Tales from an inner city high school

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


It's the same every semester. The kids crowd around my computer wanting to know what their final grades will be. "What am I missing!" "How I get an F!" "Why you can't just give me a D!".

Then in the following days, a flurry of makeup work, a chorus of pleads, a general angry disposition.

I tell myself every quarter that I will do things differently the next time. I won't let them turn things in late. I won't except work past a week before grades go in. I won't spend time after school helping kids with late projects.

I haven't changed. I just don't want them to fail!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


It's finals week.

I hate giving finals. I wouldn't ever give written tests if I didn't have to. They make the kids nervous, and for my class, aren't a very good indicator of how much they know. We have to turn in copies of the exams we give to the administration and this year I took a risk and wrote up a description of a demonstration test I would give the kids, instead of a written one.

My Level 2 class has done a lot of work with the camera this year and their exam would reflect that. I brought all the cameras and tripods into the classroom today for a review. A lot of kids had totally forgotten the information we covered a few weeks ago and needed a lot of help remembering. Some kids never learned it. Anthony Palmer is one of those kids.

Anthony came up to one of the cameras a few minutes before class was over. He had spent most of his class time bothering some of the girls and dancing in the aisles. "Okay, so how you do this shit?" he called to me. I was across the room helping another student. "What part?" I asked him. "I don't know!" he said, "All this shit about the cameras!" I didn't want to help him with it. Anthony was a constant disruption and demanded help and attention at all times. I didn't want to cater to his demands. I wanted to let him fail so that I could teach him a lesson.

I went over to him.

I showed him all the things he would need to know for the exam. He asked a lot of questions and maybe, for the first time, spoke to me in a decent manner. Almost with respect. When I felt like he understood the material, I left him to help another kid and he continued to practice. A while later I heard his voice again, loud across the room.

"Eeeeee!" he squealed proudly, "I'm a be a cameraman, boy! I'm a be a cameraman when I grow up."


I got a call from Latrell yesterday. He called to say he was sorry for pushing me. "I apologize." he said. He said it a few times.

"What happened?" I asked him. "Man," he said, "that fight was over an extension cord!" almost chuckling at the silliness of it all. "But you got so angry." I said.

"I know." he said, "I apologize."

I talked to Latrell about how scared I was when he pushed me and how that made me feel. I talked to him about how I was really worried about how angry he got. "That could have been anyone that you pushed." I told him, "What if that was your child? What if a small child got in your way while you were upset? You could send someone to the hospital like that." he apologized again. We talked a little more about him taking his final. He was suspended for ten days for the incident. I told him we could work something out.

Today his mom came up to the school. She interrupted my sixth period class and I went into the hallway with her to talk. "I just wanted to apologize for Latrell." she said, "he's not a bad child." I told her I knew that he wasn't. We talked a little about the anger issue. I said the same things to her that I had said to Latrell. She said she was worried too. She started crying.

"Thank you." she said, "Thank you for caring so much about my son."

She gave me a hug and I went back to my class.

Thursday, January 10, 2008


I didn't know what the difference between assault and battery was until Latrell pushed me today.

When the principal told me that Latrell got charged with battery I had to ask him what that meant. He sort of raised his eyebrows at me and said "battery is when you push a teacher into a wall."

Latrell is a good kid. This is my second year teaching him. He's on the football team and he's really a gentle and sweet boy. His girlfriend is in the same period as him and they sometimes hold hands under the desks. Last year Latrell had a sort of joke in my class where he would call himself the best 'something' in America. "Don't worry about my homework," he would say, "I'm the best homework doer in America."

Today we were watching a movie in class and Travaris Martin walked up to Latrell and said something to him. I'm not sure what. It was at sort of a low volume and I might not have even noticed if I wasn't watching. All of a sudden they both stood up and I knew that meant they were about to threaten each other and eventually fight. I watched them for a few moments before I made a move hoping that it would diffuse on its own. I glanced at the computers near them and worried that they might topple one over and break it. I got up and turned on the lights in the classroom.

"Let's go, boys" I said and opened the door. They ignored me and kept sort of puffing out there chests the way that boys do when they want to be strong. I walked over to them. Latrell walked out of the room backwards while spewing threatening words toward Travaris. I walked him toward the door and Travaris followed. I grabbed my keys and told the class I would be right back and closed the door behind me.

In the hallway it was just me and the two boys. They started coming toward each other again and I got in between the two of them. They were coming toward each other harder and I was squished in between their bodies. Things started moving faster. Before I knew it the rest of the class had come outside and were yelling things at the boys. I was shouting at them to stop and getting sort of tossed around in between them. Latrell didn't look at me once, but I kept looking into his eyes "Latrell, stop. Latrell, stop." He finally spoke to me, but was still looking past me, "Get the fuck out of my way, girl!" he said and shoved me against the wall.

When security came the guards grabbed both boys and took them away to the detention room. "What do you want to do?" the guard asked me. "What do you mean?" I asked. "You want to press charges, right?" he said.

I didn't say anything.

Three hours later I did. I cried a lot first. Not because I got pushed. It didn't hurt. I cried because I didn't want to send Latrell to jail. I didn't want to send another black kid from my school to jail. I didn't want to put him in an environment that can only make him worse. But I had to.

I had to set the precedent that says "if you touch a teacher, you're out."

I had to.