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Period 13

Lots of people complain to me about the 12-period day at Francis Lewis High School, and they began well before I became chapter leader.

Perhaps I look sympathetic. I try not to, but it discourages no one. Almost every teacher in my building wants an early schedule. That means you come in around 7 a.m. and leave around 2 p.m. There are fights. Grown men and women gripe about fairness.

“How come he’s on early and I’m not?”

Sometimes they’re right, and sometimes they aren’t. But few want the dreaded late shift, which ends after 5 p.m. Personally, I did it for several years in a row and was fine with it. I got to stay up as late as I wanted, and got all sorts of things done in the morning. Also, my Queens College job didn’t start ’til 5:30, giving me a near-adequate window to bolt from the trailer, drive away, park, and run like hell to my class.

After a while, though, they stopped giving it to me and switched me to early. Early is OK if you don’t mind getting up at 5:30 a.m. Me, I don’t care for it. I’ve had kids who didn’t care for it either.

Myra, for example, rarely came to my morning class. She was pleasant, charming, and adorable when she showed, but after a while I had to call her mom. Mom said Myra left the Bronx extremely early to make it to Queens by 7 a.m., but it was tough. The subway train wouldn’t come when she whistled, and her Metrocard didn’t work before 5 a.m.

I was once assigned to teach a period one Spanish class. The previous teacher was new, and throwing too many kids out. I don’t like to throw kids out, so my supervisor asked me to take it as a favor. But half the class never showed up. I failed them. I was reprimanded for failing so many kids, and that ended my brief career as a Spanish teacher. Que lastima.

After my demotion back to ESL, the math AP walked into my half-classroom. He sternly warned one of our mutual students of the dire consequences that would ensue if he didn’t start doing homework. I asked him why I had 34 kids in a room suitable for 15.

“Let’s take a poll,” he said. “How many of you live in Fresh Meadows?” (That’s where Francis Lewis is located.) Three kids raised their hands. “That’s why,” he said. He strode away with that math-teacher swagger, having successfully resolved yet another difficult equation.

Later that period, there was a schoolwide moment of silence for 9/11. An outraged supervisor walked in and asked why I didn’t observe it. I told him we didn’t know about it, having no loudspeaker. He then asked why there were kids sitting on the windowsill. I told him it was because they didn’t want to sit on the floor. Could he help us? He said they were doing the best they could, and scurried away to do Very Important Stuff.

When you have 12 periods, when you have three sessions, you can never get the staff together, you can never get the department together, and every meeting becomes 3 meetings. Kids eat lunch at 9 in the morning. They come in for free breakfast and have five minutes to eat it and show up to my class. Kids come running into the trailer with styrofoam trays full of what appears to be styrofoam food.

It’s a thing of wonder and beauty, declared the New York Post. If the kids can’t fit in the gym, we’ll make them run around the track in their shorts and t-shirts all winter. And kids love the oversized classes, according to the ones the reporter just happened to run into, including the editor of the school newspaper.

Doubtless they also enjoy rooms without windows or ventilation. They adore trudging between the dumpsters in the snow. They love the trailers, used when they arrived, and well past their expiration dates, like the fire extinguishers that sometimes hang on the walls. Still, comments I hear from kids sound nothing whatsoever like the ones in the article.

So how do you fix a school that has 12 periods? Well, this year, we’re gonna make it 13 periods.

What do you suppose we’ll do next year?

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.