Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Maryland Halloween Happenings

You go Bunky Bartlett!

Halloween 07

Halloween 07, originally uploaded by Blog-Sothoth.

We had gobs of tricker-treaters tonight. They started showing around 4pm, tiny Spidermans, witches, and bees. Then there were some chubby Supermans and Batmans. Several kids, like this guy, showed up without costumes. Cha would run to her bag of Halloween gear and give them a mask or feather boa before she'd let me give them candy.

It was fun. Of course all the thugs are out in the hood now. We took down the decor to make our home less of an egg target.

Happy Halloween

We lived at the old house in Towson for 11 years. Before the invasion of the college renters, it was a quiet community made up of young families and middle-aged and retired couples. There were beaucoup littluns in the area. In 11 years we had three trick-or-treaters, who came all together at 9:30pm on our first Halloween. They were 13-year-old boys who weren't even in costume, and I gave them all of the candy we'd bought, which was quite a haul considering we expected dozens of door-ringers.

Here we are in the City, and I wonder if things will be different. There are a lot of littluns on our block, but do they dress up and go door-to-door? In Towson there was a lot of the suburban paranoia about razor blades in apples, crystal meth in the Reeses' Cups, and pederasts in the bushes. Everyone took their kids to the mall, where Nordstrum and Starbucks and Crate and Barrel handed out store-branded mints.

We'll find out tonight I guess. I know the 8th graders at Booker T. are planning to egg houses, treats or no. TR asked Lukie what kind of car she drove. "I drive a pink Cadillac," she lied. "I sold enough Mary Kaye to earn it." TR said "I only want to know so I can guard your car from eggs."

Lukie treated this comment with an appropriate amount of disdain as Kaneeka said "You need to take me to the Barbie store in your pink Cadillac."

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Tolle lege!

If I had any time to kill, I would gladly do so over at BibliOdyssey. A fantastic archive of interesting visuals and factoids.

[found via 3QuarksDaily]

Day 40

Today while I taught about character motivation Lukie made a detailed script of what happened in class. "My mentor did this for me during my first year. I think you'll find it helpful. And hilarious!"

It is amusing. Here are some snippets:

Teacher is writing on chalkboard. Tayon is telling Moneesha about sweet pussy.

TR stands and moves behind SD's chair. Teacher asks TR to sit. He asks TR to sit again. In the meantime, SW, KL, and TL are out of their seats, but Teacher doesn't notice. TL and KL are rubbing lotion and smelling each others' hands.

Tayon leaves his seat. Teacher asks Tayon to return to seat. Tayon says "Man I am gonna fart!" Teacher allows Tayon a moment in the hallway.

TR, KL, SW all say they have to fart. Teacher tells them to stay where they are. TR farts loudly. Teacher says "Let's be adult about this." SW shouts "That's one adult stink!" The class laughs loudly.

During instruction, 6 students are on task. 14 are looking around or listening to Ipods or whispering to each other.

During classwork phase, 10 students are on task. 3 are out of chairs. 2 are sleeping. 5 are talking or listening to music.

Teacher circulates. Tayon asks Moneesha if he can get with her. Moneesha says no. Tayon says she don't have any sweet pussy nohow. Moneesha throws her notebook at Tayon. Teacher calls out Moneesha for throwing notebook.

This is the good class. To be fair, were I to take notes while Lukie was teaching, there wouldn't be much difference. It's a constant barrage of silliness. At least we haven't had any fights for a couple weeks.

Monday, October 29, 2007


Day 39

Shontriqua and Martine come to the classroom at lunch because they were late this morning and they need to finish their benchmark exams.

Shontriqua asks me what happened to Miss R, the Social Studies teacher. "She's in the hospital," I say. "She had a stroke."

Miss R had a stroke after dealing with the Class from Hell one too many times. She's not in good health anyway, being severely obese and having asthma. The stress of 30 kids throwing books, leaving the class at will, wrestling, and talking sass proved too much. I hope she's ok, and that this was merely a warning, and that she begins to take care of herself.

"Shontriqua cussed her out last Friday. And threw a book at her!" Martine says.

"Shut up bitch! I didn't throw the book at her. I threw it on the floor and told her to pick it up."

"And then you cussed at her!"

"Yeah. I feel bad about that now."

The Travelin' Joneses

The Travelin' Joneses, originally uploaded by Blog-Sothoth.

Let the games begin

Let the games begin, originally uploaded by Blog-Sothoth.

Sunday, October 28, 2007


A dark and brooding meditation; I loved it. A rich history of martial valor and symbolism is misappropriated and used cynically by the Iyi clan. A lone samurai appears and asks permission to commit harakiri in their courtyard. Little do the clan's masters know that his real mission is to expose their hypocrisy.

Beautifully shot in stark black and white, and acted impeccably. A great way to spend two hours on a fall afternoon.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Do you know, where you're going to?

Sometimes I encounter people in my life who are crazy in just the right way that I suspect they were sent to me as a warning. It used to happen all the time when I worked at the Liberry or the bookstore. Some far-out nutjob would harangue me about his or her obsessions for a while, but in a way that said "You could be me in ten years if you're not careful."

I chalked such thoughts up to my own personal and inventive form of paranoia. Like a medical student who becomes convinced she suffers all diseases studied in every text of maladies, I believed the Universe was sending me nutjobs to keep me focused on the right Path.

According to Dion Fortune's little book, my paranoid and egocentric musings were correct. There are Masters on other Planes who test potential initiates in this manner. If you pass the tests and get your house in order, you will be contacted by an Esoteric Order and trained in the Western mystery tradition. And no, I'm not talking Tony Hillerman western mysteries; I'm talking Hermes Trismegistos.

Of course once you're on the initiate's Path, Fortune says it will take another two or three incarnations to escape the cycle of physical rebirth. Fuck that noise. I'm all about shortcuts. I need an accelerated Master's in becoming a Master. Preferably offered online.

Day 38

Nat is one of the young men I particularly like. He rarely comes to school, but does extremely well on his tests. Lukie and I seat kids with troublesome behavior near Nat because he calms them down. There's an inexplicable gravity to him. He's not a large kid by any means, but he has a look about him that says "I ain't fuckin' around." Nat tried to wrestle me one day and was confounded when he couldn't move me an inch. "This nigger strong," he announced to the class.

I had at the time never been called "nigger" before, and didn't know how to respond. So I ignored the word and said with a smile "You best remember how strong I am."

One day I shaved my head bald and Nat said "You look like a toad!"

"A toad?" I asked.

"Yeah, like a toad coming out his shell and shit." Turtles, toads--what's the difference?

Lukie and I were in the guidance counselor's office today discussing some students. We mentioned Nat and immediately Miss B got serious. "You need to watch out for him. He killed a man. The police are unable to hang it on him, but everyone knows he did it. The other students are terrified of him. There's talk that he might have two or three kills under his belt." I thought of Nat's mile-long stare, the way other kids don't play when he's around. I was no longer surprised by his gravity.

A fourteen-year-old boy. One (and perhaps more!) of the 250-odd homicides in B'more this year belongs to one of my kids. Makes reading articles about flintlock mustkets and the American Revolution to him in Language Arts class seem rather quaint.

Lukie was devestated. "I knew he was into some heavy shit," she said, "but I didn't think he was black-hearted."

You don't have to be black-hearted to kill on the streets. Sometimes it's just a matter of you or the other guy making it to tomorrow. Nat's in court today but we're not sure why. Could be 5-0 found some new evidence, or it could be they're jacking him up for throwing rocks and bottles at cars, or stealing road signs. Whatever it is he'll likely be back in school next week.


The plan today is to head down to Soundgarden after school and buy the new Robert Plant/Alison Krauss duets album. Casey gives it a thumbs-up. I might also see if they have a used copy of Pictures at Eleven. I lost my cassette fifteen years ago.

This is the kind of music I need for the classroom. Any time the kids act up, I can play Raising Sand really loud. Or Reign in Blood. Or Alban Berg's Wozzeck.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Day 37, II

I often describe the poor behavior at school. It's what I deal with most of the time, so it takes front-and-center during online kvetches.

But please understand--the kids aren't the primary problem in the City schools. The real problem is the crew of moronic, corrupt, inefficient adults who inhabit City schools headquarters, who mis-allocate funds into their own pockets, who write mandated tests which don't align with the assigned curricular pacing guides, who hire cousins to do shoddy repair work and get kickbacks from the contracts, etc.

I don't blame the kids for regarding school as a pointless waste of time. Most of them figure they are doomed to the streets even if they come and try their hardest every day, because the cards are stacked against them by generations of poverty, lousy teachers, and no support system at home. I've mentioned here before that some of our best students are those who rarely come to school. They stay home and read (or run with gangs) and often do better on the tests than those who are present every day. These kids can make more money in a few hours on the streets than they will make if they stay in school and get a diploma.

There are many hard-working teachers and administrators, and there are an equal number who deserve to be fired tomorrow for incompetence. I am sick, for example, of administrators who bust into my classroom to yell at good students because they have hoodies on when the heat doesn't work and it's 50 degrees in the building. I understand the uniform policy, but teenagers who are cold in a cold building, and who can't afford to buy warm garments acceptable under the rules, deserve some leeway.

The kids brighten my day, even those who wear my patience thin. They are funny, they are smart, they are creative, and daily they deal with things most adults could never handle. Yesterday a kid called Hammerhead by his peers because of the shape of his skull stood up, put his leg behind his head, and started hopping across the room like a flamingo. Lukie, who brooks no nonsense in her classroom, fell on the floor laughing. She had tears welling from her eyes for ten minutes, and kept giggling like a Bloopers show newscaster.

The kids also break your heart. The students asked me yesterday if I had kids during third period. I said no, and was asked in all seriousness by a student if my wife and I would adopt her. "My granny can't keep me much longer because she's losing her sight," she said.

All I could do was move on to problem #4 on our worksheet, discreetly blowing my nose.

Day 37

At 7:35am the acting principal got on the horn to announce we should be on high alert today for a potential lockdown. There was an assassination threat against one of our students by a gang member following an altercation at the group home across the street from the school, and it was likely that guns would be brought into the building today. I continued writing the objective on the chalkboard, Lukie was singing along to Herman's Hermits, Mr. C was knocking paper airplanes out of his ceiling. An announcement about guns, assassinations, and lockdowns doesn't even merit special comment.

So for the third day in a row TJ, Timothy, and Shaq didn't show for third period language arts. I told Lukie I was going to roam the halls and find them. My first stop was science class. Miss Rough was seated at the front of her room, by the sink, head in her hands. There were literally hundreds of paper airplanes stuck in her ceiling. The kids were running rampant, sword-fighting with meter sticks, looking at their own spit under microscopes, flinging texts out the window. "Were TJ, Timothy, and Shaq here today?" I asked.

"Yes. But they walked out halfway through class and never came back."

I roamed the halls. It's quite entertaining to do so. I won't go into details but imagine walking through a 1940s WB cartoon. There's a lot of violence, but somehow it's funny at the same time. The kids just crack me up.

I found my young men fleeing the cafeteria. Miss H, an AP, and a school police officer were chasing them. I gave their names to the school police and then caught up with them on the second floor. I pleaded with them to return with me to class. "The police are looking for you. You come to class and we can speak on your behalf."

"That class is a drag," TJ said.

"I know it is, but you're going to be taking it again next year if you don't straighten up."

"I'll come with you Mr. G," Shaq said. Timothy and TJ stayed in the hall. Shaquille acted a fool in class, but he's still in school. TJ and Timothy got jacked up by the police. TJ is suspended five days for the fifth time. Timothy is suspended five days for the third time. I saw them as I was leaving the building.

"Snitches get stitches!" Timothy told me. I told him I was going to call his grandmother and tell her what he said.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


Haven't read it yet, but here's a portrait of Homicide/The Wire creator David Simon from the New Yorker.

In another six weeks or so I'll finally get to see season four of The Wire, which focuses on the Baltimore City Schools. Is truth stranger than fiction?

Day 36

The Class from Hell had mercy on me this morning. They were respectful, they listened to directions, they produced quality written responses, they participated when I asked questions. There was only one fire, one beat-down, and a brief moment where the entire class started talking at once but I managed with my booming Darth Vader voice to bring it quickly to an end. The intern supervisor from Notre Dame, who was observing, had very kind things to say about the manner in which I handled my business.

Will--who is the eighth grade pretty boy--asked me where I bought my shirt. "It's tight," he said. I told him I got it at a Banana Republic outlet. "You almost there," he told me. "You need to rock the blue Old Navy umbrella for $30 with some black and white Adidas. Ladies will be on you."

Of course they went across the hall for math class and I ended up with seven of them back during planning period. They got booted for misbehavior by Mr. C. Then they went to Social Studies and went nuts. The administrators had to come out of their offices to help get the Class from Hell under control, at which point several of the students went berzerk running the halls, threatening to burn down the school and announcing that they had bombs. This resulted in a lockdown situation and bag searches. At least they behaved for me!

Day 35

I lost control of the third period class yesterday. I was teaching a lesson about characterization, and how we can infer what types of people characters are from what they think, say, and do in stories. The class went berserk with talking, slapping, book throwing.

I tried: yelling, turning on my timer and announcing detention, counting backwards from five at the top of my voice, bribery, threats to call parents/guardians, office referral slips, pleading, cajoling, begging, screaming, overturning a desk, banging on the chalk board with a metal pipe. Finally I sat on the desk with my saddest Droopy Dogg face. Konika saw me and smiled.

"Aw. He look sad. I think he want us to be quiet. Let's be quiet." At least someone was able to infer something from what I did.

They took pity on me.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Fear factor

Things were going really well in our 8am class when a cockroach the size of a puppy pitbull appeared on Emmanuel's desk. "Yo, yo, yo! You infested!" he screamed, and kicked his desk. The roach flew through the air and into Rich's shirt. Rich leapt up, shrieking and waving his hands around like Rip Taylor. Lukie tried to grab the cockroach--now upended on the floor--with a tissue, but it got kicked in the commotion as terrified teenagers tried to put as much distance as possible between themselves and one lonely roach.

Half the students in this class are in gangs. Their binders and folders are decorated with personal memorials to friends and family members killed on the streets of Baltimore. They live in some of the toughest neighborhood in the United States. They hear gunfire they don't even flinch.

And they are scared to death of cockroaches. Tomorrow I'm teaching the little buggers, and a representative from my graduate program is coming to observe me. She wants to see how well I'm doing in what is rapidly becoming known as the toughtest school in Baltimore City. Those kids are going to steam-roll me, just like they did last time.

Perhaps I should go to the pet supply store and buy some feeder roaches and grasshoppers. Just to keep the class in line. Maybe a big tarantula?

Monday, October 22, 2007

out of alignment

I don't have much spare time for reading now. Last year by this time I'd read 80-something books. I think I'm at about 45 this year so far. But I've been slowly working my way through Richard Tarnas's Cosmos and Psyche for months. It's a blast. Do I believe it? Well, uh...Sure, why not? I'm inclined at this point to believe in malevolent planetary alignments. Something must explain all the bad shit friends and family are going through right now. Just this weekend M&M's puppy Socrates ate a sewing needle and thread--emergency surgery for the poor little guy.

No lie. Suicides, strokes, serious car accidents, sicknesses, lawsuits, deaths...A lot of catastrophes have been happening amongst my acquaintances recently. Where's Pluto right now? Saturn? What charms must I wear? What beast's entrails should I handle?

Just look at the last couple months in our family: Ma's stroke, my accute bronchitis, the Jetta dying on President's St. at 9pm on a Saturday, a flat tire on the same car a week later, devestating ich in both fish tanks at once....

But mal-aligned astral bodies don't bother me. Bring 'em on!

que la force soit avec eux

What with the illness, the family crises, the accelerated graduate program, and the middle-school escapades, I've had very little time to keep my French skills up to snuff. Occasionally I get to converse for ten minutes with Mattieu three doors down, but that doesn't cut the grey poupon.

So I subscribed to Paris Match, which is the French equivalent of People (except that in Paris Match there are interviews with French celebrities who are also public intellectuals--there are almost never intellectuals featured in People). So I read a nice interview with Bernard Henri Levi about the woeful state of lefty politics in France, and then read about the astonishing victory of the Blues over the New Zealand All Blacks in the rugby World Cup. I know nothing about rugby except that no one ever beats the All Blacks because they're scary and they do a Maori war dance before each match that sends everyone on the opposing squad into paroxysms of fear. But then I saw pictures of Sebastien Chabal and realized that the French have some tough muthafuckas themselves. They call him the caveman (homme de grottes).

And I thought the French rugby team was merely a bunch of calendar models:


Ma had one of her best days since the strokes Sunday. She was coherent and rational. She told jokes, she did laundry, she helped prepare green beans. We walked to the Park and she didn't complain about being tired.

Then when she got home she started packing all her things in suitcases. This is her recent obsession. "I know this is my house, but I don't want to leave all my things here when I go." You ask her where she's going and she doesn't say. She packs up family photos, towels, clothes, old papers, statues of the Virgin, etc.


autumn, originally uploaded by Blog-Sothoth.

It's autumn in Baltimore, but doesn't really feel like it yet. Still got highs in the 80s.

Friday, October 19, 2007


A new book of Chomsky and Barsamian interviews just arrived from Amazon. Always angries up the blood. I'll permit myself a brief dip back into politics for such an occasion.

Day 32

During my third period class Wednesday the internship supervisor from Notre Dame dropped by. She talked to me in the hall for twenty minutes about behavioral management. She asked if the current class was "the bad" class.

I said "We don't have any "bad" classes. Our 8am class is quite difficult to manage, however." I took her over to the Social Studies room, where our 8am students were currently housed. "THIS is the difficult class."

There was a water bottle fight in the classroom. Chanika had her shirt off and was covering her bra with a hoody jacket clutched to her chest. She was completely wet and laughing. Ten students were involved, dumping three-litre bottles of water on each other. A B-1 bomber paper airplane made from chart paper floated from the room. Montrise and three other students followed it, trying to down it with sunflower seeds, making anti-aircraft battery noises. Someone hit it with a water bottle and it collapsed like a pteradactyl into a tar pit. Miss R. was sucking her asthma inhaler, heaving and hoarse from attempts to shout down the chaos. Mr. M was seated, his prayerful hands clapsed to his chest, like Christ in Gethsemene. An AP in the hall tried to reign in the growing anarchy with a whistle and threats to summon the police. Students from the science and math classes spilled out of their rooms and began throwing airplanes, seeds, gum, beads from plastic bracelets, horseshoes, Molotov cocktails. Muffin was doing triple axels in the spilled water while reciting Eliot's Prufrock.

The internship supervisor was mortified. She hid behind me. "I think I have some articles about classroom management. I'll email them to you," she said, and hightailed it to the nearest exit stairwell. Of course she chose the one frequented by the fellatrices and their clients.

Lukie and I have all the classroom management articles we need. That group simply defies any known strategies or techniques. That's what makes them so damnably entertaining.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

I try my best to keep up

Anoushka and Ravi Shankar played the Meyerhoff tonight. Anoushka's artistry has again improved dramatically, and it was only a year ago that they were last in town. Her playing is much more graceful and emotive; she's always had great dexterity and precision, but now she's developing a powerfully evocative style of her own. Instead of her New Age-y international jam band, she opened with a traditional set of flute ragas. I drifted, attached to Earth only by an ectoplasmic umbilicous strung from my pituitary gland.

Ravi joined Anoushka for the second set. He looks wispy enough for a light breeze to blow him away. They played three evening ragas for dual sitar, and this time around Anoushka handled most of the pyrotechnic lines. Ravi is still occasionally fast, but fast playing is no longer his strength. He takes great delight in throwing old folk tunes and bits of different ragas into the mix, watching his daughter pick up on the improvs, and teasing his fantastic tabla player. Tonight Ravi played a muted sitar, a much richer and more resonant instrument, while Anoushka rocked the traditional twangy model. The effect was analagous to a concerto featuring piano and harpsichord together.

I adored every minute. At the end of the show Ravi said "I get to play with these wonderful young people. At 87, I try my best to keep up. I hope I can come here again."

So do I.

Day 31

So the fellation craze continues at school. Another young woman was caught "servicing" (the assistant principal's verb, not mine) a hoard of young men in the stairwell. I walked into the 2nd floor boy's room to do my daily check on the Crips v. Bloods graffiti and found instead two seventh graders in flagrant delicto by the urinals.

"WHAT ARE YOU THINKING?!" I screamed, and they took off running. And turned the lights out on me for revenge. I guess I'd be pissed too.

TJ, back from suspension number 4 and en route to Student of the Week honors in Language Arts, announced before class today that Taymon had porno in his backpack. A magazine was produced and quickly shredded in the hallway as young girls and boys tore off pictures to their liking.

Taymon swore at TJ. "Man, now I lost all them sweeeeet booty pix." He turned the adjective "sweet" into a most dolorous lament. It sounded almost like prayer, the way he stretched it out into a painful moan.

Again, no fights. Presumably stairwell* blow jobs are keeping the young toughs otherwise occupied. Fisticuffs are losing their glamor. Make love, not war.

Nat Turner, who rarely comes to school, showed up today two hours late. He was in the hallway with a seriously bloodied right eyeball. Other students told me that Nat and his brothers were throwing rocks and bottles at cars on McCulloh Street. Somebody returned fire and nailed Nat in the eye. He always looks a bit scary, but now he looks like something out of a Clive Barker film. I told him he had the second highest score on the test yesterday, which was true. He said he would come to school more often if it challenged him. It does not surprise me that some of the toughest, most violent, and most likely to drop out kids happen to be the smartest. They know they're not going to learn anything in that environment every day. They can at least be entrepreneurs and innovators out on the streets.

And poor Cody, who desperately needs an IEP so we can get him a special ed assistant, has begun wearing his winter coat to school. It has teddy bears on it. The other students were teasing him for wearing a girl's coat, and he defended himself by saying "Boys can have teddy bears too." He's 13, likely has a substantial learning disability, and has no understanding of the social norms or cues other kids pick up naturally. He's a charming young man, and we worry about him daily after first period. Some of our hoodlums are starting to steer Cody to do their dirty work.

*I hear other middle schools are having trouble with library or media center blow jobs. We don't have that problem at Booker T, because we keep the library locked at all times.

All in the Family

I'm not sure what's better: this interesting factoid about Dick Cheney and Barack Obama being eighth cousins, or Obama's clever response to the information.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Day 30

Today we gave out a mandatory City-wide Language Arts test. For weeks we've been working on this unit. We spent the last three days reviewing the material.

One student passed the test in our first class. Three students passed in the second class. The young lady who is typically our best student in the second class scored a 15%.

We're at a loss. Sometimes the tests written by the dunderheads in the City Schools headquarters don't align with the material taught, but this time they got that right at least. There were problems with the test, however; one question asked for the meaning in context of a word which did not appear in the passage referred to, and the test directions referred to question numbers which did not exist.

But the students were informed of this ahead of time. Something is amiss. I think these students simply don't know how to prepare for a test. They don't understand how to study. Many of the brightest kids retain nothing for more than a day or two.

Of course all of this indicates a failure of the teachers. We are assuming they know how to study and retain information, the same way we learned. We have to include study and practice strategies in our lessons.

At least there were no fights today. One of our students was caught fellating multiple boys in the stairwell, and is suspended. I hope that she gets the medical attention, tests, and treatment she may need.

Sunday, October 14, 2007


I'm on a second, stronger antibiotic, this one for two weeks. After feeling infinitely better last weekend I regressed badly on Monday, and by Thursday felt worse than ever. The warned me about gangs, knives, and guns in the City Schools. They didn't warn me about biological weapons.

I've spent as much time as possible sleeping the last few days. Forunately my Saturday morning class was cancelled yesterday. I used the time to complete some homework early. One assignment for Multicultural Ed was to visit a local museum and write a Personal Reflection.

I am sick to death of Personal Reflections. But the AVAM had a new exhibit called All Faiths Beautiful. Seemed appropriate. I hopped in the car for the five-minute drive to the Harbor and the museum. Unfortunately I'd forgotten about the Baltimore Marathon. I had to do some clever back-channel navigation, going south and west and sneaking up on the Harbor from a different direction. Runners in clumps wheezed by at almost every intersection.

The AVAM exhibit is up to their usual standards. A few canvases by Alex Grey, who always amuses me with his trippy hippy transdenominational images of physical bodies dissolving into ethereal ecstatic trance. Some dude named Michael Green used digital collage to illuminate Coleman Barks' translations of Rumi. Some cat named Fred Kahler made intricate quill pen drawings like frozen frames from a late-phase Brakhage film. The museum kindly provided magnifying glasses for detailed study. There's the usual collection of whimsical and deadly serious pieces by the fanatical, the obsessed, the mentally ill, the modern-day William Blake visionaries. One statue of the Goddess made entirely out of seashells blew me away, as did a stone carving of the Holy Family and a donkey in Egypt.

Scattered throughout the exhibit were wonderful religious-themed confession cards from PostSecret.

I had to skirt marathoners running through our neighborhood when I returned home as well.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Day 28

E. Muffin stands about four feet high. He is a beautiful elf of a child, a wafer thin sprite with a ridiculous mop of dreads. Muffin is barely controllable. Until last week he had a special education one-on-one who was lazy and incompetent. While he was running wild in the halls during class, or dancing in front of the LCD projector, or doing shadow puppet shows on the overhead transparency screen, his one-on-one would be chatting on her cell phone or programming her Ipod.

Muffin is the cutie-pie who called me a "bald-head muthafucka" a couple weeks ago. He is so charming I had to turn my head so he didn't see me laugh when he said it. But Lukie and I had suspicions he was quite brilliant. When we discussed the Jena 6 Muffin began rapping about Marcus Garvey and Fred Hampton and Mark Clark. He talked about Jim Crow laws. I saw him doodling one day and realized he'd worked out the elegant square of 1,111,111,111,111 on his notebook cover.

During a recent fire drill Muffin did backflips and walked on his hands to our homeroom line-up.

Fortunately for the teachers Muffin has a new one-on-one as of this week. Mr. M looks like Ray Lewis, and is of similar stature and bearing. He wears three-piece suits with all the accoutrements, including jazz club bowler hats with elaborate feathers and weaves. Mr. M regards the world through dark Raybans. Muffin hasn't been coming to Language Arts in the morning, but Mr. M has waited patiently for him each day. He fills his time reading scripture in the back of the class. Yesterday I read to the group and Mr. M approached me afterward. He grasped my hand in a coconut-crushing grip. "I admire the way you read to them today. They seem to respect you, and were following along."

"Thanks," I said, checking my hand for fractures. "I wish I could read to them every day. There are many brilliant kids in here who aren't giving themselves a chance to succeed."

"Miss Lukie is doing a marvelous job with them. I follow this group all day and they wreak havoc with the other teachers."

Later I saw Mr. M patiently explaining to Muffin that he couldn't do what he wanted to do all the time. Muffin was calling him a "big dumb ape-headed bastard."

A psychologist visited Lukie today during planning period. He'd just tested Muffin and found his IQ was likely in excess of 165. "It may be higher than that, but I was unable to finish the testing. Muffin got bored, called me a 'stinky piss-hole shit-eater' and stormed out without finishing the last problems."

Lukie assured the psychologist that she would advocate for Muffin in any way possible. "I knew he was a genius. He uses about 1 percent of his attention in class and still gets everything. He just never shows it."

We've got to get this child into a different school. One where they can give him the freedom to pursue his interests, while also teaching him how to channel his brilliance into something other than removing his pants in class and coming up with hilariously apt insults.

Of course, it would be nice to have such a school for every child everywhere.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Day 27

I've been warning Lukie all week that Timothy--soundly beaten in every fight he's been in--was targeting Billy for his next attempt. Having been floored and bloodied now by several girls and the shortest eighth grade boy at Booker T., Timothy has been verbally sparring with Billy in Language Arts class. Billy is a diminutive and smart-alecky gay; he is adored by the fashionistas in the eighth grade, and often makes suggestions to Lukie about changing her hair style. Billy is in many ways a walking stereotype; he's also mean-spirited, funny, and tough.

Yesterday Timothy called Billy a "fag" and a "dick eater." I quickly intervened and made sure Timothy understood that we would not tolerate that language in class. Lukie spoke at the same time to Billy, who had earlier taunted Timothy for stuttering while reading a passage aloud.

Today Billy again teased Timothy during reading, and Timothy got out of his chair. Lukie quickly stopped him. Billy said "Yes, you try and fight me. Everyone knows you always get dropped on your neck."

Eventually I had to take over the class because Lukie had to take Timothy and Billy out in the hallway. A new child, just transferred up from the first floor, got out of his seat, scaled a bookcase, and started dancing on its top. Lukie re-entered the classroom and re-established order. She asked for a volunteer to read a paragraph on the overhead. Somebody yelled out "That's a big one! I'm afraid to read the big ones."

Lukie said "I need someone to read who is not afraid of a big one." Treyona fell into this unintended trap, raising her hand. "She ain't afraid of a big one," Yasmine said. "She craves a big one!" That was the end of any semblence of instruction in Language Arts today. The second class--usually angels all--completely fell into pandaemonium.

And, on the way to lunch, Timothy was upended in the stairwell after trying to grapple Billy, who flipped the much larger boy over with no problem. Both of them were arrested by the school police officer, and both are suspended. This is the second suspension for each.

Worth a look

An interesting collaboration between film director Alfonso CuarĂ³n (Children of Men) and Naomi Klein. I've mentioned here before her excellent articles in Harper's about lunatic free market shenanigans in Iraq and in other post-trauma locales. Apparently her work has been building towards a new book:

[With a nod to Mysterious Glow/Texas Tarot]

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

If you'd be so kind...

The kids at Booker T. don't have a lot of resources. My mentor and I are trying to scrape together cash via grants for buses so we can take the students to local museums. Just getting a bus to the Poe House for 60 kids can cost us hundreds of dollars, and the Poe house is less than a mile away*. The teachers often spend their own money on materials and books for the students.

If you're so inclined, please take a moment to register here and choose Booker T. (school #130). Simply registering earns our school $1. Of course I suspect you'll end up getting spam galore or junk snail mail that way; please keep that in mind before you register!

If you happen to have box tops from Box Tops 4 Education participating brand names (Kleenex, Hefty, various cereals), please send them to:

RM 218
Booker T. Washington Middle School
1301 McCulloh Street
Baltimore, MD 21217

Any help would be greatly appreciated. Cab Calloway and Thurgood Marshall went to this middle school. There are potential Cabs and Thurgoods who may be lost to the streets if we can't turn things around ASAP in Charm City.

*And no, we can't walk students there. Walking through those neigbhorhoods? Oh, no--not even in broad daylight.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Some day this school year is gonna end

Lukie sends me to make copies of a test right before class. A fistfight in the science classroom erupts out into the hall. Kids are screaming, there is blood, I push through the crowd and start barking at kids to make way. The smoke clears, I continue down the hall. There are flares in the distance, shouts, another fight spills out of the special ed resource room. Several seventh graders pummel each other. I don't even bother stopping. I need to copy the tests ASAP.

In the office is Miss H, one of the Filipina teachers. "Mainit today, eh?" I ask. She nods, but says "I speak Vassaya, not Tagalog."

"Cebu?" She nods. A seventh grader--bloodied in the face and with his pants down--collapses in the doorway. Mr S. was trying to restrain him and flung him to the floor. "Fucking bitch hit me! I'll show her!" the student shouts. Mr. S. pushes him into another office and shuts the door.

"One of your students next year," Miss H tells me, and laughs. The fluorescents flicker. On the desk behind her is an old Tandy tape recorder, playing a cassette tape of distorted feedback guitar. A Hendrix bootleg?

"I'll worry about that next year," I say. "Right now I have to make copies. Lukie sent me down here on urgent business."

"You are an errand boy sent by grocery clerks to collect a bill," she says. The lights blink twice and then go dark in the office. We hear wailing in the still-lit hallway. I think of mangoes and tigers.

Mr. S. is a community volunteer. He works with the Male Minds Moving, and is not supposed to break up fights. His hands are bloody from pulling seventh graders apart. From each other, not literally pulling them apart. At least I hope so.

"Who is in charge here?" he asks, putting his head in the doorway.

"Ain't you?" Miss H. and I respond in unison. The lights pulse again and resume flickering. I put my test on the copy machine but the toner light, the service light, and all the paperjam lights are flashing lurid red.

Not-so-living dead

For the third night in a row I slept about two hours. I'm going down easily but wake up at 1:30am, unaccountably jazzed. Then I lie in bed thinking of sleep.

Today I can't afford to be a zombie. Booker T. and the little darlings from 7:30-11:30, a doctor's appointment at noon, Multicultural Ed from 1-5:00, then Curriculum Methods from 6-9:00, including my 20-minute presentation on Reading Best Practices.

I can't imagine how zonked I'll feel by the time I get to that presentation tonight. I said the other day that I could do these assignments with my eyes closed; I guess I'll find out tonight if that's true.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Yet Another Day

Last week Keyon was wandering the halls when Lukie saw him. "Keyon you have to come to language arts class in the morning. You are failing because you have not been in my class once the whole year."

"I don't understand language arts," he said.

"Well if you come and work with me we'll help you out. Your first grade reports come out tomorrow and you'll never get into a good City-wide high school if you have a 0 in a core class."

Later she told me: "He's got a note in his file that says he is a dangerous student. I think he seems pretty charming. I wonder what's up?"

Today Keyon came to class on time. Lukie asked him at one point why he wasn't copying any notes. "Fuck you bitch. You fuck with me and I'll cut your fucking throat."

"You need to leave this room Keyon. Nobody talks to me like that." She gave him a worksheet and a pass and told him to go to the Office to work on it."

"Suck me you fucking whore. I ain't leaving. Nobody disrespects me the way you is."

Lukie called the Office and requested security come remove Keyon from her class. He waited a few seconds then ran out in the hall. I pointed him out as security came.

Minutes later Keyon was back, banging on the door and screaming. Lukie opened it, Keyon cussed at her, and she closed the door. "Bitch don't be slamming no doors in my face! I'll kill you!" he screamed. She locked the door.

"I think I understand that note about being dangerous now," Lukie said.

Sunday, October 07, 2007


This weekend I'd hoped to have a relatively leisurely Sunday. Yes, I have a major presentation on Tuesday night during Curriculum Design class, but so what? I can bullshit a presentation of this sort with my eyes closed.

We finished Ed Psych Thursday, and were to start Multicultural Ed on Tuesday. The professor for Multicultural Ed sent out an email assigning a paper and reading assignments due the FIRST FUCKING DAY OF CLASS.

I'm going to murder this woman. I can't wait to meet the 30-year Kindgergarten teacher who has never left her suburban Baltimore County setting and who is going to teach me about multiculural sensitivity.


She has the purest pipes of any singer working today, a voice so precise and clear it sounds otherwordly. She also happens to be a bluegrass singer. He of course is one of rock's mightiest and most influential figures, aging now to the degree that his best post-Zeppelin work is more than two decades old. I could never have imagined this combo.

WTMD keeps playing their Everly Bros cover "Gone Gone Gone," however, and it is fucking awesome. Plant doesn't have his former range of course, but he's still got strength as a rock singer, and Krauss sings a breathy harmony behind him that's really delicious. I can't wait to hear other tracks, and might actually buy this, if for no other reason than to hear Plant sing harmony behind her--I don't think I've ever heard him sing harmony. Produced by T. Bone Burnett.

At last

The fourth season of The Wire finally has a release date. And Amazon is selling it at a price reasonable enough so that I might not need to fight a billion other Netflix subscribers for each disc in the series.

Soon I'll find out if their take on Baltimore City Schools is as entertaining as the real thing.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

the eighth grade staff cuts loose

too many teachers, originally uploaded by Blog-Sothoth.

A little karaoke and a lot of booze help the staff unwind on a Friday night. They were still going strong when I left at midnight. I have class this morning at 8:30.

I'm old.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Day 24

We had our second conference with TJ's mother this morning. He's failing Language Arts, Math, Science, and Social Studies. He disrespects every teacher and has gang logos all over his folder. Any work you give him he folds into paper missiles which he sticks in the ceiling by positioning them between his pointer fingers and propelling them upwards. His mother says he failed sixth grade twice, and failed seventh grade also, but they didn't retain him because they thought he would fail eighth grade too, and you can only fail five times before some expensive consequence arises which BCPSS wished to avoid. There are many students in our two classes who actually failed seventh grade but who were passed on nonetheless because the standards were eased for whatever political or career-saving reason.

Ten minutes after our conference with his mother, the police came to our room and took TJ away. Apparently he's a suspect in a computer theft which occured in the school library. TJ's grandma works in the school cafeteria. She is tired of us coming to ask for her help. "You call the police on that boy. I am done dealing with him. He needs to be jacked up."

We finished another reading diagnostic test today. Two girls in our 2nd period class read at 9th grade level. The next highest reads at a sixth grade level. The two best-behaved and hardest working students read at the fifth grade level. Because everyone else in their eighth grade class reads at the third grade level, these kids look like geniuses.

Tonight the Booker T. staff are singing karaoke at Kelly's Pub on Eastern Ave. Come join us.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Day 24

Montrise is a squirrel. He is constantly out of his chair, annoying other students, dancing, grabbing tit. He has pocketsful of sunflower seeds, which he chews and spits. Sometimes we find little stashed piles of seeds in book bins or desk drawers. Montrice is preparing to hibernate.

He's such a problem that Lukie called his house to ask for a parent conference after I taught one day and Lukie counted 30 major behavioral infractions by Montrise in ten minutes' time.

"Montrise is in trouble," she said to his grandmother on the phone. "I need a parent or somebody to come in here and help me get him under control. Right now he is supposed to be in math class and he is rolling around on the floor in the hallway. I think he is going to fail."

Montrice's grandmother asked Lukie to put him on the phone. "Nuh-uh Nana, they lyin' on me! I'm in class right now. I'm doin' my math work right now!" He gave the phone back to Lukie and began barking before switching to cat noises.

Yesterday Montrise threw a pencil into the ceiling, then denied it. His classmates ratted him out, and he still denied it. I told him I saw him do it, and he said I was "lyin' on" him. This child needs special education assistance, but his mother refuses to have him evaluated. Today I worked with him one-on-one, and so long as I was sitting there helping him and giving him feedback he was fine. If I moved to assist another student, Montrice would immediately be at the window, throwing rulers out or trying to catch falling leaves.

He sits next to Nat Turner. Nat is a quiet kid who looks like he can handle his business. Nat told Montrice today "Boy you is crazy. I think you need a beat-down." Montrice called Nat a muthafucka and said he would see him outside after school. Nat Turner is going to turn Montrice inside-out.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Day 23

Using the new laptop, I made a quick video scan of my Ed Psych class at Notre Dame. Sister B. can be seen at one point trying to plug in the overhead projector.

Schoolwork piles up at an alarming rate. Just gotta maintain.

Today I stepped between two fighting seventh graders in the hall and they kept going. One young man clocked a smaller boy a powerful shot to the eye by punching under my raised right arm, and there was immediate blood and swelling. I was furious, but I've been forbidden by Baltimore City to restrain students until I get "crisis intervention training." We're supposed to step between if possible, and if not, to allow the little darlings to dismantle each other until the police arrive.

Today Lukie told our first period class that they were officially the worst class she has ever taught. "I taught in a prison in Pittsburgh, and at another in Philadelphia. I taught murderers and rapists who behaved better than you."

But I'm feeling better at least. I can breathe ok and can climb stairs. Slowly.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Day 20 something or other

Lukie was trying to teach students in our first class the importance of following along in the text as the teacher reads. "You might know some words, but not know how they look on the page. You can work your brain and make new connections."

She used the example of the word lingerie, putting it on the board and asking students to pronounce it. Everyone said "linger-ee" or some such.

"It's lingerie," Lukie said. "Everyone knows what lingerie is, but I didn't know how it looked written down until I saw the sign in the store and my mom said the word to me."

In second period, Lukie wrote lingerie on the boar and asked the same question. Yasmine immediately said "I know what that is. It's what you and Mr. G went shopping for this weekend."