Wednesday, November 6, 2013

My Student Teacher: Mr. Blindspot, aka, Bruce "Literary" Jenners.

My student teaching experience was not unlike most other folks.  I had a wonderfully talented, funny, and inspirational cooperating teacher named Mr. Blankenburg, whom I still consider, after thirteen years of teaching, to be a dear friend.

It was scary at first.  I remember.  But I also worked my ass off to make sure I knew what the hell I was talking about while keeping my target audience in mind--namely to keep them awake and not humping each other during group activities. I wrote down everything Mr. B did in class during those observations.  I stayed up late perfecting my lesson, memorizing names, and practicing my emerging teacher-face, now perfected with the Mom-stank-eye when the kids get on my last nerve.

These fond memories inspired me to, years later, embark upon the similar journey of mentoring potential future educators.  So, for many seasons now, I've agreed to host college students from around the area to observe my classroom and my teaching.  I've encountered quite a few teachers-in-the-making, with their eager and nervous smiles.

All of them, I feel fairly confident in saying, found their way in the world--most as current teachers.  All of them had potential to do something in this world.  All of them could communicate thoughtfully and effectively.  All of them except for my current student teacher.

I shall dub him Simon.

Simon arrived to our first meeting over 40 minutes late.  He was small, sweaty and strange. It was one of those moments, like on a first date, where you think to yourself: well, this is gonna suck.

I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt; however, more time spent together only strengthened my case.  He came over six times late.  That's six times too many, homey.  Naturally each time he'd arrive late, he'd interrupt my teaching, a few kids got distracted, and he'd creep over to the other side of the room, waiting expectedly for me to come over to him and summarize everything he'd missed.  When I finally confronted him on it, Simon became Simon, the Martyr.  That other apostle no one wants to talk about because he was just that fucking annoying.

He couldn't afford a car, because he couldn't afford college, because his parents were poor, because who knows.  He had to ride his bike--in the rain--up hill--both ways--and then the chain broke--and then someone almost ran him over--and then, and then, and then I want to scream and go all Wolverine on him in the head.  We have our various crosses to bear and at this point, it's not professional to announce them prior to having any type of relationship.

Well, that confrontation backfired on me, because the next time he showed up early.   Two hours early.  Two additional hours with Simon, the Martyr. Since this was my planning period which meant no students to interrupt him, Simon took it upon himself to begin the world's most awkward interview.  Each question would begin the exact-same-way.

Simon: "Um, Mrs. -I have a question."

Me: Stopping what I'm doing and turning to him. "Sure, Simon.  What's up?"

Simon: Without any noticeable expression.  "Um, so.  Um.  How do you, like know, like what to teach?"

Me: Blink. Blink.  "Do you mean what texts I teach? Or what lexicon level of texts? Or skills?"

Simon: "Yes."

So, then I'm thinking that perhaps this college isn't quite up to par in their preparatory courses anymore, and instead introduce all the different ways the English department creates the scope and sequence for the year including all the TEKS skills, district course guides, etc. Meanwhile Simon simply sits there looking around me--not at me. After I finish, hand him several more handouts with information about our courses, he begins again.

Simon:  "Um, Mrs. -I have a question."

Me: Thinking this would be a follow up question related to what I've just spent the last seven minutes discussing. "Go for it."

Simon: "Did you buy a class ring from your college?"

Me: WTF? Take a deep breath. "Um, no."

Simon: "Um, Mrs. -I have a question..."

Me: Warily.  "Ok."

Simon:  "How do you work with students who don't care?"

Me: Thrown yet again by the drastic change in subject manner and complexity of the real answer. 

... Twenty or so minutes pass in this way while parts of my soul have just died. 

And this now concludes the Q and A part of our session.

Each "interview" is the same completely random and disconnected set of questions with the same introduction.  "Um, I have a question...." Well, no shit.  We're not friends, and you certainly don't know what you're doing. Just ask it!

Days pass and poor Simon is still fiddling with paperwork, or looking through all the documents I've given.  And then, one day, Simon is just sitting.  Nada.  Then he's--dare, I say it?--on his phone and ostensibly texting.  This is while I'm leading the class through an analysis of an excerpt from Meria Edgeworth's novel, Belinda, in my senior AP class.  Texting.  Really?

Am I boring you?

It's an insult from a self-centered and immature teenager, but somewhat understandable. However from a senior in college preparing to actually be a teacher, who's entire job at this point is to OBSERVE, it's something else.  Again, I want to Wolverine your face.

Yes, I just made "Wolverine" a verb.

So, I get all teachery on his ass, and suggest he move around the room to help with students'  questions on a writing exercise.  I return to my podium in the front where students have been coming up to ask for individual help.  Kids are visiting with me a few at a time.  I briefly scan the room.

Students working? Check.
Simon walking around the room? No--hmm.
Simon in his corner?  No.  Uh-oh. 

I do another quick scan and nearly have a heart attack because it's then I realize Simon has been standing in my blindspot for some time now, with his hands in his pockets.  Just standing.  In the front of the room, in the left corner, not doing anything.

The nickname Captain Blindspot was born that day.

Then it came time for Blindspot to begin his lesson planning to then actually deliver a lesson to one of my poor classes. The questions were relentless.

Blindspot: "Um, Mrs. -I have a question..."

Me: Yeah, I bet you do.

With his rigid schedule (he mysteriously can only be available Wednesdays and Fridays) the best viable option for him was to lead a lesson in my elective course--Literary Genres.  Selfishly, I'm also aware that he can do the least amount of damage to an elective course where I can literally make things up as I please.  The kids are fantastic and the focus is by my design.  I thought this would be an amazing opportunity to craft a lesson using pretty much any medium with the only stipulation that the focus be in the adventure genre and there's some planned analysis.

When I describe this rare gem in one's teaching career to Blindspot, he does not share my enthusiasm.

Blindspot: "Um, Mrs. -I have a question."

Me: Here we go. "Yep."

Blindspot:  "I don't know what you do in this literary genres class."

And now think to yourselves how to say the word "genre."

I bet it was not "jenners" which is how he pronounces it.  "Jenners" as in Bruce Jenners.

This is a mistake I would absolutely allow for a middle school student to make.  This is something I might hear from a high school student.  But for a senior in college who majored in English, and plans to be an ENGLISH TEACHER?

Houston, we've got a [yet another] problem.

And mind you, he's now been observing this class for three weeks with every piece of syllabus and class material the students have also been given.

Bruce "Literary" Jenners has emerged.

He has two weeks to prepare a lesson for Literary Genres. I've never been asked more questions in my life.

1 comment:

  1. I wish I could have met this guy... I feel like I know him as much as we discussed him at home. Let's hope he takes a path not related to teaching.