Friday, December 16, 2005
“Where do we store our crap?”
I looked at the 17-year-old-girl sitting across the table from me. It had been several months since a question from a student had thrown me. However, the confusion on my face had to be evident to her.
Shalay stared at me desperately waiting for words of explanation and wisdom. For reasons that did not escape me I was her favorite teacher. Not that she liked me, but she respected me because I never deviated from my stance with her. Young ladies act like ladies and young men act like gentlemen. Sure it is my interpretations of young men and women. However, I feel confident in my formative years of development.
“What crap are you talking about?”
I was sure her concerns were for her worldly possessions that she daily left in the singlewide mobile home. A mobile home she shared with her grandmother, great-grandmother, two sisters, one brother, but not her mother or father. Her mother was half-way through her second jail term for drug use and sale. It was anyone’s guess where her father was or who he was. Oh, did I forget to say that in addition to the above-mentioned people her 11-month-year-old baby also lived there? The father of the child, one of the finer alternative school students in Nashville, sometimes visited. Having him visit was preferable to him moving into the two-bedroom mobile home.
“You know, Poop!” she said with a small flash of embarrassment on her face.
For a fleeting moment I thought she was making a joke out of some comment by another student in the classroom. Then I realized she was asking about bodily functions. Perhaps I should have brushed the question off and discussed it later with her. However, the teacher reared its knowledgeable head inside me. I was sure this could be a biological, No Child Left Behind, Value Added, inspirational, educational moment. In a few minutes I would learn it was nothing more then the dying gasp of a delusion about saving the whales left over from my college career.
I easily slipped into my finest special education science teacher persona. My explanation was masterful. Employing graphic, but not obscene, details of the digestive system ending with a wonderful analogy of a school book bag and the colon. I leaned back in my padded desk chair and looked at Shalay’s newly educated face. Yes sir, what a lesson! The gazed on her face did little to confirm my posturing. It was a vacant and yet confused, This Child Left Behind, Little Value Added, uninspired, non-educational gaze.
“I thought it was stored in your testicles?”
I tried to shuffle around in my chair to avoid the question. This was not to be. Her gaze followed me no matter which way I turned. She could easily have been one of those paintings in your wealthy aunt’s house whose eyes followed you everywhere. My whole teaching career came down to this impromptu biology lesson.
“Ain’t it stored in your testicles,” Shalay asked again?
The two guys sitting quietly at the second table could no longer be silent. Their laughter exploded across the tables and washed across my dying biology lesson.
“What the hell are you talking about Shalay,” Teddy asked? “What the hell are your testicles attached to?”
Demonstrating no embarrassment and a wonderful anger control impulse, which she was not noted for, Shalay turned toward them. They both immediately became silent. The last thing either one wanted was to confront her physically.
“My testicles are attached to my baby’s daddy,” she said this with all the calm of a mature mother. “You don’t seem to have any attached to you.”
With that Shalay rose and exited the portable classroom. This left the two male students and me to digest our failures in different arenas of Special Education in public school.
Monday, December 05, 2005
“There must be something in the water,” Sammi said in response to my question.
“I don’t think it’s in the water, sweetie.”
“My daddy was mad as hell at me. He acted like he loved me or something.”
Sammi is the fourth 15-year-old to become pregnant this school year. The year is not half over. I assume sex education in the home or the school is not going as planned. The first to announce the blessed event was Angelina. One week to the day of her happy proclamation the father of the child was shot dead during a drug deal gone bad. Bad for him, but I’m unsure if it was bad for mother and baby. The following month Gina was proudly traversing the campus telling anyone that would listen about her unborn child.
“I really want to be a mama! I love dolls. I hope it’s a boy.”
I looked at this wanna-be “Barbie” well on her way to giving birth to a real world Ken and asked her, “You realize babies grow for at least eighteen years unlike a doll?”
“Of course I do. Don’t be silly. Anyway, I love dressing dolls and I’m going to dress my little boy so cute.”
My sarcasm and feeble attempt with a lesson was lost on her. The fourth to announce the impending joy was Christy. She is the longtime girlfriend of Roosevelt. This announcement did not surprise me. For two years on a weekly basis she stated over lunch “I’m going to have Roosevelt’s baby that way I can keep him.” Having failed with her master plan of bringing him food, lots of food each morning, with the goal of fattening him to the point that no other girl would want him she then decided to fatten herself instead.
Roosevelt could always find female companionship, some even willing to buy him meals. On Christy’s surface this did not seem to bother her. Her mother had become pregnant at fifteen, followed two weeks later by a car accident. Mom was confined to a wheelchair there after. Christy’s father had not been seen sense her day of birth. I believe I saw her mother outside of their home once, but Christy assured me I was mistaken. I hoped history would not repeat itself.
“Sammi, your father does love you. That could be why he is so angry,” I told her returning from my thoughts of the other girls.
“No. He’s mad at me. Just like he gets when I don’t come home at night. My mom doesn’t care how late I stay out, so why should he?”
My excellent powers of deduction, developed from watching old Sherlock Holmes movies, told me I could have stumbled upon the cause for her pregnancy. Her boyfriend, Duke, is a mere 24-years-old. Mom and dad had only stepped up to complain about this age difference, when perhaps they should have reined in their 15-year-old daughter. Sammi’s mother tried for several years to be her daughter’s best friend instead of her parent. Now she gets another chance to raised a child with better results I hope.
“How’s Duke feeling about you being pregnant?”
“I think he’s happy about it. He told me he’s going back to Ohio this weekend.”
“He hates his job right now and he’s going to look for another one.”
“Where’s he work?
“Huh, I can’t remember the name of the place.”
“Where is the place?”
“What does he do?”
“He never told me.”
“Why doesn’t he look for work around here?”
“More jobs in Ohio.”
I realized she knew very little about Duke. My hunch is the one thing she surely didn't know was that he will not be returning from Ohio. I wondered if he’d take Roosevelt with him to search for work. Of course, Christy only had bad luck and Roosevelt leaving town could only be classified as good luck.
The other pregnant girls settled in around my large classroom table during first lunch. They had gravitated to meeting in my classroom on a daily basis. I’ve taken to calling the first of three lunches scheduled for the school as The Maternity Ward. The girls all think it’s cute. I’ve tried to recall which college class, designed to mold me into a liberal special education teacher, addressed this situation. The one thing they have accomplished is the taming of the guys that once-upon-a-time dominated my classroom. Tamed some and ran others away. Morning sickness, weight gain, stretch marks, baby food, sex, and any other baby discussions sure cramped the style of my hardened “gangstas”.
Oh yes, discussions about cramps weren’t appreciated by the “gangstas” either.
Sunday, December 04, 2005
This blog is informative, well constructed, and above all is written by a teacher that cares.
Please forgive me QueenAnne for posting and assuming your permission.
Saturday, December 03, 2005
The doorbell rang. Looking through the glass storm door, there he was. The son I never wanted. I first met him three years ago at an intake meeting where his grandmother proclaimed herself an international expert on special education. His mother attended the intake meeting. Her first words proclaimed, "I'm an adult ADHD, (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), and I know what my son is going through!" My first thought upon meeting her was an NFL linebacker. She easily topped six feet tall and probably weighed in at two hundred pounds. Honestly, she did not appear fat. Just broad shoulders, short hair, and very large feet. Of course, her overwhelming feature was ADHD. She went out of her way to maintain her ADHD as the driving force in her life. Through several meetings, attempting to address her son's academics or behavior, she contributed a long litany of events to her "Adult ADHD"; a broken down car, the loss of three jobs, never cooking a meal for her son, failed relationships, rain, sunshine, night, day.
Her mother was always on the telephone while snuggled down at her D.M.V. desk in Kansas. She once taught, for a grueling two years, in a rural public school. Then her career took a hairpin curve into a sixteen-year pit stop at the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Many meetings later, filled with accusations about the inadequacy of the education system, and three years of weekly telephone call updates to Roosevelt's mom succeeded in making him my shadow. For three years seldom did a school day pass that he was not with me for at least two hours. More often he blessed me with his presence for six-and-three-quarter-hours. His ADHD and immaturity ruled his life. Additionally, he craved the attention of any male figure offering guidance or discipline.
“Hello,” Roosevelt said, waving through the glass storm door.
“Just a second,” I said, trying to slip into my pajama pants. The comfort of sitting around in my underwear on a lazy holiday was erased from the agenda.
Roosevelt made himself comfortable on the couch. His childish smile dominating his face. My dog stood on the footstool barking at him nervously. She doesn’t care for visitors in her domain and cares less for them talking to me. “What you doing, bud?"
“Just running around. I came by around 9:30 this morning, but it didn’t look like anyone was up.”
“It’s a good thing you didn’t ring the doorbell,” I stated with fake anger. He didn’t need to know I had been up since 3:30 A.M. “You celebrating Thanksgiving with your mom?”
“Yeah, my grandmother came in, too.”
“How’s your mom’s roommate,” I asked? He came by several months before to inform me that his mom had announced to him that she is gay and introduced her new roommate, Wendy, to him and his newly pregnant girlfriend.
“How’s your grandmother dealing with your mom’s friend?”
“She’s cooking Thanksgiving dinner.”
“And ignoring Wendy,” he replied, followed by a nervous laugh. “She walks around like Wendy isn’t in the house. That’s okay I don’t really like Wendy, either.”
“I’m shocked.” I decided to let the subject drop. “You working?”
He lifted up his left foot to proudly display a tennis shoe covered with paint specks. “I’m painting the inside of new houses in a subdivision over in Franklin. My boss picks me up at 5:30 every morning. Man, it was a lot easier in school, not having to get up until 7:00.”
I could have steered the conversation toward the virtues of staying in school and graduating, but it would have been lost on him as it was several hundred times before. “Where’s Christy?”
“She’s at her mom’s house. We’re going over to my house to eat, later.” Christy is his very pregnant girlfriend, due February 21st. She had sat out to become pregnant at the age of sixteen to keep Roosevelt. Now it appears she will have two babies to raise.
The conversation touched on several subjects from his impending fatherhood to friends of his that had recently been arrested for armed robbery and the shooting of a convenience store clerk. He tried to take the side of the crooks, but even he knew it was the wrong side to take.
“Why do you think they did it,” he asked?
“Boom Boom wanted the street rep.”
“But they had the money and then shot the clerk.” He wrestled with why a seventeen and fourteen year old would commit a string of robberies and shoot someone.
“I don’t get it either.” It was best to leave it where it was instead of trying to impress my middle class adult values on a bi-racial youth trying to find his place in the world. His most daring crime to date had been shoplifting a pair of pants from an upscale mall store. They weren’t even his size. He wanted to impress a friend.
“I’ve got to be going.”
“It’s about time,” I said with a smile. He smiled back understanding my fake sincerity
“Happy Thanksgiving, man,” he said over his shoulder getting into his worn out car. My dog continued to bark until he had driven out of sight.
I returned to the writing of another entry for my Special Education journal with the knowledge I would never have a lack of situations to write about.
"Happy Thanksgiving, Roosevelt."
Sunday, November 27, 2005
"Pickup your feet bud," I quietly said, "Men don't scuff their feet when they walk." He said nothing, but picked up his feet. "Pull up a chair and join the party."
"Where's my desk?"
"The only desks in here are in those two cubicles," I jestured toward two cubicles, one at each end of the classroom. "Those are for students that decide they don't like anyone in here and want to be alone." He surveyed each one and chose one of the orange plastic chairs placed around one of my large, worn-out library tables.
His hair style was unusual to say the least. Trimmed short on the sides of his head, but grown long on top. So long in fact that his bangs, combed forward, easily touched his upper lip. This was his preference in styles. Combed forward to hide what he perceived as his many defects. Also, it helped him hide from the world.
Casey's world consists of, a mother that sometimes entertained employment for periods of up to two months, a father that no one seemed to remember, a string of single-wide-mobile-homes he called home, and the conscience ability to tear-down anything that may be going right in his life. Casey's conformity to his own sense of right conduct is admirable, but ultimately flawed by being one of the hordes of high school students that have raised themselves. He can't even be described as a "latch-key kid" because his trailer doesn't have a lock on it's only door.
Casey and his mother have been evicted from five rented mobile homes within the same rural trailer park over the last two years. Each trailer came with one of these additions; a) a new "family", b) another woman with one or two children, c) a boyfriend (with or without other children), d) other single mothers forever down on their luck. Whenever he comes to school with a new child that lives with him he always introduces them as his sister or brother. They're not, but it makes him feel like part of a family.
It took Casey most of three weeks to feel comfortable enough to initate a conversation with me or my aide. It was a much longer period of time for him not to expect the worse from us and cease attempting to place us in situations that proved he was right; we were there to get him into trouble, not to get him ready for "life" outside of high school. A life that could not slap him any harder then he had been slapped for the first seventeen years of his life.
I enjoy standing on the wooden deck of the portable classroom in the spring watching the classes change. Most of 2000 students herding themselves between the main school building and the equally sized annex building walk within six feet of me up and down the cement path. All teachers are expected to stand outside of their classes during the changes more as a deterent to "bad" behavior then to physically intervene if trouble breaks out. I just enjoy the spring sunshine on my face and bald head. Through the years many students have asked how I know when I stop washing my face and begin washing my head? Each time I react has if it is the first time I've heard the joke. I welcomed the spring of 2004 after a dreary, cold, winter in middle Tennessee.
"Hey dude, can you do me a favor," I heard Casey loudly ask as he came up to ramp to the deck?
"Depends on the favor Casey."
"I got to go to the prinicpal's office and he'll search me."
I cared less about the search then I did for the reason he had been summoned to the office. "Why do you have to go see the principal?"
"Man, Mr. Slagg jumped on my case. I wasn't doing anything, just talking to Angela. He told me to be quiet and to move to another desk."
"Didn't want to. I wasn't doing nothing."
"How many times did he ask you to move?"
"I don't know, one or two."
"Four or five?"
"Look at me when we're talking. Men respect each other while they're talking." He looked up from the deck and continued the story.
"I got mad. He don't like me."
"What did you do?" I suspected the answer before he told me. Casey's anger was always just beneath the surface.
"He told me to go to the office. He wrote a pink slip on me." A pink slip was a dreaded response to a behavior. Dreaded by teachers and principals. Ignored by most students. "I walked out before he finished."
I waited. There is always more to the story.
"I called him a bitch."
I successfully surpressed a smile. Gender definition is always a problem for some students. However, it was the best he could come up with at the time.
"So you took the problem to another level?" He looked at me trying to sort through the situation and his reaction.
"I was just talking to Angela."
I understood his need for female attention. Angela was three months pregnant and just showing. Casey was attracted to her. Partly because he sensed her need to be accepted as a pregnant freshman student and partly because he knew she had experienced sex. Something he had yet to encounter, except with himself. He remained attracted to her for nine months, before moving on to another crush.
"What's the favor," I asked?
"Look man, my mother's boyfriend loaned me his cigarette case. I' m going to be searched and it will get takened. Can you hold it for me?"
I watched him fiddle with something in his worn jeans pocket. Most students believe that all teachers just "fell off a turnip truck". We're all gullible and open to any scam. This was no exception.
"Sure, I'll hold it for awhile."
He handed me the fake silver case. He turned and headed down the ramp, mumbling something about that damn teacher, and made his way to the office. I looked inside the case and saw three flattened Basic brand cigarettes. Cheap, but affordable. Casey's mother bought him cigarettes once or twice a week. It kept him busy while she entertained in the mobile home. I left the deck and headed toward the courtyard between the main building and gym.
I walked up to the principal. He generally stood here during lunch periods, more to greet football players then to be a discipline presence. A few seconds later Casey approached. I beat him there because I didn't have to stop and tell other guys the story of being tossed out of class. Casey came to my side, somewhat surprised I was there. Standing there I put my arm around him and his unused bookbag. Unused for books, but well used to hide various contraband.
"What are you doing here Casey," the principal asked?
"Mr. Slagg threw me out for talking to Angela." The principal had no idea whom Angela was and cared less.
"You got anything on you?"
I watched the loose gears turn in Casey's brain. He had just formulated a plan to divert trouble from himself to me. "I had some cigarettes, but he told me he would hold them for me so I wouldn't get in anymore trouble then I was," Casey said, nodding his head in my direction.
"What's he talking about," the principal asked me?
"I have no idea," removing my arm from Casey and his book bag and stepping back.
"Empty your pockets Casey." He did what the principal told him. There was nothing incriminating in them. "Let me have the book bag."
Casey took the bag off of his shoulder, handing it to the principal. He tossed a quick smile in my direction. The principal opened the small pocket on the top of the bag and brought out the fake silver cigarette case. Casey's smurk quickly changed to shock. The cigarettes and case succeeded in securing three days out-of-school-suspension for Casey.
On the fourth day Casey made his way to my portable for lunch. Entering, he sat at the second used library table, away from me, but not to far away.
"How was your three day vacation," I asked, not looking in his direction.
"We missed you," my aide said.
"Yeah, it was okay, I slept in everyday," Casey replied.
"Where's your book bag?"
"I'm not carrying it anymore. The flap on the pocket opens to easily, stuff keeps falling out."
I smiled at him, "It's hard to find a good book bag that you can trust. A teacher you can trust lasts longer."
Friday, November 25, 2005
"My family had some health problems."
"Yeah, I know what you mean. My old man shot my moms."
It struck me hard how easily this student accepted the act of violence in his family. Of course, his family was his mother, his two sisters, himself, a half brother almost his age, and a five-month- old half sister. I remember, several months ago, asking him where his father was and being told he was in lockup for "dealin".
"Yeah, my old man got out in October, found out my moms was going out with her probation officer."
All I could do was lean back in my chair listening to the tale unfold from the mouth of this 17-year-old child. Seventeen going on forty in street years. The magnatron tube in the microwave sounded like it was whirling, cooking the "wanna be gangsta's" Ramen Noodle breakfast.
"My pop found her down in the Meadows sitting in her boyfriend's car drinking some 45's. Her boyfriend must of seen my old man coming and got away. Pop shot moms in her shoulder."
The Meadows, a bastion of social reform, is well known around town as a breeding ground for crime. "She okay." I asked?
"Yeah, she's straight. Got out of the hospital last week."
"What about your father?"
"He's in lockup for attempted murder. He didn't mean to murder her just scare her. My old man is straight, if he wanted to kill her she'd be history."
How easily he continued to defend the man amazed me. This man could not be described as a father in the traditional sense. They had never lived as a family. I knew from the boy that his "pop" had mostly been in lockup during the student's seventeen years of life. The bell on the microwave announced the Ramen Noodle breakfast was ready. I watched this child take the hot plastic bowl out of the oven. He carefully balanced the hot bowl in his hands, opening the only door in the portable classroom with his foot, and draining the excess water out of the bowl over the railing of the wooden deck. The liquid starch from countless bowls of noodles stained the ground yellow below the deck attached to the portable.
He returned to one of the two old white library tables I used in the classroom. My belief is that if these students share a table with 5-or-6 other students then negative behaviors could be decreased. Perhaps, it's hard to fight with someone you break bread with five days per week? So far there have been no physical battles just verbal jousting incidents. He tore open the small foil package containing the salty chicken flavored powder and sprinkled it on his hot noodles.
"You going to be here the rest of the year," he ask while stirring the noodles.
"Far as I know." I watched him take the first bite of the noodles, burning his tongue and acting like he hadn't.
"Well, this is the third six weeks and you had some crazy subs taking your place. The principals were in here more then their offices."
"I'm back for good."
"I've only been back from alternative school for two weeks."
"Why did you go there?"
"Damn English teacher said something about my pop. No mother f*!@#r talks about my pop."
"What did you do?"
"Called him a mother f*!@#r and left the class."
The ease that he told me the story left no doubt that he had restrained himself. He could just as easily attacked the teacher with fists, or worse. Most of his noodles were gone and the ringing of first bell announced six minutes before final bell for first period. He looked up at one of three clocks placed around the room and tossed the empty bowl in the trash can. The metal door swung open and I saw his half brother enter the portable.
"Hey man, got any noodles?"
I quickly looked at a clock and told him to help himself. I understood I'd be writing a note to their first period teachers explaining they had been with me doing some "work." Not one of the other teachers would question the notes or explanations for their tardiness. They would silently be thankful for any reprieve, ever how brief, from these and other students.
After a repeat of the noodle cooking ritual from fifteen minutes earlier, some small talk about me being back and no mention of the shooting, the two of them were off to class, notes in hand. There had been no talk of the shooting because the two shared one mother and different fathers. Different, but identical.
The stack of papers on my desk needed to be sorted and meetings scheduled. Meetings with parents that sometimes even showed for the meetings. More often meetings without parents. Just the student and representatives from the school; regular education teachers, special education teachers, assistant principals, and a student with little understanding or caring for the meeting. Now these plans had to be written with the idea that all students will continue on to college after high school.
No Child Left Behind and Lottery Scholarship Money!
How can education fail?
Perhaps, No Child Left Behind, Lottery Scholarship Money, and Ramen Noodles?
"Man, he threw me out of class and told me to go to the principal's office or somewhere. I ain't going to no principal's office. F!@k him, man!"
I heard him before I saw the door fling open and my gangsta stomp into the portable.
"Yeah, I will. That mother f!@#*r," he loudly said, displaying considerable male posturing. "Can I have another bowl of noodles, man?"
Thursday, November 24, 2005
The Master PlanI listened as the disheveled high school boy related how he was going to sue the high school. My feet shuffled under my desk in uncomfortable anticipation of leaving in the mid-afternoon. "I fell up the steps," Conner said.
Eased back to the conversation I looked at him as if I knew what he was talking about. "Why do you need to sue, little fellow?"
"I fell up the steps," he restated.
Thinking about what steps he could have fallen up or down on the leveled land, one-story building, inner city high school, I watched him bend forward and fold his left ear over. This to demonstrate the extent of his injury. I half looked at an injury I could not see and at the same time presenting a look on my face of sincere interest.
"Over next to the science lecture hall."
"Right over there," Conner pointed to the wall of my portable building. Somehow, this high school student, the pride of his family, had found the only place on campus that could be called steps (two) to fall up.
"Did it embarrass you?"
"No, not really. It was during lunch."
The thought passed through my mind how falling in front of many students was less embarrassing then falling up two steps when you're alone? It was quickly replaced by his voice continuing on with the story. "It hurt me right behind my ear. It hurt all night."
"Concrete and human heads are generally an unfair match." I said.
"Wow, you can say that again, but don't. It still hurts," he said, while rubbing behind the opposite ear. I watched him rub the wrong ear and wondered what the real story was?
I would not begin to know the complete story until the School-Resource-Officer approached me. He is a somewhat effective young policeman in a public school setting. "Did Ashton attend all of his classes yesterday," he asked?
"To the best of my knowledge," I half-heartedly assured him, "However, if you need some information about what's going on around here I'd pull him in for a talk."
"Probably a good idea." I watched Officer Hagan walk down the wooden ramp leaving my aged portable classroom. He is generally a man of few words and I suspected few original thoughts. Always on his desk were the school and sheriff's department book of rules and polices, along with a Nintendo game controller. I wondered if he was ever a street cop. I'd heard rumors that he was very good at playing Grand Theft Auto on his game console.
Less than fifteen minutes later I watched the policeman escort Ashton into his office. I was sure he could extract any information he needed and probably some he didn't. Still I had not connected the sore ear, falling up stairs, and the current incident being investigated. Enlightenment would be forth coming within the next thirty minutes.
Almost to the minute Officer Hagan opened my classroom door and allowed Ashton to enter. The SRO leaned into the opening and ask to speak with me.
"What can I help you with, sir." I said, exiting my portable.
"Do you know these five kids?"
I looked at the paper note he cupped in his left hand. I also noticed his right hand resting on a 9mm pistol on his belt. My sense was that he felt safer in that position while on school grounds.
"Sure, I know all their names and at least two of them have spent considerable time in my behavior class."
After I gave him their last names he told me what had occurred, thanked me and again walked down the ramp from my portable. Now the story was getting interesting as I began to put the pieces of the puzzle together. It went something like this.........
During first period two days earlier, Conner, Angelina, Kasey, and two other non-descript players had decided that a joy ride, in a stolen car, was what they needed to break the boredom of a grilling high school schedule. So, being inventive young souls, they found a rundown Mazda to fulfill their desires. The Mazda belong to a friend of Angelina, Cybil.
Cybil would never be mistaken for the sharpest tool in the high school shed. She drove much to fast onto the student parking lot daily, because she could not decrypt the instructions on her alarm clock. Bounding from the tiny four door import she always tossed the car keys on the dash in front of the steering wheel. On the dash in plain sight of one-thousand-and-ninety-five other students, most itching to leave campus during the day. Sometimes, Cybil would comment how good the gas mileage was for her misfiring little Mazda. If she knew the truth, several students borrowed the car daily and some of them even replaced the gas they used.
Angelina, was the leader of the Grand Theft Auto gang. She wanted to smoke a cigarette, pickup a soda, and just ride around. Conner, was not interested in stealing a car. He was interested in Angelina. Going with her meant there was a slim chance he could get closer to her. Especially in a small, four-door Japanese car. He never gave the three other students a second thought about being in the car.
If you're out having fun during second period of a mundane school day, why not speed? Why not speed on a wet two lane country road? Why not speed on a wet two lane country road and pass a cigarette around to five people? When the cigarette takes a tumble from the waiting fingers of the driver, and Conner attempts to rescue Angelina from imminent harm, Kasey reaches from the rear seat to grab the steering wheel. Of course, the automobile was not out of
control until Kasey jerked the steering wheel into a hard right turn. This solved the problem of the hot cigarette in Angelina's lap. It dropped from the seat to the roof as the car tumbled over.
"I hit my head on the roof. Dude, it still hurts," Conner said.
Mustering my concern I ask, "Are you all right?"
"I guess so."
"Which hurt more, the car wreck or falling up the steps?"
Conner, looked at me and you could almost hear the gears turning in his brain. A quick glaze crossed over his teenage face and he said, "You figured it out, man!"
I didn't belay the point, because now Conner understood his story of falling up the steps to cover what really injured his head wouldn't float. He had dedicated most of the night before creating and fine tuning a story to account for his injury. Again, the point had been driven home to him that it is always easier to tell the truth. You don't have to remember as much.
The ending to the great Grand Theft Auto caper was not written for another three days. All of the participates, except Angelina, received three days suspension out of school and the possibility all would be charged by the local authorities. Angelina, was transferred to the area alternative school. Mostly due to her long record of infractions. Conner, took his three days out of school in stride, sleeping late each day, playing Grand Theft Auto on his Playstation, and generally going and coming as he pleased. All believed they were looked upon by their peers as "kool" anti-heros.Conner, returned on day four with the warning that one more infraction of the rules would result in his immediate transfer to the alternative school where Angelina now pursued her education. He lasted ten minutes into the beginning of the school day. He managed to become angry, the reason still remains unclear, and stormed out of his first period class. He now gets to pursue the "love of his life" at the alternative school. I hope Angelina's very large boyfriend, that attends the same alternative school, understands.
Wednesday, March 30, 2005
"Why," I ask knowing the answer.
"I don't want to go to (fill in name) class. All he does is write the questions on one board and the answers on the other board. We copy them all down while he yells at us if we ask a question."
Welcome to Teaching to the Test. Exploration, creativity, motivation are gone. They're also gone from the students. On the rare occasions students are requested to write an original paper the internet is coughed out onto the printed pages. No one cares about plagiarism. No one cares about interpreting thoughts, presenting an original thought, or using a brain given by God or evolved from earlier life forms.
Many teachers want to teach. Just as many are waiting for retirement. Just as many never knew how to teach. However, all are protected by the teachers union. The union long lost sight of what is good for the student. However, the union knows what is good for itself, political power. The group that never knew how to teach do not like students, but like working 180-days-per-year. During the first few weeks of school I hear how long before fall break. Then how long before Christmas break. I state Christmas break instead of holiday break. So much for political correctness. After Christmas we can all worry about when is Spring break, then it's just a few short weeks until school is out for the summer. Yeah! No child left behind, just teaching skills.
Wednesday, March 02, 2005
What is that annoying beeping sound? It seemed to have started off in the distance and was getting closer. Or is it getting louder? Now, I feel as if someone has dumped a bucket of warm water on my face. Wanna-be jokesters often state, "It's not the fall that hurts. It's that sudden stop at the end." I didn't laugh when I hit the floor, with the alarm clock beeping loudly, and my pound-puppy licking my face. I looked up to the couch I had just fell from. The morning sunlight was just beginning it's descent down the city water tank. The concrete tank had become my prime view since it's construction was completed two years earlier. Five-thirty always came much to soon on school mornings. The round thermometer hanging from the broken storm window showed a balmy forty-nine degrees. Another dream of snow melted away.
Four hours later I was listening to another one of the many central office liaisons drone on about No Child Left Behind and how all teachers need to be "highly qualified". Apparently, highly qualified has little to do with certification, degrees, and what you know. It does have everything to do with how much paperwork you can complete. This meeting had gone on to long, but it had given two liaisons excuses to exist for the past hour. Their excitement was wasted on us, but not on each other. They enjoyed comparing "war stories" of their heady days of teaching and the wonderful jobs they had done. After all, that is why they had been asked to transfer to the central office. Perfection!
My students do not care about highly qualified. They care if their teacher is there. For most, it is a "constant" they need. Someone that can be counted on for direction, stability, Ramen Noodles, a small degree of understanding, and discipline. Not one of them live in a two parent home. Only one has had contact with their father. Three of them live with a guardian under the guise of State's Custody. The metal, portable classroom is their anchor in the sea of unrest known as life.
The liaison ask me to sign the latest of the NCLB forms qualifying me as not highly qualified. It didn't matter what I signed. By the next day I believed the "rules" from the federal government would change and No Child Left Behind will morph again. Has the Department of Education in Washington ever educated one child? The understanding that every child should go to college only poses the question to me of: How am I going to get my car repaired or my rusted bathroom pipes replaced? I can't get a house built because the future electricians, drywaller, framers, inspectors, drivers, etc, etc, etc, are to busy in college. This is surely the dark winter of logic in education. Winter? We don't need no stinkin' winter.
Wednesday, February 23, 2005
About the only time this mind-set is interrupted is when a special education student falls through the cracks and is treated as a "regular" student. Such was the case this morning.
"Do you know this student," the assistant principal said, handing me a computer printout of a class schedule.
I glanced at the name before saying, "I've seen him around. What's his problem?"
"His problem is now your problem. He's a special ed student from South Carolina, but his mother didn't mention it when she enrolled him two months ago."
"Well, I'll set him up for an evaluation."
"You might want to write a behavior plan also. He groped two girls on the school bus this morning."
"I'll see what I can do."
"He got three days out-of-school, then he got into an argument with his math teacher and called her a bitch. That got him five more days."
I quickly mentally assessed the severity of the punishment for each offense. One side of the scales contained the physical attack on two younger girls, (three days out-of-school). The other side of the scales was calling the teacher a bitch, (five additional days out-of-school). Before I could pass judgment, silently, the assistant principal continued, "When he comes back I want him in your class all day. Work with him. Connect with him." I understood the translation; If he is with you all day, then he won't be in my office. "Also, he is failing all of his classes. He's got to pass them or he will be counted against the school when the count is taken for No Child Left Behind."
I watched him walk away, leaving me to solve the problem of a sexual attacking, class failing, unknown special education student that has been suspended for the next eight school days. It was just the first period of the day and already the school target scores for No Child Left Behind were in jeopardy. Now was the time for Super Special Education Teacher to save the day. I continued on down the sidewalk to the main building where another assistant principal had one of my students waiting to be saved. He had been caught having sex in the boys restroom. The girl had denied they were having sex. "I was giving him oral sex. It wasn't like we were really having sex," she said. Thank you again President Clinton.
I called the mothers of each student to arrange a date and time for an I.E.P. meeting. Each mother told me how their child was being persecuted by the school and events beyond the student's control. "All he wants is to learn so he can graduate and get a job or maybe go to college," each one said.
"Yes ma'am, I'm sure the I.E.P., we develop as a team, will help."
Sunday, February 20, 2005
Halfway into completing another three-page census form accounting for the number of hours dedicated to completing forms in my job, the metal door, with the Plexiglas window slowly opened. I watched her enter. A young girl of Jordanian decent, short, heavy, and depressed. She had been in many troublesome situations during her four-year high school stay. She was now in her senior year, looking forward to "graduating" with a special education diploma, and trying hard to resist stealing anything else. She had been busted for stealing, twice-a-year, for the past three years. Her favorite target were small, personal, round CD players. I oftentimes joked to myself that she single-handedly kept Sony in the manufacturing business of these players. Another of her hobbies were repeated visits to the local hospital emergency room. I always wanted her to have something medically wrong. Not anything serious. Just enough to have her validated as a legitimate patient.
"Good morning," she said, dropping her unusually heavy book bag on the audio visual cart.
"Morning sweetie. How are you today?" She told me her recent medical history, how she felt last night, how little she slept, and why today might not be a good day.
"What did you do last evening?"
"My sister and mom and me went to the mall. I got a new CD player. Mom, wanted me to get pants, but I didn't.
"What kind of pants."
"Well, I hope you have a great day."
"I got a test today in drivers ed."
"You'll ace it sweetie." I had heard her digging through the book bag. While I continued trying to complete the three-page form something was shoved toward my right hand.
"Happy Valentine's Day."
I looked at the small, white, cup. It was decorated with yellow and red hearts. Inside was a square of cellophane wrapped around individual hard candies.
"For me, Sweetie?"
"Yeah. I got to go and see if my boyfriend came to school today."
Before I could thank her, she was gone. I listened to her plodding down the wooden ramp to the busy sidewalk. The loud chatter of the other two-thousand students quickly drowned out the sound of her foot-steps. The cup sat quietly reminding me of Valentine's Day and that I almost missed the point.
Friday, February 18, 2005
"Yeah, I want to schedule an intake meeting for a returning student," the alternative school counselor said.
"Whose coming back?"
"He's only been away from this high school for three months."
"We sent a letter to the superintendent asking him to waive the other nine months. We're just waiting for him to sign."
"So the boy has experienced a behavior reversal and is ready to return to regular school?"
"He's done very well."
"Does he get his gun back?"
"I got to go. Let me know the day and time that's good for you."
So, Michael was ready to return after three months. I assumed that bringing a loaded 9mm to school just to be cool is still cool. Of course, being placed in a very quiet, small, high school in classes with perhaps ten students cured him of the dangerous behavior. More likely he was not controllable by the principal, like many others, and was pronounced "healed".
The Zero Tolerance policy does nothing more then disguise the state of public education in America. The person, parent or administrator, that screams the loudest gets their way. Teachers don't teach, they police or mingle. The mingle portion is the most frightening. Many pretend to be friends with all students in the hope that a brawl does not breakout in the overcrowded classroom and perhaps someone produces a knife or gun, kills one or more of the students or the teacher will be slain attempting to quiet the fight.
Give me your tired, your poor, the armed masses waiting to end your life. However, we can not leave no child behind. They may be armed and attack you from the back.
Tuesday, February 15, 2005
"Why do they keep coming back," the counselor asked?
"Whose coming back?"
She handed me the re-enrollment form and I read the name. "It could be worse. I remember him as not having perfect behavior, but he seemed like a good kid," I said.
"Do you know how many I registered today?" I didn't know and could care less.
She continued, "Ten students returned here today. You'd think it's August not halfway through Febuary."
My mind had already moved on to my next task in a building far removed from here. What difference did it matter how many kids registered today? If ten returned then ten would leave. Cosmic balance always seemed to prevail and protect students from burned out counselors, teachers, and principals. The only ones it couldn't protect them from were themselves.
All the counselor wanted in the end was for someone to say the classes she typed in to the returning students schedule was okay. I did not care if I validated her efforts, but I did want to move on, "Looks okay to me." I turned, in the small, windowless office, reaching for the edge of the door.
"How was your weekend?"
"Uneventful," I said.
"Mine also. I didn't want to come in today."
I wondered what made her believe she was here. "It's okay. Could be worse by not having a job."
"Oh, wouldn't it be great to lounge around all day."
"Not much different than what you do now."
Before I could make it to the outside door I heard the receptionist tell the counselor, "You have a new student waiting."
"They are like bad pennies. They keep showing up."
I cringed for the student and his single, tired parent waiting for guidance.
And it goes on and on and on..............................
Monday, February 14, 2005
"Hey dude, is that funny little activity guy comin' today?"
"You know, the guy that plays games with us."
"Oh, no, he won't be coming anymore."
"The department had to cut spending and his program was the first."
"That sucks, man."
I've thought about that exchange over the past two weeks. Each time it is brought to mind when the fifth, different "liaison" comes through my door with their pasted on smiles. Not yet has one came in to discuss the welfare or education of a student. Always the dilemma revolves around some new paperwork that the central office can't function without.
The question that I silently pose to myself is, "How many liaisons do you hire before the department topples from the top down?" Monday morning I'll pass out Ramen Noodles to the SPED students. None of them have a two parent home and none have a parent that prepares them a breakfast. Most of the parents or guardians are gone to meager jobs before the kids get up. The rest don't even hear the kids leave. It's amazing so many kids continue to attend school on a regular basis. I've thought it is due to the notion they have no other stable force in their lives then their teacher. Besides, it is hard enough to learn on a full stomach and almost impossible to learn on an empty belly. School lunch programs continue to lose funds while the school makes money from fast food restaurants that have taken over every vacant room surrounding the cafeteria. Generally, the poorest students are special education students. The very ones that can't afford fast food on a daily basis. It's not the only reason the majority of them will not be going to college, but it is a pebble on their rocky life path.
Yes, tomorrow is Monday, a new battle day, but the same old war.
Saturday, February 12, 2005
"I want to fix cars, man. I ain't goin' to no damn college. School sucks!"
How many times has a special education teacher heard these words from a student? As often as they have heard from the school powers and government, "No child will be left behind! They must pass all our standard tests and go on to college." My sense is that the remedial teachers in college are cheering this mind set. After all they are employed to tend to those that are not ready for college.
Let us erase from the public school landscape all resource classes. It doesn't matter if that senior can't read, we'll assign him to an inclusion class where he can again become another faceless body floating on the sea of failure. College awaits him. Maybe he can play football? Wait a second, he can't spell football. In high school it doesn't matter. How many public schools have no special education students on the team? Maybe we can win a state championship before he turns 18-years-old and drops out? Won't dropouts count against our school when the government figures as well as the standard tests scores are released? He can't get a GED while in high school. GED graduates don't count toward our graduation numbers. Okay, we'll drop the GED program as an alternative in public schools. Yes, but we'll be state champions in football!
That's okay, we'll keep non-football playing special education students in high school until they are 22-years-old. That will keep the overall dropout rate statistics artificially low, for a few years. By then, maybe "No Child Left Behind" will morph into another government brainstorm.
And so it goes...................around and around and around and .....................