So, here’s the situation, testing has once again laid waste to lesson plans. Because of an important State Test that determines how well high schoolers read English, I have to spend more time in the test administration room than I was originally scheduled to do. My mind is elsewhere. My own personal son is home ill with the bubonic plague again for like the fourteenth time this school year, so I not only have to worry about whether he has passed away or not before I can make a doctor’s appointment, I have to worry that my congested nose and throat are the same plague taking hold in my buboes. I have not had the time I planned on for lesson planning as I am walking in the door for the start of second period.
“Mr. B, what are we gonna do today?” asked Girly-Go-Getter who always has to have challenging work in front of her, or her parents will be knocking on the school door with subpoenas in hand for a little friendly lawsuit.
I shrug. No time to prepare, right? Am I supposed to teach out of my head or something?
“Let’s watch a movie,” says Slow-Poke Rodriguez, a cartoon Mexican mouse who is so politically incorrect he probably does have a gun in his backpack.
“A movie?” says I, “You want to watch a G-rated probably-a-cartoon movie not from Disney (because they sue teachers for using their property without licensing agreements) because you haven’t seen any movies in class at all this week during testing?”
“We watched movies in all our other classes,” says Bad-Donkey Jones who is bipolar and mildly schizophrenic. (He has a special form from the counseling office that forbids me from punishing him or even talking mean to him in any way, which I would never do because I am old and he can probably kill me with one hand anyway).
“No movies,” I said. “Teachable moments only.”
“Aw, gawd!” say several students at once.
“Praying to me won’t help,” I answer, only partly in jest, “I am not God. If I were, there’d be lightning.”
“So what will we do?” asked Girly.
“Let’s talk about thinking skills again.”
“Aw, that’s soooo boring!” croon several.
“How does that help us pass our tests?” whine the rest.
“It may never help you pass a test,” I admitted humbly. “But it is a key to success in life.”
“How?” says Slow-Poke, assuming that if he keeps asking questions, I will wear down and show him the movie Shrek again.
“Okay, let’s take the thinking skill of questioning.” General groans in response, especially from Rodriguez who realizes that the selected strategy is his fault.
“You can’t use questioning on the State test!” says Girly.
Actually, you can, but I look around at the mostly vacant stares and nodding heads with earphones in both ears. Oh, yeah, there is at least one that only has one ear plugged, and he will contradict me if I tell them all they are not actually listening, that he can listen to two things at once. I don’t really feel like giving any more praise to the lovely State test anyway.
“Maybe you can’t use questioning as a thinking skill on the State test,” I craftily admit, “But the State test we all love and honor so much is mostly about spitting out facts and figures and spotting spotty spelling.” Some of the actual listeners chuckle when they notice the rhymie little alliteration I slipped in there. “Is that the only thing you need to know in life? Facts, figures, and spelling?”
“It sure, hmm, ain’t!” says Jones. I try real hard to make my eye twinkle to let him know how much I appreciate the way he fluffed over the spot where he could’ve used his favorite f-word.
“When you have a question in Science class, especially on lab days, what do you have to do?”
“Aw, gawd,” says Jones, “You need to make up all that stupid hypothesis sh… stuff, and find a procedure or something.”
“You mean, in Science class you have to come up with an idea to answer the question and then test that answer?”
“Yeah,” says Slow-Poke, “You gotta do stuff just like that.”
“So you need to answer questions by asking more questions?”
“Questions like what?” says Jones.
“Hey, that’s a good one right there,” I say. Fortunately, when they all laugh at that, Jones doesn’t think they are laughing at him. “You have to ask questions like; what questions do I need to ask to find each possible answer, and what experiment could I do to tell me one way or another how good my possible answers are?”
“Yeah,” says Jones, “Learning to ask questions is about all we do in Science Class.”
“That’s what Mr. P, the Physics teacher says Science is always about,” declares Girly, “finding the right questions to ask.”
“Well, good,” I say, exhausted beyond belief. “I have now taught Mr. P’s lesson for him.”
Everyone laughs again.
I look at the clock. Fifty gazillion hours to go before the dang bell! How do you fill it?”
“Okay,” I say to Slow-Poke, “so you want to watch Shrek one more time?”
That, of course, is the entire essence of being a public school teacher.