Tales from an inner city high school

Thursday, December 21, 2006


The Navy came today.

The recruiter walked into my senior homeroom and all the students perked up. She started talking about money for college and choosing your own career path and all the experience you can get. For the first time in my life I was all about the U.S. Military.

I looked around at my kids and silently predicted their future. There weren't very many seniors, only a few of them have real plans for life after high school. Most of them haven't seriously applied to college and a lot of them won't get in. Some of them are settling for city community colleges, but some of them won't go anywhere.

I hoped they were considering joining the Navy. A huge part of me is appalled at how much of a target the students in this demographic are for the military. I feel like the kids are being manipulated because of their poverty. This used to really upset me, but now I pray these kids will join. It's better than being in a gang or selling drugs on the street. I guess your chances of dying are about the same, but at least you'll die with money for college.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


Today I got assaulted by a student.

It wasn't too serious. She didn't hurt me or anything, but she wanted to. She was filling out a job application and listening to music on the computer when she should have been sitting at the desk doing her work for class. When I told her to turn off the music and sit down she said "no". I walked over to her and asked her again and she refused again and turned away from me. I picked up her stuff to move it over to a desk and she snatched her paper out of my hand. "Don't take my shit, bitch!"

This is where my heart starts beating faster. This is where an everyday confrontation leads to something else.

I take the rest of her stuff like her pen and her notebook that I had picked up and and I walk to the door. "Alright Tanisha, its time to go" I say very calmly. Kids call me a bitch every once in a while and it doesn't affect me too much anymore. But today Tanisha chased after me. She grabbed my hand and started wrestling the pen out of my hand. "Give me my mother fuckin pen!" she was screaming. I didn't. I held tight. I was mad.

She clawed at my hand and scratched me. I looked down and noticed some blood. I still held on to the pen and she was still pulling. I heard a snap and saw black spill over where the blood had been. Tanisha fell back. By this time her sister had run out of the room to tell her to stop. There were kids in the hallway from my class that were watching and they were yelling at her to stop. She got up and came toward me and started pointing her finger in my face. "Buy me a new pen, bitch, now you have to buy me a new pen!" "I don't have to buy you anything" I said. I wasn't scared she was going to hit me, for some reason I WANTED her to hit me. "oooh, I am going to fuck this bitch up" she said as her sister restrained her. "go ahead and hit me" I said in my calmest voice. "don't make me hit you bitch!" she yelled back.

Her sister kept saying "What are you doing, girl, that's a teacher!" "Stop it, that's a teacher!" and Tanisha kept coming toward me with her hands restrained, swearing at me and promising to "fuck me up". "Go ahead" I responded "see what happens". I wouldn't have hit her back, but I would have gotten her expelled. Finally Tanisha fell to the ground and got up and started to walk off. I told the security guard a brief version of what happened and went back in the room to write her up.

As I started to write the report I noticed that my hands were shaking.

Thursday, December 14, 2006


The high school I teach at is considered a "neighborhood school".

The city has a program called "School Choice". What it means is that students in 8th grade across the city apply to high school like one might apply to college. There are different high schools across the city that offer different things. Some might have a good arts program while others have a good science program. One might focus on ROTC while another on college prep. The high school up for applications often have entrance exams and GPA requirements. Some even require essays and personal statements. The competition is fierce and often students do not get accepted to the school of their choice.

That's where the neighborhood school comes in. The neighborhood school, like the one I teach at, is the fallback. It's the school that HAS to let you in. It is the school that you are zoned for and the school they will send you back to if you don't cut it at the school of your choice.

There are plusses and minuses to this program. The plus is obvious, there is more choice. If your local school doesn't have a strong theater program, you can go to one that does. If your child has an interest in technology, they can apply to a school that caters to students who do. Students can find their interests early and start working on them right away.

The minuses to the school choice program are what I see every day. A school full of kids that either couldn't or didn't try to get in to a better school. A school full of kids that are considered the bottom of the bottom. A school where the valedictorian has a 3.5 GPA and isn't sure she wants to go to college. A school that the smart kids want to leave and the others learn to resent.

Thursday, December 07, 2006


There is no music program at the school. No marching band, no chorus, nothing. These kids, like all kids, love music, and it's a shame that they have no outlet to make it. I have some recording equipment, though, and I usually let my best kids stay after and record music.

They are pretty amazing. They make all kinds of stuff and its always impressive. Usually they just freestyle rap, and they make their own beats with their fists on the table. Today they let me join in.

I started banging on the table with them, all of us in a circle. I looked around at all the kids smiling and shaking their heads to the beat and I never felt so proud to be included in something.

I love my kids.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006


I kicked a kid out yesterday for smelling strongly of marijuana. I was surprized by his nerve, not even bothering to cover up the smell. This was the third time this year he has smelled so strongly of it. He came to see me after school.

He came in and sat down. He didn't say anything to me, just sat there. "You smoke every morning?" I asked him. "Of course." he replied. "I can't stand to make it through the day if I don't". I told him that was pretty sad. We talked about it for a while, he told me that he has to come to school because he's on probation and if he smokes before school it helps him get through the day. I asked him why he was on probation. "Selling drugs." He said shyly.

I learned a lot about Nathan. He still sells drugs, even though he is on probation. He clears about $500 a day. He sells weed and crack, but he doesn't smoke crack because he "doesn't want to kill himself". "Oh but you don't mind killing other people?" I asked him. "They're gonna get it some way, I might as well get paid for it" He had a point.

He doesn't sell to kids, he told me, but I have a feeling that's not true. He started selling drugs when HE was a kid, at 12. "My older brothers got me started" He told me, he says all four of his older brothers sell drugs, but he doesn't want his little brother to start. "Why not?" I asked "He doesn't need too! He can get all his money from me."

I didn't find out about his home life too much, he told me he had to go. He said he would try to make it to first period tomorrow on time, I asked him if he could try coming without smoking a bowl first.

He shook his head.

Monday, December 04, 2006


There are some kids I don't care about. It's true. There are some kids that I don't have the energy to care about. I have about a 45% failure rate in my class, which unfortunately is not uncommon for my school. It sucks. It's depressing. I think if I had maybe 10% or 20% I could really tackle it. I could call parents and talk to the kids one on one, tell them that they are important, that they can do better.

But I don't do that. I pick a few. I pick a few kids that appeal to me one way or another and focus on saving them. And to be honest, I don't think I'm really saving them. But when they get a bad grade I call them on it, or if they already have an "F" I applaud them for doing work. But there are some kids I don't give any attention too. There are some kids that I see run past my door when they should be in class and I just ignore them. I don't want them in my room. I don't want to help them. I kind of hate them.

I feel really guilty about that.

Friday, December 01, 2006


Today it snowed. It was the first real snowfall of the season and I wondered if school might be closed. It wasn't.

When I got to school I asked around and found out that in the past 7 years the city schools have only been closed once for snow. The city doesn't like to take snow days because its a loss of funds and sometimes parents complain that they have no where to put their kids when it snows and they have to go to work.

So today school was open. And I started my day with only 5 students in my first period class. In a class of 35 this is a big difference. The day continued like this and at the end of the last period the attendance office reported an attendance rate of 26%. We usually have poor attendance anyway and most days clear about 82%, but today was pretty significant.

On days with low attendance most teachers have the kids watch a movie or just talk throughout the day. I had my kids do work and it was the most gratifying day I've had yet. In all my classes I had only 5 to 10 students. The kids were attentive, they didn't complain, and I didn't have to be strict at all. I think my kids learned more today then they have all year. We did really great work and I felt like an amazing teacher.