Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Fast Times
No fun. Today I got sent to the Principal’s office where I endured an interminable lecture, choked back many a smirk, and was even put on the spot about what I thought the punishment should be.

Just like old times. Seriously, I might as well have been 14 all over again and sitting in front of Disciplinary Committee for tagging homophobic epithets (I ain’t proud, just saying…) all over the car of some poor dude who pissed me off.

The day started off routine enough; My 8:30 class are all nice kids, especially when they’re still half asleep, which is always. In fact the only annoying kid on the whole roster is a Vietnamese super-student who’s constantly correcting my spelling and reminding to collect the homework. He’s not even the most outstanding student I the class either. This cool, quiet, little Armenian girl consistently turns vocabulary homework into Dave Eggers’ quality perfect sentences. I finally thought I caught a mistake the other day when she had a comma where a period would have been better.

“Very good. Very good. Wow. These are great… Oh!” Secretly delighting, I crossed out the comma. “That should be a period, because this is its own sentence.”

“No, Mister, no that’s not a comma,” she replied as gently patient as she could be. “That is a, how do you say, half comma?”

“Half comma?”

She pointed above the comma to a little dot.

“A semi-colon?”

“Yes, Mister, a semi-colon.”

A fucking semi-colon. What is this, Stanford? I’m pretty sure she used it perfectly too, although, I must admit, I really have no idea.

After my morning class I was unceremoniously given a coverage of a beginning level ESL class, which, while screwing up my schedule for the day, went just fine. There was one obnoxious jerk in there who just about broke my heart*, but all the other kids were shy little cuties, and I had fun pantomiming and drawing and talking real slow and doing all the beginners’ stuff I never have to do anymore now that I’m teaching intermediate and upper levels and can actually carry on a conversation with my students.

My giant class got even bigger (it’s up to 41 kids now,) and that went the way it always goes; I got nothing accomplished, but kept order, barely, which is an accomplishment in itself. Actually, I did teach two new vocabulary words the big group of chatter-boxes. Ask any of those 41 Level 3 ESL students what “closet” and “sauna” mean, and they’ll know exactly what you’re talking about.

It was my upper, transitional, level class of juniors and seniors that did me in.

There are a couple of dudes in this class that have big old chips on their shoulders, right above the glittery snowmen. They stroll in late, sit in the back, and refuse to do any work. One kid, Felix, is all arms and legs and goofy smiles. He’s remarkably good-natured about never shutting up or doing a goddamn thing I ask.

Then there’s his buddy Johan. He’s a lot quieter than Felix, but his vibe is straight animosity. Every time I look at the guy, let alone ask him to take out his notebook or remove his hat, he’s staring at me with cockeyed with his lips all twisted up in the ultimate version of a screwface.

It’s so exaggerated and obvious that he’s putting on a front that it doesn’t freak me out the way Gerrardo’s intense stare did, but it’s still not cool.

Anyway, at the beginning of class today I was doing my thing, checking homework and goading the class along into doing their “Do Now” while Felix and Johan did their things in the back, when the door opened and my AP walked in. She actually didn’t make it all the way in because the chord of the big industrial fan I poached from a science lab the other day was blocking her way, causing quite a commotion as she almost tripped and half the class screamed out in warning.

She made it in unscathed, followed closely by Principal Popeil.


“Oohhhh fuuccck, look at this corny-ass nigga!” Pedro exclaimed, and steam immediately began screaming from Popeil’s ears.

He launched into a lecture about who were the adults and who were the children, and in between breaths began barking orders at me to give him the students’ Delaney cards.

As I stammered to explain the fact that I don’t, ahem, actually use the Delaney cards, Popeil was set off anew by the fact that Johan and a couple of other guys in the back around Pedro were cracking up over some, apparently hilarious, thing.

Popeil was livid. As he ranted on and on, Johan let go with low, guttural, and completely heartfelt, “ma me cueva”(sp?) which sent Popeil on yet another diatribe about proper behavior and respect and “vulgarities” before he finally took his leave, leaving orders that the offending youth, including the peanut gallery, to see him before the end of the day or else.

See, I’ve been trying to be real patient with Jorhan and Felix. I explain the way things should be, remind them whenever they deviate from the program, and sit back and let them fuck up as long as they’re not disturbing the rest of us. The theory being yelling or getting all hot and bothered is exactly what they want, and writing a referral (in addition to being completely ineffective) is just going to piss them off.

My theory didn’t take into account Popeil walking into the middle of class completely unannounced.

I yelled at everybody for a minute, unsuccessfully tried to revive the aborted lesson, and before I knew it the bell rang. When class was over I gathered my stuff, fought back the urge to put a dent in a locker with my fist, stuck my chin out and marched up to Popeil’s office to try to explain that, actually, my classroom management is one thing I’m feeling pretty good about this year. To my surprise, Felix and Johan and their cronies were in his office, sitting on a couch getting talked at.

I inquired if I might join and spent the better part of the next hour sitting silently while Popeil went on and on with his lecture, which from what I could tell, was the major component of the kids’ punishment. The worst part was he kept trying to drop the street lingo, but was way off base, and even if he had it right, was so condescending I wanted to throw up in my mouth.

“I speak one way when I’m hanging out with my buddies on the stoop… I mean, I don’t use vulgarities but… I speak differently in public. Right? What’s up with that, dude?”

Right, Spicoli.

I was sufficiently chastened. By the end I’d have punched myself in the face to get the guy to shut up.

“Was that fun guys? Did you enjoy that? Good times?” I enquired of my students after pulling them aside when we finally made our exit.

“Yeah, me neither.”

As calmly and in a fashion as far from lecture as I could muster, I attempted to explain to the guys that I was not their enemy, that all I wanted was to teach them a little something so they could graduate and hopefully make some money or something. That when they came into class combative from day one, I wasn’t going to fight back, that they could win every daily battle, but would fail my class and be right back where they started in the end.

I’m not sure if my words were persuasive or if it was just so completely obvious that I had been as miserable sitting in the Principal’s office as they had, but it seemed to work. We shook hands and agreed to start over. Johan, who had dropped his screw face around about the time discussion of not graduating came up, even looked up from his Jordans and looked me in the eye as he apologized for his behavior.

We’ll see. We’ll see.

*More on that later.

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