Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Expiration

Today was "amazing" (to use the word I've most recently usurped from Mr. MoMo). [Incidentally, I get called "Mr. Mo" at least once a day...] But, today -- even with the original Mr. Mo out sick -- was, nevertheless, despite all obstacles and illusions to the contrary, amazing. From lows to highs...

Firstly, bad news of the day: Coretta Scott King's death. And the immediate updating of her biography. It's so odd how that happens; a woman dies and instantly the information is catalogued -- before she's even cold... Regardless, thankfully, I do not "lesson plan" per se, and so have plenty of freedom to incorporate her passing into our next class.

But, today brought better news: My best student trailed a Clarion Ledger reporter all day, sitting in on a city council meeting and working with him at the paper afterward. I've yet to speak with her, but the reporter seemed thrilled with her interest and his role. If I'm not mistaken, she'll have an article published in tomorrow's paper... Score 1 for Mr. Khaki Pants.

2: Today was the first ever meeting of the Board Game Club (about which I could speak at length). Principally, the kids enjoyed Monopoly (two simultaneous game boards), Clue, and Mastermind. Boggle and Stratego were made ready for next week. My goal: to get these kids thinking critically and analytically, using math and strategic thinking skills to beat a game. Let's hope my chess/checkers/backgammon boards arrive soon. And I cannot wait for a 6-way RISK war! Rule #1: no calculators when playing Monopoly... argh!

In conclusion, let's go to first period, right after the announcements: I grow tired of hearing the same "we can succeed" bullshit day in and day out -- the constant promise of success, the constant vocalization of what it "means" to succeed, the ever-present pretense of understanding success. So, I whip out Emily Dickinson's "Success is counted sweetest / by those who ne'er succeed" and we're off to the races. And it is only by 3pm that I realize what my subconscious had done: I'd accidentally/intentionally found the poem that summarizes the contrast I've been harping on... Namely, in the suburbs no one speaks about becoming a doctor, lawyer, businessman, success, millionaire, etc. -- they just do it. It's an inevitability that no one really thinks hard about. It's assumed, and life moves on. But HERE, with "those who ne'er succeed," it's on every lip, at every turn.

Pet peeves of the week: (as heard in Mr. Khaki Pants' classroom)
1. "I can go to the bathroom?" [Is this somehow a question?]
2. "I be saying that..." [I now collect a penny each time I hear "I be." The class with the fewest pennies earns a pizza party (paid for with the other classes' pennies.]
3. "They was fittin to..." [Next on the penny collection list...]
4. "This book is boring..."
5. "This book be boring..."
6. "Boring."
7. "This book is not interesting."
8. "Interesting."

9. Persistent student complaints about any/everything.
10. My own shortcomings as a teacher: specifically, my lack of familiarity with literature, stories, biographies, articles, texts that are interesting to intelligent, inner-city, African-American ninth-graders who read at a seventh/eighth grade level.


Tired though I am, I'm excited by the prospect of tomorrow's Civil Rights & Civil Liberties meeting at Saint Andrews (the private school across town), involving Anna Quindlin's most recent editorial. Wowsers! [p.s. the response I heard on the radio was a resounding: "First is the worst; the worst is first." Anyone who understands what this means is welcome, nay, ENCOURAGED to explain...]

I'm gladdened, too, at Mr. MoMo's energetic tackling of "nutrition."

I'm wary of attending Thursday's "presentation" at Jackson State, whereat we Teacher Corps, alternate route philomaths are asked to speak, regarding traditional v. alternate route certification. Needless to say, the audience response will not be warm... ["First is the worst; the worst is first..."]

In conclusion (again), parent-teacher conferences next week, sex the week after, and away we go!

Sunday, January 22, 2006

McCourt

I should be writing songs and stories – playing with words and fiction – for the aesthete. Instead, I write Lesson Plans to entertain children, to educate the left-behind…

I try reading Teacher Man, but it makes my head spin: there are still so many plans, uncertainties, notes-to-self, and observations in my head, that to hear them coming from another’s lived experience is extremely confusing. I’m getting my memories and plans muddled with his. I’m confused about where my story stops and his starts or vice versa.

I have to put the book away until summer...

Friday, January 20, 2006

Slow-Mo Friday / "Go to College"

Where I grew up, “everyone” wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer. Here, everyone wants to “succeed” so that they can “be a success” and “make lots of money.” Obviously the first is a hyper-exaggeration of the reality they’re surrounded by: rich parents, doctors up and down the block, etc. But the other is what? The exact opposite of everything they know – and nothing they could possibly understand; in short, nothing realistic…

Kids know that (according to their peer groups) they’re not supposed to care about what other people think, but they clearly do. I recall that (“back in my day”) the popular thing to do was to care about what others thought – to verbally and clearly fit it. Here, my students brag about not caring what others think of them. Yet, they obsess and brag about deodorant usage, hair brushing, new clothing, et cetera. Desperate to “fit in” despite their obstinate counter-claims.

Also, students here are obsessed with getting back to their “roots.” Getting to the core of who they are. Both ethnically (black, African, Native American, Asian, Latino, white) and geographically (my daddy’s from Louisiana, my grandma’s from the Delta, my mama’s from Chicago).

Aggression, defense. Physical strength.

Classes are half-attended; there’s a basketball game today. Against Provine…

Q: “What do you plan on doing after school?”

A: “Go to college”

Q: “Which college?”

A: “College.”

“Why do you want to be a businessman?”

“To be successful.”

“What does that mean?”

“To be a success.

“Okay, but doing what?”

“Being a businessman.”

“And what does a businessman do?”

“Walk around in a suit, with a briefcase and ride in limos.”

“And what does a businessman do with his time? How does a businessman make his money?”

“Do business and things.”

“Like what?”

“Making money and being successful!

“How?”

“Selling things to people for millions of dollars.”

“Good. How does he buy the things that he sells for millions? Where does he get the money from?”

“I don’t know. Working—“

“Where?”

“Burger King. Saving up.”

“Saving millions?”

“I guess.”

And so it goes…

Sometimes it is best to pretend you didn’t see something (the kid flicking his wrist like an NBA star, sliding his eyes to check my reaction). Other times, you need to demonstrate the “eyes in the back of your head” as a teacher, seeing and hearing everything – showing that you supervise and care...