I went back to Hosler Middle School two more times.
The first time, early in January, I worked with an emotionally disturbed class of students, but most of them were slightly underdeveloped, as well. One young child walked with a limp. Another kid was really quiet, and the rest of them suffered with mild forms of autism.
The teacher I was covering that day was really strict with those kids. She refused to let them talk. When I showed up, the assistants told them that they could talk a little.
The day went fairly well. I liked being there. But there was this one kid, Juan, a wild type who cursed all the time. He walked with a squat sort of limp, his knees forever knocked against each other. The paraeducator -- Sally -- who was assigned to this kid had quite a handful to take care of. She took charge really fast, refused to let the sixth grader bark out profanity.
"I'm not having this! Call the mother, and tell her to come and take her kid home!"
Then, the staff explained to me that for many of these students, they get away with everything at home, practically running things. I witnessed this first hand when Juan's mother arrived on the scene. Stuffed into a turquoise jumpsuit with a hand band and sunglasses, she gave the impression that she could not be bothered to hold her son accountable. Juan kept on cursing, this time directing all of his hate at the mother, who just stood quietly by and took it all.
I could not believe that this woman would let her kid talk to her like that, but the whole scene reminded me of the many other students whom I had worked with in other inner city communities throughout the greater Los Angeles area. How many parents had resigned themselves to doing very little for their kids? These parents had the shameful audacity to push out kids into the world, yet they refused to raise them. Such an immoral failing should not go unpunished, and the best that the teacher's could do, at the time, was to demand that the parent come and get her kid in line, or take the kid home.
Sally was the type who refused to put up with any nonsense, a strong woman who had two kids in high school already, honors students who were not going to settle for a bland life of barely getting by. She took this hard attitude into the classroom, and she expected the students whom she worked with to rise the occasion of commanding some degree of self-control.
Sally told me how the full-time teacher, Ms. M, never challenged the students. They were capable of so much more, but Ms. M was one of those teacher-fossils who had been teaching for so long, that she was not going to let anyone tell her how to do the job. Even though the students were in middle school, sixth grade specifically, she made them fill out first and second grade paperwork, tracing letters, writing out all the cardinal numbers from one to one hundred. These students could not speak for themselves, and the parents were too busy to intervene and demand a better education for their kids.
On a side note, I remember reading around this time a sinister article in LA Weekly which exposed the poor education that students were receiving in the elementary schools in Lynwood. Parents reportedly claimed that their children were passing all the way to fourth grade, and they still could not read. A shameful development was manifesting, and the parents in the community set up their own initiative to hold the schools accountable. Into this mess I was stepping in.
I liked working with those students. Many of them were actually gentle young people, but since they received no boundaries at home, they either did very little work, or they would curse from time to time. When one student was running around in the hallway against the instruction of the speech teacher, I called the parents of the one student, Alex, and I got in touch with the mother. I explained to her as best as I could in halting Spanish that her son was not following directions. When Alex then spoke to her on the phone, I expected him to apologize. Instead, he started swearing at her, raising his voice.
Appalled, I snatched the phone out of Alex' hands, then I scolded the mother for letting his son talk to her in such a shameful manner. For the first time in a long time, I was holding one of the parents accountable for enabling such disrespectful behavior from her son.
That intervention served to help both mother and son to establish a better relationship than before. She agreed to take away his I-pod for a week, and he would behave better in order to get it back.
"I am so happy," Alex beamed at the end of the day, knowing that I was going to tell his mother that he behaved much better at the end of the day.
The kids acted up in their own strange ways, sometimes, but for the most part every students finished what he was supposed to finish.
After about thirty minutes, the