Friday, November 25, 2005

Unnecessary

Back in my classroom, planning lessons, I decide to check out the G-Unit CD that Darryl gave me for Christmas. Actually, he bartered with me to get his CD player back (which I took away from him when he was listening to it so loudly during a midterm that he was completely oblivious to everyone around him yelling at him to turn it off). Long story short, I told Darryl I'd be keeping the CD player until his mother came in to get it. This was a last-ditch effort to get a mother who doesn't return calls to meet with me. She never showed up (big surprise), so I made a deal with Darryl - which felt sort of like making a deal with that other D-guy. Darryl said I could have the G-Unit CD as an early Christmas present if I would give him back the CD player. I couldn't resist the sad humor of it all, so I am now the proud owner of the one CD I credit most with destroying my students' respect for women and girls.

I'm not anti-hip-hop or anti-rap. Believe it or not, I have a big crush on Nelly, whose occasional mild disrespect for women is at least laced with a sense of humor (i.e. Nellyville) and a sense of social responsibilty (i.e. Fly Away). I mean, come on, any straight black guy who's okay with calling himself Nelly is crush-worthy in my book. But Nelly is neither violent nor crude enough for my students. They call him a pussy.

So I listen to Darryl's G-Unit CD, Beg for Mercy. It starts with the sound of a trigger being pulled, then "Hey yo what the fuck ... G-Unit's in the motha fuckin' building," then rounds and rounds of gunshots. And then come the ever-so-enchanting lyrics (keep in mind that this was what Darryl was listening to while taking a midterm). “Girl you look like someone I done fucked before. Girl you look like someone I done fucked on tour ... I’m rich Bitch! 50 Cent, Bitch! ... Blah Blah Blah, Bitch! ... Treat me like a lollipop, lick me baby, then lick Dr. Dre and Shady …”

The worst part is it’s a catchy tune. No, wait. The worst part is that my students absolutely worship 50 Cent. Little Charles regularly walks around school yelling “Fiddy Cent! Fiddy Cent!” (He also refers to me as "shorty." I'm 5'9''. He's little.) Once, when I tried to explain to a student on the verge of dropping out what the GED is, he shouted, "GED-Unit!"

At least the CD was bootleg, so Darryl didn't actually put any money into 50 Cent's mouth. And 50 Cent's mother, apparently, never put any soap in his mouth.

I know. I can’t blame everything on 50 Cent. He didn't exactly invent disrespect for women. He's just making millions off it, and he's making it cool for already-troubled inner city boys to glorify guns and crap all over their female classmates and teachers. But no, really, I don't blame 50 Cent for everything.

Actually, it seems that disrespect for women is all over NYC lately. After delighting in Beg for Mercy, I further procrastinate on lesson-planning by opening one of the school’s free copies of The Post. I read an article about rampant sexual harassment within the NYPD (which is a pretty deep article for The Post). This news comes as little surprise to me since just yesterday in advisory class, two of my 14-year-old female students told me that cops in their neighborhood regularly hit on them. Did these officers learn nothing from Anita Hill? Oh. Right. They learned that creeps who harass women can still make it to well-paying positions of supreme power. A female detective finally wire-tapped some of her colleagues’ disgusting on-the-job comments and started a lawsuit. You go detective woman!

Seriously, it's everywhere. On my way home, I stop at one of my regular haunts in Manhattan - a cute, family-owned Mexican restaurant. A twenty-something frat-type-guy sitting near me says to his friend, “I’d fuck that.” His noticeably more decent friend says, “No. Forget it. She’s probably married.” Twenty-Something-Frat-Guy says, “Even better. No strings attached.” Meanwhile, the owner’s thirteen year old daughter is sitting next to me, trying to concentrate on her homework. I'm still not sure if frat-guy was referring to me or the girl.

Home, finally. I sulk in bed about my harassment-laden day and watch Anderson Cooper (sigh) interview Maureen Dowd about her new book, Are Men Necessary? If only all men were as respectful as Anderson and all women were as bad ass as MoDo. MoDo assured Anderson that he is necessary. 50 Cent? Not so necessary. Not in MY classroom, anyway.


Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Stand and Survive

I watched Stand and Deliver for the third time last night. Before I became a teacher at a South Bronx high school, I found this movie absolutely inspiring and amazing. Every teacher wants to be a Mr. Escalante. I still think it's a good film, but the thing that stands out to me now that I am actually in a situation similar to Escalante's is that he neglected his family and friends in order to accomplish what he did, and he nearly killed himself over that job. This struck me because in the past year, I have checked myself into a hospital twice. For Escalante, it was heart trouble. For me, it has been panic attacks, which were never a problem for me before. I have also been diagnosed with "insomnia due to work-related stress." I never experienced insomnia before taking this job. I don't understand how other South Bronx educators can sleep when they know what is happening in our schools.

Yesterday, I broke down and wept in the assistant principal's office. I am now taking a day off and wondering how much of my life I am willing to sacrifice for this job. Stand and Deliver isn't just about teaching. It is also about having the courage (and stubbornness) to fight bosses, stand up against a failing school system, and be hated by many.

Another thing I noticed about the movie is that Escalante demanded a certain amount of respect partly because he was an older, already very accomplished man. Not to diminish what he accomplished or what he sacrificed, but I do feel that as a relatively young woman, the fight is a bit harder. It doesn't matter what I've accomplished. I look young and naive, and to older administrators, I'm a little white girl who has no right to call them on their incompetencies. I have already been through fighting administrators and prompting a state investigation at one negligent South Bronx school. I am not sure I have another fight in me at this time in my life.

I recently passed up an $80,000 a year job offer with a private group because I felt dedicated to my school. I'm not sure if I made the right decision.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

NYC Teachers: Still Climbing Up the Down Staircase



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