"I have never let my schooling interfere with my education." -- Mark Twain
On the morning of November 16, 2004, in between third and fourth period, I threw a chair at a dry-erase board and went on an obscene tirade for several minutes in front of many impressionable, ghetto high-school children. I still can’t tell you what set me off that day, or what I was hoping to accomplish by lashing out so awkwardly. I was suspended indefinitely from my position shortly after fourth period; towards the end of the school day, two detectives came by to “talk” because the chair I threw had nicked a girl student as it came down and her parents were pressing charges against me. The detectives had come by to inform me that I was being charged with reckless endangerment and 2nd degree assault. Two days later, on the advice of my newly appointed U.F.T. lawyer, I walked my dumb ass to the Fordham Police Precinct and turned myself in so that I may be “processed” for a court appearance.
The Office of Special Investigations directed my principal to conduct the investigation, a lucky break. But, it did not help my case that the girl who I had managed to nick with a chair was the niece of some secretary for some bigwig ator and I was reassigned to the Regional Operation Center on Fordham Ave. in the Bronx. At the R.O.C., I was told to report to the “rubber room” for Bronx teachers in the south Bronx (not a coincidence). Even though I spent less than two weeks in that “rubber room”, I couldn’t tell you the street address, if I took the 2 or 3 to get there, or even the name of the stop. All I remember is that there was a Blimpy’s on the corner of my new “assignment,” and that the rest of the neighborhood was an industrial whorehouse. I also knew, deep in my heart, that I was the only person to blame for my present predicament. Surely, no one had prompted me to throw a piece of furniture at another piece of furniture because the children were “wilding out,” off-task and/or in a frenzy.
The document you hold in your hand has been disseminated by me to colleagues and teachers in the Bronx since 2005, but especially among the eighth and ninth cohorts of the NYC/DOE Teaching Fellows. It is a mea culpa, of sorts, written by a rookie, inner-city high school teacher; it is directed to neophyte teachers that toil in third-world conditions with third-world resources and try to deliver a first-world education to impoverished, throwaway U.S. youth. More importantly, this sequence of poems is the closest I have come to explicating to myself why I thought that throwing a chair against a dry erase board in a room full of disenfranchised freshmen was the most effective way to quiet a gregarious room. Was it a momentary lapse of reason? Had the moon assuaged its nuttiness into my cerebrum the night before? Did my melt down have an origin, a source that fed its bellows? Could I plead partial insanity?
Ultimately, I spent two weeks, “reassigned,” to the “Rubberroom” in the south Bronx. My principal, and a cadre of parents, wrote to the district superintendant and advocated on my behalf. I was back in the classroom just in time to help wrap up my school’s program before Xmas break. I finished the year and then completed two more years before resigning in 2007. By my account, I was actively involved in the education of between 300-450 children in the Bronx (20-30 students per class, 5 classes a day for nine consecutive months in the span of three years). That experience has laid the foundation for everything that I think I know about educating high school children to become better writers and readers. On February 29, 2008 Radio Diaries (Joe Richman, Samara Freemark, and Anayansi Diaz Cortes) produced a segment for broadcast on This American Life. The segement, titled “Human Resources,” told the story of several teachers that had been “reassigned” to the various “rubberrooms” located throughout the boroughs.
Of all the things I have written, in my short life as an author, this work has sparked the most interest and notoriety. Is it because it defies definition (i.e. it’s a poem written in acts and scenes)? I suspect it is because this is the most honest and accurate thing I have ever had the audacity to write.
A Spanglish blog dedicated to the works, ruminations, and mongrel pyrotechnics of Yago S. Cura, an Argentine-American poet, translator, publisher & futbol cretin. Yago publishes Hinchas de Poesia, an online literary journal, & is the sole proprietor of Hinchas Press.