Saturday, May 28, 2005

Pastrami-gate Part 2: The Proof
Leave it up to me while I be living proof...
People's Exhibit A; kickin' the truth to the young blog youth.

Quoth my new favorite person (hereafter known as "Deep Brisket"):
...the hell thinks someone's going to fake it?

i got proof yo

First these people making fun weren't there to hear the kids asking me "what's pastrami" and "is that cheese" Kids who put it's cheese do 3 times 3 times 3 and get 27 for the total combinations instead of 24.

I saw it's out of 4, not 12. 12 on the question sheet was for all 3 part II questions. The lady who graded it stuck her neck out and gave them 2 out of 4.

Also this is Component Retesting not the real Regents. They gave these last week to Juniors and Seniors who got between 48 and 64 on the Math A Regents and took it at least twice. If they do well enough on the components they pass them for their Regents requirement with either 55 (for graduation) or 65 (for real)

Deep Brisket also sends along a link to a pdf of the scoring rubric on the state website.

I don't understand any of this gibberish--this stuff might as well be the Omega Code to me--but I trust those with more sense than I will be able to decipher something, and even us dummies have to admit it's real.

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’.”

Feliz Cumpleaños Morado
Pedro aka P-Yayo from Harlem had a birthday today. He's dip-teen years old.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Here is a blatant example of cultural bias on a New York State math Regents exam.

Click for full size.

Understandably, the kids from the 'Hood who took this test had no idea what pastrami was, and the problem depends on you calculating it as a "meat." The kids either left it blank or guessed that it was "cheese," and all got zero out of 12 points for the section.

Pastrami? Are you kidding me? On a math exam? I can see if it was a Social Studies class and you had been studying the history of smoked meat ("Coopers to the Carnegie: From the Hill Country Pit to the Manhattan Deli, the Succulent Journey of the Brisket in 20th Century American Life,") but come on, really.

To even things up the next test ought to require the Suburban kids to draw on their familiarity with 25-cent "juices," tiny motorcycles, the menu at Kennedy Fried Chicken, and the Chinese lady on the train selling bootleg DVDs and "Baaaaaa-taaa-rieeees!"

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Key Indicators* That You May Not Be Cut Out to Be a Gangster
  1. You enjoy playing with Yu-gi-oh cards, yet find their many rules confusing.
  2. When asked to work in a group with a couple of pretty girls who (understandably) find you annoying, you throw a tantrum, refuse to join them, and pout in the corner.
  3. You have a voice comparable to, but (if possible) even more annoying than, that “So Lonely” song.
  4. It is debatable whether or not you are over five feet tall.
  5. Your lip quivers and you tear up when your teacher (in a moment, soon deeply regretted, of misguided and less than professional playfulness meant to be taken in the friendly spirit of good-natured ribbing) calls you “El Camarone Diablo.”

*None of these Indicators, apparently, as evidenced by the case of 15-year-old "Roberto Delgado," are actually significant enough to exclude one from full-fledged, official banana, yellow bandana, contractually-bound membership in the Latin Kings.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Pull Your Chain 'till it Pop
Pedro from Harlem got his chain pulled the other day at the train station. I was right there, but didn’t see a thing.

I had just bumped into Pedro by the turnstile where we exchanged friendly words.

“Yo Mista, what’s good?”

“Hey Pedro, how ya doin’? You taking my Underground Escalade home?”

I don’t remember exactly how it started, but somewhere along the way the kids and I have developed a running joke that the subway is my “Escalade.” I think a few months back some punks were giving me a hard time about not having a car, and instead of explaining my belief in the economic and environmental benefits of public transportation, I lied.

“I do have a car. I just got some new rims on it.”

“Yo, f’real, Mista? What kinda car you got?” These kids’ll believe anything.

“I’m tippin’ down the Cross-Bronx in my Escalade,” I told them. “All day, e’ry day.”

They exchanged quizzical looks.

“A '#8' Escalade,” I clarified, referring to the particular train I usually take to school. “You should know. I saw you riding in my Escalade this morning.”

This is the kind of thing my kids don’t forget. We could go over nouns and verbs and past participles every day for a year, and they’d still get confused, but they’ll go to their graves crackin’ wise at me, “Yo Mista, I saw you sleepin’ in your Escalade this morning!”

Pedro wasn’t up on the "#8" Escalade station platform, but underground, a few blocks away at the "Letter Z" Escalade station. I take the Z home a couple of days a week when I have to go to graduate school.

Pedro and I exchanged a few good-natured barbs and I wandered off, down to the other end of the platform where I could read my book in peace. A minute or so later I heard a commotion a split second before a five-foot tall streak of black lightning in a red du-rag went sprinting past me down the platform, cackling all the way and almost knocking me onto the filthy tracks (there are rats on my Escalade).

I looked up and saw big-ass, pear-shaped Pedro down at the other end of the platform, biting his lip, stalking back and forth, stomping his boots, one fist swinging low, gorilla style, and the other hand holding the back of his bloody neck. He looked scary, but there were tears in his eyes.

He got yoked by a kid half his size. The little bastard came up from behind and actually sat there playing with the chain for a minute before he grabbed it. Pedro says he thought it was one of his friends, but I think he was just scared.

How scared? That scared.

Pedro from Harlem isn’t actually from Harlem. He lives in the Bronx like everyone else. He just says that shit to sound cool or hard or as an excuse (not like he needs one) to holler, “Dipset!” in the middle of class. He’s not really hard either, although he is big.

Case in point: I’ve started making the guys in my 9th and 10th period class do push-ups when they piss me off. It started when one kid who usually behaves himself and pays attention was bouncing off the walls. He’s a nice kid, and we joke with each other a lot, so it seemed pretty natural for me to make him drop and push a few out. He clearly had energy to burn, and it seemed to work. Everyone else was so amused, though, that ever since then whenever somebody acts up, somebody else is right there to remind us, “Yo mista, that’s ten push-ups! You got push-ups, nigga!” I even banged out a set myself the other day after I accidentally knocked all my papers to the floor and let slip a four-letter word.

When one day, as was inevitable, Pedro wouldn’t shut up, I told him to drop and give me ten. He hemmed and hawed for a while before finally acquiescing in his best Tony Montana, “Thass okay main, thass okay, I’m P-Yayo, I got dat.”

He then proceeded to drop to his knees and dip (heh.) his chest and shoulders towards the floor ten times, looking back and forth with a big, brace-faced, sheepish grin while the rest of the class and I looked on in puzzlement.

Pedro stood up, brushed off his giant clown-jeans, adjusted his big, gaudy, silvery NY chain for what must have been one of the last times, and went back to his seat. I sidled over a minute later and discreetly inquired, “Hey Pedro, how come you were doing girl push-ups? You’re a strong guy, (Pedro often flexes in class, and the kid’s got some guns,) you can’t do a real push-up?”

“I’m two-fitty, Mista, it’s hard.”

“I know Pedro, I know,” I replied, wishing Christopher Wallace could have been there to commiserate, “It’s hard for a big person. You be sweatin’ and breathin’ hard. Shit’s real.”

Pedro is doing okay after getting his chain pulled the other day. His neck’s cut up pretty good, and his pride is probably bruised something fierce, but he was back in school two days later with the creative energy to pen the beginnings of another inspired piece of literature.

I had to give the kids a practice test for some upcoming state-required standardized testing, and the last part of it was the writing section. The kids were to look at a cartoon picture of a cracka-ass white boy chasing a dog down a sidewalk on an idyllic suburban street. The kids were supposed to tell a story about the picture.

Pedro’s tale was much like many of the other kids’ writing samples, except for the names and a little dialogue. His semi-autobiographical tome had the boy, “P-yayo,” chasing the dog, also named “P-yayo,” down the street to the park where they both “got they hustle on.”

“Pedro, this is fine,” I told him. “But what are you doing man? I’m confused. Why is the dog named ‘P-yayo’ too?”

“Naw Mista, you not readin’ my writin.’” Pedro’s writing is rather sloppy. “That say ‘P-Yoyo.’”

The dog was named P-Yoyo. Of course. I should have known. He’s the Purple City Dip-dog.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Peace in the Hood
We recently read Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” in a few of my classes. It was in their book. Next to the poem was a poorly done watercolor of a dirt road forking in a meadow, one path significantly bigger than the other and both leading to a “yellow wood.” Why the road wasn’t in the woods or covered with leaves untrodden like in the poem I don’t know, but it was close enough.

Before we read the poem I asked the kids to look at the picture, describe what they saw, and tell me which path they would rather take and why. Most kids described the meadow fairly accurately, but Pedro from Harlem had a different take.

“What do you see Pedro?”

“Thas the Hood.”

“The Hood, Pedro? Are you sure? That doesn’t look like the Hood to me.”

“Thas the Hood before. Back in the day. It was peace in the Hood back then."

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Black Like Last Time
The same crappy book that had the “Waves” chapter also has a chapter called “Making Decisions” which contains a short, crappy, historically ridiculous play about the Underground Railroad. This play stars Harriett Tubman, Frederick and Anna Douglass and their two sons, and eight unnamed “fugitive slaves.” The play is but a brief scene in which Harriett, fugitives in tow, arrives at the Douglass home, eats some soup, gets a hunch, and decides they ought to immediately head to Canada by boat instead of waiting for the afternoon train on which they had planned to stowaway in the baggage car. The play ends with Harriett and the eight slaves boarding a small boat and heading out onto the lake.

Despite the play’s lameness the kids seemed to enjoy reading it aloud in class, so I decided they should all write their own endings to the drama, crossing my fingers that despite the dullness of the original their versions might actually be somewhat, you know, dramatic.

The results were neither as prolific nor as entertaining as the horror stories I recently solicited, but the kids seemed to have a pretty good time performing them. I had a few artistic kids draw “sets” on the board - a boat, waves, mountains, trees, etc. – cut the lights, and off they went; giggling, goofing, screaming, and heckling, but performing and paying attention just the same.

Then my afternoon class rolled around and things didn’t go quite as well. I’ve had these kids all year long, and except for the brief tease of the few weeks when my schedule ruled, I’ve had them for two periods, the last two periods, a day. This means I’ve been the only English teacher these kids have had all year. That sucks… for them and me.

They’re a real tough group. I recently found out that they’re all Special Ed students, which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense due to the fact that I’m not a Special Ed teacher, Special Ed. classes are supposed to contain no more than a dozen or so students (I’ve got thirty on my roster,) and no-one has ever mentioned anything about how or why I’m supposed to deal with the situation.

Out of the thirty kids in the class, one girl (an adorable little sweetheart with a degenerative, disfiguring, craniofacial disorder and the melodious name of a tragic Shakespearian heroine) actually managed to get the grades to pass.

I gave a few others the nod based on effort or latent ability, but I still ended up failing a vast majority of the class. I didn’t have much choice. About a quarter of the class never shows up. Ever. There are a number of kids in the class that I’ve never laid eyes on. Some are straight up truants, others come to school in the mornings but - due to work, family, or crack-smoking obligations - can’t stay until the tenth period. Another quarter of the kids show up when they feel like it, which isn’t exactly on the regular. I’ve written referrals, I’ve called parents, I’ve had heart-to-hearts; nothing works, and at this point I’m honestly relieved. I have my hands full already with kids that are there.

The other fifteen or so kids that do show up are some of the most distracted, lazy, obstinate, obnoxious bastards I’ve ever come across. Still, I can’t help but feeling that the fact that they’re all going to fail is somehow my fault.

Anyway, only four or five of them actually wrote their Harriet Tubamn/Frederick Douglass/Underground Railroad play, and of those only two managed to follow directions and turn in something resembling a script. One of those two students was Pedro from Harlem, creator of the Dipschool, who now insists on being called “P-Yayo” (I struggle to refrain,) and delivered a rather amusing product. He was a little confused by the concept of a narrator, but I think it works. Here it is, transcribed in its original form (my scanner’s broken), warts and all. It is untitled.

Harriet = I see the C-Squad
P-Yayo = don’t warrie I will take care of them
Narrator = I got an idea, lets run
Frederick Douglass = lets fight back
Anna Douglass = I said whatever second narrator said
C–Squad = put your arm’s up
Harriet = will be black.
Harriet = now that 4 year passes were back on the game.
P-Yayo = Yeah were black like last time, but better
Frederick Douglass = If C–Squad comes there going down
Narrator = I’m hungry
Harriet = shutup Narrator
Narrator = you shutup you old human
P-Yayo = don’t you talk to my mom that way
Narrator = if you said something ells I will slice you
Harriet = iOkay, This is enough!
P-Yayo = lets just be peace
Harriet = Were almost there
P-Yayo = Mom were save
Frederick = Yeah
Narrator = yes were finally free.

Pedro, by the way, is one of the lucky few who will pass my class.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

The last of the scaffolding, the long black veil that has draped the Shitty High School façade since I have been there, came down over Spring Break. There is still an excess of cyclone fencing, random piles of dirt and rubble, and big swaths of muddy ground, but the building now breathes free. Faded tags spray-painted on the paint peeling walls squint and blink under the first sunlight they’ve seen in years. The ginkgos flower and stink. The dogwoods (There are dogwoods! Who knew?) are exquisite. We are done with mourning though death is yet two years away. Now that the death sentence is official, things have calmed down. The alarms no longer bleat incessantly. The police are fewer and spend much more time outside smoking cigarettes, munching on Subway, and flirting with the female security guards than they do harassing hat-wearing hooligans or rattling and stomping after pink-clad gangsters through the labyrinthine basement corridors. Fights flared up the week after the machete murder, but no-one else got stabbed, no-one got arrested. We’ve left the ICU. This is hospice care.

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