Last Tursdays Assignment: 6th Grade Frozen District (30 kids)
The power of the pen is quite the experience. Well in this case it’s the power of the whiteboard marker pen.
I arrived at this school and was told the sick teacher came in specifically to do the lesson plan for me and that I could meet with her in the classroom. Thank you Lord!
Ms. S was completing the lesson plan when I met her. She was deleting a couple items of work she felt she had to monitor and was substituting SSR intervals. SSR is teacher lingo for Sustained Silent Reading. This is where the kids are supposed to read anything they want as long as it’s done SILENTLY.
She had three entries in the lesson plan where SSR was prescribed.
I queried her about her procedures for classroom discipline (each class and teacher does it slightly differently), and she pointed to the word “HOME” at middle of the whiteboard.
She then explained that if she felt she wasn’t getting the cooperation she felt was warranted, she would add another letter until the word “HOMEWORK” was complete.
The class would then be assigned some horrendous homework project that she had planned for such occasions.
After she left, I had about 20 mins to review the plan for a day that concluded with, of course, SSR.
The kids arrived and attendance was taken. I asked them about the funny partial word at the top of the board and they verified that they knew what “HOMEWORK” meant.
I picked up a blue marker pen and twisted the cap which made a distinctive “skrittching” sound and asked them if I should practice my spelling of the word “WORK” a couple to times “just in case”.
The response was a lot of “No’s”
First half of the day was a dream. The first SSR was, indeed, silent. Not a sound other than the occasional cough. Great!
I’m thinking good thoughts about this class. The plan is actually going according to plan. Math, literature, homework correction were complete and done.
The second SSR in the plan occurred just before lunch. The natives were getting a little restless. I gather they didn’t get this much SSR in the normal daily routine.
All I had to do was go to the board and “skritch” the marker top and a wave of silence spread across the room. Amazing! When a couple of kids in the back were still “bapping” at each other, I popped the cap ALL THE WAY OFF the marker and held it up for all to see.
The “bappers”, informed by their neighbors, suddenly became model students and the SSR returned to “silence”.
The cap went back on and the marker returned to the tray just below the unmodified word “HOME” at the top of the board. This only had to be repeated a couple of additional times.
Ahhhh….the power of the (marker) pen.
The afternoon assignments, again, were accomplished according the plan when we came to the last SSR of the day. Thirty minutes of “complete unfinished work, homework if you want to start or SSR”.
Ten minutes into it, they’d had enough, the noise level steadily rose, kids started to wander around the room re-sharpening already perfectly sharpened pencils, tapping those newly sharpened pencils on tables, rolling and dropping stuff on the floor and other undesired noisy activities.
The magic marker pen had lost its power. Appending additional letters to “HOMEWO” had only a temporary effect.
So I fell back to my, now popular, “Guess the sub’s previous job” exercise. I emphasized that this had to be done orderly and quietly otherwise I’d just erase all the guesses and call it a day.
They all wanted to participate. I guess this beats SSR any day. I allowed them all one guess each and wrote them on the board.
So watching the clock to have the climax occur just before the end of day bell, I would walk in the front of the classroom and surreptitiously erase one of the guesses.
I would hear whispers. “Look! He erased one! What was it?”
When my back was turned, I could see out of the corner of my eye one or more kids approach the board to read the faint tracing of what I erased. This continued as the time passed. Sometimes I’d even erase 2-3 at a time.
With 3 minutes to go till the bell, the choices are down to “Retired Cop” and “Computer programmer”. I had the kids all come up and split into two groups and “vote” with each group choosing their choice for the “correct” answer.
There is a LOT of noise and animated excitement at this point, but there is also only two minutes left so I felt it was a good trade off.
At this point I turn around and there at the back of the classroom sitting in an empty student chair is……………..THE PRINCIPAL OF THE SCHOOL.
Recovering, I explained to THE PRINCIPAL what was happening and added that it was kinda, sorta related to an election year civic lesson. Yea, that’s the ticket! (I don’t think she bought it).
I asked the kids if THE PRINCIPAL could have a vote and they agreed. THE PRINCIPAL said she didn’t have any facts to vote on so she asked the “retired cop” group what make them think I was a cop?
One kid said, “Well when he went by Henry’s desk during SSR, he said ‘You have the right to remain silent, and I think you should exercise it’. That sounded like a cop to me”
She then asked the smaller group “Why a computer programmer”. The response was that it "..was so different than all the other guesses, it must be it”
Glancing at the clock, I then told THE PRINCIPAL she had about 30 seconds to choose. She picked the majority vote saying, “Against my initial intuition, I’ll go with cop”
With a dramatic flourish, I then took the eraser poised it above “computer programmer” and as the bell rang, I quickly erased “Cop”.
The kids exploded!
I turned and looked to the back of the room where “THE PRINCIPAL” was applauding and smiling.
I talked to her after the class and explained about the kids getting restless and she told me she understood perfectly. Her comment: “Whatever works”
I then erased “WO” from the word “HOMEWO” and left the building.