March 28, 2007

collected notes

I had a dispiriting conversation with a co-worker the other day about what an awful environment my school is, especially for freshmen. I was saying that I didn't understand why certain students - the ones who end up in a lot of conflicts with teachers and are doing absolutely no school work, zero, not even moving towards getting a single credit - come to school. He said he thought that for some students, school is better than home. It's safer and less scary. To put this in context, in the three weeks since the head of the school district where I work announced a zero-tolerance policy for threats and assaults on teachers01 under which any threats or assaults get a mandatory 10-day suspension, one kid has been suspended for hitting me with a door and two more have been suspended for threatening me. Our bulletin boards get torn down within a week, and, in one hallway, there's at least one plexiglass window punched out of a door every week. There are fights between students every day, and constant casual violence that's not quite a fight. It's hard for me to imagine wanting to be there, but I think my colleague is right.


Today a girl asked if I was pregnant. No. Are you sure? YES.2 I told her I had my period, and she said, "Oh, that must be why you look pregnant."

To her, there was nothing weird about her teacher talking about her period. I can't even imagine being that comfortable with menstruation or body stuff at that age. It's a great virtue of a cultural pocket where lots of people get pregnant at all sorts of ages.


A friend from high school called on Tuesday night. Let's call him Kermit, which is clearly not his real name, but I can't come up with a descriptive pseudonym for him. I think it's because I've known him too long and in too many ways. Conveniently, that's also why I wanted to write about him. We've been friends for something like ten years. He was my prom date, he and I started a surprisingly effective single-issue political organization, he sent me letters when I was at camp in Canada, and yesterday he called to let me know that a political thing I passed on to him is going to pass. I was so happy to hear from him. So happy. And surprised, some, but mostly just happy. He's always been a really good friend to me, and I'm always a little surprised at how good a friend. Surprised? Because when we became friends, I thought of myself as someone who didn't have a lot of friends, and I didn't trust the world that much. Kermit is a prime counter-example for that.


He said, as have my parents, that he's proud or impressed or something about me teaching this year. I would feel better about that if I were doing something useful, not just baby-sitting my students through one more year of not learning any math.


Someone needs to leave a comment here.

1. As opposed to before, when they were tolerated. I wish I were joking.
2. Do you have any idea how not pregnant I am? I only sleep with my girlfriend who can't get me pregnant, I have my period, and, just in case, I got a pregnancy test last Wednesday so I could get vaccinated against HPV.


amelia said...

here's my comment: we are all ridiculously proud of you, of course, and i don't really believe that you're "just babysitting" your students.

on a different note: what do you think it would take to get adolescent girls comfortable with their bodies *without* a lot of too-young pregnant women being around? because, seriously? i would trade a little less comfort with bodies for slightly better life chances for these kids. (and on the other hand, their poor life chances are kind of overdetermined, so who knows whether less jr-high/high-school pregnancy would make a dent?) oy.

North said...

I wasn't so much endorsing kids getting pregnant in high school as noting that it does have its small but real benefits. Also, my students often also have older siblings who are having kids younger than people in our peer group do, or parents who are still having children, or cousins who have children. When I was in high school, not only did I not have any pregnant/parenting peers, but my parents and my friends's parents mostly hadn't had kids in a number of years.

I'm not sure there's anything other than incessant exposure to the reality of other people's bodies (and your own) that makes people more comfortable with them. It'd be nice to establish a social norm in which that happened. Maybe nonsexual bathhouses?

the fire boss said...

when i manage not to be scared that someone is going to hurt you, of course i too am proud. you walk into a really tough situation every day, and you keep your wits about you.