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Pool: Back in harness for another teaching gig

I returned to teaching with the new school year, something I’ve been doing almost every year since 1976, when Gerald Ford was president and I was young.

These days I do long-term substitute teaching for women out on maternity leave. Instead of just showing up and handing out work or turning on movies, I’m the teacher in charge until the first week of November.

Things change in education. If you don’t have kids in school, you may not realize just how much.

The first change involves school security. The place where I’m teaching, not the school I’ve taught at since 1994, had a credible threat of a shooting made on social media. I saw the posting.

The news got out on nextdoor.com, posted by people not subject to confidentiality rules that shield student identities. It was a photo of weapons in a car and a caption saying it’s not just white boys who can shoot up a school. The person was arrested and never got on campus.

Students are not allowed into school until the morning bell rings. A security guard is stationed at the main entrance. Other buildings are kept locked most of the time. A key card available to teachers and students opens those doors.

At lunch, some corridors inside the school are locked. Students are kept out of the hallways, required to remain in the courtyard or cafeteria. Near my room, a corridor leading to the closest restrooms, photocopier, and teacher refrigerator is locked off. Thanks to a helpful school secretary, my teacher badge opens those doors.

Students are expected to wear ID badges starting the fourth week of the semester. I expect that I’ll be required to help enforce that. Students get the first badge free, then have to pay $5 for replacement. I teach freshmen and sophomores. They lose stuff all the time.

Another change involves technology. Students have all been issued laptops. We put a lot of work online now. They can read stories, articles, and instructions, giving written responses for grading. Last week my freshmen read Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado” and responded online. Next week sophomores will read “Antigone.” We don’t issue textbooks anymore. They are in the room but seldom used.

Because I started the year, I was very firm about a no-cellphone policy. I tell students to put their phones in pockets in a holder at the front of the room. Some lie and say they don’t have a cellphone, but they at least hide it in their backpack. Phones are a huge distraction, but it’s working out well so far.

Much of what we do is online. We take attendance, enter grades, access special education and discipline files. Parent phone numbers and emails are available. I’ve made a couple of calls, and it’s good to have a number.

As a substitute, I was not issued a laptop computer. The obsolete desktop model they put in my room simply would not work. I could not have done my job without a computer, but as I said, we have a really helpful school secretary. She found one for me.

I’ve been through lots of educational fads and movements since 1976. The latest is called “standards based grading.” I’m not a fan; it constrains a teacher’s autonomy to decide what counts for a grade in the class. I won’t be teaching by the time the next fad comes along.

However, I go with the program. I’m pondering a major career shift, but until then, I’m back in harness, cheerfully teaching kids.

At least until November.

— Frank Thomas Pool is a writer and a retired English teacher in Austin. He grew up on Maple Street in Longview and graduated from Longview High School. His column appears Tuesday.

Today's Bible verse

“The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”

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