Tales from an inner city high school

Saturday, June 16, 2007


I called out their names today.

One by one I called them out. I could hardly contain myself. I was smiling so big it hurt my face and I was forever on the verge of tears. I have never seen the kids so positive before. All the kids were grinning. Even the ones that, during the year, had a permanent stain of anger on their faces. I have never felt anything like it.

The parents were just as excited and weren't afraid to show it. They were audibly uninterested in what the keynote speaker was saying. They clapped when he was finished, not for him, but because the end of his speech had come. They couldn't stand the wait.

When the students stood up the auditorium erupted. The family members were up on their feet screaming and crying and yelling out their student's name. You could hardly hear the names being called.

The energy in the air was tangible.

When it was over, one of my students came up to me and gave me a hug. A real hug. A hug that meant more than just a hug. While we embraced she whispered in my ear "I am so scared." and then she started to cry.

And then I started to cry. And I held her. "If you ever need anything," I told her "just call me, okay? I will help you." She nodded and tears streamed down our faces. I was scared for her too. What would she do? She had a baby and she got fired from McDonalds. Her aunt wasn't supportive and she doesn't know where her mother is. What would happen to her? Who would call her in the morning and tell her it was time to go to school? Not me. I couldn't do it anymore. She was on her own.

I cried harder.

Monday, June 11, 2007


I had extraordinarily good attendance on finals day.

Students that had not been to school in months were in my class at 8am sharp for their exam. It wouldn't have made a difference, I wanted to tell them, if they got a perfect score, they would still fail the course. But I didn't say anything.

There was a certain respect in the classroom on finals day. Not for me, necessarily, but for each other. For school. The exam wasn't difficult, really, but for those that hadn't been to school it was impossible. No one gave up, though. Normally there are students that don't make a mark on a test, or students that just fill in circles without thinking. On finals day they all tried, desperately, to do well. It was a peek into what it might be like to teach in a more competitive school.

I still failed a lot of kids at the end of it all. It was a little sad. A lot of kids that hadn't done anything all year tried really hard for the last few weeks. But I couldn't pass them. They just didn't cut it, when it came down to it. They'll have to take the course again next year. A lot of the kids came up to me after school the last day and asked what they ended up getting. Aaron came to me after last period. "Did you finish the grades?" he asked. "Yup" I told him. "What did I get?" he asked. "You didn't make it, Aaron. I'm sorry. You got a 37%" "Even with that last project!" he exclaimed. "Sorry" I told him "You just missed so many other assignments."

"That's okay." he shrugged "I didn't really try that hard, I guess."

Sunday, June 10, 2007


As one of the Senior homeroom teachers I had to go to prom as a chaperone. I have never seen anything like it.

I knew that the outfits were going to be outrageous. I had seen some sketches that the girls had made of what their dresses were going to look like. No one buys their dresses from the store or anything like that. All the outfits are specially made for the kids and the tuxes match the dresses almost comically.

I was impressed. They looked great. Not like the kids did at my prom, but great. Totally decked out. I was talking to another teacher about it and she told that she suspected this was the most dressed up they might ever get. "Most of them don't ever have weddings or anything like that." she said "This is pretty much their biggest event".

It went well, I thought. The kids had a great time. A couple kids came drunk and high, but did so relatively undetected. No one caused any trouble.

Toward the end of the night I went out near the dance floor and was talking to a student. Out of the corner of my eye I saw what looked to be money flying through the air. Bills were spinning in perfect spirals and slowly falling down to the dance floor. The kids started screaming and picking up the cash. Next to me, Lassandra got down on her hands and knees to try and pick them up. "They're only one's" I told her, trying to make sense of what was happening. "No they aren't. I got a twenty!" She held it up for me to see. "It's fake." I said. But it was too late, she was on the floor again trying to find more. Kids all around me were holding up bills and screaming. Some had hundred's. Hundred dollar bills.

They weren't fake.

"They do this every year!" Mr. Grays shouted to me over the music. "Really?" I shouted back "Why?" "To show how much money they have, I think!" he said, coming closer to me. "No one stops them?" I asked.

"How could we?" he said.

Monday, June 04, 2007


The principal made an announcement this year to the senior class. "We aren't going to have any pity walks" she told them "if you don't have the credits you need, you will not be walking in the graduation ceremony"

The kids knew she was making that up and so did I. Everybody that makes it to the end walks, whether they have earned it or not. Under the board of education it's mandated that students that have any kind of disability (physical, mental, behavioral, educational) that they have a right to participate in a graduation ceremony. Since our school population is forty percent special education it's likely that most students will be able to use that right.

So Angel Thompson will walk. Angel who has 4 credits below the requirement and that missed 4 weeks of school this year for no given reason. Angel Thompson will walk.

And is that bad? Is it wrong that she be able to do so? Is it a slap in the face to the kids that actually made it, that will have met all the standards required to graduate.

I don't know.

I guess I feel like its an accomplishment in itself that Angel got this far. Even if she didn't get the amount of credits she needed she was one of the 25% of her freshman class to stay all four years. So should she be able to walk for that? Should she be able to get her picture taken with her mother with her cap and gown on? Should she be able to scream and yell along with her classmates when they throw their hats up in the air?

I wouldn't want to make that decision.