Sunday, February 03, 2013
The small bus drop-off area was outside of these doors. Most severely disabled students arrived through those doors. Most of them were met by aides at the bus and escorted into the building. Some of the students know where they are and some do not. Most of these students greeted us as they passed by on their way to the cafeteria.
One Monday morning event, which Tom and I continue to use as a sum of most people's desire not to be at school, occurred at 7:15 A.M. Georgie, was a white-haired, five-foot tall, very skinny, young man that attended the Severely Disabled classroom. He was known around the building as a guy that loved to eat. He was very creative distracting other students while they had breakfast or lunch by being loud, or standing near his target and digging boogers out of nose. If his target fell for the antics and turned away from their meal, he would be found eating the food he stole from their plate. Sometimes, he was just devious. Sitting quietly and watching for the opportunity to steal food from different plates.
That Monday morning it was evident he did not want to be at school. Tom and I could hear him from the moment he stepped off the bus. "No, no, home, no!" He yelled this all the way into the annex building. His escort gently nudged him forward and through the the glass doors. Inside, he came within about six feet of Tom and me. We were just leaning against a wall waiting for school to begin and supervising the area. I spoke to Georgie as Tom and I did to most of these special students. "Morning Georgie, good to see you, Bud."
At that point Georgie stopped his yelling about wanting to be at home. He looked at me. He looked at Tom. Without warning he made his desire to be at home evident. He shook his right leg from the hip to the point of his toes. As we watched, a four inch mostly elongated specimen of excrement rolled out of his pants' leg and landed on the cafeteria floor. Then he walked off with his escort to the classroom. Tom looked at me. I looked at Tom. Without a word about the newly decorated floor we walked off in separate directions.
It has been 10 years since that morning. Georgie past away four years ago in his sleep. Seldom does a week go by we do not ask each other how our day had been, with the reply, "Just another Georgie Day." Tom is retiring this May. He is very athletic, running, bicycling, canoeing, etc. We often joke about what he will do in retirement. I ask him this past Thursday if he was going to come by every school day after retirement so he can get his "education supervision fix?" His reply told all, "Not likely, no more Georgie Days for me."
Wednesday, February 01, 2012
Chantell still had to face at least two courtrooms to testify. As the court dates neared her acting out behaviors increased. She frequently spent long school days hiding in my classroom. Each time she whined, cried, and searched for sympathy. Her number one complaint was how "everyone" thinks she is a whore. Each time I attempted to counsel her about why her peers may have such thoughts.
"Chan, if you spend your time with them telling how you use to prostitute and how much you loved it, well, they may get the wrong idea."
"They don't have to talk bad about me. I don't need their shit!"
This behavior continued until the end of the school year. It was a toss-up which of us had the longest three months? In all honesty, her three months made mine pale in comparison.
New school year, same portable classroom, mostly the same students, and in came Chantell. Somehow, she survived the summer break, did not run off to New Jersey again, still spoke the worse Spanish I have ever heard, her father had a new job, they had a new apartment, and she is a junior.
Most importantly, she found religion. It is clear she was making all effort to live a completely different life then last year. She rarely mentions how much she wants to be with her mother. Also, she now sees her father differently.
Most importantly she smiled on the first day of school!
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
I watch many of my students going about their school lives which are seldom different then their lives outside of school. Often I "ride herd" on "gangers". I'm amazed at how early in their lives they have discovered the power of the almighty buck! Each have let me know, in their own way, that longevity in a career is not important. It is what you can score now and how many people fear them.
So far this year, fear is an illusion that many try to maintain. Most of the guys that pass through my aging portable understand that I own the territory inside the metal walls. As long as they attempt to respect others in the trailer then they will receive respect in return. They also will receive a safe place to be themselves, leaving their adopted street life outside. Sometimes, one will take a little longer to learn what being inside the portable offers. Sometimes, one never learns. Que, would be one of the "hard learners".
Que, has been on earth for only a short 16 years, but he has grown a very long rap-sheet. Small offenses such as candy bar shoplifting to larger offenses including the shooting of a convenience store clerk. He and his partner in the shooting were not out to rob anyone. The soul purpose of the crime was to have a "street-rep". Fortunately the clerk survived his two wounds. It seems that Que lives his whole life on probation. He refuses to publicly acknowledge his gang affiliation by name, but a little research eliminated most local gangs. The common belief is that he belongs to the Rollin 60's.
"Where you been, Que," I asked, as he came into the classroom? This was the first time in many school days he had come to school.
"Oh, just hangin', you know with my boys," he said. His dilated pupils betrayed the preschool activities he and his "boys" participated in on this dreary Monday morning. He lasted for a whole twenty minutes into the school day before he disappeared from the campus.
For the three school years I've known Que seldom has a day passed that I haven't thought of what reasons keep driving him back to my portable classroom? Until recently I believed that deep inside of this lanky teenager was hidden a good kid searching for freedom. A freedom from what life had dealt him. Somewhere in the world a man walked a street without ever knowing this son.
In the same Section 8 apartment that Que lives was his mother. Sometimes she worked two jobs, but more often then not she entertained a string of potential husbands. What she thought of as potential husbands always were just strangers hoping to remain strangers. Perhaps, Que returns to the government school portable because it is the only stability he has in his life? Or perhaps, he returns because he believes he has me "snowed" into protecting him from the school administration? Maybe it is due to the fact that I like him regardless of the stupid and/or criminal events he commits in his world? After the shooting of the store clerk my sense is that I no longer believed that a small part of Que wanted to do right or good.
After a fight just off the high school campus about four weeks ago Que had not returned for three weeks. Mostly he feared being beat by others at the school if he was not with his "boys". He hid in the open with his Rollin' 60's leader. It was my knowledge that the leader and the followers met each Wednesday night to discuss possible "adventures" they could execute in the coming week. They always met at the leaders' girlfriends' house. According to my sources it was because the leader believed the police could never figure out where they met. Last Thursday Que had a juvenile court date that he had to keep. He had talked for most of the school year about the day when he would finally be off probation. No more probation officer coming by the apartment, no more pee in a cup, and no more Thursday night group meetings.
On Que's joyful yet fateful Thursday morning he entered the judge's courtroom for what he knew would be his last time. The judge shuffled through the file folder labeled with Que's name. She made several comments about his semi-good attendance at the weekly group meetings and the reports on the probation officer's home visits. She inquired if he was looking for a part time job? How he was getting along with his mother? Then the subtle but all important question about school.
"You been attending school as I ordered you to do," the judge asked?
"Yes your honor," Que said.
"Do you ever use computers at school to help you with your school work," she asked?
'Not really. Just pencil, papers, and books," he said.
"Well, you know we use computers a lot around here. Like getting reports on attendance," she said.
Que began to develop an idea that things weren't going his way today.
"Well, the report states that you haven't been in school for almost three weeks," she read.
My sense is that Que will be in school at the first of August. That will be about the last day of his summer long incarceration.
I'll spend some of this summer examining my motivations for teaching, before I return in August.
Anyway, back to why I really sit in my truck watching the student herd migrate onto their eighty-eight acre preserve for seven hours out of the day. I watch the daily formation of the gangs, groups, cliques, teams, and outcasts gather along the driveway between the main building and the school annex. The parade of cars, trucks, and buses searching for a brief drop-off point or a choice parking spot. The girls playing games with the boys. Games that the superior maturing girls use to manipulate their immature boyfriends. Such games that consist of the type clothing that is worn to entice the boys, looks that are quickly cast to another boy that is sure to lead to a physical confrontation, or just the joy some girls have in ignoring any boy that desire their attention.
All of this is being offset by the boys games to strut, lead, follow, or "out-cool" the others. The male games mean little or nothing to the girls, but the boys from generation to generation never give up the hopes of impressing the right girl through the right move at the right time. I tried it, my friends tried it, and all males before me and after me have tried or will try, usually through desperation and immaturity.
An outsider can not visually separate the special education students from the regular education students during this morning ritual. Of course, the very disabled students are not part of this parade. They have their own morning rituals that I may explore at another time.
My portable classroom, in the midst of the government school trailer park, continued to be a haven through-out the school year. A haven for SPED'ers and regular education students. The one thing these students had in common all year; the portable was a preferable social situation compared to the one they existed in outside of school. Their extracurricular social lives can consist of; single-parent families, gang affiliations, petty criminal activities, felony criminal endeavors, periodic arrests, creative use of spray paint (tagging), writing the next million seller rap song, drugs, alcohol, searching for a place to eat and/or sleep, coming back to the campus after school to hang out, or sometimes stopping by my home to see if I'm an ass outside of school, and possibility many others not listed here.
I've neglected adding posts to this blog much of the past school year. Seldom does a day past that I do not think of writing. Each time I conclude I am gathering thoughts and experiences for new postings. At times I conclude I'm lazy. Surely it is a combination of these and many other factors. For several years I've seen the future as it parades in front of me each school morning. The future is the past as the past is the present. As the population of this government school grew from one-thousand-nine-hundred last school year to the current two-thousand-two-hundred, it will expand to two-thousand-four-hundred in the fall.
Through-out the school year I've mentally filed tales or stories I have every intention of writing about through the summer. By far, the situation of the ever exploding school population is my deep well of tales. Again, I must say, "I've seen the future as it parades in front of me each school morning. The future is the past as the past is the present."
Wednesday, August 01, 2007
Let's begin with graduations. Two of my students, a brother and a sister, graduated in May. The sister with a real diploma and the brother with a SPED diploma. To their credit it was a tight race until the end or the beginning, depending on your view of education and life. The sister is convinced she is on her way to law school. Her brother is convinced he is on his way to prison. Their grades are quite equal which is not good news for the sister, Tamala. Brother Jose cared little about grades and more about social activities and skipping during his four year stay in high school. Tamala ran hot and cold with her studies during the same four year period. If a club trip to New York was in the works then her grades improved. Otherwise, boys and love were her priorities.
Jose began a period of intense worry around the first of May. He fretted daily about graduation. Each morning he came to me with the same question, "You heard anything about my graduation?"
Each time my reply was, "You're graduating on the 25th with the other seniors."
He failed to grasp the idea of a SPED diploma. You showed up, you're graduating, in accordance with your I.E.P. goals. I suspected, like others, his concern was more about being slapped by life after high school, e.g., job, living arrangements, responsibility for himself, adulthood, etc.
Tamala continued to be convinced she was on her way to law school. Somehow she is skipping over the first four years of college and the soon to be birth of her baby. Talk about being slapped by life.
I read in the local paper about an apartment fire in a complex where Emo, my goth student lives, in the middle of June. The fire began in a bush outside of his bedroom window. It engulfed the Section 8 apartment that he, his mother and her boyfriend occupied. Fortunately, the firewall stopped it from spreading to the other apartments. The cause of the fire has yet to be released, but I have my suspicions.
Roosevelt, a former student from three years ago, dropped by my house several times this summer. Sometimes with the mother of his daughter and the daughter, mostly by himself. Each time he bragged about his current job and how good a job it was. It didn't occur to him that he was sitting in my house at 10:00 A.M. which should be prime employment time. I patiently wait for his maturity to catch-up with him being a father. I'm still waiting. So is he.
I've tracked several news reports of home invasions, drug deals gone bad, drive by shootings, and car pursuits by the local police. Many involving the immediate families of my students. I vaguely question myself how these activities fall into No Child Left Behind and the government school system.
School begins in a week and many of my student will again search for a place they can find some moderate safety, if not a glimpse of a better future then their present environment. My portable classroom will again become a haven for a mere 180 days.
That leaves only 185 days in the year for them to find a way to survive life.
Monday, March 26, 2007
So many souls I encounter in the field of education are pursuing happiness. It may be the happiness of “molding” young minds, of meeting the goals of No Child Left Behind, of receiving a paycheck, of pleasing administration, of being in control of something, of, of, of… and so on. Somewhere inside of me I’m sure there is a quest for happiness. I’m also convinced that happiness is an extreme. The other end of the spectrum is as vague to me as the definition of happiness. Not yet have I encountered a person that has achieved happiness. There appears to always be something missing or something else to pursue. My students often expound on the things that could make them happy. Their happiness meter may peak with the acquisition of a new girl or boyfriend, acquiring the same type clothing their peers are wearing so they can also be individuals, planning a party that seldom materializes, a daily breakfast, a caring parent, a parent, and so on, and so on.
Jerry's happiness goal is the National Football League. Regardless of the number of times we discuss the relatively few players in the NFL compared to the population of the country, he has no appreciation of the long shot against him playing professional football. He also sees no connection between playing in the NFL and not playing football in middle school and now not playing in high school.
Taylor's happiness goal is to continue as a country boy with minimum responsibilities. The last of this is in direct conflict with the pending birth of his baby by his fourteen-year-old girlfriend. Taylor makes no connection between earning a high school diploma and securing a descent paying job to support his new baby.
Tamela's happiness goal revolves around "true love". In this case her boyfriend, Won-Ton-Soup, of five years is the one she keeps going back to after they breakup. However, Walter, is the one she likes. Walter is her boyfriend's friend. They hang together, they steal together, they get high together, all three dislike Tamela. Her happiness goal continues to be elusive even after telling Walter she likes him.
Every month for the past two school years my happiness goal has been to think about leaving teaching. I know I'm exaggerating, but the amount of useless, government imposed documentation continues to rob me of my enthusiasm. Each time I sink into the paperwork doldrums one of students seems to pull me up. This time I can thank Donald. He is severely disabled, can't talk, and I suspect has no comprehension that he is in school. He has been away from high school for about six months and I expected he would never be back. Children's Services had placed him with his aunt in another town some 60 miles away. I was surprised that his mother had arranged a parole from the state prison and had been awarded custody again. She walked him to school today. He stood in the hallway grasping a pencil in his left fist. He loves holding pencils. I saw him and he reached out with his right hand, and grabbed my coat.
"Hello, Donald," I said.
"Ayeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee," he replied! After the ear-splitting greeting he followed me into his classroom.
Donald dedicates most of his school day walking around the CDC classroom looking at different objects. Sometimes, those objects are other students food. Once a food object is spotted most often it will disappear into his mouth. The other students get upset and then take food from their fellow students. A vicious cycle of survival.
Donald's mother frequently is incarcerated. Her drug problem and her complete lack of resistance to follow the desires of other people often leads to trouble. I've talked to her several times when she brings Donald to school. Sometimes, he will ride the SPED bus if she is able to awake in the early morning. My conversations with her has led me to the realization that the only difference between her and her beloved son is that she can talk, somewhat.
Donald lends some degree of happiness to my life. I walk with him down the long hallway each morning. During the escort I talk to him about the beautiful morning, him being in school, his pursuit of education, how cool he looks, but I do not mention his frequent lack of cleanliness. His mother has considerable difficulty in this area. Donald doesn't seem to mind the aromatic disorder he leaves behind. During our walk he smiles each time I speak. Approaching the double steel door that divides the long hall he always becomes fascinated with the push bar. His free hand pushes the bar several times. I suspect to hear the loud noise it produces. Then we continue our trek to the CDC classroom. Donald appears happy in all of his situations. I wonder what his extreme in happiness could be?
Bo Man Tim seeks happiness in power. Gang power. Know one working in the school knows for sure what gang he his affiliated with, but the common belief his that he is a member. I watch him on the sidewalk between classes and during lunch. He holds court as various and numerous males pass by offering the "secret handshake' and mumbling "important words". Their free hand holding the sagging pants up around their plumbers crack. Bo Man Tim appears to spend more time on out-of-school-suspension then he does in school. I've been entertained by his mother during several telephone calls. I suppose it could be safe to assume she is "snowed" by her baby boy. She frequently tells me how much Bo Man Tim loves the high school, how he wants only to graduate, and she believes he is a genius. I gather that his extreme happiness is remaining an innocent child in his mother's eyes.
About two weeks ago I knew I would achieve happiness because Spring break was beginning on March 19th. My anticipation grew with each passing day as I counted down toward happiness. It came and I knew I was going to do wonderfully fun and relaxing activities. By the 21st, Wednesday, I began to feel a lack of any happiness and then the realization began to grow that I would be happy on the 26th, the first day of school after Spring break. I walked Donald down the hallway this morning telling him about the wonderful day he was about to have. I passed Bo Man Tim and his court. Happiness is an extreme that know one ever reaches. That is probably the best we can hope for. If you are reading this, be extremely happy, sort of......................
Thursday, February 22, 2007
Her mother was released from prison two days before Scary's eighteenth birthday. A special birthday gift that Scary didn't need. Her mother moved into the trailer with promises of starting new and being a positive part of Scary's life. The old adage of "a day late and a dollar short" would apply in this instance. Scary gave birth under the same circumstances her mother had; unmarried, barely eighteen-years-old, fathered by a boy that also dropped out of school, with neither one having prospects for a job and no desire to be employed.
I first met Scary at her annual I.E.P. meeting as she was getting ready to be promoted to the ninth grade. Her grandmother attended along with a bevy of "feel good" middle school teachers excited that Scary was going to high school. The excitement was firmly based in the joy that she would no longer be in their snug brown brick, neatly manicured government school. Perhaps I'm to jaded by the battles I encounter daily in a large urban high school, but I've long thought that middle school teachers are comfortable in their "save-the-whales" mentality. They seem to believe all students are buying into their utopia of educational bliss. A place where I.E.P. meetings last three hours or more. Where goal sheets can number thirty or more. Parents, teachers, social workers, therapists, distant and near relatives all contribute to a life plan that goes beyond high school where every child attends college, graduates, and become world leaders in medicine, education, politics, science, and technology. However, every now and then, or more often, a student like Scary upsets the cart. A student that does not give a damn what adults think is in their best interest, goal, or life path. These students are going to do what they want, whenever they want, according to their own mysterious and unorganized plan. At times they go along with educational teams just to get away from the team. They can speak the right words, agree at the right times, and nod their heads to make adults feel comfortable, then move on to the next team.
Scary entered high school with a loud, boisterous fanfare. She was sent to her principal's office four times in the first three full days of school. By the third week she was a self-contained fixture in my class. After three school years, numerous Behavior Intervention Plans, more meetings then I care to remember, that made all of us feel we were striking a blow against behaviors that impeded Scary from being successful in high school her plan became visible. For a full nine months her plan became more and more visible. Then in January 2006 the cycle began all over again.
Her son was born with little difficulty for Scary. Her grandmother provides most of the paternal care. The father comes to visit Scary on weekends, by bus. Scary is not welcomed at his parents home in the neighboring town. Both of these two young "parents" have been arrested frequently for such things as disturbing the peace, shoplifting, and other petty crimes. Department of Children Services appears ineffectual to aide the new baby. I saw Scary one evening walking on a street in the local projects dressed for financial gain. I do not know what she was up to, but it could not have been anything good?
As most teachers believe, students leave school, and few ever return to provide updates on their successes and failures. Scary had not contacted me for nearly a year, but I had received updates on her family's welfare from various sources. Then one busy, negative behavior ridden Wednesday one of the assistant principals approached me with a FAX in his hand. A local section eight housing complex was requesting a letter of reference to assist Scary in securing an apartment. The principal decided it was me that should compose a masterpiece of verbs, adverbs, adjectives, nouns, and pronouns that would surely sway the apartment complex manager in giving Scary, her son, and new daughter a comfortable apartment away from the country life she hated. It was suggested that in would be more effective if it came from me and not on government school stationary? I thought differently. I composed the letter, a full three paragraphs long. My aide read the finished product and commented, "This is really good. You wrote three paragraphs and didn't say anything." She was correct. However, it appeared to be a glowing recommendation. The assistant principal and principal received their copies just as the FAX was completing transmission to the apartment manager. The principals were not happy, but Scary was, the manager was, and I had done my job, hopefully, with a final contribution to Scary's life plan started so long ago in middle school.
Scary moves into her new home on the first of next month.
Friday, February 16, 2007
On the surface I have no major difficulties with EASY I.E.P. The idea, perhaps the dream, is to have Individual Education Programs, (I.E.P.), readily available via computers on the web. Gathering together all meeting participants, hovering around a computer, discussing new goals and objectives for a Special Education student is noble. Noble if the computer is working, if the internet is available, if EASY I.E.P. hasn't suddenly assigned your student to another teacher, and if everything prints after all participants agree on the final I.E.P. These are only the major "ifs"! Let's not forget the overwhelming motivation for any system to sign-on and use this program. It's cheaper then the one previously used which was in use because the first computerized I.E.P. system crashed when the company suddenly disappeared.
The Sasquatch family is punctual. They are also large humans with long hair and a 15-year-old daughter that they have very little understanding of the things she wants to do and the things she does do. "Lolita" needs to please any young man that shows an interest in her. They have came in through her bedroom window late at night. She has gone out her bedroom window late at night. At times she has stayed inside her room and they have stood outside her window. All of this aside, she is a very sweet, friendly, and caring child that thrives inside a very poor family. A family more concerned with how to receive the next government check and if they have a lawsuit against anyone or group.
The whole family showed for the scheduled I.E.P. meeting on the coldest January day we had experienced in years. Daddy Sasquatch entered the assistant principal's office and announced, "Those idiots don't know a damn thing! Global warming my ass."
Momma Sasquatch agreed with, "You damn right man."
The whole family settled into the available chairs. Dad, Mom, two little girls, two little boys, and of course my student "Lolita". I turned the computer cart so the parents could see the magic of EASY I.E.P. The first page of the document was visible on the screen. The Sasquatches leaned in unison toward the screen. They were fixated on the scanning pixels of the I.E.P. document.
"Okay, this is the first page of "Lolita's" I.E.P.," I said.
"How much did this contraption cost," Momma Sasquatch asked?
"Huh....I never thought about it," I said.
"A damn lot I bet," Daddy Sasquatch said.
"I suppose so."
"Can you get that internet crap on it?"
"When it's hooked to it, sure."
"Show me that gambling place we get over at Momma's sister's trailer."
"I'm sorry, but we can't do that, we're here to develop your daughter's annual I.E.P." I said.
Momma Sasquatch said, "Oh, whatever you come up with is okay. Just keep her from behind the school with some boy. She ain't gonna get pregnant doing what she does with those boys. Keep her away from the dark ones, too."
I'm seldom at a loss for words, but this was one of those times. It didn't occur to me to go on to the second page. One of the little boys jump up and ran around behind the computer cart tripping over the power cord and severing the lifeline for EASY I.E.P. The screen went black, the hard drive whirled to a stop and the printer cartridge danced from one side of its track to the other trying to shutdown.
"Get on back to your class girl. We got to get going," Daddy Sasquatch ordered my student and the rest of his family. They left in the same order they had entered. After they were situated in their new Ford van they drove off.
Some days later I finished "Lolita's" I.E.P. and sent it home with her for Momma and Daddy to sign. I'm still waiting for the return. "Lolita" never misses a day of school. She bounds off the short bus with the biggest smile I've recently encountered from a student. She loves school, classes, school buses, school food, boys, and her family. Sometimes EASY I.E.P. is just to easy.
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
Joe is of Middle Eastern descent, 5' 2" tall, approximately 200 pounds, generally dresses in black, and uses markers to write LOVE - HATE across the tops of his fingers. His makeup, when he can smuggle it past his mother in the mornings, is black eye shadow and black mascara. He strives to be Gothic without ever stating he is Gothic. It is fine if others call him Gothic because then he prides himself in others recognizing what he wants to be in life. Doing any school work is out of the question. Failing is a badge of honor proclaiming how others see him. I do not want to lose sight of Joe's intelligence masquerading as a Goth inside his behavior. I like him very much and he knows I do.
Joe rolled into my portable during fourth period today. Sitting himself next to me at the large white library table I utilize as seating. Sometimes, I feel like Grandpa Walton and then at times I feel like Al Capone holding court. Surrounding myself with the students assigned to me has eliminated many of the negative interpersonal behaviors that cause them to come to me. I shoved a folded note to my right for Joe.
"What's this," he asked?
"Looks like a piece of paper," I said.
"What's on it?"
"I wrote you a love note."
"Oh, sarcasm," he said opening the note.
I had written a small spelling lesson based upon what I had read on his MySpace page;
ANARCHIST not ANARCHY
FAGGOT not FAGGIT
Joe you can't be an ANARCHY, but you can be an ANARCHIST.
If you're striving to be something else then you can't be a FAGGIT, but you can be a FAGGOT. However, regardless what people think you are, you remain Joe.
He had no comment about about the note. However, he did have something to say about his MySpace site.
"Have you looked at my MySpace?"
"Why would I waste my time?"
"All teachers are nosy."
"If you didn't want people to see your site then it wouldn't be there."
Some of the other students joked about what he had said about teachers being nosy. We both ignored them. Joe understood that I had taken time to read his writings and perhaps I did so because I am interested in his well being.
It's now been two days since the note exchange. I just checked Joe's MySpace site. The spellings and usage have been corrected. More importantly though the picture of him giving the world "The Finger" while wearing a mask has been replaced by a picture of him giving the world "The Finger" without a mask.
A very small victory for him in what I hope is a long life.
Monday, January 29, 2007
After the other two students have departed the bus Annie will stand and wait holding her hand outward. Waiting for me to take her hand and escort her down the two steps. She smiles and looks around at the school seeing it for the first time and stepping down like a Southern Belle making her debut. Running ahead of me she burst into the cafeteria, stops, looks around and takes a seat at one of the long white tables. These are the same tables that everyday at lunch she eats the white chunks of tofu her mother sends for her lunch. I do not think that Annie likes tofu. She shoves each one of the two inch square chunks into her mouth and swallows after very little chewing. Her mother long ago decided that 5' 10" tall Annie needed to lose some of her 110 pounds and become more healthy. Just last week though it was discovered that after eating tofu for lunch for months, plus the giant pretzels and donuts offered to her by other students and some teachers she had gained 15 pounds. She looks and acts very healthy.
Perhaps, I should mention that Annie is autistic. She explores the world around her from inside her own world. I adhere to the theory that she is locked inside herself and may be struggling to communicate with the stimuli around her. More importantly to me I find her to be a wonderfully, delightful young student. Sometimes she will say hello. Mechanical gadgets attract her like a moth to a flame. She loves turning fans, lights, and such on and off. Laughing loudly, when these items surge into their action, the excitement is very entertaining to her. It is so easy to become bogged down in describing Annie's autism. I do not want to write an educational observation narrative.
One unusually warm January morning I had assisted Annie off the SPED bus and we were sitting at the cafeteria table. She behind me as I sat looking out the glass doors waiting for other students and teachers to arrive. I was enjoying a good monologue with Annie, occasionally turning my head to direct the words toward her. Questions that would not be answered by her.
"Did you have a good weekend Annie?"
No answer from the other side of the table.
"Don't you think it's hot for January?"
No answer from the other side of the table.
"Are you going to have a great day?"
No answer from the other side of the table.
"You're very quiet this morning Annie."
The fire alarm startled me. Jumping up I saw Annie standing next to the wall mounted fire alarm switch. It was pulled down, she was holding her headphones even tighter against her head, and she was looking around trying to find the source of the loud obnoxious noise. I ran to her to console her hopefully out of the fear racking her brain. I stopped the two other students from going outside while I frantically tried to get my key out to open the office and call the fire department. They needed to know it was a false alarm. However, everything was working against me trying to report. The keys were trapped in my jeans pocket, Annie was scared and shaking, the other two students continued to insist it was a fire and wanted outside. To the department's credit the firemen arrived in approximately six minutes. I looked at the four brave firemen burst into the cafeteria ready to save lives and structure!
After trying to explain to the firemen, I was not being very successful. I tried getting the two other students to calm down and stay back some distance. Annie was still shaking badly and looking around. One of the firemen succeeded in shutting the noise off.
"We're going to have to report a false alarm and someone is going to be in trouble," the lead firemen said.
"Well, I understand. Perhaps you need to interview the culprit?"
"Yes sir, we'll need the name of the student that set the alarm off."
I turned Annie around and faced her toward the fireman. "Annie say hello to the fireman."
"Hellooooo," she complied.
"Hi young lady," the fireman said.
"Hellooooo," she said again.
He looked at her and then at me. "Autism," I said.
"Oh. Well, I guess we've done all we can do here. Watch her closer."
Annie and the Great Fire Alarm Caper came to an end except for some paperwork I had to complete. Annie was very subdued for quite sometime. She walked a wide birth around all mechanical gadgets for the rest of the day.
Mr. "Smith's" son is a junior in high school. A fine young man that was not always so fine. In prior schools he frequently initiated fights. Joshua is more then vaguely familiar with alternative schools having been sent away several times by beleaguered government schools attempting to control their environment.
This father showed for the behavior meeting ready to defend his son. Generally, defend would imply an adversary which was not the case. He defended his son because of love, caring, and compassion. He freely told of family difficulties such as a mother fighting her own demons, an older brother hopefully completing an incarceration of four years, and his son now in our high school trying to overcome temptations of being a teenage male. Joshua is not much different then any other teenager. He loves his girl, his car, and his saggin' pants. Perhaps not in that order. Joshua's father is more concerned that his son believe he was on the his side. It appeared he and his son have a long history of the boy doubting his father's support.
Mr. "Smith" loves his son. He politely defended him to the principal that had suspended the boy for three days from high school, "I've taught my son not to start a fight, but to defend himself if he is attacked."
The principal is also a self-ordained southern preacher and has slowly came to the belief that he can "save" students from themselves. However, it should be noted that only select students are worthy of being "saved". The principal will deem which are to be blessed. "I understand what you say, but he was involved in a fight. He should have made the decision to walk away after being hit.", the principal said, leaning back in his desk chair.
I watched more then listened to the exchange between the father and the principal/preacher. Mr. "Smith" wanted badly to be a hero in his son's eyes and the preacher absent-mindedly pushed the buttons on his desk phone appearing to be detached from the situation. Mr. "Smith" attempted to explain the relationship he was trying to repair with his 16-year-old-son before it was to late. The principal wanted to get to the homecoming pep rally.
I do not want the principal to appear in a bad light. He has put in over thirty years as a teacher and assistant principal, seeing his share of troubled students and troubled parents. He found a voice for his frustration in his religion, perhaps a voice speaking more to his own mortality then the needs of a student in a government school?
The meeting was a short one, only twenty minutes or so. Mr. "Smith" wanted to continue talking with me as I walked him to his car. He wanted me to know how much he loves his son struggling to find common ground for them to share, e.g., football, working on cars, going to drag races, and etc. All the things a man of the 60's and 70's excelled in and wanted to share with his son. He only had one request of me, "Could you please find a way to let my son know that I stood up for him?"
I reassured him of this and watched him drive off in the 60's muscle car that he was trying to restore with his son's help.
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
Of course, the move started the day all students returned to the campus. My little band of students were shuffled off to one of the two school cafeterias. The promise of being inconvenienced for only one week rang in my ears for the next two months. It was true that the move only took one week. However, because these twenty-year-old trailers were moved, they had to be brought up to state and local codes. This procedure involved approximately nine different special teams of workers and inspectors. These groups never seemed to be following a single game plan nor could they communicate with each other. So, as the cold of winter swept into the geographical bowl housing our fine government school, we all sat looking out through the glass walls of the cafeteria. Frequently amused by the circus we witnessed, more often we saw no human workers for days. I did notice that many mornings around 6:30 A.M. a county government truck parked beside the relocated trailers. The driver would get out and lean against the side of the rusted, white truck. He sipped his foam cup of coffee until it was gone and then he was gone.
Finally the trailer passed codes and so did my students. We were back inside our little escape pod. Allowing them to escape at times from the reality of a government school. I would like to think that our new location in the courtyard of the Principal's proud football champion school brought new and unexplored behavior problems. However, many of the faces are new, but the problems are the same. Now the problems are surrounded more closely by neighboring trailers. The place has become known in short order as the trailer park. I appointed myself the Acting Mayor/City Manager.
The power may go to my head as I design the sidewalk supervision schedule for the other teachers.
So far the sidewalk continues to be safely attached to the ground.
As all teachers I work as my struggle with (NPLB) No Paperwork Left Behind increases. We can't leave any child behind without the appropriate paperwork. I've watched the influx of additional Bloods, Cripps, Goths, locally grown gangstas, and imported thugs from outside our borders. They all attempt to stay below the administration radar, sometimes with success. More often they rise to be noticed. At this point most of them pass through my classroom.
With the increase of individuals that stay with me for shorter and shorter periods of time my work load has increased. Additionally, the Atlas Program was dropped into my lap without an invitation. Arranging services for this most transient, (homeless), of students has evolved into a full-time vocation. This group of students come with behaviors that few other students possess.
I've also became aware of several students availing themselves of the "wonderful child friendly environment" known as MySpace. Many of my students, especially the gangtas' and the Goths, have become very involved with this website. It appears that the exchange of cryptic information among fellow group members is the priority. They all seem to be unaware of strangers invading their world; dangerous strangers. When this subject is brought up to any of them the reply is always the same, "No one can get by me."
All of them dismiss the possibility or probability that they can become an addition to THE DEAD KIDS OF MYSPACE. I've forwarded this website to most of the parents of my students and to fellow teacher and administrators. Few have even noticed what I consider as the important message at this website.
There appears to be no neutral ground in the battle to educate. Now the battlefield has no boundaries. We as teachers appear to be always playing catch-up in the attempts to educate with some knowledge beyond standardized tests. The Dead Kids of MySpace are obviously beyond our grasp, but perhaps their sisters, brothers, friends, and peers could be pulled back from the oblivion. We often lose the battles and hope against hope that we win the war.
Monday, October 09, 2006
Mandy is a wonderfully delightful freshman student. Describing her as a “country girl” does not even come close. She has a simply infectious personality and a sly smile. Whenever she enters my portable classroom it is always with a loud greeting for me. When I look at her she gets embarrassed, turns her face away and states, “Don’t look at me.”
“How was your weekend Mandy,” I ask each Monday at lunchtime? Without looking at me she generally goes into great detail about helping her mother clean the house, going to a hardware store with her mother’s boyfriend, and always ending with the time she spends with Troy. Troy would be her boyfriend of over two years. Mandy is fourteen, perhaps going on twelve-years-old. She appears to want to dress as the other girls in high school, but her family lacks the funds. At her age she continues to retain childhood “baby fat”, but is slowly changing. She is one of the many that come through my classes during the day that have not been diagnosed as needing Special Education services, but perhaps should have been? Today, Mandy quietly informed me she is two or three months pregnant.
Troy is eighteen-years-old and desperately trying to “hang-in” at high school so he can graduate with a Special Education diploma. He has many influences outside of school that try to pull him in many directions other then school. His mother died during his birth. His grandmother who has custody of him mostly raised him. Troy’s father lives in the next block. They spend some time together on weekends. His father married his girlfriend one month ago. Troy would never admit his feelings about his father’s marriage, but it hit him hard. In Troy’s world he enjoys bicycles, go-carts, scary movies and hates cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs. He unquestionably loves Mandy and she loves him.
Mandy’s older brother, Gordon, is Troy’s best friend. The three are seldom apart. Some people believe that Gordon suffers from a severe speech impediment. Gordon does not think that he suffers at all. Gordon prides himself on being a redneck. Not in the historical meaning, but in the sense of what it has evolved in to. He likes pickup trucks, hunting, camouflage clothing and dipping snuff. Gordon, above all, loves his sister Mandy.
I struggle daily with Troy trying to understand the daily assignments from his different classes. We try to decipher math, define English, and not damage the world through environmental science. I live inside the delusion that he will pass the Gateway exams in all areas and not become one of the children left behind.
I’ve read through No Child Left Behind several times. Seldom do I find myself at odds with the “ideals” of the law. As much as I look through it I have yet to find Pregnant Mandy, Eighteen Troy, and Speech Impaired Gordon. They are not in the writings, but they are in schools all over the country. They get up every morning in dismal home lives, trudge to a school bus stop, wait for their ride, and come to the only place they may feel a degree of safety and acceptance. Will they be left behind? Probably, according to the law. Will they get something from the school environment that may help them in life? I have no doubt they will. What each gets remains a mystery to me. I knew, after many years of being away from the schools I attended, what I came away with to help my struggle through life.
“How does your mother feel about you having a baby Mandy,” I asked?
“She’s okay with it. She’s kind of wrapped up in her own thing,” she said.
“How do you feel about having a baby?”
“Troy and I are so happy and in love.”
“You going to stay in school after you have the baby?”
“Of course. Troy won’t graduate, but he loves me. We’re never going to have a million dollars, but we’re going to have each other and our baby.”
“It’s going to be tough out there in the real world, Mandy.”
“So? I know!”
“Yeah, I believe you do.” I said, as she left for fifth period health class.
Monday, October 02, 2006
Change is fine as long as you’re not there when it happens! It’s moving week at my school. The county threw a bone to one of the oldest high schools by allocating building and renovation funds. Originally, the newest high school in the county (five years old) was to receive a major renovation and upgrade. The cries from the PTO parents and the demonstrating at the school board meetings resulted in additional funds for my school. A band room expansion, a couple of science labs, and a brand spankin’ new school office, and perhaps even air conditioning for the gym.
The result of this decision was the impending movement of mine and four other portable classrooms to make way for the construction crews and equipment. I understand the necessity of making way for progress. Originally, the principal wanted us moved to the northeast section of eighty-eight acres, just beyond a parking lot. Out of sight, out of mind. This was the plan until it was pointed out by an assistant principal that the students had only six minutes to walk to the other end of the campus when changing classes. The time was measured and it was discovered that ten minutes was required.
Okay, new plan. Now my twenty-one year old portable would be located just behind the second largest building in a parking lot. This was fine until it became evident that parking for football supporters would be greatly decreased. The final placement suggestion had always been referred to as the, “There is no way I’m having portables parked in my damn courtyard!” principal’s decree.
I’ve walked among the two-foot tall wooden stakes driven into the school’s courtyard. Each one outlined by spray paint on the grass marking the corners of each of the five portables to be moved. The county maintenance department has decreed that the only placement suitable shall be the courtyard. I’ve counted the trees to be cut down and they only number fourteen.
This Monday morning is the first day of the fall break. No students are around. No teachers. Not even football supporters are present. I walked through the courtyard this morning with my camera to begin recording the “Great Move of 2006”. Many of my students wanted to see how it would all be accomplished, but live to far away to be there. I quietly whistled “They Paved Paradise and Put Up A Parking Lot” as I snapped digital pictures of the portables, the courtyard, and the trees. It was 10:00 A.M. in the morning and I was alone. No movers, utility workers, wire stringers, or lumberjacks were present. The migrating geese flying overhead and me enjoyed the fall morning. I wondered how many days it would take to relocate five classrooms? Luckily, we had placed all breakables, e.g. computers, monitors, and televisions on the floor so only the unbreakable items could fall on them when the move came.
It was decided that it would take two weeks beyond the one-week fall break to complete the move. The principal decided to attend two training conferences during this time. When he returns I’m sure the move to the courtyard will be his original idea and the portables will look just wonderful where they are.
Change is fine as long as you’re not there when it happens!
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
“The ink is black, the page is white, together we learn to read and write”, so the song goes. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if most of education was about education? As my dearly departed daddy always told me, “I get you school books and send you out to school and what do you do, you eat the covers off the books.”
I have several cover eaters that meander through my portable during the school day. At times it is difficult to scratch the veneer and expose the child longing for aid of some type. Their veneers are very thick. Consisting of coatings of years of neglect from their families, their “government schools”, their neighborhoods, the NEA, the Earth, the solar system, the universe, and on and on; get the picture?
Robbie is a transplant from Detroit. A tough kid from a tough group home and toughened long ago by a physically abusive father. Robbie’s mother finally escaped her own abuse by moving south. No one, including the government agency entrusted with protecting children in Michigan, followed up on where Robbie had moved. Robbie’s final veneer layer is his own sense of humor. He makes jokes, sings songs, and banters with his peers, but always with an eye on the nearest adult to spot any forthcoming retribution. He doesn’t find much in our school and none in my classroom.
Robbie tries to test boundaries in his new school and my little classroom is no exception. He and I have struggled for most of the first four weeks of school with boundaries. On the surface he wants no restrictions. However, at the same time, he wants me to be a boundary. Robbie lies about everything. He lies when the truth would serve him better. His female teachers all think he is bonding with them. Bonding is not exactly what is occurring.
Robbie has some unusual views about girls and women. Without attempting to be an amateur psychologist it could stem from the abuse he witnessed thrust upon his mother by his father. The identical abuse that his younger sister endured as well as his own abuse. Adult females are inferior to him and if he wants to touch them, then it’s his “right”. Female students are all his “b_t__es”. Pity the lone female student that says hello to him. They immediately become his “girlfriend”. Of course, they have no idea they have become a girlfriend.
After some confidential teacher re-education his female teachers now understand he is not being friendly and admiring by just wanting to be near them. They have relocated their desks from corners to an area allowing egress from each end. Additionally, they have made efforts not to be alone with Robbie, all but Ms. “I Can Control Any Situation”. The attack came out of the blue, but only to her. She and Robbie were laughing, joking, and being “friendly”. He wanted to share his lunch with her. Robbie managed to trap her in the corner behind her desk. He over-powered her and groped several areas of her body before her screams bought the theater teacher to her rescue.
Robbie now resides in a more restrictive alternative school where he is comfortable and has exhibited no further violent behavior to this date. The teacher has returned to teaching. Her students are impressed with her new classroom technique. She can now walk a circle around her room from both ends of her desk.
If education was created for the student what was created for the teacher? I often lull myself into false beliefs that I can reach any student, given the time and opportunity. My weapon and bruise collection attests to my many failures. It has been explained to me by administrators that a portion of my responsibilities are to offer classroom management techniques that help protect the teacher. Of course, they are not to know that is what I’m doing. Many teachers are more territorial then a mother bear protecting their cub and would not appreciate my intrusion into their den.
"The ink is black, the page is white," wouldn't education be even more wonderful if it was that simple?
Sunday, August 27, 2006
At times I fondly remember the two weeks I escaped to summer camp in the sixties. A true summer camp unlike the summer camp I experienced in the late sixties by invitation of the U.S. government. The two camps had much in common; e.g., heat, insects, long hikes, rifles, and inexperienced leaders. What they did not have in common were the goals of making winners from the participants. My counselors-in-training believed in competition. The teams were taught that competition was good and losing was not. If it was target shooting, hiking, horseback riding, pie eating, basketball, or being the first up in the morning, competition was good. The camp was based on the Camelot theme, which I understood was a love story and a triumph of good over evil. The leaders at the government camp believed lies, deception, inflated numbers, and the lack of a will to win was the course. But, enough of the trip down memory lane and onto summer camp 2006.
My guys, male and female included, experience a summer camp that I could not have related to as a child. Their camps are the streets of the ‘hood. Their friends come and go from various arrests, dealers deal, parents continue to try to survive, often losing track of their children on a daily basis. Fights that occurred over the summer break from high school often are not resolved and the animosity carries on to the school campus. New gang alliances are formed but short lived. Students in state’s custody are transferred into foster homes far from their families and friends. Of course these transferees have to establish their turf and reputations. Couple this with an increased student population from an over-crowded 1745 students to a really over-crowded 2300 students and a melting pot of testosterone driven educational conflicts sets the stage for the first week of school.
My first three expulsions consisted of two returnees from the previous year and one recently relocated state's custody student. All three were zero toleranced, with one being a product of a knee jerk domino theory of educational discipline. I see the sadness in losing this student for the school year, but I also see the humor in the circumstances. Briefly, I hope, the story goes like this; the student was happily adjusting to a new school year in English II. In short order he and the second year, newly married teacher exchanged differences on what he should do in class. He finally told her “This is all bullshit!” She informed him he was to leave the class and report to the sophomore principal. Before leaving the classroom he picked up an imaginary shotgun, cocked it, pointed it toward the teacher, and pulled the make believe trigger, exclaiming, “Bang!”
There were several courses the teacher had to address the situation. The one chosen by her would not generally be considered as an option; she called her mother. Not being privy to the conversation I can only assume she was scared and conveyed this fear to her mother. Mom being very good friends with the county sheriff called him to pass on her daughter’s fear about this student. He in turn called his friend, the school superintendent. The superintendent not interested in having any irate parent complaining in his office or to another government official’s office called the school principal. The principal’s last desire is to have any parent or the superintendent making waves so he in turned called an assistant principal. This principal was not in charge of the student, but quickly gathered the School Resource Officer, that happens to be the son of the sheriff and both of them converged on the office of the principal of the sophomore class. The result of this meeting was a campus all-points-bulletin search for the student. This two-hour search resulted in the knowledge that the student had gone home and was fast asleep in his room.
The result of the circle of authority was the child being banished to the county alternative school. I know this child well and he couldn’t care less which school he is assigned to, he attends when he wants to. His parents long ago resolved he could raise himself. This should result in an identical success story of their older son. That would be the son currently serving seven-and-a-half to fifteen for breaking and entering. My student worships his older brother.
The younger of the remaining two students only cursed a teacher and walked upon that teacher with a closed fist. A zero tolerance for threatening a teacher was the result. The reality of the situation was that his gang leader had been found living out of zone and was transferred to the correct school allowing this student to step-up and be a leader. This is a game played by many principals in an attempt to rid their schools of undesirables. (Check Mate!)
The last student committed the most serious offense. He was bumped in a breakfast line before school. A crime committed by a member of one of the most notorious gangs in any school, the band. This band member further enraged the student by apologizing, which resulted in the band member being attacked from behind. The band member and the state’s custody student both had to go to the hospital, the band member from the injuries inflicted from the beating and my student from a broken hand.
Oh, did I mention that only one of these three students is a special education student? Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm…………….
This is only week one of the 2006-2007 school year and already the lessons from summer camp are being transplanted to school. I look forward to week two and the chaos that accompanies my teaching position.
I miss camp.
Friday, June 23, 2006
“It’s 9:30. Where have you been Ron?”
“I was out late dude. You know, taking care of biz”
“Shouldn’t you be in second period taking your final exam?”
“Damn dude I forgot all about it. It don’t matter. I’m probably not passing math anyway.”
I’ve known Ronnie since the sixth grade. Even then his mother thought it would be cool if she had him wear a “grill” of highly polished stainless steel over his upper teeth. I always called him Ron instead of Ronnie. It tended to make him feel more like a young man.
Ron and I had fought the grade battle for several years. He understood he would never be an “A” student and I understood he would always be a “C, D” student. I always stressed schoolwork when we talked. More importantly he knew he needed to be a young man instead of a street thug. Most of the time he failed at his schoolwork, but seldom did he fail to be a young man.
When others saw him on the street, they saw a thug. He usually dressed in very dark, baggy, and layered clothing. His hair worn in long braids. Most often he has a hood dangling on the back of his head. His crowning glories are the dark glasses hiding his eyes and the shiny grill reflecting out of his mouth. All of this camouflage did an excellent job of hiding a good-hearted soul mostly missed by the casual observer.
Ron struggles with the street. He struggles with a very religious mother. However, he mostly struggles with himself. In the hood, everyday, he sees quick money and friends disappearing either into jail or the graveyard. Thanks to the influence of this and his family he has a small tolerance for Caucasians. Several times he let me know that Caucasian was a funny name, “Sounds like a pair of shoes. Yes, I would like to have a pair of Caucasians in size twelve.” Then he would laugh making the sound of air leaking from a tire.
“Good morning Ron.”
“Morning man,” he replied each morning entering my portable classroom. I don’t remember him ever having breakfast before coming to school. So each morning he microwaved Ramon Noodles, chicken flavored, before heading out to English One. During three years in high school he tried passing English without ever getting close. However, he never quit attending the class. Each year I had to argue with his teacher not to socially pass him just to not have him in class the following year. As the end of year four approached, he proudly possessed a 71 in English.
I watched on a very fine Sunday afternoon as he walked across the graduation stage. I honestly thought he was taller. Afterwards, as I leaned against the exit door watching the graduation crowd of students and families, I saw Ron being hugged by his mother, older brother, and stepfather.
Seventh grade was the pivotal point in our relationship. Ron was small in stature and large in mouth. Ms. Ellison was and continues to be a stodgy English teacher. She rules her domain. That domain being her classroom and the students are her minions. They must all fit the mold of hard working, respectful (by her definition), and most importantly quiet. Ron could not comply with one of these demands let along all three.
Right after first class began my classroom door was flung open banging against the wall. Ron came running in with tears beginning to fill his eyes. Close on his heels marched Ms. Ellison. Her tan corduroy pants “zipped” as her legs moved her forward in pursuit of Ron to further punish him.
“He is not to be in my class again. He cannot behave. He’s nothing but trouble. Do you hear me Ron? You’re not to come into my class again!” I wanted to tell her that the yelling was unbecoming to a teacher, but I was more concerned with Ron then an irate English teacher.
“You’ll have to leave now Ms. Ellison you’re interrupting my class. We’re just getting ready to listen to the announcements.” She wanted to continue berating Ron as I escorted her out and closed the door leaving her to stare at the door.
By the time the morning announcements were completed Ron had settled down to his normally talkative self and the rest of the class had forgotten the incident. They were in the process of pooling money they had collected for two days to contribute to another of the many fund raising activities schools engage in to help the school. As I recall they had collected around ninety-five dollars. The “popular class leader” presented me with the money. I completed a receipt for the school secretary and placed the money in a brown envelope. The class leader stood next to my desk waiting to take the envelope to the office.
“Ron, can you come here a second? I need you to do something for me.”
“What you need man?”
“Please take this envelope to the school office for me.” By the expression on the class leader’s face, this was a complete surprise to him. It probably was no more a shock to him then to Ron. I suspected it was the first time he had been placed into a position of responsibility.
“Don’t take to long Ron. We got a lot of work to do this morning. You have to catch-up if you’re going to be with me for the remainder of the year.” Ron returned within two minutes and took his place in the class. The office staff later sent me a note asking if it was proper to have Ron bring money to the office. I simply noted on the yellow paper, “You got the money didn’t you!” I heard nothing further. The principal agreed, with the insistence of Ms. Ellison, Ron should remain in my class during first period.
Here in high school, four years later, as I lean against the exit door watching the graduation crowd of students and families, I watch Ron proudly being hugged by his mother, older brother, and stepfather.
Monday, June 05, 2006
The heat of the summer is easing onto the Cumberland Plateau, public swimming pools open Monday, there have only been three newspaper reports involving my students, most of the hail damage from two months ago has been repaired at my house, and I have managed not to drive by my high school. During the summer break I make it a point to take alternate routes when I leave my house to avoid driving by the government school where I teach. This is difficult to do when you live less than sixty seconds away. Another difficult task to accomplish is avoiding current and former students. By my last count there are forty-one students living within a two-mile radius of my house. However, except for a few incidents I seldom encounter them during the summer break. Then there is Washington.
My personal joke has long been that Washington is the son I never wanted. He was a three-year freshman until he turned eighteen. Then, as his mother expected, he dropped out over a year ago. It had not mattered that his girlfriend was going to have a baby, that he did not have a job, he was jailed at the time, and was turning eighteen going on ten-years-old mentally. All of this aside I like Washington.
I despise mowing grass. This must be a holdover from my childhood, but I have not bothered to analyze it to deeply. Weed-eating, on the other hand, brings me a degree of pleasure. I suppose the violence of the whirling plastic string impresses me, so about once a week I beat back the invading weeds in the yard. There may even be a correlation between weed-eating and teaching, but I don’t want to get to psychologically involved and spoil the weed-eating.
Through my safety goggles I watched the dandelions sacrifice themselves to the spinning machine. I felt the stick strike my side and turned to see Washington standing in my driveway. He was not alone. In his arms he held his eight-month-old daughter. This was not the first time I had met Mia. Washington, his unmarried “wanna-be” bride, and Mia had visited their former high school several times. This was however the first time he and the baby had come visiting at my home.
“What’s happening dude,” he ask while shifting Mia to his other arm?
“Just baking a tuna fish casserole.” This was not the first time he had heard me say that, but it always caused him to laugh. This time was no different. “What you doing Washington?”
“Me and Mia are just out cruising.”
“Where’s her mother?”
“She had a doctor’s appointment.”
“Shouldn’t you be with her?”
“No man. She told me to take Mia, that she would be fine.”
“Huh uh…… you always believe what she says?” I didn’t feel like explaining some things today. How it would have been appropriate for Washington and Mia to wait at the doctor’s office and that maybe he should shade the baby when they’re out in the bright sunshine. “Let’s rest over here,” I said moving toward the shade of a tree.
We sat down at an old picnic table and he eased Mia down to the surrounding grass. I watched her hesitate to crawl and instead she stared at the blades of grass as only an infant can stare. Washington pulled a cigarette out of a crumpled package and flicked his BIC lighter. He was unaware of anything Mia was doing at his feet.
One thing I found useful when dealing with former or current students, on a personal level, was knowing the answer to questions before I asked, “How come you’re not at work?”
Mia and her mother lived with her mother and grandmother while Washington resided at his mother’s house. The two houses were only a block apart, but could have been light years away from each other. “I had to take-off while Christy went to the doctor’s.”
Washington was not above telling me an untruth. He had not been employed for three weeks. He and a group of friends, all but him under the age of eighteen, were involved in a fight at a local Wal-Mart parking lot. Washington was arrested after hitting one of the kids a glancing blow with a hammer. He was incarcerated in the “big people’s jail” while the other participants all went to juvenile detention. He was unable to find anyone to “go bail” until his mother convinced her live-in friend, Julie, that she had to do something for her granddaughter’s welfare and father. His court date was still three weeks away. Because he was locked up for three weeks the local faux Pottery Barn had filled his position with another of my former students.
“How are Christy’s GED studies going?” About a year ago she decided it would be better if she worked on getting a GED diploma instead of getting up so early and being confined to a government school all day. If I had a dollar for every former student that decided a GED was the route to go and failed to achieve the goal my retirement fund would be very bloated.
“She’s going to get back to it when Mia gets a little older.”
“Are you still living at your mom’s house?”
“Yeah, just until I get my own place.” He knew as well as I did that he would live with her until she or her friend couldn’t stand having him around any longer. Mom’s friend Julie was the catalyst for him being evicted earlier. She did not like having others in the house. Before Julie moved in she often said Washington was a “wonderful boy” and how much she wanted him around. Afterwards he became a pest and was forced out within three weeks. (Love is a many splendored thing!)
We chatted about former students and friends, what he wanted for the future, where he expected to be in five years, the odds he and Christy would ever marry, how much fun Mia is, how Christy’s mother still didn’t like him, but adored Mia, and how his maturity is delayed in coming. The one subject that was long in coming was the real reason he had come to visit me.
My gas weed-eater was cooling down and would need to be re-primed before starting. The weeds were getting a reprieve while we talked. The host of a local PBS garden show frequently says that a weed is anything that grows where you don’t want it to grow. By that definition a rose could be a weed, thistle could be a weed, and Washington could be a weed in his mother’s house and in Christy’s house. At times I sensed he felt lost in life. Like many teenagers he was searching for a direction, a purpose, and perhaps even guidance from others. All of these are especially difficult for Washington to attain. His mother should be a source of guidance, now more then ever, but her life was slipping by and perhaps she felt the need to choose between her needs and his?
“I was wondering if I could float a loan from you. I need some gas so I can get back to the doctor’s office.” I chose not to mention if he had stayed at the office then he wouldn’t need gas money to return. I understood that he just needed to come by and talk. He did not need criticism or a lecture.
“Let me see what I got.” I left him with Mia and went into the house. My billfold was on the table next to the window looking out onto the backyard. While I counted out some dollars I watched him pickup Mia. He held her, said something, and kissed her on each cheek. Perhaps there was hope for him yet? Somehow he had a capacity for love that frequently he hid from the world.
Outside I passed him the money. He didn’t count the bills. I held Mia while he crumpled them into his shirt pocket. Mia is a beautiful child with long, dark, curly hair and infectious smile. Much like her father’s smile. He assured me that he would see me soon before he drove away in the rattle-trap old Thunderbird.
I returned to my weed-eating knowing all I can do is delay the growth of the dandelions. Hopefully, Washington is only delayed in his growth.
Sunday, June 04, 2006
When you least expect, the school bear sneaks upon you, and bites you in the educational behind. Sometimes, I knowingly invite the bear to try and devour me. The very last thing I ever want to do in my portable classroom, in the government school, on county taxpayer property, is to restrain a student. I only recall doing the “restraining deed” on two other occasions. On this occasion I tried every educational re-cue, (I love technical education stuff), trick in my bag and failed.
“You’re doing this because my kid is black,” the angry father yelled at me. We had both been summoned to the principal’s office due to the events of the previous day.
Ernest, a tall, lanky, loud, likeable kid had been assigned to my classroom sometime during the last month. He could not manage to be quiet during any class. Eventually, it wore one of his teachers down and he was issued a discipline report and sent to his principal’s office. The result was his assignment to me, during second period, to work on classroom social skills. I like Ernest. He is funny, smart, and a challenge. We generally get along well. Unfortunately, the same could not be said for Ernest and his relationship with some other students. It is safe to say that he is not “cool” like the cool guys think they are.
Ernest is never dirty. He doesn’t seem to care how he dresses to come to school. Mismatched clothes could easily be his trademark. However, his hair has yet to meet a brush or comb it liked. He is never dirty just disheveled. Talking loudly is the one trait he possesses that agitates his peers. This skill is what led him to being restrained, to protect him from another student attacking and partially to get him away from my face.
“You’re doing this because my kid is black,” again the angry father yelled at me!
“Sir, that is not the case,” Ms. Wilson, Freshman Principal, said trying to calm the man.
“What else could it be? He’s a white man trying to teach my son.” He waved his hand in my direction both recognizing my presence and dismissing me at the same time.
“Okay, I understand your anger, but let’s look at the facts.”
“The facts are that he laid his hands on my son!”
“Sir, he probably was justified due to the circumstances,” Ms. Wilson tried to continue.
“It ain’t right. No white man should lay his hands on my son!” I watched, without comment, while his anger increased. It appeared he was less into defending his son’s honor and more into enjoying being the center of attention and being in charge.
“Okay, we’ll bring Ernest in and listen to his explanation of the events,” she said.
“He doesn’t have to be in here. I already heard his side. This white man ain’t got no right laying his hands on my son!” It was quickly becoming evident that this meeting was going nowhere, except perhaps to a due process hearing. I was shifting in my seat wanting to get back to my students. I stood to shift my position around, not to leave. Ernest’s father misunderstood. He rose quickly and moved close to my face.
He pointed his finger within an inch of my face and again yelled, “You’re doing this because my kid is black!”
“No, it’s because your son acted like an idiot,” I said. He swung his arm back forming a fist.
I enjoy wearing hats. My favorites are fedoras. They are long ago out of style, but appear to be making a comeback. I tend to wear a hat on rainy days. Umbrellas are inconvenient for me to carry. I’ve lost enough umbrellas to supply most teachers in my high school with one. So there I stood with my hat in my hand waiting to get punched by the irate father of one of my favorite students.
His fist was beginning to move toward my head. All I could do was toss him my hat. This caused him to hesitate and grab the flying hat in mid-air. What it really did was allow me the time to side step him, placing my left leg behind his left leg, forcing him backward and down to the floor. I stood over him. I offered my hand to help him back to his feet. He looked up at me and offered me back my hat. He took my hand and I took my hat.
“Let’s all calm down,” Ms. Wilson said revealing the panic in her voice.
“We’re okay. Right sir,” I asked?
“Yeah, we’re fine,” he said while straitening his jacket.
“I’ll talk to Ernest about working on his temper,” he said.
“I’m looking forward to Ernest coming back to my class. He’s a good young man.”
Ernest graduated this year. He wasn’t the head of his class nor was he at the bottom. His father sat behind me during graduation. He is a proud man. Ernest is the first, in several generations, of this family to graduate from high school. Already he is working at the local flour manufacturing plant where his father has worked for fourteen years.
Sometimes the bear bites you and sometimes you bite the bear.
Trip Two – August 2005 to May 2006
Breakin’ Up Is Hard To Do, so the old song goes. Glenda is a wonderfully hard working, dedicated, and inspired English teacher. The bad news is that Glenda is a wonderfully hard working, dedicated, and inspired English teacher. The really bad news is that Jack was enrolled in her first period class. She has only been in the high school trenches for three years chasing the elusive “teacher tenure”. Sometimes, before school starts, I drop by her room to discuss the progress of several of my students in English. Our conversations always turn toward Jack and his “attitude”.
“All he does is sleep.”
“He does have his own agenda,” I said.
“What can I do? He irritates the crap out of me!”
“Does he disrupt your class?”
“No, not really. He seldom is awake long enough to talk to anyone.”
“Well, I guess that could be good news.”
“Good news? His principal is no help. He talks down to me and tells me I need to be creative in teaching Jack.”
Part of my unofficial duties, as instructed by this very principal, is to assist some teachers with classroom management. I shouldn’t let any of them know what I’m doing, but none-the-less, I should assist them. This is not really a problem. Most other teachers don’t consider me a teacher. I’m just the guy that relieves situations in their classes by taking problem students off their hands for a period of time.
I don’t think that Glenda believes she knows everything about teaching, but she has at least one thing in common with most other teachers, she is territorial. She owns her room. However, I understand the principal owns “her” room and she occupies it only at his discretion. The teachers that change rooms at the end of each school year can attest to this. There appears to be no rhyme or reason for this moving, but if you teach Math and English in this high school, be aware as May nears.
“Perhaps, if you send him over to my portable for third period we can help him with his assignment?”
“I can do that? It really would help me out, I mean help Jack out.” Her justified frustration was barely hidden.
“Sure, let’s try it for a couple of days. I’ll clear it with his principal.” Of course I didn’t have to clear anything. If it keeps a student or teacher out of his office it will be okay.
“I don’t think Mr. Smally likes me?”
“Don’t be silly. If he didn’t like you, you wouldn’t be teaching here for the past two years.” I didn’t want to inform her that she seldom crossed his mind unless one of her students landed in his office for discipline. “You know, you might want to move your desk a little?”
“If a student gets really upset and comes after you where would you run to?” She looked at the placement of her desk and realized that one end was against a wall that allowed only one route for escape.
Her mental light bulb flickered on, “Yes, yes, I see what you mean.”
I left, heading for my portable classroom, while she began tugging on her desk. If I had one “gentlemanly inclination” I would have offered to assist with moving the desk. I walked on. The thought briefly crossed my mind, at a future date, of letting her discover another misplacement of her desk. Away in a corner quite removed from the students. Many students will interpret that she is trying to stay far away from them.
Two mornings later we discussed Jack returning to her class. She was unhappy with this decision. “Is he going to continue sleeping?”
“I graded the work he turned in from his stay in your class.”
“How did he do?” I knew the answer having looked over his work before I slipped it into her mailbox.
“He did okay. I think he got a 81 on one paper and 76 on the other?”
“Not bad,” I said. I did not want to argue with her that he had scored higher and perhaps she was grading him more harshly because of his “attitude”. Also, I didn’t bring it up because Jack didn’t care what grade he received.
Jack and her continued the Tic-Tac-Toe game most of the year. He won many of the battles and lost the educational war. He will be taking English One again as a second year freshman. Glenda also lost the classroom possession war.
“I have to change classrooms,” she said. Angry would not be a fair description of her reaction to the news. Ballistic would be a better verb or adjective.
“Where you moving to for next year?”
“They want me to take Mrs. Baylor’s room. She’s moving to my room. What damn good does that do?”
“I don’t know. The principals seem to have their own plans for where teachers teach from each year.” Again I let the opportunity pass about who controls (owns) the classrooms in the school. I didn’t even feel like reminding her it wasn’t where she taught, but what and how.
“I told them I wasn’t moving unless I got Honors English next year. I’ll quit if I don’t get the course.” She didn’t seem to understand that she was five or six years shy of getting an honors class. Without tenure and several more years teaching at this school she was not getting an honors class. It is not your ability to teach, but how long you’re here that counts.
I recalled she was going to quit after her first year because she did not have first period planning. At the end of the second year she was going to quit because she didn’t get along with the inclusion teacher assigned to her. (The inclusion teacher made the mistake of thinking she owned the room.) Now she was quitting if she did not get Honors English and was being forced to change classrooms.
My belief is that she will be back, in her new classroom, in August. Glenda is a wonderfully hard working, dedicated, and inspired English teacher. Breakin’ Up Is Hard To Do with a lover, but Breakin’ Up Is Impossible To Do with your dream of teaching!