Clinton St. Quarterly, Vol. 6 No. 1 | Spring 1984 (Seattle) /// Issue 7 of 24 /// Master# 55 of 73

Really, teaching is the most like a romantic relationship. On the good days, it thrusts you to an apex of hope, gushing enough juice to refuel OPTIMISM. You become convinced that the devils are outside. And the goodness is inside. And the goodness can blast all the devils to hell. But on the bad days, it can scrape out your soul. You see the vehemence in these 12-year-old beings. And the vehemence is edged like a switchblade. You see the fury, the fear, and the hatred. And you wonder: Is it me? Is it my voice? Is it my face? Or is it them? Is it their homelife? Is it the times? Is it the place?? With substitute teaching, you are walking the thin edge between pure love and hate IN A DAY. You rub up against 150 12-year-old people in your life, and you try and wow them with your brilliance. Before they pelt you with their substituteteacher hate. I spent 40-odd days in the school zones of San Francisco. I have thought that teaching was truly TRULY beautiful. I have thought that teaching was the most horribly frustrating thing I have ever done. I have been awed by the explosive light within my students. And I have thought they were the most idiotic and ridiculous beings I’ve ever had the misfortune to meet. I’ve tried to love them throughout it all, because I KNOW that must be the key. AMANDA, AGE 13: Tip: I think that when teachers have a roughty class that is making fun of the teacher, the only way is to insult the children making snide or smart remarks. It always works best. I know it sounds crule but a smartmouth kid has to be told to shut it up. THOMAS AQUINAS: It is an act of love and mercy. It is always a luxury for the teacher and a form of leisure: an activity meaningful for both, having no ulterior purpose. The bell rings. Absolutely nothing changes in the tone of the ^Jcene ^7 It is 8:18 a.m. at a middle school near the oddly placed projects in between North Beach and Fisherman’s Wharf. The classroom I’m in charge of is in the annex, down the street and around the corner from the belly of the school. General adolescent chaos ensues amidst the 33 members of the 7th grade class, which includes Screaming Darting about Hitting Pushing Tugging Stomping Desk pounding Pencil throwing Tearing up papers with which to litter the floor. room, except I get up and stand in the front and say, “Okay. Let's sit down now, ok?” Absolutely nothing changes in the tone of the room. Suddenly a large Mexican boy stands up in the rear of the classroom. He is very large for his age. And very beautiful. In a voice throwing knives in my face, he says, “YOU SIT DOWN, BITCH!” The room falls silent. Several pairs of eyes dart to my face, bursting with anticipation for my reaction. I say, “Oh, come on!” He says, “You come on, bitch!” I say, “Leave the room!” He says, “You leave the room, bitch!” I say nothing. I am stunned. I feel hurt. I feel mad. “MANNNNNNNNN.......... !” I say. Voices whisper: “Teacher said ‘Man,’ ” “The bitch is cool,” “Teacher’s cool . . . ” Falling into a familiar dictatorial machismo, I blurt, “You’ve got 32 minutes to read pages 112-124 in your book on American colonialization and answer the questions on page 124 now!” I walk to my desk and sit down. I feel awful. Within seconds, general adolescent chaos ensues. S c e n e It is 11 /z minutes later. Approximately four students are reading the chapter (three Orientals and the only blonde person in class). The rest of the class are either pushing their desks loudly across the floor, throwing pencils or papers across the room into the farthest garbage can, sharpening their pencils, staring out the windows at the loud gym class screaming below, combing each other’s hair, or glancing at me. I say nothing. Suddenly a skinny black girl with several plastic barrettes in her hair screams at a fat black girl with several plastic barrettes in her hair across the room: “Hey! Shuddup, girl!” The fat black girl screams: “You shuddup, bitch!” The skinny black girl screams, leaping from her desk: “Make me, bitch! Come on! Make me!” A major girlfight ensues. Desks are tumbling, jive talk’s screaming, muscles punching, skin is slapping, scalps are tugging, whines and shouts are razing my ears. I get up slowly. I walk over and lean into the fight. The tangle of them is twice my size and nerve strength. They are punching each other and gouging out eyes. I think twice. I lean back. I stare. I am stunned. Finally I remember my hot line. I walk slowly to the phone in the front of the room, which immediately connects me to the office down the street and around the corner. Before I even get the receiver to my ear, all chaos stops. Cold. There is silence. The two black girls collect the 20-odd barrettes on the floor, sit down, take out their combs, and calmly rearrange their ruined hairdos. That is it. I cannot believe it. We all sit down and wait for THE REAL AUTHORITY to arrive. The girls collect their things and wait, looking happy as hell to be taken away. “You little phonies,” I whine, bruised in the heart. At lunchtime, I resign the day’s assignment. “ I’m sorry,” I say, “but they whipped me.” ro S p e d ALBERT EINSTEIN: It is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty. are tn a*1 The awful teacher seemingly has no MARK, AGE 13: is the teacher who union with the individual students, but with the text books and other typical teaching objects. This teacher only communicates with students through false accusations and threats. The supposed good teacher is the exact opposite of the stuff above. AMORETTE, AGE 12: But what do you expect from a teacher? Do you expect them to change into a fairy godmother? Horace Mann Middle School. James Lick Middle School. Francisco and Visita- cion Valley. The bad schools about which I was warned. They are the schools that always need substitutes. The regular teachers stay home. I really thought because I was dark. I really thought because I wore purple. I thought because I knew anger. I thought they would give me control — without aggression. I was a fool again. LAURENCE, AGE 14: Good teachers know pupils as who they are, not what they are. They don’t make you feel like you're locked up. On the other hand, bad teachers treat students like animals. They don’t care about your feelings. I don’t know if the bad days were my fault. Maybe I forgot they were as young as they are. Maybe I forgot just how mad youth can get. Maybe I forgot what being born in the pits of the city in a world with no myths could be like. I just wanted to show them my spirit. And drink some of theirs. But Theirs are scarred. Already. They keep them locked. That is what always drained out all my juice. These young, bright-skinned children — with spirits already brutally wounded. They already hated without ANY proof. Even the babies. ^ a m e s During the Christmas holiday, only the children’s centers were open — where the “disadvantaged” 2- and 3-year-olds spend their time. Two years old and they are already whirling being buffeted by the boisterous they do not bounce off at all correctly. I was substituting in a children’s center in the Lower Haight. I noticed this one little boy instantly. He looked just like James Brown: strong, thick, dark, in- \ tense, with a face that showed pain with knit brows. He was only 2. Before the teacher finally turned on the music, he spent his time knocking down all the little boys he could find. And taking toys away from all the girls. He would push into everybody with all his might. They would fall over, and he'd push them again. Then the music was turned on. He began throwing himself in the air. And falling down as hard as he could. Then he jumped onto a chair and threw himself down. Over and over, falling limp. All this aggression. All this defeat. Two lousy years old. When the teacher turned the music off, he ran directly for my legs and clutched my calf. The strength of his grip was a shock. I tried to release him, but he wouldn’t let go. So I moved, and he let himself be dragged along the floor. And still he clutched. Then suddenly he let go and jumped into my lap. And hugged me. The strength of his hug was a shock. He had lines in his brow like he'd already experienced hell. He was 2. On the bad days, it scrapes out your soul. OMI, AGE 13: What makes a teacher enjoyable is when he/she knows how to relate to students so that they become involved. Nothing is worse than a class of idle statues — or a class of ear piercing rioters. A teacher should try to put theirself in a student's shoes. I actually had a perfect day one day. I don’t know how much it had to do with my teaching skills. I think it may have had a lot to do with love. Because it had a lot to do with Michael Jackson. I used him. Out of at least a thousand preteens I have met, and everyone else I have talked to in three months, there has only been one skinny blonde guy who didn’t love him — with a TRUE and HOLY love. (And I’m sure that kid’s problem was sour grapes.) I mean, the world LOVES Michael Jackson. And to teenagers, he is GOD. (Thank God he's sweet.) All I had to do on said day was bring Michael Jackson’s name up once, and the whole day became like a dream. I was in a great mood to begin with, and wore a cornflower blue cotton dress with ruffles that my mom bought me in Stockton. I had seen a picture of Michael Jackson with his hair steaming in the morning paper. I cut it out. I passed the picture of Michael Jackson around with the rollsheet. For a change, I introduced myself as a writer and poet. I told the students I was writing about them. I said, “Those from the north think you Californians are a little weird — a little perverse — and definitely wild. They think the schools down here are totally berserk. In fact, northerners may be a little frightened of you Californians. I am their correspondent, and I want to write an article that really tells what is happening in California middle schools. I want you to tell me what you think.” Instantly the classes fell silent. They began writing with an intensity that lasted twenty minutes, which is usually an eternity in these situations. They kept writing. Finally I stopped them and asked them to read an article in the latest Junior Scholastic. And answer the questions at the end. They did it quietly with smiles on their faces. At the bell, they crowded about my desk. They asked me personal questions about my life. It was a coup. l^uL eScen l [^ ro p i le As I mentioned earlier, I asked the students a lot of questions about themselves. I asked them about all their favorite things, what they ate, what they dreamed about, and what they thought of Ronald Reagan. Without interpretation, I now offer you the majority answers. There was not much individuality here; in fact, I was a little disappointed and stunned that all the answers were so much the same. But it IS a time for fitting in. Favorite food: pizza Favorite drink: Coke and fruit punch Favorite TV show: A-Team/MTV Favorite movie: “Return of the Jedi”/ “The Evil Dead” Favorite album: “Thriller” Favorite single: “Beat It” Favorite singers or bands: Michael Jackson/Def Leppard/Quiet Riot/ Duran Duran Favorite candy: Nerds/Snickers Favorite car: Black Firebird/Lamberghini/ Ferrari Favorite clothes: jeans/steel-toed boots Favorite movie star: Mr. T (one vote for Mickey Rooney) Favorite weekend fantasy: unlimited sex Normal weekend: watching TV/chores/ . shopping Normal breakfast: eggs/toast/juice Normal lunch: pizza/Coke Normal dinner: meat/potatoes or rice/ vegetables (Winner of the worst diet award goes to one 11-year-old girl who eats Lucky Charms for breakfast, donuts and punch for lunch, and pizza and cookies for dinner.) Biggest worry: the future/bad grades/ no sex Worst nightmare: Most had never had one. Of those who did, their parents died, or they were attacked by rats, monsters, or ghosts. Best dream: unlimited sex and money As far as Reagan goes, just about 50 percent of the students thought he was “OK,” “cool,” “good and powerful,” or “the best” ; while the other 50 percent thought he was “a bad man,” “a bumb,” “the pits,” or “sucks eggs.” And although the majority believe there are definitely living creatures in outerspace, if given the chance to check it out personally, they wouldn't take it. I also asked the students to give me a list of several items they thought should be included in a time capsule for their generation to sum up what is really going on with them. Ian, a 12-year-old, had a list which just about sums it up. 1. Michael Jackson 2. Michael Jackson’s hair getting burned off Clinton St. Quarterly 5