Saturday, February 19, 2005

Mr. Cam'ron Class
As part of my ongoing quest to politicize my students I had my kids describe and draw their ideal school and then compare that school to Shitty, thus, hopefully, making them aware of how far from the ideal Shitty actually is.

The results were predictably disappointing. The kids' ideal schools were typically a two-dimensional rendering of Shitty with perhaps the idealized embellishment of a few flowers. Here's an example:

All day long, no-one came up with anything more interesting than having automatic doors or a Jacuzzi in their school, until the tenth and final period.

A feisty young girl named Heidy in whom I'd previously noted a certain artistic aptitude in the Sharpie letter stylings she scrawls all over her desk and notebook; "Bang Bang Girl 171," and the like, came through with some higher order thinking.

"What we gotta do?" she gave me the screwface when I explained the assignment.

"I 'on't know. I 'on't care. I hate school."

She didn't want to participate.

"Good," I told her. "If you hate school, then draw me the kind of school you would like. C'mon. Anything you want."

She mulled that over for a minute and then declared, "I'ma draw the school burned down."

"That's great," I responded a little too enthusiastically. "That's the most creative, original idea I've heard all day! Draw that."

This is what she came up with:

The dots represent all the kids in the world doing "anything they want," after the schools have all been burned. She's a regular Rothko.

Meanwhile Pedro from Harlem, normally one of my more annoying kids, was working diligently in the corner. He conceived of and designed a blunt-smoking, nerd-killing, Diplomats Academy, the Dip-School:

My favorite part is the kid on the left who "Got that Yayo."

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

My Bad Day
Things are going very well for me so far this semester. I somehow lucked into having only one prep (down from five last semester,) am no longer teaching the extra class, and have a couple of really good groups of kids.

It’s great. I prepare one lesson for each day, refine it as the day goes on and get to see how different groups of kids react differently and have an easier or harder time with certain things. I have time to stay caught up on all my correcting, and have refined and been diligent about keeping a grading system that centers around the pedagogically innovative concept of giving kids zeros when they won’t shut the fuck up.

I still have my two worst classes from last semester, and I have a few new kids who particularly get my goat, but overall, even as Shitty gears up to shut down, things are looking up.

That doesn’t mean my days are without their annoyances, and it doesn’t mean I’m all smiles all the time. Monday afternoon I had a little meltdown.

There’s a new teacher in my department, filling one of the many vacancies. Ms. Wayne is a very proper woman of Caribbean descent. She’s buttoned up so tight her magnificent and highly rouged cheekbones verge on explosion, and she’s always huffing and puffing and over-enunciating about unacceptable behavior and how things are going to change im-med-i-ate-ly. It’s fine with me. I think the kids need to learn how to deal with an authoritarian bitch just as much as they need to learn how accept their own responsibility in my relatively freer classroom. And if she can shape these kids up, more power to her.

Ms. Wayne has all the kids in my 10th period class in the same room right before I do, so when I arrived to class on Monday I expected her to have them cowering in their assigned seats, ruler welts raised red on their freshly reformed knuckles. Instead I find them running around in circles climbing on desks and hanging out the windows as Ms. Wayne, who hasn’t erased the board or straightened the desks or picked up any of the dozens of scattered paper-ball projectiles, calmly gathered up her stuff.

I was annoyed, and grew more-so when I noticed three kids who I’d never seen before leading the rampaging pack. I stood in the door and simultaneously tried to usher some stragglers in, calm down the kids in the room, and get the interlopers to leave. The first two interlopers left immediately, but the third decided to give me a hard time. This gangly punk, gangsta beads swinging, hopped up on a file cabinet.

“Time to go,” I said.

He kicked his legs, banging his Timbos against the file-cabinet.

“Now,” I said.

Other than kicking the cabinet again, he didn't acknowledge me at all.

I walked over and got in his face. I was pissed. I bit my lip, cocked my head, and bugged my eyes.

“Let’s go. Bounce.”

He got up, puffed his chest out, and bobbed and weaved a little.

“Chill out, nigga. It’s all-good.”

“Yeah, It’s 'all-good.' Get out.”

He began walking, sauntering really, towards the door, mouthing off the whole way about how he was from the streets, the school of hard knocks, etc. He finally made it to the door where he stopped.

“Aight, mista. Just chill. I’ma stay here.”

I held the door open, clenched my jaw, and pointed for him to leave.

He mouthed off a little more, then began to slowly back out of the room. As he stepped out into the hall and I started to turn around, he jumped back into the room and kicked over a small metal trashcan which went clanging out into the hall as he ran away whooping and screaming.

I stepped into the hall and watched him skip away. A few kids looked on and giggled, but there were no Deans or Security to be seen. I reached back into the room for the phone only to discover that the handset was missing.

That’s when I snapped. If the little punk had been in front of me I would have punched him the neck. He wasn't, so I did the next best thing. I inhaled, stepped into it, reared back and booted that goddamn trashcan as hard as I could. It went flying down the hall with papers and candy wrappers scattering everywhere. It hit the wall and bounced about twenty more feet before it spun to a stop.

The kids in the hall stared at me wide-eyed. I turned and walked back into my class to see all my kids scrambling for their seats with a mixture of fear and bemusement in their eyes.

“Mista, whatchu gonna do to that kid, you see him on the street?”

I sighed wearily, and shook my head.

“Mista, you need to calm down.” This was said with a mixture of reproach and genuine concern. I managed a weak smile.

“Mista Babylon be havin’ a bad day.”

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

The Thing More Important
Finally plowed through all those writing samples, and uncovered this gem from a boy in my nightmare class:

What I did in the another week
I play alot basketball
I pla a lot of play station. I wend
to a lot of party, I smoke a lot weed. And the thing more
important. I fuck a lot and drink.

Lucky kid. I can't imagine a more perfect weekend.

Santiago, the distinguished author, is not a good student. Santiago cuts class. Santiago is often disruptive.

The other day Santiago, in response to me asking him to please sit down, replied, in so many words, that he would prefer to punch me in the face.

I walked over next to him and offered up my chin. He chickened out, but not before he thought about it.

This kid, it would seem, has some serious problems. You might expect him to spend a lot of time alone, brooding in the corner, wearing a black trench-coat, and building pipe-bombs.

Nope. Santiago is pretty popular. He joins in on all impromptu sing-alongs. He flirts with and pinches the screaming, cackling girls. He huddles in the hall joshing and flexing with menacing groups of guys. On the rare occasion when I’ve attempted to lead some sort of game in his class, he is an eager, enthusiastic participant, jumping up and down with excitement, slapping hands all around and even giving out the occasional bear hug.

He appears, in many ways, to be a happy, well-adjusted kid. A happy, well adjusted kid who spent last week drinking and fucking and smoking weed, wrote me a paragraph about it, and wants to punch me in the face.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

A Vision Softly Creeping
A very odd thing happened today during my 9th period class. This class is in an icy-cold, cavernous room in an out-of-the-way corner of the basement behind the nurses office. It’s a small class – less than twenty kids – and the room is huge. It doesn’t have to be so cold. There’s a switch that activates the heat, but along with the stuffy hot air it blows out a sound not unlike a school bus being forced through a garbage disposal.

So we sat, chilly and sleepy in the big room on this hidden corridor underneath Shitty’s auditorium, and I had the kids fill out their Delaney cards so that I could be sure to tie the cursed little slips of cardboard up with a rubber-band and throw them in a box never to be seen again until I have to return them at the end of the semester.

Then I passed out a “Class Contract” which I had banged out in a brief fit of new-semester enthusiasm the other night. It asks the kids to pledge to, “at all times respect themselves, their classmates, their environment, and their teacher, Mr. Babylon.” It goes on to give a number of examples of specific things they will and will not do (all violated repeatedly in the pages of this blog,) all the while emphasizing that these are but examples of disrespect, and just because an act has not been listed does not mean it is permissible. Finally it asked the kids to write down a goal they have for themselves in the upcoming semester. It’s all very authoritative and patronizing and the kind of thing I would have scrawled an anarchy symbol on, stuck a knife through, and left dangling from a bulletin board back when I was a kid.

Everything so far was going fine. A little effeminate hyperactive boy named Alejandro kept standing up and fidgeting, and a slightly cross-eyed gangster kid named Angel (never a moniker of good omen,) kept asking me questions about how much homework we’re going to have and how much it counts. He was worried he said, because “he don’t do homework.”

Finally, I asked the kids to write a quick paragraph about what they’d done during Regents week, standard practice with a new class to see where their writing abilities are (or, more often, aren’t) and make sure nobody has been misplaced too egregiously.

My first shock came when they all immediately pulled out paper and something to write with. No-one got up and grabbed my pencil off my desk. No-one shouted across the room that they needed paper. No-one tossed a pen with wicked velocity at anyone else.

They crooked their arms, put their heads down, leaned in and began to write. All of them, and they didn’t stop. No-one whispered. No-one giggled. No-one got up and began throwing things out the window. The room was completely silent save for the barely perceptible scratching of pens on paper. The hallway was silent too. Not a soul around.

I looked on in awe for a minute, and then felt strangely uncomfortable. With no-one to tell to sit down or shut up, and no-one badgering me about how to spell every other word they wrote, I didn’t know what to do. I was just standing there. I walked over to my desk, sat down and shuffled some papers. I double-checked my attendance. I stood up and paced the front of the room. I walked up and down the rows looking over the kids’ shoulders as they determinedly wrote away. I walked over to the window, leaned on the sill, and watched last week’s snow melt.

My legs began to sweat. I fought the urge to slam a drawer, or drop a book, or yell “boo yaa!” at the top of my lungs.

I might have a whole new set of problems on my hands here.

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