Monday, May 29, 2006


The semi-annual “catered” faculty breakfast time has arrived. The end of the school year brings forth the caring and the compassion of the school system. The faculty breakfast was a time to acknowledge some things from the year, such as, most of the year a few of the teachers have been nursing a Secret Pal gift exchange, school computers have kept track of the teachers that did not miss any days. (The way I calculate the number should be two.) It is also the time for our leader to step up to a microphone and tell us what a wonderful job we’ve done. Thankfully, most of the speech is drowned out by the sounds of the flatware attacking the food from a local Shoney’s restaurant. Platefuls of biscuits, eggs, bacon, sausage, and sweet rolls daring my newly inserted cardiac stents to try and stay open and unblocked. The food is being devoured by two hundred and some odd people wanting to be set free from their 180-day purgatory.

Officially it is a teacher workday. Students are out of school and told to return the next day, but only long enough to receive their report cards. So, my calendar math goes something like this, no school Saturday, Sunday, Monday (Memorial Day), and Tuesday, but the students are expected to return for five minutes on Wednesday, the last day of school. (2 Long + 2 Wait = 4 Summer)

I would like to think that it is a time for reflection on the past school year. I would like to think that, but the only reflection I’m having is how long it will take me to walk to my truck and escape for the summer. There are people I’ll miss seeing everyday during the break, three to be precise. Not one of them will be a teacher. Holding the number one place on my list is Mr. Benjamin, day custodian for the main building. He is 84-years-old and has not missed a workday since I’ve known him.

Five mornings each week, starting at 6:00 A.M., he pushes his cart through the hallways. Cleaning restrooms, sweeping entrance rugs, washing glass on the entrance doorways, but most importantly he dispenses a smile and a “Good Morning” to students and teachers. Each morning after reporting absences and checking my mailbox it’s time to stop for a brief moment and talk with him. Our conversations always begin the same way, with a handshake.

“Good morning sir.”

“Morning young fellow,” he always replies while we shake hands.

“I see you’re learning from me. Hiding out in the open is the best way to hide.” Our stale joke continues each day.

“You must be slipping. I saw you sitting in your truck yesterday afternoon.”

“Well, I have a lot to learn from you because I didn’t see you.” We both laughed while looking up and down the four hallways that intersects where we’re standing.

I’ve come to value Mr. Benjamin. Not for wit and wisdom, but for his presence. Most days I’ll have a newly assigned student to my classroom walk with me when I make my morning rounds. One of our stops will be to talk with Mr. Benjamin.

“Good morning sir.”

“Morning young fellow.” Mr. Benjamin replies.

“This is Mr. Washington. He’s one of my fine new students.” Mr. Benjamin reads the students very well sometimes offering his hand or sometimes just greeting them with a “Hello”.

“You in some kind of trouble young man?”

“No dude.”

“Most of the time you’re in trouble to be walking with this man.” Mr. Benjamin never pushed the point with any of my students. He just stated the facts as he saw them. “You hiding out in the open again?”

“Not this time. I’m just getting my mail,” I said.

“That’s the best way to hide. Act like you’re doing something.” He laughed the old man’s laugh. A laugh of knowledge without making it seem he had it.

“I believe I learned this from you.”

“No, you just fine tuned the skill.” He laughed again and gave the young student the once over again. “How you keep those pants up son?” Mr. Washington pulled his sagging pants up on his hips.

“Their okay. It’s just me being me.”

“You’re not being you son. You’re being everyone else.” I noticed the look on the teenagers face and guessed Mr. Benjamin’s words were not lost on him.

The cart started to move toward the next restroom that needed cleaned. Mr. Benjamin looked over his shoulder and said, “See you later young fellow.” I understood he wasn’t talking to me.

“See you around old dude.” The comment came from the student, but with no disrespect.

Mr. Benjamin stopped and turned toward Mr. Washington. For a brief moment he gave a look of a man that understood that someone a fourth of his age might have a chance to be successful. Successful in spite of the world he was growing up in.

“Remember young fellow listen to this man here.” He nodded toward me and turned to roll his cart on to its destination. “Where ever you go in life young fellow be careful, school food is still school food.”

Thursday, May 25, 2006


Science Question: How Much Does A Ford Taurus Weigh?

This has nothing to do with my class of sometimes lost academics. As the close of school nears I find myself frequently standing outside my portable. I don’t stand far away. The decayed pressure treated deck does well to support my bulk. I keep the metal door with the stylish plexiglass window propped open with my foot. This stance allows me to hear the conversations flowing around the class and to watch the students traversing the paved street between the annex building and the main building. At times it even allows me to dream about making a dash for my truck across the parking lot and escaping.

However, this time of the school year is bitter sweet. The seniors are mere days away from graduating after clawing their way to the top of the academic heap, only to find themselves at the bottom again out in the real world. Many of the familiar ones I have a few memories of seeing daily. The vast majority of them have never darkened the threshold of my classroom. The two lovebirds leaning against the hood of the dirty black Honda SUV perhaps should have spent some time in my class, but it was to late now.

The supreme mortal sin a student can commit in high school is to park in a teacher’s reserved parking spot. The second worst sin is to allow the teacher to discover your identity after they have parked across the parking space effectively blocking the intruder in for the day. The third on this list is for the student to be enrolled in said teacher’s class. Many teachers view a reserved slot as one of the few perks of a difficult job. I enjoy having my own parking space, but other job perks are more important and more elusive. Now back to the lovebirds.

The blue Ford Taurus had blocked them in earlier in the morning. They sat on the Honda hood, holding hands, and trying to figure a solution to their dilemma. I had watched them for over ten minutes. They had walked into the annex two times I’m assuming to ask if anyone knew the owner of the Taurus. I deduced they had been trying to sneak away from school, but had been foiled in their attempt by some “rude” teacher. A friend of theirs came by, looked into the Ford, said something and walked into the annex. He was back in a few minutes without any help for the couple.

By this time I observed the dark haired girl beginning to show anger. She no longer held her boyfriend’s hand. He attempted to kiss her cheek, but she pulled away. Her words were lost to me as a pickup truck with the normal “boom, boom, boom” sound system passed by the parking lot. My guess was another student skipping out early trading the ability to sneak for the hope of being cool. When I looked back toward the couple the girl was pointing her finger at the boy’s face expressing her angry desire to leave.

I looked at the Honda SUV with its six-inches of ground clearance. I gazed at the curb behind the SUV and judged it to be three inches tall. The angry girl was separated from the freedom of the street by a mere three inches. Briefly, I thought the solution had occurred to the girl. She walked around behind the SUV standing there for about twenty seconds staring down at the curb. Then she kicked the spare tire mounted on the back of the vehicle and returned to the front of the SUV to point her finger into her boyfriend’s face, again.

Then a solution came to them both almost at the same time. They kissed each other and proceeded with their plan. I suppose at moments like these a school should have the right to reexamine the awarding of a high school diploma. Perhaps a portion of high school credits should encompass a student’s ability to be prepared for the “real” world? At the very least the awarding of a science or physics credit should be reassessed. The two students took their places at the front and back of the offending Ford Taurus. For a reason that completely confuses me the young graduating senior girl posted herself at the front of the Ford. (I apologize for my politically incorrect maleness. Not really.) The boy took his place at the rear. Women’s lib is alive and well in 2006. They both bent forward and grasped the Taurus. The girl nodded her head three times and then they both jerked upward on the car. They had come up with a solution. Not a good solution, but a solution.

The boy’s face displayed surprise. My sense was the surprise was not from thinking the car might really float up in the air and be displaced by the couple, but from the pain that was now radiating down through his back. The girl fell over on the hood and quickly rose to shout something at the boy who was trying to stand erect. Perhaps if they had lifted with their legs? Her anger became more evident as she struck the hood of the Taurus with her purse and stomped into the annex. The boy was left behind trying to figure out why the car didn’t move and his back did.

I didn’t have the joy of seeing how the science experiment ended. I assume the teacher came out at some point and drove off. My hope was that these two were not to late for their appointment, graduated happily, and faced their destiny successfully in life beyond high school.

Science Question: How much does a Ford Taurus weigh?
Answer: Enough.

Sunday, May 21, 2006


As most teachers can testify students come and students go. Occasionally one will linger in your thoughts after graduation, that special academic scholar, the class leader, a star athlete, an outstanding musician, or a student that brightens your first period each day. This year the student that I will miss is none of these. Most of the time BB is a pain in the rear. He seldom spoke English. Screaming to get your attention was his favorite form of communication. Spaghetti O's is his lunch of choice every day. Standing a mere five feet tall, with very thick glasses, most teeth missing, and the worst chapped lips on the planet BB had the general look of a 70-year-old-man. Oh, did I mention his bowed legs?

At 6:20 A. M., every school morning, the yellow short bus deposited BB on the sidewalk outside of the school annex building. Some mornings he would leap from the bus and run head long into me, screaming, "BB, BB". We would hug before he attempted to explain the toy soldier he always carried. Frequently it was the same soldier. He tried to explain something different about the toy. Then with the abandonment of a puppy, I stopped existing, and he would run into the annex.

Some school mornings he chose to ignore me. He acted out imagined anger that went on for hours. By lunch again he ran headlong to get a hug. On some days he would "hide" under the cafeteria dining table until I acknowledged his prank. BB will graduate this year at the age of eighteen. His grandmother and lifelong guardian decided BB would travel America with her husband and herself in an RV. BB could stay in high school until he turned twenty-two, but the time has come for him to see America.

At 8:30 A. M. I watch from my portable classroom as BB slams through the glass annex doors running to get aboard the yellow short bus. BB participated in the school-to-community work program. His favorite job sight was the Food Lion grocery store. He was also a favorite of theirs. On the event of a man making fun of BB while bagging the man's grocery the manger refunded the customer's money and told him not to return to the store. With the help of a job coach BB loved to work. His favorite assignment was moving food carts back into the store. He was a vision. His five-foot, one hundred pound frame trying to maneuver a string of fifty carts across a busy parking lot was entertaining to the customers. He never lost control of the carts. The parked cars were always safe.

The lesser memory I have of BB is his attendance at the senior prom. The gym is not air conditioned, but it was beautifully decorated. The decorations were lost on BB. He quickly stripped himself of the tuxedo jacket. He “disco” danced and watched the girls. He consumed twenty-three cups of punch drink. He threw up and then fell asleep on the toilet in the restroom. It was a wonderful prom for a graduating senior.

I would like to bask in the glory of my collective teachings I’ve imparted upon BB. I just can’t recall any. However, I can bask in the teachings of BB, like how to smile at 6:20 A.M., or how to bump a lunch line without upsetting the “normal” students, and the way of making people on a job site appreciate how much different their lives could be, or hugging just for the sake of hugging, and how much I miss playing with toy soldiers.

BB is graduating on this fine Sunday from high school. I’m not sure the high school will ever be the same? I know I won’t be the same. He and his family sets out to see America on Monday. Be prepared America, BB is on his way.


Rimscape is not an online fantasy game. It is a reality.

One of the saving graces of being an emotionally disturbed genius is creating your own reality and then living in it. I first encountered Lucas while he was sitting cross-legged on the gym floor silently refusing to participate. His principal had approached me to "help" Lucas by tricking him into dressing out for Wellness. The class use to be called Physical Education. No one in a government school should physically tax students. So the name was changed to Wellness. I suppose this new name is used to encompass the total person and to aid them into becoming a well person. Never mind that Lucas could not walk from one end of the campus to another without resting. The long tenured Wellness teacher has no tolerance for non-conforming students. Looking at my class list throughout the year testifies to the idea that non-conforming students quickly come to my class for the semester from Wellness class. Lucas is about as far from conforming as a student can become.

My first encounter with Lucas was very quiet. He may have had a lot to say to me, but he didn't. I left him sitting on the "Wellness" floor after telling him he could drop by my portable haven when he wanted. The principals expects me to make a difference in these student's lives and intercept them before they make it to their office again. I did not see Lucas again for one month.

Checking my teacher's mailbox on a Tuesday morning has become a behaviorist treat. On Mondays I find the normal bureaucratic pabulum. This includes edicts from the school board, and the school department chair, and from the liaisons in the Special Education department at the central office. Is there a commonality between the Central Party from the Cold War days and the central office we all answer to now? In my mailbox on Tuesday mornings are the referral sheets from the principals to "help" the students that had occupied their offices on Monday afternoon.

Tucked in with the other notes was a brief note instructing me to check in with the Honors Geometry teacher, Ms. Bottomline. Lucas is a student in her fourth period class telling me why I should check with her. The vision of him sitting on the gym floor not communicating clashed with my previous impressions of Honors Geometry. I could not and didn't care to argue with Ms. Bottomline's teaching style. She has been teaching the same class for twenty-six years. She teaches to the test, producing very good standardized scores and students. If anything is positive about Lucas it's his non-standardized persona.

After checking when her planning period was scheduled I entered her doorless room at the beginning of third period. All of the classrooms in the main building of the high school are doorless. The school had been built during the seventies trend of open classrooms. A time when the belief was that teaching crossed from one teacher to another and one student to another. Teaching by osmosis was a trend whose time long came and went. Now the school board was funding one door at a time enclosing each classroom. This year alone, one door was funded. It was not in Honors Geometry.

"How are you young lady," I asked Ms. Bottomline? My approach to each teacher is different. None of them view me as a "real teacher". Ms. Bottomline sometimes responded well to my good old country boy personality.

"What can I do with Lucas?"

I looked at her feigning my innocence, "What's he doing?"

"Nothing except drawing weird characters for some sort of computer game." Her desire to have him out of her class was barely masked by her anger for a student not conforming.

I had been quietly following any progress Lucas was or was not making in his classes for the past month and I knew the answer to this question. "How are his grades in Geometry?"

"He won't write notes, won't work in group. He won't even help on class projects!"

Okay, it's tooth pulling time. "But, what kind of grade is he making?"

"He's failing the class. He has no grades for anything except tests."

"How bad are his tests grades?"

The loudness and indignity mostly disappeared from her voice. "He gets one-hundred on all of his tests."

I could have replied in many different ways. I chose the politically correct response. "So you've found a way to penetrate his diagnosis of Emotionally Disturbed and teach to him?"

"But he's not doing any of the work I assign."

"So he doesn't participate and still makes hundreds on all tests?"

"Right, but that's not fair to the other students." I wanted to say it appeared that she thought it wasn't fair to her as a teacher. This student was absorbing everything that came from her and was spouting it back on the tests achieving perfect scores. This was not the time to expound on my belief that fair meant each student gets what they need to be successful. They do not get what everyone else has.

"Is there a chance that you could grade him on his tests scores and disregard everything else he is not doing?"

"That wouldn't be fair."

"Would your life be easier," I asked?

"Well, yes."

"And we would be compliant with the accommodations listed on his Individualized Educational Plan?" I was trying to guide her into being compliant with the law.

"It says he doesn't have to do assignments, but just take tests?"

"No, it says we will accommodate his unique disability. We should attempt to guide him during his high school career trying for academic success."

"Well?" She wanted me to say I could take him out of her fourth period class and shelter him in my classroom. I was not prepared to do that just now. However, I knew in the near future Lucas would become a permanent fixture at one of my computer monitors during fourth period. What I did not foresee was Lucas attempting to drag me into his Rimscape computer world. He would begin to share daily with me the "exciting" world of a computer game "reality". The game Lucas stayed up most of the night exploring. Exploring his reality and trying to ignore his twin brother's form of computer reality inside the same Rimscape world.

The only reality is the one we live in. Perhaps it is Rimscape? Perhaps it is the government school system. Perhaps it is the one we nurture with our students while we attempt to demonstrate that many things are important in our lives. It might even be school at some point.

Reality? What a concept.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

The Family That Attacks Together,
Generally Are Jailed Together

It should be that a teacher could be shocked from time to time in the course of their daily class gatherings. To be true to myself I'm jaded. I believe my actions on behalf of my forgotten students speak for me. My collection of students has generally spread carnage in their regular classes. Administrators and teachers in this over-populated high school view my program as the last stop for their 'hoods and huns" before expulsion from school. My view is that of a halfway house preparing these students to return to the general population. The students, all of them, see my classroom as a safe haven sometimes from teachers, from administrators, but mostly from their life outside of school. It is probably all of these interpretations. My greatest ally and my greatest nemesis is the No Child Left Behind Program. A program developed by the feds for their government schools. This barely successful law makes it very difficult to get rid of a problem student.

Now, to the days event that continued to add to my education in family values. The family values that are in stark contrast to the values of a teacher born and raised in the fifties and sixties.

"Good morning Marty," I said.

I watched the normally grumpy student come into his first period class. I wondered if this was the week he was speaking to me?

"Hey dude," he replied. This must be the week. He sat, looking around the empty room. My assumption was that he was waiting for an audience larger than one.

"We missed you yesterday."

"Yeah, I wasn't here." His attention and clarity were amazing. He didn't have long to wait. Four of his morning classmates came in wanting nothing more then to go to sleep. Each one perked up a little when they saw him sitting at the table. If Marty knew the truth about the way his posse talked about him when he was absent he would still tell them outlandish stories, but he would dislike each fellow student even less then he did now.

"Man, me and my boy was chillin' out at my mom's place Tuesday night. I was in court all day yesterday. Somebody put a knife at my throat I don't want to press no charges. My old lady pressed them. I just wanted to take care of them myself."

After so many years of hearing this type of English drivel come out of their mouths I'm sad to say that I understood all he was saying. I knew I did not have to become part of the conversation to collect all of the information. Perhaps even some information the juvenile court judge did not have. I appeared to become absorbed in my morning paperwork. All five of them quickly forgot I was in the room.

"I was hangin' with my boy when Caesar, his step mom, sister, and his old man pulled up in our yard. I went outside. Me and Caesar hang together. Before I knew what was happenin' all four of them knocked me to the ground and Caesar had a knife at my throat. He told me he was going to kill my white ass. One of the neighbors called the cops. My old lady didn't. When they heard the cop cars comin' they all got in his step mom's car and got the hell out of the yard. The cops got them over in the next block and arrested all of them. I had to go to court yesterday."

I would hear the story several times throughout the school day. Each time a bit of embellishment was added by Marty. By the end of the day I had pieced the story together. Marty has a girlfriend, Angel, he is on the outs with since the weekend. She had a relationship with Caesar before she moved on to Marty. Marty had decided to move on briefly to Tiffany, just for a weekend, then back to Angel on Monday. However, Angel had decided to get even with Marty. Evidently she had called Caesar to inform him that Marty was going to kick his ass the next time Marty caught him on the street.

It is safe to say that marijuana was involved in both camps. Caesar dealt drugs and used them with his whole family. Marty, on the other hand, gets his stuff from Caesar. All of the participants were high. When Angel told Caesar his step mom became worried that her best salesman would be injured so she gathered the whole family together and drove over to Marty's rented house.

Marty had been inside his house with a friend smoking marijuana. His mother was in the back room of the house drinking with her current boyfriend. She could not have called the police even if she had heard the attack. The next day in court she could not string together enough of the facts to press charges.

Thankfully the police pressed charges for reckless driving, driving under the influence, juvenile probation violation, and driving without a license. Caesar's whole family managed to get locked up until a future court date.

Marty was inconvenienced having to go to court. A small footnote, Marty did lose his stash to his friend that was smoking with him. This brave soul ran out the back door when the attack began taking Marty's stuff with him. Perhaps the worst punishment any of the characters received would be Marty's misfortune. He got Angel back.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

How To Steal A Car And Get Caught

I 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 level land, where the one-story inner city high school was constructed, I watched him bend forward and fold his left ear over 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 government 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 Burns 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 was the school and sheriff's department book of rules and polices, along next to 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 to me within the next thirty minutes.

Almost to the minute, Officer Burns opened my classroom door and allowed Ashton to enter. The SRO leaned into the opening and asked 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 grueling high school schedule. So, being inventive young souls, they found a rundown Mazda to fulfill their desires. The Mazda belonged to a friend of Angelina, Cybil Livingston.

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 in plain sight of one thousand and ninety seven 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? Then the cigarette took a tumble from the waiting fingers of the driver, and Conner attempted to rescue Angelina from imminent harm. Kasey reached 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 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 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 strong 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 their partners in crime were “kool” anti-heros.

Conner, returned on day four with a warning from his principal 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.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

The Whales Are In Danger!

Morris doesn't have Downs Syndrome. His diagnosis states he has this disability, but with all due respect to his mother, doctors, grandmother, and late father, the rest of us have Downs Syndrome and Morris is the "normal" one.

He graduated from high school in 2005 after turning eighteen, but will continue his education until he is twenty-two. He participates daily in a non-paid work program. I see him frequently in the morning getting on the yellow short school bus to be transported to a burger place one week and perhaps a grocery store the next week, and then maybe to wrap eating utensils at a pizza place the next week. He often says his favorite work places are the restaurants. His favorite food is chicken. The fondness and capacity he has for the Kentucky Colonel's creation, extra crispy, is astounding. Perhaps there is a research study somewhere attempting to discover the allure that chicken has for some people with disabilities? Regardless, he loves his chicken.

What he doesn't love is anyone with a disability. He does not like to associate with "them". Many times he has told me he does not have a disability he's buff. All 5' 2", 273 pounds, black hair, muscle shirt, and sagging pants, buff. The only time he seems to overcome another's disability is when a young lady in his class or work program becomes his girlfriend. He is a buff ladies man with frequent girlfriends. Not the going out on date type girlfriend, but the standing on the school sidewalk before lunch waiting on them, then chasing behind when they don't stop on the way to the cafeteria.

For the most part our conversations go like this;
"Good morning, Morris."
"Good," he replies.
There was a time when he was assigned to my classroom for a brief two week period for the whole school day. He had assignments from other teachers to work on during the day. However, the only assignments he would attempt were math. Probably because he got to use plastic checkers to count.
"Morris, what is six minus three?" With a box of checkers dumped on the table in front of him he would separate six of them. Then he began taking one away at a time until he had the answer.
"Three..................." and so on regardless of the the problem being solved. This loud counting went on for three periods each morning. Over and over and over and................................

Then lunch time came. His internal clock went off each morning at 11:15 A.M. "It's time for lunch." The excitement in his voice was undeniable. At that announcement he took out his insulated lunch bag from his wheeled book bag. The only thing he ever transported in this book bag was his lunch.

After opening the lunch bag he carefully laid out his lunch in the following order on the table;
Chicken sandwich
Fruit cup
Two cookies
A carton of milk
Two bite size candy bars.

I remember as a child my mother telling me to chew each bite 32 times for good digestion. Morris was not counting, but he intently stared at his sandwich after each bite while chewing a certain number of times. This went on until his lunch was consumed and washed down with the milk. Then he returned to his assignment;

There was a time, right out of college, when I was surely in the "Save The Whales" mode of education. I and my classmates were going to change the academic world by enlightening each and every student. I must have a small piece of that remaining deep inside. From time to time I know I'm going to make a difference in Morris' life. The latest time came during one of his sidewalk waits for a current girlfriend. I was returning to my portable classroom and could not help but pass him. He didn't look in my direction as I passed so intent was he on waiting for a girl.

"Hello Morris."
"Good," he said.
"That's not the appropriate answer, Morris. When someone says hello you should reply, Hello Mr. Best."
He looked at me through his glasses and with extreme lucidity he said, "What if it ain't you?"

With all due respect to his mother, doctors, grandmother, and late father, the rest of us have Downs Syndrome and Morris is the "normal" one. In a flash of clarity I understood I had been put in my place and teaching was on a long lunch break.

Friday, May 12, 2006


Why Are Shackles Inhuman?

I'm an old "fuddy-duddy". In my time on this spinning rock the definition of shackles has changed many times in my cerebral dictionary. I read The Diary of Anne Frank and understood the shackles that are imposed mentally and physically, many times by others. Then I see some of my students out in the "hood" and I grasp the concept of environmental shackles. On a daily basis in the classroom I'm slapped across the academic face by the shackles created from missing parents, single-parent "families", and just plain uncaring "parents".

Of the multitude of governmental shackles thrust upon citizens No Child Left Behind has tightened itself around the academic wrist of some students that need reality. Not the "reality" of the SAT score, the "insistent reality" that every student should attend college, and surely not the "reality" that if you score a certain number on a standardized test then your life will be set firmly in success.

What about the young mind that can take a lawn mower engine apart inside their head and even put it together again, or the hands that can transform a stack of lumber into a dining table, and the young souls that small children relate to in the realm of child care? It is so easy to expound on the lack of teaching knowledge and virtues when students don't pass into a standardized life, such as the students that have no family support, the ones that exercise their math skills counting the days until their eighteenth birthday and can quit, or the ones that find a "reality" in the quick buck mentality of the streets, and the ones that receive their esteem from developing a "street cred". A student that shoots a store clerk twice just to have others look at him with "respect".

Many teachers find themselves in the quicksand position of teaching to the test, especially in the core classes. Mostly, what is missed is that life after high school is the test. There was a time when public schools were more then a babysitting service. They were the focal point of the community. The pride of the richest, poorest, and all falling between these two. Now these institutions have morphed into government schools. Controlled by the State Department of Education. A government agency that has never educated a student and never will, but exercises a strangle hold on local school boards through the disbursement of federal money. It is not so much that school systems need federal money as they want federal money.

Technology is the current emphasis and watch word. The more computers and related hardware that can be crowded into a classroom then more education that must be taking place. The real technology of the classroom is the cell-phone, text messages, and iPods. Of course, the one thing that just about guarantees placing a teacher in a dangerous, confrontational position is demanding that a student give up their cell-phone if caught having it out during class or outside of class. This teacher is also expected to disregard another teacher just outside the school building using their cell-phone while trying to reason with an angry student being told they can't have their cell phone back.

"Hey, I'm Thomas, but my boys call me Street."
This new student had transferred in today from another county system that suggested with his difficulties there with academics and the court system he would do much better transferring. His family, an older sister, took the hint and moved out of the jurisdiction of that court system.
"Have a seat. Do you have your class schedule yet?"
"I lost it man."
"You lost it between the guidance office and here?" A distance of about 246 feet.
"Guess so."
"Well, I'll get you another one."
"Don't matter, I'll just lose it too."
I looked at this student. He dressed like most of the others. Sagging pants, oversized t-shirt with a cryptic advertising message that only a street kid cared to understand, a shiny "grill" covering his upper teeth, and a large chain around his neck with a fake medallion hood ornament from a Mercedes attached. The more he tried to dress to be different and cool, the more he looked and acted like the other students.
"Where do you live," I asked?
"You know, over in the 'hood."
"What grade you in Thomas?"
"Don't matter. They call me Street."
"I don't use nick names in this class."
"I don't give a damn about this class or this school. I'll be eighteen in two months and I'll be gone."
"What are you going to do when you're out of school?"
"What I always do. I make money. I don't need no loser job like yours."
"I see. Then you have a plan."
"What I always do, dude."
"Do you want to get another copy of your schedule?"
"No, dude. I'm tired. I been up all night. I need to rest." With those enlightening words he pulled the hood on his Jordan jacket over his head and fell asleep. The other students in the class looked at me with the same expressions on their faces that was now being hidden by Street's hood.

This kid has embraced the shackles of his life. No Child Left Behind, more technology, teaching to the test, and government school plans mean nothing to him. He has a plan, an agenda for life and knows he is not going to be left behind by the street. At least for a short period of time.