Memories of the first days

Lyon Keating:

My first day of paid teaching is going to be a day that I chuckle about on my deathbed.  I subbed for a first grade classroom and upon entering the room I felt like I was trying to herd hyper cats.  As I thought would probably happen, the kids were completely out of control and in no way going to listen to anything I had to say.  There were two children in particular, Jonathon and Roger, who were so wild that they would round up basically the rest of the class by their insane behavior.  On one occasion Roger became so excited that he came running and screaming into class, dropped his drawers and started twiddling and flicking his uncircumcised penis (yes, I was able to have that good of a look).  I said, “WHOA, OUTSIDE!” before this infectious behavior would spread to the rest of the class and then I would become known as the substitute who somehow instigated a naked riot among his grade school children.  I left Roger outside for a long time and the class somewhat chilled out but they still were outrageously out of control.  The whole concept of a substitute teacher is similar to a frat boys concept of a kegger (their intellectual abilities are probably not far off from each other as well).  It’s just an excuse to become as belligerent as possible for the given occasion and hopefully end up naked, at least in this occasion.  Later, the two boys, and especially Roger, got reamed by their teacher for the exhibited behavior.  In situations like these it was impossible for me to gain control of the classroom.  I yelled fiercely, spoke calmly, tried to make them laugh but nothing worked to get them to do what they were suppose to do.  In this class, there needed to be at least 2 to 3 well trained teachers or a much smaller class size in order for these children to have any excuse of an education.  How I will never forget Roger.

My second day was wilder than the first.  There were no penis’s involved but the school I subbed at was in the inner city ghetto of bayview/hunters point in San Francisco and it was 4th grade.  The school didn’t have classrooms, instead, a huge room was blocked off by various portable walls that created areas for students to sit in that emulated classrooms.  Most of the kids at the school were African American, some Latino, but I was basically one of the only white people on campus.  I constantly broke up fights in the classroom and out on the yard, scolded students for throwing books, pencils, chairs, desks, etc.  Students would run out of the class at any given moment, verbally harass other students in class, and have absolutely no concept of what rules were, how to be obedient, and were not aware of how to behave in a classroom as opposed to the street.  I felt very sorry for these children because they were very incapable of being given a proper education due to their behavior within the confines of the average public school system setting.  But more specifically, it was obvious that they came from homes where school and achieving an education or doing well was not a priority.  How can students be expected to learn in a classroom when they have no rules, role models that value education, or even parents or responsible parental figures looking after them at home?  They can not be expected to come to school and then automatically turn it on and become good, well-behaved people like other schools in other communities with a more stable home and community life.  There’s no way they can compare.  This situation was depressing and I can’t see how any teacher can function in this environment without becoming burnt out in a couple of years or even months.  Where will these children end up?  Doing drugs, due to a lack of intellectual stimulation, and selling drugs, due to not having other economic opportunities will be the path of many of them.  These schools need money for teachers, less students in the classroom, and more educational supplies than any suburban schools.  These communities will not be able to dig themselves up out of their situations.  They are going to need an excess of help.  The school motto was a militant “college is the only option!” and these children were also well dressed in uniforms which says something about what the administrators are trying to push in regards to appearance at this school.  Although it was weird to see how militantly the teachers would talk to the students in order to get them to do what they wanted, maybe that was the only way for them to do their job given their circumstances and classroom settings.

Day three was probably by far the most frustrating and intimidating of them all.  I was once again in Bayview/Hunters Point but this time I was teaching 6th and 8th graders.  The first four classes of 6th graders were incapable of doing anything that I told them to do.  I could not get them quiet in order to do an assignment and finally I just assigned them individually what we were suppose to do as a class.  Even so, I had to constantly walk around and keep the class on task.  I would stop to help a group of about five or six which would halfway engage them with the assignment but as soon as I walked somewhere else they would jump out of their seat and do whatever they liked.  This situation was similar to the 4th graders the day before.  These students had no concept of what they had to do to succeed in school.  I started to kick students out of class but pretty soon more students were sitting out in the hall than were actually in the class, which led me to question myself as to what I’m suppose to do with kids who don’t give a fuck about anything a teacher says and decides to do whatever he/she pleases.  Even when I had kicked them out they would just walk back in and continue causing as much havoc as before.  I finally announced that I would be going around the class to take and throw away things that students were doing that they were not supposed to be doing.  I confiscated 5 cell phones, 4 jars of nail polish, threw away about 10 drawings, 4 notebooks, fingernail clippers, squirt guns, pins, money, etc, you name it.  The students became so pissed at me but I didn’t care because this was my only source of power with them to physically take things that they cared about and were not suppose to be playing with in class.  No work was done the whole day and I ended up being more or less a security guard, doorman in order to make sure students did not just leave whenever they wanted to.  As lunch came, I let some of the students go but when some tried to leave I told them they had to join me until they realized why I was holding them.  They became enraged when I told them this and started calling me racist, a child rapist, and went on to threaten me with how I was going to become fired for doing what I was doing.  I gave them the choice of either having a good chat with me about what they had done during the day and why I had them stay, or stay in the whole lunch as I was physically barring their passage out of the only door.  After about ten minutes of arguing they finally came around and it was a pretty good feeling to have thought to myself that I got to some of these kids maybe a little bit or maybe they were totally ignoring or zoning me out during our talk.  My last period of the day was 8th grade and when one of the students walked into class and realized they had a sub they went out, told their classmates, and then I had a total of two students for the period.  We didn’t do anything because they claimed they didn’t have any of the books they needed (which was also an excuse of the other class) and so we just sat there the whole time.  In the beginning of class one student asked me if I had change for a $5 bill upon which I gave him 5 ones.  Another student came up and asked me for a dollar and when he asked a second time and I said, “no, man” again he walked up to me, took off his jacket and said, “what did you call me.”  I looked at him and replied “are you really going to fight your teacher right now” and walked over to my desk.  He stood there for a moment and then walked out of the class.  For a moment I thought that I was going to have to put this kid in a headlock and walk him down to the office.  It was a little scary because you never know what weapons people, even kids, have on them.  Regardless, these kids have no discipline or idea of where their lives are headed.  These schools need help because when it comes down to it most of these students will be left in the dust and the street after high school with absolutely nothing, running away from police who are not gun shy.

I subbed at a school in the Marina today, in a nicer part of town, and it was so wonderful.  The kids were nice, they did or at least attempted to do their work and education was flourishing in this environment.  In this situation, it is possible to have 1 teacher for 20/30 students although I don’t advise it because the teacher simply can’t give attention to that many students.  Anyway, these classes were a pleasure to teach and I was given hope again that education and being a teacher is a positive thing.

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