A Hundred or So Ways to Get an Ulcer...Year Two
Wednesday, February 25, 2004
  Throat Health Is Key

Tonsil health was never stressed in my educational methodology courses in college. Not one of my profs (even those with Ed.Ds) had mentioned strong, healthy tonsils being imperative to the educational process. After today, I could write an entire textbook on how importance throat care is in the teaching world.

I knew the moment I walked into school that today would not be easy. One of the attendance coordinators, who also is the mother of one of my students stopped me in the hall to ask me how I was doing.

"James told me that you've been out. He was worried about you. How have you been doing?"

I was quite flattered by her son's inquiry. I did not realize how missed my presence was in the school.

"I had tonsili...", cough, "tonsilli..", cough, " tonsillitis."

I could barely get out an entire sentence out with these swollen glands. I was unsure as to whether or not I should return to school this morning, and I recalled that the doctor said it was up to me whether or not I returned to work. He told me that as long as I had no intimate contact with anyone, I was not contagious. Seeing as though I am not a social deviant like a teacher I had mentioned earlier, I realized that I had little reason to be concerned.

After I just barely squeaked out the word "tonsillitis", I was unsure.

My first class went pretty well. I opened class by telling my students why I had been out and that I barely had a voice today. I assigned some independent work related to the story the students were to have read with the substitute. They were to come up with their own quizzes from the story they had read. This not only allows them to think deeply about the text, but it will also help them understand how comprehension questions are formed. I will relate this to how ACT questions are formed when I get my voice back. The test is coming up shortly, and we are preparing them for it. More on this in the coming weeks.**1**

My second class did not go as well. I played a film with corresponding questions to answer. Out of the twenty students present, about five were watching the movie. The rest decided that talking loudly and making it harder for the kids who want to learn would be the best way to handle the situation. The realized early in the class that I had no voice and took advantage of this. If the streets have taught these kids nothing, at least they taught the kids how to take advantage of the disadvantages in others.

My last class did not even go that well. The students were loud, crude, and lewd. At this point, my co-teacher and I had both decided that we were just going to send students out to the disciplinarian's office when they acted up. Removal of a few key players made the movie almost audible.

I Love A Student in Uniform

I have always been a proponent of school uniforms. I think they are a solution to many problems in public schools, from the ghetto to the 'burbs to the hi-falutin' rich people schools.

They say, "clothes make the man." What they don't explain is that they can also break him.

In a mixed-income setting, clothes and class can go hand-in-hand. Some students will come to school in a new outfit every day of the week. These outfits will be clean and pressed, affixed with a designer label. Other students will wear clothes that may be a little more worn. Some students will wear clothes off the discount-store rack. Some of the students will wear hand-me-downs. Some of the kids will wear clothes that are not regularly cleaned.

Students wear clothes that denote everything from sports they play, the music they listen enjoy, and the substances they choose to consume. These clothes are the initial impressions students make on their teachers and peers.

As much as we all would like to say that we walk through life completely impartial, we all do have our proclivities. Rich kids do not become friends with poor kids, "freaks" rarely eat pizza with the "preps", and from what we've all learned from John Hughes, "jocks" don't go to dances with "dorks".

What if we couldn't tell who the rich kids are? What if it took more than a single glance to pick apart the freaks from the preps and geeks from the jocks? Would kids have to communicate with each other? Perish the thought.

I feel that students who are not constrained by their clothes are better left to develop their own characters. They will not feel the need to be compartmentalized.

Poor kids will not have to look forlorn at their upper-tiered peers. They may actually have a better opportunity to learn.

I went over a few examples of the denotations of particular clothes. There is one more, very crucial one, which is the main reason why my school instituted uniforms years ago. Clothes denote gang affiliation.

A certain color scheme, or flip of the bill of a hat will tell the world which street gang you are affiliated. Where you wear your earrings and which teams you represent on your jersey also show which block you are from and which set you rep'.

Uniforms may not end gangs, but they do eleviate some of the bullshit that gangs bring to the table. For example, if a kid is wearing red and tilts his cap to the left, and there are three kids in the same classroom affiliated with the gang that wears blue and breaks to the right, these kids are going to get into it. Even if they are in class, in the middle of a lesson. This can happen during a good lesson, too. Words will most definitely be said, and fists may fly. I hope I am not going out on a limb by saying that fist-fights are not condusive to a productive, learning environment.

Last week, when I was out, the principal made an announcement that uniforms will not be worn this week. When I found out about this, I nearly swallowed my own heart.

I could understand this if the students were behaving. If the gang fights died down. If the disrespect for adults became less of an issue. If the students deserved any kind of reward, I wouldn't be as staunchly against it.

However, the kids have not been any better. And after seeing them out of their uniforms today, I realize the importance of the uniforms. More on this as the story develops.

**1**I am not a proponent of "teaching to the test" myself. Please keep this in mind when before you e-mail me about how bad a person I am for instituting test-prep.


 
Monday, February 23, 2004
  Sorry, folks.

Yes, I am indeed still maintaining this site. I have taken a short hiatus due to some real ulcerating on my tonsils. I contracted a nasty case of viral tonsillitis at one point last week. This is an unrelenting, painful, and disgusting virus that keeps even the biggest gluttons-for-punishment away from work. Hopefully I will be back at my post tomorrow and will have gory details to spill out into ones and zeroes.

Thanks readers. 
Thursday, February 19, 2004
  ...And then they turn on you

The optimism infused in recent posts has dwindled to a tiny droplet of hope. The restlessness of the natives has increased my rate of ulceration exponentially. And I'm not just talking about the kids.

In any self-contained society, is it important for the chiefs to work under an air of professionalism as to not appear weak to those governed. There needs to be a uniformity. I notice early at this school that teachers and support staff bring their own background to the job, much like our students. However, we are expected to act at least one degree more professional than our pupils.

The past two days were picture days. This is a time when each class travels to the auditorium to take individual pictures. This is the absolute first time I have ever done this. Personally, I think for a first timer coming from a completely different background has my students, I did fairly well. There were slight disturbances, but nothing out of hand. This was not enough for the security guard who lambasted my in front of my own kids. They are sure to show respect to me now.

After each class, she had to make some snide remark about how I have to control my classes. On my way out of the auditorium, she would remind me to make sure they don't disturb they (sic) other classes.

It took a mountain of restraint not to reply "Oh really, I was planning on giving them each baseball bats and telling them to break everything they see." Sometimes my hindering professionalism gets in the way of a good zinger.

After being beraded by said member of the support staff, the students would follow up with "Damn Mr. _________, she treated* you."

As if my own supposed ineptitude wasn't appearant enough, I had to put up with color commentary.

She made sure to tell me after my last class "Oh thank the lord, your kids are just out of control, why do you let them be like that."

Loaded question from an empty mind, I suppose.

*"Treated" is today's "dissed"

 
Wednesday, February 04, 2004
  I step back, look aghast/Whose class/Not my class.

So far this week I have stood in amazement at how my classes have been working. I have had very little trouble with my little ragamuffins (nee demon-hell children). They are used to me. I am almost like an actual teacher.

It's hard to believe just a few short months ago, I was standing amidst total chaos, dodging foreign objects wielded by children who routinely told me to "fuck off". Every day was indeed the worst day of my life (thank you Mike Judge).

Today I had three classes where I was able to do some real good. I am starting to feel like an fixture of import in some of these kids' lives. Two of my kids in my ex-"evil children" class have opened up to me by letting me into their worlds where blood and tears are shed with equal vigor.

Both young men had family involved with violence this past weekend. The first child told me that it was a case of mistaken identity on a bus stop. The shooters thought his cousin was a rival gang member, when he was in fact a church-going young person trying to keep his head up.

I asked the student why he showed up to school the Monday after the incident considering how visibly distraught he was. He, like many students need school to stay warm and fed. This broke my heart. I remember a time when my father forced me to attend school days after my grandfather's passing because he was obsessed with my perfect attendance. We knew for while that my grandfather was sick, but I remember how hard it was to get through the day I was trying to learn chemical reactions and geometrical proofs while my mind was lamenting the life of a man who was very important in my life.

The only commonanility between my loss and my student's is that we were both sixteen. I could not fathom what it would be like to have such a sudden, unexpected loss. A loss of a person whose life was ahead of him. Someone who just wanted to get on the bus and get home.

My other student, a bright, friendly, and outgoing young man had a slightly different story. His cousin was at the other end of the gun barrel. A while back, his cousin shot and killed another human life. I did not ask for details on this, it is important not to judge children in adverse environments, but to guide them. Last weekend, his cousin went to court for the case he caught and the victim's family went on a rampage and became violent with, in my student's words, "the court". He told me the story matter-of-factly and jovially as I would tell a story about going to a wedding where the bride farts after the vows.

He has a different attitude about his environment than the first kid's. He thinks of it all as a black comedy. Things are the way they are. All you can do is find the humor in it, or else you end up killing yourself, or others. I have a lot of respect for this young man. He has a very similar attitude to mine, but his life is far more unstable and for lack of a better term, scary.

I came into this job thinking I would be a good role model for my kids. I had no idea that so many of them would be such great influences on me.  
A glimpse into the mind of a Chicago inner-city high school teacher. Email: ChicagoTeacher@hotmail.com

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