“Mr I need help with the uterus,”
Not long after my first day at Youth Built I was subjected to what easily counts as one of the worst work days of my teaching career, if not my entire life. Once again I was to be introduced to the workings of another Red Dot school. I was told the job for the day was middle school English. “A cake walk,” I thought to myself. I shake my head now thinking about my naivety as I write this for you Dear Reader.
“When will he learn?” You may be saying Dear Reader. Well from what it felt like, never.
“When will he learn to expect anything at this job except for the unexpected?” Again, it was not until I decided to sit here and gurgle all this out. It was not until I choose to quit being a teacher and looked back at it all in hindsight, as is the human condition. Hindsight is twenty-twenty, and we remember more than we want and we forget things we want to keep. Yet at the time in my state of working ignorance, I decided to give Red Dot schools another chance, after all, they couldn’t all be terrible.
Still though, I needed at least five joints to brace myself and fog up the memories of that previous Red Dot school and the abuses I had suffered there. To this day whenever I hear the words “Red Dot,” I immediately am reminded of that linebacker of a young woman and everything she had to say about me and my “faggot ass.” So I took bong hit after bong hit after bong hit of kush that morning like on any morning. It took me until I felt like I was floating and I could barely keep my eyes open, then I was ready to get on the road.
Luckily the school was close enough so that I would not have to subject myself to a morning on the freeway. Though the streets of Alameda and El Segundo are so congested with a chaos of cars and pedestrians that rushing and merging amongst several other 2 ton hunks of steel all moving at 60 miles per hour at five lines each can actually be a welcome change of pace from a drive through the city.
I arrived for work, promptly as always, and I had to be buzzed into the school from the inside office. They were looking at me through the camera above the intercom and the buzzer, most likely seeing an unflattering angle of my nostrils and chin. The whole school was behind a 15-20 foot fence that was guarded by a flat metal steel frame. It looked more like a compound than a campus, like a fortress ready to fend off whatever soldiers of the federal government would be sent to it. The fence it self were a series of black metal spikes all connected at the top, but what stood out was the steel frame behind it. Like plywood patching up a window the steel frame covered the entire school looking like a bullet proof sheet. Like I said, it was more of a fortress.
I felt like I was about to enter a steel mill since it was in a rather industrial neighborhood, next door to a small factory and a car junk yard. However behind the wall was what would look on the out side to any passer by like any other normal school. A small yard with students running around on either blacktop or a patch of grass next to the two flag poles. I passed several students as I walked to the door, getting several curious gawks like I usually do at any school. The building itself was just a single story chamber built like one long hall with classes on either side and an office by the front doors.
I walked in to see that there were traffic lines and arrows laid out with colorful duct tapes on the floor. No chaos of the freedom of choosing how you walk here. No, no, no, no, that would be anarchy! Straight lines one way and straight lines the other, quiet in the halls and tuck in those shirts maggots!
This is supposed to be the kind of environment where its “is easier to teach.” If the school is in order, the classroom can run smoothly, in an idealized world. Seeing the intense level they put on discipline I expected to have an easy day ahead. “Except the unexpected Max.” Yet at this point I had no context, no reason to expect anything.
After I was let in and entered the office was then greeted by a very personable and kind receptionist. A man in his thirties with a better mustache and pair of glasses than I had wearing a Star Wars T shirt. I was given the impression this would a professional and good environment to work in.
“Expect the unexpected,” again Dear Reader that’s all I hope you take away from this chapter, expect the unexpected.
My classroom was a small one for that day. The high ceiling combined with the low windows gave the classroom the illusion that the walls were shorter than the ceiling. The room also had a chalk board in it instead of a white board, which was a rather surprising choice to me considering most Charters I have been to, ignoring the more corrupt ones, have all been fairly modernized. Also in my entire tenure as a student, K-12 and even in college, I never had a single teacher use an old fashioned chalkboard, so I had figured they were long gone. Yet there it was, a relic from a time in education I was never a part of, but it’s still there, still in that class. The room also had three grey walls and one big black one in the back, and the fluorescent light fixtures hung low and stretched long shadows over the tables, adding to the illusion of the ceiling.
It should have been a rather easy, do nothing type of day. The kids were to do homework they had for this or other classes. I could let them out one out at a time to pee or drink water, and I was told to send any student who misbehaved out to the office without warning, how hard of a day could I possibly have?
Well each class period was basically a symphony of pubescent screeches, yells, and so many paper airplanes flying I might as well have been an air traffic controller. However to go into detail about every grievance would be long and tedious, so let me break it down to the important stuff;
One incident that stood out was more homophobia in my classroom, this time it came from a seventh grade black boy, while though it was annoying, ignorance in a child is at least forgivable verses that of adults of any age, old or young. Yet still the ugly prejudice that exists within the white mind that there is an epidemic within African American or all poorer communities are being rift with homophobia, was validated once again in my establishment media mind. I sent a student out of my classroom for it. Actually, it wasn’t even because they said something homophobic, it was what they did when I actually did my job and tried to teach them. I was not bothered by them being teenage boys, I was bothered by them choosing willful ignorance.
It was a simple enough incident that was handled simply enough but still frustrated me all the same. Two black seventh grade boys, one short and round the other tall and gangly making the two look like a vaudeville act. The students were wasting time and teasing each other while I was trying to help another student. I told them to get to work then I went back to helping a student with a sex ed handout. He had called me over after he asking me and I quote, “Mr. I need help with the uterus.” I had to stop myself from saying “So did I. When I was your age son, so did I.” As I was explaining the connection between the vagina and the uterus to the young boy I heard your typical inappropriate 7th grade banter. I turned my head and sure enough the two problem children where back to doing whatever the fuck it is they were doing before only now it got physical. They began pushing each other away, almost falling out of their seats and one was blurting out, “Ew that’s gay, you gay.”
I stomped over and stood over them, my arms crossed and my brow furrowed with fury like a good sub. After appropriately scolding both boys like a good teacher would, I tried to calmly talk to the one who was blurting out “you gay!” so loudly. I tried to tell him calmly about why he shouldn’t use such terms, and what it actually does to people who are gay when they hear such negative speech. I tried to keep a compassionate and understanding tone, even if I was just doing this for the pay at the time, I still knew my day would be easier if I kept my cool. However in my self righteous indignation my temper got the best of me once again, because not only would the little shit not make eye contact with me, he started to roll his eyes at everything I was saying about being understanding of gay and trans people. So I kicked him the fuck out of class, and as he stomped out I told him, “I refuse to teach people like you.”
The kid had nothing to say to that, and he still refused to make eye contact with me as he left the room. Another shinning moment where I look like the good guy, right? In my head I was a social justice savior, in practice I probably didn’t do anything to help the dialogue. However let it be known that while I may be a degenerate dope fiend hiding under a veil of casual professional attire, I never stood for any kind of sexism or homophobia in any classroom I taught in.
Now let is cut to 4th period for this work day when someone from the office came to tell me that another teacher did not show that day, so she was wondering, “could you fill in the science class down the hall for us until the end of your day?”
In my head I thought, “Lady, Im on the clock until the 3pm bell, what the hell am I going to say no? You could ask me to shovel shit and I would have to do it, its in Sub Pools guidelines.” Yet of course, like all working adults, I said none of that. I merely responded as I was obligated, with a professional smile and and a hearty “Of course.” So in short I was off to the same shit, different classroom.
Again, or so I thought. “Expect the unexpected Max,” that is what I learned.
Well, as luck would have it this would be where I indeed finally learn that lesson. My day had been hit and miss so far, the incident with the boys being a definite miss. So they now decided to stick every single problem student who would make my life a living hell that day into one class. Just how difficult I would not realize, until they kicked me the fuck out of that school. Yes dear reader, this is the part I foretold you about. This is where I actually got kicked the fuck out of a school and it would not be the last time.
The class room was better lit than the other one, the tannish beige walls had chips in them from when old posters were be taken down and the tape would peel off the paint. Little holes from years of thumb tacks spotted them as well. With the exception of a few student projects the walls were rather blank in this class room. The lights did not hang as low and window stood at the top of a metal office cabinet, the dust and scratches on the floor were well illuminated by the natural light from the window. The fluorescents were attached high to the ceiling where the sound proofing white tiles covered and seal the jar that was this class room. Contrary to the other class this one had a white board, I am not sure if that matters but it seems relevant. In any case this one looked like a real classroom, not an optical illusion like the other one.
The students were almost all boys, and they were the 7th graders from hell. There are two kinds of 7th graders, angels and demons. They can be one or the other and it can change from day to day, but I stand by that there is no in between. The angels tend to be the innocents and the late bloomers, the ones who sincerely are putting school first, the demons are pretty much just the rest of them, the ones who have just tapped their pubescent potential and have let it completely take over. Lucky enough for me, I had a class full of those little monsters.
The following can sum it up pretty well;
“Please stay in your assigned seat,” I said to one who thought the class room was a place to train for the hurdle run.
“Don’t throw paper in the class room.” I then had to tell someone on the other side of class almost at the same time.
“Get your work out and get started.” I would have to keep telling them.
A paper airplane then goes by, “Plus I told you guys to stop throwing things!”
I picked it up off the ground, crumpled it up and turned around to throw it away. My back was only turned for a second, but I looked back only to see three more airplanes fly by and crash from different sides and corners of the room. Once again I just picked them up, crumpled them up and threw them away.
“When I say stop, I mean stop.” I say with my deepest and most dramatic voice to let them know I meant business.
They seemed to have gotten the message and started working, so I throw the airplanes away and sit down. Sure enough the volume starts to rise, students start throwing things at each other again, and then they even start leaping out of there seats, it was a constant repetition of what I just went through earlier.
“Please stay in your assigned seat.”
“Don’t throw paper in the class room.”
“Get your work out and get started.”
“I told you guys to stop throwing things!”
“When I say stop, I mean stop!”
“Get your work out and get started!”
“Stay in your assigned seat!
“Get your work out and get started!”
“I’m not going to tell you again. Get, to, work!”
Eventually I reached my breaking point once again, so as they leapt out of their desks like a playground I leapt out of mine, banging my hands on the faux wood and thrusting the chair back as I stood up so quickly that it toppled. All of it created a loud boom and thud which silence the classroom. I had their attention. Using the depth in my voice and the heat of my temper I let it all out.
“You guys are pissing me off!” They stopped in there tracks, they looked at me in shock, and I even got a verbal “woah.”s and “oh my gods.” from a few.
“Cut off the crap and get to work.” There eyes went even wider. They had just heard right, they had just heard a teacher swear at them, twice.
So what followed was a few more “awes” and “woes.”
“Yeah, that’s right guys, your teacher said it, that is how mad he is, get to work don’t make it worse for yourselves now.” I didn’t appreciate the irony of that statement until I thought about it later.
Now let me stress something once again to you my dear reader, at this point in my teaching career this was my idea of watching my language. The hardest part about this job was in all honesty the fact I had to watch my language so closely. I could not say any my favorite words until I was off campus at the end of my day. There is nothing worse to me about the job than the fact I had to listen to kids say “fuck” and “shit” all day, but if I let it slip even once I can get in big trouble. You could argue I should be enforcing the schools no swearing rules in the class by sending those kids to the office, but if I kicked out every kid I ever heard say fuck I would end up with a class of 5 students by the end of the day.
I thought I had found a loophole in the no swearing policy by getting away with using milder cuss words like crap and damn or piss as I has just used. Up to this point I had used those words somewhat liberally in a class room and it was no big deal, this was the first time saying them had ever gotten such a shocked reaction. At this point I had been able to sneak in a few of these junior cuss words into my teaching style, they were the cuss words that flew with my teachers in middle and high school. Why shouldn’t I get away with them to the way that they did?
The answer by the way was because I don’t have tenure or bargaining power like those teachers did. This was the day I learned that their is power in numbers, in more ways than one I learned that if you don’t have numbers on your side, you’re pretty much fucked. This is in a way many millennial’s problems, we live in an era where nothing matters but the numbers, that is my problem at least, I am not a man of numbers but I have always been a man of letters, and apparently all we are good for is sitting in a classroom to tell your kids to shut the fuck up and get to work.
After this period of hell and my too short of a lunch break I was called into the office in the middle of my second to last period of the day. The vice principle and one of the other faculty members came into the class. One was wearing the same uniform the kids were but was my age and had a whistle, while the other clearly the administrator in the room, what with her pink pant suit and matching lipstick and all. She approached me with her hand out for me to shake. She introduced herself as the VP which I already knew she was, or at least I knew she was some kind of administrator. I shook her hand and I smiled as I cordially introduced myself as Mr Boxer in front of all the children. She then asked if I could come with her to the office for a matter that she needed to discuss with me, when I asked her what she told me it was “something I’d rather not speak about in front of the students.” Those were her exact words, “can we talk in my office please?” which led me to expect the worst for our meeting.
“Ah crap,” I thought, “did the little bastards rat on me?”
Sure enough, the little shits had done just that. The group of little bastards ganged up on me and reported me to the office for saying a bad word has it I was just another 12-year-old. I must say they worked fast, the incident hadn’t passed 45 minutes by the time the Administrator asked to see me. The vice principle even had three fully typed reports in front of her, each one confirming that yes, indeed I had sworn in the classroom. All of which I copped to.
However what really pisses me off to this day was the part where one of the little fuckers lied.
“And do you want to explain why you threatened our students.” She said.
To which I went wide eyed and replied with an eloquent, “I beg your pardon?”
Well apparently, one of the little shits had said I told them I was going to kill them, and one of the other little shits backed him up. Apparently the VP never considered the fact they might both be lying but we will leave that alone. My Dear Reader, I may have acted out of anger at times where I should have been more understanding, I may be a sinful soul who on his summer vacations snorts and smokes random plants, but I am not a monster. I would never threaten the life of a child. Yet all of those shifty little fucks were in agreement, I had said that, word for word and as such I was asked to leave by little Miss bureaucrat administrator of that shitty prison to pipeline charter school. They will tell the kids how to dress and even how to walk in the halls, but be damned if you say crap to a 13 year old.
This is where I groveled, but I did not beg to stay because I knew it would have been to no avail. What I did do, with genuine tears in my eyes something even I did not know I was capable of, I reached out and grabbed the Vice principle by her sleeve. With my arm and body stretched across her desk I assured her, “I understand your position and I will leave with no problem, but I assure you I did not say that And I would never threaten a child.”
Then like a dry walk of shame, I left the school never to return.
I was confused, hurt and mad all at the same time, I left peacefully without causing a fuss but I was just racking my brain with fear and disgust. I did receive a disciplinary phone call from Sub Pool but that was all that happened afterwards. When I learned I would not be fired I was relieved but I still could not believe those students would go out of there way to lie about someone who just there to do a job.
When I got home, I honestly had never been more tempted to go full Walter White in my life, to just shave my head and drive back to the school so I could chuck a Molotov cocktail over the fence in the dead of the night and peel off in my shitty car as the building burst and shattered behind me. Yet I knew that some camera somewhere would catch me, that is what keeps a lot of us from doing what we know we should do, the cameras, or the fear that someone might actually see us doing the right thing.
The fantasy of that school burning to the ground and leaving the piece of shit administrator and shitty kids with no god awful charter school to hide from the neighborhood realities is an idea that I must be honest still satisfies and thrills me even though I know the kids don’t deserve to be punished in such a way. Despite how horrible and spoiled they may be, how much they may have exploited the system, those children do deserve their education or at least the access to one. Who am I to burn down a whole school for one petty squabble.
Still, I do smile whenever I think of a freshly bald me chucking a coke pottle of gasoline and fire over that big steel frame, and peeling off in my rickety Toyota as the glass shattered and the flame erupted.
That was the only time I ever groveled to an employer, something I had sworn before I would never do, that I was better than, that was before a child had lied about my own words. Ive been capable of many things, but I have never been capable of groveling like I did until kids were involved.
I have banned from 3 schools, this was the first of those three.
As you can see I got over it but at the time I was so heartbroken and insulted that I had to turn to my mother, a teacher with years of experience, for advice and incentive to keep going. Apparently, and this also broke my heart, this is not an uncommon happenstance for teachers these days. Students are still people, and people can be pieces of shit folks. I got news for you, some of you are pieces of shit to, and the fact you are raising kids to be like you means you are just raising more pieces of shit. Sorry folks, some people are just fucking hopeless and its usually the ones already born to other hopeless people. Not always, you have the ability to make choices about who you want to be in this world, just usually.
My point is students can lie and get teachers fired or moved all the time, and my mother assured me if it wasn’t for tenure, she might be in more trouble than she has been in to. My mother, the daughter of a homeless advocate and pure hearted lover of children, has been accused of saying things like I have to students. That was unimaginable to me, and I developed a great appreciation for my mom and my teachers after this day. We already live in a world were politicians and the willfully illiterate masses shit on our teachers, so not only that but kids get away with doing anything to their teachers now as long as they can agree on their story. We need to protect our students, but folks I must ask why are we not letting teachers teach? And when they actually do why do we hate them for it? I seriously would like to know because it damn sure doesn’t make sense to me.
So in short when a few students agree to a story it can get you in trouble at the school as if you were no more than one of the students. If you don’t have bargaining power or tenure an administrator can kick you the fuck out no problem, even if you are innocent or if the matter at hand is not that big of a deal.
Like I said folks, expect the unexpected, and there is power in numbers.
Locke High, Red Dots mark the Seven rings of HELL
The weeks that followed, if I recall correctly, were rather uneventful. My habits made it easy for me to quickly forget the previous incident and I had become absorbed into the routine of the job at this point. Every day I’d wake up at 530, wait until 9 by the phone to see if there was work. Somedays I would work 8 hours, others four, either way the pay was too good to pass up especially for anyone of my demographic. Also the schools I was being sent to had become rather routine and my days became less and less eventful, I went back to my private school Shangri-La of free lattes every so often and then occasionally I would be put into your run of the mill charters that honestly don’t really warrant any kind of rant or gonzo journalistic expose. They are just schools like any other schools with students like any other students.
That was all until one grey October morning, I was called to work at another Red Dot school, one of the biggest and most influential, Locke Academy High School.
To be clear it was Locke academy A, the school was now seven charter schools. Something I was blissfully unaware of at the time.
Here is the fun history of Locke Academy High school before we begin; Locke was opened in 1967 as a response to the Watts riots. Forty years later, the school board of Los Angeles voted to hand over control of the school to Red Dot schools company. In 2008 it reopened as the seven schools as I mentioned earlier, those schools being Lock A, B, C, D, Lock Tech, Lock Watts, and Lock ACE. Lock A, was the freshman school and was to be my department for the day. I knew it was going to be a hard day already because I was subbing for my weakest subject, math. There is nothing worse than subbing for a class you are not actually qualified to teach. When students find out you cant help them, it becomes hard to win them over.
“Why the fuck are you even here?” Some will ask, and to which I rarely had a good answer since to be honest I think that is a good question. Why would Sub Pool ever think English teacher would want to teach math?
“I don’t know kid, I don’t know why would I have the audacity to show up and not even teach? I really don’t.” Of course I never actually said that as you can expect. When in actuality I knew that it was because I needed to eat and that the school just wanted a warm body to take attendance for the day, “welcome to the Millennial uber economy kid, it sucks and you are caught right in the middle of it, and no one is going to bother to tell you.”
Well my day as you can imagine, was not a breeze. Before leaving, every experience I had with Red Dot was still fresh in my mind, I did what I’m sure you would expect me to do by now. I got ridiculously high on some variant of THC I had laying around from the weekend in order to emotionally brace myself for the trials at hand.
The work started with immediate ominous indications that I was in for another roller coaster of taking one for white peoples sins once again. Sons truly pay for the sins of the fathers, and we are a generation of white people that will have to answer for a whole empires GDP worth of racism and sexism for the rest of the next century, rightfully so I might add, it’s just not a very fun part of reality. The grey skies let little light out onto the cracked roads of the neighborhood that early morning. Once again I was in the heart of territory still feeling the ruins from the Watts riots. I was a circus freak once more in this neighborhood, “Come see the thing with blue eyes!” Besides the stares I received as I approached the school at the intersection I saw two cars get into an accident at 40 mph. It caused quite a ruckus with the students waiting in front of the school to go inside, but I too, the opportunity to keep my head down and get to the office with out being gawked at.
I entered the main office and I set down my lunch, and briefcase at the end of a wide desk at the front reception area. Then I walked to the other end to sign in where the member of the school staff was. Everything about the school was immense, everything built like a fortress, the walls thick and the ceilings tall like a cathedral. It was like the other LAUSD campuses I had visited and worked at. The school colors were loud and vibrant, the tiles were scuffed and high fences and iron gates complemented the barred windows exceptionally well. Within 30 seconds of me walking away from my stuff, while I was still in the room I might add, I heard my lunch sack begin to rustle like it was being opened. I look up and from across the counter I see three boys have entered the office and were trying to sneak a look into my lunch and briefcase. It was the lack of subtlety that was the insulting part. It was as if I was not standing right there, like my presence meant nothing and they legitimately thought I would be vapid enough not to notice anything. Plus what is the person in the office doing, staring at her goddamn computer. It was as if I was invisible to everyone at that moment.
“Well, I guess your not going to say something,” I realized, “time to establish yourself as no pushover Mr Boxer. ” So I swooped out of nowhere from the three kids right side and grabbed my lunch back right from out of there faces, and told them “I hope you guys don’t have Mrs Dias today. ” I then looked over at the receptionist, who then realized her error and shooed out the students. She then apologized for the students actions, but not for her own inaction I noticed, yet I just smiled and nodded and maintained a professional air, something that is not always easy to do when you’re stoned as I usually get for this job. Security then came in and I walked away with the security guard who was to open the door to my classroom.
I was already put into a gruff mood, I never like having my things touched and this was the first time a student had the audacity to touch my stuff and seeing do nothing administrators always pisses me off to no end, so for this to happen before class to even start was not going to have me in the best of moods. The grey from the clouds outside made the hallways very grim since you could see the dull greyed light from the barred windows.
We walked up the monumental stairs and around the corner to my classroom, a fortress behind a locked door, and needless to say, barred windows a plenty. The security guard searched his ring for the right key, so I took the time to have him validate my premonitions.
“Hey man, can ask you something?” I asked trying to carry the tone of one working man to another.
“Shoot,” he replied still fumbling with the keys.
“How are the kids here?” I said with my arms crossed, showing I meant business just like him.
He found the key and began to unlock the door, but he had started to smile at what I had said and replied after a pause, “You want me to be real man?”
“Be real son.” I said back.
Still smiling and shaking his head, as he opened the door he said “Arm yourself man.”
Unmoved on the surface, I just nodded and replied, “Thanks for being real with me man.”
He said no problem, and I swear the door sounded like the echo of a bank vault shutting when he let go of the door and walked back down the stairs.
There I was in my class, my fortress, hollow and alone, still off-put by the doors vault like slamming echo. The sun cast a bleak shadow of the bars outside the windows onto the desks. If I wad to take a picture then write something online derivative from the most self righteous tragedy porn about prisons or schools or both, it would make Facebook crash. The high ceiling was complimented by the huge glass windows which had an iron bar fence gating them outside in from being opened to wide. The room over looked the street by the side of the school, where you could also see the dilapidated streets and houses neighboring it. The floor’s white and blue tiles were scratched and scuffed from years of sneakers and desks moving about. The desks were all organized into neat rows, but they looked disorganized and chaotic because the chairs and designs of the desks were almost all different from row to row. Some were all plastic, others had the metal and ceramic seat that blessed most newer schools, some had baskets under them, some didn’t, some looked modern some looked like relics from god knows when, and only two in the front row were left handed.
Like my previous stories, I will keep the details brief and focused on the brutal, the entertaining, and the honest truth.
The day consisted of three classes under a block schedule, one and half hours for each class.
Cut to the First Class,
INT. SOME SHITTY SCHOOL IN WATTS- SUNRISE
A class of 34, 16 actually show up.
A chubby fifteen year old Mexican boy with awful acne asked me “Do You party sir?” in that ‘Let’s fuck with the nerd” tone of voice. Then he followed with “hows your beer pong game?”
“A hell of a lot better than yours kiddo, Ive been to college. ” I thought to myself. “Talk to me when you’ve played a game of rage cage then maybe we will have something to talk about.”
Of course if I was to say any of that to him I would probably get fired. However to this day I wish I had said this aloud.
In the class there was a stout black girl with braids in the back corner sitting with her friends, listening to music as they worked, which I don’t mind, but every five minutes she would bust out with a curse word so loud the whole class looks up like they just heard their morning alarm clock. We all know Max Boxer swears like a mother fucker, but Mr. Boxer had learned his lesson and was watching his language from now on. Plus to be honest Mr. Boxer heard students swearing all day and he didn’t do anything, but when it was so blatant that the whole class couldn’t get their work done, well Mr. Boxer had to be a professional now didn’t he? As an adult you are expected to be so in a classroom since that is what you are there for after all. Classrooms are supposed to teach cordiality, and adults are extensions of the classroom.
“Watch your language please,” I walked over and calmly told her. Its fair if you don’t believe me at this point, but I assure you, I was not about to bring anger into the classroom immediately like I would before.
“Fine.” she snootily retorted as she rolled her eyes and went back to whatever she was doing to put off her work.
Soon after as I explaining to a student why I could not help them with the problem because I’m an English teacher, like a bass drum I hear her bellow “Bitch!” After which I hear her and her friends chuckle. I turned around, and once again I calmly told her, though I told her sternly, “Watch your language in the classroom,” I though maybe if I added that she would get that it’s just not the time and place to get this loud and rowdy. I don’t care if she talks like that anywhere else, but who the fuck is she to do that where everyone is trying to do their math. Of course soon after, I hear another booming “FUCK YOU!” And then she and her friends giggle.
I look up, saying nothing but keeping my brow furrowed, and walked over, I kept my cool, I knew she was just trying to mess around with her friends, but she had no consideration for anyone else in the class. That was all I wanted to teach her. Im boiling with annoyance by now, but I speak slowly and calmly. ” I don’t care how you talk out side of class, but the classroom is not the time nor the place for this.”
She didn’t even look up this time, “Okay, I don’t care.” She quipped as she was pretending now to do her work.
“Well you should care because…”
“Stop talking to me.” So sudden, so rude, and not even a hint of eye contact.
To which I smiled through the rage, and just said back, “No,” and walked away. She didn’t like that, I could tell because I could here her angry shrug as her friends next to her laughed at my little joke. I thought the matter was done, and the lesson had been taught. When you get other students to laugh at what you say, it puts the numbers of the classroom in your favor against the rowdy student.
There is power in numbers.
Ten minutes later, as I finally calmed down was about to sit back at the desk and journal when I hear her, “Fucking BITCH!”
“OUT!” I finally declared with my boom voice and pointed finger. It was honestly out of pure annoyance at this point, not anger. Yet she didn’t want to leave, so I got security. When they refuse to leave I used to take that as a sign of disrespect. Now I see that its civil disobedience. She wasn’t going to leave the classroom, which means, well, she didn’t want to leave the classroom. It was I, the one who took her words personally, who wanted her out.
By the way, I feel obligated to mention this is not a vindication for letting students have shitty attitudes. I am trying to show it is a two way street. Yes, it is on teachers to set the right example and always put empathy first, and a student should understand a teacher usually has 30-100 plus students to attend to per year, needless to say it gets trying. If we all talked about our perspectives and actually listened we would really move this stagnant dialogue along.
This was only the first period of the day, I still had two more.
Cut now to,
INT. SHITTY CLASSROOM IN WATTS – 11am
I stood before a 25 person class with only 8 people in attendance. Thats a whopping 17 students who would rather ditch than endure either math, a sub or both. My pits were pooling through my shirt at this point.
Soon after class was supposed to start three boys entered, 17 year olds, 3 juniors in a freshman math class, “This should be fun,” I thought rolling my eyes as they entered.
They were marked tardy for attendance, and they took their seats in the back of the room with the worksheets I knew they would not do.
Twenty minutes later in the class where I am spending 90 minutes breaking up arguments and impromptu wrestling matches, 75% of them being started by those 3 boys. Each time I send them out, the office sends them right back. No matter how hard I try it looks like I am stuck with them for the day. I over hear some moronic conversations as well. Many of these boys will still use the word Gay as an insult, and i have stop them from rolling around in each others arms on a dirty school tile floor.
Cut to the very end of the class, five minutes left and all the students have packed up and are hanging out by the doors of the class. Pan to the back of the class where the three idiots decide to play T-ball using their arms as a tee and a bat and a bottle of gatorade, a full bottle i might add, as a ball.
I tell them “No,” as they set up the T.
I tell them “No,” as he prepares to swing.
I tell him “NO!” just before he lets her rip and knocks the bottle half way towards the other end of the room, bursting the cap off on the leg of a metal chair and covering the back corner with red sticky hell that I would have to call the already too much put upon custodian to clean up.
I could not hold it in any more. The anger was back.
“What did I SAY!?” Ah the thunder of my voice, I knew it was at its best at that moment, the whole class went silent. “When I say No, I mean no, way to blow it guys.” I pointed to the door like a furious Gandalf guiding the way as he scorns someone.
“What did we do?” one had the audacity to ask me. I could see it in his face, he actually did not see there was anything wrong with what he did.
The fact he was being serious, the fact he actually didn’t know only upset me more, I couldn’t be bothered to explain it this time. “Get out, get the hell out!” Was all I said back. Ah, that one I knew I would get away with here, I knew these ones weren’t smart enough, or brave enough, to snitch on me.
“Man, seriously?” said one.
I was now more irritated they could see what they did wrong than by what they actually did. I realize these kids live in shitty situations, but I promise they were also never destined to be rocket scientists.
“Alright!” Replied one giving me a face full of middle fingers.
“Well fuck!” Eloquently put another.
“Fuck you! fuck this class! fuck this school! fuck you! man fuck you bitch!” said the third. I knew they all actually wanted to leave despite their performance, because they left willingly and without security escorting them out. The door shut with the same echo of a locked vault as when the class was empty. The students could not stop staring and the conversations the rest of class got no higher than a whisper.
The last period of the day, thank god.
Compared to before, this period was rather uneventful if not completely uneventful. Only 6 of the 30 students showed up. No one cussed or fought, in fact everyone was quite respectful to me for the most part.
That was until one of the boys asked if I had a girlfriend, I had as a matter of fact just broken up with a girl I was seeing. And when I say seeing, I mean we were banging until we got bored with each other. So I simply laughed and said, “I used to,” to which they asked why I wasn’t with her anymore and some also replied with “Was she hot?” to which I would not answer, I just tried to laugh it off so they would drop it and move on.
One thin black girl over heard us and said, “Mister they are going to make you go to hell.” She said it with both condescension and sincerity as religious people tend to have a weird tango between the two in their rhetoric and intentions. I then noticed one of the books on her desk was one of these pieces of propaganda you see Jehovah witnesses standing with out side of the mall. She said I was going to hell, and she honestly meant it, without realizing the irony of the statement, so I was obliged to had to point it out for her.
“I got news for you kiddo, I’m already there, I’m a substitute teacher.” I said smiling and getting a few laughs from the other students. Not her though. She did not seem to get it.
“Aint that a bitch.” That was all she said back and I couldn’t tell if she was in on the joke or not. I just smiled it off and went back to my desk to enjoy this almost perfectly behaved class. It was a nice breather from the earlier part of the day. A period where a student told me I was going to hell was a nice breather.
“aint that a bitch?” as she so aptly put it.
yes indeed, aint that a bitch?
Finally the last bell rang, and I shooed the students out and I was out the door almost as fast as they were. Before I shut the door I looked at the room, any semblance of organization that had been there at the beginning of the day was long gone at this point. There were no rows of desks anymore, just a chaotic misalignment of plastic and wood and metal facing all directions with bits of torn up or crumpled paper decorating the desks or accentuating the floors.
As I left one of the security guards complimented me, “Good job today man,” he said giving me a thumbs up on my way out. “You were tough, thats how you gotta handle these kids.” To which I just smiled and said thanks, and power walked to my van. I was then off and I was to never teach at that hell hole again, or at least so I thought.
But again, I had forgotten to expect the unexpected.
Once again I returned home to fog my brain up once again with somewhat legal narcotics and alcohol. Quickly the day disappeared with every sip and every puff, and I was able to rest for a few days. I even called Sub Pool and was assured that I would never have to go back to Lock A again.
This was before I knew there were 6 other Lock schools in the same goddamned building.
Another day another dot, goddamnit.
I spent my weekend unwinding by doing cocaine with some cousins and their boyfriends. Then when Monday rolled around I was off to another red dot. Like little Office Depot stickers the seemed to mark my own personal hells, Red Dot schools. This one was just three miles away from my house. It was for a science class at a middle school, and since it was close that would mean my route would not require me to suffer through LA traffic. That is always a good way to start a working day in Los Angeles. “Why surely not all Red Dot schools are the same, surely some of them must be well rounded. Plus I mean, science class, 3 miles away, what could go wrong with that?”
Once again naivety reared its ugly head.
I am sure you can take a guess dear reader, at this point Im sure by now you know enough about how I worked that you can take a guess at the answer to that question. I’m sure you can also take a guess as to how I prepared myself for that day, so I will skip the excessive details and just say I indulged in my standard routine.
So with a decent head change and only a few streets between us I arrived at the school just off of Western Avenue. I approached the office and endured the typical cordialities I had come to expect at the front office of each school at the start of my days. I signed in, got a visitor tag to put on the back of my substitute badge, then I was escorted to a classroom by a security guard who would open my door for me. This guard was much younger than most I had been walked by. He was much shorter and thinner than the other one from Lock, who looked more like a bald night club bouncer rather than a school security guard. Looks can be deceiving though, someone who might look like the hardest cholo, might actually be the yard duty at your child’s school now. Never judge a book by its cover, one of the many things being a teacher actually teaches the teacher.
This man could not have been much older than me, in fact he was probably my age. So I thought he would be real with me like the other security guard had been. “Hey man, be real with me, how are the kids here?” I asked hoping to know this would be an easy day. If the guard every gave me anything less than an enthusiastic, “Oh they are great here man, no worries,” then you have every reason to be suspect.
He smiled at me and struggled to respond. This was not the same smile as last time, this was the smile of the veil, the smile that was hiding something. He took a second before saying anything, “I mean,” he said as he thought, clearly he wanted to be careful with his words so he was choosing them slowly, “I mean they’re okay man, they aren’t always angels, but…” He wanted to tell me to brace myself I could tell, but like me, he was caught up in the veil of professionalism, so of course none of us want to say “prepare for the worst” when you are talking about kids, but sometimes its the only way you can help them. How can I help these kids if I always just assume the best of their situations all the time, which I honestly know nothing about and have no way of ever really understanding unless they tell me or someone else tells me directly.
“I mean, they’re kids man, that’s all Im going to say man they’re kids.” He finally completed with that. Fair enough I thought, but when he said “Thats all I’m going to say,” I knew he was holding something back.
“I’m in for it,” I told myself.
Sure enough, I was.
My Dear Reader, at this point the day has replayed in my head so many times so horrendously as our memories do and it has just become just one long blur of cussing, kicking students out, shitty screeching 13 year old comebacks that are actually the meanest things in the world because thirteen year olds understand everything there is to know about insecurity especially when it comes to seeing it in other people. No one was working, phones were out non stop. It was every teachers nightmare.
The classroom itself gave me the feeling I was in for an an least somewhat comfortable day, the room had the veil of a competent teacher. The tiles were new and scuff less and the walls were a fresh painted red that hid any old tack marks or tape peels. Brand new posters depicting the chain of Evolution, Einstein and the periodic table, as well as several students projects dangling high on the walls, and molecules dangled from the ceilings. Once again I had the feeling that this would be an easy day because I was in the environment of experience, yet pretty and informative walls don’t mean you are going to have an easy day at work.
I do remember sending one student out. I told the office that I didn’t want him back in the classroom for the rest of the day.
The lazy bastards sent him back just after 10 minutes. When the class was being a rowdy merciless ruckus I heard a knock on the door. I cracked it to peak my head out to see him behind the plate of metal with his security guard escort standing over him with her arms crossed. “They sent you back!?” I almost said in shock. Yet ever the professional, I did not. I knew what was about to happen, I had experienced it as a child when I got sent to the office a few times.
“I’m sorry I talked back.” He said with the enthusiasm of a castrated steer.
Ah, the old, “Go tell the teacher your sorry,” routine, I thought to myself. The worst and most ineffective and lazy punishment an administrator can do. It makes it look like you are doing your job to the inexperienced outsider to teaching and it makes being a great disciplinarian, but you are actually just passing the buck, letting kids slip through without ever learning a lesson. A stern talking to and back to class with you. I didn’t send him to the office for a chat, I sent him to be punished.
Also let’s admit that nothing is worse than getting an apology that is an empty apology, but its even worse when you are forced to make one yourself against your will. No one has any dignity when a vice principle just sends a student back and “tells them to apologize.” There is no dignity for the student nor the teacher, nor even the administrator, and you just show that you don’t want to actually do your job. The teacher is robbed of dignity because that is all they realize they are worth to their administration, a hallow apology. The student is robbed of dignity because it forces them to say things they don’t mean to get by in the world, that is not a world we should raise our kids in. Lastly the administrator has no dignity because it just makes them look flat out lazy. Not to mention this puts the burden of discipline back on the teacher.
Despite people’s notorious misconceptions, a teacher is not supposed to be a disciplinarian, that is the principle and vice principles job, at lead it is supposed to be. The teacher, TEACHES! Rather they are supposed to teach. How is someone supposed to focus on a lesson plan if they also need to play babysitter, judge, jury, executioner, and security guard for a paycheck? As the kids would tweet, smh.
The security guard looks out for the kids and the office is supposed to discipline the kids, all so that the teachers can TEACH the kids, yet apparently all administrators do now it seems are find ways to save money, and usually, as it happens with management in any industry, that entails on getting your teachers, i.e. your labor, to take on more work for less pay.
So to maintain my position’s cordiality I nodded at his apology, fulfilling my role in this particular bullshit cordial discourse that is all to common in the modern educational world. ” Are you going to cause me any problems the rest of class?” There is one right answer to this, “no” its all you need to say to get back into my classroom, anyone of us would probably be smart enough to know that, if you just tell the person what they want to hear, you’d be off the hook and the matter done with, yes it sucks but it a lesson in picking your battles and some battles just aren’t worth it. who says substitute teachers don’t actually teach?
But this kid, this future genius, just shrugged, and said nothing, he couldn’t muster up a simple, “No,” I didn’t need a genuine no, if he had lied, which is what I was actually expecting, it would have been a forgotten matter. He just shrugged and went “ugh, I mean…” It was like he didn’t know the answer, just say no kid and you get in, how hard is that?
But no, he was too good for that apparently, too good to learn the basic lesson, “Just tell the guy in charge what he wants to here so he’ll leave you alone.” I just looked to the security guard and said in an irritable tone, “No,” shaking my head “No, get him out of here.” She sighed and nodded to confirm, understanding how the child had failed this basic life lesson and that this was how he would have to learn. It’s a shitty lesson to learn, and an even shittier way to learn it, but lets all remember something, a little cordiality, even if its faked, can go a long way, especially when it comes to mending social faux pa.
Now let us go back the misadventures of yet another middle school classroom from hell.
Another student, a pudgy girl with braided hair extensions, was constantly on her phone.
I would tell her to put it away.
She would roll her eyes as she took her sweet merry fucking time to do it. “Strike one you little bitch,” I thought.
Ten minutes later, she has her phone out again, using it as a mirror to apply her make up.
“Young lady, ” I said standing over her, stern and deep with my arms crossed. I would always do that when I wanted to sound older and more mature to the students. I called them young lady or young man and it sets up the dynamic perfectly. “I asked you once already please put your phone away, and get to work. This is not the time to touch up your make up.”
Again, no words from her, just a roll of the eyes as she seemingly obeyed, once again taking her sweet time. I would not have cared either way, but when she rolled her eyes, it was strike 2 once again. “Keep it up.” Now if she did it one more time, she was out of the classroom.
Sure enough, just a few minutes later, the phone, and make up are out. By now we were thirty minutes into class, and she hadn’t even put her name on her paper yet. “Alright, young lady, that’s strike three, pack your stuff and go straight to the office.” I said trying to keep a cool temper.
She obeyed rolling her eyes once again, laughing a little, smugly to, as she left. Looking back on it, as mad as I was, I have to give the kid props for not losing her cool.
Of course, the office sent her right back at the end of class with a note telling me to let her come back into class and thar she had been “properly disciplined.” Clearly she had been, because when she handed me the note she intentionally dropped it on the floor in front of me and walked away, still smugly smiling. I clenched my teeth and resisted the urge to smack the shit out of her the way my dad would have done to me had he seen me do such a thing. But all I took solace in was that I wrote every detail about her attitude in my note to the teacher, even including the words “This student was the rudest I have had to endure in a long time. See to it she is punished severely.” Check mate you little bitch. That was
I have no idea what happened to her, probably nothing, but I like to think she was punished so severely that she was forced to think about her attitude, and may be today she sees now how she behaved was beneath her, and has matured into a better respectful student.
One can only hope. Again, keep in mind, Red Dot is consistently putting this man, the one who just called a 13 year old girl a little bitch, in charge of your kids. Think about that before you send your kid to ANY charter.
Another day, another shitty ghetto Red Dot school, another day where the end could not come fast enough, either just to my day or all of humanity. Fortunately by this point in my teaching career I had been introduced to yoga and had assumed a healthy balanced regiment of coffee, yoga, alcohol, and pot. Not necessarily in that order. I will be honest though, were it not for the fact I was consistently stoned in every single one of the classes I had mentioned so far, who knows how I might have embarrassed myself further. When it comes to a teacher cutting loose, whether it be with brutal twerking, yoga, or narcotics, I got two words for all of society, Don’t Judge.
I would be happy to say this was my last time at a Red Dot school, I would be happy to say that because it is not true. I subbed at many more, and in the process I learned plenty about them.
Name Names, Just the “facts”
Let us take a break for a moment my Dear Reader from tales of my own experiences, and go into some cold hard truths about LA charters, particularly, lets learn more about some of the people running these schools. In my series of anecdotal pleas, lets have some hard evidence. Let’s stick to just the facts for this short chapter;
Fact : Red Dot was started by a man named Steve Barrett.
Fact: Steve Barrett helped co found Rock the Vote.
Fact: Barrett was also chairman of finance for the California Democratic Party during the Dukakus Campaign.
Fact: Barrett knows Netflix founder Reed Hastings.
Fact: Reed Hastings served on the California board of education and is an incredibly vocal pro Charter activist.
Fact: Hastings donates to pro charter causes frequently, and helped fund Red Dot’s launch.
Fact: Hastings wants to get rid of elected school boards.
Fact: School boards are an influential governing agency when it comes to teachers unions and collective bargaining.
Fact: Having less democratically elected school boards could potentially make it easier for private educators to treat teachers how they wished.
Fact : Barrett founded Red Dot after attending an event where then President Bill Clinton announced more public money would be released for charters.
Fact: According to Barr’s twitter, all his schools are all unionized
Fact: Even unionized charters do not have to abide by the same regulations and in some states are not obligated to recognize unions.
Fact: Barr is running for Mayor of Los Angeles.
Fact: If elected he could be influential in converting more schools into charters.
Fact: Those charters would be allowed to hire EMOs to handle operations since EMOs are legal in the state of California.
These are all just facts, people may do with them what they will, but they are all facts. Searchable, verifiable, facts.
I was going back to Lock, I had no choice
Well my Dear Reader, let us return back to the land of dreams where I spent my work days waking and baking and my weekends in a cross faded haze in order to forget how awful some things in this world truly are, especially some children. Then my work week began and Sub Pool gave me the clarion call, and wouldn’t you know it, I was lulled into another false sense of security. I do not know any more if it was naivety or just my effected short term memory but somehow I began thinking my hellish strain of venomous schools where I was helpless to do anything in my massive inexperience was over, and that I was ready to be a seemingly competent teacher once again, I was actually brought down by reality and back into the real world in the worst ways this job could find for me.
For a few weeks after that last Red Dot school work was rather uneventful again. I did have a few jobs at my private school free espresso Shangri-La , plenty of days off in between different schools, well behaved students, and for other charter I was going to I was going for Art or English classes which are my two strongest areas. I did everything to pray that this would be the rest of my school year. I don’t believe in god, so I think those prayers went unanswered for many reasons.
At the time though I was at peace. “No more angry days” I thought, Im sure you are all shaking your head dear readers at my naivety because I sure am.
Then one day I got the call for another Red dot, I didn’t hear the name over static on the phone but to me it didn’t matter at that point because they always sent me the address in an email anyway. A day of English at one of their schools would not nearly be as bad as anything else, as I said, it was a false sense of security. I have yet to have a positive experience with Red Dot Schools at this point, I fail to see why I kept giving them the benefit of the doubt.
I prepared in my usual way, filling my pack with necessities and my lungs with THC laden smoke.
I did not bother to look at the name of the school since the address was usually enough, had I been sober that morning who knows what I might have done, all that matters is what actually happened. What happened was I was so stoned on this morning I was misreading, mishearing, and overthinking everything but be damned if I would be late to work. I had my google maps directions and was off to combat, or what people outside of LA would call the morning commute.
As I was driving through my google maps route enduring the hell that is LA driving, pot holes, tight lanes, buses and big rigs hogging lanes, and slamming on the brake to avoid rear ending idiots who dont believe in turn signals. The deeper we went into the city the more I was starting to have flash backs. “This route feels familiar.” Yet once again in my lacking short term memory I could not figure out why. I was definitely feeling a dark deja vu, but I could not say why. It looked like the same run down buildings and barred windows of Watts that I had passed time and time again. It especially looked like when I went to…
“No” I suddenly thought, “it couldn’t be” I thought like a 50s horror victim cliche.
“Oh no! But oh yes, as I turned my car into the parking lot and google blurted out it’s robotic “Arrived!” all of my worst fears were confirmed, the address I pulled up to was none other than on the campus of one Lock high school. I realized now the name I could not hear on the phone was “Academy C” As in Lock Academy C.
I did not recognize the address immediately when I saw it because in this job they send me to so many different schools and places that many of them just begin to run together, especially chain schools like Red Dot or Axis. The only ones worth remembering are the ones I have been telling you about, or maybe its just my stoner short term memory demonstrating the actual dangerous effects of cannabis, minimal though they are. However, let this be a lesson to us all, smoke too much pot and your boss might end up sending you to the same hell hole twice. I was kicking myself for not recognizing the original address from last time. This is the real anti drug ad folks.
I parked my rickety Toyota with the missing front right light as close as I could to the exit then I just sat in my car for awhile. I began trying to find a strong meditative breath for at least five minutes. I closed my eyes, and just breathed. In and out, in and out, in, and, out.
In and out. “Be like water.”
In and out. ‘What would a yogi do?”
In and out. “What would a martial artist do?”
In and out, “What would Bruce Lee do?”
In and out, “What would a doctor of journalism do?”
When I opened my eyes, suddenly I felt like Hunter Thompson or at least some version of him. I felt like when he was played by Mr. Depp at least in Fear and Loathing. Particularly I felt like I was him in the scene where he fires his pistol randomly in the desert in his frustration. ” I was going back to Lock, I had no choice.”
The day started like all the other where I was dropped into the front lines of LA’s ghettos and prison training schools that are our modern Charters. Like clock work and deja vu combined I was taken through the same motions I was so accustomed. A security guard met me at the office where I signed in and he escorted me through the labyrinth of off white tiles, puberty, and poverty. I saw all the sights I had seen from last time, turning my deja vu into more of a Vietnam flashback as I saw everything I remembered from last time.
We walked by the aging 1960s lockers that were covered with a 1999 coat of paint and by what seemed like every barred window and door in the school. I honestly cant think of a single school in Watts or Compton I taught at, or any neighborhood I worked where the white population was low, that did not have bars on the windows. Segregation is not dead people. White students, or rich students so they might as well be white students, they get extra supplies and a free range to learn. The kids in the city get old supplies, old buildings, fences every where, and bars. Bars on the windows, at home, and at school. No matter where these kids go in life, unless they make it out, they will always see bars on the windows.
The security guard escorted me on what felt like a journey to the 15th floor at Hogwarts and used his ring of keys to open my door, which would no doubt lock behind me whenever it shut and I was given no key. The guard then stressed I “Not leave the door open” when I leave the classroom. Meaning I was basically a prisoner in my own classroom for the day when you think about it. This happened all the time at many schools, especially the worst of them like Red Dot or Axis. If I leave for anything, I’d get locked out. Which always brings up a big problem for me, “What if I need to pee?”
This brings up a topic that has yet to be discussed in my series of tangents and tirades about my experiences within the modern Charter and education system, especially in regards to the treatment of teachers. I am going to say, publicly and loudly, that all teachers, and I mean all teachers, whether charter or not, regular or substitute teachers, they all need more access to the restroom. My Dear Reader the things that this job has done to my kidneys are enough to make Cesar Chavez and his followers kick over the porta potties that farm workers seem to have to fight for. If you ever need proof teachers get treated like shit, besides constant attacks from over entitled FOX or CNN pundits, their shitty pay, or the inherent anti unionism of most charters, ask your teacher friends about their bathroom breaks.
Legally speaking, since charters are not subject to the same regulations regarding treatment of their employees, teachers and subs are only guaranteed the bare minimum for bathroom access, thats one 15 minute break after 3 hours of work and a 30 minute break for lunch after 5 hours. By the way for most jobs where you work more than 8 hours, you are supposed to receive overtime. Never say the words “overtime” to a teacher with 130 papers to grade which they are actually expected to grade in their off time, it seems.
“Oh but don’t all teachers get a prep period?” You may retort Dear Reader. No, not all teachers, not if they work at charters, where you have no contract, therefore no collective bargaining power. Plus you can only grade so many papers in an hour and a half. In fact even at some public schools the demand is so high and teacher to student ratio so low that many teachers are asked to cover extra classes for what should be their prep period, which means they aren’t getting ample bathroom breaks either.
Now you might also think I could just leave the classroom during the students passing periods and go to the bathroom and have security reopen my room, no big deal, and let the students wait outside of the class until I return. That is not always easy to do especially if you only have 3-5 minutes for a passing period and have to in turn borrow a key from someone for the restroom, considering how much relay you have to do to get just two doors open you are most likely to leave your students waiting in the hall. To some of you, you might think “So the fuck what!?” but subs and teachers will understand that a late sub or teacher is a trigger for a rough class period, if students are forced to wait in the halls when they should be in class time it’s like making your new baby skip his midday nap time. It messes with their internal clockwork, which they have become accustomed to working with in a pavlovian fashion. If you set them off their accustomed pattern you are viable to make them rowdy, like a baby, which means you will have difficult keeping class calm and under control so you can help them, like a baby. That is one reason why this is a bigger deal than people realize. Plus, with all the coffee I drink to stay fueled and all the water I need to drink to keep my voice clear, just having to keep asking people for keys to the bathroom can get very embarrassing, because it gives a stranger insight into a personal piece of clockwork.
I honestly don’t care what job you work, bathroom access is a personal and potentially medical matter and employers of any kind should ensure that bathroom access is assured and ample no matter what. I will say here that I also think a law needs to be passed requiring all school employees, temporary or permanent, to be given a bathroom key. Many schools say they don’t give subs keys because they don’t want to risk them being stolen or students getting them. To which I say, if the same key to open your employee bathroom also opens the school’s front doors, you are a cheapskate and if you think a student doesn’t have the audacity to steal one of your regular teachers keys you haven’t worked for Red Dot yet. I cant help but feel the real reason they won’t give people like me a key is they want to make sure we are in the classroom as much as possible, they don’t want to risk me coming and going too much, even if it means my medical dignity.
You might also ask why I wouldn’t have someone from the office or the security guard watch my class? That was because if 30 people who have yet to mature know you are leaving class to use the bathroom it can be embarrassing, it’s easy enough to say I shouldn’t care what they think when you aren’t the one responsible for them. Plus to be honest I have and some administrators simply will just not do it. Nor did I feel it was right for me to ask one of the other teachers to watch my class for me, though that does happen in some schools.
Where I work though? No, be damned if I left those kids with anyone else, “ME watch YOUR KIDS on MY off time!?” It happens, some teachers are more helping than others. Yet that doesn’t make them already incredibly put upon, and can you imagine the humiliation of having to have some sort of changing of the guards in front of your own students just so you can go take a shit or go piss? If you were 16 and still got thrills from drinking in parking lots, would you take a teacher seriously if in the back of your mind you thought they couldn’t control their bladder? It is not just a matter of health, it is a matter of dignity.
I cannot tell you how many jobs where this happens, where I am not simply given a key so that I can assure myself access to and from my class room and to or from the bathroom. Once again considering the amount of water and coffee I need to function on this job, it gets embarrassing if I have to keep asking for someone to let me go piss. That’s what it comes down to, if you don’t give someone a bathroom key where they work you are forcing them to ask permission to use the facilities, and there is no dignity for any adult who has to ask permission to use a restroom. I also learned something from my pee related misadventures on this job, I do not know about you, but growing up I always remember being fascinated by how often I would see my teachers pit stains. It seemed all too common for teachers to get sweaty pits, and I never understood why.
Then I actually became a teacher, and I realized, “Oh, its because they really need to pee but cant because they have a class of 30 plus students they are responsible until their only break.” In case you are the person how doesn’t listen to their teachers and didn’t do well in Bio, know that the body has three ways of getting rid of liquid waste, urine, vomit, and sweat. When you hold in your bladder for long enough, your body starts to look for other ways to get rid of the waste, you cant throw up the liquid waste since its moved out of your stomach, so your body will start to sweat and one of the places with the most sweat glands are your pits. Ergo, teachers are prone to kidney problems and sweaty pits because we are not letting them pee. So, be nicer to your damn teachers already. Stop shitting on them media, give them a damn raise, and let them pee damn it. Let everyone pee for christ sakes. We seem to be arguing about that idea on many fronts. We under regulate toilets for some people and we over regulate it for others. We have a weird bathroom culture.
I should also mention that I noticed a correlation between when I would be at my angriest in the classroom and embarrass myself and when I really just needed to piss. I am just stating that for the record because every single day I have mentioned thus far where the work day was abysmally awful and brutal and I was so quick to anger, were also the days where I was the most denied of bathroom access. Had I been free to pee at these places, maybe i would have been a little more understanding when I was turned into some students verbal punching bags.
Yet still, I had yet to reflect on these matters at the time, all I knew was that I was back at the shithole that was Lock, and that I was going to have a hard time making it to the restroom that day.
What else can be said of my experience but another day, another dollar. Yes another day, another series of verbal abuses and a garbage lesson plan that left me as prey to the children’s anger. This was the slowest day of work yet, because I would look at my phone basically every two minutes, dwelling on when the end of the day would come at 320.
The first period was enough to put me in a shitty mood for three weeks. For starters when ever I knew my bathroom access would be limited, my mind dwelled on nothing more than my break schedule, a distracting thing to have on your mind when you need to focus on teaching kids and keeping them from dying. I only had one complete break for the whole day, and that was at lunch for just an hour.
Not only that but my lesson plan was pure amateur hour. My Dear Reader if you are a teacher its one thing to leave a lesson plan for your sub where they are required to actually teach, I am always prepared to do that when I am subbing for any arts or humanity class. Yet this lesson plan was written as if the teacher expected me to run things exactly, and I mean exactly, as if it were just another day for her. It was like she expected the students to behave exactly the same as if she was not hear. Let me tell you something, no student is the same without the teacher their, not even the best of students. So if you are a teacher and you leave a lesson plan for your sub that doesn’t acknowledge the fact your students will behave with the same report as with you, then you are either naive or stupid.
I am assumed the best I could of this teacher and guessed that she was just a new teacher, not fully aware of the ramifications of teaching in a prison pipeline Red Dot school or how to work with your subs. I am not complaining, I was not upset that I would not get away with just showing a video or giving them a handout, what upsets me is that the lesson plan was written as if these kids would just listen to me with no question, like they’d automatically see me as an equivalent to their teacher. If I had been to this school enough times to have built a relationship with the students that might have been possible, but to just walk in and expect a class to respect and listen to you on the first day is unfair to both the sub and the students. Students need something they can do on their own if there is going to be a sub for the day, and the sub should be in a position to help the student when needed. If the sub is required to run the class exactly as the teacher would, when you consider the fact I have never met these teachers nor seen them teach, you see it is an inherent impossibility to run the class exactly as they would.
Yet I did everything in my power to follow her lesson plan. I tried to read with the students as a class like she asked, none of whom even had their books except for three out of the eight who showed up, which was out of a class of 35. Sure, plenty of students trickled in late here and there throughout the whole period, but by the 20th minute in I saw the lesson plan was hopeless, only 3 students were reading along, no one was writing anything down, I had no idea how to help them. I gave them instructions, they just stared at me like I was an alien.
It seemed to me all that Red Dot and Sub Pool cared about was that they had a warm body watching the students, but I did not think these students appreciated being watched by someone like me, something I cant blame them for. So I tossed the lesson aside and I just skipped to the handouts and gave them the class period to “work”, using the rest of the time to watch the hours click away on my cell phone and make sure no one kills each other.
The first class started with me trying my best to run this like a normal day, to skip over and avoid anger. I started the day with my usual opening monologue, “Hello everyone, ” I said pointing to my name on the board, “My name is mr. Boxer”
“Well obviously,” some skinny Mexican punk said in the front row.
“Really dude?” was my immediate response, gritting my teeth to keep my self from yelling again. Then I carried on with the instructions, before being heckled and ignored by practically the whole group of students that even bothered to show up. Thats the part that I always forget, while these students had attitude, they showed up. They might not have showed up to learn, but they did show up, meaning they must care to some degree.
Yet still I was not even done with my first sentence, and I got attitude. Top it off with the fact I was already starting to need the bathroom, I was not put into a pleasant mood.
He was asked to leave the classroom within five minutes, as sad as it is to admit sometimes I needed to sacrifice a lamb in front of the class to let the rest of them know I was in charge. I sent him out assuming the office would keep him the rest of the period. How foolish of me to think a Red Dot administrator would actually discipline one of their students.
Not ten minutes later, he came back to the class room, escorted by a security guard who looked like Eminem with a double digit IQ and piercing blue aryan eyes. Not the kind of pretty blues you want to dive into, the ones that scream “date rape” from across the bar. Add that mixed in with the Buzz haircut and all he was missing was is off brand silver chain to complete his look.
“This student has something to say,” he said with crossed arms and the tone of a scolding football coach from a 50s movie cliche. The man was legitimately acting as if the boy was going to do something I had never seen before, as if i was about to be put in awe by the fact this boy is being forced to give an apology he doesn’t mean.
I knew what was happening and the fact the security guard came in with such a self righteous tone kind of insulted me for some reason. I do not know why exactly but I do not like it when people who have clearly never been teachers expect me to react a certain way. I knew the boy was just scolded briefly then sent back to me. However, later I learned that what happens when students get sent to the office at Red Dot schools is they are asked to call home to tell their parents they had been sent out of class as punishment, and then they are sent back to class. So how knows, I might have gotten all these kids a savage beating for something as trivial as talking back.
Once again, I digress.
Sure enough, right in front of the guard, out came his forced apology which always put me in a worse mood because I hate the fake pleasantries we have to endure in our society. The forced apologies we give that we do not mean or the tedious small talk.
“I’m sorry you felt I disrespected you sir.” He said with very little enthusiasm as he was leaning against the wall by the door. I could tell that he knew he had been defeated, but the tone of his answer had the air of “Yeah, so what else is new. Fuck it.” I think these kids have gotten used to defeatism. Also I have to compliment the boys intelligence. He did not say “Im sorry I disrespected you.” He said that he was sorry that I felt disrespected. It wasn’t his actions he was sorry for, but my reactions to his actions. He got away with not really apologizing but he still fulfilled his social obligation demanded of him to issue an apology to me. Clever kid, I must admit.
Yet this is all in hindsight. At the moment I just I followed my professional obligation and asked, “Are you going to cause me any more problems?” as I was professionally obligated to do, especially in front of another professional like the security guard.
To which the boy humbly said “No.” So I let him back into class because even if he was not actually sorry, which I’m sure he wasn’t, he fulfilled his end of the social contract successfully, he had learned his life lesson for the day.
Again, you can’t say substitutes do not teach.
He was being honest, he did not cause me any problems the rest of the day, but I cant help wonder what happened to him when he got sent home. Then I began to wonder what happened to all the other kids when they had gotten home after I sent them to the office to call their parents. There is no doubt in my mind that my insensitivity and quick temper lead to seat least one student getting a beating they should not have.
The rest of the period I had to ask students to stop swearing, stay in their seats, put their phones away, or all three at once.
I had too much coffee that morning, leaving me jittery and ever ready to burst from the bladder and kidneys. My allotted bathroom time besides my lunch break was the 5 minute passing period, but as soon as the first class ended the second one started coming in immediately, surprisingly it was an almost full class of 16 out of 28 total, which would normally be a good thing, and in many respects I suppose it was. 16 out of 28 was a good number, but it also meant more students I had to watch.
I was already in a bad mood, and when I tried to start the class with my monologue, I was literally ignored, students sat on desks with their backs to me as if this was free time. I had never seen such disrespect nor been so disrespected. I might be projecting but I did not feel anyone cared about there education that day. At the time this made me feel insulted and upset, now I just look back on it and feel sad.
My soured mood and full bladder caused me much tension and I resorted to yelling just to get the classes attention, which left me flustered and subject to 3 black girls heckling, I can not remember what they said exactly, but it was enough to get me to kick them out in front of the whole class. They had showed up for class though, they at least wanted to learn something i suppose, but your in the line of fire girls, and if you had kept your mouths shut you would not be my sacrificial lamb for the period.
“Get out!” I responded to their heckles with a screeching thunder that I realized would never be taken seriously once it came out. I had done everything I knew that usually worked and I was still not getting the class to quiet down, and it was apparent that none of them were leaving on their own.
All I got were more heckles, “You salty sir? I remember one girl with a large afro pony tail said.
“He’s so salty,” I remember two of the other’s saying while they continued to laugh and heckle.
“Oh no, Im not mad, nothing but pure joy here!” I said with a sinister smile trying to veil my rage, trying to get back in the reins and run the class. Finally after my beacons security arrived, of course it was once again it was Eminem with the bad hair cut and nazi eyes. “Whats up?”
“These three I want them out!” I declared proud to finally have my calvary here.
“He’s so salty,” one of then said again.
“Nope, nothing but pure joy here!” I said to them with my arms crossed, satisfied that I had back up. “Get them out please.” I said it like a warden and felt proud and in charge again. This is what Red Dot schools did to me folks, this is what I became.
I was still standing with my arms crossed when I heard the guard say, “Come here.” I thought he said to the students, and I was pleased I would soon have control of the situation. That was until he tapped me on the soldier, he was talking to me, “Come on I want to talk to you out side.”
To which I sighed, incredibly annoyed but helpless to the situation, I needed his help, so I followed him out. I knew what kind of self righteous bullshit was about to happen, but I bit my lip, and stayed professional. We left the classroom door open to be sure the students do not resort to all out war with us leaving the classroom. suddenly this man, the man whose job was to make my classroom more secure and help me teach, was going to tell me how to do my job.
“They really do not react well to any hostility. These kids lead hard lives.”
A point I now appreciate and I do my best to understand, at least as much as a white man can understand I should say. He is not wrong in that sense. I do not fault the security guard for trying to make this point to me. What he is wrong for is pulling me out in front of an already chaotic class to tell me something that I already know and that will in no way help me get class under control. I did not call him to be told how to teach, I called him to get my class under control. Because he walked me out of the classroom to scold me like I was just one of the students, instead of a “guest teacher” as they sometimes called me, I had no hope of getting any of those kids to take me seriously for the rest of day. They saw me get scolded by security just like they do every day. He basically castrated me in front of the whole class.
I replied as calmly as I could, since I knew that to a degree he was right, though I was still agitated I could not get the class under control and never would now. “I hear what your saying, and I totally agree,” and I honestly did. “But I need to teach the whole class and I cant teach the whole class with these three in there right now disrupting everything and I need you to get them out of there so that I can teach the rest of the class.”
“Tell me how to do job and I will tell you how to do yours,” I thought, “score one asshole.”
“Okay,” he searched for a retort but when he couldn’t think of one he just repeated, “okay.” He seemingly knew that it was time to actually do what he was there at the school to do, keep the peace. So he came into class to get the girls, and I returned to my monologue of daily instructions to which most people were now listening, but I knew how I looked in these kids eyes at that point. The security guard had in fact cut off all evidence of my authority, the bull was now a castrated steer. Why would they respect me if I can be scolded by security just like the rest of them? Who was I to teach them? If I’m just as pissed off at the world as they are, who am I to say, “Let me help you?” I knew thats how they felt, its how I felt to, and their treatment of me and the lesson plan showed it.
That was when I completely gave up. I knew this was going to be the rest of my day no matter what I did.
The girls that were taken out did seem to be the triggers that were setting off the class, the rest of class was no more difficult than the other, dragging along as I told students to put phones away and answer the questions on the board.
There is something from this class period that hurt more than the insults or the chaos. There was one particular question the students had to answer for their assignment and one particular student’s answer I would now like to discuss. The question on the board read as such, “The main characters in the book have to endure incredible hardships on their journey as refugees of civil war. Is there anything in their stories that you can relate to? What hardships do you have to endure and what journey do you think you are on?”
Only a few students actually bothered to do it. The following is one of the papers that was turned in at the end of the day, I would like to stress that this was written by a 17 year old black girl in a sophomore level English class.
“I can relat to the characters’ hardships bcus where we live is full of gangs. Like the armys in the book fiting they have guns and hurt people & so do the gangs and police. Idk what kind of journey Im on but I want to live in a world where there is no more gangs or guns or violence. I do not like bein afraid of police. Im tired of peple I no gettin hurt or dieing.”
These words, her struggling handwriting, the subject matter, everything about this answer was heartbreaking to me. The poor kid must have had a learning disability, it took her almost the full class period just to write this one answer down, and as you can see it was just filled with errors. I do not know about you dear reader, but this note was enough to shatter my heart and break my will, and still does every time I think about it. I wasn’t just ready to give up on the kids anymore, I was ready to give up on living.
To summarize everything so far, I had gone into a rage, then got castrated in front of my whole class which would then end with me reading that answer, all before noon and all while squeezing my bladder tight shut. I started to think the bars on the windows were to keep the teachers from jumping out to their deaths. Were I not locked in the room, and due for a yoga class at the end of the day, I would have crossed over the ledge faster than a 1929 stockbroker.
At last, the bell rang, the students stampeded out, and it was my lunch break. I have be honest, I made a point a point of peeing three times in that hour. I savored every minute of silence of being alone in my classroom and in the lavatory, it was the only peace I had gotten all day. I ate my leftovers in sweet, still, silent peace. That was until 3 students were let in by a teacher slash “counselor” who needed to to borrow my room to “talk with these kids.” She said smiling to me but carrying a stern tone so the kids would know she meant business.
I smiled professionally, gathering my things to eat in the teachers lounge, and said , “Of course.” Who am I to say no, I’m “just a sub” after all. I moved my personal feast to the teachers lounge, where I knew I would have to endure tedious social niceties with the other teachers, “be nice to the stranger on campus, make him feel welcome. Maybe we can con him onto subbing for us again.” HA! Not on your life sport.
I do not like to eat in the teachers lounge. I am not trying to network at these schools, Yet sometimes I am forced to. When we are placed into social situations we are forced to talk about ourselves in ways that make me want to vomit.
“What sub company are you with?” Oh fuck off, you do not care and we both know it.
“Man, the traffic this morning,” No shit Sherlock we live in LA, how about all the crumbling dilapidated buildings covered in barred windows we passed in that traffic? Not going to talk about that are you…”
“Do you normally sub for English?” No actually normally I fuck your wives and daughters while wiping my ass with the french British and American flags.
Do we ever talk about Platonic or literary theory for casual small talk? Do we talk about the educational activism of Neil Tyson or the legacy of Carl Sagan? No, “What shows are you watching?” Nothing you have heard of nor care about, I assure you. I have said it before, I hate fake pleasantries. We are on a blue rock floating in space around a star! I do not give a shit about the traffic we all have to put up with. Yet here I was enduring all the veiled break room office water cooler talk you have to have at any other job, all of it disguising a need for true connection.
My room for the day was eventually freed up with enough time for me to enjoy five minutes of solitude before the last lunch bell rang. This all soured my already damp mood. It seemed like this school would give me nothing. Not a decent piss break, not a peaceful lunch break, and not a student who didn’t want to murder me or at least wrestle one of their classmates.
Ah, but this would be the third and final block class of the day though, which gave me immense relief. That was something I could take solace in, though the classes were long, they were few. After this hour and half, I would be home free, and I could go through all the paper work to assure I never teach at Lock or any Red Dot school ever again.
This class was not as loud as the others, in fact it was only a class of 16 total and 8 had showed up. The class its self was easy, were it not for this one girl. By their behavior I knew most of the class would not do their work, but at this point I was happy just as long as no one was cussing at me or heckling me, which no one in this class did. This was the one class were I did not have to raise my voice to get class started, but I would need it to keep the peace, all thanks to this one girl.
To be honest I do not know why I did not send her out, I think if I recall correctly I was just too tired, to weary, despite my caffeine and carb boast at lunch, I was just done, I had thrown in the towel. As long as I could keep her from killing anyone as far as I was concerned I had done my job.
What was the girl doing you may ask? Well, let me begin with a description of the girl. To start with, she was built like a line backer, now before I am attacked by the PC police I assure you I am not saying nor do I believe their is any certain way a woman’s body or any body should “look.” I am stating a simple fact of my observation, this girl was my height, but had a build that could take me out in one tackle. Let’s take this time to admit that the sexist rules in American sports need to end. This girl belongs on the Philadelphia Eagles, not in a shitty high school in Watts. She was Mexican, her hair pulled up into a frumpy idgaf bun. Her uniform was of the grey half of the blue or grey choices the students had, and her pants were black jeans like all the others wore. The jeans made her look like she had a muffin top, which she actually didn’t, the girl simply had bulk. This is another argument to make against uniforms, there is no way for them to compliment everyone’s body type.
She also seemed to have the testosterone of a high school foot ball star as well. Every five seconds it seemed I would have to literally stand in between her and one of the boys she hung out with all class, keeping her from taking swings at him as she chuckled to her self. I could not tell in all honesty if these were friends joking around, or if she had a sort of joker side to her that caused her to laugh as she tried to beat asses.
Every time I stood in between them, “He’s talking shit mister.” She would holler, but she’d do it smiling.
“Mister but he’s talking shit!”
“Tell him to stop taking shit then,” The girl would not let me sit down in all honesty. They were basically doing this dance around the whole almost empty classroom. They’d stand and start chasing each other around, I’d get between them, “Mister, he is talking shit,” I’d get them to sit back down then a soon as I was about to take a seat, they would be back at it.
“Mister, he’s talking shit!” She still said it with her confusing smile.
“Okay, okay,” I would assure her. “I hear you just calm down.” She never did, but she never stopped smiling or laughing either. Clearly she enjoys standing her ground, I stand by my earlier statement that the girl belongs in the NFL, or maybe UFC, but not watts.
They started going at it again, so I leapt onto my feet for what must have been the 15th time, and sure enough DING the bell rings, 320pm, my night mare was over. I shepherded the kids out of the room, scribbled my note for the teacher, and immediately after them I followed suit. Once again any organization that had graced the classroom at the start of the day was long gone in the chaos that would be the necessary clean up. Desks were sprawled facing all corners and angels of the room, one was even flipped over upside down from when the girl “playfully” picked it up and brandished it over her head as her weapon. Like I said the girl belongs in sports not watts.
Yet none of that mattered at this point. The bell had rang so my working day was done. The minute the bell rang I was always officially off the clock. I maneuvered my way through the crowds of students and security and the like. My sunglasses on, not making eye contact with a soul, I power walked to my vehicle with my chest out to show I would not be defeated, and then while slamming my car door I peeled out of there to go home and get higher than I have ever gotten since I had been in high school.
The next day I contacted my employer, and was assured I would never be sent to any Lock school again. To this day I have not set foot on that campus again, however this was not my last tango with Red dot schools.
Ye are BANISHED, again
Let’s move on to a lighter topic. Let’s talk about the second school that I was kicked the fuck out of and banned for life. We’ll call it New California. It was a middle and high school that was actually just down the street from multiple TV network offices and studios in the Northern part of LA. It was one of those Charters that might as well be a private rich kid school because of the neighborhood it is in, except you and I are the ones paying for it. Which I would have no problem with if all students were getting the treatment these ones were getting. I just find it annoying that these kids get fields and art classes while so many of the other schools get nothing but cracked concrete and classrooms where the windows resemble cages.
Yet they had gourmet free coffee in the teachers lounge, to which I took noticeable advantage of, which caught me the stink eye of quite a few employees who seemed to noticed, but passive aggressively said nothing and just let me take advantage. At the time I thought it was another easy day of work sheets and “Yes you may use the restroom.” This is when I learned another truth about being professional, never get too comfortable, unless you’re the one actually in charge.
Looking back on it I see I did myself no favors by being so casual. I arrived to the school 20 minutes late, which to be honest was not my fault, my employer called me for this job at 820 when the school was 20 miles away from me and the first class was at 9. Now if you do not live in LA, that is a perfectly reasonable time frame to drive 20 miles on the freeway to and from work. Those of you who live in LA, or have even breathed in LA for five minutes outside, you understand perfectly that I would not have a snow ball’s chance in hell in getting there on time, especially when the only freeway nearby the job was the 405.
I should also mention that I was originally not planning on going to work that day, because if I am being honest, I was hungover as shit hence the coffee bumming. My cousin and a friend of hers split a whole bottle of tequila and a case of craft brews between the 3 of us, and that was just in the evening after we walked around Hermosa beach with two other friends with a joint and forties that we had poured into big gulps to trick the cops. I brushed my teeth and put on deodorant before I left for work, but looking back I realize there was no way I didn’t smell like beer that day.
So off I went. When it became apparent all lanes on the 405 would not move faster than 10 mph that morning, like every morning, I copped out for surface streets which were also a choke hold of slow Kias and Lexus that seem to have their turn signals broken. However I made it only 20 minutes late for the first class and only with a slightly jacked heart rate. I was as apologetic as I could be to the lady at the office as I signed in, who in turn was incredibly forgiving of the matter, at least seemingly. “Its okay,” she said smiling, “it happens with all our subs,”
A sigh of relief, and a cup of that amazing free coffee and I was ready to take over the class from the Vice Principle who shook my hand and greeted me with all Courteous professionalism I had come to expect at this job. She was a tall thin asian woman, dressed like she was about to give a speech at a DNC fundraiser. Once again I apologized and we exchanged professional pleasantries. I wondered while she was talking if she could smell beer or pot on me, but I listen to her instructions. It was all stuff I heard before and had come to expect at the job.
What I wasn’t expecting were classes of 40 kids every period of the day except for 4th, which was to be my prep, which means break for me. The whole day was seven periods, 50 minutes each, a 45 minute lunch and one whole class period for a mid day break. So to summarize, two breaks each more than a half hour, plenty of time to pee and breath in the sweet silence that comes due after hearing the conversations of 38-40 7th graders.
My classroom itself was one of the most modern I had ever scene. Though the carpet was one of those dotted standard dark purple and green patterns you would expect to see in a hotel waiting room or school library circa 2000, the white board was brand new and split screen with a smart board. Both were complemented by a projector hanging from the ceiling and another smart board on the back wall of the room. The desks were long with dividers for each students metal cubbies underneath and were organized into four simple rows, like a dining hall where everyone faced the same way like The Last Supper. The chairs were plastic as one might expect in a school but they were all brand new, the plastic and the metal of the legs all still unscuffed and shining, glistening even. The walls were decorated with nothing but student projects all clearly in order of the season and standards being studied. On the shelfs and cabinets were places for them to turn in there work, color coded by period, just like you might expect.
Each class was huge, the largest classes I ever dealt when I taught with Sub Pool but all of them were relatively well behaved students. The only thing I had to do was ask students to get back to work, and they were allowed to listen to music at this school, so I did not need to ask anyone to put phones away here. I thought it was the easiest and funnest day at work yet. Each period I gave my standard monologue while pointing to what I wrote on the board, “Hello, My name is Mr Boxer, I am your sub for the day, you have a pretty easy day.” I always opened with that even if it was not going to be that easy, it just put the class at ease, then I followed with “Now, here is your assignment…” I would then give them a piece by piece rundown of what they have to finish and what there homework will be, if any. Then off they would go to do the work and talk amongst themselves while I sat in my chair trying to nurse the throbbing veins in my skull with a temple massage. Occasionally students would look at me funny, but I would just look away and go back to trying not to squirm in my chair from the nausea and pain in my guts and sore limbs. That was my whole day and though painful all the same I thought it was rather peaceful. The only issue I had were the decisions I made the night before, not the students I had today.
Then, after what I thought was a long and uneventful day, 10 minutes before the last bell, the phone rang, it was the lady from the front office.
“Mr Boxer?” she asked. No you idiot Im the 7th grader with the voice of book on tape narrator, I thought.
“Yes,” was what I actually said, of course.
“We need you to move your car,” from the place THEY told me to park it I might add, ” because we are about to open the fence to let parents in to pick up there kids, and if you could actually let your kids out early so you can move it that would be great.”
“Are you kidding me? Sweet Jesus what a school.” I thought. Free coffee, well behaved classes, legitimate bathroom access, and I’m getting to leave 10 mins early, giving me that extra invaluable time to beat the ever blood pressure curdling traffic. They never even once seemed pissed that I was late. So I let the kids out, who were also thrilled to get out early. I left the school in a fantastic mood. Which helped my weekend start on a great foot.
It was the next Monday that I realized something was wrong, I got home from a party one morning when I saw a letter from work in my mail. They have yet to adapt to the electronic banking world so i’d still get paper checks in the mail. But this envelope was different, it was clearly not a payroll check because the address and return address was hand written. It was from the director and owner of Sub Pool, this was big, I already knew.
Immediately I opened the letter in a furious hungover panic, it read as such;
Discplinary Notice & Customer Check Up
After our standard post job check in with client schools New California, we must report dissatisfaction with our substitutes job performance for their previous assignment with this client.
notice of incident:
After arriving late, Multiple students through out the day came to the office to report the substitute was acting weird or behaving strangely.
Does the school want the substitute to return?No.
Disciplinary Action To Be Taken:
The substitute will be excluded from teaching at New California Charter School.
All right their in plain English. Another school that just didn’t want a guy like me around. I cannot tell you how enraged and insulted I was at first, yet the more I look back on it the more I think the kids were probably right to report me. I remember being hurt because I had enjoyed working there, mostly because I thought it was a fairly easy day which I had truly needed since I was so damn hungover, then I realized I was so hungover that I do not even really remember much from that day that I have not already mentioned, what I was doing to make students weirded out I do not know, but if my usual behavior when I am hungover is any indication to me of how I was behaving in the classroom, chances are I was not at my best.
I do remember feeling nauseous, sore, and groggy all day, like I had done an intense full body work out the day before with a belly full of tequila. The only thing my stomach would accept that day was water and coffee. I do also remember leaning on the white board to be able to stand up straight whenever I needed to give the class the instructions for the day because, again because my body was so sore. I thought I was covering it up pretty well to be honest. Needless to mention I was as you can imagine by now, stoned like a James Franco character using a Tommy Chong vape. Cannabis is the greatest hangover cure next to greasy food and coffee. If you have all three and a jug of ice water you’ll be back to normal by noon, fun fact.
However what still kicks me about the hole situation even to this day is the fact that one I was blamed for being late when it was the school who called my employer giving me only so much time to endure the war of LA morning traffic. Two, I realize now that the reason they let me out early, was because they wanted me to leave! I mean talk about the most unprofessional backhanded shit. I might have hated how I was spurned out of that Red Dot school without even a chance to plead my case. But here I am in what is apparently Kafka’s Trial. Some faceless administrators were talking about my fate at their schools with out my knowledge, and they never had the audacity to say “Get out” to my face! No, instead they further the veil, and give me a reward that is actually disguising my punishment. I was not allowed to leave early, I was banished before the day was even over. I may have been upset about that hovel at Red dot that gave me the boot, but at least that administrator there had the professional instinct to look me in the eye when she asked me to leave and never come back. The school has every right to be very discriminating in who they let teach there, especially if it means keeping an addict like me out, but they have no right to behave without professional curtsy. Let me stress the point further and add that none of you do. I may be a socio path who gets high before teaching your kids, but I am not above looking people in the eye when I have to fire them, which I have had to do when I worked management at other jobs.
So let it be known my dear reader, that yours truly, was banished from New California, but only after he was lulled into the false sense of security of loving it. Yet I must concede, my behavior and aroma was probably enough to traumatize those kids for years to come. So as the brits would say, fair cop.
Emos & test score, you get what you pay for america!
And now for something completely different…
I have been bringing up EMOs in previous chapters and I will mention them again in others, but I would be doing our shared narrative a disservice if we went any further without at least some kind of explanation of what they actually are. If you want to understand how charter schools catalyze the privatization of education just remember the words Educational Management Organizations. aka EMOs. Only a handful of states allow them to operate at the moment, and California is one of them.
EMOS are private contractors that can be hired by charter schools to run the school. The EMO takes on the responsibility of hiring staff and other matters that would normally be the job of a public schools administrators, although unlike Charter schools which qualify as public institutions EMOS are companies that have share holders. EMOs are hired usually when a charter wants to open a network of schools. If one group decides to open multiple charters the EMO can operate them all uniformly, much like a chain of McDonalds. EMO operated charters are basically franchises that are part of a conglomerate. This conglomerate does business with meal companies, land lords, and etc. That’s what EMO Charters are the McDonalds of education, which looks good and even sounds kind of good from time to time, but in the end its always painful shit.
Other charters operate independently and would be legally barred from making any profit, but while the schools can’t make profits EMOs are allowed to. Though regulations are minimal regarding how charters spend their money leaving them all frequently exposed to corruption. Charter schools are required to be non profit entities as they are supposedly public schools, as opposed to just being schools that happen to receive public funding which is what the actually are. However EMOS are legally allowed to be for profit entities who can put their shareholders ahead of the students they are supposed to provide for. There is nothing stopping them from collecting a profit from the way they operate charter schools as long as they don’t violate their charter with the district. There is also little stopping someone from opening there own charter and giving the contract to their own EMO, allowing one to basically monopolize education. Plus if your wife or husband owns the meal company your schools buy from, well they say keep the business in the family don’t they?
My dear reader, this is the reality of capitalism, its in the essence of the word its self. Capitalism, capital comes first. Its time for change, socialism, social, that means people, people come first, not the capital. It is a reality we do not seem to want to accept. Corporations are not on our side. So if you think any corporation is going to put your children’s future ahead of their own profits, you have learned nothing from the history of this country’s not so complicated relationship with business.
There is no way to be nice or make excuses for this any more, corporations do not have your back, because corporations are entities whose soul goal is profit, a corporation has no empathy. You know why, BECAUSE THEY ARE NOT PEOPLE! When some of these EMO charters are forced to close midyear because of their deplorable business plans or administrators corrupt spendings, some children are left without a school and potentially the shareholders and the EMO could still get away with making a profit. It’s like the 2008 housing crisis on crack, your kid could be left with out a school mid year because of someone’s lack of ethics, and that person gets a bonus for it. Taking advantage of the ignorant and the poor has very high yield these days.
Education is not a business nor can you run it like a business, because this is what you get folks. This is the byproduct of the culture of capital. You get education talked about like its a goddamn commodity and the people doing it all talk about schools to us like they are fast food restaurants. Monetize everything, that’s the motto for the Millennium. Business business business, a child losing a school is not the same as a disgruntled customer complaining about a big mac, one of those two things actually matters yet to them it seems our children are just as much a reasonable means of profit as the fatass that still eats at McDonalds.
An especially important difference between how EMOs and other charters specifically function is that all charter schools have what are called “Mission Statements” in their charters with the district. Those are a sort of abstract general school philosophy. It typically talks about having a goal for what kind of students they want graduating from their school, it is basically a motto that the school will cater to in everything they do, from lesson plans to the school’s interior decorations, ie murals and quotes on the walls and such. The key difference between public education and privatized education is this mission statement. This means that charter schools are “mission oriented” where as EMOS are purely businesses, and since they are businesses they operate on a business plan not a mission statement. Therefore they are only market and profit oriented, and so they operate by means of that specific business plan rather than educational priority of the children.
They often function in ways to operate and promote a specific educational pedagogy* within their network of schools. (look it up damnit!) They do this less for the sake of educational philosophical dialogue in my opinion and more for economic efficiency, its like they view your children as output and its easier to output everything as a singular product than as individual products. This is one reason they tend to prefer uniforms as well, and it is also another potential means of profit if you play your cards right such as if you owned an EMO for a charter your spouse started and both of you had shares in the company making the uniforms. If you have a stake in the meal company that make the school lunches to you can essentially monopolize one whole population of kids education. The more we allow charters and EMOS to operate the way we do, we are basically giving the business minded people and the capitalists of this country, who are no longer the majority I might add, a chance to make a profit off two things, your taxes and your kids. Meanwhile, we not only ignore we forsake our teachers and schools.
I should also probably mention that if EMOs are free to hire and fire teachers at will as they already are they are able to keep the wages low allowing the profits to be even higher.
If we are going to live in a world with charter schools we cannot live in a world with EMOs. We already live in world where private companies sell us these standardized tests, we do not need to live an a world where a school is looked at like a fast food joint and our kids should not be treated like commodities of capital. The very place where you might be sending your children to learn could be lining the pockets of some stranger working the system into their bank account and you might be thinking the whole time “my baby is going to college.”
Call it hopeless romanticism or a poor business sense if you must, but gut instinct should tell anyone that education should be an institution of inspiration, imagination, and truth. Listen, I may be on drugs but when it comes to school I do have some integrity damn it. I care about objective truth, but I also know what I have seen, what I have experienced. The only truth in business is profit, the only truth in capitalism is commodification. First they came for our health care, then our water and energy, now they are commodifying the one thing never thought possible, education. They did it though, they found a way to make a buck off us for going to school.
Strike 3 after a perfect game? Fuck the empire!
You heard about strike one and two, now it is time to hear about strike three. This was the third school that told me to never come back again.
Now, the other two schools where I was banned, though I am not happy about either incident nor either schools treatment of me, I acknowledge to the degrees I am at fault. Hell I’ve been reading my own work, I know I don’t come across as the guy with the best temperament, or judgement considering my personal habits. Yes, I didn’t need to swear in the classroom, and yes, I shouldn’t have shown up to a place full of children high, hungover, and smelling like stale Fosters and thinly veiled morning tequila breath. Yet I must state for the record that the third school, to put it bluntly, fucked me.
The school was OakWood Charter. Oakwood was previously one of my favorite places to work. When supplies were ample, their was free food and coffee for teachers and reasonable bathroom access with very well behaved students and a seemingly very liberal culture. Piercings, tattoos, punk band t shirts, and that was just the school receptionist. I was allowed to wear jeans on the job. No tacky stripped button up and dockers combo at that school for me, just Velvet Underground tees and Levis. I worked the school several times and developed a good connection with some of the students.
This school actually marked a huge pivot in my career for me, it was actually the students from Oakwood that made go from treating this job like a job and treating it like I was some kind of a real teacher. No longer was I just trying to make a decent living in my first post college job, I was actually concerned about the example I was setting for these kids. I was not so much concerned about them learning from me, but after what happened at New California I began to realize certain things we adults think nothing of, gestures or empty words, can be over thought by a kid for years. I began working at this school several times and in that time I made note of the possible things that could have made the kids feel weird at New California. I realized I do tend to squirm in the chairs when the THC wears off or when the alcohol from the late night before starts its nasty day after effects. Yet Oakwood and the jobs I took there helped me work through them, to the point the kids started to know me, some of them even beginning to call me a favorite sub.
So needless to say that was just one of the things that made the schools rejection all the more hurtful.
The school was simply one building with a fenced off concrete lot that was not even used as a parking lot. Despite any modernization or renovations the school had a very retro vibe to its building. Inside by the front office and next to the elevator on every floor was a metal slot for a mail tube that went down to a collection bin in front of the first floor elevators. A sign that clearly had not been removed since the seventies dictated when the collection times, if it was still in use, were for the building. The building itself must have been a 30s office building, the kind they would use in Sunset Boulevard or any of your old noires, that is before the school came in and put in tiles and lockers. It was like gentrification goes to high school, “Take our 1930s throw back, and give us a charter we can charge rent to, enjoy the kitchy mailboxes by the elevators kids!”
It was also always a struggle getting to the school on time. It was about 11 miles from my house to where the school was in Downtown LA. Not to mention the fact that parking was never ample and the school did not have its own lot. The search for parking at some schools can almost be as long as the drive to the school itself if the school in question does not guarantee a spot. Just one of the many ways the unregulated charters bless us teachers and substitutes. Guaranteed parking for a job in LA? How dare I even ask?!
Yet I had learned my lesson from New California. Professionalism was key now and this school was too kushy to give up. I was not about to risk losing this venture, so each time I was called to go I would make a point of being ready to leave immediately and I had a secret parking spot in an alley I discovered. Like always I would be as high as Jeff Lewbowski and prey to the murderous racetrack of Downtown LA traffic. I usually would arrive on time, occasionally I would cut it close by 5 minutes under or over every once in awhile but I always put in every effort to show up to work at this school on time. I had started to care just that much.
Another reason why the rejection hurt so much.
Expect the unexpected. I guess that is just what happened, the unexpected.
My last day at that school started like a common day at work, though I remember this day in particular because it was the last day for everyone before Christmas break, or Winter break as I think it should be called now. I arrived 20 minutes early this day thanks to my driving and parking sense of cunning that would make Snu Tzu proud. I walked and signed my name in as I do everyday at every school. Yet many schools are not above making their subs wait after they sign in, and today it was my turn to sit in the stranger danger chair of shame in the school waiting area, the place where your sick kids wait for the desk lady to return so they can call you and get out of school early.
I sat waiting for my instructions and attendance sheets, and I was made to wait because the ladies in the office decided it was the appropriate time right then and there to have their holiday gift exchange, rather impromptu as it seemed like to me. It seemed like I was invisible that day. They became so caught up in there bag openings and envelope rips and giving each other the overly sincere “thank you” you get from only your work or school besties, for these people it is both. It seemed like they had forgotten me in the corner. What could I do but just sit there, it wasn’t my place to interrupt their little mini holiday party, after all as so many have put it, I’m “just a sub.”
Eventually they noticed that one of these things in the office was not like the other. “Hey, that scruffy hipster in the jeans with the peace sign belt buckle, he’s not a Hillary Clinton fan club mid thirties to late fifties woman in professional casual feminine attire working in a school personifying gentrification, and where is his tattoo!?
On my wrist by the way, but that is besides the point, can I have my attendance sheets please and my room number for the day so I can get the fuck out of here?
They apologized, to which I smiled and laughed it off, it was the last day before vacation after all and what was there for me to be stressed about. The receptionist, a 30 something woman with sleeve tattoos, nose ring, and an Ellen Degeneres hair cut, gathered my instructions and smilingly sent me off to work for the day. An AP history class, block schedule with 3 separate hour and 5 minute long classes, and I would be finished at 2pm that day. A sweet gig, because AP classes are the most do nothing gigs of the substitute teaching job. The kids always have an ample amount of work to do and they always seem to want to do the work, probably because they know how much their parents are paying for the AP tests.
Put a pin in that and come back to it later, if John Oliver were to do a segment about the corruption of AP classes and tests, it would be more than entertaining, it would by peace prize worthy as was his charter school piece, and everything that has come out of his mouth about a certain anachronistic tv star turned politician who is sadly a good representative of the dark side of our culture. The Huey Long of our times ladies and gentlemen, and he came from reality tv.
But Huey never made it that close to the presidency.
I digress, as usual.
So we now cut to me in the classroom, doing basically nothing but sitting behind a desk after giving over privileged 17 year old kids handouts and telling them where to turn it in. I was also the man who held the verdict on whether they could go piss or not, which I always let them, schools that limited me from letting students out do not understand what subs actually have to put up with, so a little classroom freedom really helped to keep the peace. I decided to get some reading done, I was indulging in the 9/11 commission report at the time that I had found for one dollar. So my day was spent getting paid for telling kids “Yes you can go to the bathroom,” while debunking conspiracy theories that poked my curiosity, and collecting the kids paper work at the end of each class period.
I would occasionally stand and stretch, to be honest easy days actually tend to drag when the students are this age and in this high level of a class. The day moves slower when you do not have to go back and forth from teacher to disciplinarian, but they are much more peaceful. Though you are not doing as much when the kids are well behaved. Go figure. So on a day like this I would keep myself occupied with a book and I assure you I stayed diligent in the class by looking up and checking on my students after almost each and every paragraph. I would sit and read then stretch for bit, then move to the teachers stool by the projector and continue to read. When I was sitting there looking through my book, near the end of my day a woman who I recognized as one of the administrators who had been ignoring me earlier came in the with a clip board. She was a short thin and dark haired woman, professionally dressed in a beige top with a black coat and skirt. Her skin was a deep yet light brown that could be either Mexican or Armenian depending on your prejudice.
I was used to administrators or other random school heads like her filing in and out of my classrooms when I worked. This happens all the time on the job, usually they are there to observe something in the classroom or document something for maintenance or talk to a student. Yet this woman did something I never saw before. She just walked up next to where I was sitting and stood there with the clip board. When she first walked in I assumed it was for something like the wifi of to clear up matter with a student. So I simply nodded and smiled at her and looked over at the class. “The boss is here, look busy.” This usually satisfied the administrator to see and they would carry on with there business and I seemingly with mine, but I was a little nervous when she did not smile back, yet I thought little of and continued reading. I let her do her job since she was not interfering with mine. In other words when this would happen usually they would leave me to teach and I would leave them to administrate. However she just kept looking at me as she walked up. Then she stood right next to me, still staring. As you can imagine Dear Reader soon I felt her look stinging on the back of my neck so I had to make eye contact. I looked up from the commission report. Smiling at her I said, “How can I help you?”
“Oh no, see I’m the principle,” she said in what sounded like a mild eastern European accent, but she said it so fast and muttering that I could not tell precisely what she actually said, she then just wrote something on her clip board and looked at me as I looked back at the class.
I already knew she was the principle since I had seen her at the school before so I was confused why she had felt obligated to say that. But I decided to ignore it and I chalked it up to the stresses of being a principle on the last day before the school closed for 4 weeks.
“She might be watching you” I thought, “better do some teacher stuff to show her that you are doing your job.”
So I closed my book as I stood up and I told the students they had “15 minutes to turn in their work,” as I erased something random off the board. I followed a teacherly order to the class with a teacherly gesture, both would usually let an administrator know that on the surface I mean business. Then I turned and said to them with crossed arms, “Remember, I’m collecting your work whether it is finished or not.” I went to erase something else on the other white board that did not need to be there. She just kept looking at me during all of this, then after writing something else she just walked out of the room. I thought it was nothing but her making sure I was actually teaching since she said so little to me and the whole matter took less than two minutes. It seemed so insignificant but apparently it would be enough to ruin me at Oakwood forever.
I left at 2pm to start a beautiful Christmas break. The next day I visited home and enjoyed all the nostalgia that comes with a Christmas at home with the whole family. Two weeks of no students and amazing gifts from my parents. I had completely forgotten about Oakwood or any other school I was sent to by Sub Pool. Every insult, heckle, smart ass comment, and threat just disappeared along with the hot and mild temperatures of summer and fall. I enjoyed all the classic and cliches, a warm fire, a fresh tree, a bearded father with a vibrant red Christmas flannel. For the holidays I was not a sub, I was a happy free child again.
When I returned home, when I came back to reality, I found another letter with my mail.
The letter had the always ominous, hand written addresses that had came with my previous disciplinary letters. Just what I needed after a 9 hour drive into LA, a disciplinary notice just waiting from work. Merry Belated Christmas you sucker, this is just how much your parent company cares.
I opened the letter, still frothing from the rage and clenched at the shoulders from two hours of traffic on the 405 after a 4 hour drive on the I-5. The letter read as follows,
Disciplinary Notice & Customer Check Up
After our standard post job check in with client schools, Oakwood reported dissatisfaction with the substitutes performance.
notice of incident:
‘Multiple students came to me and said the sub was “behaving strangely,” When I went to the room to observe the sub rudely looked at me and said, “Can I help you?” The substitute does not represent the values and standards we expect from our teachers.’
Does the school want the substitute to return? No.
The substitute will be excluded from teaching at all Oakwood Charter Schools.
It was one thing when the kids had lied about what I said, but when an adult, not only that but a principle, lies about what I said? I smiled at her with all the same courtesy I showed every chump with a clipboard who walked into one of my classes pretending they were important. I got out of my chair and fulfilled my end of the professional contract and pretended I needed to be there to do anything for the kids except take attendance and tell them where to stack their papers. But no, that was not good enough for her it would seem.
Just like that, I was never allowed back at that school again. All the students who I had come to like, who I had come to enjoy seeing progress with each time I come to teach, just like that because of one disgruntled bureaucrat, I do not get to teach in a place I actually kind of wanted to teach at and students get robbed of a teacher who actually cared about them, all because I didn’t bow apparently to the all mighty principle and her clipboard magic.
Folks I hesitate to use the term lying bitch because of many reasons, I seek to abandon my anger and I acknowledge the sexist implications of the word and our whole rape minded culture. That being said, Fuck that fucking lying bitch fake pathetic excuse for an educator piece of shit. Fuck her to death with the pen and clip board she sealed my fate with.
I would also like to note that to this day I have no fucking clue what I could have done to make any student feel uncomfortable. Seriously, I sat in a desk and read for every period, occasionally getting up to stretch and see what they were working on. But apparently just doing my job was enough to get me kicked the hell out. With the the click of a pen and a quick scribble, and a slight twisting of my words, and I was made to look like an asshole by some nameless woman.
I immediately burned the letter, and stormed to the near by seven eleven to pick up as much beer as I could possibly carry. I finished them all and beat the shit out of my dresser until the wood began to chip and my bloody split knuckles were full of splinters.
Like I said, the rejection hurt, and the fact someone lied about me only made me angrier.
Where the hell do charters come from anyway?
My annoyance at Oakwood led me to go on a quest. After I punched and drank and toked the frustration out of my system, my curiosity about how charter’s functioned was peaked. I wanted to figure out how someone I did not know could have had so much control over me that I never even realized. In between my normal habits of consumption I went on google and wikipedia binges that lasted for hours. This is where I learned about the jargon, like “co location,” EMOs, and how charters get started.
The following is just a piece of what I have learned about what charters actually do and where they come from. I had seen what goes on in the classrooms, but what created those classrooms in the first place? Charters didn’t come out of nowhere, but it sure feels that way. I wanted to know who was the stork that kept dropping charters on us?
Something that one must understand about the charter school market is that it is so chaotic and variable from state to state that there is no legitimate evidence to either defend charters as a whole nor is there enough to refute them completely. Each state has its own set of regulations for its charters and every charter school themselves has different charters with different school districts. Plus within those districts their are their own set of rules or sometimes lack there of to handle charters. In some states like Ohio charters are running amok. In New Orleans kids are begging the heavens for help. In California, it is very hit and miss.
Every charter school or charter network also has their own mission statements and educational philosophies and priorities. Where one charter might be business oriented and ran by an EMO another could be formed and ran by local activists who emphasize the arts or community organization. For the sake of time I can not tell you everything since it varies so much state to state in the country, in the city it’s district to district, and in LA it’s from school to school.
But here are some general specifics that I learned about the entire charter system;
Charter schools were introduced in the United States by a Professor Buddy in the 1970s after he failed in his appeal to the Budweiser company as a new mascot. Wikipedia might have that last part wrong but let us not digress too much now. The idea was embraced by the head of the American Federation of Teachers in 1988. Yes, something that is helping to disorganize unions is supported by the biggest teacher’s union in the nation but again, a digression.
Charters can be founded by basically anyone in the state if they are approved by someone who is known as what is called an “authorizer.” An authorizer is basically anyone who fits the requirements by state laws to approve a charter in their home state. Every state has different set of laws about who can be an authorizer, much like how each has different laws for handling charters. In some states it is the local school boards who solely act as authorizers while in others it must be the state school board, and some have third party agencies where you apply.
Now there really isn’t anything I can say here that hasn’t already been said about the negatives of charters on Salon, John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight, and only god knows how many other progressive leftist news pages. All I can really do is talk about my experience and my perspective, and I can use my stake in the Bill of Rights to rant about it all until the cows come home.
EMOS and charters seem to be the result of anti intellectualism and a bizarre hatred for our teachers, and both institutions seem inherently exploitative of that bizarre twist in our culture. What I mean about that is they seem to perpetuate the idea that our children are more important humans than our teachers. A perpetuation of the “every child is special” horse shit. The are less about students and more about customers, and an age old pain in the ass about capitalism is that the customer is always right.
I do not know where to begin with how awful EMOs are as you have previously read. I want to also stress the point that charter schools need immense regulation immediately, especially in regards to the working conditions and pay of their teachers. I believe the only way to start this is by passing laws that forbid EMOS from operating at the federal level. Education is basically one of the last public services left that has not been privatized, but we are quickly getting there with the growth of charter schools, EMOs, and a blatant lack of regulations and seemingly inherent cultural disrespect of our teachers that seems to be inherently American.
The more we privatize education, the more we perpetuate that students are customers, and if customers are always right, labor is always wrong. Let me give you just one example of our weird national relationship with teachers. The original school mums of the old west were not allowed to be seen eating alone in public, such as ice cream parlors (specifically mentioned in some old west city’s guidelines for teachers) otherwise it would be assumed they were out soliciting men. “Well, theres that or she was hungry!?” I remember thinking when I heard about this anachronistic sexist cultural construct. A teacher was not allowed any fun and is constantly expected it seems to maintain this impossible level of “decency” that is actually inhuman. It seems we still hold them to it to this day. The teachers could not dress immodestly and were not allowed to indulge in any of the sins the rest of the towns would be, dances? no no. A night with the boy courting you? no no. Today a teacher can have a little too much fun in Vegas and thanks to viral video it could ruin their lives, it is not right.
Take that inherent anti teacher part of the culture, use it as incentive to get teachers and parents on your side of the rhetoric, then you can treat your labor however you want as long as the parents are on your side, because like the students they are just customers. Just like the old west where they over-regulate teachers out of the classroom we over-regulate them in the class room now, and we over-regulate everyone in the world now thanks to the fact that we are filming each other all the time. Big brother didn’t need to put cameras everywhere, we did it ourselves and we did it right in our own pockets.
Our actions have changed, but our hatred for the people who give us knowledge has not. It has now become, “You want a fair bathroom break? No, now get in there and teach.”
“You want a cost of living increase? Stop being greedy, and by the way here are some more kids to teach.”
“Pension? You greedy fuck, do not forget to call the parent of any child in your off time if there grades get low, remember you provide a service here, even if your pay is shit and all your new shirts are ruined from the pit stains under the sleeves.”
“Bargain for a better deal? If this were a real problem the union numbers would be hirer.”
The worst of it is what happens to new or inexperienced teachers, what happens is that newbies are getting fucked in the ass at EMO managed charters or dropped into the line of fire at the poorest schools with the kids in the most need, and where they have no context for the situation and now idea how to help. So they just return abuse with abuse and fall into a Catch22 of perpetuating a culture that keeps non whites from wanting to advance their educations, because they work with teachers made bitter by abuse they were never taught how to handle these situations. In other words, the can’t find people so they put in unsuspecting space cases like me, and then everyone suffers.
“You want out. Well tough shit, your options are looking more and more limited to charters and EMOs only, oh and did we mention that even if they are union, some charter schools can be exempt from a states collective bargaining laws?”
Just one of the many ways they “look out” for your kids. They make sure the teacher have little to no power, so that way it will be our fault if your spoiled brat who can’t take his eyes off his phone doesn’t get in the curve on some useless standardized test that’s making money off your tax dollars for charging schools for test materials and scoring services. You are so mad about your taxes feeding some poor family Doritos, but you say nothing about the thousands of dollars your money is going to companies pretending to teach your kids. Ive said it a million times in my lifetime and I will say it a million more, you are all idiots.
Education is not a business. If a school fails, closes, or lends itself to corruption and embezzlement and ends up getting closed, sometimes in the middle of the school year, then a child is left without a school. Kids are impressionable, what kind of memories and lessons are we teaching if we send them to schools that put the dollar ahead of anything else, or they show up for school one day and then it is just not there any more. What will they learn about the world then and what kind of people will the grow up to be, and what kind of world will we become?
Making anything into a for profit venture never benefits anyone but the few who are out for the profit, and constantly you schmucks are bought in by the pretty language used by both of our anachronistic political parties. These parties are handing our kids over to charter schools and you all seem to be okay with the idea. It is not only infuriating, it’s sickening. I have been forced to watch your children be brainwashed into pegs in a system out to exploit them. They are not being taught trades, or skills, they are being taught to be pawns, that its more important to fill out the paper work and make a dollar than it is to learn facts and philosophies and become a person around those facts and philosophies. Evidence and compassion, that is what education should be about. The modern pedagogy of “profits and competition make learning an improved environment” is a lie that you are being sold to perpetuate cultural constructs of racism, anti intellectualism, and class exploitation.
That is right, charter schools are also racist and promote segregation as they predominantly operate in low income areas, almost all of which are non white. The reason being these are the areas most desperate for educational resource. By the way I have not mentioned the fact that property taxes are what determine a neighborhood public schools funds. So public schools that are functioning in richer areas have access to more resources because the property taxes are higher there than in south central. So many of these intercity schools are forced to take advantage of Colocation and collect rent money from the charters. This makes up for some of the money the lose in the districts funding of the charter.
No matter where I go in life I cannot seem to escape the dominance of the dollar. When I went to college I did not choose my major to make money but to become the person I wanted to be. If the person you want to be is just someone who wants to make money, as its seems to be that s all our society wants people to be now, then we are doomed. The rivers will forever be toxic and the air always polluted, the plastics and fabrics and medicines that will sustain and save our planet will never be accessible to us. All because we will continue to have an ignorant and divided population, because you so called “loving parent” fucks gave your kids to the to EMOS and the politicians who put their own wallets ahead of the community.
The worst part is these fucks actually do think that their wallet IS the greater good, as if Neoclassical trickle down economics still works. “When one of us succeeds all of society succeeds ” is the philosophy. Please insert a rolling eyes emoji here and let me say, give me a fucking break. When will people learn money only flows one direction, up. It makes more sense to have money distributed on a wider scale so more of us have complete economic autonomy so we can then spend our money freely as we choose. That looks like an impossible lesson to learn especially if we let EMOs gain any more power or influence. After all if they can control what your kid learns, they should be able to churn out a well behaved work force for them later.
Folks i got news for you, all those kitchy movies and books about heartless cold futures with ignorant bizarre populaces divided by class labels or made up of sub group caste systems with endless screens and cameras watching them and endless chemical self medication, they aren’t science fiction anymore, nor are they ominous warnings, they are the world we live in. 1984 isn’t coming folks, it came and went and we have been there ever since. Brave New World was not a warning, it was a prediction. Here is the sign I want to see a crazy pan handler holding “the end of the world already happened, we’re just kidding ourselves.”
If we let charters take over our education system, it will be the final nail in the coffin of a society where money is now speech and a corporation is a person and it’s more important that we keep quiet and feed ourselves and families or pay off those crippling debts than say or do anything about it. After all they are paying me and I have debts to pay.
That is what is keeping the wheels moving and our mouths shut, we do not go out of our way to challenge the owners of our water, power, medicine, and education, because we all have those bills to pay, and we never seem to have enough to pay them.
Classroom Consciousness 5
The Following was written during a long workday where I watched a group of seniors, or almost adults as I like to call them, type book reports on Chromebooks. I normally would bring my iPad to work to stay occupied but on this day I forgot it, so I spent the whole day journaling. The following is a chaotic stream of what I witnessed, what I was feeling, and what I was thinking, moment by moment. This is what a mind looks like when living purely in the moment. It shows you the directions my mind would get when I was in the classroom and watching kids work.
Axis College Preparatory Collegiate Family High School
Son of a bitch, I forgot my iPad, no finishing the work today. No big deal I will just use the time to practice writing. Bizarre feelings, my usual time killer I forgot, now I must make myself look busy to keep students working. Subs teach by example. But I hate busywork. I must be productive. Will my book be finished soon? Will I at least complete my first full draft? I can’t work on it today now without my iPad, no point in wondering about that today.
Little by little, slow and steady, don’t overthink Max just do things right, follow the lesson plan and you can’t go wrong. Write things down in your little notebook, go back in and you can add the details later.
Students work on screens from all angles in the room and they distract themselves with other screens that they try to hide in their backpacks and pockets. Why does our culture revolve around screens? I’m glad I forgot my tablet today now that I finally get a look at them without a screen to be my security blanket, I lead by example, that is my job. The example I set today, I work. I work on my own to, let’s all work on our own today class. I am the one person in the class without a screen in front of him. I hope it teaches them that they don’t need all these screens staring at them all the time.
They stare at the screens, but the screens stare back now, we should be telling the kids that. I can’t wait until Edward Snowden becomes apart of the history we teach them.
Who says I’m just a sub, who says I don’t teach anything.
The notebook is almost full now and I will need a new one soon. So much time but so little money.
Money, C.R.E.A.M. Wu tang was more right than I ever realized when I was an angry teen bumping that lyric. I fucking hate it. Get the cash, rule the world, and then fall flat on your ass, it seems to be the pattern. Be honest America, would Hillary have made it this far if she had not been rich. Oxford educated, accomplished, and tough as a steel toed boot, but as exciting as a baked potato. That is probably sexist.
A baked potato is nothing without all those fun extras. 2016 is a shitty year. I miss 2015. 2016 is a shitty year. I miss 2015 and I miss Bernie, he knows the people and Hillary knows our rhetoric, that’s the American left in a nut shell. Say something but ignore everything else, pretend it’s all separate. Good rhetoric, pathetic policy. Intersectionality is for losers and nerds. Fuck off progressive purists, yeah who needs environmentalism and peace activism? How dare you care about what happens outside our borders! Yes we must beat men like Trump but we cant we stop killing brown people or children to keep Northrop or Lockheed in business. That would take the privilege away from the elite and corporations that already have it.
We are held hostage by dickless trolls they took it to a dangerous point, humiliate them good ladies, humiliate them.
One hour and half left, my energy is low, I’m writing this in red ink. I miss my childhood. I miss the childhood me.
Child me was more confident, there was no such thing as doubt in his mind. No words ever kept him down. I miss childhood me. I miss protected me. Safe me.
Well, teenage me got my wish in the end, no more safety, lost in chaos.
Hungry for rhetoric. Ungrateful and with no context for empathy. That is why white boys suck. Fuck white people. Fuck whitey. Yes I am white, Im not ashamed of that. I am not ashamed or apologetic for something I can’t control. But I hate the idea of anyone thinking Im one of, THOSE, white people. All white people are indirectly apart of the problem. Everyone is racist.
All of our culture, all of our successes, built on privilege, a privilege built on the backs of others. So many others. Like these kids parents.
Privilege, a very nasty word for the more pathetic. When I was growing up I thought what I had was everyones right, but it wasn’t, it wasn’t, my privilege, that is what it was. Sure I’ve worked hard, but I only worked with the options given to me, I never realized how my life is nothing but options until a few years ago.
Those poor kids, those damn uniforms. Fuck those uniforms, if I was one of these kids I would go nuts. Goddamnit America, stop getting our kids practiced to be your employees Reed Hastings. The money sits stagnant, it needs to move. Money shouldn’t sit in one place for too long, it needs to move around.
I judge no one or talk down to anyone about finances, knowing my record, who am I to judge?
Who the fuck in this porn soaked scientifically illiterate philosophically flat culture of ours? Judge anyone, shut the fuck up, you all wipe your asses, get off your high horses before someone shoots you off.
Axis Part Three
Let us return one more time in detail to our old friends at Axis my Dear Reader.
Something else that stands out the most about Axis schools is the vibe put out at every single one of their locations, now I suppose you can chalk that up to the hippyfied filtered perspective that is the marijuana fog blocking all I see and experience in this life, but that is what stands out the most to me, and it is the vibe that I think personifies charter schools perfectly. Uniforms give me a vibe that conformity and protection from reality is more important than individuality. Some Axis schools were run like military camps and others like San Francisco art experiments. Some show how charters can benefit from not having as many regulations, and others are so poorly run that John Oliver needs to do another expose. Then there is the fact that every school in the network has the same damn uniform.
Maybe I’m old fashioned, whatever that means anymore, but there is just something already bizarre about a chain of public schools. The concept just seems weird to me. A school should be local entity, whether private or public it should always speak to some degree about the people of the community, not to them. For one school to have multiple locations has always seemed so impersonal to me. I did not understand it as a child when I saw all those ITT and University of Phoenix ads on daytime TV and I do not understand it now that I have worked on the front lines of LAUSD charters. It is a vibe that is both of efficiency and impressionability. These schools give one the feeling this is less about teaching students, and rather about outputting graduates.
That is what capitalism does, once you commodify everything it all becomes a matter of the dollar, out put vs input and supply vs demand. Make sure what comes in is always more than what goes out, even if it becomes unsustainable, and always find a way to keep doing it. Having schools function within one network does simplify certain things I will admit, uniform dress codes, universal school rules and disciplinary measures all make things run seemingly smoothly, but people and communities are not uniform, one neighborhood might be more peaceful than another and if the school is not adaptive to that fact, as many Red Dot and Axis schools are not, then the school is clearly not designed to serve the student, but to be efficient for someone else when they grow up to work for Google, Netflix, or some other of our dot com masters.
Combine all that with the uniforms and I am completely unsettled, uncomfortable, and squeamish. Any place with school uniforms, the same unappealing school mascot shades of smock with emblems sewn into the breast like a Ralph Lauren polo horse, they just give off a vibe that these are not students, they are units. Units with test scores that need to be met and a graduation quota they are to be added to. They are the output from the schools thanks to incoming checks, units and means of their production-less production. That is what defines Axis schools, this vibe of uniform unity, a cost efficient output of graduates. That seems to be priority number one at charters, cost efficiency. Which is a fair point but the more we move to charters the more that idea becomes inherent in the educational dialogue and culture of our schools. It becomes about how can you teach my child math while pinching pennies? Can we use the cheap art supply? Don’t forget to buy the uniforms.
Again, call me old fashioned, but when I think of a school I say we should completely flip our cultural expectations and spare no expense when it comes to our children’s future. Granted, unregulated this leaves us prey to the “carpet baggers” of education who are out to make a quick buck off the government and already too often exploited people, but those already are a problem we need to address. If we continue to view education as something that needs to be scrutinized like a business with quotas instead of as places of development, change and learning, well, I’ll just be honest I do not like that idea of a culture. One where brand names not only dictate our food and clothes, but also our minds.
That is the vibe, the unsettling vibe, the one of efficiency over heart, of out put over insight, the sense of uniformity where there should be the innocent chaos of learning. The vibe that we are turning learning into another goddamn commodity. These networks of charters, with their abstract missions and spine tingling mantras and THX uniforms, they give me an old fashioned case of the jeepers creepers, the wet willies, the heebie jeebies.
The heebie jeebies
Speaking of the spine shakes and school uniforms, I can’t think of a better time than now to talk about one school that personifies the definition of conformist.
Lets now talk about another charter school, rather another chain of charters, that I have taught at frequently that are actually ran by an EMO. Let us call them INSPIRE schools so that I can continue to save money on lawyers and let me tell you about what stands out about INSPIRE schools.
INSPIRE operates a large network of k-12 schools and every time I taught for them it was for elementary level classes. The students I had have always been lovely and you do get the impression that Inspire has a decent educational philosophy when you learn about the rules for the students, “students should never say the words stupid or shut up, these are just as bad as curse words.” The school insisted we call them our “scholars” instead of students, everyones uniform was clean and neat. Seemingly they run a tight operation.
Yet I never want to set foot on another one of their schools for as long as I am a thinking breathing human being.
After my recent complaints of all those other so called schools, you may be wondering why I would feel so negatively about something so apparently peaceful. You would think that this would be an easy day for me. Well to be frank my Dear Reader strike one for this school was the fact that these schools made their students wear uniforms. I am abhorrently ANTI uniform, as I have previously indicated I am sure. So quite frankly I am as anti dress code as one can logically be. Dress codes are necessary to a reasonable point, you need to actually show up to school in real clothes and not a pair of fish net stockings with a jester hat, save that for burning man.
However too often than not school dress codes are inherently sexist in that they are written to shame young girls for their bodies, which in turn will guilt other girls into feeling they do not have the right kinds of bodies, and all children, boys and girls get robbed to a degree of their self expression. It’s a shallow concept but a real one of our times, you wear who you are, or at least you are supposedly given that freedom, unless the boys think your tits are too distracting or if the teacher misconstrues that joke on your Richard Pryor t-shirt as an endorsement of something completely misinterpretive. May God help you if you show in a black lives matter shirt at some schools or keep a rainbow flag pinned anywhere on your pack.
Some schools go as far s to block political speech under the guise of preventing fights, and “maintaining a professional atmosphere.” To translate what we are actually teaching them, “When you grow up, no matter where you are never talk about politics, even though that is what the first amendment is for.” This ensures a silent and obedient workforce for people like Reed Hastings. Most schools in LA have the excuse to use uniforms as a response to the gang situation. Because apparently they can’t change out of their uniforms in the street or at home into their gang colors and figure out who wears what colors in their off time when they get out of class.
Don’t read too much into that by the way. Not every black student is a modern gangland predator, in fact most aren’t. Just a side note Dear Reader. Let us digress no further.
School uniforms, the very combination of words makes me want to throw up. Like I said before, this was Inspire’s strike one.
Strike two was the fact that every morning the kids had to gather in the gym for an assembly, where of course they always started with a pledge of allegiance, something which always made me uncomfortable as shit. The other teachers used to look at me with a snotty stink side eye because I would never put my hand on my heart. This is because I do not pledge allegiance to a piece of cloth, pretty though it is and fascinating is its story and is Miss Betsy Ross. But I take a knee with the Kap to be honest, nobody is free until we are all free.
Yes Dear Reader, lot’s of digressions in this chapter but bare with me, this is becoming tiring. Let us move on to strike three.
Strike one was the uniforms, two was that bizarre ritual I have never understood nor practiced, and strike three, and this was the clincher, came just after the pledge of allegiance. During the assemblies each INSPIRE school had a different feel good motto they chanted that was meant to, yes you guessed it, “Inspire the kids,” and seemingly it worked. I am not knocking it if it works. I am not a child anymore so I cant say what goes through their minds when they are in a room all dressed the same singing the same mantra. Yet there was something about the whole matter that creeped me out and still creeps me out whenever I remember it. My spine is hemorrhaging as I type this like an icy draft from nowhere blows on my neck.
I remember as a kid fearing school uniforms becoming a reality for my school, I felt then as I do now that they were and are the only true freedom of speech a child has been given and in a way it was the only freedom of speech millennials seem to have left since we have no economic autonomy. The next generation in many cases do not know the freedom that comes to showing up at school truly dressed as who you are. And Dear Reader let us not forget what our genderism in these codes does to young minds.
One must wonder what trans students still in the closet must feel when you remind them they have to wear something specifically for a gender they aren’t. Those arguments aside uniforms are still understandable to me, but a school chant is just creepy as hell. A group of kids gathered into one room, ordered to stand and walk in and out in a straight line, in neat uniforms and forced to pledge allegiance to a piece of pretty clothes and then participate with the whole school, all in the same colors of clothes, in chanting the school motto. There is just something Nazi-esque about the whole thing to me, even if the kids feel good and learn a lot at the end of it, I just do not like the idea of a group of kids all being put into one room to where and say the same thing. Also there was still the economic pedagogy of profit that is actually running things behind the scenes. A Spock to my Kirk would ask me the logical question, where are they hiding the bad kids? Or did they get rid of them? That is another thing charters are allowed to do.
In all honesty the pledge and the uniforms are forgivable because they are so standard, but those chants, hearing a bunch of little kids being guided by some vice principle, some tired bureaucrat in a tie and khakis all together saying things like ” I am smart, and I am good, I will do my best every day and always” like drones, its all just enough to make me wretch. These administrators would always be conducting the whole school as if they were a symphony and this were beautiful music to them, the smile that the Vice principle’s would have on their faces as they’d all chant, it’s beyond cringe worthy to me.
I can see the beauty in making the kids feel good about themselves, yet I cannot put into words what it is that makes me so uncomfortable about a group of so many so young all doing the same thing, it just doesn’t feel right to me, but what do I know, except what I feel.
Now before we move one, I see how this could make not look like the most well adjusted individual. “Kids saying positive things in unison!? Some one call Stephen King!” Of all the things to be disturbed by, of all things I have seen and endured as a substitute teacher, like you Dear Reader I don’t understand why this is the thing that bothers me.
Equal opportunity schooling, yes Dear Reader another term I have become familiarized with through first hand experience. These are schools were special needs students and non special needs students are assimilated into the same groups and classes. Usually people who are called para professionals assist the students in the class with a special lesson plan made for them while the teachers work with the class as a whole, but all of the students take the same classes side by side. The idea is to show the differently abled and special needs students that they are just as capable as their peers are, and it is to show the other students how to put aside prejudices and believe in sharing opportunity, and thus a true sense of equality can be created.
Hope charter is one of these schools.
Hope charter operates on a small yet appropriate campus in the cozy neighborhoods of Westchester. I cannot attest 100 percent for how they treat the teachers, but I found the bathroom access ample so that helped my opinion of the school a great deal. What I can attest to is that the energy of this school was one of the first times I ever felt an energy of pure positivity and love, like there was a mutual genuine concern for the students. Hope caused a change in me, something happened to me at that school and with those kids. Something I never thought would happen, and it all started with a boy’s sweet words.
I subbed at Hope multiple times, the first day I worked there it was a debacle of navigating Sepulveda Blvd through LAX and the suburbanized streets of Westchester. After cursing myself horse before speeding my way through a neighborhood that looked like something out of Norman Rockwell’s wet dream but with more speed bumps, I arrived at the back corner of another once proud elementary school that clearly had marked a stepping stone in Johnson’s War on Poverty. It is not uncommon for school districts to rent out closed schools to charters. Several schools have even shut down and reopened as charters, such as the ones I have told you about.
I parked off the street and breathed ten deep breathes to relieve the road rage clenching me at the shoulders, then I marched to the school. I had smoked two joints of some homegrown and was in my usual floating headspace when I had left. The concrete battlefield that was full of people merging in and out five lines at 60 mph to get on and off the 405 was enough to kill half of my standard morning buzz, so I was not in the best of moods when I first arrived.
I was greeted in the front office of the school by an overly perky administrator of some important rank who seemed to be doubling as the school’s receptionist. I say overly perky only because I think that was the only way to maintain the level of energy necessary for her to operate on all of her required tasks. While she greeted me she attended to two students, answered the phone, and directed a parent volunteer to the proper rooms. She had introduced herself to me as, “Ms. Sara, nice to meet you.” Before I could muster a greeting of my own she immediately followed her greeting with, “Have you taught with us before?” I said no and she quickly interjected again with, “And what is your experience with Special needs students?”
Needless to say Dear Reader I was surprised by her question but I had learned at this point in my job that it never helps to show surprise. I knew that no matter what I always had to look like I knew what I was doing. I looked at her confused at first but after I signed in I was greeted with another new word of the day by Ms Sara, like when I had learned about “colocation” this was when I learned about equal opportunity schooling.
She explained to me they were one of those schools and what that meant and the students I would have today. Just like every other time before this, I was dropped into the front lines without warning to handle students that I had never been trained to handle nor told I would handle.
My class room that day was a portable that was a heavy walking distance away from the main office. It looked like a space for the management at a construction site to work, these are a very common site on campuses throughout California. The entire playground separated me from the rest of the school, and I was to teach 7th grade English. The school was a k-8, and the 6-8 section of these schools are always segregated away from our little ones to some degree. The room was a hot hovel with minimal windows and an AC that I could not coordinate. Seventh grade is an inherently loud group no matter what and adding a hot classroom to the mix does not help to splash cold water on their otherwise raging fires of newly lit puberty. Yet there was something different about these kids, about this whole school, and I was not able to put my finger on it right away.
It might sound a little hippie dippie of me but it is the truth when I say that there was something about the energy of the school. There is a vibe to all schools and charters that one can immediately sense whenever setting foot onto any campus, even for just a day. Some schools gave me a vibe of fear because they were basically prison training camps, others were of annoyance because it was clear they were all about rushing the kids through tests and graduation to stay looking good on paper, this helps to keep schools that shouldn’t exist afloat. Yet the vibe at the school was different to me than the others, I was not unsettled in any way, rather I felt an air of positivity, of love.
The longer this first day went on the more the love became apparent. Watching the paraprofesionals work with the special needs students was both a lesson to be learned and a blessing. While the energy of the students was high, the para profs not only assisted the special needs students but they helped me to keep the peace in the classroom. I did not have to send a single student out because when ever a student began to misbehave the PP would remind them that I was a “guest” and that they owed me their best behavior. This is the advantage of having multiple adults in the classroom. The class sizes were as large as any other school 30-40 kids per period, but that number becomes almost insignificant when multiple adults are there to assist the teacher.
Every class had at least one student with special needs, meaning I always had at least one other adult with me. Those adults were the sign to me, they were the sources of the energy of love at the school. For it was watching them interact with these students, these children who were so lost in their own minds that they need not only extra help, but extra understanding that I began to feel good about my job for a change. I could tell that the students had a sense of trust, a sense of comfort and safety under the guard of these adults, even if they were not special needs students, having them present definitely kept spirits higher than I had ever seen in other classrooms.
I came to sense that spirit and love more and more every time I subbed there. In case anyone does not understand what a “special needs” student is by the way, that is just the modernized PC way of saying “special ed” but since the school is “equal opportunity,” these schools are not segregated into special ed classes, rather all students learn side by side with each other in all classes and classrooms. Back to the point, special needs students are exactly categorized as that, those who have specific needs that must be met in order to assure they learn at the same pace as there fellow students. This can mean the student is autistic, has a learning disability such as dyslexia, or just has a lower than average IQ.
While the classes always went fairly smoothly, I was still at a loss for how I was supposed to handle these students when I first arrived and learned I would be teaching both special needs students and normies. It was dropped on me like a bomb that was no big deal, like a girl taking selfies at the Hiroshima memorial. “We’re an equal opportunity school.” Ms Sara said it so casually, “So you will have mixed classes” she was dropping terminology on me that I had no idea what it meant, but I played along, I was a credentialed sub after all. But I played along, as I was assured there would be “para profs” coming in and out of the classes assisting me throughout the day.
That was all reassuring but it was still a bit heavy on the emotions when I saw an autistic child being escorted in as he walked in very odd, very specific pattern, or when the young man with ALS was wheeled into my 3rd period. But I played it cool, whenever I was caught by surprise in the weird lack of communications that seem inherent and synonymous to teaching in modern LA charters, I always kept my cool with the greatest veil of competence and professionalism, while on the inside I would usually be having stoner panic attacks that would be horrific enough to be a scene from Reefer Madness.
“What the fuck?” I’d be thinking, “Im going to be responsible for students with special needs? I am to be there teacher with no training, no practice, no real qualification other than my degree and the ‘credential’ that I paid $140 bucks for. What the fuck is wrong with our system?”
I held my own though, I spent my life watching my mother work and listening to her talk about school and special education for the 20 plus years I lived with her. I got a front row seat to what teachers go through when they first arrive home and get to let their hair down. I was even lucky enough to be the son of a teacher who had started her career working with those with special needs. Not only was my mom a teacher, she was a teacher who started in Special ed, giving my lucky, inexperienced ass an example to follow.
I had no idea what I was doing, so I simply decided to behave as I had seen my mom behave when dealing with those with special needs, I had seen my mom work not only in the class room but in the every day life, whenever talking to szchophrics loose on the street or to the employees at our local businesses who showed signs of down syndrome, I had seen my mom apply her skills. She kept a calm tone, and maintained a positive energy despite ever being nervous. That was what I did, I just stayed calm, and kept up a positive energy, which for some reason I found very easy to do for the first time I had ever started could not immediately figure out why.
I would come to work at this school many, many times before I would quit. There was a mutual sense of something between myself and the students. I could not tell what.
One day at Hope Charter, I was eating my lunch and several students asked if they could eat in the class room, to which I said yes since the school had instructed me to do so anyway since the weather report had been unforgiving as of late. A young girl, Diana, an a 8th grader who looked like a classic emo 8th grader in my millennial year book, dark eye shadow, dyed hair and a new found fetish for Hot top t shirts. The kind of girl with plenty of Nightmare before Christmas merchandise for attire and accessories and room decor. She confided in me about her distant family, the harsh words of her doctor who did not reckon her heart gave her long on this earth. To be told a life longer than 20 years would be a miracle is enough to make one a Tim burton fan over night. when she told me this i began to wonder how many of the girls i knew in middle school like her had this kind of problem, then i begin to feel bad about what I used to say and think about those girls.
Catholic guilt has been replaced by elementary school nostalgia in the 2000s, never forget that Dear Reader.
Still, her words were saddening and humbling. She had in fact become one of my favorite students and knowing this, only made me hope she gets this fullest out of life all the more. Every student deserves to experience every though possible in this world, especially ones like her, ones like her deserve to live life the most. She is one of the few students to this day whose name I actually learned and remembered.
Another student I had there in the same grade was named Harry, a thin gangly black child. It was like a nightmare trying to get this kid to do anything he was actually supposed to.
“Harry, stay in your seat.”
“Harry get to work.”
“Harry how much work have you done?”
“Harry sit down.”
“No eating in class Harry.”
“Harry I said sit down!”
Every teacher will tell you that there is always that one kid that no matter how kind or good there intentions are, they simply lack grounding, I wont call them hopeless but they just cant seem to grasp the fact they need to just sit down, shut up, and turn in something completed for once. Then I found out he didn’t have a father. I then began to wonder how many other students I’ve had who did’t have fathers. Then I began to think back to when I was his age. I remember the Harry’s of my classes annoying the shit out of me, now I wonder how many of them didn’t have fathers either.
Another student, Johnny, who is very easy to remember because he was the only wheelchair bound student I ever had. he had ALS and needed a special computer to do all of his work. I began to see him almost every time I came to sub there. He struggled to speak, his aid wheeled him everywhere, to every class and around the lunch yard. Just seeing him was enough to warm my heart, but seeing him smile made me feel something, something I did not know I could feel. He slurred when he spoke, and lots of grunts came out to, it was like struggle.
“you are mmy fove su” he drops the last B but his aid decided to translate, “He says your his favorite sub.”
“Oh thank you Johnny,” I replied. I pat his shoulder and smiled back as he is wheeled out to his next class. When I am left alone in the class room something began to weigh in my chest, like my heart began to sink into my stomach.
The feeling stayed the whole rest of my day as I tried to teach and work through it. But it never did go away, not even after my long drive home. It just stayed in my chest, like a paper weight, or a fist pressing against it, I could not shake this new feeling in my chest. I feel it now as write these words my Dear Reader and I will feel it for the rest of my life every time I think about that boys smile.
Like I said something changed in me thanks to those kids. The weight in my chest has never left me since that one gesture by Johnny. It was the signal of something important, of something I had been lying to myself about for too long.
The Moment, a poem by Max Boxer
Every goddamned day it’s the same.
Wake up at the ass crack of dawn,
Oatmeal, instant of course,
A piss and shit,
Get high, get the call.
6-9, every morning,
Get a call,
Get even higher,
Get on the road,
Go to work,
Such a good pawn.
This is no 9-5,
Any millennial to have that
Is a lucky cunt.
Or so Time magazine tells me.
In the car, and on to the painfully full freeways,
Each car just full of faceless followers.
No 9-5 for me.
This is a 6am-3pm.
This is attempting to conquer infamous LA traffic
with a 2001 Toyota in a polyester rayon noose.
Still, hourly pay,
all for me,
so a lucky little millennial am me…
Pat on the head
Here’s my vote,
Let me look the other way
as you commercialize our children.
Cashing in on campuses,
its not bloodsucking, its entrepreneurship.
Did you ever believe that homework would become a commodity?
Your campus? Your grades?
I remember being a student, not a means of production.
Forget it, no overthinking work,
I have rent to pay,
Groceries to buy,
We all do,
But isn’t that quiet convenient?
My first job was a front row seat
To life lessons I had no context to.
White skin had been a filter I was so unaware of.
Foreboding me of experience in
The veins of our ever shrinking
And that word, “education,” is too generous.
Education? It’s more like training.
Stop it Max,
Stop it “Mr. Boxer.”
Stop thinking about it,
Just think about the rent,
& what you need to eat.
You need to pay those pesky bills,
and fuel that self imposed medical habit.
Why is it we have come to expect
we even defend
our commercial warlords?
Like Kagemusha, behind the brands they work in shadows.
Where are the voices of the voiceless?
They died out years ago
with the hounds of hell,
and an unforeseen community.
And we are supposed to pat ourselves on the back
because of someones stock portfolio?
Stop it Max.
I need to get to work.
I show up to a campus,
Something already successfully price tagged.
Campuses are another new commodity.
Stop it Max.
A big old building on a refurbished corner
of our our lady of gentrification.
Stop it Max.
Today is like any other,
No matter, I have work sheets to pass out.
I get to class, I get to work.
So many times I have been here, I know the pattern and routine,
so why is today so different?
What is the change in the air?
“It is no different,” I say, or rather lie to myself,
I go on.
Give them the work
and I sit down.
In a matter of hours,
A fat check, our everyday cash prize,
Awaits for you at the end of the day.
Yet something happens,
And it happens today,
And carries on everyday after that.
Students want to hang out with me at lunch.
I do not understand why.
“Why can’t you be our regular teacher?” one asked.
I don’t have the heart to tell them the real reason,
“Because I don’t want to be.”
I can’t look them in the eyes and say that.
Well I could, but I’m not a prick.
But why? Why did that question sting so much?
Confuse me so much?
I’m just trying to eat,
My chest feels weird all of a sudden,
Not in pain, but heavy.
Something in my heart?
Could this be?
No, just do the job,
Go home, be professional,
I’m in it for a check.
I’m not here to save these kids,
I’m here to eat and pay rent,
Still I feel something in my chest.
I think it’s my heart, but I ignore it.
Any doctor will tell you ignoring your heart is dangerous.
Another day, another job,
So I take attendance.
Later that day a student slips me a note,
“You are the best teacher.”
A boy with ALS, and I’m his favorite teacher,
What’s that damn feeling again?
a thank you
and a pat on the head.
and I move on.
I have 32 other students after all.
The feeling doesn’t go away, no matter
how high I get.
This feeling never goes away.
Next job, new school, new students, new lesson plan,
new character for Mr. Boxer.
Do they get chill Mr. Boxer,
or mean Mr Boxer?
A student wants to talk to me about his Any Rand book,
He cant understand why I’m no fan.
I sit in a desk, talk with him
As others read and work,
He is not humoring me,
He is interested in my words
and is oh so polite.
He counters my points,
He states his thoughts eloquently, respectfully.
and I find I am not humoring him either,
I listen to his words and feelings,
Not just waiting for my turn to speak,
As we are so obligated to do,
And that damn feeling in my chest,
What is it?
Ten days later, a student calls me a faggot piece of shit
and a white bitch.
Yet I am not hurt,
I am unfazed.
What hurts is that I can’t help them,
but who am I to help them,
I am one man,
And I am just here to eat and pay rent.
The feeling turns to sinking
As if a weight moves from my heart to my gut.
It never goes away, no matter how much I ignore it,
No matter how high I get,
The weight and the sinking,
They have never gone away.
Another day passes,
Another dollar is collected,
Another job approaches,
“These kids are just a paycheck” I tell myself
And then numb myself.
No. On the drive today,
I realize something,
I don’t believe those words.
I never actually believed them.
They are more to me than a job.
They are more than work,
They are more than a number
Or a grade
Or a score.
They are not just my paycheck.
They are children of guidance,
And a canvas asking you to paint them,
And for a day at a time,
I get to help paint.
That feeling is hope for their future,
and worrying about them all at the same time.
That feeling is a joy in working on building a person,
And the fear you are their first bad memories.
I see the boy again,
the one with ALS
he struggles to smile at me,
but I remember,
That I am his favorite sub.
That feeling in my chest comes back.
A rough day at work,
Students are loud,
My patience has grown thin.
I collapse into an old rickety desk chair.
The kids, still loud,
Many still throwing things.
I rub my temple with one hand,
I reach into my pocket with the other.
I find a crumpled piece of paper, maybe some forgotten receipt?
It was the note, from a little boy named Jose.
“You are the best teacher.”
The day was still rough,
but I went home smiling,
and I showed up for work the next day.
The note gets framed,
to remind myself I hate what I do
but I love who I do it for.
That weight in your chest and gut,
It is concern,
It is care.
This is not just about a pay check anymore,
It never was no matter what I told myself.
Goddamn it Heart,
And no amount of pot smoke or inebriation
Can change the fact underneath those dead brain cells
There is a path to your heart.
A young black girl, 8 or 9,
Breaks down in tears.
“I can’t do it mister!”
She can’t read,
We sound it out together,
She stopped crying as I walked away,
Damn this heart of mine,
No jaded disposition,
No millennial scoffing of
Old cliché sentimentalism.
Emotions are real,
And so are the struggles of my students.
Yes I call them my students now,
And they are of every race
In all corners of LA.
What paths do they walk on
and what direction have I turned them when I crossed them on their paths.
One day at a time I am in there lives
And memories still build.
I lay one brick on their path,
More than most ever give them.
That moment when they became,
Not just students.
That moment when it became more than just a job.
That moment when it became about more than rent or bills.
That moment when I realized,
All to well,
I actually do care.
That sweet stinging moment,
It made it all so true and so real.
From the mouth of babes I learned where my heart truly lies.
A boys simple gesture of good will,
And I learn something too true to ignore.