Tales from an inner city high school

Friday, February 23, 2007


We have about 10 security guards that I know about in the school. There are some that guard the floors in general and others that have posts by the exits making sure no one sneaks out or in.

The security guards on the floor all carry yardsticks. They chase kids with them and smack their butts and sides of their legs when they find them. "I'm in an ass smackin' mood!" they threaten as the shoo the students off to their classes. If they find kids cutting class and hanging out in the stairwell or hallways they'll chase after them with the stick. The kids in response will scream and laugh and run away. It's a game.

When I first started teaching here I thought it was about the weirdest thing I had ever seen. Why have the stick? They aren't afraid of it and it turns it into a playful fear instead of a legitimate one. Now I'm used to it.

Today there were some kids hanging out in the hallway outside of my door. One of the security guards came and chased them off with her stick. It was like playing a game with a toddler. They were back 10 minutes later giggling and whispering and then screaming again when she found them.

I guess that works.

Thursday, February 22, 2007


Shonique and I have discovered a new website. It really helps with her reading and her special ed teacher lets her come down during the last period of the day to work on it sometimes. It's called StarFall and it is exactly what Shonique needs right now.

Everyday when Shonique comes down to work I try to get her to log on to the site on her own. Everyday she struggles with the spelling. She remembers that it is called StarFall but she forgets how to spell it. I make her sound out Star which is the hardest for her. She always forgets the "t". She closes her eyes and starts to spell "S.....A....R?" "nope," I say "you are forgetting a letter" "Um....S...L? no. S....R....A?" "Sound it out, Shonique"

And she does. She sounds it out and makes that "T" distinct enough to hear it and eventually spells it correctly. But today when she comes in she'll forget again and we'll have to do it once more.

I hope its helping.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007


Today there was a big to do about a couple of kids smoking marijuana in the hallway.

Everyone was pretty shocked that they would have the nerve to just smoke in the middle of everything without fear of getting caught. I wasn't really. I remember back when I was in ninth grade a boy lit a joint in the middle of English class. I imagine the incident today was for the same reasoning. The act of defiance was more important than getting high before 7th period.

Anyway I forgot that the school had cameras. There are security cameras all around the building, in hallways and in stairwells. I never see them when I go from place to place, but the security guards were all gathered around the monitors trying to see who lit up. I don't think the system is very sophisticated though. They never found out who it was.

Sunday, February 18, 2007


One of the biggest problems I have with my students is that they don't come to class prepared. Often kids come without anything. Just themselves. No pencil, no paper, no backpack. They just come in.

A lot of the kids do have backpacks though, I would say that a little over half of them do. They don't have regular backpacks though, at least not the kind I had as a kid, with the two straps and the zippers. The have the kind with drawstings which usually have a brand name on them or some sort of logo like "fritos" or "verizon".

It's great that these kids have anything at all, but unfortunately it doesn't fit any books or folders. Mostly they have folded up pieces of paper and maybe some kind of writing utensil. Most of the time they still don't have the stuff they need though, and its so frustrating to teach. If its time for a test or any kind of written work there is a hesitant scramble to get supplies. I don't give out pencils or pens to my students like some other teachers do. I'm pretty stubborn about it. I don't want them to feel like they don't need to be prepared because I will supply it for them. They still seem to think its my responsibility though. If they don't bring a pencil and can't take a test they blame me for not giving them one. And maybe I should. I don't know. I guess I am trying to teach them responsibility or something. I don't think its working though. Instead I just have a lot of kids getting zeros on their tests.

Thursday, February 15, 2007


Today I had to write a letter of recommendation for one of my students. It was for a very elite and competitive summer program at Princeton University. Princeton flies them out to New Jersey and pays for their food and housing for 2 weeks and gives them all sorts of amazing opportunities. The program is only for minority students from low income backgrounds, but they have to have a 3.0 GPA or higher.

At my high school having a 3.0 GPA is extraordinary. These are kids that actually care about their grades and have some sort of aspiration for after they get out of high school. I only asked about 8 students to fill out an application and only one kid actually did it. His name is Nico and he is a Junior this year.

Nico had a lot of writing to do for this application. He had to write three long essays and fill out an application. This is more than even my University application asked for. But he did it. He actually went home and wrote out those essays and then went to the library to type it up. And he did it without me begging him to.

As I was writing this letter of recommendation I just couldn't figure out how to express to these people at Princeton how amazing Nico is. How, even though his writing isn't very good, that he is the best we have. That its so extraordinary that he even filled out an application or took the time to even think about it. How they need to accept him because he has never been out of the city and he still dreams of bigger things than selling drugs at the corner. And how Nico can't put on his resume that he is in National Honors Society or the Environmental Club or anything like that because we don't have those things at our school.

The letter was so frustrating for me to write. I was almost crying as I put it in its sealed envelope because I know that Nico's writing isn't as strong as other kids across the country that are applying. I know that he wasn't as thoughtful as some other kids, but I wanted so bad to convince Princeton to take this kid. Just take him and give him a way out. I am so afraid that I didn't do him justice, that I didn't write as good of letter as I could have. But we postmarked it today on the deadline and we sent it out.

I am so proud of just that.

Thursday, February 08, 2007


I had the students write essays about their life. Here are three of them transcribed exactly how they were written:

"It all started the beginning of 2006 When I start to change my ways that when I Became a Jr in high School. I want to become a B student but the way I was going it was not look good, because my first report card wus good it could been better, but now Christmas is come I am trying to Stay Out of trouble but Where I live that is kind of hard because people is always running from policemen and dilling drugs and but the people that do it I no them and that make me want to do it so if they just Stop I can start working on my collage years, and I also want to go to the NBA but I need help from my family my mom, dad, sister and brother to, saport me is my life dreams, and that my life story so far..."

"I'm black I have dark brown eyes my skin color is carmal colored. I'm 5/11 I have large black lips and I live with my mother and dad. I have 3 brothers a 2 sister and my sister's son that live with us. We all sometimes would play the game together we would watch movies together and talk to each other we all went though bad times sold drugs stole thing drove cars fought ansisent people and all sort of stuff. Been in gangs having sex."

"The everyday life of me. My life is so hard. I go to sleep at 1:00am because I have to get my mom up for work Get my little brother and sister ready for school. Get back up at 4:30am to get my daddy up for work because he sleep right thourgh the alarm cloce. And teacher ask why I'm late for school. Someday I just go back to sleep and try to wake up at like 15 to 20 min for I level for school. Sometime am late and sometime I am on time. I like the days when Im on time for school. When I come on time at make the day go bye faster than if I come late. I have to take two train and a bus to get to school Come to school from the south is hard people make fun of me for going to school. People fighting live everyday and school."

Sunday, February 04, 2007


We have a handful of gay kids in the school. None of them are openly gay, but most people know it. Masculinity is incredibly important for the kids in my school and the boys won't participate in anything the least bit effeminate. We talked about starting up a gay/straight alliance, but the principal wouldn't allow it. She said it would open the kids up for torture from the other students. She doesn't want the gay kids to come out of the closet. "Maybe if it met somewhere secluded" she said "and if there were no fliers or announcements made about it."

A girl last year made a big deal about, threatened to go to the board about it, saying they had a right to start this club if they wanted. She was right. The principal can't stop the students from starting a club like this. But the girl graduated before anything was done and it doesn't seem like any of the current students have the same activist spirit.

There is one kid though, that is starting to come out a little bit. His name is Nathan and he is really talented at fashion design. This year a lot of girls are paying him to design their dresses for the prom. The other day I saw a boy come up to him in homeroom and ask him if he did suits as well. It was great to see that exchange. It gave me hope for tolerance. At least during prom season.


I have two boys that won't speak.

They are both in different classes and I don't think they are connected at all, but neither one of them has said a word all year. They don't speak to kids and they don't speak to teachers. They don't speak at all. In fact they don't even really look at me when I call them for attendance. They don't really do work and most of the time I don't even notice them there. The other kids taunt them sometimes, but mostly they leave them alone.

At the end of the first quarter one of the kids, Darius, showed up with his mom. She wanted to know why Darius was failing. "Did you know that Darius doesn't talk?" I asked her. "Shit, is he still doing that?" She responded. I asked her if Darius spoke at home. "Not really," she said "he mostly just stays by himself."

The other boy, Kiara, is in my 6th period class. Yesterday he spoke for the first time. "Terry Stone just got beat up by a freshman" He said quietly. "Terry from this class?" I asked him. He nodded. "What happened?" I asked. He looked away. I guess that was all he was ready to say.