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August 18, 2006

Essay - Teachers: Your Students are Watching You!


What is the state of education like in some of America's high schools? Today we definitely live in the age of rate-your-teacher or professor dot com and very little escapes the attention of our students. See my previous thoughts on student evaluation of teachers HERE.

What can we do? Complaining seems to be anti-constructive. I suggest . . .

. . . that we do what we sometimes ask our students to do. Pay attention, contemplate and learn.

Teaching culture in your curriculum? Read what regular English-Blog contributor Mae P. had to say about what she observed in high school in her no-child-left-behind world. Even the facilities do not escape her notice!


What I Learned in American Cultures Class

Certainly most teenagers agree that high school is miserable. Whether they would rather talk about who’s dating who or perhaps why a teacher is awful, the universal truth is that concentrating on classes is impossible. For years I managed to listen and take notes, study and do my homework. Finally in my senior year I caught “senioritis.” I was apathetic, frustrated, and for the first time I truly noticed my surroundings. I could only see how phenomenally depressing the high school environment was. The room I took my American cultures class in was the most dismal of all. Eventually, my focus was engulfed entirely by the room itself.

Several years before my enrollment into the American cultures class, the room had been abandoned by an English teacher. The English teacher was particularly creative and had students choose a favorite quote and paint it on the wall for inspiration. The quotes ranged from Shakespeare and Blake to Robert Jordan, James Joyce, Carl Sagan, and Vonnegut. Many, many other authors were represented on these walls in giant, brilliantly colored lettering. It was very common to see uncomfortable students staring at the painted garden of quotes on the walls, daydreaming. The quotes served as a window, a way to escape the classroom and pursue one’s hopes, dreams, philosophies, and the depth of one’s boredom. Due to insufficient budgets or apathy on the maintenance crew’s part, the room had not been painted for many years. The paint was peeling heavily in the moist corners of the room.

Teaching tools were scattered across the room, chalk, markers, pointers, candy, posters, all brightly colored in the hopes that lessons would be more mentally stimulating to the unwilling prisoners of public education. In between each oasis of color was a cold, hard desert on which they tried to mold the students. Each lesson plan on steamboats and robber barons was carefully tucked in plastic sleeves and tabbed into two-inch three ring binders, surreptitiously tucked between the candy jar and the box of green makers, with a few innocent-looking books piled on top.

Prominently, pasty-colored desks stood central to all the disorder – the bookshelves, piles of texts and papers. It was those desks that contrarily held students. The difficulty of the cheaply built desks was more than frustrating for the young people; it was almost as if they were designed to spite the student. Students spent inane amounts of time invested in trying to find a comfortable position. The long-legged slid backward, shoulders taught against the backrest. Shorter students fell face first into the scratched surface of the desk.

The heater contributed much to the atmosphere, in a most literal sense, making the room seem as if it were in a red mid-western desert in July, instead of the soggy, ice-crusted Appalachians as it’s backdrop. The teacher compensated for the dull, rumbling roar it produced by yelling. The noise was most disturbing when the heater shut off; it took several seconds for our ears to adjust to the sudden, tense silence.

The only form of lighting was the nervous fluorescent fixtures. It has always been so, since public schooling originated – or so it seems. All day the fluorescents hum their agitated blue song. At the end of their life, they flicker wildly, fighting, playing out a depressed, dissonant rhythm. One remembers just once – in the classroom of the eccentric, but intriguing elementary art teacher – that humane, incandescent light bulbs were used.

The floor was entirely unremarkable linoleum, bearing the dirt, shoes, tape, trash, desks – the weight of the world it seemed – without but a squeak on the occasion one steps in the wrong spot.
The door served as the only exit. Of course it was shut. No attempts may be made from the inside, as well as cutting off any heroic rescue attempts from the outside. The area around the doorknob was black, and dark handprints streaked the door. One often imagines they could smell desperation in that dirt – the streaks look more like claw marks than innocent, dirty fingers on the door.

Sometimes I would arrive at class early to marvel in the complexities of the dilapidating and intentionally exasperating material of public education. How could such a negative environment be so much more fascinating than American cultures (why was “American cultures” plural? Was the intent of the lessons to show the students of the complex and non-integration of American society? Could there possibly be more than one “American culture?” Or perhaps it was simply the way the class was referred to – students would say, “I am going to American cultures,” because it simply sounded better than “I am going to American culture class.” The difference, I should think, is significant. And by the way, it seemed to me that American cultures (or American culture) class was simply an American history class)? Was it the way the screen in the window would occasionally fly open with a resounding crack? Why was the blackboard actually green, and wearing through in spots? When would the failing, ancient computer in the corner finally refuse to turn on? These questions haunted me while the words of my teacher bounced off the wall behind me, unheard. Oh, don’t worry. I aced the class. It was the teacher himself that made the room so interesting. He could not have possibly competed for my attention with his discussions on the invention of the steamboat, while I was carefully ruminating stained ceiling tiles.

~Mae P.

Comments for Mae's article "What I Learned in American Cultures Class?" Please leave them below:

*Read more English-Blog essays HERE!

Posted by lhobbs at August 18, 2006 12:11 PM

Readers' Comments:

I will continue to visit enjoyed the reading thanks

Posted by: Alena at September 16, 2006 03:01 PM

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