Tuesday, October 23, 2007


11 minutes until the final bell of the day. My perpetually difficult 7th period class is being perpetually difficult. One student is on his way to the assistant principal. 3 kids are actually trying to finish their test. The remaining 20 students and I are counting down the 660 seconds until the bell.

Tommorow is Wednesday. I'm taking off Thursday, Friday there is no school.

Next Wednesday is Halloween. I don't work on Halloween, or the day after or the day after.

Come on 2:18.

Thursday, October 18, 2007


Quick, go into the utility closet and find the majorette's batons. Que the marching band. Cheerleaders, lets get perky. We're having a pep rally.

Screw 7th period. The last 50 minutes before a three day homecoming weekend is party time. Let's do this Gateway.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Where There's Fire Alarm, There's Smoking.

For the last few months of last school year, the students at Gateway were pulling the fire alarm, on average, at least once a day.

It all started when on the last day before spring break some gutsy student pulled the alarm during 2nd lunch. While everyone was forced outside to wait for the all clear from the fire department there was a series of fights that the student body found far more entertaining than class. When the fire department came and gave the all clear the students were told to go back to class. A few did. The rest ran the halls roughhousing until the principal came over the intercom and announced that there was a riot in progress on the first floor and that the police were on their way.

Personally, I doubt that the action on the first floor hallways that day amounted to a riot, but it was very exciting. That one fire alarm pull taught the whole student body that a fire alarm and near riot is a great way to pass some time during a boring school day.

We spent a lot of time waiting for the all clear from the fire department last year. So much time, that the fire department eventually refused to respond to fire alarms at Gateway Tech, which I'm pretty sure is illegal. They would only come to Gateway if the alarm was accompanied by a call from an administrator. When the administrators called, they told the firemen whether this particular alarm was false, or whether it was one of the many times that the students set fire to a trash can in one of the bathrooms. Which was more common? Six to one, half dozen to the other.

Over the summer, ending the fire alarm epidemic was one of the administrations first priorities. For the first day of school this year, every fire alarm was fitted with covers that spray indelible ink onto the hands of whoever triggers the alarm. For the first 7 weeks of school there were no fire alarms.

Today, during 1st lunch, the alarm fire sounded. I was alone in my classroom eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for my 30 minute lunch break. I finished a half pint of milk and made my way down the stairs and out emergency exit #8.

It was just like old times as we all waited in the pleasant fall weather for the all clear from the fire department. As we were waiting I overheard a nearby teacher saying something about a cigarette. 30 feet a way, down the mellow grassy hill near the decrepit tennis courts a female students was puffing casually away on a cigarette looking up at the building vacantly.

To see a student smoking so casually in that situation, it caught me totally off guard. I mean, its not like we were in the boys room or something.

Friday, October 12, 2007

I Shouldn't Care That It's Friday

Knowing the bell scheduale by heart, the location of the faculty bathroom, the nearest fast food restaurant, the number to dial for security, these are important things for a sub to know. What day of the week is it? Who cares, I'm a sub.

Today is Friday. I've known all week that today was going to be Friday, and I care, I've been looking forward to it. That's how I know something is very wrong.

The reason I love subbing is that, for a sub, any day you work might as well be Friday, it might as well be the Friday before Graduation. When the bell rings at 2:18, if you don't want to, you don't have to go back to school for two days, three days, or the rest of your life. Its a nice perk.

Sadly its a perk that for the rest of the semester does not apply to me. I have dug myself into the same hole I have found myself in several times before. The purgatory of working everyday, like a real teacher, but still getting paid at the lower substitute rate. Why do I keep doing this to myself?

The worst part of all? Lunch is only 30 minutes, with no possibility of parole.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Guest Speaker

As I write this, there is a woman standing in front of the white board and teaching my class. She is dressed professionally, well-organized and engaging. She brought hand outs and free pencils. She's doing role playing exercises for Christ's sake!

Meanwhile I'm relegated to the back of the room, tears rolling down my cheeks, forced to listen to the attentive silence and occasional engaged laughter of my students. This must be how regular teacher feels when I show up. Except, not really, because when I come in the teacher is usually in the comfort of their own home eating frozen pizzas and watching Price is Right reruns in their bathrobe.

Maybe its time I start working towards my teachers certification.

Friday, October 05, 2007

St. Louis Public School Football

In the warm dusk the cars glide in one after another. Five hundred dollar cars and hand me down cars packed tight with students in new clothes. Trunk lids rattle and holey exhausts pipes cough and spit grey smoke. Groups of students walk from the bus stop. On the field, the lights are on and buzzing even as the setting sun is still two fingers above the horizon. The security guards wear reflective vests over their well worn uniforms. A white uniform shirt and handgun differentiate the supervisors from the regular guards, gun-less in their blue shirts. At the ticket booths teachers make change for crumpled and soiled $5 bills.

The field aspires to be a rectangular oasis of manicured green in the surrounding desert of cracked concrete and litter strewn parking lots. It falls well short of oasis. It is mostly green and free from litter, but even so, it's decidedly at home in its surroundings. A dark-red running track surrounds the football field and fence surrounds the track. A sidewalk follows the outside of the fence around its wide oval. It is heavily trafficked at every moment for the next three hours. Young people walk back and forth on parade. They walk in both directions, in groups, alone, running, dancing, cussing and eating off-brand snacks from the concession stand. The grandstands are this parade's judge's box. Anyone sitting on one of the light blue plank seats is a judge.

On the field the game has begun but only about half the people seem to notice. Occasionally the clap of hard plastic, or the screams someone who is paying attention, draw eyes to the field. For every one of the 22 stout, sweaty teenagers on the field, another 3 stand on the sidelines. They stand behind coaches in khakis and polo shirts with clipboards and headsets. Who are they talking to on the headset? Is it anything more than a prop to convince the crowd that they are in fact the coach? Everyone on the sideline seems to be employing a prop. Three students from the EMT training class are wearing dark blue work pants and polo shirts with snake and 6-point cross embroidered on the chest. Their prop is the stethoscope draped casually around their shoulders. The cheerleader have their short skirts and pom poms. In the grandstands handful of girls carry their own version of a prop, a baby, and bags of diapers and formula.

The game and parade march on. The sun is down now and everything looks vaguely dreamlike bathed in yellowish artificial light. Mosquitoes are hovering and landing all over everyone. The result is the sporadic of clapping of hands on arms, legs and necks that can almost be mistaken for applause.

Two police detectives sit casually in the back row of the stands. They are dressed in t-shirts and jeans but their too recent hair cuts betray their purpose here even more than the radios and handcuffs sticking out the bottoms of their shirts.

On the field it is a never ending string of touchdowns and kickoff returns, interceptions, fumbles and kickoff returns. Occasionally there is an end zone dance every 12 minutes on the clock, they switch sides.

At halftime the parade on the sidewalk around the track swells to include 90 percent of the crowd. For some unknown reason the marching band does not play tonight. Instead, in the stands, there is a leaderless 8 person drum group that seems to be made of of middle school kids. They are wearing black jeans and black t-shirts, drums hanging from dirty white leather straps. The no-show marching band has made these kids the stars of the halftime show. There are no baton twirling majorettes or trombonists in tall plumed hats too steal their thunder tonight.

The second half is more of the same. Kickoff returns and fumbles. Touchdowns and interceptions. When a player is injured everyone on both sidelines takes a knee. The three EMT students run purposefully onto the field. A cheerleader runs onto the field. The player's mother comes to the fence. After a minute, he limps off the field flanked by the EMT students and their stethoscopes. They crowd hardly seems to notice.

The teams switch sides one final time. The line for the concession stand grows shorter. In the parking lots around the field, a few cars with rattling trunk lids and holes in their exhaust pipes start to come back to life. Tail light bulbs illuminate red plastic and packing tape.

The parade is suddenly less aimless, it has become more purposeful. It now moves in only one direction; toward the parking lot.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The New Gig

Today is officially the first day of the rest of the semester, Ms. Brighton began her maternity leave.

She left behind 5 computer classes and a senior seminar, separate detailed calenders of work to be done by each class from now until the end of the semester and an eponymous website where students can find specific assignments. This woman is organized.

My job is to show up each morning, remind the students to look at their class calender and check Ms. Brighton's website, sign hall passes and watch them do their work.

I'm gonna be great at this.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Been Awhile

So I haven't posted lately. That's because I've been focusing on empowering the souls and shaping the minds of St. Louis's High School students. That and reading, and going to lunch, and researching $250 camcorders.

Mostly though I've been working with the autistic students, where I don't have access to a desk or a computer. My job has been to work one on one with a couple of different students who require their own teachers aide, Mr. Awesome.

One student has loud short outburst every minute or so, grabs peoples arms, jumps out of his chair and is constantly knocking on the nearest hard surface. My job is to ask him to be quiet and try to keep him in his chair. When he is really wound up, part of his therapy is playing catch. Tossing a koosh ball back and forth with a non verbal 17 year old is a great way to spend a half an hour.

The other student who I work one on one with requires a lot more attention from me. Whenever you look away he quietly gets out of his seat and runs away. In the first two days of school this year, before the teachers realized he was a runner, he was able to get away from the teachers and outside of the autism wing 5 times. In middle school he once made it out his school and was found inside the St. Louis Science Center which was nearby. When I'm working with Charles my day is a lot like playing a game of slow motion tackle football with a 210 pound toddler. In other words, its fun.