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Sep 13

‘Dear Hubby’:

Posted on Saturday, September 13, 2008 in the plucky pedagogue

The following is a love letter written by a student from the school in which I used to teach. It is a bit bizarre, and for some people, probably slightly uncomfortable and disturbing to read. I found it on the floor of a classroom at the end of the day after I proctored a high-stakes standardized English Language Arts test during the last week of school.

It is very personal and may seem like an invasion of privacy, but the author and the recipient are anonymous. I kept most of the spelling and punctuation as originally written, but I did break it up into paragraph form to make it a little easier to read since the original letter is one giant paragraph. Be warned that if getting an inner glimpse into the life of a teenager may be too much for you to bear, maybe skip this post.

Dear Hubby,

I really miss you a lot. Deadass. I keep looking at the picture on my phone. I’ve been thinking about you all day. Deadass. I’ve been thinking like I KNOW for a fact that you love me. I really do believe that. I really hope that we never break up. If we do SMFH I don’t know what I would do. Deadass.

I can’t explain my feelings for you. They are to strong. I can’t put it into words. I hope you believe that I love you. Ever since we tried to do it do you think I’ve changed? No, deadass. Next time Imma take the pain for you. That shit deadass hurt A LOT. But its going to have to wait. I just got my period.

I be wonderin if you think about me as much as I think about you. I hope you do. I dunno. I think you got flows. I do because you need to release ya sperm. Then again I think you don’t cuz you always talking to me so if you do you never talking to them. I swear to Ka’Shaun I’m not cheating on you. I don’t have no flows. I’m deadass. I’m not going to have none either. That’s stupid to risk our relationship for someone who can’t do no good for me. I’m not kissing nobody else either. I like when you tell me I better not be kissing nobody else either.

OM GOD

Jun 27

Rollermania:

Posted on Friday, June 27, 2008 in the plucky pedagogue

I wanted to do something special for my small, but dedicated, journalism class to celebrate all of the work they had put in during the school year.

I took off last Friday and took them on an off-the-grid (read: unauthorized) field trip.*

First, I took them to one of my favorite eateries, a solar-powered Cuban restaurant in Brooklyn.

For the most part, these kids are not daring eaters. John still groans dramatically about the time he accidentally ate ginger when I took them out for Thai food.

The menu was not too exotic. They even had hamburgers and burritos to accommodate those not yearning for a gastronomic adventure.

Kiara just ordered french fries. I was aghast for a moment, but I held my tongue. The others branched out a little more and, overall, they liked the food.

They were impressed with the solar panels along the wall next to plugs for people to charge their cell phones and the bicycle-powered blender next to the ordering counter.

They washed their hands with biodegradable soap and watched intently as the run-off from the bathroom sink flowed directly into different plants and trees growing inside the bathroom. They bussed their own table and successfully navigated the elaborate, yet efficient, sorting process at the compost table.

After lunch, we took the train out to Coney Island. I was excited because I had always wanted to go and still had never been.

We walked along the boardwalk of Brighton Beach, eating fistfuls of pink and blue cotton candy.

Once inside the amusement park, located at 1000 Surf Avenue, we marched directly to the Cyclone, an intimidating wooden-tracked twister of white-knuckle mania – the Big Kahuna of roller coasters.

We waited for three cycles of riders to go ahead of us so we could get the front seats.

Here is the Cyclone experience by the numbers:

HEIGHT: 85 feet

LENGTH OF FIRST DROP: 85 feet at a 60 degree angle

TRACK LENGTH: 2,640 feet

NUMBER OF 180 DEGREE TURNS: 6

NUMBER OF DROPS: 12

CHANGES OF DIRECTION: 16

NUMBER OF TRACK CROSSOVERS: 18

NUMBER OF ELEVATION CHANGES: 27

SPEED: 60 Miles Per Hour

RIDE TIME: One Minute, Fifty Seconds

At first I tried to show off how young and hip I was by getting in that front seat with Renee and keeping my hands raised high during the drops.

Then I got a little shaken, a little overwhelmed.

This sensation brought me right back to that uneasy feeling I had after I realized that a friend had somehow talked me into going on a Guatemalan ferris wheel.

Do I really have some sort of deep-seated death wish?

According to the website, the Cyclone has “the highest safety standards in the outdoor amusement industry.”

Uh … sure didn’t feel that way.

*Don’t worry: We were just doing final exams that day and none of these students had any scheduled for the day. They didn’t miss any school.

Jun 9

Helter Swelter:

Posted on Monday, June 9, 2008 in the plucky pedagogue

Ninety-nine. NINETY-NINE!

Luftballons?

No. That was the peak temperature here in New York City today.

We are smack dab in the middle of a merciless heat wave.

The kind of heat wave where the bodies of old people are found days later.

The kind of heat wave where you long for a breeze, any breeze, even if it is brought by a passing garbage truck.

The kind of heat wave where they should really just cancel school if the building does not have adequate air conditioning.

Alas, the school day went on as scheduled, and it was a miserable waste of a day.

A number of my coworkers, knowing that the kids were going to be even more opposed to completing any work than normal due to these torturous conditions, called in “sick.”

For this reason, I had to cover (fill in for a period of that teacher’s schedule) an 8th grade class for second period.

As soon as I walked in the door to the classroom, all eyes turned toward me standing in the doorway, and they clapped and hurrahed as if they had won the Mega Millions lottery.

At first, I was humbled by their response.

Aw shucks, I thought. It’s just me. I’m not that special.

Slowly it dawned on me that they were merely celebrating the absence of their regular teacher.

As the day progressed, the oppressive heat blanketed the entire building. Students sat in a daze at their desks, heads drooping. Their eyes glassy and their spirit conquered.

By the time sixth period came, I had all but given up trying to get my students to be productive and do their work.

Towards the end of class, the students lined up eagerly as I poured water from my water bottle into the palm of my hand and splashed it at their faces.

The cooling splash brought them a brief respite from the insufferable stillness of the air in the room, to the point where they were pushing and angling to be next in line to receive a splash.

“Get me again!” Kiara said.

“No! It’s my turn!” Renee cried.

“Miss! You splashed her more than me!” whined John.

Somehow, it was extremely satisfying, maybe even a little cathartic, to splash my students in the face with water.

May 20

I Am Not Michelle Pfeiffer:

Posted on Tuesday, May 20, 2008 in the plucky pedagogue

When my coworkers catch a glance at my first period roster, jealousy is not the first emotion they experience.

It’s more something like,

Oh man! They put all these kids in the same class?

or

Dude. If I had this class I would kill myself.

It’s not so much that they are bad kids.
They are just incredibly high-maintenance.

And whiny.

They meet every teacherly action I make with huffy indignance.

“Miss, you give us too much work!”

“Miss, why do you do this to us?”

“Miss, it’s not fair!”

And on and on. And on.

They feel incredibly victimized by having to do work.

I have the most difficult time holding my tongue when some of my senior boys routinely come to class without a pen, a piece of paper or their notebook.

Not only are they supposed to be graduating next month and moving out into the ‘real’ world, a couple of them already have babies and all of the accompanying baby-mama-drama that entails.

So how can you be on the brink of adult-hood and not remember to bring a writing utensil to school?

I have made it a personal policy not to give out any pens or paper to students. My goal in this is to encourage them to be responsible and self-reliant. Also, I teach in six different classrooms so I carry around all of my teaching supplies on my back from room to room, floor to floor everyday.

So they can carry around a pen.

And even though I have refused to lend them pens since September, they will still ask me, as we approach the end of May, if they can borrow a pen.

My favored response used to be “I am not Staples.”

And then there was a season where I was perhaps overly harsh in my response: “Prick your finger and write in your own blood.”

That didn’t always go over so well.

Now, I just give them a look. And that is usually pretty effective.

At this point in the year when they complain, I calmly point my index finger up towards my face and say, “Do you see the compassion on my face?”

Sometimes they will quote me back to me, or a student will ask to borrow a pen or voice their complaints and another student will jump in before I can respond and say exactly what I was about to say.

I love when that happens.

I don’t feel upset that they may be mocking me. I feel pleased knowing that, if nothing else, they will at least walk away from my class with some snarky, sarcasm to incorporate into the rest of their lives.

~~ ~~

Today I told my students that I was graduating with my masters degree tomorrow.

And they erupted in cheers and boisterous applause.

“Miss! Miss! Congratulations! Can we go to your graduation?” Shawn asked.

“Yeah!” the whole class cheered.

They are so skilled at sniffing out any possible opportunity to get out of school.

“Uh, I don’t know,” I responded. “You can only get in with a ticket and they don’t give out very many tickets to the graduates.”

“Come on, Miss!” Jerome said. “We’ll go. We’ll cheer for you. We’ll dress up. It’ll be nice.”

“I don’t think I could get you guys tickets,” I said.

“Come on Miss!” cried Shawn. “I thought this was ‘Dangerous Minds!'”

Um…not quite.

May 4

The New Old:

Posted on Sunday, May 4, 2008 in the plucky pedagogue

The other day during my journalism class, I spotted Kiara and Shaneka whispering and giggling furtively instead of working on their stories.

Just as I was about to encourage them to get back on task, they both turned towards me with earnest expressions.

“Miss, what is Milli Vanilli?” Shaneka asked.

I stared at them, confused.

“Miss, we’re serious!” Kiara cried. “What is Milli Vanilli? Is it a man or a woman?”

Whoa. I was shocked and appalled. Now, I realize that many of my students, especially the ones in middle school, were not yet born when Milli Vanilli set the world afire with their infectious songs (albeit under false circumstances).

But come on! How can anyone not know who Milli Vanilli is?

First I set out to clarify.

“Okay,” I began, knowingly letting myself digress from the important matters of journalism to address this frightening knowledge gap.

“Milli Vanilli was a duo that was very popular in the late ’80s and early ’90s. They were two guys with long dreads and they had a number of hits like ‘Girl You Know It’s True’. They even won a grammy but then people discovered that they were just lipsyncing and it was a huge scandal.”

Kiara and Shaneka met me with blank stares.

“Come on!” I squealed, my tone incredulous. “‘Blame it on the rain?'”

No sign of recognition.

“‘Baby don’t forget my number?'”

Nothing.

“‘Girl I’m gonna miss you?'”

The blank stares continued.

I gasped in horror and threw my hands up.

Shaneka and Kiara must have sensed that I needed a moment to compose myself so they turned back to their computers and pretended to work.

I understand that my students belong to a different generation, but I guess I am a little naive.

To know that an early ’90s pop music touchstone as rich and vital as Milli Vanilli is off the contemporary radar, it just breaks my heart a little bit.