Friday, October 1, 2010

Coverages: Not So Bad?

Coverages are usually an excellent way to muck up a teacher's day. Take away one of those precious preps and toss a teacher into a random classroom, where s/he does not necessarily know the subject, the students, or both, and it's a recipe for disaster much of the time.

But not today.

I got my first coverage at TMS2 today, with lots of big scary older kids and not the precious youngsters in whom I have already cultivated a very gentle and friendly sort of fear. The previous period's students were having a paper-ball fight while the coverage teacher was doing something on her laptop. I had a raging headache and did not plan on dealing with a paper-ball fight with a fresh class the following period.

So as the new bunch came in, I let them talk, and as those of us who teach teenagers know, "talk" really means "yell, and do that incessantly." I let them talk and talk and talk while they furtively glanced at me, clipboard with roll sheets in hand, and at the Do Now bravely posted on the board.

I just looked at them. For what seemed like forever.

Then they got a little nervous. Finally, one boy spoke up: "Yo, shut up, she's waiting."

"Is that," I asked them, "how you enter the room every day?"

They looked at each other. "No," a few muttered.

"Then why on Earth," I asked them, "would you do it today?"

"Sorry," a few more mumbled.

I smh'ed at them, tempted to make some grandmotherly mmm-mmm-mmm noise while I did so, but thought that might be taking it too far. I took roll and duly noted the ditchers and the girl who came in late. "Okay," I said. "I'm Miss Eyre. I teach English down the hall. I don't know you, but I'll try to learn your names. Your teacher left you this assignment. If you can complete it in your seats and keep any conversation you have at a low volume with school-appropriate language, that works for me."

"Aw, miss, that's not gonna work," complained one boy. "I can't be silent all period."

"Yo, she said we could talk, duh," said another boy, pretending to slap at his friend.

"That's right," I said. "Low volume, clean language. That's all I ask."

"Oh," said the first boy. "Aight, miss. I got you. I'mma do this work. This looks okay."

Whatever I did with those kids, it worked. Every kid did the work (with varying degrees of success, I'll grant, but at least they tried). They kept the volume low and even let the room fall silent a couple of times. When a few kids started tapping out a beat on the table and rapping over it, I suggested that they wait until the end of the period, and, if they could, I'd let them knock off two minutes early and demonstrate their beats again for me. To my amazement, they agreed and got back to work. (And, okay, I had to hear their beat in the end, but I braved the banging through my headache and tried to enjoy it.) I did learn most of their names. We got through the coverage without any stress. I even did a bit of planning while they worked. And now I have a few new kids to say "Good morning" to in the halls.