Friday, July 13, 2001

DRAGONS UNZIPPED: LAUGHS AND TEARS FROM A BOSTON CHARTER SCHOOL

At the Academy of the Pacific Rim, one of the traditions that we've cultivated is the telling of a middle or high school story at the end of our faculty meetings. Better than statistics on a newspaper or text on a web-site, the stories shared -- often humorous, some times heartrending -- capture the essence of what it's like to work in a school, where the unexpected is to be expected. Here's a small taste.

I. November 17, 1999
For the past two days, my 6th grade history classes have been studying the Code of Hammurabi, a set of 282 written laws developed by a rather draconian ruler of Babylon in 3000 B.C. Two nights ago, I asked students to come up with their own set of laws (for example, the Code of Tschang). Here are a few of their responses word for word:

Thomas J. --
Law 1: If you fall in love you shal be put to death.
4: If you run from Jail you shal run in the desert for 20 years nonstop.

Andrew M. (a.k.a. the quietest student in the school) -
5: If you pick your nose, you nose will be sewn shut.
12: If you don’t do your homework, you shall be thrown into a river.
16: If you play hookie from school, you shall wash the bathroom with a toothbrush.
17: If you cheat on a test, you will be forced to eat it.
19: If you fight with your sibling(s) you shall be handcuffed to them for a month.

Lamar D. --
2: If a man knee’s a woman in the stamic he will go to court and pay a fine of $81.67.
3: If a person sells you a bed and the bed broke, that person will be hit with a teddy bear 8 times.
6: If you are over weight you will need to pay $4.00.

Isnard D. --
If you wear your pants backward you will be called crazy.
Ketchup is used with musturd nor mayo, or you shall be burned.
If you don’t wear a belt you shall be punished by death.

Nathan G. --
1: If you get reduced lunch and your not soposed to, the government will blow up your house.
2: If you make disturbing noises in class, thou shall have a break taken from thee.


II. March 21, 2001
I asked my 10th graders to write an 250-word honest self-critique at the beginning of the 2nd trimester and here's one student's response:

"I do not have a problem understanding the material. The way you words things (like on tests and quizzes) makes it hard for me to understand. The most complicated question can have the simplest answer. I HATE THAT!!! Also when I ask questions, your explanation is harder to understand from when you explained it the first time. Just make things simple, easy and fun. Don't make things hard because I aways end up with a bad score or homework grade.

I would also like to add that your class, math and science stress me out. I can not take all this work anymore. Now that it is third trimester everyone is focusing on MCAS. Now with the gray hair I have (mostly from you and Mr. Wood) 8 strands. Now it is pretty sad that the majority of my class can not live without sugar. We have adopted bad habits that we should not have until we are... well, around your age. We would not have these habits if we were anywhere else unless the work somewhere else is extremely hard. Some thing needs to change because by the time I graduate I will be dying my hair on a weekly basis.

On Saturdays (as you already know) I am at school for 3 hours of the Biff Paradigm program. On the 10th of March, we learned the definition of Paradigm. Mrs. Bracey told us that every teacher has a paradigm for each of their students. I would like to know your paradigm on me. Please be honest and truth. Don't worry about being nice. Be mean if you have to. I want to know the truth.”

III. April 4, 2001
This week is Health and Sexuality Week, where outside nonprofit representatives come in and talk about health-related issues. I was supervising a sex-talk from a Planned Parenthood rep to a 6th grade classroom – one of the most awkward situations you could ever find yourself in – and here are some snippets from that.

1. “Is sex fun?” –one 6th grader’s question

2. “Is it illegal to have sex outside?” –one 6th grader’s question
“No…in porn movies, people always have sex outside?” –another 6th grader’s response

3. “Why do people masturbate?” –one 6th grader’s question
“Maybe because they love themselves…” –another 6th grader’s response

IV. July 6, 2000
At the end of last year, one of my 6th grade students was walking on a sidewalk in the middle of the day, when a car came up, broadsided him and ran off. He was in serious condition in the hospital for over a month, and received an outpouring of support. Here’s an example, typed up by a special needs student:

Dear Simon,

I wish that you feel much better because I wish the car never hit you. I hope you are in good care because god is looking over you. I told my mother what happen and she said that she hope you feel much better even she does not know you she said that she likes everybody it does not matter what color you are and what culture you are.

Do you remember all those good time we had that time when we where on the basketball court and you pick me and swing me around and that time we did that play together and that time we was going to interview to gather but we didn’t had time to finish it I was asking that when you come back I would love to do the interview together.

Sincerely,
Frantzy

V. May 4, 2001
One of the key parts of our program at APR is an all-school ceremony at the beginning or end of each day. These ceremonies are a time to give presentations, make school-wide announcements or recognize student achievement. This year, we’ve struggled with seriousness and appropriate behavior at our ceremonies. I was talking to my 7th grade homeroom this afternoon about the importance of clapping appropriately, not talking and -- my personal favorite -- sitting up straight during the assemblies. My opening lecture led to the following dialogue:

Yesenia M.: I heard from my mom that if you sit too long -- I think she said on a cold floor -- that you might get something...I think it's called hemorrhoids. That's when your anus gets infected.

Mr. Tschang: If it's that big of a problem, why don't you just wear two underwears.

YM: No...it gets too hot that way.

Mr. Tschang: OK, I'll go to the store and buy you diapers.

YM: [Silence--conversation ends]


Tell me your stories: ctschang@hotmail.com