Friday, February 1

Where Are They Now?

I've been thinking for a long time about doing an update to the blog. It would be interesting to see what my former students are doing now. Unfortunately, since leaving the system I have heard very little.
One other problem is that success takes time. I'm sure that I will have many students who will do amazing things but it will probably take many years. My former students are not even college-aged. While success takes time, failure does not. I already know about the students who have made poor choices and messed their lives up. For better or for worse, I am a part of their lives and they are a part of mine. I am happy when my students achieve great things. I am hurt when they hurt themselves.
Remember "Malcolm"? He was an intelligent kid who made a lot of poor choices. I spent a lot of time talking to him. He was in and out of trouble all the time and was affiliated with one of the local gangs. Malcolm was the kid who was hiding a gun that had been used in a local shooting. He was later expelled for shooting another student in the neck with a BB gun. The school system gave him a private tutor so that he could pass seventh grade. At the time, I wrote that this is how the school system creates criminals.
Not long later, Malcolm shot two young men, killing one. Malcolm and his older brother had a confrontation with two other individuals. It is unclear exactly what transpired but Malcolm and his brother pulled out guns and started shooting. One young man was killed. The other was wounded. Malcolm later confessed to police that he shot one of the victims in the head, killing him. Malcolm was fourteen years old and is one of the youngest people to be charged with homicide in the state of Virginia. He is currently serving time.
Malcolm's grandmother was quoted in the newspaper as saying that Malcolm did not like guns. She claims that Malcolm did not even want a toy cap gun. I don't believe it. Malcolm's record tells a different story. How did parents, community, and school miss this one? The warning signs were all there.

Saturday, June 25

Burned Out Teacher

It’s all over. Normally, there is a big sigh of relief at the end of the year. I felt it as a student. As a teacher, I sometimes felt it even more. This year, I didn’t feel it. Maybe it’s because I’ve decided not to come back next year.
I sat at our last faculty meeting and looked around the room. I realized suddenly, that I knew less than half the people in the room. They were giving out awards to people who had been working for twenty, fifteen, ten, or five years. Can you imagine doing this for twenty years? Then I realized that very few of them were in the classroom. That’s how you survive long-term. You get away from working with the kids.
The head counselor is retiring. She was awful. She won’t be missed. Our seventh grade counselor is taking her place. It’s a poor choice. She’s awful, too. She doesn’t do any work and she doesn’t care about the kids. Oh well, it’s not my fight anymore. I’m tired of fighting every day. I’m tired of fighting for things that should be taken for granted. I’m a lover, not a fighter.
Ultimately, I don’t like the person that I am becoming from working at this school. I don’t like to be angry, suspicious, paranoid, and untrusting. Our time-out room monitor told me that I wasn’t really cut out for teaching because the students got on my nerves. How can you care about the students and not be angry? What right does she—a teacher who was forced out of the classroom because she was ineffective—a teacher who draws full salary but does almost nothing to help—what right does she have to tell me I’m not a teacher? She doesn’t have any idea what goes on in my classroom. She doesn’t have any idea what my students are learning. No one does. We’re all too concerned with discipline and behavior to think about teaching and learning.
It’s over. I know that I should feel something but I don’t. I’m burned out. I gave it the best that I could for three years. I just can’t give any more.

Thursday, June 16

Two More Lives Lost

Ms. Power asks me, “Does Briana’s belly look like it’s getting bigger?”
I look at Briana, wearing a revealing shirt and strutting her stuff in front of some boys. Her belly is bigger. I think back to a month ago when Briana told me her father kicked her out of the house. There was some sort of fight about her boyfriend. I remember Briana missing some school and telling me that she had been throwing up.
“What do we do?” asks Ms. Power, “She was skinny as a twig when I started working here. Now she refuses to dress out for P.E.”
Someone has to talk to Briana. Someone has to ask her if she’s pregnant. I talk to Briana a lot but Ms. Power is the health teacher and she’s a woman. We agree that Ms. Power should ask. I don’t really want to know the answer. I remember Briana telling me that her mother never finished high school. Her mother dropped out when she got pregnant with Briana.
I think about my own life. I’m over twice the age of these kids and I don’t think I’m ready to be a father. Imagine starting life with a thirteen-year-old mother. Imagine being a thirteen-year-old mother. Two more lives lost.

Wednesday, June 15

Community Turns On Its Own

It was a tough day today. I just happened to drive by the school last night and I saw police cars. Police were interviewing people right in front of the school. My heart sank. As soon as I got in this morning, I heard the news.
One of our students, a seventh grader, was jumped by a group of sixth graders. He had been at the school late, practicing dance for an upcoming school assembly. The sixth graders assaulted him, apparently because they thought he was gay, and beat him so badly that he is still in the hospital. Some commuters, walking home from the train station, came to his assistance and called the police.
He’s the big star of our multicultural assembly. Once again, the community has turned on one of its most talented members, trapping him, drawing him back in, keeping him from making something better of himself.
In a separate incident, one of our students lost his father. He was gunned down, shot once in the head and twice in the chest. The student still came to school. I suppose it’s good. He has support here. He feels wanted here. We played soccer after school and I spoke to him briefly.

Monday, June 6

How the School System Creates Criminals

I ran into Malcolm at the train station. I called him over and asked how he was doing. He had the nerve to respond, “keeping out of trouble.”
It turns out that he isn’t going to the alternative school. He has a teacher, provided by the school system, that comes to his house a couple of times each week and teaches him. He told me that if he goes to summer school then he would pass for the year.
How do you like that? You shoot someone in the neck and the school system rewards you with a private tutor. After all the complaining about schools not having enough money, we’re paying for this? Now he only has to do a few hours of school work each week and he’ll make it to eighth grade. Before, he wouldn’t have passed without a major effort. I always knew that Malcolm was smart.
This is how the school system creates criminals.