A Teacher's Day

The day in the life of an inner city large urban school district teacher after the high stakes testing ends and there is still three more months left before summer vacation.

Location: Chicago, Illinois, United States

I have taught school for over thirty years always in the inner city and for the most part always upper grade students. I have two children and I have been married for twenty years.

Friday, February 02, 2007


We have had a policy in my school for awhile now prohibiting cell phones. I’m sorry, I just don’t seem to see this great urgency to have one. I don’t know why I would need to talk to someone all of the time everywhere I am no matter what. It puzzles me—people on the train, in the shopping center, on a date—all of them, talking, talking, talking on a cell phone. Obviously I’m one of the last people in America with a phone connected to a wall in my kitchen.

One of my students asked, “What if there’s an emergency?”

That’s why we have a front office. Nothing like getting a call on your cell phone telling you your mother—God forbid—has just been shot thirteen times in the chest and—then you lose your signal.

I’d much rather have the call come to the office where we can handle it quietly and much more compassionately. Once a mother entered my classroom to tell me she had to take her son home and then she fell to the floor and became hysterical. (Someone tried to burn down her apartment and shot her father a number of times.) I needed help right then. A person’s help. Not a cell phone.

(OK. OK. I’ll give you one emergency. Your car stops in the middle of nowhere and it’s freezing outside and you don’t know what to do. A cell phone might be handy right then.) But not in school.

Which brings me to my story of a cell phone ringing in my classroom of seventh graders and one fifth grader so out of control, they placed him in my room because—so they think—I can control him until he is ready to go back to his own class. (Another story altogether.) The boy with the cell phone denies he has a cell phone, but not a minute later he is under his desk, the cell phone to his ear, returning the call. Unbelievable.

“What cell phone?” he asks. “I don’t have a cell phone.”

He has it against his head. Everyone can see it. So he’s busted. But what does he do? Does he apologize? Does he put it away? No. He keeps on talking only now he’s no longer under his desk. So I ask for the cell phone because that is the policy of the school. We are mandated to confiscate the cell phones. And he does a most amazing thing. He starts to curse out the girl across from him. And won’t stop. And he is still on his cell phone.

I remove him from the room. His homeroom teacher takes him aside for a bit of a discussion. Security confiscates the cell phone. He gets time out at home.

End of story.

But what about the basketball game in the heading of this blog? Nothing. After school in the After School All Stars, the boys tell the gym teacher and me that they want to play basketball.

Not an option, I explain. We play all kinds of sports. Not just basketball. When you signed up for the gym program, you knew this.

But we’re black. Basketball is what black people play.

Sorry, I answer. That’s not true. Soccer is what is played all over the world. Not basketball. Soccer. And it’s played in every country in Africa and in every country in the Caribbean.

The students don’t like this response. So I ask them to sit on the stage.

Basketball. We want basketball. We never play—

We have a situation. The gym teacher has the volleyball net set up. He wants to teach volleyball—which is a fairly fun game if given a chance—but, no, they want basketball.

They don’t get basketball. They didn’t get a lot of other things either. I’m the coordinator of the program. In the gym, they finally play kickball. And next week?

Next week we’ll be in the classrooms doing academic enrichment and community service projects. No basketball. Sorry. It’s time to learn American sports, football for example, is only popular in America. Real football—which we call soccer—is the most popular game in the world. And basketball, well basketball is basketball--just another American game.

Cricket anyone?


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