“That’s gang writing…”

Another interesting day at placement.  Raul and Salvador were back in their jovial mood, smiling, laughing, and chatting much of the class, which is disruptive and takes them away from paying attention and disturbs other nearby students.  My CT usually is extremely tolerant of their behavior, as well as others in the class.  Her normal approach is to “shhh” the class throughout the time she is presenting, ending up with five or more “shhh’s” while she is leading instruction, typically ten minutes or so in length.

I see significant benefits in her approach since it is the least invasive, least threatening, and minimizes disruption time since other interventions typically end up in some sort of back and forth between the student and teacher, wasting time, and usually causing more disruption than the original behavior; although, I do not believe I can tolerate that level of behavior, which is something I need to reflect on repeatedly before I start teaching.  At times though, even my CT’s “Jobian” patience is tried, ending up with a raised-voice-request to be quiet, or as today, stating “I am just going to stand here until it’s quiet.  I am not going to talk over you” followed by a quietly spoken, “and you shouldn’t” by another student.

Amazingly, it quieted down quickly leading to students actually paying attention and learning.  Raul chimed in with a couple of helpful answers in response to my CT’s questions, albeit test questions in the literacies vernacular.  When he was recognized by my CT for one of his answers, his face lit up with a “yes, that’s me she’s congratulating” expression, mostly for Salvador to view in their never-ending “who’s cooler?” drama, but nonetheless, a recognition that he made a mathematically sound suggestion.

During the classwork portion of class, when I typically meander from group to group, either responding to questions, or asking my own, I stopped by Raul’s group.  He took that moment to comment about a paper upon which Salvador was writing his name in Gothic letters; Salvador does this nearly every class period.  Raul’s comment “that’s gang writing” appeared to be his way of teasing Salvador, since that form of writing is forbidden at school since it is associated with gang behavior, and Salvador behaves with disregard for those rules.  They both started grinning and Raul chimed in further with “I’m telling your P.O.”* as a further dig at Salvador, who was not fazed in the least by the dialog.  Instead, he seemed to revel in the status his gang affiliation brought him with Raul, and perhaps others in the class.

For me, it was a fascinating exchange to witness.  I did not see any harm in it, per se, since it appeared to be male adolescence in nearly pure form, morphed to fit the environment in which these students find themselves.  Until someone lives their life, 24 x 7, in these students’ communities, it is difficult, if not impossible, to relate to why they behave the way they do, and to what extent they are able to modify it to fit into environments in which their normal behavior is not accepted.  Frankly, it seems like a huge burden is placed on these students to live in two different worlds, with different social, behavioral, and other norms.  It does not excuse poor behavior on their part, but it should temper the rapidity and intensity of any judgement in response to their improper behavior, as well as associated consequences.

*  Parole Officer


The drama outside the classroom continued today as well.  Returning from a restroom run, during “brunch,” a ten minute break, I smelled the sweet smell of a certain controlled substance in the air outside our class.  I did not ID specific students, but it seemed to be the usual set of folks that hang out in the same spot every day.  When I recognized the smell, I stopped before unlocking the classroom door, took another whiff to confirm my suspicion, and looked over at the group of students, one of whom immediately shouted out “What?” in the most defensive manner possible; an immediate signal to nearly anyone that something improper had happened.  I walked away without saying a word, headed to the office and alerted them to my suspicion.  When I returned, not a student was to be found, which was no surprise.  Later in the day, I chatted with one of the discipline counselors and informed him that he needed to ensure an adult was posted and/or patrolling the area outside our classroom since students were blatantly violating school rules and city, state and federal laws, as if they owned the place.  Sadly, that mentality seems logical to some of the students, most likely since there have been little to no consequences for their behavior.  Hopefully, that will stop, for their sake.

Lastly, a male student, walking with his girlfriend held close, passed me outside our classroom in a manner which made me uncomfortable.  His eyes were glazed over, and reddened, most likely from the same illegal substance I smelled earlier.  He was wearing a black jacket which looks like a liner to a winter coat, and is typical of gang dress.  His entire demeanor oozed of gang-banger, with his glassy-eyed stare at me when I looked over at him to smile, as I do with all students.  He did not make any expression but kept on walking with his girlfriend.  In many ways, I feel he might be too far gone, but hopefully not, and somehow, somewhere, sometime, someone reaches him before he ruins his life, and possibly others.  This is not exactly the type of thing I wish to think about when conducting my student teaching, however, I believe it is something I need to get used to since it will be fairly prevalent where I end up teaching full-time when I graduate.  Oh, joy. 🙂

About Dave aka Mr. Math Teacher

Independent consultant and junior college adjunct instructor. Former secondary math teacher who taught math intervention, algebra 1, geometry, accelerated algebra 2, precalculus, honors precalculus, AP Calculus AB, and AP Statistics. Prior to teaching, I spent 25 years in high tech in engineering, marketing, sales and business development roles in the satellite communications, GPS, semiconductor, and wireless industries. I am awed by the potential in our nation's youth and I hope to instill in them the passion to improve our world at local, state, national, and global levels.
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