Tales from an inner city high school

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


Sometimes students want to be kicked out of class.

Today I had to ask one of my students, LaParis, to leave the room. LaParis is a flirtatious girl with a 2 year old. I see her and her baby leaving school together a lot and she often persuades me to look at it. I never know how to react. The baby is cute and I can't help but say so and give him a smile. Somehow I feel like I shouldn't give her too much positive attention for having a baby, but just the same I don't want to make her feel bad for it. I'm often torn which leads to an awkward interaction.

During 6th period today LaParis couldn't find her folder in the cabinet and got frustrated. "Where my folder!" she screamed. loud. "Someone stole my folder!" she yelled again. Then one by one she started picking up the other students' folders and dropping them on the ground. She did this methodically, almost rhythmically. It took me a few seconds to react. "LaParis, stop that!" I told her. "Pick those up!" "Nah uh," she said "I aint picking that shit up, it aint mine." I told her to leave then, if she wouldn't pick them up.

"Okay" she said, quick as a response could be, and walked out the door.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


The staff at the high school are sometimes just as uneducated as the students.

Memos that land in the teachers' mailboxes and fliers that are taped up around the school are often filled with mistakes. It happens so often that these papers are cluttered with spelling and gramatical errors that it seems redundant to mention it to anyone. Like the students' work, these things often go uncorrected. Here is an example of such a posting that has been hanging up all semester:


The color paper is a different wait or thickness
then the white paper using color paper can


Friday, March 23, 2007


Yesterday I forgot my lunch and had to go to the Burger King across the street to get some food.

I ran into one of my students.

It was Othell, one of my Seniors. He was walking home and didn't seem to be embarrassed by seeing me, didn't look like he was caught in the act of leaving school early. He said "Hi" to me and I put my arm through his and pushed him back toward the school. "Othell, what are you doing!" I scolded him. "Man, you don't know. They don't understand my situation. I gotta leave early."

Othell is a second year senior. He was supposed to graduate last year, but didn't have enough credits to walk across the stage. He is more mature than most of the kids in a lot of ways, but still struggles with doing well in his classes. "Why do you need to leave?" I asked "What's your situation?". "I gotta go home and watch my child, my baby mama is about to leave for work."

Turns out Othell has a two-year old. I didn't know that. He has been leaving school every other day and skipping his last 4 classes. "We been trying to find a babysitter," he said "but we can't find one. My son, he's real bad" Sometimes his girlfriend's mother watches the baby, but sometimes she can't.

I asked Othell why he didn't bring the baby to the school day care. "Because" he said "if I have to take him home after school then I won't make it to work on time" "Where do you work?" I asked. "Hobo's" he said, and showed me his name tag. I didn't ask what Hobo's was, but it looked like a little fast food joint. "Plus, my baby mama don't want to take him to her school daycare because she always gets into it with the other girls up in there and she don't want him in that mess" "She fights with the other girls?" I asked. "Yeah" he said.

We were standing on the street corner this whole time, in between Burger King and the school. Me with my teacher's clothes on and him with his uniform shirt in his hand and his Hobo's nametag. He didn't have to stand there and talk to me and I didn't have to stand there and talk to him. But we were there. We were trying to figure this out. Othell knows that he if keeps this up he won't graduate on time. The school year is almost over and he already has some F's from first semester.

We figured out that if his boss let's him start work at 4pm instead of 3:15pm and if his girlfriend will allow him to take his son to the daycare here at the school then he can make it. He can leave here, drop off his kid and make it to work on time. I was excited we figured out a solution. Othell says that his boss is real cool so hopefully that will work out. He didn't know about his baby's mother though. "She crazy sometimes" He said. I waited to hear about what happened today during Homeroom, but he didn't show up.

I hope he comes tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


I was out of school all last week.

It's a little scary leaving school for so long. I was afraid I would come back and the kids would have destroyed the classroom. I imagined the computers with cracked screens and the bulleton boards torn to shreds. But when I came back the room was pretty much in the same order I left it and I was greeted with hugs and choruses of "We missed you!"

It felt good to get all that love. Even kids that I've had problems with all year seemed to be relieved I was back. I dont' know if its a good sign or a bad sign that they prefer me to the sub. I think the sub was really strict. All I know is that I appreciated the affection.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

wake up.

I've been giving out wake up calls.

A lot of my seniors haven't been getting to school on time. This is a problem with most of the kids. At 8am, when school starts, there are only two or three students in the classroom. Tardiness is such a problem that school-wide the failure rate in first period is over 90%. In my first period class its 98%.

So I've been calling kids in the morning. At first it was just one kid, a senior in my homeroom. He was complaining about how he never gets to school until third period. "Why don't you set your alarm earlier?" I asked "I DO!" He said "I just don't hear it or something, I don't know." "Well can't your mom just make you get up?" I said. "Nah, she sleeps real late. I'm supposed to wake her up before I go to school" I thought about this. "Well," I said "Why don't I call you tomorrow morning when I get up?" "Aw for real? Yeah that would be funny if my teacher called me. Would you do that for real?"

I did. I called his house that next morning. It was weird to wake him up. "I'm up, I'm up!" He said, like I was shaking him out of bed. "Okay, I'll see you at school" I told him.

Now I have a list of 4 students to call every morning. It's a lot of responsibility, but it feels good and I think its working.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007


Today I spoke to Candance about adoption.

I was just curious if she had thought about it. Any teenage girl that gets pregnant at my school ends up having and keeping the baby. None of the girls seem to consider adoption or even abortion. I thought perhaps it was because they didn't have enough information on the options.

When I've spoken to Candance about it over the past couple days, she hasn't seem very excited about the prospect of having a kid. I guess I don't know what to expect out of a teenage mother, but she seems sort of neutral about the whole thing. When I asked her if she was excited about picking out baby clothes she told me she wasn't. "I don't really like shopping" she said "I'll just wait until people give me things for the baby shower"

This made me want to talk to Candance more about adoption. I tried to talk to her casually about it. I talked to her about if she thought about not keeping it. "Well, I don't believe in abortion," she said "so I knew I wasn't going to do that. But my grandmother wanted me to get one at first" I asked her about adoption and she told me she didn't want to do that either. "I'm not going to give my baby away! What if the family is mean?" she said. I told her that there was all sorts of ways that adoption works and that you can even choose the family your baby goes to "You can even interview them." I told her. "Well thats a good idea." she agreed.

Later on I showed Candance a website that talked about open adoption and how a birth mother could even set up visits with the baby and be a part of their life. Candance really liked that idea. She thought it was great. On the website I showed her, you could even scroll through families that were looking to adopt and look at pictures. "There are a lot of white people." Candance observed. "Yeah." I said.

After school I called Candance's grandmother. I thought she might be an ally for me in this adoption idea. After all, she had told Candance that she should get an abortion. She was really nice on the phone. She seemed really concerned about Candance and she kept saying how it was a mistake, a terrible mistake, that she had made. I spoke to her gently about adoption. I told her that I had showed Candance a website about it and that even though Candance seemed nervous about adoption it was a really good option. I told her grandmother that I could help with anything and even drive Candance to meet with a counselor.

"You mean giving the baby up to another family? Oh no! We are not doing that. We do not want to give the baby up for adoption." She said "We have plenty of family support and the baby is coming home with us. Her mother, my daughter, is excited about a baby and I am too. No one else is getting the baby." She told me firmly. "I thank you for your concern, but we have it all taken care of" she said. I told her I wouldn't press the issue "I just wanted to make sure Candance had support at home" I told her.

I felt embarrassed. I imagined Candance's grandmother talking to Candance about it, telling her about my phone call and what nerve I had calling her house. I felt stupid. I felt as though I had overstepped my bounds. Who was I to call home? I shouldn't have called her grandmother. What if Candance was considering adoption and I had blown it, drawn attention to it? Or what if Candance doesn't trust me anymore now? What if she won't come to me with her concerns with the baby, afraid that I will call home about it?

She belongs to a different culture than I do and I don't understand it. If I had, I would have known not to call. I wouldn't have brought white ideals to her grandmother and expected her to accept them. I wouldn't have spoken so confidently about something I know so little about.

I am an outsider.

Thursday, March 01, 2007


I have quite a few kids that still suck their thumbs. They don't seem to feel any shame for it. They aren't embarrassed at all to be 16 and sucking their fingers in a High School classroom.

I imagine that those students just never had anyone tell them to stop sucking their fingers when they were little. No parent to consistently tell them to take their thumb out of their mouth. And so they continue to use it as a comfort.

Today I found out that one of my thumbsuckers, Candance, was pregnant. She has been pregnant for six months and I just didn't ever notice. She brought some ultrasound pictures to school and was passing them around. "Whose pictures are these?" I asked her "They're mine!" she said "Whose are they, really?" I asked again "I'm serious, those are mine!" She said. And then I looked at her stomach. There she was, six months pregnant. Why hadn't I noticed before? I guess I don't normally scan the classroom for pregnant bellies.

Candance is graduating this year. She is due mid May and graduation is in early June. "I guess you'll be coming to graduation with a baby, huh?" I said. "Yeah" she sighed. I asked her if she was scared. "Of course I'm scared" she said quietly.

Then she sucked her thumb.