Fifty Sons and Daughters: Stagnant. Living Precariously Thru Others. Part One: My Boys

I’ve written this piece in 2007, based on a recording I made during a work-in-progress rehearsal for a show called Fifty Sons and Daughters that gathers my college teaching experiences in New Jersey.

Lately I’m stagnant, so I live precariously thru others. I teach at an open admission college, that is if you pay, you are in. Some of my students don’t want to write and have trouble reading and understanding what they read. Many of them are ESL students, that is they grew up speaking mainly Spanish at home, but the college doesn’t acknowledge this problem so here I am an immigrant teaching other immigrants English. My teaching experience is a cross between Freedom Writers and Notes on a Scandal. Who saw Freedom Writers? Well, Freedom Writers is about this hopeful soul teacher in California who deals with troubled students during the LA racial riots. She makes her rebel students understand that Nazis were one large gang, like LA gangs in a way. She makes them write their stories and they publish a book and then Hollywood makes a movie starring Hillary Swank or something, the Million Dollar Baby boxer woman. So my students brought a bootlegged version of the DVD to class, and we watched it together. I cried all thru it, damn it.
But this story is not about movies. This is about how I made my students write. I don’t know how I did it, but I did it. At the beginning of my teaching they would sit about the classroom, particularly my hardcore guys, and they would just not write. Assignment after assignment, some would sit grumpy, and some would chat in the back of the room. Then they started writing, e-mailing me their essays. Yeah, they needed the grades and feared I’d fail them, but it was not only that.
I remember Christian Flores who wrote me an essay in class about how he failed in high school and got into illegal activities. He would not divulge what were those activities. But his mom touched his heart with her sadness and he picked himself up and when he graduated his mom was crying with happiness.
After the class, I was on the train platform shivering in the wind waiting for the New York train, and Christian comes to ask me eagerly, “Have you read my essay, Miss? Was it good, Miss?” “It was very good, Christian.” “I’m gonna do good this year, Miss.”
And he did.
We had conferences last week, that is students came one by one every ten minutes and I told them what work they were missing from their portfolios, and what grade was to be expected. Christian came all worried that he was late.
I’ll read his second essay now:
The Life of a Real Gangster
Now in days everyone wants to be a gangster, or become someone that they really aren't. I noticed that even little children that are just probably ten years old are walking around like they the next John Gotti. Everyone is talking how he run shit in his hood, that he does this that, but really he just a fake. Dudes that act like there favorite rappers and really have a good life and acts hard that what you call a wankster. His a fake gangster or just talk a lot of bull shit but really doesn't do anything that he says. I speak of experience I knew dudes that use to be bully or were just a bunch of geeks and now they in the hood walking around like they the shit. If your not living in a fast lane as a hustler or a thief or a member of a organize gang then quit it. The most hatred person who not even probably there own friends don't like is a wankster.
Some kids push drugs and all of a sudden they a gangster, once they get there hands on a gang there words will say "Yea I don't give a fuck I'll shoot anyone." But when action take place I guaranteed those same little thugs are shitting bricks, crying just for they don't get hurt. To become a gangster you need to have heart, be yourself and do what you got to do. A true gangster doesn't speak on what they did or they going to do.
It's all about having respect to others and getting some back. Also there pride, a gangster know when to act on something or just let matter take themselves. Money is always in his pocket and he does anything to have it. The power is very important because having is controlling everything, everywhere and even everyone.
I know so many gangsters because I grew up with them. They know what they doing and the consequences, they act crazy but that how we were brought up to be by the other older gangster.
It's crazy because sometimes when we do things we don't think about we doing only after everything is done. When there's beef we stay and fight no matter how many dudes is there. Wankster run for there lives probably to them pigs (cops). While the only running that gangster's do is from the pigs. While gangster get caught and we still have our pride we wont say anything to cops but wankster are quick to run there mouths to save there ass and snitch on everyone on the block.
There you have it. I gave him an A. I told him that other teachers would probably harp about his lack of MLA style, but I personally was ecstatic that he wrote about his life. He could use more grammar corrections, but better not tamper with his work, it wouldn’t sound true.
Anyway, next in line was Marzan Choudhury.
Marzan didn’t like me at all at the beginning. He would sit and sulk all by himself in the front row. Never wrote a line. It bugged me. There he is, in my face, defiant, front desk, never applied himself. Until one day when I asked them to write about a bad experience they had with a teacher. Marzan suddenly writes! He writes, “There is one teacher, I won’t say if it’s a he or a she, I’ll call her an it, because she doesn’t like me at all and I hate it too. It dresses like an animal from the zoo.”
What?! Leave me alone! True I don’t dress preppy like Denise, always with pink blouses and coifed hair. I can barely keep up with the horrendous commute. I wake up at 5:45 a.m.!
One of the next assignments was about a skill that your family passed down the generations to you.
Marzan asks a question! Wants me to explain! “Well, it’s like this: your grandpa let’s say had a clothe business, your father has a clothing store, and you become a fashion model.” He got it.
From then on there was no problem with Marzan.
There was one but I wasn’t aware of it.
He always wrote in his papers that he was from Bangladesh, and I’d talk to him about famine and he’d nod. Comes out he was from… Well, there was a poem in the book about the reality of war and I chose it because there is one stellar student, Ronnie Shertel, who was twice in the Iraqi War and I wanted him to talk, because he’d write me wonderful papers but he’d not talk in class, and I thought it would be so effective to have him stirred up and talk, so that the bad seeds, who are really immature kids, would see for themselves a real man talking. And it worked. Ronnie talked about his wars, quietly, and when he said, “I should know, because I’ve been there twice!’ Marzan! Marzan! says, “And I lived there.”
Mother fucker why you led me on with your Bangladesh! But I didn’t ruin the moment. I just sat quiet, listened in awe. Ronnie said, “If you go back there now, they’d kill you.”
I couldn’t hear clearly what was said next, because I was fuzzy-dizzy with excitement.
I was in America, suddenly in America, the enemies were talking to each other in my democratic classroom and I was part of it. I was facilitating it.
This is my America. People sorting out peacefully…
I’ll read Marzan’s comparison and contrast paper:
Life in Saddamville Vs Life in Bushville
I spent a couple of my years in Iraq during my childhood. I remember playing around with all the other kids in town and just running around and being a kid. At night is wasn't all fun and games. There was a local rebel group that would go door to door and snatch random people out of their homes and they would never, be seen again. My parents and I would always hide under our kitchen floor. It was very dark and the stench would make me dizzy at times but we had to stay put until they finished going through our whole house looking for us. My father was tired of this lifestyle and wanted a fresh start. He decided it was best for the family to move to America and live the rest of our lives in there. He worked at the local gas station pumping gas in trucks and cars every day on a daily basis. Every time he got paid he would stash the money inside of a fake missile that was used as a statue in our house. There were days we would starve because my father couldn't afford to buy food because he was saving the money. I was working as well to help him out so he would have enough money even faster to leave this place. I did several odd jobs to earn some money. I fixed bicycles, pumped gas, and sometimes helped the local people make arms. After two years of hard work my father and I had enough money to leave. The day of our departure was a very emotional one for me. In my class there is a lot of very going on. And redundancy. Well, this is his rough draft…. Is it? No, it’s the final draft. Oh, well….
I was leaving my friends and family and going to a place where I would know no one. I vowed one day I would come back for them. I boarded the plane taking a last look at my country and moving on to a land of opportunities.
I thank my father every day for bringing us here and how we most likely wouldn't be alive if he didn't do what he had to do to bring us here.
Nice. I told him, “Marzan, I saw you change under my eyes; you changed from a sulking boy into a gentleman. I am happy I was your teacher.” And Marzan said, “I enjoyed it too, Miss.” And smiled with his black black eyes. He was the one who brought the Freedom Writers bootleg.
Keith came in next. Keith is always frantic, runs about like a headless chicken, always, “Oh, my God I forgot my homework at home.” “Oh, my God, I left my textbook in the car! Shall I go and fetch it? Shall I fetch it?” “Did you get my e-mail? Did you get my e-mail?” “I can’t stay long, my car is not working, I have to go and fix my car. But I did my homework! College Football vs. Professional Football. I do all my homework, not like those losers.” “What losers?” “Those…” he gestures with his head towards the back of the class. “Oh, but they do their work, Keith, some of them actually bring in quite excellent writing!” I’m taken back by his disdain. Maybe that’s why the back-rowers don’t mingle with Keith.
I ask him to slow down. It’s painful to watch him so stressed out all the time. Calamity Keith. “Is everything alright with you?” “Oh, I go to court tomorrow.” “For your car?” “No, my mom and dad. Mainly my mom wants to get as much out of him, my dad has thousands and she wants to get everything she can before I become of age.” “Maybe it’s to cover your tuition and expenses; maybe it’s for you…” “Oh, no. She hates me. She told me she can’t suffer me because I’m so much like my father. So I don’t stay at her place very much; I sleep at a friend…”
Poor kid. I’m ashamed of myself. At times, I look at my son and I hate seeing his father growing in him… Keith is a paralegal so he needs a C and that’s what he’d get. His papers are always off, as if he doesn’t clearly understand what he is supposed to write about. We wrote this quarter personal narratives, comparison and contrast essays, that is more or less a review, and an argumentative paper, a proposal. I gave them to read A Modest Proposal and they took it seriously, that this nutcase Swift really wants Irish people to sell their babies to the British to eat.
Keith’s papers are not that good lately… So I spear you reading his essay.
Let’s move to the next student, Gilberto Garcia, who wants to butter me up. He’s always, “Yes, Miss. Yes, Miss.”
He failed English Comp 101 two times. He is one of the back row people. He can’t sit for long without chatting with Frank the Tank. “Gilberto, do you want to pass this class?” “Yes, Miss,” he says dolorously. “Then where is the first essay? If you don’t give me the second essay, how can I pass you? Sit and write your essay, now. Write about how us, teachers, have failed you. Why can’t we teach you, Gilberto? Write about the stories you told me about high school. How they passed you so they could get rid of you. Passing but Failing.”
He giggled and here is what he wrote:
Passing But Failing
In John F. Kennedy, students really aren’t students. Kennedy is more of a jail in which after your 4 year sentence your out, you pass or in this case get out of high school because your sentence is done not because you really deserve it. I also had an incident with my senior teacher in which he was forced to pass me. I don’t think I was ready in Kennedy to start a new beginning in college. In fact I passed but failed because now in college I had to begin a new way of life I actually have to try and I’m not used to giving effort so, I’m struggling to survive and actually accomplish my goal to finish my bachelors program.
My first teacher in college was professor Bonadies she was an excellent professor but she involved grammar more than actually reading and writing. Her goal was to make us write at a grammatical excellence. That was something I had never done. However, I would understand half of it and plus my high school taught or led me into procrastination so, dramatically I failed. Then I go a professor who in fact did help me a lot his name was professor fjeld he was a great professor more than just English he taught me a lot of life lessons. The reason I failed his class was that I felt like I was in high school again and tried to take advantage of his well being. But in college that doesn’t happen.
Further more like I was saying Kennedy High School is a big joke and I compare it to jails because of the things that go on in there for example; two close friends of mine got stabbed in school, some students go to school to be in cafĂ© all day and just gamble with dice and smoke in the bathrooms and the securities don’t do anything but join in. In Kennedy all I was thinking about was holding my own. It’s crazy in there I got robbed for 2 measly dollars while urinating in the laboratory. It happened like this; I went to the bathroom while I was urinating a small kid like bout 5’3” came in and said give me your money I replied no, then snagged his hand off my pocket and when I did 10 other bigger kids came in grabbed me and told him to take my money out of my pocket and he did but all I had was 2 dollars so, they jumped me. After that day all I cared bout was watching my back not really school. In Kennedy there were fights almost every other day. The sad thing is that I am not exaggerating.
Now to talk bout the incident that led me to passing English senior year was, that my teacher was some what a pervert I’m not going to say his name but he used to talk sexually towards females in the class. That cause the girls in class to report him to the department head and the needed male witnesses and I was one of them. If he had failed me they would have thought he failed me cause I told on him, then he had to pass me anyway he really didn’t teach much.
Finally in conclusion I feel that I wasn’t ready for college when I first got out of High School. But slowly I am getting it and I hope I succeed. In the future I would like to help out my high school with some money and thought. I wouldn’t like anybody’s kids going through my experience. In fact I will try to do my all so that the school will rise and change there facility from a Jail For Kids “JFK” to an actual place where student can get the highest education that can be offered.
These were my boys.
Next time I’ll tell you about my girls.

Well, here you have it: If you’d like to throw a bit of money my way to keep my endeavors going, and also enable me to spread the money to my various causes, witnessing democracy, freedom of speech and faith, and engineering social change thru art being some of them, I’d be grateful.

New York
September 26, 2013

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