Saturday, June 25, 2005

One Day You're Here...
I had a job interview last Thursday. It’s for a teaching gig at one of these mini-schools, an international high school with less than 200 kids and maybe a dozen teachers. Every one I met seemed really cool and enthusiastic and like the kind of people I could actually get a beer with and maybe even to whom I could confess my love for Lil Weavah (shawty).

It’s all super progressive and interesting; English is taught through the different subjects, and the kids are from all over Latin America, Asia, and Africa. To qualify the kids just have to test at a beginning level of English and have been in the country less than four years, but obviously only kids with motivated, involved parents bother to try.

Discipline is not a problem. Resources, while not on a Prep school bounteous abundance level, are not scarce. They have computers, big classrooms, and tons of books. There are no overseers form the Region trying set anybody up to fall. Inter-departmental backstabbing is non-existent. Morale is high. This place is thriving, not dieing.

It’s pretty much the exact opposite of Shitty High, so why am I so conflicted about whether or not I want the job?

I promised my kids I’d be back. I couldn’t help it. It breaks my heart how every decent teacher these kids ever have breaks the fuck out as soon as the getting is good. And you’re crazy if you think the kids aren’t fully aware of that trend. I’d love to see (and help) some of these little bastards grow the fuck up and actually manage to graduate. There’s always more kids, I know, but I’d definitely miss my people.

Moreover, I’m getting more and more comfortable with Shitty. I know most of the kids, and even if I don’t exactly command their utmost respect, the vast majority like me and treat me a whole lot better than they do some other teachers. Now that I’m (sort of) done with grad.school I’ll have time in the afternoons to start that chess team, get in on some flag football action, maybe even get together a street-art club.

Plus I can get away with murder. Shitty is so big and disorganized and inefficient that as long a student doesn’t leave my room bleeding, no one’s really going to hold me accountable for anything. I may not officially be supposed to, but nobody bothers to notice if I teach lessons that have nothing to do with the curriculum. Hell, as long as I keep things relatively quiet, no one really cares if I teach anything at all.

Finally, there’s a part of me that feels like the kids at the “good school” have already made it. They’ve got parents who give a shit. If I don’t work there somebody just as (probably more) qualified and dedicated than I will. They’re going to learn no matter what. They’re fine. Not that I’m single-handedly turning things around up at Shitty, but with a lot of my kids, if I don’t teach them something, nobody else will either.

What to do?

I haven’t even been offered the job yet, and if I am there’s a strong possibility Shitty’s principal won’t release me (despite the fact that Shitty is “phasing out” and we’ll all have to go somewhere soon,) so this could all be irrelevant anyway.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Your Tax Dollars At Work
I proctored a Living Environment Regents exam today.

The students were all Special Ed.

Six of the twenty kids scheduled to take the test showed up.

Of those one girl was an hour late and then left after twenty minutes to “go to her counselor,” because she didn’t feel good. She left her test on her desk and assured me she was coming back, but did not.

It was blazing hot in our dingy little room. We had a fan but I turned it off because it was so loud I could not be heard.

Heard, you ask?

These kids, though normal in appearance and speech, couldn’t read. At all. So I was instructed, curtly I might add, to read the entire test to them, all 75 questions. I did so. It took me well over two hours.

The kids were to sign their names in at least three different places and were supposed to write the answers to questions 1-38 (Parts A and B-1) on an answer sheet, then copy them over to a Scantron. In Pencil. The rest of the questions (Parts C and D) were to be done in pen. In the test booklet. This was extremely important.

It took at least twenty minutes to get everyone situated with a pen and pencil and all the testing materials.

It was all very confusing.

“Yo, Mista, why I gotta do it twice? Which part I use the pen? I already signed. I gotta sign again?”

Of the 75 questions I’d say I knew to answers to approximately a dozen. Maybe not the MCAT, but this shit was hard. The most confusing part was how it just jumped from subject to subject with no context for anything.

It also didn’t seem to have a lot to do with knowledge of the environment, or science at all, but simply tested whether or not you understood all the big biology words it threw at you.

When all the kids were done and the missing girl didn’t show up I returned the tests and the answer sheets, snuck out a side door of the basement, and came home.

Friday, June 17, 2005

For Ever Dog
I've still got a few more weeks to grind out until Summer vacation, but yesterday was the last day of school for my students. Many still have to come in and take Regents tests (don't worry, I gave them a crash course in all things smoked brisket,) and many will have to attend summer school, but for the most part we're done.

The last few days after Finals are Hell. It's hot, and the kids pretty much refuse to work once they've handed in those last tests. I worked up some Michael Jackson-based vocabulary lessons (germphobic, pedophile, surgically-altered freak, Quincy Jones, disco-classic, crotch, etc...) but mostly was just baby-sitting and trying to keep things relaxed in order to prevent any heat-induced riots.

The last day was cool, though. Not that many kids showed up, and everyone who did was in a great mood, including me. We just sat around and shot the shit, talked about our summer plans, and said our goodbyes. Lots of kids said wonderful things to me that made me feel all warm and fuzzy, even if they were just kissing ass.

Pedro from Harlem showed up for a minute but took off early, forgetting his pencil. I kept it as a souvenir.

Halla[sic] black to my nigga Cam'ron

To my nigga Juelz and Jim Jones

Dipset "Bitch" for ever dog

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Nerd Rap
Shitty HS sports squads have been ripping it up of late. I'd love to go into greater detail about this, but the details are so phenomenal that it would immediately send up red-flags all over the interinternet and set off a chain-reaction that would quickly expose my hidden secret-identity.

I went to a lot of the games, but when the girls recently had a big one down in Shaolin I couldn't go.

Mercedes, a student in my extra-class (the one where we studied the Common Sense tune, "I Used to Love H.E.R.") and a star-athlete, was giving me a hard time about not coming to her game.

"C'mon, Mista, you went to the boys' game. "

"I can't, Mercedes, I'm sorry. It's too far. Don't you have to take a boat to get there or something?"

"Damn, Mista, you grimey. They's a bunch of people goin'. We takin' a bus."

"I know, Mercedes, I know. No really, I've got something to do on Saturday. I'm busy. Believe me I'd like to go."

"You busy? Whatchu gotta do?"

It was at this point that I informed the class that wifey and I were throwing a little dinner party on Saturday night, and I'd need most of the day to prepare.

The kids had fun with this.

"A party? You throwin' a party?" They chuckled for a minute at the thought of me partying, and then a kid named Kelvin delivered this zinger, which set the whole class rolling in uncontrollable fits of gut-busting laughter...

"Yo, at Mr. Babylon's party they gonna be listening to... Common Sense!"

The thought of a bunch of twenty-something white-folks sitting around drinking and listening to Resurrection was apparently the funniest thing these kids had ever heard. I assume they imagined us all high-fiving and head-banging every time someone identified a literary element.

Poor Lonnie Rashied, if he only knew.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Love Me Tender
If I had to describe my number one strength as a teacher, I would say it’s my ability to get along with the kids. It might also be my number one weakness—I’m often way too lenient and inconsistent with discipline and the enforcement of rules—but so it goes. I like the kids, even the little bastards that piss me off everyday usually manage to crack me up too, and are often the first to give me some dap in the hallway or on the way to and from the train.

In my two years teaching at Shitty, out of at least 300 different students that I have taught, I can think of only a couple that I couldn’t find a way to get along with. I have one such student now.

Elvis Sosa is a good-looking kid, or the girls think so at least. He has a handsome chocolate face, and big almond eyes with long, feminine, eyelashes and little gangster lines shaved into the eyebrows. His braids are always tight, and he’s always immaculately pimped out in the latest color-coordinated street gear and kicks. He’s thin but lean; cut.

I think he’s kind of funny looking, though. He’s short, and his head is way too big for his body. He moves awkwardly, stiff, as if he’s always doing the robot. He’s got a silly little Prince-ified pencil moustache, and, like so many of the budding young thugs I deal with, his feet are strangely tiny.

He started off innocuously enough. After completing his first writing assignment of the year, he immediately began badgering me to read it.

“Yo, Babylon, you read my paragraph?”

“Not yet, Elvis, I’ll read it tonight. Promise.”

“Read it. You gotta read it, Babylon,” Elvis had a very strange look on his face as he told me this, a sort of bemused, evil smirk.

“It’s funny, huh, Elvis? Allright, I can’t wait.”

“Yeah, it’s funny, Babylon, you better read it.”

I took this as a good sign. The kid was excited about his writing. When I did get around to reading his paragraph I was a little confused. It was basically just a string of mean-spirited, but not particularly funny insults directed towards my favorite sports teams. Oh well, I thought, so the kid's no comedian, at least he’s writing.

It was like that for most of the year. Elvis was pretty quiet in class, but every now and then would turn in a piece of writing wherein he robbed my house or stole my wife out from under me or both. Lots of kids incorporate me into their stories, and lots of kids make fun of me, and there’s nothing wrong with a little healthy ribbing, but with Elvis there was always something a little more sinister there.

Most kids would write that they came to my house, broke in, realized it was me, and then we all laughed and ate some pizza or played basketball. With Elvis he knew it was me the whole time, and then he stabbed me in the gut.

I tried to get him to tone things down, told him I was glad he was using his imagination, but I didn’t think it was funny. I don’t think I really got through.

“Yeah, OK, Babylon, just give me my credit. Ya heard?” He’d insist as his big melon head rotated and lead his little body back to his seat in the back of the class.

Sometime maybe halfway through the year he started growing bolder with me.

“Yo, Babylon. I did my work. You better give me my credit. Don’t give me no zero.”

I’m accustomed to kids badgering me for credit and pleading not to get zeros for the day, and I dealt with Elvis the same way I dealt with everyone else.

“Sorry, Elvis. You got a zero today. It’s good that you did the work, but that’s only half of your job. You were talking the whole time, and you got up and walked around the room, and then you threatened to punch Tony and called him a pussy-ass nigga.”

Elvis’ tone was always a little different than the other kids. He never begged or pleaded. He never whined. He just demanded. Combined with the bug-eyed, unsmiling look in his eye, it was almost a threat.

His jabs at me became verbal and not just written. He cracked me up once by grabbing a finger full of my copious arm-hair and suggesting I get it braided. At least that was actually kind of funny I thought. But he wouldn’t let it go. He began to make the same crack every day, and once again, though it sounded like a friendly barb, his demeanor was much more threatening than comedic.

I chalked it up to his poor comic delivery, but I wasn’t so sure.

Then, a couple of months ago, the kid began to straight up threaten me.

“Yo, Babylon, don’t be ridin’ the train #8 home. I see you up there, it’s on.”

Once again I didn’t take the kid seriously at first, but he kept up with it.

Initially I just laughed him off.

“Yeah, okay, Elvis. I ride the train everyday. I’ll be there.”

That didn’t work. Neither did explaining the inappropriateness of his comment.

He grew even more brazen in his threats and taunts. He began to get under my skin. I began to try to be at the station at the same time as him just so he wouldn’t think I was running scared.

“Yo, Babylon, I didn’t see you on the train yesterday. You scared?”

“I told you I take the Z on Wednesdays, Elvis. I’ll be there today.”

"Yo, Mr. Babylon, you scared of Elvis, right? That why you don’t be takin’ the train when he do?” other kids began to ask me.

I was determined not to back down to this punk, which I was sure was all he wanted, but as he kept it up day after day I began to wonder. This kid is weird. What if he does try something?

I was pretty sure he was just bluffing. The couple of times I did run into him at he train station I said hello and gave him a pound then walked to the quiet end of the platform just like I would with anyone else. He reciprocated, and didn't say or do anything, but wouldn’t stop with those threatening bugged-eyes and raised, sculpted, eyebrows.

The next day would be more of the same. “Yo Babylon, why you went to the end of the train yesterday? You scared right?”

The kid was really starting to piss me off, but the last thing I wanted was an actual confrontation with this little shit-talking ghetto-Napoleon. The little punk might just be crazy enough to stab me or something.

Finally last week I ran into Elvis on the stairs on the way up to the station.

“Babylon. What’s good?”

“Just going home Elvis.”

“Yo, Babylon. You gonna pass me this marking period?”

“I don’t know Elvis. It depends on how you do on the Final.”

“But I do all your work...”

It’s true. The crazy punk doesn’t read or write very well, but has a pretty good record as far as completing his assignments.

“You have been working hard. I know that. But you have a lot of zeros. You can’t keep talking smack to me in class. And you still probably have to pass the Final.”

“Yeah, okay, Babylon. I’m gonna pass that Final. Ya heard?”

“I hope so, Elvis, I hope so.”

After that, the threats stopped. I have no idea what happened. The next day someone made a crack about me being scared, and Elvis corrected them.

“Nah, we cool, me and Babylon ain’t got beef no more.”

I wasn’t really aware of any beef in the first place, other than the fact that Elvis wouldn’t stop poppin’ off at the mouth to me, but I was glad to hear that it was squashed. What the Hell happened? Did I handle the situation properly? I have no idea. As Frizzle would say, there’s no manual for situations like these. But I didn’t back down and I didn’t get stabbed, so I guess we’ll call this one a success.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

The Double Truth
Hot. Shitty High School is hot. Sweltering hot. Hot when you wake up hot. Three showers a day hot. Stick to your desk hot. Mr. Babylon teaching with the lights off hot. Hot. Kids falling asleep during their final exams hot. Mr. Babylon skipping the coffee and deigning to bend over and slurp out of that spit-encrusted water-fountain hot. Hot. Every kid in class waving a folder or half a Styrofoam lunch tray in their face to cool down hot. Mr. Babylon waving a folder too hot. Step on gum and scrape it off with a paperclip hot. Hot. Latin Kings stripping down to their wife-beaters hot. Domincanas with their shoes off hot. Mr. Babylon teaching with the doors open so a steady stream of nameless hall-roaming punks strolls through disrupting class and talking smack hot. Throw a trashcan through the window of Sal’s Famous hot. Hot.

The Injustice of It All
I'd just like to take this opportunity to extend a big, fat, middle-finger to whomever made "Brooklyn/Queens Day" a holiday. Where is the love for the Boogie Down?

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Return of the Pistol
Faithful readers may remember the time last year when I journeyed out to the OP to cheer on my friend the Pistol in his school’s student-teacher basketball game. Good times. This Friday, it was time for the sequel.

The Pistol kind of caught everybody by surprise last year, though, so this year’s game was going to be a little tougher.

For the past couple of months the Pistol insisted that he’d been training for the game. He was worried, he told me, that all the student players were just coming off of track season, and were going to run his ass out the gym. The Pistol talked a lot about getting in shape, but when pressed for details could only offer that he was “up to 3 pull-ups, now” and had really torn up the court against some co-eds and Asian dudes one afternoon at the LIU gym. Whenever I saw the guy he was smoking cigarettes, drinking Presidente, and eating Pringles.

From the start, the game was frustrating. The Students did a decent-enough job locking up the Pistol, the few 3s he got off didn’t drop, and every time he took it to the hole they shoved him out of bounds before he could get a shot off.

The Pistol hit the boards pretty hard and got off a couple of spectacular passes (promptly fumbled by his team-mates,) but for the most part couldn’t make a whole lot happen.

It wasn’t entirely his fault. Once again, the Teachers implemented the Mighty-Mites Rule when it came to playing time, and thus were often effectively playing with three or four on five. Yeah, sure, it’s funny when the five-foot tall Dean of Security runs around in circles and dribbles off his leg or chucks a shot over the backboard, but the dude doesn’t need to play half the game.

Worse than the Security dwarf and the other Teachers who knew they sucked and didn’t care, were the jack-asses from the PE department who didn’t know they sucked and ended up playing pivotal roles in the offense.

This short, blond-pompadour-ed Vinnie Barbarino guy from the PE department insisted on running the point despite the fact that he couldn’t dribble or shoot, and the Students were running a full-court press. This Vinnie Barbarino clown would just put his head down and bull his way forward, muttering Hail Mary’s to himself in desperate prayer that he could just make it over half-court. If he did actually get the ball across the time-line he’d either launch a long-range two-handed push-shot off the back iron or pass to his similarly coiffed friend, completely icing out the Pistol for the entire first half.

It wasn’t all frustration though. The Pistol got it going a little bit in the second half, hitting a couple of threes, knocking down a sweet turn-around jumper off the backboard, and finishing a couple of nice moves to the hole. Trained observers might also have noticed a friendly little trash-talking tete-a-tete between The Pistol and the Students’ best player, a solid, speedy point guard who lit up Vinnie Barbarino all night long. The Pistol had a great behind-the-back move on the end of a coast-to-coast play where he seemed to go simultaneously over, around, and through his rival, get fouled, then somehow hang in the air until he reached the other side of the basket where he flipped the reverse over his head off the backboard.

It was a beautiful move, but it didn’t drop. The and-one wasn’t meant to be. The crowd gasped then groaned, and the Pistol nailed his free throws. It was just that kind of night.

Finally as the clock wound down under two minutes, the Pistol curled around the top of the key on an inbounds play and cut straight to the basket. Barbarino tossed a less-than-perfect but adequate lob and the Pistol rose up for the alley-oop. He cocked back for the tomahawk, but the ball slipped through his fingers and he came down hard on the rim with both hands but no rock and landed. Once again the crowd let out a collective groan of anticipation turned to disappointment. The Pistol came up limping. His calf had cramped up just as he went to jump for the ‘oop.

Next year I’m in charge of his training. I’ll have the Pistol chopping down trees, painting fences and waxing floors, and chasing chickens down the beach at Coney Island. He’ll be ready.

Friday, June 03, 2005

The Glamorous Life
I was wandering around downtown today, picking up some hot-sauce and hot kicks that can’t be had in my neighborhood, and everywhere I went I kept seeing these dumpy, frazzled-looking folks huffing and hustling their weary ways through the streets and subways and all wearing these silly paper painter’s hats emblazoned with a big blue “Contract Now!” logo.

“Who are these poor working stiffs?” I wondered. “Custodians? Sanitation Workers? Hospital Cafeteria Staff?”

Finally, crowded onto the train on the way home, I got a good look at one of the flimsy little hats as it sat perched oh-so-rakishly atop the liver-spotted wispily-fringed chrome-dome of one very tired looking man.

Madison Square Garden. June 2nd. UFT. Rally.

Of course. How could I forget? (Perhaps taking the day off to nurse a post-Devin hangover had something to do with it?) There was a great big teacher rally today at the World’s Most Famous Arena.

Woo hoo. Fuck the man. Resist. Fight the Power. Shuffle home to your cramped apartment and your miserable children, get up again the next day and every day for the rest of your sorry career until the disrespect, the constant yelling, the bureaucratic morass, the dirty halls and the crappy food, finally get to be too much and you cash in your meager pension only to return the next year as a substitute, because you need the bread and besides you’ve figured out how to fire out these days and weeks and months and years without even thinking about anything but your weekend trip to Jersey to see the in-laws.

I have seen my sad-sack future, and it ain't pretty.

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