Saturday, July 22, 2006

Semesters of Our Lives Chapter 13

Observations on Observations

Summer school and Tier One is sitting at his desk after having finished one more day of the odious task that would increase his pension. His supervisor, a young woman with an absent expression, walks in with an observation report. Tier One signs it and she leaves.

Tier One then tears up his copy and tosses it in the trash, unread. Unbeknownst to Tier One, the woman is watching.

“I spent forty-five minutes writing that,” she bellows. “I’ll be back tomorrow with another copy!”

Tier One is unmoved. He learned long ago that observation reports are far easier to take if you don’t read them, and no force in heaven or earth, including this young woman, is going to persuade him otherwise

Richard was nervous. He had just been observed teaching math, a subject about which he knew next to nothing. The only good thing was that the kids he taught knew even less. He’d been plodding along just fine with the book of lesson plans Mr. Benjamin had given him, but then Keisha and Sonia had complained for days that he was making them do all the work, following up with a complaint to Mr. Benjamin himself.

They wouldn’t have complained to Ms. Goodrich, thought Richard. Kids never approached her. They were frightened she’d correct their grammar, and with good reason. Few kids got past her ongoing critiques of the way they spoke.

And now Mr. Benjamin had walked in and observed his math class. Well, what could he say, really? Richard had told him he was no good in math. It wasn’t like he studied it or anything.

“Please come in, Richard.”

“Thanks, Mr. Benjamin.”

“And please call me Julius. I’m not your English teacher.”

“Um, okay…I’m sorry about the lesson. I never taught math before, I never taught anything before, and I…”

“Whoa, just wait a minute. Who said you had anything to be sorry about?”

“Well,” said Richard, “I know the girls came and complained, and I figured that’s why you came to observe the class.”

“You’re right, Richard. But I thought the class was fine.”

“You did? Really?”

“It was fine. The kids complained because you made them go to the board and work out the problems. They said you’d been making all the kids go to the board and work out all the problems. From what I saw, they were right.”

“So then why do you think the lesson was fine?” asked Richard.

“I want all my teachers to do that. Most teachers in this department just talk. The kids sit. Especially at this low level, I don’t think the kids retain much unless they actually get up and do things themselves.”

“Ms. Goodrich didn’t like my lessons very much,” said Richard.

“Come on,” said Mr. Benjamin. “Everyone in the building knows she invited you for meatballs and you turned her down. Did I, or did I not do you a big favor by getting you away from her 80% of the time?”

“Well…” began Richard.

“Don’t say anything,” said Mr. Benjamin. “Never, ever talk about your supervisors to other supervisors. They’ll think you’ll talk about them next, and they’ll never trust you.”

“Well, I didn’t mean to…”

“I don’t care what you meant to do. Let’s just talk about you, now, OK?”

Richard nodded.

“I think you’re a good teacher, a little rough around the edges, but I think you’re gonna turn out OK. You seem to like the kids, which not everyone does.”

Richard nodded again.

“Don’t worry about those girls. They don’t know what they’re talking about. Keep sending them to the board, along with everyone else, and let me worry about it, OK?”

“Yes, sure, thanks Mr. Benjamin.”


“Thanks, uhhh…”

“OK. Call me Mr. Benjamin, if that makes you happy. But remember this. You’re new, and at the end of the year, you could easily lose your job. It’s not that you did anything wrong. It’s a seniority thing. You don’t have any. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” said Richard.

“Now, I’m not saying you will lose your job, but if you do, remember this—use me as a reference. Do not use Ms. Goodrich, do not use Dr. Canales, and do not use the principal. Do you understand?”

Richard nodded his head.
“It’s not that they’d say bad things about you, except for Ms. Goodrich. It’s just that they never have anything good to say about anyone.”

“OK,” said Richard.

“One more thing,” said Mr. Benjamin. “I’d like you to keep those kids on their toes. Please give them a test every Friday. Can you do that?”

“Sure,” said Richard.

“OK, Richard. Now get back to work.”

“Thanks, Mr. Benjamin.”

Next Week: A Nocturnal Visit
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