Thursday, March 26, 2009


Sometimes I will say “I love you” to my mom, and she’ll respond casually by saying, “Good, because you’re stuck with me.” It always annoyed me. I didn’t feel that that was an adequate response – certainly she wasn’t matching my sentiment by saying something like that! But recently I’ve realized that it’s the perfect response – what could be more important to hear than that someone isn’t going away no matter what? What is more thoroughly demonstrative of love than refusing to walk away, regardless of how hard I may make that. In truth, it’s a statement of the unconditional. And what is more valuable than that?

There is a tendency to blame the parents for their children’s bad behavior. And in truth – there is a connection to be made. The parents who come to parent teacher conferences have the best behaved children. The same kids who give me a hard time seem to also give their parents a hard time. When I call a home, I can tell immediately what will be done to punish the child and whether or not it will work. When you look at the parents, you can tell a lot about the kids. Many of the students are in shelters, and living at various degrees of poverty, but even those who are in shelters can come to school and perform well when they have parents who are invested.

And because we know this – we do blame the parents. It’s frustrating to call a house and know that nothing will happen. It’s difficult to hear a parent say they don’t know what they can do to change their students behavior, or to call and hear them resigned to their children’s low performance.

Worst of all are the parents who will respond by threatening to get rid of their kids – to take them to court, to send them to their other parent, to send them away. These things sound unfathomable, and yet in reality they happen all the time. I will tell a parent that their child is acting up in class, being disrespectful, cursing, having an attitude, not doing their work, tagging desks, etc. The parents will get an angry look on their face and do what they think is the most responsible thing that they can do, which usually begins with them reprimanding the behaviors. This is normal, this is what is expected. What is not expected, is that that reprimand will decline into them disowning the child.

“I have warned you, you will be out of here, I took your brother to court, and Iw ill get you out as well if you do not change this.”

Or, at other times:

“You will be gone. You will be living with your father, is that what you want? I don’t want you around.”

These threats are tossed out idly, and it’s difficult to believe that there is any truth to them, and yet you have to think about the effect that hearing that has on a child. I always walk away and immediately forgive the student for all of the things that they did. You walk away and it becomes obvious why they are so desperate for attention – positive or negative – for some affirmation. You look at the parent, and you understand the child.

Everyone blames the parents. And then you think further – that these parents arent’ much older than I, at 23, am. That they had kids when they were still kids a lot of the time. At 23 I am fully unprepared to be a parent, and if I had a kid 5 or 10 years ago, when I was still just a baby, how prepared would I be? How good of a parent would I be? Is it really the parents fault that they don’t know how to be a good parent – don’t understand the importance of unconditional, because perhaps they themselves didn’t have it. We have had several pregnant girls in the 8th grade this year, and if they become mothers there is no way that they will know the first thing about how to set an example. They are still getting into fights in the lunchroom, throwing food and cursing out teachers when their temper rises. Blame the parents – but really blame the cycle. When kids are having kids, how do they become parents? If my students have babies, they aren’t parents – they’re just kids with kids.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


I work for an after school program called Sports and Arts. It is a program run by a community organization designed to keep kids in the schools and off the streets. As such, they occupy the kids in the school late into the night. The kids who are involved are generally a self-selecting group, so that they probably aren’t the ones who would be on the streets anyway. I work for Sports and Arts, which is until 5:30, and designed to provide academic enrichment.

Generally it devolves into playing cards or other games and the 7th grade girls sitting around and gossiping about the 7th grade boys. Another teacher who does it takes the boys outside most days to play football. I usually play scattegories or cards with the girls and try to convince them not to go outside and watch the boys playing football.

They always try to convince me to go with them outside to watch the boys, and I always refuse, telling them that they shouldn’t go either.

“Don’t just go out there and watch the boys play sports – it’s pathetic! You should be out there playing sports yourselves.” They always pause to consider this, and then agree with me, as though I’ve made a monumental point. About 5 minutes later they leave my room to go outside and watch the boys. I tell myself that empowering them will take baby steps, and let them go. After all, what 7th grade girl doesn’t want to stare at the boys playing football, no matter how rarely those boys actually catch the ball.

When we’re in my room, I hand out decks of cards that I buy at the dollar store. They don’t know how to play any games. Another teacher has Uno cards – and the boys play very competitively. I join the game and find myself confused – the rules they are playing by are no rules that I’m familiar with, and I’ve got a lifetime of Uno playing under my belt. They seem mystified as to why I am arguing with them about the rules – they have agreed upon these rules, and why would I challenge them?

“There are real rules! This game isn’t just made up!” I always argue, frustrated, and they shrug and don’t invite me to play the next time. With the regular playing cards I teach them games that are simple and ones that are complicated – but all of the games that I teach them were a part of the fabric of my childhood. Bullshit, Spit, War, Egyptian Rat Screw, Gin Rummy, Sweep – they struggle to grasp all of the games.

“How can you not know these games?!” I always ask, thinking of the countless hours I spent mastering them.. They all look at one another, and then look at me, and as usual I am the odd man out. They are 12 or 13 and just sort of skipped those years of childhood. They can write checks and cook dinner, but somehow that doesn’t put them ahead of the kids who can play cards – and in the future I feel sure that the kids who grow up with card games in their lives will have the advantage.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Oscar's Poems

Last year one of my students was in love with a girl. She ultimately dated his best friend instead of him, but he worshipped her and still carries the love poems that he wrote to her around in his backpack. He showed me these the other day:


How sorry can a person be?
To make you see
I made a mistake
But my love isn’t fake

When I did what I did I was glad
But now all I am is mad

What I did was wrong
I hope your sadness doesn’t last long
I know that the letter I wrote was fake
But happiness is what I will now make.

I wish to see you smile again.
I wish you would forgive me and be my friend.

I’m sorry.

Golden Girl

I think and I think
Does she know I exist
Or, should I take her off my list
I cry myself to sleep
Once she stabbed my deep

I don’t know what to say
Should I say a baybay?
She is fine and sweet
I just wish we could meet

I just wish she loved me like I love her
If she did I would buy her everything of fur

She’s Gone

I’m singing this song because she’s gone, I’m in my room staring at the moon, the last words I heard were sorry good bye, I didn’t say a word I was just shy. When I saw her walk away I didn’t know what to say. In a second she was gone, that’s the reason for this song. Please come home I’m all alone, and if you hear me remember I love you so much. Please give me your email so we can keep in touch. And if you come around please stop by, you know I’m suffering, good night and good bye.