Class Struggle takes readers deep into the heart of San Antonio’s “Webster High School” (fictional name), an institution that seems to revel in dysfunction. Told from the point of view of a bemused teacher, Class Struggle is a guided tour through the landscapes and minefields of modern urban education.
Readers will meet intriguing characters – the brilliant student “on a quest to kill,” the barking boy, the substitute teacher who won’t shut up, and many others – who’ll make them laugh, cry, and scream. As author Brian Crosby says, “Class Struggle is an engrossing book that spotlights the ongoing obstacles teachers face on a daily basis in trying to teach in today’s climate at an urban school. The eye-opening challenges Mr. Verrier faces should sound an alarm about what is happening in America’s public schools.”
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Week of 17 Aug 2009 Monday
The school year begins for teachers. The first five hours on campus today mainly comprised a series of talks by administrators, and it went pretty well. I’d say a positive tone has been set for the 2009-2010 school year. The principal, Mr. Johnson, informed everyone in attendance that “Recognized” status – the second-highest state evaluation – is well within reach for Webster High School. More importantly to most teachers, he went on to say that no flagrant disrespect to teachers or disruption of the school environment will be tolerated this year. Another administrator, Mr. Rodriguez, backed that up by announcing to teachers, “You will always have administrative support when you need it.”
Well, I appreciate that … though I have doubts. I’m starting my third year of teaching English at Webster High School, and I could write books about single days – maybe even single periods – I’ve spent in the classroom here. As far as “Recognized” status is concerned, what sets this school apart in many minds – what seems to be “recognized” here – are wishy-washy academic standards and state testing results, but even more, a high “at-risk population,” a lot of behavior you don’t want to see in a classroom, a relatively hostile environment, and a pace-setting student pregnancy rate. On a personal level, I’ve had students cuss me out, threaten to get me fired for imaginary offenses, vandalize my property, and plenty more. Student possessions have repeatedly been stolen from my classroom, school property has been defaced and vandalized … and so on. Mention such incidents to anybody familiar with Webster High School, and chances are that person won’t be surprised.
As far as administrative support goes … well, yes, there’s been some. Most administrators here seem to have an ear for teacher concerns. But when it comes to correcting student misbehavior, teachers don’t get nearly the backup they need. I’ve referred kids to the office for a wide range of repeated disciplinary offenses. When misbehavior occurs, teachers are expected to “redirect” students, confer with them, and contact their parents or guardians – or try to – in most cases before sending students to the office, and I’ve tried to follow that pattern when I didn’t feel the integrity of a class required the immediate removal of a student. Often after sending a student and a written account of misbehavior to the office, however, I’ve heard nothing back. Though students are sometimes given detentions or suspensions, or sent to “alternative school,” for certain offenses in certain situations, most of the time teachers seem to be left in the dark as to what’s going on. Other times it’s clear nothing is going on – i.e., the misbehavior, for whatever reason (administrators’ indifference or sheer overwork?), is overlooked.
But it’s a new year, and, as I’ve said, I think a positive tone was set today. We’ll see how it goes.
It’s prepare-the-classroom (furnishing, decorating) time, and I’ve just had a social visit from two of Webster’s hall monitors, Justin and Jason. These men – pleasant, easy-going guys probably in their thirties – often appear in classrooms when teachers push the office buzzer to request that disruptive students be escorted out. I saw a lot of Justin and Jason the past two years.
I’m back on campus after returning from the Eastside Independent School District’s Secondary Schools Teachers’ Convocation at the district’s Performing Arts Center. Lots of rah rah, little substance. The event was capped off by an uninspired, rambling keynote speech delivered by a friend of the superintendent’s described in the program as an “educator, philosopher, humorist and writer” known as the “sage of Southwest Texas.”
The front of the program says the event was scheduled to run from 10:30 a.m. to 12:00 a.m. (as in midnight). It felt like it.
I just got out of the first English Dept. meeting of the year. Student discipline was a topic of discussion, with consensus that administration didn’t do much last year to address teacher concerns regarding misbehavior in class. It was suggested in the meeting that things may be worse this year because each administrator now is required to walk through (observe and comment on) 25 classes per week. Of course, any comments will pertain to what administrators think about how well teachers are doing or behaving.
That raises a bit of personal concern regarding the value of administrators’ comments stemming from these obviously brief hit-and-run observations. It certainly appears teachers are under the microscope more than students are. 4:48 p.m.
At Little Caesars on the way home from work (it’s Tuesday – $3.99 pizza day – and I earn teacher pay), I ran into – said hello to, shook hands with – a former twelfth-grade student of mine who was nothing but trouble in the classroom. (I also recall his speaking flippantly – maybe knowing too much – about some vandalism to my house and car two Halloweens ago.) I hope the young man is doing better now; at least it’s good to know he’s not in jail.
Wednesday 4:42 p.m.
This was a day of presentations and meetings addressing the district’s new curriculum, teaching methods, and so on. Blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah. An hour of that – not a full day – would have been about right. So much blah blah blah has made me too numb to write.
Read the reviews!
"All in all, this was a quick, fun and easy read. I would recommend it. Especially to parents who have kids in school, and to kids so they can get a different perspective on their teachers and teachers in general. Teachers deserve more respect, they are educating our future."
--Rainy Day Reviews
"Verrier really opens the readers eyes to what it really like to be a teacher in this school system."
--4 the Love of Books
"This is a great read if you have any concerns about your children's education."
Steven Verrier has been a teacher for over two decades. From 2007-2010 he taught English at “Webster High School,” an institution in San Antonio, Texas, that seemed to revel in dysfunction. Class Struggle: Journal of a Teacher In Up to His Ears is Steve’s account of his third and final year at “Webster” – which turned out to be even wackier than Steve dared expect.
Steve’s previous books include Plan B (fiction, Saga Books), Tough Love, Tender Heart (fiction, Saga Books), several short plays (Brooklyn Publishers), and the prizewinning Raising a Child to be Bilingual and Bicultural (nonfiction, Hira-Tai Books, Japan).