Wednesday, May 25, 2005

For the past three weeks I’ve been teaching an extra class. After my last experience with an extended coverage, a nightmarish descent into the heart of evil, I vowed never to subject myself to such torture again, but for numerous reasons I just couldn’t say no.

It’s a second period class, so I have to come in about an hour earlier than usual, but I don’t lose a free period, which is a major part of what almost killed me last time around. Plus, a closely guarded secret of bitter, old, veteran teachers is that, compared to their later counterparts, early morning classes are relative havens of peace and tranquility. The trouble-making kids are either home sleeping or too sleepy to cause any kind of ruckus.

More importantly this class is an upper-level ESL class, all juniors and seniors, which means they’ve passed a number of classes to get there, and are for the most part a hard-working, mature, and respectful bunch. (We’re speaking relatively, of course; recent Saturday Night Live is funny as hell, when compared to McNeil Lehrer). Finally, there’s the money. This is New York. I’m on a grind.

I’ve had these kids for three weeks now, but hadn’t actually taught a damn thing until this Monday, because I’ve been administering battery after battery of standardized tests. There’s only two-and-a-half weeks left until Finals now, so I didn’t see any point in going back to their books. Instead I figured the time was ripe to resurrect a Mr. Babylon golden-oldie, the kind of lesson I naively assumed I would spend all of my time on back when I first got into the gig. We’re writing record-reviews.

I’ve tried this a number of times before and it’s always been an absolute abortion, but not only am I a bit older and wiser now, so are the kids in this class. I figured it was worth a shot.

I burned a CD, busted out the boom-box, and made the poor kids listen to “I Used to Love H.E.R.” (an organic metaphor set to beats and rhyme by the artist formerly known as Common Sense--this song came out well before the LSD in Erykah Badu’s vagina caused him to lose his Sense) about twenty times in a row, until we had transcribed all the words. I still don’t know what “sittin’ on bone” means. We guessed it meant his ass was skinny and poor.

We learned all sorts of great vocabulary --periodically, afrocentric, preaching, leisurely, gimmick, Glock (couldn’t believe they didn’t know that last one; we’ll have to listen to some Cypress Hill remixes next)—but this was all build-up for when I popped the big question, the stumper, “Who or what is Common Sense talking about here?” I’ve tried this before, and the kids were always completely flummoxed, even after having the none-too-subtle last line, “who I’m talkin’ about y’all is Hip Hop,” pointed out to them.

These kids were sharper than that.

“Aww, pshhh,” they groaned. “It not his girl. He talkin’ about Hip Hop. This mad corny, Mista.”

“Yes! Yes!” I was impressed. “And what do we call that? What is he doing? What literary technique is he using.”


“Yes, what else?”


“Exactly. What kind of metaphor?”

“He sayin’ Hip Hop a girl, Mista. He Personificatin’.”

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