Tuesday, April 6, 2010

fringe benefits

One of the fringe benefits of teaching in the DYS system is that teachers have no extracurricular requirements. You aren't forced to supervise any after school clubs, coach any sports, or suffer through detention duty. This is not to say that I don't value the educational opportunities that out of school time programs offer. I simply welcome not having to be an unwilling supervisor. But because we're mandated to work an eight hour day, DYS teachers are on the job site for a significant period of time outside of acadmic instruction, and some of that time includes those morning hours when the boys are getting up to start their day, eating breakfast, doing their chores, etc. I try not to get in their way, and they seem to go about their morning routine in a fairly calm and resolute manner.

In a way, I've come to enjoy this part of my working day. I have a full hour in my classroom before my students arrive. I greet the boys quietly in the second floor common room as I make my way up to my third floor perch. I leave the door to my room ajar, leaving open the opportunity for boys to say hello, or not say hello, or ask what we're reading in class today. Simple stuff. Chitchat. Conversation that won't be graded or judged in any way.

This morning, Omar's face appeared at my doorway. "Miss," he chirped. I saw that he had rubber gloves and three or four trash bags in his hand. "Miss, you need your room cleaned, or your trash taken out?"

This program, like others in the system, operates on a point system. The kids need to earn points to maintain their status level. Points are earned and lost for good and poor behavior, academically and otherwise. Kids who might be a little lower on the points ladder might go looking for creative ways to earn extra points. In Omar's case, I know that he lost points for getting into a squabble with another resident over the weekend. But he's always been a very willing, very cooperative student with me. "Well, sure, that would be great. Are you looking to get some extra points?"

Omar nods. I glance at the trash barrel, which is overflowing with garbage left by the third shift staff who uses my classroom like the basement of a frat house. "Can you take the trash out?" I ask him. "Yeah, uh, that's my chore this week anyway. So, I'll sweep the floor, wipe the desks, and take your trash. Is that okay?"

Omar's face, like the faces of all of these boys, seems so innocent right now, so freshly scrubbed. Sometimes I truly wonder how so many of these boys got into so much trouble. "That'd be great, Omar. 25 points sound okay to you?"

Omar smiles. "Yes, thank you." He goes about cleaning the room as I begin my morning routine of starting up my computer, putting out supplies and arranging my plan book. Omar finishes his job pretty swiftly, gathers the trash and heads down the stairs. In a minute, he reappears in the doorway with a funny look on his face. "Miss, staff is busy right now, and I need to take this trash out." I know very well that Omar can't exit the building without a staff present, but this seems like an unusual circumstance. With a high-risk kid, I would never agree to it, but Omar is such a straight arrow, no-nonsense type of resident. "I'll come out with you," I offer, and I grab my keys and we head out.

It's a beautiful morning. The cool air feels refreshing, invigorating. Omar trots out to the sidewalk with the trash bag, and as he does so I notice a woman to my right, walking down the driveway next door to G House. I hear her high heeled shoes before I see her. She's light brown skinned, maybe in her late twenties, wearing a very tight, revealing dress that shares more with the world than I can say I'm comfortable with. I glance up at the front porch of the house next door and see a man. Wearing only a towel. As my eyes take in this information, it all registers. There's business being conducted next door. Before I can bring my attention back to my charge, I hear the man on the porch say "good morning," and I look up in time to see him drop his towel, exposing his manhood to the brisk morning air. And to me.

Immediately, I see Omar fling the trash bag down and run toward the neighbor. "OMAR!!!" I yell. "Omar, get over here!" I manage to grab Omar by the sleeve, and somehow push and shove him back toward G House, where another staff, who has obviously heard my outside voice, comes to my aid.

"That guy can't do that shit," says Omar, breathless and clearly heated, once we get safely inside G House.

"Do you think he was trying to offend me?" I ask Omar.

"Yeah! Miss, that guy was so rude. I had to stand up for you."

"Omar, it means a lot to know that you would stand up for me. But I would never want you to get in trouble as a result. I tell you what: the next time you need someone to escort you outside, we'll find a male staff to do it. I'll stick to teaching. Deal?"

Omar smiles. "Deal," he agrees.

I head back up to my classroom, and Omar goes to wash his hands. I stifle a smirk as I consider how authentic learning opportunities can be found in the most unlikely places.

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