Edited entries from the blog Bronx Teacher: The Happiness and Horror of Teaching in New York City —by Kyle Hall ’00
August 2007: Just past the porn shop...beyond the burned-out house...just after a gritty stretch of potholes and abandoned furniture and auto parts, with a seedy motel directly to the side of our new home, rises a jewel of a new school. The brick-and-glass structure is so new that a construction fence still surrounds the small campus. It’s amazing to have such a gem as part of the New York City Public Schools.
Plus, I finally have a projector screen! Last year I used a cast-off whiteboard propped up (usually by myself and a student volunteer) on two chairs.
This is the farthest cry imaginable from my first year teaching in the Bronx.
September 6: I feel bad for the kids I know who spend an hour and a half traveling to school.
What would it have been like to take mass transit in New York City as a 14 or 15 year old? At that age I lived in a sublime little town where at least half the kids rode bicycles to school. The house my family lived in was on a sleepy street near the beach and no more than a mile from the school.
October 11: I’m praying for the safety of our students in this God-forsaken neighborhood. Two of my best girls—both of whom passed the Regent’s Exam in June half a year early—were jumped by six girls yesterday on their way to the train station. Luckily, a few of our boys were nearby and jumped in to help. The girls were not injured seriously, but I’m sure that psychological and emotional damage was done. I feel horrible about this and the evils that lurk around our school.
It’s almost incomprehensible how vile some of the kids in this area are. At the same time, it’s remarkable how the vast majority of our kids have grown up in the Bronx but never resorted to the idiotic, devilish behavior of other kids who’ve grown up in similar surroundings. Thank God for the kids who actually have respect for life and the future.
October 18: Kids are teachers, too. They can become very eloquent when speaking about topics that impassion them. One girl—who had serious attendance issues last year but has missed only a few days so far this year—spoke of how a couple years ago her older brother was grooming her to become “a Queen” in the Latin Kings “set.” She went on to say how this became her goal, and she had assumed she would achieve this.
But then her brother was involved with an attempted murder and went to prison. He’s now three years into a five- or six-year sentence and told his sister that gang life is a waste. His sister is now a vociferous opponent of gang life.
Another girl in class agreed strongly, as did other students. A couple girls were downright upset with the Latin Kings member we have in class, especially when he made a statement about some people “being made for gangs.” It really stirred up the class. I was actually disappointed when the bell rang.
October 26: I am aching after a meeting with a father who’s just learned from me that his son is in the Latin Kings gang. This is a father who came to father-son video game night in the spring and now the kid is falling away.
“When I was in high school I don’t think I ever heard of anyone in my sphere of friendships being shot. This is a completely different school environment up here. It’s often not for the faint of heart.”
November 19: My girlfriend, a guidance counselor in the Bronx, and I both have boys who like to show off card tricks. The kids just need attention. For many, they sure don’t get it at home.
One girl today called me over at the beginning of class and handed me a metal “Love Pink” keychain from Victoria’s Secret. She said, “Give it to your girlfriend, Mista. She probably likes pink. But don’t tell her you bought it.” I didn’t, and my girlfriend loved it. She just finished writing a thank you card to the student.
November 22: Last week one female student of mine who lives in a dangerous housing project in the Bronx said ‘one of (her) peoples’ was shot and killed. A male student in the same class said his cousin was shot several times last week.
When I was in high school I don’t think I ever heard of anyone in my sphere of friendships being shot. This is a completely different school environment up here. It’s often not for the faint of heart.
December 3: Kamikaze: This may be an appropriate analogy to the life of a teacher. It was what we learned about watching Ken Burns’ stunning new series The War, but I think it cuts both ways.
During advisory period today, one girl was reading about causes of the Civil War. She was writing out a question for tomorrow’s review session and asked, “What caused the Dred Lock Decision?” I told her she’s spent too much time around people in the Bronx, many of whom do have dreadlocks. Then we reviewed the Dred Scott Decision.
December 22: Yesterday was one of only a handful of times since I’ve been a teacher when I seriously wanted to fire a kid out the window. This occurred after a girl, who’s been going downhill in all classes all year and whose father I just spoke with a few weeks ago, blew up on me.
She shouted “f— this, f— that” at least a dozen times in the next few minutes. “What the f—?! I don’t give a f—.” She refused to leave. I shouted down the hall and a crew of people came to take her out. As she was leaving I told her firmly to never talk to me like that. She shouted a couple times, “I’m not f—in’ afraid of you!”
Later, one student gave me the book Charlie Wilson’s War for Christmas. Another student gave me a beautiful beige-orange-blue tie with matching cufflinks, and a cloth tissue for the pocket. Both were very thoughtful gifts. It was touching—a positive memory for a day nearly ruined by the crazy hat-throwing girl.