01 October, 2008

Why teaching is like being a Cincinnati Bengals fan

As my students' and possibly my own favorite rapper says,  "somet things have just been terrible. Like the Bengals." And this being my first year teaching, I feel that way about my classes at least once a week. 
The first similarity- the preconceptions. Anybody who knows anything, or thinks they know anything, about sports, has an opinion about what Cincinnati will or won't do this year. Because they study the statistics? Maybe, but very often it's just because the name Cincinnati Bengals just makes people think "terrible."  A few weeks working in a high school and anyone will tell you stereotypes are alive and well. The number one phrase I hear every day: "Miss, I'm black, I don't speak Spanish." Despite my protests that anyone can learn Spanish, including the Russian-French Spanish teacher and all of the students in Spanish 5 and the ones who have passed the Regents and are not native Spanish speakers, there is a general feeling of defeat before I even start the lesson. 

Next is the disparity between the end of one season and the beginning of the next. Or the end of one lesson and the beginning of the next, as the case may be. At the end of every (maybe almost every) season, the Bengals win a few games and everyone thinks they'll start out playing equally well the next season. Something happens in the off season, and they lose their first 6 games. My students do the same thing. At the end of one lesson they understand what I've been teaching, not perfectly, but enough to use it on their own. Then they go home, have a school day without Spanish class because of the scheduling at my school, and can't remember a thing when they walk into my classroom again. I can assign extra homework to help them practice on the in-between days. But I can't fine them when they don't do it and I can't create mandatory extra practices or team meetings. I heard on the radio today Marvin Lewis might lose his job because of the team's slow start this year, so I hope I figure out a way to combat this quickly. 

Finally, like the Cincinnati Bengals front office, we consistently give students more chances than they may deserve. I might kick a student out of class for a day, give them a 0 on an activity, or call their parents to inform them that their child doesn't do his or her classwork, but the next day I let them back in, call on them to answer questions, and sometimes accept late work for no reason. The alternative doesn't really seem fair, and I believe in the right to a free and public education as much as the right to play a game and earn millions of dollars for it. Certainly there are students who earn their suspensions or placements in alternative schools, and no, Chris Henry shouldn't still be in the NFL, but my students give me another chance when I assign work that is too hard or don't explain something clearly and everyone "wants to win," we just aren't sure exactly how to do that yet. 

Now if only I could find the big orange Cincinnati flag that I remember from when I was young to put up next to the flags from Spanish speaking countries I got today. 

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