Monday, September 26, 2011

A Day in the Life of a Public School Kid

Mindie is 13. She's in 8th grade at a public school. Here's a summary of her day today.

6 AM Get up and get ready for school. Mindie checks her grades online on Monday mornings, looking for updates as the teachers spend the weekend grading. This morning she realizes that there is no way she can pull her math grade up enough to make A/B honor roll. Normally she would take this philosophically. She's not married to good grades. But today that's a crushing realization because Dad promised her a trip to Carlsbad if she made A/B honor roll. She's been putting in extra hours with Dad on math, sometimes as many as 3 per night on a single assignment, to try and boost that grade. But today there's no doubt that Carlsbad has slipped through her grasp again. She can't hold back the tears.

7:30 AM Walk out the door with Dad to go to school. On the drive Dad explains that he's learned a little something with this whole math thing and says that her effort will be enough to earn her the trip even if she doesn't make a B. Hopefully this will be a lasting lesson about the uselessness of grades in an arbitrary curriculum.

8 AM Arrive at school in PE clothes. She's required to be here this early but school doesn't start until 8:45. This is the mandatory tutorial period. Whether she needs extra help or not, the school makes her be here. If she doesn't need help from a teacher she'll spend the next 45 minutes "socializing" in the cafeteria, which for Mindie means reading a book or sketching. If she does need a teacher's help she'll have to track that teacher down like a cagey deer scenting buckshot and chase the wary teacher back to a classroom where she can beg for assistance. We tried this a couple of times with homework questions but the teachers were inevitably not available.

8:45 AM Go to phys ed. Since the school added on new athletic facilities summer before last, general PE kids are no longer allowed to use the locker rooms to change or freshen up. Generally Mindie goes to school in her PE clothes and then changes quickly in a bathroom after PE. The teacher generously gives them 3 minutes before the end of the class period to do this. 24 girls, 4 bathroom stalls in a bathroom that's open to the public, 3 minutes. Fun times. Sometimes Mindie doesn't bother to change after PE because she doesn't have time. She just sprays on some body spray and slathers on extra deodorant. Usually when this happens she goes ahead and changes at lunch.

9:40 AM US History to Reconstruction. Mindie likes this class. She comes home talking about the Roanoke Colony and Jamestown.

10:35 AM Teen Leadership. This is taught by the US History teacher. It emphasizes self-esteem, leadership, character development, and public speaking. One day they each made a flag that represents themselves. Another day they gave a speech about "Who I Am" to the class accompanied by a visual aid they constructed with items gathered on a nature walk. Mindie considers this class a blow-off. She's not far wrong but good things can still come of a blow-off class. One of the class activities is writing letters to classmates. This led to the apology letter from the witchy girl. It also led to the following gem from a classmate, "Dear Mindie, You are very good at things. I wish you success in any activities you are or will be in." We're still laughing about that one weeks later. On this particular day the teacher assigns a new project. The students will be writing an essay of at least one page about a time they were in a leadership role. If they have never been in a leadership role they will write about a leadership role they would like to assume. This will be the first grade of the second six-weeks grading period (which begins next Monday). As such, students are required to create an outline AND rough draft to turn in tomorrow. The assignment is given 5 minutes prior to the end of the period. It is homework.

11:30 AM Exploratory Careers class. This is Mindie's other blow-off class. The ag teacher teaches it. But 8th graders can't take ag so they take EC which is ag with another name. They're learning parliamentary procedure, which is no doubt somehow career oriented in ways I don't quite fathom. Sometimes they take a break from parliamentary procedure to muck out the ag barns or hose down the livestock trailers. The teacher is nice, though. He gives out candy to students who answer questions correctly, a flagrant violation of state law and something which endears him to me. He also enjoys using students as examples in theoretical anecdotes to demonstrate points he's making. He often uses Mindie this way. She's not sure how she feels about so much attention being drawn to her.

12:25 Lunch. If Mindie didn't change after PE she does so now. Then she either goes through the cafeteria line and eats a school lunch or sits down with her sack lunch from home. Each table in the cafeteria seats six except for one desk that's situated alone in a corner for a special ed kid who doesn't cope well with others. Mindie usually sits at the table nearest him. She still can't explain what's wrong with him. He's nice to her and vice versa. Sometimes they talk. She says he's really creative and always sketching or writing music. Sometimes he shows her what he's creating before an adult comes over and makes her stop talking to him. Also seated at her table is another special ed kid. This kid is sweet but it's not hard to see why she's special ed. She's mildly retarded and most of the kids avoid her. But Mindie can't stand to see things like that so this girl sits with Mindie who protects her and offers her a friendly face. The crying blonde girl from kindergarten also sits with Mindie. She's totally self-involved by this point and doesn't treat Mindie particularly well but she's not especially mean either except in that careless selfish way. A geeky sophomore sits with them. She and Mindie share many interests but the other girl has some - impulse control and anger management issues. If she doesn't like what somebody at the table says she tends to ruin their lunches with a fist in the middle of the food before storming away. A couple of other girls sit there, too. Mindie doesn't know them very well. She tries to be nice to them but they just look at her.

12:55 PM Science. Integrated Physics and Chemistry. We're still not sure why Mindie's in this class. Why any of the 8th graders are in it. This is not the state curriculum for 8th grade. This is the curriculum for SOME 9th graders. Mindie struggles in this class. The teacher hands them the textbook and a packet of photocopied accompanying materials each day and has them turn in the previous day's photocopied packet. They skipped the first two chapters, the overview and introduction, and jumped straight into the algebra. In a class that's still taking pre-algebra, which Mindie is struggling with. She usually brings the work home and Ben and I spend hours trying to teach it to her at night. We've got an 89 average. :-D

1:50 PM English. Or Reading. Nobody's sure which. They're both taught by the same teacher and it's pretty much her whim that dictates which they'll do this period. Mindie's a good reader. She reads at a college level. Unfortunately she hates literature analysis. There are right and wrong answers in literary analysis and she can't seem to grasp which is which so she stopped giving answers. Sometimes they do vocabulary. Today's vocabulary worksheet asks students to use context clues to match up the words with their meanings. Two of the words are bewilder and baffle One means "to perplex; to frustrate, hinder, or interfere with." The other means "to confuse terribly; to puzzle." She gets them wrong.

2:45 PM Math. Pre-algebra. Mindie struggles with this. She sits patiently through the teacher's lecture and demonstration. She asks questions when she doesn't understand. Then the teacher assigns the homework. Mindie opens her book and gets to work. The noise level in the class rises. Mindie only finishes two problems before holding her hands to her ears, unable to concentrate. She brings the rest home. By the time she makes it home she's forgotten most of what the teacher said during class because she didn't really understand it, even with questions. I asked her today, "What does the teacher say when you tell her you don't understand?" "You don't have to UNDERSTAND, just DO IT." That's useful right there, folks. You don't have to understand math, just do it. This from a woman who educated her daughter at home for 5 years. Today that daughter is a year ahead in math. But does she understand any of it?

2:15 PM Reading. Or English. Whatever. By this point in the day Mindie's too tired to care much anymore anyway. She's just counting the minutes to go home. Since the construction started in spring of 2010, she also usually has a splitting headache by this point in the day. At first the secretary/nurse was sweet and gave her Tylenol when she went in complaining of pounding pain in her brain but as the weeks went by and the headache returned daily she started coldly sending Mindie back to class. Eventually she refused to let Mindie into the office anymore. Mindie wanted to start taking her own Tylenol but somebody told her that the drug dogs that routinely visit alert to over-the-counter meds, too, so Mindie's scared to try it, especially after that one time when the drug dog alerted to her ALTOIDS and she had to turn out the entire contents of her backpack in front of the whole class. Apparently the final humiliation was dumping out a small pouch full of feminine hygiene supplies to an unappreciative co-ed audience. Today, though, brings only the headache and the unrelenting boredom.

3:50 Finally the last bell rings. Trudge out to Mom's car. The dog barks frantically and worms his head under her hand for affection. She's too tired and uncomfortable to show much enthusiasm but eventually she gets buckled up and snuggles the dog, unwinding a little. Today Mom has some Jimmy Buffet playing and she cranks the volume to "Love in the Library." She asks if Mom would mind her loading that song onto her MP3 player which leads to a discussion of how complicated it would be to rip a CD to MP3 (not very, but do very many of them and it become more drudgery than Thanksgiving dishes). Mom asks if she needs the bathroom, knowing Mindie shares her fear of other people overhearing bathroom noises and often won't use the school bathroom because of it. Today Mindie got too desperate to wait so she has no urgent needs. Yay because Mom wants to run to Wally's on the way home. At Wally's they pick up several packages of treats for the gerbils and guinea pigs.

4:45 PM Finally at home. Unload Wally's loot, pour a drink, and go to check on the piggies. Buddy is ill. He's hardly moving, barely responsive, and refuses to eat. Mom looks his symptoms up on the 'net and says he'll have to see the vet tomorrow. Mindie puts him in another cage, apart from his friend Fudge who hasn't exactly been a doting nurse. Worried about Buddy but still have homework to do.

5 PM Start the homework. Math. Science. Outline and rough draft for Teen Leadership. Read a chapter for English/Reading. Start with the reading. Easy and relaxing except for the part where the main character dies. Luckily Mindie never could really get into the book so is pretty unimpressed when he dies in his father's arms. Move on to science. No algebra today, just sketching elements. Fun almost. Start the math. Struggle through, only skipping two to ask for help later. Do the outline. Take outline and math to Mom and Dad to look over. Mom helps with the math problems. Mom gets frustrated with one problem, says they don't give you enough information to answer it. Helps Mindie figure out the three possible solutions depending on how each party is traveling in a train question with no direction indicators. Technically it's a snake and rat question but Mom remembers the days of two trains leaving a station so she calls it a train problem anyway. Even Mom agrees that black mambas and rats are way more interesting. Dad turns green and asks both of them to work somewhere else.

7 PM break for dinner. Check on Buddy. Mindie suspects he's dead, comes running to Mom for help and/or confirmation. Mom confirms Buddy's "formerly living" status and skips dinner to dig a small grave. It's not remotely 6 feet. That would take a backhoe in the midst of this drought. But it's deep enough to deter neighborhood strays from disinterring the remains. Mindie eats in tears then goes back to her homework. Dad checks over the math, Mom finishes burying the guinea pig, and Mindie writes the rough draft.

8 PM Mindie finishes the paper but freaks because the rough draft is three lines shy of being a full page. Mom points out that this is only a rough draft and doesn't even have paragraph breaks, reassures Mindie that the finished paper will be a page easily. She goes to Dad to figure out how to fix the math problems she got wrong on the homework. Mom starts writing this.

9:30 PM Finally done with homework. Not really a relief because it's time to get ready for bed. Treat the dog. Give the surviving guinea pig his daily dose of spinach and hay. Decide not to take any chances and disinfects the entire cage. Also can't sleep with the quarantine cage in the room; that would be too sad tonight. Mom moves the quarantine cage out while Mindie scrubs the primary cage down with vinegar. Shannen treats the cats and her gerbil, showers, and goes to bed. Mindie's barely seen her today. She mentions to Mom that she misses Shannen on days like this.

10:30 Mindie finally washes her face, brushes her teeth, and goes to bed. Her last words of the night are, "But I doubt I'll sleep." Mom returns to this blog wondering once again why she does this to her kids and taking comfort in the fact that it won't be much longer. Tomorrow the school is hosting their first ever open house. Parents are invited to come tour the new facilities and chat with their student's teachers. Even though this will be Mindie's last week of school, hopefully forever, Mom is strangely excited about the open house. Mindie's nervous about how excited Mom is about chatting educational philosophy with the teachers. Mom promises not to embarrass her.

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