Lesson Plan: From An Inner City High School
There are a lot of reasons to quit this job. Kate did. I don’t blame her. But of all the reasons to quit this job, the three best are depression, humiliation and rage.
A freshman turns in the homework. I look at his t-shirt, and see a disarming photo of a nice looking young man. Then the script below the photo reads —
R. I. P. Kooley
01/22/90 – 09/18/09
It’s depressing. I read about this killing in the paper. A drive-by. Kids killing kids. I ask. The freshman tells me that Kooley was his cousin. Then he changes the subject. He looks at a picture of my wife and me, a picture on my desk. I tell him how it’s a shot of a particularly pleasant memory. He tells me how he’ll never get married. “Too much drama.” He changes the subject, but the topic is still sadness.
And this happens all the time. So far, I’ve lost two students to drive-bys.
That’s one reason to quit.
Dan studied archeology. At lunch, he regales us with exotic yarns of the Middle East. He thought about continuing in that field, but wanted a family and time for a family. “Kids instead of digs.” Now, he’s got two little girls, but not much sleep.
Dan was publicly humiliated yesterday for the high crime of tardiness. Five minutes late in the morning, he still had more than enough time until students arrived. But, in front of several of us, he was mortified by the principal. At lunch he tells how he’s again considering that doctorate he never got. “Why should I put up with this?”
‘If not you,’ I say, ‘then who?’ People talk about reforming inner city schools. But only a few are actually willing to work in them — and that’s all that really counts. Reformers annoy us more than help us. We’re aided neither by uplifting liberals nor condescending conservatives.
There are about 200 job openings in the district today. We used to have 65 teachers in my school. We’re down to 25 teachers, although we still have the same number of students, 800 and change. Each of us teaches two extra classes, and gets one break once every other day. There are many subjects we simply no longer teach.
Thus we come to Tieman’s Rule # 57: If you not depressed at times, if you’re not incensed at other times, then you’re not engaged.
Kate was rookie of the year last year. Great start. But she feels rage, because she’s bullied by the boss. The boss writes her disciplinary letters, we call them “nasty-grams”, every morning for a week. So yesterday she just says Fuck this! So I write —
we haven’t said ‘pedagogy’ in decades
we’ve theories about seating charts
playground is a duty like lunch or hall
we’re hideous as dictionaries or yellow
shirts in fluorescent lights
near an intersection of broken glass we ride
an elevator that once smelled of the best of intentions
so when I heard you just said Fuck This! and walked
out just like that
I loosened my tie and graded a theme
and wrote Fuck An A, Kate! on a paper