' l l start, as you know Emma, my name is Bonnie Douglas and I am the English department head. I have been teaching for twenty two years and for the past ten years I have been at Bridgeview. J im?" Emma was surprised to hear that Bonnie had been teaching that long. She didn't look a day over thirty five. She reminded Emma of her mother; before she got sick. Ful l of energy with a look of kindness and caring which endured any child. Bonnie was obviously the kind o f teacher who loved her job and her students. "Wel l , my name is J im Wallis and I teach in the language department. I teach French Immersion and F S L , French as a Second Language. I have been at Bridgeview for twenty five years of my twenty seven years of teaching." Jim spoke with great authority and had a presence which demanded attention. Once he finished he looked to Cam to continue. Cam returned his glance with the same sense of confidence. His wired glasses added to his stereotypical look of a math teacher. He looked like the type who would never be caught dead in a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt in school. Emma wondered i f he ever let his teacher identity go. She could visualize him talking about the profession at every social function to which he was invited. 42 "Cam Betts. This is my fifth year of teaching math at Bridgeview. I was a teacher on call for a year before I secured this position." "Emma, why don't you tell us a little bit about your background?" "Okay. M y name is Emma Moran. I just moved here from Brooks where I attended university for five years where I studied literature and math. I completed my practicum in a Junior Secondary where I taught English eight, math nine and humanities ten." "Great. We are in the process of deciding whether or not to offer humanities at this school. Your experience and insight w i l l be valuable when we come together to discuss the merits of both; straight English and social studies and the integrated course," Bonnie interjected. "Thank you, everyone. This is going to be a brief meeting just to outline the purpose of this team and to set up times to meet." Bonnie glanced around the table to ensure that statement did not meet with disapproval. "Wel l then, this mentor group structure was implemented five years ago in this school. I have personally been on three teams, Jim's been on one team and this is Cam's first time. When we first began we visualized it as a vehicle to inform first year teachers about school policy and procedures as well as a support system. However, it turned out to be of greater value than that; for both first year teachers and the veterans. These meetings provided an opportunity for genuine professional dialogue to occur. Teachers had time to 43 share ideas and reflect on their practice. Slowly these dialogues moved outside the meeting times and places into the hallways and the staffroom. Five years ago the staffroom was a place to close the door and forget that students existed - it was a hideout. N o w when you enter there is an electricity. We don't go to the staffroom with the purpose to escape our challenges, we go to meet them head on." "What Bonnie is trying to say is i f you want to hide you have to stay in your room," Jim interjected with a sarcastic tone. "Jim, really," Bonnie turned with a smile. Emma noted a look of disapproval lurking behind the amused expression on her face. "We want you to jo in us in the staffroom and get involved. It is only when you involve yourself that you reap the rewards of being a member of that community. So where was I.. . .oh yes, so this has become somewhat of a learning circle. Not only do you learn from us but we learn from you and from each other." "I joined this program, as a mentor, because I heard so many great things from those who have volunteered to be a team member," Cam added. "Yes, we have had some very successful teams over the years. I was even on Cam's team when he first arrived," Bonnie stated. "He was one of our guinea pigs. We have learned a lot about what makes these teams work and what doesn't. First, the commitment of the team members is key. We must all come to these meetings with an open mind and make 44 every attempt to attend our scheduled meetings. The second lesson we have learned is that for the first month, weekly meetings are necessary, but then after that once a month is sufficient. This doesn't mean you won't have access to us outside of meeting times. There may be times where we have an informal chat at lunch or you may set up a meeting with only one of us. We encourage you to seek our help when you need it. Any questions?" Bonnie looked at each member. "Jim, Cam, would you like to add anything?" "Yes ," Cam said. "I think we should make it clear to Emma that this forum is confidential. Anything that is said in this room is kept in this room. So feel free to speak honestly. We are not here to judge but only to help and offer support." Cam focused on Emma and she looked away. She felt like he could see how awful her math class was that day. "I know it is easier said than done. It w i l l take a while before you feel completely comfortable with us and we have built up enough trust for this to happen, but i f we all agree to respect each others' styles and difficulties, this can be a powerful experience." "Thank you, Cam. A n important point," Bonnie said. "So could we set up the next three meetings and then establish a regular meeting time?" They all pulled out their agendas and began flipping through. "Is one day better than any other?" Bonnie asked. "Not Tuesdays or Thursdays," J im stated. " M y boy has soccer." " A n d Wednesdays are out for me," Cam said, "I 'm coaching tennis this year." 45 "Okay, Mondays. Is everyone clear on Mondays?" Everyone nodded. Emma's schedule was easy: work, eat, sleep. Eating could be done while she worked and sleep had to be fit in whenever she had time. She looked in amazement at her three mentors. How did they have the time to have a family or do extra-curricular activities? Emma felt she was just barely keeping her head above water while she dog paddled as hard as she could. So the meeting dates were agreed upon. They would meet the next three Mondays after school. The following Monday was a staff meeting; so their regular monthly meetings would happen every second Monday. Bonnie asked for a final time i f there were any questions before closing their books. "The meetings in the past have been centered around an issue. Each of us shares our experiences or puts an article in our boxes to read so we can all discuss it. Then the last half of the meeting is devoted to questions about the issue. Usually the meetings run two hours in length. So bring your coffee and I ' l l bring snacks." "What is our first topic?" Cam inquired. "Let's start with management, classroom discipline," Bonnie answered. 'Had she already heard about the math class today?' Emma thought. 'Is that why she jumped to management so quickly?' On one hand it would be good for Emma to hear 46 everyone's opinions about the subject, but this would mean that she w i l l have to lay her inadequacies out on the table for all to see. "Good topic choice. I remember my first year. The kids almost ate me alive," Cam said laughing. "It was my mentor group that helped me survive." "We all have war stories," J im said. "I have a good article for this discussion. I ' l l get it to all of you." "Give us a couple of days to read, J im," Bonnie said. "If anyone plans to hand out an article, please give us all sufficient time to go through it. Okay, that is about it for now. I know you are feeling overwhelmed right now, Emma. That is natural. Feel free to come by and go over lesson plans or strategies." "Thanks," Emma replied. Everyone got up to leave and Cam fell into step beside Emma. " Y o u know I have a ton of resources for math nine. I 'm not teaching it this year, so you can borrow whatever you would like," Cam offered. "Thanks, that would be great." "Fol low me down to my room and I ' l l get you started." Emma followed Cam to the end of the upstairs corridor. "Welcome to my room," Cam said opening the door and 47 flipping on the lights. His room was great. Bright flashes of color from the multitude of posters on the wall invited visitors in. Along one wall he had a bookshelf that reached from the door to the back of the room. It was full of books: workbooks, educational journals and leadership books. Emma walked along and paused as she caught glimpses of titles that intrigued her: The Quality School, A Place Called School, Educating for Character, Envisioning Process as Content. Emma came across a book which called to her: Positive Discipline in the Classroom. She began flipping through it. It was a discipline plan based on the use of classroom meetings. Could this really work, she thought to herself? Is it as simple as taking time out and discussing a situation? "Good book. Y o u can borrow it i f you like. Very timely reading considering our first topic next week." Cam was now standing beside Emma. "This is another good one." He pulled out another thin book called The Quality School Teacher. "There are a couple of chapters about classroom management, technique and suggestions." "Thanks. I ' l l take them, but I don't know when I ' l l have time to read them." "Make time. These books can make your life a lot easier. B y freeing up time you waste worrying about and dealing with kids who misbehave, you w i l l find you ' l l have more time to focus on teaching." Emma would welcome the opportunity to think about her teaching rather than who wi l l be the next k id who w i l l cause problems. "I 'm feeling a little overwhelmed," she 48 admitted. "Naturally. N e w job, new home, new faces... all of this w i l l lead to stress. Y o u are trying to figure out the school's set up and systems, how to deal with paperwork, how to fit yourself into the school and trying to figure out who you are as a teacher. It w i l l take time but it w i l l come." Emma wanted to believe Cam, but she found herself getting angry. She didn't need reassuring that it was okay to feel anxiety. She needed answers. H o w do I get the kids to listen? H o w do I get them to work? How do I get them to like me? How do I make it to Christmas? Cam simply stood there smiling, completely oblivious to the internal struggle going on inside Emma. " I 'm here to help you in any way possible. Wel l I should run ... I promised a friend I would meet him on the court at 6:00. I pulled these resource books for math nine. The students really enjoy these activities. The more they interact with the concepts and play with the ideas, the more they learn." Cam piled three binders and two books on top of the two books Emma was already holding. Emma left the room trying to rearrange the books so that balance was possible. Weaving down the hallway towards the stairs she managed to maneuver the load into a bundle which she could carry. Her burden was heavy but one which she could deal with. The descent down was tricky. She could not see her feet and did not know how many steps 49 there were so she had to move slowly and feel her way. On the very last step she lost her balance and one of the binders crashed to the floor. The binding popped open and the papers inside were strewn about the bottom of the landing. "Damn," Emma said out loud. Without hesitation she placed the other books on the stairs and began collecting pieces of paper. A s she was cleaning up, three boys ran down the stairs. Before Emma could warn them to watch out for the paper they had run right over her and her cargo and they were out the door. Emma felt defeated. She picked up the pace and simply grabbed the pieces rather than trying to sort as she went along. The dusty foot prints which the boys left on a few of the pages were easily removed with a swipe of her hand. But their disregard for Emma's situation would not be erased so easily from her memory. They didn't know her and she didn't know them, but they could have shown some compassion. She didn't expect them to stop and help, but they could have at least slowed down a bit and stepped over the paper. Once she had finished collecting all of the bits and pieces she went back to her classroom. The binder and its contents lay on a table at the front and Emma sat in her desk. So much to do; so little time. She thought of Cam's reassurance that these books would make life easier. So far all they had done was create more work and a bigger headache than she had before. 50 Chapter 5 "TGIF. Thank God it's Friday!!" The voice boomed over the P A system. The sentiment echoed Emma's thoughts precisely but did it have to do it so loudly? She had requested that the volume of her room speaker be turned down. That was over three days ago and nothing had been done. She made a quick note in her planner to submit another request. Emma glanced around the room. Her grade eights sat with their hands over their ears in an attempt to block out some of the sound. Dan, Mark and Jamie had been seated near Emma's desk and were speaking very loudly so that they could be heard over the announcements. Emma moved so that she was standing beside them. She placed her hands on Dan and Mark ' s desks to signal them to please pay attention. This did not work, so she quietly asked them to stop talking. "What?" Jamie yelled. "Please listen to the announcements," Emma stated with more authority. "What?" Jamie yelled again. "I can't hear you." "Please listen to the announcements!!" Emma yelled back. Just as she began her sentence the announcements finished. Her voice echoed in the now silent room. Emma felt flustered. A l l the students' eyes were on her. A look of fear in their eyes. She began 51 to lecture the class about paying attention to the messages given to them in the morning. Unfortunately, the whole class had to pay for the antics of the three boys seated in the front row. Emma paced back and forth. "We need to get a few things straight in this class," her voice began to grow in volume as her frustration was revealing itself. "Monday was okay. But Wednesday was a disaster. It took us twice as long to get anything done because of people talking and shuffling. From now on you w i l l not talk or shuffle papers while I am talking. Clear?" The class sat frozen. Her voice was now at top volume. She was speaking so quickly that there was a slight tremor in her speech pattern. She went on, "Things are going to be different. Y o u are in school to learn; not to horse around. When you arrive you w i l l take your binder out along with a pen or pencil and sit quietly waiting for further instructions. Clear?" N o response from the class, just a blank stare. "Okay, let's begin today's lesson." Emma referred quickly to her lesson plan. She wanted to begin the class by discussing a short story which she had asked them to read for homework. "Who can tell me what the story is about?" her voice had softened. N o response; only blank stares. "Carol, what was the story about?" Emma asked. "I..I.. . I 'm not sure," Carol replied with a look of fear in her eyes. 52 Emma's tirade had managed to sufficiently scare the students enough so any possibility of discussion was gone. Emma thought quickly. What am I going to do? If they won't talk, my lesson is useless. "Okay. I would like everyone to take out a piece of paper and answer these questions." Emma flipped on the overhead and began to write the questions intended for discussion on a transparency. "I w i l l be collecting these for marks so work quickly." Dan began to complain, "Why do we have to do this?" "Because I said," Emma snapped back. "No talking; just writing." The anger returned and the class moved into action not wanting to provoke her again. The class worked silently for the next forty-five minutes. The only thing you could hear was the whir from the fan overhead. Emma moved like a cat around the room. She was ready to pounce on anything that moved or made a sound; other than the scratching noise the pen made on paper. Two minutes before the bell Emma called for their answers to be handed in. They did so and quietly packed their books into their knapsacks. When the bell rang, the students quietly exited the room without a word. Emma sat in her desk exhausted. The tension in her back was creeping into her neck and she could feel a headache coming on. Her math ten basic class was entering the room. 53 The moment she had been dreading all week. She had received a reprise from them on Wednesday because of a school wide assembly so this was the first time she had seen this group since her first encounter with them. This class needs to be different, she thought to herself. A s she searched her brain for a solution, her eyes fell upon the pile of books Cam had loaned her. On the top lay the book Positive Discipline in the Classroom. A classroom meeting - this could be the answer. She had not read the entire book; only the introduction and the case studies at the back. So she understood the why and the how. If she followed the formula that the teachers used in the case studies she should be able to pull it off. Emma abandoned her lesson plan and began to thumb through the book looking for key questions the teachers asked. Students began to enter the room and take their positions at the back of the room. "I 'd like to try something different today," she addressed the half dozen students seated at the back chatting. "Could you please help me arrange the desks into a circle?" " C o o l , " one of the kids replied. Before Emma could say anything the desks were flying. The sound of desks being dragged across the wood floor was deafening. "Please pick them up!" she yelled. The students stopped momentarily and then resumed moving the desks in the same manner. 54 Emma was irritated by their wil lful disobedience but this was why they were having the meeting. "We only need twenty three desks in the circle and could you please place them in the circle instead of dragging them?" She yelled again. The students did as they were asked. A s students entered the room they made comments like, "Hey cool, a circle," "What's up?" and "Are we going to sit like this all year?" Emma stood by the door and encouraged the students to find a seat quickly. Emma was attempting to formulate her lesson in her head so that it would run smoothly. First, she would explain the purpose of a class meeting. Then she would outline the process. A n d finally they would start the meeting. The students were in their desks still remarking upon the unique seating arrangements. Emma entered the circle and attempted to gain their attention. Finally she resorted to her usual method. "Excuse me!" she yelled. The students stopped in mid-sentence. "Thank you. Yes, this is a new seating arrangement and we w i l l use it for special days like this." Emma had piqued the students' interest by saying it was a special day. She went on, "Today we are going to have a class meeting." "Is this like a family meeting?" Tyler whined. 55 "Yes, good analogy, Tyler." "I hate family meetings. M y mom only makes us have family meetings when me or my brothers screw up," Tyler said, still whining. "Oh man, are we all in trouble?" Sheerez screamed. She was wearing a tank top which hid very little of her changing adolescent body. Not only did she demand attention through her outburst in class, but she was obviously looking for the boys in the class to notice her. Emma felt pity for this young girl who was trying to find her way. "No, you're not in trouble, Sheerez. Please try to remember to raise your hand. A n d you don't have to yel l , " Emma reminded her. "Then why are we doin' this?" another student asked. Emma tried to remember her name. Just as Emma was about to reply there was a knock at the door. It was Brad. His 6 foot frame filled the doorway when Emma opened the door. "Brad, what is your excuse for being so late?" "I was at the counselor's trying to get back into M r . Karr 's class. But they told me I am stuck here." 56 "Fine, Brad," Emma said feeling deflated. " W e l l , we are all stuck here. So let's make the best of it. I think this class meeting w i l l make things better. During this meeting we w i l l not tolerate any yelling out. Everyone must wait their turn to speak and must put up their hand. Once you are called upon you may speak your mind." "We can say anything?" asked a boy wearing a baseball hat. "Within reason. When making comments use proper language and be respectful of others." The students began to whisper and make comments which seemed to agree with Emma's ground rules. "Okay then, let's begin. I w i l l take my place in the circle since I am no less or more important than any of you in the discussion," Emma said quoting from the book. She hoped this would encourage the students to take this activity more seriously i f they felt they played an important role. "This meeting w i l l start off by allowing anyone to talk about specific problems they feel we are encountering in class. Would anyone like to start?" "Yeah. Why did we have to change classes? It's not fair," Brad said. "I know it's tough to move after being in a class for three weeks. But the only answer I 57 can offer you is that it was an administrative decision." Emma was grasping for ways to answer Brad's question. "For now all we can do is make the best of this situation." "That sucks," Brad said slumping into his too small desk. He had not been convinced. "Please Brad. Let's try to stay positive." A t least the other kids were watching the scene with interest. Their conversation had captured their attention, at least for the moment. "Anyone else?" There was silence. Emma waited, counting slowly to five to give sufficient time for students to jump in. It seemed like an eternity. Finally she rephrased the question. "How can we make this class a better place? More enjoyable?" "Don't make us do math," the boy who sat next to Brad said. Brad smiled. It was the first time Emma had seen anything other than a scowl on his face. Others in the class voiced their support vocally. A chorus of "yeah's" and "Math sucks" could be heard. Emma jumped in. "Remember one voice at a time please. Hands up." The students began to settle down. "Math is required by the curriculum, therefore I must teach it and you must learn it." Emma saw most of the students roll their eyes. She wondered how many times these grade tens have asked that same question and how many times they have heard the answer 'because'. Although it is not a very satisfying answer, she didn't know how to answer it any other way. The students were starting to socialize; they were losing interest quickly. Emma reached for the book hoping for some answers on how to get them focused and asking the right questions. She flipped through in desperation. 58 Nothing. In all the examples the students seemed to be so well behaved and articulate. Where is the trouble shooting section? Nothing. She put the book aside; she was on her own. If they weren't going to answer the question correctly, she would. "Okay, as I see it we are here to learn math. However, i f the class continues to behave in the same manner as last day we are going to have problems. We need to work together, learn together and respect each other. "Does that make sense?" Silence. "I said, does that make sense?" Most of the students nodded in agreement. The vacant look in their eyes should have indicated to Emma that they were just nodding to appease her, but she was just so happy that they were quiet and agreeable. She went on. "So we need to establish some rules so that we can work together. Any ideas?" Silence. "Okay; how about putting up your hand when you would like to speak. That's a good rule," Emma said making a note of it. "What else?" Silence. "Okay, how about having your binders open and ready to work when the bell rings. That's another good rule." Emma made another note. "What else?" Silence. "Come on. Y o u must have some ideas?" "Just tell us what you want us to do and we ' l l either do it or we won't," Brad said. Emma was frustrated. I 'm doing this for them, she thought. She began to get angry. How ungrateful, she thought to herself. I try to reach out and what do I get, nothing. "Fine, I ' l l tell you what I want. I want the desks back in rows. I want your binders open and I want your textbooks out. Clear? Go ." 59 The students did not jump immediately into action but they did it. The sound of desks again being dragged across the floor was deafening. "Pick up the desks!" Emma yelled but no one paid any attention to her. With the desks finally in some kind of rows Emma stood in front once again and the students continued to ignore her while they gathered in groups, talking. 'Back to square one,' she thought. The only ones with their binders open and text books out were the three girls who sat by her desk. "Okay!" she yelled. "Let's go. Texts out, let's start the lesson!" Again the students responded but at a painfully slow speed. B y the time they were ready to receive the notes Emma planned to give them there was only ten minutes left in class. She quickly gave them the abridged version and assigned the homework just before the bell rang. "I don't get it!" a small boy said. His petite frame was accented by the too big basketball tank top he wore over his too big jeans which threatened to fall to his ankles any moment. Emma remembered his name from last class, "Mike , just try. Go over the notes, read the textbook and try." "There's no way I ' l l be able to do this stuff," he replied. Unfortunately his reply was lost in the sounds of closing textbooks and backpack zippers being opened and closed. The bell rang and the kids raced to the door. Emma wanted to call after Brad to stay but she 60 decided not to. I ' l l deal with him on Monday, she thought. A l l that remained was a distorted image of the room which Emma had entered that morning. The desks were askew, paper littered the floor and one of her posters had been torn down by the door. The three girls were the last to leave. The tallest, a blond girl named Kara or Carly, Emma couldn't remember, turned as she walked out and said, "have a good weekend M s . Moran." "Thanks," she replied, automatically, " Y o u too." The weekend - TGIF. 61 Chapter 6 Another Monday morning, identical to the last one; same blue sky, same breakfast, same route that she had taken one week previous. However, Emma was not the same. Her naivete had been replaced by one week of experience. Her enthusiasm had been replaced by a conditional optimism. Emma spent the weekend reviewing and reflecting upon her experience during the first week. For every positive aspect of the week, there was a negative to match it. She had made the decision that things had to be different. Math nine and English eight were in control. English twelve challenged her; not in terms of classroom management but to make every minute i n that class count. They would not permit any time to be wasted on trivial matters. 'Just the facts' is what these kids desired. But the real challenge came from her math ten basic class. Emma knew she would have to make changes in that class i f she hoped to teach them anything. Today would be different; today she would be strong. She had made a decision that in order to make the classroom livable for both her students and herself that she was going to have to establish strict guidelines and she was going to have to follow them. In her briefcase lay a sheet of paper with a list of rules covering what to do in any instance: i f you are late to class, i f you are submitting a late assignment, i f you miss a class, etc. If there were any questions or deviations in expected behavior, the sheet would cover it. Emma had decided she wasn't going to allow any more students to run over her. She had tried to get their input. She had tried to establish a climate based on respect. 62 But they couldn't be bothered to take her seriously so now she would tell them what to expect and what she expected of them. She would now be in control. Before Emma knew it she was parking her car in the Bridgeview staff lot. It was beginning to feel familiar. She definitely felt better than she had when she left the school on Friday. On Friday she left with her spirit broken and feeling like a failure. It was a new week and although Emma still had some doubts she felt like she had a new plan. She couldn't waver. She couldn't show fear. Emma had to show her students she meant business. She had come to the conclusion that before her students would like her they would have to respect her. A n d i f she set a standard and required all students to meet that standard, they would eventually respect her for it. Emma had photocopied enough sheets of her new rules so each student could place one in the front of their binders for quick reference. She picked up her briefcase and headed towards her classroom. "Emma." Duncan was coming out of the theater and called to her. Emma awoke from her mental preparation for her day ahead when she heard her name. She turned to see Duncan weaving through the sea of students to get to her. " H i , " she said once he reached her. "How's it going?" he said smiling. 63 "Fine. A t least I 'm surviving." "Survival. A good way to describe the first year of teaching." The noise level in the hallway forced the pair to strain to be heard. Duncan motioned Emma into a room. The door he opened lead them into the sound booth for the school theater. There wasn't anyone in the booth, but there were some students working on the stage which Emma could see through the large glass window. "So you are surviving," Duncan stated again as he sat down on a stool. He motioned Emma towards a padded chair. She sat down with her piles of paper and her briefcase on her lap fearing to touch anything. Every inch of space was covered with electronic equipment, buttons and switches. She was afraid she might accidentally touch something and blow up both of them. "Yes ," Emma said in response. She shifted the pile of paper to a more comfortable position. Duncan looked so self assured; so confident. "I felt a little overwhelmed last week, but this week I feel better prepared." Why was she feeling so self-conscious? "That's great. This is my fourth year of teaching and I still don't feel prepared." Duncan smiled down at Emma. But his smile didn't anger Emma like Cam's did. His seemed like a genuine indication of kindness and caring. "So tell me about your classes." Their gazes held for a moment. Emma felt a bit uncomfortable. Can he see how I 'm feeling? Can he see how much stress I feel? " M y classes, well I have two English eight. They have a lot of energy but overall a good bunch. M y math nine and English twelve 64 are really very good. A n d my math ten basic w i l l . . . w i l l present some challenges." Emma wanted to tell h im the truth, but she didn't want him to think she was a bad teacher. "Math ten basic. I don't think they should give first year teachers those classes. Y o u should be given time to focus on developing your instructional skills without having to deal with a bunch of kids who really don't want to be there." 'He could read her mind, ' Emma thought. He was able to sum up the situation perfectly. "That's why I teach music. I deal with kids who sign up for my class. They want to be there. It makes a huge difference." Emma was feeling more relaxed. She felt like Duncan understood her situation. He wasn't simply offering useless words of advice; his sympathy was genuine. "Thank you," she said without thinking. "For what?" he said. "For understanding." With that she got up out of the seat. Emma looked like a pregnant woman trying to raise herself out of the seat while trying to lift the pile off her lap. "I should be going." Duncan reached out to help her up. She looked up and their gazes locked again. "Thank you," she said turning away. "Anytime," he called to her as she entered the hallway. 65 Emma's focus quickly shifted back to her plan for the day. She needed to prepare the room. She had made sticky notes with each student's name on it so they would know where to sit in the new seating arrangement. B y placing the new rules on each desk, Emma hoped the students would start reading as soon as they arrived. She had to set the proper tone from the outset. B y the time the first bell rang warning the students they had five minutes before the start of class, Emma was stationed at the door, ready and waiting. A s each student arrived she told each student to find their name and follow the instructions on their desk. Her English eight class followed her instructions to the letter. B y the time the final bell had rung every student sat in their desks, faced forward with their books ready to go. Emma smiled to herself. Y o u must be strong, she reminded herself. "Good," Emma barked. "This is the way every day wi l l begin. I expect you to do exactly as you did today. First I wish to go over the list of rules in front of you, then we w i l l continue with today's lesson." Emma was pacing along the front of the classroom yelling out the rules as a sergeant does with a new group of recruits at boot camp. After a fifteen minute tirade, Emma finally looked at the students. "Is.that clear?" The fear in their faces and the stiffness of their postures told her she was loud and clear. Just as she was to begin the class there was a knock at the door. Emma marched over to the door with all eyes on her. It was Bonnie. " H i , " she said glancing into the room. 66 Emma watched Bonnie as she surveyed the room. A look of concern came over her face. The students were dead silent and each one of them were focused on the activity at the door. "Everything okay?" Bonnie asked. "Yes, perfect," replied Emma with a smug look. She was glad that Bonnie came by and could be a first hand witness to her triumph. "This is my English eight class." "Great. Just checking to see i f you need anything for tonight's meeting." "No. I 'm fine." "Good. Bring a copy of your discipline plan as well as the article that J im handed out." Bonnie exited the room quickly as she was beginning to feel uneasy with all the kids staring at her. "Okay. See you then." Emma quickly turned on her heels. "Good. N o w we can begin. Take out your short story anthology and turn to page seventy-two. Begin reading." Every student complied without hesitation. Even Dan and Jamie followed their peers' lead; Mark was absent. The remainder of the class moved along smoothly. Emma gave a command and her students moved into action. Finally, she felt like she had everything under control. The class went on to the questions on the overhead once they were finished reading. A n d 67 before the bell rang, Emma called out all o f the answers to the questions. The perfect class, she thought to herself. When the bell rang students did not race to the door but rather moved slowly as i f they were walking through ankle deep mud. Their steps were slow and their energy low. Emma said goodbye, but no one returned her greetings. 'Oh wel l , ' she thought, 'they just need to get used to the routine. Then their desire to interact w i l l return, but when it does I ' l l be ready to focus it on learning not socializing.' Emma had to shift gears quickly. She only had five minutes to prepare for her math ten class. A n d were they in for the shock of their lives! Emma flew around the room and was ready and waiting for the first group to enter. "Find your name. Take your seat. Fol low the instructions." Emma said these three lines about a dozen times before the final bell rang. She closed the door behind her and was pleasantly surprised that the class had done what she had asked. The desks were still in neat rows and the students had their textbooks and binders ready . 'This is actually working,' she thought to herself. Emma recreated the identical scene from her English eight class. She paced and called out the rules and was not surprised when there were no questions. She used even a harsher sound than she did with her younger group. The students of math ten were scared and Emma knew it. ' A s long as they're quiet I can do my job, ' she thought. Just as she was about to ask the students to take out their homework-the door opened and Brad 68 sauntered in. "Brad, you are late. Please wait outside," Emma bellowed. "Why?" he asked astonished that she would make him leave. "Just wait for me outside," she said impatiently. Emma knew i f the battle between herself and Brad was played out in front of the class she would lose a lot more than the fight with her most challenging student. "Fine. I don't want to be here anyways!" Brad said, slamming the door. Emma quickly fought to regain her composure. "Rule 14: If you arrive late, Knock quietly and wait until I come and get you," she said to the class. " N o w then, please take out your homework." "I couldn't do the homework," Tyler stated from his new seat in the front. "It was too hard and I didn't get it." "Tyler, take out what you have completed. If you were having difficulties you should have come to see me outside of class time." Emma had planned to exchange papers, but instead she asked for all papers to be handed in. When she received the pile only about three quarters of the class had handed anything in. A n d after a quick glance through those 69 papers, she knew only a few had completed all of the assignment questions. "Homework makes up thirty percent of your mark and i f assignments continue to be completed in this fashion I expect I w i l l see many of you back in this class next year." Emma heard an audible groan come from the class. "While I go out to speak with Brad, I expect everyone to complete the next ten questions." "But I didn't understand the first ten," Tyler whined. "Just try, Tyler. I ' l l help you when I get back." Emma stalked out of the room ready to meet with Brad. She expected to see Brad sitting right outside her door, waiting. Surprised that he wasn't there she looked down the hall and saw him chatting with a young lady by an opened locker. Emma was fuming. She charged down the hall, locked gazes with Brad and through clenched teeth, said, "Come." Brad looked at the girl, shrugged his shoulders and followed Emma back down the hall. She turned to face him once they reached the end and waited. "Yes?" Brad questioned. " Y o u show up late to class, make disrespectful remarks and when I come out here you are gone," Emma sputtered. "What am I supposed to say?" "I dunno," Brad replied looking at his feet. In a very low but angry voice Emma went on, "If you hope to pass this class you are 70 students moved into action. Finally, she felt like she had everything under control. The class went on to the questions on the overhead once they were finished reading. A n d before the bell rang, Emma called out all of the answers to the questions. The perfect class, she thought to herself. When the bell rang students did not race to the door but rather moved slowly as i f they were walking through ankle deep mud. Their steps were slow and their energy low. Emma said goodbye, but no one returned her greetings. ' O h wel l , ' she thought, 'they just need to get used to the routine. Then their desire to interact w i l l return, but when it does I ' l l be ready to focus it on learning not socializing.' Emma had to shift gears quickly. She only had five minutes to prepare for her math ten class. A n d were they in for the shock of their lives! Emma flew around the room and was ready and waiting for the first group to enter. "Find your name. Take your seat. Fol low the instructions." Emma said these three lines about a dozen times before the final bell rang. She closed the door behind her and was pleasantly surprised that the class had done what she had asked. The desks were still in neat rows and the students had their textbooks and binders ready . 'This is actually working,' she thought to herself. Emma recreated the identical scene from her English eight class. She paced and called out the rules and was not surprised when there were no questions. She used even a harsher sound than she did with her younger group. The students of math ten were scared 71 and Emma knew it. ' A s long as they're quiet I can do my job, ' she thought. Just as she was about to ask the students to take out their homework the door opened and Brad sauntered in. "Brad, you are late. Please wait outside," Emma bellowed. "Why?" he asked astonished that she would make him leave. "Just wait for me outside," she said impatiently. Emma knew i f the battle between herself and Brad was played out in front of the class she would lose a lot more than the fight with her most challenging student. "Fine. I don't want to be here anyways!" Brad said, slamming the door. Emma quickly fought to regain her composure. "Rule 14: If you arrive late, Knock quietly and wait until I come and get you," she said to the class. "Now then, please take out your homework." "I couldn't do the homework," Tyler stated from his new seat in the front. "It was too hard and I didn't get it." "Tyler, take out what you have completed. If you were having difficulties you should . have come to see me outside of class time." Emma had planned to exchange papers, but 72 instead she asked for all papers to be handed in. When she received the pile only about three quarters of the class had handed anything in. A n d after a quick glance through those papers, she knew only a few had completed all of the assignment questions. "Homework makes up thirty percent of your mark and i f assignments continue to be completed in this fashion I expect I w i l l see many of you back in this class next year." Emma heard an audible groan come from the class. "While I go out to speak with Brad, I expect everyone to complete the next ten questions." "But I didn't understand the first ten," Tyler whined. "Just try, Tyler. I ' l l help you when I get back." Emma stalked out of the room ready to meet with Brad. She expected to see Brad sitting right outside her door, waiting. Surprised that he wasn't there she looked down the hall and saw him chatting with a young lady by an opened locker. Emma was fuming. She charged down the hall, locked gazes with Brad and through clenched teeth, said, "Come." Brad looked at the girl, shrugged his shoulders and followed Emma back down the hall. She turned to face him once they reached the end and waited. "Yes?" Brad questioned. " Y o u show up late to class, make disrespectful remarks and when I come out here you are gone," Emma sputtered. "What am I supposed to say?" "I dunno," Brad replied looking at his feet. 73 In a very low but angry voice Emma went on, "If you hope to pass this class you are going to come on time with your homework done. Y o u w i l l not disrupt my class. Y o u wi l l not talk back to me. Y o u w i l l show respect. Have I made myself clear?" Emma and Brad's eyes were locked on one another which added intensity to the situation. Both were silent. Emma noticed some movement outside her field of view. She turned to see Cam passing them. He didn't say anything; nor did she. D i d he see this whole exchange? N o w Emma had something else to worry about. She knew she was coming down on Brad a bit too hard but she didn't know what else to do. She felt like she had reached the point where she was ready to lose it. Only a week into school and she was reaching a breaking point, great, only nine months left before the end of the school year. "Can I go back in now?" Brad asked. " A s long as you understand what is expected of you." "Yeah, I got it." Brad went inside the classroom leaving Emma outside to think about the exchange which had occurred. She didn't have much time to think. The noise level in her class was growing. When she returned, the students were out of their desks, standing in small groups, talking 74 about anything except math. "Excuse me!" she yelled. They stopped. "What did we just talk about? Everyone should be doing the next questions." "They're too hard," Tyler moaned. " M s . Moran," J i l l , one of the three girls who sat next to the teacher's desk, spoke. "I just don't understand how to do these questions. M y dad helped me last night on the homework but I still don't get it." Emma softened. If she had to reteach last day's lesson she would fall behind. But i f she didn't, the students would never be able to catch on to the more difficult concepts. "Okay. Let's start over." The students sighed and began to copy the notes Emma was giving. The students worked hard for the remaining thirty minutes of the period and a few more felt satisfied that they understood how to do the math homework. There were still a few who had the pained look of confusion. "If you need more help come see me at lunch," Emma said just as the bell rang for lunch period to begin. A l l the students rushed out of the door except Tyler. He sat in his desk; shoulders hunched over and eyes cast down. Emma walked towards him. She placed a hand on his desk. "Tyler?" He didn't answer. She could only hear a faint whimper and a sniffle. Was he crying? 75 She couldn't tell. "Tyler?" she said again bending down beside his desk. Finally he looked up and she could see the frustration and desperation in his eyes. A tear told Emma that he too had reached his limit. "Tel l me what's wrong. I want to help you." Tyler sniffed, "I just don't get it. I never have." He looked down again in embarrassment. "It's okay," Emma said placing a hand on his arm. "I want to help you. What can I do?" "I don't know. I read the text and I copy the notes but the words stay on the page. They never make it into my head. If someone shows me how then I can do it but my mom and dad work. They don't have time." He was getting more and more upset with each sentence. "Okay, okay," Emma tried to get him to slow down. "We can make a deal." He looked up. She knew he was responding. " I ' l l be here to help you when you need it. When would you prefer to meet; before school, lunch or after school?" Tyler thought about it and decided, "Before school would be best. I 'm always here early because my mom and dad leave at seven o'clock in the morning. I can catch a ride with them." 76 "Okay." Emma did not particularly enjoy getting up early. "Let's begin tomorrow morning. H o w about seven thirty?" "Okay," Tyler said as he straightened up a bit. He had calmed down considerably; so had Emma. A s he packed up his books, Emma returned to her desk. Once he was ready to go he paused and said, "Goodbye, M s . Moran." "Goodbye, Tyler. See you tomorrow." Emma had twenty minutes left in the lunch period to have a quick bite and prepare for her English twelve class. She had planned to make her first trip down to the staff room during lunch, but that would have to wait for another day. B y the time the warning bell rang, she was ready. Emma knew she wouldn't have to read the riot act to this class. They were focused and eager. This was her one bright moment on Day 1. The plan was to simply have the students read the new policy and then jump right into an activity she had planned, to complete the grammar unit. The students began to arrive. This class worked well together, so a seating plan was not necessary. They simply took a spot and began reading even without instructions to do so. "Once everyone is seated we can begin. Today we are going to. . ." 77 Kai la had her hand up at the back of the room, so Emma called upon her. " M s . Moran, this says that we lose ten percent per day for late assignments," she said while waving Emma's new policy. "Yes, Kai la . That's right." "Is that ten percent a class or ten percent everyday?" Ka i l a clarified. "Ten percent a day. It can add up quickly so make sure you get your assignments in on time." "But what happens i f you miss a class for a field trip or doctor's appointment?" "Wel l i f you are in school that day I expect you to hand in your assignment before you leave. If you aren't in school, then you should get a friend to submit your work or have a parent drop it off." Emma was getting a bit annoyed. This was already taking up too much time and there were about half a dozen hands up in the air. "Josh, you have a question." "Yeah, it says i f you are absent the day of a test and you don't get a call from our mom or dad then we can't write the test and we get zero." "Yes, that's the policy." 78 "What happens i f you don't live with your mom or dad?" he asked. " W e l l , whoever is your guardian would cal l ." "I live on my own. Nobody would call 'cept me." "Okay, Josh. Y o u and I can talk after." Emma called on the next hand. T thought this was so straight forward,' she pondered. "About the ten percent off a class. That's not fair. I live in another district and no one lives near me so i f I 'm away I am penalized due to the fact that I can't get anyone to drive a half hour out of their way to pick up my assignment." Emma's head was swimming. Her once bright light was fading. The students were beginning to debate in little groups. She had somehow lost control. A l l these kids cared about were marks and grades. They weren't concerned about missing a valuable learning experience; all they cared about was the fact that they would lost ground on their grade point average. There was a knock at the door. Fortunately, the person on the other side of the door had a forceful knock or Emma wouldn't have been able to hear it over the noise in the room. She opened the door and there stood Jim. " H i , " he said straining to see the source of the noise. "Just double checking that you received the article I sent out." He had a look of disapproval on his face. 79 "Yes, thank you." Emma replied painfully aware of the chaos behind her. " Y o u should read it before the meeting." He said and turned abruptly and headed down the hall. Emma had read it. A chapter from The First Days of School: H o w to be an Effective Teacher by Wong & Wong. "The first thing you need to know: Y o u were hired to take a group of possibly disinterested, howling, and unruly people and turn them into interested, disciplined and productive learners in a well-managed environment." These were the first words in the chapter. Emma looked back into the classroom. Students which were once model students, keen and focused, were now preparing a protest against her and her rules. Some how she had managed to do exactly the opposite of what was expected of her. 80 Chapter 7 Emma stood outside Bonnie's room. She dreaded walking into that room and having to face her 'team.' Why did they have to show up at such awkward times? A t least Bonnie saw the day at one of its more positive moments. She took a deep breath and turned the knob. Only Bonnie was in her room. "Hello, Emma. Cam and Jim called and they'll be here in a minute." She got up from her desk where a pile of marking sat. "So how was your first week? I didn't see much of you." "I feel like I haven't sat down since I got this position. A l l I have done is plan, photocopy and mark. It's been overwhelming to say the least." "Understandable. I hope you w i l l find these meetings helpful. It w i l l give you time to slow down and reflect upon what is going on in your classroom." Bonnie sat down next to Emma. "That was English eight that I saw this morning, right?" "Yes, I am just starting to get a handle on that class. They have a great deal of energy." Emma sighed. "Energy... a good way to describe them. Fortunately you have them in first block. They tend to be more manageable then. Y o u seemed to have them under control," she said 81 emphasizing the last word. "I have just implemented a new.." Emma was cut off by the entrance of Cam and Jim. "So now I 'm at the top of the Wednesday Night Men's ladder," Cam said with excitement in his voice. "Someone is full of energy," Bonnie turned her attention to Cam and Jim. "Yeah! I had a great night," Cam replied. "Good," Bonnie said. Turning back to Emma she continued, "We should get started i f we want to be home in time for dinner. This is a big topic but one which is the key to any work which w i l l be accomplished during the year." Cam and J im joined the women at the table and pulled out their binders. Each of them had a binder labeled "Mentor Team" neatly divided into sections: notes, handouts, reports. Bonnie rose from the table mumbling to herself that she had forgotten something. She headed for her desk and started to flip through piles of paper. She came back with a triumphant look on her face and sat down with the article Jim had handed out. "Okay, we can begin," she said. "The purpose of this meeting is to start a dialogue 82 around the issue of classroom management. The intention at this time is not to leave with all the answers about the issue but to simply begin exploring the topic with hopes that we wi l l have clarified or perhaps even altered our opinions with which we entered. The more we question our practice the more we w i l l learn about it." Everyone nodded in agreement. Emma nodded along with them, unsure i f she agreed or even understood what Bonnie was talking about. She wanted answers. She had a mil l ion questions and her life would be so much easier i f she could just get a list of the right answers. "Okay, I think it would be a good idea to use the piece that J im handed out as a focus for discussion. Perhaps Jim, you could start by sharing your reasons for picking this particular piece. What was it about this article which attracted you?" Bonnie had slipped into her teacher role. J im cleared his throat as i f he were about to address a convention of teachers rather than a small group of colleagues. "Wel l , I chose this piece because it brings us back to the basics. Actually, it is a chapter out of a book which I came across when I was working with my student teacher last year. I believe i f a teacher's expectations are clear and the teacher is consistent, he or she should be able to keep any class under control." "Control," Bonnie jumped in, "an interesting word choice. There was one difficulty I had with this chapter. A n d that was the emphasis placed on the control of the students. It is 83 like the teacher's role must be one of an authoritarian and children should have no say." "I think that is overstating the author's intent." J im seemed to get on the defensive. Emma was surprised how quickly the debate heated up. "I believe they are saying that it is important for the students to have a learning environment which is conducive to getting work done." "But the author implies that the only positive work environment is one where there is silence and students are working quietly." Bonnie was getting excited. "In my classroom the students are on task and learning at all times. If Wong and Wong came into my class room they would deem me to be a poor teacher because they would equate a high noise level to an unproductive work environment." "Okay," Cam said calmly, "I believe you have both made some good arguments for and against the Wong article, or chapter, sorry. I agree with Jim that students should be clear about expectations but I believe they have sided on the behavioristic approach a bit too strongly." Emma guessed that a look of confusion must have registered on her face because Cam clarified. "The behavioristic model was introduced by B .F . Skinner in the 1960's. He believed that behavior could be controlled by conditioning. That means i f good behavior is reinforced, then that behavior w i l l continue until it becomes habit. I, personally, don't believe that students w i l l subscribe to edicts handed down from above. They might 84 follow the rules for a while, but w i l l they really incorporate them into their lives?" J im was ready to rebut, "Is that not part of our job as an educational institution: to prepare our students to become productive, law abiding citizens? If we can't get these kids to behave, in class what should we expect when we meet them on the street?" Bonnie interjected, "I think what Cam is trying to say is that in order for the students to fully understand rules or guidelines for behavior, they must first understand the purpose and also should have the opportunity to take part in creating the rules. Give them a sense of ownership." "So how is that done?" Emma jumped in. She understood everything that they were saying, but nobody was telling her how to do it. "Wel l there are a variety of ways to go about establishing expectations," Bonnie said. "I've tried telling the students what I expect but they don't seem to follow the rules," Emma said. " Y o u must break down the behavior you desire into small parts so they understand exactly what you want," J im stated. "Then you have to practice with them and reward them. For example, i f you want to make sure that the students are doing their homework everyday, assign marks for daily assignments. If you want them to enter the room quietly, 85 praise them when they do it properly. If they don't do it, then make them redo the task until they get it right. A n d then praise them." " D i d you get a chance to look at that book about positive classroom management?" Cam asked. "Yes, and I even tried a class meeting with my worst class. It was awful. The kids were rude and it ended up being more of a lecture from me than any type of discussion." Emma sounded tired; as i f she had been beaten down. "Class meetings take a lot of coordination and a lot of practice, Emma." Bonnie was sympathetic. "It can take weeks of preparation both with the class and on your own to make a class meeting work. A strong sense of respect must already be in place i f a discussion is going to be successful." " W e l l , I kind of tried it on the spur of the moment," Emma admitted. "I thought I could do it." "Don't give up on the idea," Cam said. "The way I establish expectations is by drawing upon the students' past experiences. I begin by getting them into groups and I ask them to brainstorm two simple questions. The first is 'What makes you feel good when you work with others? What do others do that makes you feel good?,' and the second is, 'What makes you feel bad when you work with others?' Eventually we all agree on a set 86 of standards which focus on respect and responsibility." "Yes, I do something similar," Bonnie said. "But I place mine in the context of community. We talk about the importance of building a strong community. A n d we discuss the roles each of us plays. After deconstructing what a community of learners is all about, we come to a consensus about the most productive environment. I really focus on the importance of self-monitoring and peer monitoring. Again it is all about respect and responsibility." "Does that really work with all the kids?" J im asked. "Even the trouble makers?" " O f course there are times when I have had to have one on-one-chats with a student, but for the most part I have not had any major management problems," Bonnie said. "Do you foresee any classes with which you might have some difficulties?" "Yeah, my math ten is going to be a handful. A n d my English eight, too. Today I had them under control. I handed out a list o f rules and it seemed to have worked but I don't know for how long. I was really strict with them. It took up a lot of emotional energy and I 'm exhausted now." "That is one of the difficulties i f you try to be something you aren't, it can take its toll. Y o u ' l l also find you can't keep it up for very long," Cam said. 87 "I just don't know what to do," Emma sighed. "Be consistent," J im stated. " Y o u have to set rules and hold the kids to them. It may be hard at first but over the long run it w i l l save you a lot of grief." "I agree consistency is important. But perhaps you might ask for the students' input. Regardless of who makes the rules it is your job to see that the students abide by them," Cam said. "However," Bonnie interjected, " i f you establish the right climate you may not have to 'enforce' the rules because the students w i l l take ownership and monitor themselves or be reminded by their peers." Bonnie placed a hand on Emma's arm and said, "Basically we are here to give you suggestions, provide an opportunity for you to reflect on your practice and to introduce you to some ideas in the educational field. But your practice w i l l be based upon your beliefs. The better you understand your own philosophy of education, the easier it w i l l be to make decisions in the classroom. Once you know what you believe in you can hold up decisions and ask yourself whether or not it is in line with your ideas about the purpose of education." Emma sunk further into her seat. Was Bonnie really expecting that she would be able to articulate her ideas about education after only one week of teaching. She wasn't even sure she could recite her new address correctly i f someone asked her.. ..484 Coll ingwood.. . "I know it is overwhelming but for the sake of your students' learning and your sanity, 88 you must decide what is important to you as an educator," Bonnie concluded. "Yeah, those kids w i l l eat you alive i f you aren't sure what you are doing," J im added. "Let's look at your rules," Cam said. Emma pulled out a copy for each of them. Silence finally fell over the room as they perused the extensive list. Emma's mind began to wander. Is it too late to regain control? H o w would the students react to her asking for their input now? "Okay, Emma." The sound of Bonnie's voice pulled Emma back, "I don't think we should judge you on your choices. Y o u are a professional and you are fully qualified to make your own decisions. Y o u have heard a few different points of view today around the concept of classroom management. What you need to do now is. devise an action plan. How are you going to introduce this? H o w w i l l it be implemented? A n d what checks wi l l you put into place to ensure it is working and it is effective?" Emma was madly copying down the action plan questions. "This w i l l be your first step. I would also like you to start thinking about the kind of classroom environment you would like to create. This really goes hand in hand with your management plan. They are intimately linked." Emma was afraid to tell them that she had already attempted to implement the rules. So she decided to ask questions about how she did it to see their reaction. " W e l l , I thought I would simply hand out the rules sheet and go over it with the students. If each of them had a copy we could refer to it any time there was a problem. What do you think?" 89 "I wouldn't hand out this copy," Cam said quickly. "There are too many rules and they seem to be very inflexible. If you could boil this down to a few major concepts which would include a bunch of the little rules, you w i l l find the students w i l l be able to understand what is expected of them more easily. For example, all of your rules about late assignments, missing classes, making up homework and coming prepared to class could fall under the heading of responsibility. If the class is not coming prepared for discussions, then you don't have to refer to rule number twenty, instead you can bring up the concept of responsibility. It is also easier to relate those concepts to the real world. Once these kids leave school they are not given a rule book about expect behaviors. They are expected to understand what society values." "I think Cam's suggestion w i l l also allow you to get away from the negative wording of your rules," Bonnie entered the discussion. "When kids are constantly told what not to do, they start thinking that everything that they do is bad. Whatever you place emphasis on w i l l be deemed important and valuable. So i f you say, 'Do not speak until the teacher has called upon you, ' that tells the students that you value teacher-mediated discussion. But i f you emphasize 'respecting your peers' voice in this class' you are showing that society expects that in a conversation one does not interrupt others." Emma looked down at her rules. She had completely gone about it in the wrong way. "I understand what both of you are saying," J im said. "But I think that kids today need to 90 know exactly what you expect from them in class. They aren't being taught values in the home so it is up to us to do it. It is fine to use respect and responsibility, but they need a clear picture of what that looks like. I need a list of standards to refer to when dealing with difficult children." "See, Emma, every teacher has his or her own way of doing things. There is no right or wrong. A s long as our students are learning and feel safe in their class, then we can establish expectations any way we feel is right for ourselves and our students. This seems to be so intimately linked with classroom climate that I think classroom environment would be a good topic for next week." "I agree," said Cam. "Okay, class climate it is. Before we wrap things up, on Thursday we have 'Meet the Creature,' I mean, 'Meet the Teacher' night. Perhaps we should give Emma some pointers," Bonnie suggested. "Yeah, you have ten minutes," J im said. "If you talk the whole time, the parents won't get a chance to ask you any questions." "Can you explain how this works?" Emma asked. "The grade eight and nine parents arrive in the gym and Gord does an overview of school 91 expectations and such things. Then the parents take their son or daughter's time table and follow it; Day 1 first, then Day 2. Each teacher has ten minutes to do a song and dance. Most hand out the course outline and tell them what is expected." Bonnie continued, "We have had some ingenious ideas including a lab experiment which went wrong and a skit by the drama kids. But it's pretty basic. A l l the parents want out of the night is the opportunity to connect a face to the name." "Ten minutes sounds like a lot but it w i l l fly by," Cam added. "Basically, have your course outline ready; introduce yourself and they'll be gone. It's good P R for the school and sometimes you find out some very interesting pieces o f information," J im concluded. "Like what?" Emma felt like there was some secret the three weren't telling her because they were all smiling. " W e l l , " J im continued, "by meeting the parent of a child you can learn a lot. Many of your 'Why does that k id act that way?' questions can be answered after a very brief exchange with the person that raises them." "Okay, let's move on before J im starts in on the Carson family," Bonnie interrupted. "Our next meeting w i l l be Monday, Emma, come prepared with your action plan and an update on how your classes are going. Cam, could you send an article around about 92 classroom environment, or climate, by Thursday?" Cam nodded as he made a note to himself. "Good we w i l l see everyone next week." Cam and J im gathered their binders and headed out the door. Emma stayed. "Bonnie, I think I can deal with my other classes but that basic math class ... I don't know what to do." "Emma, respect does not equate with fear. Respect must equate with caring. I 'm going to be honest with you." Emma nodded in agreement. "When I came into your class today, you had your class in complete control. According to Wong and Wong you were doing your job, but all I saw was the fear in those poor grade eights' eyes. Unt i l they know that you care they won't care about what you know. They w i l l not learn anything i f they are scared. They may do what you ask them to, but i f there is no trust there w i l l be no questions or dialogue. A n d those are key ingredients in a quality learning experience. I can't give you the answers." Bonnie paused, " Y o u could try to use my discipline policy or Jim's discipline policy and fail miserably. The way you organize and run your classroom must come from inside. It must be a reflection of your beliefs." "Thanks, Bonnie. I ' l l think about that." Emma got up to leave. She was still confused and now even more exhausted. "Come for dinner with us before 'Meet the Teacher' night. Five o'clock in the staff room." 93 "Okay." A n d with that Emma headed down the hallway with a mil l ion thoughts running around in her head. 94 Chapter 8 Emma arrived in the staffroom at five minutes to five to meet Bonnie for dinner: She was sitting with two other women from the English department. One woman was about Bonnie's age, a bit heavy set with a kind face. Emma pushed herself to remember her name. Being new was hard, trying to remember everyone's names and subjects they taught, Carol, Mery l , no Cheryl. The other woman was in her thirties; Emma had seen her around but had never been introduced. " A h , here she is. Emma do you know Cheryl and K i m ? " Bonnie motioned to each in turn. "Yes, I think we have met before," Emma bluffed. " W e l l , let's be off. Are you okay with continental, Emma?" Bonnie inquired. "We usually just go to a local restaurant called 'The Cafe' ." "Sure, I 'm easy." Emma followed them out and the three women resumed their conversation. It was not until they reached the restaurant that anyone attempted to include Emma. "So," K i m turned to Emma, "first year. How's it going?" 95 "Okay," Emma replied. "How are your classes?" Cheryl asked. "I have one which is a bit o f a handful, but otherwise it's been going well . Thanks to Bonnie I have a better handle on the daily routines and management of the classes." "Good. Once you have the class running smoothly it's so much easier to teach," Cheryl said. "What makes the one class so difficult?" K i m asked. " W e l l it 's a math ten basic and most of the kids couldn't care less about what is going on. But the worst part is that there are a handful of kids who actually do care. This one kid, Tyler, is coming in Tuesday and Thursday mornings at seven thirty for extra help. A n d today he brought two other students from our class with him who are going to come regularly." "It's difficult to ignore the ones causing trouble but you need to find a way to reduce the energy spent on them and focus it on the kids who really want to learn," K i m said, opening her menu. "It's not fair to the good kids that the bad ones get all the attention," Cheryl said. 96 "Now, now, Cheryl," Bonnie interjected, "there are no bad kids, only bad behavior." "Oh sorry, M s . Glasser. That quality school stuff has obviously gotten to you," Cheryl retorted. "Have you read his book?" Bonnie challenged. "Bits and pieces," Cheryl said. "Try the whole thing. It makes sense and it can work," Bonnie replied. Over dinner the conversation centered around students who were causing difficulties in classes or humorous stories about lessons gone wrong. Emma found herself laughing for the first time since she had accepted the job at Bridgeview. Feeling relaxed the group left the restaurant to prepare for the arrival of the parents. Emma had taken special care to straighten up her room and had her course outlines in each pile neatly lined up. She only had parents in the first two blocks and then three blocks later on in the evening. The parents were in the gym meeting the administration where they were being briefed on school policies. A s the first parent entered her room Emma was waiting. "Hello, you must be M s . Moran. We are Carol McLeod 's parents," the first couple 97 introduced themselves. " I 'm Pat and this is my husband Kev in . " Emma was struck by how young they were. The father was a tall man who seemed to loom over his petite wife. They were not only dissimilar in terms o f height; he was as tanned as she was pale. They made quite the odd looking couple, but it was obvious they were in love by the way they looked at one another. "Welcome. Please take a course outline and have a seat." The other parents filed in, took an outline and sat down. Emma was nervous. 'Was what she was about to say going to make sense? Would they ask any questions that she wouldn't be able to answer?' She took a big breath. Looking out into the parents' faces she could see a look o f fright in their eyes. It's amazing what a classroom and teacher can do to a person. Even people who have been out of school for ten years or more. Emma felt more relaxed. She began, "Welcome back to high school." The parents laughed nervously shifting themselves in their uncomfortable desks. "I am your child's grade eight English teacher this year and I am looking forward to a great year." Emma quickly went over the course outline which told them what to expect in terms of curriculum. Once she finished talking she paused and surveyed her audience; they looked like they were in shock. "I know it is a little overwhelming, but i f you have any questions or concerns please don't hesitate to call me. I really would like to work with each of you to make this the best possible learning experience for your son or daughter." Emma's confidence was rising. "Any questions?" Nobody made any movement. The bell rang and the parents got up to leave. A s they walked past Emma they said goodbye. There was one woman left after everyone else was 98 gone. "Hello, M s . Moran. I am Mark Forrester's mother." "Oh, hello." The words J im said at their meeting came back, ' Y o u can learn a lot from a brief exchange with the parent.' "I just wanted to talk to you for a moment." " O f course," Emma said. "Mark feels like you are picking on him. He is very upset that he has been moved away and not allowed to work with his friends." Emma could not believe what she was hearing. She was picking on him? He was making her life hell. She had finally got that class focused and working, but Mark continued the antics from the first day. "Mrs . Forrester, I can understand why Mark is feeling that way. I am forced to pay attention to him because of his poor behavior in class." "I know he has a great deal of energy, but I don't think that is any reason to single him out." " I 'm sorry but there are times when Mark 's behavior is completely unacceptable; speaking out of turn, improper and disrespectful language." Emma's voice was taking on 99 a harsh edge. "Wel l , I just wanted to let you know how he is feeling." "I w i l l talk to him. I hope we can build a relationship which w i l l allow us to work together." Parents began to enter the room as the bell rang to begin the next session. After a long pause, Mark ' s mother finally said, "Fine, thank you M s . Moran." She turned and walked out the door; leaving Emma shaken. Any sense of confidence which Emma was feeling before had slipped away. A l l o f the self-doubt and questions had returned. 'Was she picking on Mark? Was she being unfair?' She did not have time now to think about this. She rushed to give the parents the course outline so she could start. Her previous session was so full that parents had to stand around the edges of the classroom because all o f the desks were occupied. Even after the bell rang there were only three parents present. This is a small class but Emma still expected to see more people . So she went to the door to make sure that there wasn't anyone rushing down the hall or lost. The hallway was empty. Finally, she gave up waiting and spoke to the 100 parents who were there. These were the parents of the students who were doing well in the class. Definitely not the parents Emma had hoped to meet. She would have loved to speak with Brad's parents. She had left a number of messages asking his parents to call. They never did. Emma finally went to see his counselor and she told Emma not to expect to hear from them - they gave up on him in grade eight and refuse to come to the school. The session moved along and before Emma knew it the bell rang and the parents were gone. Emma needed a cup of coffee. She headed out into the hallway and was almost run over by a parent with her head buried in her child's course schedule. "Could you tell me where the stairs are. I 'm trying to get to Chemistry and I 'm late," the frazzled parent asked. "Just around the corner," Emma pointed. The parent went off. Emma was mildly amused by the number of parents wandering around the halls lost. What an experience for these parents! They w i l l leave with a new sympathy for their children; especially the grade eight parents. Emma entered the staff room and found Duncan sitting at a table by himself. "Hel lo ," Emma said. 101 "Hello, how are you?" Duncan replied. "Okay," Emma sighed. "That didn't sound very convincing. Have a seat. Talk to me." Duncan motioned to a seat beside him. Emma told him about the encounter she had with Mark 's mother. "I don't know, maybe she's right. I've tried to talk to him and when it's just the two of us he's fine. But as soon as he's with Jamie and Dan, he's a nightmare. Every time he promises he's going to try to behave he ends up returning back to his old behavior. I have tried positive reinforcement, consequences for breaking the rules and ignoring him. Does that constitute picking on him?" "Listen, Emma. Don' t beat yourself up over this. This parent was just looking for somewhere to put the blame. If she isn't wil l ing to take responsibility for her son's behavior, that's her problem." "Yeah, but I have to deal with Mark in English class." " W e l l , set the limit and hold him to it. If he steps outside the boundaries you talk to him, but i f he becomes a chronic problem send him to his counselor." 102 "Yeah, I guess you're right." The bell rang to signal the end of the period. "Oh, gotta go." Duncan got up to leave, "bunch of us head to the pub after for a drink. Join us, okay?" "Thanks. I w i l l . " Emma was pleased that he invited her out. She really needed someone to talk to and she felt so comfortable with him. The rest of the evening went smoothly. N o other parent approached Emma except to say hello and to introduce themselves. She was feeling better. A s she was locking up her room Gord passed by. "Hello, Emma." "Oh h i . " She hadn't seen much of him since the first day. "How's it going?" "Okay." "Is the mentor team working out for you?" 103 "Yes. They have been very helpful." "Good. We should get together next week. Just to touch base." "Okay. I ' l l drop by." They went separate ways. B y the time Emma arrived at the pub there were twelve to fifteen staff members seated in a big circle. Many o f them Emma didn't know, so when Duncan motioned her over and pulled up a chair beside his own she felt relieved. "Hey, you. Y o u made it." Emma fell into the soft chair. "Barely. What an insane experience. Y o u don't even get a chance to say ' h i ' before you have to say 'goodbye.'" "Yeah, but unless we want to put in twenty-four hours it is the best way," Duncan smiled at Emma. Emma ordered a glass of the house wine and sat back in the plush chair. She was seated on Duncan's left and an elderly gentleman was to her left. 104 "So you are new to Bridgeview," he stated. "Bob, this is Emma. She is teaching English and math. Emma, this is Bob. He teaches business ed." Duncan was kind enough to do the introductions. "So how do you like it so far?" Bob asked. " W e l l , I 'm surviving," Emma replied taking a sip of her drink. She was amazed at how dry her throat was from talking all night. "I've been surviving for thirty-two years. I retire in June." He leaned back with a grin which reminded Emma of the Cheshire cat in Wonderland. "Really. That's wonderful." "Yes, I 'm looking forward to finishing. I don't know how you young people can do it," he said, motioning to Emma and Duncan. "If I knew then what I know now I wouldn't have ever gotten into this game. A n d the way kids and the system have changed. There is no way I would start my teaching career now." He leaned over and took a sip of his beer. "Ignore Bob. He is just old and cranky," Duncan said in a joking manner but gave Emma a look that told her he was serious. 105 "It's okay. M y mother was a teacher. I saw all of the hard work and heart ache which goes into the job. But I also know there are great rewards too." "Yeah, summer vacation, spring break and Christmas Vacation," Bob replied. "Quit it, Bob ," Duncan said. "Poor Emma's only been on the job for two weeks. You're going to scare her." "Oh, I was scared before I met Bob," Emma said in a low voice. She really wanted to talk to Duncan, but this was obviously not the appropriate spot. She would have to wait for the right opportunity. Bob struck up a conversation with the person across from him and Emma was introduced to Sherif who sat on the other side of Duncan. Before Emma knew, it was half past eleven and everyone was getting up to leave. A s they headed towards their cars Duncan asked i f she would like to meet after school tomorrow. Emma agreed and they planned to meet at a different bar in a hotel near by called " The Cavern." "Not so many people," and with that Duncan got into his car and drove away. Emma was tired but a bit more relaxed. It was good to meet new people and talk. She 106 felt less alone now. She promised herself that she would make more of an effort to go down to the staff room for lunch. She had missed the social aspect of the workplace. It was so easy to lock yourself up in your classroom and isolate yourself from the rest of the world. 107 Chapter 9 A s soon as she entered the bar she saw Duncan. He sat at a table in the corner chatting with the waitress. 'Typical , ' she thought to herself, 'a good looking guy always has women flocking around him. ' Duncan saw Emma and waved. " H i , Emma," Duncan said. "I 'd like you to meet Julie. Julie, Emma." The two exchanged glances. "Can I get you anything?" Julie offered. " A glass of house white, please." "Okay, and I ' l l get you your beer, M r . Alderbridge." " M r . Alderbridge?" Emma was confused. Why would Duncan tell a waitress, who he was obviously trying to pick up, to call him by his last name? "Julie was a student of mine three years ago." Emma felt ridiculous. She should have realized. In such a small community the teachers must know almost everyone they encounter; either as a parent or past student. "So, two weeks done." The sound of his voice brought her back. "Yes ," she replied meekly. " Y o u don't sound very excited about it." " W e l l , I know I should be, but I am still trying to get control of some of the most basic things; classroom management, marking and paperwork," she said. "I never encountered any problems on my practicum." "Emma, during your practicum you are entering a world which has a pre-established order. Your sponsor teacher had already established a climate which allowed you to enter with a sense of security. If you maintained the same expectations the students would respond in the same way once they became familiar with you." "That's true." "Now you are faced with setting up your own classroom. That is completely different. Establishing a positive climate is a very tricky thing to do." "Yes, exactly. I started off by trying not to bombard the students with classroom rules. I tried to make my expectations explicit within the course outline. When that didn't work I went back to what my sponsor teacher did. I basically read them the riot act on Monday. That worked for a while, but by today they were back to normal." 109 "What's normal?" " M y really bad classes haven't had a chance to rebel yet. I have only seen them once since they got their list o f rules and guidelines, but my math nine class has been showing some small signs o f discontent with the new order." Julie dropped off their drinks. ( "Cheers," Duncan held his glass up. "Cheers," Emma said less enthusiastically. " I 'm sorry. I shouldn't be burdening you with this." "No , no, that's what I 'm here for. A s a music teacher, I was trained to be a good listener. Please go on. So math nine is hell?" "Not really. Not normally. There were one of my classes which was really quite a positive experience. However, ever since I've tightened up the control, they haven't been responding to me like they did the first week." "Maybe they have picked up on the fact that what you are doing is not really you, and you are simply trying to be something that you are not." " Y o u sound like my 'Team.' They have asked me to devise an action plan for classroom management for Monday. I 'm not even sure where to start. Bonnie said I have to base it 110 on my own beliefs. But right now I 'm so confused I can't even think straight." "Understandable," Duncan said, "this isn't an easy job and an even more difficult job to do well . I think Bonnie is right; you need to start with your beliefs. Ask yourself what do I value in the classroom?" Emma's confused look prompted him to clarify. "Okay, imagine yourself ten years from now and you bump into a former student. What would you like them to remember about your class?" "Emma thought for a moment. "I would like them to say that I made a difference in their life." "How?" "I would like to hear that I supported them when they took a risk. That I was easy to talk to i f there were problems. That my classroom was a safe place to be because they felt respected and cared about. I would also like that student to say they felt challenged; no, compelled to do the best work possible. A n d that the skills they developed and the ability to think critically have played an important role in their life." "Good. Start from there and move backwards. In order to achieve this, what must your classroom look like? Then ask yourself what must the students do in order to make this possible? What is your role? A n d finally how do you implement guidelines which w i l l foster this kind of atmosphere?" i l l Emma's head was reeling. She had a mil l ion images and ideas floating around in her head. If she didn't know better she would think it was either the wine or the company. But she knew it was her desire to be the best teacher she could be, which compelled her to take Duncan's words seriously. Y o u said your mother was a teacher. What does she think o f al l o f this?" A slight twinge of pain overcame Emma at the mention of her mother. "She died four years ago from breast cancer." "Oh, I 'm sorry," Duncan said softly. "No, it's okay. She was a wonderful teacher and role model. A s a grade one teacher, she committed herself to her kids one hundred percent." "She must have been a wonder woman to teach grade one. Y o u want to see great classroom control, check out those primary teachers. I don't know how they do it." "Yeah, when I was little and was too sick to go to school, mom would bring me to school and set me up on a cot in her office. There was a window that I could watch all of the kids through. It was much better than staying home and watching T V . I just remember being so impressed by how the kids would hang off her and run up and give her hugs. 112 They really loved her." "She sounds like a fantastic lady." "Yeah, I guess I always wanted to be a teacher but denied it for a long time. Especially in my rebellious teenage years. I was really a rotten k id . " Emma took another sip of wine. "How about you? What made you become a teacher?" "I decided when I was in high school that I wanted to become a music teacher. Two people I admired very much helped me make that decision: my dad and my band teacher. M y dad was a great guy but he hated his job. Everyday he came home bitching and complaining about his boss and the office. I decided that I wasn't going to do that. Then I saw M r . Kandu, my music teacher; he was always at school - never missed a day. He never said anything bad about the job. He really loved it and the kids could tell. Because of him I grew to love music and when graduation came around I decided I couldn't live without music in my life. So off I went to take a music degree, then education, much to the dismay of my father. A n d here I am." " A n d your dad?" "He finally came around. A s he has gotten older he's realized that there's more to life than money, and he is just happy that I have found something to do that makes me happy." 113 "I expected that I would be happy too.. ." "It takes time. Once you get into the swing of things and routines are established you ' l l feel better about it." Duncan moved forward in his seat. "Let me tell you," he whispered. "I was the worst first year teacher known to mankind." "But the kids love you. I think Carol McLeod has a crush on you. She must have music right after I have her in English. She can hardly wait to get out of my class and into yours." "Carol 's a great kid; really keen. I could see her being a strong leader in our music program in the years to come. But really, I was brutal my first year. I thought I had to control the kids by ruling with an iron fist. What I have learned is that a kind word is much more powerful than a stern lecture. The kids and I have formed a relationship based on mutual respect and admiration. Y o u know, since I figured this out after first year I haven't had a problem with a k id acting out since." "That would be wonderful," Emma sighed. " Y o u also have to remember- my class is optional. The kids can choose to stay or choose to not sign up. I deal with a different group of kids. They want to be there. Your kids have to be there. So you have the additional burden of trying to make them want to be 114 there." Duncan signaled to Julie for another beer. " Y o u want another?" "No , I 'm still working on this one." Emma had barely touched her wine. She was so interested in what Duncan had to say that she had forgotten she even had a drink. He had so much to offer and she appreciated his honesty about his own trials. So few teachers were wil l ing to talk about their mistakes or problems in the classroom. Most of Emma's colleagues placed the blame elsewhere. It was the kids' fault or the parents' fault or society's fault. Rarely did they look to themselves or their practice. Emma vowed always to look to herself for the answers. What changes could she make to improve the classroom? H o w can she form stronger relationships with her students? Emma and Duncan continued to chat about school and family backgrounds. Before they knew it, it was past six. " W e l l , I should run," Duncan said. "I really enjoyed this." " M e too," said Emma. She felt comfortable with Duncan. A l l of the things she wanted to tell her mentor group, but just couldn't, came out today. It felt like having a huge weight removed from her shoulders. She could breathe again. "Please come and talk to me i f you need to have someone's opinion or simply to have someone to listen to you," Duncan smiled. "Thanks, I might just take you up on that offer." 115 "I 'm not around much before school, lunch or afterschool because of rehearsals. But you could always come down and observe i f you'd l ike." "That'd be great. I attempted to sing in the choir in highschool but I always sounded like a cow in heat." Duncan laughed, " I 'm sure that isn't true." They both got up to leave. Duncan had insisted on picking up the tab. "Okay, but I ' l l get it next time," Emma said. "Sounds good." The two headed towards the parking lot. "We w i l l see you on Monday," Duncan said getting into his car. "Yes, Monday." Emma said with a sigh. 116 Chapter 10 Emma was late. She was trying to review the reading Cam had put in her box last week. Chapter two from a book called Models of Teaching by Joyce, Wei l and Showers. The title of the chapter was called "Partners in Learning" which was part of the section called "The Social Family." Emma had read the chapter last week but had forgotten what it was about. Words like Training for Interdependence, division o f labor, democratic process, inquiry and knowledge jumped off the page. She was reading the words but not quite getting the concepts. A n d now she was really late. She reached the top of the steps when she ran into a student. When she looked up from the paper to apologize, she was looking into the tear-filled eyes of Sheerez. The girl who was able to shut Emma down with one look was obviously in trouble. "What's wrong, Sheerez?" Emma asked. "Nothing, I 'm fine," she sobbed. Emma put her arm around Sheerez and guided her into an empty classroom around the corner. It was Jim's classroom. He was waiting down the hall with the others. Although Emma was conscious o f the time, she felt compelled to talk to her distraught student. "Okay, Sheerez. Tel l me what's going on." 117 "I 'm okay, M s . Moran. It's no big deal." The sobbing had subsided but the tears continued to flow. She tried to turn away from Emma so she wouldn't see her cry. " D i d someone hurt you?" "No , nothing like that. I just had a fight with M r . Matthews. He was really mean to me in class today." Emma was afraid to continue this conversation because of the union rules. She wasn't sure i f she was allowed to listen to students complain about other teachers. She knew she couldn't say anything derogatory about a colleague, but she was unclear about this situation. Emma decided that as long as she listened but didn't say anything against the science teacher, she would be safe. Sheerez continued, "I just wanted to ask a question and basically he called me stupid in front of the whole class." The sobs began again. Emma placed her arm around her shoulders and pulled her close. She could feel her body shudder each time she tried to catch her breath. Emma didn't know what to say. This girl seemed so strong in class, but one comment from a teacher could reduce her to this. " D i d you talk to him?" She finally spoke. "No, I left the room crying. I haven't even gone back for my books. I 'm afraid to." "Listen. I think you need to talk to him, Sheerez. Let him know he hurt your feelings. Maybe he didn't even realize what he was doing." 118 "I don't think I can do it." "How about i f I walk you to his room. Then you can decide i f you want to talk to him or simply get your books and go. But eventually, you w i l l have to talk to him." "I know. Okay, I ' l l go. But you ' l l come, right?" "I won't leave until you say it's okay." Sheerez and Emma left the room and walked down the hall. M r . Matthews' room was directly across from Bonnie's room. A s they walked past Bonnie's open door, Emma saw the three waiting. She caught Cam's eye and motioned that she would be one minute; he nodded. Emma and Sheerez walked through M r . Matthews' door. He was alone in the room working on some paperwork. He looked up, surprised to see Sheerez, but his focus was obviously on Sheerez. He got up and headed towards them. "I 'm so glad you came back, Sheerez. I was worried about you. I sent Angela out to look for you, but she came back when she couldn't find you. Are you okay?" 119 "Yes ," Sheerez replied meekly Emma spoke up, "I found her down the hall. I think Sheerez would like to talk to you." Emma looked at Sheerez for confirmation. Sheerez nodded. "Yes, I would like to talk too," M r . Matthews' said. Emma squatted down so she was looking into Sheerez's face which was cast down. "F going to be right across the hall. I f you need me, just come over, okay?" Emma nodded again. "Good. Thank you, M r . Matthews." Emma turned to leave as the two pulled chairs together around a desk. Emma was feeling good about how she dealt with the whole situation. She rushed across the hall and apologized profusely explaining that she was helping a student. "Don't worry," Bonnie said. "That's what this business is all about; the unexpected. Everything okay?" 120 "Yeah, I think so." " D i d everyone get a chance to read Chapter two from Models of Teaching?" Cam asked. Everyone nodded as they pulled out their copies. Jim's was highlighted. Bonnie's copy had notes scribbled all over and Cam had typed notes as a companion. Emma looked at her blank copy and felt uncomfortable. She promised herself that she would come better prepared for their meeting next week. "Let's begin the same way as last week," Bonnie said. "Cam, why don't you tell us why you chose this piece for today's discussion." " W e l l , overall it is a great piece. It introduces the reader to ideals of John Dewey and the ideas behind a democratic classroom. It covers so many issues which are central to the educational field today: cooperative learning, democracy in the classroom, the question about knowledge and how students learn and it looks at the structure of schools and the impact that structure has on students' learning. But the link to classroom climate is the establishment of democracy to promote social order." Cam stopped to look around and take a breath. "In the introduction to this book the author talks about the concept of synergy. The authors state: When we work together we generate a collective energy that we call 'synergy.' The social models of teaching are constructed to take advantage of this 121 phenomenon by building learning communities. Essentially "Classroom Management" is a matter of developing cooperative relationships in the classroom. So basically i f we can create a climate where students are working together, classroom management w i l l take care of itself. I especially like the use of problem solving to promote inquiry and critical thinking." "It seems to me that a great deal o f time would have to be devoted to creating this climate rather than teaching the course content," J im said. "Yes, it does require the teacher to devote time to introducing the democratic process as well as Thelen's model o f problem solving. But I believe it is worth the time to ensure the students leave our system with the ability to deal with problems when faced with them." "The difficulty I had with this reading was the opposite to Jim's concerns. I felt like there was too much emphasis on content," Bonnie interjected. "It seemed like the focus was about getting kids to behave, follow rules and simply introduce different ways to get them to memorize content. Although there were times that the authors referred to higher order thinking, most of the examples were very basic level skills. Where is the growth of personal knowledge and insight?" "Bonnie, growth of knowledge and the ability to reflect is the foundation of this reading. 122 Look at page 40.. . . Thus, individuals' ways of reflecting on reality are what make their worlds comprehensible to them and give them personal and social meaning. Therefore, the quality of an individuals' ability to reflect on experience becomes a critical factor in determining the quality of the world that individuals w i l l construct about himself or herself. Someone who is insensitive to much of his or her experience and does not reflect on it w i l l have a far less rightly constructed world than someone who takes in a great deal o f experience and reflects fully on it. It becomes critical for education to sensitize the individual to many aspects of the physical and social environment and to increase the individual's capacity to reflect on the environment. It's all about growth of knowledge." "Okay. I can't disagree with that quote," Bonnie said. "But why then give examples of the classroom experience which do not support the philosophy. Like the science class memorizing the Periodic Table of the Elements in science class. What does this have to do with 'the quality of the world ' and 'reflecting on experience'?" Bonnie finished looking slightly flustered. Cam was looking at Emma. She hoped he would not ask her to comment yet. She wasn't feeling completely comfortable with the content. J im saved her, "They have to learn the content." 123 "That's the problem with prescribed content.. .how does it add to a student's understanding of society or quality of life? What is the purpose of education?" Bonnie paused. "It always comes back to this question." "Let's not lose sight o f our topic - climate," J im reminded the group. "You're right," Bonnie said. "Let's see what they say about climate. On page 421 have this underlined: The classroom is analogous to the larger society; it has a social order and a classroom culture, and its students care about the way o f life that develops there -that is, the standards and expectation that become established. Teachers should seek to harness the energy naturally generated by the concern for creating the social order. The model of teaching replicated the negotiation pattern needed by society. Through negotiation the students study academic knowledge and they engage in social problem solving. Cam, what does this look like in the Math class?" "Exactly what they say. Inquiry and knowledge are fostered through problem solving. Group investigation, interacting and being stimulated by other people are key ingredients to reaching the goals of this method. For example, in grade eight math, when I am teaching the concepts of geometry, I ask the students to design a house plan to redecorate an apartment. They are asked to calculate the areas of the walls for paint or wallpaper. 124 They have to calculate the area of the floor, the perimeter of the room. I include a few items to ensure all o f the shapes are used - a circular mirror, light cover which is a sphere. They work in pairs and assume that the two students w i l l share the l iving space. I feel it is important to give them a real life problem with which to work. They have to work with their partner and negotiate their own individual styles. It's a great project." J im sat with his arms folded across his chest. "But it says in your reading that problems can not be imposed. H o w do you cover content? How do you direct the students' learning?" "I have the same problem," Cam said. "I find I have to impose the problems in math in order to cover the content. The expectation is that each student w i l l leave grade eight with the ability to calculate the area and the volume of geometrical shapes. If I let them go off and seek out their own problems I can't be assured they w i l l achieve all of the intended learning outcomes." " A n d that is where the difficulty lies," Bonnie said. "What do you think, Emma?" "I like the concept in theory, but it seems to be in conflict with the course content issue. I 'm not sure that it can be resolved unless the restrictions on learning outcomes are loosened," Emma replied. "Yes, this is a difficult issue. However, keep in mind your students w i l l decide whatever 125 you talk about or assign a mark to w i l l be of student interest. So i f you spend time focusing on creating a climate of trust and 'synergy' then the students w i l l follow you. But i f you talk about the importance of collaboration and community and you mark them on individual work only, then your students w i l l be confused. Your words and actions must be aligned. So once again you must decide what you value, what is important and how you w i l l assess that," Bonnie said. J im interrupted her, "That was my original question when I read this paper; how do you evaluate the kids fairly? If they are always working in pairs, how do you know who knows what?" Cam felt compelled to answer, "The activities the students engage in are all meant to build knowledge, but each student is responsible to ensure they know the content. M y students still have to submit individual work and take tests and quizzes." Bonnie interjected, "Are your methods of assessment in line with your method of instruction? It goes back to my statement o f matching your philosophy and your actions. If you teach the students one way, then assess them in another, is that fair? Are you testing the right things? Perhaps this should be our next topic." Everyone agreed. There was a quiet knock at the door. Bonnie got up to answer it; it was Sheerez. 126 Emma looked up, "Is everything all right?" Sheerez appeared to be in a much better state, "Yes , thanks. I just wanted to thank you before I went home." "I hope your talk went wel l . " "It did. Thanks." Sheerez gave her a quick hug and headed down the hall. Emma was glowing. She felt so good. Finally, she felt like she had actually helped a child. "Makes you feel good, doesn't i t?" Bonnie said. "Yes ," Emma replied. "I read that you need eight hugs a day, verbal or physical, to survive, and twelve to grow." "It's almost four thirty. We should try to wrap this up," J im said to the two women standing at the door. "It feels like we have talked about everything except classroom climate," Emma said as she took her seat. 127 "Yes ," Bonnie pondered. "Perhaps that is the problem with this article. Its purpose was to show the importance of democracy for the social family, but its focus was really on teaching techniques. It really shies away from a real discussion about the tone of the classroom." "I've heard the terms 'culture' and 'climate' thrown around in the school improvement literature and I 'm still unclear about the real meaning." Jim admitted. "I like DuFour's answer to that question: 'Culture is the attitudes, values and beliefs which guides the behaviors of people. Whether or not it is a positive place w i l l determine how people w i l l treat one another as well as the kind of work that is produced,'" Cam said. "For example, i f students feel taking a risk is valued - they won't be penalized for getting it wrong the first time - then they w i l l try new things. If every time they get something wrong they get marks taken away and do not have the opportunity to fix their mistakes, then they w i l l not take a risk to do something different. Each student w i l l try to find out what the teacher wants the right answer to be and then give it to him or her. What ever the teacher values w i l l be important to the student, as Bonnie said." "I 'm still unsure how you determine what your culture is in your classroom?" Emma said. " A n d once you do, then what?" "I have a handout about culture." Bonnie went to her files. "I went to a conference last year on building positive interdependence in the classroom and the facilitator said that in 128 order to change a student's attitude about learning, the teacher must make every effort to make the class room a place where learning is valued. Here it is. It basically asks you questions about your classroom and the value you place on particular aspects o f learning. For example, question 1 asks: In your classroom can all kids succeed? Question 2 asks: In your classroom is there a feeling of mutual respect? A n d that question ties into question 8: Do you and your students feel like you care about one another? Which leads to 10: Do you celebrate successes? A l l o f these questions lead you to ask the final question: Is this a comfortable place to learn? Do you and your students grow and achieve?" "I am beginning to understand," Emma said. "But how do I know what is really going on? I may see the classroom one way but the kids aren't acting the way I want them to." "Behavior is your best indication. If you value mutual respect, are you seeing evidence of it? Collect data, ask students. The more you ask questions the more you learn. Don't be afraid to not have all the answers. Where is it written that the teacher must know all . Take a risk. Model for your students what self improvement is al l about. A n d once they see and feel the positive impact on the classroom they may follow your lead." Jim interrupted Bonnie's speech, "It's almost five and I have to get going, but could I get a copy o f that handout?" J im had been relatively quiet, as had Emma. Cam and Bonnie had covered a great deal of ground and the other two were busy trying to process it in relation to their own classrooms. 129 Bonnie concluded the meeting by stating, "This is a difficult area to deal with. We are dealing with intangibles here; attitudes, beliefs and values. Not as easy to deal with as a behavior is, but I believe i f a positive culture is nurtured incredible things can happen in the classroom. Next Monday our topic w i l l be assessment and evaluation. A timely topic since report cards are only a few weeks away. I w i l l send out an article for reading. Have a good week everyone." Cam and J im were out the door quickly and only Emma and Bonnie were left. "How is it going, Emma? H o w is that math ten basic class?" " W e l l , I took your advice and devised an action plan. I explained what I wanted to accomplish to the kids and they seemed to accept it. I think i f I can maintain consistency it w i l l work. A s far as the math ten class goes, I am going to have to approach them in a different way. The regular classes seemed to appreciate my honesty when I talked to them, but the basic class seemed almost disinterested." "Let's start from the beginning. Could I see your discipline action plan?" Bonnie asked. "Sure, I brought a copy in case you wanted to see it." " Y o u were awfully quiet today. Is everything okay?" 130 "Oh yeah, fine. I just felt like listening. I learned a great deal." Emma paused as she handed over a single sheet of paper. " A n d because I had my action plan organized Iwas able to compare it against the culture questionnaire. I think I 'm going in the right direction." The silence which filled the space as Bonnie read over Emma's plan was almost painful for Emma. She hated waiting for her comments. It reminded her of waiting for her professors in university to mark her essays. "Good," Bonnie said. "I like the way you organized it. B y starting with your beliefs it gives you something to refer to when making decisions about management issues. You ' re right; you are in line with what we talked about - respect, risk taking and understanding. B y separating your role and responsibilities and the student's role and responsibility, you have made it very clear what is expected. H o w did the students react?" "Like I said, English eight and English twelve reacted very positively. They viewed the change as a positive thing and accepted the partnership. Math ten couldn't accept it quite as easily. When I explained that it was as much their responsibility as it was mine to ensure that our classroom was a place where learning was possible, I simply got a lot of smart remarks about 'not caring' and that they 'couldn't learn.'" "Wel l , I think you are on the right track. It sounds like math ten w i l l need more attention. 131 Y o u are going to have to try to unpack a lot of baggage that these kids have brought with them," Bonnie said. "How do I do that?" Emma pleaded. "It has to start with caring. Have you heard of N e l Noddings?" " N o . " "She is a wonderful educational philosopher whose focus is on care in the classroom. She challenges the 'deadly notion that the school's first priority should be intellectual development.' She argues that 'the main aim of education should be to produce competent, caring, loving and lovable people.' It sounds like these kids need to know you really care. If you model caring and love for them then they w i l l understand what kind of behavior you expect in return." "I've been meeting with Tyler every Tuesday and Thursday mornings and now he has started to bring Cam and Ryan with him. Their behavior has really turned around in class." "That's a start," Bonnie said. "Once you get enough kids behaving as you would like them to, then that becomes the new norm and a new culture w i l l be established and new 132 behaviors w i l l start to show up. H o w can you get more kids on board?" " W e l l , there are four really nice girls who are struggling. Maybe i f I invited them to the morning sessions, they would become more involved in class." "Yeah, that's a great start. I think you are getting the hang of this whole thing." "Thanks, Bonnie. I should go. I have a ton of marking to do." "Okay. Keep me posted." "Thanks. Bye." Emma left the room and headed back down to her room. It was already getting dark outside. It's dark when she arrives and dark when she leaves. She was beginning to miss daylight and began to wonder i f this job would ever get any easier. 133 Chapter 11 The math ten basic class arrived and Emma was feeling excited to see them. Today was going to be the start of a new relationship between herself and these students. She planned to invite a few more students to join the early morning group. Maybe by taking the first step towards reaching out to them they might make a move towards her. Emma wanted to establish a new world order in this particular corner of the earth. The students had an incredible amount of energy when they walked in. Emma feared that this could cause some difficulties. Once the students were settled Emma began the lesson. "Good morning!" Emma said energetically, The students regarded her with a look of caution, but fell silent, surprised by her jovial mood. "Today, I want to start over. I want to be completely honest with you. I am not only a teacher but a learner, like you. M y goal is to become the best teacher that I possibly can. but I am going to need your help." The students were quiet through her opening statement. When she paused they remained silent. She expected the students would take the opportunity to strike; to take advantage 134 of her vulnerability. But they didn't. Emma continued, "One way I learn best is by trial and error, or experimenting. I don't like to read about something. I need to try it out." " I 'm like that too," Tyler yelled out. "Tyler, please raise your hand rather than yelling out. He looked at her as i f he had been wounded. A l l he wanted to do was support and share with his teacher. A n d how did she repay his kind gesture; by chastising him in front of his peers. Emma realized instantly what she had done. "Go ahead, Tyler. I would like to hear what you have to say." He looked pleased. " W e l l , like in math. I can't read what the textbook says. I need to figure it out on my own. Sometimes I use the examples to help me do the steps, but the words don't make sense. So I just have to try to do it until I get the right answer." "What a wonderful example!" Emma exclaimed. "I am the same way. For example, we tried that classroom meeting and it didn't work. A t least the way we did it. Maybe i f we tried it another way it might be successful." The students seemed genuinely interested in what Emma had to say. They were not chatting or doodling. They were focused on what was happening at the front. 135 Suddenly, Brad burst into the room with two boys from the class in tow. "Hey, every body." Emma was furious. "Brad, O U T ! " The three stopped a few meters inside the classroom and stared at their teacher. " Y o u heard me - all o f you, out!" "Why? We're only a couple of minutes late." Brad was standing his ground. "Not because you are late but because you entered without permission," Emma said. "What a joke!" Brad said as he led the three boys out into the hallway. He turned around and knocked on the door frame. Emma was getting even madder. "Excuse me, M s . Moran," he said sarcastically. "May we please come in?" So as not to prolong the scene, Emma said, "Yes, but I want to see the three of you after class, so we can have a little chat." 136 A s the three returned to their desks, Sheerez burst out in fits of laughter. Emma was in no mood to have to deal with Sheerez today. " Y o u too, Sheerez, after class." "What for?" she screamed loudly. "For inappropriate behavior." "Not fair!" she yelled again. "One more outburst and you wi l l be going down to the office." Sheerez slumped down into her seat. She decided pouting was a better option than facing M r . McCleary. Not only was Emma upset that Brad and Sheerez had been rude once again, but they disrupted a class which had shown such promise. She was sure that today could have been a turning point for this class. The students were finally moving over to her side and now these two students made her look like the mean old ogre; once again. ' H o w was she ever going to get these kids to like her?' she questioned herself. Emma was still fuming and she wasn't sure i f she could go back to what she was talking about before she was interrupted; and she wasn't sure i f she wanted to. The class was still silent and waiting for her to make the next move. "Okay. I think it's time to go on 137 with today's lesson. Please take out your binders and text books." Throughout the lesson Brad made comments at his desk. They were just loud enough for Emma to hear. "Who pissed in her corn flakes?" he said to his friend. Emma made every attempt not to react. 'That is what he wants,' she reminded herself. 'He wants you to get upset because every time you fight with him in front of his peers he wins.' When he seemed to get off task, she would simply move over to his desk. She didn't have to say anything. He got the message, loud and clear. The class seemed to go on for an eternity, but finally it came to an end. The students began to get more excited as each minute ticked away, bringing them close to lunch and freedom. It hurt Emma that they seemed to hate the class so much, and her. "Okay. Can I have everyone's attention?" she yelled. N o response. The students continued their conversations. "Excuse me!" she yelled. They all stopped and looked in her direction. 138 "Your assignment is on the overhead. Please be prepared for a quiz tomorrow." They groaned and returned to their small groups. Emma sat in a desk. She felt drained; drained emotionally from the encounter at the beginning of class and exhausted physically from trying to run from student to student while attempting to harness Brad's outbursts. The bell rang and Emma had to yell to Sheerez, Brad and the other two boys to remind them that they were expected to stay after to speak with her. Again they mumbled obscenities under their breath and moved back into the room. The four students lined up along the front desks - leaning up against them so they could make a speedy get away once Emma had finished with them. "Okay," Emma started strongly. "We have a problem here and we need to solve it, today." The four students refused to make eye contact. Each of them looked to the floor seemingly finding the tile pattern more interesting than Emma's comments. It was obvious that the foursome weren't prepared to speak, so Emma continued. "Let's 139 start from the beginning. Our confrontation began because you three were late. Why were you late?" she demanded. "Because I was having a smoke and I needed to finish," Brad said. " Y o u were late because you were smoking," Emma said in disbelief. "First, smoking is not allowed on school property. A n d second, it w i l l k i l l you." Brad glared back at her. She turned to the other two boys. "Brian, J im why were you late?" The two looked at each other, each prodding the other to answer, "We were with Brad, waiting for him to finish." "So you chose to be late to my class to have a smoke. I think we have to have a discussion on making good decisions." Emma could feel the anger welling inside her. Her voice rose uncontrollably. " N o ! " Brad stated. His voice matched her own stern tone. "No more discussion. This ajoke. You're ajoke!" Emma stood in stunned silence. 140 He continued, "This is stupid. Y o u stand up here thinkin' you know everything and that you deserve some prize or something for being smart. Wel l you aren't smart and you suck as a teacher." Emma felt as i f she had been slapped across the face. The sting of his last statement was almost physically painful. "The kids in this class hate you," he said in full voice now. " A n d I hate you. Y o u don't help anyone when they don't get it... all you do is preach and yell . You ' re a bitch and I hate your guts." Brad picked up his knapsack and headed towards the door. "Brad!" Emma called after him. Her rage was evident in her voice. "Brad, i f you don't come back now, don't bother coming back." The three witnesses looked after Brad. Once he was gone they made eye contact briefly before returning their attention to the tile pattern. Emma's anger was replaced with hurt almost instantaneously. "Leave," she said quietly. Tears were threatening to fall. ( The three looked at each other to make sure they had all heard that it was okay to go. Once reassured they picked up their bags and left. 141 Emma turned away from the door so no one would see her cry. The tears came and she had to close the door to muffle her sobs. Emma was convinced that i f someone stabbed her with a knife she wouldn't feel as much pain. ' H o w could a child be so ruthless?' she thought to herself. I help kids. When they don't understand I go over it until they do. She reassured herself. How would he know? He's barely ever in class and when he is, he's screwing around. Maybe he's right; maybe I am a terrible teacher. Do the kids really hate me, is that why they won't listen? If they hated me before, it can only get worse once this story gets out. These thoughts would start the flood of tears once again. B y the time her English twelve class arrived Emma was exhausted. She had a lesson planned which called for a great deal of whole class discussions, but she couldn't bring herself to lead the group. With some quick alterations to her lesson plan she set up groups of five to discuss the questions she had on the overhead. Each group was required to have a recorder so she could review their responses and ensure that everything was covered. A s the groups worked diligently, Emma remained at her desk continuing to dwell on Brad's comments. Emma's grade twelves were well aware of her sullen mood and continued to work quietly right until the end of the period. 142 When the bell rang they left the room with a good-bye and a look of concern. Fighting the flow of the crowd which was leaving, Sheerez appeared in front of Emma's desk. "Here," she said thrusting an envelope with 'Miss Moran ' typed on the front. Without another word she disappeared into the stream of grade twelves and was out the door before Emma could call to her. Emma opened the envelope once all of her students had left. A piece of paper which was folded fell out. It was obvious that this had been typed on a typewriter. The awkward type and inconsistency in print quality was a dead give away in today's world of computers and laser printers. Emma quietly read the letter attempting to decipher the parts where the spelling and grammar interrupted her train of thought. 143 Miss Moran, I just wanted to rite to you to let you no that you aren 't a bad teacher. Those guys are just dumb. They are mean to all of the teachers and they try to make them feel bad. But don't feel bad. When I am acting up in class it's not because I don't like you. Sometimes I just can't help it and I act dumb. I'm sorry. You are a good teacher and I like you a lot. I promise to try harder and maybe even studie. My mom always says - don't let the bastards get you down. Love, Sheerez Emma folded up the letter and placed it back in the envelope. The tears began to fall again. Only this time it was not from the pain but because of the touching gesture from a child with such a hard shell. She knew she had to talk to someone about Brad. This could not continue. Maybe she could have him removed from her class; he wants to go, so let him. Once she managed to stop herself from crying, she took a couple of deep breaths and headed for the office. A s Emma entered, she saw A n n sitting at her desk. "Ann , who is the grade ten counselor?" 144 "Barb Davies. "Thanks." "Oh, by the way Emma, expect a letter from Sheerez Gimbal l ." Emma stopped. "That girl was kicked out of a class on the second day of school. There wasn't anywhere for her to go so they gave her to me as an office worker. She helps, only after complaining. A n d when I don't have anything for her to do, she is supposed to do homework, but all she does is sit and stare. She can sit there and do nothing for a whole hour. But today she surprised me. She asked i f she could use that old typewriter. She sat down and worked for the entire period. M i n d you her one finger typing technique drove me nuts. I was curious to know what she was doing, but she would throw herself over her work anytime anyone came by. The only reason I know it was for you is because she couldn't get the envelope in. So I helped her type your name on the envelope. I swear I have never seen that girl so focused or so determined - ever." Emma smiled and thanked A n n for the information. She didn't want to tell her she had already received the letter for fear that she would have to go into the details of the fight with Brad. So Emma simply said she would look forward to receiving the letter. Heading down the hall to Barb's office, Emma felt even better about Sheerez's letter. 145 "Barb, do you have a minute?" "Sure, come on in. Have a seat." Barb was a grandmother figure in the school. She had a kind way about her and a permanent look o f understanding. "What can I do for you?" " W e l l , it 's about a student - Brad Foster." " A h . . . , " she said with a knowing look. "Brad. I've talked to him a number of times." " W e l l , he wants out of my class and I want him out." Emma stated firmly. She decided she should soften her tone, "We just don't seem to connect. Today he was awful. I've tried everything. Finally today, after class, he lost it - said some very hurtful things -called me a bitch - and left the room." Emma hadn't meant to give Barb all of the details. But they just seemed to flow naturally. The tears also began to flow. " I 'm sorry. It's just been a bad day." "That's okay. It's all part of the first year of teaching." "I just want to do my best. I just can't seem to get through to Brad. Every time I try, it ends up in a shouting match." "Don't worry about Brad. I ' l l deal with him. There is no excuse for speaking to anyone like that. Emma, you can't save them a l l . " Barb handed her a tissue. 146 Emma took the tissue and dabbed her eyes. "But, isn't that our job...to make them want to learn?" "Some kids come with too much baggage to even start the leaning process. Kids learn when they feel a bond with a teacher. Without that bond the information you give them is just that - information." "But why doesn't it work with Brad?" "It won't work all the time. If he isn't wi l l ing to budge, even a little, then it's best for him and you to move on. I ' l l deal with it." "Okay. Thanks." "No problem. Remember you are not super human. Y o u can't do it all . Take some time for yourself. Focus on the kids who you are connecting with." "I w i l l . " Feeling that she had made some progress, Emma got up to leave. "Thanks again, Barb." "That's what I 'm here for." Emma left the office area and headed back to her room. 147 Just as she reached her hallway, Emma saw Sheerez. "Sheerez!" she called. When Sheerez realized who was calling she attempted to pretend she didn't hear Emma and headed in the other direction. "Please, Sheerez, wait." She stopped and waited for Emma to catch up to her. "Sheerez, I just wanted to thank you for the letter. It made me feel a lot better." "No prob," Sheerez said looking down. "Listen, i f you really want to do well in math I would like to help." "Really?" Sheerez said as she looked up. "Yeah. A few of us meet on Tuesday and Thursday mornings at 7:30 to work on math." "Man , that's early." " W e l l , it 's up to you. If you would like to jo in us I would really like it." 148 " I ' l l be there, Miss Moran. Thanks," she said enthusiastically. "Thank you, Sheerez." Sheerez took off in the other direction and Emma went back to her classroom. 'I hope she comes,' Emma thought, T really want to help her.' 149 Chapter 12 Emma rushed down the hall towards her classroom trying to move as quickly as she could. Her box of marking, briefcase and purse were weighing her down, restricting her movements. It was seven thirty, in the morning, and her math ten students were expecting her. She seemed to be running late by five minutes all week. When Emma arrived all seven students were grouped in front of the lockers. It was quite obvious that this was not a group of kids who would identify themselves as 'morning people.' Some were slumped over, some had their heads resting on the shoulders of the person next to them; Ryan was even curled up on the floor in the fetal position. "Good morning," Emma said cheerfully. The students sat up and began to get up slowly. Ryan stretched out and leapt to his feet. "I 'm glad you could all make it this morning." Tyler, Bindar and Ryan were joined by Suzanne, Rino, Sheerez and Kay. Emma had called the girls yesterday after dinner and invited them to jo in the study group. The students took their places in the seating plan. Emma looked at them and began to laugh, "There is no need to sit so far apart. Let's move the desks at the front into a small circle." The students silently complied and soon Emma sat in a circle with her seven students. "Before we begin, let's f i l l the girls in about what happens at these morning sessions. This study group's purpose is to ensure success." "Can we call ourselves something else besides a 'study group'?" Bindar whined. 150 "Sure, we can call ourselves a club," Emma suggested. " A s long as it's not the Math Club. I don't want my friends to think I 'm a geek," Sheerez stated. "Okay, not the Math Club. We can decide on a name later. A s I was saying, our purpose here is to ensure success." "Does that mean i f we come, for sure we ' l l get fifty percent?" Rino asked. "If you do your homework and work hard, I am sure each of you w i l l get more than fifty percent," Emma said. "Maybe even sixty percent," said Tyler. "I've never gotten sixty percent in math before, ever." Emma smiled. "Let's make that our goal. Everyone in our club w i l l try to get sixty percent or better." "Yeah," said Suzanne with a new found energy. "We can call ourselves the Sixties Club." "Good idea," said Emma. "So for our first meeting of the Sixties Club let's look at the homework from yesterday. Is there anything that is unclear? Anything you had difficulties with?" Tyler put up his hand and Emma acknowledged him. "I couldn't do question number twelve. Find the area of an irregular shape." "Okay," said Emma, "Could anyone help Tyler?" "Yeah, I think I know how to do it," said Bindar. "If you separate the shape into a rectangle and a semicircle and find the area of each of those, then all you have to do is add them together." A s he explained it he was drawing a diagram on Tyler's paper. "Miss Moran," Kay said quietly. " I 'm really lost. I don't even know how to find the area of a rectangle." "That's okay. That's why we're all here. To help each other and learn," Emma assured her. "I understand this stuff good. I can help Kay , " Bindar offered. "That would be great. Y o u know, research shows that i f I tell you how to do something you w i l l remember only ten percent of it. If you actually do something yourself you w i l l 152 remember fifty percent. If you teach someone else to do something you w i l l remember ninety percent." This fascinating piece of information was met with a glazed over look. Too many numbers for this early in the morning. "Okay Bindar. Y o u w i l l be able to learn from teaching Kay. Why don't the two of you work over on the other side of the room. Pul l two desks together." Bindar and Kay moved; Bindar began to go over the basics of geometry. While the others were working on a problem, which Emma had given them, she went over to see how Bindar was doing. She simply listened to see i f he was explaining the concepts clearly and to see i f Kay was understanding. It seemed to be working well . There was a knock at the door. Emma looked at her watch; quarter to eight. Too early for any other students to be arriving for help or handing in late assignments. She was right, it wasn't a student but Ann, the secretary. Emma was surprised to see her there. "I . . .1 need to talk to you. I need your help," A n n said. "Okay," Emma said aware that the students in her class had stopped working. "Continue. I ' l l be right back." She closed the door behind. "What can I do for you?" "I don't know what to do. I can't get her to stop crying," she said with a sign of exasperation in her voice. 153 "Who's crying?" "Carol M c L e o d . " "Why is she crying?" "I found her on the steps of the school this morning at six thirty. She was freezing and crying. I brought her to the office, found a blanket and some tea and tried to find out what happened. A l l I could find out was that she left her house in the middle of the night without her parents knowing and she had slept outside. I think she had a fight with her mom but she isn't coherent enough to make any sense. Can you come and try? I know you are her English teacher." "I can try," Emma hesitated. She wasn't entirely sure she knew what to do. She poked her head in the room to apologize to the students for the interruption and to let them know that they could go once they finished their problems. Once that was done she followed A n n down the hall towards the office. "She's in there," A n n pointed towards the nurse's office. "I 'm going to call her parents to let them know she is here and is O . K . " Emma entered the room and Carol was curled up, whimpering on the sick bed. "Carol ," Emma called her name softly. 154 Carol sat up, looked at Emma and the tears started to flow again. Emma immediately moved to Carol's side and wrapped her arms around her. It pained Emma to see Carol so distraught. "What's wrong?" she whispered quietly. " M y mom," Carol stammered between sobs. " D i d you have a fight?" Carol shook her head. ' W e l l what else could it be,' Emma thought. " D i d she yell at you?" Carol shook her head again. "Is your mom okay?" Carol shook her head furiously, "No! ! " she wailed and her hysterics resumed. A l l Emma could do was hold her tighter and rock her back and forth to try to calm her. Emma's mind was reeling. If her mom's not hurt, what should I do? "Carol , this is important. Listen." She pulled away from Carol and forced her to look into her face. 155 "Does your mom need an ambulance? A doctor? Where is she?" "It's too late for a doctor. She's at home." Carol had suddenly stopped crying and was very calm. 'Okay, ' Emma thought, 'I have to stay calm.' "What happened to your mom, Carol?" "She has cancer and she is going to die soon." Carol collapsed in Emma's arms. There were no more hysterics, no more crying, no more sobs, only silence. Emma put her arms back around the small child wrapped in the blanket. Emma looked up and found Duncan standing just inside the door. " A n n told me you were in here, I thought maybe I could help." He found Carol wrapped up in Emma's arms, asleep. "Her mother," Emma whispered with tears in her eyes. "I know," he said sitting beside her. "I talked to her father. He's coming to pick her up." He looked down at the sleeping child. "Should we move her?" "No , leave her. She's exhausted, physically and emotionally." "Are you okay? I 'm sorry. A n n didn't know about your mom. . . " 156 "No, Duncan. It's okay. I want to help her. When my mom died I had so many people around, but no one could understand what I was going through. N o one knew. I do and I want to help." There was a knock on the door. He gave her shoulder a gentle squeeze before getting up to answer the door. It was Carol 's father. Emma recognized him from 'Back to School Night ' . He looked over at Emma and Carol while he whispered to Duncan. Finally he came over and lifted his daughter into his arms. He mouthed the words 'Thank you' and turned to leave. As he did, Carol woke up and began to whimper at the sight of him. They left Duncan and Emma alone in the nurse's room. " Y o u okay?" Duncan asked again. "Yeah." Emma's answer was punctuated by the warning bell. " W e l l , off to work." She said getting up slowly. She was stiff from sitting in that position for so long. " I ' l l talk to you later." Leaving the room, Emma felt a wave of emotion rush over her. She could still remember the day her mom got the phone call from the doctor telling her that the chemo treatments 157 had been ineffective. After placing the phone back in the cradle she had to take a breath, "He said I can continue the treatments but he is not optimistic about the results." Emma couldn't believe that her mom wasn't even crying. She stood by the phone like a stone statue. Emma's father moved to her side and helped her to the kitchen table. A l l of the books Emma had been given to deal with this moment had not prepared her for the silence that followed. A s a fifteen year old, Emma had felt fortunate; a great family, a nice house and a ton of friends. That was until the last summer when her mom found a lump in her breast. Ever since then Emma's life had been put on hold. She had to be home to help her mom. N o more vacations. N o more after school activities. N o more sleep-overs. But at that moment Emma would have given up everything just to have her mom's health return to normal. Finally Emma's father broke the silence, "So, what's next?" "Nothing is next!" Her mother insisted. "I 'm going to school. I promised my class I would visit. It's the exposition today." With that announcement she left. Emma and her father were left at the table. Emma began to cry. It wasn't a slow build up 158 of emotions; tears simply flooded down her face. She was shocked. She didn't know i f she was frightened by the sudden tears or the thought of her mother dying. Emma reached her classroom door and realized she had tears running down her cheeks. Pul l yourself together, she thought. A s she entered the room she was thankful that both her math nine classes were having a unit test. She wouldn't have to try to give a lesson today. A l l she had to do was hold it together until the end of the day. 159 Chapter 13 Carol wasn't in English class the next day. Emma wanted to call, to reach out, but she wasn't sure i f it was the right thing to do. She tried to keep her mind off Carol by focusing on her planning but it didn't help. What ever she did her mind wandered back to the reality of cancer. A professor she had in University told the class that the hardest thing to learn was how to leave work at school. Not the physical load, marking and planning, but the emotional load. "If you don't separate your personal life from your work life, you ' l l burn out. On the way home I passed through a tunnel," he said. "I had to train myself to stop thinking about work and the kids once I made it through. It was hard but I had to do it for my own state of mind and for my family's well being." ' H o w could he do that?' thought Emma. "Where's Carol?" asked Troy. "She's never away. Is she dead?" "Troy, please," Emma begged. She really didn't want to have to deal with this right now. "I heard she's really sick," yelled Dan from his new desk at the front. "She's not sick," Emma said. ' H o w much information should I give to students? Does 160 Carol want her classmates to know? I haven't been given any instructions from the office. Should I feign ignorance?' she pondered. "It's not Carol, it 's her mom," said Katie. "I talked to her last night." "I don't think we should be talking about Carol and her family situation without her here," Emma said. " Y o u said that we were partners," Katie spoke again. "That means that we should care about what happens to each other, right? Wel l , Carol is my friend and I think that we should show that we care." "I agree," said Emma. "Carol is going through a difficult time right now and it might help her to know that we, as a class, are there to support her. So what can we do?" "Throw her a surprise party," Dan yelled. "Buy her a present," Mark added. "When my mom was sick with appendicitis, her office sent her a singing telegram. She loved it," Troy offered. "Those are all interesting suggestions, but I don't think that is what Carol needs right 161 now." Emma was conscious of the fact that students weren't raising their hands when they wished to speak. Emma noticed Soo-mi had her hand up. "Soo-mi, thank you for raising your hand. Do you have a suggestion?" Soo-mi was a student from Taiwan who had moved here a year ago. When she spoke she took great care to pronounce the words slowly and correctly. " M s . Moran, I like to draw and I am practicing the art of calligraphy. I would like to make Carol a card that we could all sign and send to her home." "That is a wonderful idea, Soo-mi. I think that Carol would appreciate that kind, quiet gesture. The rest o f you can think about what you ' l l write on the card. I would like you to think about the words that you would like to hear from friends i f your mom was very sick." Emma was pleased with the way this class seemed to pull together. This was evidence that her plan of creating a community was falling into place. " W e ' l l sign the card on Friday. Could you have it ready for then, Soo-mi?" "Oh yes, I just need the paper. I have my supplies with me." "Okay. A t lunch we can go to the art room and see i f they have any paper that you can use." Emma paused, "Okay, we need to get to work." She was actually feeling a genuine sense o f pride about how far she had come with this class. After their heart to heart discussion where they established behavior expectations 162 and consequences she had encountered few problems. Even Mark, Dan and Jamie had succumbed to peer pressure and rarely acted out. A n d when they did, Emma firmly reminded them of their commitment to helping create a positive learning environment. ' I f I can just stay consistent,' she thought to herself. Emma found that she was actually enjoying working with these classes now. She was able to teach now and the students were responding. Although, she was not engaging them in as many group activities as she would like, they were learning the material. 'Once I get the class to respect me and each other, I w i l l begin cooperative learning activities,' she promised herself. Unfortunately, math ten was another story. Brad had been removed from that class by Barb. The morning after she had spoken to his counselor, she received a note in her box. Emitia, Talked to Brad. He refuses to work things out. He w i l l do the math ten b a s i c course under my s u p e r v i s i o n during t h i s p e r i o d . I w i l l get the u n i t plans from the department head. I f you have any questions come see me. Barb Emma was relieved. Wi th Brad gone at least the class was manageable. The students who were members of the new 'Sixties Club ' were on board, but some of the others were continuing to disrupt the class. Even Tyler could sometimes be persuaded 163 to join the crowd. Sheerez had now become a model student. Her attempts to please Emma were obvious. Although she was no longer a problem her constant need for attention was beginning to wear on Emma. A s for the rest o f the students, Emma stood her ground and dealt with every break in the expectations as they arose. Slowly they were coming around. There were some good days but there were still some really bad days. If their energy was high, Emma found it extremely difficult to focus their attention on math. However, today was a good day. Perhaps they realized Emma's emotional state was fragile. Maybe they were in the groove o f the school week; Wednesday always seemed to be the best day for these kids. Emma saw this group again this week because it was Day 1 Friday. She would be able to gauge their progress more accurately then. With her classes finished for the day, Emma was spending her prep organizing the room. She had also set aside time for reading the article on assessment which Bonnie had placed in her box. After tidying up and setting out the photocopies she would need for her classes the next day, she was sitting down at her desk with a pad of paper and "Testing & Grading Strategies" when a familiar face showed itself at the door. "Hel lo," Emma said. "Come on in. Don't you have a class?" "Yeah," Duncan said. "But all o f the grade nines are on a field trip this afternoon so my Band class is canceled. I love days like this." He sat on one of the student's desks in front of her. "I wanted to see how you are doing today. Carol wasn't in my class today. 164 Yours?" "No, I didn't expect to see her here," Emma said. "So, how are you?" "Okay." "That didn't sound very convincing." "I just feel a little drained. I feel like I have my English classes and my math nines on track, but my math tens..." Emma felt like she was speaking a mile a minute. "Okay, tell me what's been going on in your classes," Duncan said shifting to a more comfortable position. , " W e l l , last week I used a questionnaire with all of my classes to find out how the kids saw the class. I asked them what they liked about this class, what they didn't like about this class, what they thought I was doing well , what they thought I could do better, and finally what they thought they could do better. I asked each student to list three things under each question. After we discussed it and I told them what I would do to make our room a better place and then I listed what they said they would need to work on and we established a partnership for learning. I have been very strict about students not meeting 165 their responsibility and I have worked very hard to meet mine." " A n d it's working for the eights, nines and twelves but not always for the tens?" Duncan asked. "Exactly," Emma said. "I 'm still trying to get the majority of that group to get to my class on time, or at a l l . " "The basic group is a very different animal. Math is the only discipline which streams by ability in our school and they have the same problem every year. A l l the keen kids are in one class and the students who.. . .how can I say, ' lack motivation' are in another. I 'm a strong believer in modeling and without kids in the class to act like models then you're lost." "I do have a small group who really want to learn. Seven students come for help on Tuesday and Thursday mornings." Emma smiled. "This morning they sat themselves a goal to get sixty percent or better in this class and they have called themselves the Sixties Club." "That's great. A l l I can suggest is nurture that group and focus on them. If they are interested in learning it w i l l be a positive experience for you and them. Maybe they can do the modeling I talked about." 166 "Yeah, I hope something happens soon. Today they were okay. Actually, they seemed rather sleepy. It made my life a lot easier." "Embrace those days, Emma," he joked. "Thanks for listening. I don't know why I 'm feeling so anxious. I 'm sorry that I tend to dump on you." "That's what I 'm here for." Duncan jumped off the desk. He was dressed casually; a pair of jeans and sweatshirt emblazoned with the school logo. He seemed so relaxed. Maybe that is why the kids are so taken with him. They know what to expect from him and they know he won't flip out on them. "If you want to talk some more, just come by. I 'm always here. Okay, I've procrastinated enough. I need to get some work done." "Okay, I ' l l talk to you later." He was out the door and Emma forced herself to get back to the chapter she was preparing for Monday. She quickly skimmed the bold type: Portfolio, Grading Plan, Focus-on-Learning Statements, Report Card Plan. It was an easy read with some very practical suggestions. When she took a look at her mark book sitting in the corner of her desk she realized how much time she devoted to marking. She felt it was her responsibility to mark everything that the students did in class. The chapter pointed out that this places a great deal of emphasis on marks and grades and eventually the motivation to get marks take over any 167 sense of internal drive. But wasn't she just doing what the kids want? Every time she hands out a worksheet or assigned homework the kids want to know i f it is for marks and how many. If she stopped marking things would they still hand in quality work or would they hand it in at all? Emma began to write down her questions under the notes she had taken. There, she was prepared for Monday. She would have to review her material before the meeting to refresh her memory. Report cards are being sent home in less than three weeks, so Emma knew she had to get her self together so she could justify any mark she gave. Just as the bell rang Soo-mi knocked on the door frame. "Come on in, Soo-mi," Emma invited. Most kids would have simply barged in; but Soo-mi was very polite. "Excuse me, M s . Moran. I just wanted to see what you thought of the card. M r . Gabilo allowed me to complete it during my multi-media class this afternoon." Soo-mi turned the large piece o f cardboard around so Emma could see the front. It was a simple black board framing a white piece of paper which had the words 'Thinking of Y o u ' and a picture of a crane underneath. It was done beautifully. "Inside I left it blank but I added a border," Soo-mi said opening the card. 168 The inside was decorated with an intricate pattern around the edge. Emma was amazed by Soo-mi's artistic ability. The use of black and white and the bold lines mixed with the delicate pattern created a stunning effect. "It's beautiful," Emma said. She couldn't pull her eyes away from the masterpiece. "Where did you learn how to do this, Soo-mi?" " M y father taught me. This is how I learn to write in Chinese. See here, on the back is my signature." On the back was the only diversion from the color scheme. In the lower right hand corner was a red stamp which looked like a picture. When Emma looked more closely she realized the picture was created out of Chinese characters. " W e l l , you are very talented. I am sure Carol w i l l love the card and cherish it always. Thank you very much for doing this." "I like to do things like this. May I leave it here until Friday so everyone can sign it?" " O f course." Emma motioned Soo-mi over to a cupboard. After unlocking the door, Soo-mi carefully placed the card on an empty shelf. "We w i l l sign the card on Friday and send it to Carol ." "Good. I w i l l see you then." 169 r "Yes. Thank you again." Soo-mi left Emma alone in the room. Between her math ten class and Carol 's struggle she had a lot on her mind. It had been a good day but the stress was starting to take a physical toll. Emma could feel the beginning of a headache. She needed to get out of the school. Some physical exercise; that's what I need, she thought. It had been almost a month since she had done anything besides marking and planning. Emma packed up what she needed for that evening and headed for home. I am going to the gym and then soak in the hot tub. 'One night off won't k i l l me,' she thought. 170 Chapter 14 "But I 'm not sure i f my students would work i f I didn't emphasize grades and marks." Emma was surprised by the sound of her own voice. This meeting with her mentor group had gone as all the others had. The three of them discussing with Emma in the background listening. However, she felt she could no longer remain silent, " M y students are constantly asking about how much assignments are worth. H o w can I expect to change them?" "I agree," said Jim. "The only way to motivate these kids is to give them marks - or else they won't do the work." "I disagree," Bonnie quickly jumped in. "I can only speak from personal experience. But my kids don't focus on marks as much as they focus on the quality of their work." "How is that different?" Emma entered the conversation once again. "Do you not mark them on the quality of their work?" "Yes, I do. However, my students do not automatically turn to the back page to see what mark I gave them - they look for my comments." "Comments; marks - aren't they essentially the same thing? The student is looking for your evaluation of his or her work. N o ? " J im replied. 171 "I don't deny that they are looking for an evaluation but the mark is less important because they have the option of improving upon it." "How?" Emma knew that Bonnie always allowed students to redo work i f the student was not happy with their mark. She had heard other English department members complain about this practice. Often the comments were about students requesting that the teacher adopt the same practice; citing fairness. The teacher would then complain of the extra work load and that there should be common practices across subject areas. "Each student, once they receive a paper or project back, has the option of resubmitting an improved assignment to be remarked. M i n d you it must meet all criteria to receive a higher mark." "How do you deal with the extra marking load?" Emma asked. " W e l l , it is extra work, but the student has to come and see me that day to arrange a new due date - usually a week later, depending on the project. I won't accept a project during the last week of a term. I refuse to rush my marking." "Do the kids complain that it isn't fair?" Cam asked. " A t the beginning, but once I explain that the person who receives an ' A ' , as a mark, the first time doesn't have to spend time redoing the project, and the person who gets a ' C 172 does, they start to understand. I also try to shift the focus from competing with each other for marks to using marks to learn about our own strengths and weaknesses." "But is it fair that a k id studies hard, writes the test and gets an A while another student sloughs off and gets a C, but gets to re-write the test?" Jim said. "Does it matter? A s long as the student is learning the content, does it really matter how long it takes them?" Emma needed to ask some practical questions. "Does the k id write the same test? Do the same project? H o w many times do you allow them to redo?" Bonnie shifted in her seat, "This is where the theory is tempered by reality. Because I have so many students I only allow them to redo something once. I should allow unlimited redos but I couldn't do it realistically." "So for every project, for every test a kid can redo it once." Cam clarified. "Yes ." "How about the k id who scores ninety-eight percent but wants a hundred percent?" Jim asked. 173 "In all fairness, I have to allow them to rewrite. H o w could I justify not letting them improve their work?" "It sounds like it can get a bit out of hand," Emma said. "Sometimes I 'm swamped with material. But it is worth it when you see the kids' work. But we are getting off track. Emma was talking about motivating kids. I guess in a way I do motivate kids by marks, but I feel like I would get the same quality out of the kids i f I didn't give them marks at a l l . " "But that's impossible," J im said. " A s long as we have to give kids marks, that is what w i l l motivate them." "But I find I am so overwhelmed with marking that I don't have the time to plan," Emma said. Cam jumped ahead of Bonnie. " Y o u need to decide what you really want to mark. How important is it that you give a mark for a certain assignment? Y o u may choose to go over it and give comments and a completion mark. B y marking absolutely everything, you end up with seven hundred marks for a term, but what does it mean?" "It allows students to monitor their own progress. I f a student gets ten out o f fifteen on a quiz and then the next week they get fourteen out of fifteen, they know they are 174 improving," J im said sounding defensive. " I 'm not saying that tests don't give you valuable information," Cam said calmly. "I use tests all the time to evaluate and assess. But just because I give a quiz doesn't mean I always record the mark." "Why would you give a quiz and not give the student the mark?" Emma was confused. "I am interested in seeing how the students are progressing. Often I ' l l give a quiz and the students don't have to worry about getting a wrong answer because I 'm not recording the mark. That way they can use the results to analyze their own weaknesses. They are not penalized for not understanding. It is then their responsibility to find out the correct answer so they can get it right on the unit test, midterm and final. The students appreciate the opportunity to get something wrong without consequence." "But most of the kids would just blow off the test and try to cram before the big test," J im countered. "Some do. I talk to them and they quickly learn that it is tough to catch up. Usually the first unit test puts those kids back on track." "Sure, but in French the students need the content they learned in the first unit to be able to understand the rest of the year. They can't simply say 'oh well , I ' l l start trying now'. 175 It doesn't work. I need to hold the kids accountable." J im was getting excited. Bonnie spoke to Emma in an obvious attempt to diffuse the situation. " A s you can see this is not an easy area to come to any kind of consensus. Each teacher is different and in order to feel comfortable with your practice your teaching strategies and your methods of assessment must be in line with your beliefs." "But you must make sure you cover all the content. It drives me nuts when I get kids who haven't even made it through the previous year's text and I have to spend the first month catching up," J im said. "Yes, we do have to cover the mandated content, but do we do it in a superficial way, or do we make sure the students actually understand?" Bonnie's voice was rising. "Okay. We are getting off topic," Cam said. "This always happens. It's so hard to artificially segment our practice and attempt to talk about one part. Everything about our practice is so intimately linked, that it's difficult to stay within the boundary o f assessment. However it is four thirty and we haven't even touched on report cards or reporting home. Emma has to do report cards in two weeks and parent teacher interviews are next week. I think we should help her out in those areas." Cam turned to Emma. "Do you have any questions?" "No, well , yes," Emma stammered. "I was interested in this reverse report card. Has 176 anyone ever tried it?" "I don't know of anyone," Bonnie said. The others shook their heads. "I think this technique is used more in the elementary grades. Parents tend to look at the objectives in secondary and feel overwhelmed. Also by the time the student gets to high school they are trying to separate themselves from the parents' control and don't like it when asked about school performance. Often the parents who like this process are those with children who are high achievers. M y understanding is that it is difficult to get the reverse report card back from the parents of high risk kids; often they aren't home enough to even know what the k id is learning." "I like the concept because it brings the parents into the loop," Emma said. "If the parents know what the learning objectives are and then we ask them to comment on the growth in those particular areas then it would be easier to discuss a student's progress when I call home. A n d I think it would make their mark on their report card more meaningful." "I can't disagree with you," Cam interjected. "We have over two hundred and ten students each. When you add another piece of paper, another thing to collect, and another item to explain to parents- that is a lot of work. Y o u have to decide i f it is worth the extra time and effort." "It is important to involve the parents," Bonnie interjected. "It's two weeks before the 177 end of the term. Emma, have you talked to the kids about their marks so far?" " W e l l , I outlined the mark distribution at the beginning of the year on the course outline and the students have received al l o f their assignments and tests back with the marks on them." "But have you given them a rough idea where they currently stand in your class? If I asked them, would they know approximately what grade they would have?" Bonnie pushed. " N o . " Emma stammered. "Probably not. I haven't even had time to input the marks into the computer program I got from the office last week." Actually Emma hadn't even had a chance to learn how to learn the program yet. She knew she would have to soon. She was warned by her colleagues that i f her disk was not submitted by eight fifteen Monday morning, A n n would be after her. A n d from the stories she had heard this was not an experience that Emma wanted. "The best thing you can do is get your marks together and let the kids know where they stand," J im said. " A n d i f anyone is failing, or borderline, call home now. It is easier to deal with a parent i f you say 'wel l he has two weeks to submit missed assignments' rather than trying to explain why you didn't contact the parent before his or her son or daughter received a failing mark." What J im said made sense and Emma was committed to doing as he said. 178 "Do you have any kids whom you think are going to fail first term?" Bonnie questioned Emma. "Yes, but only in math ten basic class. But I have already been in contact with most of those parents. There are some others who are borderline.. .but I 'm not too sure." " W e l l , make it your mission to get a clear picture of where your kids stand in the next couple of days. It w i l l make your life a lot easier in the long run. I send home a copy of the students' mark sheet as an interim, i f he or she is doing poorly, to the parents midway through the term. Just so they are kept in touch with what is going on here," Bonnie said. "Yeah, the mark sheets are great that you can print from the program," Cam added. "When I get the list for appointments for parent teacher interviews all I have to do is print out the mark sheets for all of the students on the list. Then when the parents arrive, I can show them which assignments are missing or trends I have noticed. Then at the end of the interview they can walk away with the data. Most of the time they go home and review it with the student. It's a very powerful tool." " A s long as you can justify your marks and you are consistent, you shouldn't have any problems," J im said leaning back in his chair, checking his watch. "Most of the phone calls home have been very good. Parents are usually supportive of 179 me. I only had one incident where a parent tried to put the blame on me. It didn't end very well and I 'm afraid he w i l l be at the interview session coming up," Emma confided in her mentor team. Actually it was an awful incident with Jamie's father. Emma had called to voice her concerns early in the year about his behavior in the English eight class. " W e l l , M s . Moran," M r . Powell 's voice took on a harsh tone. "I understand that you have no control in the classroom. Jamie tells me that all you do is yell . Actually, I was going to call you because Jamie says you are picking on him in class. A n d he feels it is unfair." Emma was speechless, her picking on him. This child is making her life hell and now she is being told it is her fault. " I 'm sorry he feels that way. However the reason I call on him regularly is because he is acting out; speaking without raising his hand, using language which is inappropriate." Emma hadn't planned to say all this. She wanted to start slowly then, after establishing a relationship, discuss these issues. But for some reason she felt like she had to defend her actions. If she could provide enough evidence, perhaps the father would see the real truth. "Maybe he is acting out because he knows he can get away with it." How could Emma argue with logic like that? " W e l l M r . Powell , I just called to let you 180 know about the difficulties Jamie is encountering. A n d I am afraid that it could affect his marks." "He does his homework. A n d he studies for his tests. I make sure of that. But you are responsible for what happens in the classroom and I expect that he gets his work done there." "That's the problem. Jamie is very easily distracted and tends to distract other students around him." " W e l l , put him somewhere he won't be distracted." M r . Powell 's voice was growing more and more tense as the two continued their exchange. " I ' l l do that and I would hope you would have a talk with him at home." Emma wanted to finish this conversation as quickly as possible. "Oh don't worry. I ' l l do my job i f you do yours." "Thank you. I have to go. I have a meeting," Emma finally said. "Fine." There was a sharp click in Emma's ear. Emma hung up the phone and felt defeated. She felt like she could have handled that 181 situation better but she wasn't sure how. "If a parent starts to flip out, the best thing you can do is listen," J im said waking Emma from her daze. "But i f they start to get personal or verbally abusive, end it." "What do you mean end it?" Emma asked. "Simply state that you don't like the tone of the conversation is taking and suggest you meet again with an administrator. Y o u don't have to take any crap. Just walk away. Stay calm and walk away." " I ' l l keep that in mind," Emma said. "It's ten past five. We should wrap up. If you have any more questions about report cards, assessment or dealing with parents you can always come by and talk to us. I 'm sure we ' l l return to the topic more than once this year, in these meetings and in more informal settings. It's a huge topic and one article and a two hour discussion just doesn't do it justice," Bonnie said. "So what should our next topic be? A n y suggestions?" "How about instructional strategies?" Cam said. "Good idea. There is a workshop being given in December at the Resource Center. This would be a great opportunity to warm up to the ideas. Emma, would you like to find an 182 article to share with us?" "Sure. I guess. I don't really know where to look but I ' l l give it a try." "We have tons o f stuff," Bonnie said. "Thanks. I ' l l check out the library at the college too. I've been meaning to get there anyway." " Y o u can mean to do a lot of things and never get to them," Jim said. " Y o u have to watch it. Y o u need to find a balance between school and life." "That's easier said than done," Cam said. "Especially first year. If you take any time out you fall behind, and it's almost impossible to get back up to speed." "That's another topic for another time," Bonnie said looking at her watch. "I think we have covered a great deal in a little time. So we w i l l reconvene one week today. See you all then." Everyone got up to go. Emma didn't feel that they had covered all that much. She was still struggling and she felt as i f she wasn't competent enough to deal with all o f it. Was she supposed to feel secure in what she was doing in the classroom? Because she wasn't - she felt as i f she had been dropped onto a treadmill which had already been running at 183 full speed. If she doesn't try to keep up she'll fall off; and in the meantime she isn't looking very graceful trying to find her balance and hit her stride. A n d now with self-imposed burden of Carol 's difficulties, she wasn't quite sure i f she would make it. 184 Chapter 15 Emma arrived early the next morning to meet the Sixties Club. Expecting to see Tyler as she approached her classroom, she was surprised to find Carol waiting alone. The club members wouldn't arrive for at least ten minutes. "Carol , I 'm so glad to see you. Is everything okay?" Carol had still not returned to school since that morning in the office. "I 'm okay. I just wanted to talk to you when no one else was around." "Okay. I 'm all yours. The Sixties Club starts in a few minutes but we can have time until then." "Thanks." Carol picked herself up off the ground and followed Emma into her room. "So how are things at home?" "Dad has been great, but mom's getting worse. She never seems to have any energy. I tried to help as much as I could but dad decided that she needed a nurse. So now I can come back to school." "It's difficult to get back into a routine," Emma said as she sat down in the desk beside 185 Carol. "I don't want to come back. I want to stay with my mom." "I understand." Carol sat slumped in the desk, eyes cast down. Emma could hardly believe this was the same eager bright eyed young girl who was wil l ing to answer every question in class a month ago. It is amazing what happens to a person when hope is taken away. A chilly blanket of silence descended. Emma knew she had to break the ice. " M y mother died of breast cancer when I was sixteen, only a few years older than you," she said quietly. "Really?" Carol looked up and Emma nodded. "What was it like when she died?" Emma was surprised by the sheer bluntness of the question. She took a few seconds to gather her thoughts before she answered. H o w could she provide an answer which would make Carol feel better? There was no answer like that; only honesty. "It was quiet," she paused, "whenever I needed to talk to my mom she was always at the kitchen table doing work or cooking. After she was gone I rarely went into the kitchen, except to eat. M y dad and I supported each other as much as we could but it was still quiet." Carol was listening intently. "It has been twelve years but it seems like I talked to her just yesterday. 186 That's the great thing about memories; you can bring people back whenever you want. M y mom was a great teacher, so when ever I 'm struggling, I ask her questions. Ask her for advice. A n d somehow she answers me by showing me the right thing to do." Emma realized she had taken over the conversation. She should be the one listening.; "Thanks, M s . Moran," Carol said. "Can I come back and talk to you i f I need to?" " O f course." A n d with those words, the Sixties Club began to arrive. " I f you'd like to stay you may." "No , I need to see another teacher about my missed assignments." Carol turned to leave. "Oh, thanks for the card." " Y o u ' l l have to thank Soo-mi. She made it." "I w i l l , bye." A n d with that Carol was out the door. The somber mood which had pervaded the room only moments ago was quickly altered. The energy of the grade tens filled the space and Emma felt an abrupt transformation. The students quickly sat down and got to work. Asking Emma to clarify homework questions, asking their peers for help and working out difficult problems together. If the 187 entire math ten basic class would work this hard she would actually be able to teach and cover the content that she is supposed to get through. So far she was already a week behind in that class. If she moved at the required pace to get through everything she would lose the majority of the class. But i f she continued to go over and over the same material she would only get through half of what is mandated. This was something she was really struggling with. "Hey, M s . Moran. What are you going to dress up as?" Sheerez asked. "Dress up as?" " Y o u know, Halloween. Tomorrow is the dress up day." ' M y God, ' Emma thought to herself, ' is it the end of October already.' "I haven't even thought about it." "I 'm going to be a butterfly. M y mom helped me sew it. I 'm going to look great." " I 'm sure you w i l l . " The other students began to discuss their costumes and plans for the evening. Emma was worried because the students were now completely off task. She looked at her watch. 188 Ten minutes until the warning bell. Oh well , no point in attempting to get them back on track. "Why don't you pack up now?" "Man , is the bell going to ring already?" Tyler asked. "I wish my classes would all go this fast. Then it would be like I didn't even go to school. Thanks, M s . Moran." "Make sure you dress up, M s . Moran," Sheerez said as she left the room. Where has the time gone, Emma thought as she put the desks back into their rows. With ten minutes left before the warning bell Emma decided to head down to the staff room to get herself a cup of coffee. She had not spent much time there since she started. She never had time. If she wasn't planning, photocopying or marking she was helping a student. She had only made it down for lunch two or three times and for coffee in the morning twice. It was always the same group of people; Bonnie, Cam, K i m and Brian, the librarian. A s Emma entered she could hear the group was having a good laugh. " H i , Emma. Join us," Bonnie said motioning to a chair across the table from herself. "Thanks. I 'm just going to get some coffee." Emma moved towards the machine and dug in her pockets for some change. The others continued to chat. 189 "So, to get him back, I have a plan," Brian said. "I've arranged for a k id to sit in his first block class today. It's one of my students from last year. I got a hold of a lab from his class and somewhere in the middle of class the k id w i l l go up and question him about the mark. I 'm wondering how long it w i l l take Evan to figure out that the k id isn't even in his class." " Y o u are evil , Brian. Brilliant, but pure evi l , " Bonnie remarked. "Remind me not to get on his bad side," she said to Emma. Emma simply nodded. "Brian and Evan have had a practical joke war going on for the past five years. Once in a while we have a lul l but when they decide to wage a battle, keep your head down or else you might get caught in the crossfire." "Hey, you gotta have some fun or what's the point in going to work?" Brian said. "True, very true," Cam added. " Y o u know when there is laughter in the workplace, good things are happening." Emma was enjoying the informal banter which was taking place around the table. There were times when she felt she needed to talk to adults after dealing with kids all day. It 190 was good to take a break. Maybe today she would come to the staff room and have lunch. Suddenly she remembered she couldn't because she had arranged a meeting with A n n the secretary, to learn how to use the marks program she would have to use to submit her marks. Oh well , tomorrow I ' l l have lunch with the other teachers, she promised herself that she would do just that. The talk moved to a discussion about the upcoming professional development day and which workshops people were attending. It was an in-school pro-d day but the committee had organized a number of workshops around various topics; cooperative learning, criterion referenced assessment, using computers in the classroom, developing research projects, subject specific workshops and other teaching and learning related topics. Emma was having a difficult time choosing which three she would attend. They were all relevant and most of them really sounded interesting. "Which work shops are you signing up for, Emma?" Bonnie saying her name brought her back to the conversation. "It's a tough choice when you are just starting out," Brian said. "But once you've been here as long as I have it all seems like the same thing." "I wouldn't say it's the same thing, Brian," Bonnie said. "I learn new things or at least some things are clarified every time I attend a session. If nothing else you get to connect with your colleagues and trade ideas about a subject." 191 "It reminds me of the time when I was in the mentor program-1 miss those times we got to just talk about issues," Kim,added. "Yes, I've really enjoyed working on Emma's team this year," said Bonnie. "Yeah, but is she enjoying having you on her team," Brian joked. Everyone laughed. The bell rang. A n d like Pavlov's dog everyone jumped up, grabbed their coffee and headed for the door. The beginning of another day. The day went smoothly. Emma's classes went well . Her meeting at lunch went quickly. The computer program that she had to learn was very straight forward and simple to use. Excited to put her new skills to work Emma decided to take time during her afternoon prep to organize her classes and input their marks. A t the end of an hour she sat with the data in front of her. She knew Jamie was failing English eight; she had already called home to discuss missing assignments. A n d math ten basic had four students with less than fifty percent. Her Sixties Club had still not met their goal but Tyler was passing now, as was Sheerez. What surprised her was Jonathan's results in English twelve. She knew he had missed a few assignments. But those missed assignments coupled with the low marks on the rest of his work had lead to a failing grade. 192 Emma couldn't even really picture Jonathan in her head. She knew where he sat - back row, second desk from the left. He was quiet. Never volunteered an answer and rarely replied when asked a question. He would simply shrug his shoulders. He never caused problems so Emma had not paid much attention to him. That class had so many students keen to learn that she had tended to focus on them. But now she had a problem - what should she do about Jonathan? Should she talk to him, to his parents, or his counselor? How would they respond after almost two months of school passing and not ever being notified that he was having difficulties. This was going to make her look bad. "Hey you, what's the serious look for?" Duncan said. He walked over to the photocopier and began a run. "What's up?" "Oh nothing. Just working on the kids' marks," Emma responded. "That can make anyone get serious. K ids ' failing?" "Yeah. But it 's not the ones that I expected that I 'm worried about. I've dealt with them. It's a grade twelve student whom I didn't realize was failing, so now I have a problem." "Report cards go out next week and he doesn't know he's failing, right?" "Wel l he must know that he isn't doing well . He's missed assignments and has scraped 193 by on all the other ones. What should I do?" "First, you should talk to the k id . " Duncan pulled a chair next to Emma and straddled the back. "Then you should call home. If you can give him a chance to hand in some of his assignments, i f he hands them in, great. If he doesn't, at least you gave him the opportunity." "Is that fair? I take off marks for every day he's late - he's well below zero now. Is it fair to allow him to hand something in so late and receive full credit?" " Y o u may not give him full credit. If it 's quality work you may give him just enough to pass. Y o u need to ask yourself 'what is really important? The fact that it is completed on time or whether or not the k id learned the material? The real world says everyone has to work within a deadline but i f a k id is beaten down every time he has a dead line, he just might give up." "I understand what you are saying. I believe that learning the stuff is the most important thing, but I have a difficulty with allowing him to submit so late. What happens i f other kids find out. I ' l l be buried with marking." "That's the difficulty with English. Y o u need to decide what is important. Maybe you won't mark the assignment as thoroughly. Instead of going over every detail and highlighting problems; read it through and give a couple of comments at the end. Y o u 194 need to strike a balance. A s far as the struggle you are having with fairness, that is simply your past experiences colliding head on with your beliefs. I 'm guessing your school experience has included very little flexibility with late assignments." "Yeah, we were never allowed to submit late papers at the University - or high school." "There you go. That has been your experience to date. N o w you have defined a belief system that supports the idea of student learning as key value. But how does this fit into your experience model? Right now you are saying to the kids 'as long as you do it by Monday it is valuable to learn this material. The farther past Monday we go the less value it has, until it has no value at a l l . ' " Emma was silent. "It's okay, Emma. We all go through this. We all came from the same system. Some teachers change their system to match their beliefs and some change their beliefs to match the system. This is a decision which you w i l l have to make. I f you don't make it you wi l l remain in this state of cognitive conflict. Y o u need to make a choice which you can live with." "Why is all o f this so difficult?" Emma was exhausted. "Because every decision doesn't simply affect your life but two hundred lives whom you 195 touch every day. Y o u are a very influential and powerful person. Y o u can change lives." "I don't feel very powerful. In fact I feel completely out of control," Emma sighed. "It takes time, years even to feel a certain level of comfort in this position. It's a huge responsibility and the job has so many facets to learn about. I know when I signed my contract I didn't expect to be a counselor, a surrogate parent, a furniture mover, a secretary or a banker. But we fill all o f these roles and some where in there we have to find some time to provide instruction and opportunities for students to learn. Actually, now that I think about it I am going to go ask Gord for a raise." Duncan and Emma both laughed at the absurdity of his last statement. Duncan pulled himself up from the chair and grabbed his photocopies. " W e l l , have fun and try not to get to serious." "Yeah. Y o u gave me a lot to think about." "No one said this was going to be an easy job." ' N o , ' Emma thought to herself, 'but I at least thought it would be an enjoyable one.' Emma thought of her mother at the kitchen table with her school work spread out in front of her. She never complained about her job. In fact she always talked about how lucky she was to work with such great kids. She worked so very hard but always seemed to enjoy it. N o w Emma wondered where the pay back was for all o f the hard work. 'When 196 does she reap the rewards?' Chapter 16 "I talked to Jonathan in class on Friday and he just shrugged when I told him he was failing." Emma sat across from Bonnie. She was seeking guidance about the situation with Jonathan while they waited for Cam and Jim. After struggling with this issue all weekend, she felt it might help to talk about it with someone. "So what did you do?" "I told him I was going to call home." " A n d . . . " "He said, 'Go ahead. They won't care. I've been taking care of myself for years.' So I called home; and he was right. His dad said that he had given up on him in grade ten. She says he picks and chooses what to do-and i f he doesn't feel like doing it then he won't. I told him I was wil l ing to do anything I could to help him succeed and he just said, 'Good luck' . A n d that was the end of it." "Sometimes we are faced with the situation," Bonnie said. "Without the support of the parents our job is twice as hard. So what are you going to do?" "I talked to him today. He submitted some of his missing assignments so he brought his 198 mark up to passing but I know he can do so much better. I know he just throws his assignments together at the last minute- and they are usually better than the rest of the students' work. But he always submits his work late so he receives low marks. I just don't know what to do?" "Have you asked him why his assignments are always late?" "Yeah, but he just shrugs his shoulders." " Y o u need to find a way to get him to open up and communicate. Have you talked to his counselor?" "The counselor gave me the same story as his dad. They basically chalk it up to laziness and poor attitude." " A n d you think that there is more to it?" "Yes, no, I don't know. So how should I get him to talk?" " W e l l , you have always approached Jonathan in class, right?" "Yeah, but I always kept our discussions between ourselves and made every attempt to keep it private." 199 "How about asking him to come after class? That way you can talk to him alone and maybe he ' l l feel more comfortable." "I've tried that," Emma said. "But he says he has to work right after school. So I asked him to come in the morning and he said he couldn't make it. When I talked to his counselor he said Jonathan is chronically late and that is causing problems in all of his morning classes." J Jim and Cam entered the room and took their places quietly for fear of disturbing their conversation. "Who are we talking about?" "Jonathan Parker." "Oh, him. I have him for French- first block - Day 2. He's always late. He works at a small computer programming company. He puts in over forty hours a week after school and on weekends," J im said " W e l l , that explains a lot," said Bonnie. " Y o u know, he makes more money than I do," J im continued. "I don't even know why 200 he bothers with school." " I 'm going to try to talk to him again tomorrow. N o w that I know more about him maybe I can find some way to connect." "Good. Let us know how it goes," said Bonnie. "But right now we should take a look at the chapter you gave us on teaching strategies. It was very interesting. Why don't you explain why you picked it, Emma." Bonnie pulled out her copy o f 'What to Look for in a Classroom' by Alf ie Kohn. "I've seen this in Educational Leadership. I didn't realize he had written a book." "I found this piece in my notes from one of the classes I took during my year in the education faculty and I remembered it was a great catalyst for discussion. Although it is extremely short I think the chart, Learner- Centered or Not?, w i l l provide us with some interesting points to talk about." "I agree," Cam spoke out. "The chart was very interesting. The way the author segmented the different aspects of the classroom space and interactions: furniture, walls, sounds, location of teacher, teacher's voice, students' reactions to visitors, class discussions, and tasks was a great way of showing the complex nature of the classroom. But I think the author shows his bias in the corresponding columns - Good Signs and possible Reasons for Concerns." He paused to gather his thoughts for a moment before continuing. "I felt like the author was giving me a checklist to compare my classes and 201 my role and i f I had anything happening which resembles the right hand side of the checklist, I was a bad teacher. A n d it is pretty easy to see that the author wants to see no direct instruction; only cooperative learning. For example, under furniture, Good Signs: chairs around tables to facilitate interaction , Possible Reasons for Concern: desks in rows or chairs facing forward. In my class kids sit with a partner facing forward. Is my room a bad place to be? I don't think so. I use the overhead projector and the basic knowledge is usually most efficiently taught through direct instruction. The foundation of math is the language and basic principles - without this firmly in the place the kids don't have a hope. The students must learn this language and these principles before they can apply them in problem solving." "I agree. It's the same thing with a language," J im jumped in. "I found that the author set up a false dichotomy- one way is good, one way is bad. I use both ways of instruction so I can get the kids through the curriculum." "I admit I spend most of my time in the concerns column. Simply because I am trying to maintain some sense of order. If I tried to make my class look like the one on the left it would be complete chaos," Emma added to Jim's concern. " A n d that is completely legitimate, Emma," Bonnie assured her. "For some the best thing to do is to become proficient with direct instruction and then slowly branch out and incorporate student centered activities. That way i f an activity doesn't work out you can always bring them back to something familiar and comfortable - direct instruction." 202 "Plus, there are times when direct instruction is necessary," Jim said. "Discovery learning doesn't work all of the time. Could you imagine a shop teacher standing in front o f the class and saying, 'Okay, today we are going to learn about safety. Explore the shop and tell me which things are dangerous . . . Go! ' I don't think so . There must be direction given; firm direction." Jim's comment and his exaggerated facial expression made the entire team laugh. He was quite the entertaining storyteller; passionate. The students had often told Emma about his stories in class. They had figured out that i f they asked the right question about his trip to France he would tell a lively story which would take up a sizable portion of the class time. However, what ever he had been telling them had seemed to work. Every student who has taken one of his classes wants to go to France once they graduate. Emma replied, once she had stopped laughing, "I understand that most classrooms wi l l have elements from each of these columns. The area which interested me the most was Class Discussion. Kohn describes a good class as one where "students often address one another directly, emphasis on thoughtful exploration of complicated issues, students ask questions at least as often as the teacher does." A n d the classroom which the teacher should be concerned about is described as, "al l exchanges involve (or directed by) the teacher; students wait to be called upon, emphasis on facts and right answers, students race to be first to answer the teacher's 'Who can tell me?' queries." Emma read from her copy. "I admit my classes look like the bad classroom; how can I move it to the good classroom category?" 203 "Don't use this article to classify your classroom as a bad one. Your style right now is predominately transmissive." Emma's confused look prompted Bonnie to explain. "When I use the word transmissive I am simply referring to the type of instruction a teacher employs. A transmissive teacher transmits, or gives, the students the information. The teacher wants the students to leave the room with the right information. The assumption that the teacher holds all of the knowledge." "Is that wrong?" Emma asked. "Not really. However, i f the students leave the classroom without being able to apply that knowledge or understand how to seek answers without them being given to them - what use is that knowledge to them?" Bonnie asked. "There are times when you wi l l find yourself giving the students information. But you want the students to be able to use that information to solve new problems. Or at least use the process you went through to learn that information. Y o u want them to interact with the information," Cam added quickly. "It's like a transaction." " A n d I hope my students w i l l go one step further," said Bonnie. "I hope my students 204 leave my classroom changed by what hey have learned; transformed. When the discussion in the class has a profound impact on their lives, I believe the knowledge wi l l stay with them forever." "Could you both give me an example?" Emma asked. J im and Cam were both interested in what Bonnie had to say. Bonnie was well respected in the school as a teacher. Students fought to get into her classes; even begged. She has high expectations but the students leave her class with an incredible energy and a passion for learning. " W e l l , let's see," she paused. "There have been many times where an individual was transformed by an assignment or discussion. But I think the most powerful example I can give was when an entire class was transformed. I had a class about ten years ago in my first year which was not working together as a community. There were a lot of mean things said, in fighting; it just wasn't a very pleasant space to be in. So one day I was reading a short story to the class about an adolescent kil led in a drunk driving accident. I asked the class to write an essay about the piece. What I received were very personal accounts about how their lives had been affected by drinking and driving. I didn't know it at the time I read the class the story but a group of teens from this school had been killed in an accident in which one of the girls was drunk while driving. The driver's sister was in the class. Before I realized what was going on they were sharing their essays as part of the editing process. This lead to a very powerful discussion session where everyone aired their feelings. The sister talked about the profound sense of guilt she felt-not only for allowing her sister to drive, but she also was taking the responsibility for the 205 other four lives lost. It was a scary experience for me but a unifying experience for the class. The sister was able to release the guilt and she was supported by the others in the class. Others were able to voice their anger about the situation, not the driver. It really pulled this group of kids together. This is what led to the formation of the Teens Against Drunk Drivers in this school. Those kids left that class transformed; as individuals and as a community." Silence filled the room. They were all moved by the story. "So how do you get there i f you don't have a major conflict to resolve or get through?" Emma asked. " W e l l , I do it by introducing strategies which moves me a way from the front of the classroom," Bonnie said. "Like what?" "There are so many ways to get the kids to interact and learn from one another but you must be careful to prepare them well , or else your attempts w i l l fai l ." " A n d not because the kids can't do it," Cam added. "But because you did not teach them how to do it." 206 "Sounds pretty directive to me," J im said. "It is at first, but some really amazing things can happen." Bonnie was quick to defend. She turned back to Emma. "I start with the students working in pairs; either think-pair-share or coach and partner. First you have to define the purpose and their roles. Then I do a simulation to model the process and then we practice. Once they learn how to do it you can use the strategy any time. Then I move them into groups of four. In this group size I tend to do jigsaws, discussion groups, team tournaments, projects. Here they learn to work together. Then the next step is whole class discussion." "How do you do that without you mediating?" Emma asked. "I start with the Socratic Circle. The students are asked to pose a question. The first student poses a question and that same student mediates the conversation. Once the student is satisfied that the question has been dealt with to his or her satisfaction the next student poses a question." " A n d where are you?" J im was intrigued. "I 'm not even in the circle. I am simply observing. Often I w i l l use an overhead and take notes. A t the end I provide a summary and make links. It's a great way to close the class. If I try to get involved one too many times the students w i l l remind me what my role is. I quite enjoy it. A n d the level of thinking and interaction that takes place is 207 amazing." "Does it ever get out of control?" Emma was thinking about how quickly this activity would derail in her classes. "No, because they are all well prepared and understand what is expected of them." Bonnie said using a no nonsense tone of voice. If she used that with the kids, no doubt they wouldn't step out of line, Emma thought. Bonnie continued, "From that point I loosen the formality of the Socratic Circle and true discussion occurs without my meddling. I provide a scaffold so the students can learn to engage in the art of discussion." Emma was impressed. This is something I could see myself doing in my classes. If I start small, she thought, I could eventually build up to what Bonnie was talking about. I 'm not sure it would work well with the tens but she felt pretty confident about the other classes. " I 'm going to try it," she said out loud. "Good," Bonnie said. "Don't be discouraged i f it doesn't work the first time. It's like anything new - the first time is a little scary, but once it becomes familiar it is like second nature." "I did do some cooperative learning activities on my practicum, but they were strategies that my sponsor teacher had already used so I didn't have to go into any great detail or 208 explanation on how to do it," Emma admitted. "If you're familiar with those strategies, start there, as long as they are not too complicated. Break up the activity into little steps and slowly build up the students' skills," Cam said. "It seems like a lot of work just to teach the kids how to do the activity," said Jim. "That eats up valuable time the kids could be learning the material." "It's true. The activities are more time consuming but the kids leave with a better understanding of content and hopefully the information w i l l stay with them beyond the test," Bonnie replied. "But there are some activities which actually save time - like the jigsaw. The students each take a part of a reading and become ' an expert' and share their new knowledge with a group of their peers. It saves a ton of time in terms of reading. A n d the students understand the main concepts. I've found it to be quite effective and efficient." Bonnie glanced at her watch. "It's almost five so we should start to wrap it up. We have met once a week and have covered some very interesting topics. From now to the end of the year we w i l l meet once a month. Is the second Monday of each month okay for everyone?" Bonnie received nods from each person. " W e l l it's the second Monday in November so we wi l l meet in December. A n y ideas for a topic?" N o one jumped forward with one. "That's okay. We are all feeling a little drained - with report cards and everything. I can't believe how fast this year has gone so far. I ' l l send a reminder about the meeting and a request for topic suggestions after parent teacher 209 interview next week. Sounds good." "I hope this has been of some help." Cam said to Emma as they collected their things. "Oh, yes. I have enjoyed the conversation and the help," Emma responded trying to sound enthusiastic. She couldn't help but feel a little let down. She had expected that this group would have been more than just simply an opportunity to discuss educational issues. She felt closer to Bonnie than Cam or J im and she knew that she could seek her out i f she needed anything. However, she still felt slightly disconnected and unsupported. Maybe it was because she had not reached out as often as she could have? Maybe she could have made more of an effort to connect socially at coffee or at lunch? But it was hard. Bonnie was busy and she had friends whom she has been working with for years. What could Emma offer? The four went their separate ways and Emma found herself alone in the room. She really should prepare for the parent teacher interviews next week, she thought. Emma had a 'to-do' list a mile long: change bulletin boards, marking for four classes, make up a new seating plan, photocopy unit tests, plan her next English eight unit, answer the staff survey put out by the professional development committee. Would it ever end? In the end Emma simply picked up her box of marking, turned out the lights, closed the door and headed for home. She just felt like she needed to get away from it all . 210 Chapter 17 "Before you go, Jonathan, could I speak with you?" He was headed out the door with the rest of the grade twelve English class. He did not like her request but complied all the same. " M s . Moran, I only have a few minutes. I have to go to work." He propped himself up against a desk and looked directly into her eyes. "That's what I wanted to talk to you about. I didn't see your mom or dad's name on my list for parent teacher interviews tonight, so I just wanted to check out a couple of things with you." "Okay," was his answer. Emma was hoping he would volunteer more information but he wasn't wi l l ing to open up to her. "I understand you work with a computer company." "I 'm a programmer," he stated bluntly. "Yes, do you work everyday?" "Yep, seven days a week. But I don't mind. I like it a lot and I get paid wel l . " 211 "That's important. But when you think of the people you work with; do most of them have degrees? I mean from a university?" Emma asked, hoping to lead him to reveal more information which could aid the argument she was about to present about the necessity o f an education. "Some. But some don't." "But all do have high school diplomas?" " M m m .. . yeah, I guess. I can't think of anyone who doesn't; except me." "Does that concern you? I mean the fact that you don't have a degree? Or even a diploma?" "No, because I 'm still in high school and I ' l l graduate this year." Jonathan was looking at his watch. "Not without passing English twelve you won't." He looked up. N o w she had his attention. "Didn' t your grade in English concern you?" "I only need two more percent to pass. I can do that easy." "Is a pass all you want? Don't you want to go on to university? If you are so good at 212 computers, don't you want a degree in Computer Sciences or something?" " A h , M s . Moran. I don't need to go to university. They can't teach me anything. I make $40,000 a year fixing computer programs. Why should I pay to go somewhere to learn something I can teach myself?" How could she argue with logic like that? Her mind was still reeling from the fact that a seventeen year old k id was making $40,000. " W e l l , I know a degree is useful i f you want to get on with the bigger companies." She was trying to find some way to convince this kid to buy into the value of formal education. "For example, I have a friend who works with the Internet. He went down to the States to interview with I B M and they said he was perfect for the job but they had two other guys with Masters applying for the same position. He realized then that he would need more education to gain an advantage over any other guy who knew as much as he did." " W e l l , I figure i f I could get this job without even a high school diploma I should be able to get what ever I want when I 'm done." He stood with a little more confidence; ready to take on any challenge Emma presented. Even though he seemed confident, Emma could still see the child inside trying to become a man. It was obvious that he had a great deal of experience in the adult world but it was also obvious to Emma that he still need guidance. 213 "What does your dad think?" "Dad thinks I should just quit school i f I 'm not going to try. I make more than he does; so he thinks I should just focus on work." 'Okay, ' Emma thought to herself, T won't get much support from the father.' But she already knew that from her telephone conversation. "How about your mom?" In an instant all the self-confidence Jonathan was displaying vanished. He looked down at the floor and mumbled, "She's gone." "I 'm sorry. I didn't know." "It's okay. She left when I was six. M y dad is still pissed at her." "Oh," She hadn't expected that his mother had abandoned the family. Jonathan looked at his watch again. "I really should go. M y boss wants to meet today so we can sign off on a project." "Jonathan, I would just like you to think about what we have talked about today. What does your future look like? H o w important is it to keep your options open? What happens i f you decide you want to go to school and you can't because your marks aren't 214 high enough? Then what? Jonathan replied to Emma's line of questions by simply staring back blankly. She feared that she had not gotten through to him at all . "Thanks, M s . Moran. I really have to go." He headed for the door. " I f you need any extra help, I 'm always here," Emma called after him. N o response. Emma moved from her position in front of her desk to take a seat. She had everything organized for parent teacher interviews. A t least she could be proud o f that fact. However, Jonathan presented a problem which overwhelmed her. H o w could she help him see the value of education? How could she make a difference without any support from home? She was exhausted; and there were still parent teacher interviews to get through today. H o w was she going to make it? Emma sat in her desk for an hour trying to get work done, but the words simply floated in front of her eyes. She recognized the words but she could not fit them together to make sense of them. Finally she gave up and decided to go for a walk. Only a five minute drive from the school was a beautiful park. She had driven past many times but never had the time to stop. Today she would make time. Hopefully the fresh air would wake her up and allow her to function properly this evening. 215 Pulling into the parking lot she realized she was alone, being November and supper time, this was to be expected. This was the perfect opportunity for her to have some time alone. Pulling her coat closer she felt warm and comfortable. There was slight breeze which chilled the tips of ears and her nose but she could already feel the brisk air taking effect. Her head was beginning to clear. A s she descended the embankment she had to decide whether to take the path which disappeared into the trees, or take the path which skirted along the river's edge. Robert Frost's poem came to mind. "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood." Which should she take? She decided to take the one through the woods. Intrigued by where this path leads, she headed off. Walking through the narrow passageway Emma began to think about the path which had brought her here to this moment in time. I f someone had told her that she would be teaching high school students, when she was sixteen years old she would have laughed at them. So many of her colleagues say that they knew from the day they came into this world that they were born to teach. Not her. She didn't make her decision until third year university. When her mom died in the middle of her senior year she was angry; angry at the world 216 and the teaching profession. During the last few months of her mother's life Emma was able to spend a great deal of time with her; she finally came to know her mom as a person. In the past she had been so consumed by her life as a teacher that was the only image Emma had of her. However, that image was altered once she was forced to stay at home or in the hospital. The school life would continue to take some of her mother's time and attention; colleagues would call, students would drop by, graduates would send notes. Emma could see the delight she took from all of this but she was jealous of the commitment her mother showed to those other kids. ' H o w about me?' she wanted to cry out. In the end when her mother died, she went peacefully. A n d Emma knew how much her mother loved her. A t the funeral, Emma came to realize the impact her mother had on other people's lives. They had to hold it in the school gym where hundreds of people attended. They even had to open the cafeteria and mike the ceremony to accommodate those who came but could not get a seat in the gym. It was overwhelming for Emma. But even that experience did not make her want to become a teacher. She wanted to become a doctor. She wanted to help heal people and hear them say 'thank you, you saved my life. ' She wanted to feel needed and loved. The day Emma decided to become a teacher was clear in her memory. She had been seeing Matt for a couple o f months and he had asked her to drive to the interior to meet his family. She could remember sitting huddled by the fire after dinner when his little sister, who had just turned four, came over with a book. Emily asked Emma i f she would 217 look at the book with her. " O f course,'\Emma said lifting Emily onto her lap. "Let's see what you have in here." It was a book full o f puzzles and activities for a child her age. "Do you want to try some of the math puzzles?" "I don't know how," she said meekly. "That's okay. We can learn together." "Okay," Emi ly ' s face brightened. The two of them sat in front of the fire for over an hour. A n d in the end Emily was able to add two numbers together by showing one number on Emma's hand and one number on her own hand and then she would count them out loud. Together they had finished three of the simple puzzles. When her mother came to tuck her into bed, Emily turned to Emma and gave her a big hug. "You're the best teacher I know. I wish you could be my teacher everyday," she paused. "I don't really like M s . Cameron, she's my play school teacher," she whispered. Her mother took the little girl 's hand as she slid off of Emma's lap. 218 Is this the reason mom taught? Emma sat in front of the fire a long time basking in the warmth of the fire and the experience with Emily. This is the feeling I've been missing, she concluded. It wasn't long after that night that Emma switched her major so she could qualify for the education program. She had come to the fork in the road and took the one less traveled and she hoped that it would make all the difference. Emma found herself at the edge of the river, farther downstream. She looked at her watch and realized her first parents would arrive in forty five minutes. Fortunately, there was a path which she could take along the river which was much shorter than the one she had been wandering along. Emma picked up the pace and found herself driving back to the school within half an hour. She felt better; both her mind and body. Her first meeting would be with Carol's father. Emma wasn't sure how to deal with this situation. Even though she had experienced a family member dying of cancer she had never been in a counseling position before. Emma decided to let him take the lead. She was ready and waiting for M r . McLeod when he arrived. Although it had been less than a month since she saw him, he looked much older than she remembered. He shook her outstretched hand with little power. He seemed very frail to Emma. 219 "Hello, M s . Moran." He took a seat across from her desk. " I 'm so glad you could come," she replied. "The nurse is staying with my wife tonight. I just wanted to make sure I got a chance to see you." He paused, "I really appreciate the kindness you have shown Carol ." "Wel l , I really haven' t . . ." M r . M c L e o d interrupted her. "Oh but you have. Carol is constantly talking about how nice you are and how helpful you have been." "But really, I haven't done much." "Just the fact that she knows that you are there and have shared a similar experience is enough. It has been a tough couple of years and the last month has been incredibly hard." Emma didn't know what to say. Actually, she knew there was nothing she could say, so she simply listened to him. "It's been really hard on Carol. I couldn't get her to go back to school for over a week after you found her. She didn't want to leave her mother's side. Fear is a funny thing; it 220 makes you irrational. She felt like i f she were out of her mother's sight something might happen. The nightmares were the worst - there were periods where Carol wouldn't sleep for two or three days. It just made it harder on her mother. The nurse we have now is great - good for Pat and good for Carol. It's going to make the last little while easier." M r . McLeod ' s voice trailed off. His posture was weak - the sign of a man ready to break under the pressure. Emma's heart went out to him. She reached out and placed her hand on the edge o f the desk he was sitting in, " I 'm here to help in any way that I can." The sentiment was genuine, but she was not sure she could really help. " Y o u have been so kind to Carol and that is the most important thing. Y o u have shown her that you really care just by taking an interest and being on her side." "Emma glanced up to see a set of parents waiting at the door. M r . M c L e o d followed her gaze and jumped up from his seat, "I see your next appointment is here. I ' l l go. If there are any concerns you have about Carol please contact me." " O f course. I w i l l stay in touch, M r . McLeod . " "Kev in , please call me K e v i n . " " W e l l , thank you for coming and give my best wishes to your wife." 221 I w i l l , thank you." The remainder o f the evening went smoothly . The majority of the meetings were with Emma's junior students who were receiving A ' s and B ' s in the classes which she taught. After she went through the mark break down and asked i f there were any questions the time was up. She was disturbed by the fact that the parents o f those students who were failing or causing difficulties in her classes were not on her list. A l l o f her slots were full so she stayed busy right to the end. Finally the last interview came and went and Emma packed up to go. " H o w ' d it go?" Duncan said as her appeared, leaning against the door frame. "Fine, thanks. H o w about you?" "Oh, this is like old home week for me. Except for the grade eights I know all of the parents pretty wel l ; especially the grade twelves. After five years of interviews and fund-raisers I feel like they are part of my life. But it's good to get to know the new parents." "Yeah, I guess so," Emma replied. " Y o u look like you could use a drink. A group of us are heading to the pub - you 222 coming?" He gave her a look which could only make her say 'yes'. "Okay, just let me finish up and I ' l l meet you there." Duncan left and Emma returned to finish up the last of her tasks so she could jo in the rest. A s she was putting the remaining file folders back she heard a knock at the door. She turned expecting to see Duncan but was surprised to see a woman standing in the doorway. " M s . Moran?" the woman asked. "Yes, may I help you?" "I 'm Jamie Kendel 's mother, Julie ." "Oh, hi. I didn't have you on my list; however, I 'm glad you dropped by." Emma motioned to a desk; inviting her to take a seat. "So you have a minute?" " O f course. I have a print out of Jamie's mark which I was going to mail home." Emma pulled out the file which she had just put away. 223 "I am concerned with Jamie's mark in the class. I know he's not the best k id in the world, but I am here to talk about you." " M e . " Emma was surprised by the harshness of her voice and the abrupt nature of her statement. "Yes , I understand that you yell a lot in class and that you have no control over the kids." Emma was taken back by this comment. " A t the beginning the class was a little crazy but it has gotten a great deal better," Emma was scrambling. For the second time that evening she didn't know what to say. She didn't have to say anything. Jamie's mother continued her rampage, "Didn ' t they teach you anything in University? Didn' t they teach you how to control a class without yelling?" Emma knew i f she didn't turn the conversation around quickly she would be in too deep. " W e l l , Mrs . Kendel ," she said with a soft, even voice. "I w i l l admit there are times when I get a little agitated but some of those times are a direct result of Jamie's antics in class." Emma looked directly into the short, blond woman's blue eyes. It was obvious this woman would not back down and Emma could only hope she could stop herself from breaking down. 224 "Even i f a child is misbehaving, M s . Moran, that does not give you the right to berate them in front of their peers. Y o u are the adult and they are the children." Her voice rose in pitch and in volume - Emma was shaking. She attempted to diffuse the situation, " I 'm sorry," she said quietly. "I have implemented a new discipline policy and it seems to work most of the time. But, I really must emphasize the fact that Jamie goes against my requests often. A n d because he has the ability to get others to follow his lead I find him very difficult to deal with." Emma's voice was barely a whisper. Julie Kendel could see that she had beaten her down, "Listen, I was a teacher before I had my kids. Y o u just need to find some other way to approach Jamie - to get him on side." Her tone had softened a bit but she was still ready to pounce i f needed. "I would like to see some changes. I w i l l speak to Jamie about his behavior in class, but I think you are going to have to make changes before he ' l l come on board." Emma nodded. She was trying to control the tears which were threatening to flood down her cheeks. " W e l l , I've said what I came to say," Mrs . Kendal said getting up from her seat. "I hope that you and Jamie w i l l be able to work things out so both of your lives w i l l be easier." "I hope so too," Emma said unable to look the woman in the eyes. 225 "Ca l l me i f there is anything else I should know about." "I w i l l . " Emma watched the blond ball o f energy stalk out of the room. Once she was gone the tears began to fall. Placing her head in her hands she wept openly. 'Why am I doing this?' Emma questioned herself. 'Is the job really worth it?' Taking a few deep breaths she was able to get her emotions under control. She placed the file back in it's place and collected her belongings. Emma continued to replay the scene over and over again. Was there something else she could have said? Some other way to have dealt with the situation more effectively? Emma wasn't sure. The only thing she was sure about was that she needed a drink. Could she face the other teachers at the pub? Could she talk about the evening's events without breaking into tears? Unt i l the very end she had a great evening; pleasant parents and even a few thank yous. It was incredible that all of the good experiences could be wiped out by one single moment; one upset parent. Emma turned off the lights and closed the door determined to leave the memories of the final encounter of the evening behind. Once Emma arrived at the pub, her spirits began to lift. Emma could hear the laughter from the group she would meet long before she entered the building . This is exactly what I need tonight, she thought to herself as she opened the heavy wood door. About twenty five staff members sat around four tables pushed together. They were better 226 dressed than the regular clientele and a bit louder. The moment she walked through the door she saw Duncan motioning to her. There was an empty seat beside him. She moved passed the mass of people saying her hellos and sat down between Duncan and Gord. She had barely had a chance to take off her coat before Gord began his line of questions. "So Emma, how did your first night of parent teacher interviews go?" He asked before taking a sip of his drink. "Fine. It was nice to have the opportunity to meet with the parents." " D i d you get to see everyone you wanted to?" "Wel l no, I didn't have the parents whom I really needed to speak with. Most of the parents had kids with high marks. I only had a couple of parents with students who were actually failing show up. So basically it was a night of 'your child is doing wel l ' and ' i f he studied more he could bring his mark up to an A ' ; stuff like that." "No problems?" Gord asked leaning forward. Emma began to wonder i f Julie Kendel had talked to Gord that night. Emma wasn't sure i f she was ready to talk about the incident yet. Especially with all o f her colleagues 227 sitting around - close enough to hear. "I had one parent who was a b i t . . . a bit rough but nothing I couldn't handle," Emma feigned confidence. "You're bound to have one or two of those a night," Duncan interjected. "The fact that you are still standing and don't have any visible wounds is pretty impressive," he laughed. "I 'm just glad that everything went wel l , " Gord offered his support. "Just one more piece of business, then I promise to leave school behind." He took another sip of his drink as the waitress came by giving Emma the chance to order a white wine. "This is your first year of teaching. Therefore, an administrator must write a performance report. I've elected to do the reports this year for all first year teachers. It is not that big of a deal. W e ' l l chat, then I w i l l observe your classes, and then we chat again. Once I have seen a few lessons I w i l l write up a report which w i l l go into your file. We w i l l meet before so you have the opportunity to read over and discuss any discrepancies. It's not that big of a deal but i f you ever decide to move districts it w i l l be an important document." Emma was having flashbacks to her practicum. Those days when her advisor from the University would come and observe. On those occasions, Emma would be so nervous. She would spend days planning for that single class - just so it would be perfect. After taking the classes at the University it was pretty easy to figure out what the advisor would 228 be looking for - good classroom management, students engaged and on task - and you got bonus marks i f co-operative learning activities were used. But this would be different. Emma didn't know what to expect from Gord. D i d he like seeing kids in groups? D i d he want to see kids in neat rows? What kind of assessment techniques did he want to see? Would she have to write up detailed lesson plans like she did at school? She had cut back from her three page format to a little less than a page. Creating lesson plans with really effective hooks and great closure had been compromised by time constraints. "So Emma, could we meet tomorrow, after school, and set up some times?" " U h , yeah sure," Emma was intimidated by the thought of having the principle watch her teach. Duncan must have sensed her uneasy feeling. He turned to her and said in a low voice, "It really isn't that bad. Y o u are a good teacher. The kids like you and you are constantly trying to improve your practice. I t ' l l be a breeze." Emma went through the motions the rest of the evening. Engaging in small talk, telling little anecdotes, listening to the stories of the past; but her mind was elsewhere. She was 229 mentally preparing for her first observation. If at all possible, the grade twelve English class would be the best way to start. They were her best class and she could do something interesting with them - with out the students creating chaos. One by one the teachers left to return to their families. Finally, Emma decided it was time to go, also. A s she got up to leave, Duncan placed his hand on her arm and asked, "Everything okay?" "Yeah, just a little tired." "Take care of yourself." "I w i l l thanks," Emma put her coat on and headed out the door. Take care of myself, she thought. How am I supposed to do that. I have two hundred students I am supposed to be responsible for. Taking care of them is a full time job. A blast of cold air hit Emma as she left the building but even that couldn't bring her out of her fog. Her mind was reeling with flashes of bits and pieces of the evening being replayed; Carol 's father, Jamie's mother, and Gord's bomb shell about observations and reports. The sense of being overwhelmed was slowly creeping back. Less than a month until Christmas break, she reminded herself. Then I can take two weeks off and spend time with Dad; no school, no marking, no planning. 230 Chapter 18 Emma spent her entire weekend preparing for Gord's observation of her grade twelve English class. He had requested that the first observation happen relatively soon. When she suggested the following Monday he seemed pleased. So the plan was to have a pre-conference at lunch. He would then watch the full period and this would be followed by a past conference during her preparation period. Nervous tension disrupted Emma's sleep the night before. She woke up feeling groggy and unable to focus. Fortunately she had planned classes for the first two periods which would not require too much energy. It was a good thing that she had done this because she could not concentrate at all during the morning period. B y the time lunch came around and Gord arrived at her door Emma felt mentally prepared. She was ready to answer any question he threw at her. It surprised her when he came to the door and very casually sat down on top of one of the tables at the front of the room. He looked at her and simply asked, "How are things?" "Fine," Emma replied. Suddenly she felt her nerves take over as she began to fumble through the stack of papers on her desk. "I have my lesson plan ready and I made a copy of my unit for you so you could see how it all fits together. I 'm in the middle of a unit about poetry and they w i l l be analyzing and categorizing poems." Emma thrust a bunch 231 of papers into Gord's hands. "I also have a copy of the assignment they w i l l be doing today." Again she threw her papers at him. "Okay, good, Emma let's sit down." He was obviously trying to calm her down by using a soft voice. "It looks like you are well prepared so you have won half the battle. The other half is the execution of the plan. Let's just go through what you are going to do." "Okay," Emma said feeling slightly less frazzled. The two of them took seats opposite each other at the table on which Gord was previously perched. "I plan to begin by explaining the assignment and how I expect them to complete the activity. Then the students w i l l form groups of four. Once the groups are formed, they w i l l use the jigsaw method to read twelve poems, so each person w i l l read three and tell the group about them. After this is done they w i l l be required to classify and categorize the poems. Once this has been done they w i l l provide a brief presentation for the class. I w i l l give each group an overhead pen and a transparency to use in the presentation. A n d finally, each group w i l l have to explain their categories and justify why each poem belongs in that particular category." "Okay," Gord completely focused on the information he was receiving. "So when you say the students w i l l get into groups, how w i l l you determine who belongs in which group?" "Oh, I tend to do a variety of things to group kids; number off, give them a piece of candy 232 and ask them to get together with like colors, color code them using sticky notes. But today I w i l l simply ask them to get into their base groups. I arranged these groups at the beginning of the year and ask them to work together at least once every two weeks. They have performed a jigsaw with this group in the past so there won't be any time lost explaining the procedure." "Good. Y o u have thought this out carefully. Do you think this activity w i l l take all period?" "I expect it w i l l . I hope we wi l l make it through all of the presentations before the bell rings, but i f we don't we can carry it on to the next period." "For assessment, I see you simply have participation marks and a completion grade. How does that fit into your overall grading system?" " W e l l , every term, ten percent of the student's grade is based on their participation in class. A n d there are times when I don't give an actual letter grade or percentage, but simply a completion mark." "Are you really marking the same thing twice? If they complete the activity are they not participating?" Emma thought for a moment. " I never thought of it that way." She paused. "You're 233 right. I guess I need to change that. Should I give a letter grade or a mark?" "What are you trying to accomplish?" "I want to see i f they understand the concepts that we've covered so far in the unit, and i f the students are able to identify poetry using some other way than 'what it's about'." "Are you using this as a summative activity or are you just checking to see how much they understand so far?" "Oh this is just a check to see where the gaps are and to see how much they've picked up," she stopped. "So I guess I don't really need to give them a mark. If I just give them a participation mark...." "I would be careful of marking for participation. Unless it is stated in your curriculum guide that participation is part of your learning outcomes then you can't mark for participation. Y o u can, however, give a mark for completion, where participation is integrated into the activity." "So does that mean a student can hang out and let the group do his work for him?" "Wel l , that is where you have to make a judgment call as a teacher. I f a student is not involved in the activity then you should discuss that with him or her, and i f it continues, 234 you may choose to not give them a completion grade. But the student's lack of participation should be noted in his or her work habits grade." "Okay, I understand." Emma looked at her watch. The warning bell was about to sound. "The bell is about to ring. Where would you like me to sit?" "Anywhere is fine," " I ' l l sit at the back. I may get up and wander around to see what the students are doing, i f you don't mind?" "Not at a l l . " Emma prepared for her upcoming class; organizing handouts, organizing seats, pulling out the overhead transparencies and pens. She was ready. The kids entered the room. Their chatter was mainly focused on the weekend events and parties. Emma was surprised by the energy of the class. This was unusual for a Monday afternoon. The students noticed the sign on the overhead which read 'Please sit in your base groups'. They did. Once the final bell rang Emma called for quiet and waited. It took a few seconds but they calmed down and eventually sat still, waiting patiently for further instructions. "Okay, today we are going to use what we have learned in this unit so far to analyze and classify 235 poetry." She paused. N o response. " Y o u should be seated in your base groups. I w i l l give you twelve poems - three per page. Each o f you w i l l read three poems and share them with the group." "Do you mean we are supposed to read them out loud?" interrupted Karen. She was the kind of student who always needed clarification whether the instructions were verbal or written. "Karen, please put your hand up before you ask a question. N o , you do not read them out loud. We are going to do a jigsaw. Y o u w i l l analyze the poem using what we have learned and explain it to your group." Karen's hand shot up and she said, "Can we read them out loud. If I don't know the poem, then someone telling me what's in it doesn't matter." Emma was getting a little frustrated with Karen. "Karen," she said attempting to calm herself, "when I asked you to put your hand up before you asked a question I expect you to wait to be acknowledged. Now, for your question the poems are short enough that it would be okay for you to take the time to read them out loud." Emma took an audible breath. "Once you have done this, as a group, you w i l l decide what characteristics the poems share, and you w i l l group them." Karen put up her hand. 236 "Yes, Karen," Emma looked back to see a smirk on Gord's face. "How many poems in each group? Three?" "It doesn't matter how many poems in each group together as long as they share the same characteristics? Clear?" Karen nodded as did the rest of the class. Even Jonathan was awake enough to nod in unison with the others. "Once the classification is complete you w i l l put your findings on a transparency and you wi l l share with the entire class at the end.: She paused expecting questions. There were none. "Good, I would like to try to finish this by the end of the period so we must get to work." The students groaned. Emma ignored the groans and proceeded to handout the material. The students jumped into action. This is a good class, Emma thought to herself. There was absolute silence as the class began to prepare their poems. 237 Slowly as groups finished the noise level began to rise. Emma circulated around the room and listened as students took turns explaining the poems and the poetic devices which could be found in each one. She was pleased. The students were using the terminology and correctly identifying the patterns. She had succeeded; they were on the right track. Gord was also up observing and moving between groups. A s the class came to the end of the period, Emma realized that only one group would have time to present. She questioned herself, should only one group present or should she wait until the next day? She decided to go ahead so Gord would get to see at least one group. She asked for volunteers and Jonathan's group agreed to go first. The four students stood at the front and presented. Emma was very disappointed. Even though she had heard the groups identify the correct poetic devices; when they grouped them they had chosen theme as the categories: poems about love, poems about war, poems about everyday life and one poem stood alone; poems about fog. They didn't understand what she had wanted. When she asked how many others grouped their poems according to subject matter almost the entire class raised their hands. Emma felt defeated and dismissed the class when the bell rang with a quiet 'you may go'. The students filed out of the room and the scribes gave their overhead pens back to Emma. Emma did not want to have to face Gord. Jonathan stayed behind, "Here's your pen, M s . Moran. Listen, I thought about what you 238 had to say and I talked to my boss. He always thought I was going to college after high school. When I told him I wasn't doing so well he said that he would pay for my tuition for school i f I signed a contract stating that I would come back to work for him for at least five years." Emma listened carefully but didn't say anything. "But as you know," he continued. " M y marks are in the toilet and I won't be able to get in anywhere." " A n d , " Emma said. " W e l l . I was wondering i f there was any way I could make up the marks from first term?" He looked down as he shuffled his feet. "No, not really but i f you work hard and hand in quality work - on time, I w i l l promise you w i l l get a good grade. But it is up to you." "Okay thanks." He looked her straight in the eye, " I 'm really going to try." He turned to go. " M s . Moran?" He turned back. "If I start to slack off again w i l l you ride me to make sure I get it done and get it done right?" " Y o u bet I w i l l , " she said firmly with a smile. She walked over to him and placed an arm 239 around his shoulder and quietly said, "If you are determined to succeed nothing can stand in your way. But remember I ' l l be standing behind you to back you up." "Thanks," Jonathan said shyly looking down at the floor again. Once Jonathan was gone Gord came from behind and said, " Y o u handled that wel l . " Emma had forgotten he was even there. When she was involved in a discussion with a student the rest of the world was forgotten. "Thank you," she stuttered. N o w was the moment of truth. "I was so disappointed in the final presentations. I thought it was going so well by the initial discussions. Then I got caught up with Elisha's group because there are two learning assistance kids in that group and I missed out on what the others were doing once they began to group the poems. I couldn't believe it when the first group presented. I really thought they had understood." Emma was speaking quickly trying to explain the situation. Gord simply sat back and listened. Emma didn't know what else she could say that would justify the outcome of the class. "What did you learn about what the students had learned?" "I learned that they were able to analyze the poems but couldn't classify them." Emma sat back in her chair showing the signs of defeat. 240 "Were they wrong in the way they classified them?" "No. They put the poems together according to theme correctly but they didn't do what I wanted them to do." "What did you want them to do?" "I wanted them to group them according to poetic devices used - personification, alliteration, extended metaphor." "But did you tell them that?" "I told them to group them according to characteristics." Emma was getting slightly annoyed with Gord's questions. "But you didn't specify. Therefore, the students decided what the poem was about in terms of the most important characteristic. Is that wrong?" " N o . " "But it is not what you wanted so how can you get them to do what you want?" 241 Emma thought for a moment. Then she slowly spoke as she worked it out in her head. "I could show my appreciation to the group who presented today. I feel bad that I let my disappointment show. Then I could ask the remainder of the class to regroup in a different way. Perhaps, i f I give them some examples they w i l l head in the right direction." "I think the more freedom you give them the more creative they w i l l be in the long run." Emma sat silently. "I think you accomplished what you wanted to," Gord said. How? Emma thought. " Y o u now know that the students understand the content and they also understand how to classify. N o w you can move on. Do you feel these students are ready to write the provincial exam and do well on the portion of the exam dedicated to this area of content?" Emma wasn't sure how to answer this question, as she hadn't really looked at the final exam. She hadn't found time to do that yet. "We have to keep in mind at the end of the year these students w i l l be writing an exam which is worth fifty percent of their overall mark. A n d it w i l l be that final grade twelve mark which w i l l get them into university or 242 not. This is a highly focused, academic school and a large number of our students go on to some for o f post secondary education," he said proudly. "Therefore, we must keep in mind the bottom line - the final grade." "I haven't really looked at the final, yet," Emma admitted. " W e l l , Bonnie w i l l have copies of old exams. Y o u should see her." "I w i l l . " The mention of Bonnie's name reminded her that she had a meeting with the mentor group and she hadn't even read the article for this afternoon's meeting. "The students seem to be able to do what you expect them to do. A n d your planning and organization is very good. For the next class I observe I would like to see clearer instructions and make an attempt to foresee the difficulties the students may have." "I w i l l , " Emma replied. "I would like to see you again in early January. H o w about one of your junior classes; math maybe." Before Emma could suggest her best math nine class, Gord said, "How about your math ten basic? That would be completely different from your English twelve students." Emma really didn't want him to come to that class. She had good days with them but 243 there could be some really bad days. "Is there something wrong with that class?" " W e l l , they have been a bit difficult," she paused, "but, I have been able to deal with it, " she added quickly. "That would be a great class to observe then. Don't worry I ' l l keep in mind the class composition. Let 's do it on the second Monday in January?" Great she thought another mentor meeting day. She had to remember to prepare well in advance. "Okay." She really didn't want to do it that day but she didn't want Gord to think that she couldn't handle her grade tens. "Is it possible to meet again at lunch right after class?" " O f course." "I enjoyed being in your class today. Thank you for having me," he said. A s he rose he shook Emma's hand. "I appreciate the feedback," she said sincerely. 244 "I should run." He looked at his watch. "I need to get back to the office." Once Gord was gone, Emma pulled out the reading for the meeting and tried to glean as much as she could. It was a chapter called 'Reflecting on Student Learning Problems' from James Henderson's book Reflective Teaching. It was about using case studies as learning tools. It gave a number of case studies involving teachers with students having difficulties in the classroom. Emma found she could not concentrate. Her mind continually wandered back to her previous class and Gord's comments. She would get to the bottom of a page and realize she couldn't remember anything she had read. Finally, she gave up. There was more than one time during her school career that she had to fake her way through a discussion. She hoped that this would be no different. Emma's concentration did not improve during the mentor meeting. She caught herself three or four times thinking about how things went wrong in the English twelve class rather than involving herself in the discussion "The problem I have with these case studies is the fact that they are American. A s a Canadian I can't relate. Can't we find something Canadian?" Cam complained. "I tried, I know there are a couple of books coming out with a Canadian focus on schools but I wanted to focus on the way we deal with kids with learning problems," Bonnie 245 replied. "What modifications do you make to your plan or instructional strategies when you have students in your class with learning problems, Emma?" Bonnie was making an attempt to draw Emma into the conversation. " W e l l some of them come with an aid. If they don't then I try to spend more time with them." "But we keep getting more and more kids in our classes who face difficulties," J im said. "I only have so much time. A n d those are the ones who are identified - what about the ones who have slipped through and are not getting support outside of the class?" The three of them started to throw ideas back and forth and Emma was left to lose herself in her own thoughts. The minutes crept by until it was finally five o'clock. She felt like she need to get out of that stuffy room as fast as she could. Time off, that's what I need, Emma thought to herself. Mentally she counted out the days left until the end of school, nine days until Christmas break. She had made plans to drive East and spend the holidays with her dad. He was expecting her on the twenty first so they could go out and chop the Christmas tree down as they always had. Emma was comforted by the fact that the end of term was near. Two weeks away from it all would do her good. She was sure the kids were looking forward to it too. 246 Chapter 19 It had finally come. The last day of classes before Christmas break. Emma didn't know who was more excited the kids or her. She was smiling from the first moment she stepped foot through the front doors of Bridgeview Secondary that day. It felt like the cloud o f despair which had been hanging over her for the last two weeks was finally clearing; and she felt great. Emma had planned a fun day for her grade sights and tens. Her grade twelves would receive a final poetry quiz. Then she planned to leave early for the first time that year. Although she had five periods for preparation a week she was only required to be in school for half of that time. However, she never felt like she could leave before the last class finished and more often than not she stayed well into the evening hours. The grade eights bounded in with an incredible energy which filled the room. When they saw the bingo cards on their desks their excitement seemed to double. "Are we playin' a game, M s . Moran?" Troy asked excitedly. "Yes, once everyone gets here I w i l l explain the rules and what you w i l l have to do." Troy didn't even hear the end of the sentence. He ran out into the hallway hurrying his classmates so the game could begin. Emma had spent painstaking hours preparing the game cards. They were individually made and the markers were bought from a local 247 novelty shop. The students would have to draw on their knowledge about the parts of speech in order to win. Emma had heard that other teachers were planning to show movies, or make Christmas cards or just have a party. But Emma felt like she needed to justify her activity and relate it to the curriculum some how. So i f the students were reviewing the material they had learned so far while playing a game she felt she could explain it i f Gord questioned her. Emma had talked to Duncan about her first observation session and he assured her there was nothing to worry about. Even with his support she could not shake the feeling that she had failed some how. Gord has not treated her any differently so she wasn't sure why she was feeling this anxiety. Once the students were all in their seats Emma explained how the game worked. The kids played all hour and were excited about the small toys and stickers she brought for the winners of each game. Emma noticed Carol and Katie were absent but she thought they may have gone on vacation early. Carol had said they were planning to go to her Grandmother's for the holidays. The bell rang to signal the end o f the period and the students begged to finish the game they were playing but Emma stopped it for fear that they would be late for their next class. She didn't want the students going to their next class stating that they were late because they were playing a game in M s . Moran's class. A few students stayed behind to 248 give Emma a card or a small gift and wish her a Merry Christmas. These small tokens only brightened her mood. Even the rowdy nature of the grade tens didn't dampen her feelings of elation. Emma noticed that the rugby group, Mike , Scott and Kyle were absent. She breathed a sigh of relief. How nice, an early Christmas present, she thought. Without these three characters she wouldn't have to worry about any major disruptions. Once settled into the bingo game, based on math questions, which she had bought during her practicum, the class ran smoothly. She had to stop once in a while to remind the class to keep the noise level down, but there was a positive energy in the class. When the bell rang the students got up to leave. They were laughing and thanked Emma on the way out. She wished the class could be like this everyday. Sheerez, Tyler and Rino stayed to collect their prizes for winning the bingo game. For this group, Emma had bought some pop. A s she handed each a can of pop Emma said, "I hope you have a great Christmas." "I love Christmas, M s . Moran," Sheerez said excitedly. "Every year we decorate our tree with home made decorations. It's so much fun. We make paper link garlands, colored hanging ornaments, and this year I took out a book on origami so I can make little animals." 249 "Your mom only makes you do that 'cause you can't afford decorations," Rino said. "That ain't true!" Sheerez yelled back. "Okay, okay, I don't want a fight. I think it's a great idea to make your own decorations. Maybe my dad and I w i l l do that this year," Emma said. Sheerez was a bundle o f energy - she spoke loudly and quickly, and she was always ready for a fight. " M s . Moran, we wanted to give you this," Sheerez said handing her a homemade card. It was a Christmas card signed by all the members o f the Sixties Club. They were still working towards their goal. Emma guessed about half of them would make it over the sixty percent mark on their next report card in February. "Thank you," Emma said as she finished reading the wonderful comments each student had written. "I know we can be a pain in the ass sometimes in class, but we really appreciate the time you put out for us," Tyler said. Emma decided to ignore Tyler's language. "I enjoy our time together. A n d don't forget we start back on the first Tuesday - seven thirty, sharp." Emma began to organize the room so that once her grade twelve class left she could head 250 out herself. She had the tests in a neat pile ready to go and a Christmas story which she had photocopied to share with the class. Thinking it would be a nice way to end the day, she had chosen a story which was about the importance of giving; not only of gifts, but of yourself. There was a quiet knock at the door. When Emma opened it she found Katie from her eighth grade English class standing on the other side. "Katie, you missed a fun class today. Where were you?" Emma asked. Katie was obviously upset so Emma guided her to the nearest seat. "Carol asked me to bring you this note. Her mom died yesterday." Emma took a seat beside her. Startled by the news she asked how Carol was. "She's been at home with her dad. I stopped by this morning. She didn't really want to talk, she just kept cleaning, saying that she had to get ready for the funeral. Then she asked me to bring you this note." " W e l l thank you. H o w are you doing?" "I 'm okay. I just don't know what to say to Carol. I don't know how I can help her." "If you just let her know you're there for her and listen. That's the kind of help she needs 251 right now." "I can do that i f she lets me." "Give her time." "Yeah, I guess. I have to go see M r . Tige because Carol and I both missed band today. I ' l l see you later." "Have a good vacation," Emma called after her knowing that it would be impossible now. Emma's heart went out to Carol and Katie. She looked down at the white envelope she held in her hand. It contained a thank-you note, probably one of Carol's mothers. It said: ItU. 'TKman, *76i& cd fast a, <%uick ttote to toy tfaut&-tfou fan aM o£ tfowi tielfr. Wtc^ mom died tfeatendatf: tyocc arte %iy£t it U venq, auiet. Ike frtn&tal U "THondcuf at t6e United (ffuvuA an Sa&en, Stneet at one a dock i-{ <fou wocdd U6e to cowe. Hkcutk tpu ayain. Styted (fatal. Emma's heart was breaking. A girl that young should not have to know this kind of pain. Emma felt torn - she wanted to be there for Carol on this awful day but she had also 252 promised her dad she would be home by Sunday. This job was beginning to take its toll on Emma. For the past few weeks she had been a mess. A t the beginning she had all o f her planning done a week or two in advance and her marking completed the next day. N o w she was barely staying one class ahead and i f the kids got their assignments back within a week they were lucky. H o w did it all fall apart so quickly she asked herself? Spinning her wheels - going no where - that's how she felt right now. I keep running but I get nothing done. I need to make some changes. This is your job not your life, she said to herself. I need to find something else, something that w i l l make me happy. The feeling of elation from the morning period was now gone and her grade twelves were filing in. J im told her the only way to get the grade twelves to come to class on a Friday afternoon before a holiday was to give them a test. He was right; perfect attendance. Emma gave the class five minutes to go over their notes for the quiz. Her mind was still reeling from the talk she had with Katie and the note from Carol - should she stay or go? This internal struggle continued in the silence as the students finished the quiz. A s each student handed in their test, Emma handed out a story. The class read silently until the final test was submitted. Once that was done Emma read the story out loud. My Christmas Angel 253 Standing in the line for the bus one day an elderly woman came up to me and thrust a crumpled dirty paper bag into my hand and said, 'This is not a gift for you but a gift to give.' She disappeared through the rush hour crowd leaving me with a decision to make: run after her or get on my bus. It actually wasn't that difficult o f a decision. I climbed aboard the bus and went to throw the paper bag into the wastebasket but something stopped me from releasing the bag. So I shoved it into the pocket of my overcoat and took a seat and began to review the latest numbers for the Hanson account. Before I knew it I was at my stop and walking along the tree lined streets which would lead me home. A s I passed Old M a n Henry's house he stepped out from an evergreen tree, "Working on Christmas Eve, Tommy?" He insisted on calling me Tommy even though I turned thirty-four last month. I lived next to O ld M a n Henry all my life. He knew me as a child and could not break the habit of calling me by a childhood nickname. When mom and dad died I could have sold the house and moved downtown but I just never found the time to do it. "Yep. Always working. Is L i zzy coming today?" His daughter had just been married last year and moved out o f town. "Nope. Tomorrow. She's spending Christmas Eve with Bob 's family." "That's too bad. Wel l , have a good Christmas." 254 "Why don't you come over for dinner, Tommy? I made a ham but it's too big for me." I was about to beg off feeling the weight of the Hanson package in my hand but I decided an hour wouldn't k i l l me. "Okay Henry, I ' l l come by - but only for a little while." "Dinner's at 6:30." I found myself wishing I hadn't accepted the invitation. I even thought about calling and making up some excuse; but I didn't. I headed over to Old M a n Henry's house a little after six o'clock. Dinner was waiting on the table when I arrived. Henry took the bottle of wine I brought and placed it in the center of the crowded table. The meal went by with small talk being the main source of entertainment. We didn't share much in common except being alone and memories of the past. L izzy and I were a couple of years apart so we played together as children but grew apart as we entered high school. Once dessert was over I told Henry it was time for me to get home. I entered the front room and admired the tree. Noticing there was nothing topping the tree I asked Henry i f he had forgotten. "I had an angel but I broke it last year. Betty had bought it when we got married, it was a tiny thing but we liked it. I just haven't gotten around to replacing it, yet." The mention 255 of his late wife brought a longing to his voice. "It's tough to be alone isn't it; especially during the holidays." "Yeah, it 's tough. But you've made it bearable, Tommy. I appreciate you taking time out to spend with an old man like me." " Y o u aren't old; just experienced." I said picking up my overcoat. A s I did the paper bag the woman gave me fell out and tumbled on to the carpet. I had completely forgotten about it. Picking up the bag I opened it and peered inside. "What's that?" Henry asked. I was speechless. The words of the woman came back to me as I looked at the treasure inside the old paper bag. 'This is not a gift for you but a gift to give.' "What is it?" Henry insisted. "It's a gift for you." "For me, you didn't have to get me anything." I pulled out a crystal angel and handed the delicate figurine to Henry. 256 His eyes were wide with amazement. "This looks just like the one Betty bought for us over fifty years ago. H o w did you know Tommy?" "I didn't." I didn't think I could explain all of this to Henry. I wasn't sure i f I could understand what had happened myself. "Would you put it on top of the tree for me?" I placed the angel with her outspread wings on the highest peak of the evergreen. We stood back together and admired the complete picture. "Henry, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas is on, do you want watch it together?" "That's the show L i z and I would watch together every year. H o w did you know?" "I didn't." I said smiling and settled into the chair by the fire ready to enjoy the rest of the evening. Emma looked up once she had finished the story and found every student's gaze fixed upon her. The discussion which followed was timid at the beginning. The students talked about how touching the story was and how they felt so sad but then happy. Students then began to share stories about people who had touched their lives and made a 257 difference. They talked about how different life would be i f that particular person had not helped them. The bell rang to signal the period was over and the class left wishing Emma a Merry Christmas. She didn't say much during the discussion - she simply listened. Her own dilemma was not made any easier but at least she had made a decision. Emma left her room as it was; she would have time to clean is up later. She headed down to the office to call her father to let him know that she would be delayed for a few days. He would understand. After all he was married to a teacher for over twenty years. 258 Chapter 20 Emma returned to the school in January refreshed and prepared. The break was exactly what she needed. The two days she had before the funeral allowed her to complete all of her preparation and marking before she left. Once the funeral was over, Emma was able to leave her work behind but she couldn't shake the memories of Carol. When Emma arrived at the church it was half full event though she was early. She recognized a few students from Bridgeview who sat together in small groups, dressed in black. Wanting to remain in the background Emma took a seat in a pew near the rear of the church. A s she read the bulletin dedicated to Pat McLeod , a sadness washed over Emma. The biography at the front highlighted her kind nature and her commitment to helping others through her volunteer work. Out of the corner of her eye, Emma caught sight of Carol. She was giving last minute instructions and greeting grieving guests. Emma was impressed by her strength and maturity. She noticed in the program that Carol would be speaking near the end. It simply stated: Saying Goodbye to mommy - Carol McLeod. Emma took a deep breath and prayed she could hold it together. It was a beautiful service commemorating the memory of a wonderful wife, mother and friend. Once Carol rose to speak the organist began to play a hymn quietly. Carol spoke over the haunting sounds of the organ. The tribute was passionate and eloquently 259 presented; occasionally punctuated by the sobs of the congregation. Emma sat silently weeping. She felt Carol 's pain and a profound sadness for missing the opportunity to get to know such an amazing person. Carol did not cry until the very end when she talked about the memories she would never be able to share with her mother; graduation, her wedding day, the birth of her children. Her final statement could barely be heard through her sobs: Even though my mommy won't be here to share these times with me I'll try not to cry. Because I promised her I would be strong. The music continued until it came to a final bitter sweet cadence. The only response was the sound of silence. Emma never had the opportunity to speak with Carol but as young girl walked past, behind the coffin, she glanced up and their eyes met. Emma wanted to reach out to her but it wasn't the time nor the place. The opportunity to give Carol a hug came after the first English class Carol attended -during the second week of school. Gord walked in as Emma wrapped her arms around Carol. "Thank you, M s . Moran. It was a really tough day but it's getting easier." "I'm glad you invited me. I wish I had been able to get to know your mother better, she was a very special person." 260 "Oh, she was." Gord was standing near the door observing the scene. Carol noticed him and instantly became self-conscious. Quickly she packed up her books and headed outside. "Who was that?" "Carol McLeod . Her mom passed away just before the end of school, in December." "Oh yes, I was told about her. Y o u went to the funeral?" "She asked me so I felt compelled to go." "That was nice of you." He pulled out a copy of her lesson plan. "I also appreciated getting this ahead of time. A very different approach than your last class." "Wel l , you said you wanted to see a variety. So today it w i l l be mostly direct instruction, and seat work." "Okay, I'll take the same seat?" Gord asked aware that the students were arriving. The students had a great deal of energy and Emma knew i f she didn't have control of the class right from the start she would have a hope of getting through the period. 261 "Ms . Moran, Can we play Bingo again?" Tyler called out. He had asked this question everyday since the Christmas break. "Not today but maybe next week as a review." That answer seemed to satisfy him and he sat down. Mike , Kyle and Scott weren't there. This would make her life considerably easier. Once the final bell rang she quieted the class. Emma asked the students to take out their binders and prepare to take notes. They did as she asked, chatting with a neighbor as they prepared to begin the class. "Quietly please," she called. "This is not something you need to discuss." The class was still talking. "Excuse me!" she yelled. She didn't want to yell when Gord was in the room but she didn't know how else to deal with this group. Actually, she was surprised that they weren't behaving better because Gord was in the room. After she yelled they did quiet down and listened. She was able to begin the lesson. She was about halfway through the first concept she wanted the students to master when M i k e , Kyle and Scott burst through the door. "What's up?!" Kyle called out. Everyone looked over and burst out in fits of laughter. Emma could feel herself getting angry. Y o u need to stay cool and deal with this the right way. "Mike , Kyle , Scott - you 262 are late. M i k e and Scott take your seats. Kyle , outside and enter properly." "Man . . . . " Kyle whined. "Now!" Emma's voice rang throughout the room. Kyle turned around and walked out the door. He turned on his heels and re-entered. He passed Emma and under his breath muttered, "Is that okay, Miss M O R O N " "Excuse me?" Emma reacted to the insult. "Outside, Kyle!" "Man ..." Ky le said turning around. "Now what did I do?" " Y o u know exactly what you said! Out!" The class was silent watching the exchange occur. It wasn't the first time that these two had fought in front o f the class. "This is stupid." "Enough, Kyle , " Emma said forcefully. "Out!" Ky le looked back and realized the principal was in the room and decided it was best to do as she said. "Where am I supposed to go?" he asked. 263 "Just sit outside and I w i l l come and speak with you when I am ready." The rest of the class sat paralyzed. Emma resumed the notes and the students followed her lead. Once she had started the students on the seat work she left only for a moment and returned with Kyle . He took his seat and opened his books quietly. Whatever threat she had used resulted in Kyle's submission without argument. Emma required the students to work silently and jumped on any little noise. When the bell rang the students left silently - not saying a word until they were well out of Emma's earshot. Eventually only Gord and Emma were left in the room. She dreaded having to speak with him. "So how did you feel about the class today?" Gord asked as he approached her. "Awful ," she said slumping in her chair. Gord didn't say anything. "I just don't know what to do with this group. If I loosen up at all they take advantage. I need to have control over the class in order to teach them something." "Listen to the words you are using 'control', 'teach them something'. Is that what you 264 really believe in?" "No, but this is a different class." "They are all different classes. The real difference between these kids and the regular math class is that these kids have difficulty changing to meet the needs of the teacher. The students who succeed in school are able to figure out what a teacher wants and adapts to it. These kids need you to meet their needs," Gord said. His words reminded her of the reading the mentor group would be discussing after school. While teachers are trying to work out what to do next, students may be trying to figure out what the teacher wants, or simply trying to make time pass. While teachers are excited about the subject matter, students have to worry about getting marks and knowing the right answer. Most significantly, students usually have little or no say about the nature of their schooling. It is something done to them , rather than something they do. Emma had been so focused on what she doing in the classroom that she had forgotten that the kids played the most important role. Changes needed to be made; but Emma wasn't sure how she should do it. "What do you think?" Gord asked Emma bringing her back. "I know I need to make changes." 265 "I want you to try to shift the focus from what you are doing to what the students are doing. Y o u now beginning to feel comfortable in the class and I think you w i l l find greater success with these students by focusing on the individuals with in the group." Gord was making sense. I need to reread my personal belief statement to remind me of what I am here for, she made a mental note to herself. "I'm going to really going to try to reflect on what you have said and come up with a way to shift my thinking in the classroom." "It's easier said than done, Emma. But once you do this I believe you w i l l enjoy this class a great deal more. Y o u are a good teacher - you don't have to rely on your authority to make the kids learn." "I don't want to make them learn. I wish they had the desire to learn the material themselves. Why do I have to push them to engage with the material?" "It would be great i f all o f our students were self motivated but that is just not the case. These kids feel disconnected from what they are learning. They think they'll never use the stuff." "How do I make the math ten curriculum relevant?" Emma asked. She had racked her brain trying to find ways to do just that without any success. 266 " W e l l , I 'd speak to Cam. He does some great things. He's a member of your mentor group, right?" "Yeah. I've borrowed some books. Most of it is about games and puzzles. I just don't know how to connect it to real life." "Math is not my area of expertise, so I 'm afraid I 'm not much help. That is the purpose of having department members in your group. H o w is that going, by the way?" Gord was not being al l that helpful to Emma. It was easy enough for him to make suggestions and comments but she felt like he was throwing her lines from the latest issue of 'Educational Leadership' with out giving her much to hang on to or implement. Gord was waiting for her to answer his question. "The group meeting is once a month and it 's going wel l . " "Going well - could you elaborate? Are they helpful?" "It's a great way to get to know other people and the meetings are lively; I've learned a great deal," Emma said trying to sound enthusiastic. She was feeling a little frustrated with the whole process but she didn't want to complain. 267 "The role of those team members is to support you," Gord said. He finished up their post conference by arranging another observation date for the end of January with the grade eight English class, and then left her alone. Her thoughts returned to the mentor group with which she would meet after school. Were they supporting her? Yes, in a way. It was a forum which allowed her to explore issues of classroom management. They have offered ideas, resources and food for thought but is that support? Yes, she decided, it was. But i f she was really in trouble would they be the first ones she turned to? No , the answer would have to be no. She would go to Duncan first. Emma recalled his kindness and genuine attention he has offered her. A connection was established from the very beginning. There was a level of comfort which Emma felt with Bonnie but she was still afraid to share with her the fears and difficulties in the classroom which continued to plague her. I want to be as good as Bonnie is now, Emma thought. Waiting twenty years to become that good w i l l k i l l me. Emma thought of her mother. Her mother who was given an award for being an outstanding teacher, her mother who received letters from students and colleagues praising and thanking her, her mother in the eulogy given at her funeral who was described as a gift to the profession. Emma longed to be placed in the same category o f professional excellence. Why couldn't she be that good now? The end of the day came quickly and Emma soon found herself ascending the stairs to Bonnie's room. During her prep she had reviewed the chapter from Understanding 268 Canadian Schools by Lewis and Young. A t least Cam w i l l be happy that it is based on Canadian situations, she thought. Although he may not be too thrilled with what they have to say about tracking considering all o f the students at her school were placed according to ability in math. A n d the math department seemed very happy with this method. Emma had highlighted a section on page 264 anticipating Cam's desire to dispute this aspect o f the chapter. The research on tracking in secondary schools also shows that the practice has negative effects on the students who are not placed in the top tracks. Researchers have consistently found that students in tracks called general, basic or vocational have less actual instructional time, are assigned less challenging tasks, have fewer chances to discuss ideas, and generally have a significantly inferior educational experience (Goodlad, 1984; Oakes, 1985) The remainder of the chapter covered a wide variety o f issues including the effects o f mass schooling, the relationship between teaching and learning, the way classes are formed and scheduled, curricula, the hidden curriculum and schooling from the teacher's point of view and from the students' point of view. It also had a section about classroom control, teacher authority and the effort bargain. A l l of these sections interested Emma and even made her feel a bit better. Many o f the tensions o f teaching which Emma faced were discussed. Even questions Emma had been asking herself could be found throughout the excerpt. Although it reassured Emma that the struggles, both internal and external, which she was dealing with were to be expected, she was still given no answers. This was beginning to frustrate her. A l l the author did was lay out the difficulties which 269 teachers faced on a daily basis without providing any hints on how to deal with them. Emma could only hope that her mentor team would provide the solutions for which she was looking. Emma's hopes were dashed. Five o'clock came and the team had discussed many of the issues Lewis and Young presented. They contextualized the material by discussing certain situations which had occurred within Bridgeview or their own class - but still no answers. In the end they simply agreed that teaching was a difficult job and meeting the needs of all their students was virtually impossible. ' I f my job is impossible, then what's the point of trying?' Emma asked herself. She felt defeated. J im and Cam left, leaving Emma slumped in her chair. Bonnie had gotten up to shelve some resource material she had pulled for the meeting. Once she noticed Emma hadn't left with the others she sat next to her and asked, "What's wrong?" "I just feel like I 'm not getting any answers," Emma sighed. "Is that what you expected from us, answers?" Bonnie asked. "Yes , what should I do i f Kyle disrupts my class? How often should I mark a k id down for the same mistake? How should I know i f a k id gets into a fight with his mom and he 270 doesn't feel like answering a question? H o w do I know i f a student doesn't understand?" "Those are all the same questions I ask myself everyday. A s the years go by I have picked up a repertoire of strategies, but there is never one right answer." Emma's face revealed her disappointment. "I 'm sorry, Emma," Bonnie continued. "For example, Kyle disrupts your class. I can give you a number of suggestions but I don't know Kyle and I don't know your class. Each situation is different and must be dealt with as such. Also I may do things which you aren't comfortable with so some o f my suggestions just won't work with your teaching style. It is all very complicated." "Then what's the point of these meetings?" There, she had said it. Emma wasn't sure i f she should have said it or not. She didn't want to seem ungrateful. She didn't want to offend Bonnie. But i f she wasn't going to find out how to deal with situations in her own classroom, then why should she do this? Bonnie looked thoughtfully, "Emma, the reason for these meetings is to take the time to talk about educational issues. Everything we have discussed has had an impact on your practice within the classroom either directly or indirectly. Together, through talk, we make meaning. We come to understand the concepts, our situation and our practice." 271 Emma could understand what Bonnie was saying but she was having a difficult time letting go of her desire to get a solution to all o f her problems. "So how long until I can deal with all of this?" "I've been doing this for over fifteen years and I 'm still learning. It does get easier. I promise. Some things become automatic, for some things you develop a system, but for many aspects o f the job you have to rely on intuition and past experience." Emma was still feeling defeated. "I know what I 'm telling you is frustrating. But give yourself some time and give yourself a break. Y o u can't expect to be a perfect teacher in your first year." 272 Chapter 21 Gord arrived at quarter to eight as they had planned. It was the last week in February and the low clouds and rain had set in. Emma met Gord outside of her room trying to juggle the box of marking as she attempted to close her umbrella. He finally took the box of papers from her so she could close the rain soaked umbrella and open her classroom door. "So how are things going?" Gord asked as he placed the cardboard box on the table in the front. Emma wanted to tell him the truth; she was exhausted. But she built herself up and smiled as she said, "Good, and you?" "Fine, thanks. So what am I going to see today?" " W e l l , this is my English eight class. I have planned a workshop activity today. The students w i l l be working in groups of four where they w i l l share paragraphs they have written about a person they know." "When you say workshop, what is the purpose of the activity." "Today is the day which students w i l l be able to apply everything we have discussed so far in this unit. We have gone over the structure o f a paragraph, how to make your sentences more interesting, grammar, and punctuation. During the last two weeks the 273 students used a different piece of writing and assessed their own work and a partners work according to these elements. I am going to introduce this group to the writer's workshop format so they can understand the value of having others read their work and receive feedback on their writing. This is a strategy which I plan to use often for the remainder o f the year." "This is interesting; so it's like an editing circle?" " N o , " Emma paused. " I ' l l do that with them later. I want them to focus more on revising than editing - the bigger picture is more important. I w i l l ask them to focus on structure, strength of verbs, use of imagery and literary techniques. The students w i l l really focus on coherence and interest. In the end they w i l l be asked to re-write their paragraph to make it more interesting, clearer and more concise. Once the students re-write twice they wi l l bring their paragraph to an editing circle." Emma felt prepared for the class and for the observation. "It seems like you have it all organized. Have you planned how you w i l l lay it out for the students?" "Yes, I have a set o f written instructions for each group which outlines the roles o f each group member as well as the expectations and purpose of this activity." Emma reached over to her desk, where a pile of photocopies lay, and grabbed one for Gord. Gord looked over the outline. It was clear and easy to understand. The roles were clearly defined; one student would read, one would record comments, one would only say positive comments and one would give constructive criticism. The roles would change, in order, so each person had the opportunity to read his or her piece as well as take on the other roles. The directions were written out step by step. This was in case the students needed clarification; they could simply refer to the sheet. This would save Emma from having to run around at the beginning. The final part of the sheet was titled 'Expectations' and it consisted of four basic rules to follow: 1. Respect you peers and their work. 2. A l l comments must be accompanied by support statements. 3. When you are reading your piece you may not defend your work - you must simply listen. 4. Your group should work as a team - everyone is equal and participates fully. " Y o u have prepared wel l , " Gord said with a tone of approval in his voice. Gord placed the piece of paper in his file and looked at Emma thoughtfully. "Te l l me about this class." 275 " A t the beginning they were well behaved. Unfortunately, I took that as a sign that I wouldn't have any great difficulties when it came to classroom management. Eventually, I was proven wrong. I had to try a number of activities and methods in order to finally create a climate which was conducive to learning." "What ultimately worked for this class?" " W e l l , we had filled out a questionnaire asking specific questions like; 'What do you like about this class?', 'What do you not l ike? ' , 'Lis t three ways you contribute to this class to make it a positive space?', 'Lis t three things you could do to make this a more positive space?, 'What do you like about your teacher?' and 'What do you not like about your teacher?'" "That was brave," Gord said. "What?" Emma was confused by his statement. "To ask them about you." "Wel l , I figured I was always evaluating their performance. I wanted to give them a voice. I was prepared that a few of them would say mean things but I reminded them to keep it in perspective. I also asked them to put their name on it - i f you want to complain you should be wil l ing to back it up." 276 "Doesn't that color their responses? Y o u do hold a certain amount of authority over them. I 'm sure they were scared their marks would be affected i f they wrote down something negative." "We discussed that. I assured them that it wouldn't affect their marks and that I was strong and could take the criticism. I also talked about my desire to become a better teacher and that they could help me do that. A t the bottom of the sheet I asked i f they wished to discuss their comments with me - yes or no. It was made clear that i f they marked no; it would never be mentioned again ." "So what did you do once you got al l o f the information?" Gord's interest was evident. "I collected the data and highlighted the commonalties. Once that was done, I held a class meeting with the students. It was in that forum - using the data - that we established what we wanted the classroom to be and how to make it happen. The students responded well and now I feel like we are building a really strong community." "Was your success due to your vigilance of the expectations established?" "In part, but I believe the turning point was when Carol McLeod ' s mom became i l l and the class rallied around her. It was the first evidence that they really cared about one another." 277 "Interesting," Gord looked thoughtful. "Don't get me wrong, Gord. There are still days where the kids try my patience. When they come in all hyped up and we have to spend the first ten minutes reviewing the expectations." "That's to be expected," Gord said. "No troublemakers?" "There were three boys who could be quite disruptive. Once I split them up it was much better. N o w I just have to deal with Jamie. He just refuses to do any work. I've talked with his mom and his counselor but it just doesn't seem to do any good." "There are some kids who won't work for you. But hopefully he connects with another teacher in the school. It's the kids who feel no connection to the school, or I should say the people within the school, who eventually leave. Do you know i f he has anyone who he feels comfortable with? A phys-ed teacher, social studies teacher, anyone?" Emma thought, "No , I can't recall him mentioning anyone with a great fondness - some with contempt- but none with fondness." " I ' l l try to speak with him this week, just to see how things are going for him." Gord made a quick note in his book. 278 The students began to enter and take their seats. Gord retreated to the back of the room and took his post. Talking and laughing the students' voices filled the room with noise and energy. Once the bell rang Emma moved to the front of the room. Quickly the students noticed her and fell silent. "Good morning. I would like you to take out your paragraph about a person which I asked you to complete for homework." There was an instantaneous flurry o f activity as binders clicked open and shut and papers were shuffled. Finally, the noise subsided. "Today," Emma began, "we w i l l be involving ourselves in a workshop." The confusion on the students' faces prompted Emma to continue. " Y o u w i l l be working with three other people and together you wi l l critique each others' paragraphs. The goal o f this activity is that you w i l l leave with an understanding of how your paragraph could be improved. So you w i l l be able to go home tonight and revise your piece; not edit -revise." The students began to nod to show their understanding. " Y o u w i l l work with the partner you worked with on the place piece, and together you w i l l find another pair of students with which to work." 279 Dan put up his hand and Emma acknowledged him. " M s . Moran, my partner isn't here today." "That's okay, Dan, we had an odd number of groups anyway. Why don't you jo in . . . . " Emma thought for a moment. She spotted Jamie. He probably didn't have his paragraph done so Dan could complete that group. "Join Jamie's group. Okay, everyone, take out your paragraph and find another set of people." The students moved quickly. Without instruction they moved desks to form small groups. Emma was pleased with the lesson so far - they were quiet and attentive. A s the groups formed, Emma moved around the class; placing a piece of paper at each cluster of desks. The students immediately grabbed for the page and tried to look at it all at once. Emma thought, I should have made everyone a copy. She went back to her desk and picked up the pile of instructions she intended to give the class tomorrow and gave each group a second page. N o w they could follow along more easily in pairs. Emma ran through the instructions and expectations quickly. When she asked for questions a number of hands went up. "I don't get it," Dan whined. "What don't you understand?" Emma asked. She couldn't believe there would be any 280 misunderstanding. It seemed so clear to her. "What are we supposed to do?" Emma went over the instructions a second time. Sti l l more hands. "So when I write, I don't have to speak?" J i l l a fair hared girl at the back asked. " N o , not necessarily." Emma could see they were still confused. Yet, she was worried this was eating away valuable lesson time. Finally, she decided to stage a demonstration. "Katie, would your group be wil l ing to demonstrate what we are supposed to do. I ' l l walk you through the process." The four girls looked at each other and nodded in agreement. "Okay then first we assign roles. Who would like to read?" Carol put up her hand. "Who wi l l be the recorder?" Soo-mi put up her hand. "Who w i l l critique?" Katie put up her hand. "So Lana you w i l l give positive comments. So Carol w i l l read her story, then Lana w i l l tell Carol what her favorite parts were and Katie w i l l follow with a critique and helpful suggestions to improve the piece. Soo-mi w i l l record everything that is said so Carol can listen, rather than write. After everyone has completed their assigned roles, please feel free to contribute in any manner you wish. Clear?" 281 The girls nodded. Soo-mi prepared herself by finding a piece of paper and a pen in order to take notes. Carol began to read her paragraph in a surprisingly clear and strong voice: " M y mother died a few weeks ago. Near the end she was so weak and fragile I could hardly believe she was my mom. N o w that she is gone I want people to remember how she was when she was not sick. I w i l l remember her thick, curly brown hair and her long fingernails. When I was a little girl I used to hold her hands and feel her smooth, painted nails. She changed so much near the end. Her hair fell out and her nails were never painted. But one thing stayed the same - the love in her eyes; for me and for my dad. I hope everyone remembers my mom the way I do - laughing and smiling." The class fell silent while she read and there was a pause before a few students began to applaud - the custom in the class after someone shared their work. Emma didn't know what to do. Should she allow the critique to continue? It was too personal to critique and it came from the heart - it wouldn't be fair. "Thank you for sharing your special memories of your mother with us, Carol ." Emma looked to Gord. He gave a reassuring smile as to say 'you're on the right track.' " I 'm not sure i f this is the type of piece we should critique. It is so personal and heartfelt that it wouldn't be right to comment " 282 " N o , " Carol interrupted. Emma was once again surprised by the forcefulness of her voice. " M s . Moran, please I want to make it better. M y mom and I made a memory book together and there are only two pages left and I want this to be on one of the pages, but it isn't good enough. I want it to show what my mom is really l ike." Emma's heart went out to Carol. She couldn't even bear to talk about her mother in the past tense. "Okay, Carol. But this is a good example o f our own need to respect our peers and their work." Emma directed her comment to Katie who would be asked to provide a critique in a few moments. "Okay, let's start with Lana." Lana was a beautiful girl with unruly black curly hair and intense blue eyes. She looked directly into Carol 's eyes and began to speak softly. "I really liked your first line - it told us who the paragraph was about but it was also really interesting. I mean it really made you stop and listen. It was shocking. Y o u didn't expect it and that made it great. I also like the fact that you want us to remember your mom when she was feeling good." Lana looked up at Emma for reassurance. "Thank you, Lana." Emma was still feeling nervous about the situation. "Soo-mi, did you get all of that?" "Yes , M s . Moran," she said as she completed the last few words Lana had offered. 283 Okay, Katie." Katie shifted in her seat. "I really liked your piece, Carol ." Emma was glad that she " chose to start with a compliment. "I knew your mom all of my life and I understand what you mean about her eyes. If you want to change it, I would add more about her physical description - she was really beautiful. I would also like you to talk about all o f the nice things she did for everyone." Carol nodded. Her eyes glistened with tears threatening to spill over; revealing the emotional impact this assignment had. Emma was afraid that Carol would begin to cry. Katie was silent. She had nothing more to say. Relieved it was over Emma thanked Katie and turned back to the class. The rest o f the class showed great respect for the situation which had just unfolded in front of them. "So that is what you should do in your groups. N o w one of the other girls would read and the roles would rotate. B y the time everyone has read everyone else should have taken on the other roles once." The students finally understood and were eager to start. Carol's brave speech had inspired her peers. During the remaining forty-five minutes the class worked hard and stayed on task. Emma and Gord circulated; offering help and suggestions. Once Emma felt satisfied that every 284 group was on track she approached Gord; who had returned to his seat in the back. "That was interesting," she said. " Y o u handled it wel l , " he insisted. "I was so scared. I didn't know that Carol had written about her mother." "It's all part of the game; the uncertainty. Y o u dealt with it in a way which gave Carol choices. I was also impressed with the way you met the students' needs by providing the demonstration." "I was worried about taking up so much time, " Emma admitted. "In the long run you saved yourself a lot of time and some major headaches. If you didn't do it the kids would have been frustrated and you wouldn't see what is happening now. It has been a great class." "Yeah, I love to see them working together and really applying what they have learned. I have heard such wonderful conversations today - really focused and insightful." "Yes, I saw some good things today also." 285 Emma looked at her watch. There was only five minutes left in the period. She quickly called for the students' attention. After promising more time next class to complete the activity she asked the students to take out a piece of paper. "On this slip of paper I would like you to answer one question. 'What did you learn today?' This is an exit slip so you may not leave until I have your slip of paper in my hand. Please put your name on this one. Once you have completed your exit slip please put the desks back in order and pack up." The students did as they were asked and finished the shuffle just in time for the bell to ring. Emma stood at the door and collected the slips of paper. Most of the students exited leaving Emma, Gord and Carol's group in the room. Emma approached Carol and gave her a quick hug. "Thank you for sharing your piece, Carol," Emma said. "I just want it to be the best piece I've ever written," Carol replied. "I am sure it w i l l be," Emma reassured her. "Why don't you add some of the memories from the speech you gave at the funeral?" "I want this to be different. That was for other people. This is for me." Gord headed for the door and gave a small wave - leaving them alone. "I was so impressed you read it out loud," Katie said. 286 " M e too," the other girls chimed in. "It's important we talk about those we love . . . and those we have lost. If we keep it all bottled up them it just eats away at us," Emma said. " D i d you ever write about your mom?" Carol asked. Emma paused, "No , no I haven't." " Y o u should," Carol stated bluntly. "I remember things that I didn't even know I had remembered. I've been writing about her a lot, not just for this assignment, and it has made me feel better." "That's great," Emma said. "Maybe I ' l l try it too." Carol gave Emma a hug and was out the door followed by her friends. Emma was left alone feeling more confident about her abilities as a teacher and her career choice. Maybe these are the times that make teachers stay and work through the tough times. Emma could barely remember the times when she wanted to quit. She could only remember Carol 's kind words and the hug she had just received. This is why she became a teacher. 287 Chapter 22 February settled in with threatening clouds and biting cold. The days were so short that Emma felt as i f she had not seen the sun in an eternity. When she arrived at school it was dark and when she left school it was dark. She was irritable and it had begun to have a negative effect on her classes. There were times when she would catch herself snapping at a child for no reason at all . She was tired and stressed out but she didn't know how to stop herself from getting upset in class. Even the time spent with the Sixties Club was draining; the early morning meetings seem to come earlier with each passing week. It was nice to see how it was making a difference for most of the kids, however, for two or three the struggle continued. Ha l f of the group made it over the sixty percent mark on the last report card but they still had a ways to go before they could say they all had met their goal. There were some mornings when Emma felt like the kids came simply to socialize rather than to learn. Ten minutes before her afternoon class was to start, Emma rushed down the hall to the photocopier in the office. She had forgotten to run off a class set of worksheets which she needed for her grade twelve English class. It seemed as i f she had been forgetting everything these days. Frantically she entered her number using the keypad. A flashing message caught her attention, 'Remove jammed paper'. Again. It was one o f Emma's pet peeves - people who left the copier jammed. It was so easy to fix but other teachers would just give up. 288 "Damn it!" she said loudly. "Swearing at it won't help." Emma recognized Duncan's voice immediately. "But it makes me feel better," she snapped back. "Okay," he was surprised by the tone of her voice. "I 'm sorry," she said, as she slumped against the photocopier. She plopped her self down in front of the open doors of the copier in a cross legged position and began to pull out pieces of paper from inside the machine. "I guess I 'm just tired." "That's to be expected," Duncan replied. "It's February." "What does that have to do with anything?" "It's the worst month of the year - teachers are tired, kids are restless. It's just a bad time. N o holidays - just two months of straight work. I have a rule: never make a major decision in February - especially about your career." "I want to quit this job," Emma said with a sarcastic tone. She picked herself up of the ground and reset her original. 289 " N o w see that would go against my rule - it would be a major decision and it would be about your career - a double whammy." Duncan's attempt to be cute was not cutting through Emma's foul mood. She wanted to quit. She was sick of being miserable. "This is not how it was supposed to be." "How was it supposed to be?" Emma didn't mean to say that last sentence out loud; but she guessed she had. She turned to face Duncan while her copies were spewing out of the machine and said, "I was supposed to be making a difference but all I seem to do is make a mess." She slumped against the machine. It shuddered, stopped and began to flash the paper jam message again. "Damn it!" she yelled as she turned around. "Here let me," Duncan said with a tone of voice which instantly calmed her. He moved quickly, cleared the jam and had the machine finishing her run with in seconds." "Thanks." "Listen, you can only expect it to get worse for the rest of the month but after Spring Break you ' l l feel like a different person; doing a different job." ; 290 "I don't know i f I ' l l make it that long," Emma said meekly. Even though it was only a week until the end of the month there were still three more weeks after that before the break. She had so much to cover before then - especially with her math ten group. " I ' l l try," she finally said. "If you need me for anything - just cal l ." "Thanks." Emma picked up her copies and headed back to her class room feeling drained physically and emotionally. For this particular English class she had originally planned a big cooperative team tournament to prepare for an examination on Shakespeare and his play 'Hamlet ' , but she had decided last night that she didn't have the time or the energy to prepare the question cards- so she made it easy on herself. She had simply asked three questions- to be answered in paragraphs; sort of a pre-test. Once the kids finished she would put up her marking criteria on the overhead and the students would mark each others' paragraph. This would not put a great deal of pressure on Emma to interact and be energetic today, plus it would prepare her students well for the test during the next class. A l l she wanted to do was sit down and have some time for peace and quiet. Emma maneuvered her way through the crowded halls and finally reached her classroom. Once she entered and closed the door to the chaos, she began to feel an ease replace the 291 anxiety. This feeling of calm was only a momentary reprieve. A s her grade twelves entered the room the anxious feeling returned. This usually subdued group came in laughing and pushing each other around. The second group was acting the same. One of the girls came up to Emma laughing as she handed in an essay two days late. " M s . Moran," she said through fits of laughter, "you should have seen it. The theater sports were so funny today." The drama department had started a theater sports team that performed every Friday during lunch. This was the second week and by the looks of things it had been a huge success. However, Emma was not in the mood to laugh along. "This is two days late," Emma snapped back. Emma's sharp tone surprised the girl and she stopped laughing. "I . . .1 told you my printer broke down and my dad just got it fixed." Emma remembered the conversation they had Monday. "Yes, okay." Her tone did not soften and the girl returned to her desk. Emma knew that she was out of line to snap at the young lady but she couldn't seem to help herself. The rest of the class was still standing around laughing and re-enacting lunch hour antics. Emma got up from her desk and expected the students would realize that she was ready to start. When they didn't react to her move to the front of the room she yelled, "I 'd like to get started!" 292 Slowly students reacted to her command, but not fast enough for her. "Let's go! We have a lot to do today." The students quickly realized that Emma's mood was not going to allow for much sharing so they moved to their spots quickly. Within seconds Emma had all o f the students' attention and she began to give instructions while she handed out the questions for the paragraphs. A t the end of Emma's diatribe, about what they were about to do and the expectations of the format, she didn't offer the opportunity for questions; and the students didn't dare ask. She knew she should have been doing something; marking, monitoring, something. But her mind was foggy and she was exhausted. After thirty minutes, Emma was still sitting and staring, meanwhile the kids were finished. Pulling herself up from her desk Emma explained the next activity which was to be completed with a partner. Normally she would have asked the students to create the criteria they would use to mark their paragraph, but not today. After placing the transparency on the overhead, she simply ran down the list o f criteria and set the kids into action. Each person used the criteria to mark his or her partner's work. Again no opportunity for questions was offered and no questions were asked. The students whispered quietly to one another. Emma heard some of the comments which were kids looking for clarification but she did not jump up to try to help. The students have done this enough times, she thought. I shouldn't have to spoon feed them all the time. They should be able to figure this out for themselves, she 293 decided. The remainder of the period crept by. Emma frequently referred to her watch surprised to see how slowly time moved. During a regular day Emma found there was never enough time but today she just wished it would all be over. Eventually the seconds moved into minutes, and the period came to a close. The bell signaled freedom to the grade twelves. Emma shared their sense of relief. Her parting words were a reminder of the exam they would have the next class. The room emptied more quickly than usual and Emma found herself alone in the classroom with Jonathan. "Jonathan, I 'm still waiting for your essay." Emma's voice had lost its harsh edge from earlier and had been replaced with a monotone drone. " I 'm still working on it, M s . Moran." "Didn' t we already have this discussion," Emma sighed. " Y o u have been doing so well this term but now you seem to be slipping back into your old habits." Emma sat slumped in her chair facing Jonathan, who also sat slumped in his desk. "I know, but I've been really busy at work. I've been trying. I really have." 294 "Jonathan, you need to make some choices in your life. Are you going to focus on making it through school, or are you going to commit to your job? It's time you figured it out that you can't do everything, or be everything to everybody. Y o u need to decide what you want to do with the rest of your life." Emma was too tired to find a way to soften the message. Maybe I should have waited for another time, she thought to herself. I could be more sensitive but he needs to hear this now, before it's too late for him to change. "I know, M s . Moran. Y o u ' l l get my essay when it's finished." 'He wasn't listening at a l l , ' Emma thought. " I ' l l see you, M s . Moran." Jonathan was gone before she could even summon the energy to call him back and try again. Emma was left alone with her thoughts. Why do I do this to myself? Who is working harder; me or the kids? If Jonathan isn't concerned about how his life is going to turn out, why should I worry? Gathering her work and placing it in her briefcase, Emma headed for the door. She needed desperately to get out o f there. She didn't know what she needed but she did know she couldn't do it there. Before Emma left she went back to check her messages. A s she was flipping through the new stack of paperwork she heard a voice call her name. 295 "Emma. H o w are you?" It was Jim. "Tired," Emma said truthfully. " Y o u don't have a prep now. What's up?" "Counselors are talking to the kids for the first half hour. I didn't need to be there so I 'm getting some marking done." "Good." He looked at her coat and briefcase and asked, "Are you leaving? I never see you leave or arrive. You're just always here. I thought you had a cot under your desk." "Not today. I need to get out of here." Her feeling of exasperation was revealed in her voice. "What's wrong?" Jim asked pulling out a chair next to him. Emma fell into the chair allowing her briefcase to hit the floor with a loud bang. " W e l l , it 's a bunch of stuff. But I just finished talking to Jonathan. I just don't seem to be getting through to h im." "I've seen some remarkable changes in him during the past few months in French. His assignments are complete, he's participating and I think he's actually studying." 296 "I know. I've seen improvement too. But he refuses to commit himself fully. He just doesn't seem to understand what's at stake here. H e ' l l get no where without going to university." "Emma, a degree is not a prerequisite to success. There have been many people who are brilliant and powerful who didn't make it into college or failed out. Not everyone is cut out for the academic life." J im saw he wasn't convincing her. "Granted in some areas a degree makes life easier. A n d for some jobs - professions - it 's necessary. But Jonathan is different. He isn't going the professional route. I think we should celebrate the fact that he really is a learner. Can you think of any other area where people have to stay current like with computers? Jonathan is always reading and learning about the technology and the impact it has on our lives. He was a wonderful mind and really thinks about things." "But does he really realize the value of learning about all the parts of life - literature, music, science....?" "Right now, high school is a hoop to jump through for him. H e ' l l figure it out sooner or later. A t least now he w i l l make it through, maybe even with grades which w i l l open some doors for him. Emma, you can't beat yourself up over one k i d . " The words were reaching her but the message was lost. 'When I began this journey it was 297 to help every child I came into contact with, ' she thought. ' A n d now you are telling me that this is impossible? Then why do it at al l? ' Emma could not stand the thought o f Jonathan achieving anything less than what he was capable of. She knew he would graduate, but that wasn't good enough. Was she supposed to be content that her students graduated? Was that her goal? "Jim, do we have a warped idea about why we go to school? Why is it that the goal we celebrate is in concrete formats - marks and diplomas? What about what we learn? A n d I 'm not just talking about the facts. H o w about the skills, the processes?" "That is something I think we all question. But what are students rewarded for? Being on the honor roll and finishing all o f the requirements. It's simple - and it 's been the same for years." "Take my class yesterday - English eight - we had a great discussion about that new private school that has a religion foundation that is going to open. The kids were really talking. I was so impressed by the debate they had as well as the conclusions they came to. But as the students left I heard one say 'Man , I wish we would learning something in that class.' It ki l led me to hear that." "Why do you think that particular student made that comment?" J im asked. " W e l l , he wasn't involving himself in the conversation and sort o f hung back." 298 "He probably didn't see any relevance to his life." "But he doesn't complain when I give notes on content or ask them to complete questions about something they have read." "He has defined what learning is to him and he has decided that content is important. It is up to you to enlighten him to the fact that thinking is just as valuable as memorization." "Yeah," Emma really couldn't think clearly herself. She had not intended to get into this with Jim, but she felt compelled to talk about it. "I should really go." " W e l l , take it easy. Watch that you don't let the little things get to you." Emma left and headed for the staff parking lot. How could Jim consider what they talked about 'little things'? They were really discussing the purpose of education and it seems like everyone has a different point o f view on that matter. Emma needed to decide i f she could survive within the existing structure of education and i f she could find some way to teach in the manner she believed to be the most valuable within that context. The only thing she could be sure of was i f this kept up much longer, she didn't think she would even be able to make it to June. 299 Chapter 23 February came and went and so did Spring Break, but Emma could not summon the energy she had during the first few months of the school year. The week off just wasn't enough time to rejuvenate her. Perhaps it was because she didn't go away as she had during Christmas. Emma found herself planning and marking most of the week although she had promised herself she would rest. In hindsight she should have taken more time for herself and forced herself to leave her work at school. Emma was not as tired as she felt before the break. Her thinking was much clearer and she was once again in control of her emotions and was much more effective in the classroom. The students were responding well and Emma was really beginning to feel a connection with them. Working with the Sixties Club on Tuesday and Thursday mornings had contributed to her feelings of closeness with her students. The club had grown in numbers. N o w there were about fifteen students who showed up on a regular basis. The numbers grew slightly before test time but Emma didn't mind as long as it remained a positive experience. She was surprised when a couple o f kids joined from other math classes in search o f support. They were welcomed with open arms and offered a great deal to the other members of the club. The club members also brought their enthusiasm back into the classroom, as Emma's 300 mentor group had predicted. It had made her life a lot easier. A few students had dropped the class and a few continued to attend without any interest in doing the work. Emma knew they hoped to get through the year with a high enough mark so that they could go to summer school where the rumor was that it's easier to pass. There were times when Emma felt like she would never understand some kids. The math ten basic students entered the room slowly. Today they would be reviewing for a test which would be given the following class. When the bell finally rang Emma was shocked to see only six students in their desks. Emma racked her brain trying to remember what was going on today which might have involved the kids who were absent. Had she forgotten about a field trip or assembly? What was going on? "Where is everyone?" Emma questioned the students who were seated in their desks. "I saw Sheerez last class," yelled Kyle . "Maybe she's skippin'. She was bragging how she was all ready for the test and that she didn't need to review no more." Emma realized that all the kids missing were the same kids involved in the Sixties Club. Emma was furious. "How dare they skip my class!!" she yelled. After all the time she had devoted to them -the early mornings - they did this. She felt betrayed. "Just because they come in for extra help does not mean they can miss my class because they think they're prepared." 301 Emma was pacing back and forth in front of the class. The rest of the students stared at their teacher talking to herself at the front of the room. Kyle bravely asked a question, "So because no one's here, does that mean that we don't have to do the review?" Emma glared at Kyle which made him shrink into his seat. The message was loud and clear; they would continue with class as i f it were a normal day. Although the kids knew it would not be the normal light atmosphere with time for questions. Today it would be best i f they simply took notes and answered the questions she asked. They had seen this side of Emma before. It had been a long time since they had seen Emma this upset but the students recognized it readily. "Okay, take out your notebooks and let's begin," Emma commanded. The students pulled out their binders and pens and began to copy the questions Emma had already begun to write on the overhead. The room was quiet and Emma was able to mindlessly copy the questions from her notes while she mulled over her options. She could go out looking for the truant students or she could get the grade ten counselor to go out after them. Or she could call home at lunch and talk to each of the parents about how unacceptable it was for their kids to skip classes. She wasn't sure what she should do but 302 one thing was certain; she would refuse to meet with these kids outside of class time i f this was the way they were going to treat her. Once the questions were on the overhead, Emma went to her desk and shuffled through the small mountain of notices she had received during the past two weeks. She was looking for something to explain why these kids were missing her class; nothing. The anger had slowly dissipated with the energy she had expended pacing and shuffling. N o w she just felt defeated and saddened that her students would have such little respect for her. Just as she sat down at her desk there was a knock at the door. She motioned to the student nearest the door to remain seated. If this was one of her wayward students she wanted to be the one to greet the late-comer. A s she swung the door out she was stunned by the sight. "Surprise!" yelled all of the students who were absent. The girls stood outside the door dressed in colorful skirts and cardigans and the boys in the side were in leather jackets and jeans. "What . . . what is going on?" Emma stammered. "It's picture day for teams and clubs," Sheerez explained. "I went to M r . McCleary and asked i f the Sixties Club could have our picture in the year book. He said 'yes' so we all 303 got dressed up." The students looked like they had come right out of the movie Grease; Rino even had a poodle skirt on - and she never wore a dress. "Yeah, all my friends think the Sixties Club is about the 1960's. Most of the school doesn't even know we do math," Tyler said. "So we thought wearing the clothes was a great idea." Emma was stunned. She didn't know what to say. "So you were down having your picture taken?" " N o ! " Sheerez screeched. "We couldn't take the picture without you. We were just getting ready." "We brought you some clothes," Kay held out a dress for Emma. " Y o u have to go put it on before our picture time. Y o u gotta hurry or else we ' l l be late." Emma was smiling when she saw Gord coming down the hall. " M s . Moran, your students arranged for me to come and cover your class while you went down to have you picture taken," Gord said. Emma could not believe this group of kids would take the time and effort to organize such an event. Before she could say anything three of the girls were pushing her down 304 the hall towards the staff washrooms. When she looked back she saw Gord disappear into her classroom laughing. Emma changed quickly into the bright blue skirt and the white peter pan collared blouse. The pink cardigan was a bit tight and the white runners were a little large but over all the ensemble seemed to fit well . When she exited the bathroom the students were waiting and a cheer could be heard through out the hallways when they saw her in her costume. The students ushered Emma down to the cafeteria where the photographer was finishing up with the school's Concert Band. When Emma entered her gaze locked with Duncan's. A t first he didn't recognize her; but once he did a smile spread across his face which resulted in a chuckle. Emma looked back with an expression of helplessness. " W e ' l l be ready for you in a minute, guys," the photographer said to the students and Emma. "Good!" Sheerez squealed. "Then we have time to get M s . Moran ready." "Ready,' Emma thought to herself, 'what else could they do to me?' Sheerez pulled Emma over to a chair and sat her down. The other girls surrounded her as Sheerez pulled out a brush. Before Emma knew what was going on, Sheerez had pulled her long auburn hair into a ponytail and had secured it with a long blue scarf which 305 matched the skirt she was wearing. "Now you are done," Sheerez stood back to admire her work. " Y o u are certainly getting the royal treatment," Duncan said coming up from behind to check out Emma's new look. "It suits you." "Thanks," she said with a touch of sarcasm. Emma was really enjoying herself. The students were standing around her asking her i f she had any idea that this was going to happen. They were so pleased that it was surprise and proud that they were able to pull it off. Their enthusiasm was contagious and Emma found herself smiling and laughing along with the group. The joyous atmosphere carried over to the spot where they would take the picture. The photographer arranged them into a standard pose for two pictures. Once he had those shots he told the kids they had thirty seconds to get into a fun pose. The students took full advantage of the opportunity. " M s . Moran, you need to be in the center," Tyler called out. The students made a space for her and guided her into her place. Once she was there the students grouped themselves into poses they had seen in the movie, Grease. 306 "Okay, you guys look great. Smile!" A n d the picture was taken. Once the flash went off they all collapsed in fits of laughter. Emma and the kids gathered their things and headed back to class. There wasn't much time left in the period so she asked the students to come straight back to class so they could talk about the test and then they could go change. A s the rowdy group entered the classroom, Gord caught sight of Emma and began to laugh, " Y o u look great!" "I feel great," Emma replied with a smile. "I 'm glad," Gord said as he walked by and squeezed her arm. "Oh, by the way, I 'm almost finished writing your final report. Once I 'm done I ' l l let you know and we can make an appointment." "Okay. Thanks for your help." "No problem." Gord left Emma and her class full of brightly dressed greasers to conclude for the day. Emma turned her attention to her class once he left the room. " W e l l that was fun." "We deserve to be in the year book, M s . Moran. We're a club. We meet regularly and 307 we're important," Tyler whined. "You're right. We do deserve to be in the year book. But we do have a test tomorrow and I don't think everyone w i l l be ready." The mention of the test brought the students back to reality. The Sixties Club was a fun club but they did have a goal to achieve. The students were listening carefully. "Why don't we postpone the test one day. That way you can write down the review questions from today down and do them for homework. We can go over the answers next class. H o w does that sound?" Emma was sure the cheer she received as a response could be heard all over the school. She really did not expect less than that kind of reaction when giving kids extra time to prepare for an exam. Without further instructions the students set to work coping the questions off of the overhead. Those who had already begun their work on the new homework assignment held up their hands for help. Emma moved between the desks to reach those requesting help. The skirt she was wearing made it difficult for Emma to get through the aisles but it was also a pleasant reminder of the morning's events. The bell rang and the students ran off to change. Kay stayed behind to speak with Emma. 308 "Oh Kay, these are your clothes. I ' l l go change so you can have them back." "I don't need them right away. I just wanted to thank you for how much time you put into helping us. Without the Sixties Club I 'd be failing math. Y o u have helped me so much and I just wanted to let you know." Kay hugged Emma and left before she had a chance to respond. Emma left her classroom to go and change. Once she reached the staff washroom she admired herself in the mirror. She was young and attractive and this helped the students relate to her more easily. But this experience showed her that the kids did more than simply relate to her - she was an important part of their lives. 'This is why I became a teacher,' Emma thought. T want to be a part of their lives which makes life a bit.easier.' Emma was glowing. She floated through the rest of the day. For the first time in months she felt good again. The old energy had returned and she once again had the desire to go home and create interesting lessons which would help her students make sense of the curriculum and the experience they encountered in life. 309 Chapter 24 Emma gazed out the windows as she ascended the staircase which would lead her to the second floor and Bonnie's room. The blossoms on the trees were in full bloom. The old adage was right; A p r i l showers did bring May flowers. The warm weather and sunny days made it difficult for both the student body and the faculty to focus on school work. However, with a month and a half to go until final exams they had to force themselves. Entering Bonnie's room, Emma was reminded of the first meeting the mentor team had. Those feelings of being overwhelmed were still present but fading rapidly. She remembered how disconnected she felt - how alone she was. N o w she was comfortable and felt like she belonged. Walking through the halls was not an experience which she dreaded as she did in the beginning. Students call her name, colleagues say hello and she returns their greetings with confidence. Today would be the last meeting of the school year which Emma would have with her mentor team. June was always so hectic that they all agreed to finish early. Without a reading to complete Emma felt a bit unprepared. It was like when she finished school every summer. She didn't know what to do without having to do reading for a class or writing an essay. Bonnie had left a note in her box telling her that the purpose of this meeting was to reflect on the year and the program. The plan was to review the process, comment on what each person felt the benefit was and finally make suggestions for improvement which could be made to the program. 310 Cam, J im and Bonnie were waiting for Emma so she rushed to take a seat at the table. When she was finally settled Cam wrapped up his story about one of his grade twelves who had finally decided that the stress of school was too much and was going to go to Tibet to become a monk. The teachers laughed at some of the outrageous ways kids come up with to deal with the pressures of graduation. " W e l l , we should begin," Bonnie said. "I understand you're meeting with Gord after this to go over your final report." She turned towards Emma. A s Emma nodded her response, J im and Cam made "oo"ing sounds like a teenager would make when a couple kisses for the first time. "Oh, you two," Bonnie chided. "It isn't that big of a deal. I 'm sure Emma's report w i l l be glowing. She is a fine teacher." The two looked like they had been slapped on the hand with a ruler - although they were still smiling. "So what's the plan?" J im asked. "I have the final evaluation form which each team is asked to f i l l out at the end of the year. It's pretty straight forward. It asks for an overview of our meeting schedule and 311 procedures. This is followed by an opportunity for each of us to comment on the year and then offer suggestions for changes. I w i l l write down our comments and then we can agree on what w i l l be included in the final submission," Bonnie stated. "Sounds good," Cam said. "Let's start with the first part." " W e l l , I've already jotted down some notes," Bonnie said. "Why don't I read them and then we can add anything which I may have forgotten. Is that okay with everyone?" "Go ahead, Bonnie," J im prompted. "Okay. We began by meeting weekly for the first month, then followed up with monthly meetings. We agreed to meet for two hours from 3pm - 5pm. I think we should also include the fact that we used readings focused on educational issues as a catalyst for discussion. From these readings we used classroom experiences to support our opinions of the theories presented. A m I missing anything?" "I think you should add that the discussions and relationships moved outside this space and continued into the staff room and hallways," J im replied. "Good point, J im." Bonnie wrote his suggestion down. "Anything else?" Bonnie asked. 312 The four looked at each other without saying a word. "Okay, then I w i l l write that part up. Next is the chance for each of us to explain what we gained from this process. Who would like to start?" There was a moment of silence. " I ' l l start," said Cam. "I really enjoyed our discussions. It helped me solidify what I believe is important when working with students. M y love for learning was also satisfied because of this process. The reading which all of you brought were so interesting and the opportunity to talk about the issues was great. I find we get so wrapped up in kids behavior and school issues in the staff room and staff meetings, that we rarely talk about issues around teaching and learning. That is what I really appreciated; having the time and space to talk about things which can really make a difference in our lives as teachers and the experiences of the students." "I agree with what Cam has said," J im paused before going on. "Although, I didn't expect to when I first began. I joined this project in the beginning with a fair bit o f cynicism. I actually thought about quitting after the first couple of weeks." This comment surprised the other group members. J im reacted to the look of shock on the other's faces. "Yes , I thought we were spinning our wheels on a bunch of theory at the beginning. I didn't see how we were helping Emma at all . I thought we should be giving her more concrete, useful advice." 313 "So what made you stay?" prompted Bonnie. "It was during our second meeting. We were discussing democracy and learning communities, and it really made me think about my practice. The next day I went back to my class and asked them about the classes which they enjoyed and what some of the characteristics were that they shared. It came out loud and clear that they enjoyed the classes in which they felt their voices were heard." J im paused again. "This was a revelation for me. So I began to create opportunities for students to have input into the class. A s we got more comfortable with our new arrangement some really good things began to happen. I haven't enjoyed the classroom this much in years. It was at that point when I realized how valuable this time was and how great an impact it could have on the classroom." "That's great, Jim. I 'm glad this has been a positive experience." Bonnie was madly writing down what J im had said. "Is there anything else you would like to add?" "Just that I think it is important for those of us who have been in the classroom for as long as I have should take advantage of working with new teachers. Not only because the experience I have had can help first year teachers, but because first year teachers have a lot to offer in terms of new and innovative ideas. I've learned so much from watching Emma this year." J im all of a sudden looked uncomfortable, as i f he had revealed more than he expected to. 314 Emma jumped into the conversation in an attempt to rescue him. " A n d I have learned a lot from each o f you. I have to admit I was unsure about the program in the beginning but I learned to appreciate it." "Could you explain what you mean by 'appreciate'?" Bonnie asked with a raised eyebrow. " W e l l . . . I," Emma wasn't sure how she could say what she was really thinking. "Be honest, Emma. It w i l l only help to improve this program," Cam urged. "Wel l , I felt like I was barely keeping my head above water in the beginning, but as I gained control of my classes I was able to begin to see what the articles had to offer me as a practitioner." She paused but continued once she had everyone's undivided attention. "I think I was looking for answers when I first started and it was really hard to accept that there really weren't easy solutions to the problems I was facing." " A t what point did you come to this conclusion?" Bonnie asked. "I think it was the differing points of view and strategies utilized when it came to classroom management issues. I realized that each of you used very different methods to deal with students and their behaviors, yet they all worked for you individually. I began to understand at that point that there was not one set definition of what a good teacher 315 did. I had established a picture of what the perfect teacher would act like, but I slowly came to the conclusion that this was not the case. What I had done was create a composite of the teachers who I related to well and combined that with the image I have of my mother as a teacher and set that as a standard to strive for. Unfortunately, I forgot that all students are not the same type of learner that I am, so it is impossible to say that my ideal teacher would satisfy everyone. After this revelation I began to see how important it was for myself to continue learning about all aspects of education so that I can better meet the needs of all my students." " I 'm so glad you said that, Emma," Bonnie stopped writing and continued speaking. "We first started in October and your focus was solely on your activities in the classroom, but now I see a major shift in focus to your students. Your concern is mainly for your students well being now and that is a vital step to make. O f course you must be aware of what you are doing and how that is affecting the climate and your relationships. But you have devoted yourself to ensure your students are enjoying a quality learning experience." "So what did you get out of all of this, Bonnie?" Cam asked in an obvious attempt to move this final session along. That was fine with Emma because she had a meeting scheduled with Gord following this to go over her final report and she would appreciate a few minutes to gather her thoughts. 316 "I always enjoyed our meetings. A n y time I can challenge myself to explore different areas as well as challenge what I do in the classroom is wonderful. I learned a great deal about myself as an educator as well as a mentor." Bonnie turned to Emma. "I feel like I could have given more to my role as a mentor. Instinctively, I knew there were times when you were really struggling but I didn't make the effort to connect with you." "That's okay," Emma attempted to ease her conscience. "I understood. Y o u are so busy with al l o f your other duties and activities around the school not to mention the classes you have to teach. Y o u were really a great help when I needed it, Bonnie." Bonnie smiled at Emma, "Thank you Emma but I think I could have done a better job." "I would say that is one way that this program could be improved," Cam added. The others weren't sure what he meant. " W e l l we are all tight for time so i f Gord would provide some release time so we could spend it with each other in our classrooms helping one another out - it could be very powerful. It would also allow us to support each other in real times of need." "That's a great idea, Cam. I 'm sure Gord would fund that. I guess we have moved on to the final section," said Bonnie. "How could the process or program be improved. Cam has suggested release time. Anything else?" "I would like some clarification on the purpose of the mentor team," said Emma. "I 317 wasn't sure what to expect and it took a while to figure it out. A n d by the time I did figure it out I had missed some great opportunities to involve myself in the discussions." "You're right, Emma," Jim interjected. "I think I needed to have more guidance about what the program's purpose was as well as what my role should include. I understood my role as supporter and contact person, but I wasn't really comfortable initiating contact. I guess this is due to the nature of our profession. I don't feel like I can ask a colleague how their teaching is going or how their relationships with their students are. I don't know, I just think I should wait until that person comes to me to talk about issues surrounding his or her practice." "That's understandable, J im," Bonnie said supporting his statement. "Perhaps that is why I held back. Even though I've been involved in this program, in the past, I knew what my role was and what was expected, but I still felt inhibited when it came time to approach Emma. It wasn't because of you personally, Emma." Bonnie turned to emphasize the point. "I just have the same concern Jim has. Unless a colleague invites your comments it is inappropriate to offer." Cam and J im both nodded in agreement. "Would you like to comment on this issue, Emma?" Cam asked. "I really wouldn't have minded any of you approaching me i f you had some concerns. I 318 am always afraid to admit when I am having difficulties. I guess because Gord is doing an evaluation of me, coupled with my own insecurities, I felt by admitting my weaknesses they would be held against me." "We never meant for you to feel like you were being evaluated by us," J im said. "This program, from my understanding, has always been focused on simply providing a support structure." " W e l l , I think it was intended to be a bit more than just support, but I agree with you that it has never been the intent to have an evaluative role," added Bonnie. "I think it has to do with my self-conscious nature. I know the intent was not to make judgments but it is part of human nature," Emma replied. "Perhaps we could suggest some activities which team members could engage in at the beginning of the program to promote communication," Cam joined in. "I think i f our communication, on a personal level, was more open it could have been a more successful experience outside of our regular meeting times." Bonnie looked concerned. "I don't want to leave this one on a negative note. We had some great meetings which were thought provoking and I don't want to lose sight o f all the learning which occurred." 319 "Agreed," said Jim. "I feel rejuvenated and I am glad I took part in this process and I fully intend to volunteer for another team in the future." Emma and Cam nodded in agreement. "Does anyone else have anything they would like to add?" Bonnie asked. Silence. "Okay, then I w i l l use my notes and complete the feedback form for the professional development committee." "Could we each get a copy, Bonnie?" Jim asked. " O f course. I ' l l put it in your boxes." "Great. So are we meeting in June?" J im asked. " N o , " Bonnie replied. "Too much to do." " W e l l I would just like to thank all o f you for taking the time to work with me this year," Emma said. "It really has made my life and my first year a lot easier." 320 She was greeted with a chorus of 'it was no problem' and 'we enjoyed it as much as you did ' . Emma really did appreciate the time, effort and talk. But in her mind the supporter who helped her the most was Duncan. He was easy to talk to and she never felt like he was judging her. There was never any fear that i f she did disclose information that it would get back to Gord. Emma wasn't sure why she was afraid of what Gord would hear. She wanted to return to Bridgeview next year but she wasn't sure how much control over that Gord would have. "It has been a great year for all of us," Bonnie said. "Just because our meetings have come to an end does not mean our relationships w i l l . Emma, please continue to seek our help over the last month. The end of the year wrap up is as hectic as the school opening. Y o u wi l l be bombarded with paperwork and marking. If you have questions please come and see me." J im and Cam offered their support with a nod. "I guess that's it, unless anyone has anything else to say?" "Nope," Cam answered for al l o f them. A s each of them got up to leave the room there was a slight awkwardness. There was no mention of starting up next year, as some groups did continue. A n d it really wasn't the end of the mentor team, so final goodbyes were unnecessary. It was as i f a camera was doing a slow fade on a final scene in a movie but it would never fully reach complete 321 black out. The four o f them just simply returned to their classrooms and resumed their lives as teachers. Emma had expected to feel transformed in some way, but she didn't. She expected to feel excited about accomplishing something, but she didn't. It was just another regular day. Emma checked her watch as she headed down the stairs. Fifteen minutes until her final meeting with Gord. Turning the corner at the bottom of the stairwell, Emma bumped into Carol. She had been meaning to ask Carol to come and see her. In class when she was surrounded by her friends she seemed to be okay. It was the times when she was alone and had time to think, that Emma was worried about. "Carol, I 'm glad to see you," Emma said warmly. "Actually, M s . Moran, I was looking for you." Carol 's eyes were cast down and she looked as i f she had been crying. "What's wrong, Carol?" " M y dad hasn't been coping well without my mom. So he has taken a leave from his work and we're going to spend some time with my Grandma." 322 "How long w i l l you be gone for?" Emma asked as she placed her arm around Carol 's small shoulders. It amazed Emma how such a tiny body could deal with so much. " A t least until summer is over. I just hope we don't move. I don't want to leave my friends." Carol 's last statement sent tears streaming down her face. "I 'm sure you ' l l be back. Your dad just needs some time and having family around w i l l be helpful. What about school?" " M y dad talked to the principal and he said my marks would stand as they are, but I would have to cover the rest of the material for the year on my own. I 'm not worried about that though." The change of topic allowed Carol the opportunity to collect herself and focus on the pragmatic issues of the situation. "When do you leave?" "Tomorrow. I just came by to say goodbye and thank you." Emma was surprised by the quick departure date. "Carol , I ' l l miss having you in class. Y o u added so much to the group." " I ' l l miss everyone, too. M y dad's waiting so I should go." Carol gave Emma a hug and they clung to each other for a few seconds. 323 When they parted Emma looked into Carol's eyes and said, "I 'm glad I got a chance to get to know you. Y o u are a very special person." " Y o u too," Carol said and with a final hug was out the door. Emma was sad that Carol would no longer be part of her daily life at school. Although it was easy to see Carol 's pain on some days, Emma was impressed and inspired by the way Carol dealt with the loss of her mother. Emma wished she could have coped so well . But, she reminded herself, you never know what goes on during a person's private times. Emma realized that she would be late for her appointment with Gord i f she didn't hurry. Arriving at Gord's office exactly at their agreed meeting time wasn't necessary after all . He was in a conference with another teacher and Emma had to wait for over fifteen minutes. She wished she had brought some marking or her day planner with her. Wasting time bothered Emma. While she waited she sat herself down in the waiting area. There were a number of pamphlets laid out for visitors or parents - school newsletter, district newsletter and ministry documents created for parents. Emma became quite engrossed in what she was reading and did not even realize Gord was standing over her until he spoke. "Hello. Sorry about the delay. Come on in . " Emma followed Gord into his office and took the very same seat she had on her first day at Bridgeview. Although it was the same setting, and she had a familiar feeling, she 324 definitely was not the same person who occupied that chair eight months ago. Emma's competence and confidence as a teacher had grown over that time and she was feeling good. A s Gord began to search through his files Emma began to notice her nervousness grow. She began to worry about the math ten class which Gord had observed; which had not gone as well as she had hoped. Flashbacks of his questions began to run through her mind. D i d she answer him to his satisfaction? D i d she make a strong enough impression to guarantee a favorable report? What should she do i f the report is mostly negative? "So you had your last mentor meeting. How did it go?" Gord asked. Emma felt her body tense as a result of her self doubt. "Fine. We covered a great deal and completed the evaluation of the process." "Good. I hope you found it to be a useful process." "Oh yes," Emma wished he would get on with the report. She was curious to find out what it contained and just wanted to get it over with. "Good. I can see you are anxious to see your report." Emma had hope her nervousness had not shown but he obviously picked up on it. "I 325 would like to see it," she forced herself to sound casual but it just sounded forced. "Okay. I set it up in three parts. The first just simply outlines your current teaching situation - your load and I added that you began after the start of the school year. The second part is basically my observations of your teaching practice. A n d finally, I provide a final summation, or overview, of your contribution to the school, your participation in the mentor program, your relationship with staff members and students. A n y questions?" Emma shook her head in response, hoping that he would continue. "In my observations I noted your growth in class room management - specifically the use of techniques and refining your philosophy. Another area I focused on was your willingness to vary your instructional strategies and how you began to make a concerted effort towards the end to match your chosen strategy with the students' needs. In this section, I highlighted the personal relationships you established with your students. It was here where I mentioned the work you did with Carol. Oh, that reminds me Carol came to see me." Emma interrupted him, "Yes, I know. She came to say good bye." "Oh, okay. Wel l , I believe the way you dealt with Carol and her situation showed me your real commitment to your students. It was wonderful to see that connection." He paused. 326 "Thank you," Emma replied quietly; embarrassed by the praise. "Overall, in the school I mention that you were a wil l ing participant in the mentor program and that your relationship with other staff members is good. Y o u attended all required staff activities, professional development days, staff meetings, etc." Gord stopped for a moment before going on. "I can't comment on participation in extra-curricular activities except in a positive manner. So this is where I mentioned your work with the math ten basic study group, what did you call it? The Sixties Club?" Emma nodded in response. "I wish I could include pictures because you were quite the sight on yearbook picture day." Gord laughed as he remembered. "I really enjoyed working with those kids. A n d we've almost reached our goal of every kid achieving sixty percent or better." Emma quickly became excited once she began to talk about her students. "I know first year is hectic and you were simply trying to survive, but as you feel more confident I think you would benefit by getting involved with school activities. There are a number of committees you could jo in or teams which you could sponsor. I personally always enjoyed interacting with staff members and students outside the classroom. Y o u 327 build a completely different relationship." Gord stopped. Emma smiled at the hard sell he was trying to give her. "I plan to get involved with a number o f things next year, i f I am still here." "Wel l you do have the option to transfer but because there are going to be very few lay offs this year I feel confident you w i l l still have a position with us." Emma was relieved to hear that news. It was hard to begin planning or thinking about what she should do next year i f she didn't know her options. In February she wanted to quit. She would have gladly accepted a lay off notice. But now she felt like she was contributing and even making a difference in some of her students' lives. "So, is there anything you would like me to add or change?" Emma quickly skimmed over her copy. Everything was accurate and placed in a positive context. She knew where her areas of weaknesses lay and Gord had commented on these in terms o f growth and development. She was satisfied. "It looks good to me. Thank you for your time." "It's all part of the job. I enjoy the opportunity to get into the classroom and see the 328 students in action." Students in action. That phrase made Emma laugh to herself. Some days she wished the students were a little less active. It was nice when they were involved. It had taken a good portion of the year to get the students to remain on task and focused. Next year would be different, she promised herself. "Wel l thank you again. I should get going." Emma looked at her watch. It was quarter after five. It's going to be another late night, she thought to herself. Emma left the office with a copy of her report in hand. Feeling relieved that it was over she headed back to her room. She may have passed Gord's evaluation, but she had more important people to impress: her students. A n d they were not as easy or as compassionate. The end of the year was approaching quickly and Emma needed to prepare her classes for exams while ensuring their final month would be a positive experience which they would remember fondly. 329 Chapter 25 Emma sat at her desk looking out over the empty room. The bulletin boards were a blaze of color - decorated with the final projects from her grade eight English classes. The desks were all neatly arranged in groups of threes with the chairs snugly tucked under each desk. There was a sense of calm in the room even though Emma had an internal sense of excitement. Before the warning bell even rang students began to enter the room. After they said hello to Emma, who had moved to the door to greet her students, they took their seats and resume their discussion about the summer vacation. Katie and Brooke entered the room first, as they did the very first day Emma began, and moved to their desks. The only difference was on the first day Carol was with them. Katie bounded up to Emma holding a letter in front of her. "I got a letter from Carol. She's coming back for sure in July - to stay." "That's wonderful news. H o w is she?" "She's okay and she said her dad is a lot better. But her grandmother is driving them both nuts; so they are looking forward to coming home." Emma laughed at Katie's blunt description of the letter's content. But she appreciated the 330 update. The students filed in, excited about the end of the year and about getting their report cards. Knowing this was a very short class with the sole purpose of their attendance was to get their report card, their yearbooks and say their good byes; they were anxious to get started. Just as the final bell rang, Mark, Dan and Jamie sauntered through the door. There was no pushing and shoving or screaming and yelling - Emma had taught them that kind of behavior was unacceptable in her class. Emma was actually surprised to see Jamie. She had called his mother yesterday to let her know that Jamie had failed English eight. Not due to lack of skills but lack of effort. Emma had not received enough of the assigned work during the year to make a valid assessment. His mother accepted the news quite easily; nothing like their previous encounter. Emma wondered i f he would have been successful i f she was a more experienced teacher who might have better handled his behavior from the beginning. A s well as one who had more strategies which may have encouraged him to try harder. Looking at his report card she had to conclude it wouldn't have made a difference. Jamie was failing four other classes including math with Cam. Emma only hoped he would make some better choices next year. The students realized Emma was waiting for silence and she would not begin until there 331 was quiet. Students began to shush each other until there was no talking; no sound. Emma began, "I have your report cards and your yearbooks," she paused to let the students' excitement subside. "But before I hand them out I just want to let you know that I enjoyed the time we spent together this year. I learned a lot from all of you and I hope you feel like you learned something from me and your experience in this class. I feel that we created a positive space to learn and to share. I hope each of you has a wonderful summer and you leave English eight with good memories." The class responded to Emma's words by clapping. In response Emma began to call out names. A s the student moved to the front he or she collected a report card and a yearbook and then returned to his or her desk. Emma realized this was a pattern after the third name so she said, "Once you have everything you may go." But the kids stayed. They were comparing marks or signing each others yearbooks. B y the time Emma neared the bottom of the list she had to yell over the noise. She stopped herself from calling for silence; after all school was over. The grade eight class continued the exchange, except for Mark, Dan and Jamie who had left. Once Emma finished her tasks she returned to her desk. Soo-mi approached her with a large card - similar to the one she made for Carol. " M s Moran, this is for you from our class." 332 \ Emma accepted the beautiful card made out of red and white paper with gold lettering; it was a stunning piece of artwork. "Thank you, Soo-mi. Y o u really are very talented." Emma opened the card. Inside big letters spelt o u t ' T H A N K Y O U M S . M O R A N ' . A l l of the students wrote kind words about how much they enjoyed the class or a personal memory. Even Dan wrote: you aren't so bad for an English teacher. Two names were missing from the card; Carol and Jamie. She wished she knew what each of those students were thinking right now. "Thank you, M s . Moran," Soo-mi said again. "Would you sign my yearbook?" she asked shyly. " O f course." Emma sat down and took out a pen. Once the other students saw that their teacher was signing yearbooks the line up began. It was a good opportunity for Emma to say a personal goodbye to each of them. It was a long time before Emma finished signing the last of the yearbooks. A s she signed her name for the last time she was surprised when she looked up to see fifteen students from her math ten class standing in a semi-circle around her desk. It was the Sixties Club. "Hel lo ," Emma said enthusiastically. 333 " M s . Moran! We did it!" Tyler yelled. "What? What did you do?" Emma mimicked Tyler. "We met our goal - we all got over sixty percent." He answered back. "Oh," she paused. "I knew that. A n d I am proud of all of you. I was impressed with your final marks." Every one o f the Sixties Club did well on their final exam, except Sheerez. Sheerez should have actually received fifty seven percent on her final report card because she only got fifty two on the final exam. Emma didn't have the heart to give her fifty seven percent so she bumped her up to sixty percent. She had just started to believe in her abilities in math and Emma felt i f she was the only one not to meet their set goal it would have been a huge set back. When Emma was faced with the decision whether or not to give Sheerez the extra marks she wasn't sure what to do. For her it came down to what was in Sheerez's best interest. Was it better that she have an accurate picture of her ability or achieving a goal which she had worked hard to meet. Emma finally decided that three percent was not worth destroying a year's worth of work. A n d to see Sheerez's face beaming along with the rest of her students only confirmed to Emma that she made the right choice. "Could you sign my yearbook?" asked Tyler. 334 The routine began again. Emma began signing books while the others traded books trying to ensure that everyone had written something. " M s . Moran, not there!" Tyler yelled. He snatched the book away from Emma and began flipping through. Finally he replaced the book in front of her. "Here, by our picture." It was the first time Emma had seen the picture of the Sixties Club. They had chosen the informal shot with Emma in the center surrounded by her students frozen in precarious positions. She laughed out loud when she saw it. If there was one moment of the year which could have been captured forever this is the one she would have chosen. The genuine caring and sense of community was obvious to any one who would look at this picture. The expressions of pure joy on each member's face almost made the person looking at the picture look past the sixties regalia they were wearing but not quite. It was a wonderful picture which warmed Emma as she gazed at it. Once all o f the yearbooks were signed the students began to collect their backpacks, pens and books. " M s . Moran, w i l l you help us next year in math?" Rino asked. "Sure. I would love to," Emma replied. 335 "We could change our name to the Seventies Club!" Tyler yelled. Emma had flashes of herself dressed up in bell bottoms and a polyester shirt. It was a horrible fashion decade. " W e ' l l discuss that in September. Have a good summer." The students headed for the door after saying their final good-byes and giving Emma a hug. Emma felt good, fulfilled. After the final student left she was alone again. This moment of solitude was very brief because Duncan poked his head in. "Everyone gone?" "Yep, but my hand has gone into spasms from signing yearbooks." " A small price to pay for being their favorite teacher," Duncan said playfully. Emma never thought of herself as anyone's favorite teacher. But she liked the idea of her students enjoying her classes and her company. "So are you getting out of here soon?" Duncan moved to the desk in the front. 336 "Yeah, I was thinking of staying and prepping some things for next year, but I decided I wanted to take some time off and think about what I want to change and how I want to organize my classes. I need to start with a clear head." "Good plan. It's been a long year but you made it." "It feels good. I think I ' l l actually miss the kids during the summer." " A h , you are trapped," Duncan said smiling. "Trapped?" "Yes, you are a teacher for life," Duncan said putting his had to his forehead in an exaggerated faint position. Emma laughed at his mocking tone. " W e l l , I am glad I am trapped, for now." "Wanna go for lunch today?" Duncan asked as he slipped out of the desk. "Sure. That would be a great way to end the year." " I ' l l grab my keys and I ' l l meet you in the office." 337 "Give me five minutes. I want to pack up so I can head home after lunch." "Okay, five minutes - but i f you are late I w i l l come and drag you out of here." "I promise five minutes - maybe ten." Duncan rolled his eyes and left the room. Emma rushed to finish packing up the last few items she thought she might need to start planning over the summer. Her plan was to come back at least two weeks early; so she wasn't taking everything. Just the items which were necessities. " M s . Moran," a quiet voice came from the door. "Jonathan," she saw him once she turned around. "I thought you'd be getting ready for the graduation formal." "Oh how long does that take? Throw on a tux and you're out the door. Are you coming?" " Y o u bet. I love grad. What can I do for you?" Emma was mindful of the time. "I just wanted to show you this." Jonathan handed her an envelope which had been opened. 338 Emma took the envelope and smiled as she read. "You 've been conditionally accepted to Huntington College. That's wonderful." " W e l l , it 's the first step. I wanted to take my first year here while I study for my S A T ' s . I would eventually like to go to a big name university in the States." " Y o u worked hard and brought your marks up. I 'm proud of you." "I just wanted you to know without your advice and pushing I wouldn't be going." "I am so excited for you: But you did all of the hard work. Being pushy is just part of my nature." "I just wanted to say thanks for bugging me and pushing me about it. I don't think I would have done it i f you hadn't." Jonathan was looking down at the ground. He was obviously uncomfortable expressing his emotions. "I appreciate that you came to share the good news with me. Thank you." "Wel l , ya know, I just wanted to let you know what you said made a difference." Emma wanted to give him a hug but they weren't that familiar with one another and she 339 knew he would feel uncomfortable. "I hope you keep in touch and let me know how things are going." "Yeah, sure. Wel l , I should go. See you tonight." "See you tonight." Jonathan left the room and once again Emma was left alone. His last statement rang in her ears. I made a difference in his life. Those were the same words students said at her mother's funeral - about how she had impacted their lives. Emma felt like she had taken her first step towards becoming the kind of teacher her mother was. Emma picked up her box and headed towards the door. Emblazoned along all four walls were the grade eight English students' responses to the assigned final project. Emma felt a sense of pride when she realized a small part of her was present in each of those masterpieces. She paused before turning off the lights. Images of her students working over the year filled the now empty floor space. She could see Carol and her friends on the very first day and the Sixties Club huddled around the blackboard working out a problem. Emma smiled as she thought of the times when the noise level in this classroom could drown out a small jet taking off. But it was only because the students were excited and engaged. 340 However there were other times when the silence that filled this space was equally deafening. The morning Carol came to see her after the funeral. The meetings with Jonathan. Those were the times when it was easy to hear her students' voices. To come to understand what their lives were like and what their needs were. Unfortunately, it was not as easy to connect amidst the chaos of a classroom full of students. But Emma knew she could even hear the sound of falling rain on a busy city street - i f she listened. Emma turned off the lights and closed the door. The first year of a lifetime was now over. 341 Bibliography Banks, Anna. & Banks, Stephen P. (1998). Fiction & Social Research: B y Fire or Ice. Walnut Creek, C A : Al taMira Press. Costa, A . & Liebmann, R. (1997). Envisioning Process as Content. Thousand Oaks, C A : Corwin Press, Inc. Doyle, Walter. (1997). Heard A n y Really Good Stories Lately? A Critique of the Critics of Narrative in Educational Research. Teaching and Teacher Education. 13 (1), 93-99. Dunlop, Rishma. (1998). Artistic Forms of Research Representation: Meaning Through Form. Unpublished. Geertz, C. (1988). Works and Lives: The Anthropologist as Author. Stanford, C A : Stanford University Press. Glasser, W . (1993). The Quality School Teacher. New York, N Y : HarperCollins Publishers. Goldberg, N . (1990). W i l d M i n d . New York, N Y : Bantam Books. 342 Goodlad, J. (1984). A Place Called School. N e w York, N Y : M c G r a w - H i l l Book Company. Grumet, M . (1987). The Politics of Personal Knowledge. Curriculum Inquiry. 17 (3), 319-329. Halliday, J. (1998). Technicism, Reflective Practice and Authentitcity in Teacher Education. Teaching and Teacher Education. 14 (6), 597-605. Henderson, J. (1992). Reflective Teaching: Becoming an Inquiring Educator. Toronto, O N : Maxwel l Macmil lan Canada. Hodgins, Jack. (1993).'A Passion for Narrative. Toronto, O N : The Canadian Publishers. Joyce, B . , Wei l , M & Showers, B . (1992). Models of Teaching. Boston, M A : A l l y n and Bacon. Kohn, A . (1998). What to Look for in a Classroom .. . and Other Essays. San Francisco, C A : Jossey-Bass Publishers. Levin, B . & Young, J. (1994). Understanding Canadian Schools. Toronto. O N : Harcourt Brace & Company Canada, Ltd. 343 Lickona, T. (1992). Educating for Character: How Our Schools Can Teach Respect and Responsibility. New York, N Y : Bantam Books. McEwan, Hunter. & Egan Kieran. (1995). Narrative in Teaching. Learning, and Research. New York, N Y : Teachers College Press. Nelsen, J., Lott, L . & Glenn, S. (1993). Positive Discipline in the Classroom Rocklin, CA: Prima Publishing. Riffaterre, M . (1990). Fictional Truth. Baltimore, M D : John Hopkins University Press. Robinson, J .A. & Hawpe, L . (1986). Narrative Thinking as a Heuristic Process. In T Sarbin (Ed.), Narrative Psychology:The storied Nature of Human Conduct. New York: Praeger Scientific. Saks, A . L . (ed) (1996). Viewpoints: Should Novels Count A s Dissertations i Education?. Research in Teaching of English. 30 (4), 403-427. Schulz, R., Schroeder, D . & Brody, C. (1997). Collaborative narrative Inquiry:fidelity and the ethics of caring in teacher research. Qualitative Studies in Education 10 (4), 473-485. 344 Wong, H . & Wong, R. (1991). The First Days of School. Sunnyvale, C A : Harry K . Wong Publications. 345 


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