Friday, May 05, 2006

Prom and Problems

The art teacher was absent, to begin with. Plus, there were blocks in the room. What did they think would happen? Unfortunately for my favorite little hooligans, one of the blocks thrown during the commotion hit the unfortunate substitute. So, confessions were made, friends were ratted out, “senior” (8th grade) trips were taken away, and then, the bomb was dropped. Five of my kids can’t go to their big 8th grade prom unless their mothers (or grandmothers, as the case may be) want to come too. For the first time all year, I saw tears from some of my toughest students. So the tension was thick when the accused parties walked back into my class from their meeting with the guidance counselor.

Clearly, the DBQ (Document Based Question – an essay) I had planned wasn’t happening, so I ended up just reading to them to calm them down, and then let them write in their journals about what had happened. Amazingly, many of the angriest kids snatched up their pens and wrote until the end of the period. One girl took up a whole page talking about how she hates “FONY people – and that’s what all the people at this school are – FONY!!!” It’s nice for them to know that writing can be an outlet for their frustration.

Today I felt like a real teacher for a while as we finished the DBQ from yesterday and continued reading Warriors Don’t Cry – an excellent memoir written by one of the Little Rock Nine. My kids can’t stop gasping as worse and worse things happen to the protagonist. In yesterday’s chapter, a white segregationist tried to hit her with a stick of dynamite. Today, girls tossed flaming toilet paper into her hair while holding her prisoner in a bathroom stall, and then a boy threw acid into her eyes. Maybe not as tough as losing your prom privileges, but it gets my kids’ attention.

I can’t seem to stop teaching Brown vs. The Board of Ed. Ever since one of my students, who was doing her project on it, erroneously wrote that the decision was the reason she couldn’t go to school with white kids, I’ve been trying to make the point that after all that people have done to fight for integration, I’m still the only white kid in our classroom. “Look around,” I keep telling them, “Does this look like an integrated classroom to you?” Well, yes, they say, we’re all from different cultures – some Guyanese, some West Indian, some born right down the street in Brookdale Hospital. We have light skinned and dark skinned black people here.

I find myself talking to them about re-segregation almost as if I think that they can fix the system. It’s not that I necessarily want them to want to go to school with other people. “But it’s sort of a shame,” I find myself saying. “Here we are in the most diverse city in the world…”
I don’t know really know what else to say.

Monday, May 01, 2006

The Game

I'm sitting with the guidance counselor facing six young troublemakers and I realize that I have now become the great oppressor. I'm threatening kids with the prom.

"School is a game just like anything else," I'm telling them, "and at this point in the year, you know the rules. Do you know the rules? Yes, you do. Well, now it's play or get played, kids. So if you don't want to go to your 8th grade prom, then, please, keep acting like fools and sit back and watch us play you."

I almost quit my job today. For the first time all year, the thought crossed my mind that I could just walk out of my classroom (driven to near bedlam by my request that they read a "whack" book about the civil rights movement) and never come back again.

But I didn't. Instead, I taught 7th grade in the afternoon, and gave a big speech about why it's important to learn grammar. And - miracle - one usually diffident kid was nodding when I told them that my allowing them to go to 8th grade without knowing proper grammar would be like a basketball coach sending them out to play without ever having taught them the rules of the game. You could be a great athlete and still fail under those circumstances.

"Would that make me a good coach? No, it wouldn't. And if I didn't teach you the rules of writing, I wouldn't be a good teacher either. So, do this worksheet on nouns."

Tomorrow is another day.

Free Counter