Friday, November 25, 2005

The Aroma of Success, (or could that be Ramen Noodles)?

"Where you been man," the wanna be gangsta student asked?

"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.

"Calm down."

"Yeah, I will. That mother f!@#*r," he loudly said, displaying considerable male posturing. "Can I have another bowl of noodles, man?"