Sunday, July 22, 2012

Hey Mister, You Got the Stuff?

What is this? A drug deal?

"Hey Mister, you got the stuff??"

This is a new student.  I call him "Big D" or "D" for short.  D is pretty rough around the edges, but a funny kid.  When I told the kids we would have a raffle on Wednesday, the whole place went off.

"Mister, Mister!  What do we get?!?!  What do we get?!?!?!?!"

"What do YOU get?  Nothing, actually.  You can earn something.  But you most certainly do not get anything."

"But Mister, you just said we be getting a raffle with stuff, so what do we get?!"
"Cheetos??"  "YA HOT CHEETOS!!!"

"No, no.  No hot cheetos.  You all get sick when you eat them and then wonder why I tell you not to eat them."

And so it goes.  I've been teaching in the city for only a year, but the pattern is clear (as it relates to tangible items and students): 

-A failing school system has given generations of kids a crap education with high teacher-turnover, broken buildings, barren libraries and poor leadership/administration, blah blah blah.

-In order to rectify this, LAUSD feels it fit to give these kids LOTS of stuff: Ipads in the classroom, MacBooks in the lab,  newly stocked and wonderfully organized libraries, and of course, field trips to USC.

(Through an informal poll, all of the incoming 9th graders that I've met have been to USC at least twice in their young lives, in order to make them "college ready").

It comes as no surprise that, when confronted with a raffle, these kids expect to GET something.  Even students who come from Santee and Jefferson High School (two relatively rundown schools) do not expect to earn things.  They've been trained, taught, and accustomed to getting things and, through no fault of their own, now expect stuff.  They don't necessarily expect education.  Instead, they expect the benefits of being in this particular educational system.  And when I said raffle, they heard "prizes."

So you could imagine their shock when I postponed the raffle one day.

"But Mister, you said it was today.  You said that."

"That's true, I did say that.  But based on your performance and attitude yesterday, our raffle will be postponed.  We will still have a raffle, but we will not have a raffle until all of us as a class earn the privilege to have a raffle."

"Mister that's not fair, you lied."

Liar, Liar, You Suck at Teaching

Now, I've had students call me "liar" before.  I can't quite explain the feeling of intense, mind-numbing rage that welled up inside, but it would be somewhere between getting fired and getting rear-ended.  My students know well enough that the word "liar" is never to be used in my room; never to be directed at a student or teacher.  It does not exist.  At the same time, it is crucial that we do not enter into the "liar, liar" game.

"We do not call each other liars.  I am not lying.  We will have a raffle when we have earned it."

I Love Wall Balls, Not Ben Wah Balls

As I surged up from my squat and released a medicine ball into the air, I couldn't help but let my mind wander off.  "Wall Balls" as they are called in CrossFit, is a movement in which the athlete stands facing a wall,  does a full squat with a medball, throws it into the air so that it gently kisses the wall at a much higher and fixed point, and catches the falling ball again while simultaneously squatting down.  This motion is repeated until satisfaction, frustration, delirium, or failure.  

It's rhythmic.  Beautiful in it's simplicity yet awkwardly sadistic.  The ball can drop anytime, sure, but who wants to pick that thing up?  So you go up and down.  And the rhythm...

Like cycling, wall balls have a rhythm.  The repetition allows the mind to wander.  You still suffer, of course, but sometimes you're out of body, hovering. Suffering and hovering.  


Down.  Up.  I'm not a liar.  Down.  Up.  Why would they call me a liar?  Down. Up.  

The release is just that: a release.  But like the weight of the medball, all of the anger, frustration comes back to you, often times, with greater weight than before.  Gravity is a bitch like that.  

Best Raffle Ever

In one word: professional.  I'm increasingly blown away by how professional these young 14 year olds can act.  We held the raffle.  4 students won.  12 students did not (small summer school class).  The fact that those 12 students congratulated the others (without me asking) and avoided complaining, whining, sobbing, and yelling (with me asking), makes me hopeful for this year.  Good things are on the way for these kids.

With proper coaching, these kids have shown that they can act like scholars, like future members, productive members, of a society.  It's a good day.

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