Thursday, September 16, 2004

The Pizza Chant
My schedule this year absolutely sucks. I’m on the late-shift again, 9:25 – 4:05, which is good, because I live almost an hour away by Subway, but can get a little rough in the winter when it’s already getting dark by the time I actually leave. It also makes it a bitch to get to my afternoon classes at Grad. School on time, but as the amount of times I’ve even mentioned that place on here may indicate, I don’t really give a shit about that.

I was lucky last year both semesters, because I had my first period in the morning free, allowing me to do all my planning then and only have to take work home when I got way behind on my grading or had to write a test or something. Not anymore. Now I show up and immediately must jump into a double-period of Level 2s.

I was also lucky last year in that three of my five classes were in the same room, and that all of them were decent sized rooms. (No-one at Shitty is afforded the luxury of actually having their own room, in which they could do important things like create some kind of positive learning environment, focusing creative and intellectual energies through décor and furniture arrangement, or at least keep all their stuff). This year is bad, though. Now, three out of five classes are in Shitty’s mildewed, maze-like, basement.

These rooms are half the size of a regular room. My rosters are not, however, half the size of a regular roster. They are the same as last year, so far. Twenty-five plus kids in a class, and growing. I’m not joking about the maze thing, either. The hallways are very narrow and full of twists and turns and doors marked exit which you must enter to move into yet another, narrower, hallway. This causes un-navigable bottle-necks of students who push and shove and bump and grind, and won’t let poor Mr. Babylon through to get to his class on time.

The mildew is real too. You can smell it, and a number of teachers claim to have gotten sick from teaching down there last year.

Being in the basement, though, is only the beginning of my schedule’s problems.
I have another “inclusion” class, which means half Special Ed kids, and a crappy Special Ed teacher to “team teach” with. Then, my last two classes, periods 9 and 10, are two different classes, but with the exact same rosters, rendering them essentially a double-block as well.

The thing is, by law a teacher can only have three different classes to prepare for (or “preps” in the parlance.) Technically my schedule complies. I have one Level 2 class, and two different Level 3 classes. A double period, though, which my L2 class is officially and two of my L3s are by default, is a lot more work to prepare for than a regular class, you can’t dilly-dally away any time the second hour with attendance and settling in, and other such valuable time-wasters. Let’s be conservative and add a “real-life” half-prep for each of those. Then my inclusion class will run at a different pace and do different things than another class of the same level, so that’s an extra prep and blah, blah, blah… do the fucking math, I have way more to prepare for than three classes.

To make things worse, the L3 kids from the afternoon pseudo double-block aren’t really L3s, or even ESL, at all. They’re all native New Yorkers. Yeah they speak Spanish, and yeah they can’t write so well, but they speak English (or a Bronxed-up version thereof, at least) just fine.

Yesterday we were having a discussion about class rules, and I let the class suggest rules of their own. If they could give me a good reason why, I told them, I’d consider using their rules. I got a number of suggestions like, “We ain’t gotta come to school if we don’ wanna, cuz sometimes we be bored an’ ain’t feel like it.”

“Hmm,” I would say, scratching my chin. “I don’t know about that. If you don’t come to school you can’t learn anything, so that won’t work. How about I try to not make class boring, okay?”

No-one seemed particularly convinced that I would somehow manage, unlike every other teacher they’ve ever had, to render class interesting.

Sometime during all this a kid named Gabriel, with eyes bearing a remarkable resemblance to those of a turtle, wandered in late. He came in through the back-door and settled in with a group of wise-cracking guys in the back who were already giving me a hard time. I asked him and one of the other kids to please move to the front, and after considerable consternation they complied. Gabriel moved to the corner by the window, threw a t-shirt over his head and tried to go to sleep. This, of course, is not allowed, and I had to tell him so.

In the middle of this little back-and-forth another kid, one of the guys from the back, raised his hand.

“Mista, hey mista. I got a rule.”

“Yes Stanley, go ahead.”

“Yeah, like, my rule is ‘Don’t be comin’ into class late lookin’ all high an’ shit.’”

In the midst of my spiraling classroom management I hadn’t stopped to consider that tardy young Gabriel, with his swollen eyes covered by an over-sized t-shirt, was clearly blazed out of his skull. My naivety, combined with the slowly forming, glassy look of surprise and anger on Gabriel’s face was too much, and though I knew I shouldn’t do it, I couldn’t stifle a big grin at all this.

Stanley and few others then began to refer to Gabriel by a new nickname, Smokey.

“Okay, who wants to read the first paragraph? Come on guys, let’s have a volunteer.”

“Smokey’ll do it. Hey Smokey, c’mon, you wanna read, right?”

Keep in mind these kids are classified as Level 3. That means the text I am ostensibly required to use with them contains such intellectual English language challenges as this actual, no shit, this is actually in the book, “Food Chant.”

“Okay kids, repeat after me! Everybody now!”

“Pizza, pizza, pizza!”
“Pizza, pizza, pizza!”

“I’m hungry!”
“I’m hungry!”

“Hot dogs are good!”
“Hot dogs are good!”

“I’m hungry!”
“I’m hungry!”

And so on.

Actually, come to think of it, Gabriel probably could go for a pizza right about now.

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