Tuesday, May 24, 2011


Graduation - or, more appropriately, Promotion - has arrived. The kids look great. I missed the memo for all teachers to wear black and white because I was barbecuing for all the 8th graders yesterday when the announcement was given. Ask me if I care.

It's crazy to be done with my first year of teaching. It's been a total blur with great highs and terrible lows, but I've survived and I feel great about it. My kids have taught me so much and I'm sad to see them go, but excited for their opportunity in high school and I pray that they stay on the path that I've tried to set them on.

2010-2011 school year - peace.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Roller Rink Romance

8th Grade Week has begun. In all its fury.

First stop: Roller skating.

When I was 10-ish, I totally had a summer pass to Classic Skating, and, consequently, I also totally had a Classic Skating girlfriend. Her name was Tana and we were in Classic Skating love. Every time the DJ would announce a "Couple Skate," we only had eyes for each other. It didn't go past that at all; we exchanged numbers once and I was too chicken to call and so that whole night, whenever the phone would ring, I would tense up, terrified that it was her and A) that I might pee my pants at the prospect of a girl calling, and B) that my family would kill and/or make fun of me until I had some serious issues. The summer ended up so did our Classic Skating Romance (well, until I moved to that neck of the woods after 8th grade and on the first day of 9th grade our Geometry teacher called for her name, I glanced at her and realized my long-lost love had jumped back into my life. I knew it. She knew it. But were either of us going to acknowledge it? Uh, hells no. And it was terrible for the awkward moments thereafter).

All of those feelings were re-ignited yesterday when I chaperoned our kids to Sk8land to do some major roller-skating. I walked in expecting it to be Memphis's incarnation of Classic Skating, but what I found was a carbon copy of Classic Skating (there must be only one vendor of skating rink supplies and carpet in the entire world because everything was identical).

Dreams are made on that hardwood right there.

It was a blast, I had a lot of fun roller-skating - yes, I roller-skated because apparently roller-blades aren't cool here - with the kiddos and showed them that I can keep up with them, even though they think I'm in my late-30s. I'm 23.

Notice the carpet that looks eerily similar to EVERY SINGLE roller rink in the world. Also, note that my skates look like they were manufactured when FDR was suffering from polio. All in all, it was an extreme success, but a success I wouldn't mind not repeating for another bunch of years.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Molecular, Middle-Aged Aristocracy of Christendom

This quarter has been pretty crazy because of our state tests and district-mandated service project. We did each of these in our homerooms and so for about three weeks, I didn't work with any of my students from my other classes. As a result, I have very few scores in my gradebook for them. As we began reading our end-of-year novel, Black Like Me, I decided to give each student five points for just showing up and bringing their text with them so that they could participate in class. Well, that proved pretty difficult for a couple of the kids.

One boy in particular forgot his book a few of the days and was absent another couple, so he missed out on those free points. However, when I asked what had occurred in the section of the book they were supposed to read for homework, his hand always shot up, proving to me that he had done his required reading. He approached me Friday and asked what he could do to make up those lost participation points; I told him that he had to write me a one-page summary of what had happened thus far in the text (an easy task for him I thought because he had read every page and explained it in class).

Yesterday, I get his paper and he asks me to give him some feedback. He tells me that he wrote it, but his mom and cousin edited it for punctuation and spelling. I was able to read over it during lunch and this is what I saw:

"John Howard Griffin, the author and main character of Black Like Me, is a middle-aged white man living in Mansfield, Texas in 1959."

"Great," I'm thinking, he's really understood the premise of the book and used great words to explain it...but then it starts to get fishy.

"Deeply committed to the cause of racial justice and frustrated by his inability as a white man to understand the black experience..."

That sounds absolutely nothing like anything he's ever written before. The vocabulary alone tipped me off that something was amiss (hence the title of this post). I wondered if his mom or cousin had actually written it and he just turned it in. Plagiarism to a mild degree. But then I wondered if he found this summary somewhere online.

So, thanks to my good friends at Google.com, I typed that second phrase into the search engine and was routed to http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/blacklikeme/summary.html, where, strangely, I found his one-page summary, word-for-word. Plagiarism to the millionth degree.

"John Howard Griffin, the author and main character of Black Like Me, is a middle-aged white man living in Mansfield, Texas in 1959. Deeply committed to the cause of racial justice and frustrated by his inability as a white man to understand the black experience..."

About an hour later, he came to my class and asked if I liked his paper. I pulled him aside and told him what I had found and he denied it. He stuck to his story that he wrote it and his family helped him. I explained what he had done and that he would be kicked out of most schools, but he wouldn't budge on his story.

This is the first time I've had to deal with this and it's killing me. This kid has read the book. This kid is smart. This kid just didn't try and thought he could get away with it. I absolutely didn't give him the points, but I need him to realize that this is not okay; if he does this in college, he'll be kicked out immediately with no warning and no rebuttal.

Moral dilemmas.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Barbershop = Butchershop

One of my boys, J, usually has pretty cool haircuts and always looks his best. Monday, he walked into my class and there was something markedly different: he had a bull cut. Now, bullcuts are cute on 4-year-old white kids, but a 14-year-old African-American kid is no canvas for such a haircut. He seemed pretty embarrassed by it, so Tuesday he came in with a fleece headband that covered the line, so you couldn't see his haircut.
Yesterday, while in the lunchroom, one of his friends left him out in the cold by telling the principal that he was wearing a headband (which is against the dress code).

DR: "Principal Mackin, J has a headband on!"

Mackin: "Hey, man, you gotta take the headband off."

JJ: "I can't."

Mackin: "Why not?!"

JJ: "My haircut. I just can't."

Mackin: "Alright, let me see your haircut, then."

J takes off the headband ever-so-slightly and shows the principal. His friends bust up laughing.

Mackin: "Okay, you can keep the headband on!"

Just another day at Kingsbury Middle.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Future Shakespeares in MemphTown

Earlier this year, we prepared...and prepared...and prepared...and then took a breather...and then prepared...and then prepared again...for the TCAP (Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program) Writing Assessment. All 8th graders across the state are required to take it and the scores are factored in to determine a school's/teacher's/principal's efficiency as an educator. Needless to say, I was pretty nervous about how our scores would turn out.

Well, today I got my scores back and my students blew the lid off the assessment! The highest possible score is a 6 and one of my students got just that. Six of my students scored a 5; forty-three scored a 4; and only 5 scored a 3. None scored a 2 or below.


Within my regular education students, 95.6% of them passed the assessment, which is phenomenal. Factoring in my special education students, 90.7% of my students passed. I told one of my classes that I got the scores back and so I've had a few students come up to me in the hall asking what they got. One boy, CH, who had a few behavioral problems at the beginning of the year until I called his dad and he got a haircut, got a 4 and when I told him, his face LIT UP and he realized that all of his hard work had finally paid off.

So, in the spirit of all things inspiring...

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Unexpected Spotlight

Yesterday, we had an assembly by a group named "Hip Hop Handbook," which is made up of two guys that travel the country educating kids about the history of hip hop and the different urban dance styles. It was a pretty good show with the group asking for lots of volunteers so the kids could get involved.

At one point, they asked for volunteers to have a freestyle rap-off. The usual suspects crowded the stage. But then another boy began to make his way toward the stage. I don't know his name, but I know that he's got a great spirit.

He is in the CDC class, which is composed of kids that have some kind of drawback, be it mental or physical. This boy, despite his problems, still puts himself out there at school functions and definitely lives life to the fullest. As I watched him up there on stage, I got so scared for him. Middle schoolers can be brutal sometimes. I was terrified that he was going to go out on a limb and immediately get shot down by other kids laughing at him. I can't imagine what it's going to be like when I see my own children up on stage in front of a bunch of people if I'm this scared for a kid I barely know. I was so scared that the other kids would boo him off the stage or laugh at him for his obvious problems.

Each boy took their turn in freestyling and a couple were actually really good. Then it came down to this boy. He was hiding behind the other boys who were much taller than he was and seemed a bit bashful to come up to the microphone. I was silently praying so hard for him to succeed and for the other kids to not laugh.

He stepped up, stumbled through a few words that I couldn't make out and then just stood there looking out into the crowd of 600 kids.

And then the place erupted in cheers.

Kids stood up from their seats to cheer him on. All the sections were going wild for him. The entire school stood behind this one boy who had the guts to stand up and make every moment count. It was the single greatest moment I've had in this entire year of teaching. The students renewed my belief in humanity; that despite what my students do sometimes, they're still incredible people who are willing to cheer on a kid who doesn't get cheered on all that much.

I've never clapped so hard in my life. The MC of the assembly pointed to each boy and the crowd cheered to see who won. The two best rappers got loud cheers, but when the MC pointed to this boy, everyone exploded. As he walked off the stage, he was beaming. His smile could have lit up the world.

It had me teary-eyed, which, as my wife would tell you, is almost impossible because I, as she says, "didn't even cry at our wedding!"

The world won yesterday. Kingsbury won yesterday. And that boy taught us all a lesson that you can face obstacles and still come out on top.