Wednesday, November 18, 2009

pomp and (unfortunate) circumstance

As I drove to work on Monday, I thought about the noontime festivities that would await. Another graduation was going to take place, which meant 1)there'd be a house-wide gathering in which I, as well as the other teachers, would be expected to speak about the graduate-to-be; 2)one of the "old timers" (a kid who's been there a looooong time and was a wee tad older than the rest of the crowd) was finally gonna fly the coop; and 3) it didn't matter that I forgot my lunch, because with graduation comes a feast. Mmmm...I hadn't had much breakfast I guess, which is why I kind of meditated/obsessed on that last thought. The line staff at G House are excellent cooks, and they have a knack for using spices in a way that makes me salivate every time I hear the word "graduation."

So I was psyched for this day as I bounded up the front steps, bookbag on one shoulder, laptop case on the other. I punched in the code to unlock the front door, but it opened before I hit the last digit.

"Good morning, Miss," I heard a male voice say with a certain sort of intention. I peered around the corner into the office where the voice came from.

"Good morning?" It was a question, not a statement.

"Just to let you know, we will not be holding graduation today. Mr. Lopes was arrested over the weekend during his home pass for driving a stolen car without a license. He has gone back to lockup."

I see. So much for all the text-to-self connections we made to real life situations from our reading of realistic fiction. So much for comprehension strategies, for all of the work that the clinicians and line staff did with this young man. We all create our own learning curves, it's true. I had just hoped that this boy would have realized that the city in which he lives is crawling with cops, just waiting for him and other kids like him to screw up.

Cops 1, Young Mr. Lopes 0.

Today Mr. Lopes returned to G House for what I hear is another week and a half's worth of "hard time" before giving graduation another college try. November 30 is his next shot. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Tuesday 10 November

I spent the better part of this morning administering a post-TABE test to Jonah, a nice kid who's going to be leaving the program in the next few weeks. As I was filling out my portion of his bubble sheet, in walked Jonah.

"Good morning, Miss."

"Hi Jonah, good to see you. Take a seat and I'll be done with this in just a sec."

I glanced up to see some weird looking red mark on his neck. For a split second I thought: HICKEY?!? Then I realized that this would be very, very unlikely. At least I hoped that's not what it was.

"What's that on your neck?"

"Oh, that," Jonah remarked, pulling back his shirt collar a tad to expose the mark in its entirety. It now looked less like a hickey, and more like he had gotten into a fight. Well, lo and behold, I was right. "That kid, Tyler. He kept comin' in my room last night, talkin' shit and messin' with my stuff. I told him to stay out, said I'm tired of his bullshit. Next thing I know, I'm in the bathroom, and I come out and the kid just frickin' jumps me."

"Really? He just went at you?"

"Yeah, so, like, what was I supposed to do, right? I just went at him, popped him in the face pretty good. The kid was crazy."

"Did staff file a report?"


"What's that on your leg?"

"Oh, that. That's from when he tried to grab my legs, and I kneed him in the face. You should see that kid's eye!"

"Well, actually, I think I'd rather not. Listen," I said, trying to steer the conversation away from last night's Mixed Martial Arts bout and toward the task at hand. "I'm sorry to hear that there was a fight. Why don't we get this test started. The sooner you finish, the more time you'll be able to get outside with the rest of the guys."

Jonah completed his test with diligence, with enough time to allow him to get outside before the afternoon classes started. I went downstairs, looking for Tyler. I know Tyler has had some issues with his temper, both in this program and in previous settings.

Coming down the stairs, I practically knocked over the program director. "Good morning, Mr. G.," I said, stepping aside.

In a low voice, he said, "Good morning, Miss. I was just coming up to your classroom to tell you that Tyler will not be in your class today." I studied his face for a second, then realized that what he meant is that Tyler will not be in my class any day. Ever again.

Damn. Damn. Damn.

The kid got booted back to lockup, a western Mass version of the place in which I taught last year. I totally get it, why he had to go. Tyler had gotten into/started at least four fights since arriving a month ago. Jonah was not the first kid who sported battle scars as a result of a scuffle with Tyler. But I had been rooting for Tyler to get it together! He had admitted to me, in private, that he had been working on his anger issues, and he'd even been able to work with a boxing coach while he'd been on the out. "I miss boxing, Miss," he had said one day. "I know it sounds like a violent way to manage a violent temper, but it gives me discipline. It's harder for me to deal with things without it." In class, we'd started reading the book Fighting El Fuego, about a young punk kid whose brother gets locked up and starts getting into trouble. Can't control his anger. "Miss, this kid is just like me!" Tyler exclaimed after we'd read the first couple of chapters. "My brother got locked up, too. Ever since then, I've just been, like, crazy. Only in the story, the dad is still there. Who knows where mine is."

I'd like to know, too. Where do all these fathers go? I keep wondering about this as I work with more and more kids whose dads are just absent. In the meantime, I'll keep Tyler in my prayers, and hope that somehow he finds his way.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Swine Flu in the House, Yo

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank all of my students for sharing so generously their virulence with me last week. Because I've been FLAT OUT this weekend - this, of all weekends, with its unseasonably glorious weather - with what I believe to be the Scrabble flu (yep, H1N1). The group home where I teach is a perfect petri dish, I've found, for all things that produce fever, phlegm and inflammation. Even though I'm so heavily armed with Clorox wipes, sanitizing spray and Purell, I guess there's no stopping this virus, especially in a place that's this dirty and inhabited by so many young men with poor personal hygiene.

I feel like there's a small elephant sitting on my chest. I'm tired, in spite of getting 12 hours of sleep last night. I don't feel like watching football, and my bloodshot eyes can't follow more than a line of text on a page. Typing this blog entry is exhausting. I think I just caught myself starting to drool.

But I'm dying to get back to my reading workshop tomorrow. We have to keep reading Fighting El Fuego so that we can find out how the book ends before two of my students graduate this Thursday. FEF is about a young Puerto Rican-American kid who has a big anger management problem and gets into fights all the time. I have some of the most reluctant readers actually begging me to read this book with them. No need to build background here, folks.

So, it's off to bed with tea and cough drops. And my rally cap.