Saturday, September 05, 2009

He Ain't Supposed to Be in My Class

Actually, it was "He ain't posta be in my class," but that looks a little confusing until you read it aloud.

The segregation stories of today are about tracking. If you aren't in the education field, you may be unfamiliar with tracking. It can either refer to tracking kids by ability: the college prep track, for example, or by some other means, often language. The laws now on who can have their children educated in which language in California are very complicated and I don't pretend to understand them. Although I don't believe that Ron Unz, who started the instruction in English-only thing resulting in Prop 227 knows anything about elementary education or bilingual education. But I digress.

The school I worked at used to be severely overcrowded, resulting in roving teachers, and students without assigned classrooms. Only 3/4 of the school was in session at any one time, and 1/4 of the kids didn't have an assigned classroom, but used whichever classrooms were vacant at the time.

Not only was this a recipe of confusion and disaster (every teacher out there knows how important it is to have your own space, your own classroom, to set up the way you feel is best for the students. The other thing all teachers know is that teachers don't share well. At least, they don't share their space well. But I digress. See the link in the previous paragraph if you want to read the roving teacher rant.

The school was divided into four tracks. Track A was "Other Asian/sheltered* classroom," Track B was "English Only" (and somewhat irreverently called the "Black Track" - not PC but true), Track C was the Vietnamese language track and Track D was the Spanish language track. Fortunately, this system only lasted for my first year.

I would imagine that most people can see the inherent problems in this. After all, wasn't it over 50 years ago that the US Supreme Court decided that separate wasn't equal? When I pointed out to the principal that year that I was uncomfortable with the kids being segregated by race, she said, like it made sense, "They're not segregated by race, they're segregated by language!" Really? When was the last time you met a black kid who spoke Vietnamese?

So most of these kids had never been in a classroom with children who looked different from them, with the exception of the Vietnamese kids, who had some black kids in their track because there wasn't a high enough Vietnamese enrollment any longer. My second year of teaching, the kids were more mixed. There were still Spanish language classes and English-only classes, and sheltered classes, but all the kids went to school together. Furthermore, in the sheltered classes, there were usually a mix of ES and English-only kids. I got most of the Spanish-speaking kids whose parents didn't want them in a Spanish-language class because I could communicate with the parents.

On the first day of school, two kids walked in the door at about the same time. One was black - we'll call him "Mark," and one was Latino - let's call him "Fernando." Mark looked at Fernando and didn't say a word, but punched him in the nose. Hard. Blood got all over the classroom floor (a great visual for parents dropping off their kids on the first day) and Fernando cried. As I tried to clean up the blood (we'll talk later about why the custodians didn't clean it up), I asked Mark why he did that. His response? "He ain't posta be in my class."

I tried to understand - "Why is he not supposed to be in your class? And why does that mean you hit him?"

Mark answered: "He's Mexican. Ain't supposed to be no Mexicans in my class."

That was enough for him.

*Sheltered classrooms are for mainly English language learners, and use specific teaching techniques for the students to have basic comprehension of the material.

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