Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Lunch Club

A few weeks into the semester, my principal informed the core curriculum teachers that we would need to give up one of our plan periods to do extra student tutoring twice a week.  Somehow, I was to choose 8-12 students who are borderline in their test scores and pull them out of their elective classes twice weekly in order to augment their education.  This would involve extra prep for me and the other core teachers and would likely disrupt the students schedules.

I don't really like that idea. In fact, I resented it a little.  I like having prep time and to tell you the truth, the teachers are not allowed to have teacher aides during prep time since it would create a 1-on-1 situation and possibly have a one in a million chance of an allegation against a teacher.  I believe I have a greater chance of winning the lottery than this happening.  However, I do follow rules. Ok, I follow rules most of the time.

I also have been wondering how to fit a book into my curriculum.  I think every junior high and high school student in the world should read "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian", by Sherman Alexie.  I've reviewed the book for the OCTE and spent considerable time analyzing its narrative, lexicon and complexity.  It's fun to read and I predicted that students would enjoy it if given the chance.  Two barriers stood in the way. First, I didn't have a classroom set.  I don't have the funds to just buy 35 copies of a book.  Second, I wasn't sure I could get the book by my principal since it contains a lot of swear words and a discussion of masturbation.  My God, who wants to acknowledge that teenage boys think about teenage girls AND basketball?!

My friend Cathy Klasek came to the rescue on both accounts.  I had recommended last year or the year before that she use some grant money to buy copies for her kids.  She lent me her classroom set of the book. Since she teaches in the same district as I do, I approached my principal and told him that I was going to use the book and that it must be ok since another school district teacher has taught it with no problems.

So now I had buy-in from the principal and access to resources.  But where and when to work it in?  Cue the mandated tutoring music...

However, since I don't like the idea of forcing reading onto my kids (aren't they forced to do so much already?), I took a different route.  I invited a couple of kids- marginal readers and experts both- to come have lunch with me.  I gave them a pass from the cafeteria and they came upstairs to eat with me.  There were five, initially. At first we just ate our lunch.  Then I started reading the book to them. They asked to follow along with their own books, so I provided those.  There are drawings in the book and they seem to augment the story and captivate attention at the same time.  The first time I read the word "ass" aloud, the kids gasped.  The first time I said "shit" where it was printed in the text, they laughed. I think "boner" is the word they love the best. Sometimes, I refuse to read a word out loud and they hurriedly look in the book to see what it is.

It's more than cuss words though.  Alexie writes a story of poverty, of want, of friendship and of a boys determination to make his life better.  He is showing my kids a pathway to a better life and telling a good story at the same time. This is what speaks to children. We often pause to discuss the book and themes, to puzzle through difficult decisions that Alexie's characters make.  But mostly, we are reading for the pleasure of it.

The first time an extra kid showed up, I asked the students to fill him in on the plot.  Right away, five voices chimed in, interpreting, extrapolating and laughing.  They get it and they are passing it on. My principal is thrilled and promises never to interrupt.

My group is up to 11 kids now and we are halfway through.  But there was one obstacle to get past and that's the social stigma of being a nerd who reads.  That was the easiest thing in the world to solve.  Each of my kids has been assigned "lunch detention".  This way they can be tough and also get to be readers. Just before Thanksgiving break I was doing bus duty.  I like to say good night to my kids, to wish them well and smile and hug and encourage.  One of my lower-level boys was sitting by a girl.
"That's Miss Dieu.  She's mean", he said.
"She gave me lunch detention all last week." He looked at me like "Oh please don't out me!"
The girl's eyes got wide. "What did he do?"
I looked mean (I think). "Why don't you ask him? He's the one who did it."
"It wasn't my fault." said my kid.  He's a great liar.
"You know what?  Next week you're coming back. All week." I tried not to smile.
"Dang, you are mean!"  I doubt that girl will ever give me problems if she winds up in my class.
Meanwhile, as I walked away, I happened to glance back at my student.  He was impressing his girl with what a badass he is and making up some story about how he misbehaved and got 'lunch detention' with me.  His face didn't change, but he made the gesture that friends make to each other in our school, to signal acknowledgement and friendship when they cannot talk out loud.

Some days it's really great to be a teacher.

1 comment:

  1. This made me cry because of the sheer awesomeness & compassion of it. I am so glad you are teaching. You are the teacher I needed & rarely found in the school system.