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.
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.
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!