Tales from an inner city high school

Saturday, March 29, 2008


We have a new principal.

This is the third one this year. I found out from the kids, as usual. Before first period Ashley asked me if I knew anything about it. "What? No, we aren't getting a new principal. Where did you hear that from?" She was right, of course. I found out later at the staff meeting.

Our former principal, I really liked. He really got things done and was really supportive of my program. He was a charming guy and all the kids liked him. Now that we have all gotten used to him though, he is leaving. He got hired on with the administration that is taking over next year.

"He'll be working on transitioning the students to the new school." said our new principal. An older African-American woman with greying hair and a nice smile. "In the meantime, I'll be here to help you all and I look forward to meeting all of you. We have 3 months left and I think we can make a lot of improvements in that time." Oh great, I thought, more changes.

The students usually get pretty angry during a transition like this. It was all they could talk about when we had the first change in principals this year. This time they seem almost warn out. Not apathetic, but tired. When we found out the school was closing the kids had several walk outs staged. They wrote essays in development class about how upset they were. They went to community meetings and spoke. When the board voted to close the school anyhow I think they lost hope. It's rough to put a ton of effort into something and not see results. I think they feel helpless now.

I certainly do.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008


I found out this morning that one of our sophomore girls was killed over the weekend.

"It was over a boy." Kavra told me during first period "I can't even believe that shit." Most of the kids said something about the shooting when they walked in this morning to class, but some of them didn't know the girl or hadn't heard the news. We were told by the administration that if any kids were upset they could be sent to the office, but I guess there weren't enough people to deal with all the response. We had some teachers up there and the one social worker in the building. A lot of kids were crying and needed someone to talk to, but no one in my class.

During fourth period one of my students asked if we were doing any work. "Of course we're doing work, why wouldn't we?" I asked her. "Cause that girl died!" she said "We didn't have to do any work in my other classes!" A lot of kids had the same sentiment, but we did work anyway. "If you are upset about what happened this weekend come up and talk to me." I told them. No one did.

At the end of the day one of the girl's friends read a poem over the school intercom. I was surprised to hear my sixth period class quiet down. Afterward they applauded.

"I know she can't hear me", Matthew told me as he clapped, "but that was really nice."

Monday, March 03, 2008


We found out a few weeks ago that the school would be closing for good in June.

The kids found out about it on the local news. I found out about it from them. A lot of teachers were upset. There were some representatives from the school board that met with the staff that day in the auditorium. People were shouting at them from the back of the dimly lit room. They were saying that the decision was unfair, that the kids needed us, that we didn't deserve to be treated this way. There was applause and standing ovations. There was a lot of anger.

I didn't know how to react.

All the teachers will be fired in June. I will be fired in June. I'll find something else, I know, but I can't stand the thought of leaving my students. It's really depressing to have to leave without wanting to. I've always imagined that getting fired would be sort of direct. Like an event where someone would yell at me and tell me I had to go. This seems so impersonal.

There are a lot of teachers that have been teaching at our school for 20 years or something. I look at my classroom and think about all I have invested in just 2, I can't imagine what it would be like to have to leave 20 years behind. Man. I think about the plants I was thinking about buying next year or the carpet I was hoping to get a grant for so my kids could do group work on the floor. Now it sort of all seems silly.

I think the school definitely needs change. The plan they are proposing will bring that. It will bring in a new administration, more money, more community programs, a new school name and mascot and colors. It will bring in new resources and an entire new energy behind it. But why do they need to fire all the teachers to make that change? Why do they have to fire the lunch ladies and the janitorial staff and the engineers?

Some of these teachers are burned out. That's for sure. Some of them hate their job and hate the kids. But I suspect that some of that has to do with dealing with years and years of the lack of the same things they are promising to bring once we're all gone.

I started out this school year with too little books and too little desks for all my students. In the freshmen gym class there were 65 kids enrolled to one teacher. And now they are telling us, the people that have been making it through this whole time, that we have to leave so they can make the place better?

It's going to be a hard year.