Notes from the chalkboard

I wanted to teach AP English. I had plans involving brilliant Toni Morrison exegeses, candlelit slam poetry, and Princeton acceptance letters.

But I got regular English. At first I felt like Renessa, the trainer in Jackie Warner’s 1-on-1 Work Out video who has to do the modified version of every exercise (push-ups on her knees, etc.) even though she’s a beastlike physical specimen. Not fair! I wanted to see Renessa do all the military-style push-ups she was capable of. I wanted to slow down the DVD so I didn’t…miss…a second.

Anyway. I am surprised and thrilled by many of my students. I have scads of math-and-science types; visual artists; advanced dance kids and one role-playing aficionado (who ironically hates group work). I have half the football team, which is great in terms of classroom discipline: They can’t play ball if they act like dicks. Hence, there has been no dick-acting.

One student, Enrique, just turned 18 and lives alone because both his parents are in prison. Two nights ago, someone robbed his apartment. I found out when I asked the kids to draw a picture of their houses, and his drawing featured broken windows and punched-in drywall. No matter what happens this year, I will not become discouraged or dread my workday: Enrique is there. He gets up, goes to school, and works hard five days a week so he can maybe go to college as well as hold down a full-time job. I’d show up for him even if no one else came to class.

Also, I have six out LGB* kids! I asked to sponsor our Gay-Straight Allliance, so I am now Head Gay in Charge of Gays. My classroom will be a safe place, where everyone can be exactly who they are, and Justin R. can talk about elite gymnastics and Hugo Boss all he wants to, and no one can stop him!

The out kids are really out. “No one cares,” a bisexual named Rina told me cheerfully. For a second I felt like someone who’d lost a lung to bacterial pneumonia watching someone else flash her brand-new penicillin prescription.

I told Rina that back in my day, kids would have rather eaten a big plate of their own hair than admit to being a friend of Dorothy; a bird with lavender feathers; a Sister of the Inclination. “We didn’t have these Internets,” I said. “We had ‘Homosexuality’ in the library card catalog and some Bikini Kill mix tapes, and we were grateful to get them.” 

But she was already bored. She asked if I’d sponsor the rugby team, too.


* No T’s yet.