Tag Archives: school

saturdays at 11:30 AM

I drive to a library on a rough block of my city

where I sit in a large, well-lit room with long, rectangular tables

and wait.

there are Saturdays where no one shows up

and I read or play with my phone or talk to my partner

if he’s around

most of the time we get a few kids who walk in with their mothers

requesting help with homework

which I am glad to oblige

since this is Homework Club, afterall

some of these kids are skinny, some are talkative, some want to be there, some don’t, some are quiet, some are overweight, some are serious, some are funny

some of their mothers drop them off and return later

some sit around and wait

some mothers talk to me

some bring me small gifts once in a while

One mom tells me she dropped out after eight grade

so she can’t help her son with his fifth grade math.

her son who is sitting across from us quietly reading an article about matter and its three states

another tells me she has been in America for a decade

and is embarrassed she hasn’t learned more English.


Only once I had a father drop off his two girls.

total jokesters who asked me a million questions every chance they could

in order to get out of doing their homework

one of the girls was named after a pop star.

Two hours later their Dad returned

while he waited for his daughters to pack away their notebooks and pencils

i studied him like he was one of the word problems his daughter just struggled with ten minutes prior

he was about my size

brown hair that roller coastered atop his head

in an endless succession of loops

yellow and black t-shirt

blue jeans

green eyes and thick tufts of hair

above his knuckles

just below where his fingers bent.












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Needs (a terribly sad poem)

one of our low income students
at school
a special needs boy
held a gun he’d constructed from blocks to my head yesterday
and slurred “gimme all your money”
part of me wanted to empty my pockets and tell him
he could have whatever he needed
if he thought it would help

at night
I dreamt he
was a man with intricate tattoos
and a mustache
jumping into a swimming pool without water

I tried to warn him, but the words wouldn’t come

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What I Look Like (in case you were wondering)

What I Look Like (in case you were wondering)

One of my students drew a picture of me in green pants and an orange shirt and giant eye glasses and a right arm that is far bigger than my left arm.

me: “Is this really how you see me?”
2nd grader: “Yup, that is exactly how I see you.”

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The Lakers Hat (or A Funny Story From School Today)

Third graders aren’t brilliant readers

but you expect one to be able to read the sports team name on their hat

With this in mind…


this afternoon, while we were in a line heading back to class from the library

I made a comment on a boy’s Clippers hat

“Clippers, fan huh,” that sort of thing

The boy’s eyes grew two sizes hearing this

The problem?

He thought his hat read “Lakers.”

Then, as one really must do in these sorts of instances

he asked another adult for a second opinion on the matter

“My hat says Lakers, right?” is what he said with an air of defiance

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Recess Time!

the boy left the school office like a horse in the Derby

gliding on the narrow path that connected that building to the recess yard

with the sort of dispatch that can only be achieved when moving toward something desired

not wanting to squander even a minute of play,

he certainly paid no attention to the teacher (who opted not to scold him)


On the bench with a book

seeing this and

trying to remember the last time

he sprinted

anywhere for any reason

aside from his running late to some dumb appointment.

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Rainy Days of California

Yesterday waiting in the rain to be let in to a locked resource room for “small group reading”

my 2nd grade students and I began to drink from the sky to pass the time

it might have been an autistic boy named Lionel’s first time doing that

I think about this and I think about a few weeks ago

on the day of the first rain after so many days of drought here in California –

every body in the shopping center where I occasionally eat my lunch

scurrying around

trying to stay dry

when they really should have rejoiced

as had Lionel

mouth open and

head craned skyward.

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Bad Teacher Blog Feature #3 (How to get your kids to read gooder)


In my experience, elementary school kids can pay attention for no longer than 20 seconds at a time. So, if you’re in the library with them, and you want to recommend a book that will teach them something worth knowing (as opposed to “The Behind the Scenes Guide to the Star Wars movies” or something like that), that’s how long you have to pitch them. I imagine it’s a little like pitching big time book editors or a Hollywood studio head in this way.

Also, as when you’re pitching a studio head, you probably want to use a simple approach (save the five dollar words for another time), and do make sure they can relate to what you say because these books are going to be competing with video games wherein they get to shoot rocket grenades at zombies. In other words, you better make Chris Columbus look really fracking good if you ever want your kid to read the damn thing!

Here are my examples for how to pitch biographies of important and famous people of the past and present to kids!

1. Abraham Lincoln – He was the president who freed the slaves. He also wore a sweet top hat, and it wasn’t even Halloween!

2. Eli Whitney — invented something called the cotton gin. It sounds boring, but you know the shirt that covers up your dad’s hairy back, you can thank the cotton gin for that one

3. Buzz Aldrin – the second person to step on the moon. And, more importantly, the inspiration for Buzz Lightyear!

4. Martin Luther King Jr. – An amazing man who fought for equal rights for black people. IF you get a blank stare, tell them he’s also the reason we get a day off from school every January. This they will appreciate.

5. Thomas Edison- invented the phonograph. A phonograph is like a record player. A record player is like a CD player. A CD….oh for shitsakes. Let’s just say he invented the iPod, okay?

6. Albert Einstein- you know how you’re the smartest kid in your class, well this guy was the smartest person in the world. His teachers didn’t even think he was smart. Oops!

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Bad Teacher blog feature #2 (Elementary School Kids Are Weird)

A few weeks ago, we started up the new school year at my elementary school. This year I have a different role than the one I have had in year’s past. I am no longer teaching physical education, but instead I am helping out in a Special Education capacity (after spending much of my twenties working for a city newspaper, I’m still trying to figure out what exactly I want to do with my professional life for the long-term, although I know it has something to do with elementary education).

I love the begining of the school year for all of the obvious reasons. The big one is that it’s just really wonderful to see the kids after a summer has passed. They run up to you, blasting your name out — wanting to show you their new bike or the holes in their mouth where their front teeth used to be. And, as a teacher, you’re genuinely excited to see them too.

Anyway, all that being said, there are some odd aspects of working at a school, and these are quirks that you get at any elementary school, no matter where you work. The kids are so self-centered (it’s natural at that age) that they only see you as wearing a single hat (the teacher one), and nearly lose their minds when they spot you outside of class. They also assume that as an adult working at a school, you know everything that is happening at that school at all times. For a guy like me, in his late twenties (okay 30) and still in an “everything is about me” phase of his life — someone that doesn’t go home every day to a houseful of kids, but rather goes home to do young people stuff — it can be perfectly bizarre to see the way these kids view you.

So two days ago, at 8:30 am, I am heading to the classroom in which I work when I spot this 6th grader. He’s a boy I know fairly well because I worked with him last year during phys ed classes and at recess, refereeing soccer games. I haven’t seen him this year yet, though, because I am no longer teaching P.E classes, but rather I am spending all my time in a 3rd grade classroom as a teacher’s aide.

This boy is a good-natured kid; he’s not an angel but what kid is at that age. He has a twin brother and he and his twin used to constantly annoy each other, to the point where they weren’t allowed to play the same game at the same time ever.

Anyway, when I spot him, I say something like, “Mark! I can’t believe I haven’t seen you yet this year. How are you doing buddy?”

He’s in a straight, quiet line with his classmates, walking to his classroom, and I know he’s not supposed to be talking, but I figure what’s the harm in saying hi to the kid.

In response, Marc smiles wide in my direction and raises his hand to say hi. Suddenly he’s letting students behind him pass him by, as he steps aside, motioning for me to come over and talk to him away from the line, as if he’s got some important business to discuss. I figure we’re gonna be catching up — saying things like, “hey, great to see you,” “what did you do this summer?”, “learn any new soccer tricks this summer?” — after all I haven’t seen this kid for three and a half months.

But, no.

The boy pulls me over to the side, and without a trace of irony, says with a very quizzical look on his face,

“Ian! Ian! is there band today?”

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The Tetherball Match (short story: 2nd draft)


It was 95 degrees outside, and the playground was on fire. En fuego, if you were a Spanish speaker. And Marcos was. His parents were Mexican-born migrant workers, who followed the crop. And so Marcos spent six months every year residing in a small town in the center of Texas called Harper, and the other six in Napa, California, where he was in the fifth grade at Mondavi Elementary.

In class he was the sort of kid teachers secretly want to clone. Always arrived on time for school. Never talked out of turn. Got the teacher’s permission for just about everything – even to sharpen his pencil.

Out on the tetherball courts, though, the kids knew him as El Corazon.

El Corazon in English means The Heart, and you’ll understand why this was his nickname soon enough. The kid didn’t have much in the way of height but he made up for it in jumping ability. He could get up 3 feet in the air. And he was a brilliant strategist. A real student of the game. He knew every trick in the book, and he’d use them all to beat you.

For 2 years at Mondavi Elementary, El Corazon ruled the tetherball world. Even the teachers would discuss his prowess with each other out on the lawn.

As champ, he enjoyed a number of privileges normal kids could only dream of. He could cut the tetherball line whenever he felt like it and the other players had to let him. What’s more, the diminutive competitor set the rules for all games at the beginning of the year, and as such the tone of tetherball play.

For example, in one of his early decrees, he had outlawed “ropies” during a match. A ropie was when a player grabbed the rope to which the ball was attached and whipped it into the air that way. For Marcos, ropies went against everything he believed. He could tolerate gamesmanship – he, himself had been guilty many a time of sending a kid to the nurse’s office after nailing him/her with the ball in an effort to assert dominance – but what he could not put up with was insulting the integrity of the game. Ropies did just that; they allowed a player to cheat their way to the top.

As for “holdies” – long a hot-button issue at Mondavi Elementary — Marcos had no qualms with this time-honored practice of catching a ball in mid-air and steadying it, before sending it on its way.

That day, when the recess bell went off, Marcos walked, head held high out to the yard. Today was not like any old day. Today was to be his last day at the school before his family took off east to chase the tomato harvest. He wouldn’t be back to the courts for another 8 months.

Much to his disappointment, the school he attended in Texas had no tetherball pole, and as such the boy considered his time there the off season. This isn’t to say he wouldn’t be playing altogether. Marcos Sr., the boy’s father and a talented soccer player in his day, had solved that problem when he rerouted the money he had been saving for a new television toward a membership for the boy to Harper’s local boy’s club, containing, as far as the man could tell, the only tetherball courts for 50 miles. Despite his possessing an uncooperative back from twisting his body into unlikely angles to get at the low-hanging grapes he’d been after for the last ten years, Marcos’s dad still entered the odd pickup game on the soccer field behind the fields of the winery at which he worked. And as such he knew well the zeal in his son’s eyes whenever he discussed the game, even if as his father freely admitted, he did not completely understand this funny sport his son played. In fact, Marcos Sr. was the same way with soccer when he was a boy, talking endlessly of his triumphs and failures on the field with whomever cared or dared to listen.

As was his custom, Marcos on this day did not go straight to the courts. Instead, he entered a soccer game that had emerged on one of the basketball courts. As a child born of Mexican parents, he was practically performing a sacrilege by choosing tetherball over soccer. And the other kids from migrant families who all played soccer told him so whenever they got the chance. But he still had allies in the game, namely Jorge, who harbored a secret affinity for tetherball but only dared play after school when his chances of being discovered were slimmer. There was also, Oscar, who was willing to overlook Marcos’s weird obsession partly because the two had been friends since 1st grade and partly because Marcos’s mom made him Canela Bunuelos every Friday for lunch and Marcos always snuck some to Oscar underneath the table.

Marcos liked to use the soccer game as cover for the intelligence he gathered while scouting out the tetherball competition from the left full back position he almost always requested. After a few minutes of pretending to play soccer, he had noticed something interesting developing. One of the yard duties Lance, a college student who normally spent recess chasing down kickballs and umpiring baseball games, was slapping a ball around the last pole – the one that was never used because it didn’t have tetherball court markings painted on – and looking like he wanted to be anywhere else. As he observed the athletically built, squat man go at it, he suddenly knew what he had to do.

Without warning Marcos strapped on the yellow headband that bore his nickname in bright, thick red letters (his mother sewed it for him), and walked over to Lance to challenge him to a match.

The truth was the boy had been longing for a true test for some time now, and we’re not talking about any of the usual suspects — Benny “the Bull” Gutierrez, Janice “Nosebreaker” Hong, Tina the Terrible, and “Super” Mario Rivers — all of whom had grown undeserved reputations, he thought, out on the court.

When the small boy with the curious headband approached him in the yard and asked to play a game of tether with him, Lance mistook him for a socially challenged lad in need of a friend.

And so he said “sure.” Well this pleased Corazon immensely, but all he did was smile and begin his lengthy stretching routine.

Two fourth graders were in the middle of a game, but they knew to clear out for Corazon. Plus, they were excited about witnessing such a match. In truth, the entire tetherball area and beyond was buzzing with energy.

Even the baseball players came over to root for Lance when word got to them about the match. They clapped into their mitts and howled when the playground aide stepped onto the court.

The other tetherball players didn’t always like Corazon, but they did respect him and in truth, he was one of them.  And, as you can imagine, many of them were pulling for the champ, willing to forgive whatever past drama they had had with the boy for the time being.

Still not understanding the situation, Lance allowed the little boy to serve the ball in.

Corazon pounced on him from the beginning, whipping a serve past Lance while the man was adjusting his eyeglasses. The baseball jocks booed but Corazon was off, twice more bashing the ball just out of reach of the yard duty’s fingertips.

The playground aide took a deep breath. He had not expected the little squirt to possess such a killer spike. As Corazon held onto the ball and prepared for his next move, Lance studied his opponent’s form so he would be ready to make his move. And lucky for the college student, he timed his next leap just right — catching Corazon’s next shot right in his hands, before launching it two trips around the pole.

The tetherball players started to look concerned. This was an altogether new match now, and they knew it.

Lance next snatched the ball out of the air and composed himself once again. The man put everything he had into his next shot, but Corazon was ready this time. He bent his knees as far as they would go, and sprang into the air as if he had an invisible pogo stick. The boy caught the ball just barely and brought it down to earth. Lance could only laugh nervously, and strike a nonchalant pose, as if to communicate to everyone watching that he wasn’t actually trying his hardest. The tetherballers, for their part, went nuts, and started rattling the metal fence adjacent to the court.

Corazon spent his summers picking fruit with his immediate family members under the soul-crushing California sun, and so for him, the heat was just a mild annoyance, like a fly buzzing around a room. But he could see Lance suffering, the ample sweat spreading across Lance’s hairline.

And just then our tiny titan got an idea. The boy made like he was going for the high launch, mentally noting that Lance was already preparing his leap into the air to meet the ball that would be approaching. At the last possible moment he stopped dead, Lance already rising high in the air. And in that next instant, El Corazon did something that would keep his legend alive long after he graduated from Mondavi Elementary — he finessed the ball around the pole in a quick, sharp motion.

Realizing his error, Lance lost his balance and slipped and fell. And that was when Corazon sent the ball three more times around the pole for the victory.

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The boy doesn’t know his ABCs (flash fiction)

“The boy can operate an iPhone, but he doesn’t know his ABCs!” exclaimed the boy’s uncle, who was sprawled out on the sofa watching a Mexican club soccer game and now on his third beer.

“Sobrino! Sobrino! Come over here, tell me the ABCs.”

The boy obliged, making his way over from the kitchen, where he was picking at a dish of Canela Bunuelos that hadn’t been set out for the relatives yet.

“Okay tio, ready? Here I go.  A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, O, L, M, N, O, T — …”

Before the youngster could finish, the living room erupted in raucous laughter.

His abuelo, his tias, his tio, even his mother and father. The boy smiled. He didn’t mind. His parents never laughed like this when they were just the three of them. The truth was his dad was rarely around these days — ever since he picked up a third job as a cook at a family-owned burrito shop 40 minutes from their apartment.

“Hijo, aren’t they teaching you anything at that school?” announced his father from where he sat next to his brother on the couch.

He didn’t know what to say to this; he recognized it as one of those questions adults asked but didn’t actually want answered.

“It’s okay, my son, I love you anyway,” said the man, before entering into a  conversation with his father and brother about the dire state of the Mexican national soccer team.

The boy now saw his mother motioning for him to come over to where she was at the far end of the room.

“Ven aqui, hijo,” she instructed, her expression evolved from joyful to concerned now.

The boy did as he was told. When he reached her, the woman’s expression softened, and she put an arm around his shoulder, bringing him into the kitchen that way.

“Are you listening to your teacher at school?” she asked, taking his head in her hands and holding him close so that he could smell the Dos Equis on her breath.

“Yes, mama.”

“Then how come you don’t know your ABCs?”

“I do, but I lie that I don’t because it makes you all so happy,” answered the boy.

At this, his mother began to cry softly.

“Mama, why are you crying?” the boy asked.

“You’re too sweet for this world, mi amor.”

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