Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Lesson in the Urban Vernacular

“That’s dead,” one of my students says to another student. Oh god, I think, what is dead? Is it a huge cockroach? Possibly, a dead mouse or rat. Or even worse, maybe they’re talking about a fellow student. Much to my surprise it was none of those things.

“That’s dead” become one of my favorite phrases the students would say. It is used as a retort for a statement that the student thinks is absolutely impossible. It goes something like this:

“Man, you don’t even want me to come over there with my mans Jimmy. We press those niggas’ asses all night.” – Student A

“That’s dead.” – Student B

Now, that would be followed up with Student A “stamping” that this is truth. Usually, you stamp on someone who has died, such as a friend who has been shot. If you are really serious, you’ll stamp on your grandmother. And so, the conversation would continue with Student A stating:

“On my mans, Juju, I stamp that s***.” If this were a more serious conversation, Student A might stamp on someone in the neighborhood who died and was a little more famous than the aforementioned Juju. Student A might go so far as stamping on a dead relative.

Now, these are serious conversations that these students are having. They go from talking about what they did the night before to talking about dead people. I can’t think of anything more morose to discuss on a sunny Wednesday afternoon. But apparently they are ready to dredge up the past in order to look as though they are just honest characters.

I mentioned “pressed” above. I should have explained that one. Getting “pressed out” or getting you’re “a** pressed” means that someone has fought you and clearly if you were “pressed out” that meant you lost. “Pressed out” should not be confused with “pressed,” which I suppose would be the second definition in our urban dictionary.

“Pressed” means someone wants something from you and they want you to do it quickly or they want it done now. Let’s say, I’m in the classroom and I’m lecturing on resumes (I was a career teacher, I did this frequently) and a student pulls out his cell phone and starts texting. I’ll say something like, “Timmy, put that phone away.” Now, assume that Timmy does not comply with said request and I once again redirect him, Timmy might say something like, “Man, she be pressed.” Meaning that I can’t wait for him to finish his texting conversation. I want the phone to be in his pocket NOW.

“You just got me go.” That was another frequent expression said exasperatingly in my classroom. When I first heard the phrase, it confused the hell out of me. Could you say that again, “Did I get your goad?” “Nah, Ms. So-and-So, you just got me go.” It means that you got under somebody’s skin and made them angry. It usually happened when I told them what assignments had to be completed.

Another phrase to express disgust would go something like, “You’re blowing me, Ms. Teacher Lady.” Ah, this phrase was the crudest of all because I know what that phrase means in a sexual connotation. The students never meant it in this way at all. “Man, you're blowing me.” This was simply a shortened version of, what I’m sure used to be, “You’re blowing my mind.” I can’t handle what you’re saying because it is too much for my brain.

If a student was about to have a meltdown, I would usually hear the phrase, “I’m about to kirk off.” You can also "kirk out." Either preposition is acceptable. Or perhaps the students wanted to discuss someone who got restrained earlier in the day, one might say something like, “Suzy was kirking off at lunch and they restrained her a**.” I always wondered why they hadn’t come up with a slang word for when they were restrained. I guess it’s bad enough getting tackled to the ground by adults who have no clue what they are doing, maybe they didn’t want to make up a slang word. That might cheapen the event.

Oh, and let me not forget the world-famous “clappers.” No, this is not an STD, it’s what butt cheeks do when a woman walks. Well, mostly women with big butts. Their butt cheeks, well, they clap together when they take steps or generally move around. So, a girl might be said to “have the clappers.” Or a student might say, “Boy, she like to use them clappers.” It was sometimes said to me and it always made me want to hit the kid in the face. “Ms. So-and-So has them clappers. Mmm.” So, disturbing on so many levels. I’ve nearly slapped students for this disrespectful statement.

I must say, being in an inner city high school was not only like teaching, but learning a new language. Sometimes, the kids would think it was funny when I didn’t know what they were saying. They thought they were so smart for using their language, but it’s easy to learn a language when you are fully immersed in it. And I was and continue to be, for longer than I ever intended.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

People I’ve just met are reading my blog.

This is making me realize that I need to write more often. So, here I am on a Sunday morning hungover and writing for you, my dear readers. I’m sorry for not posting sooner, but my new job has been taxing, and I’m working close to 60 hours a week.

Yesterday, I get a call from Jimmy. He needs his phone turned back on. Essentially, he needs $30 bucks from me. This is my part time son. He was one of my favorite students from last year. The kid just rents a space in my heart. I’m scared he’s going to get shot. He has a big mouth and nothing to back it up with. I tell him he has to have his mother call me back. I have to at least make sure he’s going to school and doing the right thing before I hand him over $30 bucks.

When school started for this current year, Jimmy needed shoes and asked if I could buy them. I said yes. Yes, because this was like my child and yes because I’d hoped it would be motivation for doing well in school for a couple of weeks. We’d met over in the Northeast side of town to go shoe shopping.

Before he had arrived, I was asking the lady at foot locker for the new Jordans or whatever the hell they are called. I told her one of my “kids” would be here soon and that I was trying to get him new shoes for school. The lady must have thought my “kid” was switched at birth when Jimmy bounded through the door. Jimmy is a black kid, of course, but not what you’d call “light-skinned.” He’s black as the night is long. There’s no possible way that if I birthed him, he could be called my own. I felt sorry for her confusion and almost that I needed to explain.

Anyway, we bought a different pair of shoes because Jim has really small feet. Not abnormally small, but smaller than your average male. So, he picked a different brand of Jordans. He loved the new shoes and put them on as soon as we got in the car. I took him to Union Station so he could ride the Metro home. I give him money for this as well.

My husband thinks I’m a fool for doing these things. He doesn’t understand I suppose. These kids get in your heart and become like one of your own. We don’t have kids right now, so I suppose my biological clock dictated that I needed to adopt juvenile delinquents for the time being.

In any event, Jimmy would be the last kid anyone would adopt. He’s high-strung and has ADHD. He can’t sit still for more than 5 minutes at a time. I’m really working on having him communicate better with people instead of flying off the handle about things (“kirking out” as the kids call it). I was the only teacher last year who could deal with him. When the new semester started in January and he no longer had me, he came to me and said “Things haven’t been right since I left your class.” Those words broke my heart.

I’m very close to Jimmy’s mother as well. We talk regularly about her, the other children she has (all older than Jimmy) and her new grand child. She’s doing the best she can, but she’s at her wit’s end. Once she told me that when she hears gun shots at night, she prays to God that it’s not Jimmy dying. Tears were welling in my eyes as she said these words.

I try to stay in Jimmy’s life to be a stable adult for him and a good role model. The kid is like a 6-year-old who woke up one day in a teenager’s body. He can’t handle it. He doesn’t know how to navigate life or any of the things that happen to him.

He used to have a reason to come to school. It was me because I cared for him so much. I worry now because the teachers who work at this school might allow Jimmy to fall through the cracks. This was something I refused to let happen. I couldn’t have him dying. He was my son after all. No mother wants to bury their child.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Did you read about that student who was impregnated by a teacher in DC?

That was one of my kids last year. So, I guess who my employer will not be thinly veiled as I planned. It’s not veiled at all, but who cares? I don’t work for DCPS and maybe this blog will make its way to Michelle Rhee and she can read about all of the abuse she’s been ignoring in special education.

I’ve decided to move on from autism and write about my year at one of the worst schools in the district. It was the school I worked for. Remember Dangerous Minds? Well, I wanted to be that teacher. I had always wanted to work with troubled teens in some capacity. I was a troubled teen myself, and knew that I could relate to kids who had emotional issues. It was what I wanted to do from the beginning of this stupid fellowship, but was too scared. Well, it was time; if I could deal with autism I could deal with emotionally disturbed teenagers.

I had my interview and my new principal was enthusiastic and liked my energy. I knew I had the job; I had to keep bugging him to confirm. People don’t transfer to this school. This school was like a jail sentence for both the students and the teachers. It was a bleak school that warehoused special education kids who brought down test scores and attendance ratings.

I was excited for the new challenge and also for students who would talk to me, instead of echoing me. These kids were the worst of the worst. They were criminals and head cases. Some came from inpatient facilities. They were generally unstable children. But I loved them. They put life back into me, as the school system was sucking it out of me.

Taxpayers, be appalled. Some of the things I unveil about this school will make your head spin. It’ll be like the Exorcist. Except it’s not a movie. It’s real life. I couldn’t believe the things that went on in my school. Like that article said: a student was taken advantage of by a teacher the year before.

That was my student (I’ll call her A.) and she was no liar. She was pregnant that first semester that I taught her. She was still in contact with this teacher. She was being manipulated by him. A young girl, with low self-esteem, loved the attention this older man gave her. It made her feel better about herself, like all was not shitty in the world around her.

A. lost her baby within a month of having her. She was so emotionally unstable and she was living in a house without water. I felt so bad for her. School was clearly not a priority. I stopped seeing her some time around Christmas. Her baby went to a behavior technician in my school. I have no idea if A. has custody of her baby now or not.

Her case broke my heart. I didn’t know how I could teach a student, who had sex with a teacher in the very room I occupied that year. She was a strong girl. I would never have had the guts to carry that baby and bring her into existence. Honestly, she probably shouldn’t have, but she’s braver than me.

There’s nothing good that comes of this story about my former job. I ultimately quit because I was tired of the abusive practices and procedures that happened. I’ll chronicle them for you and I hope that you will be as outraged as I was. Or at least as amused…Keep reading, I’m just getting to the juicy stuff.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

In this system, big brother is watching.

Or at least some crappy single mother, who decided that teaching kids was “easy.” They’re the ones that give this profession a bad name. They’re the reason why I have to be fearful about my good name at the school. There were two of them. Two, in my wing of the school, whose job it was to make my life even more miserable than it already was.

It goes without saying that there is always tension between special educators and general education teachers. It’s because we special educators know that we are better because we teach the worst possible kids. But general educators think that they are superior because they educate the future or some bullshit. It’s bullshit because teachers, who are out to get other teachers fired, are not good teachers. They are petty bitches who made me want to cry all of the time.

So, you might be wondering why I would even devote an entry to these horrible people, who call themselves teachers. It’s because it was a contributing factor in my misery. My soul-wrenching depression as a first year teacher. You must understand every facet of it.

There was Ms. El. She wore braces and was surprisingly nice when I first met her. I didn’t realize that she would turn into the bane of my existence. She was young like me, or so I thought. Black women (god, I hate them for it) look so young. I’ve seen 55 year-old black women look like they are not a day over 30. It’s ridiculous. We white people get wrinkles and whatnot, but not the lovely black woman. She stays young and wrinkle free. Bitch.

Anyway, Ms. El was not my age. She was, big surprise, a single mother in her mid-30s. WTF? God, please send me back as an ageless black woman. That’s all I want. No more wrinkle cream and eye makeup. Anyway, I hated her. She even walked with a nasty attitude. Her sole mission it seemed was to make my job miserable and run to the principal with my incompetence.

Ah, but it was she that was completely incompetent (even more than me as a first year media studies major with no formal education in how to teach). I remember one day I walked by her room as I was taking kids to the bathroom. I saw one of her students, Jay, standing outside of the door. “Jay, what’s wrong, baby? Why are you standing outside of the classroom facing the wall?” He looked at me with big puppy eyes and said: “Ms. El told me I had to stand here until I can sit in my seat and do my work.”

What? What the hell? This is not 1974 where we send special education kids to the basement or put them in closets. This is 2008, and Jay is special ed, but he doesn’t deserve this. He has ADHD; I’ve noticed his symptoms during lunch duty and on the playground. But he doesn’t deserve to be sent outside of class to stare at the walls. He has accommodations; he has needs that have to be taken care of by the classroom teacher.

But she doesn’t. Toward the end the of year, Jay starts coming to my classroom during naptime. I really like him. I actually wish I could have a classroom full of kids like him, instead of the 7 demons I’ve been charged with. But he doesn’t belong with the autists; he belongs in the 2nd grade. It was truly a sad sight.

There was another teacher who was out to get me. She was butt buddies with Ms. El. Her name was Ms. Tee. She was a miserable thorn in my side as well. I don’t know what I did to these women to make them hate me. It might have been that I was white and they were black. But I was fat and they were skinny with kids and wrinkle-free. There was nothing to hate about me. I had the worst class in the school, come on. Being jealous of me was just something I couldn’t comprehend.

Ms. Tee liked to make me look like a fool. One day, I sent a kid to the bathroom and well, I forgot about him. It was Mikey. Mikey was an easy kid to forget about because he was so annoying. Once he was gone from the room, he was gone from my mind. Well, anyway, he didn’t come back from this trip to the bathroom and Ms. Tee finds him. Now, instead of taking him back to my room, she takes him to the principal’s office.

Come on now. There was no reason for that; she could have easily taken him back to my room. But no, she had to tattle on me. She was like a little child telling to her parents that her sister stole her lollypop or something. It was awful. My principal reprimanded me in the harshest of ways. Please, I am not a terrorist for god’s sake. There were days when I wanted to scream, “Ms. Tee, you teach these awful, no good autistic children. Try it, let’s see if you can manage for one day.”

It was always that mindset that gave me the ultimate superiority over everyone, my principal included. I was the one teaching the worst class in the school. It was me who came in day after day to slave away with those children. In my mind, I was the best employee in that school. Well, maybe not the best, but at the very least, the most delusional.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

They call it the “trenches.”

That just reminds me of war that word “trenches.” Now, I’ve never fought in a war, but I do have a sister who was in the Iraqi war. I think if she set foot in my classroom, she might liken the DC Public Schools to Iraq. I think the only thing the school system has that Iraq doesn’t, might be running water. But not all schools had that at all times. So, the Iraqis might have been better off than the poor kids in DC.

You must be wondering by now, who the hell cares about the achievement gap? Go back home! Save yourself from this wretched place. Save your sanity! This teaching, it was like a drug. The more I took, the more I wanted and I just couldn’t kick the habit. They should have rehab for Type A personality types who decide to teach in the ghetto. I’m serious. Or at least a support group.

My fiancĂ© hated coming to happy hours with me during those two years teaching in DC. He said all my teacher friends did was bitch. I guess that was our support group. Those happy hours where we all drowned ourselves in cheap beer and food that was on special. “Do you have a teacher discount?” This became a favorite phrase of ours, as we were poor as hell. If you added all of the hours I worked and divided them by my pay, I think I made about $3.00 an hour. I should have gone into day labor at that point, if I had any sense at all. Obviously, as you can see, I do not.

In warfare, there’s usually a plan of attack, you see, this is why working in the so-called trenches was so hard for me. I had no commanding officer. I suppose that should have been my role, but if you counted my aides as my soldiers, you might as well have been counting severely disabled and cognitively impaired persons as a part of my squad. I always said that all I ever needed in my classroom were clones of me. Like that Michael Keaton movie, “Duplicity.” I would have more of myself to get the work done that needed to be completed. Needless to say, there was no plan of attack. I was winging it every single day.

You don’t usually get clones of yourself in the public sector. This is because anyone with a pulse can get a job and pretty much keep it until they die. Actually, I think if they die, they probably still get paid. I never could understand why I didn’t get to choose the people who worked in my classroom. It’s as though I was charged with the task of being a boss, but I didn’t get to choose my minions.

This is what is wrong with public education. The bureaucracy. What sense does it make to let a principal make the hiring decisions for a classroom teacher? No sense at all. More likely than not, that principal has been out of the classroom for years and can’t remember all of the nuances of the day-to-day classroom operations. Or, in my case, she might have never taught special education, particularly, kids with a diagnosis of the autism spectrum disorder. In any event, it was ludicrous.

So, if teaching can be likened to war, you soldiers should count your blessing for the VA hospitals. At least the government pretends to care about you when you get back from fighting. What does the government do for teachers? Oh, they pay them over the summer. I love when I hear people say things like, “It must be great to have the summers off.” No, it’s not great to have the summers off. I can barely pay my bills as is. I had to take a summer job after my first year teaching because I was so broke from living in the city. But what kind of services did I get for my PTSD that I acquired for working in the DC Public School System? That would be absolutely nothing.

You know, our dear chancellor, Michelle Rhee, hates veteran teachers. She doesn’t say that, but you can feel it in the way she talks. She’d love nothing more than to bring in folks like me every year (the Teach for America type, the DC Teaching Fellows type), teach for awhile, and then move on. Her model is unsustainable. She’s a moron if you ask me. In any case, I brought up the veteran teachers because I’ve seen some really great ones. Teachers who have taught in the DC Public Schools for most of their lives. They dedicate themselves to a system that doesn’t give two shits about their wellbeing. And they keep coming back, year after year, to educate.

Why do they do it? I couldn’t tell you. After two years of an abusive system, I threw in the towel and decided to teach in a not-for-profit school. I commend veteran teachers much in the same way I commend veteran soldiers. I honestly don’t know how they do it, but I admire that they keep doing it. Someone has to uphold and maintain a system when it’s crumbling and it’s those teachers. I believe those are the ones who “do it for the kids.” I salute you, good fighters! God speed and God bless.

**If I seem a little all over the place in this entry, it's because I'm a little nervous. My wedding is today. I know, most girls would be applying their makeup and showering like 6 times. Me, I blog.