Xy on Teaching

Friend MF, who has been living and working in China for a few years now, recently sent a query to Xy via e-mail:

I’m working at a teachers’ college now, and a lot of my students are doctoral students in education. Could you write a little something about your life as a teacher, about issues that confront you as a teacher, about curriculum planning, or anything like that you’d think would be interesting for Chinese people? I think my students are really interested in the intersection of school and societal factors, if you see what I mean. If you would like to do it or have any questions, can you let me know?

Here is Xy’s reply:

It’s real interesting you ask this because after the first quarter, I’m good and disillusioned by now.

We have something called mandatory inclusion which is where special ed and behavioral and emotional disorder students are mainstreamed into a regular class. In theory it sounds all democratic and all, but in fact not only is it harmful to the special ed child which largely gets ignored, it’s also negative for the “regular ed” kid as well. For example any extra time is spent on them instead of the bottom of my class which needs help as well. To talk against inclusion is very not Politically Correct, except most teachers IN REAL LIFE hate it.

Now George Bush says, in fact he just did at the last debate, that part of NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND will ENSURE that these special ed kids will get “extra services. ” Lie number 472!

Not only are we supposed to modify all of their work, but we are to read all material out loud! You say, put them all at the same table, what’s so hard about that? Wrong again my friend, we are required to have heterogeneous groups mixing low and high. I do a lot of peer tutoring to get around that.

My beef isn’t really against the special ed or academically slow student. Yes it helps engender a sense of community by taking care of all in society , but invariably my tutors don’t get as far, and some of my higher achieving students don’t want to do this tutoring thing, so I have to ask the medium achieving student.

Anyway the behaviorally and emotionally disturbed children are just too much to bear and end up draining the whole class. One child shouts out “suck my dick” and physically pushes the girls. No, he doesn’t have Turrets Syndrome.

So anyway, being a psychologist and social worker on top of a teacher is impossible. Not to mention class size is out of control, I have 31 sixth grade students in too tiny a room in too tiny desks.

REMINDER: I teach in an urban setting. A lot of the suburban issues are different. But as time goes on we’re seeing apathy, lack of parent involvement and control and violence creep in their schools too.

To teach in an urban setting, certain facts are inevitable. Schools are funded by tax bases, and poverty is rampant in these areas, so the supplies are less than adequate. Many parents are not there due to drug abuse, or maybe they’re not home because they are working two or three jobs. It seems it’s only getting worse in this arena because people don’t support a living wage here. A lot of New Orleans parents work in the service industry (restaurants and hotels) supporting our number one industry, tourism.

Also education is now driven by test scores instead of real academic discourse. It’s paradoxical because schools of ed are teaching inquiry based ways of teaching and snubbing skill and drill, when really it’s test scores that matter.

One way to look at schools here (ranked 50 out of 50 — low end): Most children are two levels below their grade level. So I teach 6th grade, all my text books are at the 6th grade reading level however only a handful of children actually read at this level. Oddly enough, when they are tested they cannot achieve well because it’s on level.

I combat this by supplementing the lesson with easier activities, all of which cost me my own money and take a lot of time and dedication to plan. Also I have a husband earning a significant amount more than me and we have no children. Other teachers may be dedicated but not able.

One last note is that you are judged as a good teacher by management first, curriculum and instruction second, in the real world of teaching — which is ironic because that’s not the focus in teacher training at university level. I find this maddening. As society views teachers lowly, it’s hard to engender respect in the room, thus management is a constant battle in addition to the already difficult art of teaching.

Good luck and please don’t teach here if you want to keep your sanity!

Hurricane Mix

I took a bike ride. The I-10 was just about empty. At Xavier they were putting some newspaper dispensers on the back of a truck.

Homan came by with some hurricane mix. We made a few drinks and, with Xy, took a walk to the Bayou St. John to see what we could see before the curfew was imposed. Jason joined us there with a couple friends. We did observe some national guard troops passing by in trucks, but other than that there was little to see.

Even now, no rain, little wind. Looks like Mobile will be getting it bad, though.

Here’s what’s in my hurricane mix in iTunes:

Butterflies and Hurricanes	Muse
Calm Before The Storm	Fall Out Boy
Electrical Storm (William Orbit Mix)	U2
Hurricane	Bob Dylan
Hurricane	Roots, Common, Dice Raw, Mos Def
Hurricane (weather patterns)	something corporate
Hurricane Party	Cowboy Mouth
Hurricane Storm Warning #1	Leopolds
Hurricane Storm Warning #2	Leopolds
Riders on the Storm	The Doors
Storm (Feat. Jay-Z)	Lenny Kravitz
Stormy Blues	Billie Holiday & BB King
Stormy Weather	Billie Holliday
Stormy Weather	Nat King Cole & Ella Fitzgerald

I would have included “Rock You Like A Hurricane” and “Ridin’ the Storm Out,” but I can’t really stand to listen to the Scorpions or REO.

Fifteen Year Streak

Fifteen years ago today, I was arrested on the campus of Indiana University for not wearing clothes.

Even after all this time, I can’t think of anything more to say about the incident. I already said it all, in an article I wrote eight years or so ago for bc magazine, under the tutelage of Bill Bauer. I still think it’s one of the best things I’ve written.

Thanks, Bill, for having the vision to develop that story.

O.A.K., Burning

Last night Xy and I rode our bikes uptown for the Midsummer Mardi Gras celebration. This takes place every year in late August. I guess that qualifies as “the middle of summer,” never mind the fact that midsummer is technically the first day of summer, which falls in late June. It’s confusing enough even if you’re sober, and nobody’s sober at Midsummer Mardi Gras. For sure it’s the hottest, sweatiest, stickiest time of year in New Orleans — in other words, perfect time for a pack of half-naked drunkards to strut through the dark uptown streets accompanied by a funk-blastin’ brass band. It’s the Krewe of O.A.K second line parade. O.A.K. stands for “outrageous and kinky.”

What freaked me out more than anything else was how big this thing’s gotten. I guess it’s been going for 18 years or so. When I did it a couple years ago, it was relatively tiny. Now it’s huge. There were motorized vehicles: a bunch of golf carts with giant heads on top. And there were political ads: Una Anderson is running for re-election to the school board, and she had signs and literature all over. And there was a “real” brass band there: the Li’l Stooges.

Somehow the whole thing seemed a little crazier and a bit more fun when it wasn’t so massive. But it was still a good time. The coolest thing I saw a guy (Frenchie?) with a light strapped to his head and a canvas mounted in front of him via a chest harness; he was dancing and painting a picture of the parade. I saw Heather Weathers there with the Pussyfooters. There was a also a large contingent of scantily-clad women called the Bearded Oysters. A Xavier prof was with the Not-So-Swift Boat Veterans for Bush. And of course there was an Olympic Synchronized Drinking Team.

My friend David Bryan was dressed as a priest. He decanted Jesus Juice all night: red wine spiked with Skol vodka. Every bit as nasty as it sounds, I’m sure, but I was already too anesthetized to care.

The parade starts at the Maple Leaf and proceeds to Carrollton Station, then to Snake & Jake’s, then back to the Maple Leaf. Xy and I got some grub, then rode our bikes back to Mid-City.

We got to bed around two or three o’clock Sunday morning. Then, around five o’clock, Xy heard sirens, and discovered that the house across the street was on fire. Yikes! It’s been divided into four apartments, and huge flames were shooting up from the back of an unoccupied unit. It was really quite terrifying, but the fire was extinguished in short order and no one was hurt.


A couple of weeks ago, PJ mentioned he’d recently tutored a mutual acquaintance of ours on some of the finer points of Web authoring.

“Yeah,” I said, “I’ve tutored him many times.”

“But I bet you’ve never gotten paid!”

And PJ pulled out his wallet. Sure enough, he had a personal check for $120. Then he explained his policy: He charges $40 an hour for consultations, with a three-hour minimum.

Two nights ago, I got a call from a woman named Tammy. She said she was a friend of my boss. She had some questions about a website for her company, and my boss had suggested that she call me. We arranged a time to get together.

It so happened that PJ was there, at my house, when I got this call. I hung up, and his reaction was immediate: “I’d charge $40 an hour with a three-hour minimum.”

So this morning I met with Tammy and spent a little less than one hour looking at her HTML and answering her questions. She was friendly and intelligent, and I enjoyed helping her. I felt like she really understood what I was saying and got a lot out of it.

But I didn’t charge her a penny. And what I’m wondering is: Am I a nice guy, or just a sucker?

Xy & Rachel Give Thanx

Rachel & Xy

It’s Rachel taking a smoke break in front of her house in Baltimore. Xy is wearing a scarf Rachel knitted for her. But who took the picture? I don’t think Rachel’s arm can reach that far. Maybe it was Benn. Maybe it was me. I don’t remember.