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Class dismissed

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Jason Bandermann dims the lights in Room 214 as the featured presentation begins.

Mr. Bandermann and his first-hour math students are waiting out the remaining hour and a half much like the rest of Central Junior High School, watching a movie compilation of still photographs and video clips highlighting the 2003-2004 school year.

When he pushed play on his teaching career in August, Mr. Bandermann did not believe any of his students could fail. He wouldn't let them. The 23-year-old had confidence in his ability to reach all of his 130 eighth-grade math students -- to make them learn, to make them succeed.

By the last week of school, several previously filled desks in his class sit empty. In his fifth- and sixth-hour classes alone six students are gone -- one dropped the class, three are suspended, one is homeboundand one has been placed in in-school suspension.

He worked hard to become a teacher, choosing to go to college an extra year rather than settle for an athletic training degree. He wanted to be a role model, to have a real impact on children. Teaching would afford him that opportunity. Three hundred days ago, teaching was going to be his life's work.

For 10 months, Mr. Bandermann has raged against his students' dying lights, but for some, the world was dark long before they stepped into his second-story classroom last August. He fell asleep at night reading books on motivating students. He asked veteran teachers for advice.

Despite his efforts, several will be back at the junior high again next year, but not with Mr. Bandermann.

Life on film

The video rolls in the background with"Grease is the Word" blaring from the television speakers. Scenes from the school's winter extravaganza flicker across the screen -- students participating in a smile contest, a Santa Claus practicing his Elvis dance moves.

And there's a red-cheeked Mr. Bandermann, modeling on stage in a student fashion show.

In the darkened classroom, a chair crashes to the floor and snaps everyone's attention away from the television. Mr. Bandermann jumps from behind his desk as a male student shouts a stream of profanities at a brown-haired girl.

The teacher pushes the boy -- who is now yelling "I didn't do anything, she put stuff on my leg" -- into the hallway. Mr. Bandermann sticks his head back in and points to the girl.

"You too. Out in the hall. Now."

The girl is reluctant to go. Mr. Bandermann walks back into the room and puts his hand on her shoulder to guide her outside. She immediately starts to struggle, but he maintains his grip on her T-shirt.

"Let go of me. Stop touching me!" Her shrieks continue as Mr. Bandermann escorts her down the hall.

A dozen students simultaneously sprint to the door to peek into the hallway. The students scramble into their desks as a teacher from across the hall steps into the room.

The television screen flashes photos of students doing the Macarena at a school dance. The dance was one of Mr. Bandermann's first opportunities to interact with his students outside the classroom, to really glimpse their personalities.

It's a good memory, one to help block out the bad ones.

Mr. Bandermann returns to the class, seemingly undisturbed. Handling such situations became a part of his routine this year. He sits down at his desk and continues looking over his grade book.

Refusing help

Next year, Mr. Bandermann will not deal with these behavior problems. He tried everything he could to help his students this year. Some students, like Tim, just refuse to accept help.

From the moment Tim walked into Mr. Bandermann's intermediate math class last fall, he caused problems, smarting off to the teacher he dubbed "Mr. Banderdude." At times, the lanky youth seemed incapable of sitting still in his desk or paying attention to the lesson.

Mr. Bandermann glimpsed something bright, something resembling potential beneath Tim's troublemaker exterior. Tim did little homework and few in-class assignments during the year but somehow managed to do well on tests.

He's bored in here. That's why he acts like that.

The realization that Tim was smarter than most thought prompted Mr. Bandermann to stake his reputation on him.

The teacher recommended that Tim skip pre-algebra and go straight into algebra his ninth-grade year. A letter went home to the student's family explaining the recommendation, and the next day Tim burst into class, angry at his teacher.

Dumbfounded at the boy's reaction, Mr. Bandermann took him aside and explained why he'd made the recommendation and what it would mean.

"You'll have to do your homework, and you won't be able to joke around because the other students won't accept that behavior," Mr. Bandermann said. "But you can do this."

Tim's answer was simple:

"I don't want to."

The disappointment of that failed effort still stings, but Tim's apathy is a microcosm of the entire year.

In the video, Mr. Bandermann climbs down the bleachers to accept his "Best 8th Grade Math Teacher of the Year" award with students cheering him in the background. He worries he received the award because he was the easiest teacher, not the best.

The buses will soon arrive. Students can't take their eyes off the clock; they're buzzing at the thought of academic escape. Mr. Bandermann is preparing for his escape too. He's already started clearing off his desk.

Even if the statistics say otherwise, it wasn't supposed to end this way. The decision came down to money.

The district offered him a job teaching seventh-grade math next year. On Thursday, he turned it down in favor of a higher-paying job as finance manager with a local car dealership.

The choice was agonizing, but Mr. Bandermann doesn't have any regrets. A teacher's salary doesn't stretch very far, and his upcoming June wedding has Mr. Bandermann thinking about supporting a family.

It's not that he hates teaching, he says, it's just about the money.

A few of the girls in the class are crying now at the song lyrics accompanying the last photographs in the school video.

As we go on, we'll remember, all the time we had together...

A clip of Mr. Bandermann working at his desk appears on the TV screen. He looks up at the camera, smiles and waves goodbye. Class is dismissed.

cclark@semissourian.com

335-6611ext. 128


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