Tales from an inner city high school

Wednesday, October 31, 2007


We have one White kid that goes to our school.

Heather is a senior and a really nice girl. I didn't have her last year, but this year she is in my first period. She fits right in with the other kids and she doesn't seem to feel weird or out of place. I really like her.

Today I saw Heather in another teacher's room at around 4pm. All the other kids had gone home and most of the teachers too. "What are you doing here?" I asked her. She shrugged. "Do you need a ride?" I asked. "I can't really go home yet" she told me. "I can't get in until my mom gets home." "You don't have a key?" I asked. "Why don't you have a key?" "The place I live won't let me in until my mom gets there." she said.

I looked at her stupidly.

"I live in a shelter." she told me. "Oh." I said.

I saw Heather standing at the bus stop as I was driving out of the parking lot. I pulled up next to her. "You want a ride to the train?" I asked her. She nodded. It was only a five minute drive, but I found out a lot about her. She came from Michigan with her mom and her little brother. She left because of domestic abuse. Now all three of them live in a shelter. They are trying to save some money so they can live in what Heather called a 'second stage shelter' "which is really like an apartment." she told me.

I dropped her off at the train and told her I would see her in the morning. I started to think of all the ways I could possibly help her. I had an urge to go to the shelter with her and see what it was like. I wondered if it was safe. I wondered if she ever got stopped for being a young White girl walking through a Black neighborhood. I wondered if she could get into a decent college and get away from all of it. I wondered if she wanted to.

And then I drove home.

Monday, October 22, 2007


I had a blow-up at the beginning of 4th period. Latoya Jackson was exchanging money with a boy in the back row and I told them to stop. They aren't allowed to pull money out like that that at school. It could have been for drugs or sex or anything. Latoya said it was for a candy bar and I believed her, but I told her to stop anyway.

"You shouldn't be back there, Latoya. Sit down at your desk and get started on your work." She ignored me. I asked her again. Then she yelled back. "You must think I'm like one of these kids. Why you tweakin! I aint just one of these kids, you can't treat me like that!" I asked her to come into the hallway and she refused. She walked toward her desk and I put my hand on her back to sort of guide her out "Don't touch me, lady! Get your hands off of me before I have to check you!" I didn't know what "check"ing me would entail but I bet it involves some sort of assault.

When I finally got her out of the room she was arguing and wouldn't listen. "Don't stand over there," I said. She was on the other side of the hallway and was yelling at me so I could hear her. "Come over here so we can talk." "I don't want to talk to you anyway, you should come over to me!"

I had one hand on the doorknob to my classroom so that if I heard anything I could look inside. 4th period was my worst class and I didn't like to leave them unsupervised.

Tamieka came up to the door from inside the room and I told her to go away "Can't you see I'm busy!" I told her. My emotions were high and my face red. Latoya was frustrating me and our conversation was getting no where. "But I need to go to the bathroom" Tamieka said.

I closed the door on her.

Finally I sent Latoya to the dean and came back inside. Tamieka came up to me again and I noticed she was limping. "What's wrong with your foot?" I asked her. "Nothings wrong with my foot" she said "can I go to the bathroom now." I told her to write out a pass and I would sign it. She limped out toward the door.

When Tamieka came back I asked her again what was wrong with her foot. "Nothing is wrong with my foot" she said, exhausted. "Then why are you limping?" I asked. She told me she couldn't tell me, but I kept pressing her. "Ugh!" she said "I was raped, okay?" and started to walk away.

I asked her to come back and I asked her if she had told anyone. "I don't want everyone to know my business" she told me. "My mother is taking care of everything." she said. I asked her to go see the nurse or to go talk to the social worker. She wouldn't. "It has nothing to do with them." she said and went back to her seat. I told her I would speak to her more after class. I didn't want everyone to hear what we were saying and I, honestly, didn't know how to respond to it anyway. I was really worried about her. Tamieka is a sweet girl and I felt terrible.

But she never came up to talk to me and I ushered everyone out of the class when the bell rang. "It's time for lunch!" I told them.

I forgot about Tamieka.

Sunday, October 21, 2007


My assistant quit. He had only been there for a week. He said he couldn't handle the kids.

There were other factors, of course, the pay is incredibly low for an assistant position and there isn't much gratification, I don't think. But what made him quit was the kids.

I was out on Tuesday and I had my assistant in the classroom with the sub. He was supposed to give the kids their assignment for the day. They knew him, and he knew what was going on so it was a much better situation than them just being alone with a substitute.

Well, the kids behaved like jerks. Not extraordinarily so. No one threatened his life. No one swore at him. But they were mean. They mocked him and would repeat everything he said in sort of a high, comical voice. He told me this later, and the kids admitted to doing it. They were listening to music too, and wouldn't turn it off when he asked them to. "No matter how loud I yelled, they wouldn't stop." but I could have told him that.

In fact, I did tell him that. The day before he admitted to me how impressed he was with my patience. "I can't believe you can deal with them like that." he said, referring to my 6th period class "If I were you I would go drill sergeant on 'em." It sounded like a compliment, but I suspect it was really a critique and maybe a suggestion. I tried to explain to him that that method wouldn't work on these kids. "They don't really respond well to that." I told him "and I couldn't even pull it off if I tried. I just try and let them know that I care about them and that seems to work the best." But I guess he went with his method on the day that I was out.

"He just kept yelling at us" Delisa said the next morning when I asked the class what had happened. "Yeah, and he wasn't even listening to us!" said Traver. They giggled when I told them he had quit. I know what they were thinking. About how weak he was, about how they hadn't even tried their hardest and they had already gotten rid of him, about how easy it was. But I think they were also sad. They didn't have any attachment to this guy necessarily, they had only known him for a week, but I think they felt abandoned.

Part of the security in being a kid is that you know that no matter how terrible you are, someone is always going to be there to love you. No matter how many detentions you get or how many times you scream "I hate you!" at your parents, they are still going to be your parents. But that isn't the truth for many of these kids. Hardly any of them have a father that participates in their lives and only a few know who their father is. Some of them are in foster care and a lot of them live with relatives instead of their parents. Plus the turnover rate for teachers is so high that they are very aware that people don't want to teach them. I think it hurt them that this guy quit after they had misbehaved.

It hurt me a little bit too.

Monday, October 15, 2007


We have a new principal.

About three weeks ago our principal resigned. No one really knows why. A lot of teachers say that she was forced to resign because of mismanagement of funds, but no one actually told us anything.

We have a new principal now. He says he's zero tolerance. He says that heads are gonna roll. He told us that the staff is going to change and that teachers might be replaced. A lot of teachers are upset, but I'm not sure how I feel about it. I'm excited about the prospect of change. The school is in such bad shape and I'm looking forward to someone putting some effort into it. I don't want to lose my job though. My classes are crazy and its hard to get them to produce good work. It makes me nervous about my position and I've never had to be nervous before.

I don't know. Maybe that's a good thing.

Monday, October 01, 2007


Here are some writing samples from my students' essay on the racial factors in the Amos 'n' Andy Show. They are written exactly how the students wrote them:

"What my circumstantial about what is going on is that I don't feel rigth at all knowing that I can't move on with another day with whites treating blacks this way. I just can't walk up and down the streets with Whites, Mexican, Puritan Ricans saying some thing to me and threading to hurt me if I don't talk to them. It's scary to me cause now I pick my little brother up from school and I don't believe it's self for him to be walking with me and being stopped by some body that we don't know. But one day I hope that it will change and people will jus get along. My little brother is afraid to go to school every day cause of what the whites will do or say to him."


"My feelings on the Amos and Andy Show is that I really like the show because it is very funny and interesting to listen to. I really didn't care if Amos and Andy was acting like black people because it was very funny to me. Even though black listeners were offended by it they were going through racism back then and now were not being judge by our color so that's way were not offended by that but I know if we were raised back in the day I know that it would be a big problem"

"It was parts when Amos 's' Andy would say and do dumb stuff, but that don't mean the characters in the show were being portrayed as being lazy and stupid.. I just think that they did it for the money. Because that's what business is about money Its all about the all might dollar. I mean that's how the world go around, from back then until this day. People are still going to make money the way the you can it don't matter if your black or white or some other race."