Monday, November 30, 2009


Four attractive Yankee stereotypes vacationing in Mexico have squandered their time south of the border lounging at the pool and sitting on the beach. They've ignored the local Mayan ruins, until the last day of their trip, when a seedy German they meet by chance mentions a newly discovered dig his brother is working. The German suggests a change of scenery might be fruitful. They can accompany him to see the temple, he says, instead of being wallflowers at the resort. A couple are reluctant, but one of their buds talks them into going. Our heroes decide to branch out and turn over a new leaf. Unfortunately, they can't see the forest for the trees.

They arrive at the ruins and find a magnificent temple covered in weeds. Unfortunately the Yanks are all saps, and end up irking the local tribes people. This stumps them. They think it's because one of them snapped unauthorized photos, but they are barking up the wrong tree. Following a close brush with death, they climb to the top where they are stranded. By the time they get to the root of the matter, it might be too late to stem the re-awakening evil which blooms around them. They find out that being marooned in the jungle plants discord amongst their small bunch, and they reap what they sowed.

Some of the gore in The Ruins was quite a-pollen, but the acting was pretty de-vine for a B horror flick. I must admit that though The Ruins follows a pretty standard formula, it grew on me in unexpected ways.

Saturday, November 28, 2009


Van Veen falls in love with his cousin Ada, who also happens to be his sister. The first hundred pages of the book explain the backstory of how this came to be; the rest detail Van's erotic awakening and his 90-year on-and-off again affair with Ada. Because it's Nabokov, the prose is lush and every page is chock full of literary allusions, scientic minutiae about butterflies and flora, philosophical disquisitions, and salacious dalliances. There are puns galore (Froid for Freud) in four or five languages; I got many but likely missed most, possessing nowhere near the requisite credentials to keep up with old Vlad, despite the inclusion of the greatest tongue-in-cheek endnote section since Gibbon. I spent four months reading Ada, or Ardor, and regret it not a bit, but I ain't smart enough to enjoy this cat to his fullest.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

thankful for dreams

This morning, shortly before waking, I dreamt a long convoluted narrative. I only recall the end. I was standing by a window, looking out over a precipice at a vague landscape. A short and very dark Indian woman (Indian as in India, not as in Native American) approached. She was beautiful; I could have written a salacious Song of Solomon right there. She told me she was the Christ, and that she had assumed her current guise in order to seduce me to faith in her. We entered into a brief but complex series of theological exchanges. To sum up: I did not doubt that, were she actually the Christ, she would have both motive and ability to assume whatever guise she felt necessary to affect my conversion and to save a lost soul. I also agreed that assuming the guise of a beautiful Indian woman was likely to tempt me. But I doubted seriously that the Christ would assume a seductive guise and then tell me his (her?) plan. Further: Would the Christ deceive to save a soul?

The woman laughed and smiled. She was quite sexy. I knew then who she really was, and opened the window and leapt out, despite all temptation.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


I gave up on this franchise long ago, in a galaxy far, far away. Oh, wait--I'm mixing the franchises I gave up on long ago! Your experience might be similar to mine, or perhaps not. I liked the original TV show when I was a kid(tho the lamentably awful "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" was my favorite show), and even watched the animated series when I was a tiny tot, and saw the first five movies in the theaters because there was nothing better to do after 20 bong hits. I think one of the films was at least barely watchable, and that was only because two of the greatest hams of the small screen attemped to outdo each other. I'm speaking of course of Ricardo and William in The Wrath of Khan. I saw a few episodes of Next Generation, and thought it a yawn fest which took itself far too seriously.

I don't think I even thought of Star Trek in a decade, outside of a few nostalgiac bursts now and again skimming through YouTube clips. I recall seeing a chunk of one of the Next Generation movies on an intercontinental flight. It was a turgid bore with a time warp which brought Kirk and that bald dude together, and I couldn't bear it for more than twenty minutes.

I had a lot to overcome, therefore, before I could see this latest installment. After seeing Star Trek V: The Return of Insipidness, I vowed to never lend another dime to the franchise. But I thought this one was cute. Yes, the time-warp plot twist is back with a vengeance, but the in-jokes and the nostalgia were blended nicely with a backstory just different enough to give fresh teeth to a tired old saw. Turn off your brain and enjoy.


A recommendation from John,who suggested Groo following my plea for a graphic novel of substance which was not all angst and gloom.

Yes, there's ultra-violence and not-so-subtle politcal and media criticism in Groo, but it's all balanced by chuckles and Sergio Aragones--who did marginal doodles for Mad Magazine back in the day--knows how to ink a pleasurable comic. The central character is a Conan-type wanderer who lives by his sharp swords and dull wits. I needed a book like this to help me finish off a couple weighty tomes, which I'll get to later this week.

Ellen Cherry also suggested a graphic novel fit for what ails me: I'll have to track down Lost Girls soon....

Day #55

Slept a solid 7.5 hours last night and felt pretty good this morning. A bit congested, a bit hoarse, a bit stiff and achy--no big deal. Went to work, felt pretty good. But it was just clown college today. The kids are all fired up because there's a field trip to the Science Center tomorrow and then Thanksgiving Break. They're already pretty unmanageable on a good day; when they are fired up, you just have to strap in and do your best.

I was a bit fuzzy-headed because of the cold, and wasn't as attentive as usual. I was catching a lot of bad actors who were throwing things back at the initiator; my timing was like Joe Flacco's on Sunday, just off enough to fuck up the day. Kids complained it was too hot in the room, so I turned on my fan and all the papers blew off my desk. Then later I moved the fan to another spot to avoid a repeat performance and started printing some question sheets. The printer of course was in line with the new fan position and all my question sheets blew out onto the floor.

Mr. E next door to me was quivering and quaking this morning and saying "I can't believe he's back in this school." "Who?" I asked. Apparently some gigantic ignoramus who got put out last year before I was transferred in is a student at the March again. He threw a molotov cocktail into Mr. E's room last year, fashioned out of a Mountain Dew bottle and M-60s. And then went after Mr. E. Mr. E is a large man who bench presses 300 pounds. I will leave it to you to imagine an 8th grader big enough to challenge him. I met him today. As I was walking through the cafeteria door he burst through it from the other side. I slid down the wall like Wile E. Coyote after a boulder splat. Then he burst into my room last period and said "I own this school!" I chased him out, but once I started thinking instead of reacting I was quaking on the inside. I haven't had anyone that big in my class room since I taught Derrick Battie at Temple U. in 1993. I can't believe that guy is a middle-schooler. He could stand at Mount Rushmore and look Abe in the eye. Abe would blink, too.

Six Faces was good today, but about fifteen minutes from the end of class she turned color. When her meds wear off she gets pink and flushed and I saw it and I tried to grab her but it was too late. Kicking, punching, pulling hair, jumping on the desk and shaking her ass, freak-dancing much smaller boys. I had to restrain her and carry her out into the hallway where she started swinging a sharpened pencil around. Then in Mr. E's room I heard a commotion and I looked over to see Clarice Starling throw a text book at He Has his Father's Eyes. He Has His Father's Eyes jumped up and charged her but Clarice nimbly stepped back and kicked him square in the balls. Mr. E and I both sucked in a sympathetic gulp of air. He was down for a good 8 minutes on the floor, rolling back and forth. Clarice got sent to the office but fifteen minutes later was sent back to class to get her belongings before going home on suspension. When she entered the room He Has His Father's Eyes charged her again and got another boot in the groin. Mr. E said "It's like the dog with the shock collar. It takes a couple times before he stops."

Monday, November 23, 2009

Day #54

Been very lucky this year to have only had minor sniffles a couple times and a very brief bout with conjunctivitis last Thursday. Nothing, so far, like last year's September-to-March sinus infection/sore throat, or the previous year's teachers' bronchitis. But this morning I felt like shit, and then by noon I wished I felt as good as I did in the morning. Ugh. Just an ass-dragging cold with super-thick phlegm and achy joints. Hope it stops there. I told the kids: "I'd like to have a couple of chill days this week. I'm sick, I'm not in the mood for bullcrap, and I'd appreciate it if you were nice. I have a test here that I will distribute if you get on my nerves. Otherwise we're going to read some chapters out of "Secrets in the Shadows" and I'll let you do extra credit questions if you want." The kids seemed to take pity on me. I only had a couple rowdy break-outs all day. I took the test paper over to my scanner/copier and immediately they got right.

Found out today that one of my students is homeless. Social services is trying to find her housing but she's been moving from place to place and none of us had any idea. Have already had several families evicted this year, but fortunately they've found new digs quickly. Very scary right now. A lot of previously comfortable folks are struggling, so I can barely imagine what's happening at the marginal end of the class spectrum. Makes Thanksgiving that much more poignant.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Day #53

Six Faces was off the chain today, but she is always off the chain. Typically she starts beating people or kicking them in the hall before I get her to class. Sample atrocities: stabbing a boy in the perenium with a pencil, bashing somebody with a dictionary in the face, kicking random boys in the nards, trying to kick and bite me. Her mom and aunt have been to school so often that they have invited me out for drinks.

Because Six Faces is medicated for a variety of emotional and psychological disorders, she cannot be punished if her behavior is a result of her disorders. Which means we can't put her out of school, or out of class. She can in effect run rampant in the classroom and I can't do a damn thing about it; I'm legally constrained from denying her access to my classroom, and she has already topped the max number of suspension days she can have. I send her to the office for kicking someone in the teeth and she gets sent right back to class.

Fortunately her mother comes in when I call. Poor soul works late shift as a nurse and then has to wake her weary ass up and come chew out her daughter at school. Sometimes she takes Six Faces home, which is ideal, because the parent can do so even though we can't send her home. But if she doesn't take her out of the building Six Faces is up to her old tricks as soon as mom rolls out the door.

So Six Faces is nuts. Everyone knows it. She ran out into the hallway and came back in and said another student who'd taken the bathroom pass was naked and locked in the bathroom. I thought she was telling one of her whoppers and continued administering a test, but then discovered that Squirrelly was gone longer than expected on his bathroom pass. Sure enough, he was butt nekkid in the boy's room and the door was locked. An 8th grader had stripped him and locked him in there as a prank. I had to go downstairs on planning time to look through videotapes of the hall cameras and try and find the thug responsible. Just when you think you've seen it all...

So Six Faces' mom and aunt and the administrator and some of her teachers met and we're going to move her to the self-contained emotionally disturbed class after her next IEP meeting. We have very good ED staff and she'll benefit from a smaller setting and teachers who are trained in physical restraint techniques. Am I pleased to send kids over there? Hell no. But she's a danger to self and others, and on top of her violence she's very sexually forward and I worry about older boys taking advantage.

As for Squirrelly, we have to make sure he wasn't assaulted by the 8th grade boy who stole his clothes.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Day #52

The temptation to use sick time is enormous. I am depleted, and today when the 2nd period kids started drifting beyond the rowdy end of the spectrum and into teabagger at a town hall meeting territory I didn't blow up to rein that shit in. I simply sat in my chair and pulled out the newspaper and put my feet up on the table next to my laptop.

I use this technique VERY rarely, because it only works if you bust it out once per precessional cycle. But it is dynamite. It freaks the kids out. They think you have given up on them completely, and they start to panic. You get the worst actors in class begging and pleading with you to teach them. They apologize, they gnash their teeth, some kids start crying. I keep my head in the paper. I don't respond to anyone. It can be difficult to maintain a stony visage when kids are tugging on your shirt and howling. But finally the kids self-organize. Everyone gets in their seats. They shush each other. They take out paper. They wait.

I get up. I speak very quietly. I say "I'm close to giving up on you. When I start giving you papers to fill out every day instead of trying to teach you, you'll know that I've done all I can and I'm not going to bother wasting my time anymore. This class is very close." I look around, making eye contact with everyone. And then I teach the rest of my lesson.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Author Herrigel practices until he gets shooting pains in his hands and arms, but takes forever to get the point. Finally he's on target and takes a bow. Ends with a twang, not a whimper.

My favorite line: "Be like the bamboo leaf covered in snow. It slowly bends, then bends some more, until suddenly the snow falls away."

Day #51

Nothing really new to report. Parents barging into my room to threaten students with ass-kickings. One Mom on Monday: "Any you muthafuckas fuck with my chile I'ma fuck you up, you hear me?" This after I spent 10 minutes jawing about the inappropriateness of violence. Kids started talking smack to the woman: "My cousin gonna beat you uglier than you is," "My sister know how to fight, I know where you live bitch!" until her boyfriend came to my door then I had to start pushing adults out the door and trying to defuse a confrontation.

Note to main office: stop giving parents visitor's passes and just letting them roam the building unless you know what their business is!

Two of my favorite students failed my class. When I gave them their report cards they started crying. Both are boys. "I thought you liked me," they said. "Well, I do. But you still have to do your work." Both of them stopped doing most of their assignments weeks ago, and my protestations fell on deaf ears. I think they really thought I would let them slide!

Got my bike back from Baltimore Bicycle Works. Nice to take work to an IWW shop.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Day #50

Stopped today to help a colleague: he was out in the hall holding a young man who was trying to get back in the room to bang somebody. I stepped around Mr. A and just stood in his door as a kind of back-up to keep kids from coming out or getting in. Just as I situated myself the seventh grader being restrained burst free and came at me swinging. He didn't hurt me or anything, but I was surprised at how quickly and ferociously he attacked. Dr. Belly, the new AP, happened to be there. "You assault my teacher, you go to jail!" he bellowed, hauling the boy away kicking and screaming in a headlock.

In a crummy mood outside of work: plumbing problems in the master bath at home have caused a hidden leak somewhere which has damaged the 2nd-floor ceiling. There's also a roof leak and the roofing contractor who guaranteed their work for 10 years no longer exists, and then yesterday the deadbolt on the basement door broke: not a good thing in Baltimore to have a sketchy lock. All of these repairs are likely to be expensive, and my car is acting wonky too. After last weekend's nor'easter it's even more fitting to say: "When it rains, it pours..."

Monday, November 16, 2009

Day #49

A pretty chill day today. Many students out sick, or out "sick" because of the nice warm weather. Also, several pains-in-the-ass currently on suspension. so we could get some teaching and reading done in all three classes.

That's what's up.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Day #47

Every quarter during the school year the City sends out what they call a Benchmark assessment. This is designed to check how the students current skills match up with the City's timeline of skills mastery as laid out in the curriculum written at North Ave headquarters. These tests are used superficially to rate student progress; their true intention is of course to rate how well teachers and schools are doing.

There are major problems with these tests. Often they don't align properly with the pre-announced skills. The most recent one had fact and opinion questions, but fact and opinion was not one of the skills we were told would be on the test. That's ok, because I had a couple days to look over the test ahead of time to prepare the kids.

More difficult is the fact that the texts in the assessments are often wholly unrelated to the experience of City kids. The most recent Benchmark had long, detailed texts about The Nazca Lines, dining options on space missions, and sail boats and tides. I took some extra time before the test to show pictures and videos I made of the Nazca lines before the test to prep the kids, but it wasn't enough.

My kids don't know jack about sail boats and tides. They have no idea what a tide is. They live in the ghetto, and they rarely get outside a 5 or 6 block radius. In fact, most have NEVER been out of their neighborhood. Most have never been in a swimming pool. They don't see tides or boats, and the associated jargon is mystifying to them. They don't know anything about Peru or Indians and ancient civilizations either. They see these texts and their brains shut down because every sentence has a word like "mast" or "dock" or "pier" or "archaeologist" or "plateau" and there's insufficient context for them to figure out the meanings. Imagine an entire story about a child piloting a sail boat when the wind dies and she gets swept out to sea by the tide and has to be rescued, and the title is "Tidal Tale" and the question associated with the text asks them about how appropriate the title is and the kids haven't a clue what a tide is, let alone what "tacking" is, or what the fuck a "buoy" is. Even if they have mastered main idea they are at a disadvantage.

The City has decided to use all social studies and science texts on the language arts assessments to prepare the kids because those subjects will be tested starting next year in addition to math and science and reading. But City kids have substantial gaps in general knowledge not shared by their yacht-club peers in Annapolis--it doesn't seem fair that they get the same test. I remember the first big annual NCLB assessment I gave at the Book had texts about archery, farming, and ski resorts. No wonder the kids in Harford County scored highest and the City kids scored lowest. Why don't they include texts about splitting and distributing a package? Or about junkies? I mean, I don't want my kids spoon-fed only stuff they know: I want them to have broader horizons. But we can't make up all this ground this quickly. And the tests are making them feel stupid and inferior, and they are not. When they feel stupid and inferior they get hopeless and they act a donkey and their frustration and rage boils over. Then I get desperate and frustrated and eventually start to phone it in. NOT!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Serial for Breakfast

I know Steven Hart can blog, I know he can do journalism, and he wrote a damn fine non-fiction book a couple years back.

Now he's posting his novel, We All Fall Down, one chapter at a time. I'm already hooked, and you will be too!

Day #46

After a hellish first and second period today, we had our field trip to the Walters Museum. The kids were very difficult to manage at the beginning of the trip but once we got on the buses and to the museum things went well. We broke them up into groups of nine and I ended up with one current student, two 7th graders I taught last year, and some kids who often come to my room asking if they can be in my class but whom I've never actually taught.

For the first time in a while I got some joy out of kids. We toured the museum with a groovy docent who was a 50-something hottie and former English teacher. She was a bit too Romper-Roomy, but did a good job keeping their attention and moving quickly through Rome, Greece, Egypt, and Sumeria. I was quite impressed by the recitation of the Set/Osiris/Isis/Horus story by one of the kids I don't teach, and I was amused when one of the students responded "Baltimore" when the docent asked "which ancient country do you think conquered Greece?"

The tour finished with a half-hour art project in the studio. The kids got to create their own mythic creature with an attribute, and the museum had an excellent teacher and a great supply of art and craft materials. I got a moment to name-drop Cha and of course the Walters staff know my lovely and busy wife, whose name "ring out" in Arts Education circles state-wide.

At the end of the trip we congregated in the lobby at Charles Street and the kids went haywire. A couple of female students and a Japanese guy from MICA got caught in the swarm but seemed to really enjoy the bustle and smack-talk. One of them started sketching furiously and some of my homeroom kids were yelling "stay still Mr. G!" and apparently she was sketching me as I stood on the steps glowering and calling out names and she was letting them watch her do the drawing. A couple appalled security guards tried to bottle up the kids and quiet them down, but that ain't gonna happen. I remembered the day several police officers were to give a presentation at the Book and we had to cancel it because the police couldn't get the 8th graders to shut up and after 35 minutes they just left the auditorium. That's how City kids roll.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


I don't know much about Colm Toibin. I know he writes exceptional articles for the NYRB now and again. I also know he wrote one of my very favorite novels about one of my very favorite novelists. The Master was worthy of its subject, and after finishing it I decided to check out more Toibin.

But strangely, I didn't until his newest came out. Brooklyn is not so challenging nor so sophisticated as The Master, but it is an exceptional and beautiful little book. Toibin writes Eilis Lacey in a manner of which the Master would approve. She's as light in some ways as Daisy Miller, but has Isabel Archer profundity after moving from Ireland to Brooklyn. She's also got some issues with pride and prejudice, but makes up for them with sense and sensibility. Eilis finds out that small-town Irish gossip has world-wide repurcussions: even in the 1950's, it was a small, small world. I'll read this one again some day, and must again commit to reading more Toibin. Anyone who writes women this real has it going on.

Day #45

The kids are just jerks. I mean, not all of them, but most. And sure, many of them have damn good reasons to be jerks. Junky parents, dead parents, jailed parents, abusive parents, gang-banger parents. I know all this, but it doesn't make it any easier to deal with.

I tried really hard to relax last weekend after a brutal week. I thought I got myself back into a quiet frame of mind, and that I was going to let things slide off my back and get back into positive momentum.

But the kids are so hostile, so whiny, so confrontational, so insulting, and so rude--and perpetually so--that it saps any desire I have to be compassionate and I find myself yelling and acting like a lunatic.

There's a sixth grade field trip to the Walters Art Museum tomorrow, and a very nice young woman from the Museum came to give a little talk about Greek mythology to the kids ahead of time. The kids were jerks to her. Last period the school counselor gave a presentation on graduation requirements and the kids were so rude and disrespectful that she closed up shop and left a half-hour early, leaving me in the lurch with a bunch of rowdies and no plan as to how to kill the time. I killed the time by letting them have it, both barrels. My main man Cherry Bomb said "y'll made Mr. G upset. Y'all need to be ashamed." And then the rudeness commenced anew.

I heard about an opening at a Title I school back over West Side, near the Book. This school is well-run and meets AYP annually and they have few disciplinary problems because kids are lined up waiting to get in and parents make sure to do what they need to do to keep their kids in the building. I have an in with the principal over there because she interviewed me before and hired me (before losing the position due to enrollment cuts and casting me adrift to land back at the Book before getting transferred to the March).

I thought about taking my weary ass out the March and back over West. I surely did. But can I in good conscience abandon kids, even if they're jerks? No. Not quite yet, anyway.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Day #44

The formal observation went well today. The Big Cheese watched me teach my tone and mood lesson, the kids were on task and engaged and nearly everyone participated. We used dry-erase boards and markers, I did art integration, I used technology, I used music. The kids answered their questions and achieved mastery and handed in their work for assessment.

And she reamed me out about my lesson plan book. I had a two-week gap in plans because I didn't have any toner and I didn't print them those weeks. I had to order toner and pay for it myself because none of the printers in the building work, and the copiers don't work, so I bought my own copier/scanner/printer for my classroom. I told her this and she said "you could hand write them" and I said "I could also chisel them in stone, but I prefer not to waste my time. If you need all my lessons I have them here" and I gave her a zip drive and she said "this is unacceptable. You need them in the book," and I said "I understand that. Most of them are there, and I told you why the rest were missing. I will print them when I can." So she's going to write me up. But I don't care, I care about my lesson, not the silly rules about binders full of paper we're supposed to maintain in an electronic age. These dinosaurs can retire and take their stupid rules with them.

Thanksgiving break cannot come quickly enough! This Wednesday I'm out the building for half a day taking the sixth graders who are relatively sane on a field trip to the Walters Art Museum. woot!

Saturday, November 07, 2009


I really adored The Handmaid's Tale, and I thought Negotiating With the Dead was an excellent book about writers and writing. But I despised Cat's Eye, and was indifferent to Oryx and Crake. After slogging trough her latest, I might be done with Margaret Atwood.

After the Flood is, like its predecessor, just ok, and though it was often quite interesting I can barely gin up the enthusiasm to blurb about it here. I think the book works best when Atwood is being silly--a religious cult of Greenies who venerate Euell Gibbons as a saint?--and the only-slightly exaggerrated tendencies of crass consumerism in her book are its best points: fast-food chains which use roadkill and human murder victims in their burgers, third-world style oases of wealth surrounded by restless masses of cut-throat humanity, the privatization of everything for profit, including the military. But the structure of the book is too complex for its simple plot. Had she simply started at point A and gone to point Z, Atwood could have written a troubling book about an all-too-believable future pandemic. But by twisting the narrative up into multiperspective flash-backs and flash-forwards, Atwood attempts to make arty what needs a more straightforward treatment. Think of Cormac McCarthy's The Road as a more stream-lined and effective model.

If you're a devout fan of apocalyptic fiction, or if you're nuts for pandemics and Island of Dr. Moreau genetic manipulation tales, you might want to add After the Flood to your stack. Otherwise, save some time and rent Children of Men and watch the extras on the DVD instead.

Friday, November 06, 2009


I'm very pleased to finally see John Huston's The Dead. Nothing gave me greater pleasure when I was doing the college prof thing than to teach Joyce's story and cover the board in musings, to delve into that rich symbolic vein, to read aloud those last delicious pages to doe-eyed co-eds. And this short film does tremendous justice to a classic short story.

I'm not a huge fan of Anjelica Huston, but even she is up to snuff here. I love the epiphany scene when she is standing centered before a stained glass window, head up, listening to a tenor upstairs, an inscrutable sadness on her face. Gabriel at that moment realizes that his wife contains previously undreamt-of depths. After having his patriotism called into question, after some serious self-doubts before his speech, after his story about the glue man's mill-horse and its symbolic journey round a monument to King Billy, Gabriel experiences the richness of life and its frailty all at once. And we get to watch.

I'ma buy this one.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Day #43

Some days I wish I'd a stood in bed.

2nd period I have the door locked and I'm teaching away when there's a loud crack and two of the biggest and burliest sixth graders storm in. One of them kicked my door so hard the bolt broke. I look up to see Gregorious and Henry VIII scowling and heading toward To The Point.

To The Point is the third biggest sixth grader. His fists are as big as my head. He's not the worst behaved student I've taught, but he's inching toward the top ten. He's mouthy, defiant, rude, perpetually rabble-rousing. I don't know what he said about Gregorious and Henry VIII's moms, but they were out for blood.

I got there in time. I wrapped up Gregorious with a twisted arm and hooked Henry around the neck, and wrestled them to and out my door. I put one against the wall, dropped the other to the floor and stood on him. I couldn't get to my call box to ask for help because I was busy keeping them from tearing To The Point a new corn hole, so I tried waving at the hall camera to get somebody's attention. Meanwhile, To The Point was jawing and talking smack from the room while I'm trying to keep him from getting beat down. I was sorely tempted to let them loose to bang the shit out of him, but held my ground and got my cell phone out to call the office. It rang ten times and no one answered, and Henry got out from under my foot and Gregorious twisted out and suddenly I was in a fight myself standing in my own class room door fending off blows as kids were trying to get through me and at each other. At this point Ms. T next door got on her horn and called up the school police, who took their jolly time getting there. When they arrived I had once again wrapped up the assailants and half-carried, half-drug them out into the hall again.

All three boys ended up going to the office. I wrote them up for assault, inciting a disturbance, verbal threats, attacking a faculty member, fighting, profanity, using a preposition at the end of a sentence, and not 15 minutes later these boys were out of the office and outside my door again asking if they could borrow a pencil. WTF? How can they let them in the hallway again after such behavior? Did they not see what happened on the camera? Jesus.

At the end of the day I had to drive a girl down North Ave because a gang was waiting to stomp her at the bus stop.

Somewhere in between all this shit I taught direct and indirect objects. My job is a trip.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Day #41

One of the skills heavily tested on standardized No Child Left Untested tests is making inferences based on information in a text. A lot of the kids don't get it. They either "guess" something already written in a text, or they make outlandish claims they can't back up. Some kids, when you explain that they have to "guess what the author isn't telling you by combining prior knowledge to information in the text," will tell you that's "the stupidest f@cking thing I ever done heard."

They got it yesterday. I made 5 new class room rules and posted them on the LCD projector:

1) No one can touch Mr. G's laptop any more
2) No students are allowed near Mr. G's desk
3) No student may write on the chalkboard at any time
4) Unless you have detention or tutoring, no students are allowed in Mr. G's classroom after 2:35
5) From now on, you only get 5 passes per month in Mr. G's class

I made the warm-up question "Make an inference for each new rule: why did Mr. G create it? What happened to cause him to make each rule?"

The kids were excellent, and came up with lists of reasons. Examples for rule #1: 'somebody gave you a virus," "somebody broke your laptop," "kids be playing too much and arguing over it," "kids look at stuff they ain't suppose to," etc. Not a bad job! The real reasons were: somebody dumped hand lotion on my keyboard, someone else changed my PowerPoint, somebody scratched my screen, and somebody broke my PC speakers by kicking them.

For #2 some kids didn't make inferences at all. They snitched! "Because Richie stole them stickers out your drawer," or "cuz T took yor stapler and hung up a dirty word," or "Billie Jean stoled your markers."

I think the kids knew I was upset yesterday that, one fourth of the way into the school year, we still have to work on behavior management about 1/3rd of the time instead of simply learning. They were thoughtful and dilligent and respectful yesterday. Excepting one girl who kept writing "I wish Mr. G would die die die die die die die die" all period. Last week she called me "the bestest teacher ever." WW3 is a bit whacky.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Day #40

It's frustrating when you spend two months teaching skills and the students completely bomb the Unit Test because they don't get the material. But when they bomb the test because they don't give a shit, it's worse.

For the past two days I've given all 3 of my classes a test for which we prepared a great deal. It's worth 25% of their grade for the first report card. It's stressful. But most of the kids were on point last week, following detailed reviews and note-taking sessions. They simply weren't focused for the exam. I watched them not read the passages and just circle whatever answer. I listened to them complain that they didn't want to do it, that they didn't "feel like it," that they didn't care.

Less than 10% of my kids passed the test. Most of them failed badly, and not because of ability, but because they don't didn't care to be bothered.

It's my job to make them care, and now I'm beating myself up over what I need to do differently. Last year I started paying the kids who passed, and test scores went up dramatically. I might do that again. $5 to everyone with a sixty or higher? Or $2 for a 60, $3 for a 70, $4 for an 80, and $5 for a 90? I dunno. They just don't see the value of a test unless you attach money.

Several of my A+ kids finished what should have been a 2-hour, 2-day test in 5 minutes. After I gave it back to them insisting they double-check their answers, they said "no, I'm done." Today they were asking why their grades fell from 96% to 72% just before the report card. "Because you didn't care about this test," I told them. "I asked you to work on it seriously and you didn't bother to even read the texts, you just answered the questions." They're trying to say they didn't know how important it was, after a solid week of review and practice.