Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Welcome To The 21st Century

Seldom does a week go by that I do not mentally reevaluate my motivations for entering the teaching field. "Field" seems an appropriate choice of a descriptor. Most times I'm somewhere beyond "right field". A few times I'm just ahead of a curve ball. Okay, enough with the baseball metaphors. At the high school where I ply my trade football is king and baseball metaphors would be considered heresy.

I watch many of my students going about their school lives which are seldom different then their lives outside of school. Often I "ride herd" on "gangers". I'm amazed at how early in their lives they have discovered the power of the almighty buck! Each have let me know, in their own way, that longevity in a career is not important. It is what you can score now and how many people fear them.

So far this year, fear is an illusion that many try to maintain. Most of the guys that pass through my aging portable understand that I own the territory inside the metal walls. As long as they attempt to respect others in the trailer then they will receive respect in return. They also will receive a safe place to be themselves, leaving their adopted street life outside. Sometimes, one will take a little longer to learn what being inside the portable offers. Sometimes, one never learns. Que, would be one of the "hard learners".

Que, has been on earth for only a short 16 years, but he has grown a very long rap-sheet. Small offenses such as candy bar shoplifting to larger offenses including the shooting of a convenience store clerk. He and his partner in the shooting were not out to rob anyone. The soul purpose of the crime was to have a "street-rep". Fortunately the clerk survived his two wounds. It seems that Que lives his whole life on probation. He refuses to publicly acknowledge his gang affiliation by name, but a little research eliminated most local gangs. The common belief is that he belongs to the Rollin 60's.

"Where you been, Que," I asked, as he came into the classroom? This was the first time in many school days he had come to school.

"Oh, just hangin', you know with my boys," he said. His dilated pupils betrayed the preschool activities he and his "boys" participated in on this dreary Monday morning. He lasted for a whole twenty minutes into the school day before he disappeared from the campus.

For the three school years I've known Que seldom has a day passed that I haven't thought of what reasons keep driving him back to my portable classroom? Until recently I believed that deep inside of this lanky teenager was hidden a good kid searching for freedom. A freedom from what life had dealt him. Somewhere in the world a man walked a street without ever knowing this son.

In the same Section 8 apartment that Que lives was his mother. Sometimes she worked two jobs, but more often then not she entertained a string of potential husbands. What she thought of as potential husbands always were just strangers hoping to remain strangers. Perhaps, Que returns to the government school portable because it is the only stability he has in his life? Or perhaps, he returns because he believes he has me "snowed" into protecting him from the school administration? Maybe it is due to the fact that I like him regardless of the stupid and/or criminal events he commits in his world? After the shooting of the store clerk my sense is that I no longer believed that a small part of Que wanted to do right or good.

After a fight just off the high school campus about four weeks ago Que had not returned for three weeks. Mostly he feared being beat by others at the school if he was not with his "boys". He hid in the open with his Rollin' 60's leader. It was my knowledge that the leader and the followers met each Wednesday night to discuss possible "adventures" they could execute in the coming week. They always met at the leaders' girlfriends' house. According to my sources it was because the leader believed the police could never figure out where they met. Last Thursday Que had a juvenile court date that he had to keep. He had talked for most of the school year about the day when he would finally be off probation. No more probation officer coming by the apartment, no more pee in a cup, and no more Thursday night group meetings.

On Que's joyful yet fateful Thursday morning he entered the judge's courtroom for what he knew would be his last time. The judge shuffled through the file folder labeled with Que's name. She made several comments about his semi-good attendance at the weekly group meetings and the reports on the probation officer's home visits. She inquired if he was looking for a part time job? How he was getting along with his mother? Then the subtle but all important question about school.

"You been attending school as I ordered you to do," the judge asked?

"Yes your honor," Que said.

"Do you ever use computers at school to help you with your school work," she asked?

'Not really. Just pencil, papers, and books," he said.

"Well, you know we use computers a lot around here. Like getting reports on attendance," she said.

Que began to develop an idea that things weren't going his way today.

"Well, the report states that you haven't been in school for almost three weeks," she read.

My sense is that Que will be in school at the first of August. That will be about the last day of his summer long incarceration.

I'll spend some of this summer examining my motivations for teaching, before I return in August.


I've seen the future and it's back there. Back there could be in my past, but I do not think I will find it hiding in my secrets. I sense I find it each morning from the cab of my old pickup truck. The students begin arriving at high school around 7:00 A.M., about an hour after I do. After reading the little, nothing local paper I sit and delude myself into believing I'm psyching myself for the day. I enjoy reading the daily gripe column by a local reporter that obviously nurtures a long ago deep seeded negative reaction to school. This diagnosis will be as close as I should get to playing a doctor. I'm just a lowly behaviorist trying to make some kid's government school experience count for something.

Anyway, back to why I really sit in my truck watching the student herd migrate onto their eighty-eight acre preserve for seven hours out of the day. I watch the daily formation of the gangs, groups, cliques, teams, and outcasts gather along the driveway between the main building and the school annex. The parade of cars, trucks, and buses searching for a brief drop-off point or a choice parking spot. The girls playing games with the boys. Games that the superior maturing girls use to manipulate their immature boyfriends. Such games that consist of the type clothing that is worn to entice the boys, looks that are quickly cast to another boy that is sure to lead to a physical confrontation, or just the joy some girls have in ignoring any boy that desire their attention.

All of this is being offset by the boys games to strut, lead, follow, or "out-cool" the others. The male games mean little or nothing to the girls, but the boys from generation to generation never give up the hopes of impressing the right girl through the right move at the right time. I tried it, my friends tried it, and all males before me and after me have tried or will try, usually through desperation and immaturity.

An outsider can not visually separate the special education students from the regular education students during this morning ritual. Of course, the very disabled students are not part of this parade. They have their own morning rituals that I may explore at another time.

My portable classroom, in the midst of the government school trailer park, continued to be a haven through-out the school year. A haven for SPED'ers and regular education students. The one thing these students had in common all year; the portable was a preferable social situation compared to the one they existed in outside of school. Their extracurricular social lives can consist of; single-parent families, gang affiliations, petty criminal activities, felony criminal endeavors, periodic arrests, creative use of spray paint (tagging), writing the next million seller rap song, drugs, alcohol, searching for a place to eat and/or sleep, coming back to the campus after school to hang out, or sometimes stopping by my home to see if I'm an ass outside of school, and possibility many others not listed here.

I've neglected adding posts to this blog much of the past school year. Seldom does a day past that I do not think of writing. Each time I conclude I am gathering thoughts and experiences for new postings. At times I conclude I'm lazy. Surely it is a combination of these and many other factors. For several years I've seen the future as it parades in front of me each school morning. The future is the past as the past is the present. As the population of this government school grew from one-thousand-nine-hundred last school year to the current two-thousand-two-hundred, it will expand to two-thousand-four-hundred in the fall.

Through-out the school year I've mentally filed tales or stories I have every intention of writing about through the summer. By far, the situation of the ever exploding school population is my deep well of tales. Again, I must say, "I've seen the future as it parades in front of me each school morning. The future is the past as the past is the present."