Saturday, March 12, 2005

Living the Dream
I have a recurring anxiety nightmare. In it I am back in high school. I’ve never left, I guess. I have an AP European History final exam. The problem is that I have skipped the class every day for so long that not only am I completely unprepared for the final, I can’t even remember where the class meets. I wake up in a cold sweat every-time.

It’s a silly dream, fueled by a personal history awash in irresponsibility, but it’s never actually happened. I’m coming close this semester in Grad School, but I actually attended my classes (well, one of them anyway) last week, and still have time to get things together.

For many of my students, though, that nightmare is pretty close to reality. I have kids that show up once a week, once a month, once a marking period, once a semester, and some not once at all. They'll show up a week after a test with no excuse and ask if they can make it up.

Some of them have legitimate reasons for missing class so often. They are poor and have jobs and can’t make afternoon classes, or they are poor and have night jobs and can’t make morning classes. Some kids, because of over-crowding, don’t have lunch scheduled (or have it 9:00 AM) and leave to go home and eat. Others have “Random Family”-style lives so fucked up I couldn’t even begin to understand what kind of things they’re dealing with. Some kids just like to roam the halls banging on doors, smoking trees in the stairwells, and running from the cops.

I am supposed to encourage all of these kids to attend my class, to hound them, to talk to the counselors, to call home. I rarely do. No Child Left Behind? Whatever. My classes are crowded, wild and tough enough, the last thing I need is more kids in the room. The smaller my classes, the better they go, and that’s a fact.

Ironically, when I got into teaching after a short time working with drop-outs in a GED program, I thought I would be the teacher that didn’t let the kids slip through the cracks. I thought I would be the one teaching the big crazy gangsta, the kid all the other teachers were afraid of or prejudiced against, to read. I’d worked with those kids before – homeless and court-ordered and violent – and had gotten them to learn. I was sure I could do it again. I even wrote a couple of essays to get into the Fellows about it.

I was a fool. I don’t have enough time, energy or resources for the kids that are there, let alone the kids that aren’t. I'm not about to encourage young Javier to come to my class when every time he does he tries to start a fight with me. Only when I really like a kid, or they’ve previously shown me the desire and ability to learn and not step up in my face and call me "white boy" when asked to take out a piece of paper, do I make an effort to rein in their rampant cutting.

I saw Ivonne, a teeny-tiny, adorable and apparently quite feisty little thing who impressed me greatly with her intelligence and maturity the two times she attended my class, walking in the hall the other morning.

“Howdy stranger,” I offered.

She raised an eyebrow.

“Long time, no see. You coming to class today? Where’ve you been?”

“I suspended, Mista.”

“Suspended? I haven’t seen you in weeks. What have you been doing, fighting?”

“Naw, mista. I not fighting. Is just… girls be pickin’ on me.”

“So you fought them?”

“Naw, it’s just, they was messin’ with me.”

“Alright. Anyway, come to class today, okay. I have some stuff to give you. Your writing is really good.”

That afternoon as I was taking attendance, I noticed Ivonne was nowhere to be seen. My other students told me she’d been suspended again for fighting. It’s not easy being cute and 4’11” at Shitty High.

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