How to Handle a "Challenging" Classroom
Editors' Note: This education dispatch is part of an ongoing series reported from Mission High School, where education writer Kristina Rizga is embedded for the year. Click here to see all of MoJo's recent education coverage, or follow Kristina's writing on Twitter or with this RSS Feed.
It's 8:10am and I'm sitting in a Mission High School World History class waiting for 20 kids to trickle in. Theoretically, these are some of the more challenging kids to teach. One student near me is a "safety transfer" from another San Francisco school, where gangs invaded his world. A student I'll call Benton walks in late with a serious, apprehensive look on his face. He towers above the other kids, and is considered loud and disruptive in other classes.
Twice I've watched teachers ask him to leave their classrooms. I wonder if this teacher will too.
World History teacher Jenn Bowman passes out an assignment while students talk about the recent shootings in Arizona. "Did you all hear about this?" she asks. "My father told me about it last night," says the safety-transfer kid. "Why do they hate immigrants in Arizona?" a Latino student wonders aloud. Ms. Bowman asks a student to summarize the latest Arizona news for the rest of the class.
The class moves on to their assignment: Completing sentences that place "capitalism" and "communism" in historic context.
"Can I have a piece of paper?" asks a student with a copy of Alan Gratz's "Samurai Shortstop" on his desk.
"What are tenements?" another student yells out. "Very cramped apartments," someone stage-whispers in response.
Ms. Bowman asks students to raise their hands if they have questions and walks around the classroom with extra supplies, responding to students in a low voice. Students hunch over their papers for 10 minutes in silence.
Next, Ms. Bowman darkens the room for "China Blue," a documentary that follows the life of 17-year-old Jasmine, a Sichuan province native who works 22 hours a day to produce jeans in exchange for a pitiful wage. This part of the film shows how some of these jeans are transported to America, across the Bay. "Oh, I can see them boats from my house!" one young woman mentions. Benton starts talking to a girl next to him during the film.
"Benton, could move a few seats to your right please?" Ms. Bowman asks him.