Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Tales from BART

Today, we're going to talk about BART - Bay Area Rapid [not really] Transit. I think BART is great; I just don't think the rapid part should be in there because it's a lie.

First, you must read this. I mean, you MUST. This describes the city I have worked in like nothing I've ever read before. Seriously. I just can't do it justice, so read it, please, and then come back.

Wow. I can only hope that if my students turn out to be thugs, that they turn out to be chivalrous thugs!

We often took BART on field trips. It was very convenient, because the school was not far from one of the stations. All right, it was about 3/4 of a mile, which was - for children completely unaccustomed to exercise - pretty far. And usually the chaperones were also unaccustomed to exercise. So the walk could actually get kind of long. Kids are funny: they whined and whined about their feet hurting, and the minute I said, "Run to the corner," they ran as fast as they could.

Before going on any field trip, we had a very serious talk about behavior. We talked about how the students were expected to behave on the BART or bus, as well as on the way there. Some points that were always covered were to stay with the group, not get ahead of the teacher, and not to run two at a time through the ticket gate because that causes big problems on the way out. Another very important rule was not to get close to the edge of the BART platform.

The BART platforms, if you don't know, are painted with a yellow stripe at the edges. The rule was not that you couldn't touch the yellow stripe - it was that you couldn't go anywhere CLOSE to the yellow strip. The platform itself was about 8-10 feet wide (although to a paranoid teacher, it felt like it was about 3 feet), with tracks on either sides, making it so there was no wall you could line the kids up against. And the platform was raised, which didn't really make a difference, because the drop to the tracks was the same, and the electric third rail was the same, but it felt more precarious. I would sort of line the kids up in the very middle as far away from either side as possible and make them sit down. The platform is also very slippery, so I was afraid of kids chasing each other and falling on the tracks.

Once I had a kid walk on the yellow stripe as if it were a tightrope. ON THE EDGE OF THE PLATFORM. (Do you know what electric third rails can do? Let alone being squished by a train!) Before I could get to him, one of the chaperones - a really awesome mom - grabbed him by the arm and started yelling at him about what she would do to him if she were his mother. I had already told the kids that if I caught them going near the edge, not only would I ban them from any more field trips in my class, but I would tell their fourth and fifth grade teachers to ban them as well. With everything else going on during a field trip, there is NO ROOM for children with a daredevil streak in them.

I didn't ever let him go on another field trip (and his mom wouldn't have either, once she found out about it), and I never had another kid do that because I always told this story. The kids would say, "And did he get to go on any more field trips?" Once I said no, they listened up and stayed far away from the tracks and the edge of the platform.

We passed all sorts of interesting people and things on the way to the BART station. Remember, this is not a good part of the city. We saw women working the street corners, drug deals, dog fighting, overflowing sewers... you get the idea. During my second year teaching, the kids told me which street to avoid because that's where the crackhouse was - we could go on either of the streets on the side of it but not that one. So, the trips to the BART station were always fairly eventful.

Once we got to the BART station, it was hard to get all the kids through the ticket gates. I always tried not to go during commute hours, but sometimes we had to. Then I would try to get them all in one line so that we only completely monopolized one ticket gate, but we would still get mean looks. We'd also get nice people asking where we were going though, which was encouraging.

The behavior of the students on the BART trains was always really good, and I'll share my secret. Children in the inner city, especially those raised by only a mom or a grandmother, take their mothers very seriously. We've all hear the "your mama" jokes - there's a reason those get inner-city kids so riled up. It is the worst thing you can possibly say to someone. But there is also a way to use this to your advantage.

I asked the kids how many of their parents took BART or the bus to work or school or appointments. Everyone immediately started talking at once, telling me stories about where their mothers work or do whatever they do. Then I asked them how they would feel if there were kids on the BART train who were acting crazy and yelling and pushing when their mothers were trying to rest going to or from work. They were shocked that any kids would even think of acting in such an irresponsible manner when their mother was on the train and tired!


That's all it took. They reminded each other and occasionally I would have to say "remember, somebody's mom could be on the train and be tired," and they would act like angels. That is one my accomplishments that I am most proud of in my teaching career.

It's bedtime, more BART stories tomorrow.


LindsayDayton said...

I miss Oakland...

Nary a thug here in the PNW.


justplainuts said...

Your comment about "yo' mama" jokes was insightful. I never thought about why there were so many. And I just love your BART story.

pear-o said...

Good Bart stories! I can see the cell phone guy sitting on the floor and checking his reality.