Culture Shock

Today my class and I had a curious, surprising, troubling experience.  I’m giving up my class (that’s not what this post is about, I promise to write that later), and my students are helping to choose the teacher who will replace me, so every applicant has to come and teach class for an hour so we can get an idea of what they’ll be like.  The students and I brainstormed a list of criteria they will use to critique each candidate, and I made an evaluation sheet with both a check list and a comment section.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll write about the lovely young woman who came to teach yesterday.  Today belongs to Howard.  Howard is an older man whose resume interested me not only because it showed many, many years of GED teaching experience, but also for the fact that it listed “The Civil Rights Movement” under “Experience.”  Really.  Howard did voter registration in Neshoba County, Mississippi in the mid 60s.  In my book, that at least gets you in the door.  So I called him to interview.

And I liked him, but I had some doubts after we met.  He seemed a little more “old school” than my students would be comfortable with.  At the same time, some of my students complain that I’m not old school enough.  They want a classroom experience that’s maybe a little more like the ones they had in the past.  And I figured Howard could probably give them that, so I arranged for him to come teach … on Tuesday.  I got to class and announced that we had a guest teacher coming in.

And then he didn’t show.

So we started doing a social studies lesson and talked and did some writing while we waited for him.

And he still didn’t show.

And I checked the messages in my office and checked my email, and we did some more work on social studies.

And he still didn’t show.

And my students were angry and insulted and I was pretty annoyed, too, but much more (foolishly) forgiving, and when I talked to Howard later in the day and he gave me a truly lame excuse for not coming to class, I decided to give him another chance and asked him to come in today.  I talked to my students about second chances, and they were lovely and willing to set aside their bad feelings from Tuesday.

So today Howard joined us … and spent an hour showing me why “The Civil Rights Movement” on your resume isn’t enough to get you an audition in front of my class.

  • He started off by telling the class that he wouldn’t remember their names, so he wouldn’t bother going around the room with introductions.
  • He spent the first 20-25 minutes telling a series of rambling, hard-to-follow stories, some of which seemed to be at least vaguely related to the questions students asked him during the “interview me” section he started off with (a section during which my students asked really good questions and during which he kept telling them they weren’t asking good questions!)
  • When asked what made him apply for the job, he went on to explain that he had a full life outside of teaching and didn’t need to be there with us and that he had applied because the job was open and he figured why not.
  • He told them class with him wouldn’t be fun, that he wasn’t about having a fun class, he was about getting the work done.
  • After wandering through a strange, experimental theater sort of telling of his work history, he stopped and said, “Oh, this will interest many of you –” (looking pointedly at my teen students) “I used to teach at Rikers Island.” (A prison, for those who aren’t familiar with Rikers.)
  • During the interview section, he told them repeatedly not to ask him any personal questions … and then he proceeded to call out each student and ask each to tell him why he or she had left school (oh no, I’m totally serious … he’d point at a student: “What’s your name?  Why’d you drop out of school?  Just tell us in a brief sentence or two.”).
  • During the horrible tell-us-why-you’re-a-dropout section, he encouraged each student to admit that they hadn’t been able to keep up with the work when they’d been in school (“Oh, so you had a hard time with the work?”  “You struggled, you can say that.”).
  • When he got to Miao and she said that she’d left school ten years ago because she needed to work, he shifted his follow-up questions: “But you were a good student before you left school, right?”  “You were probably very good in math, right?” (Oh, gentle reader, how much I wish I was kidding you right now.)
  • He didn’t teach anything.  He gave out a worksheet and then didn’t do any work with it.  He kept saying, “If this were a real class, I would …” without seeming to have any idea that, of course, it was a real class and he was supposed to be teaching it.

But his “finest” moments came toward the end.  He gave out a math worksheet, gave the class a few minutes to work on it then asked if people were done, and two students said they were.  He said, “Ok, well, I’m going to give out the answer sheet so you can correct your work.  I don’t want to embarrass you for not being done.”  He started to pass out the answer sheet and then stopped and said, “I just wanted to point out that the two Asian students finished in three minutes.”

No.  I’m not making this shit up.  I couldn’t.  It hurts my heart just to type it.  He said that.  And when one of my students said, “That’s racist,” he said: “It’s not racist.  I’m just talking about cultural differences.  They’re good in math.  That’s just a fact.”

Howard will not be taking over my class.

(Did I really have to tell you that?)

13 thoughts on “Culture Shock

  1. josh

    maybe Howard thought he was teaching a Bank St. course, “How to Not Demo: A Teacher-Deficit Model.”

    I think we can officially bury Old-School, deep, deep in the ground. I feel you on students wanting old school. My take on what our students really want is like a hip hop version of old school — old James Brown licks (or take your pick), mixed with some 2010 snares & beats (i.e., adult ed best practices).


  2. luvwords

    I’m so curious about what the rating sheets and debrief were like. I am sitting here with my mouth hanging open yet knowing that I shouldn’t really be shocked because this kind of craziness sadly happens all too frequently. Wow.


    1. The rating sheets were interesting. There’s a section that’s pretty much all about personality. Howard’s scores in that area were as sad as sad can be. The section about teaching style and how much was learned during the lesson was filled with comments like, “I don’t think he taught us anything today.” In the comments section at the bottom of the eval, one student wrote, “How has this guy ever had a teaching job?”

      Good question!


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    1. Thanks for stopping by. You’re right: my students deserve some “we’re not worthy” kowtowing after that miserable experience. And they chose a teacher to replace me who I think will be wonderful.


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