Saturday, September 17, 2005

Not So Quick Update From An Absent Blogger

I can't believe it's been 10 days sine I updated this blog - wow. I suppose I should have expected this, though on reflection I hadn't really given it a lot of thought, just assuming that this would somehow ust continue, but real-life responsibilities have caught up with me in the form of my new job as a chemistry teacher. I'm not sure if what I'm going through is typical or not. My natural inclination is to think that no one experiences anything without there being many people out there in many places who are sharing the same experience, or certainly something very similar. That said, it's really something of a "does a tree falling in the forest with no one around make a sound" sort of dilemma - if those sharing the experience aren't there to share it with you then in effect your experience is uniquely your own and for all practical purposes you are the only one having it. Maybe blogging a bit about it will solve this.

First I found myself taking over for someone who was the chemistry teacher where I'm at from the day the school opened some thirty years ago. His degree was apparently in history and how, exactly, he came to chemistry is something of a mystery to me, one that at this point I'm not at all inclined to solve. My combination classroom/lab was in a state of odd disrepair. The siding to the "teacher's" desk/lab table is largely removed, as it is along the base of many lab tables in the room, cabinets are ajar and out of alignment, and while I have 11 lab stations not a single one had anything in them that was consistent. My personal experience is that a student should be able to go to his or her lab station, open up the cabinet to that station and remove a standard set of equipment that could be used for the lab. In my case each lab station had odds and ends thrown into them, with no apparent logic to what was found there, and at this point I have no idea how the students did labs; again, I don't care to know the answer to this mystery.

My predecessor must have been something of a pack rat as it doesn't look as if he threw anything away. At first I thought that this was due to his just giving up before his pending retirement, but when the total amount of glassware I threw out went from about 10 lbs, through 20, and settling into somewhere near 40 lbs in the end, I realized that this man clearly either had unhealthy attachments to dirty test tubes and beakers, or he was something of a slob who didn't give cleaning glassware much thought. Of course that each student station didn't have any test tube cleaners in them, in fact I haven't enough test tube cleaners to go around to all student stations, certainly would tend to influence one's conclusion about how dirty glassware was handled. To be fair he was teaching under a 55 min schedule, and legitimately enough it can be hard to get students to properly clean up before they're done in that situation, but then there was no reason for him to have not recruited a student helper for "community service" or a 1/2 credit deal who would be responsible for cleaning up dirty dishes. Oh well ...

I won't get into the interesting challenge of trying to figure out what I have on hand, not the least being chemicals. The "bad" to this is that you're never too sure what to plan for. The "good" to this, if one would stretch it that far, is that every day is a new adventure. I've found that the chemical list we have for chemicals was not put together with a great deal of
rigor as I've found things in my chemical lockers that weren't listed, and haven't been able to find things that were listed. I have also found that the state's restrictions on chemicals in inventory is incredibly limiting. You can't have lead nitrate in inventory because ... I have no clue. Lead isn't one of those elements that leap out of the bottle at you, and unless you were to
suddenly take it upon yourself to eat the stuff I have no clue what harm this particular chemical presents. Unfortunately this is more the nature of the list than not and, to say the least, presents something of a puzzle. I won't get into how I haven't been able to make a lot of sense out of how the chemicals are stored - apparently my predecessor had his own system for that, too, and I should think it made perfect sense to him but to me ... I'm likely not clever enough.

Dealing with my legacy issues has been trying enough, but on top of this dealing with high school students on the whole has been something of an eye opener, and unfortunately it hasn't been due to the kids. My personal observation is that the students are pretty good - yes, there are a few you want to strangle, but the majority are good kids who I believe want to learn, I'll know how muh so in about another month. It's the administration that's killing me. There's a lack of consistency in what's said and done that undermines what you find yourself doing as a teacher. Let me use one example: bare mid-riffs. Bare-midriffs are a school no-no. Ok, makes sense to me, easy to spot, easy to deal with, right? Well, no, not really.

First, let there be no mistake, high school girls in large nmbers want to show you their mid-riffs, and with that, for a significant number, comes their belly-button piercings. Initially I took this one for action given how easy it was to spot the perpetrators, but only in my classroom - I actually told two girls that their mid-riffs were out of place in the classroom. One of them got a bit snotty about it, and we had a little chat about disrespect which I'd like to think hit home, but on the whole we came to an "agreement" that this wouldn't happen again. Well over the course of the next two days what did I notice? Bare midriffs galore, everywhere I looked, and believe me I wasn't looking hard. Well, so what's the point of being the "Enforcer" if you're not backed up, or everyone else in the posse aren't picking up their share of the load? I mean really, am I the only one noticing bare-midriffs? I think this is an interesting question regardless of however facile it may seem for I think that were you to ask a lot of teachers if they're noticing their students' midriffs they'd quite possibly honestly tell you no, they're not. I'm coming to the conclusion that in an environment where your perception is that you stand alone you begin to deliberately, though most likely unconsciously, stop taking notice of those things that potentially put you in conflict with the "rules". The main "enforcer" here should be the principal and vice-principal, and at this point neither have made much of an issue of this with the faculty. Oh well ...

Well, I've vented a bit here, and got to make a re-connection with the blog. I'll be posting some things on Iran in the coming days, but I guess on the whole I'll be hitting this a bit less than usual, at least until such time as I get a rhythm going that gives me more time to breathe. Between preparing lesson plans and trying to figure out how to fill in 77 min periods (the school went over to block scheduling this year for the first time, and while I appreciate the beauty of this in the long run right now it's a bit painful to work through) with not only lecture but other things that will keep the students engaged and not having to just listen to me drone on and on. I guess it may seem like I'm complaining, and I'm not; I do like my job and seem to be enjoying it more with each new day. That said, there are things about it that are puzzling, frustrating, and just plain bizarre sometimes, and I suppose over time this will make for excellent blogging fodder.


Blogger Africanuck said...

Bare midriffs, just hand them a lab coat when they walk into your class. Let the other teachers deal with it (or not) as they choose. Kids need rules, and will respect you more for enforcing them.

2:31 AM  
Anonymous Captain Sunshine said...

Aprons work against the mid-riff thing too. Or you could tell them how their navel jewelry will tarnish in lab if they don't keep it covered. Not terribly likely, but a possibility.

I don't know whether anyone's suggested this to you, but the Flinn Scientific and Sargent-Welch catalogs have chemical storage schemes listed in them. Flinn has a lot of other tips in their catalog too, for safety and demonstrations and such. Even if you don't buy from them, their catalog is a very useful reference.

Good luck.


1:46 PM  
Blogger James said...


You're right, and I'm trying to figure out how to go about this. I don't have lab coats for everyone, that's not part of the standard load out and on the whole there's little reason to ask the kids to buy one. So ... I'll have to feel my way through this one. You're right, they need rules and they need to follow those as I understand them in my domain.

Captain sunshine: I do have aprons and that's something for me to consider. I'm pretty sure that they'd be just as uncomfortable at the thought of having to wear a plastic apron for 77 mins as I am thinking about it.

The chem locker will be set up per the Flinn rules, which I have in poster format and via their catalog; I just haven't had the time to get to re-organizing everything in the time since the semester began. That said, before the I'm halfway through Oct the chem storeroom will be rearranged. You're totally right about Flinn's catalog, and at this point they've gotten personal business from me, a relationship I expect to continue into the future. I have indeed re-learned a lot from going through their catalog.

Thanks for taking the time to share this.

4:53 PM  
Blogger she falters to rise said...

"My predecessor must have been something of a pack rat as it doesn't look as if he threw anything away"

Hee, hee...I think that's the biggest obstacle every new teacher faces. My mom almost left 36-years worth of teaching materials behind when she retired. For some reason, she believed that the next person may be glad to have all of it. That "next person" needs to send me a big thank you card for saving him/her from that disaster of boxes.

My old science teacher used to make people who did not meet dress code requirements wear a lab coat around all day long. That was a long time ago, though, when parents supported teachers and discipline. I don't think the administration realizes how important dress codes are on many levels. The same science teacher used to give us a 1% extra credit on exam days if we came in dressed up (boys with ties and girls in dress slacks or skirts). I still dress up on "test" days.

Glad to see you are surviving:)

8:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Right now I am working as a School Nurse. Any violation of the dress code is sent to moi, and I find something more appropriate in my closet of donated T-shirts and jeans.
It usually only takes once or twice for the more fashionable young ladies to make some better decisions in the morning.

12:39 AM  
Blogger David said...

The use, missuse, and disposal of glassware as well as of reagents is a major issue with teaching chemistry. Especially for a small school/college where the teacher is resposible for everything. My problem is that I find it more difficult to be behind the students all the time, so I prefer to clean after them myself :-( I do get some student help in exchange of extra points. Thanks to all fro sharing.

5:48 PM  
Blogger David said...

sorry I miss-spelled "for"

5:52 PM  

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