Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Stand and deliver what?

Did you ever see Stand and Deliver?  Every teacher has seen it at least once for some course or another.  It is inspirational.  Yeah, Mr. Holland’s Opus was pretty good, too.   And the one with Hillary Swank…what’s it called?  Freedom Writers?  That was good too.  But, for me it’s all about that Jaime Escalante and his East LA burros scoring fours and fives on the AP Calculus exam and then heading off to UCLA and Stanford.

That was cool.  That was the shit!

I wanted to be him.

But I wasn’t.

I did my job.  Nothing too special.  I’ll take credit for a glint of special here and there.  Students from years ago return and ask me to perform my interpretive dance of The Great Leap Forward…but consistent output isn’t really my thing.

And eleven years passed.  No, twelve.  I think.

Anyway…Jaime Escalante.

I got another shot to be Jaime.

I took an opening in my district’s alternative ed. program.  While Jaime had East Side LA toughs, I was going to save a handful of misfit suburban middle-schoolers.

But what are latchkey kids from the sprawling quarter acre lots west of the city good at?  Those kids in East LA were victims of circumstance.  It wasn’t that they hated school.  The schools they went to just weren’t any good  (Obviously, their teachers weren’t being held accountable and needed to be tested more).  Jaime’s kids weren’t sociopaths who actively sought to obstruct learning at every possible turn and juncture.  Jaime drew on those kids’ identity as Mexicans, descendants of ancient civilizations that had been, among other things, really good at math.

"It's in your blood," Jaime crooned to his students.  "Math is in your blood, man."

But, the kids I greeted every day had consistently selected themselves out of the main stream by systematically turning what were perfectly good classrooms in perfectly good schools into Edvard Munch maelstroms of chaos and horror.  Oh, the horror!

That’s what they were good at.  They were really good at it.


After three weeks, I was feeling like the Black Knight in Holy Grail; no arms left, stubs for legs, bleeding and and, still, in a fog of delusion, calling my fight 'a draw'.  

I was losing.

What was I going to do, bleed on them?

But last Friday, I stumbled on something that just might be their thing.

I wasn’t going to do it.  Almost bagged it.  It wasn’t going to work, anyway.  Maybe I would try it the next Friday when my co-teacher for Peer Relations class would be there.

But that’s not my style.

My style is more like this:  When I have something copied, stapled and ready-to-go, damn it, I’m doing it!

I gave them a Mock Trial.

Just a simple one; The Case of the Missing Lunch.  It was all scripted like a play but by the time they had picked their roles from the hat, carefully highlighted their lines in hot pinks, yellows and greens, and arranged the classroom to look like a courtroom, the period had ended.  I had never, until this day, imagined that my students would beg to stay and finish the case.  They didn’t even do that after my performance of The Great Leap!

Back to Señor Escalante.

Arguing.  That's what my burros are good at.  These guys can argue anything.  It’s in their blood, man.

Exhibit A:
Me:  Why did I call you out in the hall?

Student:  I don’t know.

Me:  Yes, you do.

Student:  No, I don’t.

Me:  You were making birdcalls.

Student:  No, I wasn’t.

Me:  Yes, you were.

Student:  It wasn’t me.

Me:  I was looking right at you.  I was three feet away and I watched you whistle.

Student:  It wasn’t a birdcall.

You get the idea?

Court is in session!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

I don’t normally give advice which is a good thing.  But one of my reader’s (not Jane) sent me a letter that I just could not ignore so, for those of you waiting for more of the mad-capped hijinks you have come to expect from the life of a suburban teacher, watch out because I’m goin’ Ann Landers on ya’ll, bitches!


Here is what my friend wrote.

Dear Kimbob,
I am a middle-aged man who is very much in love with his wife and I would have to say our relationship is the strongest it has ever been.  I have never thought of cheating on her but lately I have been feeling kind of guilty because I have been playing online Scrabble with an old flame.  My wife knows that this woman is one of my Scrabble partners but in the last few weeks our word play has become more exclusive to the extent that she is the only person who will still play with me.  My wife and I have played Scrabble in the past but I am such a Scrabble Jackass (see Ze Frank for more on this) that she makes up excuses whenever I suggest we play.  Now when I lie in bed I am waiting for my iPhone to chime signaling that it’s my move.  The games are some of the best I have ever had!  Last night my wife offered to help with find a word but I just rolled over and used the “Y” in achy to spell ONYX on a triple word score for 62 points.

Should I tell my wife?  I can’t stand all the secrecy but the Scrabble is amazing.

Word Playa

Dear Playa,
Get a life and stop being such a Scrabble jerk.  The real concern is that nobody wants to play with you anymore.  Why is that?  I’ll tell you why.  You have a lack of self esteem and you need to win at Scrabble to prove you are still a man.  My advice is to take off your apron and be one for a change.  Oh, sure, you can pretend with someone who doesn’t know you but the fact that you have no Scrabble partners should be telling you something.  So, you have a good game here and there but what does it really matter?  Soon enough you will be right back where you started; a Scrabble Jackass (thanks, Ze, that's exactly it) celebrating another victory alone.