Friday, August 26, 2011

Let the games begin

I tried so hard to be positive.  I really did.

"Our class was feeling very negative about Spanish class, so I thought I would say a few words to them in Spanish this morning to make them feel more positive.  How do you say this?" the teacher implored, pushing a half translated piece of paper in front of me.  So, the kids don't like Spanish.  But they will like Spanish if you do it with them, right?  I guess I am the problem here.  It wasn't even eight o'clock in the morning.   "I told them this would be a different year.  Your schedule was really bad last year and it was your first year...". I appreciate that, I really do.  Do say that to the kids.   I have more than two additional instructional hours on my schedule than I had last year.  I would prefer last year's schedule.   "I told them that you have to be impatient with them.  There isn't a lot of time!".  Exactly.  The class looks like a most wanted list of who is a behavioral problem, but you know, it's my fault.  Parents have pulled their kids from the school to avoid that class.  Teachers have been fired for not being able to tame them.  But wow, I guess it was me all along.

The late night teeth grinding has already begun.

I have been forced to lead a song in Spanish during our morning meetings all week.  I was horrified by the prospect.  I can be a real ham when I am alone with the kids in my room, but not in front of more than four hundred people.  Singing. It has been going remarkably well.  I have too many student volunteers to sing it for me, and the kids high five me when I leave the stage.  I may do it again.

I left Atlanta's most wanted elementary class, angry.  Four or five kids managed to really fuck it up, and I had only a ten minute break before I had to teach for another two hours and fifteen minutes straight. I had already taught an hour and a half.  I went to buy a Coke.  "Hey..." a teacher called to me in the hall, insinuating that the lovely little boy to her left had a question.  "Doesn't the end of the song say 'turn to the other side' in Spanish?".  "Yes" I answered.  "The kids aren't doing it when you lead them in the meeting.  You need to teach them that!".  Thanks for that.  Anything else?  I have a few suggestions for you too. 

"How can we show respect for each other in Spanish class?" I asked the second graders, late on Friday afternoon.  "Don't say 'I don't like Spanish'" Julio announced.  "Wow, thanks Julio.  We don't say hurtful words in here, do we?  Those words hurt me" I responded.  "And ME too!" he answered.  I was surprised.  "Why Julio?" I asked.  "Because I am Mexican and THAT is my language".

The problems of the week slowly slid away...

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Week Two

I could feel my scalp sweating as I sat in a circle on the floor with the third graders.  They sang lazily.  As I scanned the room, a dark little exposed belly caught my eye.  Lashandi sat singing, her tired looking eyes drooping, her shirt carefully folded up to air her stomach in the hot room.  She looked like a little old man.  Possibly a little old non-American man.  I've noticed they will unapologetically sit in public or walk through town with their shirts raised to air their bellies, jiggly old flesh staring out at the world.  I wonder if it works, if airing your stomach really cools you down.  A million old men and Lashandi certainly cannot be wrong.

The temperature crested at eighty-six degrees in my classroom.  A number of folks pushed all the useless buttons on the thermostat just as I had when I walked in that morning and achieved the same result:  It was fucking broken, just like I had said.  Penny reached toward me to hug me as she left the classroom, something she rarely does.  "I'm sorry, honey.  I stink." I told her as she continued to advance.  I could smell the curry I had eaten the night before escaping through my pores.  She smiled knowingly while wagging her head no and hugged me anyway.

It started out innocently enough.  I really felt raggedy one morning.  And it was only the second week of school.  And the air was working again.  I don't know what my problem is.  My first class came in.  "¿Cómo están?" I asked them.  "I haven't been sleeping at night" one responded.  Others nodded.  "My stomach hurts everyday" another added.  "I threw up last night" yet another quipped.  "Why are you all so anxious?" I asked.  They didn't know.  Instead of fighting the mood of the class, I decided to just go with it.  I heard about ear infections, blood, sleeping on the couch because the bed was too uncomfortable.  Oddly, one of the blond devils that has always been difficult for me voluntarily sat next to me, and even let me pat him on the back a couple of times.  David rose his hand.  "In the summer, my dad came in one day and turned off the T.V.  He said he had something serious to tell me".  I was nervous.  I could tell by his face that this might be a big one.  "My step dad died.  He was in the army and had to take medicine to get his head right again after he came home.  One night, everyone was out to dinner and he accidentally took too much of his medicine for his head and he died, because no one was home to help him".  "Is he still dead?" another kid asked.  "Yes," David answered solemnly, "he still is.  It is permanent".

"Oh my God!" their teacher laughed when I told her how we spent Spanish class.  "Yesterday we had a really long discussion about the various ways that they have been spanked!  It's not as awful as it sounds!".  "So....what about Jimmy, never been spanked?" I inquired.  "No," she answered, eyes widening "belt".  "What about Sarah?", "Measuring stick", "And Zach?"  I continued, strangely curious about the various means of corporal punishment. 

"No," she said with a relieved look, "never been spanked". 

Saturday, August 13, 2011

You, Me and Everyone We Know

The one eyed machete wielding men of Nicaragua seem very far away now.

I walked through the blistering heat into the mini mart at the gas station, the first week of school under my belt. It's odd. There is a really shiny, fancy gas station across the street that has really shitty beer. I go to the completely sketchy looking place on the other side that actually has good beer. It was hot. Really hot. There was a vibe in the parking lot. I saw this Asian guy, wearing tight, dark jeans and multicolored Adidas, dark wristbands and spiky hair. He didn't have a shirt on. His upper body was completely covered in tattoos. I don't really have any issue with that, but something about him sort of screamed mafia, and don't fuck with me. He spoke in rapid fire, some kind of Chinese to another, I assume, Chinese guy. Stereotypes preclude that Asians aren't supposed to be intimidating, yet these guys clearly smashed that to bits. I steered clear of them. There was a line clear across the store. I grabbed my beer and got in it. "Hey! Where your partner?!" a completely homeless dude yelled across the store, "This is ridiculous!" he added, and stormed out. I stared forward. I heard a shouting, barking noise in the parking lot. "What is that.....?" the young, African American guy behind me in low slung jeans and an A hat whispered. "It sounds like shouting..." I responded quietly. The homeless guy re-entered. "Where your partner?!" he yelled. I bought my beer and left, exiting quickly and eyeballing the Appalachian homeless that sit by the dumpster, making sure they weren't coming up at me. A van blocked my car in. That is, a prison transport van, complete with prisoners shackled inside. I got in my car, locked the doors and turned the air on.

I could wait.

So, just mentioning Nicaragua made it come back to me...like a dream. Nicaragua is a big bike country. Not for fitness or fun, but primarily because of poverty. People routinely give each other rides on their bikes. Yet most bikes lack pegs on the back wheel that will allow a second rider to stand behind the principal one. The most common pairs of riders seemed to be young men. Not kids, but guys that were like, twenty-three. I was a little stunned to see the principal rider on the seat, peddling, while the second rider straddled the bar, yup, sitting right on it, while steering. Dads that were riding little boys often peddled and steered, yet the little boys still straddled the bar in front of the principal rider. I have to wonder if there is any sort of legacy of infertility among men in Nicaragua. The only people I saw riding side saddle on the bar, permitting the principal rider to both peddle and steer, were women. To put it bluntly, we aren't fools. We have a lot less junk down below, but we still aren't riding a bar.

I stared back at the new sea of kindergartners. They lacked identity and personality. I guess I don't have to wonder this time if they will worm their way into my heart. Everyone I teach does. This is my sixth year in the public schools. Blobs will become people and people, personalities. They will come and they will go.

Now, they just have to make themselves known to me.