Friday, August 26, 2005

Rapid Transformations

I’m giving detention now. Moments ago, a couple of minutes before “Marcos” Smith entered my classroom to serve his Friday afternoon half-hour punishment for breaking Rule #1, I witnessed my first fight. It took place just beyond my portable, on the other side of the chain link fence. I had returned to my room after the pep rally, which had demanded frightening maneuvers through the vocal battling of students screaming ’08 and ’07, fresh out of the first pep rally of the year. As I entered my darkened room I heard a louder than usual commotion outside my windows by the buses. There was a gang of wiry boys, shirts off, half strutting, half marching, focused that appeared to be heading purposefully toward some immediate objective. They made a show of their chests and what height they had - performers in front of my windows and before the loaded buses, packed full with a perfectly bored and captive audience. None of them was one of my students, to my relief, as the gang became a crowd around the eye of the fight.

The “pep” assembly beforehand had been frightening in and of itself. We – the teachers and administrators - were fortunate nothing broke out in the small dilapidated gymnasium that was forced to hold at least three times the number of bodies appropriate for the space. I had had a brief, throat-choking notion when momentarily gripped by claustrophobia that had anyone wanted, a violent riot of angry, or even just exuberant, youth could have erupted unstoppably within seconds. Not everyone would have wanted that - certainly not Marcos Smith, or my goofy but well-intentioned football boys – but as is the case with mobs, they all would have participated, joining in with the beating, smashing mallets of the drummers, the clashing fists of the cymbalists, the bleating cries of tubas, the grinding hips of the cheerleaders, and the indecipherable hollers of screaming students. There was a dangerous sense of excitement given the extreme adrenaline, noise, and prospective bodily conflict hovering in everyone’s pre-football game subconscious. Any notion of the prospective injury, destruction, pain, or damage absolutely inconsequential.

Now it’s quiet outside. No irreparable damage done, my room once again in its usual vibration to the air conditioner. There was a tenth grader beside me at the assembly who persistently and repeatedly stepped over the blue line – an illegal assembly action - right next to me. His movement was deliberate. He appeared to want conflict with authority. I had never seen him before. His eyes were narrow, chin cocked upward; he was angry and could have cared less about the assembly or the “fun” on the gym floor before him. His expression and proximity to me made my heart rate quicken, the whole gym grew smaller, and I felt afraid at Wingfield for the first time this year.

The students bolted before the assembly officially ended, before the football players were sent off with climactic fanfare. The tenth grader who attempted to intimidate me led them out with that shoulder-shifting, menacing, out-of-my-fucking-way strut with which the gang of boys outside my window headed into the fist-throwing crowd.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Jackson, MS 39202

I’m sitting. I can count the number of times I’ve done so today on one hand. I’m sitting, and what’s more is that I’m happy to do so. For those of you who’ve been in class with me you’ve seen what a difficult time I have sitting still. This could be an indication that teaching is, in some sense, appropriate for me.

Today was the first day of school. I am alive. And despite a trying fourth period I left Wingfield with a smile on my face. I have been dreaming of blogs for a week now as I prepared for today, but until Friday I was not able to get internet service. To catch you all up: I’ve been placed in a portable at Wingfield High School in southwest Jackson. My room is the farthest back from the main building. It is the grimiest, crumbling trailer at Wingfield. No one would take it, and after moving to a new apartment last weekend, and also being brand new and inexperienced, I was too tired to argue with my principal. In my portable – P-9 - the paint is peeling off the ceiling. The doors are falling out of the door frames so that wasps enter. The first day in my classroom I scrubbed dirt and dust from Venetian blinds for six hours straight. The carpets are discolored and moisture-stained. The stains will not pick up. The janitors won’t touch the place so I have put a fair bit of elbow grease into the room. Thanks to Clorox bleach wipes, two walls of windows, and two new air conditioners, I’m almost fond of it now.

First period - homeroom – today was a dream. There are 15 kids and they appeared to be on their best behavior. Second period was double the size, but all together a good group. Third period – lunch period – is my planning period on A (Gold) days so I watched my mentor teacher teach and finally tracked down my infamous overhead projector. Fourth period looked to be a breeze until Bobby, Zach, and Chris walked in late. Chris wasn’t too much of a problem. He took a seat at a desk in the back and slept all period. No one could wake him. Bobby and Zach however immediately walked up to friends (seated and working) and started doing handshakes, small talking, etc. From this point on their tactic was to act as though I did not exist, that fourth period was their free social hour. Eventually, after an hour of constant disruption, I was able to pull them out of class and inform them that their behavior meant they had no participation points for the day and that if they did this each day they were destined to fail my class. One on one they cowed to my teacher stare. The only thing that really does make me angry about their behavior is the fact that there are about 10 motivated, smart young women in the class whose learning is completely impaired by idiotic boys.

Generally, school to appeared a complete racket. I think for some ther is great entertainment value in the entire experience. Physically, Wingfield was meant to hold 700 students, and there are nearly 1700 this year. Sometimes the school seems to function more like a prison at maximum capacity than a school. There is a complicated lunch rotation during 3rd period during, in which teachers have to escort their classes through designated lines, eat with their classes at designated tables, leave through the designated exit, take students in a group to the bathroom, then return to class and resume the lesson. Today third period ended an hour late due to lunch. Lunch aside, there are mandatory “duty posts” where teachers monitor various stations in shifts, watching out for vagrants and loiterers. The whole scenario would be eliminated if students just weren’t allowed to leave class during class time.

Despite the kinks - Bobby and Zach, lunch -the whole day went by so quickly, I almost didn’t feel it as it occured. I’m thoroughly drained and exhausted. I don’t know why really, but I’ll be going to bed as soon as the hour is not too embarrassingly early.