Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Wrath of the Almighty Johnny

I have the greatest tutoring client, "Johnny."  He's an eleven-year old boy, finishing up sixth grade.  He is very bright but lazy and hated writing, which is why his mom brought me in. The first day I met him, I told him that he wasn't going to hate writing tutoring.  He answered me "We'll see about that."  It was almost too easy.  I found out that he loves fantasy novels and once I told him that he could write in the same genre, he was hooked.

Now, this kid goes to a small expensive private school with very small classes.  Why his teacher can't give him the individual attention necessary to find out how to get him interested in writing, I have no idea.  It wasn't hard.
I finally got the kid to admit he likes writing fiction.  Big victory!  He started writing stories about talking animals and animals that fell in toxic puddles and got superpowers and all sorts of things.  When I broke it to him that he was going to write non-fiction, he groaned.  I reminded him that he could trust me because I had promised he wouldn't hate it and he hadn't.  (I think I can get him to do anything now because I proved trustworthy on that one!)

We made a deal.  He'd write non-fiction if I played hangman with him.  I agreed and after the game, he decided he'd write a newspaper about his family and friends.  The newspaper is going to be complete with injury report, pet report ("Pawz has spent another busy day napping and cleaning herself..."), a food section ("We are fortunate to have kept our incredible cook, "Mom."), and more.  I can't wait! 

The hangman game was also fantastic.  I got it at the last minute - he had written a phrase: "You will lose to the wrath of the almighty Johnny."  And I get paid for this!  It's amazing.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Being Light Skinded

Its been a while since I explained the name of the blog, so here's a "reprint" of one of the first posts:


There are many many ways in which this neighborhood was a culture shock for me. I'm from the suburbs. I'm used to most people looking like me and talking like me. This neighborhood is a little different. Our school is about half black and half Latino, with a few Southeast Asian kids. (We used to have a large Vietnamese, Cambodian, Samoan, and Tongan population, but over the 6 1/2 years I've been there, they've mostly moved away). People sometimes turn to stare at me on the street - there's not a lot of reason for a white woman to be walking around in our neighborhood.

There have always been white teachers at our school. Conversation from my first year of teaching (first grade):

Student 1: There is every kind of kid in our class: Mexican, Black, Chinese. [the "Chinese" kid was Vietnamese]

Student 2: What about white kids?

Student 1: Silly, there ain't no white kids. There's only white teachers.

I thought when I started teaching third grade that the kids might have more of a realistic view, but after repeatedly being asked if I was black or Mexican, I had this conversation with a student. By the way, said student had two goals in life. He wanted to be either "a police or up in jail like my daddy. Because if you're a police, you can shoot the people who be messing with you and if you're up in jail you can have lots of friends who do whatever you say, just like my daddy do." Sadly, he's probably on his way. Anyway, the conversation went like this:

Student: Teacher, some kids was talking about you, and they was saying you was white. But I stood up for you and I said no you wasn't, you was black.

Me: You told them I was black?

Student: Yeah, I stood up for you.

Me: Do you think I'm black?

Student: Yeah, you's black. You's just light skinded.

Me: Honey, I'm actually white. Look at my skin color - see how light I am?

Student: You's white? You's not light skinded? [long pause] I'ma have to think about this...

What I've come to realize is that for a lot of the kids, it makes more sense for them to believe that I'm just abnormally light than to think there's a white person who cares this much about them and who they love. That is TOTALLY outside their concept of the world. It's fascinating - these race relations around here.

Note: Nothing in our school (except for talking about other people's mamas) can start a fight like skin color conversations. And yes, the way you pronounce it is light skinded. Also, "Teacher sprainded her ankle. My uncle passeded away." I've totally picked it up. My favorite: "I'm not fat, I'm just big boneded."