Saturday, October 30, 2010

Moving On Up

Fall comes again. The park is ablaze with color. October runs its course and I got through another open school night. Thirty two years worth- and I think I'm over the trauma of the first one which I wrote about in two different posts.

I've been thinking a lot about school leadership. (Not me- hell no, my current salary is pretty close to that of of a beginning administrator and in the new "accountability is everything even if the accountability measures are entirely flawed” climate, I can't think of anything less desirable, but I've been thinking how leadership means everything.

A staff member gave me a ride home.

Me: “I'm kind of angry at the old administrator.”

Her: “For leaving?”

Me: “Yeah that too, but for ruining what it took myself twenty-five years to figure out”

Her: “Which was?”

Me: “That my opinions don't count. That the best policy is the shut the door and teach policy.

Yeah for five years I thought everyone in the community had a voice. The brand new teacher expressed a preference for having the advisory period in the morning and the principal moved the period. The annoying ninth grader wrote a letter that his class should have off campus lunch privileges and they got permission slips allowing them to do so, and I opened my big mouth continuously and sometimes I got in trouble and sometimes I just got what I wanted.

Some faculty conferences took 45 minutes to discuss how many buttons on the uniform shirt can be officially left open but for those of us who have spent a lifetime in “its my way or the highway" hell its a small price to pay.

But the old principal moved onward and upward and we are back in the “shut up and teach" mode.

So I've been thinking about leadership a lot lately. How is it that spreading power around make a leader stronger?

Okay- I swore this wouldn't be a complaining log.
One story:

The eleventh grade English class is reading The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison. After a double period that includes a quiz, minor and major disruptions and other fun stuff we get to the following line, where Claudia describes the existence of her family in 1940 Ohio.

“Being a minority in both caste and class we move about anyway on the hem of life struggling to consolidate our weaknesses and hang on, to creep up singly into the major folds of the garment.”

We get it – personification and metaphor and all those good literary term things and what it must be like to live at the very bottom of the garment of life, but I feel the need to emphasize that the very best a Black family can hope for is to move up into the “fold” the hidden part.

Except I can't-'cause Lyle is singing loudly an adapted version of the theme song from the old TV Sitcom “The Jeffersons”

“Moving on up to the inside
To a major fold on the side
Moving on up to inside
We finally got a piece of the garment.”

I apologize to the teacher- I can't continue my thought.
“Usually I can ignore Lyle (funny as he is). But today he is cracking me up.”

The ELA teacher is not amused. “He's rude,” she reminds me. “He's disruptive-you were making an important point”

She' right of course. But he got “it” - the point. He was communicating it better to the rest of the class than my pontificating. I for one, know what its like to not to be able to keep your mouth shut.

And it was funny.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The world in black and white

If there ever was a class that was going to make me retire it was last year's ninth grade inclusion class. It included a cast of characters that some sitcom might be able to make amusing but to anyone who had to teach them it was pure torture.

With few exceptions the 9th grade inclusion class became the 10th grade inclusion and the torture continues. (I know, I am the Union rep- my mailbox fills up with complaints nightly)

And this year I co-teach English. The very young and enthusiastic teacher chose a unit on Human Social Injustice to begin the year. Last week we read an article on racial profiling.

There emerged a discussion on New York City police being much harder on people of color than white people. Someone stated that White people are never pulled over for traffic violations.

Wait- as a person of 100% European ancestry I can attest to the untruth of that statement.

Me: “I got a ticket for talking on my cell phone this summer,” (The cop looked like there was no excuse I could use to get out it so I didn't try.) I have a reputation in the school and my house for losing cell phones on regular basis, so I currently own a $15 bare bone model.

Kenya, (our 6 foot six, thumb sucking, basketball star): “What you got hardly qualifies as a cell phone.”

Me: “Makes the whole thing even more pathetic." But someone added that had I been a person of color maybe I would have been treated more roughly, hey the cop wished my a nice day as he handed me the summons.

This week we watched Hotel Rwanda (Yeah, I though that's going to go well- turn the lights out on this class ?)

But they got interested. Day one, Ricardo came into the room late the last teacher having sent him to the Dean's office, and started talking.

Kenya: “Shut the Fuck up, I'm watching the movie”

Ricardo: “No, you shut the Fuck up”

I don't have to type the rest of the conversation- I called the dean.

But the amazing thing was Kenya, who told me last week that he is only interested in basketball texts became totally interested in the movie. One scene, Don Cheadles' character struggles to rip his tie off, disturbed into paralysis after witnessing the mass Hutu murder scene. Giggles emerge as if it were a Mr. Bean flick, Kenya again yells, “Its not funny assholes.” And the thumb goes into his NBA sized mouth.

The movie concluded at the end of the period Friday and the writing and discussion has yet to begin. Norris, raised his hand at the end of the period and wanted to know why Blacks would kill other Blacks, (so much for the pre-movie PowerPoint on the history of Rwanda)

But in the end isn't that the real question. Why did White Germans kill White Jews? Why do White Protestants kill White Catholics? Why did the Khmer Rouge kill other Asians?

Why do world citizens kill each other?
And how do we get this very troubling class to not see the world in just black and white?

I give the new young English teacher credit. He got them thinking.
Maybe it will be a better year.