OF BEAST AND MAN
Seemingly Obligatory note from the “author”
Editors, lawyers, and publishers can be real spoiled sports, and some people just can’t seem to handle criticism these days. So in short, to cover my ass, the asses of those I love, I have changed the names of certain parties and institutions. To be honest I literally changed everyone’s name but mine, it’s Max by the way. I would like to also take a moment to say that I dedicate this blog to black and brown lives, because they matter.
On an average day I would usually be up by 5:30-6am and have about 5-10 hits of whatever I had bought on special from the dispensary before I would have to leave for work. That amounts to about 2-3 bowls every morning, at least on average, before I go off to collect hourly pay for work that is either a walk in the park a fuck in the ass.
“What do I do?” you ask Dear Reader. Well, I am a soldier on the front lines of a battle of culture, tradition, philosophy, and policy. I see the system and I see the veils. I take bullets that our already under appreciated teachers can’t handle. I am the classroom filler. The teaching temp.
My name is Max Boxer, I am a substitute teacher.
Or rather I should say, I was.
For over two years I was a substitute teacher for private schools on the west side and charter schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District, or L.A.U.S.D.
That’s right, for eight hours a day my stoned ass was in charge of your child’s safety and education.
I’d sit in a classroom behind someone else’s desk and tell children that, “Yes, you can go to the bathroom,” or I would tell teenagers to put their phones away for eight hours at a time at almost twenty dollars an hour. Some of them loved me as a savior from the pain and tedium that is the monotony of our modern education system. Some of them hated me because I would actually see to it they do their work and turn something in, at least when the lesson plan called for it. Some just needed a punching bag and took the opportunity to jump on fresh prey. Yet no matter how my days at work went they always depended on the lesson plan left for me.
That’s what the kids don’t realize. When you really look at what I do I am just an actor and the lesson plan the teacher leaves is the script for the character I must create for the day. Needless to say, movie day Mr. Boxer is not the same as test day or worksheet day Mr. Boxer, nor is the latter as fun or relaxed.
But all those Mr. Boxer’s have one thing in common – they all walked into the classroom, as a groundskeeper named Carl Spackler would say, “stoned to the ba-jesus” out of their minds. In my entire tenure as a substitute teacher not once did I step into a classroom sober. In any case though, stoned or sober, Mr. Boxer was just a character I played. Mr Boxer does not exist in the real world. He only existed in the classroom, and he was always high as shit.
Have you tried looking any child born after 1996 in the eye lately? It’s a bizarre mixed feeling of cognitive distance that is watered down by their addictions to video games, snap chat filters, or both. Do they have friends and healthy social lives? I’m no ageist and I’m not afraid of technology so yes, I actually think most of them do from what I have observed, but almost everything they do comes from a filter between them and the world around them, screens. Ever since the invention of film each generation after that has communicated through the world by staring at screens. The silver screen, tv screens, computer screens, now phone screens. You could even argue its becoming an evolutionary “screening” of sorts, but I digress.
Now dear reader, allow me to assault you with the truth of our modern education system and the debatable trend or epidemic of Charter schools and privatized education. I am about to entail upon to you the stories of what I have seen, witnessed, and experienced all through a foggy filter of marijuana, lager, caffeine, and millennial rage at a system that screws me and my friends over every fucking day and every fucking election.
As I said before this is not an expose, this is just the truth as I see it. These are not objective truths about charter schools it is the truth of my experience. The truth is the charter system across the country is so chaotic and the regulations so different in every state that no one single tale or story or piece is ever enough to truly expose the interconnecting weave of hell and heaven that are these schools.
Now for the sake of balance I suppose I should note that I have worked at many seemingly legitimate charters, but just how legitimate I will never know. I never really know what goes on behind those office doors. I didn’t when I was a kid and I don’t now.
I should also mention that I never thought I would be the kind of person to work with children.
When I had my first winter vacation as a teacher, I did cocaine in the parking lot of a dive bar with one of my old high school stoner friends. Two weeks later I was in a classroom of elementary school students showing them an episode of The Magic School Bus after a night of pot brownies and bootleg absinthe, which I recovered from that morning with another pot brownie and high caffeine yerba mate.
The things I have done, the things I have witnessed, and I’m just going to be talking about the classrooms.
Either way I am one to admit, I am a debaucherous soul in my everyday life, but in the classroom I was Mr. Boxer, a millennial just happy to be working even while forced to wear some kind of dot com company business casual style and a lamented badge on a cheap lanyard to work for an almost inherently anti-union entity. The baggy dress shirts and slacks that I had to wear did not compliment my lean frame very well.
Charter schools are everywhere now. They are growing with every passing year in practically every state and California is overseeing more charter schools open than any of the other states. California is also one of the few states that allows something that is called Educational Management Organizations to operate and run their charter schools. We will go into detail about EMOs later. But to be honest I find them that they are the ejaculate of satan.
Charter schools can be started by almost any citizen or group with something called a mission statement in mind, or handy. It is not uncommon for multiple different charters to use a similar, almost template style mission statement. I cannot tell you how many schools seem to have the same, watered down, abstract mission for their students.
Charter schools can bring community activists to the front-lines of the people that they wish to help, or they can strangle unions, treat their teachers like pure dog shit, all while turning our kids into blank nothings so they can collect more and more of our tax dollars. Sometimes they are doing everything I just listed at the same time, always giving me such a conflicted feeling whenever I leave work. On the one hand I am on the front lines and helping children, some of whom live in the worst conditions our city of angels has to offer. Yet on the other hand I don’t know what goes on in those offices behind those stale glass doors that seem synonymous with our hideous modern plastic architecture.
Just how much I really didn’t know about what goes on behind those closed doors you will eventually learn. Somewhere in this world someone could be looking at your work and deciding your fate, and you might have no idea.
Every school treated me very differently as well. Some schools would welcome their substitutes with open arms. California is undergoing a crippling teacher shortage, not undoubtedly un correlated to the expansion of charter schools. So why do they keep opening them you might ask? Because they are good for business, and how your labor is treated never means shit when it’s good for business.
But the teacher shortage has affected all schools and teachers of all fronts including the people who are “just subs” as often has been condescendingly put of me by the more, shall we say, jaded students or faculty. Those schools that are most affected by this shortage are the most grateful, but those others that are still affected will sometimes make you their bitch in order to compensate for their shitty situations.
It didn’t matter to me though, either way at the end of the day I always got paid and got paid handsomely.
As Dickens said “It is a far far better thing to do, than I have ever done.” For me at one point to come to a crossroads and realize I actually care about these kids, like a honkey goddamn cliché movie waiting for Hilary Swank and Edward J. Almos almost to fornicate on top of a pile of black kids AP scores, is not something I ever could see myself coming to. Yet it’s a lie for me to say I did not care about my kids. I cared for them very much, but I always made sure to keep my distance.
I worry about my students. That’s why I must write this, I must write the truth. The truth hurts for everyone especially those who are forced to talk about it out loud, and though booze or drugs can still numb the pain, turning to a can of Foster’s or a dispensary pre roll doesn’t change the fact that a lot of our kids are getting screwed just as much as we are and they have been this whole goddamn time and we do nothing about it except shit all over the people whose job it is to actually help them. We are nation that might as well be illiterate. Put this into the Constitution, “Life, liberty, and fuck every teacher in the ass, just for you America.”
But I digress, sort of.
Don’t expect a lot of statistics or tedious explanations of an equally tedious system that’s sitting right under your nose. This is not an expose where I bombard you with shit you can look up on a google search in your own time in less than thirty seconds. No, to be honest I don’t know what this is, I really don’t, except that I know it has been a savage journey into the heart of an all too common American truth, one that has been true for too long.
Our kids are getting screwed, cheated, and lied to, and none of us seem to be doing anything about it.
$16 an Hour Circus Freak
I started this job with only one thing in mind, “I need the fucking money.” Eventually I had to come to terms with the reality of being yet another wayward struggling writer in the beaches and barrios of LA. Also, being a Millennial, any work is good work to me.
I landed this job after a Skype interview with an elderly woman who runs a company of substitute teachers for private and charter schools, it’s called Sub Pool. You know that cartoony sitcom cliche where the news anchor isn’t wearing pants behind the desk? Well this interview was my moment of living out that cliche. From the waist up, I looked like a hairy reject from a Van Hausen magazine ad, neat combed, and ready for the camera, and from the waist down I had nothing under me but my Hanes boxer briefs and the leather of the chair I was sticking to during an LA Indian summer.
Here are just a few of the questions I had to answer,
“Do you think you could handle early mornings?”
“Do you have a degree?”
“If a student were to become attracted to you, how would you handle the situation?”
“Are you willing to get a background check?”
That was how I got the job, answering questions simple enough for a University of Phoenix alum. Next I had to be fingerprinted and background checked, as well as tested for any disease that might take our sweet children out of the evolutionary running. Somewhere my fingerprints are on file with the State of California, and hell maybe even the FBI. In case I ever need to pull a Ken Kesey and go on the lamb, I better remember that.
The way Sub Pool works is you tell them what days you are available, on those days you are on call from 6am- 9am, if you get a call you are to take the job for the day and drive to the school.
The only thing that bothered me about the on boarding process was the fingerprinting, I was not worried about the background check in any way, even though I have been busted for possession of marijuana three times. Don’t think I’m more of a bad ass than I really am, in California possession was only an infraction at the time, not even a misdemeanor anymore. It was no worse than a parking ticket. I was even lucky enough to get busted right when the law had changed too. A sigh of relief for us all, a misdemeanor on my record, and this book might never have been written.
So after it was proven that I wasn’t a mutant infested with TB or a child diddler, I was on the job at $16 an hour. $16 an hour to show up and be gawked at by intercity teens. That’s a “polite” way to say not white by the way. I show up to some schools like I was showing up to a circus tent to be put on display in the side show. In my head the barker would cry out, “come one come all, come see the white man, they really do exist kids, not just in cop cars and our movie screens. See his blue eyes as they are used to LOOK at you, see his complexion change when he becomes embarrassed.” That’s what the barker would be saying, if those kinds of jobs weren’t anachronistic outside of working for a state fair booth. The odds that any but the most literate of millennials will understand my arcane references and jibs is very low I realize, but on we must go.
When the state had confirmed that my crimes were not enough to keep me away from children and it was apparent I was not diseased in anyway that may harm the kids, I started work.
They started me off simply, at least seemingly so on paper to someone who doesn’t have to actually go to these places and deal with these psycho atrocities. Maybe that is an unfair generalization, but what is not a generalization is that for the first two weeks of this job I felt like a sideshow freak. For my first job for two weeks me and three other subs were the proctors for the California English Learners determination test, better known as the CELDT. Each of us was trained on how to see how much English a new speaker is allowed to butcher before being put into remedial classes, then we would be out in charge of testing and scoring the kids.
On my first day of my first assignment, I indulged in at least 7-10 hits from my wax pen, a 60 mg piece of Pot chocolate, and several bong rips. I had little idea what I was in for so I wanted to be sure I was zenned out, plus physically and emotionally numb to whatever might get thrown at me that day, figuratively or literally. As per my substitute teacher training, which consisted of a 90 min video about dress code and how to check my schedule online, I showed in what they defined as “professional dress code,” button up dress shirt, dockers and a thin neck Van Hausen tie, your typical young professional white boy ensemble. The look that is usually covering a gut being sucked in to accentuate a non existent pectoral majoris.
I had never driven on the LA freeways during the morning rush before, and I was immediately introduced to the scrambling one man or one woman wars we endure with our cars every morning. Cars changing lanes and cutting you off with no signals at 70 miles an hour, slamming on your brakes every few exits or so, by the time I arrived to work I had almost died at least three times. That is a below average day for Los Angeles driving.
I showed up to the school, which did not look so much like a school as much as it looked like a professional compound standing three stories high amidst the ocean of decaying bungalows and bricks surrounding it that was South Central Los Angeles. The school stood as an immense three story behemoth amongst the rest of the scenery. Its concrete was a contrasting clean and sleek to the cracked and pothole ridded concrete of the surrounding street and sidewalks. The letters of the school sign were made up of individual neon letter lights, each one was at least two or three feet long and hanging over the front entry way. Seemingly random pieces of metal bars and wavy aluminum made up the gutters and paneling coinciding with our strip mall modern architecture. Across the street was a parking lot, fenced off from the rest of the neighborhood with an automatic gate at least 20 feet tall. The only thing indicative that this was a school and not a professional park with adjacent parking was the large groups of kids and parents of all ages filing in and out of the building and waiting by the corners of the crosswalks.
You got the vibe that on the first floor you’d find the Starbucks, on the second floor you’d probably find the lawyers and accountants, maybe a hobby shop or two, and the top floor, why that’s the ballroom for events of course. Underfunded grad nights, off campus church functions, those sorts of things.
But no, this fortress in the center of South centrals cracked roads and old bricks was a school, a place of supposedly learning and protection, a place where these children may be guarded from the harsh realities of their world for 8 hours of the day and destroyed by the realities of the white man’s world.
“Why should I learn about George Washington?”
“Why do I always need to hear how great these white people are?”
“Why does Dr. King only get one month?”
“Why does Caesar Chavez only get a day?”
“And who is this Maya Angelou I haven’t heard anything about?”
Poor children, it’s no wonder so many of them resent the public education system and grow up hating so much of the world around them. Imagine growing up in sodding shit then being told you can have the “opportunity” to move up, but you had to straighten up and fly right and the only way to fly seem to be the rules set by white people hundreds of years ago. It’s all on you kid, get your shit together. No, you don’t live like that because of 400 years of economic and political oppression. No little Latina lady, you are an immigrant, California is a part of the USA now, and you are illegal. Now come one and all, send us your children, let us teach them about the presidents who called you all wetbacks and niggers, but we won’t tell you they said that.
Some of these charters are doing a great job of reaching these kids by teaching them the truth about the saviors of their history and community, such as Chavez or King, but when you are a child in those circumstances, you are still forced to see how your parent must do the dance of death with history and the modern world, and how they usually lose. It’s a real “damned if you do damned if you don’t situation,” go to school hear bullshit, don’t go to school and become an idiot. Go to school and be brainwashed, don’t go and be in a gang. We really do not give the poor many options when it comes to school, or anything for that matter. No, it doesn’t matter how many lies the fake liberal democrats or the willfully ignorant reactionaries tell themselves, the poor never have choices. When you are poor your choice is one word, “survive.” That’s it, it is not social justice, it is not sexual liberation, it’s just survival.
Once again, I digress.
I showed up for the school looking exactly as a substitute teacher should in my opinion, because it followed the rules they had set in the video exactly. I was dressed professionally, yet it in all honesty it was to only cover up a pot leaf t shirt underneath. Also my scraggly beard and unkempt hair fooled no one, someone who dresses like a millennial accountant but has the appearance of a hippy Einstein, something will appear rotten in the state of Denmark to anyone else who pays attention to that mis-dressed person. Yet when a school needs a sub, they will try any warm body for at least a day.
The security guard by the front gate smiled at students as they entered and made light conversation with teachers and staff as they filed in and out past him. He stood by the cars stopping by the sidewalk with his arms crossed to show he was the muscle, the hammer waiting to swing. He had a classic cop hair cut, short on the sides with over gelled spikes less than an inch short on top. He was built in a way where his shirt tucked into show a bit of a round stomach, but based on the shape of his upper body there was no way to know if it was fat or muscle. However he was also big enough that clearly no one was going to take a chance either way, especially when they see the glock on his waist.
He saw me approaching and his smile became much smaller. It was one of professional caution, the sort of almost rude indifference of a nightclub bouncer who will do his job right to keep people safe, and that means being careful around strangers or anyone you don’t recognize when you are protecting kids. I flashed him my badge from Sub Pool and said I was there to sub. He then nodded and pointed to the main office, a pair of tall glass doors right next to the front entry way. The office was in a separate bungalow from the rest of the school’s building, which went around in a sort of oddly shaped circle-ish square surrounding a large green patch of grass next to the blacktop and an awning full of lunch tables. The buildings around were three separate blocks of classrooms or offices with the doors facing the center of the grounds.
On the farther half there was a playground all ready filled with kids and in the farthest corner was a smaller playground that was fenced off, no doubt the place for the kindergarteners. Once again were it not for the children one would get the idea this is a shopping center or a business mall, many charters have a way of not actually looking like what you would expect a school to look like.
The main office was a bustle with parents and administrators. Four young ladies tended to matters in the front office while various other workers clad in business casual shirts or skirts dashed around in different directions with binders and folders, doing some kind of work that we never see done when we come to our kids open house or back to school nights. The four women were all well dressed and made up, I remember the younger of them had a delicate beehive hairdo with black high heels on. She was a rather short woman, but her bust looked as if it was standing at attention under her chin thanks to what I know must have been a push up bra. I never learned her name, and since this is my book and I can name anyone anything I want, let’s call her “Sugar Tits.” She was clearly making the most effort out of the four of them to look good, and later in the day when I saw her talking to one of the PE teacher’s with her arm almost glued to his bicep, I immediately knew why and could not help but to giggle a little.
Sugar Tits asked me who I was with the same professional caution one must use when dealing with strangers in an environment where you are responsible for children, though I never take offense to that tone. The country doesn’t have a good record of white boys just walking onto elementary or middle schools uninvited. I signed in and she escorted to the teacher’s lounge, her heals creating a rhythm on the tiles. I was taken to the room where I was instructed to wait. “Perfect,” I thought, “on the clock and I am getting paid to sit and do nothing.” Right up my alley especially in my usual morning state of mind of a hypercafeniated wake and bake.
I sat on one of their well used couches and took in my surroundings, I was the first of three other employees from Sub Pool to arrive. I sat there alone in the teacher’s lounge, watching the regular teachers and staff walk in and out as they put stuff in freezers and fridges. Some of the ladies from the office would come and get band aids or ice packs out of the cupboards for the kids coming to the office already with early morning owies and booboos. High school and middle school students would come in trying to fake sick or ask to call home. The students were not in uniform, something I do appreciate about this charter, and the teachers were all much more casually dressed than me. It was not long until I knew I was over dressed and my employers instance I dress professionally was just a way to cover their own ass in case I show up accidentally in a legalize it t-shirt. Which I sort of did anyway but there was no way they were going to find that out since I had it covered.
I sat there in my tie and badge for a good twenty minutes before they all had to go to there classes. As they came in and out they would smile at me and make small talk, telling me about the school or asking what I was subbing for. I would tell them I was a protector and they’d smile, say something obligatory like “Oh nice,” or “Oh great thanks,” or “Great I’m glad we are getting that done.” Then they’d put their lunch away, wish me luck and leave, fulfilling their end of the social contract.
When I was left alone I spent some time to look around the room and get a sense of what this place really was. room itself was your usual teachers’ lounge, decorated with the standard combination of bland white walls and ugly hospital sanitary green tiles, with the safety posters on the cupboards with the little faceless people doing the Heimlich maneuver. Next to those were the posters teacher’s have with inspirational quotes and cute animals to draw attention to brightly colored fun font words. The furniture consisted of the standard pair of donated couches that had already been well used by its second year from the countless asses that have sat and risen and sat and risen in each cushion. The one I was on was either vinyl or leather and was so cracked that bits of the material were white instead of brown.
However the room had an odd vibrant glow of color thanks to the table and chairs that had clearly been painted and decorated by the students. The brush work had the sloppy range of brush strokes and vibrant palate you would only expect from a child, or a Henri Matisse, and it warmed my heart that on the but of each chair there was either a sloppy heart or a perfect peace sign with an also loud palate. Were it not for the colorful furniture at the center of the room, the place would have been as bleak as any other teachers lounge.
It was there that I would meet with my coworkers, though it was 20 minutes before anyone else from Sub Pool showed up after me. I had only recently moved to LA so I was finally getting to meet more locals. I saw this as an opportunity to meet my fellow Angelinos, all of us desperate for that little extra to pay the rent that has become the dominating truth in our narratives of chasing impossible dreams. Oh brother can you spare a dime? Fuck that, Listen fucker give me the rent or you’re out on your ass I have kids to feed too! That sounds more like how it is now.
The first of my fellow Pool Pawns to arrive was Rob, a pushing 60 actor who looked like a cardboard cut out from a 1950s Republican convention. Complete with a very neat military hair cut, much like the security guard’s but his hair was a vibrant white as opposed to the guards jet black spikes. He also donned a Walter White ensemble of Sear’s button up’s and khakis. He actually turned out to be very pro pot and very racially enlightened. Despite his appearance, I found him to be the most socially liberal of the bunch. It just goes to show you appearances are not a real indication of character.
He nodded at me as the woman from upfront walked him in. As she turned around and left he scooted past me and sat on the other couch next to me, leaving the equivalent of one cushion and arm rest of space between us as is socially obligated. He then pulled out a thick hard cover book and with his brow stern he began reading. I could not see what it was called, but the painting on the jacket cover gave me the feeling it was a history book.
Then we just sat there for about another twenty minutes of silence where he read adamantly and I spaced out looking at nothing waiting for the weed to wear off. The woman from the front eventually walked in another sub, Alex, the blond ultra thin golden hair surfer who looked like an Abercrombie and Fitch wet dream. He would end up being dismissed early for reasons that are still a mystery to me. Five bucks says he cussed in front of the class or some kid just lied. They aren’t all angels by the way, some of them do do that, they lie. Usually they do it because they see their parents doing it. Your kids really do imitate everything you do folks, be careful what you decide to do or say in front of them.
Finally Sugar Tits walked in with our last fellow Pool Pawn, Thomas, a bear of a man sporting a beard that was as thick as his personality was welcoming. The only thing he liked talking about more than his desire to get back into shape was how much he appreciated the support of his boyfriend. At the time he looked like Santa in his college days but who knows, by know he might be as cut as a young Arnold Schwartzeneger, a lot can happen in just few years. That’s what us millennials are forced to learn every time one of us comes of age, as time moves on, things change, and unless you are talking about changing our system, change of all other kinds are weird to us. Especially when it involves things we thought were institutions of our childhood. Then the nostalgia kicks in.
So there we were, the four compadres, the CELDT proctors hired at $16 an hour, qualified to be responsible for your children’s placement in the English learning system which could in-turn effect how they see themselves for the rest of their lives, all because we at least have our bachelor’s degrees. After a strenuous awkward silence, we eventually broke the ice. We all introduced ourselves to each other and spent the first three hours of our day getting to know each other.
The reason we spent three hours doing nothing but that was because after each of us signed in, we just were walked to the teachers lounge, and left there. We were just told to wait and our escort from the front would simply leave us there, to do exactly that, wait. We were all in the same boat, we had no idea what was going on or when they would actually put us to work. Occasionally one of the women from the front would come in and remind us, “Shouldn’t be long now.”
“The vice principal will be with you shortly, shouldn’t be long now.” That was apparently who we needed to wait for, that much at least became clear.
“The vice principal will be here soon, shouldn’t be long now.”
“It shouldn’t be much longer now.”
In and out. In and out.
“It shouldn’t be much longer now.”
“It shouldn’t be much longer now.”
In and out. In and out, for three hours.
It did not matter though because we seemed to be getting along well and all of us knew we were getting paid for our time no matter what they had us do. That is one of the perks of being a substitute.
So to pass the time in between the updates by the receptionists we just talked about ourselves.
“Oh, You’re an actor Rob, tell us what it’s like to like to work for David Fincher.”
“Oh you’re a writer Max, what do you write?”
“Oh you’re a model Alex, who have you worked for?”
“Oh, you want to be a teacher Thomas, good for you.”
By the end of the three hours I knew I had appeared for the job overdressed and was almost embarrassed because of it. I was the only one in a tie and Thomas was even in jeans. Out of the whole group I was the only rookie. Everyone else was well experienced with being in the classroom but this was my very first assignment ever, so needless to say I took the opportunity to get the scoop from them. I hung on their every word and piece of advice. I asked them about everything I should know that the videos did not explain. When they warned me to stay away from certain schools I nodded and listened, but later on I found I was doomed only to still experience the hell they had described for myself later on. If a teacher or anyone who has worked with kids or has had kids tells you something about kids, I assure you until you actually have to deal with kids, you have no context to truly appreciate their warnings. In other words, if you aren’t a parent, teacher, or have never babysat, you have no idea what the fuck you are doing when it comes to kids.
This all went on until a black man who had a better shirt and tie combo than I did came in. He looked like a freshly drafted Jerry Rice. He introduced himself as the Vice Principal. He shook our hands with all the pleasantries one would expect in some pseudo corporate setting while apologizing to us for the wait, and we were guided to a meeting room with the same vibes as his introduction. There was a water cooler in one corner and a power point set up on the wall at the far end of the table. I honestly couldn’t tell if this was a school office or a board room. After a few more pleasantries and the expected social norms, a power point and one reading packet later, then cut to the end of my first day the others and myself are now “qualified” proctors of the CELDT test, just like that, because I have a bachelors and I watched a powerpoint I helped decide where new English speakers would go. The fate of your non english speaking child’s language courses for that year were in the hands of us four $16 an hour schlubs.
We each were assigned our own group of students and a room to test them in. I had a group of 15 freshman and sophomores. According to their files some had been in the country for years and some had just gotten here within the last few months. I had always considered myself pro immigration and still do, but it was the first time I came face-to-face with one of my Facebook posts. Which meant I had to come to the terms with the reality of seeing my privilege embodied in the students. I still felt like the subject of an outdated circus side show, none of these kids were rude to me but the looks I got as they came in and out of my room every day always seemed to be one of awe. “I’ve never seen eyes like his before,” I overheard one girl say as she was leaving. Blue eyes apparently are a rarity in South Central Los Angeles, and it was apparently a sight the students felt obligated to take in.
The stares I received waking in and out of that school every day was too much to handle, I supplemented my usual stony mind set with an increase in my morning dosage in order to calm the nerves further and numb myself to the stares and the tension behind my professional obligations.
So for the next two weeks I proctored and scored these kids tests, trying at every turn to settle any nerves they might have and remind them I was not there to hurt them, only help them. “This test is just to decide what English class you guys need to take, it cannot hurt you in any way it can only help you.” I said that every day of the test to every student. Mostly because I was so new at this job and so high I could not think of anything else to say. I just thought back to all the proctors and substitutes I had when I was then tried to emulate them.
Did they believe me when I said these things? I have no idea. Did I ruin any lives, or misdirect anyone’s education? Who knows, I got paid at the end of my two weeks, and soon I was off to another truth of the Los Angeles intercity charter system, never to see me fellow proctors again. That’s all that concerned me, at the time.
What I remember most though from that time were the one on one sections of the test.
There were three parts of the test, listening, speaking, and writing. The speaking and writing sections were no different than the other tedious standardized tests you used to take in school. “Listen to the question, fill in the bubble. Listen to the question, write a paragraph. Stop at the stop sign. Don’t stab yourself in the eye with your pencil in frustration.” We all know that dance by now I am sure. However the spoken part was different. For the spoken section of the test I was to sit with each student alone in the room and score as I asked them each of the questions. I remember this so well despite my foggy disposition because this is when I learned how many people we have immigrating to this country, and I remember feeling confident that some were off to bright futures and could communicate easily between English and Spanish, and then there were others who I know were struggling and who could not understand when I said the words, “This test can only help you, it cannot hurt you.” No good, the kids sat in their chairs with perfect posture, only nodding or quick spitting a “yes” to anything i said, even if it wasn’t due.
“I’m going to ask you some questions now,” I would begin.
“Yes, ” I remember this one girl would keep saying and interrupting me with. She could not have been more than 15, she was very adorable with a pink t-shirt and jeans, and her dark skin and hair made her look like something you would see in a Steinbeck novel about Mexican Americans. She was a beautiful young woman and smartly dressed, yet the look in her eyes was so tired. That is something I notice a lot in my classes with more immigrant children, especially the women and young girls. They always look so tired, as if they had just flew in yesterday and despite any jet lag they showed up for work that day.
I tried to continue. “Now. And you’re going to answer them as best you can…”
“Yes,” she spat again before I had finished my sentence. She was doing it almost like a reflex it seemed. The girl clearly did not know how to read someones tone yet in English. If she did she would wait for me to finish before she actually responded
“Remember this can only help you.”
“Yes,” I honestly could not tell if she understood or if she was just hiding behind that as the one word she knew how to say. I probably could have told her that the sky was purple and that I was a martian.
“Yes.” she would have said in her heavy accent.
I legally cannot reveal details about the test itself what I can say is that the poor girl did not score well.
I had a huge stack of students answer booklets I had to work through with for one on ones. So many students spoke virtually no english. I was amazed. It’s one thing when you’re a white upper middle class over privileged trust funder and you identify as liberal and you retweet all the “no person is illegal” and pro documentation articles and memes, then you are dropped into the front lines where you work in the middle of a heavily impoverished neighborhood and a 15 year old girl or boy can barely tell you how to say “apple.” I will not say it was heartbreaking, that would be condescending to belittle non English speaking people in such a way and to be honest it wasn’t heartbreaking, but rather mind blowing, eye opening even. You just wonder what these kids stories are when you realize how little English they speak or why they are attending a charter school in the middle of this neighborhood. You realize how much you can take it for granted that you are able to communicate with the world around you. You also realize that racists are going to have a very hard time when these kids grow up. Dear reader, if you don’t like immigrants or anyone different from you I have cold blooded advice for you, kill yourself. Just kill yourself now and save yourself the time, because the future is going to be miserable for anyone who doesn’t like the colors black or brown.
After the other subs and myself worked through our speaking sections we were set to score all of our tests, every section was rather short and the answer key was the same for us all so it only took us a day and half to finish them all. I had to score so many kids the lowest scores because it was clear they did not understand and would need to be put in the most basic of English classes possible. I wonder every day now if my decisions were right, if they misplaced any student and if that set off the wrong triggers in their minds about themselves or their education. Will they ever blame the strange over dressed young man with his dress shirt and bloodshot eyes, scribbling with his pen and score sheets, marking their fates with each bubble of his Bic ballpoint, their views of which are blocked by the manila divider?
How many lives did I change that day? How many did I destroy? I dare think about these things constantly now, but at the time, I was just happy to collect a very sweet payday. I left the job never to see my coworkers or those students again. I did not care then though, all I cared about was where would I be sent to next, and what realities would I have to see.
In order to keep the peace in the classroom and give my mind something to do when work was slow, particularly when the students were good at working on there own or were just relatively well behaved, I got into the habit of writing in a journal during my work days. Sitting behind the desk writing all day made me look official and it helped keep kids fairly well on task. It left the kids uncertain if I was writing a report about them or not, which kept them on better behavior all of which are factors that help keep the peace when you are a sub. The journal was nothing but a cheap composition book that eventually became filled with unfinished short stories, script ideas, pathetic handwriting practice attempts, and more than a few poems, but what I got into the the habit of doing the most were stream of consciousness brain dumps and journaling’s of what I felt and saw as I would watch the kids work. Here is the first of such entries;
1 New Road Charter High school
I sit writing this in a classroom filled to the brim with at least 35 12th graders, fresh and ready to be adults. An AP Government class where most students are more interested in discussing their tedious social lives or their pocket sized computer screens. I see several who do focus on their work and they are the ones that keep me faithful and hopeful. Sometimes I find myself annoyed at the general ignorance of most of society, but I find joy in that there are still people who love to learn and actually want to learn. I cannot judge anyone too harshly though, I was not the best of students as a senior either. I suppose it’s just the way it is, people will be effort minimizers and euphoria maximizers no matter how much we progress. But those who put in just that little bit of extra effort, they are the ones who have the chance to transcend. If everyone took advantage of their access to information I suppose it would make any transcendence meaningless. Still, it annoys me when people don’t take advantage of the only free education they will ever get.
I wonder if I am too cold hearted, I do my best to be as understanding as I can be. But so often even if I do understand someone’s behavior I don’t seem to care. It’s only in extreme circumstances where I found harmful behavior excusable. I don’t want to pander to a lack of discipline by using “home life” as an excuse.
I realize how ignorant and cruel that sounds, and there in summary is my struggle. I don’t want to be cruel, I want to understand it all, but I also don’t want to be pushed over either. I do my best to empathize, but my empathy has limits. A sexually abusive parent, the behavior is excusable, or a parent that hits is understandable to. Empathy comes to me intentionally, I choose who I empathize with, I suppose that may cloud my judgement….
The page just stops there because I was called away from my desk. Too bad I never got the flow back that day because I feel like I was really onto something here, but what can I say, some little bastard needed to know if he could use the restroom.
Welcome to Hell
After my fortnight as a proctor I had a few introductory classroom jobs that were rather uneventful. A few tests here, a few videos there, lots of worksheets, all of them with very well written lesson plans, my scripts for the Mr. Boxer of that day. One day I was nice and sugary Mr. Boxer subbing for kindergarten science in a Bill Nye bow tie, and on another I was the indifferent babysitter for a group of twelfth graders. The second week after my first gig I got called onto what to this day I think was one of the worst days of work in my life. To put it bluntly, I was eaten alive. Nothing I had learned from my fellow Pool Pawns could have prepared me for what was to come.
The American Pathway School, I will never forget that school’s name and neither should you, because if you live anywhere on the of cracked coves of San Pedro Street, you should never, under any conditions send your children there. What I saw was not a school, I honestly do not know what it was, but I dare not call American Pathways a “school.” A school has an administration office, a counseling office, and classrooms, all of which are presumably run by competent individuals. American Pathway has none of these things.
My blood boils with rage and my heart sinks and my head hangs with shame whenever I think about that shit hole of a hub that I don’t even dare call a “school” as it is more like a school outlet for the saddest rejects of LA’s ghettos. Good god, how to describe the hell that was that day I almost don’t know. My face becomes a whiter shade of pale whenever I have to think about it. The worst of it all is my own behavior that was the problem. This “school” brought out a side of me I previously did not know I had, a side of me that I do not like.
I was not called into work until the last minute, and when they told me it was just a 4 hour PE assignment, I thought it would be easy money. Stand outside in my basketball breakaways and let them run around a soccer field, how hard could that be? Since I assumed the assignment was going to be an easy one, I saw no problem in getting especially high that day. I treated myself to a rather large chunk of hash and two joints before setting off for work. I did not have to arrive until 10am, giving me plenty of time to assure my head would be in a good place for the day, or at least so I thought.
Well what they didn’t tell me over the phone was that the “school,” again if it can so be called, was actually just a room in a little hovel section of a campus that operated out of the second floor in the back corner of some forgotten building in this over sized behemoth of a training wheels prison for the blacks and Mexican teens of Watts.
I expected to pull up to a small building with the similar kind of grounds I saw at my previous proctoring job. Instead what I pulled up to was a regular run of the mill LAUSD public high school. One of those gargantuan behemoths that scream at you for what feels like three to five stories, when you drive past the on the choked LA streets, all of them with fences galore, but what I always remember most are those bars on the windows.
That’s something I was still not used to seeing at schools, barred windows.
It was well indicated I was not in the most affluent of neighborhoods, especially since on my ride over I passed at least twenty pay day loan centers and not a single bank. If you ever want to know how rough the neighborhood is, find out how far it is to the nearest bank.
It is not uncommon I see a school with high fences, especially in LA, however it is not all that common that they have barbed wire on top of those already unscalable fences. The barbed wire means they either want kids to stay in or they want someone else to stay out. The buildings, while not run down, did have a stale appearance to them. It attributed the character of the place to the plans being mistaken for a prison rather than a school. Maybe that is what happened in all the Ghettos, how else do you explain bars on windows?
The digitized and modernized graphic on the school sign and the dated architecture of the buildings just contrasted in that way that makes it obvious the school has been around for a while and had seen better days. Schools that were better off I had noticed were quick to modernize their campuses and resources, those that still had appearances of when they were first built were clearly lacking in something, most likely it lacked being placed in a neighborhood with high property tax yields.
I walked to the east entrance where some cliques of students stood here and there, leaning against walls and conversing or gossiping. Random groups of two or three girls playing with snapchat filters were scattered about like crabgrass on a foreclosed lawn. I noticed some middle school students as I walked to the front entrance, so I thought it must be a 7-12 school. Then I walked up to the two older ladies who were sitting behind the table signing students in or directing visiting parents to what offices they needed to go to, only after signing in of course. Though I was still confused why my charter job had brought me to an LAUSD public school, since i was at the right address I figured the charter might have just taken over the school or something like that. Either way I smiled and said to the women at the table “Hello, I’m hear to sub for PE.” I said smiling hoping they could help me make sense of where I was.
They both just stared at me blankly, as if there was more I was supposed to tell them but I didn’t know what, so I just kept smiling and stayed professional. “Which school?” one replied almost immediately, “We have three schools on this campus so…”
That was something I was not expecting to hear and at the time it confused me deeply. Yet I simply told them the name of the school, “American Pathway” and they said something on a walkie talky and made me sign in. They then said someone would be down shortly and to just wait here.
After about a 5 minute awkward wait where I just stood by the desk as they signed other students and visitors in, all of them taking in the Elephant Man sideshow that was seeing a white person in their neighborhood, a cute young office aide finally came and walked me to their section of the campus.
This is where I learned about a little thing called co location. Co location is where a charter school will operate on the same grounds as a regular public school, usually because they pay the main school or district some form of rent. Charter schools are responsible for using their own funds to maintain their own grounds and property. So on the same property where kids are getting fucked in the ass with tests and standards categorizing them based on how well they remember trivia, the administrators just do everything to avoid having parents in the office, and the only thing protecting teachers is their union fringe benefits, in addition to all of that there can also be another school operating on those exact same grounds where the teachers are scabbing and the students are being given all kinds of deregulated leeway and the administrators spend your money under-regulated. Two separate competing entities sharing the same grounds used to protect and educate students. What could go wrong there?
Up to this point the charters I had currently worked at seemed to be on the up and up, as far as I could see. The aide walked me to a building in the far back corner of the school adjacent to the lunch yard. We then went up the stairs and around the corner to reach the “school.” The hovel was composed of a multi purpose room turned into the principal’s office, the reception area, a test tutoring room, and bizarre lounge area for the students with a donated couch, beanbag chairs, and a used bookshelf with paperback Goosebumps that looked like they had survived the Kosovo conflict. The couches at the first school were that of an Ikea clearance sale and a PTA mother’s handout, these sofas looked better beneath the overpass they came from. I was surprised that a setting like this could legally even be called a school, but then again I am no legal analyst.
The only thing in the room, or school, to even define it as a school was a sad, worn black and white banner behind the principal’s desk. “American Pathway” it read, it even had an eagle on it. “Pathway to hell” it should say. From the outside and surrounding streets the school’s campus and buildings look normal. From the inside, well let me put it to you this way, when you hear about kids learning in under-maintained conditions in public schools, the cat is barely out of the bag Dear Reader. Forgive the hackie metaphors but I am trying to make light as we deal with the fact kids are being forced to “learn” in classrooms with decaying roof tiles, old pipes, rusty lockers, and more black streaks on the floor I have seen since my friends and i made competed to make skid marks with our bikes as kids. The teachers lounge where I put my food was no more than a closet that attached to the MP room, and the whole school itself was just that large room and the five classrooms on this one floor of this one building, yet it qualified as a high school. Something did not smell right, and it was not just the asbestos in the walls.
I sat there for 20 minutes enduring the stares of students walking in and out of the room. “Come one come all,” I thought again as I waited. I looked around the room to keep myself occupied. On the tutoring side of the room there were a few desks, the plastic chairs cracked and broken facing a dirty chalkboard. This was the first school I had seen that still even had a chalk board. The section where I sat was near the principal’s desk by the sad banner. In the center room by seat there was also a series of long white plastic fold out tables, the kind you would rent for a big baby shower or birthday party. I was actually impressed with how much use they had seemed to squeeze out of one room.
It was there in that room I was given my instructions by the aide who had walked me up before. She also gave me a two way radio that did NOT work I would later find out, and two attendance rosters. “Take attendance, let them run around the field, then play soccer for an hour and half each class.” was what she said through her perfect English yet still noticeable accent. “Two classes all day,” I thought to myself, “God bless block schedules,” or so I thought.
Yet there was no actual lesson plan given to me. Just those basic instructions. Nothing about how students line up or what warm ups they do. Now if a teacher is only as good as the lesson plan they have and you give a substitute teacher no lesson plan, by the transitive property what does that make your sub? I was about to find out the answer.
The whole day was a nightmare, what was only 4 hours felt like 8. I was out in the middle of the track and soccer field, hundreds, if not a thousand feet away from the building, in what had turned into sweltering heat thanks to the tarmac of the track trapping the sun’s heat. I had no shade on the entire track or field either.
My students were a chaotic collection of intensely forward and vocal students. I felt like I was doing a bad set at the Apollo. I could not say word one, not give a single instruction, without some wise ass ready to bite into me, it was as if I was offending their very existence by trying to get them to do push-ups before playing soccer all day. “Just shut up and follow instructions you idiots, how hard can that be!?” That was vain and foolish of me, “Forgive me father, for I knew not what I was about to do.”
Yet at the time I had never known a class could get so out of control, and I had no context or experience to tell me what I needed to do. It wasn’t long before I snapped my tether. I began hollering into the radio time and time again asking for insight and help all to no avail. Not a single response. No back up and no pointers on what to do with the monsters who would not let me start class. When I realized I had no back up, when I realized that I as truly alone out there, it was entirely on me to handle these kids. I had to find a way to get control of the class again, and I had no idea how to do that.
I could not leave to get help because I could not leave my students this far way from their “school” unattended. I was fumbling and bumbling more and more with every instruction I tried to give. The heat was beginning to make me dizzy and my previous buzz that I had arrived with was quickly killed. The more it became apparent I was losing control, the more the students jumped on me for it. Two students, a very tall burly one with a dodgers cap and a short thin one who looked like Ricky Ricardo, were the loudest of the whole class and were particularly getting on my nerves. When I had ran out of ideas on what to do I decided to sacrifice them in front of the others. So I just sent the two off.
“To where?” the tall one of them snapped back with intense attitude. He easily had almost a foot on me, yet still he was helpless but to obey my instructions lest he risk more trouble. Funny how that can work.
“You know where to go” snarky fuck I bitterly thought. I only said that to make it sound like I knew what I was talking about. I needed to pretend I knew where to send them since I had no one to to contact. I just hoped they wouldn’t call my bluff and go where they would be expected to go when in trouble. I honestly had no idea where I was supposed to send them, the whole colocation thing really threw me off and I actually did not care where they went as long they were gone.
Dear Lord forgive me, I knew not what I was doing next.
Off they went both going off on some expletive laden tirade about how I was an asshole, and a piece of shit, a bitch, among many other things. By this time, between my killed buzz, the heat, and the disrespect I had become intensely bitter. So there I declared, in front of the class as they were walking away and continuing their heckles as the became quieter and quieter in the distance, “You see class, that is what it looks like when someone has no future.” I said it loud enough for them to hear, but I only looked at the class when I said it.
Yes, I really said that, yes I really did. I told two teenage boys, in the middle of the hopeless hell of 83rd street Watts, that they have no future, they have no way out, and I did it in front of there entire class. To which they shut up, everyone did. The only noise the students made were the “ooos” or the “damns” or the “that’s colds” they were muttering under their breath. I had accomplished my goal, I had class under control and they finally followed my instructions. Then later I would realize that was the tough thing to have done, but it wasn’t the right thing. The right thing would have been to have said nothing, and let them get their anger out, that would have been enough to show that their frustrations were unfounded, that I was really there to help them. But no, Mr. Boxer-Ego stepped in that day and said, “Don’t want my help you little shit? Well then enjoy being an improvised fuck with a knocked up girlfriend before you’re 20. Don’t bother looking out or trying to better yourself, because you heard it from the one who gets to leave at the end of the day, you have no future.”
Well, I did everything else the way I was supposed to so the rest of the day was fairly easy, or as easy as it could be with a group of kids who see me as nothing but the babysitter for the day who will send them to the “office” if they get on my bad side. But I honestly did not bother the rest of the day, I just gave them the ball and let them run around for the class period, making sure they did not die, kill each other, or get each other pregnant. I did all of this while also trying catch the breeze whenever it hit so that I could cool off. The heat had left me somewhat dehydrated and the cottonmouth was getting worse as the day went on.
Only four hours and that was the longest work day of my life, the sooner I got out of there the happier and safer I knew I’d be. My second class period was easier, I did not give any one the opportunity to heckle me, I basically just let them loose around the track with the ball. I did have to keep my eye on the students. Several took the opportunity to play soccer while groups of young girls just sat and chatted. Various couples would sneak off under bleachers or into corners of the field mildly shielded by trees. One girl told me she couldn’t run today but also hesitantly mentioned that, “I don’t really wanna say why Mr.” I immediately assured her that I understood and that she was excused. The 15 year old boys that I was not letting sit out took offense to this, “Why does she get to sit out?” to which I just told them to “Google It.” I was not getting paid to teach anatomy that day.
The heat grew even more unbearable. If I wanted to stay in sight of the kids I had to stand where there was no shade. The tarmac on the track was trapping heat underneath my feet. My track pants were a swamp of vinegar by the end of the day and my whole body was beaded with sweat as if I had just walked around New Orleans in August. To bless my already fortunate day I had forgotten my water-bottle, and the only fountain was hundreds of feet away by the locker rooms, something the kids would take advantage of to ditch PE for a few extra minutes whenever they would go get water. The kids could go and get water whenever they wanted, but if I was to go get water I would have to leave the kids alone, and that is a quick way to get fired.
Finally the last bell of my work day rang. I returned my piece of shit radio back in and was almost out of their, free from any reminders of what had happened until right by the only exit out of the room, sitting in a chair with his arms crossed, was the shorter boy I had made an example of in front of my whole class . He said nothing, I said nothing, he just sat there in his seat with his arms crossed. He wore a look of anger and hurt on his face that I had never seen before in my life as I turned in my materials. It was a look of pure hate, but a look of powerlessness at the same time. I had never seen anything like that before in my then twenty something year old naive stoner life. I wanted to tell him that I was sorry, that I had only acted out of hurt and anger, that I was just trying to get the class in order, but I did not, I said nothing. I simply looked away from his eyes and left, and I called my employer the very next day telling them to never send me to work there again.
However, before I got to do that, I should mention that I firmly believe karma always finds a way because as I made my way out of the school and reached my car I had the good fortune of seeing the other, much larger boy, waiting for me by my Toyota.
He did not throw a punch or assault me, but he did confront me. He made no hesitation to tell me what he really thought of me and what I had said. I don’t remember all he said because he spoke so quickly and so angrily with justified hate and intensity. What I do remember is he called me a “mother fucker,” countless times and said, “You can’t talk to me that way mister. I know my rights. You can’t talk to any of us like that.” He at least addressed me as mister, so the kid at least understands cordiality.
The only thing I said to him when he finally caught his breath was “I apologize if I upset you, you have every right to be upset, I would be upset too if someone had spoken to me the way I had spoken to you.” I could still feel his anger, his teeth had clenched but all the wind was taken from his sails when he heard those words. He was now speechless, or he had just said everything he needed to and had nothing more to add. In any case it was then I got in my car and drove away, leaving him speechless as he glared at me pulling away. I could still see him glaring through the rear view mirror, he did not disappear until I turned around the corner, going south to head home.
To this day I am relieved to say that I have not taken another job for that school, not even once, I have never seen any of these again nor do I ever care to. I was paid handsomely for my time at this hell hole, and it wax enough to make up for my mistreatment but it was not enough for me to go back there anytime. I just couldn’t face those kids after that day.
When I got home I killed the rest of a six pack I had in the fridge and for the rest of that night I buried myself in a hotbox fog in my bedroom. By morning I had moved on. I realized I have more important things to worry about than 2 students whose feelings I might have hurt. After all, I had rent to pay.
American Pathway, the pathway to hell.
It took a four day weekend and only god knows how many 40oz bottles of Mickeys and pre rolls until I had gathered back the nerve to go back into a classroom, but I did it eventually. I was in luck to because for my first day back in the saddle after that previous public crucifixion I would be working at a school that was close to my house and I would be getting out at 1pm that day. I was convinced that this would be a day off and even if it wasn’t that good of an assignment, I would still be out and able to dodge LA traffic. Plus I think it goes without saying that I needed that money, so I took any job they would give me. This one was at a place called Teach Academy, located just on the corner of Florence and Normandie, “Where the riots started,” was apart of the directions my housemate gave me when I asked him how to get there.
I genuinely thought I could endure the worst of Watts for just a five hour day. When you make $16 an hour in an economy that dictates you’re lucky just to not have any student debt, you will do almost anything for that much an hour. Even the well paid and well fed amongst millennials are scrapping by in one way or another. We truly are paying for the sins of our fathers and mothers, we truly are.
But I digress once again, sort of.
Once again I was heading into unfamiliar territory and I was still shaken up from the beatings I’m pretty sure I dodged at Pathways. So on this morning I had treated myself to an immense head change brought about by an increased in my usual morning herbal dosage. I also drank heavily when I started teaching to be honest. That ended when I realized impaired judgement and being responsible for 30 kids at a time do not mix well, to say the least. It took a while for that lesson to sink in. At this point I was just looking for anything to numb myself and make the time go by faster.
I drove from my house in Hawthorne to the school. I live right next to Normandie Ave so I decided to skip the chaos of the LA freeways in the early morning commute and endure the surface streets, a completely different kind of chaos in the mornings. The freeways in LA in the morning are five lanes of slow moving congestion, full of cars weaving in and out from lane to lane just trying to get one extra car ahead before they merge over. On the surface streets of LA, it is a cacophony of traffic hazards not seen since those 80s computer simulators in driver’s ed. Normandie Ave might as well be Normandie Beach, it is a battleground of poorly marked pedestrian crossings congested with the tiniest nasal passage of lanes, everyone driving at highway speeds while tailgating each other, slamming on their brakes when they hit the traffic gaps near the freeway entrances. All of this while driving deeper into the hearts of American poverty, passing public housing, fenced up schools and churches, and doing 50 in a 35 on a cracked decayed road.
When I arrived at the school I had a sore foot from flexing it between the gas and the brake so much, and of course I was once again reintroduced to that bizarre modern “educational” concept of colocation. I arrived to what was clearly yet another massive LAUSD public school with an unused back corner being rented out to this hell of a charter. I won’t even call this place a school either, it was a pit, a corner for the rejects. This was a charter where they were shoving the teenage rejects of our system that the current board of education just doesn’t know what to do with. Because they just don’t care. “To hell with the kid who got expelled twice, we are going to invest in the kid whose test scores got us the biggest check.”
The charter itself consisted of six portable classrooms that were literally fenced off in the back corner from the main body of the public elementary school off of Normandie avenue. A gate did hang open so that students and faculty could walk to and from the main building of the campus, but the fence was high enough to let the students always know, “you can’t leave, you can’t play with those kids, you belong over here behind the fence.” The front of the bigger school had an entry way that was clearly designed in the threes which in turn would contrast with the two dimensional backlit sign that was made in the 90s. I approached the front desk and was then walked to the “main office” of the charter, which was a storage room of old mac computers and a multipurpose room in another wise un occupied section of the school. In prouder days this was probably the school’s top of the line computer lab, now like everything else from that era, it’s just a sad reminder of how easy things have gotten in a world where so much has gone wrong.
I arrived once again over-dressed in my top shelf tie to assure to the school and my employer that I took their word seriously, too seriously apparently because when I arrived not even the principle had as nice of a tie as I did. Nothing stands out like a 22 year old hipster with a Flight of the Conchords beard in a soon to become tacky Van-Heusen tie. It was then explained that myself and two other subs that we would be working together that day. One in the math room, one in the english room, and the third would serve as a “floater.” Like a turd, I thought.
A floater is someone who “floats” as we say in the education business, and let’s face it it is a business. A floater is someone who goes from classroom to classroom filling in various roles for the time they are allotted as subs. Much like a temp, they can sub for a teacher, fill in for a teacher’s aid, and they can do it for a short amount of time in each class, for either a single period or a few hours, or even the whole damn day.
That was to be my whole day, from 730-4, yes they snuck that one on me at the last minute as well, “Can you stay until 4 instead of 1?” Between the overstated dress code and the incompetent scheduling I was not put into good spirits by this school. I could have easily have said no and still been in okay standing with my employer. It would not have affected me in any way. Yet I was eager to show I was willing to work, and they tempted me with the all too evil words to a millennial, “over time pay” so like a willfully ignorant cuckold, I stayed. And much like a willfully ignorant cuckold, my day was filled with anger, frustration, and humiliation.
In case you are wondering Dear Reader, “Jesus Christ, 4pm? What type of school is this? What kind of monster keeps any kid in school for that long?” This type of school does. It’s a preventative tactic, the idea is that the more time they spend in the classroom that means the less time they will spend out in the streets unsupervised. Basically the more time the spend in school the less time they’ll spend getting high or getting pregnant. Like a caged animal in the zoo, all it does is create a build up, a need for release. If they only knew what they were doing to those kids.
In my shirt and tie and badge, I was to serve as the floater, the turd of an assistant to my two other subs. One was a retired drama teacher, dressed as I am sure drama teacher would have been in a black skirt and top with a thin cheetah print scarf and a charcoal pea coat. She had dark gray hair that was cut at a medium length that you could tell was straighten because it poofed out instead of dangled long, meaning her hair is otherwise very curly. She was from the east coast, retired from the finest arts schools of New York she told us during our lunch break, what schools exactly she never said. She was in for very rude awakenings about the truth of non white LA schools.
Yet our other comrade in arms was in for an even worse time. The other sub was a sickly thin push over white boy from Montana, he stood easily at 6’1 or 6’2 but he had so little muscle mass he was in no way intimidating. He was probably my age or older yet he had almost no signs of body hair, not even fuzz on his arms. He had the kind of face that you could tell did not need to be shaved often. He would keep his arms crossed when I talked to him, and he would often look down while using his Converse to tap back and forth on the floor tiles, almost like an OCD tick. He was a man who had the body language of someone who clearly had no standards for how to be treated. Those are the most dangerous ones, those are the ones quickest to anger, and the first ones to take their guns to a Batman movie premiere if you catch my drift. They are also the worst of subs, they either do nothing and let the kids run wild, or they turn to anger at every possible point. In any case they are never good for your children and they do not leave them with good impressions about education.
The two classrooms we were to work in were attached by a doorway on the wall between them, I was to go back and forth through that door to each class as I was needed to “assist” the other teachers. In other words they wanted me to flex muscle and help keep kids in line. The math room was smartly laid out with the desks all evenly grouped and symmetrically organized so groups of 4 could all face each other and even get a glance at the colorful laminated posters with formulas and equations on all the walls. Through the portal you would go and in the English room you would be, the tiles and walls the same shade and color of the brownish beige dust on the scuffed floors. Though unlike the math class in the English room the walls were completely bare except for an evacuation route map, a list of school rules, the bell schedule, and various pin holes dotting every wall in formless constellations all above and around the dirty whiteboard smudged with years of blacks, greens, blues, and reds.
This is the Mr. Boxer I hate the most, what came out on this day was Law and Order Mr Boxer, and that guys is a huge asshole.
So there I was, the floater, the turd, the substitute TA assigned to security guard for two other subs who had no idea what they were in for. It was like I had been cast in the victory story tragedy porn that would become these kids life stories if they succeeded. I played the part of the evil white man in the ghetto school keeping the kids down, and I played that part very well. In my head I was “keeping the peace,” in actuality I was just being an asshole. By god though I must admit that it was a performance for the ages, one that put my “you have no future” improvisations to shame. My voice was sore by the end of the day from all the yelling, and my legs were sore by the end of the day from waking kids back and forth from the office. Every time a kid was asked to leave class, I was to play Midnight Run with them and escort them to the office, because clearly they couldn’t be trusted to do it on their own and I was to serve as the body that reminded them of that fact. 12, 13 and 14 year old kids, and I was walking them down the green mile like they were John Coffee. Me, the floater, the turd of Teach Academy that day.
I remember savoring the 30 minutes I was allotted for lunch. The 15 minutes spent off campus at Subway buying my food were the best part of that day. One thing that stands out the most from that day is that one my way into subway a man walked past me with a tear drop tattoo on his face. I consider that person the personification of not only the school but the whole of poor black neighborhoods, seemingly normal to a naked eye, but for one unusual mark which throws everything off if your are ignorant or unfamiliar.
During lunch myself and the two other subs sat in the class to eat. This is where we conversed and I learned what I did about my comrades on the front lines. This was the extent of our personal interaction. We all knew we would not be seeing each other after this, so I don’t think any of us wanted to get to personal or chummy. So we kept the conversation just to the facts about ourselves, and before we knew it our students, thirsty for blood, returned.
Not long after this I was back to work, and my peace was over.
730am-4pm, a full day of serving as the floater, as an angry turd.
This is what I had to endure, and what I forced those poor kids to endure as well;
A student got mad when I confront him about looking at his Snapchat, he eventually bursted out of his seat, raising his voice. “You can’t talk to me like that Mister!”
“I JUST DID!” I yelled back, full of anger, trying to show who was in charge, who was the alpha in this classroom. “Good one Mr. Boxer.” I thought to myself, show no fear, no mercy.
A few periods later in the day I walked out of the classroom when the kids had recess, the front door of the classroom was at the top of a short ramp and stairs, so I walked out to lean on the railing and watch the students. I then suddenly dodged a soccer ball coming at my face like I was in a deleted scene from the matrix. The kids had all stopped in their tracks when they noticed what had happened and when I looked over at them there was no way to know who did it, but I had to say something. I had to let the students know I was not shaken. “10 years of Karate didn’t teach me nothing,” I yelled to the kids from the railing like I was Mussolini and I had just survived an assassination attempt. “Wonderful Max,” I thought to myself. ” A double negative and you dropped your martial arts training. Very good, very tough, that will keep them in their place.”
Those were my actual thoughts that day. I actually thought the words, “Keep them in their place.” Like I said before, I filled the role well. That’s what happens when you step into the role these schools are dictating, you just walk in, listen to their god awful rules, and let the power dynamic established by those rules do the rest. All the progressive Facebook rants and posts in the world can’t take away what happened to me that day. The only way I can make myself feel better is by telling myself, I just got a little too into character that day.
I should also mention that the teachers that I was “assisting” gave me more work than they needed to. I knew it from when I first saw them that they were helpless in those classrooms. The retired drama teacher knew what she was doing to some sort of degree since she had classroom experience, but it was obviously not with the 13 year olds of Watts. The children in communities like this I have learned you have to talk to in a way that convinces them you are talking to them like they are equal, not kids. She was talking to them like they were kids, and they were not having it, so I was the one to take them to the office, reminding them their sub was a guest and that no matter how they saw the world but in the world they were seen as children. I rarely got anything back from them except resentment. Yet I resolved to myself that I didn’t care, I just wanted to finish the job so I could go home and get paid.
The other “teacher” was horrific though, I was honestly a little spiteful of the fact that he was the one running the classroom instead of me because the man had no temper control, no sense of security or organization, and neither him nor I were actually math teachers, which was the class he was in charge of all day. Though I will be honest I enjoyed watching someone else endure the bullets I once had to. But it is like I said before, men with no sense of worth are the ones you need to be the most careful around, especially us white ones.
I remember there were two students, twins, a brother and sister, when one was in the math class while the other would be in the English room. When the girl broke down crying for some reason, the boy rushed out of his English class to his sister. I do not know how he heard about it, but he burst out of their like a bat out of hell as our Grandpas might say.
The math teacher for the day did not like to have his class interrupted already by her crying, apparently someone was spreading rumors, and the man’s efforts to “deescalate’ the situation were not only pathetic but making things worse. Long story short he was victim blaming, pure and simple, making her feel like it was her fault she couldn’t handle people spreading rumors about her. Then when the boy burst in and further interrupted things the man only escalated the situation, continuing to berate both of them now. I never saw such familial devotion since the moment the boy pointed in the towering thin mans face and said “Fuck you, leave my sister alone, can’t you see she is already crying.” That is a courage I wished I had when I was that boys age, but of course underneath my necktie I had to play Switzerland and act neutral to the battle before me.
Eventually I was able to sidebar the teacher and I managed to talk things down slightly and take the kid back to English.
The instant we opened the door to come back in the class the drama teacher immediately made eye contact with me and before either of us were even in the classroom she made a declaration.
“Take him to the office please, Mr. Boxer.” She said it with her arms crossed like she has been teaching there for years instead of mere hours.
“Damn,” I thought. “Harsh.” I felt like a soldier in Vietnam who was forced to torch the village when all he wanted was to go home. The teacher had given me my orders, so what was I to do, I was “just following orders.” The very words make me want to throw up, but that’s what I told myself, “I’m just following orders.”
So I turned and began to escort him to the office.
“Let’s go,” I said, trying to veil my guilt.
“But Mr. I was going to help my sister! You saw!” The boy was pleading with me shocked that I was taking him to the office. I was shocked to, but I couldn’t show weakness, I couldn’t show sentiment.
“I know but you should have let us know where you were going.” I tried to make it a lesson for him to learn, to put is on him and avoid the responsibility of admitting the teacher was being unreasonable.
“But MR!” Perhaps it was just the anger of the day, but something in me decided this student was being indignant, and that it was time to flex the muscle again. “I don’t care!” I snapped back.
He did not like that, not even a little bit.
“That’s fucked up mister!” He snapped back, rightfully so now that I look back on it. “You can’t talk to me that way!”
“I just did!” Like a broken record kids have screamed that at me and that was what I always screamed back. It was a way to remind them I can talk to them however I damn well pleased, but they had to keep their mouths shut.
I shouldn’t have screamed at all, I shouldn’t have brought more anger into their lives, but like I said time and time again, I was very deep into character that day.
He eventually shut up, and I walked him out of class.
Eventually his sister had to be sent out for something as well, or at least that pathetic excuse for a teacher thought she had to be sent out. So sure enough I took her outside, she pleads just like her brother, and like a broken record, “I don’t care!” I snapped back.
She did not like that, not even a little bit.
“That’s fucked up mister! You can’t talk to me that way!”
“I just did!” Like a broken record, and off I took her, my solace was that at least the two were together in the office now. Far away from the three angry white adults, who were furious that they wanted to protect each other. I am being honest when I say I admire those kids, it’s not often you see a family sticking together like that. I do not know what their home life was like, so I hope the two will always have each other.
Finally, after what was defiantly not worth an hour of overtime, the day was over, the other subs and I wrote our notes for the returning teachers, and we got the fuck out of there, all of us perfectly happy with the fact we would never see each other again.
It wasn’t until I was home and deep in my cups that I realized what a monster I had become that day. I was like one of the unappealing white people in Freedom Writers or one of those other god awful racist back hands of a movie. A pretty little phrase has never left my brain since that day, “School to Prison Pipeline.” That’s the first thing I think of whenever I hear the words “Teach Academy” and plenty of the other neighborhood schools of Watts or Compton.
“School to Prison Pipeline.” Nothing says prison more than steel fences and barbed wire, and believe me teach academy had plenty of that. A big fence closed it off from the rest of the school, and it seems like almost everywhere you go in the ghettos of LA there are bars on the doors and windows, even at the schools and homes. You go to school to bars on the windows, then you go to jail with barred windows, then you get out of jail and go home where the windows are still barred. “School to Prison Pipeline” and barred windows, that’s all I could think about the rest of the day as I drank myself to sleep. The turd, was finally done floating, and he finally was sunk and drunk at the end of the day.
Near the end of my tenure as a sub, I somehow ended up teaching for them one last time for a minimum day, they were moved to another campus, a YMCA on the corner of Century and Vermont. I found the journal entry from that day;
12/1/16 Teach Academy
First class of my last 3 weeks on the job. 45 minute classes until 12 today, all of them quizzes and study hall. It will be near impossible, I remember this school. This may be a long four hours, probably the longest since I started this job. This really is the worst charter I have ever worked for. Yes, the kids can have attitude, but the structure these adults give them does not help, that much I know.
The administrator who took me in is clearly flustered today. No real lesson plan for me, he says he’ll be back to help me start the class. It almost seems like he will be running things and I’m just a warm body for some kind of display in case someone important comes to visit today.
Only a few miles from my house, the school is at the corner of Century and Vermont now. It is far from Shangrila.
These kids need Joan Collins in Star Trek, not a stoner like me. So why did I take this job? Why would I come to this school? The same reason I took all those other jobs, I need the damn money.
Today it was absinthe tincture and two bong hits. I hope that will be enough to keep my cool for four hours. Actually for 3 hours and thirty minutes. A few episodes of a Netflix show, with no bathroom break whatsoever. Fuck it, I will survive. I will survive.
Nothing can happen now that I have not already endured before. What can harm me at a job that I leave in three weeks anyway? >:-)
Keeping my cool like never before, de-escalating the situations like a mother fucker!
7th graders in the hood, and my white ass. This is the kind of class you need the good teachers in. Not newbs who know nothing of de-escalation. I once knew nothing, and this school was where they sent me. Learning to swim by diving in the deep end, it can work, but when the deep end is full of kids they can be a little damaged by the splash.
Hopeless, I do all I know and it does not take. At least not with this class. Several have finished the quiz, I can see the hurt on their faces. Being grouped with the wasteful, ignorant, and creatons, it is a memory and face I remember well.
Too be smarter than everyone, to know it, but to be afraid to stand out. To be more afraid of being alone than being unique.
A fine way to go out as a sub. No order, no discipline, at least from a vocal few.
Bullshit, bell schedules mean nothing here, no wonder the kids are so chaotic, so resistant to structure. They know nothing of structure here except an imposing kind.
7th graders, mere children, and this is how people think they must be taught. Self-fulfilling prophecies. Where the hell is my next class!?
Insulting, they drop me in a class, they tell me virtually nothing. Like always I have to pee, but if a class is coming in I dare not abandon my post. But so insulting, they just give me a stack of quizzes, some abstract instructions, and then walk away.
But soft, voices approach!
A small, peaceful, respectful class, a gift after that previous episode. A gift, time to rest, to scribe, to prepare for my next coming ordeal. I needed the rest, I kept the peace well last class, but to do so for so long is no easy chore.
And I still have to pee.
Two and a half hours until I can go home and collect my dues for the day. Just one Kirosowa film of time until my 4 hour work day is done. Don’t be fooled, it will be a long four hours. Already has been a long hour and a half. Time does NOT fly with a full bladder.
New class, another small one, one of mercy again. One hell, two gifts, now I must endure two more.
Two more classes,
two more hours.
Small classes in these “urban” schools are what we need. More teachers and smaller classes.
So little info from the school for me, so little help, and yet I must keep the peace, and keep my cool. Hard to do when it is impossible to teach.
Even when it is not my job, even when I can get away with lazy days, I get furious when I can tell a school makes it impossible for teachers to actually teach. How can I tell? I’m no expert, but I worked in the classroom and I was a student once to. I know the difference between competence and incompetence. I know when a school lacks structure. Why is it these schools in the hood are the ones with the least structure? Or do I just notice their mistakes more for some unintentional, indoctrinated reason?
A peaceful class, a well behaved class, does put my racist fears to bed.
What racist fear? The fear that the poor are squanderers of their free education. I do not believe they are, so why do I feel inclined to think or expect that they are?
A plane screams overhead, LAX is not far.
This is indeed a long four hours. Good thing I forgot my coffee mug or else I would have to pee even more.
I think I’m the only white man in the whole building. The students snicker at something while I look away. Let them. Who am I to kill the sweet sensations and fun of suppressed laughter in a classroom? Just one hour and 45 minutes left until I may liberate my bladder. The tincture and absinthe holds strong effects on me and my body. Just a drop is all I need, I am so numb now, perhaps that is one reason it is easier for me to keep my cool.
Or maybe I’m finally over it all.
Another well behaved class mostly, but I have nothing for them to do. Study hall, a nice bullshit move. Study hall, the best bluff a teacher can have.
Two students are drawing me as I write this. They finished their work, so I will let them have fun. I love it. I cannot wait to see how unflattering they will make me look. Or perhaps I will look phenomenal. Either way I love that they are using their free class time to create. They will have more chances to succeed in this world.
7th grade gossip never changes. No matter what class, race, or neighborhood. 7th grade gossip will always be 7th grade gossip.
Not much longer until I am home free. My kidneys will thank me soon enough, especially when I no longer sub. The students sketching me are why I will miss my job, the students throwing their time away to gossip are the reason I come to this job fueled on narcotics.
Last class, class was class from hell. It is always 6th period. No joke. Only chance I have gotten to write is now in last few minutes of the class. I’ve kicked three kids out so far and I can’t get them to shut the fuck up with quizzes out…
The journal entry ends abruptly here.
Axis, Part One
Dear Reader, brace yourself. The following chapter is going to be a long one, so long in fact that I’ve broken it up into three separate chapters. Each one filled incomprehensibly with plenty of side stories, rants, and digressions. So if you haven’t gone to piss yet my Dear Reader, I suggest you go do it now.
Axis College Prep charter schools are the largest network of charter high schools not only in LA but in the whole state of California. They operate on a variety of different types of campuses, ranging from old now closed catholic schools to a rented out space on a state college campus. Some are state of the art centers for learning and others just run down buildings waiting for the next unsuspecting tenant to prey on. They run schools all across LA, and as such they have given me the bulk of my experience in the classroom. There is also a recent movement by some of their teachers to organize and form a union. To which I say, bravo. At one point in the news I read about one of their teachers getting arrested for handing out pro union pamphlets to new faculty members in the parking lot of one of their schools. To which in fact I not only say bravo, but I stand with that brother or sister in solidarity.
My experiences with the chain of Axis schools have been hellish front row seats to the realities of poor or non white America, back row seats to the truths of modern adolescence, risky firing ranges where I dodge either students insults or administrative incompetence, or safe havens for serious students in an otherwise unsupportive, anti-literate world. Each one has been unique in its own right much like any chain of businesses we might frequent. That is what some charters are, chains of schools.
However there are somethings that make all of these schools the same. All the students must wear uniforms, all of which had the Axis brand stitched into the corner like a Target or Walmart smock. They all name themselves after some local philanthropist who threw down the final check to get things started for the newest franchise, like Axis Mary J Odwalla Academy College Prep High School. The names were always incredibly long like that. Every school had some kind of overly general name or some other pseudo-inspirational line like that which would make Nietzsche happy like Axis Leadership College Prep High School. They predominantly operate in low income areas in LA, giving them a mostly Latin American and African American populace. Plus I am sure that it goes without saying at this point that I was high as a kite whenever I worked at every single one of their schools.
Yes, the chain that is Axis Charter Schools is a collective and bizarre brand that I think represents the bizarre institution of charter schools quite well. They also embody my entire experience with charters, because between the chaos that are charter schools and my inherent need to ruin my short term memory, all of them become a sort of blur and fog. Each Axis school began to blur into the next. They are all so similar they just begin to blend together yet each is somewhat distinguishable in its own way. They are like franchise restaurants, it really depends on who is managing that location. When I try to recall the events at one school I cannot remember if this happened at one or the other, if it happened at my first Axis school, or my last. Which one was my first Axis school which one was my last, there were all so many and to this day it is almost impossible for me to remember. Yet when I get into specifics, there are clearly schools with their shit together and ones that should be closed immediately. But yet again my need for self medication has made it impossible for me to differentiate between any of them in the collective chaos. That is what it is like working for charter schools, collective chaos. Each school so different in their methods and handling of regulations, there is no singular overarching case to represent the whole situation.
What I can also tell you about Axis is that they mostly operate high schools, which also adds to the sort of blurry chaos. High school jobs can be anything from a walk in the park to a living hell. I remember one time at an Axis school near 50th and San Pedro I was having an interesting time as a floater, once again doped up on enough thc to kill Snoop Dogg’s pet elephant.
I pulled up to a building that looked like a booming dot com company, not a school. There was no yard, no trees on the grounds, nothing but a parking lot and a three story building fresh from the architectural school of gentrification. Silver lettering on the top floor let all the drivers going by that this was AXIS SIMON OATS COLLEGE PREP CHARTER HIGH SCHOOL OF TECHNOLOGY. The building had it all, the pointless faux silver trim in between the paneling made to look sort of like wood but with a polyester sheen to it underneath row upon row of rectangular windows. Modern architects seem to be obsessed with two things, geometry and plastic.
I was signed in while the ladies in the office rushed between helping me at the front desk and all four corners of the office getting arrangements ready for the day as the students were arriving by droves. Once again serving as a floater, my least favorite title in educational work, I was started off as a Teachers Aide in the first period. It was one of those all too common over sized and overly general electives that somehow meets minimum criteria for some tedious standard, I think this one was about Public Speaking. At the helm of it was two of the English teachers, a male in his early 30s who looked like a shorter version of Edward Norton with his American History X goatee and a plaid button up polyester shirt that was too baggy around the sleeves. The other was a young woman not more than a year older than me with high heels, a grey sweater on top of her red skirt and a long black ponytail that complemented her red long faux eyelashes well. The class consisted of me simply sitting in a desk up front to help “keep the peace” according to one of the foot soldiers in the office. How exactly I was supposed to do that I was not sure, so I just sat in the desk while watching the class and no one seemed to complain. Though I was never introduced by the other teachers, and as the only white person in the room I was getting lots of stares, once again, I was back to being the side show.
The class itself consisted of at least 40 high school students of all grades packed into this one room in the back corner on the top floor of this building. After the last bell rang the room was full of hyper pubescent freshman, angsty Juniors, and the so close to adulthood they are over it all Seniors. The class itself was not too bad, most people sat and listened to teachers, both of whom not only seemed new to teaching but new to public speaking itself. Otherwise everyone was being respectful, except for one group of students in the back.
Two boys and three girls, obviously a long running clique of some kind, continued to chat amongst themselves as if their teachers were not even there. Despite the fact the female teacher was linking the public speaking skill set they were allegedly trying to teach to old videos of Kanye West at def jam, something I think I found more engaging than the students. Yet the group of students in the back talked and heckled and giggled at a volume I found annoying and disrespectful. I will admit the teachers were about as engaging as Ben Stein when he isn’t doing cameos but they were trying to reach out to these kids clearly, and for any student to not even acknowledge a teacher’s effort, well that upsets me. So I decided to “keep the peace,” simply by teaching by example.
I picked up a loose chair walked over to the corner where they were talking. I slammed the chair down, sat next to the group and watched the video, arms crossed and my face stern as a catholic school nun from 1920, ready to punish at the crack of an instant. However I said nothing and I made no eye contact with any of the students, I simply sat and watched the videos, showing the students how one is supposed to behave when in a classroom. The students continued to talk and one even began laughing as I sat down, but it was either a nervous laughter he was using to compensate for his true feelings. After I sat down, though they kept talking, they never got louder than a whisper, and the teachers were able to carry on with minimal distractions.
Later that day I was sent downstairs to fill in for a Freshman English teacher where I was delivered with the snotty disrespect worthy of getting even the most saintly of children beaten. It was worse and more infuriating than any other school, and our rape culture’s enabled pubescent sexism comes into huge play.
I do not like what our society teaches our boys as they become men, for in all honesty I feel like what we still tend to teach as “manhood” is nothing but archaic lies and jokes. All of which in the end do not create men but rather create permanent boyhood. That is why rape culture and sexism and street harassment, and even our sexualized racism are all too common. We do not have men in our world any more, we have overgrown boys. “What makes a real man?” you ask me Dear Reader. Well who am I to say, I am only one man who can only speak for himself. No one defines my manhood but me, and since it is my manhood I will not hold anyone else but myself to these standards. What I can say is we do no favors for our children by not standing up to ignorance or over entitlement, no matter what the excuses may be.
The class period started simply enough, it was actually a rather small group of 6 girls 12 boys, all freshman. I gave them my opening monologue, “Hello, I’m Mr. Boxer, I’m filling in for your teacher today. You have a relatively easy day, all you have to do…” and etc until my instructions are complete. After I had finished they took out their books and seemingly were working at first. Then after five minutes after I sat down behind the desk it became apparent that 6 of the 12 boys, not only were not going to work, they were going to be some of the most unbearable students I ever had to deal with.
To begin with, very little in this world sickens me more than when I hear teen boys talk about having sex with their female counterparts. That was something I was forced to endure a lot when I had this job. I am not so much bothered by things like PDA in the hallways nor any other aspect regarding children and youth exploring their sexuality, if anything it is all too important that they do explore their bodies and each other, yet they must do so mutually and respectfully. But when some boys talk about sex I am reminded of when I was their age and I bought into such callous thinking that I was entitled to more sex than I was getting, my line of thinking was that I was one of those “Nice guys.” Please excuse me as I vomit whenever I think of this previous version of myself.
The group of boys consisted of 5 Chicano boys and one very dark black boy who looked like a young Chris Tucker with a slightly bigger afro. His thin limbs and round haircut made him look like a matchstick. The Chicanos were various demographic of fat, thin, tall, short, long haired and short. All of these boys talked in a way as if no one else was in the room with them, as if the girls and myself were not even present to them. It was almost instantly after I had sat down behind the desk in front that they were on the subject of objectifying their classmates. Not only were they doing this but they were doing it so loud and clear with making the girls’ and a few boys uncomfortable.
“What about Diana?” I remember a short round one with a curly mop top haircut had said in the crackling tenor that is a 15 year old boy’s voice.
“Ew! Fuck no fool, she ugly.” replied the Christ Tucker look alike.
“But she got ass though,” said another, I think it was the fat one.
I could not stop rolling my eyes the more they opened their mouths. At first I thought it was all adorable, like I was watching a group of boys who had just discovered sex and were waving their red flags of overcompensation, masking obvious white flag that is virginity and male fragility. Nothing demonstrates an inherent lack of feminine contact more than anyone who talks about a woman like they are still a product for pleasure, and not a human being with a mutual sense of sexuality as they actually are. When I saw the pained look on some of the girls faces, I decided to speak up about their tedious distractions.
“Gentleman,” I said in a deep thunderous tone that boomed against the otherwise rather silent room. I always liked to utilize a deep boom with my voice using the acoustics of the room to my advantage. It helps to dominate and pull authority. Be honest what teacher are you going to listen to more closely, the one who sounds like James Earl Jones or the one with a lisp.
They looked up at me as I stood over them, they had not even noticed I had gotten up from the desk and walked over to them. When they all finally wise up and turn to me I notice that not one of them was even holding a pencil. It’s one thing if a student doesn’t do the work my Dear Reader, but it is another matter when they aren’t even trying to fake it. If a student at least fakes it, while it hurts their own education, it at least demonstrates to the teacher or sub that they have some concept of respect.
Based on these boys attitudes about young girls, I don’t think they had any concept of respect.
“Gentlemen,” I carried on, “this is not the time nor place.” That was all I said before I left them speechless and tried to sit back down.
By the instant I was sitting back behind the desk they were at it again. Before my ass even touched cushion they had begun breaking down the bodies of as many of their classmates who weren’t in the room as they could. It was like they were going through a checklist of objectifying their classmates. They might as well have pulled out their yearbook and a sharpie and begin checking them off.
Then they began pulling their phones out, comparing pictures of women posed in ways that no doubt was to accentuate a luxury car, a pile of cash, or some other tedious line of Instagram neoinpirstional or pseudopornographic horseshit.
“Ah dude, look at this” said the boy with the mop top.
“Ah but check her out!” replied one of his companions shoving his phone in the others face.
Not once did they even pick up a pencil. I looked around at the girls in the class quickly, all of them were rubbing their temples or using their free hand to block their views of the boys. Some had head phones and were looking down at their paper, but every time one of the boys said something else that was stupid with perfect timing the girls would shrug and shake their heads. Even headphones couldn’t drown out their being annoying. I even saw one girl with a short hair cut dyed pink and Ray Ban glasses using her free hand to cover her ear with her palm as she worked, she looked to me for a minute then back at her work after we made eye contact.
I walked over to the boys, towering and arms crossed once again. All of the boys had stopped what they were doing and looked at me, all but that one idiot, mop top.
“Oh man, look at her,” said the mop top, not even noticing or acknowledging I had walked up.
“I would like to see it to,” I said with my boom of a voice. His friends all looked like they were going to shit themselves. But this little fucker never even looked up from his phone. Either out of fear or disrespect either way it pissed me off.
Smiling at his phone, at no point looking up at me, the little shit just goes, “Nah, bro,”
“Nah bro.” That was all he said to me and back he and Chris Tucker were to objectifying whatever snapchat slut they were both following.
If they want to look at pictures of women on the internet that is their business, but I think we can all agree the classroom is not the time nor the place for objectification. In fact no place is the time for objectification, so the fact the boys were doing two things that piss me off at once, being ignorant and being disrespectful, both hurt and enraged me, yet what was I to do?
In any other situation, I would just send them to the office, right? Well, had the class been larger that would not have been an issue, but when you have a class of less than 20 and you send a third of them out to the office, the administrators might question your performance instead of the children’s attitudes. It does not look good on paper if you send out so much of such a small class. To make things more difficult the classroom had no phone, so I had no direct line to the office, no way to call for backup, which I desperately need at the time. Plus to be honest I had run around to so many classes this day I was exhausted by this point. My blood sugar and wits were so low that I was depending on the boom of my deep voice to get me through each class.
I walked back to the desk. When I sit and observe the class I always worked on my detailed play by play report for the teacher when they return. I was sure to put in my note for this time,”the boys in the second row were the rudest and most disrespectful I have ever had as a sub. They at no point did their work, ignored all my instructions, and spent the entire class not only on their phones but making sexist conversation, making the girls in class very uncomfortable. The worst of them were (mop top) and (chris tucker) punish them all, but especially these two, severally.”
I looked back up at the class for the last five minutes, never talking my furious eyes off the boys, who would only look at me for an instant then look back to each other and their phones, smiling and laughing to mask any discomfort caused by my glares. They carried on with no idea what fate had in store for them the next day. I made eye contact with the girl with the pink hair once again as class was about to end, and over the boys rowdy misogyny I saw her mouth the words “I’m so sorry,” as she nodded towards the boys. To which I just smiled and nodded, letting her know that indeed I was grateful for her solidarity and acknowledging that we were both on the level, that we were both woke, so to speak.
I have no idea how or even if the boys were punished. But considering the fact their absent teacher was a woman and one of her obligatory inspirational classroom posters was of Susan B. Anthony, I like to imagine that on the next day they got a more than stern talking to. In fact I like to pretend the teacher verbally castrates them in front of all the girls in the class. Then in her rage their teacher assigns the boys a 5,000 word essay on feminism and their behavior, due the next day. I like to imagine the annoyance of the boys and their pathetic idiotic pleas after hearing this. Then I like to imagine that on the next day, after slaving for hours to meet the word count and turn it in on time, the teacher simply collects the work and tosses them into the trash, never reading even them, because they aren’t even going to be worth a grade. I just love to fantasize about the look on their faces as she chucks all their work, all of their hours, into the garbage, demonstrating what being a sexist ass brings you in the 21st century.
That was all just one day, all of it at one Axis school.
Classroom Consciousness 2, Axis Insight College Prep Charter School
The following journal entry was written when I was in a bit of a mood it seems, usually rants like this were brought on whenever I was forced to over hear someone in the class say something ignorant. Usually its something that forsakes the intersectionality of suffering, a mistake we and our youth all too commonly make.
Stop passing the blame, the simplest answer is usually the right one and the simplest answer is that we are all getting screwed, and we can acknowledge no group is free of stain.
White people are either disdainful or willfully ignorant of the suffering of others.Their is an epidemic of homophobia in the black community, and Spanish speaking communities seem to think America is still in the 1950s. Men forsake the need for feminism. Feminists have many biased insubordinates within their own ranks. The right lacks legitimacy and the left lacks emotion and drive. You cant govern with pure logic and you cant run a business on pure emotion…
I was called from my desk so the writing abruptly stops here.
Quote Ima droppa bomb on you and your family’s faggt ass end quote 😦
It wasn’t long until I was on an assignment that took me right back into the middle of the firing range that is the LA Charter system. Received the phone call for the job at about 630 am as I was literally in the middle of my 2nd dab. If you have never had to talk to your employer while exhaling a vaporized bong hit of concentrate, let me be the first to say it is an empowering experience.
They gave me the rundown for what sounded like what would be an easy assignment. Later I would realize this was my first acquaintance with another enemy. This time it was at a god awful school that belongs to a chain of charter schools known as the Red Dot company. An enemy to my experiences who we will talk extensively about later along with our friendly neighborhood EMO.
The school was located on the middle of Central Ave. Seriously, I could not make that up even if I tried. Those who know LA will tell you that the heavy number of industrial plants and cracked concrete complimenting the bars on every single mother fucking window, do not make this the most inviting spot in the area. I suffered through the traffic and parked on the street by the school, what I remember most were the streets not only being cracked, but narrow and dense with houses. Plus being surrounded and packed with fences and bars everywhere you had the feeling you were cramped, even though you were outside.
At the school everything was fenced off, gated, isolated and locked. I had to go throw one fence, walk down a gated pathway that was covered by tarp on both sides so the only thing you could see was a grey sky overhead. Then I needed to wait to get buzzed into the front office, whose door locked behind me as it shut. A group of students sat on the steps nearby me when I waited, and for those few seconds I waited to be buzzed in I could feel their eyes taking me in, trying to sum me up and figure me out.
The school had the more than all too common cliche title of College Prep Academy Charter School or College Prep Academy or some other name that made you want to gag. I was originally told I would sub for English but when I signed in I was told it had changed to Econ and government. The classroom I was given for that day was what you would expect a high school Econ / government class room to look like. Plastic color coded baskets for each period to turn their work in on top of the shelves that carried the textbooks or the work books, all of them very worn and well used. The walls were decorated with posters about the history of the founding fathers, the definitions of our three branches of government, and the four factors of economics. It all had the veil of a true learning environment, while I may not be the best fit for the room, I could tell that who ever decorated it was in fact a competent teacher. The front desk was situated in a way where when sitting down the teacher could still see what everyone in the class was doing.
“This teacher knows their stuff,” I thought. This all lulled me into a false sense of security, that combined with my then state of mind I decided or at least thought I could decide to take it easy that day.
Hell I didn’t even plan to talk that much that day, Econ and Government in California are upper level classes, meaning I would have only juniors and seniors for the most part, meaning I would have people who were either about to be or were already legal adults, they just needed a warm body in there for the day.
So I sat behind the desk and listened, to be honest I was also hungover from the night before and had gotten overly stoned and caffeinated to make up for the fact, which can be a risky combination at a job like this. I had two joints and four coffees after I had those dabs, but I was still struggling to get back to normal and stabilize my senses after my case of the spins from last night. I did not think it would be that big of a deal nor that it would even be noticeable. The class was a group of 17 year olds, all they had to do was fill out the paper work and turn it in. How hard could that be ? Well as it turns out for some students its just plain impossible, at least without there regular teacher either looking over their shoulder or cheering them on. I was too out of it to do any of that. So I just sat there after I would give them the instructions, watching 90% of the class bullshit there way through the handouts while gossiping or Snapchatting.
Let me explain something else while I am at it. A sub is only as competent as the school will let him be. That means he or she is only as good as the information they are given. That information usually consists of a brief run down from some prole in the office trying summarize the key points of the usually ungodly long list of rules teachers are supposed to enforce in the classroom, which we all know don’t actually get enforced by our teachers all the time. Rather they are enforced only when you are stupid enough to do it and get caught, like when the teacher sees you and is obligated by the delicate nature of their job and societies horse shit cultural constructs of power and authority to act upon it.
The other piece of information that saves the substitutes life is the lesson plan as I have mentioned multiple times before. Yes, the lesson plan. A substitute teacher is only as good as the lesson plan left for them. A simple lesson plan should indicate a simple day. An extensive lesson plan should be left to prepare you if the class is a wild card, but no matter what a good lesson plan leaves the kids with something constructive they can do usually on their own. Simple enough right? Well, not for every student and evidently not every teacher.
One young girl could not understand why I would not let her go to the “writing room,” or whatever it was called in that shit hole, and she would not stop pestering me for permission to which I kept saying “no.” Now the reason I did not let her go was because no one told me such a room existed and the administrator who sign me in at the office STRESSED the point to me that I don’t let more than one student out at a time, and that was just to use the toilet. Most importantly, there was nothing in the lesson plan about such a room or being allowed to let kids out. So I refused, now of course I eventually could have just let her go and the matter would have been settled without incident, but I was a new teacher and I was new to this school I was not about to show these kids I was someone to be negotiated with. Most students in my experience up to this point would usually just accept no for an answer, be annoyed and move on. At worst they’d call me a “fucker” or something under their breath, but that I can endure.
Pestering questions when I’m so stoned and hungover I can feel every artery and vein throb is something it turns out I can not endure, yet still she pressed on.
“Why not?” She asked once again. i would then explain to her what I was only allowed to do.
“But why not?” She’d ask again and I tried to explain again, rubbing my temple since her voice was not helping my state of being.
“It’s just down the hall. Why not?” She’d ask a fifth time!
On and on like the worlds worst of broken records she kept pestering me, then out of nowhere, she decided to get personal.
“I mean why is it even that big of a deal to you, you’re just a sub, you’re not even teaching, your just sitting there. So why not?”
To which I quite professionally responded, “Get out! Get the HELL OUT!” As I pointed to the door.
To which she in turn muttered a string of obscenities about my “faggot ass” and some other horrid shit that plays directly into the racist fodder of those who ignore the cries of the black community.
Yet my anger blinded me to anything else at this point except getting this girl the fuck out of my class. So in my ever always wise ways I told her “I don’t care where you go at this point, just get the hell out!”
To which she said something else heart breaking, ignorant, and bigoted on many levels, yet the anger was still blinding me to the damage that I was really doing by reacting so indignantly.
“Oh brilliant comeback!” I said, “You got anything else before you get out?” I felt like I had dropped the mic, “Victory is mine,” I thought, “I got the last word.”
Victory over a poor black teenage girl, quite a challenge to overcome live it up Mr. Boxer.
She just stopped in front of the door, and looked at me, or rather she glared at me. She glared at me with nothing but hate in her now slitted eyes. “No, you clearly don’t care and I knew it,” she must have been thinking. Yet I was too caught up in being tough guy Mr. Boxer.
“It’s what you wanted any way right? Out.” I said again in that deep teacher voice I have, and with another second of that look then a bang on the door, she was out of the class. Of course she would then have to answer to the security guard who would then in turn have to escort her to their make shift detention center and call her parents, who would either be too tired from work to care, or too absent to properly discipline the child. Leaving them wound up and ready to pounce on another teacher on another day. Or their parents appropriately disciplined them, were the world not so jaded I would like to believe that, or maybe their parents beat the shit out them when they got home. No matter how you look at it, if you want to see pain, look no deeper than in the angry eyes of a student who hears the words “I don’t care.”
Off she went to answer for her sins one way or another, though in the back of my mind I knew I was in the wrong for my reaction. “Strike one,” I thought to myself. “Not even half way through the first block period.” I knew what I was to these kids now, so yes, I did just sit behind the desk the rest of each class. But let me state that I take exception to those who say that is not “teaching.” You see what a substitute is teaching when he or she has a lesson plan like that is that they are teaching you how to work on your own, not only this but they are showing you that you ARE capable of working on your own and that you do know the material on your own. They help teach you that you don’t need your teacher looking over your shoulder to see you to get your work done or that you don’t need to turn to them for all the answers. That is what I teach when I “just sit there” and collect the work YOU are assigned. I was at a loss of what that girl expected me to be teaching otherwise, did she want me to give her a step by step guide on how to cut out pictures and fold paper, which was basically half the assignment. 17 years old and it was basically an arts and crafts assignment in a general ed. economics class, “what am I supposed to do teach you how to use scissors?” I wish I had said instead.
Either way, my reaction was not even just strike one, it turned out to be the quite before the storm.
For the rest of this particular class period however I was merely forced to listen to the conversation amongst a group of adolescent Mexican American and Chicano boys. Five or six had turned their desks into a circle so they could talk to each other and their circle sat just in front of my desk for the day. I would not be surprised if the teacher had intentionally seated all boys there in order to monitor their work, because they literally did none and their was interest in anything but turf and neighborhoods.
Based on their conversations, it was clear that the boy’s realms of experience went no farther than the neighborhoods they had grown up in, which were surrounded and filled with gangs and barbed wire. After my incident with the first student, I endured a two hour block class period of listening to cholos in training talk about things teens should never concern themselves with. Who was dead, who was locked up, etc,
Not even once did they attempt to start their classwork, not even putting a name or date on the form. They were not even faking it which, most students will do out of at least a small glimmer of respect. Not these boys.
“Oh we never do our work.” One of them said to me so casually as I tried to irk them along to at least sign their names. If a student can at least sign there name, they will at least turn something in at the end of the day. Yet with a smile he brushed it off and so did I as if I was in on the joke. What could I do except I smile back and laugh it off, pretending I didn’t feel insulted and disrespected. Sure, I could have sent him to the office like I had that other girl, in fact I probably should have. But the rage from before had left me weary and embarrassed, and I just wanted to get through the day without anymore conflict.
I slumped back into my seat as class ended, my disappointment made my shoulders sag and posture to hunch. “They really don’t care” I said to myself. Well with a guy like me, angry and stoned, subbing for their teacher, why should they?
The peak of my eavesdropping on these boys was when one shouted in frustration to another “I do roll with them fool, they just keep getting locked up!” I honestly had to tweet that quote as soon as I heard it. It was a little something to cheer me up in an otherwise depressing situation. I wasn’t even listening to their conversation any more at this point to be honest, but when he heckled those words to his friend as if he was at a bad movie talking back to the screen the whole class looked up at him, and we all couldn’t help but laugh. That was the one moment I think I laughed that day.
Ah, but the fun was only beginning, the last period of the day, that was when “the bomb was dropped.” That was when my white boy sensitivity was demolished as the hood decided to go nuclear.
Five, fat, disgusting black girls were in this class. Yes, those are horrid things to say about a woman of any race or age, especially a student, but let me assure you, disgusting is the only word to be used to describe them, and when I am finished with my tale, I am sure you will see that unless they have changed their ways you will certainly agree. Though I must also acknowledge the fact that the hate I received on this day was a cry of pain, at least I can now that I look back on it I can see that.
These girls were big and tall enough to be security guards and they had more tattoos than me, just from the site of them one could tell that they were not only tough, they were intimidating. Two had hair extension braids at least two feet long, all of them were at least 240-260 pounds. The uniforms in the school were not flattering to their jelly or back rolls.
Folks, I was bullied from 6th to 10th grade, and it was merciless. Here I am, a grown man, a fucking teacher for christ sakes, and I was subject to treatment that would make Edward James Almos and Hillary Swank say, “Fuck those fat useless niggers, I’m voting for Trump.” I speak metaphorically of course, but the anger and humiliation I felt that day was real. The point is it was my early adolescence all over again. It was a bombardment from all angles, I was the only adult in the classroom and the only white man I had seen in the whole school, I didn’t have a chance.
From one angle I’d see one of them with a phone out. “Please put the phone away.” I said trying to use my classic boom.
One of their allies, one with hair extensions, throws a paper from the other side when I’m not looking. I still caught it and feel like a validated ninja badass.
“Who threw that!” I bolted with another thunderous boom, but my attempt fell short at the end as my voice cracked just a little bit.
“Fucking pussy,” from another angle I heard. I saw one of the chunky mistresses looking up at my with a snidely smile. We made eye contact and I saw both laughter, mockery, and hate in her eyes as she looked me right in the center of my pupils and smiled smugly, it was like a sociopath on the witness stand, like the Joker testifying at his own trial.
What has the world done to these girls, I shake my head trying not think about it as I write this. But at the time though I wanted nothing else except to make one thing clear, that I was in charge and if there weren’t going to treat me with respect, it would only be hell to pay. Mr Boxer was not about to let himself be humiliated like he was 15 all over again.
“Watch your language in the classroom.” I would say hands on my hips like Superman, focusing on keeping my voice from cracking again.
“tssht! Bitch.” From another angle I heard. I simply glance over with a slit of my eyes, hands still on my hips, saying nothing. I tried to keep my cool, I tried to show I was in control.
Another would whip her phone out. “I said put your phone away.” I immediately responded
“Faggot ass bitch.” From the opposite side I heard.
I’d look over. “Watch your language!” That was one I heard a lot back in middle school and I damned sure wasn’t going to put up with it as an adult.
“Fuck you mother fucker, you aren’t even teaching.” She said it right to my face as another one took her phone out again.
“Stop it, and put your phone away!” I was surrendering to the fear, and therefore the anger. I was beginning to lose control.
“Why are you doing this to me?” I wondered. “I’m here to help you. Why don’t you see that? Why are you doing this to me?” Right there I think it’s pretty clear where I was screwing up. That’s why I lost that day, my poor wittle white feewings got hurt.
Soon I was bombarded from all angles with insults and attacks. I was getting called “bitch” and “faggot” like I was 12 and chubby again, too slow to make good time on the mile run like the rest of the class and the PE teacher’s pets the track and field stars. My temper was the only security blanket I had as a kid, and it had not reared its ugly head in years. It was a rush of flash backs I had as a child to this kind of brutality, and like a Pavlovian animal I fell into habits I had forgotten I had.
No matter how I legitimize it though, the truth is I just couldn’t take it any more that day. So the anger returned.
What then proceeded was me stepping out to get security to escort the girls, as they would not get out of their own free will and even began threatening my life.
“We’ll bust yo ass dead before leave bitch!” were one girl’s exact words as I stuck my head out the door to wave in security.
Security got them to stand up, but not before they began screaming obscenities. “Faggot ass” was the most frequent one if I recall correctly. In any case the undue homophobic slurs made it clear that these girls were not exactly enlightened on the real repercussions of their words, nor were they woke about the intersectionality of their oppression and the oppression of all peoples. Plus my Dear Reader, in my opinion it doesn’t matter if you are gay or not, but when you are called “faggot” or any epithet like “cunt” or “nigger,” you just feel like shit no matter who said or how the person said it, whether jokingly or not. I’m not saying pass laws against certain words, that is just unconstitutional. What I am saying is some words are just fucking dehumanizing, and culturally we need to acknowledge that.
“Well shit, I thought i was a person, who was your sub, but I guess I’m just a faggot.”
“Oh, I thought I was a person, but I guess I’m just a cunt.”
“Oh I thought I was a person, but I guess I’m just a fatty.”
“Oh, I thought I was a person, but I guess I’m just a nigger.”
So their barrage of hate lasted at least five minutes as the security guard tried to corral them out like rodeo clowns herding buffalo. They continued to hurl horrible sentences at me, and the temptation to yell back and rip them to shreds was all to tempting. But thc and professionalism got the best of me, so I began to look up at the ceiling and started ignoring them since the matter was almost settled and they were almost out of the room.
Then, I don’t know why, but I just said nothing and started to dance. I took every insult with a smile, still looking to the ceiling and started doing a little jig, a small bounce back and forth with my hips as Security was pushing them out. No eye contact, just a smile and rocking of my hips back and forth. To which one said, “Ew you gay.” After all the moronic shit I had just heard, after all I had just endured, that was the worst to me for some reason.
After all their horrible shit, what made me the most upset about the whole situation, was that a person in the year 2016 said the word “gay” as if it had negative connotations. To say “gay” as if there is anything wrong with it is not only degrading but moronic at this point. I truly felt a tide of rage and hate within myself, I feel it even to this day when I think of these five girls and that whole situation, and I do smile smugly a little bit to myself knowing that they are in all likely hood still stuck in the shitholes of their neighborhood. Plus I loved the instant karma of them getting pushed out by security, five girls each 200 plus pounds against one guy is quite a sight. I just feel satisfied know that they may be hateful, but their hate is cooped up in a shit hole, where it belongs and where it deserves to be.
Enlightened, aren’t I? I still have to remind myself not everyone is, and that the most hateful are usually the most hurt, but at the time, “fuck these disgusting piles of worthless,” I was done with for day.
I was relieved because security didn’t seem to appreciate them either, “Hey Sherisse!'” Shouted the brick wall of a Mexican ex cholo, “Shut it! It’s over.” He was blocking her from heading strait for me like a charging rhino with just one arm. Then, still talking to me and almost ignoring him she continued to yell “It aint over til I drop a bomb on you and your whole families faggot ass.” I was about to cut into that girl, to tell her to rot in this shithole like the fat pile that I thought she was. The security guard spoke up before I could though.
“OUT!” he bellowed with a thunder so loud even I had to stop my dancing and look at them leave, but I still smiled and I looked each girl in the eye as they were forced to exit. The guard was no grabbing the one who had threatened me by the back of the neck and was using her body to push out the others. I don’t think it was so much that he was standing up for equality but rather he was just as sick of their disrespect as I was. But with a forward thrust of his mighty stone sized palms he pushed all five girls out of the room with seemingly little effort, knocking one over as she tripped going into the hall, almost creating a dog-pile of fat black homophobic teenage girls that echoed in the halls as each one hit the floor with a thud.
I was lucky enough that this was the last period of my day. I returned home and like a good millennial, vented about my feelings from that horrid day on FB to which my friends reassured and validated me and sympathized. Once again I was not really thinking about their black situation but just my white feelings and emotions and hearing from my friends and family that it was all okay. Yet it was all too familiar, I was safe in my room with my pot and my beer like I was 16 and I had just endured the heckling of my entire school again, curled under the sheets with narcotics and Netflix. But while trying to forget so hard I was just forcing myself to think about it and was reliving all the negativity, pain and tragedy of that day, again only thinking about a certain someone in the process.
“Poor me.” Drink. “Why did this have to happen, To ME?” Puff. “Why were they so mean TO ME?” Drink. “Those fat sluts. Those disgusting homophobic ignorant bitches. Those are the ones who deserve to live where they are.”
Well Max, did you ever stop to think about the fact that those girls have grown up in immense poverty, lacking access to proper nutrition and only having access to garbage food resulting in their poor physical health and appearance which results in low self esteem? Have you ever thought about the fact that most of these girls live in a community where a present father is a rarity, and many men that have stayed or become present in their lives could potentially be physically or sexually abusive, considering the statistics for such things are higher for people living in high density housing or amongst heavy poverty?
On top of all that Max, have you ever thought for two seconds how you could combine all that with immediate recognition of your privilege? When they saw your white skin walk into their classroom, and immediately you demanded their respect for no other reason than being the older man in the front of the room behind the bigger desk, why? What had you done that day to earn any students respect? Oh and the homophobia? Is it excusable, hell no, but when you are worried about whether or not the cops will kill you on your way home from school, or if you will come home to either an absent or abusive parent, chances are you are not thinking about anyones sexual liberation, nor are you likely thinking about freedom from heteronormative roles or gender identities, right Max?
This is what I have to tell myself when I get upset remembering what these girls said and did. That was really what it all comes down to, yes it did hurt my feelings, but what I think hurt the most was that these girls, who were so oppressed, could in turn think about the world in a way that oppressed others. Yet how can any one even consider someone else’s social justice when they or someone they know have to worry about getting shot by the cops coming home from school or work that day?
These are the questions I should have asked myself that day. Yet instead of enlightening my social conscience any further, on that day I just kept getting crossfaded and dove deeper into the pit that is Facebook on my screen, just like when I was 16.
Classroom Consciousness 3
The following was written when I had a particularly well behaved class of ninth graders for English class in a school in Compton just down the street from their city hall.
Wilmington Charter High School 9/29/15
Just keeping busy while I watch the kids work, keeping them on task, but I feel I need to utilize the time in between telling them to work. So I pulled out the journal.
In all seriousness, I have no story or poem ideas, yet for some reason I need to write. I am glad I started bringing my journal to school, but I have to keep a very close eye on it. I would not want one of these kids to read about my latest drug trip or sexploits. I would forever be that sub and my story would live on forever in the minds of a few impressionable youths.
No ideas, just a babbling stream of consciousness, so many words always come to mind at once I don’t ever know what to put down. Im taking the absent teacher’s red pen, I love writing in red or blue ink. Just to save lead. She as plenty of red pens, she wont miss one. I did not sleep well, yet my mind is constantly working still.
I hear the kids talking about something not classroom appropriate, I look up, they shut up, and even apologize. I stop kids with just a look.
I wonder if I can actually help these kids. I don’t like the prison model of education, school’s with armed security, distressing facilities and faculties. To be honest other than the fact that most of my teachers were pretentious white guys my high school experience was pretty good, I mean it was hell, but I got a good education in a big open campus surrounded by trees.
So many of these kids have never known that, and will never know of that, this must end.
We must reform education, it is the biggest problem that no one is talking about…
I was called away from my desk to handle a boring teacher errand for a class period.
A good class, back to this stream of consciousness, a series of storied words, constantly rushing faster than my hand can write them.
I hope these kids make it, I hope the work on their community begins and Compton becomes free of violence and gangs. These kids deserve better, better than what I can give them.
These kids deserve what I got growing up, Ive been lucky, almost too lucky. One issue solved and another arises, as is the nature of progress.
I need the work, I need the cash, I just want time to speed up so I can move. I’m tired of living as poorly as I do. I’m tired of seeing the things I see at work.
I need a new environment, my own environment.
Must begin treating this like a journal entry, but this is what is on my mind, this is what I am compelled to write…
I was called away from my desk due to a school evacuation for a fire drill, I didn’t get a chance to journal the rest of the day.
New Century Charter School a poem by Max Boxer
As a writer, I am first and foremost a poet, as such there are somethings I can only express in poetry. The following is my experience at a school called New Century Charter High School. It was another day were I self medicated to a point of numbness as I paid for the sins of the white man once again.
Another day, another dollar.
got out of bed
dragged a comb across my hair.
A jazzy tune to pick up my spirits along with my coffee.
Fresh clean tie and shirt,
and the “badge.”
Not even a real piece of plastic,
just laminated clip art,
and a $2 lanyard,
and that’s my “badge.”
I am the law,
I am the Sub.
A cold winter morning,
time to throw on the cool coat,
the long coat,
the powerful coat, for the powerful teacher.
Because today is a confident day,
Mr. Boxer is coming to help,
Mr. Boxer to the rescue.
With his know-it-all beard and glasses,
he is on his way.
New Century Charter High School,
renting out of a fenced off compound of classes
at a gargantuan Gardena public high school.
LA Campuses scare me,
not the students, the buildings.
A grown ass man, scared of a few buildings,
my school’s were never such fortresses.
and the word “colocation”
were as alien to me as “insurance” and “taxes.”
Growing up, and I’m still doing it in classrooms,
A fenced off parking lot,
so my old Toyota fits in well.
Fences are never a good omen.
By night these rooms are an adult school apparently
but by day it’s a high school.
Multi Purpose schools, more bang for our buck.
A high school that is fenced away from the other,
bigger, fortress of a school.
A multipurpose school, that is where I am.
The only white people here
are me and the other teachers.
The only bathrooms are at the end of the school,
Subs are not given keys.
What could go wrong today?
Another day, another dollar.
I need to be in the classroom,
watching the kids, all day,
someone has to be taking the bullets that is attitude
Harassing the girls young man?
Go to the office.
Catch the kid swearing?
3 strikes, and they are out.
If a class like that were a baseball game,
I’d be a well hated umpire.
So many students, so much anger, so many insults.
The worst of them,
“Just a sub!”
Where do you put the kids you don’t know what to do with?
The ones who make administrators actually have to do work?
Send them to the office,
or just shove them over there,
behind the fence in that corner,
under that cheap banner.
We can tell them it’s their new school, pet them on the head, and walk away.
Schools have signs and mascots,
paintings ten feet tall to tell the neighborhood,
“People are learning here!”
This one has a banner, many charters only have a banner.
Inside the classroom after signing in,
10th grade english.
“Read and write about Lord of the Flies class.”
Make a group of black kids read that racist piece of shit anachronism?
Nothing more appealing to these students
than an over dressed millennial whitey
or that wimp Fitzgerald.
Not at this charter.
Sure, maybe a poem or two.
But don’t even say the words Baldwin, Davis,
West, or Dubois.
Don’t let them know they actually have options,
Just enjoy these dead white people,
or go to the office.
No, not this time Mr. Boxer.
I stood there in my polyester noose
held that copy of Golding high,
that so called “masterpiece”
and I did what a teacher does,
or needs to do,
tell the truth. For the first time at this job, I told the truth.
“I’m sorry I have to teach you this book. I hate it. I know it sucks, its racist, I hate it.”
“Yeah it does,” they’d agree.
“Why do we have to read it?” Some would ask.
Because they say so kid, and “they” are the ones paying me.
I did leave work with some solace that day,
I stood up in front of the class, and I showed them
that Mr. Boxer was not so bad after all.
So many others, they still hated me though.
“Please take your seats.”
I lost count of the middle fingers.
One class so out of control, I give up,
So all the boys stood at the end of the class
to watch something horrible,
But I didn’t care anymore.
I find pot chocolate in my back pack.
I scarfed it down.
The day was still brutal,
but I was numbed.
Numbed to everything.
And I took solace in saying
“Fuck Golding.” I did it every class period.
I did have to watch my language,
the hardest part of my every day.
But the students had almost no vocabulary.
Even I was taken back
and I’m no nun.
How many “Fuck you’s” today?
Enough to know I’m not actually going to enforce that rule.
“Hear a kids swear more than 3 times,
send them to the office.”
Send out every kid when you hear “Fuck,”
and you’ll never actually teach.
Numb, all day now, numb.
Another day, another dollar.
Numb, all day. numb.
But I stood up and said “Fuck Golding.”
“Fuck racism kids,
there are much better books in the world.”
Trust me, I’m writing one now.
“FUCK YOU Mr. Boxer!”
“We don’t care.”
Then why should I?
Just give me the paycheck then,
so I leave, and drive away when the last bell rings.
Another day, another dollar.
but I slept well that night, because I said Lord of the Flies sucks.
Axis, Part Two
After that it was nothing but a series of random and various Axis schools all across LA which of course became one chaotic blur. Plus when you mix that with my inevitably bad short term memory it becomes hard to distinguish one day at their schools from another. I remember one Axis Charter School where I subbed as a government teacher for moody seniors and another I was to play art teacher overly enthusiastic freshmen. Many different schools, many different neighborhoods, all of them having me play a different character, all of them for one chain of schools.
One school on Normandie Avenue and 100th I was forced to play an overly strict English teacher where I was forced to send three young black girls out of class for constantly taking over me as if I wasn’t there. I left the the school to one of them yelling “I hate you!” as I’m walking away. “I don’t care,” I whispered as I whipped out my sunglasses, put them on and walked away like the hero walking away from the explosion, and I peeled off from the curb in my old hand-me-down Sienna.
Another Axis school had me as a super chill babysitter for ready to graduate seniors, five class periods of showing videos and asking them to fill in answers in an East LA classroom. Yet another has me play a real teacher, leading a discussion on Shakespeare in Inglewood to keep the class in pace with tests and evolving standards. All of these characters I played while I was undergoing massive head changes. Hash, Blueberry, Mango Kush, beers, edibles, and 142 proof brandy all helped to dull my nerves for a large tenure of my teaching career, yet whenever I taught at Axis schools the need to be numb became even greater. They were so random, so chaotic in how or what I experienced in them that I never knew what I was going to get. Admittedly it was like that with almost any subbing job I took but there were so many goddamn Axis schools and I was getting sent to what felt like every single one that I could never remember which ones were which, which were the good ones setting me up for easy days at work and what were the others preparing me to play teacher cop baby sitter and body guard all at once. Instead of preparing myself for anything, I numbed myself to everything.
Though I kept several journals.
Classroom Consciousness 4
Axis Health and Preparatory School
The students are being rather peaceful, several don’t want to do anything, two boys are just staring into nothing, sitting in the desks with their arms crossed. No point in getting into another of those conflicts. When I’m focusing on two students choosing not to do anything, why should I even bother when I have 29 others in the class actually trying to learn.
The students are actually reading the books again. fuck spark notes, students are actually reading again. The sun warms me from the back window by this teacher’s desk, I wish I had journaled out more in my life, this is very therapeutic.
To hell with it all, I may send my final notice soon. Soon I will declare my separation, Hell I might just do it today. Yes I’m in financial straits I need to leave, I have places to see in this goddamn book to write.
The students, they will be adults soon, are these people the future of my work? My future audience?
Millennials and the young, they are the people I can reach. So many screens being used right now in this room, I’m here I am with my now old-fashioned ballpoint pens and comp book journaling thought after thought away. I didn’t do this more often because I didn’t see your point. This just wasn’t my style.
Hindsight is 2020. Watching the kids whenever I’m reminded of my time in high school that is what I must tell myself hindsight is 2020.
I did not put my notice in until a year later.
The Rich Kids
After the relentless chaos that was New Century and the headaches that were all those axis charter school assignments, it was as if Sub Pool had decided to reward me for the hell they had put me through all those embarrassing assignments and for enduring the random bureaucratic chaos of all those different charter schools. Barely a month or so into my employment, and already I’ve been the classroom monster, the villain teacher in a ghetto tragedy porn movie, a short tempered PE cliche, and a power point trained bureaucrat regulating your child’s English career, so what could be next? What else could possible happen to me in the line of duty? I was just trying to eat, SubPool. I did not sign up for this. Have you no mercy sub pool!? Have you no mercy public school charter educators and institutions of Los Angeles? Have you no decency?!
The answer is, no. No they do not, but the private school sector does, seemingly.
I received the call as I had just french pressed my morning coffee for what I like to call my Wake, Bake, and Caffeinate. I was told by Sub Pool dispatch it would be my first private school assignment, and that it was one of the best schools in the area.
“What a relief,” I thought to myself as the coffee and cannabinoids did their work on me and the 6 am orange glow from the window warmed me in the cool morning air. I was given a full day of teaching art to a bunch of rich kids at a private school in Santa Monica, the Westward School. These schools are choked with the sons and daughters of LAs lawyers, doctors, music executives, and movie producers, and I was responsible for all at $18 an hour now with my newly received credential that got me a raise. A credential that I earned with some paper work and a yearly fee to the state of California, in some schools that’s enough for me to teach all year. Yet I digress.
I was also promised small classes for the whole day as well. “Class sizes of no more than 20 kids?” I thought to myself. After dealing with class sizes of 30-40 at a time and many of them ready to call you a piece of shit just for showing up, it was a nice break.
Art classes are also great because they never go bad, almost no one ever acts up in an art class. Even the kids who don’t want to do anything or don’t enjoy art would rather be in art than any other class. So uneventful and well behaved are most art classes that on those days of work I got especially ripped before hitting the road. After nothing but straight bong hits for five whole minutes I was in the right state of mind. The state of mind of a great substitute art teacher for a ritzy private school in Santa Monica on Sepulveda Blvd. I also did not have to overdress this time, I was told they have a casual dress code, which to me means A Velvet Underground t-shirt, jeans, and a pair of Chuck Taylor classics. I was well prepared to play this character. I looked, smelled, and felt like a real Art teacher.
My first time there at Westward I was a little bit in awe of how very little I actually had to do in each class, which was a relief since I had arrived so high that if I had needed to do more I probably would have made it obvious to the whole school. The campus itself had lush green grounds and each building was a prime example of modern architecture. Fresh paint and staines gave the burgundy and ochre yellow hues of the buildings and the painted cement pathways made every thing in the school look alive and new. Instead of being trapped in gargantuan buildings with minimal escape routes like the schools in Watts or other neighborhoods I’ve been to, the buildings here were spread out with plenty of space in between them for students to breath amongst the fresh flowers and greenery. There were no congested hallways, and there was even a few bridges to walk them over the waterway that split the school in half. There was even a few potted plant here and there in large ceramic planters, adding drops of white and purple to the green and other fresh colors dotting the school.
“And what is this?” I wondered when I arrived to the class, “I don’t have to raise my voice to start class. They are quite as I introduce myself? They actually care about what I have to say? They care about their education? Is this what happens when money and education mingle?” From the witness stand that has been my day job, it sadly would appear so. Still, it was nice to introduce myself and be welcomed.
“And what’s that you said Ms. random generic administrator? Free coffee in the teachers lounge? why don’t mind if I…”
It turned out the school’s idea of free coffee for teachers was a goddamn state of the art espresso machine, with the options for latte and cappuccino built right in. Press a button, boom, gourmet latte in 1 minute, tops. The other schools gave me a 30 minute break and some Folger’s I was lucky, this one had all the free lattes I wanted. “Way to win me over rich kids, way to make me forget about anything I had to do in Watts or Compton, just dangle some free coffee for me, and Im a happy millennial worker bee.”
I loved being around people who actually wanted to be there, who wanted to learn and who I didn’t have to flex muscle to establish some kind of BS power dynamic in order to maintain any position of pull or respect or authority in the classroom. The respect was inherently mutual, “but why is money always the deciding factor in these matters?” I wondered that then and I still wonder it now.
I think it is because money is capital, capital is a resource that can be used to gain other resources. In other words if you have money you don’t have to worry about supplies. When you don’t have to worry about where your supplies come from you are free to the job at hand, in this case you are free to teach. That is why it was so good there, money means you can provide for the students education, and not all schools get the same amount of money. Especially a private school or charter school.
Yet I was not thinking about any of this at the time. What I thought at the time was, “Oh sweet karma and heaven. What a day, what a slice of heaven.” All the caffeine I wanted and students who listened to me, some of them even seemed to like me, it was a dream day for any sub. Yet everywhere I looked, I will be honest concepts and facts of my liberal arts education pestered me from the back of my mind the whole time I was there. The word “privilege” seemed to be fisting the back of my head non stop, no matter how much I was enjoying the peaceful classes and free espresso drinks, that ugly little concept of “privilege” pricked at me just a little bit.
But I had other matters come up to keep my mind occupied.
Later on in the day during lunch some students were eating in the classroom, I was looking down at some attendance paperwork when suddenly I felt something around me. “And what’s this now?” another surprise I realized, “is that an arm around me as I sit at the desk? A hug, a student is hugging me. What do I do?” A very sweet sophomore girl with braces and black hair and a ballerina’s frame had her arms delicately around me. This was the first time this had ever happened, I had never touched or been touched by student at this point. I thought it was adorable and sweet of her yet I did not know the socially appropriate way to respond, or if I did know it I forgot because I was high. So I reciprocated with just gentle pat of a single hand on one of her arms that was hugging me, a reassurance to her that I match her affection as best as my professional bounds would let me. “But what does this mean?” I actually wondered that.
“You like me? One of my students actually does like me? I am more than that turd I was a few weeks ago? But why? What brings it out of me here? Why am I the hero here and the monster in Watts? And what is your intention young lady, why are you making a point of being seen hugging me?”
Her intentions were at least insinuated not long after.
“I’ll be 18 in a few months” she said smiling at me behind her braces later in the class after lunch as I look at their paintings to check their work. “Ah now child, now I see your intentions,” I thought, “and I’m flattered,” and I truly was. Pretty and sweet as the girl was I was not about to risk getting fired over her.
All I did is smile and say “Good for you, congratulations.” Hiding under the veil of a professionally minded man that indeed I was truly flattered by her attempts, but no, “I am not about to take advantage of you child. Talk to me when you are 18, and have endured at least one semester of having a shitty roommate you aren’t blood related to, then we will have a lot more in common child, then and only then.”
In any case though I was truly flattered that such a young pretty girl would find me attractive enough to flirt with, it does make one a bit more confident to know you meet a young girl’s criteria.
Free coffee, young rich girls flirting were with me and tempting me with naivety, plus I was beginning to receive more cash per hour. These were the kinds of things that kept me coming back to work. Schools like this made it worth my while to endure what I had to as long as they dangled all that free coffee and shit right in front of me. Forget about helping those kids who scream at you and you scream at in the hood, free coffee here Mr Boxer. Don’t be a hero, have a latte and a hug.
I suppose, again for the sake of balance, I should mention that not all the kids were angles. Some I could tell were asking me to go to the bathroom and staying out all period and others would just go and not come back. However the school also had an open campus for their upper grade levels, so I was in a position to be more lenient or even expected to be lenient about ditching. “These kids weren’t prisoners here,” he wondered why while ignoring the obvious difference in class in skin tones amongst the students in order to continue with his narrative.
Also at no point did I yell or send a student out of class yet there but that was in all honesty because I was never given cause to. No student ever back talked to me at that school, or at least in a way that would justify getting kicked out class. The worst that ever happened was that some kid would be more of a smartass than I was, and that usually just made me laugh because I can appreciate a joke. Yet I fully acknowledge that there were students who would take advantage of the subs ignorance, but there was no one at this school who had the guts to actually bully the sub or say “fuck off” to my face.
The students who would take advantage were also the students you would expect to take advantage, young men that you know were somehow involved in one sports team or another. Based on their clothes, haircuts, conversations, or attitudes I could deduce who were our Biff’s and who were our Marty’s at the school. Yet again I must admit even the Biff’s were rather courteous, cliche yearbook stock photo people though they were. The rich athletic kids ditching class from an open campus school? STOP THE PRESSES. One can see how this is all easier to handle than students who seem to openly have disdain for you or cuss you out, justified though their frustrations may be. Yet the the almost bottomless gap of privilege between these students and the students who are fenced into classes and marched around like prisoners until the day is over, is all too easily noticeable, it is even sickening when you think about the difference in campus freedoms and luxuries these kids had.
Every relaxing moment in that school did bring a stinging my in conscience to no end, reminding me of two ugly words the whole time I that I would sit and sip and enjoy my day watching the kids. Two words, “Privilege, and Capitalism.” would not stop ringing in my head. The joy of working their, the relief I got from being away from my intercity charter schools, will always be tainted by the repercussions of those two all too true words, Privilege and Capitalism, “That’s the only reason its any better their Mr. Boxer and you know it. Follow the money, you’ll get your answers.”
The only thing that separates the private schools and the most underfunded charter, is always money. Money is the deciding factor of everything when it comes to education. Hell, it would seem money is what determines everything in this society of ours.
Yes, follow the money. Follow the cash flow Mr. Boxer, follow the commodification of our children.
Let’s follow the money, shall we?
Ah yes, following the money. Following the money in public allocation of funds is no fun or simple matter. However what is easiest and most is important to remember is that schools receive funding on a per student basis. How schools spend their money is up to them as long as food and facilities are provided for the students. Public schools have their fundings and distributions of funds tightly regulated. Charters however are not only less regulated but their structure in the state of California leaves room for immense chances at monetization.
Previously in my series of stories and rants I gave a brief explanation of “colocation,” the process where a charter school rents space from a school or district in an otherwise unused portion of a public school. The result is that a charter school functions out of the same point of operation as a regular traditional public school. Who benefits in that scenario? Does it make any difference to the kids? How aware were you of your standards of your own education until you reached a point of maturity, adulthood and perspective? Do you know what the real difference is between the students I had in Watts and the students I had in the rich private school? Despite all my hyperboles, conjecture, and anger the truth is that the only difference is the money. Follow the money, that is what we are doing right?
Yet since charter schools are responsible for their own facilities and maintenance, if they do not rent from a district they are then left at the prey of landlords. Property owners and developers stand to make the most fro, the growth of charter schools. There is no real regulation for example that would prevent someone who owned a piece of property that was being unused from starting a charter school, then collecting the rent from the very charter school they created out of the funds given to the charter, which again remember is calculated and paid per student.
So we have one area of following the money where we can run into problems. Now let’s get into some deeper fiscal and economic expose territory. Let’s do Upton Sinclair proud shall we?
Another factor that differentiates charters from standard public schools is that they receive less funding per student than do regular public schools, however Charter schools are, and I once again I cannot stress this enough, significantly less regulated compared to regular public schools, especially in regards to areas of how the money is allocated and spent. As long as the Charter school meets the grounds set within the charter it signs with the district, no real investigative work is done. This can be both a good and a bad thing depending on how legitimate the charter is. Yet in the education industry, charters in certain states can be run by Educational Management Organizations, so like our earlier example with the landlord, just as there is nothing stopping a landlord from opening a school there is little stopping someone who either owns or associates with an EMO from starting a charter then assuring that EMO the contract to run it. There is no real law that can prevent charters and EMOs from monopolizing your kids education. At this rate it will not be long until only a few companies will hold the monopoly, unless something is done.
We will learn extensively about EMOS later. I can only talk about them for so much at a time before I go into an even more furious tangent or rant.
There are two words that should never come together by the way, “Education” should have nothing to do with “industry” unless you are in an industrial arts class. But good luck finding any of those even at the most progressive John Dewey-esque models of charter schools. More to the point, charters leave room for property owners and EMOs to cash in.
Another booming educational industry is the school lunch business. The more charters that open the more they will need to provide lunches, and the more students that need lunches the more contracts for schools and school lunches are going to be flying around. So property developers and food manufacturers are all given room to cash in on the educational industry.
That is all just the tip of the iceberg my Dear Reader. Like I said when we started this narrative that it is no expose and I am no journalist. I am no Woodward and I am no Bernstein, nor am I anything like Upton Sinclair. I am not the one to expose this horrible atrocity of our modern fiscal world crime for crime, but I assure you if any one wants to expose the ugly evil that is California Charter schools, all you need to do is remember these words, just follow the money, and watch out for those tricky EMOs.
Classroom Consciousness 4
I subbed at Westward several times after this first time. The following was a journal I kept from a AP literature class.
Westward Private School 4/13/16
I sit in eerie silence awaiting my next class today. With the exception of traffic my day has been very easy. Lots of free coffee and easy students. I am not proud of my temper this morning, my knuckles are raw from punching my car door and roof during my fits of road rage.
I am proud of myself though as to how much I now have my temper under control. Yet it is still present enough that it scares me. I don’t like it when people see that side of me and I am fortunate that few almost no one, has seen it recently. Though some students have seen it, usually the poorest, and I don’t like that fact but I try not to think about it.
I am beginning to embrace my inner weird again. The more I find it necessary to be professional to get by in this god awful monetized world the more I feel a need to cut loose. I wonder if that is simply the cruel truth of modern adult hood. Yet I know so many who never cut loose, it doesn’t usually end well for them. Plus I also see so many let what they do in this world define who they are, instead of the other way around. I resolve here and now, to never forget who I am. I am weird and free. I am the saint in the scumbag’s clothes. Who I am as a person is free. I am free. SO, What shall I do? I can only do everything in my power and privilege to make freedom a reality for us all.
Privilege, when ever I see how much better these kids have it, that ugly word pokes at my brain, privilege. Why is privilege only for those with money, or at least for those closest to the money? I don’t get why we….
I was called away from my desk as the next class of students entered.
regulation and qualification
Something you have heard me talk briefly about before and will probably continue to hear me note from time to time is the fact that charter schools are not subject to the same regulations as traditional public schools. In actuality they can also be subject to less regulations in certain regards as to who they get as students and how they get students to score well on tests or graduate. Charters are also allowed to make there students do something called “test in.” That means if you want your child to go to the school they have to pass the test, if your kid didn’t pass, guess they weren’t smart enough for that place.
A school is in no way exempt from all state or federal standards particularly when it comes curriculum and test scores. Yet something that should be stressed is how charters are allowed to step around something other schools are not, qualifications. To teach in any school in California for an extensive period you need some kind of a credential, but if you work for a company like sub pool some charters only require a sub to have a bachelor’s degree and they can potentially hire you for any length of time they wanted, meaning if they were desperate for teachers they could find a way around hiring one with legitimate credentials, leaving them prey to already scrupulous labor practices and saving the school money since the long term sub is being paid by the sub agency, not the school. All you would need is a bachelors degree, meaning some schools could be letting non credentialed inexperienced teachers be in charge of your child’s education. If you ever need an idea of how legitimate a charter really is, look into their hiring practices and their qualification requirements for teachers.
I am going to repeat that one earlier point because it is one that seems vaguely important to me for some reason, in some places, there could be non credentialed, therefore unqualified people to teach your children, being put in charge of teaching your children.
The lack of regulations also effect the types of campuses on which they operate as well. I have taught in charter schools that were colocated on massive already under funded LA public schools, in office buildings, in old catholic schools and even old churches where the crucifixes were still up, separation of church and state my ass. As mentioned before charter schools are responsible for rent or payment of the grounds on which they operate their campus. So long as the school meets the minimum standards of space required per student, the charter is allowed to function as it normally would, free from oversight not specifically laid out in the charter or by state law. Once again this can leave the charter susceptible as prey to landlords out to make a profit, another way they are catalyzing privatizing our education.
This leads me to another point I have yet to mention. One of the the most out going renters to charter schools it seems in LA is the catholic church. I have frequently subbed for charter schools operating out of what are now closed catholic schools and churches. While the numbers for the catholic church might be down in America, as a whole the church has a collective GDP larger than some whole countries. While they are down in enrollment and closing some of there schools they are then in turn renting these schools to charters who are desperate for a grounds in their already pact neighborhood where they can teach the kids enrolled in the school. everyone it seems, from a founder of Netflix to the goddamned catholic church is cashing in on charter schools.
“How christ Max, how does Netflix have anything to do with this?” You are probably saying to yourself Dear Reader. To which I say patience, all things in due time Dear Reader, all in due time.
In any case though the growth of charter schools has left room for all kinds of profiteers to cash in on. From our children’s lunches to their campuses, everything it seems can be monetized. Cash in while you can you bastards, its only a matter of time before someone has the monopoly.
An Example of One of The Good Ones
This is one of the obligatory parts of my story where I inevitably tell you about one of the charter schools that seems to be doing some sort of legitimate good for the community. In my series of tangents I must be fair to the to the pro charter school side of the argument to at least some degree if I truly want my narrative to be about objective truths. It would be unfair and a bastardization of the educational dialogue if I pretended that all Charter schools were corrupt, full of bitter students ready to kill me, and inherently evil. I would truly be remise if did not talk about this one school in particular in the positive light I think it deserves.
Youth Built charter schools are a network of schools that operate primarily within California’s under privileged neighborhoods. That is a tedious and soft way of saying poor and mostly non white neighborhoods. At Youth Built Schools they offer flexibility for people ages 16-24 who had previously dropped out to get an education and high school diploma so they can transfer to community colleges or trade schools. They can also get help when seeking employment or even get help with section eight housing. It is a program designed to work with the students whose personal needs go beyond what our underfunded and under-sourced system can provide.
Schools like Youth Built in my opinion actually benefit from working as a charter rather than as an official extension of the district or state or federal governments. This institution is not mandated by changes in executive structure and allocation of funding the way other schools are. The fact they are a charter leaves them only to the mercy of the grounds set in their charter with the district, and because their mission is to help people meet the personal needs of individual struggling students they have more means to do so as charters because they are in fact free from the regulations that would otherwise keep these students down and out. They work with a student one on one and case by case rather than as universal statistics. When a person needs a little extra help in a system that only has so much for everyone they are usually left behind for that one little factor. Life has little inconveniences for the white and rich, life has royal fuck ups that derail a whole life for the poor of any color.
Now this more relaxed oversight and freedom from regulation only works when a school is legitimately run and actually holds themselves to the charter they signed. It is very easy for the more corrupt charters to exploit deregulation by making an extra buck on already disenfranchised people with such a lack of oversight. Yet at these Youth Built schools what the freedom from normal regulations provides are a means to make the education work for the students interests.
Youth built is providing a service that would otherwise go under-attended to if it were not for the fact these schools have the freedom to operate as they currently do. People 16-24 in LA neighborhoods like Slauson and South Central are people who might as well be in their mid to late thirties because of their experiences. The hells they have witnessed, and the fact is that some of the students I had there were already parents themselves some of them even with multiple kids, and a single parent with out a diploma of any kind is already set for a hard time in our America. I don’t think our modern public schools were designed for teen mothers stuck in poverty with absent or unprepared fathers. They were not prepared for young men and women who made just a few too many mistakes and had to deal with the law at a young age. It is almost as if our schools were designed for people of a certain race, class, and privilege, and who in turn set the standards that dictate success and therefore perpetuate societal divide that in turn perpetuates their position of privilege by keeping masses disillusioned or chasing illusions. At least it seems to be that way in this world.
So like I said, I would be remiss I did not actually praise the few charters that are actually doing what charters were intended to do, help the students. This school is able to have charters signed with the district that allows them the funds and flexibility needed to give teen parents and struggling youths a chance to get ahead and they do it with flexible classroom hours and multiple neighborhood schools. How do they treat there teachers? I have no idea, I do not know well enough to say, I acknowledge there is no way I can know everything about the school or what goes on when i am not there. That retort is totally legitimate, but what I can say is that from what I have seen, Youth Built is one of the good ones.
Yet even at one of the good ones there is enough material to break my heart.
My first day at a Youth Built was at a small campus just outside LA Trade Tech School. From the window in my classroom that day. I could see Bob Hope Patriotic Hall gracing the landscape underneath the rest of the steel, glass, and concrete that was Downtown LA.
The class had a wall of chalk art decorated by the student body. Like an ode to every motif of graffiti and street art, the wall was filled with the color and fonts of classic hip hop crews and the delicately drawn pot leafs, area codes, and well colored super hero logos.
I was there to teach English, what happened instead though was they taught me what some people actually have to put up with in this world.
One short girl with a faded tattoo of someone’s signature on her chest was a tiny, petite and beautiful person with a sleek short hair cut, parted so it hung flat over half her face to be pushed aside over her ear. By society standards perfect but for a single crooked tooth on her top row of teeth, “from where my ex hit me,” she told me in a heavy hispanic accent. She then told me all about her three kids, she was my age and I was only 23 at the time.
Another girl turned in a writing exercise that was assigned as part of the class work. On the board the absent teacher had written, “Who are you and why do you come to school every day?’ Her response read exactly as follows;
“I come to school every day bcus I owe it to my daughter. I had her when I was 16 and when I first had her I was al alone and did not know what to do so I left school. I realized later I owe it to her to get educaded and learn more so that I can be a good example to her. Im 19 now and hopefully I can graduate soon.”
My Dear Reader when I was 19 I had just had sex for the first time and was taking LSD before seeing Aesop Rock, this woman was trying to raise a child while I was rocking out to Daylight on a free tab of orange sunshine. I don’t feel sad for having a different or more privileged experience, it just made me think is all I am trying to say.
Another student, a very muscular hispanic boy barely 18 years old barely spoke any English. Another student, a thin young black man who was my age, told me how he was relieved his section eight went through and would finally be done bumming off of couches. Before that he told me about how had been sleeping in his car, that was before they towed it at least. I remember not a few weeks before I posted a two paragraph rant to Facebook about my parking ticket, I was furious about a $46 dollar fine, and this guy had lost his whole car.
Story upon story, I was slapped in the face with that word privilege more than I ever had been before. Every single student had a story, but what I noticed was that they were all using that story as their incentive, as their reason they showed up for school everyday.
These kids were lucky to be in a place that worked with them, but it is only after they had gone through all kinds of hell that no person should ever endure in the first place. In any case they they had found a place that worked with them to get them back into education. I do not understand why that is so hard for schools to do, just work with the students personally with where they are now, not “where they should be”
Usually the response politicians or our owners gives us is that they “don’t have enough teachers,” to which I say “Hire more,” to which they say “There is a shortage.” To which I say, “Gee i wonder why? Oh by the way, there is no coffee left in the teacher’s lounge and are you in line for the only mother fucking bathroom you have for your teachers?”
I digress, sort of.
More to the point this was the main reason I can appreciate this particular charter out of several others, no matter how they treat their teachers what I do know that they are working with the students who desperately need someone to work with them, not dictate things to them. Who are any of us to say where any one should or shouldn’t be? What any one should or shouldn’t be doing at what point in there life?
“Oh! She shouldn’t have kids when she’s young and poor!?” How about making abortion accessible for poor women and reduce the social stigma.
“Oh they just shouldn’t have sex” I did not realize that human pleasure was a privilege only for the upper classes, can the poor have nothing? Not even sex?
Our owners don’t like us to talk about sex so they usually change the topic.
“That boy over there, he needs to straighten up and fly right, let him riot in the street later, we have test scores to look at.”
What charters like these do is expose the fact that while charters can be under regulated they can point out the many flaws in our public schools as well. The resources traditional schools offered was not enough for these people, who needed just a little extra understanding to get by. One of those flaws exposed is that they are grossly understaffed, more teachers in these classrooms of 40-60 students would actually greatly alleviate most of the situation, or more teachers and keeping classes small and personable would work to. In any case the more you make it harder for a teacher to actually each, you will continue to have this problem, and you will continue to need schools like Youth built.
The reality of the situation is that it all comes down to the fact our public schools were designed by hyper educated white people pushing theory around in ivory towers over 100 years ago, the sentiments of Spanish speaking immigrants and urban realities of a post 9/11 age were nowhere near conceivable to the early architects of our educational system, it is time for reform on all fronts, starting with allocation of resources, and the treatment of the teachers.
Yet for now, lets thank youth built for doing good work, for being one of the good ones and working with there students, instead of working there students.
I subbed at several of their campuses, but this first day alone opened my eyes to what was going on in this world, to what my students have been going through, then I started feeling more and more guilty when I thought about the classes where I lost my temper.
I self medicated very heavily that night, it was the only way I could go to sleep, but the last thing I saw was that pretty young girl, smiling, showing that one broken tooth.