Tales from an inner city high school

Friday, September 21, 2007


Shonique has dyslexia. I found out last week. I finally went in to the special ed director’s office and got to the bottom of it.

I was so happy to find out.

I knew Shonique had a learning disability, I just didn’t know what it was. All the kids with disabilities have what is called an IEP, which stands for Individualized Educational Plan. Lots of kids have them and so does Shonique, but we don’t get copies of these plans, which are sometimes 40 or 50 pages long, we just are informed (sometimes) that they have one. Sometimes we’ll even get required accommodations to use with the kid like “should sit close to the teacher’s desk” or “should be given extra time on assignments”. But these are so very generic and don’t specify what condition the child has. Plus when you have 15 special ed kids in your class how can they all sit next to the teacher’s desk?

So I went to find out what Shonique’s disability was. I walked into the director’s office and asked her if I was privy to that information (sometimes as a teacher, you aren’t). She pulled out a huge drawer of files upon files. In fact an entire wall was filled with these long filing cabinets. There were files with computer printed labels and some done with marker, some, you could tell, had been labled and re-labled several times. They were thick.

Finally she found the file she was looking for and opened it on her desk. There was a photocopied paper that told her Shonique’s IQ and her accommodations, but not her specific disability. When she looked further in the file she realized it wasn’t Shonique’s at all, but another boy in the school. Somehow some of Shonique’s documents got into his file. “Oops” she said “I’ll need to correct that” and she did. I wondered how many other things were going missing.

When she found Shonique’s file she was missing her assessment from 2006, but did find the one done in 2003. “She was 11” she told me. On that report it said that Shonique had “language based reading disabilities”. “That’s a broad term” the director told me “but it basically means dyslexia, which is another broad term.” I nodded. “So what is it specifically?” I asked her. She didn’t know.

But it gave me a start. Finally I can try and get her some help.

Friday, September 14, 2007


I have the kids pick groups like kickball teams.

I started doing this last year because it makes sure everyone is in a group and the kids are always fairly pleased with the results. It's always turned out better this way than if I pick the groups or if I just let them pick. I ask for volunteers to be captains and then the captains take turns choosing team members.

Yesterday Tanisha picked Denzel to be on her team before Travis could. This was a big issue because Travis' group had ALL of Denzel's friends on it. All the troublemakers in one group pretty much. I was worried about that, but it actually turned out alright.

Denzel was mad though. He kept wandering into the hallway where Travis' group was working. "Stay with your group, Denzel." I kept warning him. "Man, I don't want this group. I can't work with this group." "Yes you can" I told him.

Denzel is on the football team. He is really good. This year he is elligible for a big scholarship that I know he desperately wants. I reminded him of that. I also reminded him that I am pretty tight with his coach. "You don't want Coach Jackson to know that you are refusing to participate in class." I said. I wasn't trying to be threatening so much as I wanted to remind him of his focus. "Man, I dont care." He told me.

But I know he did.

I know he cared about playing football the most and we both knew he had a good shot at that scholarship. And I also knew that being in a group besides the one filled with his buddies was going to be better for him anyway. And eventually he went back into the classroom. He just sat at a desk for a while. Then next time I checked he was standing up with his group and working.

I was so proud of him.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


I have a sort of social experiment going on in my 5th period class.

There are all girls. Well, there are two boys, but they are really shy and don't talk very much and the girls dominate. This is my favorite class. There is a sort of calm about it that isn't present in any of my other classes. A sort of quiet stillness. And that isn't because its quiet. The girls are social for sure, but they are just a calmer bunch.

The same assignment I gave that caused complete chaos in my 4th period class yesterday was a complete success in 5th period. In 4th period a fight broke out and another kid got written up by the football coach passing by. Today my girls were completely and utterly on task. They were working in groups and doing it so well. They were sharing responsibilities, working together to finish the project and teaching each other.

It was like a dream come true. It was as though I was teaching at a completely different school. It was an oasis.

Today when LaParis was leaving she told me she hoped that no one else enrolled in our class. "I like this class." she told me.

"Me too" I said.


"Oh I aint coming on Friday." Sarah told me.

Sarah is a Freshman. I've never taught Freshmen before, but this year I have a Freshman homeroom. I was unsure of what to expect from them. I didn't know if they would be scared and intimidated by high school or if they would still be cocky from 8th grade. I got a mixture of both.

"Why aren't you coming on Friday?" I asked. "I'm not coming neither" said another girl, Shavonda. "It's Freshman Penny Day on Friday." "Freshman Penny Day? What is that?" I asked. "It's where all the kids throw pennies at the Freshman after school." said Dewon.

I told my homeroom that that wouldn't actually happen. I had never heard of it and I figured it was one of those rumors that upperclassmen start to scare the new meat.

I was wrong, of course.

On Friday, I first noticed it in 4th period. Anthony Palmer came in roudy as ever. Since he got shot this Summer he has a reputation to hold on to. He still has the bandages on his throat and a newfound respect amongst the other boys in the school. During class I started hearing change hit the ground. Then later it was flying across the room. Anthony was throwing, not only pennies, but nickels and quarters as well.

The Freshmen were in trouble.