"The Classroom from Hell"

Teacher. Miss Y
Observer: David Baker
Class: 9th Grade SLEP History Class
Date: May 22
School: K------ High School
Time: 11:25-12:25
Location: Room KP-11
No. of Students: 22

Ethnolinguistic composition of students:

All but two of the students are Polynesian, mostly Samoan and Tongan. One boy is Filipino, and mixes well with the Polynesians. One girl is Indonesian, and doesn't socialize much with the others. During most of the class period, she read a sci-fi novel.

Student seating pattern: (see attached chart)

Characteristics of the classroom itself:

This is the first portable at the gym end of the football field at K------ High School. The classroom is extremely shabby: lots of graffitti, louvres missing, dirty floors. Everything is either rusted, repaired or covered up. An attempt has been made to promote passive learning. Student projects and school rules cover the bulletin boards. Over the chalkboard is a sign stating "There Is No Royal Road to Learning."

Breakdown of class activities:

I arrive and introduce myself. Though the division coordinator told me I would be observing a SLEP English class, the teadier tells me that it is a SLEP World History class. I stay to observe, deciding that watching a content course on a SLEP level would still be valuable.

The bell rings. Students begin wandering in, talking and laughing, paying no attention to teacher. Several students ask if I'm a "sub." One boy goes around the room with an aluminum can, asking other students for contributions. He asks me if I want to donate to his "cause," and the teacher says, "Hey, that's extortion!" and threatens to take away the money and spend it herself (telling him that the setool doesn't pay her enough). The boy ignores her and goes outside. Other students are standing and sitting, talking to each other, singing, writing on the board. One boy has a broken croquet wicket and is thumping desks and chairs with it singing a rap song. The teacher is talking to some other students. She asks him to stop what he's doing, but he ignores her. She doesn't push. For the first twenty minutes of class, the teacher deals with discipline problems.

The students have mostly taken their seats. Apparently, half of the class belongs to another teacher, who is absent today. The teacher passes out a worksheet to those students, who are supposed to fill in the blanks with answers from their books. Not all students have brought their books--some claim to have lost them -so the teacher tells them to find a partner to work with The teacher's own students sit in a semicircle around her desk. She begins asking her students questions about the reading they were supposed to have done the hight before. They spend five minutes on one question-'What did it say in section one?"--but she never gets an straight answer. None of the students had completed the reading. Some weren't there the day before. They joke about the question, giving funny responses.

By 11:50, for a brief period of time, most students are on task. The teacher alternates between trying to elicit responses from her own group of unresponsive students. and dealing with the discipline problerns of the other group. The outbursts all come from the Polynesian boys. They sit quietly for a time, then get up and wander around the room, or suddenly break into song, or let out streams of profanity, or take things from their neighbors. Half of these incidents go either unnoticed or ignored, and when the teacher responds, she is ignored or laughed at. The students test the teacher's authority as well as her patience.

The teacher continues with her group discussion. They are discussing World War II and none of the students can find Europe on a globe. They are more interested in spinning the globe like a basketball. The students working on the worksheets have either completed them or lost interest. Boys and girls alike begin to get restless. Sorne of the boys tap pencils and sing television jingles, or wander around the room testing the girls. The girls mostly gossip, or talk about lunch and after-school activities. The noise in the classroom isn't unbearable, yet.

12:10-112:15 The worksheet students are all wandering around the classroom or having noisy conversations, not on task. Students are singing, banging chairs with sticks, drawing on the chalkboard. One boy turns on the radio and begins singing with it. The teacher tells him to stop and threatens him, "I going give you guys another assignment." He ignores her and changes the station. They walk all over her. The teacher's own group is neglected while she deals with discipline problems. No learning or teaching is going on.

Several students are outside on the portable steps, talking and laughing. One comes back in, dribbling a basketball. He bounces it across the classroom, dribbling it on the floor and desks, and thumps it against the chalkboard until the teacher tells him a third time to take it outside. He dribbles it outside, thumping it down the steps, and begins bouncing it against the classroom's wooden louvres. The teacher tells him to stop. Outside, a fight breaks out over the ownership of the basketball For the first time since she passed out the worksheets, the teacher leaves her chair. All of the students cluster at the windows, watching the fight. The fight breaks up and turns into a full-blown basketball game. The teacher comes back in and acuses one student of making trouble. He tells her, 'You make the class boring." she tells him' "You were bored in Mrs. Z's class, and now you say you're bored in my class. I have a feeling that you're bored in every class but P. E. and lunch."

Most students are akeady cleaned up and ready to leave. Three or four students are still outside on the steps. The radio is turned on again, and the teacher orders the student to turn it back off. He does so, finds a broken broomstick next to a filing cabinet, and carts it off with intentions to whack something. The teacher takes it away from him and collects the worksheets. She complains, "Stay inside till the bell rings!" One student is hanging on the door, swinging back and forth. Another bangs a Polynesian rhythm on the teacher's podium. At this point' the bell rings. Mass exodus.

I stay and chat with the teacher. She tells me that she's always tired after a day of these classes. That, plus the drive home to Waipahu, wears her out. Her degree is in Home Economics, with a minor in TESOL, and when she got the job she thought she was going to be dealing with students fresh from foreign countries with little or no English skills. She remarks that the class isn't as much Students with Limited English Proficiency as it is Students with Little or No Social Skills. Hoping to console her, I tell her that things haven't changed much since I went to high school, though I never experienced anything near the chaos I had just witnessed. I thank Miss Y and leave.

Some observations: