Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Anarchist, Emo, Loser?

Joe wants to be different. His MySpace site states his current beliefs; "Anarchy, EMO, Loser, Faggit, Call Me What You Want!" He changes his pictures on the site almost daily. Also, his "beliefs" change almost as frequently. He dedicates considerable time in my class attempting to discuss MySpace with a fair sprinkling of less than accurate information about Hitler, terrorists, politics, his championship BMX riding skills, the failures of public schools, etc., etc., etc.

Joe is of Middle Eastern descent, 5' 2" tall, approximately 200 pounds, generally dresses in black, and uses markers to write LOVE - HATE across the tops of his fingers. His makeup, when he can smuggle it past his mother in the mornings, is black eye shadow and black mascara. He strives to be Gothic without ever stating he is Gothic. It is fine if others call him Gothic because then he prides himself in others recognizing what he wants to be in life. Doing any school work is out of the question. Failing is a badge of honor proclaiming how others see him. I do not want to lose sight of Joe's intelligence masquerading as a Goth inside his behavior. I like him very much and he knows I do.

Joe rolled into my portable during fourth period today. Sitting himself next to me at the large white library table I utilize as seating. Sometimes, I feel like Grandpa Walton and then at times I feel like Al Capone holding court. Surrounding myself with the students assigned to me has eliminated many of the negative interpersonal behaviors that cause them to come to me. I shoved a folded note to my right for Joe.

"What's this," he asked?

"Looks like a piece of paper," I said.

"What's on it?"

"I wrote you a love note."

"Oh, sarcasm," he said opening the note.

I had written a small spelling lesson based upon what I had read on his MySpace page;


Joe you can't be an ANARCHY, but you can be an ANARCHIST.
If you're striving to be something else then you can't be a FAGGIT, but you can be a FAGGOT. However, regardless what people think you are, you remain Joe.

He had no comment about about the note. However, he did have something to say about his MySpace site.

"Have you looked at my MySpace?"

"Why would I waste my time?"

"All teachers are nosy."

"If you didn't want people to see your site then it wouldn't be there."

Some of the other students joked about what he had said about teachers being nosy. We both ignored them. Joe understood that I had taken time to read his writings and perhaps I did so because I am interested in his well being.

It's now been two days since the note exchange. I just checked Joe's MySpace site. The spellings and usage have been corrected. More importantly though the picture of him giving the world "The Finger" while wearing a mask has been replaced by a picture of him giving the world "The Finger" without a mask.

A very small victory for him in what I hope is a long life.

Monday, January 29, 2007


I adore hanging out with Annie. I suppose I should clarify that statement? Each school morning around 6:45 A.M. I walk out to greet the first SPED school bus arriving at the high school. There are three students on the bus, but only Annie burst from the opening doors with a wide-eyed excitement of a person seeing the place for the first time. Each morning she looks out at the building as if it is the first time seeing the place and "coos", wearing her jacket hood over her headphones. Headphones that are not connected to anything. She decided years ago that these headphones would become a permanent part of her fashion style.

After the other two students have departed the bus Annie will stand and wait holding her hand outward. Waiting for me to take her hand and escort her down the two steps. She smiles and looks around at the school seeing it for the first time and stepping down like a Southern Belle making her debut. Running ahead of me she burst into the cafeteria, stops, looks around and takes a seat at one of the long white tables. These are the same tables that everyday at lunch she eats the white chunks of tofu her mother sends for her lunch. I do not think that Annie likes tofu. She shoves each one of the two inch square chunks into her mouth and swallows after very little chewing. Her mother long ago decided that 5' 10" tall Annie needed to lose some of her 110 pounds and become more healthy. Just last week though it was discovered that after eating tofu for lunch for months, plus the giant pretzels and donuts offered to her by other students and some teachers she had gained 15 pounds. She looks and acts very healthy.

Perhaps, I should mention that Annie is autistic. She explores the world around her from inside her own world. I adhere to the theory that she is locked inside herself and may be struggling to communicate with the stimuli around her. More importantly to me I find her to be a wonderfully, delightful young student. Sometimes she will say hello. Mechanical gadgets attract her like a moth to a flame. She loves turning fans, lights, and such on and off. Laughing loudly, when these items surge into their action, the excitement is very entertaining to her. It is so easy to become bogged down in describing Annie's autism. I do not want to write an educational observation narrative.

One unusually warm January morning I had assisted Annie off the SPED bus and we were sitting at the cafeteria table. She behind me as I sat looking out the glass doors waiting for other students and teachers to arrive. I was enjoying a good monologue with Annie, occasionally turning my head to direct the words toward her. Questions that would not be answered by her.

"Did you have a good weekend Annie?"

No answer from the other side of the table.

"Don't you think it's hot for January?"

No answer from the other side of the table.

"Are you going to have a great day?"

No answer from the other side of the table.

"You're very quiet this morning Annie."

The fire alarm startled me. Jumping up I saw Annie standing next to the wall mounted fire alarm switch. It was pulled down, she was holding her headphones even tighter against her head, and she was looking around trying to find the source of the loud obnoxious noise. I ran to her to console her hopefully out of the fear racking her brain. I stopped the two other students from going outside while I frantically tried to get my key out to open the office and call the fire department. They needed to know it was a false alarm. However, everything was working against me trying to report. The keys were trapped in my jeans pocket, Annie was scared and shaking, the other two students continued to insist it was a fire and wanted outside. To the department's credit the firemen arrived in approximately six minutes. I looked at the four brave firemen burst into the cafeteria ready to save lives and structure!

After trying to explain to the firemen, I was not being very successful. I tried getting the two other students to calm down and stay back some distance. Annie was still shaking badly and looking around. One of the firemen succeeded in shutting the noise off.

"We're going to have to report a false alarm and someone is going to be in trouble," the lead firemen said.

"Well, I understand. Perhaps you need to interview the culprit?"

"Yes sir, we'll need the name of the student that set the alarm off."

I turned Annie around and faced her toward the fireman. "Annie say hello to the fireman."

"Hellooooo," she complied.

"Hi young lady," the fireman said.

"Hellooooo," she said again.

He looked at her and then at me. "Autism," I said.

"Oh. Well, I guess we've done all we can do here. Watch her closer."

"I will."

Annie and the Great Fire Alarm Caper came to an end except for some paperwork I had to complete. Annie was very subdued for quite sometime. She walked a wide birth around all mechanical gadgets for the rest of the day.

Occasionally You Get Fooled

Occasionally you get fooled when experience suggests that what you can expect is for a parent not to show for a meeting. Or you can suspect a confrontational exchange in how the government school and every teacher has failed their innocent, precious child. I wondered which case it would be this morning? Or would it be a new scenario?

Mr. "Smith's" son is a junior in high school. A fine young man that was not always so fine. In prior schools he frequently initiated fights. Joshua is more then vaguely familiar with alternative schools having been sent away several times by beleaguered government schools attempting to control their environment.

This father showed for the behavior meeting ready to defend his son. Generally, defend would imply an adversary which was not the case. He defended his son because of love, caring, and compassion. He freely told of family difficulties such as a mother fighting her own demons, an older brother hopefully completing an incarceration of four years, and his son now in our high school trying to overcome temptations of being a teenage male. Joshua is not much different then any other teenager. He loves his girl, his car, and his saggin' pants. Perhaps not in that order. Joshua's father is more concerned that his son believe he was on the his side. It appeared he and his son have a long history of the boy doubting his father's support.

Mr. "Smith" loves his son. He politely defended him to the principal that had suspended the boy for three days from high school, "I've taught my son not to start a fight, but to defend himself if he is attacked."

The principal is also a self-ordained southern preacher and has slowly came to the belief that he can "save" students from themselves. However, it should be noted that only select students are worthy of being "saved". The principal will deem which are to be blessed. "I understand what you say, but he was involved in a fight. He should have made the decision to walk away after being hit.", the principal said, leaning back in his desk chair.

I watched more then listened to the exchange between the father and the principal/preacher. Mr. "Smith" wanted badly to be a hero in his son's eyes and the preacher absent-mindedly pushed the buttons on his desk phone appearing to be detached from the situation. Mr. "Smith" attempted to explain the relationship he was trying to repair with his 16-year-old-son before it was to late. The principal wanted to get to the homecoming pep rally.

I do not want the principal to appear in a bad light. He has put in over thirty years as a teacher and assistant principal, seeing his share of troubled students and troubled parents. He found a voice for his frustration in his religion, perhaps a voice speaking more to his own mortality then the needs of a student in a government school?

The meeting was a short one, only twenty minutes or so. Mr. "Smith" wanted to continue talking with me as I walked him to his car. He wanted me to know how much he loves his son struggling to find common ground for them to share, e.g., football, working on cars, going to drag races, and etc. All the things a man of the 60's and 70's excelled in and wanted to share with his son. He only had one request of me, "Could you please find a way to let my son know that I stood up for him?"

I reassured him of this and watched him drive off in the 60's muscle car that he was trying to restore with his son's help.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


Thanks Hank for giving us the above title. Six portable classrooms were moved this fall. One of them was mine. The logical plan was to move them during the fall break. That was the plan. However, the movers had other plans. They did not start until the last day of the break. Their excuse was they could not find the most prominent 88 acres, with an unusually large series of tan block buildings, setting next to an Interstate exit, holding 2300 students, in the middle of one of the fastest growing cities in the South.

Of course, the move started the day all students returned to the campus. My little band of students were shuffled off to one of the two school cafeterias. The promise of being inconvenienced for only one week rang in my ears for the next two months. It was true that the move only took one week. However, because these twenty-year-old trailers were moved, they had to be brought up to state and local codes. This procedure involved approximately nine different special teams of workers and inspectors. These groups never seemed to be following a single game plan nor could they communicate with each other. So, as the cold of winter swept into the geographical bowl housing our fine government school, we all sat looking out through the glass walls of the cafeteria. Frequently amused by the circus we witnessed, more often we saw no human workers for days. I did notice that many mornings around 6:30 A.M. a county government truck parked beside the relocated trailers. The driver would get out and lean against the side of the rusted, white truck. He sipped his foam cup of coffee until it was gone and then he was gone.

Finally the trailer passed codes and so did my students. We were back inside our little escape pod. Allowing them to escape at times from the reality of a government school. I would like to think that our new location in the courtyard of the Principal's proud football champion school brought new and unexplored behavior problems. However, many of the faces are new, but the problems are the same. Now the problems are surrounded more closely by neighboring trailers. The place has become known in short order as the trailer park. I appointed myself the Acting Mayor/City Manager.

The power may go to my head as I design the sidewalk supervision schedule for the other teachers.

So far the sidewalk continues to be safely attached to the ground.

The Dead Kids Of MySpace

I've been away from this blog for the first semester of this school year. I would like to write that it was for some noble cause. Alas, it wasn't. Our high school population increased by approximately 300 children this year. As the population increased the negative behaviors increased.

As all teachers I work as my struggle with (NPLB) No Paperwork Left Behind increases. We can't leave any child behind without the appropriate paperwork. I've watched the influx of additional Bloods, Cripps, Goths, locally grown gangstas, and imported thugs from outside our borders. They all attempt to stay below the administration radar, sometimes with success. More often they rise to be noticed. At this point most of them pass through my classroom.

With the increase of individuals that stay with me for shorter and shorter periods of time my work load has increased. Additionally, the Atlas Program was dropped into my lap without an invitation. Arranging services for this most transient, (homeless), of students has evolved into a full-time vocation. This group of students come with behaviors that few other students possess.

I've also became aware of several students availing themselves of the "wonderful child friendly environment" known as MySpace. Many of my students, especially the gangtas' and the Goths, have become very involved with this website. It appears that the exchange of cryptic information among fellow group members is the priority. They all seem to be unaware of strangers invading their world; dangerous strangers. When this subject is brought up to any of them the reply is always the same, "No one can get by me."

All of them dismiss the possibility or probability that they can become an addition to THE DEAD KIDS OF MYSPACE. I've forwarded this website to most of the parents of my students and to fellow teacher and administrators. Few have even noticed what I consider as the important message at this website.

There appears to be no neutral ground in the battle to educate. Now the battlefield has no boundaries. We as teachers appear to be always playing catch-up in the attempts to educate with some knowledge beyond standardized tests. The Dead Kids of MySpace are obviously beyond our grasp, but perhaps their sisters, brothers, friends, and peers could be pulled back from the oblivion. We often lose the battles and hope against hope that we win the war.