Saturday, September 22, 2007

My life is all I have

Ok so check it out. Detention is bullshit. For how progressive and liberal my school is (or claim to be), they (that’s messed up how I refer to MY school as THEY when it comes to this! Lol).. Let me back it up. The school that I’m at holds on to detention like drinking water from a water fountain. You can get detention for anything: for breathing when you weren’t supposed to, for smiling when you were supposed to be screw faced, for enjoying life- or rather singing too loud during lunch when you were supposed to be calm, orderly, and ‘appropriate’. Well, some of those things I exaggerated with, but you catch my drift.

So like my schedule isn’t full enough, I had to give up my lunch break (my only ‘prep’ on Fridays) to be the detention room overseer supervisor. So when the period before lunch let out, I popped in my stuffed chicken in the microwave and headed down to the cafeteria to pick up the criminals students. I got the Jena 6 middle school 8 but on the way back to my room, I had to make two stops: I had to get my chicken (lol), and I had to get the mandatory detention forms from the office that the students need to fill out once they finish their lunch. As we are all walking back to my room, I’m reading the student detention form. WHAT? Write an essay about Abraham Lincoln….????? What???? I get to my room and the first thing I do is set down my chicken, then I take the sheets and toss them in the trash. I tell the kids that they have ten minutes to eat their lunch and then we have work to do.

After each student finishes, I tell them that they need to come up to my desk and tell me why they have detention. One student says because he was chewing gum in the hallway. Another student became teary eyed and told me that she has detention because her mother decided to make her breakfast because today is her birthday. It was the first time her mother had ever made her breakfast before school. On top of that she lives an hour and 30 minutes away by train and she arrived to school 8 minutes late. Two best friends were in detention because the day before, they didn’t come inside immediately after the bell rang.

All of these offenses seemed extremely minor. So minor that I felt like not only was this a waste of my time, but also of theirs. So to turn a major negative into a positive I had them write poetry, starting with the line from one of pharoahe monch’s rap songs, My Life. The first line is: My life is all I have. I told the kids I wanted them to write a poem, a rap, or a song starting with that line. They got to work. Pens skated across their pages. They were into it. It was relevant. It was self-reflective. Isn’t that the point of detention? To get the students to think about their actions and their lives? I felt like I circumvented the unnecessary BS about good ol Abe Lincoln by throwing in some relevant stuff. They want differentiation right? Well here you go.

When it came down to ten minutes left, the kids were still heavy into their work. Out of nowhere, I delivered mine:

my life is all I have
like a KING I am free at last!
for our lives im scared cuz even Brooklyn has Baghdad blasts

my life is all I have!

no phones or gold, degrees or clothes
my life… so controlled yet free
sometimes even I forget it belongs to me
sometimes I forget to just, be

so i.. ‘do’ instead of ‘be’ black
i act wack
i gum smack and talk back
i walk back and arrive late
i have good intentions but it was my mother that made me…
and I wanted to go in, but on the yard we had a friendship session

but next week is new…
and this life is too…
and its mine, forever

I saw the eyes that make teaching worth it. I saw the eyes of students that want to control their destiny, their minds, their education. I saw eyes of re-focusing, re-determination, re-mind(ers) of why we are here, our purpose. And it was reflected in their poetry that I asked them to share before heading back to their class after lunch.

Mission accomplished.

I had to write them all passes for being a few minutes late to their next class. Surely I didn’t want to be the cause of yet another detention!


Jose said...

that's a great feeling isn't it? I mean, wow. and I love that Styles and Pharoahe song. I think we need to incorporate a lot of that into our teaching.

Secondly, though, and this is something that everyone will say when they come across this, there's no way you should be working detention during your lunch period. that's a complete violation of contract and you should see your UFT rep about that.

Athena-Liana Smith said...

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

-- Robert Frost

So what is the meaning of my life?
Escape both!:))))

Have a great weekend buddy!Keep the committment and the purpose going!

NYC Teaching Fellow said...

jose- yea man, im already knowing. 1st off, i have only 2 preps a week. thats a violation right there! and doing detention on my lunch is foul too!! but its great seeing the product of defying the system (how ever big or small) and making a decision to do what you think is 'right'. afterall, how can one deny their morals and intention?

thanks for sharing that robert frost poem.. it is right on point with this conversation.. what is the meaning of life? i'll let you know when i figure that out!

Anonymous said...

Great story! I think the students really took the lesson home with them.
In my school, when a teacer demands an essay on Lincoln e.g. and I wouldn't have the kids write it (and in stead come up with poetry), I would be in big trouble. How is that in your school? I agree with the previous posts about the violation of your lunch break. Detention in my school is always after of before school (which takes my time too, but at least it gives me time to eat lunch).
How was the chicken? ;-)

Repairman said...

It must have shocked those students to meet a real, live human teacher.

That's a story I'm putting in my anecdote file for retelling as an example of sane teacher conduct in a whacko system, if I can have your permission.

Jose is on top of the contract violation and the casual use of your time for petty stuff (you know that "stuff" comes about because teachers who cannot be real smack the kids because they don't know what else to do, right?), but you know that.

What are the chances of participating in a discussion at a staff meeting about the appropriate uses of detention? Admin should be looking at teachers who abuse it.

In any case, that was a totally inspiring way to treat those kids.

Hannah said...

Hey, I'm applying to the Teaching Fellows Program and have my interview tomorrow. I'm very excited and when I came across this post, I thought "This is exactly why I want to do this." Good luck :)

Jo said...

Wow. I just applied for fall 2008 and decided to find, perhaps, a blog of a recent fellow-and lucky me I found you. I'm what, 4 blogs in and already totally excited and inspired, and I think you must be the dream candidate for the fellows. I can't wait to keep reading, and want to thank you for making this! A great teacher doesn't stop when he leaves the classroom, and I can see you certainly don't stop! Keep it up!

Anonymous said...

Cohort 14:

I was pretty bummed out when I learned I was accepted, so I decided to unleash the blogosphere to find out what is really up with this NYCTF. I found a Village voice article of people with regret and then I found you.... You are an inspiration.... I got accepted however in Florida, but I will keep this lesson you taught all of us forever... Keep up the excellent work - they {the children and the administration} are very blessed to have you...

educationbyanymeansnecessary said...

Your blog is so beautiful and amazing, I'm crying AGAIN reading it, after laughing out loud at all your hilarious lines (strike out overseer)I'm still laughing thinking about what a funny writer you are, but then you leave me weeping, too. Thank you, thank you, thank you, for what you do, and for sharing in your writing. Thank you.