Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Attention Staff and Students

I had 90 minutes for lunch today. Usually that means I
take a vacation from school for an hour and a half.
Not today. The intercom convinced me to stay.

Every school in the district has an intercom system
with a microphone in the main office and speakers
throughout the school. Usually the intercom is used
twice a day, once in the morning and once in the
afternoon for school wide announcements. Some days it
is used much more often. There is a linear relationship
between the number of times the intercom is used per day,
and how interested I am in the messages it delivers. Once
on a particularly intercom heavy day, I heard it used
to announce that there was a riot in progess on the
first floor.

Today as fourth period was winding down and I was
trying to figure out where to go for lunch, the
assistant principal came on the intercom to give the
morning announcements.

'Good morning Gateway staff and students, these
are your morning announcements. Girls Track practice
is cancelled today, field trip forms for seniors in
college summit must be turned in by Friday Februaury
29th, the Gateway varsity boys basketball team will
continue its run to the state championship tonight
when it faces Desmet in the sectional tournament at
UMSL at 7:45, we hope to see everyone there and on
their best behavior.'

And then there was one last bit of information.

'Special announcement from the cafteria staff, today
is soul food day. On the menu will be smothered
chicken, baked macaroni and cheese, mixed greens,
sweet potatos, green beans, dinner rolls and corn
bread. For desert is yellow cake with white icing.'

Eating in the in the school cafeteria is something I
usually only do as a last resort. Most teachers won't
even step foot in the cafeteria. but I figure if its
good enough for my students, its good enough for me.
At least on those days that I haven't brought anything
for lunch and there's not enough time to pick something

On days when I do eat in the cafeteria I usally end up
with a warmish chicken sandwich, mushy-ish fries, two
ketchup packets (three if I'm lucky), some jello or a
fruit cup, and a half pint of milk for $2.50. Its the
kind of meal you'd expect from a second tier fast food
resturant in a truck stop that's 40 miles on the
interstate from the nearest city. Its just slightly
better than eating a bag of chips and a candy bar and
waiting to find some real food.

Until November of this year, I thought that interstate
truck stop fast food was all the cafeteria staff at Gateway
was capable of. Then I had Thanksgiving Dinner Lunch.
What a differece a little effort makes. Thanksgiving
Dinner Lunch that day in November was good enough to
convince me to spent my ninety minute lunch today on
school grounds and enjoying authentic cafeteria soul food.

I stand by my decision.

While enjoying my feast there was an unschedualed
anouncement on the intercom.

'Will the owner of a white Caddilac parked on the west
ramp please move their car, it was nearly destroyed by a
school bus.'

Thank you cafeteria staff.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Other Side of the Desk

Presidents day. I used the time off to sleep in, read, eat leftovers and waste time on the internet. Besides waking up at 11:00 intstead of 6:30, it was a lot like a day of subbing, without pay. Presidents day is probably a more fun if you're on salary.

For students and substitutes it was a cold and windy four day weekend. Teachers only had three days off. It was a professional development day on Friday.

Professional development day is when all the teachers in the district are forced to attend workshops and listen to presenters lecture about becoming a more effective teacher. They sit in desks and listen to someone who is getting paid to talk. They hate it.

At professional development there is no homework, no grades, no gym class, no detention, no bullies, no screaming assitant principal, and teachers get paid to attend. Even so, they hate it. Its boring. Its a waste of time. There's a million other more productive things they could be doing.

Like trying to figure out why their students always look so bored and pissed off in class.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008


From 5:25 to 7:10 am I laid in bed pushing buttons on my cell phone. Seven buttons to call the system. Six to enter my personal identification number.

The light from the screen hurt my eyes and the voice of the automated substitute system screamed in my ear.
'To hear jobs that are available for you to select press 3.'
'To hear another job press 7.'
I must have pressed 7 two hundred times.

Finally I gave up. I gave in. I took a job at a middle school.

Ralph Bunche International Studies Middle School shares a building with Central Visual and Performing Arts High School. Last year I subbed at Central pretty regularly. I’ve only subbed at Bunche once before. It was an ok day during my first year of subbing.

I got to school five minutes after the ringing of the first bell. I told the security guard at the front door that I was a sub and asked her to point me towards the main office. Her directions were to Central’s main office. I clarified that today, I was subbing at Bunche, not Central.

“If you’re subbing at Bunche, you’re in the wrong school.”

Apparently Bunche moved to a different building over the summer. The guard had no idea where it had moved to. Neither did I. She suggested that I go to Central’s main office and see if they knew where I could find Ralph Bunche.

As soon as I walked into the office, the woman behind the desk who I deal with whenever I sub at Central said, “Thank goodness you’re here. Who are you subbing for?”

I told here that I was subbing for a middle school science teacher whose name I couldn’t remember who worked at a school that was no longer located in the building.

“But we really need you today,” she said.

“No problem, I’ll sub here.”

“What about Bunche?”

“I don’t even know where Bunche is.”

And just like that I avoided a day in middle school. I ended up with a job in the sewing room. It was nothing but small groups of well mannered highschool girls all day long.

What number do I need press to get another job like that?

Monday, February 04, 2008

Forward to the Past

Half the teachers in the St. Louis Public School District must have been suffering from wicked nacho cheese hangovers this morning. The phone was ringing off the hook.

I got the call to come back to my old stomping grounds, Ms. Brighton's room. I spent most of the first semester sitting behind this very desk and wasting time on this very computer.

The room feels very much the same even though its no longer my semi-permanent home. I kept the desk a little tidy-er than Ms. Brighton does and there are some new students that enrolled for the second semester, but it all feels very familiar. Its easy to fall back into a familiar routine.

First period the seniors rejoiced in and complained about the outcome of the super bowl. Demetrius is now convinced that professional football is rigged. The entire class is convinced that I'm related to Tom Brady.

Ms. Andrews is still bringing in her College Summit class during second period to use the computers. I am still reading the newspaper online and eating my apple and granola bar breakfast.

Third period there are plenty of new faces in the freshman class, but the veterans have quickly brought the rookies up to speed on how to spend the entire class period watching rap videos and Microsoft Window shopping for shoes.

Fourth period is still well behaved and studious.

For first lunch the cafeteria is still only serving beige colored food. A golden brown chicken patty on a white bun with yellow American cheese, tan french fries, orange canned apricots and white milk. In fairness to the menu planner, the ketchup is red.

Fifth period is still convinced that its ok to come to class 20 minutes late if you're coming from lunch.

Sixth period is still when you notice that the heater in Ms. Brighton's room is permantly stuck on high. It also when you contemplate trying to run the air conditioning at the same time.

When this was kind of my classroom seventh period used to give me headaches at least two days a week. I hope its one thing thats not the same at all, not even a little.