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Date: Monday, August 18, 2003
To: Fred Bommerson
From: Jack Woodson
Subject: Opening Ceremonies
School is in session! No doubt, everyone will be pleased to learn that I am finally once again among the gainfully employed. And now that my first day as a teacher is done, I can officially send a status report to the Duke Alumni office for them to put in their next magazine. It will read as follows: Jack M. Woodson (Duke engineering, class of '95)
is currently living and working in Dallas, TX.
He has forty children, and all of them have different mothers. I know what you're thinking - FORTY KIDS???!?? How do you have room for them all? And do you get paid on a per-child basis? Well, no. Let me explain the system to you. I teach two classes. Here in the Dallas Independent School Dis-trict (motto: We hire our teachers in mid-August!), we partner teach. I teach math and science, while my partner teaches reading and social studies. So no, since I don't teach language arts, we will not be reading The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy or The Shining in class. It's a shame, but sacrifices have to be made. However, mathematics-inspired books such as Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians (with its valuable, real-world lessons on subtraction) are fair game. Back to the system. I have a homeroom with eighteen kids. Each day, I will do my best to mold them into respect-able citizens, learned scholars, and all-around math nerds from the time the bell rings until approximately 10:30. At that time, my partner and I will exchange classes, and I will repeat the morning's work with her class. She, in turn, will spend the day instructing both classes on the ways of the written word. My partner's homeroom has seventeen kids in it right now. Eighteen and seventeen don't quite add up to forty, I know, but I've used a little trick we in the third grade like to call "estimation." It's akin to what Larry does on his timecard. Work for thirty-five minutes, log an hour. Be sure to tell him hi for me. I'm lucky to have a really cool partner. Her name is Kelly Swanson, and though she's taught before, this is her first year in the third grade. She taught second grade previously, and from what I hear, she's a great teacher. Her husband, Frank, had been in her third grade position last year, but this year he's teaching first grade. They both seem like my kind of people. At least neither has any readily apparent ear fungus or reptilian traits, which, as you know, can be so distracting when meeting someone for the first time. There are seven third-grade classes here; it's a rather large school. As such, my section of the grade is 3E and Kel-ly's (my other class) is 3F. I am the only man on the team. No, before you ask, they're all spoken for. It's a pretty good team, I think. Because of the odd number, there is one self-contained class (no partner), but the rest of us are paired up. This means there is a math subset of the team, which is really quite a blessing because we can plan our lessons together. I'll be working with Mrs. Bird and Mrs. Fitzgerald, who have both been teaching for a number of years. It's always good to have someone with experience showing you the way, right? Wait, wasn't Tom Winter your mentor when you started? Oops. Sor-ry. Ok, now that I've given you enough generic infor-mation, let's get to a few things that happened on my first day. After a restless night, I arrived at the school at 6:45. This will NOT be a daily recurrence. Even though the district's "sum-mer dress code" allows for golf shirts, I opted to dress very professionally and wear a long-sleeve shirt and tie. I figured I ought to make a good impression on the first day. So no hock-ey mask or red tights. Shortly before school started, I saw a couple of kids that I recognized from my class lists. Carlos in 3E and Juan in 3F are best friends, and they were waiting with Juan's mother. Juan's brother was in the fourth-grade class I student-taught last year, and his mother was hoping that I would be Juan's teacher as well. She speaks limited English, and Juan is the shy type, so Carlos translated for her. She was upset because Juan was not going to be in my class; he was in "Miss Kel-ly's" class. I explained to her, through Carlos, the partner teach system and how Juan wasn't in my homeroom, but that he would still be in my class. Hopefully Juan will be more mo-tivated than his brother, whose greatest feat last year was crafting the simile, "My room smell like pee-pee." When the bell rang, I was standing at attention at my doorway. The third grade classrooms are in portable buildings out behind the school, and I guess it took a while for the kids to find their way back there, as GPS navigation systems were not included on this year's list of school supplies. After a while, the kids started filtering in slowly, most of them being accompanied by at least one parent. One boy's father ap-proached me with a twenty-dollar bill in hand, and for a second there, I thought I was going to receive my first bribe. "I know they're just coloring today, but an A would be ap-preciated," as he surreptitiously palms the money to me. But of course it wasn't a pay-off, it was for a set of school sup-plies, so I directed him to the office. Another little boy, Alex, came in with both mother and father, and once he was seated at a desk, his father asked if he could videotape his son. He had a little hand-held camera, and he shot a couple of minutes of his son hard at work. This being the first day of class, the kids were perfectly behaved. I only hope Alex's father has no reason to come back in two months to film "3rd Graders Gone Wild." I think that Alex's father was happy that his son would have a male teacher. Several other parents made comments about that as well today, along the lines of "My child has never had a man teacher before." In most cases, I couldn't really tell if they thought that was a good thing or a bad thing. I mean, I'm sure their child has also never had a three-headed Martian teacher with no ears. The other teachers and I had put together little packets for the kids to work on while we spoke with the parents. These were really "profile" pages - name, age, favorite TV show, that sort of thing. There were also a few pages of very basic addition and subtraction problems, and then some coloring pages. One of these coloring sheets had detailed instructions on how to color it. "Color the flowers near the house blue." "Color the roof black." And so on. As I walked around the room, I saw several batches of red flowers near green-roofed houses. As their new teacher, I wanted to make an impression on the kids, so after the parents left, I felt I should give a short motivational speech. Something to tell them how much I love math and science and how I want them to feel the love as well. A speech that would open the floodgates of their desire to be the best mathematicians and scientists they could possibly be. I combined the most rousing catch lines from movies such as Mr. Holland's Opus, Stand and Deliver, and Animal House. I even ended with a hearty "Hi-yo, Silver!" Some might have read the look in their eyes as dazed, confused, even frightened, but I know I touched some souls. Well hey, today was a full day on hardly any sleep, and I am exhausted! I will write more soon and tell you about more of the kids. Say hi to everyone there at dear ol' Heat Pumps Un-limited for me. And tell them that I have a new credo in life now:
I teach, therefore I am... poor.
Talk to you later,