Tales from an inner city high school

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


Today there was a substitute in the teacher's classroom next door to me.

I heard a lot of noise during the day through the wall between the two rooms. During eighth period it got so loud that I couldn't hear my students reading from the book.

I went next door.

The students from the room 114 were running out of the room and there were screams and laughter coming from within. When I walked in the trashcan had been turned over and trash was all over the floor. There were desks on their side and and chairs wrongside up.

The substitute was crying. "They threw gum in my hair." she told me. "Will you get someone?" she asked. "Will you help?" There were a couple of girls around her trying to pick things up and one was trying to get the gum out. On the left side of the woman's long blond hair there was bright blue piece of gum. "Who did that to her?" I asked one of the students. She shrugged.

"I have a class right now" I told the substitute "but I'll find somebody." I ran to the security guard by the front of the school, leaving my class unattended. "Will you come to room 114?" I asked "there are desks turned over and the kids have run out. They threw gum in the sub's hair." He looked up from the computer. "I can't leave the desk." He said.

"Well can you call someone?" I asked "I have a class right now." "I'll try," he said "but I think Shanita is on lunch." I ran back to the room, where my kids sat in the same spot that I had left them. "Be good!" I yelled into my classroom and ran to the sub. "I'm sorry" I told her "Someone will come soon." She sniffled and nodded.

I went back to class.

Monday, April 23, 2007


On Thursday parents were supposed to come to the school and pick up their children's report cards.

Out of an approximate 120 students only 13 parents came to see me. All the teachers were at different tables in the lunchroom and parents could go from one to the other to talk about their child's grade. I have a 90% failure rate in my classes right now so I came prepared. I brought all the grades they had all quarter and all the projects they were supposed to have done.

Most parents that came had students with good grades or at least nice kids. A lot parents knew what to expect already and weren't surprised by the A's or the F's. Some parents were surprised and didn't take it so well.

I had a mother come and yell at me about her daughter's F in my first period class. "Why am I just finding out about this now!" she screamed. I didn't know what to say. "Why haven't you called me!" she asked me. "I have so many students failing." I told her "It would be impossible for me to call all the parents. Why don't I give you my cell phone number, now, so that you can call me?" I suggested. She didn't like this option. "I don't need to call you now!" she screamed "She already has an F!" I asked her what her daughter got last quarter. "An F!" She responded. I didn't fight with her. I just let her yell at me. Her daughter is a sweet girl that is very slow, I always try and get her to do work and give her friendly smacks on top of the head when I see she isn't. I was surprised to see she came from such an aggressive mother, but I realize that the mother probably feels helpless. She probably feels like she doesn't know what to do to help her daughter and wants to blame someone. I can understand that.

Another student's step-mother took another approach. She came with her son to get the report card. Abdul is a jolly, outgoing, distracted, and often annoying student. As easy to like as he is to dislike. He is an amateur charmer and an outright baby when he doesn't get his way. His mother knew his game.

"I want to find out why my son has an F in your class." She came to me, saying. "Well, let's have a look" I said, flipping to his grades. "Well he hasn't done too terribly, but he never finished his project here and that was worth 500 points. She turned toward Abdul who was standing arms length away from her. "Come here." she said through clenched teeth and grabbed him toward her "This lady is telling me that the reason you are failing her class is because you didn't do this project. Why didn't you do this project?" Abdul mumbled something under his breath. She turned to me. "Did he ever ask you for help or tell you that he didn't understand the directions?" She asked me, daring me to answer. I shook my head. Then, in a moment, she had Abdul by the throat. She grabbed his collar and pushed him backward into a lunch table. She was choking him. His eyes started to water.

I was frozen.

"You are going to stay after school and you are going to finish this project to get those points. Then you are going to work twice as hard on the work you have to do now until you get a passing grade in this class. Do you understand me." Abdul nodded. His mother let him go. He sank down onto the table and caught his breath. "He'll improve." She told me and they left.

I don't know if that method will work, but I was glad she came.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


I got this memo in my box this morning. I have no idea what the "recent events" are:

TO: All Teachers, security, staff

Due to the recent events the student listed above is to be supervised at ALL times. A safety plan will be put into place with the help of the ICARE team. The student is to be:

* Escorted to and from class by a staff member appointed by the principal
* Be seated around male students ONLY
* Escorted by staff if he needs to leave the classroom for any reason
* Supervised at all times

This includes nonacademic times such as lunch, arrival, dismissal and assemblies.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


There are only ten weeks left of school and then senior class is starting to feel its' status.

Today we had a meeting with the seniors, the principal, the counselors, and a couple of other teachers. Plans for prom and graduation should have been finished months ago, but are still underway. The meeting was unproductive and chaotic. The counselor or principal would speak to the group while the students listening would shout at them arguing "Why prom gotta be so expensive!" or "Don't no one gonna tell me I can't graduate on time!". The other students were talking and laughing with each other, not paying attention. But it wasn't all their fault, the staff was disorganized and the principal would often interrupt herself and hold up her finger to the students while she conferred with another teacher on things like what time graduation would start or how much the senior luncheon was going to cost.

Since we are a small school we only have about 50 kids graduating. When they were freshmen their class was about 400 students large, but the drop out rate is high here and the graduation rate low. Some of the seniors in the meeting today won't be graduating either. Othell, who I wrote about a couple of entries ago, hasn't come back to school. His situation doesn't look good. I spoke to the counselor about him today "Doesn't look like he'll make it" she said. I doubt he'll try for a third time.

The time is exciting, though, and things are coming together for a lot of the graduating students. Albert, also a second year senior, showed me an acceptance letter today. He was beaming. It was a city school that I had him apply to earlier in the year. The school accepted him with a GPA of 1.7 and an ACT score of 12. "Are you gonna go?" I asked him.

"Hell yeah." He said.

Monday, April 09, 2007


I love my students.

After coming back from spring break there was a new attitude from most of the students. An attitude of excitement and of overall calm.

I missed them. Today I realised how much I liked them. Almost all of them now. In the beginning I only really liked a few students. Now the ones I used to hate behave differently. In the beginning of the school year I didn't know them. Now I do. Now I know to ask "Did you see your Dad over the break?" to Jasmine or "Did you apply for that job at Payless?" to Shaneek. It's a whole different story now that I have gotten to know them personally. They still swear in my class and throw paper balls, but when I look at them they apologize and I hardly have to write any kids up anymore.

Even LaParis who, in the last entry I wrote, had taken all the folders out of the cabinet and thrown them on the floor. The day after that incident I told her we needed to talk before she came back in the class. "I know" she said "I'm sorry. I just got real frustrated." I told her it was okay. That was all I needed to hear. I know these kids have a difficult time controlling their feelings. I just want to know they aren't doing it maliciously.

I care about them now. A lot.