Friday, July 8, 2011

A Teacher's Purgatory: Summer School

No high school teacher wants to teach summer school: not even the teacher who loves his/her craft, who loves kids, who would still teach even if he/she won the lottery.

Yes, even that teacher doesn't want to teach summer school.

Any teacher who teaches summer school does so because he/she has to for financial reasons. And I mean I-won't-be-able-to-eat reasons. These teachers aren't good savers--or have financial goals beyond a normal teacher's salary and might want to consider administration. Those fools have to work in the summer as part of their contract, but they make A LOT more money.

I'm a little of both: I don't save well and I live like I am already a published and a successful author. So, my punishment is summer school.

And since I am angry and have a flair for drama, summer school for me is HELL. Total hell-- flames, pitchforks, and demons to rule over. So, I guess that makes me Satan. You'd think that prospect would make it more attractive, but . . .

It's HELL I tell you.

Homelessness, starvation, the pole are looking better and better every day.

I have 48 students (no, that's not a typo) ranging from ages 14-17 who have all failed English. 38 of them are boys.

I'm in HELL.

Picture dealing with 48 of your worst customers, clients, or employees for 2 1/2 hours a day for 24 days. The most immature, the most idiotic, the least motivated--the ones with the most attitude. All at once.

I just finished day 12 and I might not make it without committing a felony.

I take pride in my work. Yes, I entered teaching to pay the bills until I get published, but much to my chagrin, I find that I do love it--during the months of September- June.  But, faced with having to teach this summer, I decided that all I wanted to do was get through it.

That takes a lot of patience and very few standards.

This is where I might get myself in trouble because I know one of my current bosses and one of my former bosses (you know who you are, mister) will probably read this, but shit, I have tenure.

I am not showing movies. I teach vocabulary and grammar every day. The students have a test every week. I make them read. I make them write.

But, I try to make it interesting: right now, we are reading literature related to insanity. We've read excerpts from Fight Club and One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest; we've analyzed "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)" as a poem. Read some Edgar Alan Poe. Currently, I do have them working on a synthesis essay, but I am offering so much guidance a monkey on acid could follow me.

You wanna listen to your iPod (my school has a strict no-iPods-ever rule) while working? Okay. Keep that phone out and update your Facebook periodically--as long as you are fairly focused. While I am distributing handouts, go ahead and play Angry Birds.

You hear this phrase a lot in my room: "Okay everyone, unplug and look up here because I've got something to tell [teach] you."

During the normal school year, I send one or two students to the dean.  One or two a year. Last year, I didn't write a single referral. I have excellent classroom control. In fact, when I do send students to the dean, they send SWAT up to my room because they assume something HUGE is going down.

My reputation among the students is that I'm a "hard-ass" who makes my students work, but that I'm cool. I have a strict "no bullshit" policy, but enforcing it is a bitch with summer school kids because they assume I am as clueless as they are.

On the first day, I had a student taken out of the room by security for defiance.

I had a student claim that the giant bong he drew on his paper right in front of me was a cup with a straw. When I rolled my eyes and informed him that a) I'm not a moron and b) I have a legal obligation to report suspicion of drug use, he accused me of being judgmental.

Right kid, people who don't smoke weed draw bongs all day long.

I threw his ass out.

Yesterday, this a student said to me with much indignation: "I'm not stoned, Ms. Vance, I am hungover -- okay?"

My response: "Well, since you are in summer school, how do you think that drinkin' thing is working out for you?"

On that note, another student who has attended 5 out of 12 days so far told his classmate that he hasn't been coming because he's been smoking too much weed--I heard him loud and clear even though students believe that teachers become deaf and blind the moment they sit at their desks. And then he strolled over and asked me for make-up work.

I have perfected my fuck-off expression.

A student threw papers at me.

That one almost required SWAT. Let's just say he's not in summer school anymore.

I've put students in corners. Straight-up desk in the corner, student staring at the wall.

I've lost count of how many I've had to send outside for a little chat.

One particular day, after sending two students to the office, I said: "Okay everyone, all iPods and phones need to disappear. I see a wire or an earbud, hear a bleep or a buzz, I am taking you phone, iPod, hand-held center of your world, and running it over with my car."

"I'm done with you," I continued. "I am trying to make this as painless as possible by reading stuff that is edgy and interesting. But, I have no problem handing out worksheets for 2 1/2 hours and if you even fart without asking permission, I'm throwing you out."

"No more Fight Club. No more Metallica. No more Angry Birds. Nothing but Puritan Literature, Charles Dickens, and T.S. Eliot poetry."

Well, that is if I can figure out what the heck Eliot is writing about. That dude is complicated.

"Test prep until your eyes fall out."

Tomorrow? "A thirty-minute lecture on the dash vs. the hyphen." And I'm not nearly as entertaining as Missed Periods.

Forty-eight pairs of wide eyes staring at me in fear.

I finish with, "You want the bitch? Here she is!"

From somewhere in the room, I hear whispered, "You mean she gets worse?"


  1. Wow. I know that it hasn't been that long since I've been in high school but I couldn't picture even the worst students in my class talking to a teacher like that. Times have changed.

  2. Oh. My. You are a goddess. Keep up the whip and chains, girl. If you change one life this summer, even if it is your own, you will have succeeded. I never taught summer school (elem. ed.), but there were whispers...

  3. Holly - HILARIOUS. I'm sorry about your situation, and I really admire you for how well you're handling it. I would have been the one weeping in the corner as the pelted me with spitballs (or whatever kids do now) within mere days. BUT it's super awesome how you used it to create this immensely entertaining and well-written post. Keep it UP!

  4. You hear this phrase a lot in my room: "Okay everyone, unplug and look up here because I've got something to tell (teach) you."--Love this!

    I'm sorry you're in summer school hell. I can so relate. (I'm a sub, so I've seen it all and worse.) I met those kids. Frequently.

  5. Bad enough that they deserve Puritan literature! Damn!


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